I enjoyed looking through those Y-tube clips of “Soul Train” so much this week. I am going to have wheel & come again because there really was so much great music made in those early 70s. I was never one for running about a baseball park in a “Disco Sucks” T-shirt (I’m still a big fan of Chic) but as the sweet soul I loved was replaced by some sacchariferous apology I could not help feeling that something was being lost from black American music. Here are three clips of the very sweet soul that came out of Philadelphia in the early 70s when a couple of production teams found a hit formula to rival the earlier success of Motown and Stax.
Well, hello Ms Jackie Brown. Quentin T pulled a real stroke when he ran the opening two tracks of the Delfonics “Greatest Hits” behind the scene when Pam Grier invites Robert Forster to her apartment. It was just so right. Man, the day Ms Grier comes around to my place (in my dreams) it is always the mellifluous Bell-Hart symphonic soul collection that I reach for. When I try to force this old soul onto the young folk I always use the “Look, if it’s good enough for me & Tarentino” line but they stick with their hippity-hoppity & laugh at my prehistoric taste.
Producer Thom Bell and singer William Hart got it right for a couple of years before Bell hooked up with Linda Creed & the Stylistics. The Delfonics had some good records after the break but none as great as these early hits. There is a clip of a live performance of this song where Hart really does bring his lovely falsetto. The band, however, do not really get to the smoothness of Bell’s production. For this clip the law around here is you got to wear your sunglasses. Not so that you can feel cool, gangster lean but to protect your eyes from the ridiculous jumpsuits the guys are wearing.
Oh boy ! If you are not on this then I am going to have to provide a very long exposition which will hardly aid your enjoyment of this classic.I will try and keep it short.
This is Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes with their 6th hit produced by the team of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. That is not Harold singing, Mr Melvin is sat with the other Blue Notes while Teddy Prendergrass does that thing he did so well & sings/sells a classy single. It was a similar deal to Kool & the Gang (which one’s Kool ? None of them) when the voice of James Taylor was so well known or the Commodores when it was the ballads of Lionel Richie getting them on the charts. Teddy was the lead on all the hits. He was the voice & the face of the group. When he asked Harold if there could be a re-branding to “Teddy Prendergrass & the Blue Notes” he was turned down. The group’s days were numbered.
When Teddy did break away he was bloody massive. Marvin was not making so many records. Al Green had gone back to his church. Barry White, “The Walrus of Love” made music for bedrooms lit only by scented candles but T.P. was the new sex symbol of soul. For one tour they did not let men attend for Jah’s sake. He was top banana until a serious car accident in 1982 injured his spine so badly he was paralyzed from the waist down.
Gamble and Huff were a proven production team when they started their own label Philadelphia International. The sound was string heavy & did prepare the world for disco but they were totally on a winning run in the early 70s. On the LPs of their hit-makers they stretched out a little more. The album version of “Wake Up Everybody” is over 7 minutes long and is pretty, pretty, pretty damn good.
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Can I get a “Hallelujah” !
Gamble, Huff and the O’Jays were irresistible. “Back Stabbers” & “Love Train” were worldwide, deservedly so. In 1973 a soul masterpiece, “Ship Ahoy” was released. The best selling R&B LP of 1974 is a mix of conscious lyrics and the funk. The title track, 10 minutes of ominous atmosphere, reflects the experience of Africans on a slave ship to the New World. “Don’t Call Me Brother” is a 9 minute lyrical study in hypocrisy and musical beauty.
“For The Love of Money” has the finest bass line in soul that is not played by James Jamerson. Anthony Jackson has played on over 500 albums and is a fine musician. It is his riff, still fresh after nearly 40 years, which drives the song and is unforgettable. The LP track is longer than the 45 but this clip shows Eddie Levert and his fellow band members in fine form. How cool must it have been to be in a successful vocal group & to have such an obviously powerful song to sing to people ?
I don’t know who reads these things I write. I just want to highlight some music that moves me. If others like something else, that’s OK. Really, if you have any interest in soul music, if you missed this the first time around, then get yourself over to the Y-tube & find the O’Jays “Ship Ahoy”. Your ears will thank you for doing so.