October 20, 1973: Brownsville Station, Millie Jackson, Carla Thomas, James Brown, Four Tops

Stateside newies

BROWNSVILLE STATION: Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room (Big Tree BT 16011).
Released as it was to coincide with the autumnal return to school, this choppy rocker was obviously predestined to become another of those temporary ‘teen anthems – indeed, can it be only coincidence that the general noise of raucous voice, chord-smashing bar accents, and freer harmonica-tinged instrumental passages is immediately reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s (admittedly slower) “Eighteen”? When last heard of on this page, Brownsville Station were busy converting “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah” from Reggae to Rock. In fact the band started out as alleged Rock Revivalists, but (to judge from those of their records that I’ve heard myself) they always seem to have done their reviving in a way which took the most obvious elements from the music of the past – a past embracing both late-‘50s American and mid-‘60s British “Rock” – and then treated those elements in a style that smacked of the ‘70s. This is really what they’ve done here. The lyrics are a cross between Eddie Cochran at his most punkoid, Pete Townshend at his most ‘teen-appealing, and Shel Silverstein at his most Dr Hook satirical, while parts of the musical structure are pure Rock ‘n Roll played and mixed in with a Stones-derived modern raunch . . . plus, of course, that Alice Cooper snotty quality. So, is the result the ‘teen anthem that its makers predestined it to be? Radio tipster Kal Rudman is pushing it hard and reports “Good ‘teen phone requests” from WOKY Milwaukee and KLIV San Jose, with similar good reaction from all the other secondary stations who are playing it – BUT, as few if any of the major stations have added the tune to their playlists yet (the curse of modern American radio is its super-cautious programming), it’s only moved a modest 85-78 on this week’s Record World chart. And a big “Hello” to Capital Radio, whose programming seems so far to be a bit different – between 11.00 and 11.30 of their very first day (this Tuesday) they repeated two records which had been featured during their very first hour of transmission only six hours earlier: OK, Billy Preston being a Chart-bubbler is understandable, but Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66 singing “Scarboro Fair” is, although a nice catholic choice, kind of an odd oldie to receive such attention, surely? Oh, the waves are alive with the sound of newsak!

MILLIE JACKSON: Hurts So Good; Love Doctor (Spring SPR 139).
Millie began her career by singing with the Charlie Lucas Combo – a pity she wasn’t with them when I penetrated Brooklyn’s darkest Bedford-Stuyvesant district to catch the Combo at the Sonia Ballroom in ’64 – and is now featured alongside label-mate Joe Simon singing on the movie soundtrack of “Cleopatra Jones”. Both these sides are from the flick, the topside Phillip Mitchell-penned hurting Soulful slowie being a huge R&B hit that’s growing Pop, and much in demand on import here. At last she has found, after a string of comparatively trite Pop-R&B dance hits, some slower yet equally successful material that is able to return her to the pure Soul style with which she so impressed on her earlier “Child Of God”. The Jackie Avery-penned flip finds her back in the uptempo groove, though.

CARLA THOMAS: Love Among People; I Have A God Who Loves (Stax STA 0173).
Speaking of Phillip Mitchell, who penned “Hurts So Good”, he also happens to have co-penned (with Ernie Shelby) this terrific new slowie for the Memphis Queen, Rufus Thomas’s little girl, Carla, who herself co-produced it with Stax veep Al Bell. The result is an even-keeled unemphatic mellow mood, with jazzy flute amidst the gentle electric piano early on, before the softly snarling brass, chunky MG’s rhythm and subdued wah-wah flourishes shift the tune subtly along to its more highly-strung churning finish. It may seem sacrilege to say it, but dear Carla’s voice seems – while not actually similar – just a little bit reminiscent of dear Donny’s! She is in fact in superbly understated Soulful form, and more dramatically Soulful on the “Wattstax”-culled inspirational flip. Continue reading “October 20, 1973: Brownsville Station, Millie Jackson, Carla Thomas, James Brown, Four Tops”

October 13, 1973: Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Escorts, Manhattans, Earth Wind & Fire

Stateside new spins
An RRM exclusive service bringing you the first news and reviews of the hot US releases every week

