Willie Hutch – Havin’ A House Party/Making A Game Out Of Love – Album Review
Willie Hutch – Having A House Party/Making A Game Out Of Love
Released 18th August 2017
2CD collection which brings together two albums Hutch recorded for Motown in 1977 and 1985 respectively, plus bonus single tracks……Ian Canty witnesses the fall-out from the Blaxploitation era of the early 70s……
Willie Hutch (born William Hutchinson), like a lot of people later involved in Soul, Funk and R & B, got his beginning in Doo Wop (his band being the Ambassadors). Often derided, it was in truth one of the building blocks of Rock & Roll and vitally important in the development of talent such as Mr Hutch. After a stint in the military he attended a school for performing arts in his Dallas hometown and from there signed to Dunhill, releasing a single entitled The Duck in 1965 (he also shortened his name to Hutch for this outing). After this initial dalliance with music proved unsuccessful, he opted to decamp to LA where his abilities as a song-writer were utilised by highly successful vocal group the 5th Dimension.
Signing to RCA at the end of the 60s he released a couple of LPS before coming under the Motown radar by providing lyrics to the Jackson 5 smash I’ll Be There. His skill with words was pressed into action by most of the label’s other big hitters like Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye and in 1973 Hutch was given the chance to record for the imprint himself. Soon he found himself providing soundtracks for major films The Mack and Foxy Brown, whilst simultaneously recording solo albums which saw great success in the US R & B charts.
By the time we meet him here in 1977 Funk was lying low after Disco’s huge dance floor success, just about to re-enter the mainstream when something a little different was called for. Havin’ A House Party is marked out by lush arrangements, strings and heavenly sounding backing singers. That’s not a criticism, as Hutch still retained some of the tough Funk of his early 70s heyday and combined this with his skill in turning out creamy Soul productions.
This is a strong album – if personal preference points me more towards the thumping title track and Willie’s Boogie, which is marked by a certain cinematic quality, Hutch handles the sophisticated Soul efforts like I Never Had It So Good equally well. In addition to his playing, he had a honey-toned high voice that could transform into a growl should the need arise and he uses it to full effect here. There’s the occasional drfit towards self-parody like on the sugary What You Gonna Do After The Party?, but on the whole its a winner.
Though not a “concept” album as such the party theme runs through the album, which reaches it’s apex on the smooth as silk single “We’re Gonna Party Tonight” replete with high quality horn section, a real mover. The singles and LP reached the R & B charts but sadly didn’t make waves elsewhere. It’s a shame as it’s a very good record that was arguably a bit too hard-edged for the time-frame – slick Disco was still holding all the cards and Willie’s more full-on and symphonic Funk jams would have probably been bigger either three years earlier or later.
In the years between these releases Hutch left for the Whitfield label and recorded a further two albums for them (In Tune and Midnight Dancer) before returning to Motown in 1982.
Three years after nearly cracking the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1982 with In And Out (included here in 7″ and 12″ versions as bonus tracks), he returned with his first LP of new material in six years called Making A Game Out Of Love. Times had definitely changed, but Hutch had realised that things were moving on and adjusted his approach to be able to confront this new environment. Synths, electric percussion and “state of the art” production was utlised, but to be honest it appears that Hutch lost some of his bite with this new technological makeover. Eight years between albums certainly shows as Making A Game Out Of Love is perfectly listenable 80s Soul Pop, but a bit lacking anything much to set it out from the crowd.
Unfortunately the songs aren’t quite strong or catchy enough on the whole to compete with what was already in the charts. Though the technology on display does sound of its time, the musical palette on offers is not quite so dated or thin sounding as a lot of material from the same era. If Hutch sounds a little unconvincing dabbling in a few Hip Hop rhythms on The Blow you can’t fault the bloke for attempting to move with the times and look to the future.
The single Keep On Jammin’ is more spritely and works better in its extended single format (also included as a bonus) and the final track Inside You has a nice link up with the Temptations although a little, ahem, un-PC lyrically. Apart from that there’s plenty of danceable efforts that would go down ok at a club but not really have you whistling the tune afterwards.
After so nearly making the breakthrough again in the UK charts with the single mix of Keep On Jammin’ (it made number 73), Hutch recorded sparsely before sadly passing away in 2005 at the age of 60. Though both the albums on show here coming from wildly different eras, they show his ability to produce commercial material and experiment. In my opinion Havin’ A House Party makes this package worthwhile, being prime late 70s Funk which portrays the talents Hutch undoubtedly had in production and arrangement perfectly. Making A Game Out Of Love is a lesser work but it completes the picture of his second time around time with Motown. Joined together they make an attractive package for an artist who deserves to be better known.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here