July 21, 1973: Donny Osmond, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Jim Croce, Jerry Lee Lewis

DONNY OSMOND: Young Love; A Million To One (MGM, available 10th August).
The first 45 I ever had (writes James Hamilton) was Tommy Steele’s EP of “Young Love”, the heart-rending teen ballad with which Sonny James topped the US for most of February / March 1957, and with which American actor Tab Hunter hit here. True to form, Donny Osmond has now revived it as his next single, and of course is suited to a “T” by its tender sentiments. Gulp! There’s even a soulful short monologue! Culled from his “Alone Together” elpee, it (in this American pressing) fades out rather arbitrarily after only 2:18. Flipside, Don revives another old ‘teen ballad, which hit in America for Jimmy Clanton during the Autumn of ’60 – however, because it sounds as though he recorded it before the famous voice -break, this version is more reminiscent of the 5 Stairsteps’ 1967 treatment. Which oldie will get the Osmond touch next?

Straight from the States

MARVIN GAYE: Let’s Get It On (Tamla).
As mentioned last week, Marv has a newie . . . and it isn’t his own song! Written and co-produced by Ed Townsend (of 1957’s “For Your Love” fame), and arranged by veteran Rene Hall, it’s a slow plodder which features some subdued blues guitar in behind the dominating thud beat pattern, through which Marvin weaves his old-style “How Sweet It Is”-type vocal. What a departure! What’s more, it’s completely hypnotic. However satisfying his recent amorphous sound may be, it sure is good to hear – and really HEAR – Marvin’s great Gospel voice at its sinuous best. He even gives Al Green a run for his money here. On the flip is a Norman Whitfield-produced wah-wah and fuzz-tone treatment of “I Wish It Would Rain” . . . huh? You’ll hear the times change at Motown . . . backwards?

THE MIRACLES: Don’t Let It End (‘Til You Let It Begin) (Tamla).
The heavy significance of the titles recorded by the old Miracles, the new Miracles and Smokey Robinson sure have been hammering home the point that they’ve reached a fork in the road. Yes, this is the first single to feature Smokey’s replacement, William Griffin. While he’s no Smokey vocally, he has a nice if anonymous crystal clear falsetto tone, and is well mixed in with the others on this lead-switching lush and delicate slowie, written with more than a hint of Robinson crossed with Bachadavid by co-producer/arranger Freddie Perren. It’s extremely pleasant, but in this age of Chi-Lites, Stylistics and Blue Notes it does not sound to me as if it would start a new group – and I emphasize “new” – on a major career, sounding as it does like so many others. Continue reading “July 21, 1973: Donny Osmond, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Jim Croce, Jerry Lee Lewis”

July 14, 1973: James Hamilton meets Sylvia, Cliff Nobles, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Derek Martin

Whispering sweet nothin’s and still keeping up on the business
James Hamilton meets SYLVIA

“HELLO?” The voice is husky, laid back, welcoming – which, regrettably, is more than can be said of that of the sweaty fella who’s making the call. If you’ve ever tried conducting a trans-Atlantic telephone conversation while you’re wearing headphones, listening to the other person through the left channel by way of a microphone sellotaped to the receiver and hearing yourself through the right by way of another mike held in the same hand as the mouthpiece – to which, of course, you have to get as close as possible in order that you can be heard at the other end – well. . . . it’s not conducive to a relaxed exchange of sweet nuthin’s.

Sweet nuthin’s are what Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk” hit is all about. Sylvia actually wrote the song in the hope that Al Green might record it. “I took it to Memphis and played it to Al and to Willie Mitchell, but Willie thought it was a bit too sexy for Al! So, I brought it back, very despondent, and it was just left in the tape room here for about six months after that.”

You see, Sylvia Robinson is not just a singer and songwriter these days, she is primarily Vice-President (to her husband’s President) of a flourishing little group of Rhythm & Blues record companies – All Platinum, Stang, Astroscope, Vibration – in Englewood, New Jersey. Hubby takes care of the business business, she takes care of the music business: to the extent that one of her songs and productions with the Moments, “Love On A Two-Way Street,” was as big a hit for the company a couple of years ago as is “Pillow Talk” now.

As any Soul Group Freak must surely know, as well as the Moments, their other hit-scoring stars include the WhatNauts, George Kerr, Dave “Baby” Cortez and The Ponderosa Twins + One. (Actually, ace producer / singer Kerr is now with another label, but Vibration has recently signed Derek “Daddy Rolling Stone” Martin).

Sure, Sylvia used to be a full-time singer. With the currently Paris domiciled legendary guitarist, Mickey Baker, she recorded while very young in 1957 the original hit version of “Love Is Strange.” After the Mickey & Sylvia team split up, she recorded as Sylvia Robbins . . . but let’s get back to the present, and “Pillow Talk.”

“I had put my voice on it basically to take it to Al Green, and that same tape which I took down to Memphis is the same tape which is now the hit record. I would have wanted to re-mix it over again, but I was unable to because I had taken myself off of the eight-track as I had tried several other people on the track.

“So, that demonstration mix was the only one that I had of myself. I couldn’t alter it unless I had done the performance over again. ”

Once she had been persuaded that her version was the one to release, exactly as it was, Sylvia was pleasantly surprised to find that the R&B radio stations and their listeners just lapped it up. She had no trouble over the suggestive nature of her words until, long afterwards, the Pop stations began to programme it.

“I had a few problems because of certain things that they thought I said but which, if they’d listened properly, they’d have heard were not in there. Like, there’s one part where I say ‘nice Daddy, nice Daddy,’ but they thought it said ‘lie steady.’ Hahahaha! For certain stations we had to send out copies of the lead sheet to them. Everybody thinks I say that – I think I’ll have to incorporate it into my act, ‘lie steady!’ Hahahaha!”