FRED WESLEY & THE J. B.’s: If You Don’t Get It The First Time, Back Up And Try It Again, Party; You Can Have Watergate Just Gimme Some Bucks And I’ll Be Straight (People PE 627).
Here we have a case of the titles being more impressive than the actual music! The simple handclap-beat chant-accompanied riff, led by Fred’s trombone and James Brown’s vocal exhortations, is no more than both typical and typically functional in each case, with neither side coming even close to the irresistible funk of the team’s “Doin’ It To Death” (or for that matter, despite the A-side’s title, to the “Parrty” of Maceo And The Macks). Still, diehard fans of James Brown – The Hitman – The Godfather Of Soul, who penned / performed / arranged / produced as usual, will dance along happily for a few weeks until his next release.

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUENOTES: The Love I Lost (Parts 1 & 2) (Philadelphia International ZS7 3533).
Expecting another drawn-out slowie from these spine-tingling masters of the Philly Sound? Well, the slow electric piano intro of their latest Gamble & Huff-penned / produced (Bobby Martin-arranged) US hit is enough to confirm such expectations – until it suddenly picks up into a churning fast hustling rhythm and the boys begin singing their answer to all the dance hits that the O’Jays, Intruders and Four Tops have scored in this style. That reference to the Philly-aping Tops is no accident either, for the maturely masculine tones of the Bluenotes’ lead singer (Teddy Pendergrast?) are reminiscent of those of the Tops’ Levi Stubbs in some way. This should find friends In Britain, where their slowies failed to follow-up “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”

THE ESCORTS: Look Over Your Shoulder; By The Time I Get To Phoenix (Alithia AR 6052).
Shades of the Prisonaires? The Escorts are evidently a gaol-formed group of cons who were produced by George Kerr while still serving their time. For material, George chose the sweet slowie with which he created such a masterpiece when recorded by the O’Jays back in 1968 – unfortunately, although the Escorts’ singing is in no way to be faulted, the new tinkling arrangement by Bert Keyes just fades away into insignificance when compared with the revolutionary knocking and thumping original by Richard Tee. At least the flipside standard presents no such definitive original against which to be measured, but then neither does it present much of a challenge. As with the topside, the group’s well-executed (although none too distinctive) harmony interplay comes across despite the cloying instrumentation. Continue reading “October 13, 1973: Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Escorts, Manhattans, Earth Wind & Fire”

October 6, 1973: Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye, Marie Osmond, Elvis Presley, Bloodstone, The Persuasions

Straight from the States

DIANA ROSS & MARVIN GAYE: You’re A Special Part Of Me; I’m Falling In Love With You (Motown M 1280F).
Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell, and now Diana Ross, the latest distaff partner for Marvin Gaye. With the teaming of two such superstars the electricity might have been expected to crackle, but unfortunately the result is somewhat disappointing. Marvin, who in recent years has pioneered a new and highly personal approach to Soul singing, is on these duets reduced to the musical level of his less subtle partner, and spends most of the time providing background support for the piercingly pitched tones of Miss Ross (whose contribution will admittedly ensure that these tunes come over well on car radios). The Berry Gordy-produced A-side is a clumsy, lurching, jerky, thudding and thundering slowie which returns poor Marvin right back to his days with the late Miss Terrell. Luckily the Margaret Gordy-penned and co-produced flip side is more sympathetic in every way: a slushier, slower, simpler and prettier song altogether, it even has some appealing word-play that would have been worthy of Smokey Robinson eight years ago. In addition, Marvin manages to get closer to the microphone than Diana on this side. If this review seems particularly biased against Diana Ross, then her many fans need not get up in arms because it must also surely tell them that they (and maybe they alone!) are going to love this record.

