October 27, 1973: Muddy Waters, Three Degrees, Wilbert Harrison, Steve Miller Band, The Osmonds

Stateside newies

MUDDY WATERS: Can’t Get No Grindin’ (What’s The Matter With The Meal); Garbage Man (Chess CH 2143).
The Blues singer who launched a thousand careers, Muddy Waters was at the height of his own career during the mid-‘50s in America and during the early-‘60s in Britain, the latter being the period when he influenced every so-called “R&B”-er from the Rolling Stones on down. He’s still admired of course, mainly as the leader of a legendarily tight Blues band, but with the passing of the white Blues boom his name is heard much less frequently. All that could change now! This, the title track from his latest US LP, finds Muddy in good voice, his extremely tight band in superbly tight and concise form, and the addition of a Ray Charles-ish electric piano in amongst the more traditional instrumentation: so what’s different? The intensely pounding power, that’s what! Under, over and right through everything there’s an unremitting gut-shaking booming bass the likes of which you’ve never heard, cutting through that is the spiky acidity of the electric piano and a spurt of obligatory mouth harp, while in amongst it all the dry-sounding guitars chink and scrub away to produce an important counterpoint to the dominating bass. Add Muddy’s bouncy voice with some good-time call-and-answer response from the group, and the overall result is spelt E-X-C-I-T-E-M-E-N-T! It’s all so simple and yet so right. Few if any other recording stars could produce so much from so little, which is where the master with all his years of experience wins over his more famous pupils. Muddy Waters don’t wash cleaner than clean, but do have that miracle ingredient!

THREE DEGREES: Dirty Ol’ Man (Philadelphia International ZS7 3534).
The Three Degrees are the girlie group who succeeded the Chantels with producer and sometime singer (“Some Other Guy”), Richie Barrett. Under his guidance they hit on several occasions, most notably with their rap-introed revival of the Chantels’ “Maybe” about three years ago, and with their early Sweet Soul “Gee Baby” in 1965: also, they were the night club group who appeared on screen in “The French Connection” (so THAT’S who they were!). Anyway, the girls have now returned to their Philadelphia roots, signing on with Gamble & Huff as producers / penners for their first single on Philadelphia International (they did actually have one single on G&H’s Neptune label a while ago). While perfectly good, the fairly typical Philly Sound clopping rhythm-propelled result is a bit of a disappointment, using as it does the girls’ sweetly pure and wailing voices less for their own sake than as a usefully shrill vocal instrument with which to pierce the blanketing musical instrumentation. However, it’s probably the right approach to give the girls a First Choice-type British hit when the record comes out here next month.

American Singles

WILBERT HARRISON: Get It While You Can; Amen (Action ACT 4613).
The “Kansas City”, “Let’s Work Together” man – or rather, one man band – is back on the re-designed Action label with the news that he’s your Soul Food man . . . get it while you can! Sounding unique as always, he’s amalgamated African/Caribbean-ish Creole street calls with intricately picked guitar, vibrantly quavering harmonica, tricksy shuffling rhythm and bouncy booming bass to produce a fascinatingly funky musical texture which IS the record, the song itself being no more than the ingredients of a New Orleans menu itemized with all the genial good humour of a Creole Judge Dread. Gourmets, cognoscenti and dancers who use their hips more than their feet will be awarding this tasty gumbo at least four rosettes and three forks! Preaching-introed Gospel flip. PICK OF THE WEEK. Continue reading “October 27, 1973: Muddy Waters, Three Degrees, Wilbert Harrison, Steve Miller Band, The Osmonds”

October 20, 1973: Brownsville Station, Millie Jackson, Carla Thomas, James Brown, Four Tops

