Straight from the States
JACKSON 5: Get It Together (Motown M 1277F).
It has to be faced: the Jacksons are in trouble, with falling record sales not only here but also in America. Whatever happened – to the Transylvania Twist? – no, sorry, that was meant to come out as, whatever happened to their supposedly fanatical following? The powers behind them at Motown have obviously been concerned by the problem, otherwise why else would this, their latest hit, show label credits for as many as five writers, producer Hal Davis end executive producer Berry Gordy among them? The result is indeed a hit, and the healthiest-looking one that the boys have had for some time. It’s also a good record, having a herky-jerky choppy rhythm structure with jagged sax and strings behind it, a repetitive synthesised bass-line through it, and jittery frantic vocal work from Michael and his brothers slotted in between it. This dominating rhythm track has, of course, the effect of making the whole thing less a song than a sound . . .and as sounds are notoriously difficult to break with melody-loving British audiences, the release here of the “Skywriter” LP track instead of “Get It Together” was possibly a wise decision on the part of Tamla Motown. Except that “Skywriter” doesn’t seem to have done much, either. As I was saying, the Jacksons are in trouble.
RAY PRICE: You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me (Columbia 4-45889).
On looking through some back issues of RM the other day, I discovered that when I originally reviewed Ray Price’s hit Country version of “For The Good Times” I actually recommended it to Perry Como fans! How’s that for a prophecy? Ray has a voice that is slap bang in that Perry Como-styled Easy Listening groove, and by rights he should be just as popular – even if you yourselves aren’t into that sort of thing, do at least tell your mums and dads about him. His latest American hit is streaking to the top of the Country Charts and is also climbing Pop, where in fact its totally un-Country straight Easy Listening sound rightly belongs. Another of those Jim Weatherly-penned slowies, it reminds me of nothing so much as Rod McKuen’s Frank Sinatra-sung “Love’s Been Good To Me.” Expect Val Doonican to cover it any day.
THE OVATIONS: Having A Party – Medley (MGM K 14623).
When the Memphis-recorded Ovations first broke through in the mid-‘60s singing “It’s Wonderful To Be In Love” on Goldwax, the voice of their lead singer, Louis Williams, was obviously modelled on that of the late Sam Cooke, whose cool Gospel-style has had such an influence on so many Soul singers. After a period when nothing much has been heard from them, the Ovations are back in the R&B Charts with – guess what? – an unabashed tribute to Sam Cooke and the songs which he made famous in the early ‘60s. Recorded live (and it really does sound as if the enthusiastic audience was there at the time, even if only in the studio), Louis and the group, augmented by some girls, satisfy the requests which they evidently keep getting for Sam Cooke songs by running together over an infectious easy-paced clap beat such Cooke favourites as “Having A Party,” “Twisting The Night Away,” “Wonderful World,” “Meet Me At Mary’s Place,” “Soothe Me,” and “Amen” (the last two admittedly are less readily identified with Cooke), all moulded to the basic “Having A Party” tune and backing. Apart from its natural appeal for Sam Cooke (and Ovations) fans, this record is also notable because it is one of the few in existence which accurately captures the feel of a black singer in front of a black audience.
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: Ramblin’ Man; Pony Boy (Warner Brothers)
I must confess that the impatient anticipation which its much-lauded American progress had aroused in me turned to disappointment . . . until the whining-pitched guitars got into their ramblin’ jamming and cooking towards the end (which was some time late, as this single cut lasts for a generous 4:58). I still think it’s a pity that there’s so much rather anonymous Country-Rock singing at the start, but overall this hustling fast twister is proof enough of why the Allmans are being hailed as the new Dead. Those intertwining geetars, coo-er! The bluesy bouncy bottleneck flip is, at 5:50, even longer. (GUITAR) PICK OF THE WEEK
STEVIE WONDER: Higher Ground; Too High (Tamla Motown TMC 869).
