(September 15, 2023).  When it comes to blue-eyed soul, a term describing white artists who faithfully record and perform in the style of black musicians, the names that immediately come to mind—particularly from the 1970s—are Daryl Hall & John Oates, KC & The Sunshine Band, Teena Marie, the Average White Band, Boz Scaggs, Robert Palmer and occasionally Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers.

Those artists made names for themselves by regularly creating music with elements often found in Black soul: funky or soulful instrumental arrangements punctuated by occasional bursts of brass; searing, bluesy or gospel-like vocals aided by call-and-response cadences; and those bass-heavy rhythm tracks—whether they be slow, fast or mid-tempo grooves.

In the nation’s bicentennial year, Black music radio—whose main programming consisted of soul, R&B, funk, and, to an increasing degree, disco fare—was teeming with songs by white musicians.

White, white-led, or predominantly white acts like some of the aforementioned plus the Bee Gees, Andrea True Connection, Wild Cherry, and even Rick Dees all had hits in 1976 that not only rode the pop charts, but scaled the Billboard soul charts as well (and yes, many even appeared in that unofficial barometer of Black music popularity: Jet Magazine’s Soul Brother’s Top 20).

The recent passing of Gary Wright—the talented keyboardist who’d previously mixed it up with elite rockers like ex-Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr, plus Foreigner’s Mick Jones, and who broke through with his spacey No. 2 pop hit “Dream Weaver” in early 1976–caused me to reflect on his one moment under the soul music sun with his second big single…the unwittingly funky and—in this blogger’s unpopular opinion—slightly superior “Love Is Alive.”

“Love Is Alive” by the late Gary Wright (1976) went to No. 2 pop and spent a lone week on the Billboard Soul chart at No. 98.

As the second hit single from his 1975 album The Dream Weaver, “Alive” wasn’t released as a vinyl 45 by Warner Brothers until spring 1976, after the title track had run its course.  And like all the other tracks on the album, “Alive” clearly had been created in a pop/rock mold.

It was the second of only three singles Wright would place in the American top 40 during his career, and the second—after “Dream Weaver”—to reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100…no small feat by most artists’ standards.

But unlike “Weaver,” “Alive” would eventually join the ranks of songs by those aforementioned blue-eyed soul artists and see ink on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart, a distinction Wright had never before achieved and one he would never repeat.

The album version of “Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright (1975)

For years, Black artists had been crossing over to the pop charts with soul hits.  In 1976 alone, there were over a dozen songs by Black acts that reached the top three on the pop chart and were also soul chart hits, including tunes by Diana Ross, Ohio Players, Donna Summer, the Miracles, Hot Chocolate, Johnny Taylor, the Sylvers, Dorothy Moore, the Manhattans, Brothers Johnson, Lou Rawls, the Spinners, and Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr.

But not since the early days of rock and roll had there been a year quite like 1976, where the reverse was also true: white artists known mainly for their pop success finding a home on the soul chart…at least not to the extent that it happened that year.

Billboard had made it a point to draw bright-line distinctions between R&B/soul and pop/rock music beginning in 1965 when the Soul chart was reinstated after a 14-month hiatus while the trade mag figured out how to better distinguish the genres.  Before that hiatus started in November 1963, it wasn’t uncommon for the same artists to populate both charts, making it hard to distinguish one from the other.

But those lines were slightly blurred again in 1976 as many pop artists began to exploit Black music’s popularity (thank you, Soul Train) with Black-leaning hits of their own. 

In one week alone, on the chart dated August 14, 1976, the following white or white-led acts had hits on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles list: Walter Murphy and his Big Apple Band (“A Fifth of Beethoven”), Silver Convention (“No, No Joe”), Disco Tex & The Sex-o-Lettes (“Dancin’ Kid”), Boz Scaggs (“Lowdown”), Daryl Hall & John Oates (“Sara Smile”), Bee Gees (“You Should Be Dancin’”), The New Marketts (“Song from M*A*S*H”; a discofied version of the popular TV show theme), Wild Cherry (“Play That Funky Music”), KC & The Sunshine Band (“Shake Your Booty”) and even The Rolling Stones (“Hot Stuff,” no not the Donna Summer smash of a few years later).

That’s ten white acts with simultaneous hits on the soul chart.

And entering at a humble No. 98 that week?  The former No. 2 pop hit by Gary Wright: “Love Is Alive,” which would join the others and bring the blue-eyed soul total to eleven.

The bottom positions on The Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart dated August 14, 1976 (with “Love Is Alive” at No. 98)

But what inspired Black radio program directors to give Wright’s big pop record a spin on their stations?

Well, aside from the fact that his label—Warner Brothers Records—likely got its Black music department’s promotional arm behind it, the song actually had its own soulful merits.  

“Love Is Alive” was dominated by various keyboard riffs—like “Dream Weaver” before it—with nothing other than drums and Wright’s vocals accompanying.  But “Alive” was also funkier, with its staccato keyboard pings mimicking a funk guitar and its sparse snare-bass drum notes forming a mid-tempo groove that made it a head-bopping jam.

The thing that took “Alive” over the top, however, was Wright’s vocals, sung confidently in a high register that never relented from start to finish.  Whereas “Dream Weaver” showcased Wright’s softer, more tonal approach, “Alive” was the tenor singer at his grittiest, befitting artists who were far more steeped in soul than he was.  

All of this helped broaden its appeal beyond the artist’s targeted pop fan base to a receptive Black music one.

The debut of “Love Is Alive” at No. 98 on the soul rankings was indeed a modest one, coming after the song had already peaked and begun its descent on the pop list.  But it mimicked the kind of delayed crossover that untested Black artists had often experienced on the pop chart. 

The irony in all of this is that both of Wright’s No. 2 pop hits—“Dream Weaver” and “Love Is Alive”—had been prevented, in part, from reaching No. 1 on the pop chart by soul smashes.

When “Dream Weaver” spent its final two of three weeks in the No. 2 spot in April 1976, the No. 1 song was Johnny Taylor’s “Disco Lady.”  Similarly, when “Love Is Alive” moved from No. 5 to No. 2 on the Hot 100 in late July, the No. 1 song was the Manhattans’ “Kiss And Say Goodbye.”

Gary Wright performs “Love Is Alive” live with Ringo Starr, Colin Hay and others (circa 2011)

Unfortunately for Wright, his time in the soul music spotlight was brief.  “Love Is Alive” disappeared from Hot Soul Singles one week after it had debuted, spending that lone week at No. 98 and making Wright a one-week, one-hit wonder when it came to Black music radio.

Still, “Love Is Alive” was an undeniable jam, one of this blogger’s personal favorites that gave the late Gary Wright a distinction many artists don’t get in their careers.  

Especially artists who otherwise were about as pop as popular music could be.

R.I.P. Gary Wright (1943-2023)

Gary Wright’s 1975 album The Dream Weaver


DJRob (he/him/his), who’s been binging Gary Wright’s songs since news of his death broke on Sept. 4, is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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