Mates’ Crates: Dee Dee Sharp Gamble – Breaking and Entering

Mates’ Crates, a series headed up by our friend Andrei Sandu, dives into the tales behind records and digs deeper into our connections to music. These are not reviews, they’re stories. Disco heat as we head into autumn this time with Dee Dee Sharp Gamble’s “Breaking and Entering”. 

Label: Philadelphia International Records  | Year: 1980 | Discogs: Dee Dee Sharp Gamble – Breaking and Entering

The sun is setting ever-earlier as the summer-that-never-was draws to an end. It’s fair to say that I’d really rather be listening to disco in the hills of  Southern Italy. In a moderately successful attempt to live out that fantasy, I listened back to Rudan’s set from VIVA! Festival, Puglia, recorded in 2018.

It’s not the first time I’ve come back to this set, but one track sticks out every time: Dee Dee Sharp Gamble’s 1980 chart-topper “Breaking and Entering”. From the smashed-glass intro to the final kick drum seven minutes later, it’s everything a disco record should be, and exactly what we all need at this time of year.

Born Dione LaRue in 1945, her career began in 1958 as she found singing jobs to support her family after her mother’s car accident. Responding to a newspaper advert for backing singers, she soon worked with Chubby Checker and Jackie Wilson.

In 1962 – aged just 17 – she began releasing R&B as Dee Dee Sharp, an identity created by her producers because her brother called her Dee and she sang in D#. The same year, she had her biggest chart success with “Mashed Potato Time”, which reached Number 2.

You’ll notice that the arrangement borrows heavily from The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman”, which is also mentioned in the lyrics. The “Mashed Potato” itself was a dance move, perhaps most memorably mentioned in The Contours’ “Do You Love Me”, written and produced by Motown CEO Berry Gordy the same year.

Sharp later released several records on Philadelphia International records, not least after marrying co-founder Kenny Gamble in 1967, whose name she hyphenated to her own until their divorce in 1980. Even more interestingly, Sharp later claimed that she’d planned to marry Muhammad Ali before he converted to Islam. Read more on Ali here.

Alongside Lou Rawls, Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass, The O’Jays and Archie Bell, she performed on the Philadelphia All Stars’ 1977 track “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto” – a track I didn’t know before researching this piece, though I do feel like I recognise the bassline.

Sharp is considered by some to be America’s first black female teen idol, and her rise to fame despite the persistent racial injustice of the time is remarkable. Of everything she’s recorded, nothing stands out to me like “Breaking and Entering”. If you start to notice it getting dark earlier than you’d like, stick this on and have a boogie – we’ll be back on the dancefloor soon.