Stateside newies

BROWNSVILLE STATION: Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room (Big Tree BT 16011).
Released as it was to coincide with the autumnal return to school, this choppy rocker was obviously predestined to become another of those temporary ‘teen anthems – indeed, can it be only coincidence that the general noise of raucous voice, chord-smashing bar accents, and freer harmonica-tinged instrumental passages is immediately reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s (admittedly slower) “Eighteen”? When last heard of on this page, Brownsville Station were busy converting “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah” from Reggae to Rock. In fact the band started out as alleged Rock Revivalists, but (to judge from those of their records that I’ve heard myself) they always seem to have done their reviving in a way which took the most obvious elements from the music of the past – a past embracing both late-‘50s American and mid-‘60s British “Rock” – and then treated those elements in a style that smacked of the ‘70s. This is really what they’ve done here. The lyrics are a cross between Eddie Cochran at his most punkoid, Pete Townshend at his most ‘teen-appealing, and Shel Silverstein at his most Dr Hook satirical, while parts of the musical structure are pure Rock ‘n Roll played and mixed in with a Stones-derived modern raunch . . . plus, of course, that Alice Cooper snotty quality. So, is the result the ‘teen anthem that its makers predestined it to be? Radio tipster Kal Rudman is pushing it hard and reports “Good ‘teen phone requests” from WOKY Milwaukee and KLIV San Jose, with similar good reaction from all the other secondary stations who are playing it – BUT, as few if any of the major stations have added the tune to their playlists yet (the curse of modern American radio is its super-cautious programming), it’s only moved a modest 85-78 on this week’s Record World chart. And a big “Hello” to Capital Radio, whose programming seems so far to be a bit different – between 11.00 and 11.30 of their very first day (this Tuesday) they repeated two records which had been featured during their very first hour of transmission only six hours earlier: OK, Billy Preston being a Chart-bubbler is understandable, but Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66 singing “Scarboro Fair” is, although a nice catholic choice, kind of an odd oldie to receive such attention, surely? Oh, the waves are alive with the sound of newsak!

MILLIE JACKSON: Hurts So Good; Love Doctor (Spring SPR 139).
Millie began her career by singing with the Charlie Lucas Combo – a pity she wasn’t with them when I penetrated Brooklyn’s darkest Bedford-Stuyvesant district to catch the Combo at the Sonia Ballroom in ’64 – and is now featured alongside label-mate Joe Simon singing on the movie soundtrack of “Cleopatra Jones”. Both these sides are from the flick, the topside Phillip Mitchell-penned hurting Soulful slowie being a huge R&B hit that’s growing Pop, and much in demand on import here. At last she has found, after a string of comparatively trite Pop-R&B dance hits, some slower yet equally successful material that is able to return her to the pure Soul style with which she so impressed on her earlier “Child Of God”. The Jackie Avery-penned flip finds her back in the uptempo groove, though.

CARLA THOMAS: Love Among People; I Have A God Who Loves (Stax STA 0173).
Speaking of Phillip Mitchell, who penned “Hurts So Good”, he also happens to have co-penned (with Ernie Shelby) this terrific new slowie for the Memphis Queen, Rufus Thomas’s little girl, Carla, who herself co-produced it with Stax veep Al Bell. The result is an even-keeled unemphatic mellow mood, with jazzy flute amidst the gentle electric piano early on, before the softly snarling brass, chunky MG’s rhythm and subdued wah-wah flourishes shift the tune subtly along to its more highly-strung churning finish. It may seem sacrilege to say it, but dear Carla’s voice seems – while not actually similar – just a little bit reminiscent of dear Donny’s! She is in fact in superbly understated Soulful form, and more dramatically Soulful on the “Wattstax”-culled inspirational flip. Continue reading “October 20, 1973: Brownsville Station, Millie Jackson, Carla Thomas, James Brown, Four Tops”

October 13, 1973: Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Escorts, Manhattans, Earth Wind & Fire

Stateside new spins
An RRM exclusive service bringing you the first news and reviews of the hot US releases every week

FRED WESLEY & THE J. B.’s: If You Don’t Get It The First Time, Back Up And Try It Again, Party; You Can Have Watergate Just Gimme Some Bucks And I’ll Be Straight (People PE 627).
Here we have a case of the titles being more impressive than the actual music! The simple handclap-beat chant-accompanied riff, led by Fred’s trombone and James Brown’s vocal exhortations, is no more than both typical and typically functional in each case, with neither side coming even close to the irresistible funk of the team’s “Doin’ It To Death” (or for that matter, despite the A-side’s title, to the “Parrty” of Maceo And The Macks). Still, diehard fans of James Brown – The Hitman – The Godfather Of Soul, who penned / performed / arranged / produced as usual, will dance along happily for a few weeks until his next release.

