Friday, June 1, 2012

Cusp Song of the Day: The Hustle

From Chapter 5: "The Hustle," Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony's only hit song, was released at the beginning of summer 1975, at the dawn of the disco era. The catchy almost-instrumental spent the entire summer on the charts, including a week at number 1. I remember well its ubiquity that year.
In Cusp, the song is featured twice: When Karen and her friend Gwen talk on the phone, Gwen complains, "My mother just bought leopard-skin panties to get my father all hot. You hear that music in the background? That’s her practicing a striptease to 'The Hustle.'”

Karen's mother, too, is feeling her sexual power and Karen asks, “How the hell do our mothers have better sex lives than we do? What kind of sick world do we live in?” A world with "The Hustle" as a soundtrack, that's what kind of world. Inhibitions were being shed across the land.

"The Hustle"'s other appearance in Cusp is on New Year's Eve, at the gay disco where Karen, Mark and Craig go to welcome in the Bicentennial. When the song comes on Karen thinks, "It feels like it’s from a previous decade, not last summer."

Rumor has it that the hustle (the dance) predated "The Hustle" (the song). McCoy's songwriting partner Charles Kipps apparently saw the dance at Adam's Apple, a club on First Avenue in New York where I spent a fair amount of time back in the '70s. I not only remember the club, I even remember what was playing on the radio in the cab one winter night when my roommate Diane and I headed there from NYU: the Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle." Music and the events they accompanied are seared into my brain. Blessing or curse? A little of both.

I used to know the steps to the hustle, but they're long gone. Sadly, so is Van McCoy, a prolific songwriter and producer who died of a heart attack in 1979 at the age of 39. Among many other great songs, McCoy produced one of my favorites from Cusp, David Ruffin's "Walk Away from Love"—more about that one later.

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