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”