June 2, 1973: Smokey Robinson, The Ebonys, Soft Tones, Jim Stafford, Glen Campbell

Straight from the States

SMOKEY ROBINSON: Sweet Harmony (Tamla).
“This song is dedicated to some people with whom I had the pleasure of spending over half the years I’ve lived till now, when we’ve come to our fork in the road, and though our feet may travel a different path from now on, I want them to know how I feel about them, and that I wish them well.” With that spoken intro, Smokey launches into his first solo record since leaving the Miracles. The words to the rest of the Slowie are along the lines of encouragement to the group to go on singing sweet harmony and spread joy around the World. Isn’t that nice? It’s a pity that, while the words and singing of Smokey are good, the actual melody is monotonous.

THE EBONYS: It’s Forever (Philadephia International).
Penned by Leon Huff alone, arranged by Bobby Martin and produced by Gamble & Huff, this exquisite, shimmering strings, spine-tingling stately dead slowie features some breathtaking falsetto wailing offset against the gruff bellowing of the main lead singer. Hopefully it won’t take too long in coming out here, because it’s one that all lovers of the slower Philly Sound will want to hear.

SOFT TONES: I’m Gonna Prove It (Avco).
Arranged by Sammy Lowe and produced by Avco’s bosses, Hugo & Luigi, this is another exquisite (though less dramatic) dead slowie, more in the straight Sweet Soul style, with a pastoral type of lazy backing.

JIM STAFFORD: Swamp Witch (MGM).
Currently climbing the Hot 100, this sinister, French Moss-hung, Tony Joe White-inflected, more talked than sung slowie is kind of another “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” – a sombre Southern story of untold mysteries out in the Black Bayou, where swamp witch Hattie uses her magic spells for both good and evil. Kind of another “Ode To Billie Joe” in its strings sound and tempo, too. Flipside, Jim cheers up on the rockin’ “Nifty Fifties Blues“, the words of which will appeal to my generation – ‘cos he misses the early Sixties too. One of the better nostalgia tunes, it ends up as a slow old man’s lament, spoken in quavering gummy tones!

American Singles

GLEN CAMPBELL: I Knew Jesus (Before He Was A Star) (Capitol CL 15752).
RED ALERT! Almost as soon as the ink had dried on last week’s copy, my complaint that this rolling stomper with the great sardonic words had been ignored as singles material here was invalidated by its rush release, hot on the heels of the slowie I’d just reviewed. Dee-jays, cancel your import orders – you can get it here!

BETTE MIDLER: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Atlantic K 10310).
The only track by Bette that doesn’t make me wince with pain at her harsh voice, this rooty tooty recreation of the Andrews Sisters’ wartime hit is a real blast . . . especially if, like me, you’re over 50! (Not true!)

MARTIN MULL AND ORCH: Dueling Tubas; Eggs (Capricorn K 17511).
After the anticipation, this 1:26 worth of mild lunacy fails to live up to my imagination, but it does neatly demolish that “Banjos” hit. The jaunty jazzy flip is a bit like George Melly’s “Nuts”, which of course is merely in the same ’30s/40s sort of style.

FLO & EDDIE: The Original Soundtrack From “Carlos And De Bull” (Reprise K 14261).
Alias those gringos Mark Volman and Howie Kaylan, the ex -Turtles / Mothers / Bolan-backers here offer a bit of mock Mexican pseudo Spanish nonsense in the form of a mini not-so-Pop Opera, full of blood in the dust, lust in the sun, sun in your eyes.

KATIE BRIGGS: Susie (The Little Blue Coupe) (Disneyland Doubles DD 35).
Penned by Buddy Ebsen, this – if you can believe it – is a rambling, wailing, post-Joplin/Slick, thoroughly freaky ditty for the tiny tots lot. Subversion from Disney? It’s a darned sight better than many more pompously created things, too.

ANTIQUE: Last Tango In Paris (Polydor 2001454).
Still they keep on coming, and I have yet to hear a bad version of this lovely tune. The one here (from Timmy Thomas’s label, Glades) is a lightly Latin keyboard instrumental with synthesizer and a clopping rhythm which should make it of interest to dancers. One of the best . . . to date.

