Good Rockin’ Tonight (Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen)

Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen were one of my favourite Country Rock bands. They were not, like Gram Parsons or Gene Clark, breaking new ground, they were certainly not as precious about musical tradition as the likes of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band nor as insipid as the cocaine cowboys from L.A. The group aspired to a modern take on Western Swing, a counter-culture Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, flavoured with Country, Rock & Roll & Boogie Woogie. They mixed their own songs with Rockabilly & Country classics, all performed with exuberance, humour & a sense of fun. As the lyrics of one of their songs goes, (the title of a “Best Of…” compilation), there’s “A whole lotta things that I never done but I ain’t never had too much fun”.

BB Chronicles: Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen - 1973-08-11 -  Denver, CO

The good Commander (pianist George Frayne) had assembled his crew in Ann Arbor, Michigan before relocating to Berkeley, California where they signed with Paramount Records, a new label that mainly released the soundtracks of films from their affiliated studio. There were by now eight members in the group. To do it right needed more than piano, two guitars, bass, drums & a vocalist so steel guitar & fiddle ensured that it would be done right. “Lost In The Ozone” (1971) introduced talented musicians who rocked like the best bar band around while keeping the three chords & the truth of “proper” Country music in their hearts. “Hot Rod Lincoln”, from the Commander’s stash of vintage talking songs, was a surprise US Top 10 hit. “Seeds & Stems (Again)” is an hilarious yet still poignant invocation of the meanest Blues I knew in those pre-sensimilla days. The final three live tracks acknowledge that Commander Cody’s mission to play good music & have a good time was most fulfilled & best experienced on stage.

On “Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites” (1972) the hook to hang the album on was trucks & their drivers. Not some breaker, breaker Citizens Band baloney but blue collar, hard driving, hard living men who won’t do nothing but the “Truck Stop Rock”. “Semi Truck” describes the frustrating combination of a faulty vehicle & a benzedrine buzz, “Looking At The World Through A Windshield” had first been recorded by Del Reeved in 1968 while “Mama Hated Diesels”, the saddest song I know, sounds like an old song but was written by a friend of the band. “Hot Licks” is a great Dieselbilly album played with such brio that it will always sound fresh & uplifting. I have great memories of six days on the road from London around Italy in a, as we call them, lorry when this tape was a fixture of afternoons on the autostrada.

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen at The Armadillo World | Lot  #53097 | Heritage Auctions

On “Hot Licks” Bobby “Blue” Black, the new steel player, showed that he could play more than sad & lonesome, contributing sharp, sweet pedal work. Andy Stein was a virtuoso on fiddle when the band were keeping it Country, saxophone if they were ready to Rock while Bill Kirchen, now recognised as the Telecaster master that he was back then, sang those melancholy songs as well. Commander Frayne is more than handy on the keys & a fine on stage host while front & centre young Alabaman Billy C Farlow brought his Southern charm, his fine voice & his enthusiasm for the songs he wrote & the oldies, still goodies, he chose. With John Tichy adding guitar, “Buffalo” Bruce Barlow, bass & Lance Dickerson drums you had a damn fine band on a crowded stage.

The band released a third album & “Country Casanova (1973 ) was a little more polished with plenty to please the already converted. It was followed by the live recording that we knew would show them at their best. “Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas” (1974), taped over four nights at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, 13 songs, only two of which had been previously recorded, the only record you needed to bring to a rockabilly party on Saturday night. From the keeping it cowboy “Sunset On The Sage” to a (better than the original?) rocking revival of Gene Vincent’s “Git It” Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen get it absolutely right. One reviewer wrote “a band that refuses to be pretentious about its lack of pretensions”, a good thing in 1974 & a good thing now.

Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen at the Berkeley Community | Lot  #52086 | Heritage Auctions

“Star-Making Machinery : The Odyssey of an Album” is a book by Geoffrey Stokes about the attempts of the band, their management & new label Warner Brothers to sell more records. It’s something of a classic study on how business gets in the way of music & will cost you £296 ($405) for a hardcover copy! Big money was involved, the studio drugs were of higher quality but the executive who thought he could have the new Eagles on his hands was overpaid & too high. I handed over my hard-earned for the eponymous fifth album because buying Commander Cody records was a thing I did. There are good songs on it but it was the earlier records that got played & I passed on “Tales From The Ozone” where there was a lack of original material. “Tales…” hardly bothered the charts (#168 on the Top 200) & Warner finally went for the tried & trusted live album option. The 19 track double “We’ve Got A Live One Here” captures a UK tour where the group run though a great selection of their back catalogue. The original group had about run its course & this serves as a better souvenir than any “Best Of” curation.

Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen | Ann Arbor District Library

It was a long-anticipated treat to see the band on that “Live One” tour. Billy C had returned home before the concert but that was OK, the band still rocked, the Commander stepped to the mic for more of his showpieces & while Bill Kirchen may not have been a rockabilly rebel rouser he knew his way around that music. The group wanted the audience to have fun, they succeeded & it was a great night. There had already been a couple of tweaks in personnel & the next record was essentially a George Frayne solo effort with a change in musical direction with multiple sidemen. While Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen lasted they were a delight, understanding the attraction of the Country music that laid the ground for Rock & Roll, an affinity that was shared by their audience. This band got it!

Footnote : Sometimes in the late hours when the company is good & I am suitably refreshed I have been known to treat those assembled to a Commander Cody tune. “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)”, more a recitation than a song, was a hit (#1 for 16 weeks!) in 1947 for Western Swing star Tex Williams.. Look, I hardly know you & I’m straight now. OK, if you insist, here’s a snippet… (deep breath) “Now I’m a guy with a heart of gold, the ways of a gentleman I’ve been told, the kind of guy who’d never harm a flea. But if me and a certain character met, the man who invented the cigarette, I’d murder that son of a gun in first degree

It ain’t ’cause I don’t smoke myself & I don’t figure it’ll hurt my health, I’ve been smoking ‘ 25 years ain’t dead yet. But nicotine slaves are all the same, at a pettin’, party or a poker game, every thing’s gotta stop while I smoke that cigarette” (and exhale, lovely).

All The Way From Memphis (Soul March 20th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week was rammed with great records by great artists. The four Tamla Motown singles in the Top 10 by the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5 & the Four Tops, were joined by Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin & James Brown. The remaining two, Johnnie Taylor & Z.Z. Hill, are probably not regarded with the same elevation but they were pretty good too. Let’s see what other fine, fine music we can find from the lower reaches of the chart.

The Staple Singers – The Staple Swingers (1970, Vinyl) - Discogs

A good start & how about this clip? For some years the Staple Singers, a family group from Chicago, had been moving towards the mainstream with little success. A reverence for their distinction in the Gospel field had led to a little timidity in both production & choice of material. Their final two records for Epic & those made with Steve Cropper at Stax were interesting but tended to undervalue the rich, emotive voice of Mavis & the individual guitar style of patriarch Pops, reaching back to the Country Blues he heard in Mississippi as a youth, that could distinguish them from the pack. There were some changes in 1970, brother Pervis left to be replaced by sister Yvonne while Al Bell, co-owner of the label, a man with an ear for what got played on the radio, took over production duties.

Press Advert 10x5 The Staple Singers : Be What You Are Album: Amazon.co.uk:  NewspaperClipping: Books

For “The Staple Swingers” LP (1971) Bell, looking to toughen up the testifying, moved the operation to Muscle Shoals. His song choice from the staff writers at Stax was considered. Their lyrics were more socially conscious, more compatible with Pops’ aim of telling it like it should be. On “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry”, an R&B hit in 1965 for O. V. Wright, Mavis sang the Blues & oh my, my. There are songs by Smokey Robinson & the Bee Gees & there is “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)”, co-written by Pop vet Jeff Barry & Bobby Bloom, lifted from Bloom’s debut album. It’s a surprisingly light choice benefitting greatly from its Stapleised treatment & it achieved just what was intended. Rising 6 places to #19 on the chart “Heavy..” was the first of an unbroken run of R&B Top 20 hits that stretched to 1976. Here on an Anne Murray special for Canadian TV, not yet the major stars they would become, they perform that first hit with the joy & affirmation that gave the Staple Singers a very particular, significant place in 1970s Soul.

