November 24, 1973: Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Loggins & Messina, The Dells, Executive Suite, Gamble & Huff interview

Stateside newies

AL GREEN: Livin’ For You (Hi 2257).
A mixture of silky sweetness and braying brass characterizes the latest relaxing softly thumping slowie from America’s number one seller of singles. Penned by Al with just producer Willie Mitchell, it’s a lovely mushily enveloping sound, coated with sugary strings and cooing chix. Thought for the day: singles-wise sales-wise, Al Green is to America what Gary Glitter is to Britain . . . and that about sums up the two nations’ current differences of opinion.

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do); If You Don’t Think (Atlantic 45-2995).
With an approach that is more appealingly Pop than usual, Aretha tackles this Stevie Wonder co-penned slinkily propelled lurching semi-slowie amidst a delightful setting of Arif Mardin-arranged ingenuity. “I’m gonna rap on your door, tap on your window pane” sings the chix-echoed Lady Soul to a rapping, tapping rhythm – and everything else conspires to plop, tootle or soar in delicious counterpoint. This one should have good chances in Britain. The dead slow flip finds Miss Franklin singing the blues back in church, with spine-tingling effect.

LOGGINS & MESSINA: My Music (Columbia 4-45952).
Kings of American radio format, Jim and Kenny here sound like Simon & Garfunkel impersonating Van Morrison singing “Little Bitty Pretty One”! For all that, there’s also a commendable amount of 1950s spirit in their performance, with a hint of the Everly Brothers impersonating the Kalin Twins singing “Baby Driver” . . . which brings us back to where we came in! There’s some fine brass work too, and indeed if I didn’t like the overall result you wouldn’t find it mentioned at all. Oh, and there’s even a sneaky snippet of ska!

THE DELLS: I Miss You; Don’t Make Me A Storyteller (Cadet CA 5700).
A Groovesville production in all but name, the Dells’ newie is penned by Tony (Dramatics) Hester and produced by Don (Johnnie Taylor) Davies. It chugs smoothly along through moody strings and an ever-intensifying Motown-ish backing, and in common with the Dramatics’ “Fell For You” it seems to combine the elements of Detroit with those of Memphis. In fact the more typical Sweet Soul flip strikes me as working better, featuring as it does the group’s famous wailing vocalese in a simple slow framework. However, neither side has that nagging, irresistible quality of which smash hits are made, even though both are fine for fans.

EXECUTIVE SUITE: I’m A Winner Now; You Got It (Babylon BRC 1109).
Look out, here comes that Philly Sound again! Arranged and produced by Bobby Martin with Messrs. Felder, Harris, Sigler and Hurtt involved in the writing (and the playing, I’ll wager), both sides contrast each other completely: the hit side is a toe-curling super-sweet falsetto slowie which will be lapped up by all Sweet Soul vocal group lovers, while the flip side is a hunky chunky aggressive beater which starts with a noise that almost rivals the intro to “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” (unfortunately the subsequent song is of no comparable interest). The hit side has it, and it has it good!

American Singles

STEELY DAN: My Old School; Pearl Of The Quarter (Probe PRO 606).
A strangely quiet week, this, with no big-name releases and few that mean much – is it because the world lax stax of wax, or just because Xmas is comin’? Consequently, although the unjustly ignored Steely Dan’s newie rates but third in my estimation after their “Only A Fool” and “Do It Again” (the latter, incidentally, was a welcomely unexpected request at my last dance, so maybe there’s hope for them here yet), this honking and snorting brass-supported agile backbeater gets a bigger pick than it might have done in another week. Make no mistake though, it’s extremely good, with typical modern-American harmonies and an interestingly developed intricate instrumentation, plus another variation on that great easy dancing rhythm which Steely Dan have made their own. Nice slow Neil Young-ish flip, about a New Orleans hooker with a heart of pearl. PICK OF THE WEEK.

