December 15, 1973: Barbara Jean English, Love Unlimited Orchestra, The Isley Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Chuck Berry

Stateside newies

BARBARA JEAN ENGLISH: You’re Gonna Need Somebody To Love (While You’re Looking For Someone To Love (Alithia AR 6053).
This may or may not be the Barbara English who I used to know over nine years ago – if she is, she’s as stunning to look at as she is to listen to on this soulfully bittersweet slowie, a painfully cynical play on words (note the difference in the title between “BODY” and “one”) which she co-penned with its producer, the great George Kerr of O’Jays fame. Bert Keyes did the tinkling, plunking, cooing, sawing and thumping slow arrangement, which makes just the right slightly dragging backing to the hurtingly self-aware yet tenderly-meant emotions of the beautifully sung and breathily spoken lyrics. Let me just say that this had all the girls in the office going out of their heads when I was playing it one lunch-break! “Emotion” is a word that it is easy to bandy about, yet it was never more applicable than in the case of this stunner. Yeah!

LOVE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA: Love’s Theme; Sweet Moments (20th Century TC 2069).
Poor Love Unlimited! The gorgeous gals of “Walking In The Rain With The One I Love” fame have a new hit LP in America called “Under The Influence Of Love Unlimited”, but this hit single culled from it doesn’t contain even a squeak out of them on either of its instrumental sides! Not, actually, that that matters, as both sides are gloriously schlock, pretty-pretty melodies by that arch Hayesian copyist, Barry White, who has concocted an eminently listenable mixture of swirling strings, glutinous guitar, snikkety cymbals, wukka-wukking wah-wah, bumping bass and blatant beauty which is both cloyingly sweet and naggingly irresistible at one and the same time. Mmmm, I can’t get enough of this sweet love stuff!


American Singles

THE ISLEY BROTHERS: Highways Of My Life; Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight (Epic EPC 1980).
As a complete contrast to “That Lady,” the 3 + 3’s newie is a delicately pretty slowie which owes more than a nod of recognition in the direction of Stevie Wonder’s recent romantic style, both vocally and especially instrumentally. With so much hot product out at the moment, there’s no knowing how this will go, although it certainly deserves to do well. As little of the Brothers’ Buddah-distributed material came out here, their choice of James Taylor’s wee-small-hours slowie as flip may surprise some of you: in fact, they’ve been consistently scoring Stateside with similar reworkings of such as Carole King and even Bob Dylan (“Lay Lady Lay“). Low-key, and nice. SMOOCH PICK.

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) (Epic EPC 1981).
As many veteran freaks will doubtless concur, the definitive R&B treatment of this philosophical slowie (originally sung to a perky waltz tempo by Doris Day in Alfred Hitchcock’s mid-’50s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”) was recorded just over ten years ago by the High Keys, featuring Troy Keyes (uh, do I detect a pricking of the ears amongst our Northern readers). Sly and de Fambily’s drawn-out and slowed all the way right down treatment drags on and on with a few Gospel-ish overtones and rather too many missed notes for listening comfort. My review copy has a 3.23 A and a 5.20 B side: I imagine that you get the latter edition, with the 1.58 bubbly hunky funky “If It Were Left Up To Me” chant as flip.

CHUCK BERRY: South Of The Border; Bio (Chess 6145027).
In Don McLean’s “Everyday” footsteps, here comes a BBC-TV recording, complete with delightedly giggling British audience, of Chuck’s tongue-in-cheek re-write of this hoary old, corny old, and now mildly bawdy old mock Mexican ditty. Hey, La Jaunda – you speaka di Espanol? Although it coincides neatly with the first anniversary of “My Ding-A-Ling” dropping from number one, it’s just too late for Xmas. The autobio flip gets dusted down by an overworked broom, and tells the tale of his Maybelline days.

DIANA ROSS: All Of My Life; A Simple Thing Like Cry (Tamla Motown TMG 880).
Pulled from her “Touch Me In The Morning” elpee, this Michael Randall-penned / arranged / produced slowie is saved from being a completely dull dirge by a short recitation of mind-numbing banality half-way. Diana is back in her eardrum-piercing keening shrill vocal form – which may be what’s put me off and what’ll appeal to all her devoted fans. The Judy Garland of the ’70s is in a more relaxing mood on the mellower, jerky though smooth, attractive flip.

