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

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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.

MANHATTANS: You’d Better Believe It; Soul Train (Columbia 4-45927).
Arranged, conducted, and – to all intents and purposes – produced by Bobby Martin, the cool-singing Manhattans’ follow-up to their classic “There’s No Me Without You” is another beautifully performed lush slowie: however, the actual song is nowhere near as good (how the incredible “There’s No Me” failed to hit here, I’ll never know). Flip-side, someone asks “Hey man, you hear that?”, and a faggoty Californian accent answers “Yeah, sounds like a train” – then there follows a catalogue of all the places at which the Soul Train is going to stop, set to a chattering cymbal rhythm. It’ll please all American viewers of the “Soul Train” TV show (a black “TOTP”), but it isn’t another “Love Train”.

American Singles

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: Evil (CBS 1792).
A top import seller before its British release, this modern-thinking black group’s beautiful “Head To The Sky” album contains the full version and should really be bought instead: however, the lightly Latin pulsating percussion, sheer zest and infectiousness of this leapingly alive single make it a must if you can afford no more. Just dig that rhythm track! MUSIC PICK.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: Midnight Train To Georgia; Window Raisin’ Granny (Buddah 2011185), AND Daddy Could Swear, I Declare; For Once In My Life (Tamla Motown TMG 876).
Gladys’s official Buddah newie is a soupily-souled slow swayer, again from the pen of Jim Weatherly and previously waxed by Cissy Houston, which eases itself along with circuitous Pop appeal and crisp back-up from the Pips, one of whom sings lead on the mildly rhythmic flip. In contrast its older herky-jerky Motown competitor, despise a tasteful treatment of the Stevie Wonder flip, lacks the grow-on-you quality that earns Buddah the POP PICK (SOUL CLASS).

CONWAY TWITTY: You’ve Never Been This Far Before (To Take The Easy Way Out) (MCA MU 1223).
I’m getting so much pleasure from modern Country Music these days that I’d like to suggest you try it too. The Nashville Sound of ’73 is one of sparse and subtle arrangements (incorporating at least a slither of pedal steel amidst the “empty” sound), allied to a slightly less maudlin, more mature approach to lyrics than of old. Conway Twitty’s latest Country Chart-topper, including its flip, is an excellent example to begin with, and – its biggest attraction for the uncommitted – the hit-side’s lyrics are even more “adult” than most, being about . . . er, um . . . a virgin’s imminent deflowering! With dodgy lines like “as my trembling fingers touch forbidden places,” plus a catchy lilt, it actually deserves the Pop success of a ‘Something’s Burning” or “Summer (The First Time).” By all means hear it for these lyrics, but do also dig the music before sniggering with your friends! POKE OF THE WEEK.

CARPENTERS: Top Of The World; Your Wonderful Parade (A&M AMS 7086).
No wonder this happy light bouncer seems so familiar – it’s the song that Lynn Anderson has just taken to the Top Of The Country Charts! Penned by Richard Carpenter with John Bettis, as was the old “Ticket To Ride”-culled circus-atmosphere tricky flip, the song is also one of Karen’s best vehicles ever and should have no difficulty in becoming a smash. MoR PICK.

MOMENTS: Gotta Find A Way; Sweeter As The Days Go By (London HLU 10433).
Fully described in a recent “Straight From The States,” this is the lovely Sweet Soul slowie that Sylvia enhances with an airport announcement. She also seems to sing lead on the pure Gospel flip. Had the chiefs not a tendency to outnumber the Indians on this page, it would have rated some kinda Pick! My trouble is that I only write about the good records! Oh, what the hell, SWEET SOUL PICK.

BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE: Stayed Awake All Night (Mercury 6052357).
Crashing and thumping noisy monotony, much plugged by the Beeb, from Randy (ex-Guess Who) Bachman, his two brothers and C. F. Turner. It has a certain . . . HEAVINESS. POP PICK.

BETTE MIDLER: Friends; Chapel Of Love (Atlantic K 10369).
So often Miss Midler’s grating vocal quality is painful to my ears: luckily, like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” before it, this slow-starting then care-free and bouncy Buzzy Linhart ditty is one of the painless rarities! Both its structure and sound are in fact almost pure Laura Nyro, while its reconstituted Ronettes/Dixie-Cups flip is, of necessity, multi-tracked to give a full girlie group effect, “shoo-bedoowup-wah-dah” finale and all. MoR PICK.

AL WILSON: Show And Tell (Bell 1330).
Now free of his Soul City/Liberty ties, the only worthwhile result of which was his ‘68 reading of Oscar Brown Jr.’s rattling “The Snake,” Al Wilson has leapt onto the US R&B and Pop Charts first week out with this Jerry Fuller-penned/produced strings ‘n chix-dressed chugging slowie. Although the impassioned yet slick singing is Al’s own, it gives us a good idea of what Johnny Mathis’s teaming with Thom Bell could have been like had things gone as they should! This could be a hit. R&B PICK.

CORNELIUS BROS. AND SISTER ROSE: I Just Can’t Stop Loving You (UA UP 35595).
Whoever sings lead has one of America’s most distinctive and satisfying Pop voices – yes, the Brothers ARE black, but their Pop-slanted pretty R&B is similar to the work of such white acts as Looking Glass, Classics IV and the black and white Winstons (of “Color Him Father” fame). Whatever the colour it’s a style that I love, and I cannot understand why it’s never broken through here. Surely this strings-backed smooth ‘n creamy rhythm chatterer can do it this time? It’s got so much for so many. PERSONAL PICK.