THE KNICKERBOCKERS: Lies / THE ELECTRIC PRUNES: I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) (Elektra K 12102).
Two from the “Nuggets” oldies album set. “Lies” is American Mersey Sound by one of the first US groups to successfully retaliate against the real thing with a copy of the Beatles; the Prunes were one of the first “freaky” groups, a bit like middle period Stones meeting early Floyd.

TODD RUNDGREN: I Saw The Light; Black Maria; Long Flowing Robe (Bearsville K 15506).
A special maxi to re-emphasise two of the whizz-kid’s earlier albums. The plugside, like a male Carole King backed by George Harrison, was a superb US smash hit last year which should have hit here too. The guy does it all himself, and is a genius of the studio – you won’t hear better produced sound anywhere.

BREAD: Let Your Love Go; If; It Don’t Matter To Me (Elektra K 12103).
Another special maxi, to re-emphasise three Bread albums this time – and, surely by no coincidence, its three trax are all US hits which surprisingly failed in Britain. Up-tempo stomping top, but the others are in their better known sweet slow style – and are better-known in themselves.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: Where Peaceful Waters Flow (Buddah 2011170).
Okay, they’ve changed labels, but as Buddah have been long enough in coming up with anything it seems a sneaky trick to release this, another Jim Weatherly-penned slowie, so soon after their Motown one. Surely Buddah would have more to benefit from if Motown’s “Neither One Of Us” was a hit here first? Especially as this gets lost in its own ramblings and lacks the poignant immediacy of “Neither”. Anyway, the radio will only get confused and end up by playing neither (with a small “n”). Bah!

THE TAMS: Don’t You Just Know It (Probe PRO 588).
That happy old Huey Smith rocker gets a roistering revival that’s close to the original. Ah ha ha ha ha, hey oh!

GI-GI: Daddy Love (Pts 1/2) (Contempo CR 10).
Originally out here on Pama Supreme in 1971, this frantic wah-wah vocal / instrumental two-parter used to be an ideal bridge between “Move On Up” and “Troglodyte” – and, if dee-jays are no longer playing those, it’s good on its own too. R&B fans shouldn’t miss it this time round.

BRENDA & THE TABULATIONS: One Girl Too Late (Epic EPC 1361).
The female Philly Sound, although I’m not so sure if their current producer (Van McCoy) still records them there. It’s a yearning, cooing answered thump beat slowie, by one of my fave chix.

SAMUEL E. WRIGHT: There’s Something Funny Going On (Paramount PARA 3035).
Is this guy black or white? Certainly, the form is sweet chix-backed tender slow Soul, very easy on the ear. I dunno, but Billy Paul fans will dig regardless.

THE SINGING PRINCIPAL: Thank You Baby (Action ACT 4608).
Huh? Who? Whatever, this Lupine Production (penned by Nat Burply . . . pardon!) is a somewhat struggling Soul slowie that features Delfonics-type chanting on the title phrase, monologue, and wobbly singing. It’s not Lovelace Watkins travelling incognito, is it?

DICK JENSEN: I Don’t Want To Cry (Epic EPC 1521).
Gamble & Huff-produced Blue-Eyed semi-Soul hustling version of the Chuck Jackson oldie, done with a disco beat.

MARGIE JOSEPH: How Do You Spell Love; Let’s Stay Together (Atlantic K 10313).
You spell it “M-O-N-E-Y”, with tedious predictability, as I learnt twice too often when watching this good looking but otherwise uninspiring performer on her recent visit here – a visit which, if my impression of others’ comments is right, did her no good at all. At least she makes a fair showing of the Al Green flip, her US hit.

INEZ FOXX: You Hurt Me For The Last Time (Stax 2025151).
A sprightly but monotonous clomper which grooves along on an even keel, co-produced by Randy Stewart – presumably the ex-Fiesta?

BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: Back Up Against The Wall (CBS 1519 ).
Dedicated to mother-lovers everywhere, the reorganised BS&T’s Buie & Cobb-penned brassy chugger is more like old Chicago than themselves. Lotsa guitar and aggression.

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