Edited and compiled by JAMES HAMILTON
RECORD Mirror’s ace reviewer of the American Singles scene, “Doctor Soul” himself, was saying in print in 1969 that Al Green would be a future superstar, and that Gamble & Huff would one day rule! Read what he has to say today! And remember, no one else reviews pre-release Soul singles “Straight From The States” in any other weekly music paper! SOUL-sational!
Britain’s taste in Soul reflected by America’s more subtle approach
GREAT things have happened since our last Soul Special – who would have guessed that Britain would suddenly go overboard for the Philly Sound? Maybe Motown’s move from Detroit to Los Angeles has affected it, but for one reason or another the label does seem to have lost some ground in the British Charts – ground that Philadelphian producers Thom Bell and Gamble & Huff have eagerly taken up, with hits by The O’Jays, Stylistics, (Detroit) Spinners, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Archie Bell & The Drells, Billy Paul. Now Norman Harris’s First Choice are in the Chart too.
The Detroit Emeralds have had a hit with their least successful US single, and are consolidating their position with a re-issued million-seller. Stevie Wonder is the only old Detroit star doing much here – The Jackson 5’s Chart placings have been surprisingly poor in the light of their supposedly fanatical fan following. At least Gladys Knight & The Pips have finally broken through. Timmy Thomas and Deodato are out-of-left-field ones who thankfully caught your fancy. All in all, Britain’s taste is beginning to reflect the current American fashion for less frantic, more subtle Soul . . . which can only be good.
In America itself it has been the Philly Sound all the way, too. The Detroit Spinners with I’ll Be Around, Could It Be I’m Falling In Love and One Of A Kind (Love Affair) are as hot for Thom Bell as The Stylistics were before them, the latter group only scoring big with I’m Stone In Love With You during the same period. Thom’s also up there via New York City’s I’m Doin’ Fine Now and Ronnie Dyson’s One Man Band (Plays All Alone). Gamble & Huff are of course the success story of the season: hit LP’s by The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, and hit singles from those LP’s with Back Stabbers, 992 Arguments, Love Train, Time To Get Down, I Miss You, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, Everyday I Have The Blues, Me & Mrs. Jones, Am I Black Enough For You. They’ve also had some success with The Intruders, Johnny Williams, Bunny Sigler, The Ebonys.
Motown has been doing much better in America than here, although even there it looks as though the Jackson 5 are slipping. Stevie Wonder’s smash Talking Book LP has spawned Chart-toppers with Superstition and You Are The Sunshine Of My Life while Marvin Gaye’s soundtrack score of Trouble Man made a big LP and single. Gladys Knight left Motown for Buddah, with the sentiment that Neither One Of Us Want To Be The First To Say Goodbye, a sentiment which earned her the biggest hit of her career. Jermaine Jackson’s accurate revival of the Daddy’s Home oldie was a deserved smash. And Motown won the Grammy with The Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone.
Producer / performer / label boss Willie Mitchell kept it all nasty at Hi, where the Memphis label’s superstar Al Green walked off with his sixth gold single and third gold album. Al is the star of the year, and has usurped James Brown’s position as the biggest crowd puller in R&B. In a similarly understated way, Bobby Womack’s Understanding LP continued to be a steady-selling sleeper hit, and he got into movie soundtracks with Across 110th Street. Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly score and its assorted singles, including one of Give Me Your Love by Barbara Mason, was the leader in the black movie score field, though an annoying misunderstanding barred it at the last minute from being considered for an Oscar.
As in Britain, Timmy Thomas’s Why Can’t We Live Together? and Deodato’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001) intrigued huge audiences. War went straight to the top with their The World Is A Ghetto LP, after their All Day Music album had been one of last year’s most consistent sellers. And in a similarly inventive mood, Britain’s Cymande did commendably well with The Message.
If Britain’s taste continues to mellow like it evidently has been, how long before such groups as Cymande have a chance at home? Now, go out and buy Sylvia’s Pillow Talk and Barry White’s I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby, and learn to relax some more!
