“Smoke From a Distant Fire” was a fairly popular tune back in 1977 from a duo who called themselves Sanford & Townsend. I liked it so much I even bought the 45 rpm single. Fast forward 36 years, and I discovered a copy of the Smoke From a Distant Fire LP at the local Goodwill, and promptly laid out a cool 99 cents for it. I had never heard the whole thing, and was very surprised at how good it was.
Then a couple of weeks later came the announcement that the Real Gone label was issuing Smoke, along with the duo’s third release Nail Me to the Wall (1979), on a single CD. Well, color me happy as I now have them both. Listening to this music today, I just have to wonder what went wrong. Both of these records should have been hits. In the era of Steely Dan, Hall and Oates, and Tower of Power, Sanford & Townsend fit right in. Unfortunately though, besides the hit single, most of us never heard them again.
So, here is your chance. For anyone who enjoyed the song “Smoke From a Distant Fire,” it is (obviously) here. But Sanford & Townsend’s music was not generally as hook-filled and upbeat as that track. Truth be told, the title tune of that first album is something of an anomaly. Ed Sanford and John Townsend started out as a songwriting team in Florida. They moved to Los Angeles, and made some demo tapes, hoping to sell some songs. When the A&R people heard it though, something of a bidding war for their talents as recording artists ensued. They wound up signing with Warner Bros.
To add to this streak of good fortune, the previously unknown duo managed to snag the legendary Jerry Wexler to produce their debut. As a founder of Atlantic Records, Wexler had an excellent ear for Sanford & Townsend’s music. Although there are a number of different elements in their music, the overriding one is “blue-eyed soul.” For this listener, the undisputed champs of that genre would have to be Hall & Oates. There are a quite a few songs on the debut that fit that description, but “Sunshine In My Heart Again” is the finest.