Straight from the States
THE SPINNERS: Could It Be I’m Falling In Love (Atlantic).
I’ve heard a disturbing story that Philadelphia producers such as Thom Bell and Gamble & Huff tend to use the same singers on their sessions, and that the groups whose names are put to the results are merely salaried faces who go out on the road. It’s the sort of story that has always gone the rounds, and in the case of, say, the Stylistics it is obviously not true . . . BUT, it did come from a respectable and knowledgeable source.
Listening now to the Spinners’ latest Thom Bell-produced US Chart-climbing easy-beat semi-slowie I have cause to pause for thought: the Spinners were always a pretty anonymous group vocally – exemplified by the fact that it was they who did the infamous Motortown Revue impersonations in their old stage act, and mimic-in-chief Sammy Davis Jr. could hardly be said to have a distinctive voice when singing straight.
Now, I’ve always rated the Spinners higher then most . . . . uh oh, I’ve just remembered I should be calling them the DETROIT SPINNERS, sorry Liverpool Spinners . . . . ever since their “That’s What Girls Are Made For“, and I’m not prepared to have my dreams shattered just like that. The lead singer here is definitely the same as on “I’ll Be Around”, but he does happen to be backed up strongly by some chicks. Could it be that some of the background singing is not necessarily always by the named members of the groups? That would be reasonable, and to be expected. I hope that’s what does go on.
Oh, the record has a grow-on-you appeal, an Al Green type of tempo, and a subdued Thom Bell- arranged/conducted backing. Of course it’s good, no matter who’s singing. Oh dear, I wish he’d never told me, mutter mutter, mumble mumble groan. . .
ALICE COOPER: Hello Hurray; Generation Landslide (Warner Bros K 16248 ).
Which way will his fans jump on hearing this slow, studied and somewhat theatrical change of approach? Decidedly odd initially, but second or third time around the insidious melody catches on, so strong. Jerky flip about Million Dollar Babies has spunky punk protest lyrics.
THE BEACH BOYS: California Saga / California; Sail On Sailor (Reprise K 14232).
From “Holland”, where the change of air must’ve done ’em good: Al Jardine’s home-sick harmony-filled topside finds the boys back on classic middle period form – with sunny California subject matter, rolling “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” rhythm, and all the vocal bits we love to hear – while the flipside wistful slowie is a bluesy beaut, too.
THE O’JAYS: I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow; I Dig Your Act (Mojo 2092052).
This hesitant super-soulful slowie from five years ago is one of the superb George Kerr productions which elevated the O’Jays to the position of “Number One Soul Vocal Group In My Heart”, where they stay today – more in memory of Kerr than due to Gamble & Huff. Hear it to see what I’ve been going on about all these years, please. Anyway, the faster “Act” side is the still-commercial plug side, and could sell well this, the nth, time around.
ROY “C”: The Wedding Is Over; High School Dropout (UK 27).
Despite being “Shotgun Wedding”‘s backing- track with additions, the additions (car hooters, wife, blues guitar, mother-in-law, girlie group, crying baby) are so good, so humorous, and build up so well that this old Black Falcon-recorded follow-up is almost better than the original. Lotsa fun, and most worthwhile.
HOLLAND & DOZIER featuring BRIAN HOLLAND: Don’t Leave Me Starvin’ For Your Love, Pts 1/2 (Invictus INV 528).
Whhoo-hooo, mmm-hmmm, but it’s so nice that these cleffers supreme only got around to recording themselves in the Sweet Soul era – instead of being bang bang bang we get the silky soulful ness of this meandering two-part slowie. 5:36 in all of loveliness, which may unfortunately fo [sic] the Al Green route here.
ANN PEEBLES: I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down (London HLU 10405).
The Willie Mitchell Sound is at its mellowest on this smooth easy-beater, one of Miss Peebles’ very best. Dig the jazzy guitar, the unexpected tinkling chimes, the gentleness. And buy it.
BETTYE SWANN: Make Me Yours (Mojo 2092059).
“The number one sound in Soul town”, as all the R&B jocks were saying of this delightfully bouncy medium-paced lilter when I was last in the States, July 1967, so it’s no surprise that it has special memories for me. Bettye had scant subsequent success until her recent “Victim Of A Foolish Heart“(Atlantic K10174 ), an interestingly-arranged Muscle Shoals slowie. Right now, she’s Hot 100 (with a bullet), singing a worryingly “fashionable” treatment of Merle Haggard’s Country slowie (the definitive version of which was by Joe “I’m A Fool To Care” Barry in 1968), “Today I Started Loving You Again” (Atlantic K 10273): however, flipside she’s “Rather Go Blind” in the Etta James fashion, which is all right.
THE PEOPLES CHOICE: Let Me Do My Thing (London HL 10404).
They likes to do it, and they do it to a great repetitive heavy bass riff, UHH! Much of the slower flip reminds me of Kip Anderson’s fascinating 1964 B-side, “I Done You Wrong“.
MAJOR LANCE: The Right Track; Um Um Um Um Um Um (Contempo C 1).
“Blues & Soul” have done a “Soul City” and started their own label (thru Decca) which really is their own, unlike Mojo. First off is Mr. Monkey Time’s Carl Davis-produced version of Billy Butler’s ever -popular Northern Disco stomper. It’s similar, unlike Major’s self-produced London-recorded revival of “Um 6”. Fine for fans.
JACKIE LEE: African Boo-Ga-Loo (Jay Boy BOY 76).
The combination of Mr. Do The Duck, the Jerry-O type of title, and the typical Fred Smith production is a guarantee of boffo biz Up North for this 1967 dancer. It’s also a good record, anywhere, with some expert rhythm work.
BEAVER & KRAUSE: A Real Slow Drag; Bluebird Canyon Stomp (Warner Bros K 16237).
Written by the black master of Ragtime piano, Scott Joplin, for an ill-fated 1907 Pop-Opera called “Treemonisha” (yes, Pop-Opera was right – ragtime was to the popular music of the 1890s – 1910s what Rhythm & Blues has been to our music since the 1950s, and it was black too), this jauntily syncopated slightly martial girlie group-sung and archaically-orchestrated oddity is as lovingly created as is Ian Whitcomb’s similar “Under The Ragtime Moon” album on United Artists (UAS 29403). Hear this, and read Ian’s fascinating “After The Ball” to understand the importance of Ragtime to the history of Pop. Anyway, flipside Paul & Bernie wield their synthesizers while Jim Keltner thumps quietly, to produce the sort of beauty which made their “Gandharva” album one of my 1972 faves. Try a little strangeness today.