Single Stories: Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, “Express Yourself”

Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Single Stories: Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, “Express Yourself”

47 years ago this month, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band released the single that would prove to be their biggest hit on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart, which seems like as good a reason to spotlight the track in our Single Stories feature as any.


Written and produced by Wright himself, “Express Yourself” was a song title that came about during a live performance of another Watts 103rd Street Band classic: “Do Your Thing.” While performing the song at Texas A&M, Wright kept saying the words to the crowd, and in turn, the crowd followed his instructions, upping their volume and growing ever more frenzied. Upon putting a song to the title, however, Wright found that no one had any interest in recording the blessed thing.


“I had to sneak a bass player, drummer, and engineer into the studio one Sunday and cut it in secret,” Wright told L.A. Weekly writer Jeff Weiss in 2014. “The president of Warner Bros. told me I made a mistake. So did every DJ that I played it for. But I had a feeling that it was a hit.”


Weiss got another great story out of Wright later in the piece, one tied to hearing one of his neighbors cranking N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” – which liberally utilizes Wright’s song – and then discovering that he hadn’t gotten a writer’s credit on the track, a revelation which led him to phone up Priority Records post-haste.


“The lady who answered the phone said, ‘I told them they couldn’t get away with that,’” Wright told Weiss with a chuckle. “She gave me Ice Cube’s number and I called him and was like, ‘You can’t do that, that’s my song.’ He apologized profusely and I got my royalties.”


As well he should have: Wright might be able to sleep well at night knowing that his original version of “Express Yourself” was a Grammy-nominated single, but you can sleep a lot better knowing that you’re gonna be getting regular royalty checks.

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