PAUL SIMON: American Tune; One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor (CBS 1979).
Patriotism keeps raising its thinly veiled head this week – albeit American patriotism, of which this London-recorded expatriate’s bridge over Atlantic water simply reeks. Indeed, simplicity is the keynote here, with Paul eschewing the full-blown extravaganza of the “Garfunkel Sound” and instead singing that same old song himself for a change . . . with a touchingly commercial sincerity. The gently funky flip features some expertly distilled Muscle Shoals playing, Barry Beckett’s glissando piano especially being a standout. PATRIOPICK.

PHIL HARRIS: The Phoney King Of England; ROGER MILLER: Not In Nottingham (Disneyland Doubles DD 46).
From the new Walt Disney cartoon feature, “Robin Hood” (an essentially English story if ever there was one), come these thoroughly American Country & Western songs: however, if American Mountain Music really is a derivation of Olde English Musik, they may not be as anachronistic as they seem. Phil Harris, the voice of Baloo in “The Jungle Book,” here plays the same ursine character in the guise of Little John, singing a jolly yi-ha ditty with Dixie touches about King John, while Roger Miller as Alan-A-Dale strums and croaks an appropriately self-penned slowie. Come back Dick James, we need you now!

TOM CLAY: What The World Needs Now Is Love / Abraham, Martin and John; The Victors (Mowest MW 3013).
When this, possibly the most moving record of all time, became Mowest’s first and still biggest hit in America during the summer of ’71, only to be issued grudgingly here by Tamla Motown amidst overwhelming apathy nearly six months later, it prompted me to write a blow by blow description of its entire six minutes and ten seconds length. What more can I add now, other than that those few people who did hear it then were united in their praises and emotions? In brief, the record contains a brilliant aural documentary made up of sound effects, singing, radio announcers’ “actuality” reports of the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy (including the latter’s last words), the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I have been to the mountain top,” and – most disturbing of all – Edward Kennedy’s voice-cracking address at the funeral of his brother Robert. This is not a happy record – in fact, it’s downright depressing – but it MUST be heard. PICK OF THE DECADE.

JUDY MOWATT: Emergency Call (Gayfeet GS 207).
Yeah, this is a Reggae record, but I think that all classic girlie group fans will forgive me because it sounds exactly like Mary Wells backed by the Shirelles! I kid you not . . . it’s really worth checking out if that’s your bag (and if you’re into Reggae there’s a nice drily echoing “Version” on the flip, too). ’63 in ’73 pick.

MEL AND TIM: Backfield In Motion; Do Right Baby (Concord CON 004).
Third time around for this ’69/’70 football season Soul stomper, produced by Gene Chandler with plenty of crowd noises. Funnily enough, I’d just stopped carrying it to disco gigs a couple of weeks before this re-issue, which fact does not reflect its quality.

SENATOR SAM J. ERVIN, JR: Bridge Over Troubled Water; Zeke And The Snake (CBS 1954).
Senator Sam of Watergate fame is pipped only by Tom Clay this week. His homespun Deep South-accented recitation of Paul Simon’s immortal lyrics, set to a simple harmonica accompaniment, is yet another deeply moving experience. The result could have been cloyingly ghastly (doubtless there will be those who think it is), but somehow his voice is so absolutely RIGHT that it works most convincingly. The brief B-side tale is a hoot ‘n a holler in shaggy dog’s clothes. PICK OF THE WEEK.

MICKEY STEVENSON: I Need You So; I’m On My Way Back To You (Ember EMBS 329).
Is the slow-starting then chunkily-churning flipside dedicated to Motown, which writer / producer Stevenson left many moons ago? He’s certainly been short on success since the split – a situation which even the gently lilting Pop-R&B topside semi-slowie didn’t change, pretty (and oddly reminiscent of old Paul Anka material) though it is.

DICK FELLER: Biff The Friendly Purple Bear; Goodbye California (UA UP 35631).
“Just in time for Christmas . . .”, it says here – now, isn’t that a lucky coincidence? This current and somewhat unlikely Country hit sounds like Rod McKuen with a Southern accent, except that Biff ain’t no Sloopy and Dick ain’t no A. A. Milne. Otherwise, if they have the patience, whimsical kiddies might like it. Frantic fingerpickin’ bottleneck flip.