EAGLES: Outlaw Man; Certain Kind Of Fool (Asylum AYM 523).
Evidently gratifyingly well received by British audiences, the Eagles are the epitome of America’s laid-back drift into the desert. While their last single, “Tequila Sunrise” (also taken from the “Desperado” album), was possibly the quintessential West Coast Cowboy anthem, named for the fashion’s favourite drink as well as scenic stupor, this harmonized grumbling guitar chant is better as an album track . . . and their albums are indeed good.

DONNA FARGO: Funny Face; How Close You Came (To Being Gone) (Dot 144).
From “The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA”, Donna, with a sob in her voice, has gone on to become one of Country Music’s most consistent Pop hit-makers. She’s had several successful follow-ups to that first smash, and just where in the order this emotionally quavering slowie came I forget, Anyway, the piercingly-pitched flip is much more my cup of Loretta Lynn, despite its religioso references. And dig the title!

NEW YORK DOLLS: Jet Boy; Vietnamese Baby (Mercury 6052402).
This may seem patronizing or clever-clever, but I honestly believe that the high standard of Britain’s blatant Pop today has made audiences here much too sophisticated to fall for this muddily recorded incessantly buzzing horrible noise – even if Americans ARE going ape-shit (which I doubt) for its bizarrely brazen protagonists. This sort of high energy attack needs more clarity in its presentation, as witness the not dis-similar Status Quo. Besides, the beat’s been buried.

WILSON PICKETT: Take A Closer Look At The Woman You’re With; Two Women And A Wife (RCA 2430).
Miz Lena’s boy is being his usual superfly funky bad self on his new routine rhythm groover, which isn’t bad in the British sense. The flipside’s Soul philosophy puts me in mind of the joke about the shagged-out adulterous superstud whose doctor advised him to take himself in hand: “Ah do – two, three times day!” was the reply (thank you, Ray Scott!).

MAJOR LANCE: Sweeter; Wild And Free (Warner Bros K 16334).
With a change of label Major’s found a fresh and convincing new style, even though he’s in fact still producing himself. As the credits read, it’s “The England Sound”, arranged by Gerry Shury, whose name can be relied upon to denote US-quality music on a British record. In this case his arrangement puts light strings, woodwinds, chix and a bit of brass over a dominant buoyant bass and plopping bongos-created thudding intensity which chugs relentlessly through Major’s tensile swooping, whinnying, yelping (but always super-cool) vocal. There’s a funkily skipping redeployment of the same ingredients on the faster flip, with wukka-wukka and drums thrown in. Major’s no Minor, even if the Monkey don’t do nothing but signify! R&B PICK.

ALTON ELLIS: Sho-Be-Do-Be Do (I Love You) (A&M AMS 7093).
If Major Lance’s London-recorded newie can be classed as American, then so should this be. The first British recording by Jamaica’s best Soul singer, it is a beautiful sweet ‘n slushy slowie which just happens to be the best Soul single this week! Amidst a soft woolly blanket of gently undulating guitar, sax, strings and shoobedooing voices, Alton emotes with alternating tenderness and passion in a way which really ought not to discourage American-only bigots. You should hear his old Bamboo album too, “Sunday Coming” (BDLPS 214), which after more than two years remains one of my favourite LPs. SWEET SOUL PICK.

TONY JOE WHITE: Backwoods Preacher Man; Saturday Night In Oak Grove Louisiana (Warner Bros K 16294).
“Uh-Uh, down in the swamps now . . .”, except that this time Tony Joe’s “Way down in the country, back in the Arkansas woods”, where there’s a revival meeting going on. His dark brown tones and bass-heavy Swamp-Funk style are much as, and maybe better than, usual. On the flip he moves over in a way that Janis Joplin fans will recognize.

AEROSMITH: Dream On; Somebody (CBS 1898).
This US hit sounds like one of those Demis Roussos Continental-type slowies, all quivering and wobbly. Ordinary aggressive Pop flip.

JOE McDONALD: Fantasy; Hold On, It’s Coming (Vanguard VAN 1006).
That’s Country Joe, of course, minus Fish, enunciating with great clarity an appealingly lilting comes-and-goes slowie which it sounds as if Grace Slick and others of her ilk join on the turgidly churning chorus. Strumming and clapping flip, an old LP title track.

