December 27, 1969: Confessions of a Soul Freak – James Hamilton on a decade of U.S. pop

Can it really have been as long as ten years ago? For me 1960’s music still seems amazingly close – frighteningly so, when I consider that I was already sixteen as the decade began (a confession which will now doubtless condemn me in the minds of most of you to the modern equivalent of the “Bring Back The Big Bands” brigade, who I found so boring)! As you may remember, 1960 dawned here amidst the excitement of a new heart-throb, Adam Faith, a new music, Trad, and a new musical movie, “Expresso Bongo”. Cliff Richard was temporarily filling someone else’s shoes, and Emile Ford (whose then advanced ideas went largely unrecognized) was in the process of selling a million records. However, apart from this home-grown activity, the Pop Charts were still very much the realm of American records – and it is American music that these necessarily very personal reminiscences concern.

New Year, 1960: Freddy Cannon, Sandy Nelson, Preston Epps, Johnny and the Hurricanes – hey! – and Fats Domino! In fact the new year that most people were waiting for began in March with that “Someone else’s” demob from the U.S. Army (March 24th was to be the magic date, but with a bit of leave thrown in he was actually out a few weeks earlier), so that by the end of the month we were all eagerly buying “Stuck On You” c/w “Fame And Fortune” . . . then Phil and Don had to stop it hitting number one by hogging the top with “Cathy’s Clown“! By the end of the year, something new and interesting had happened – the Drifters made number 2, and Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs made the Top Ten. Rhythm and Blues. (Also, “Poetry In Motion” and “Rubber Ball“!)

Meanwhile, earlier in 1961, two young girls reached the U.S. Top 20 with significant records: Carla Thomas and Aretha Franklin. Carla’s was the record with the more immediate effect – her “Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)” was the start of the Memphis Soul Sound and the Stax label (Memphis had hitherto been best known for its Rock legends and residents). Aretha had already hit with “Today I Sing The Blues“, her first commercial (non-Gospel) recording in 1960, but it was her “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” smash that first brought her to the pop public’s attention – although it was the “Operation Heartbreak” flip which was more indicative of her future direction.

‘61/’62: a dull period in many trendies’ estimation. Really? Joe Jones’s “You Talk Too Much“, Clarence Henry’s “But I Do“, Barbara George’s “I Know “, Cosimo Matassa, and the New Orleans Sound of Joe Banashak’s Minit label. Dion, Joey Dee, Ernie Maresca. The Ska-influenced Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Bobby Lewis. The Sensations, Marvelettes, Shirelles. Ritchie Barrett (and the Chantels!), Bobby Parker, Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Butler, King Curtis, the lsley Brothers, the Flares, the Rivingtons (“Deep Water” . . . wow!), the Mar-Keys. Frank lfield, the Tornados (just to give this some perspective!) and, admittedly, Bobby Vee, Brian Hyland, Del Shannon and Brenda Lee.

Over all, THE TWIST and the birth of Discotheque dancing and a teenage night-life. And, thinking of the Twist, these were the Cameo-Parkway days: the Orlons’ “Wah-Watusi” and great “The Conservative“, Dee Dee Sharp’s “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)” and later great “Night“, Len Barry and the Dovells’ “Bristol Stomp“, Don and Dewey’s “Soul Motion“. Also, let’s remember that classic left-over from the ’50s, “The Duke Of Earl“.

Gradually, a trend had been growing, although until Little Eva’s “The Locomotion” it had not attracted much attention – that of the powerful song-writer/ producer, either as an individual or as a team, who really made the hits. Carole King and Gerry Goffin; Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich; PHIL SPECTOR; Bob Crewe and Frank Slay; Kal Mann and Dave Appell; Frank Guida; Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Luther Dixon; John Madara, Dave White and Aram Boormazian (Len Barry to you!); Bert Berns (Russell); Jerry Ragovoy; Curtis Mayfield; and (about time I mentioned this lot, eh?) Berry Gordy, Jr. and William Robinson, and on into various combinations of Norman Whitfield, the brothers Holland, Lamont Dozier, and others.

’63: the Beach Boys. (“What!” shout the Soul Freaks, who are just getting interested!) 1963 was indeed the year of the birth of “Soul”, as we know it. Ray Charles (whose influence, C & W recordings notwithstanding, was really most important in the ’50s) had long been called a “Soul Singer”, and the term was already being bandied about quite freely. Now, however, R & B (i.e.: commercial negro pop music) was developing more and more, with two closely allied yet distinctively different styles becoming ever more discernible. One was that influenced by Sam Cooke/the Falcons/James Brown (the Gospel-derived, emotional “Soul” sound), and the other what was rapidly to become famous as the “Motown (or Detroit) Sound” (generally percussive, but also with a refined Gospel influence).