Booker T. and the MG's – 64 Quartets

Just as Stax were welcoming new stars on their roster at #33 on the chart, up a lucky 13 places, was the final 45 from a group of musicians who had been absolutely pivotal to the extraordinary success of the label. In 1962 17 year old organist Booker T Jones, 20 year old guitarist Steve Cropper & bassist Lewie Steinberg, all already fixtures of the fledgling Memphis label’s house band, took advantage of a session break to jam on a track that was considered good enough to release. A B-side was needed so, with drummer Al Jackson, they quickly came up with “Green Onions”, a Top 3 US Pop hit, one of the most popular, enduring instrumentals of all time. The record made Booker T & the M.G.’s reputation, they continued to record throughout the decade though it would be 1967 before a photo of the racially integrated group appeared on an album cover. Back in the studio at 926 East McLemore Avenue both Jones, while studying music at Indiana U, & Cropper became indispensable as musicians, writers & producers. Their credits are too long to list here, Steve co-wrote “In the Midnight Hour”, “Knock On Wood” & “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” along with many others. With bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn joining in 1965 the sound of Booker T & the M.G.’s was the sound of Stax.

Booker T. and the MG's | Members, Songs, & Facts | Britannica

That was then this is 1971, the group were no longer young kids happy to be making music. Just as up in Detroit at Hitsville USA key players at Soulsville USA demanded more autonomy & probably a bigger cut of the money they were making for the company. Booker T left for California in 1969, Steve Cropper formed his own production company in the following year. When time came to record the “Melting Pot” album Booker T refused to return to the Memphis studio, the band travelled to New York between gigs. The title track, abbreviated as a 45, is 8.15 of alchemy between Jones, Cropper, Dunn & Jackson. I can’t pick a man of the match, these guys knew when to step forward when to lay off, just how good they sounded when they played together. The track surges, swells & is as funky as anything. An outstanding instrumental & what a way to finish. In the words of Duck Dunn “we had a band powerful enough to turn goat’s piss into gasoline”.

O. V. Wright – When You Took Your Love From Me / I Was Born All Over (1970,  Vinyl) - Discogs

Less than a mile down the road from the Stax set-up is Royal Studios. It’s on Willie Mitchell Boulevard, the name changed in 2004 to honour to honour the trumpeter turned producer who did so much to maintain Memphis as the Southern Soul capital through the 1970s. Further down the chart at #55 “When You Took Your Love From Me” was the latest 45 from O.V. (Overton Vertis) Wright a singer who made a string of albums of the highest quality with Mitchell. O.V.’s first recording “That’s How Strong My Love Is” was withdrawn when a contract signed while with his Gospel group, the Sunset Travellers turned up. That contract was with Don Robey, gambler turned booking agent turned label boss & not a man to be crossed. There are many R&B songs credited to Deadric Malone (a.k.a. Don Robey) that he probably didn’t write. Whoever did when O.V. sang the outcome was often startling. It’s a sad & beautiful world, other singers like Aretha & Mavis gave us joy but no one did yearning & loss like O.V. pouring it all out.

O.V. Wright | Spotify

As a youth I had yet to have my heart broken, I had never walked around with no more than a nickel & a nail in my pocket. I have now & the voice of O.V. Wright articulates these Blues. Like his contemporary Bobby “Blue” Bland, life experiences are an aid to appreciation of the music. Willie Mitchell called O.V. the most honest Blues singer he ever worked with. He had that gliding, still powerful Hi sound, the rhythm section, the horns, Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes on backing vocals but the magic was in waiting for the spirit to move the singer & to capture that special take. “When You Took Your Love…” is one of those records. Have Mercy! O.V. Wright was a troubled man, his career was interrupted by a stretch for narcotics offences then rehab. He returned to recording, his health & his voice affected but not his passion. In 1980, just 41 years old, he died from a heart attack.