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUENOTES: The Love I Lost (Parts 1 & 2) (Philadelphia International ZS7 3533).
Expecting another drawn-out slowie from these spine-tingling masters of the Philly Sound? Well, the slow electric piano intro of their latest Gamble & Huff-penned / produced (Bobby Martin-arranged) US hit is enough to confirm such expectations – until it suddenly picks up into a churning fast hustling rhythm and the boys begin singing their answer to all the dance hits that the O’Jays, Intruders and Four Tops have scored in this style. That reference to the Philly-aping Tops is no accident either, for the maturely masculine tones of the Bluenotes’ lead singer (Teddy Pendergrast?) are reminiscent of those of the Tops’ Levi Stubbs in some way. This should find friends In Britain, where their slowies failed to follow-up “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”

THE ESCORTS: Look Over Your Shoulder; By The Time I Get To Phoenix (Alithia AR 6052).
Shades of the Prisonaires? The Escorts are evidently a gaol-formed group of cons who were produced by George Kerr while still serving their time. For material, George chose the sweet slowie with which he created such a masterpiece when recorded by the O’Jays back in 1968 – unfortunately, although the Escorts’ singing is in no way to be faulted, the new tinkling arrangement by Bert Keyes just fades away into insignificance when compared with the revolutionary knocking and thumping original by Richard Tee. At least the flipside standard presents no such definitive original against which to be measured, but then neither does it present much of a challenge. As with the topside, the group’s well-executed (although none too distinctive) harmony interplay comes across despite the cloying instrumentation. Continue reading “October 13, 1973: Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Escorts, Manhattans, Earth Wind & Fire”

October 6, 1973: Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye, Marie Osmond, Elvis Presley, Bloodstone, The Persuasions

Straight from the States

DIANA ROSS & MARVIN GAYE: You’re A Special Part Of Me; I’m Falling In Love With You (Motown M 1280F).
Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell, and now Diana Ross, the latest distaff partner for Marvin Gaye. With the teaming of two such superstars the electricity might have been expected to crackle, but unfortunately the result is somewhat disappointing. Marvin, who in recent years has pioneered a new and highly personal approach to Soul singing, is on these duets reduced to the musical level of his less subtle partner, and spends most of the time providing background support for the piercingly pitched tones of Miss Ross (whose contribution will admittedly ensure that these tunes come over well on car radios). The Berry Gordy-produced A-side is a clumsy, lurching, jerky, thudding and thundering slowie which returns poor Marvin right back to his days with the late Miss Terrell. Luckily the Margaret Gordy-penned and co-produced flip side is more sympathetic in every way: a slushier, slower, simpler and prettier song altogether, it even has some appealing word-play that would have been worthy of Smokey Robinson eight years ago. In addition, Marvin manages to get closer to the microphone than Diana on this side. If this review seems particularly biased against Diana Ross, then her many fans need not get up in arms because it must also surely tell them that they (and maybe they alone!) are going to love this record.

MARIE OSMOND: Paper Roses; Least Of All You (MGM K 14609).
When Anita Bryant recorded this pathos-filled sentimental thump-along Easy Listening Country lilter in her stentorian “Two-Way Family Favourites” tones, who’da guessed that one day her performance would be bested by that of a mere slip of a girl, the teenaged sister of the most famous male group in the World? Who’da guessed that this young girl, with such an illustrious Pop (with a capital “P”) family, would in fact aim herself at the Country Charts? Who’da guessed that she would be produced by none other than top Country star, the “Southern Gentleman,” Sonny James? Who’da guessed the result would be similar to the Anita Bryant version, but gentler and a whole, whole lot better? And, after all that, who’da guessed that Marie Osmond would come across as an entirely convincing Country singer? True, on the Sonny James & Carole Smith-penned slow flip she is successful in sounding just like her brother, Donny – uncannily like him – but that just means that at long last half the male population of the World can re-direct their lust in a healthier direction. Hey, Marie, you-all can sing at my barn dance, any time you want!

ELVIS PRESLEY: Raised On Rock; For Ol’ Times Sake (RCA APBO 0088).
After seeing a title like that, all El’s old faithful frustrated fans can be forgiven for getting a bad case of slobbering at the mouth. Trouble is, neither El nor the song deliver the goods. Penned by Mark James, the latter has some interesting lyrics which do indeed hark back to a vaguely Presley-ish past, only to be rendered by the old groaner in a tremulous whinny over a scudding rhythm that bears no relation to Rock past or present. Continue reading “October 6, 1973: Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye, Marie Osmond, Elvis Presley, Bloodstone, The Persuasions”