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"Rock the Boat"
Hues Corporation
RCA 0232
July 1974
Billboard: #1    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

Hues Corporationally Holmes, the man who founded the Hues Corporation, originally had a different name in mind for the black trio. "I wanted to call the group the Children of Howard Hughes, because I knew Hughes was single and he represented a conservative element. I was kind of wild in those days and I thought a fantastic thing would be to take a black group and call them the Children of Howard Hughes." But Holmes ran into a legal wall and was unable to incorporate Hughes' name into the group. "So, I came up with the idea of the Hues Corporation."

'Rockin' Soul' - Hues Corporation
L.A. black vocal trio Hues Corporation's sole No. 1 hit, "Rock the Boat," was featured on their June 1974 debut album, Freedom for the Stallion, which peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 200 album chart and spent a total of 18 weeks on the chart. In 1995, Collectables Records released Rockin' Soul (above), a compilation album that includes "Rock the Boat" in its 12" single version, along with 9 other Hues Corporation songs.
Holmes started the group with his body-surfing pal, Bernard St. Clair Lee Calhoun Anderson. They found H. Ann Kelly at a talent show in Los Angeles, and Karl Russell responded to notices placed in southern California record stores. Russell was soon replaced by singer Fleming Williams, and the Hues Corporation played local clubs with few results. Holmes booked them into the lounge at Circus Circus in Las Vegas. "All these acts from all over the strip were coming over to this little funky lounge seeing this group," Holmes recalls. Word of mouth spread and the group landed a record deal with RCA Records. Their first album, Freedom for the Stallion, yielded two singles, including the title track (number 63 in September, 1973).

"Rock the Boat" was one of the tracks on the LP. "It was not even considered for release," Holmes reports. "It was just an afterthought. It was put (on the album) like it had absolutely no chance of happening."

The intention was for Ann Kelly to sing lead vocal, but Holmes was encouraged by others not to use her. "Girl singers weren't happening then," he explains. Fleming Williams handled the lead vocal, but has never received proper credit for it because he left the group immediately after recording it and was replaced by Tommy Brown.

"You gotta remember Fleming... because he's the guy who sang that song," Holmes stresses. "He did an absolutely amazing job... there's a mouthful of words in the verses and this guy was able to make those verses sing."

RCA hired John Florez, the man who helped Friends of Distinction ("Grazin' in the Grass," "Love or Let Me Be Lonely") crossover to pop radio, to produce Freedom for the Stallion. But Holmes gives the credit for "Rock the Boat" to someone else. "John didn't know what to do with the song... I found this young guy from New York, Tom Sellers. He's the one who came up with the little bit of reggae beat... and what he did with that drum beat was a very important part of making the record happen. The rest is a mystery to me!"

Freedom for the Stallion was headed for the glue factory when RCA's David Kershenbaum went to see the band perform in Los Angeles. He noted the audience reaction to "Rock the Boat" and had the label release it as a single. "The record came out sometime in February and it's fair to say that by the middle of March, it was totally dead," Holmes recalls. "It was gone. Suddenly, when the record wasn't (being played) on any radio station, it sold 50,000 copies in New York City." "Rock the Boat" had become a hit in the dance clubs. "There was this mad, incredible rush to find the record. Disc jockeys were jumping on it and sending copies to disc jockeys they knew in other places."

Once radio started playing it, "Rock the Boat" sailed up the Billboard Hot 100 , reaching number one in just six weeks after its debut on May 25, 1974. But the Hues Corporation found it difficult to come up with another hit. "Rockin' Soul," the follow-up, peaked at 18. In 1977 they switched to Warner/Curb and had their last chart single, "I Caught Your Act" (number 92 in May, 1977).

- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.

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