April 20, 1974: Five Man Electrical Band, Leon Haywood, The Jackson 5, Deodato/Airto, Kathi McDonald

Stateside newies

FIVE MAN ELECTRICAL BAND: Werewolf (Polydor PD 14221).
This group, originally from currently trendy Canada, scored first a while ago with their great American Teen anthem, “Signs”, which unfortunately meant absolutely nothing here. Neither did a strange record by another group, the Buoys, who sang a bubblegum beater about a guy called “Timothy”, which, on a very close hearing, proved to be about cannibalism – Tim got eaten by his fellow survivors in a mine cave-in. The link between that record and this is purely my own hunch that “Werewolf” is likely to follow “Timothy” in selling by word-of-mouth: however, that theory already has two strikes against it. “Timothy”, which outwardly gave away no secrets about its real subject, took a great many months to finally reach smash hit status, while “Werewolf” begins with the advantage of its self-explanatory title (which doesn’t actually appear during the song itself) and is already slowly but surely climbing the Chart (up six to 71 during its fourth week). So, what’s it all about? Well, in a way it’s an alternative story about that (don’t be a hero) Billy, whose Mama has misgivings about her son’s nocturnal activity. “There’s something weird about Billy, his bed wasn’t slept in at all last night,” worries Mama, but Papa blusters that he’s probably out sowing his wild oats, “and that’s all right.” “Uh-huh”, counters Mum, ‘cos she knows that the farmer down the road lost a few of his sheep last night, and she saw her Billy on the hill just howlin’ at the moon. Ooo-err! Not wanting to spoil your fun when eventually you hear the record yourselves, I’ll just add that Papa gets his little silver bell melted down in a single silver bullet, and Billy ends up like his heroic namesake. Two things further need saying though, in case you start to equate this musically with the other “Billy” record. Yes, this is a story song (and a darned sight more interesting, too), but it is treated with a chunky, jerky, rumbling backing which leaps into life on the chorus and is a long way removed from pappy Pop, and the story itself is unfolded so sinisterly that it seems a pity that the over-obvious title has to dot the “i”. Hmmmm, maybe Billy ate Timothy? It’s a thought!

LEON HAYWOOD: Keep It In The Family (20th Century TC 2065).
Up six places to 58 Pop but falling from 11 to 15 R&B without making the Soul Top Ten as expected, Leon “Mellow Moonlight” Haywood has returned to hitdom with a straight copy of the Staple Singers’ formula, complete with their distinctive bass-boosted lurching rhythm and a male version of the Mavis Staples wheezing croak. Nothing to get excited about . . . unless you’re a sucker for the Staples, of course.

THE JACKSON 5: Dancing Machine (Motown M 1286F).
Funnily enough, after their strenuous and somewhat contrived attempts to regain their former Chart prominence, the Jacksons have done just that with this unpretentious little album track from their “Get It Together” LP (released here some months ago). It’s currently at 13 with a bullet in the Pop Top 20, and rising at 8 R&B, thus being their biggest hit in a long time. The cut’s nothing special, just a mildly innocuous “get down” jittery funker with choppy lyrics and a brassy instrumental break: however, it’s in the groove so far as “boogie” dancers are concerned.

Eumir “Zarathustra” Deodato and Airto “Fingers” Moreira, the omnipresent percussionist, plus what has to be John Tropea on mind-damaging acid guitar, doing a “live” version of the Steely Dan classic . . . yeah, it’s as good as it had to be! I can’t wait to hear the whole “Deodato/Airto In Concert” album, from which this, at 3:30, has surely been edited. And speaking of both albums AND Steely Dan, do hear their new one, “Pretzel Logic” – it’s one of those rarities, an LP that’s really good all the way through, with not a single duff track that needs skipping. Meanwhile, back at Wembley over the weekend, Bill Anderson’s Po’ Boys are a Country band well worth hearing by music lovers – the most impressive of many good things on the Country Fest bill.

American Singles

Pick of the week

KATHI McDONALD: Freak Lover (Capitol CL 15778).
Bette Midler, Janis Joplin and the Pointer Sisters meet Ma Rainey, Stephane Grappelli and Mae West on the dusty road of hits – which means that while the ex-Mad Dog’s voice may be kinda derivative in this setting, it’s gotta be bloody good to cope so convincingly with the wheezing squealing and hollering that this electric fiddle-backed goodtime jazz blues calls for. And “dwa-de-doop, diddley-wah” to you too, dear!

GAMBLE: Party Doll; Tell It To Your Mama (London HLU 10454).
Here’s a group who are enthusiastic and refreshingly amateurish (in the spirit of Buddy Knox’s great 1957 original) as they give this old rocker a totally original treatment that does indeed owe much to Rock ‘n’ Roll yet apes nobody else’s style . . . a timeless minor masterpiece. On the surprisingly different flip they also amalgamate organ and brass into an original sound that stands apart from its influences. This has to be my second-string PICK OF THE WEEK.

BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE: Let It Ride; Blue Collar (Mercury 6052605).
Do yourselves a favour, and turn over the competently churning medium-heavy chanter on top so that you can hear the stone gas bitch of a beaut that’s hidden on the flip (it was in fact their first US hit A-side anyway). Better still, buy their first album for the full unedited version! It’s an incredibly lovely lightly Latin-cum-Jazzy pulsator with lotsa open spaces behind a yowling guitar and mysterious vocals, and is bang in the Steely Dan groove. RED ALERT! This IS the full 6:05 version . . . STOP PRESS, make it the number one PICK OF THE WEEK! Damn, too late. Why the hell couldn’t Phonogram have put it on top instead of hiding IT AWAY LIKE THIS? It’s their own fault. MUSIC PICK.

NARVEL FELTS: Drift Away; All In The Name Of Love (Nashville International NAS 108).
For once, a version of this tedious anthem that’s easy on the ear. Narvel’s a havey-lidded Country singer with, I think, Eastern Mediterranean ethnic origins, which show through in his whiningly Neil Sedaka-ish vocal style, although on the flip he’s more in the Gene Pitney bag. Both sides are jaunty bouncers with an old-fashioned wide appeal.

JR. WALKER & THE ALL STARS: Gotta Hold On To This Feeling; I Ain’t Going Nowhere (Tamla Motown TMG 894).
That inimitable spine-tingling sax duets with itself on the piercing intro and away we go into the usual chix-backed tootling and rasping noises that have made Autry DeWalt a household name. In fact this, like Edwin Starr’s newie too, is a re-issue of an oldie to greet Jr. on his Starr-coupled UK tour. From the great jumping intro to the flip you might expect more than the raucous heavy back-beat stomper it becomes, but it’s an exciting disco winner even so. R&B PICK.

AL GREEN: Let’s Get Married; So Good To Be Here (London HLU 10452).
At last, the professional bachelor has got so tired of being alone that he’s finally come out and said it! “Let’s get married today”, he stutters and yelps amongst the sweetly chugging backing, “I want to stop fooling around”. While it starts out in his usual groove, this does in fact develop most interestingly and becomes his strongest single in some time. One of his metronomically ticking romantically slithering slowies graces the flip. SOUL PICK.

REDBONE: Come And Get Your Love (Epic EPC 1944).
Originally out here a while ago under the name of “Hail”, this jerky plopper is now a huge US hit for the redskin group. It’s an insistent little nagger of a tune which I find very attractive, mainly due to its marked similarity to Brenton Wood’s “Oogum Boogum” style, for which I’ve always been a sucker. TOMAHAWK PICK.

NEIL SEDAKA: Going Nowhere; Brighton (Polydor 2058457).
An apt title, I fear, for Neil’s latest mournful dead slowie which builds to an operatic pitch in turgid fashion, hammering a few more nails into The Tra-La Days’ coffin. “Walking alone along the boardwalk in Brighton”, he sings to an acoustic piano on the flip, flashing back the while to the beaches of his childhood . . . where a boardwalk is called a boardwalk, unlike in Brighton.

NEIL DIAMOND: Skybird (CBS 2191).
Old hairy chest reverts to his patented “bang bong, bing-be-bong” vocal cluster formula which proved successful on just about all his hits in the late ‘60s, and which – allied as it is here to a sprightlier rhythm than of late – should give him a shot at the Charts again. Why do I keep on singing “Soolaimon” to this?

EDWIN STARR: You’ve Got My Soul On Fire; Love (The Lonely People’s Prayer) (Tamla Motown TMG 875).
“Hell Up In Harlem” has to wait while we get a re-servicing of Edwin’s near-miss from last year to greet the Soulster’s UK visit. It’s that powerful Timmy Thomas-introed choppy rhythm surging screamer with the funky gaps where the back-up chix go “ooh – ahh – ohh – ahh” in “Chain Gang” style . . . and it’s certainly strong enough to make it this time around, Norman Whitfield’s most positive production of recent years. The Sam Cooke tinge in Edwin’s gospel voice shows through on the smoothly churning slick flip. R&B PICK.

THE MAIN INGREDIENT: Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely (RCA ABP0 0205).
The Ronnie Dyson slowie in a big US hit treatment by these sweet soulsters, it now gets a bass-heavy throbbing rhythm, astringently buzzing electric guitar, knocking and tapping drumming, lotsa noise and much creamy wup-wooing behind the progressively more fraught yet initially cool lead singer. POP PICK.

BILLY PAUL: The Whole Town’s Talking; I Was Married (Phil. Int. PIR 2225).
Billy Paul sure does get some great backings – this time it’s a romping full orchestra – so that it really is a shame that his vocal pitching is so suspect. As an instrumental, this would rival MFSB’s “TSOP”. At least the flipside slowie finds him more at home.

LYN ROMAN: Stop, I Don’t Need No Sympathy; Where Do You Go? (Brunswick BR 11).
Produced by Carl Davis & Sonny Sanders with lotsa timpani going “sproinng”, Lyn’s winsome cooing gets a bit lost amidst all the imaginative arrangement of this bouncily banging buoyant thumper, which should do well Up North.

Presumably the Philly Flyers are American despite their unlikely label: they whip up some slightly opportunistic frenzy on this hand-clap rhythm dancer that’s aimed bang at the discos, with a catchy synthetic riff weaving in and out of the emphatic clapping, suitably effete call-and-answer singing, and – to cap it all – a thoroughly trendy telephone ringing tone near the end. My cynicism apart, it’s pretty catchy and that choppy beat could do it to it. Can I start again? (No, your copy’s late already – Production Ed.) R&B/POP PICK.

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