Like the Mothers Of Invention’s George Duke, Stevie Wonder plays clavinet – that’s clavinet with a “v”, not clarinet with an “r” – although I’m not sure if in fact that is the electric keyboard instrument which creates the speeded-up “Superstition” groove on this entirely self-played funky dancer. As it’s freer- flowing, this ought to be even more popular here than its predecessor. More inventive but less accessible flip. R&B/POP PICK
ROY C: Got To Get Enough (Of Your Sweet Love Stuff); Don’t Blame The Man (Mercury 6052367).
Roy “Shotgun Wedding” Hammond is having another R&B hit streak in the States, and these two nice sides have both been part of it (the flip’s in fact his current hit). The economically-backed topside dancer has an Otis Redding/Clarence Carter feel to it, great “adult” words and some decidedly disgusting – let alone naughty – noises at the end! If for that reason alone, it ought to find friends. Look out, he’ll eat you up! R&B PICK
RARE EARTH: Good Time Sally (Rare Earth RES 109).
Out in America for really quite a long time, this cleanly-constructed rhythm strutter has Rare Earth’s usual blend of concise instrumentation and clear enunciation. That’s probably the reason why they fail here when nearly all their dependably good records are hits in America – they’re such a clean machine.
SONNY BOTTARI: Easy Evil (Young Blood YB 1059).
What with the other good and individually different treatments by John Kay, Walter Jackson and the Friends Of Distinction of this tune, you’d have thought that nobody else would bother with it Ah-ha, there you’d be wrong! Precisely because every version is so different, Sonny has had room to manoeuvre his own Bob Gallo-arranged/produced slinky understated version into being possibly the most effective of the lot. His is a loose-limbed lightly Latin soft throbber, with lots of sibilant S’s and subdued steel guitar behind the plopping electric piano and distant chix. MUSIC PICK
NAT STUCKEY: Take Time To Love Her; Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues (RCA 2405).
If Perry Como can make it singing Ray Price singing Kris Kristofferson, Nat Stuckey deserves to be able to make it singing his own big Country hit from earlier this year. It’s one of those emotion-charged, voice-cracking, crescendo-filled (and Jordanaires-backed) slowies which Nashville’s studios turn out seemingly so effortlessly. Not that the Beeb will necessarily agree, I think it sounds like the best bet for Britain since Faron Young. The ex-Rockabilly is just as good on the lovely O’Keefe flip. C&W/EASY LISTENING PICK
JO JO GUNNE: Rock Around The Symbol (Asylum ATM 521).
One of the minor tragedies of recent times is that Jo Jo Gunne (currently touring here, collective good looks and all) never managed to follow up their classic “Run, Run, Run”. This hackneyed rhythm number is unlikely to.
THE CHI-LITES: Stoned Out Of My Mind; Someone Else’s Arms (Brunswick BR 7).
Following the relative US failure of their Bluegrass-Soul experiments, the ‘Lites are hitbound again with the help of a large infusion of Philly Sound into this infectiously lolloping light and airy dancer. Its’s good enough, especially with a title like that, to do well here too. Frothily foppish Sweet Soul flip. R&B/POP PICK
ART GARFUNKEL: All I Know; Mary Was An Only Child (CBS 1777).
Fifty million people (or however many it was) bought “Bridge Over Troubled Water’, and presumably they can’t be wrong: the question is, will they now go out and buy a pale imitation? Both lugubrious sides of Art’s solo debut smack of over-cautious sterility – still, there’s no accounting for taste, and the name-power alone is enough to give many people the hots. MUZAK PICK
PHIL EVERLY: The Air That I Breathe; God Bless Older Ladies (For They Made Rock & Roll) (RCA 2409).
