January 1977: Rose Royce Hit #1 with "Car Wash"

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Rose Royce (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It's a funky legend for a funky song: songwriter Norman Whitfield had been hired to write songs for new movie, Car Wash. Unable to come up with anything, he was randomly watching a basketball game when inspiration struck. Since he was in the middle of enjoying the colonel's finest from Kentucky Fried Chicken, he simply wrote the lyrics on the side of the bag the food came in.

Car Wash: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack would be the debut album from the band Rose Royce, with the movie's theme song serving as the band's first single. Released in September of 1976 along with the movie, "Car Wash" would explode at radio, getting spins across genre formats throughout the fall and winter. The song would hit #1 on the Hot 100 on January 29, 1977. It would hold the top slot for just one week. "Car Wash" would be toppled on the first chart of February 1977 by Mary Macgregor and "Torn Between Two Lovers," which would hold onto the crown for two weeks.

Like many '70s hit-makers, Rose Royce enjoyed the ride of fame, only to be faced with harsh realities once their feet came back down to the ground. 

“I was like a kid in a candy store just having fun,” Kenny Copeland, a founding trumpet player of Rose Royce, told the Times Herald in 2016. “We didn’t care about money. We were out on the road in Japan and England for about three months and when all was said and done, I think I had $220 in my pocket when I got home. My mother and father said, ‘You must have gone out for fun because you certainly didn’t make any money.’”

After six years of court battles, the members of Rose Royce were duly compensated: “A lot of groups run up against a brick wall, but we were blessed,” Copeland explained. “We got all back royalties. You’ve got to have faith and fight and be willing to sacrifice. But I never want to enter into anything like that again. It was six years of stress.”

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