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.

American Singles

JAMES BROWN – THE HITMAN – THE GODFATHER OF SOUL: Woman (Parts One & Two) (Polydor 2066370).
“It’s A Man’s Man’s World” was Mr. Brown’s biggest hit in Britain: now he blames all of man’s problems on “Woman,” to what amounts to the same tune and the same arrangement. Then on “Part Two” he sings her praises! What the hell goes on? “Sexy, Sexy, Sexy” (a great hit-worthy dancer) should have been the next British release, while this dark horse doesn’t seem to be out as single in America or on any album. Sure, it’s a nice satisfying slowie – It’s just so retrogressive.

FOUR TOPS: Sweet Understanding Love; Main Street People (Probe PRO 604 ).
Odd that the Tops’ recent newies but goodies have been failing to click here. This distinctive Philly-slanted, prettily-harmonised, punchily-chanted, poundingly-backed, creamily-topped dancer has hit the US charts first week out, and certainly deserves to do things here too, even if it is a bit reminiscent of something else. The “de-de-de-der” flipside slowie, title track of their new elpee, is just as nice. R&B PICK.

BOBBY CHARLES: See You Later Alligator (Chess 6145024).
“See you later, Alligator!” “After a while, Crocodile!” Those crazy catchphrases coupled with a socking back-beat gave Bill Haley a gigantic Rock ‘n Roll hit in 1956 – so gigantic in fact that, now as then, few people have heard of this New Orleans-recorded original version from 1955. Even fewer have been able to hear it . . . until today. Louisiana-bred Bobby Charles, white but black -influenced, must on this showing surely rank alongside Elvis as an innovator: his rattling bouncy backing and mellow smoky vocal is pure New Orleans R&B, and completely unlike the Haley treatment (heard In retrospect, it’s also the logical forerunner of his modern Bearsville style). I seem to remember some 1957 reports of Princess Margaret being unamused by a Haley-quoting dancing-partner’s reptilian repartee (or was it the other way round, did she call him an alligator?) – anyway, had they and everyone else been aware of the original record’s alligator-infested bayous-surrounded New Orleans source, they might have made more sense of the song!

On the flip is another New Orleans rarity (culled as is the A-side from “Volume 1” of the forthcoming historic “Chess Golden Decade” mid-price LP series), JAMES “SUGARBOY” CRAWFORD’s “Jock-o-mo,” this being Crawfie’s similar vintage jaunty reading of a traditional Mardi Gras chant that was later taken to fame In 1965 by a New Orleans girlie group, the Dixie Cups. They called it – “Iko Iko!

GENE PITNEY: Love Grows; Hate (Pye 7N 25624).
Nothing to do with where Rosemary goes, Gene’s new Cookaway slowie is another emotionally-climaxing vehicle for his tortured nasal whining. At least the Charlie Foxx-produced flip is one of his faster semi-Soul efforts.

CHRIS MONTEZ AND RAZA: Aye No Digas; Heart And Soul (CBS 1420).
Not that it means much, but this perky bilingual “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”-type ditty was a big numero uno in Austria at the beginning of last month. Hot damn! The oldie flip’s treatment is moderately interesting.

BETTY WRIGHT: Let Me Be Your Lovemaker; Jealous Man (Atlantic K 10370).
It beats me how with such heavy support from the hippies at the Beeb this chick still falls to break through here. While less nagging than “Clean Up Woman,” her newie is a hunky funky plea from the heart, featuring some great lyrics, powerful wailing of an early Tina Turner type, and – in common with the equally good more relaxed flip – remarkably sympathetic interplay between the vocal and the music. Betty rides that rhythm! She can be my soulshaker, any day. R&B PICK.

SILVERBIRD: That’s Why You Remember (Remember When You Were A Kid); You And Me (CBS 1800).
Developed from a soft drink commercial in the Mid-West, this sloppy catalogue of childhood memories is so wet that it’s almost good! Certainly, this Tokens / Cross Country-produced version is more palatable than Kenny Karen’s coarser US hit, and even has a nice Rascals-ish flip.

JAMES DARREN: Goodbye Cruel World; Her Royal Majesty (Pye 7N 45300).
A recent “Talk Of The Town” star, Darren was one of the less mellifluous products of the old Philadelphia stable, and seemed a better actor (“Guns of Navarone”) than singer. Still, his harsh tones took these two gimmicky-effects-riddled ditties up the Charts (Goffin & King wrote the OHMS side). The circus-y 1961 topside was featured fittingly during a fairground scene by Ken Russell in an early telementary about Pop Art, which coincidentally can be seen again at the National Film Theatre this Thursday and on 10th November.

RAY STEVENS: Nashville; Love Me Longer (MGM 2006335).
Although the pleasantly plinky-plunky “I’ve been around the world but Nashville is the place for me” side is Ray’s latest US Country hit, it’s only the B-side here to a dreary laboured slowie which breaks out in a fit of yodelling. Nah, “Nashville’s” nicer!

CHANTAYS: Pipeline: Move It (Paramount PARA 3042).
I understand that following its re-issue recently, the Surfaris’ “Wipeout” has been virtually unobtainable through normal retail channels: I can only hope that the same will not be true of this, the other great surfing instrumental of the early ’60s. The flip (the original) sounds like it really WAS recorded In someone’s garage – quintessential Punk-Rock! By the way, as mentioned in a Disco Pick the other week, “Pipeline,” “Wipeout” and all the other old instrumental gassers are collected together on a new cheapo-cheapo Redifussion LP. OLDIE PICK.

