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!

DEREK MARTIN: Falling Out Of Love (Vibration).
Derek (sometimes misspelt as “Derak”) is best remembered in Britain for his Sue-released original of “Daddy Rollin’ Stone” in 1964, while in America he is better known for his superb bit of Teddy Randazzo-produced Sweet Soul, “You Better Go“, from 1965. As you can read elsewhere in this issue, he is now signed to Sylvia’s Vibration label, and, as you can also read, Sylvia had originally written her “Pillow Talk” hit for Al Green to sing. So, what have we got here? Derek Martin doing his best to sound like Al Green, to a Willie Mitchell-ified version of the “Pillow Talk” backing sound! He does it well, at that.


American Singles

THE DETROIT SPINNERS: One Of A Kind (Love Affair); Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You (Atlantic K 10311).
The Spinners have a powerful hold over the US Charts, as this, their third consecutive Thom Bell-produced smash, proves. While there’s nothing wrong about this interestingly thumping slowie, it does seem to me, and I’m not alone, that it never really goes anywhere and is surprisingly monotonous. However, and again I’m not alone in thinking this, its flip is THE side: a brilliantly accurate recreation of a big band sound from at least twenty years ago, it throbs along to a Bill Basie bounce beat and features some incredibly flexible singing. So many people are talking about this gem now that it might almost be worth Atlantic’s while to turn the record over, as I don’t see the A-side doing that much here. B-SIDE PICK.

AL MARTINO: Spanish Eyes; Melody Of Love (Capitol CL 15430).
What does it? Is it that this ultra-smooth Easy Listening romancer gets played every now and then on Ten-Way Family Favourites, or what? ‘Cos, for the enth time, it is yet again hovering just outside the Top Fifty. At least it’ll be welcome in the Charts, where there are too few easy-to-dance-to Easy Listening hits these days (that’s the deejay in me speaking). EASY PICK.

THE OSMONDS: Goin’ Home; Are You Up There? (MGM 2006288).
This is the honest to goodness truth, but I really enjoy this tightly frenetic stomper and find myself waiting with impatience for it to be played on the radio so that I can groove along to it with wild abandon one more time. As I said in “RM”‘s exclusive preview review, it is rather like a more rocking (as in “& rolling”) version of the Slade sound, with catchy repeated lines and raucous vocals. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of a run it is to Slade themselves at the top of the Chart. A very impulsive little platter. And if you’re into heavy drama, the Strauss-inspired flipside slowie is simply dripping with it. Drama, that is. POP PICK.

JOHNNY WINTER: Silver Train; Rock & Roll (CBS 1820).
Now probably thought of as Edgar Winter’s brother, instead of the other way round as it used to be, cross-eyed Texas Blues albino Johnny is back from his troubles with a minor US breakout’s-worth of his old-style thinly whinnying bottleneck franticness over a persistent high-energy thunder. It’s good to hear him sounding good, even if the tune ain’t too tuff. Anyway, if tidiness is what you want, the flip has plenty of that, and gets it on too. Could be another B-SIDE PICK (GUITAR PICK class).

AL CAPPS: Shangri-La; Magician (Stateside SS 2214).
Obviously released now to take advantage of the “Lost Horizon” flick’s subject matter, Robert Maxwell’s lovely tune was last a hit (in America at least) exactly nine years ago. It now gets a saxophone-with-chorus treatment which smacks of the Jr. Walker approach and which consequently must have some slight chance here. I hope so, because like “Ebb Tide” it’s one of those maddeningly lovable schlock melodies, very slushy . . . and very pretty! MoR PICK.

DAVID ROSE AND HIS ORCHESTRA: Cabaret; Love Theme From “Spartacus” (Polydor 2058378).
The big tune from the big film of the musical of the play of the film of the book of the life (I think I got the sequence right – phew!) is now given one of Mr. Rose’s inimitable “Stripper” stylings, with plenty of hip-waggling brassy emphasis and get-’em-off drumming. It all seems remarkably appropriate. That Khachaturian-if-you-can “Onedin Line” theme is done nicely on the flip.

THE MILWAUKEE YOUTH ORCHESTRA: Beathoven Rag; Jab To The Jaw (Dart ART 2032).
There have been college marching bands in the charts before now, let alone whole regiments, so that a youth orchestra from where the beer that Jerry Lee drinks comes from should not be such a long shot, especially as they all go cavorting about together on this peculiarly tasteless Kokomo-type treatment of Beethoven’s 231st in a musical mess of noises which must contain one particular noise for everyone’s taste. And it’s a lovely toon. Surprisingly, they funk it up in the manner of Ramsey Lewis on the more pleasant flip.

DENISE LA SALLE: Do Me Right; Your Man And Your Best Friend (Westbound 6146102).
Now that the Detroit Emeralds have finally broken through here, Westbound are obviously hoping that by pulling this, the DE’s first smash, from Denise’s excellent LP they can break her here too. Whereas in the context of her LP this sounded good, away from it the arrangement becomes more obviously brasher than the DE original. As Willie Mitchell was responsible for the rhythm track on both versions, and the production of this, it’s probably to be expected that he would make some changes for variety’s sake. However, what made the original so good was its precision: the La Salle treatment is a less well-defined brassy stomper, and seems a bit muzzy.

ROSCOE ROBINSON: We’re Losing It Baby; We Got A Good Thing Going (Contempo CR 16).
The “That’s Enough” man (remember, in ’66?), ex-Gospeler Roscoe is now doing a Bobby Patterson-produced pent-up tricky slow beater which is overshadowed by its hackneyedly-titled but otherwise beautiful, slow, gentle, girls-helped, super-soulful lovely flip. Do turn it over.

WILLIE HENDERSON: The Dance Master, Part One: Instrumental; Part Two: Vocal (Contempo CR 18).
Of all their current disco-aimed obscurities, this “Outa-Space” repetitive modern funker is Contempo’s best bet yet for wide sales reaction. For a start, one look at the titles will sell it to every disco deejay north of Barnet. R&B PICK.

SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: If You Want Me To Stay; Thankful N’ Thoughtful (Epic EPC 1655).
Is it just me, or does Sly Stewart really sound vocally like Dr. John on this, his long-awaited first single for eons? It’s a very lazy, languidly rotating rhythm pattern, low-key medium-tempo chugger, about which I do not want to give any personal opinion because past experience has told me that Sly needs time to get through to you. I imagine that by the end of that time, he’ll have hit me hard, although at present he hasn’t exactly lifted me by the seat of my pants. Timmy Thomas rhythm noises on the hunky chunky flip. MUSIC PICK.

WEST, BRUCE & LAING: Dirty Shoes; Backfire (RSO 2090113).
Now on the famous Right Sold Out label, these heavy ex-s are here heard chomp chimp chomping along on a blues piano-based bouncy chopper which shows off their collective skills without necessarily opening our eyes wide with wonderment. For just three guys, they sure got a fat sound.

THE PLAYTHINGS: Stop What You’re Doing To Me (Pye).
Stop, the ladies cry, because they jointly like it too much! Feminine logic dressed up with piano, big beat and breathlessness.


Hamilton’s disco picks

MANU DIBANGO: Soul Makossa (London HL 10423). Immediate impact!
THE OSMONDS: Goin’ Home (MGM 2006288). Pop.
BOBBY GOLDSBORO: Summer (The First Time) (UA UP 35558). Smooch.
LOU REED & THE VU: I’m Waiting For The Man ( MGM 2006283). Modern.
WILLIE HENDERSON: The Dance Master (Contempo CR18). R & B.
THE KINKS: One Of The Survivors (RCA 2387). Modern.

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