July 18, 1970: Toomorrow, Cissy Houston, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, 5th Dimension, Tommy Roe

TOOMORROW: You’re My Baby Now; Goin’ Back (RCA 1978).
Mark my words, you will be hearing more about this group.

CISSY HOUSTON: The Long and Winding Road; Be My Baby (Major Minor MM 716). Forget all other pronouncements: THIS is THE hit – hit – HIT! To a light “Always Something There to Remind Me” bossa nova-ish tempo, Cissy glides and emotes through the Paul McCartney song as though it was her own exclusively. It will be. Pure artistry. Dig too the slowed right up and quietened down totally different treatment of the classic Spector flip.

SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRACLES: The Tears of a Clown; You Must Be Love (Tamla Motown TMG 745).
Instead of with some of the Miracles’ recent unreleased material, Motown has chosen to belatedly follow ‘Tracks of My Tears’ up with this similarly titled stomping 1967 album track. Slow flip, from the same ‘Make it Happen’ elpee. They’re both good if old hat, but then British Motown has proved often enough that it knows its market here. Continue reading “July 18, 1970: Toomorrow, Cissy Houston, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, 5th Dimension, Tommy Roe”

June 27, 1970: Diana Ross, Norman Greenbaum, Johnnie Taylor

DIANA ROSS: Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand); Dark Side Of The World (Tamla Motown TMG 743).
For her solo debut, Diana has got right away from the old hit-making Supremes format – she still, of course, sounds exactly like the old Diana, and even has a girlie group in back of her, but it is in her choice of material that she is different. These are both Nick Ashford/Valerie Simpson-penned songs, with the A-side being the more different of the two: a meandering, gently thumping slowie, sung by Diana in un-raucous, delicate mood. The flip is a bit more determined, and rather more Supremes-ish. Both good.

NORMAN GREENBAUM: Canned Ham; Junior Cadillac (Reprise RS.20919).
As a follow-up to the monster “Spirit In The Sky”, Norman has reverted to the sound and structure of his earlier release, “Jubilee“. The beat is more straightforward (and, I reckon, will be less popular) than that of his hit, and the girlie group are featured prominently throughout, chirping away call-and-answers in a squeaky harmony – all in all, VERY like “Jubilee”. It’s nice good-time music, but it’s too fast for that modern Madison dance-step which fitted ‘Spirit” so well! Funkier flip.

JOHNNIE TAYLOR: Who’s Making Love; I’m Trying (Stax 106). Someone at Stax has some sense! When this glorious screaming, stomping, storming dancer was released a year and a half ago in America, it went straight to number one, sold over a million, and finally established Johnnie (who’s been singing since the ’50s) as a true great. Admittedly “Do The Funky Chicken” has made a huge impression with its ’65-type sound, but I always think of “Love” as the last of the classic “traditional” Soul hits – last year saw the emergence of newer, trickier rhythms (hence the re-release boom here). Anyway, this is one re-release that does deserve success: incredibly popular with discotheque dancers, it is placed permanently at the top of my “Soul” pile of records, and even if I play no other Soul records at a dance I generally play this, because, despite being unknown to most people, it has such a powerful impact that any fool can feel it! Go get it . . . and when you finally sit down, dig the words too.

May 16, 1970: Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, The Jackson 5, Four Tops, The Tokens

ELVIS PRESLEY: Kentucky Rain; My Little Friend (RCA 1949).
Now here’s an Elvis newie that I actually don’t mind! The tempo-changing sIowie’s arrangement maintains interest, and E.A.P. sounds in good voice – obviously a huge hit. Fine flip, too. Hey, these ARE all right!

THE BEACH BOYS: Cottonfields; Nearest Faraway Place (Capitol CL 15640).

THE JACKSON 5: A.B.C.; The Young Folks (Tamla Motown TMG 738).
Better than “I Want You Back” (though the flip is no match for “Who’s Lovin’ You“).

