March 11, 1972: Robert John, Climax, Dawn, Joe Tex, The Marvelettes

ROBERT JOHN: The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) (Mbube) (Atlantic).
Remember Robert John? He’s the white guy with the amazing black-sounding swooping voice who scored a minor hit in Britain back in 1968 with his beautiful ‘If You Don’t Want My Love‘. Remember ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’? The Tokens, who nowadays produce all those hits for Dawn, came to international fame by singing it a decade ago. Remember ‘Wimoweh’? It was the African chant on which ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ was based, and was also a British hit in 1961 for Karl Dallas.

Well, by now, if you have any kind of a memory at all, you should have worked out a pretty good idea of what Robert John’s new US Top Five smash sounds like … and you’re right. Still, it’s all helping to revive the spirit of blatant Pop, and it seems only natural that so many revivalists keep turning for inspiration to those perfect classics of the early ’60s. No other era has produced such a crisp, strong, solid, happy, just “Pop” without hyphens, sort of a sound.

CLIMAX: Precious And Few (Carousel).
No, not Climax Chicago, just plain Climax, these boys are a somewhat easy-listening vocal group of the Classics IV variety, who sing that peculiarly American brand of full-harmonied back-up, plaintive lead, mildly beaty but basically slow, all denominations and ages aimed, mass appeal music which gets called “Soft Rock”. Their particular example of the genre, this thoroughly pleasant little single, is their debut hit … and a Top Three hit at that.

DAWN: Runaway/Happy Together (Bell).
Well, here’s an amalgamation of one of those peculiarly American vocal groups and an early ’60s Pop classic. However, they have in turn amalgamated Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ with the more recent Turtles’ Happy Together’ (which now probably qualifies as the Mother’s greatest hit, too!). So, what do we get? Lotsa noise, but that’s beside the point.

The record starts off dead slow, with Tony Orlando singing the opening lines of ‘Runaway’ over quiet and moody noises, than the big pounding beat and his chick support come in (and the noise increases), then the pace slows again and ‘Happy Together’ gets the quiet treatment from the whole group, followed by a mixture of the two songs (with a reproduction of Del Shannon’s piercing organ line over all) that comes and goes in tempo. A good idea, but the mixture of tempos makes for a choppy effect which lessens the record’s impact.

JOE TEX: I Gotcha; A Mother’s Prayer (Dial).
Joe Tex is currently enjoying one of his biggest hits (21 last week) for some time, thanks to his adaptation of a modified Malaco Sound (his is fuller, with much more happening between the bare bones of the rhythmic structure). Needless to say, the modern funky rhythm impetus is terrific, making it a funky dancers’ delight.

Originally the flip was treated as a split A-side, and indeed in the long run it may well prove to have a more lasting appeal. Starting off slowly with Joe recounting how he heard his mother’s prayer, the atmospheric backing churns into whomping life with the start of the message lyrics proper. There is a particularly good effect when, as the line reads “that man, that’s selling all that dope and stuff, let the police catch him, and … lock him up”, there is the sound effect of keys clattering in locks inserted in the funky gap denoted by my dots. He may well have been inspired by my old friend Ray Scott’s bitter attack on Governor Wallace in “The Prayer“, but Joe in his own “Prayer” is only out to right a few less personal wrongs. He’s made a very good double-sider.

THE MARVELETTES: A Breath Taking Guy (Tamla).
Just as Smokey Robinson has been penning/producing for the Supremes recently (“Floy Joy”), so he’s back with the Marvellettes … but then, after all, he has already declared his intention to stop making public appearances with the Miracles later this summer so that he can devote more time to working in the studio (he’ll still be singing, too). Anyway, for his return to the Marvelettes, he has chosen to re-do his old 1963 song which he originally got the Supremes to record. Not surprisingly, the sound and orchestration are much fuller … which may be a disadvantage, since as the song progresses from its lovely breathy beginning it becomes more and more over-encumbered if not obscured by the piling strings, French horns, voices, and generally blanketing music. The individual parts are all good, but the record as a whole would be better with less on it.

LITTLE ANTHONY AND THE IMPERIALS: Gonna Fix You Good (Every Time You’re Bad); You Better Take It Easy Baby (UA UP 35345).
The fact that this happy clapping stomping 1966 dancer has all the ingredients which are giving Donnie Elbert such Chart success right now is enough, but, just to add to the timeliness of its reissue, it’s also one of the field leaders pricewise on the Disco Rarities listings. Of all the United Artists reissues, this is the one most likely to hit … and I don’t say that from bias, despite it having been me who suggested the record’s revival to UA! To tell the truth, I’d forgotten how good it was until I heard this pressing.

THE MOM AND DADS: The Rangers Waltz; Quentin’s B Flat Boogie (London HLL 10362).
OKeh kids, it’s story time: this here four-piece band have been playing weekend gigs for the last fifteen years around their home base of Spokane, Washington State, and in Canada, where they sell lotsa records. After fifteen years they must be pretty heavy, huh? Right!

First up we have, on piano, Mom – that’s 63 years’ old Doris Crow, and believe me baby, is she HEAVY. Next, the Dads – Leslie Welch on accordion, Quentin Ratliff (who penned these tuff toons) on alto sax, and happy Harold Hendren, who does it to the drums. And they are great … if your taste is unfettered enough to run to traditional old-tyme Village Hall Dance-type music.

