Saturday Songs #21: Turn the Beat Around – Vicki Sue Robinson

Many of the tracks featured on my Saturday Songs series are classic hits that span the generations. Some are a little more obscure but have a personal resonance for me.

And a few fall into a middle ground which don’t really sit in either the ‘popular’ or ‘personal’ categories but where the opening couple of bars will make my ears prick up and put a smile on my face.

If you watched last weekend’s Strictly Come Dancing – regular readers will be aware it’s a big family favourite in the Slouching household – you may have recognised the track Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton performed their salsa to. I’m willing to bet the song is familiar to many but difficult to place.

It was in fact Turn the Beat Around, a minor disco classic first released by Vicki Sue Robinson in August 1976 (the month in which my brother was born).

UK readers are more likely to be familiar with Gloria Estefan’s 1994 version of the song which mixed the disco beat of the original with Estefan’s trademark Latin sound. This reached number ten in the US and just missed out on the top 20 in the UK.

It was also one of the (many) songs performed by the Barden Bellas in the film Pitch Perfect.

However, my favourite version of the song is the Hi-NRG mix recorded by Laura Branigan in 1990. 80s aficionados will remember her hits Gloria and Self Control. Like Estefan’s version, it’s recognisably similar to the original but has a distinct club sound to it which brings out the song’s chaotic, syncopated rhythm perfectly.

Turn the Beat Around was originally written by brothers Gerald and Peter Jackson for their own band Touch of Class. Robinson heard their demo and wanted it for her debut album but was only able to record it after the band’s label rejected the track. Even then, her producer hated it and it was only when David Todd, the head of disco promotion at RCA, heard and loved it that the track was finished and released.

The song peaked at number ten on the Billboard chart and earned Robinson a Grammy nomination. She would never crack the top 60 again.

Nonetheless, the song remains a perfect slice of disco and often features on 1970s compilations, sitting comfortably alongside bigger hits from that era. It’s a great track.

Which version is your favourite?

Saturday Songs

#1: Pretty in Pink – Psychedelic Furs

#2: West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys

#3: Cruel Summer – Bananarama

#4: Disco 2000 – Pulp

#5: Don’t Leave Me This Way – The Communards

#6: A Moment Like This – Kelly Clarkson

#7: Right Here Right Now – Fatboy Slim

#8: Take On Me – a-ha

#9: Country House – Blur

#10: Manic Monday – The Bangles

#11: Love Shack – The B-52’s

#12: True Faith – New Order

#13: Rehab – Amy Winehouse

#14: Flashdance … What A Feeling – Irene Cara

#15: 99 Red Balloons – Nena

#16: Luka – Suzanne Vega

#17: Beautiful – Christina Aguilera

#18: Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

#19: Word Crimes – Weird Al Yankovic

#20: Holding Out for a Hero – Bonnie Tyler

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