This week’s live clip goes back to the Oakland Coliseum on the 31st of January 1970 & inspired by the watching Creedence Clearwater Revival, Booker T & the M.G.’s play, in the opinion of the organist, as well as they had ever done. “Time Is Tight” was written for the film “Up Tight” & a slower single version became their biggest commercial success since the debut hit. Here they have four guns blazing & they are the best band in the world. It’s a great performance underpinned by the metronomic drumming of Al Jackson Jr. Al was older than the rest of the M.G’s. He took a weekly salary from Stax & played sessions for Willie Mitchell where he used a different kit for a lighter touch. For just a moment back then I thought it a coincidence that two great drummers had the same name! His violent death in 1975 was a great loss to Soul music.

New York City Is The Place Where (Ellie Greenwich)

Ellie Greenwich, RIP - John Gushue . . . Dot Dot Dot

In 1965, in New York, in an office of Red Bird Records, Ellie Greenwich, her husband Jeff Barry & her friend from Long Island George “Shadow” Morton were working on songs for the label’s star turn, the Shangri-Las. Their usual way of working was to write a song (hopefully a hit), make a demo then Ellie would work on vocal arrangements with the group before Shadow, along with tyro arranger/engineer Artie Butler, would do his atmospheric, sound effect-laden thing in the studio. This time “You Don’t Know” never made it to the Shangs, perhaps it was regarded as too mature for the still teenaged girls. Instead the demo was polished & released under Ellie’s name, a name that had appeared on the labels of many hit records, this was the first time that it was smack dab in the middle.

What a perfect record “You Don’t Know” is. Ms Greenwich’s performance is enchanting while Morton’s production adds depth & drama. The early-60s success of the girl groups was on the wane as the British Invasion became the current thing. Here is an update on a classic sound, more mature musically & lyrically. The single was set to be the pick of the week on a New York radio station but pulled & replaced by Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love”. So “You Don’t Know” was a hit that got away. You’re just a click away from one of the best 45s of 1965, a very good year.

Ellie was raised in Levittown, a post-war suburb of New York. As a 16 year old she recorded a couple of tracks as Ellie Gaye before obtaining a teaching degree. After less than a month back in high school she quit to sell her songs to the publishers based around the Brill Building in New York. Being young, blonde & female maybe helped, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, songwriters whose blend of R&B with smart, sharp lyrics had influenced the direction taken by Rock & Roll since Elvis Presley recorded their “Hound Dog” in 1956, took an interest & matched her with Tony Powers. When Phil Spector came looking for material he took a couple of Powers/Greenwich songs for Bob B Soxx & the Blue Jeans & for Darlene Love.

Leiber & Stoller were concentrating on the business of music, publishing & production. Their group, the very aptly named Exciters, had a Top 10 Pop hit in 1962 with “Tell Him”. Ellie, still living at home, was driven by her father to a studio session & it was the early hours of the morning when she woke her sleeping Dad with the news that her song “He’s Got the Power” had been chosen as the follow up single. The producer’s company, Trio, signed Ellie to a $100 a week contract. That’s $870 in today’s money, not bad for an about-to-be married 22 year old but she had to keep the hits coming.

The Exciters with Brenda Reid, a dynamic vocalist, backed by her husband Herb, Carol & Lillian, were high energy all-round. “He’s Got the Power” is another blast & they may be lip-synching on this great colour Scopitone (an early video jukebox) film but it’s a treasure. There’s a live version of the song on the Y-tube, recorded on the same trip to France, that knocks the audience’s chaussettes off. They never had the same success after “Tell Him” but the two albums they made at this time mark a new assertiveness in the girl group sound. The following year Ellie Greenwich, now writing with her new husband Jeff Barry, provided the Exciters with “Do-Wah-Diddy”, another small hit. In 1964 a tame cover by Manfred Mann was #1 all over the world.