MARIE OSMOND: Paper Roses; Least Of All You (MGM K 14609).
When Anita Bryant recorded this pathos-filled sentimental thump-along Easy Listening Country lilter in her stentorian “Two-Way Family Favourites” tones, who’da guessed that one day her performance would be bested by that of a mere slip of a girl, the teenaged sister of the most famous male group in the World? Who’da guessed that this young girl, with such an illustrious Pop (with a capital “P”) family, would in fact aim herself at the Country Charts? Who’da guessed that she would be produced by none other than top Country star, the “Southern Gentleman,” Sonny James? Who’da guessed the result would be similar to the Anita Bryant version, but gentler and a whole, whole lot better? And, after all that, who’da guessed that Marie Osmond would come across as an entirely convincing Country singer? True, on the Sonny James & Carole Smith-penned slow flip she is successful in sounding just like her brother, Donny – uncannily like him – but that just means that at long last half the male population of the World can re-direct their lust in a healthier direction. Hey, Marie, you-all can sing at my barn dance, any time you want!

ELVIS PRESLEY: Raised On Rock; For Ol’ Times Sake (RCA APBO 0088).
After seeing a title like that, all El’s old faithful frustrated fans can be forgiven for getting a bad case of slobbering at the mouth. Trouble is, neither El nor the song deliver the goods. Penned by Mark James, the latter has some interesting lyrics which do indeed hark back to a vaguely Presley-ish past, only to be rendered by the old groaner in a tremulous whinny over a scudding rhythm that bears no relation to Rock past or present. Continue reading “October 6, 1973: Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye, Marie Osmond, Elvis Presley, Bloodstone, The Persuasions”

September 29, 1973: Jackson 5, Ray Price, The Ovations, The Allman Brothers Band, Stevie Wonder

Straight from the States

JACKSON 5: Get It Together (Motown M 1277F).
It has to be faced: the Jacksons are in trouble, with falling record sales not only here but also in America. Whatever happened – to the Transylvania Twist? – no, sorry, that was meant to come out as, whatever happened to their supposedly fanatical following? The powers behind them at Motown have obviously been concerned by the problem, otherwise why else would this, their latest hit, show label credits for as many as five writers, producer Hal Davis end executive producer Berry Gordy among them? The result is indeed a hit, and the healthiest-looking one that the boys have had for some time. It’s also a good record, having a herky-jerky choppy rhythm structure with jagged sax and strings behind it, a repetitive synthesised bass-line through it, and jittery frantic vocal work from Michael and his brothers slotted in between it. This dominating rhythm track has, of course, the effect of making the whole thing less a song than a sound . . .and as sounds are notoriously difficult to break with melody-loving British audiences, the release here of the “Skywriter” LP track instead of “Get It Together” was possibly a wise decision on the part of Tamla Motown. Except that “Skywriter” doesn’t seem to have done much, either. As I was saying, the Jacksons are in trouble.

RAY PRICE: You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me (Columbia 4-45889).
On looking through some back issues of RM the other day, I discovered that when I originally reviewed Ray Price’s hit Country version of “For The Good Times” I actually recommended it to Perry Como fans! How’s that for a prophecy? Ray has a voice that is slap bang in that Perry Como-styled Easy Listening groove, and by rights he should be just as popular – even if you yourselves aren’t into that sort of thing, do at least tell your mums and dads about him. His latest American hit is streaking to the top of the Country Charts and is also climbing Pop, where in fact its totally un-Country straight Easy Listening sound rightly belongs. Another of those Jim Weatherly-penned slowies, it reminds me of nothing so much as Rod McKuen’s Frank Sinatra-sung “Love’s Been Good To Me.” Expect Val Doonican to cover it any day.

THE OVATIONS: Having A Party – Medley (MGM K 14623).
When the Memphis-recorded Ovations first broke through in the mid-‘60s singing “It’s Wonderful To Be In Love” on Goldwax, the voice of their lead singer, Louis Williams, was obviously modelled on that of the late Sam Cooke, whose cool Gospel-style has had such an influence on so many Soul singers. After a period when nothing much has been heard from them, the Ovations are back in the R&B Charts with – guess what? – an unabashed tribute to Sam Cooke and the songs which he made famous in the early ‘60s. Recorded live (and it really does sound as if the enthusiastic audience was there at the time, even if only in the studio), Louis and the group, augmented by some girls, satisfy the requests which they evidently keep getting for Sam Cooke songs by running together over an infectious easy-paced clap beat such Cooke favourites as “Having A Party,” “Twisting The Night Away,” “Wonderful World,” “Meet Me At Mary’s Place,” “Soothe Me,” and “Amen” (the last two admittedly are less readily identified with Cooke), all moulded to the basic “Having A Party” tune and backing. Apart from its natural appeal for Sam Cooke (and Ovations) fans, this record is also notable because it is one of the few in existence which accurately captures the feel of a black singer in front of a black audience. Continue reading “September 29, 1973: Jackson 5, Ray Price, The Ovations, The Allman Brothers Band, Stevie Wonder”