GRATEFUL DEAD: Let Me Sing Your Blues Away; Here Comes Sunshine (Atlantic K 19301).
What a waste o’ wax . . . not that this dreary slowie is intrinsically bad, it’s just completely lacking in the vital attributes of a single as opposed to an album track. Anyway, what Dead Heads are going to buy a 45? The stronger B-side slowie is appropriately Beatley.

DOTTIE WEST: Country Sunshine; Wish I Didn’t Love You Anymore (RCA 2433).
Well, “Kentucky Sunshine” seems to have dropped out of the Country Chart this week, but this current Number 2 and its “Sunday Sunrise” and “I Believe In Sunshine” companions are now joined by Lawanda Lindsey’s “Sunshine Feeling”! It’s a slow-starting jaunty jog-trotter that’s perfectly innocuous, and has a nice mournful slow flip.

CHARLIE RICH: The Most Beautiful Girl; I Feel Like Going Home (Epic EPC 1897).
Number 4 Country and a big numero uno Easy Listening in Billboard’s Charts as I write, the finally recognized Charlie’s newie is a strings-sweetened example of Nashville’s current convention for adult lyrics allied to a sparse yet strong arrangement (which in fact the swamping strings spoil here). I prefer the stilly depths of the flip’s dead slow Soul song, sung with all the primal anguish of an “Imagine”.

FOUR OF A KIND: Brand New Key; (Instrumental) (Stateside SS 2221).
Yes, Melanie’s song, in an Isley Brothers-ish treatment by an R&B group on her husband’s Toy label! The Four are J.R. Bailey (“Love, Love, Love”), Sammy Turner (“Lavender Blue”), Mel Kent (Apollo theatre producer) and Kenny Williams (co-penned “Everybody Plays The Fool”), with Sammy dilly-dillying the squeaky lead over the others’ chanting and plopping congas back-up. The result is really nice, with some mellow Gospel harmonies that show up especially on the wordless flipside backing-track version. Why isn’t this on the Neighborhood label here, and why didn’t it come out as in the States a year ago? R&B PICK.

DANNY DAVIS AND THE NASHVILLE BRASS: Caribbean; Come See Us (Opryland USA) (RCA 2434).
Davis leads Nashville’s first brass-based band, and on this lively Easy Listening treatment of the Mitchell Torok oldies only the banjo and fiddle breaks differentiate it from Herb Alpert’s Tijuana mob. If that’s your bag, this is good enough to create a revival for James Last – Country or German, they’re equally un-British. EASY PICK.

TOMPALL GLASER: Charlie; Bad, Bad, Bad Cowboy (Polydor 2058418).
It seems that I prefer the flips to all this week’s Country newies, and this one’s no exception. Lyrics freaks might go for the topside’s tale about a ne’er-do-well husband, but of far wider appeal should be the gruffly-sung modified “Hi-Heel Sneakers”-beat flip, which sounds a bit like Bob Dylan imitating Tony Joe White imitating Johnny Cash singing a Jim Croce song. In fact Tompall wrote it himself, without his Glaser brothers.

NEW YORK CITY: Quick, Fast, In A Hurry; Reach Out (Polydor 2001451).
With a new British outlet for their US Chelsea label and a new Thom Bell slowie which bypasses their dull official (non-Bell) US follow-up to “I’m Doin’ Fine Now”, NYC ought to be laughing. Trouble is, despite Thom, this is pretty dull too, and plods along with nothing to lighten the load. Faster disjointed flip.

WEE THREE: Get On Board; The Whole World Is A Stage (People PEO 104).
As black brothers Waverly “Jimm Jim” and Sammy Eaton and cousin Claude Savage are only in their early ‘teens, their group name is probably quite apt! Not surprisingly, they sound like a sparsely-backed J5, singing worldly lyrics about infidelity and other teenage topics. Bobby Martin produced for the Master Five label, and – yes – I prefer the subdued flipside reading of the Fantastic Four oldie.

