February 1975: Average White Band "Pick Up" a No. 1 Single and Album

Average White Band in 1975
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Michael Putland/Getty Images

On Feb. 22, 1975, The Average White Band experienced two things for the first time, neither of which they would ever experience again: their sophomore LP, AWB, was sitting atop the Billboard 200, and the album’s first single, “Pick Up the Pieces,” had climbed into the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100.

First, a brief history of AWB, as we will henceforth refer to them: although the members were Scottish, some of whom had played together while still living in Scotland, the whole lot of them ended up moving to London independently of each other and - by a degree of coincidence that some would call fate - they crossed paths when they all happened to attend a Traffic concert in early 1972. After jamming together and being told by a friend, “This is too much for the average white man,” they suddenly found themselves with a band as well as a name, and after managing to secure a spot as one of the openers for Eric Clapton’s ’73 comeback concert, they also found themselves with a contract with MCA Records.

Now, this would be the best story ever if “Pick Up the Pieces” had come out on MCA, but it didn’t. It came out on Atlantic Records, and that’s because Show Your Hand, AWB’s first - and, yes, last - album for MCA, sold poorly, failed to spawn any charting singles, and if we’re to be perfectly honest, it had an absolutely terrible cover. Fortunately, Bruce McCaskill, Eric Clapton’s tour manager, liked the band and was up for the challenge of managing them, and after securing the funds to fly them across the pond, he was able to play them up to Atlantic and secure them a new record deal.

Produced by Arif Mardin and recorded partly at Atlantic’s New York City recording studios and partly at Criteria Sound Studios in Miami, AWB was - as we’ve already acknowledged - a stone cold smash, one so downright funky that it blew people’s minds when they discovered that the band members were, in fact, a bunch of Scottish white guys.

But, of course, the song that made the greatest impact was the aforementioned “Pick Up the Pieces,” which was credited somewhat uniquely to saxophonist Roger Ball and guitarist Hamish Stuart individually as well as to the band as a whole. It must be said that, in addition to being catchy as hell and easy to dance to, it’s also pretty damned easy to memorize the lyrics, as they effectively only consist of the four-word title of the track, which the band members can be heard to holler at various points during the course of its run time.

That “Pick Up the Pieces” made it to No. 1 in America is a shocker, to be sure, but by the time it happened, the Average White Band had already suffered through arguably the biggest shock of the career, when the band’s drummer (and arguably its bandleader), Robbie McIntosh, died of as a result of a drug overdose after accidentally taking heroin which he’d believed to be cocaine.

Still, while McIntosh may not have lived to see the success of “Pick Up the Pieces,” the song continues to live on and, in a very real way, continues to keep his memory alive.

 

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