Some R&B From Deep In ’74

Shoe shoe shine used to cost a dime, a penny could buy you plenty.

So goes the hook from “Shoe Shoe Shine” by the Dynamic Superiors, a Washington, D.C., group that recorded for Motown. Forty years ago this week, the single was bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 104. The record would peak at No. 68 during the first week of December 1974 and go to No. 16 on the R&B chart:

It caught my ear this morning because the lyrics of the record seem to sum up, perhaps a bit obliquely, the general sense in 1974 that things in the U.S. weren’t going so well. (And if they weren’t going so well for the white middle class in which I was firmly ensconced, they were no doubt worse for folks of color.)

First of all
Let’s get one thing straight
All the things you desire
Will have to come late

Ain’t handing you no jive
Telling you it is what it ain’t
Pretending I can do things
That I, oh, that I can’t

But I remember (I remember)
I remember (I remember)

Shoe shoe shine used to cost a dime
A penny could buy you plenty
A nickel was the fare
To take you anywhere
Troubles, we didn’t have many

I may not have much to speak of
But there’ll always be plenty of love

You might as well get
Rid of those crazy ideas
Rainy days will outnumber
The ones you see clear

The picture in your dreams, no
That ain’t the way it’s gonna be
When you sit in your lucky chair
All you may have is me

Telling the story (telling the story)
Of glory (of glory) when
Shoe shoe shine used to cost a dime
A penny could buy you plenty
A nickel was the fare
To take you anywhere
Troubles, we didn’t have many

It’s a sadly sweet record with a great hook, written and produced by the team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and one might think that given all its positives – including its unflinching assessment of life in 1974 – that it should have done better in the chart. But I say that a lot, and as good as the record is, there were in 1974 – like always – hundreds of records with a similar sound (if not the same message) fighting for airplay.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t recall ever hearing the record before. I don’t know if it got airplay on KDWB or WJON, but I kind of doubt it, and I wasn’t listening to those stations much anymore, anyway. I was getting my music that autumn mostly from my LPs (collecting the work of the Allman Brothers Band was that season’s goal) and from the jukebox at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center. And by the time “Shoe Shoe Shine” entered the Hot 100 in early November, I wasn’t listening to much of anything for a while.

But forty years later, I like “Shoe Shoe Shine” well enough that I’ll likely seek out whatever I can find from the Dynamic Superiors’ self-titled album from 1974. That album provided the group with one more single: “Leave It Alone” bubbled under at No. 102 during the spring of 1975.

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