FOUR TOPS: It’s All In The Game; Love Is The Answer (Tamla Motown TMG 736).
The Tommy Edwards oldie, a beautiful slow sure smash. (Fine for S.G.F.s even!). Continue reading “May 16, 1970: Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, The Jackson 5, Four Tops, The Tokens”

March 28, 1970: Country & Western special

With the Country & Western Caravan Of Stars due in town, it’s a big C&W release week. The reviews below are aimed more at the ignorant than at Country Freaks (who already know what they like), since many people, and especially fans of trendy Country-Rock, should enjoy some of these records.

BILL ANDERSON & JAN HOWARD: If It’s All The Same To You; I Thank God For You (MCA MU 1121).
This teaming of two well-known Country names has produced an almost Soulful slowie (it would convert to black singers very easily), with some telling fuzz-tone guitar and electric piano. Nothing mind-blowing, but do hear it. Beautifully corny, choking-voice recitations on flip, too!

LORETTA LYNN: Wings Upon Your Horns; Let’s Get Back Down To Earth (MCA MU 1118).
Lovely Loretta (she is rather attractive) is one of those traditional Country females with the vocal twang heard also in Jeanie C Riley and Brenda Lee, for instance. “Wings” is a fairly typical steel ‘n’ piano slowie, whereas the funky “Earth” has some great rhythms and is a lot of fun.

WILMA BURGESS: The Sun’s Gotta Shine; Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line (MCA MU 1122).
Folksy clear-as-a-bell chick on a quiet little song that keeps reminding me of something (Young Love” mixed with “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”? I must be going mad!). Anyhow, rather nice.
*** Continue reading “March 28, 1970: Country & Western special”

March 21, 1970: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lou Christie, Oliver, Fraternity Of Man, Stevie Wonder

CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL: Travelin’ Band; Who’ll Stop The Rain (Liberty LBF 15310).
I know that people go quacking on about C.C.R. being an old-style Rock ‘n’ Roll group, but even so I was completely unprepared for this record – “Travelin’ Band” is an unabashedly straight copy of Little Richard! As such, they have done it very cleverly, considering their restrictive instrumental line-up – the drumming especially is really good. Great fun, and sure to get the kids jiving in the aisles (yes folks, the Rock Revival IS here!). Jangling ‘significant’ flip.

LOU CHRISTIE: Love Is Over; Generation (Buddah 201081).
Yes folks the Rock Revival is REALLY here, as, to a jittery fast backing, Lou Sacco reverts to his “Lightnin’ Strikes” sound! On current form, a CHART CERT.

OLIVER: Jean; The Arrangement (Crewe CRW 1).
First offering here on Bob Crewe’s own logo (a sickly green label) is the U.S. smash version of the “Miss Jean Brodie” theme. This was William Oliver Swofford’s follow-up to “Good Morning Starshine”, and despite the time-gap between them it should do well since he sings the much-plugged Rod McKuen slowie perfectly pleasantly. Slightly “Middle Eastern” flip.
CHART CHANCE. Continue reading “March 21, 1970: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lou Christie, Oliver, Fraternity Of Man, Stevie Wonder”

February 7, 1970: Ronnie Hawkins, The Archies, Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, Herb Alpert, Anthony Swete

RONNIE HAWKINS WITH THE BAND: Who Do You Love; Bo Diddley (Roulette RO 512).
Originally released on the old Columbia green label back in ’63, this single has been much treasured by those discerning few who found it then (like a fool, I dug it but never got it, ’cause he was white – a mistake I have long regretted!) Many of our more famous guitar super-stars were among those few – which is no surprise, since, along with Lonnie Mack during the same year, the amazing guitar sounds that Robbie Robertson brought screaming forth on “Who Do You Love” were truly a foretaste of the future. Anyway, now everyone can get the real genuine 1963 article again (there’s an L.P. too), and wonder at the un-dated modern sound! (Forgetting Pop history; the beat on these two old Bo Diddley-penned dancers is ridiculous, and their sheer excitement communicates itself immediately to everyone).