Phil’s first since the Brothers split is a sensitive slowie with tinkling acoustic guitars, gently building arrangement, attractive lilt and modest grow-on-you appeal – while no earthshaker, it’s certainly got a whole lot more going for it than the new Garfunkel. The equally good tranquil flip has a raunchy sax break and nice line in reflective lyrics (Phil gets co-composer credit here). Mmmm, these should keep ’em happy at “Everlea!” MUSIC PICK
LOU RAGLAND: Since You Said You’d Be Mine (Warner Bros K 16312).
Ex-the Montclairs, the Dominoes and allegedly the (early?) O’Jays, Lou comes from Cleveland, Ohio (the right place if he WAS an O’Jay), and now embraces the Philadelphia Sound on this typically Philly dancer, which is good without being great. Okeh slow flip too.
GENE VINCENT: Story Of The Rockers; Pickin’ Poppies (Spark SRL 1091).
The late Blue Jean Bopper has been gone for two years now, up in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, yeah that’s where it’s at (no lapser of taste intended). This Jim and Judy Pewter-penned/produced mild rocker is an undemonstratively performed catalogue, as the title would suggest, of the names and events that make up the history of Rock (and near-Rock). Although musically unadventurous, the list itself must make this of interest to all committed nostalgicats. Gene’s in good voice on the slightly Mickey & Sylvia-ish duetted gentle flip, too. POSTHUMOUS PICK
JOHNNIE TAYLOR: I Believe In You (You Believe In Me); Love Depression (Stax 2025194).
Until Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” came along to dominate the US Charts, Johnnie was having it all his own way with this Don Davis-penned/produced atmospheric semi-slowie. Months ago I said how its odd construction and eerie flute summoned up images in my mind of windswept Scottish glens, and indeed the whole record is more of an evocative mood than a song. Johnnie’s contribution is important, but mainly because his not to he underrated subtle soulfulness is so successfully integrated into the whole. This is a true beauty. The more typical medium chug flip, with its “love is gettin’ scarce as hens’ teeth” line, could have been an A-side in its own right. MUSIC/SOUL PICK
THE DOOBIE BROTHERS: China Grove (Warner Bros K 16310).
The San Jose modern rockers who really deserved to hit here with their “Long Train Runnin'” are unfortunately in less coherent form on this messy angry guitar scrubber, which is so nearly very good.
THE INDEPENDENTS: Baby I’ve Been Missing You; Couldn’t Hear Nobody Say (I Love You Like You Do) (Pye Int. 7N 25623).
With the girl in the group taking a big part In the proceedings, this sexy self-apologetic male rap-introed Sweet Soul slowie (hmmm, get your mouth round that, if you can!) is filled with delicately twiddling strings and yearningly sung “ahh-haa”s. Lurchingly pretty yet with a quota of pure Soul, it and its also nice slow flip are likely to be best received by delight-filled Soul Group Freaks. R&B PICK
Hamilton’s disco picks
STEVIE WONDER: Higher Ground (Tamla Motown TMG 809) R&B/Modern/Pop.
BRYAN FERRY: A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall (Island WIP 6170) Modern/Pop.
SERGIO MENDES & BRASIL ’77: Where Is The Love (Bell MABEL 5 – also, with “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, on the excellent background-music Side 1 of LP “Love Music” Bell BELLS 226) Easy Listening.
TRINI LOPEZ: Butterfly (MGM 2006260) Easy Listening.
BURUNDI BLACK B: Africa Manga (Barclay BAR 22) Pity about the horrible added music, but the African drums are great, as before. This is the B-side. Pop.
ROY C: Got To Get Enough (Mercury 6052367) R&B.
THE CHI-LITES: Stoned Out Of My Mind (Brunswick BR 7) R&B/Pop.
MONTI DE LYLE: The Yum Yum Song (Harvest HAR 5075) 1957-style Rock & Roll-type Pop, Bert Weedon guitar and all!
DRUPI: Vado Via (A&M AMS 7083) Boring Italian Pop slowie, evidently a big Continental smash during the Summer hols. Droopy Doo-Wop!