354. ‘When Will I See You Again’, by The Three Degrees

As if to confirm that our last helping of disco-soul – George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’ – wasn’t a fluke, here’s another slice. Go on, you know you want to…

When Will I See You Again, by The Three Degrees (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 11th – 25th August 1974

This is an impossibly glitzy record – you can’t help imagine a shimmering disco ball slowly spinning above The Three Degrees as they sing – and, as with our previous #1, it’s supremely glossy. Back in the fifties, I used to write that American singers sounded so polished and mature, so sexy, next to our gurning music hall stars. So it is again. We were dancing like loons to ‘Sugar Baby Love’; they were coolly shimmying to records like this.

Hoooo…. Haaaa… Precious moments…. It’s a reboot of the classic sixties girl-groups – The Shirelles, The Ronettes and, of course, The Supremes. When will I see you again…? Lyrically, this is very close to ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, with the singers asking if what’s just passed is the real thing or just a fling. When will we share precious moments…? It’s such a perfect pop song, so well put together, so smooth and silky, that I’m struggling to pick it apart. Maybe it’s one that simply needs listening to, and appreciating, and I can shut up. Post over.

It’s also a record that gets better as it progresses. I like it when lead singer Sheila Ferguson gets insistent: Are we in love, Or just friends… Is this my beginning, Or is this the end…? Enter a funky brass section, on top of the swirling strings, which I feel shouldn’t work but which does, wonderfully.

Apparently Ferguson really didn’t like ‘When Will I See You Again’ when it was first offered to the group. “I thought it was ridiculously insulting to be given such a simple song, and that it took no talent to sing it,” she said later. Not the first, nor the last, example of a singer not knowing a hit song even if it jumped up and bit them on the behind.

I’m amazed at how few big hits The Three Degrees enjoyed in the UK. This was the biggest of just five Top 10s. In the US – and this truly has me flabbergasted – this record reached #2… and then they never had a hit again! I didn’t know much about them, but The Three Degrees just sound like such a classic pop group. I’d have had them up there with the aforementioned sixties girl groups in terms of hit singles.

Still, as I’ve said before, if you’re gonna have a limited number of hits, you better make ‘em good ones. This is definitely a ‘good one’. It is also, by all accounts, one of Prince Charles’s favourite songs – the group performed it for him, in Buckingham Palace, for his thirtieth birthday. The man has taste. The Three Degrees are still a going concern, with one of the ladies whom you can hear on this record: Valerie Holiday. Of the other two, Fayette Pinkney, a founding member of the group, passed away in 2009, and Sheila Ferguson went solo in the ‘80s. There have been fifteen members in total but, for obvious reasons, only three at one time…

13 thoughts on “354. ‘When Will I See You Again’, by The Three Degrees

  1. The Three Degrees did have a #1 on Billboard as they are credited as featured artists on 1974’s “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” with MFSB as the group who sings vocals on the mostly instrumental track. “When Will I See You Again” managed to peak behind Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” at the end of the year. To me, this song is more in the lush Philadelphia soul area than full-on disco but it is a nice song to listen to. Stereogum’s Tom Breihan even gave the song a shout out in his “Kung Fu Fighting” review and deservedly so. With today being Thanksgiving in the US and a lot of us not being able to see our loved ones as we used to during the pandemic, this song certainly lends itself to new relevance.

    Speaking of Prince Charles, have you watched the Crown series on Netflix with the latest season showing Charles and Diana’s marriage among other events in the ’70s and ’80s era of the Royal Family? My family’s been watching it and it’s supposedly very good.

    1. Yes, the pandemic context is quite nice. Never thought of that. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ is just around the corner for us, so I will reserve judgement til then…

      I love The Crown, and this season is very watchable. Charles suffers a bit of a character assassination, though, which I feel is a bit harsh. The writers are definitely Team Diana!

  2. The Three Degrees had been releasing minor US hits since 1970, but didn’t really catch on till The Year Of Decision, a thoroughly exciting TSOP track which hit in the UK. I loved it, and much like Sheila Ferguson I’ve always looked down on this one a bit, I mean it’s nice, it’s pleasant, I can see why it’s a fave, but, hmmm. Give me the former track any day. In fact give me the Giorgio Moroder 1978/79 revamp version anyday too, Giving Up Giving In and especially The Runner are HOOGE dance monsters, and fab. The sad effect of this track was it booted the girls into cabaret mush, pretty much, when they could have kicked it large, as they used to say in later dance eras.

    1. To be honest… this one is as far as my Three Degrees knowledge goes. I think it’s a solid pop song – maybe a bit too polished but still great. I’ll have to listen to more of them to put it in context. I see they had a hit called ‘Dirty Ol’ Man’, which is already my new favourite Three Degrees song, and I haven’t heard it yet.

      1. Yes Dirty Ol’ Man was the one before Year Of Decision, about 40 years ahead of it’s time that one, lyrically! 🙂 “You’re a dirty old man, you can’t keep your hands to yourself”…..

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