This waltz tune, like a breath of fresh air, has been doing big business with country folk not only in North America but also in Australasia, and has even breached the US Pop Charts. Led by the mellow reedy tones of the alto and the Cajun-sounding accordion, it dips and trips along so gaily in such irresistible 1-2-3, 1-2-3 time that it stands every chance of doing well here too. Coupled with a great get-it-on happy flip, this may be squaresville, but it’s REAL. Yeah, like a breath of fresh air.

RICKY NELSON: “Maxi Rock Single” with Hello Mary Lou; Never Be Anyone Else But You; It’s Late; (It’s A) Young World (UA ROCK 605).
Nice to see United Artists spelling it like it is (with a “y”, I mean) on this trailer to their April-released “Legendary Masters Series” de luxe two-elpee packaging of Ricky’s most memorable performances. Since the first three trax on this maxi are truly amongst his best, it’s a pity that, say, ‘Poor Little Fool‘ doesn’t replace ‘Young World’. Still, it’s fabulous value, containing some of this under-rated ex-idol’s most identifiable slabs of instant nostalgia, and alone is worth the price just for the chance to get Gene Pitney’s everlastingly happy ‘Hello Mary Lou’ on a single again.

THE JB’s: Gimme Some More; The Rabbit Got The Gun (Mojo 2093007).
Yup, it’s James Brown’s band, with their most sizeable US hit to date, an (need it be said?) ultra-funky Brown-penned/prod complex but catchy repetitively riffing, medium tempo but energetic if you do it to it, instrumental groover with a vocal refrain and a good jazzy trombone solo. Once again, JB’s incredible and incredibly busy bassist does wonders, as he does also on the more percussive faster Jazzy flip. This is a very tight and together band who, whenever the cliched description of “Jazz-Rock” gets trotted out, deserve to be but never will be one of the yardsticks against which all others should be measured. Open your ears, and try this.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: Make Me The Woman That You Go Home To; I Don’t Want To Do Wrong (Tamla Motown TMG 805).
Possibly the most piquant, acquired taste on the Tamla Motown menu, Gladys Knight’s emotional singing is real Soul as opposed to the Black Bubble Gum which usually earns that description in this country. Tamla the label may be, but “Tamla” her music is not.

Here we get two back-to-back slowies which both hit big as separate A-sides in America, where so many record buyers now have the taste for Gladys’s own individuality that Motown are at last letting her sing the heart-rending Blues instead of keeping her restricted to their, admittedly more easily identified, less personal, corporate hit formula. If you are at all interested in discovering why Gladys is called “The Queen Of Soul” – a hefty title – hear this perfect and irrefutable answer.

THE ELEPHANT BAND: Stone Penguin; Groovin’ At The Apollo (Mojo 2092-036).
Beyond the fact that this great modern funk instrumental is an independent US production which came to them via Tony Hall and Polydor, Mojo know nothing about it. So what? It’s one of those tricky ambiguous polyrhythmic slow/fast beaters, with chinking guitar, pounding bass and layered brass work (which is good), and it stands very well on its own merits.

QUINCY JONES: Ironside; Cast Your Fate To The Wind (A&M AMS 892).
Quincy’s last three albums have all been excellent, beautifully arranged, ultra-listenable orchestrated jazz, and should be heard. However, his most recent (“Smackwater Jack”) is less satisfying than the others because of the bitty, disrupting nature of some of his film/telly themes, this included, which pepper the otherwise more relaxed mood of it.

Really, hearing this ‘Theme from “Ironside” on its own as a single is better – it contains some superb playing from many respected jazz alumni, while the well-known flip tune is played at an even slow tempo by great electric piano (Joe Zawinul-style) and the World’s Best (or, at least, my favourite) guitarist, Eric Gale. For a real introduction to the current Jones Sound, do hear the lovely flip.

BEN E. KING: Take Me To The Pilot (CBS 7785).
As if there isn’t a surfeit of Elton John in person, ex-Soulster Benny’s doing him too. Who needs it? The flip’s called ‘I Guess It’s Goodbye‘. ‘Nuff said?

ROCK FLOWERS: Number Wonderful (RCA 2183).
Penned by the “Knock Three Times” team, Levine & Brown, this innocuous early-’60s Goffin & Kinglike pert light mid-tempo beater by a carefully marketed hygienic-looking girlie trio (two white, one black … there’s daring) is the original version of Pickettywitch’s current release. Despite this review looking like a put down, and despite Polly Brown’s voice being so like Shirley’s of the Shirelles on the British version, this is in fact a rather pleasant record which, while the other one has its merits, I think is preferable to the more heavy-handed cover.


JAMES HAMILTON’S DISCOTHEQUE PICKS

SHOULD BE GOOD

BOB AND MARCIA: But I Do (Trojan TR 7854). Pop/Reggae.
THE UPSETTERS: Wonder Man (Upsetter US 381). Funky Reggae.
THE JB’s: Gimme Some More (Mojo 2093007). Funky R &B.
GARY WRIGHT AND WONDERWHEEL: I Know (A&M AMS 888). Driving Modern.
FICKLE PICKLE: California Calling (B&C CB 178). Slow but gay Pop/MOR.

TRIED AND TRUE

THE MOM AND DADS: The Rangers Waltz; Quentin’s B Flat Boogie (London HLL 10362). Great fun Easy Listening/MOR. Watch expressions!
RICKY NELSON: Hello Mary Lou (UA ROCK 605). Classic Pop/R&R.
THE SIEGEL-SCHWALL BAND: (Wish I Was On A) Country Road (from LP “The Siegel-Schwall Band” RCA SF 8246). Great get-it-on-and-do-the -boogie stomping Modern.

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