June 1976: Candi Staton Hits #1 with YOUNG HEARTS RUN FREE

Saturday, March 13, 2021
Candi Staton 1975, GETTY

Candi Staton's 1976 hit, "Young Hearts Run Free" was a slice of her all-too-real life at the time. The young artist was caught up in an abusive marriage while pursuing her dreams of music stardom: I'd just signed to Warner Brothers, and they were opening this new disco department," she told Guardian in 2015. "A producer called David Crawford was always in their office hustling and he'd wanted to work with me for years, so we finally got the chance. He fasted for 40 days before we went in the studio, because he wanted to get into a more spiritual realm, and asked me where I was in my life."

Crawford was in no way prepared for what he heard: "I told him I was trying to get out of a really bad relationship: this guy was threatening me and telling me that if I ever left him he'd kill me or kill my kids. I was so fearful. He was a pimp and a con man: every female artist will get one of these guys, once. He drugged me and I don't even remember the day I was supposed to have married him. I think it was all a setup and I don't think it was ever registered."

The pair turned those tragic circumstances into liberating dance track, "Young Hearts Run Free." They recorded the track at the legendary Sunset Sounds studios in Los Angeles, with Staton nailing the vocal right out of the gate: "I heard the music first, then he sang it to me once and gave me the lyric sheet. Then I sang it in one take. I pleaded with him to let me do it again and he said: 'You can, but I've got it.' As an artist, the first take contains the raw emotion. The hurt in my voice is real. I was singing my life."

The track charged up the charts, with "Young Hearts Run Free" going all the way to at #1 on the Hot Soul Singles for the week of June 5, 1976. It even crashed the mainstream, peaking at #20 on the Hot 100 for the week of August 21, 1976.

"I was in New York doing some interviews and this little girl came running up and said: 'Candi Staton! I've got to hug you. Every day in school I listened to that song, kept away from the guys that were bothering me, finished my schooling and didn't make those mistakes. You saved my future.' After the song was a hit, I was smart enough to gradually get rid of the guy and run free to my mom's house. I often wonder if he's still alive. The last I heard, somebody told me he was preaching."