Back To Someone Else’s Garden (UK Pop-Psych August 1969)

So 50 years ago this month the Woodstock Festival happened. There’s a 38 CD, 432 track collection to sell to the millions of us who first listened to the original double album, saw the film many times & took enough acid to convince ourselves that we were one of the 400,000 who did get to Yasgur’s Farm. We’re lucky that the Woodstock Generation now has £655 ($800) to spare on such an artefact. Me, I’ll stick with “National Lampoon’s Lemmings” double LP where, among others, John Belushi, Chevy Chase & Christopher Guest celebrate mass suicide at the “Woodshuck Festival of Peace, Love, and Death”. That whole kit & caboodle box set won’t include the Motown Manifestos singing “Papa Was a Running-Dog Lackey of the Bourgeoisie” or Farmer Yassur’s quote “long hair, short hair, what the hell’s the difference once the head’s blowed off?”

 

 

Image result for isle of wight festival 1969Not to be outdone in the UK just two weeks later 150,000 music fans went to the Isle of Wight, a rock off the South Coast of England, for their very own festival. After a smaller event in 1968 the organisers, showing no lack of ambition, acquired the services of Bob Dylan & the Band. The future Nobel laureate had not performed for the 3 years since his motorcycle accident, it was a coup & the 3-day event became a very big deal. The Who, Joe Cocker & Richie Havens had also appeared at Woodstock & the rest of the bill was made up of the Folk Rock & Progressive Blues bands prevalent in 1969. From the accounts of those who can remember that they were there everybody had a good time & the return to the stage of Dylan made for a very significant occasion. The following year, when festivals were absolutely a thing, over 600,000 hippies came to the island. Thank goodness those types never washed, there’s no way there were enough bathrooms for that many folk.

 

 

Image result for fairport convention unhalfbrickingFairport Convention had covered a Dylan song on each of their first two records. When the young group were given access to a cluster of unrecorded songs now known as “The Basement Tapes” like kids in sweet shop they greedily grabbed three of them for “Unhalfbricking”, their third LP. Fairport’s range of influences, from traditional Folk songs across to the West Coast of the USA & contributions from 5 of the 6 members made for an eclectic (I never use that word!) mix that was assured & attractive. “What We Did On Our Holidays”, released earlier in 1969, was a move forward. Island had put the track “Meet on the Ledge” on their successful (& cheap) promo sampler “You Can All Join In” & it served as their calling card.

 

 

Image result for sandy denny 1969There’s only good things to be said about Fairport & about “Unhalfbricking”. They were all accomplished & in guitarist Richard Thompson & singer Sandy Denny the group incorporated two outstanding talents. Just 20, Richards songwriting was developing (“Genesis Hall” is one of his) & he was becoming a distinctive, stylish instrumentalist. It was on this record that Sandy, who had joined for “…Holidays”, confirmed her unique, beautiful gift. Of the Dylan covers “Si Tu Dois Partir”. a French version of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” & “Million Dollar Bash” are ramshackle fun, something I’ve always been a fan of. The other, “Percy’s Song”, is as much a highlight as the one take, 11 minute long, interpretation of the traditional song “A Sailor’s Life”. Folk Rock had become a thing in British music & Fairport Convention were advocates, instigators & masters of the fusion. On Sandy’s song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” the dazzling interplay of her vocal & Richard’s guitar transcends any labels making for a stunning, gorgeous, timeless classic which. 50 years on, still stirs & moves anyone with a soul.

 

This was a difficult time for Fairport Convention. Just two months before the release of “Unhalfbricking” the group’s van was involved in an accident which resulted in the death of teenage drummer Martin Lamble & Richard’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn. Such a tragedy obviously instigated a period of mourning & introspection which jeopardised the group’s future. On the new record they had been augmented by Dave Swarbrick, a virtuoso on the fiddle. When he & drummer Dave Mattacks became permanent members the Folk force was even stronger. Fairport’s success was consolidated with their next LP “Liege & Lief”, the ‘most important folk album of all time’ according to the BBC. If you don’t know that one then I recommend that you get to it, after you’ve given “Unhalfbricking ” a listen.

