Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Horse/s: The Horse

Cliff Nobles and Co. : The Horse

If you have attended or watched a sporting event in the United States in the last few decades, you almost certainly have heard the marching or pep band play “The Horse,” the 1968 instrumental hit single from Cliff Nobles and Co. (I know that I played it at least twice as a member of the Princeton University Marching Band, which, by the way, is celebrating its 100th year of having invented the football marching band, only 50 years after Princeton and Rutgers invented college football.) And, there’s a chance that you might have heard the original, horn-filled song on the radio, or streaming, or however you consume music. But what you didn’t hear was Cliff Nobles. Because Cliff was the vocalist in the band, and “The Horse” is an instrumental.

According to Bobby Eli, guitarist on the track, he, guitarist Norman Harris, bassist Ronnie Baker, and drummer Earl Young created the music jamming in the studio—in fact, neither Nobles, nor Jesse James, the producer who took writing credit, were present in the studio at the time.

“The Horse” was released as the B-side to the single “Love is All Right,” which is essentially the same song, but with Nobles’ fine soul vocals. I have to admit to never having heard that version until I started writing this, and it stands on its own. But, for whatever reason, it was the stirring, if somewhat repetitive, instrumental that piqued the interest of DJs, and it peaked at No. 2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, before becoming often used as a theme song, or in stadiums and arenas.

The musicians that created and recorded “The Horse” received only a small fee, and producer/”writer” James refused to give them any more, leading to an acrimonious split. Eli, Harris, Baker and Young became part of the “MFSB” collective, who backed many, many groups, and had a hit of their own with “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” and Baker, Harris and Young were also members of The Trammps. The baritone sax player was Mike Terry, who also played on, among other things, Martha and the Vandellas' “Heat Wave,” and The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go,” and as a member of the Funk Brothers, he performed on thousands of Motown recordings from 1960-1967.

Despite his obvious talents, Nobles never sang on a hit song, and later worked in construction and the electronic generation industry, which is ironic, since “The Horse” is used to generate energy at sporting events (is that too tenuous a connection?)

Over at Cover Me, I wrote a piece defending Dexy’s Midnight Runners, which discussed their excellent covers of both “The Horse” and “TSOP.” (I wrote another defense of them here, too, but it wasn’t as good).

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