Sam Cooke, thanks to his smooth RCA recordings, is often forgotten when one thinks of Soul, yet the truth is that he alone was the greatest inspiration for a whole generation of Soul singers – an inspiration which started while he was still leading the Soul Stirrers Gospel group in the ’50s. His is even now the most frequently heard Gospel style, while secular singers from Otis Redding through Marvin Gaye (who both first came to prominence in ’63) to practically anyone you care to name have demonstrated his influence. The lead singer with the Falcons (who also spawned Eddie Floyd) at the time of “I Found A Love” was Wilson Pickett, and, secular lyrics apart, it was the pure Gospel atmosphere that he and the group brought to the Chart in 1961 that was so important. By 1963 he was out on his own, singing “If You Need Me” – which is the same as the Gospel “If You Need Jesus”.

Berry Gordy Jr.’s Tamla and Motown labels had been making hits for several years, and many of his acts were already among the most popular of R & B stars. It was in 1963, though, that his most important records came out. The early part of the year was Smokey Robinson’s, who wrote, produced, and sang (with the Miracles) “You Really Got A Hold On Me” into the U.S. Top 10 and into the Beatles’ hearts.

’64: as far as America was concerned, the year of the Beatles. They so completely shook the traditions of White American Pop that while it was recovering the resultant vacuum in the U.S. Chart was suddenly filled by R & B. (At home, our so-called “R & B” groups were happily playing their Folk-Blues or feebly covering great American singles.) R & B, which had first influenced the Beatles, was now by poetic justice inadvertently helped by the Beatles into the position of importance that it has held ever since.

After the initial shock of the Beatles, White American Pop struggled back to normal. The more adventurous started to follow their own Bob Dylan, who influenced the Beatles, who influenced all America. So the “significant” side of music was born, and entered a vortex. As our lads progressed, so did the Americans, and vice-versa, embracing as they did so in turn the two truly American musical forms, Blues and Country. Now, of course, everyone is on a nostalgia trip, looking back to the ’50s . . . how long before it’s the early ’60s, then?

September 6, 1969: The Isley Brothers, Bob Dylan, Harold Smith’s Majestic Choir, Sammy Davis Jr, Andy Williams

THE ISLEY BROTHERS: I Turned You On; I Know Who You Been Socking It To (Major Minor MM 631).
Before hearing this, I thought that “It’s Your Thing” was about as good as the Isleys could get. So, I was wrong! As Roscoe frequently proves, the two are virtually interchangeable – why, then, is this better “Sock-it-to-me”, “Sock-it-to-me” “Sock-it-to-me”, “Sock-it-to-me” is the answer! The beat is slow, the sound funky, the groove terrific. the sax yakkety, the effect mesmeric. The flip is even trickier! Not a smash here. but let’s hope it sells.
CHART PROBABILITY.

BOB DYLAN: Lay Lady Lay; Peggy Day (CBS 4434).
No need to gamble about predicting success for this! From the outset, this tender slowie was THE most popular track from the “Nashville Skyline” album, and just cried out for release as a single (much more than Bob’s last, “I Threw It All Away”). Well, with perfect timing as Dylan publicity reaches a peak, it’s finally out . . . need I say more (Yes – pert ‘n’ perky “Peggy Day” is on the flip, Elvis-inspired slowed-down finish and all.)
ZIMMERMAN ZOOMER.

HAROLD SMITH’S MAJESTIC CHOIR: We Can All Walk A Little Bit Prouder; Why Am I Treated So Bad (Chess CRS 8101).
With brilliant Gospel groups such as the Violinaires to draw from, why do Chess choose to release this mediocre record here? Because it’s got a big-voiced ”Happy Day” choir, that’s why.
* * Continue reading “September 6, 1969: The Isley Brothers, Bob Dylan, Harold Smith’s Majestic Choir, Sammy Davis Jr, Andy Williams”

August 30, 1969: Johnny Cash, William Bell, Three Dog Night, Billy Preston, Elvis Presley

JOHNNY CASH: A Boy Named Sue; San Quentin (CBS 4460).
There’s been so much talk about Johnny Cash of late that the time must be right for him to have a hit here. Recorded live at the infamous San Quentin prison, this jog-trotting amusing study (about a guy who HAD to be tough, thanks to his dad’s foresight) could be the one to do the trick . . . especially as it’s currently Top 5 in the U.S., and will be performed as heard here on the up-coming “Cash At San Quentin” T-Ver. Disconcertingly there’s even a “bleeped”-out word near the end! Big applause from the inmates for the flip.
CHART POSSIBILITY.