 

 

Related imageOf course we were all Moonstruck in August 1969. The previous month a quick visit to our sole satellite confirmed that the the technological possibilities of the human race were endless. The colonisation of space, jetpacks for all & a diet of tasty pellets of dehydrated food seemed to be just around the corner. To commemorate such an auspicious event President records issued a psyche-sploitation 45 by the Cape Kennedy Construction Company. Very little is known is known about the group, “First Step on the Moon” is co-written by Barbara Ruskin, a singer-songwriter who made records in an assortment of mid-60’s styles, Johnny Hawkins, her producer at the label, had something to do with it & er, that’s about it. It’s a good, interesting example of Harmony Pop tricked up with plenty of extra-terrestrial effects (Joe Meek would have been just the man for the job). The B-side “Armageddon” is even more out there but both tracks made little impression at the time. Their inclusion on Psych-Pop collections & an endorsement by that bloke off of Oasis has recently increased their visibility.

 

The C.K.C.C’s thunder was stolen by another opportunistic orbital opus. Now I know that David Bowie is one of the most influential, innovative & important artists of our generation but the stylophone-drenched “Space Oddity” struck me at the time as yet another of his gimmicks. His first hit followed an unsuccessful trio of 45’s, “Rubber Band”, “The Laughing Gnome” & “Love You Till Tuesday”. This was the “try anything for a hit” period, the wannabe Anthony Newley times which I could take or leave (usually the latter). Bowie changed, I did too but I’ve just said this last paragraph out loud haven’t I? Blimey, I hope I don’t lose any friends over this!

A Better Day Is Coming (Soul August 1969)

Well OK, the good people at Billboard magazine have removed their chart archive from the Interwebs. No doubt the listings will return once those kind folk have figured out a way of getting interested parties (that would be me) to hand over some of their hard-earned to access the inspiration information required for these monthly posts. I just might do that, probably not. Fortunately just a few clicks away are the Cash Box R&B weekly rankings for 1969, pretty much the same discs in a slightly different order. So, for now, I’m a Cash Box guy & let’s get to the August selection (Blimey, is it August already?).

 

At the beginning of the month there was a second #1 of the year for “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, “Mr Please, Please, Please”, James Brown. The double-bracketed “Mother Popcorn (You Got To Have a Mother For Me) (Part 1)” is a groovalicious invocation to dance ’till you feel better , co-written by James & bandleader/saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, featuring the band’s other sax ace Maceo Parker. Doing the Popcorn, if I knew how, will have to wait. The song that replaced JB at the top spot is a landmark by a significant artist.

 

 

Image result for impressions choice of colorsFor over a decade the Impressions had been making impressive, intelligent, influential music. A trio since 1963, under the guidance of Curtis Mayfield the group transitioned through Doo Wop to sweet Gospel & equally pleasing romantic Soul, honest sentiments expressed in spectacular harmonies. As early as 1964 Curtis’ involvement with the Civil Rights movement was reflected in his music. “Keep On Pushing” is an anthem to empowerment & 1967’s “We’re A Winner”, the group’s biggest hit in almost 4 years, an assertion of Black pride before that became a thing in Soul music. “Choice of Colors”, another affirmation of Mayfield’s idealism & hope for progress. has a lyrical maturity & the vocals, shared between Curtis, Fred & Sam, are the very thing. Three sharp-dressed young Black men singing “How long have you hated your white teacher?” must have caused a stir. Taken from their latest LP “The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story”, a pairing with the funky, equally pertinent, “Mighty Mighty Spade & Whitey” made for a substantial 7″ of plastic. Of course the song is Panglossian, you may say that he’s a dreamer but he was not the only one in 1969 & perhaps a little optimistic reflection regarding race relations in the US would still not go amiss 50 years later.

