June 5, 1971: Whatnauts, Ray Charles Orchestra, Redeye, Wadsworth Mansion, James Brown

WHATNAUTS: I’ll Erase Away Your Pain; I Just Can’t Lose Your Love (Stang).
George Kerr is Boss! I finally reached this conclusion just the other day. It was his production work with the O’Jays and Linda Jones that made these R&B greats my very favourite Soul Vocal Group and Female Singer respectively, and his more recent work with the Stang and All-Platinum labels that has endeared the Moments and now the Whatnauts to me.

Those of you who are completely out of touch with what REALLY goes down on the American Soul scene will be lost here, deep in the world of delicate harmonies and wailing falsettos, where it is the form rather than the substance that matters. This is the world of the Soul Group Freak. A world in which singing styles do not change, because there is no other direction in which they can go, and yet stay within this world. The audience does not want change, anyhow. To this audience, there is no bliss comparable to being lost and carried away in the sweet mind-easing softness of a good Soul Vocal Group song. Suspend reality and hardship, just float amidst the enveloping anaesthetic.

The Whatnauts latest U.S. hit, produced by George Kerr with Nate Edmonds and written by him with Sylvia Robinson, is the crystalization and epitome of all that has ever gone before it in this style: the crystalization of the idea that this music lightens one’s burdens, the epitome of all that is typical about the style.

“I’ll Erase Away Your Pain” . . . the title, repeated many times throughout the song along with the lines “Little girl don’t change, don’t change, stay just the way you are; little girl please stop your crying, ‘cos I’ll erase away your pain,” the title and the whole song just says it all. And the performance . . . the performance! For sheer delicacy and lush beauty, this record beats the entire output of the Delfonics and all the other better-publicized Soul Vocal Groups. You’d better believe it!

Rarely have I heard such pure high-flying tensile wailing, such absolutely “right” vocal interplay, such mind-numbing perfection. George Kerr is a wizard. Nobody else can so successfully reverse the accepted rules and traditions of instrumental accompaniment. On all his productions, the voices become lead instruments while the drums merely act as an aid to the melody, and the melody depends on what the voices do, supported by subdued strings, piano, guitar and a little bit of staccato brass. Meandering is the best word to describe the style. And both sides of this record are the best example of the style. Unless you import it, you will never hear it.

THE RAY CHARLES ORCHESTRA: Booty Butt (Tangerine Record Corporation).
Surprisingly high in the U.S. Pop Chart is this delightfully underplayed instrumental gem by Ray Charles and his orchestra. Taken at a lazy yet funky pace, it shifts emphasis from instrument to instrument until it finally ends up (after a spurt from Ray’s piano) with a vocal verse from the Genius himself. Umm yeah!

REDEYE: Red Eye Blues (Pentagram).
This is the group whose jolly Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-influenced “Games” has just recently been issued here by MCA. Their American follow-up is very different, being a chunky slow beater given a deliberate reading that only on the occasional harmony accents betrays the CSN&Y sound. Continue reading “June 5, 1971: Whatnauts, Ray Charles Orchestra, Redeye, Wadsworth Mansion, James Brown”

May 29, 1971: Diana Ross, Partridge Family, Elvis Presley, Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, Sugarloaf

DIANA ROSS: Reach Out I’ll Be There; (They Long To Be) Close To You (Motown).
Diana has tackled the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic in a completely different style to the original. Paul Riser has arranged it with a very soft electric bass and chinking cymbal slow intro, over which Diana, some chicks, and a piano gradually build up from her almost recitation start to (and this is over halfway through the record) a soaring extended climax. Not surprisingly, this last portion is stridently noisy in the time-honoured Ross tradition . . . this record, with its violent changes in volume, will be the disc-jockey’s bane!

Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson have done another good job of production, as usual. On the flip, taken from the “Diana!” tele spectacular, the canned applause segues into a none-too-subtle version of the Bachadaventers’ song, however.

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY: I’ll Meet You Halfway (Bell).
Hey, Pop Pickers! Look at the goodie I got for you here! Nice, huh? Aw, sheee . . . No, seriously though, this is a very fine example of “family appeal” inoffensive twaddle. When it gets released in this country, it is bound to delight all the Mums and Dads who listen to the BBC and who, I feel sure, make up the majority of singles buyers.

ELVIS PRESLEY: Life; Only Believe (RCA).
Sorry there’s no pretty pic of El accompanying this review, but it seems that he does get a goodly share of RM’s pictorial space – now then, no complaints and silence in the ranks. Presleyites will remember me letting it all hang out (verbally) rather more than usual over my review of “Rags To Riches,” which really did hit me harder than anything else by the King in years, so that it was gratifying to see RCA issue it as the A side in this country. This new one is good too, but doesn’t have that magic for me.

