(July 5, 2022). It’s been nearly two weeks since the news broke of the passing of Reggie Andrews, esteemed songwriter and music producer (as well as retired high school music teacher) on June 23 at the age of 74.
The talented keyboardist was arguably one of the most notable funk progenitors this side of George Clinton, a man who had recorded with or mentored people like Donald Byrd, Patrice Rushen, Tyrese Gibson, the group Switch (featuring Bobby and Tommy DeBarge), and punk-funk pioneer Rick James. It was on James’ iconic Street Songs album that Andrews was listed as “string arranger,” with some reports crediting him as having performed specifically on that album’s massive “Super Freak.”
But it was what the late funkster Andrews created in the months following “Super Freak” that permanently established his legacy: a little dance-funk soul tune he wrote with friend Leon Chancler and produced by himself called “Let It Whip.”
“Let It Whip,” recorded by fledgling Motown group The Dazz Band (a group out of Cleveland, Ohio who were often confused with the band that recorded the R&B/pop classic “Dazz” six years earlier…that was the Atlanta-based group Brick), was released in February 1982. “Let It Whip” made its inauspicious debut on Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles charts a month later (at No. 83).
The single, a breath of fresh air for a Motown label that had been challenged with having to promote its increasingly aging stable of veteran artists from the 1960s and ‘70s, began a slow but steady climb up the soul chart, not stopping until it finally reached No. 1 at the end of May—in its 12th week on the survey. Eventually, the song crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100 (their pop chart) and reached the Top Five there that July, beginning a true unicorn-like story for an act who before then had never even touched the pop list.
A lone win for a new dance/funk act in Summer 1982
“Let It Whip” was a spectacular slice of synth-funk with a distinctive groove. The bass-line was a combination of a real electric bass guitar (by Dazz Band’s Michael Wiley) accompanying the Minimoog synth bass that formed the bulk of the song’s melody. The underlying beat was also a pairing of a slickly programmed drum riff played underneath traditional (real) drums with a memorable slashing “whip” sound pulsing every fourth beat.
This juxtaposition of synths and traditional instruments epitomized the musical transition that was happening in America at the time. The torch was slowly being passed in popular music from “live” instrumentation to programmed ‘80s synthesizers, and the charts were reflecting it more as the decade progressed.
The programmed-synth-combined-with-actual-instruments technique had been used in many of the soul-funk hits of the day (see Lakeside’s “Fantastic Voyage” and any number of Cameo’s or Gap Band’s hits). But where those other acts’ songs had previously failed to crossover, Reggie Andrews was able to craft for the Dazz Band a dance-funk record that fit comfortably on soul radio station playlists, dance floors and skating rinks alike.
But “Let It Whip” came at a precarious time in Black music’s history. In the post-disco era that lasted from 1980 until Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released in December ‘82, Black acts, especially newer, funky ones, couldn’t get significant exposure at pop radio. Disco’s burnout in 1979 had caused pop programmers to stay as far away from anything approaching Black dance music as they could in the ensuing years.
Even veteran Black acts like Ray Parker Jr. (“The Other Woman”) and Rick James (“Super Freak”) were beginning to follow Prince’s lead and dilute their traditional funk grooves with rock-leaning dance tracks, in their attempts to increase or solidify their crossover appeal. This was before Prince himself became a pop superstar.
Disco had residual success in 1980, but by 1981-82 it was practically non-existent on the pop chart. In the entire two-and-a-half years before the success of “Let It Whip,” only one new soul-funk band had taken a debut pop chart hit to the top five: S.O.S. Band’s “Take Your Time” two years earlier.
Additionally, in the two years between the No. 1 Hot 100 postings of Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” in February 1981 and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” in March 1983, no uptempo, danceable songs by Black recording artists hit No. 1 on the pop chart (to this day the longest such gap in the chart’s history).
The closest Black dance music had come to No. 1 during that period was through songs by veteran acts like “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire (No. 3 peak, Dec. 1981), “The Other Woman” by Ray Parker, Jr. (No. 4, June 1982), George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around” (No. 5, Feb. ‘82), Diana Ross’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” and “Mirror, Mirror” (Nos. 7 and 8, respectively, in March ‘82), “Lady” (You Bring Me Up)” by the Commodores (No. 8, Aug. ‘81), and “Get Down On It” by Kool & the Gang (No. 10, May ‘82).