WILLIAM BELL: Happy; Johnny I Love You (Stax 128).
“Happy” is the right name for William’s bright and bubbly terper, a most untypical sound from Stax – produced surprisingly by Booker T. Jones (from the Detroit-influenced strings and chix one might have expected it to have been Don Davis). This lively, lovely “happy” dancer will add sparkle to the air-waves and could so easily be a hit if played enough, especially following Jackie Wilson’s not dis-similar “Higher”. Flip-side, an easy sway is added to Booker T.’s “Uptight” song.
CHART POSSIBILITY.

THREE DOG NIGHT: Easy To Be Hard; Dreamin’ Isn’t Good For You (Stateside/ Dunhill SS 8024).
This talented group are enormous in America, where their last outing, “One“, actually got to number one, yet they remain a minority taste in this country. Their new lurch-beat slowie, bulleted up the U.S. Chart, is from “Hair” – and that magic connection might just be enough to raise the interest level sufficiently to give them a hit here too. Punchy flip.
CHART POSSIBILITY. Continue reading “August 30, 1969: Johnny Cash, William Bell, Three Dog Night, Billy Preston, Elvis Presley”

August 23, 1969: Nickie Lee, Johnny Adams, The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, The Persuasions, Otis Rush

NICKIE LEE: And Black Is Beautiful; Faith Within (Deep Soul DS 9013).
Dave Godin and fellow freaks at “Soul City” have finally got it together and are all set to release a lot of sizzling wax over the next few weeks (including a budget-price Oldies album!). To kick off, they’ve only released one of the best Soul records of the year, that’s all. Actually a U.S. R&B hit about the time of James Brown’s “Say It Loud”, this slowie takes that most Black music of all, Gospel, as a framework for its message . . . a logical choice. As chicks repeatedly chant the title statement Nickie interweaves his rallying advice, so that the whole is a powerfully insinuous slab of the best type of Soul there is. Naturally I am prejudiced, as Gospel Soul (along with those Oldies-But-Goodies Soul Vocal Groups!) is my favourite variety, and there hasn’t been enough of it during the last four years! (Deep Soul got this beauty from Bell Records. who again have let a small label win a six star review. Sure, it won’t be a hit, but then neither was “Soul Deep” by the Box Tops – which has most merit. Bell have got the goods in plenty, so why can’t they give us a taste more often?).
* * * * * *

JOHNNY ADAMS: Reconsider Me; If I Could See You One More Time (Polydor 567775).
Exactly five years after the late Joe Hinton scored so massively in America with his Souled-up version of the C&W “Funny (How Time Slips Away)“, Johnny Adams is enjoying a similar success with his not dis-similar treatment of another C&W song. His voice soars to a high and beautiful falsetto in a way that will delight True Soul Freaks, who should hear this. Great. Incidentally, his last hit was “Release Me”! (Modesty Corner: due to a lamentable lapse of my normally reliable I.B.M.-like brain, crammed full with unimportant facts, I forgot in the recent Aretha review that of course both “Pledging My Love” and “The Clock” were Johnny Ace songs).
* * * * * *

THE WATTS 103rd STREET RHYTHM BAND: Till You Get Enough; Light My Fire (Warner Bros. WB 7298).
The Band’s latest U.S. hit starts with a trace of Isaac Hayes’ “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic” sound (it’s a track off his smash “Hot Buttered Soul” album), before they get into their own jungle rhythm groove. Not every Soul fan’s groove maybe, but for “Cue Club”-goers and other funky dancers this is a mesmeric gas! It’s sure all got rhythm! Dig the quiet flip too – if you think at first that it’s nothing new, have patience.
* * * * * Continue reading “August 23, 1969: Nickie Lee, Johnny Adams, The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, The Persuasions, Otis Rush”

May 24, 1969: Bob & Earl, Mason Williams, Jamo Thomas, Ike & Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald

BOB & EARL: Dancin’ Everywhere; Baby It’s Over (B&C CB-102).
Bob & Earl’s 1966 recording (an old “B” side) is nice enough for Soul fans, but now that all the mystery is over I don’t see many Soul freaks actually clamouring to get this fairly routine but good brassy dancer (very much like Jackie Lee’s other Fred Smith-produced things), and it certainly isn’t going to grab the general public as much as “Harlem Shuffle“. The excellent Wallace Brothers-like slow and ultra-Soulful flip (the U.S. “A” side originally) is something else though, and has always been one of my favourite goodies, so maybe this is the side to snare the Soul freaks! Anyway, as the boys are here and the record will be plugged, it’s a CHART PROBABILITY if not a smash.