Spector, Greenwich & Barry | Discographie | Discogs

When Phil Spector came East again he headed for the Greenwich/Barry office hoping for a follow up to the Crystals #1 record “He’s A Rebel”. The result was “Da Do Ron Ron”, you know it, everyone does, the first of nine hits released on Spector’s Philles label in 16 months that included “Then He Kissed Me” for the Crystals again, “Be My Baby” & “Baby I Love You” for the Ronettes. The trio were established as significant figures in Pop music. Along with two other husband & wife teams, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, all young with the talent to articulate not-too-distant teenage feelings, Greenwich & Barry maintained New York & the Brill Building as the music business’ fulcrum. The pair were so busy that, unwilling to interrupt their productivity, when a demo of “What A Guy” was smartened up & released as the Raindrops they hired a replacement group for public appearances. A sizeable $28,000 royalty cheque diverted Ellie from the fact that Leiber & Stoller were taking a bigger cut from the couple’s hits.

In 1964 Leiber & Stoller started their own operation, Red Bird Records, giving Barry & Greenwich free rein to write the songs, find the talent & produce the records. The new label’s first release was a re-recording of a song that Spector was unwilling to release. The Meltones, a female trio from New Orleans, passed on Little Miss & the Muffets in favour of the Dixie Cups & in June “Chapel of Love”, yet another classic, displaced the Beatles for three weeks at the top of the US chart. The subsequent LP is packed with Greenwich/Barry gems, “People Say”, “You Should Have Seen The Way He Looked At Me”. The Cups moved back to New Orleans for their next recordings but Red Bird was on fire & they had another girl group ready for prime time.

Queen Bee of The Brill: Ellie Greenwich and 35 of her cha-cha-charms – DJ  Larsupreme

When Shadow Morton said that he wrote hit songs he was being economical with the truth as he had never written a song. To back up his boast he came up with “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”, hired a teenage group from Queens, New York & the Shangri-Las found themselves in the Top 10, breaking new girl group ground with song construction, subject matter & production. Greenwich & Barry were involved with from the start, Ellie would guide the raw young proteges, singer Mary Weiss, her sister Betty, identical twins Marge & Mary Ann Ganser, through the vocal arrangements. To reinforce their tough girl image & to encourage Morton’s studio innovation the pair wrote “Leader of the Pack”. Get the picture? (yes we see), From a candy store meet to “now he’s gone” it’s yet another in a string of hits that we all know & are part of Pop’s DNA. “Out In The Streets” was not a super smash but this clip from “Shindig” shows the Shangri-Las, minus Betty, in their leather pomp, a great look, a great song. The Myrmidons of Melodrama indeed.

Ellie & Jeff divorced at the end of 1965 but continued to work together for some time. When Spector visited he left with “River Deep Mountain High” & “I Can Hear Music”. Leiber & Stoller, on finding their partner’s debts meant that mobsters became involved, sold their two-thirds share of Red Bird for $1. At a demo session Ellie met Neil Diamond, she & Barry put him on salary, passed on their expertise & got him signed to their friend Bert Berns’ label Bang. When “I’m A Believer” caught the attention of bigger industry figures Diamond split leaving the trio thinking “what just happened?”. This was a tough time for Ellie, music had been her life, she had lost her husband & songwriting partner just as the times were changing. That Marshall McLuhan “hi-fi/stereo changeover”, audiences & artists were growing up together, the three minute 45, however perfectly constructed & gratifying was replaced by the album as the new frontier.

Ellie Greenwich - Under Appreciated Rock Guitarists

In 1968 she released the charming “Composes, Produces & Sings” album. The success of her contemporary Carole King brought new offers & in 1973 “Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung”, her re-recording of the Greenwich songbook appeared. The rather flat production is a failure of imagination on someone’s part. For all the studio magic of Spector & Morton the foundation is the song & stripped-back versions by the originator would surely have worked. Ellie Greenwich’s legend was already ensured. everyone of a certain age knows & was affected by the landmark girl group hits that she created, everyone who knew her has nothing but good things to say about her. In 1984 “Leader of the Pack”, a jukebox musical based on her life & work moved to Broadway & Ellie appeared there as herself. Unfortunately she passed away in 2009 aged 68 but Ellie Greenwich doesn’t need a revival. Her instantly recognisable songs have been with us for what seems like forever & I think they’ll be around for some time.

