September 25, 1971: The Nite-Liters, James Brown, The Originals, Four Tops, Elvis Presley

THE NITE-LITERS: K-Jee; Tang A Boo Gonk (RCA).
Winning no prizes for literacy and self-expression in their choice of titles, the Nite-Liters win all the prizes in the book for playing the most incredibly good leaping jumping happy chattering great instrumental R&B imaginable – think of Hugh Masekela’s “Grazin’ In The Grass,” speed it up, tighten it up (“Hi everybody! I’m Archie Bell…” Shut up, you fool!), string it out, fill it with stuttering rhythm guitar, throaty brass, incessant rhythm, wailing lead guitar, tripping drums, blasting sax, and you’ll still have to hear the record to know what it’s all about.

The legendary Harvey Fuqua (Moonglows, Harvey label, Motown productions) not only writes and produces for the band, but he formed them as part of a vast great group called the New Birth, comprised of groups, solo singers, and the Nite-Liters as the backing musicians. It’s good to see that “K-Jee,” from the “Morning, Noon And Nite-Liters” album, is huge Pop/R&B and is even going Middle Of The Road in America.

JAMES BROWN: Make It Funky, Parts 1 and 2 (Polydor).
Sceptics can be sceptical if they must, but, truth to tell, surprising thought it may appear, and all that, every new James Brown record does seem to be better than the last, usually . . . and this sure ain’t no exception!

His first recording for Polydor (the record label bears his portrait), it’s a simple repetitive dance riff with a very effective brass phrase, solid bass, doodling organ, scat chat between JB and Bobby Byrd, girlie group chanting, and the usual “Take it to the bridge” bit. The ingredients may not be too unusual, but it’s how he mixes ’em that matters.

THE ORIGINALS: Keep Me (Soul).
“Keep Me” by Berry Gordy, Jr? That seems familiar . . . click click, whirr whirr . . . yeah – Liz Lands! So, down into the vaults, creak open the heavy dust-covered door marked “L,” rummage about, and there it is – “Keep Me,” Liz Lands, vocal accompaniment by the Temptations, produced/penned by Berry Gordy, Jr. either 1963 or early ’64, on the Gordy label. It was done very much in the style of “Anyone Who Had A Heart” then, but now, produced by Joe Hinton and arranged by Paul Riser, it throbs wails and soars in the mellifluous throats of that “Baby I’m For Real” gang of fame, the Originals. Continue reading “September 25, 1971: The Nite-Liters, James Brown, The Originals, Four Tops, Elvis Presley”

August 7, 1971: Dramatics, James Brown, Temptations, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Chi-Lites

DRAMATICS: Watcha See Is Watcha Get; Thankful For Your Love (Volt).
Inspired by the Flip Wilson catch phrase, this rapidly (and deservedly so) rising U.S. hit is amazingly in no way at all a cash-in or gimmick.

(Incidentally, in defence of Flip Wilson, in the long-off days when he used to appear regularly at the “Apollo” he was a truly great comedian, basing most of his jokes on pot-smoking, drugs, sex and other human foibles, all treated with a sympathetic understanding of ghetto life. Just thought the record should be put straight, in case you imagined he was as crass as on his telly series all the time).

Anyway, back to the Dramatics and their superlative new record. The group have been around for some time, showing up on the Win Gate label (a subsidiary of Golden World in Detroit) back in the mid ’60s.

When Detroit-based Don Davis, the producer (who was linked up with the Golden World organisation) moved his Groovesville Music operation to Stax/Volt he seems to have signed the Dramatics to Volt at some stage too, and was producing them in the late ’60s.

“Watcha See” is published by Groovesville but produced by Tony Hester and arranged by Johnny Allen, though. And, as I keep trying to say, it is great.

Opening with plopping beats and subdued brass blasts, the song kicks off with each line being taken in turn, by a husky, then falsetto, the husky, then bass, then intense voice, all of which ride in, on, over, through and around this infectious easy-paced plopping rhythm.

It is a multi-layered, ever-changing effect, full of fascination and attention-holding interest – let alone sheer irresistibility! A perfect amalgamation of beautiful backing and subtle singing, which has scarcely left my turntables since it arrived.

As a bonus, the slow and sweet Soul Vocal Group flip is in its own right pretty damn good too. It’s nice to think that Detroit is still sending goodies down to Stax/Volt, while their own Memphis studios are multi-tracking away their old Soul.

JAMES BROWN: Escape-ism, Parts 1, 2 and 3 (People).
Hot Pants” may be Mr. Brown’s annual summertime smash, but this is the hit that’s best. Nothing more than the proverbial repetitive riff (and S0000 good that thank goodness it keeps on forever) with James Brown chatting and rapping with members of the band over the top of it . . . no song, just jive talk, bullshit, and funky fun.