 

Image result for impressions choice of colorsCurtis, in parallel with his day job as an Impression, had an education in the music business at Okeh Records in Chicago with producer/executive  Billy Davis & arranger Jerry Pate, respectively 10 & 20 years older. He wrote songs for many of the artists on the label & he learned how a hit record went. Now I can hear that Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time” & “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” (really!) are Mayfield songs. All I knew in the mid-60’s was that I liked them. With the start-up, along with his manager Eddie Thomas, of Curtom Records in 1968 the Impressions moved to Curtis’ own label & their leader made plans for a solo career. Having his own studio & greater independence allowed him to expand his commentaries on the American situation & to embrace the new Funk. Curtis Mayfield was moving on up & we could do worse than go along with him.

 

 

Image result for five stairstepsThe Five Stairsteps, teenagers, four brothers & their sister from Chicago, were dubbed the “First Family of Soul”. The quintet had been produced by Curtis for an album on Windy City, an earlier Mayfield enterprise. The group were the first to be signed to Curtom, the LP “Love’s Happening” the second full-length release on the label & the boss was all over it. “Love’s Happening” really is a notable record. Curtis’ songs, fresh vocals matched to effervescent arrangements by another new recruit, the multi-talented Donny Hathaway, make for some very enjoyable Chicago Pop-Soul. The five were joined by their three year old brother & billed as the Five Stairsteps & Cubie though the infant was only heard on the throwaway “The New Dance Craze”. Infectious floor-fillers like “Stay Close To Me” extended their consistent run of Top 20 R&B hits.

 

“Madame Mary” is an odd one. I found it in the low 30’s of that disappearing Billboard chart but it’s nowhere to be found on the Cashbox list. A non-album track it was obviously recorded at a later date than the other Curtom releases, busier & funkier, a turn up the road  Curtis Mayfield would be taking in his solo career. In 1970 the Impressions included their own version of the song on the “Check Out Your Mind” LP, the final one that Curtis made with the group. It was in this year, now away from Curtom, that the Five Stairsteps enjoyed & deserved their biggest success with the damned near perfect original of the much-covered “O-o-h Child”.

 

 

Image result for jerry butler moody womanAt #12 in the chart, it had been as high as #5, was “Moody Woman” by Jerry Butler, another artist with a strong connection to Curtis Mayfield. Church choir-mates, the first Impressions records were released as Jerry Butler & the… When Jerry left for a solo career several of his chart hits were written & featured backing vocals by his friend. His smooth confident style earned him “The Iceman” soubriquet, his biggest hits were with songs that are now regarded as standards (though he was the first to get to Bacharach & David’s “Make It Easy on Yourself”). This facility & wide range could mean that his albums, while sounding fine, were padded with cover version filler. In 1968 Mercury Records made the inspired decision to pair Jerry with a young hot-shot producer/writing team from Philadelphia.

 

Image result for jerry butler ice on iceKenny Gamble & Leon Huff had already enjoyed some success & now, with a full album to do, they were more than able to take their chance. On the resulting “The Iceman Cometh” LP of the 11 tracks, all credited to the trio, 4 entered the R&B Top 10 (2 made #1) & Jerry Butler was as big a name as he had ever been. “Moody Woman” is the opening track on the following “Ice On Ice”, a track which may not match the peerless “Only the Strong Survive” but the first of another 4 successful 45’s from the record. The producers retained Jerry’s refinement, adding fluent, uptempo, innovative arrangements using a string section in ways that hadn’t been heard before. This wasn’t just a new contemporary Soul it was the future. Jerry Butler went on to make more fine records, with their Philadelphia International label Gamble & Huff’s would soon become the dominant sound of commercial Black music. It was here, in collaboration with Butler, that this sound first came together & to our notice.

 

If I’m still looking back to 50 years ago in the early 2020’s (& I hope that I am) & you’re still hanging around I’m sure that you will be hearing plenty more from Curtis Mayfield & from Gamble & Huff.