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
AS you walk down towards South Street (that’s where the hippies meet), some of the architecture you see reminds you of London’s Bloomsbury – the same Regency elegance, in atmosphere if not in fact, for Philadelphia is as old as America gets. Here was signed the Declaration Of Independence, here is the home of the Liberty Bell.
When you get to South Street, a scruffy tawdry entertainment-lined thoroughfare, you step into Krass Brothers’ clothing store, and the reason for Philadelphia’s modern fame is before your eyes. Everywhere, the walls of this warehouse are plastered with publicity photographs of all the aspiring singers and groups who have come to the Brothers for their ready-to-wear stage gear. Philadelphia is old and it’s big, and if a boy is poor he can maybe break out of it by becoming a star.
Why are you, from England, in the Krass Brothers’ emporium, anyway? Well, brother Ben has a music publishing firm called Krasbe, and this is its address. You’ve seen its name coupled with Downstairs Music on an interesting record label: the other words read, Gonna Be Strong (Gamble-Huff) The Intruders Produced by Gamble & Huff, Excel EX 101. The year is 1966, and you are there at the start of the modern day Philadelphia Story.
The older story began in the ’50s, when Philadelphia became home of the “American Bandstand” TV show, the teenagers’ televised record hop, which Dick Clark still comperes (but from California now). Back then it was the poor white Italian community which spawned forth their Frankie Avalons, Fabians, James Darrens, Bobby Rydells, who became boob tube-created singing idols over -night.
Cameo/Parkway was the local record label which entered the ’60s with a bang. By then there were black artistes getting a look in, and Rock ‘n Roll was becoming a bore to dance. Chubby Checker covered Hank Ballard’s dance tune, The Twist, and a new era dawned. Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann and Dave Appell of Cameo/Parkway had found a winner, and they went on to pen/produce dance craze records like Pony Time, The Fly, Mashed Potato Time, Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes), The Wah-Watusi, Bristol Stomp, and the immortal Let’s Twist Again for Chubby, Dee Dee Sharp, the Orlons and the Dovells.
During the mid-’60s attention switched from Philadelphia to Detroit, Memphis, and London. Whatever happened locally tended to be handled at some stage by Harold Lipsious, lawyer head of the Jamie/Guyden group of labels, just as his associates Huey Meaux and Dick Clark had a finger in any small-size pie in the South and West, respectively. Bob Finiz, producer of Claudine Clark’s The Strength To Be Strong, was working at Jamie with Brenda & the Tabulations: Brenda’s voice and that of Barbara Mason established a distinctive house style for Philadelphian girls. Dee Dee Sharp married a songwriter whose name was beginning to appear on R & B records, Kenny Gamble. Another name was Leon Huff.
Arguably, New York’s Teddy Randazzo produced a precursor of the modern Philadelphia, or “Philly”, Sound with his mid-’60s hits for Little Anthony & the Imperials, whose style had many of the qualities later to be associated with Sweet Soul. However, it was certainly the teaming of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with the Intruders which realized the first true Philly Sound hit in 1966, United (released here 19.8.66). By the time that the same team were hitting a year later with Together, Gamble & Huff’s reputation was growing amongst Soul Freaks but their sound, although identifiable, was in fact not so far removed from the New York-recorded results of producer George Kerr’s work with the O’Jays. In November ’67, Gamble & Huff’s gimmicky Expressway To Your Heart topped the Hot 100 (by the Soul Survivors) and seemed to clear the way for the crystallization of their definitive Philly Sound smash, the Intruders’ Cowboys To Girls, which hit during the following Spring.
The Intruders, four handsome slim young men, were now drawing screams from black teenaged girls, although they could still not be thought of as singing Sweet Soul as we know it. It was later that Summer that three even sexier young Philadelphians got as sweet as they were able – the Delfonics, on La La Means I Love You. Thus producer/arranger Thom Bell first made his presence felt.