“Life,” by Shirl Milete (and not Rick Nelson), is another of those ponderous slowies at which Elvis seems to excel these days, and gradually picks up power as it progresses along its resonantly heavy way. “Only Believe” is a rather nice “sacred” song, on which the Imperials help out, and it is more like the El of old. Incidentally, any old fans who are hoping for doses of Rock ‘n’ Roll in “That’s The Way It Is” should be prepared for disappointment. Musically it is nowhere near as interesting as his TV special. Continue reading “May 29, 1971: Diana Ross, Partridge Family, Elvis Presley, Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, Sugarloaf”

May 15, 1971: Chi-Lites, James Brown, Edwin Starr, Honey Cone, Brenda & The Tabulations

THE CHI-LITES: (For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People (Brunswick).
Eugene Record (Richard Williams’s favourite Soulster) sings lead, writes and produces (with direction by Willie Henderson) on this fast-rising U.S. smash. The Chi-Lites were previously a sweet Soul Vocal Group, but here have followed on in the funky social conscience shoes that the Temptations recently vacated. Those of you lucky enough to have heard the Tempt’s last hit in that bag, “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World),” will know how ear-shattering and mind-messing the intro to that was: well, on this, the side opens with a piercing synthesised noise that’s not unlike an air-raid siren getting warmed up! There’s a great chunky funky driving rhythm, lots of bass vocal rumbling, a bit of crowd cheering, and a touch of the old Vibrations sound about the vocal (which is full of interplay) at times. Very nice – let’s hope we get it here, too.

JAMES BROWN: I Cried (King).
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that I love this (and virtually every other) James Brown newie, so, before your attention wanders elsewhere, I must convince you that this pleading impassioned slowie is extremely, outstandingly, “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” good. Helped out by a female chorus and relaxingly unstrident tasteful backing (apart from his voice and the song’s form, this is the nearest he’s come to an “easy listening” sound), Mr Brown wails, swoops and screams with ten times more real Soul than I’ve heard from him for ages.

The chicks begin it all with a mellow “Keep me in pain” before J.B. eases in with his beautifully modulated screech, “I cried, I cried, my heart filled with misery.” Later, although he doesn’t need to, he asks the girls “Tell me what I’m singing,” and they chime back from stratospheric heights, “Soul … Soul … Soul.” Further, to set the mood, he advises “Listen to my rap – so turn your record set down, real low; Brother Jock(ey), you turn yours down, too.” Fabulous. When it comes out here, we evidently get his “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” hit as the flip: in America, they have (and not before time!) “World, Part 2.

EDWIN STARR: Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On (Gordy).
Talk about noisy intros: the one here does its best to beat those of the “War” series, and succeeds. The under-rated Edwin hollers out the definitive credo, “I like the sound of funky music,” and for the rest of this pile-driving powerful cacophony (no criticism intended) funky music is exactly what is in the Gordy grooves. More so than in “War,” I think that here Edwin fully realizes the exciting potential he showed in, but never followed up after, “Agent 00 Soul.” There’s a different and good raucous version of “Cloud Nine” on the flip, for extra value. Sheee . . . the U.S. singles are so good this week! Continue reading “May 15, 1971: Chi-Lites, James Brown, Edwin Starr, Honey Cone, Brenda & The Tabulations”

February 20, 1971: James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Temptations, Spinners, Bill Moss & The Celestials

JAMES BROWN: Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved (Parts 1 & 2) (King).
With Bobby Byrd doing his “Get on up, get into it” thing, the latest hit from Mr Brown obviously harks back to “Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine’ in some ways. In fact, it is much less tightly organised and much jazzier, with some very nice brass and guitar: consequently, it also seems less strong as material. Do hear the superb “Sex Machine” album for the best of J.B. (Polydor 2625 004) – it’s great music for balling!

WILSON PICKETT: Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You (Atlantic).
More from Gamble-Huff Productions Inc, and while this finger-poppin’ beauty doesn’t have the Philly Sound it does have the mellow Philadelphia feel and exquisite guitar picking fill-ins. Better than “Engine No. 9”, everything about this is lovely, from the interplay of that guitar with the plopping conga beat, the solid bass and smooth organ, to the chix chanting and Wilson’s screaming. A very happy-making record.