FOSTER SYLVERS: Misdemeanor; So Close (MGM 2006292).
Touted as a new Michael Jackson, teeny Foster has the looks and the voice but may miss out in a British that is currently rejecting the original model, even though his ricky-ticky jerky Jackson-ish US R&B/Pop hit has a catchy charm. In any case, the real musical appreciation is deserved by the Sylvers family act who spawned him: they can all be heard – and how! – on the exquisite frothy flip, which they sing with incredibly nimble sophisticated intricacy in a style that’s likely to be totally alien to all except early Miracles and Five Stairsteps fans. No matter, the Sylvers rate a whopping great MUSIC PICK.

JERMAINE JACKSON: The Bigger You Love (The Harder You Fall) (Tamla Motown TMG 874).
Although his excellent “Daddy’s Home” unaccountably failed to hit here, Jermaine’s own driving bass work may just propel his otherwise fairly ordinary revival of this Sisters Love stomper Chart-wards.

LIMMIE & FAMILY COOKIN’: Dreamboat; Made In Heaven (Avco 6105025).
A distinct disappointment after “Magic,” this medium-light clapper is perfectly pleasant without having the coherent drive of its forerunner. Still, look how wrong my similar opinion about “Smarty Pants” turned out to be! Nice old-fashioned slow flip.

ROBERTA FLACK: When You Smile; Conversation Love (Atlantic K 10371).
Instead of America’s boring slow “Jesse” single, we get – thank goodness! – this out-of-character jolly romp in a swingalong honky-tonk style, which has enough sassy verve, merry melody and zany “la la la” refrain to catch on big with the easy listeners. It’s even got an extremely pleasant movie music-type flip, with lots of Johnny Harris-like lushness! How long before Sergio Mendes does these? MoR PICK.

JERRY LEE LEWIS: (Taking My) Music To The Man; Jack Daniels (Old No. 7) (Mercury 6052378).
That monument to redneck values, Jerry Lee sounds right at home on the steady-beat top and in excitingly versatile voice on the meandering slow flip. Surprisingly, both were penned by various of his London “Session” accompanists, and, even more surprisingly, the latter never appeared on that album. It ranks with his better performances and deserves to be heard.

FREDDIE KING: Woman Across The River; Help Me Through The Day (A&M AMS 7076).
Bluesman Kung is like a one-man Chicken Shack / Fleetwood Mac on the dragging-rhythm topside semi-slowie and the more satisfying subdued strings-backed flipside Leon Russell-penned slowie, which makes me think also of a male Christine Perfect. Those are compliments, y’know!

B.B. KING: To Know You Is To Love You (Probe PRO 603).
Don’t call him Blues Boy, call him Doctor! That’s on account of the honorary doctorate of humanities degree that he just picked up from Mississippi’s 104-year-old black Tougaloo College, making him the first blues musician so honoured. Doin’ the Boogaloo at Tougaloo? Anyway, Dr. King gets help from Stevie Wonder on this recent Syreeta single, which he converts to his usual note-bending guitar style quite successfully – in fact, the two stars’ guitar / keyboards break later on gets fairly stompin’.

AFRICAN MUSIC MACHINE: Never Name A Baby (Before It’s Born); The Dapp (Contempo CR 25).
The Shreveport-based Street-Funkers are in a trickier bag than usual on this wobbly wukka-wukka black dancer. ‘S good though, and so’s the simpler instrumental flip.

DAVID CASSIDY: Daydreamer; The Puppy Song (Bell 1334).
The delicate intro tinkles into gentle lurching momentum on David’s yearning, wistful, breathy, breathy newie, which is set apart from his past work by its relatively sophisticated instrumentation. “Daydreamer” is not to be confused with “Daydream,” his recent US single, especially as the latter is similar in treatment to the alternative A-side here, Nilsson’s skittish rinky-tink good-time Dixie ”Song”. This mixture of sophistication and light-hearted razzamatazz is evidently carried onto the forthcoming new LP: if so, that would be just as interesting, as well as lots of fun.

Hamilton’s disco pick

TOMMY BURTON AND THE SPORTING HOUSE CLUB: 12th Street Rag (Paramount PARA 3043). Madcap frantic fun! I also use a good 1965 version by WARREN COVINGTON AND HIS JAZZ BAND (Brunswick 05931, deleted).

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: Evil (CBS 1792) Modern.

CARPENTERS: Top Of The World (A&M AMS 7086) Easy.

ROBERTA FLACK: When You Smile (Atlantis K 10371) Easy.

MUD Dyna-Mite (Rak 159) Chinnichap stomper, Sweet-styled Pop.

THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: Giddy Up A Ding-Dong (Vertigo 6059-091) Like Noddy Holder singing ROCK ‘N Roll.

BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE: Stayed Awake All Night (Mercury 6052357). Slow-beat heavy Pop.

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

  1. And there it is… Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, “The Love I Lost”. The advanced guard of the Disco invasion has reached British shores… the rest is history!


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