Thom Bell had already been working as an arranger and writer, in a somewhat subordinate position to Bobby Martin (responsible for The Horse amongst others), with Gamble & Huff on their sessions with Jerry Butler. Soul veteran Butler, The Ice Man, had been drifting from one producer to another before having some renewed success at the hands of Philadelphia’s Jerry Ross. Gamble & Huff were called on to write for him, and soon took over his production too. There followed an extremely profitable and artistically satisfying collaboration between Gamble, Huff and Butler, which more than anything else helped put the Philadelphian team on the map. Thom Bell became more closely involved too, as time went by, and was replacing Huff in the hit composer credits by 1969 – such as Moody Woman and A Brand New Me were Gamble-Bell-Butler songs.
To accompany their Gamble label, which starred the Intruders, Gamble & Huff formed Neptune, to which they have provided a shot in the arm with Wilson Pickett, Joe Simon, Laura Nyro and the Chambers Brothers. Thom Bell was producing Little Anthony & the Imperials as well as the Delfonics, and then hit his winning streak with the ultimate Sweet Soul group, the Stylistics. To consolidate their position, Gamble & Huff joined the mighty Columbia Records (CBS) distribution set-up when they formed their Philadelphia International label last year, with results which probably staggered even them: album and album track hits by the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and, with Billy Paul’s Me & Mrs. Jones, the top selling single over the Christmas period.
The Philly Sound is big business – strange, then, that it should stem from just one recording studio, where most people seem to help each other regardless of their own commitments. This is Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, at which Joe Tarsia is the over-worked engineer responsible for nearly all the Philly Sounds we hear. Everyone who works there, be it as producer, arranger or musician, is a member of a sort of co-operative, and works in one or other capacity on most of the sessions. Thus Gamble & Huff get arrangements from Thom Bell, Bobby Martin, Norman Harris, Lenny Pakula, Ronnie Baker, Roland Chambers, all of whom probably are playing on those sessions they are not themselves producing. Roles blur, so that it becomes difficult to tell who is responsible for what on which records.
No longer is it the record label which immediately indicates the Philadelphian source of the music, unlike in the days of Cameo and Jamie. True, Gamble & Huff’s work does now tend to be on either Philadelphia International or Gamble (CBS and Epic here), but Thom Bell’s hits with the Stylistics, (Detroit) Spinners, New York City and Ronnie Dyson, to name a few, are spread about on Avco, Atlantic, RCA and Columbia (CBS). These days there is an easier way then reading label copy to tell the city of origin . . . just listen for that Philly Sound!
Influential stars of R&B
Began by playing keyboards, writing hits (often with David Porter), eventually producing, at Stax in Memphis during mid-’60’s. Stoned solo album debut was followed in 1969 by classic smash “Hot Buttered Soul,” which single-handedly ushered in the era of the long drawn-out Soul slowie and the super-spade rap. His 12:00 Walk On By remains the best example. Wrote the Shaft score in 1971, establishing the “chukka-wukka” guitar sound and a new fashion for black movie scores. Known as “Black Moses,” Ike is both witty and impressive on stage. (LP: Hot Buttered Soul / 45: (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right – Stax).
Now a law unto himself, whom nobody bothers to copy any more, Soul Brother Number One hit first with Please, Please, Please in 1956 but reached his present position of importance in the early ’60s, especially with his 1963 Live At The Apollo smash LP. Conscious of being black leader. Churns out incredible number of ultra-funky 45s, possibly more for juke box sales than the public. Unbelievably popular in Africa. Exciting soulful screams on slowies, complex rhythms on dancers. The hardest working man in show business on stage (LPs: Live At The Apollo, Volume 2; Revolution Of the Mind / 45s: I Got Ants In My Pants; King Heroin – Polydor).
From 1963 and their work (as a quintet) on Imperial, the O’Jays have always been one of the most passionate yet cool Soul Vocal Groups. With producer George Kerr on Bell in the late ’60s they formulated a hesitant slow style in which rich harmonies counterpointed a pleading lead, and made an important contribution to Sweet Soul by having the stuttering percussion section carry much of the melody. Reduced through four to three, they have adapted their approach to fit their current hit-making Gamble & Huff formula. (LPs: Back On Top – US Bell; Back Stabbers – CBS / 45: There’s Someone Waiting (Back Home) – US Neptune).