THE TEMPTATIONS: Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) (Gordy).
Since the comparative failure of the boys’ fantastic (to my mind) “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)“, which has yet (if ever) to be released here, the guys at Gordy have obviously realised that the Tempts’ funkadelic run is over, for the time being. Now they’re back in their slow “I Wish It Would Rain” bag, with some very slinky strings doing moody bass runs and entwining the subdued harmonies in hypnotic disarming lushness. Incredibly restful and . . . brrrr! . . . imagination stimulating. Continue reading “February 20, 1971: James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Temptations, Spinners, Bill Moss & The Celestials”

February 6, 1971: Johnnie Taylor, Diana Ross, Buddy Miles, Four Seasons, Presidents

JOHNNIE TAYLOR: Jody Got Your Girl And Gone; A Fool Like Me (Stax).
Guess you could call Jody a playboy, ‘cos he don’t do nothin’ all day ‘cept spend money and ball . . . usually your old lady. Yup, now we know who’s makin’ love! Good Gawd, y’all – it’s great funk. Charlie (Roy Brown Fan Club Prexy) Gillett digs the slow flip, and so does Doctor Soul, although I disagree with Charlie about Johnnie’s lack of vocal character on earlier material: here I think he does sound colourless, whereas his bluesy mid-’60s slowies were full of powerful personality.

DIANA ROSS: Remember Me (Motown).
A nicely written song of sweet but sorrowful parting, in which one gets the impression that Diana has the upper hand – like, she’s splitting and the bloke is all cut up over it. Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson both penned and produced, and I think spoilt their song by making it a bit too strident as it progresses.

BUDDY MILES: We Got To Live Together (Mercury).
Yeah, it’s the chubby cherub (oh, how do I choose the wonderful stuff I use?!) on a rip-roaring funkadelic segment from his current album release. He must be pleased that now, ever since “Them Changes“, he’s getting R&B attention in America – he used to try so hard, but now he really is good. Continue reading “February 6, 1971: Johnnie Taylor, Diana Ross, Buddy Miles, Four Seasons, Presidents”

January 2, 1971: The Whispers, The Main Ingredient, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Overton Vertis Wright, Joe Simon

THE WHISPERS: There’s A Love For Everyone; It Sure Ain’t Pretty (Hard Core Unemployed) (Janus).
Presumably this superb male Soul Vocal Group is the same that cut the outstandingly beautiful ‘As I Sit Here‘ (and a version of ‘Doctor Love‘) on the Dore label a few years back. In any case, this Sugar Pie De Santo-penned slowie is the follow-up (on yet another label) to the group’s recent big hit on Soul Clock, ‘Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong‘. Lovely singing on this good side, yet the prettily-constructed lurching slow flip, with its strong message, is even gooder!

THE MAIN INGREDIENT: I’m So Proud; Brotherly Love (RCA).
Yet, the Impressions’ oldie slowie done with exquisite harmonious taste, to help make this column a real Soulful treat for Christmas. Both sides are beautiful, restful gems of vocal music.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: If I Were Your Woman (Soul).
The best from Gladys in ages is a great gritty bluesy slowie that, thankfully, owes nothing in its concept to Motown. Tough words, tougher singing. Continue reading “January 2, 1971: The Whispers, The Main Ingredient, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Overton Vertis Wright, Joe Simon”

August 29, 1970: Boffalongo, Faith Hope & Charity, Bobby (Boris) Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jim Reeves

BOFFALONGO: Dancing In The Moonlight (United Artists UP 35144).
Oh, I love it! I hope that those of you who, as regular readers, reckon that our tastes are similar will love it too. Bear in mind that my favourite disc of 1969 was Tommy James & the Shondells’ Crystal Blue Persuasion, and rush out to hear this similar in spirit, glorious, joyful little beater. PLEASE, Radio 1, plug this original version.

FAITH, HOPE & CHARITY: So Much Love; Let’s Try It Over (Crewe CRW 3).
An all-happening happy hollering female group Friends Of Distinction-like R&B beater that I personally have been waiting to hear for some time. No disappointment, as these chicks can sing, and I mean REALLY sing! Kinda energetic, it’s Pop enough to catch on here too, having been big both R&B and Pop Stateside. Fabulous powerful slow Soul flip, not to be missed. Van McCoy & Joe Cobb co-penned/produced.

BOBBY (BORIS) PICKETT AND THE CRYPT-KICKERS: Monster Mash; Monster’s Mash Party (London HLU 10320).
Well, speak of the …! I mentioned this classic 1962 U.S. smash first indirectly and then, just the other week, directly in my reviews of the music from “MASH” (saying latterly that it was a revived hit in America), and – here it is! Those too young or too thick to remember (it wasn’t actually ever very big here) will probably wonder what I’m on about when they hear it, but hopefully there are enough nostalgicats in the land who missed it first time round to make it a hit now. One of my very favourite records … a revealing insight, yeah?! (Early-60s freaks will note the subtle label alterations). Whatever happened to the Transylvania Twist? Continue reading “August 29, 1970: Boffalongo, Faith Hope & Charity, Bobby (Boris) Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jim Reeves”