October 16, 1971: Osmonds, Chi-Lites, Beginning Of The End, Carole King, Isley Brothers

The Osmond brothers don’t seem to mean much in Britain (little Donny’s “Go Away Little Girl” might alter that), but in America it is now probably true to say that their popularity has outstripped that of the incredibly successful group which they started out by copying: I refer, of course, to the Jackson 5, who began the latest craze for juvenile singers. Once again it looks like a case of the white plagiarists being able to please a wider market, although, in this particular one, the black originals have achieved a world-wide immediate fame that most of their predecessors were denied.

The reason behind the Jacksons’ (hopefully temporary) slight slip would appear to lie, amazingly, at the feet of mighty Motown: the material they have been putting out on singles has progressively lost its sparkle and vivacity, until the Jacksons’ last one, “Maybe Tomorrow“, was decidedly dull – a fact that was reflected in its being their lowest-placed hit yet.

On the other hand, the Osmonds, and Donny Osmond in his own right (who effectively doubles their output), have come up with one bubbly winner after another, each of which has got simpler and more Bubblegum than the others. Credit for this consistent success formula must presumably go to their producer, the veteran Muscle Shoals man, Rick Hall, who has had countless hits during the last decade (beginning with Arthur Alexander, whose early Hall productions were much copied by the first wave of British groups).

There is poetic justice here, for despite his many successes, Hall has never hit on such a winning streak as that of the Osmonds before. One of the leading R&B producers (and studio owners), his productions have tended to be distinctly “Soul” in sound, so that it is not only his becoming the force behind America’s leading teenybop rave group but also his becoming a stone Pop producer that are new departures for him. Will such fame turn his head from his old famous Fame sound?

Oh, yes … what about “Yo-Yo”? A Joe South -penned song, it’s a bass-guitar and brass-backed fast beater into which the vocal textures of the thrusting delivery are well worked. The lead switches about a bit (Donny has a nice “whoops now” trick) and the group do some rapid cooing and even some deep bass “yeah” punctuations. The yo-yo is depicted by a “poyinnggg” noise, for added appeal. So, in fact quite complex in its construction, it is a good old frantic dancer in sound. Maybe greasy kids’ stuff, but it’s darn well made.

THE CHI-LITES: I Want To Pay You Back (For Loving Me); Love Uprising (Brunswick).
You may be expecting gushing praise for this Soul Vocal Group newie, but sorry to say, it honestly does not deserve it and I cannot oblige! Eugene and the gang have reverted to their lovely if bland old slow smooth style (a return which is welcome), without doing it to anything very special.

Eugene (that’s their lead singer, Eugene Record) wrote both sides, and of course the classic beaut on the flip is as great as you would expect – but then it does sound exactly like its original recording by Otis Leaville, and its more recent reading by Jackie Wilson. Still, it’s good to hear it being put across with the wailing sweetness of its writer, this time.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END: Monkey Tamarind (Alston).
This male trio of uncertain nationality have just hit big in America with their gas of a funky summer hit. “Funky Nassau” (Groovy Gandhi?). They seem to be still hung up on Nassau, as this very similar but less good follow-up is all about a poisonous plant that grows down Nassau way … it makes you scratch your feet, etc., which would seem to be the basis of a complicated new dance step. Hey now everybody, get in a big boss line … the mind boggles. Chubby Checker, where are you? Continue reading “October 16, 1971: Osmonds, Chi-Lites, Beginning Of The End, Carole King, Isley Brothers”

October 9, 1971: Eddie Floyd, B.B. King, The Newcomers, The 8th Day, The 5th Dimension

EDDIE FLOYD: Blood Is Thicker Than Water; Have You Heard The Word (We Should Be In Love) (Stax).
Oh, What?! Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd and Mack Rice wrote it, Steve arranged it, and Steve and Eddie produced it. Nothing unusual about that, sez you, especially considering that the majority of “product” from that sort of Stax team tends to be stillborn by cliche out of clinical multi-track recording, these days.

Alors, mes amis, here’s bon news indeed – somehow they’ve managed to make a bitch of a superbly driving buoyant big bass beater, whose self-propelling oomph generates so much bounce and righteous good, good feelin’ that it is immediately irresistible and packed with punch!

The regurgitating doonk-a doonk-a-doonk-a doonk-a bass-run beat is what forces this along at such a joyful lick, and while not particularly sanctified in sound, it is redolent of Gospel influence. Eddie’s powerful beat-riding delivery, the vocal group’s chorus work, the tricky organ figure on the chorus, the braying brass, the chunky guitar, the thrashing thundering drums, all add immensely to the record – but none of it would have worked so well without the integration of that whomping bass into the overall texture of the sound.

That is Steve and Eddie’s greatest achievement. They have beaten the multi-track jinx, and revived that yearned-for and much-missed old Stax funk. Even on the tender slow flip, the bass level is pushed up high so that it dominates the MSO’s sawing strings and the rest of the sympathetic backing (in fact the flip is especially nice in its own right, and should appeal to Soul Vocal Group fans). Well done, lads!

B. B. KING: Ghetto Woman (abc).
So, the next stage in the All Americanisation of B. B. King is evidently to make him the Bobbie Gentry of the Blues. Even my Mum, on a rare visit, asked who was singing this one . . . which was not really surprising, as this (actually very good) moody and menacing slowie is made even moodier and more menacing by rumbling “Ode To Billie Joe” storm-cIouds-gathering wide-open-spaces throaty strings noises (arranged by Jimmie Haskell), which permeate the Riley King/Dave Clark song with brooding magnificence.

As a Pop record it is great, and, indeed, the words and sounds complement each other perfectly: “a rat run across the floor” (rrrr-growl) “a roach ran up the wall” (whirr-lelele) “everything that’s going around her/don’t seem to bother her at” (sing the Blues!) “awawawwwll, because she’s a ghetto woman” (now play the lowdown dirty Blues – yeah!). Sarcasm apart, I like it a lot.

THE NEWCOMERS: Pin The Tail On The Donkey; Mannish Boy (Stax).
Didn’t someone called Paul Peek once cut a similar title? Anyway, this Bettye Crutcher/Marvell Thomas-penned Allen Jones production is decidedly Stax in heritage if not in sound . . . far from it in sound. Casting covetous eyes towards the Jackson Five and Osmonds, Stax have now come up with their own squeaky voiced choppy rhythm answer to those other juvenile Rhythm and Bubblegum Squeak merchants. It’s not nice.

Thankfully, as compensation for the excesses of the hit side, the swaying slow flip is very nice indeed. Sung in lead-switching (and un-squeaky) Soul Vocal Group style, its good Allen and Marshall Jones-penned words are effectively emoted in such a way that it should snare all SGFs (Soul Group Freaks), everywhere.

It’s a pity that Stax aren’t concentrating more on this very satisfying facet of the group’s talent – especially so, since they seem to be ignoring the fabulous Mad Lads now. The Newcomers are in some ways reminiscent of the Mad Lads (is there any connection?), which ought to be recommendation enough for this side. Yes, it is, VERY nice. Let it grow on you. Continue reading “October 9, 1971: Eddie Floyd, B.B. King, The Newcomers, The 8th Day, The 5th Dimension”