Working with founding member Tony Henry, we’re honoured to present the reissue of 52nd Street’s crucial debut single “Look Into My Eyes”, backed with “Express”. Originally released on Factory Records in Summer 1982, this ultra-rare 12" is a double-sider in the truest sense. Unrivalled Manchester jazz-funk-boogie-soul.
Both “Look Into My Eyes” and “Express” came out of a five day recording session in the spring of 1982 at Revolution Studios in Cheadle Hulme, just outside Manchester. Rob Gretton had just signed the band to Factory, snatching them from under the noses of RCA and WEA Records who had been sniffing around and seemingly ignoring Tony Wilson’s concerns that Factory might not be the right home for a black soul act. Rob clearly thought different.
The band of Tony Henry on guitar and vocals, bass player Derek Johnson, drummer Tony Thompson, lead vocalist Beverley McDonald and John Dennison on keyboards were put in the studio with A Certain Ratio’s drummer Donald Johnson producing the sessions. The band also found themselves with an interesting new member.
The back cover of the finished record credits synth F/X to a mysterious “Be Music”. Turns out that’s Bernard Sumner. Yes, that one. Tony Henry explains that bringing Bernard in was another part of Rob Gretton’s plan, “Barney was a real soul boy at heart and had always wanted to produce and work with black artists… with 52nd Street, he was an honorary member”. The results suggest he fit right in.
“Look Into My Eyes” squeezes so much aural pleasure into one side of a 12" single. A strutting, rich, soul-gliding funk with bass and guitar high in the mix above twisted, bubbling synths. Like Nile and Barney drenched outside the Haçienda that first summer. How can something be this liquid loose whilst sounding so, so tight? The hypnotic, naïve-cum-insouciant vocals from McDonald, backed by her fellas, only add to the track’s charm. Put simply, it sounds like nothing else.
On the flip, “Express” is sheer drama on wax. Derek’s opening lesson in good manners (“Excuse me miss, is this seat taken?”) sees us strapped in for a wild, chaotic, rhythmic ride. All bold keys, synth brass blasts, insistent bells and a galloping groove giving *that rush* atop a bassline to die for. No surprise it was a Frankie Knuckles favourite. Blistering heat.
The 12" was Paul Morley’s single of the week in the NME but his approval did little to get daytime radio play or to sell the record when it was released. It probably didn’t help that, in Tony Henry’s words, Factory were a label “notorious for not promoting their bands, not wanting any communications with the written press and not answering their office phones.” It came and went with none of the fuss that music this good deserved.
But in the near-40 years since they were released, these two tracks have gone on to become cult underground hits for those in the know. Of course that means those original 12"s have gotten rare and pricey. So here’s your chance to own this particular piece of post punk Factory Records funk.
But this record isn’t just a vital slice of Manchester soul history. Tony’s not shy about just how important he thinks the collaboration between 52nd Street and Bernard Sumner was: “this worked out quite well for us in the band but even better for New Order and Factory Records as Sumner studied grooves, rhythms and how to write and construct funk and dance music from 52nd Street and producer Donald Johnson”. You just have to listen to Blue Monday to hear what Bernard did when he started putting what he’d learnt into practice.
“Look Into My Eyes” and “Express” come from a chapter of the history of Factory Records that no-one seems to have gotten around to writing. Working with Tony to reissue the original 12" is the start of putting that right. The story of 52nd Street is more than just a footnote.