When Gary U.S. Bonds hit No. 11 on the pop chart in 1981 with “This Little Girl,” it capped one of the most unlikely comebacks in rock and soul music. Bonds had a massive hit record in 1961 with “Quarter to Three,” a party tune if there ever were one, which sold a million records and hit No. 1.
A smattering of hit singles followed, including “School is Out” (which hit the Top 5) and a quasi-answer record, “School is In” (which managed a Top 30 showing). Bonds also hopped on the Twist dance craze and had a couple more hits with songs in that vein, including “Dear Lady Twist,” which reached the Top 10 on the pop chart and the Top 5 on the R&B chart.
Those songs were all released in 1961, but by 1963, Bonds couldn’t buy a hit. This unfortunate condition lasted until 1981, when Bruce Springsteen (who was known to cover “Quarter to Three” in concert) and his right-hand man Steven Van Zandt produced Bonds’ comeback record, Dedication, featuring several Springsteen-penned tracks, including “This Little Girl.”
Twenty years after “Quarter to Three,” Gary U.S. Bonds was a contemporary hit maker once again, with songs that sounded great on both AM and FM radio, songs that harkened back to the great R&B-fueled music he had perfected back when listeners like Springsteen and Van Zandt were just kids. The whole thing worked so well, they did it again the next year, releasing On the Line in 1982. One of the record’s highlights was a cover of The Box Tops’ hit “Soul Deep.”
On the Line featured no fewer than seven Springsteen-penned songs, all of which mined the deep well of early rock and R&B, as had the songs on Dedication. One of the tracks was the ballad “Club Soul City,” a duet with Bonds’ onetime chart rival, the great Chuck Jackson. It is pure magic.
Bonds never again scaled the chart heights of Dedication or On the Line, but both records stand as testaments both to his resiliency and to the magic that can happen when a great singer is introduced to a bunch of great songs.