LEO KOTTKE: (Vaseline) Machine Gun; Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring (Sonet SON 2034).
The fretboard freak gets it on in fine slippin’ ‘n slidin’, shiverin’ ‘n shakin’ style on this dextrous acoustic instrumental, which is so technically brilliant that it becomes ultimately tedious to other than another guitarist’s ears. Johnny Sebastian sounds pure and relaxin’, flipside, though. This Vaseline machine gun kills!

Hamilton’s Disco Picks

NEW SEEKERS: You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me (Polydor 2058421) Hurricane Smith-style Easy/MoR.

DAVID CASSIDY: Dreams Are Nuthin’ More Than Wishes… (Bell LP BELLS 231) Honestly – it’s truly impressive, and Side 1 especially makes beautiful intimate listening for small relaxed gatherings.

RONNIE LANE: How Come? (GM GMS 011) Modern.

STEELY DAN: My Old School (Probe PRO 606) Modern.

VULCAN: Action Man (Epic EPC 1763) Steely Dan-type Modern.

STEALERS WHEEL: What More Could You Want; Star (A&M AMS 7094) Modern.

STEVE MILLER BAND: The Joker (Capitol CL 15765) The next “Walk On The Wild Side”? Slow Modern.

FANCY: Wild Thing (Atlantic K 10383) Heavy breathing by a Penthouse Pet, Pop.

THE CROMWELL BROTHERS: Good Luck Princess (EMI 2087) Cheeky MoR.

SKY: Rose Is Out In The Rain (Fresh Air 6121101) Lovely wistful Slow MoR.

ADRIANO CELENTANO: Prisencolinensinainciusol (Epic EPC 1886) Gibberish language which sounds convincing yet makes no sense! Big Continental smash, Pop.

LES REED ORCH: Lest We Forget (Chapter 1 SCH 189) Bugle sound effects 0:55 intro and “Auld Lang Syne” outro, could be good as corny party finale!

Gamble – Huff: Phillbusters of sweet soul

When I walked into the office and they said, “We’ve got an interview for you tomorrow – Gamble & Huff” . . . well, to say that my face split into a silly grin would be an understatement! Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, writers, producers and creators of the Philly Sound, here in London! As Leon was to tell me, “We just never been publicity freaks”, and even in America they have only rarely given interviews. This time, though, they were here to help establish their own Philadelphia International label, having finally won the position I had claimed for them in ’69 as the new Holland-Dozier-Holland.

It seemed appropriate to begin by telling Kenny Gamble how, nine years ago, I had been given a guided tour of Coney Island (the Southend of New York) by his wife-to-be, her mother, her aunt and her cousin! This well-chaperoned young lady was Dee Dee Sharp, the “Mashed Potato Time” star of Cameo Records. Throughout the early ‘60s, Philadelphia (indeed, America) had been dominated by the local Cameo-Parkway labels, and inevitably both Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff during the early stages of their separate careers had had some dealing with the labels. Now, they have bought the whole Cameo-Parkway building for their offices, and are installing in it two recording studios (which will be run by Joe Tarsia, the engineer-owner of the Sigma Sound Studio where the Philly Sound has hitherto been created).

The concept of the Philly Sound is more important to Gamble & Huff than its identification with their own names: to this end they operate in a communal fashion with all the other Philadelphia-based producers, arrangers and writers – the most obvious being Thom Bell, who Leon Huff has known since the mid ‘50s.

“Ronnie Baker, Norman Harris, Earl Young and Bobby Martin are with us now, everybody’s together. It just so happens that Thommy is more successful than a Bobby Martin or a Baker, Harris & Young at this point.

“We want everybody to be successful, because as longs as you help one another, the more people you have, the stronger you’ll be. Each person’s got to stand on his own, but that Sound of Philadelphia has got to continue long after ANYTHING – that’s for the basis for keeping it larger than a Gamble & Huff or a Thom Bell.