September 22, 1973: The Soul Children, The Temprees, Cheech Y Chong, Carl Carlton, Marvelettes

Straight from the States

THE SOUL CHILDREN: Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing; Poem On The School House Door (Stax STA 0170).
After several successful but to my mind disappointing singles, the two guys/two gals Soul Children have come up with a genuine 100 per cent Super Soul goodie. Their topside treatment of the Lou Rawls oldie is hoarsely hollered and funkily gritty: however, it’s the flipside dead slowie about a trip the group made back to their childhood stamping ground which is the real gas. The trip turned out to be one of those ill-fated ventures of a type which should have been foreseen, proving as it did only how much time changes things and how sad as well as happy memories are always liable for revival. The nostalgic scene is set by first one of the guys and then the two girls each in turn telling a part of the story, in a pure Gospel style, before suddenly the other guy comes crashing in with a passionate screaming intensity which lifts the tune up another notch. You see, there had been a custom back at their old school for all the graduates to leave behind them a token by which to be remembered, and he has just remembered what he left – not a trophy, an honorary record or a citation like the others, but . . . you guessed! . . . a love poem on the school house door. What’s so aroused him, though, is that the poem was spurned by its intended recipient – and he had written two copies, one on the school house door and one imbedded deep down in his heart. The latter is still there, and he proceeds to soul it to us all one time. This incredibly exciting slab of gut-wrenching soulfulness has finally returned the group to the sort of form that was so impressive on “The Sweeter He Is”, four years ago. Obviously, it is a must for all Deep Soul lovers.

THE TEMPREES: Love’s Maze (We Produce XPA 1811).
Recorded with Soul Group Freaks only in mind, this dreamy Sweet Soul slowie is one of those obscure exquisite beauties which are unfortunately far too Deep to be Pop over here. It features each of the three guys in the group alternating on lead, their switchovers sometimes being almost discordant – and hence exaggeratedly Soulful. The hand-clapping sparsely-backed easy-beat flip, “Wrap Me In Love“, is just as nice. Those who dig will dig, muchly!

CHEECH Y CHONG: Basketball Jones (Featuring Tyrone Shoelaces) (Ode 66038).
Remember the Brighter Side Of Darkness, the schoolboy Soul Vocal Group who recently had a US smash with “Love Jones“? Well, “head” humourists Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin, the Chinese and Chicano comedians, have now made this spoof near-copy of that hit! Young Tyrone wails away that he’s got a basketball jones – ever since he was a little baby he’s always been dribbling, in fact he was the baddest dribbler in the neighbourhood! – and he gets everyone to sing along with him to the monotonous slow melody, just like the Beatles did on such classics as “All You Need Is Love” and “Hey Jude”. The result is more good-humoured than humorous . . . and a US hit. Continue reading “September 22, 1973: The Soul Children, The Temprees, Cheech Y Chong, Carl Carlton, Marvelettes”

September 1, 1973: Ultra High Frequency, The Independents, Eddie Kendricks, The Moments, The Chi-Lites

Straight from the States

ULTRA HIGH FREQUENCY: We’re On The Right Track (Wand).
Wooo-wooo! goes the whistle, clank-clank chug-chug choo-choo-puffa goes the sound-effects-with-rhythm intro. How do I know that I’m listening to a British hit, when it has only just started to pick up dee-jay support in America? Well, for starters, it’s another Philly Sound dancer . . . PLUS, Norman Harris and Stan Watson produced it, with more than a hint of the O’Jays in the group’s harmonies and delivery, and with an eye on the sound effects from their earlier success, “Armed And Extremely Dangerous.” But basically, I know because it’s such a treat for dancing feet – and even has a backing-track instrumental flip for dancers Up North.

