May 27, 1972: Supremes, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), Andy Williams, James Brown

THE SUPREMES: Automatically Sunshine (Motown).
The girls seem to be sticking with Smokey at the moment, and this Robinson-penned/prod light beater is the team’s follow-up to the superb “Floy Joy“. Although it starts out with a subdued version of the stomping intro to that last one, it soon becomes clear that the attack is going to be nothing like as powerful – and, indeed, this turns out to be no more than a pleasant mid-tempo clomper, quite pretty but with diffused impact. The flip, “Precious Little Things” (co-penned by Smokey with the Miracles’ guitarist, Marv Tarplin, and a P. Moffett), is a rather nice wistful little bossa-nova, enhanced by lovely backing.

JR. WALKER & THE ALL STARS: Walk In The Night (Soul).
Autry seems to be returning to jazz a bit more these days – not to mean that this is a jazz record, because it’s still much too “Pop” in its splurging chicks ‘n strings, but his playing on this pretty-harmonies-backed medium-paced plodding instrumental is rather more fluid and less angular than on his hits of old. Subtract the schmaltz content and it would hold up well on its own: however, with the schmaltz left in, as it is, this IS rather lovely . . . and makes a good companion for Isaac Hayes’ “Let’s Stay Together” instrumental.

On the flip, Autry gets to wailing grips with Gladys Knight’s “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong.” Gladys herself has just exited the US Charts with her dead slow version of that Kris Kristofferson bore, “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” onto which she has added an embarrassing intro rap, and with which she has succeeded to make the record that it is, if possible, even more lacking in warmth and emotion than Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” That must have been difficult, for the Queen of Soul.

100 PROOF (AGED IN SOUL): Everything Good is Bad (Hot Wax).
The “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” trio (minus the great Joe Stubbs, unfortunately) are back in the Charts with this semi-slow message song, which benefits from some pretty flute tootling and generally good if doom-laden backing. Everything good is bad, and everything bad is good, in black slang (viz: “that’s a bad mutha‚Ķ”, meaning “I say, chaps, that’s jolly good, what?”), which is probably the hook that’s selling this, because in other respects it is a bit lacking in vitality. Continue reading “May 27, 1972: Supremes, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), Andy Williams, James Brown”

May 13, 1972: The Jackson 5, Millie Jackson, Elvis Presley, Love Unlimited, The Doors

THE JACKSON 5: Little Bitty Pretty One (Motown).
Well, while Michael Jackson revives Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin,” he and his brothers get together and revive Bobby’s “Little Bitty Pretty One” (OK, Thurston Harris recorded it too, I know).

Although Michael is unavoidably evident on the brotherly offering, in fact it really is a family affair, with no-one in particular taking the lead honours. Also, whereas Michael’s “Rockin’ Robin” stays very close to the sound of the 1950’s hit, the brothers’ “Little Bitty Pretty One” retains the great doo-wop bass mumbling from the ’50s but otherwise plays around with the vocal lines in order that everyone gets a chance both singly (some gimmicky falsetto here) and together, with the result that the final sound is much fuller and mellower than the percussive Bobby Day recording.

It’s interesting that the only way in which the Jacksons seem able to get out of their well-tried herky- jerky hit formula is to revive a Rock ‘n Roll oldie.

Incidentally, my own favourite (and much-used) version of “Little Bitty Pretty One” is the 1968 recording by the Popular Five on Minit, which was released in Britain as the flip to “I’m A Love Maker” (Minit MLF 11011). United Artists, are you hip?

MILLIE JACKSON: Ask Me What You Want (Spring).
Millie is the bubbly-looking but hurtingly Soulful, mature girl who made such an outstanding recording of “Child Of God,” released in Britain recently by Mojo. It comes as a bit of a disappointment to find that her latest US hit is in a pseudo-Motown bag which, while certainly suiting her sexy external looks, completely ignores and belittles her real capabilities.

We all know that, given the chance, the majority of Motown’s own stars are capable of great Soulfulness (I’ll never forget being completely shaken by hearing Martha Reeves singing the Falcons’ “I Found A Love” at a small afterhours party in Harlem back in ’64), but here is a non-Motown singer who has already hit pay-dirt with a particularly Soulful song being given a run-of-the-mill thumping mid-tempo repetitive chanter which she just does not need. In fact, who in reality does need this sort of thing?

It seems a shame that Motown have so successfully brainwashed the World into only wanting their own predictable brand of Pop music that now, out of desperation, nearly every aspiring black singer has to toe the Motown line to earn any – though, let’s face it, often not much – appreciation at all. Not only Mono . . . Bring Back Soul!

ELVIS PRESLEY: An American Trilogy; The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (RCA).
From El’s “Standing Room Only” LP, recorded live, this is that dead boring/simply delightful (delete according to taste) pastiche of patriotic American songs with which Mickey Newbury made some small noise recently. The Big El is in his best beery, slurring, pub-singer voice for this brassily- crescendoing but otherwise quiet reading, and is well supported by a sympathetic backing which includes some nice flute and lots of humming.

In fairness, I do prefer this to the Newbury version, and ole El is … well, he’s, he’s ELVIS, isn’t he – even if he does go in for chest-beating melodramatics a bit too much these days. Yes, all in all, a very tender, emotional little record that will delight his current following. What’s more, to prove he’s no slouch at grabbing opportunities, the flip (from his “New Sacred Album”) is a damned sight more lively and better version than the exaggeratedly popular Roberta Flack’s US number one dead dull reading of the Ewan MacColl song. Slur on, Elvis, slur on! Continue reading “May 13, 1972: The Jackson 5, Millie Jackson, Elvis Presley, Love Unlimited, The Doors”