Sweet dreams, Sylvia . . . and all you blokes out there, as the O’Jays say, it’s time to get down.

Straight from the States

CLIFF NOBLES: This Feeling Of Loneliness (Roulette).
Do you remember how, back in ’68, Cliff Nobles hit big, big, big with that great dancer, “The Horse“? And how “The Horse” was in reality just the instrumental backing track to Cliff’s vocal on “Love Is All Right“, which became relegated to the lowly B-side, where it was never heard from again? Well, Cliff is back, slowly climbing the R&B and Pop Charts, produced still by Jesse James, and . . . on a vocal hit at last! It’s a true hunk of throat-wrenching Soul, too. To a plopping, swaying, pretty, semi-slow melody he gives out all he’s got in a time-honoured fashion which is full of the type of anguished choking Soulful expression made famous by such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and all the other old ex-Gospelers. Interestingly, his voice does not sound double-tracked so much as phased (that is, the original take is re-recorded on top of itself, but slightly out of synchronization, to give a swimming sound that can sometimes make a freaky ear-messing noise which has been popular ever since the Small Faces and others used It in 1967). Here, the phasing is of the swimming variety, and ties well in with the smooth strings and brass backing to make an intriguingly unusual overall atmosphere.

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Angel (Atlantic).
Rita Frankel, as Mae West refers to her, begins her latest slowie (co-produced by herself and the great Quincy Jones) with a delicately backed rap: “I got a call the other day. It was my sister Carolyn, saying, ‘Aretha, come by when you can: I’ve got something that I wanna say.’ And when I got there, she said, ‘You know, rather than go through a long, drawn-out day, I think the melody on the box will help me explain.'” And it so happens that this pretty piece of gentle Soul wailing was written by that same sister, Carolyn Franklin, together with Sonny Saunders. Not, in fact, one of Aretha’s meatiest bits of material, it is however a perfect showcase for both her own laid back voice and Quincy’s perfectly lovely arrangement. On Aretha’s own flipside funker, “Sister From Texas“, the wukka-wukka-wukka-wukka wah-wah wins.

DONNY HATHAWAY: Love, Love, Love (Atco).
The eclectic Donny seems to be flirting with Soul again on this, his treatment of J. R. Bailey’s recent R&B hit. Bailey, with “Love, Love, Love” and the similar “After Hours“, has been tapping the Marvin Gaye market, starved of singles by the real thing but happy to buy J. R.’s accurate copies of that mellow echoing ethereal sound. Thus, Donny’s own treatment of Bailey’s version of the Gaye sound gets close to the original model in much the same way as did his “live” version of Marvin’s “What’s Going On” – although here the girlie group behind him sound at times as if what they’d really dig to be singing on is “Ebb Tide”. Very pleasant listening for the meantime, BUT . . . Marvin’s gotta newie out now too, about which, more later. Keep tuned! Continue reading “July 14, 1973: James Hamilton meets Sylvia, Cliff Nobles, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Derek Martin”

July 7, 1973: Al Green, Johnnie Taylor, The Invitations, Tom T. Hall, Betty Wright

Straight from the States
Our exclusive service to RM readers. James Hamilton listens to records so far only available in the US.

AL GREEN: Here I Am (Come And Take Me) (Hi).
Willie Mitchell’s well-oiled backing eases into its usual satisfying groove with a solidly thumping slow drum beat, and Al “Crown Prince Of Soul” Green slips and slides all over the slick surface in his usual satisfying style.

Okay, so nothing else is new, and this pulled-from-the-album cut is not the tailored-for-Britain single which we were promised by Willie when he was here, but it is a four minute and ten second example of an extremely sophisticated singer’s highly personal art.

Al Green’s individual style is indeed an art, of the most avant garde variety. From the basis of a dependably rock-steady backing, he uses words less for their storytelling qualities than for their sound, which he twists into abstract patterns just as an instrumental soloist might restructure a melody in a jazz setting.

This single is by far the most abstract of Green’s career to date, and, if issued here, will probably prove to be his least accessible to British ears.

However, if it does well (as it is bound to do) in America, will it pave the way for him to experiment with some wordless scat singing in place of a song on his next single?

JOHNNIE TAYLOR: I Believe In You (You Believe In Me) (Stax).
One of the hottest hits at the moment, both R & B and Pop, the “Who’s Making Love” man’s latest is a delicately-starting silky slow thumper, taken from his accurately-titled “Taylored In Silk” album.

The gentle backing has some nicely unusual melodic shifts, and contains some odd flute and strings sounds which make me imagine them coming echoing down an eerily remote Scottish glen – why, I don’t know, but that’s my mental image.

Rather like Al Green’s music, here it’s the sound rather than the song that matters, although – not to discredit the ex-Soul Stirrer – the sound in this instance owes more to the overall backing than to Johnnie’s voice.

THE INVITATIONS: They Say The Girl’s Crazy (Silver Blue).
Hallelujah! Remember the Invitations, of “What’s Wrong With My Baby” fame? They toured here as the Fabulous Bloggs Brothers or some such back in the late ’60s, and cut their two Sandy Linzer & Denny Randell-penned/produced goodies (yes, “Hallelujah” was the other) back in ’65.

Now they reappear on, surprisingly, a melodic mid-tempo plopper which would not have sounded unusual even back then, yet which is hanging on and battling ever higher up the R & B Charts of today.

Surprisingly, too, it began by being but the flip side of their more adventurous reworking of “For Your Precious Love” – at least you get a double-sided beaut for your money.

And guess who’s arranging/co-producing them now – none other than Philly’s own Bobby Martin! Stand by for its English issue. Continue reading “July 7, 1973: Al Green, Johnnie Taylor, The Invitations, Tom T. Hall, Betty Wright”