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.

JIM CROCE: Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (ABC).
Having spent the last few months climbing slowly but surely to the top of the US Charts, Jim’s latest great macho thumper is evidently not destined for British release as a single. Why ever not? It’s been knocking ’em dead disco-wise since I first played it back in May, just as his “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” did before it. This guy is so undeservedly ignored in this country it’s almost criminal.

JERRY LEE LEWIS: No Headstone On My Grave (Mercury).
Okay, it’s from his “The Session” LP and available here, but . . . phewweee! I hadn’t heard it until this single came in. Jerry Lee does the Charlie Rich slow blueser after the fashion of Ray Charles’s “In The Heat Of The Night”, and powerful isn’t the word. Listen to him run riot with those 88s when the tempo’s slow, then thrill to his vocal inflections as he suddenly turns it into a frantic rocker shortly before the slow-again end. Grrrr!

TAMMY WYNETTE: Kids Say The Darndest Things (Epic).
Astutely (and extremely well) covered here by actress Diana Coupland, Tammy’s latest Country Chart-topper to go Pop is back in her “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” bag: you know, a sob story about broken homes and family life. This time, instead of the adults having to disguise their talk about divorce, it’s the kids who are saying “I wanna divorce”. Now, wherever did they hear that? A sure chuckle-getter is the bit about the kid who says his first four-letter word . . . and it sure wasn’t “Love”!

DONALD BYRD: Black Byrd (Blue Note).
Jazz guitarist Byrd is having his first real R & B/Pop hit with this wah-wah funker, which is a bit like a cross between Sly Stone, Dennis Coffey and Billy Preston. Surprisingly, although it plonks along like an instrumental to begin with, it is a vocal of a type which also reminds me of War. With all those cross-references, you should be able to get an idea of what it’s like! Yeah, it’s good too.

American Singles

ALL DYRECTIONS: Soul Makossa; On Top Of It (Buddah 2011178).
I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt be saying it again; the original and best is by MANU DIBANGO on London HL 10423. Why does anyone else bother? Of all the many cover versions (which have so irritated US dee-jays that many now don’t even broadcast poor Manu), this attempt to capture his Afro-R&B sound is the most pathetic. At least the funky guitar flip is better.

MICKEY NEWBURY: Sunshine; Song For Susan (Elektra K 12112).
What’s happening to me? First I love the Bobby Goldsboro newie, and now I find this Mickey Newbury newie ain’t half all right. Both singer/songwriters usually combine in my mind with Bobby Russell and Mac Davis as overly sentimental predictable schlock-mongers whom I can do without. So, pride and prejudice going to the winds, I am happy to report that from the opening chirrups of the early morning bluebird this gently hustling strumming and cool pedal steel-backed smoothly sung ambiguous-beat slowie is pretty damned beautiful. POP PICK.

LOVE UNLIMITED: Oh Love (Well We Finally Made It); Yes, We Finally Made It (Pye 7N 25619).
The burning question of the hour is: finally made what? With a title like that, and the fact that Barry “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” White penned/produced, the answer shouldn’t be too obscure. Yes, the “Walkin’ In The Rain With The One Love” girls are finally back, on a creakingly churning repetitive slow slab of atmospheric Soul For Hip Swingers which would not be at all out of place on Barry’s own Hayes-ian LP. “Clop” goes something with maddening regularity, “thud thud thud” goes the bass, “wheee” go the soaring strings, and “lurrrv” go the wailing chickies. Add in a chinking drummer and some Jr. Walker sax and you should get the idea. In fact, it IS nice and does its job admirably, without necessarily having that little hook to sell it Pop. Oh, you guessed – it’s an instrumental flip. R&B PICK.

JOHNNY WILLIAMS: Put It In Motion; It’s So Wonderful (Epic EPC 1547).
From “Slow Motion” to “Put It In Motion”, Johnny speeds it up and adds more of that Philly Sound, arranged as he is by the ubiquitous Thom Bell and produced by Gamble & Huff. The rhythm is better for R&B fans than for Pop Pickers, I fancy, so that this may not get the O’Jay type of air-play, despite its similarity to their sound. Pleasantly Soulful flip, somewhat Jimmy Ruffinish.

