Average White Band’s Surprise #1: ‘Pick Up the Pieces’

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The band’s 1974 album reached #1 thanks to the surprising success of this single

In 1973, the Scottish funk and R&B group Average White Band got their big break as the opening act on Eric Clapton’s comeback tour. Their debut album for MCA, Show Your Hand, did only modestly well, and they were dropped by the label. Thanks to Clapton’s tour manager, Bruce McCaskill, they were signed by Atlantic Records who teamed them with producer Arif Mardin.

They released their second album, AWB, in 1974 and it rose to the top of the U.S. album charts thanks, in no small part, to their hit, “Pick Up the Pieces.” While it failed to chart when it first came out in the U.K. in 1974, the song was released in the U.S. that October, debuting at #84 on Nov. 30. It rose quickly and on February 22, 1975, the track reached #1 on the Hot 100.

Malcolm “Molly” Duncan, credited with co-writing the song, told The Guardian that he didn’t think the song should be a single. It’s a “funk instrumental played by Scotsmen with no lyrics other than a shout,” he said. The song’s title, occasionally shouted, are the only lyrics on what is otherwise an instrumental.

Related: Other surprising 1970s radio hits

Duncan, a saxophonist and founding member of the band, died October 7, 2019, at 74. (He had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer.)

Born in Scotland on August 24, 1945, Duncan teamed with Alan Gorrie, Owen “Onnie” McIntyre, Michael Rosen, Roger Ball and Robbie McIntosh to form the band in 1972. (Hamish Stuart quickly replaced Rosen.) Duncan and Ball were referred to as the “Dundee Horns.”

“Molly” Duncan, in an undated photo via AWB’s Facebook page

The Average White Band paid tribute to Duncan in a post on their Facebook page: “We are saddened to learn of the passing of our old friend and tenor player, Molly Duncan.

“He had a recent bout with cancer, and so one half of the ‘Dundee Horns’ is with us no more. His was the world famous sax solo on ‘Pick Up the Pieces,’ but apart from that, he was one of the funniest and most charming people you could ever meet. He was a founding member of the band – also from Dundee Art College, as are Roger Ball and Alan Gorrie – and will be sorely missed.

His son, Dan, was with him at the end, and our condolences
are with him and other family members.”

Steve Ferrone paid tribute to his 2x bandmate on Facebook

While “Pick Up the Pieces” was climbing the charts, founding member and drummer Robbie McIntosh died of a heroin overdose. He was replaced by Steve Ferrone who remained for several years.

A decade later, Ferrone became the drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, until the passing of their leader in 2017.

In 2015, Duncan teamed with his ex-AWB bandmates, Ferrone and Stuart, in the 360 Band.

Watch Duncan perform “Pick Up the Pieces” in 2016

Best Classic Bands Staff

3 Comments so far

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  1. Bluzrider
    #1 Bluzrider 14 October, 2019, 09:55

    Some songs just made you feel good, and “Pick Up the Pieces” was one of those songs.
    Every time it came on the radio, you just .had to stop what you were doing and boogie to this tune. Even If you were in church.
    R.I.P. Malcolm “Molly” Duncan

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  2. Marf
    #2 Marf 10 October, 2020, 11:21

    I graduated high school in 1974. This was a huge hit! Is there a funkier instrumental?

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  3. Baybluesman
    #3 Baybluesman 22 February, 2022, 19:48

    Learned the fine art of bump-dancing to “Pick Up The Pieces” in early 1975, courtesy of a sweet young lady, in the sweaty basement of a frat house.

    Best of times/irreplaceable.

    Renee, wherever you are, thanks for the memories……


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