STEVE GOODMAN: The Dutchman; Song For David (Buddah 2011172).
A pleasant pair of plinky-plunky personality songs, the topside being a bit “Gentle On My Elusive Butterfly Mind,” sonorously droned by the chap who gave us “The I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m Going Nowhere In A Hurry Blues.” Hotcha!

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: Why Me (Monument MNT 1482).
As Elton John and every other Kal Rudman fan knows, this religioso gloomily-groaned Country hit slowie is number one at WQXI Atlanta, where it’s sold 300,000 copies in just that one market. All this and movie stardom too!

RICHIE HAVENS: Tight Rope; It Was A Very Good Year (Polydor 2121181).
The strumming groaner completely flattens the corny “When I Was 17” flip, which at least sounds different for a change, and does quite a good job on the more formally constructed Leon Russell topside.

THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS: You Don’t Owe Me; Back In The Hills (Fantasy FTC 110).
For “Blue Ridge Rangers” read “John Fogerty,” all 16 tracks of him. The ex-Creedence leader has in fact got closer to the Clearwater Revival sound than to his preferred Country roots on these two bouncy beaters. Meanwhile, brother TOMMY FOGERTY has also been expanding on that old CCR sound: his “Joyful Resurrection” and “Heartbeat” (Fantasy FTC 109) exhibit some good clean playing and, especially the flip, a nice rhythmic pattern with a Jamaican lilt.

JONATHAN EDWARDS: Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy; Dues Days Bar (Atlantic K 10338).
The “Sunshine” lad is lightly and authentically Country on this well-worded lilter, which hit C&W for Bill Rice just two years ago. “I listened to the news tonight and it made me feel sick” says the livelier yi-ha flip . . . right on!

RICK NELSON: Lifestream; Evil Woman Child (MCA MU 1225).
OK, but I still wish he was Ricky with a “y,” especially if he’s going to churn out dull dirges as lacklustre as this. The flip’s actually a chukka-wukka funker.

EDWIN STARR: You’ve Got My Soul On Fire; Love (The Lonely People’s Prayer). (Tamla Motown TMG 875).
The Timmy Thomas-type intro of this Norman Whitfield production number is pretty ear-grabbing and sets the basic fast pace, which gets broken into with the arrival of Edwin and his girlie friends before spurting off again. Somehow, although all the usual Whitfield ingredients are present, they are concentrated at a faster tempo than usual behind an intense vocalist whose singing is actually more important than that of Whitfield’s other puppets – consequently this is much more refreshing than the man’s Temptations offerings, without necessarily being entirely satisfactory. On the trickily melodic flip, Edwin exhibits a Jackie Wilson-ish flexibility in manoeuvring around the beat. R&B PICK.

Hamilton’s disco pick

EDDIE KENDRICKS: Keep On Truckin’ (LP “Eddie Kendricks,” Tamla Motown STML 11245).
Sorry, but there’s much more than the single’s two sides, so you’ll HAVE to get the album! Great extended R&B.

RAY NOBLE & HIS ORCHESTRA: Top Hat (LP “Ray Noble – Al Bowlly,” RCA LSA 3067).
Terrific jaunty 1935 version of Irving Berlin’s Fred Astaire classic – “I’m puttin’ on my top hat, tyin’ up my white tie.” MoR/Easy fun!

MARVIN GAYE: You Sure Love To Ball, etc. (LP “Let’s Get It On,” Tamla Motown STMA 8013).
Basically whole LP Is nice hip background / male chauvinist sexist pig music, good for those wee-wee hours when things are quiet and girls are warm.

DAVID BOWIE: Sorrow (RCA 2424). Grow-on-you Pop.

FOUR TOPS: Sweet Understanding Love (Probe PRO 604). R&B.

ABBA: Ring Ring (Epic EPC 1793).
Spector-ish Swedish (English-sung) Pop, will need work.

BOBBY CHARLES: See You Later Alligator (Chess 6145024).
Not as immediate as Haley, but nice if you can get it away. Bouncy R&R.

BONZO DOG BAND: The Intro And The Outro (UA UP 35602).
Not exactly a dancer, but useful lunacy on a 45 . . . mmmm, that’s nice, Max!

One thought on “October 20, 1973: Brownsville Station, Millie Jackson, Carla Thomas, James Brown, Four Tops”

  1. A surprise first mention here for Abba, less than six months before they won Eurovision with Waterloo – and considering James’s habitual disdain for their later hits (he didn’t even bother to review Dancing Queen), it’s remarkable that he picked up on Ring Ring.

    Elsewhere in the same issue of RM, UK singles reviewer Peter Jones also reviews Ring Ring. This is what he had to say:

    “Girl, or possibly girls, or conceivably boys and girls. Nice funky boogie-riffed backing, and one of those enjoy-yourself-or-else productions. I didn’t, much.”

    Meanwhile, in Weird Synchronicity news, Craig Charles played James “Sugarboy” Crawford’s Jock-o-mo on his 6Music show last night. I’d never knowingly heard the track until yesterday morning.

    Note also James’s regular deployment of “Punk-Rock” as a descriptive term – it didn’t come out of nowhere in 1976, as some might think.


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