Even Rick James’ colossal “Super Freak,” thought by many to be a much bigger hit, only peaked at No. 16 on the Hot 100 in Oct. 1981.
Not one Black artist who hadn’t previously charted on the Hot 100 was able to break into the top ten of that chart between Jan 1981 and June 1982.
But then came “Let It Whip,” the only top-ten pop hit by a Black recording act in 1981 or ‘82 who had never hit the Hot 100 previously, the only one American pop radio had decided across-the-board to give a chance.
“Let It Whip” marked the end of the “Soul” music era, literally…
When “Let It Whip” entered the pop top ten on the chart dated June 19, it was concurrently in its fourth consecutive week at No. 1 on the soul chart—a historically symbolic soul chart that year: it was the last chart for which Billboard used the moniker “Soul Singles.”
Beginning with the magazine’s following issue, dated June 26, the chart’s name was changed to “Black Singles” (later Hot Black Singles), a name that stuck until October 1990. The same name change was made for Billboard’s soul albums chart.
Through today’s lens, that name change might be seen as unfortunate at best, and culturally insensitive at worst. Never before had a major trade publication, especially one as reputable as Billboard, named its charts specifically for a race of people.
At the time, however, it reflected the dilemma that the music industry had been facing in how to position Black artists during the musical crossroads created by disco’s demise and hip-hop’s slow rise, all while funk bands (like Gap Band, Zapp, Con Funk Shun, Lakeside, Skyy, One Way, Cameo and S.O.S. Band) were thriving on Black airwaves.
Simply put, the term “Soul” no longer adequately described the variety of Black music forms co-existing in the 1980s. Disco had peaked and declined (but still had a pulse). Traditional soul, which had taken a beating during disco’s rise, didn’t rebound to the level of success it had known pre-disco, but was still part of Black music’s mix. The earlier mentioned funk bands topped the charts with regularity while early hip-hop acts (Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow, Sequence, and Grandmaster Flash) were on the rise.
Due to the chart’s name change, the Dazz Band was the last act to top the so-called “Soul Chart” before “Let It Whip” was displaced by Gap Band’s “Early In The Morning” on the first “Black Singles” chart the following week (June 26, 1982).
Then, in a rare show of resilience for that era, “Let It Whip” slashed its way back up to No. 1 on the July 3 chart for a fifth and final frame, making it the only song to top the chart under both the “Soul” and “Black”monikers. The Gap Band’s “Morning” evicted “Whip” from the penthouse for good the following week (July 10).
As it began its final descent down the soul chart, “Let It Whip” continued its climb up the pop list, overcoming a very high bar that had been set for dance music and new black acts in general during the early 1980s. It eventually peaked at No. 5 before beginning its inevitable slide down and off the Hot 100 (after 23 weeks on the list).
When all was said and done…
“Let It Whip” wound up being one of the biggest hits of 1982, a unicorn jam that came during one of music’s biggest crossroads for Black music—and thrived! Its popularity during Black music’s least popular period was clearly attributable to its undeniable pop sensibility combined with an irresistible dance/funk groove—qualities owing to Reggie Andrews’ stellar production savvy.
The unique chart legacy of “Let It Whip” likely has escaped the many folks who mostly just remember hopping to their feet the second they heard the distinctive extended synth note that fades in at the song’s intro, or who remember singing along with its nonsensical but fun lyrics during the spring and summer of 1982.
But it’s a legacy that chart followers like yours truly remember well. I recall vividly how badly America needed a tune like this at a time when pop radio wasn’t giving songs like it the time of day.
True to pop radio form at the time, when “Let It Whip” exited the chart that September, only a handful of other Black acts would have top-10 pop hits during the remainder of 1982: Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye. Oh yeah, and Michael Jackson with a song that kicked off what would become the biggest-selling album of all time.
Yep, they were all veterans singers who’d been there before. As we know now, it would take an album of “thrilling” proportions to change Black music’s fortunes for good in 1983.
As for the Dazz Band, they would never make another appearance in the pop Top 40 after “Let It Whip.” The late Reggie Andrews had truly captured lightning in a bottle with that smash, and for that he will always be remembered.
DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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