THE INDEPENDENTS: Baby I’ve Been Missing You (Wand).
Currently big and getting bigger, both R&B and Pop, the Indies’ newie is another of those exquisite Sweet Soul slowies which they do so well. There’s a touch of the Chi-Lites about the piano and strings intro, over which one of those apologetic gentle sexy raps leads into the main title phrase chorus, which features the chick of the group up front (in fact, she takes some of the key lines on her wailing lonesome ownsome). Yeah!

EDDIE KENDRICKS: Keep On Truckin’ (Parts 1 & 2). (Tamla).
The ex-Temptation is hitting hard R&B and Pop with his latest, uncharacteristic, modern funk rhythm number, which features some great tinkling cool vibes work amongst the bongos and wah-wah that carry on truckin’ even when the rest of the drums and synthesizer backing drops away. Actually, so many different instrumental changes occur during the course of the tune that to list them would be a drag. Eddie himself, through in fine voice, seems to play second fiddle to the ultra-rhythmic instrumental track. Dancers WILL DIG! Incidentally DAVID RUFFIN, the other main ex-Temptation, has another Bobby (Dells) Miller-penned/produced slowie, the truly Soulful, self-derogatory “Common Man” (Motown). Continue reading “September 1, 1973: Ultra High Frequency, The Independents, Eddie Kendricks, The Moments, The Chi-Lites”

August 25, 1973: David Cassidy, James Brown/Lyn Collins, Joe Simon, Deodato, Ike & Tina Turner

Stop press: Cassidy review

DAVID CASSIDY: Daydream; Can’t Go Home Again (Bell, in America only).
David’s new American single pairs a couple of the tracks from his as yet uncompleted new album, and will not necessarily be chosen for singles release in Britain once the finished LP has been heard (writes James Hamilton). David’s whole approach shows an ever increasing maturity. “Daydream,” the famous Lovin’ Spoonful ditty from 1966, here becomes much mellower and less angular than the original, with a greater emphasis on the jangling piano and good-time jug band atmosphere – right rooty tooty, in fact! It’s the lovely slow flip, though, which really shows off David’s maturity. Sung expressively in David’s husky, breathy voice, the truly beautiful melody is perfectly complemented by its gentle backing of electric piano and lightly Latin rhythm. Believe me, it’s real music.

Straight from the States

JAMES BROWN: Sexy, Sexy, Sexy; Slaughter Theme (Polydor) and LYN COLLINS (THE FEMALE PREACHER): How Long Can I Keep It Up (People).
James Brown, meets Jim Brown! Yes, hot on the heels of his soundtrack scoring chores for “Black Caesar”, Mr. James Brown has trotted out more movie music, this time for the latest in the Jim Brown-starring (and Jim Brown-produced) “Slaughter” series, “Slaughter’s Big Rip Off”. Remember, Billy Preston did the original “Slaughter” theme? Well, the impact of hearing the new James Brown theme as you sit back in your cinema seat is gonna be a whole lot different! From a slowly building suspense-filled start it explodes into a whole mess of funky butt Soul rhythm, before easing back into a comparatively melodic instrumental passage. However, that’s only the B-side of J. B.’s new single, the score-culled A-side of which is one of those leaping whomping stomping dancers of the sort which he cut a few years back . . . hence, if it comes out in Britain, it stands a really good chance of hitting here. Add the kinda blatant title to a beat that sure don’t quit, and Pop satisfaction is guaranteed!

Then, for a Soulful turnabout, also from “Slaughter’s Big Rip Off” comes The Female Preacher’s lovely new slowie, penned by J. B. with Fred Wesley, and of course arranged and produced by James Brown – The Hit Man – Godfather of Soul (as both labels proclaim). Interestingly, the Lyn Collins record features an edited 3:32 “Part 1” version on the plug side and the full 5:29 “Part 1 & 2″on the flip. It’s a rap-introed beauty with a gorgeous relaxed backing behind Lyn’s tender then raw emoting, which obviously relates lyrically to Slaughter’s girlfriend in the movie: as the words switch from a loving resignation to her man’s dangerous way of life and become more agitated by self-doubt about her own inner strength, so the music becomes a churning whirl that accurately reflects her mental turmoil. Thus, if the only reason for a visit to the original rather drab “Slaughter” movie was to see Stella Stevens starkers, James Brown’s music will be reason enough to sit through the “Big Rip Off” . . . provided that they fit it all in the film.