Yeah, you DO have to be Soul People to appreciate it properly, which is a pity, ‘cos the King has come up with his best rhythm pattern in a long time. If only it didn’t fade out where it does.

THE TEMPTATIONS: It’s Summer; I’m The Exception To The Rule (Gordy).
Yes, the Tempts did this song as the flip to “Ball Of Confusion” and on their “Psychedelic Shack” album; however, this is a different, less gentle and subtle treatment of it, with the whole group joining in much more on top of a noisier backing.

The flip is rather more interesting (being completely new), starting after a quiet instrumental intro with a bit of deep bass recitation, followed by the others singing virtually a cappella a slowly unwinding and rather doom-laden unusual song. Continue reading “August 7, 1971: Dramatics, James Brown, Temptations, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Chi-Lites”

July 24, 1971: Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Jody Miller, Chuck Mangione, Delfonics

ANDY WILLIAMS: You’ve Got A Friend (CBS 7378).
Andy can sure pick ’em – this time, Carole King’s beautiful song. Don’t expect any subtlety from this version tho’: for that, hear those by Carole, James Taylor or Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Strict-tempo flip.

FRANK SINATRA: Lady Day; What Now My Love (Reprise K 14098).
Bob Gaudio and Jake Holmes’ lovely slow tribute to Billie Holliday may not be general enough in its message to rival “My Way,” but the melody should appeal. Brisk flip.

JODY MILLER: He’s So Fine (Epic EPC 7375).
The U.S. ads for this lively Country treatment of the Chiffons’ classic seemed proud of the fact that the “doolang doolang” chant has been left out. Huh? So similar to “My Sweet Lord,” good easy listening, could click. Continue reading “July 24, 1971: Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Jody Miller, Chuck Mangione, Delfonics”

July 10, 1971: Johnny Cash, Sugarloaf, Four Tops, Detroit Emeralds, Bob Dylan

JOHNNY CASH: Singing In Viet Nam Talking Blues (Columbia).
I never thought that there could be a Johnny Cash record that would get me honestly raving about it – here it is though. Johnny and his wife, June Carter Cash, went to entertain the boys over there in Vietnam recently, and got sufficiently shook up as hell by their experiences to inspire this autobiographical account of them.

I am told that Tom Paxton has written similar songs: however, the story told here is obviously what really happened to the Cash’s, and the talking blues style is indeed common property. The way in which this story unfolds, and the strength of the content, is truly attention-grabbing. Normally, Cash is one of my least favourite stylists, but this telling it like it is record has powerful magic for me. Play “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’-To-Die Rag” after it.

SUGARLOAF: Mother Nature’s Wine; Medley: Bach Doors Man/Chest Fever (UA).
This group, totally ignored here, do seem to have something about them that I really like – maybe it’s a sense of subtlety allied with versatility and good musicianship. I must get their albums.

The A-side of this follow-up to “Tongue In Cheek” is from their latest LP, but while good it is less noteworthy than the flip, taken from their first LP (available here).

At the Band’s exceedingly dull Albert Hall show (where one might as well have been listening to their records with the treble turned up full), Garth Hudson delighted some and bored others with his over-long and over-florid organ intro to “Chest Fever” – Sugarloaf’s organist has done rather better, beginning in a mock Bach manner before the rest of the group fill in with several layers of guitar and bass, all at a tempo-less pace, before the organ eases into a very powerful start to the tune proper. Heard good and loud, it is great.

THE FOUR TOPS: In These Changing Times (Motown).
Oh, wow. The Four Tops have a new record. You all know what Levi Stubbs sounds like, but you’ll have to get the album by 100 Proof Aged In Soul to hear why so many discerning Soul fans have been raving about his brother Joe ever since he made “Alabama Bound” (on the “Apollo Saturday Night” LP) the most Soulful waxing in history.

Joe was with the famous Falcons back then, and now he has grown too big-headed (according to General Johnson) to stay in 100 Proof after experiencing real success for the first time in a long career. A shame. Anyway, listen to the ‘Somebody’s Been Sleeping In My Bed’ album and pay close attention to his two tracks, the incredibly driving ‘Backtrack‘ (presumably it’s too late for this to be a single?) and the unbelievably sexy ‘Ain’t That Lovin’ You‘ (on which he chats up a chick who is guaranteed to turn on every male listener that hears her).

Joe Stubbs must rank as one of the all time unknown greats of Soul. Levi Stubbs sure is popular. Continue reading “July 10, 1971: Johnny Cash, Sugarloaf, Four Tops, Detroit Emeralds, Bob Dylan”

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”