Universal Robot Band

Barely Breaking Even

Song Review by

Universal Robot Band’s 1982 single “Barely Breaking Even” could very well be the ultimate boogie track. Up to its recording, Universal Robot Band had been one of Patrick Adams’ and Greg Carmichael’s many studio-bound disco projects. But after a pair of albums and the defection of most of the group’s members to form Kleeer, URB remained dormant a couple years until Carmichael and fellow associate Leroy Burgess (Black Ivory, Logg) decided to resurrect the name for this spectacular one-off single. Produced by Burgess and written with Sonny Davenport and James Calloway (this trio also kicked out Convertion’s “Let’s Do It” and Fonda Rae’s “Over Like a Fat Rat,” two other revered underground disco/boogie numbers), “Barely Breaking Even” is a slinking crawl that continually percolates for its 11 minutes. It isn’t exactly disco, and it isn’t exactly funk, but the hip appeal is immediately evident. A winding groove – punctuated with a bell that gnaws and never lets go – lays the foundation for one of Burgess’ patented gospel-influenced vocal deliveries, which expresses all the frustrations that come with remaining financially afloat (“Just barely breaking even, I’ve got to get some for myself”). Several female background vocalists join in on the chorus to provide the song’s ultimate goosepimple-raising moments. The song’s elements, including Burgess’ usual assortment of synths, pianos, and percussive elements gradually add on to each other for the first few minutes and then similarly peel away for the last few. It’s a monster. Released on the short-lived Caliber label, the song has made a couple appearances on CD since its original 12” release, including BBE’s (short for Barely Breaking Even, no small coincidence) Disco Forever and Mastercuts’ Classic Rare Groove 2.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Classic Rare Groove Mastercuts, Vol. 2 1995
Various Artists
Beechwood Music / Mastercuts
Disco Forever: Sound of Underground Disco Compiled by Dimitri 2000 !K7 / BBE 11:02