To say that Kool & the Gang were masters of their art by the early 1980s would be to understate the Jersey City collective’s remarkable achievements in soul and funk, in a chart history that already amounted to a dozen years.
Something Special was the 1981 album that saw them expanding further on their status as one of the biggest national and international R&B names. After the triumphs of 1979’s Ladies Night and Celebrate! in 1980, it would also become their third US platinum album in a row, and one that added some new signature hits to their songbook.
The LP was introduced by different singles on either side of the Atlantic. By now, Kool & the Gang had formed a special relationship with their UK fans, with four top 20 singles over the previous two years, including the top ten hits that helped define the disco era, ‘Ladies Night’ and ‘Celebration.’
There, the lead single from Something Special was ‘Steppin’ Out,’ which glided to No. 12 while the band were introducing their new material in the US with ‘Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It).’ That song was a pop top 20 entry Stateside but went all the way to No. 1 on the R&B chart, their sixth of nine such chart-toppers.
Meanwhile, with ‘Steppin’ Out’ still selling well in the UK, public demand brought the early release of the song that would be the group’s next dance anthem, ‘Get Down On It.’ The irresistible floor-filler became the biggest British hit they ever had, reaching No. 3 in January, 1982.
By then, ‘Steppin’ Out’ was about to become an American single, repeating its No. 12 UK peak on the R&B chart before ‘Get Down On It’ went to No. 4 soul and No. 10 pop, winning gold certification. The belated UK release of the R&B chart-topper ‘Take My Heart’ was less impactful, with a No. 29 peak, but nevertheless, Something Special gave Kool & the Gang six solid months of singles success in both countries.
Lead singer James ‘J.T.’ Taylor and co-founder Ronald Bell were the main writers on the album, again overseen by eminent Brazilian jazz-dance producer-artist Eumir Deodato. But the whole group contributed as composers on an album whose powerful singles were supported by other feelgood dance tracks such as ‘Good Time Tonight’ and ‘Stand Up And Sing’ and stylish slowies like ‘Pass It On’ and ‘No Show.’
The album itself, their 13th studio release, was their first to chart in the UK, with a No. 10 peak and gold disc status by the following spring. Something special indeed.
Something Special can be bought here.