Van Allen Clinton McCoy, known to the world of music as Van McCoy, is a man whom I consider, without apology, to be the greatest writer of love songs who ever lived. Wow!! … where do I begin?? Well Van was born in Washington D.C. on January 6, 1940, and started out very early writing songs from the age of 12. He eventually formed a singing group at age 18, called the Starlighters, with his brother Norman McCoy and two schoolmates. Van McCoy and Norman McCoy – reminiscent of the brother duos like Jerry and Billy Butler and William and Wilbert Hart of the Delfonics. The Starlighters, after releasing several Van McCoy-penned songs, broke up in 1959 when the USA armed forces came calling, along with marriage and other interests; and a star was born, when Van went solo.
His very first solo song released in 1959, which he also wrote – “Mr. D J” – is still one of my favourites. When Van’s mother collected his first royalty cheque in 1960 totaling 11 cents (that’s right!), she kept it as a souvenir, and little did she know then, that Van would have royalty cheques pouring in for over 53 years due to the number of songs he has written since that first cheque. My introduction to Van McCoy was to his wonderful voice as a singer when I first heard the song “Let Me Down Easy” in 1970. “What a beautiful, soft, melodious voice” I thought to myself as I listened to the song over and over again; eventually buying and simply falling in love with the 45 rpm. I couldn’t get enough of that record!! Then luckily my mentor Leslie “Soul Seeker” Bryan introduced me to the album VAN MCCOY SOUL IMPROVISATIONS, which included “Let Me Down Easy” and songs like “Just In Case”, I’m In Love With You Baby”, “Don’t Rock The Boat”, and “Now That You’re Gone”. I was mesmerized!! So much so that I believe that’s when I started going beyond the surface of record buying and started collecting … there’s a marked difference.
Then as my collection grew over the years, I began to notice that a huge number of the songs I was buying were written by Van McCoy!! …. “Sweet Bitter Love” – Aretha Franklin, “Either Way I Lose” – Gladys Knight & The Pips, “Baby I’m Yours” – Barbara Lewis, “Right On The Tip Of My Tongue” and Where There’s A Will There’s A Way – Brenda & The Tabulations, “5-10-15-20-25-30 Years of Love” – the Presidents and the list goes on and on. I had to find out more about this man ….. Then came “The Hustle” in 1974 which immortalized Van and I always thought what a paradox …..the song which made Van internationally renowned wasn’t the Van McCoy I knew and loved …. Nevertheless I was grateful because the world stopped for some amount of time and took note of this phenomenal man!! Though he still hasn’t received the recognition he truly deserves. My travels and diligent record collecting over the years, has made me come to realize that Van McCoy must be the most prolific writer of love songs of all time; and easily the greatest writer of the kind of songs we collectors are known for. He has written songs for the likes of Nat King Cole, Jerry Butler, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and The Pips, Ruby and The Romantics, Roberta Flack, Vikki Carr, Tom Jones, Jackie Wilson, David Ruffin, The Shirelles, Brenda & The tabulations, The Presidents, Anacostia (who were originally The Presidents), Choice Four, Gloria Lynne, Nina Simone, Sharon Ridley, Nancy Wilson, Barbara Lewis, The Exciters, Tommy Hunt, Tommie Young (“A Woman Called Moses” which is out of character for Van but shows his versatility as a songwriter), Irma Thomas, Romance Watson (the beautiful “Where Does That Leave Me” covered by Nancy Wilson), Richmond Extension, Dee Dee Warwick, Leola Giles, Faith Hope & Charity, Melba Moore, Zulema, The Whispers (“Living Together In Sin” which was a total surprise for me), Bobby Reed, Kenny Shepherd, Kenny Young, Terri Thornton, Chris Bartley, Irma Thomas, ILana (the explosive “Where Would You Be Today”) ….. These are only some of the artistes Van has written songs for, just to give an idea of the magnitude and reach of his songwriting abilities.
Personally my favourite song written by Van McCoy is the tremendous, heart stopping “I Never Believed In Love” by Jerome Jackson (former lead singer of the Richmond Extension) – the most beautiful love song I have ever heard ! … and I’ve heard a few. Interestingly he was engaged to an artiste named Kendra Spotswood who was his neighbor, writing songs for her under her given name (“Jive Guy”); as Kenni Woods (“Can’t He Take A Hint”); as Sandi Shelton (“Baby You’re Mine”) and Van also recorded duets with her as The Fantastic Vantasticks (“Gee What A Guy”). Now Van McCoy as a singer …. what is there to say, more than he was a wonderfully gifted and melodious vocalist; and if you need proof just listen to his songs like “Let Me Down Easy” the absolutely beautiful “Merry-Go-Round”, “Decisions”, “You’re So Right For Me”, “Good Night Baby”, “Just In Case”, “Don’t Rock The Boat”, “Now That You’re Gone”, “I’m In Love With You Baby” etc…. As an arranger, musician and producer he’s in a class by himself; plus Van was conductor for his own Soul Symphony Orchestra. Try to get your hands on some of his instrumental 45 rpms – “I Started A Joke”, “Killing Me Softly”, “Rainy Night In Georgia” and “If I Could Make You Mine”. The English language has not yet discovered the words to genuinely and sufficiently describe Van McCoy’s talent and his contribution to world music ….. I hope they do in my lifetime. And, oh by the way, did I mention before that Van McCoy died on July 6, 1979 from a massive heart attack at his home in Englewood Hills, New Jersey ….. yes only 39 years old …. I still can’t believe it!! Sadly, Van McCoy has NEVER been honoured by any organization in America (his homeland) or anywhere else for that matter …. What a travesty!! (Contributed by Michael Barnett)