Joe Frazier, who died yesterday at age 67 after a short bout with liver cancer, was a boxing legend. But if you were around in the ’70s, you may remember that his pursuit of hits went beyond his devastating left hook; the champ put out a number of R&B 45s, mostly on small labels, but also including a 1975 single on Motown called ‘’First Round Knockout.’’
With Frazier a top draw in the ring in the early ’70s — encompassing three legendary battles with Muhammad Ali and a fascinating loss to a young George Foreman — he would make guest appearances on talk shows, particularly on the Mike Douglas Show, which taped in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia. On these leisurely visits, he would talk boxing, but also would get up to sing a tune from time to time. As it turned out, Smokin’ Joe recorded a number of singles over the years. He covered “Knock on Wood,” and “My Way”; songs with a vague boxing theme “The Bigger They Come (the Harder They Fall)’’ (not the Jimmy Cliff classic, but it did have boxing gloves on the label); would-be heartstring-tuggers like “Little Dog Heaven”; and a few more.
Joe Frazier even had competition on vinyl from his legendary rival Ali, who would even one-up his opponent’s ode to a passed-away pooch on the weird record scale. But what was always nice about seeing Frazier sing was that, while you had a pretty good sense these records were not going to be hits, that didn’t seem to bother him a bit. He seemed to be enjoying it, and gave the impression he’d genuinely have liked us to be enjoying it too.
As a tribute to Smokin’ Joe Frazier, boxing legend and would-be chart-topper, here’s a clip that brings his two passions together, a live performance of ‘’First Round Knockout’’ against a backdrop of highlights from his ring career. Boxing fans surely will be singing his praises for as long as they’re touching gloves and coming out fighting.