JOE SIMON: Theme From Cleopatra Jones; Who Was That Lady (Spring).
Staying with black movie music, we find that although Joe Simon himself wrote and produced this theme for “Cleopatra Jones,” the Brad Shapiro-penned / produced flip has rather more to do with the film’s subject matter, actually mentioning her by name. The theme itself is a ponderous mixture of instrumental and vocal which never gets off the ground, consisting mainly of a monotonous cluster of clomps infiltrated by torpid strings, brass and electric piano, not to forget a bit of the mandatory wah-wah guitar, over which Joe Simon bays and howls. He does actually say “Cleo” twice towards the end, but on the faster, synthesizer-introed flip he tells us all about “Miss Jones” – a gun-totin’ afroed cutie taken to wearing mink boleros with bead accessories, if the paper sleeve pic’s anything to go by. This flip is so much more lively and better than the A-side that it will be a good move of Polydor’s if they make it the plug side when and if British release time comes. Continue reading “August 25, 1973: David Cassidy, James Brown/Lyn Collins, Joe Simon, Deodato, Ike & Tina Turner”

August 18, 1973: Isley Brothers, Eagles, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Perry Como, Maureen McGovern

ISLEY BROTHERS: That Lady (Parts 1/2) (Epic EPC 1704).
What freakiness is this? Amorphous pretty noises, phasing acid guitar, slinky sensuous singing . . . a lightly chattering beat, some chukka-wukka grittiness at times . . . but over all this rapidly rising US hit (and especially its instrumental B-side) is dominated by the mind-naggingly sustained acid guitar line, amidst which the Isleys’ vocal smoothness is at its sexiest. More of a sound than a song, it will hopefully not be too shapeless for British tastes, as it’s truly the PICK OF THE WEEK.

EAGLES: Tequila Sunrise (Asylum AYM 520).
From their “Desperado” concept album comes the Eagles’ latest laid-back gem, an oh-so-languid lazy lilter which features sleepy singing, gentle guitar, slithering steel, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” touches, and a trace of influence from their feathered friends, the Byrds . . . . aaahhh-uurrr-umm, I think I’ll just lay me down and rest awhile, so sleepy, mmmmm, mmmm MMMUSIC PICK.

COMMANDER CODY & HIS LOST PLANET AIRMEN: Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette); Rock That Boogie (Paramount PARA 3040).
The only reason why many people, the staff of “RM” included, are going to the Reading Festival next weekend is to see the stars of the show, Commander Cody and his real gone Airmen. Cody and the boys just love that oldtime Country music, the sort with balls, and spend their time making fun-filled bouncy recreations of it. For instance, this vintage mild lunacy, full of sprightly fiddle and skipping rhythm, was originally recorded (with a much deeper voice) by Tex Williams in, I do believe, the far-off ‘Forties. What’s more, the jolly flip is similar to the sort of pre-Rock ‘n Roll boogie which Tennessee Ernie Ford used to record, better than twenty years ago. If, wonder of wonders, you dig these, try Dan Hicks And His Hot Licks’ “Where’s The Money” next. MUSIC PICK. Continue reading “August 18, 1973: Isley Brothers, Eagles, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Perry Como, Maureen McGovern”

July 21, 1973: Donny Osmond, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Jim Croce, Jerry Lee Lewis

DONNY OSMOND: Young Love; A Million To One (MGM, available 10th August).
The first 45 I ever had (writes James Hamilton) was Tommy Steele’s EP of “Young Love”, the heart-rending teen ballad with which Sonny James topped the US for most of February / March 1957, and with which American actor Tab Hunter hit here. True to form, Donny Osmond has now revived it as his next single, and of course is suited to a “T” by its tender sentiments. Gulp! There’s even a soulful short monologue! Culled from his “Alone Together” elpee, it (in this American pressing) fades out rather arbitrarily after only 2:18. Flipside, Don revives another old ‘teen ballad, which hit in America for Jimmy Clanton during the Autumn of ’60 – however, because it sounds as though he recorded it before the famous voice -break, this version is more reminiscent of the 5 Stairsteps’ 1967 treatment. Which oldie will get the Osmond touch next?

