In the first half of the Seventies, the Chicago vocal group the Chi-Lites scored a string of transatlantic hit singles with the sensitive ballads "Have You Seen Her", "Oh Girl" and "Homely Girl", all of which were written or co-written and produced by Eugene Record. A soft-spoken man, Record also sang the distinctive high tenor-cum-falsetto lead vocals which formed an integral part of the Chi-Lites' appeal.
Record was a prolific composer and often collaborated with the singer Barbara Acklin (his first wife), Jackie Wilson, the Dells and Peaches & Herb. Acklin's hit "Am I the Same Girl", written with Record, made the UK Top Twenty in 1992 when revived by Swing Out Sister. Two years ago, "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)", an up-tempo, horn-driven track Record had written and recorded with the Chi-Lites in 1970, was sampled by the producer Rich Harrison to form the basis of "Crazy In Love", the début solo hit for the Destiny's Child singer Beyoncé Knowles, and Record shared the Grammy award it received for best R&B song of 2003.
Born in Chicago in 1940, Eugene Record began his career singing doo-wop with the Chanteurs, a group which also featured Robert "Squirrel" Lester (second tenor) and Clarence Johnson (tenor). In 1960, the trio joined forces with Creadel "Re"' Jones (bass) and Marshall Thompson (baritone), who had been in the Desideros, another harmony group from Chicago, to form the Hi-Lites.
The quintet released their début single, "Pots and Pans", on Mercury in 1961, but, to avoid confusion with another group of the same name, they added a C for Chicago and called themselves Marshall and the Chi-Lites. "Our lifestyle revolved around singing," Record remembered. "I'd bring my guitar to rehearsals and play them my little songs, but the others would always tease me."
Johnson soon departed and the Chi-Lites became a quartet, issuing the occasional single on local labels while Record drove a cab and Thompson drummed with the house band at the local Regal Theater. In 1967, Thompson was introduced to the Chicago producer and head of A&R at Brunswick, Carl Davis, who signed the Chi-Lites and released their "Price of Love" on his own Dakar imprint.
Impressed by Record's songwriting abilities, now blossoming in partnership with Barbara Acklin, Davis put them on a retainer and transferred the group to Brunswick the following year. The Chi-Lites scored their first US hit in 1969 with the ballad "Give It Away", which made the R&B Top Ten and crossed over to the pop charts too.
Influenced by Norman Whitfield's work with the Temptations, the Chi-Lites took the militant soul of "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People" into the US and UK Top Forty in 1971 before continuing their international breakthrough with "Have You Seen Her", a track whose potential had originally been ignored. "I had the song for at least two or three years," Record said,
but it was so long, five minutes long! You were lucky at that time if you got a record played that was three minutes long. Then Isaac Hayes come out with that Hot Buttered Soul album. He did something on there that was 18 minutes long! That convinced me to put "Have You Seen Her" as the last track on our third album, and then, wow! I've never seen anything like that record!
With its half-sung, half-spoken verses and the yearning "why oh why" section, "Have You Seen Her" captured the imagination of many DJs and radio listeners. The poignant song was covered by several other acts before Brunswick, who had been promoting another Chi-Lites ballad, "I Want to Pay You Back (For Loving Me)", finally put their weight behind "Have You Seen Her" and it became a No 3 hit single on both sides of the Atlantic.
Record could be a terrible judge of his own songwriting abilities, as he also dismissed "Oh Girl", the sweet country-soul single which became a US chart-topper for the Chi-Lites in June 1972. "I gave Carl Davis seven songs on a tape and he called me to say there's a No 1 tune on there," Record said. "I named them all before 'Oh Girl' and I thought he was kidding."
The Chi-Lites achieved further US successes with "A Letter to Myself" and "Stoned Out of My Mind" in 1973, while British buyers took the singles "Homely Girl", "Too Good to Be Forgotten", "It's Time For Love" and "You Don't Have to Go" into the Top Ten between 1974 and 1976. But all was far from rosy, as "Creadel" Jones left because of drug problems and the Brunswick label was investigated on fraud, conspiracy and payola charges. In order to extricate themselves from the mess, the Chi-Lites had to plead guilty to tax evasion.
Record quit the Chi-Lites in 1976 and signed a solo deal with Warner Brothers. He released three albums - The Eugene Record (1977), Trying To Get To You (1978) and Welcome To My Fantasy (1979) - but rejoined the group in 1980. The Chi-Lites cut a further four albums and had a minor UK hit with "Changing for You" in 1983.
Record had always had spiritual leanings and wrote songs like "There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table)". In 1988, he claimed that he heard the voice of God telling him to change his life. He retired from touring with the Chi-Lites (who carried on, led by Marshall Thompson), became a minister and made a gospel album called Let Him In (1998). He also received substantial royalties from his publishing, as Paul Young, UB40, Amazulu, Paul Weller and M.C. Hammer all covered or sampled his songs.
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