JAY AND THE TECHNIQUES: Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie; Contact (Mercury 6052302).
Continuing Phonogram’s policy of aiming, however haphazardly, at the disco market, here’s a second reactivation of 1967’s American summer smash, a wedge of bouncy Pop-R&B by a black duo with white back-up. It’s admittedly gay and has Philadelphia connections (the smooth stomp flip is by Jerry Ross & Kenny Gamble), although somehow I fear that the beat may be just a little bit wrong this year. What’ll probably sell it, in fact, is the flip, which is old-style Marvin Gaye-ish and made for Northern dancefloors.

BOBBY WILLIAMS: Let’s Jam; You’re My Baby (Contempo CR 17).
“Hey fellas! You know what we got to do! Fellas, we got to jam! Can I do it? Can we do it? All together now…” “Make It Funky”, these last words being my own – or, rather, James Brown’s, for this funker could not be more of a blatant attempt to copy Mr. Brown’s song of the same name. While no substitute for the real thing, in its raw and rough way it’s got a similar appeal, and is unusual in that these days so few people try to imitate the JB sound. It even includes a “bad mother…”/ “shut your mouth” bit! And the flipside slowie is a Sam Cooke rip-off.

DAWN Featuring TONY ORLANDO: Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose; The Spark Of Love Is Kindlin’ (Bell 1322).
Have writers Irwin Levine & L. Russell Brown been listening to a zany oldie by Eddie & Dutch, called “My Wife, The Dancer“? I ask because their new slice of Rag-Rock (that’s the abbreviation of Ragtime-Rock which the US trade papers have coined for Dawn’s current style) is the sad story of a husband and father who’s been left by his wife, the dancer – or, to be more accurate, his wife, the stripper. Yup, she’s teasin’ ‘em down in New Orleans in a burlesque show. Poor Poppa! The beat is as bouncy as before, but there’s a drawn-out slow intro (which dee-jays can skip). The resonantly ponderous slow flip is rather good too. MoR PICK.

LOVE: Alone Again Or; Andmoreagain (Elektra K 12113).
This is the third time that the haunting “Alone Again Or” has been re -issued since 1969 . . . and it wasn’t new then. If you can remember way back to the dawning of the Psychedelic Era and Flower Power, between the time of the Seeds and Woodstock, there used to be unending streams of letters to the “RM” and other papers about how under-rated, unrecognised and generally ignored were Arthur Lee and his group, Love. Well, they obviously had a host of admirers to write all those letters, but a cult group is what they remained. If you still don’t know about them, latch your lobes to this delicately spinning, spiral, convoluted acoustic strummer, touched with Tijuana Brass and vaguely Eastern staccato vocals. A favourite of many, it might convert you. MUSIC PICK.

LABELLE: Open Up Your Heart; Going On A Holiday (RCA 2382).
If it was goosebumps you wanted, you just had to wait for Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles to walk on stage at the “Apollo” and wail into “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – that was enough to give you more shivers than any air-conditioning plant could produce! Cindy Birdsong went Supreme, while the other three girls (Patti, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendrix) went soldiering on until, after a decade of looking like wet dreams on legs, they tuned all Afro and butch, shortened their name, and hardened up their choice of material. If their modern audiences have any sense, they’ll still clamour for “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, because the girls have yet to equal that, on record at least. They’re here giving a solidly plodding semi-Gospel treatment to a Stevie Wonder song which now sounds a bit like “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)”, a real Gospel oldie. Their voices are as wailing and good as ever, and they do it well. But no goosebumps.

Hamilton’s disco picks

JAMES LAST: Happy Music (Polydor 2041450) Great Easy Listening.
CARLOS MALCOLM: Bonanza Ska / SKATALITES: Guns of Navarone (Maxi Trojan TRM 9008). MoR Rave/Ska Classics.
DAWN: Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose (Bell 1322) MoR.
THE BARON’S SUPPORTERS: The Return Of The Red Baron (UK 46) Pop.
PEACHES: Seven Little Girls (Sitting In The Back Seat) (Explosion EX 2081) Pop.
NAZARETH: Bad Bad Boy (Mooncrest MOON 9) Pop/Modern.
FREE: All Right Now (Island WIP 6082) Modern/Pop Classic.
THEM: Gloria; Baby Please Don’t Go (Deram DM 394) Modern/Pop Classics.
THE OHIO EXPRESS: Yummy Yummy Yummy (Buddah 2011169) Pop Classic.
ALAN PRICE: Poor People (Warner Bros K 16293). Easy Listening.
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: If You Want Me To Stay (Epic EPC 1655). Modern/R&B.

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