Straight from the States

MARVIN GAYE: Let’s Get It On (Tamla).
As mentioned last week, Marv has a newie . . . and it isn’t his own song! Written and co-produced by Ed Townsend (of 1957’s “For Your Love” fame), and arranged by veteran Rene Hall, it’s a slow plodder which features some subdued blues guitar in behind the dominating thud beat pattern, through which Marvin weaves his old-style “How Sweet It Is”-type vocal. What a departure! What’s more, it’s completely hypnotic. However satisfying his recent amorphous sound may be, it sure is good to hear – and really HEAR – Marvin’s great Gospel voice at its sinuous best. He even gives Al Green a run for his money here. On the flip is a Norman Whitfield-produced wah-wah and fuzz-tone treatment of “I Wish It Would Rain” . . . huh? You’ll hear the times change at Motown . . . backwards?

THE MIRACLES: Don’t Let It End (‘Til You Let It Begin) (Tamla).
The heavy significance of the titles recorded by the old Miracles, the new Miracles and Smokey Robinson sure have been hammering home the point that they’ve reached a fork in the road. Yes, this is the first single to feature Smokey’s replacement, William Griffin. While he’s no Smokey vocally, he has a nice if anonymous crystal clear falsetto tone, and is well mixed in with the others on this lead-switching lush and delicate slowie, written with more than a hint of Robinson crossed with Bachadavid by co-producer/arranger Freddie Perren. It’s extremely pleasant, but in this age of Chi-Lites, Stylistics and Blue Notes it does not sound to me as if it would start a new group – and I emphasize “new” – on a major career, sounding as it does like so many others. Continue reading “July 21, 1973: Donny Osmond, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Jim Croce, Jerry Lee Lewis”

July 14, 1973: James Hamilton meets Sylvia, Cliff Nobles, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Derek Martin

Whispering sweet nothin’s and still keeping up on the business
James Hamilton meets SYLVIA

“HELLO?” The voice is husky, laid back, welcoming – which, regrettably, is more than can be said of that of the sweaty fella who’s making the call. If you’ve ever tried conducting a trans-Atlantic telephone conversation while you’re wearing headphones, listening to the other person through the left channel by way of a microphone sellotaped to the receiver and hearing yourself through the right by way of another mike held in the same hand as the mouthpiece – to which, of course, you have to get as close as possible in order that you can be heard at the other end – well. . . . it’s not conducive to a relaxed exchange of sweet nuthin’s.

Sweet nuthin’s are what Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk” hit is all about. Sylvia actually wrote the song in the hope that Al Green might record it. “I took it to Memphis and played it to Al and to Willie Mitchell, but Willie thought it was a bit too sexy for Al! So, I brought it back, very despondent, and it was just left in the tape room here for about six months after that.”

You see, Sylvia Robinson is not just a singer and songwriter these days, she is primarily Vice-President (to her husband’s President) of a flourishing little group of Rhythm & Blues record companies – All Platinum, Stang, Astroscope, Vibration – in Englewood, New Jersey. Hubby takes care of the business business, she takes care of the music business: to the extent that one of her songs and productions with the Moments, “Love On A Two-Way Street,” was as big a hit for the company a couple of years ago as is “Pillow Talk” now.

As any Soul Group Freak must surely know, as well as the Moments, their other hit-scoring stars include the WhatNauts, George Kerr, Dave “Baby” Cortez and The Ponderosa Twins + One. (Actually, ace producer / singer Kerr is now with another label, but Vibration has recently signed Derek “Daddy Rolling Stone” Martin).

Sure, Sylvia used to be a full-time singer. With the currently Paris domiciled legendary guitarist, Mickey Baker, she recorded while very young in 1957 the original hit version of “Love Is Strange.” After the Mickey & Sylvia team split up, she recorded as Sylvia Robbins . . . but let’s get back to the present, and “Pillow Talk.”