Broke big as a solo star in 1963 with the first of a long line of dance hits, which culminated in 1968’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Tamla’s biggest seller and itself a departure from his norm. Always a sensitive singer, Marvin then withdrew to work (not necessarily with Tamla’s blessing) on a sound that was his own completely. The resultant What’s Goin’ On introduced a new casualness to Soul, with gentle, amorphous, swimming multi-tracked sounds concealing social commentary lyrics. Not a prolific recorder now, his only releases since 1971 being a political 45 and the mainly instrumental / Trouble Man score. (LP: What’s Goin’ On – Tamla Motown).
Billed as The 12 Year Old Genius when his Fingertips topped the 1963 US Charts, Stevie has only recently managed to live down that “Little” appendage. Like Marvin Gaye, but from a stronger standpoint, he experimented with sound and composition until on turning 21 (contract renewal time) he was able to release Music Of My Mind, an LP that was literally all his own work. Working with synthesizers, over-dubs, and extremely pretty melodies, he has reinforced Marvin’s breakthrough with a joie de vivre. Thought of by many R&B musicians as the hope for the future. (LPs: Music Of My Mind; Talking Book / 45: If You Really Love Me – Tamla Motown).
THE FRIENDS OF DISTINCTION
Mistakenly considered by some to be another 5th Dimension, this two men / two girls (now, only one girl) group are much more Soulful, despite their tendency towards pretty material. Their 1969 vocal treatment of Grazing In The Grass accelerated Aretha Franklin’s “sock it to me” into a dazzlingly staccato percussive effect, at its fastest on “Icandiggit hecandiggit shecandiggit wecandiggit theycandiggit youcandiggit, oh let’s dig it.” A complete contrast, Going In Circles was a tortuous dead slowie of exquisite beauty. Although not as successful these days, their influence continues to be felt. (LPs: Grazin’ ; Best Of Friends – RCA).
TIP FOR THE FUTURE
Rotund Rance is a Gospel artist whose work is beginning to hit the R&B Charts, and who appeared in the “Wattstax” movie. Known here only for his exciting, Jackie Wilson-ish and more, inspirational reading of There’s Gonna Be A Showdown and its powerful slow That Will Be Good Enough For Me flip. I have a hunch that this is but the start of something big – and I felt the same about Wilson Pickett in 1963 and Al Green in 1969. Watch out! (LP: Truth Is Where It’s At – US Gospel Truth / 45: as above – Stax).
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Ex-Falcons, ex-Contours, ex-100 Proof (Aged In Soul), Joe (brother of 4 Tops’ Levi) has dropped from view: reportedly, unable to cope with fame. His raw Gospel yelping voice is heard to spine-tingling effect on the Falcons live versions of I Found A Love and Alabama Bound, and on 100 Proof’s Backtrack; his sexy stoned conversation with a foxy chick on 100 Proof’s Ain’t That Lovin’ You is a guaranteed turn-on. In my mind, Soul’s most exciting voice. (LPs: Various – Apollo Saturday Night – Atco ; 100 Proof – Somebody’s Been Sleeping In My Bed – Hot Wax)
R&B TOP THIRTY
Review of Billboard’s US Soul Chart for week ending 19 / 5 / 1973
1) LEAVING ME The Independents (Wand), a hesitant vocal group slowie with lots of empty spaces in the quiet backing, traditional and somehow “pure” in concept. Out here on Pye 7N25612.
2) PILLOW TALK Sylvia (Vibration), a sexy romp, coyly squeaked, sucked and hissed by the winsome label president / producer, Sylvia Robinson, to a delightful bubbling backing. Out here on London HLU 10415.
3) I’M GONNA LOVE YOU JUST A LITTLE MORE BABY Barry White (20th Century), another, slower, sexy record, spoken and groaned in the Isaac Hayes manner by Love Unlimited’s producer. Out on Pye 7N 25610. Continue reading “May 26, 1973: SOULsation ’73: seven-page supplement, edited and compiled by James Hamilton”