5000 Volts – “I’m on Fire”


Introduction to the 5000 Volts

5000 Volts were a British R&B/dance group formed in London in 1974. Their single “I’m On Fire” (which was originally a B-side recording) finally became the group’s first (and international) hit in 1975, becoming a smash not only in the UK but some parts of Europe as well as South Africa and later the United States. Although Tina Charles was the real singer behind all of the group’s earlier records, 5000 Volts were otherwise fronted by singer/actress Luan Peters. In 1975, 5000 Volts grew into a five-piece band, with the addition of bassist/vocalist Martin Cohen, keyboardist Kevin Wells and drummer Mike Nelson. Charles quit in the mid-1970s following her dispute with their label as well as to start a solo career she had been aiming for. She was replaced by Linda Kelly. But since Charles’ departure the band had quite never recovered. Aside from their other charting single in the UK “Doctor Kiss Kiss” in 1976, the band otherwise failed to maintain interest from the mainstream listeners, which resulted into flop singles. They disbanded in 1977.

5000 Volts’ early career

5000 Volts were a British R&B/dance group whose hit was the disco-infused track “I’m On Fire” in 1975. They formed in 1974 in London, initially comprising of lead singer Tina Charles and Martin Jay.

Tina Charles was a session vocalist and a previous member of a previous group Wild Honey. Martin Jay was another session singer whom Charles also worked with in another previous group Northern Lights. Now Charles and Jay were reunited as 5000 Volts.

5000 Volts began their career by a single released on Epic Records – “Fly Away” b/w “Susanna in the Summer” but without much success.

“I’m on Fire” – the group’s only major hit

Trying again to make their mark, 5000 Volts cut a Tony Eyers produced record “Bye Love” b/w “I’m on Fire.” (with “I’m on Fire” written by Eyers himself). The B-side was instead getting more mileage than the rather sedate A-side. “I’m on Fire” became a major hit not only in the UK (where it peaked at #4) but also in many European countries, and even in the US where “I’m on Fire” reached the Top 40 (#26 position).

Actually, “Bye Love”/”I’m on Fire” was released on Germany’s Phonogram label, under the band’s previous name Airbus. This happened a few weeks before UK imprint Philips seized the opportunity to secure the single itself. Thanks to the more knowledgeable disc jockeys who flipped the disc over, “I’m on Fire” became an international smash. Philips also renamed the band “5000 Volts” to make it all sound more electricfying, so to speak.

The success of “I’m on Fire” prompted Philips to demand for a follow-up single. So 5000 Volts decided that their act become a full disco-charged band. Jay and Charles augmented their lineup with fellow ex-Northern Lights member Martin Cohen (bass and vocals), Mike Nelson (keyboards), and Kevin Wells (drums).

5000 Volts’ later struggles and Tina Charles’ budding solo career

5000 Volts hoped that their success would be sustained. Unfortunately, their new single “Look Out I’m Coming” failed to score any commercial success, at least in the UK. But in other European countries, the single was a hit and 5000 Volts became one of the most sought-after acts.

Although Tina Charles was the real singer behind most of the group’s records (and for their 1975 Top of the Pops spot), she was not recognized as 5000 Volts singer. Instead, the band was fronted by singer/actress Luan Peters.

Not surprisingly, Charles had longed to be a solo artist. Besides, she was having bitter conflicts with 5000 Volts’ label. During some lull in 5000 Volts’ schedule, Charles took the opportunity to venture outside projects. Her most successful stint outside 5000 Volts was her own single “I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)” in 1976. The single was written by Jack Robinson and James Bolden, and helmed by Indian-born, UK-based producer Biddu. “I Love to Love” later reached the top of the British charts that year.

Disbandment of 5000 Volts

Finding new success as a solo artist, Tina Charles left 5000 Volts for good. This happened on the eve of the band’s tour in Germany that they’d previously booked. That tour should have given the band a big push they needed, but soon after Charles left, the tour was inevitably canceled.

Feeling the sting caused by Charles’ departure, 5000 Volts nonetheless tried to carry on by hiring new vocalist Linda Kelly. The newly-revamped 5000 Volts released a single called “Doctor Kiss-Kiss” in 1976. Surprisingly, while it didn’t make an impression abroad, it otherwise charted in their homeland, even reaching at #8. Other than that, the group suffered a ruined reputation caused by the canceled German tour. As a result, many record labels lost interest in the 5000 Volts which caused them to split in 1977.

Reunion of Martin Jay and Tina Charles

Martin Jay also tried his hand at going solo. But when it didn’t become successful, he returned to his prior job as a session musician. In 2012 he and Tina Charles reunited to record an album entitled (what else) Reunited, which contained updated versions of 5000 Volts’ hits as well as other classic popular tunes.

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