“I had put my voice on it basically to take it to Al Green, and that same tape which I took down to Memphis is the same tape which is now the hit record. I would have wanted to re-mix it over again, but I was unable to because I had taken myself off of the eight-track as I had tried several other people on the track.

“So, that demonstration mix was the only one that I had of myself. I couldn’t alter it unless I had done the performance over again. ”

Once she had been persuaded that her version was the one to release, exactly as it was, Sylvia was pleasantly surprised to find that the R&B radio stations and their listeners just lapped it up. She had no trouble over the suggestive nature of her words until, long afterwards, the Pop stations began to programme it.

“I had a few problems because of certain things that they thought I said but which, if they’d listened properly, they’d have heard were not in there. Like, there’s one part where I say ‘nice Daddy, nice Daddy,’ but they thought it said ‘lie steady.’ Hahahaha! For certain stations we had to send out copies of the lead sheet to them. Everybody thinks I say that – I think I’ll have to incorporate it into my act, ‘lie steady!’ Hahahaha!”

Sweet dreams, Sylvia . . . and all you blokes out there, as the O’Jays say, it’s time to get down.

Straight from the States

CLIFF NOBLES: This Feeling Of Loneliness (Roulette).
Do you remember how, back in ’68, Cliff Nobles hit big, big, big with that great dancer, “The Horse“? And how “The Horse” was in reality just the instrumental backing track to Cliff’s vocal on “Love Is All Right“, which became relegated to the lowly B-side, where it was never heard from again? Well, Cliff is back, slowly climbing the R&B and Pop Charts, produced still by Jesse James, and . . . on a vocal hit at last! It’s a true hunk of throat-wrenching Soul, too. To a plopping, swaying, pretty, semi-slow melody he gives out all he’s got in a time-honoured fashion which is full of the type of anguished choking Soulful expression made famous by such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and all the other old ex-Gospelers. Interestingly, his voice does not sound double-tracked so much as phased (that is, the original take is re-recorded on top of itself, but slightly out of synchronization, to give a swimming sound that can sometimes make a freaky ear-messing noise which has been popular ever since the Small Faces and others used It in 1967). Here, the phasing is of the swimming variety, and ties well in with the smooth strings and brass backing to make an intriguingly unusual overall atmosphere.

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Angel (Atlantic).
Rita Frankel, as Mae West refers to her, begins her latest slowie (co-produced by herself and the great Quincy Jones) with a delicately backed rap: “I got a call the other day. It was my sister Carolyn, saying, ‘Aretha, come by when you can: I’ve got something that I wanna say.’ And when I got there, she said, ‘You know, rather than go through a long, drawn-out day, I think the melody on the box will help me explain.'” And it so happens that this pretty piece of gentle Soul wailing was written by that same sister, Carolyn Franklin, together with Sonny Saunders. Not, in fact, one of Aretha’s meatiest bits of material, it is however a perfect showcase for both her own laid back voice and Quincy’s perfectly lovely arrangement. On Aretha’s own flipside funker, “Sister From Texas“, the wukka-wukka-wukka-wukka wah-wah wins.

DONNY HATHAWAY: Love, Love, Love (Atco).
The eclectic Donny seems to be flirting with Soul again on this, his treatment of J. R. Bailey’s recent R&B hit. Bailey, with “Love, Love, Love” and the similar “After Hours“, has been tapping the Marvin Gaye market, starved of singles by the real thing but happy to buy J. R.’s accurate copies of that mellow echoing ethereal sound. Thus, Donny’s own treatment of Bailey’s version of the Gaye sound gets close to the original model in much the same way as did his “live” version of Marvin’s “What’s Going On” – although here the girlie group behind him sound at times as if what they’d really dig to be singing on is “Ebb Tide”. Very pleasant listening for the meantime, BUT . . . Marvin’s gotta newie out now too, about which, more later. Keep tuned! Continue reading “July 14, 1973: James Hamilton meets Sylvia, Cliff Nobles, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Derek Martin”