“The Sound of Philadelphia is bigger than all of us at this point, even though we all helped to make it. I expect it to go on forever, which is possible if other people can come in to keep it going, because the Sound of Philadelphia is not only the records that we make. We’re the ones that put the stamp on that sound, we’re developing a sound for this city, and this city is a music capital.”

The communal approach even extends into the studio during a Gamble & Huff recording session. Leon Huff continues: “There’s no boss, everybody has their own particular duty and they do it well – there’s no one you can point at. When the whole thing is done, then Kenny mixes. Kenny writes the lyrics, I’m more on the piano, but we all do whatever has to be done.”

Kenny and Leon first met in 1961 or 2, but did not work together exclusively until about 1965 or 6, when, financed by a singing clothier, they formed the Excel label to record the Intruders. Kenny remembers hearing the Intruders’ Gowen recording of “Come Home Soon” when he was still in school, around 1960, while Leon used to see them lip-synching to it at D. J.-promoted record hops! Philadelphia has few showcases for big name groups – the Academy Of Music, the Spectrum and the Uptown Theater – most of the live music being heard in little clubs and neighbourhood bars or at house parties (remember the Show Stoppers?).

Enigmatically, Kenny comments: “It’s a funny city, because most of the clubs that were there, they put ’em out . . . er, they got out of business, some kind of way – y’know what I mean? – ‘cos it’s a funny town, y’know. It’s a very quiet city.”

Both Kenny and Leon worked with Philadelphia-based producer Jerry Ross (who, Like Leon still does, lived just across the river in Camden, New Jersey). When Excel changed its name to Gamble Records, Ross introduced them to his young white attorney, Eric Kranfeldt, now chairman of the board of Philadelphia International Records. Apart from Eric’s involvement In the background, Gamble was the first black-based company rooted in R&B In Philadelphia – and consequently had problems getting acceptance from the Pop radio stations.

To combat this, Gamble & Huff began to develop a sound which would cross over from R&B to Pop play lists, and Kenny Gamble cites their early hits as being an incestuous influence on the approach they developed: hits like the Soul Survivors’ “Expressway (To Your Heart)“, the Intruders’ “Together” and “Cowboys To Girls“, and Jerry Butler’s “Only The Strong Survive” and “Never Give You Up“.

“It was a building process,” chips in Leon. “We were learning and got better and better. We’re at a point now where we practically know what we’re doing!” And about the future, Leon adds: “All I can say is – LOOK OUT!”

2 thoughts on “November 24, 1973: Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Loggins & Messina, The Dells, Executive Suite, Gamble & Huff interview”

  1. If there’s one lesson to be learned from these earlier columns, it’s: always listen to the flips! In this case, I’ve been sitting on Aretha Franklin’s “If You Don’t Think” for well over twenty years, buried away on the back of “Until You Come Back To Me”, and – lo and behold! – it’s staggeringly good.

    Interesting to read more about James’s connection with Dee Dee Sharp; he told me that they’d dated for a while in the Sixties. I suspect that she may not always have been quite so closely chaperoned, but when you’re talking to the guy who later married her, perhaps discretion is the better part of valour!

    I didn’t know that Jerry Butler originally recorded (and indeed co-wrote) “Only The Strong Survive”, nine years ahead of Billy Paul, and what a fine version his turns out to be. Its parent album, The Ice Man Cometh, is also well worth a listen.

    In the ever-bizarre Disco Picks section, there’s an unlikely Giorgio Moroder co-write/co-production, in the shape of Vulcan’s “Action Man”. You’d never guess. And it’s good to see “Prisencolinensinainciusol” cop a mention, too – again, I’ve got James’s copy, which has become an all-time favourite. What I hadn’t realised until relatively recently: the gibberish lyrics are intended as an Italian parody of an American rock singer.


  2. Love the interview with the “currently” hot Gamble & Huff! A lot of West Coast Rock/Country releases reviewed this week. Few of these artists managed to break big in the UK and sustain a regular chart career.


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