STU NUNNERY: Sally From Syracuse (Mooncrest MOON 17).
Long bubbling under the US Hot 100, Stu’s Sally song starts out as a bouncy goodtime plinky-plunker before suddenly his voice goes mildly silly and screechingly high-pitched for a short spurt of dialogue from “Sally” herself, who turns out to be a speedy little party-pleaser. If nothing else, this’ll teach you that the New York State city is pronounced “Seera-cuse” (as in “Me, j’accuse”). Oh, get thee to a . . . !

THE MANHATTANS: You’d Better Believe It; It’s So Hard Loving You (CBS 1959).
Although they’re produced by Bobby Martin outside the folds of Philadelphia International, this superb veteran Soul Vocal Group would have ranked after Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes as the act they’d have liked most to share the bill with on their British tour – or so was the impression that the Intruders and the O’Jays gave me when we talked the other day. Unfortunately, this nice enough wailing lead / smooth harmony back-up slowie pales alongside the guys’ last incredible hit-that-should-have-been, “There’s No Me Without You“.

DON GIBSON: Snap Your Fingers; Love Is A Lonesome Thing (London HLE 10441).
Don’s country revival of the late Joe Henderson’s decade-old R&B/Pop US hit is so infectiously bouncy in its subtly building irresistible good-humoured way that it really does stand a chance of breaking through here. If they can imagine that it’s Joe Simon singing, even the disco crowd might go for it! C&W / POP PICK.


Hamilton’s Disco Picks

CRYSTALS, RONETTES: Phil Spector’s Christmas Album (Apple APCOR 24). “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” or, to a lesser degree, “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” goes great before WIZZARD, while “Sleigh Ride” cuts in beautifully over the end after it.

ELVIS PRESLEY: Blue Christmas; Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me; Santa Claus Is Back In Town; White Christmas (LP “Elvis’ Christmas Album”, RCA INT 1126).

PADDY ROBERTS: Merry Christmas You Suckers (Decca F 11552), surely deleted?

JOHN & YOKO: Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (Apple R 5970).

LITTLE EVA & BIG DEE IRWIN: I Wish You A Merry Christmas (Pye 7N 45201, maybe deleted).

BRENDA LEE: Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (Brunswick 45-05880, deleted?)

DEAN MARTIN: Jingle Bells (Reprise RS 23476, deleted?)

DANNY DAVIS: Jingling Brass (American RCA 47-9936).

HERB ALPERT: Jingle Bell Rock (A&M AMS 735, deleted?)

BING CROSBY: White Christmas (MCA MU 1107, maybe not deleted).

OTIS REDDING: White Christmas (Atlantic K 10206, deleted?)

THE DECOYS: Christmas Time (Polydor 2058313, deleted).

BOBBY (BORIS) PICKETT: Monster Holiday (London HLU 10436).

CARPENTERS: Merry Christmas Darling (A&M AME 601).

PLUS of course WIZZARD, ELTON JOHN, BEACH BOYS and – did someone yell SLADE? Like cool, y’all.

2 thoughts on “December 15, 1973: Barbara Jean English, Love Unlimited Orchestra, The Isley Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Chuck Berry”

  1. These are James’s last columns of 1973. After a short break, he next appears in the edition of January 12, 1974. The Stateside Newies column continues as before, but there will be no more Disco Picks, and the American Singles reviews will be reduced in number, occupying just half a page from this point onwards (the other half containing Peter Jones’s similarly reduced UK Singles reviews).

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  2. The Love Unlimited Orchestra’s “Love’s Theme” finally arrives to join Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes “Love I Lost” to mark the music historians official start of the Disco era. Interesting that this is also the starting point in UK history for the serious race for CHRISTMAS NO1 between Slade & Wizzard. If only we had known what had been unleashed on the world! Interesting to see the Phil Spector Christmas Album given some attention 10 years after its initial release- on the weekend JFK was assassinated! James is no fan of Diana Ross, every review slates her! I recently managed to pick up a copy of the Mickey Stevenson album on CD for a couple of quid.

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