MASON WILLIAMS: Greensleeves; 13 Dollar Stella (Warner Bros. WB 7272).
The Smothers Brothers may have been sacked by their T.V. company, but Mason Williams continues to make pleasant noises as always. This heavily-orchestrated, up-tempoed updating of the gentle oldie (!), which is currently popular “easy-listening” in the U.S., could carry on here where his successful and much-requested “Classical Gas” left off, since his excellent “Saturday Night At The World” vocal follow-up failed. Mason’s guitar does the twiddly bits, and is backed by slabs of violin and romping rhythm. The more peaceful flip features a bit of pretty happy-go-lucky self-penning with guitar to the fore.
CHART POSSIBILITY

JAMO THOMAS: I’ll Be Your Fool; Jamo Soul (Chess CRS 8098).
Lovely subtle funk on this beautifully flowing rhythm dancer, with some of “Heard It Thru The Grapevine’s” greatness. Jamo’s curious high, though not falsetto, voice, rides over the chugging beat and the subdued guitar which, with two nice brass breaks, constitute the hacking. Much better than “I Spy (For The F.B.I.)“, and given the plays it could do big things. Re-entitled instrumental flip is the same as “F.B.I.’s” though – a pity.
CHART POSSIBILITY Continue reading “May 24, 1969: Bob & Earl, Mason Williams, Jamo Thomas, Ike & Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald”

May 3, 1969: Canned Heat, Vikki Carr, Marv Johnson, Billy Butler, Gene Chandler & Barbara Acklin

CANNED HEAT: Time Was; Low Down (Liberty LBF 15200)
Will it be third in a row for Heat’s prepossessing new rock-a-ballad? Maybe, but although it combines some of Stevie Wonder’s lilt with a nice rumbling bass, freaky guitar and steady drumming, it lacks the last two’s magic spark of life – time will tell. Typical so-called “boogie” noises on flip, O.K. later on. CHART POSSIBILITY

VIKKI CARR: If Ever You’re Lonely; Fly Away (Liberty LBF 15217)
Though “With Pen In Hand” is still kicking (not out the jams), here is a newie from Vikki – all melodic with heavily crescendoing patches and torch singing (she even sounds a bit like Cilia at times). ‘S not bad at all, and could do rather well. Personally, I preferred the light, Bossa-Nova-ish, reminiscent flip. CHART POSSIBILITY

MARV JOHNSON: I Love The Way You Love; You Got What It Takes (United Artists UP 35010)
Recorded at the turn of the decade, when Marv was 20, these old UA sides are among Berry Gordy’s earliest productions. “Love” (a U.S. hit) hints at the course Tamla was to take in its first years, while the slightly earlier (muzzily re-mixed) “Takes” was a hit here for both Marv and Johnny Kidd (and was actually written by Bobby “Watch Your Step” Parker). Motown addicts should hear the old London LP, “Marvellous Marv Johnson” (HA-T 2271), the better of his two UA albums, which includes some deliciously falsetto-sung straight standards. Presumably aimed at collectors. * * * * * *  Continue reading “May 3, 1969: Canned Heat, Vikki Carr, Marv Johnson, Billy Butler, Gene Chandler & Barbara Acklin”

April 26, 1969: Booker T. & The M.G.s, The Ronettes, Glen Campbell, 5th Dimension, Crazy Elephant

BOOKER T. & THE M.G.s: Time Is Tight; Hang ‘Em High (Stax 119).
From the soundtrack of the Booker T. Jones scored up-coming ”Uptight” flick, and a fast riser Stateside, this walloping, galloping -pounder is a gas dancer in spite of sounding like a backing track for “I Can’t Turn You Loose“. In the current climate it could be a smash here. Flipside (from their Iast L.P., never a single before) was a U.S. Pop hit, and is the movie theme read in semi-funky manner. CHART POSSIBILITY.

THE RONETTES: You Came, You Saw, You Conquered; I Can Hear Music (A&M AMS 748).
Sounding straight out of 1963 (“worry” pronounced “wowwy” even!), Veronica Spector and the girls come storming back with another brand new Phil Spector production. If the era of “Be My Baby” and “Do I Love You?” was an unforgettable slice of your past, you will go into ecstasies over this, as nothing much has changed (who’s complaining?!) – the pace is a bit faster and the noise a bit fuller, that’s all. The coupling naturally has especial interest at the moment, as it’s the original version of Beach Boys’ click, and makes a timely re-release that could have sold well on its own. CHART PROBABILITY

GLEN CAMPBELL Galveston; Every Time I Itch I Wind Up Scratchin’ You (Ember EMB S 263).
“Phoenix”, “Wichita”, now “Galveston” (the port for Houston, Texas) – where next, Jim Webb? This lacks the easy charm of “Lineman”, having a more aggressive beat and approach, but it retains the same guitar tone, the strings’ sound, and much of the lilt of its predecessor – without its romance. Radio 1’s playing it fit to bust, so it must happen . . . but not as big as the former hit, methinks. More easy-on-the-ear sounds on flip, co-penned by Glen with Jeremy Slate. CHART CERTAINTY.  Continue reading “April 26, 1969: Booker T. & The M.G.s, The Ronettes, Glen Campbell, 5th Dimension, Crazy Elephant”