THE ARCHIES: Jingle Jangle; Justine (RCA Victor RCA 1918).
Clever chap, that Jeff Barry (the producer) – instead of following-up “Sugar, Sugar” with another sound-alike, he’s not only got a completely different beat going but he also has a chick singing the lead (with some nice male support near the end). As with “Sugar”, the tune is not immediately obvious yet once you’ve heard it a few times it becomes maddeningly catchy. The less-danceable beat is the only element that may hold this back. Monotonous slow flip.

KENNY ROGERS & THE FIRST EDITION: Something’s Burning; Momma’s Waiting (Reprise RS 20888).
“Someone’s Goofed”, more like! They should have gone ahead with “Reuben James” as their follow-up, since this soft-then-building, soft-again-then-building slowie certainly won’t get the crowds dancing (nor the critics disapproving) . . . it’s not that it’s bad, just ordinary. Perkier Country-tinged flip.
CHART CHANCE. Continue reading “February 7, 1970: Ronnie Hawkins, The Archies, Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, Herb Alpert, Anthony Swete”

January 31, 1970: Joe Simon, Crazy Elephant, Arlo Guthrie, Jake Holmes, Neil Young

JOE SIMON: Moon Walk (Parts 1 & 2) (Monument MON 1042).
A hackneyed, dull brassy “dance” song that gets nowhere, but is doing amazingly well in America. The “Walk” better be a gas to dance, to compensate for the pedestrian song!

CRAZY ELEPHANT: There’s a Better Day A Comin’ (Na, Na, Na, Na); Space Buggy (Major Minor MM 672).
Good enough if predictable Bubble Gum, with heavy beat – trouble is, I think it’s probably too frantic and fast for dancers at this moment. Nicely dated corny, really bad, guitar and sound effects instrumental flip – so much so, it’s a gas!

ARLO GUTHRIE: Alice’s Rock and Roll Restaurant; Coming In To Los Angeles (Reprise RS 20877).
The song of the film of the song, by Woody’s boy. Their influence was the same, so naturally he will sound Dylan-ish to untutored ears. The message is that “you can get anything you want, at Alice’s rest-o-ront” . . . including Alice’s Cook-book? More Folk-Rock on flip.
*** Continue reading “January 31, 1970: Joe Simon, Crazy Elephant, Arlo Guthrie, Jake Holmes, Neil Young”

January 10, 1970: B.J. Thomas, Canned Heat, The Contours, The Other Brothers, Nina Simone

B. J. THOMAS: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head (Wand WN 1).
No. 1 in the U.S. Chart; a Bacharach and David song of exquisite niceness; from the upcoming boffo Paul Newman-starring “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” flick; a pick to click!

CANNED HEAT: Let’s Work Together; I’m Her Man (Liberty LBF 15302).
Wilbert (“Kansas City”) Harrison’s original of this chunky beater (raved about in “Rolling Stone”) has been around in America for some time, and is now finally a hit there. Good – very good – though the Heat’s version is, I’d dig to hear Wilbert’s Great sounds on the frantic flip. I always goof when tipping these boys, but this time they ARE due for a tour! Go, go, Harvey Mandel!

THE CONTOURS: Just A Little Misunderstanding; First I Look At The Purse (Tamla Motown TMG 723).
Having re-released so much old R & B material, British record companies are now hoist with their own petard: they’ve so successfully brainwashed the public into equating “Soul” with ’65/’66 vintage sounds that they now find it difficult to get the trickier modern R & B rhythms across – and have virtually stopped trying to do so. Out of the current U.S. R & B Top 50, only eight titles are available here (of which three are on L.P.s) . . . no wonder people are saying “Soul is dead”. (These old Contours “bang-bang-bang” dancers always were good, and could happen here now.)
CHART CHANCE. Continue reading “January 10, 1970: B.J. Thomas, Canned Heat, The Contours, The Other Brothers, Nina Simone”

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.

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.)

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”