Slow Jams And Stevie (Soul March 6th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week was headed this week by “Mama’s Pearl”, the fifth of six consecutive #1 records by Motown’s teenage sensations the Jackson 5. Family bands were all the rage in 1971 & at #3, down from the second spot on the chart were the Osmonds, five Mormon brothers with an age range from 21 year old Alan to Donny, just 13, whose toothy wholesomeness had made them familiar faces on prime time TV shows starring Andy Williams & Jerry Lewis. Reportedly the song “Guess Who’s Making Whoopie (With Your Girlfriend)” was considered to be too racy for young Michael Jackson so new lyrics were provided by a team of Motown writers. Conversely the Osmonds needed to toughen up if they wanted a share of that teenage heartthrob dollar. Sent to FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals they liked “One Bad Apple”, a George Jackson (no relation) song written with the Jackson 5 in mind. The result was a crossover success on the Pop & R&B charts. Anyway, if you think that the Osmond Brothers are making my selection of Classic Soul then think again.

Down in Alabama they may have been expanding their range into Teen Pop but at #16 on the chart, after three weeks in the Top

Candi Staton – He Called Me Baby / What Would Become Of Me (1970, Vinyl) -  Discogs

10, was a great example of the Muscle Shoals Sound. Candi Staton had sung in a teenage Gospel group before spending most of the Sixties raising her four children. She was in her late-twenties when, in 1968, her husband-to-be Clarence Carter introduced her to FAME. Candi was instantly successful, her first album “I’m Just A Prisoner” (1970) came off the back of two Top Twenty R&B hits & displayed a strong, rich, mature voice to handle the emotional songs, comfortable with the innuendo of the women getting together to talk about men ones. The following year’s “Stand By Your Man” repeated two from her debut while for the new tracks producer/arranger Rick Hall did exactly the job that was needed to establish Candi as “The First Lady of Southern Soul”. The title track, a hit for Tammy Wynette, had been covered by most of Country’s female royalty, only Bettye Swann had added a little bit of Soul. Candi’s take has an insistent bass foundation for the string & brass flourishes & earned her a Grammy nomination.

candi staton and Clarence Carter

He Called Me Baby” is another Country standard . Written by the great Harlan Howard the most well known interpretation was by Patsy Cline for whom Howard had also written “I Fall To Pieces”. Candi’s Gospel, Blues & Country ingredients, flavoured with a classy, building arrangement makes for a plaintive, gorgeous dish of Soul. “Stand By…” is not a record full of Country covers. Once again the studio’s staff writers, George Jackson most prominent, provided strong varied material for their new star. The new FAME gang of studio musicians were finding their feet too, it really is a fine collection. In 1976 Candi’s “Young Hearts Run Free” was a feelgood hit of the summer & other dance floor favourites followed. She may have returned to her Gospel beginnings but young British groups like the Source & Groove Armada were happy to have her guest on their dance records leading to compilations of her earlier work bringing a deserved higher visibility & reputation.

Finding the 'Real' Marvin — Adam White

At #14 on the chart was a vocal quartet who had sung with various Detroit groups before signing to Tamla Motown in 1966 as The Originals. Joe Stubbs, briefly a member was the brother of the more famous Levi of the Four Tops while Freddie Gorman, in 1961 & working as a mailman, had co-written “Please Mr Postman” by the Marvelettes, the label’s first #1 record. With few of their own recordings they provided studio backing vocals to many hits & remained 20 feet from stardom until, in 1969, their friend Marvin Gaye intervened. Marvin wrote & produced “Baby I’m For Real”, a song that would not be out place on “Let’s Get It On”. He showcased all four Originals’ voices & the record was a #1 R&B , Pop Top 20 hit. “The Bells” was a follow up success & the early 1970’s became a very productive period for the Originals.

The Originals – God Bless Whoever Sent You (1972, Vinyl) - Discogs

“God Bless Whoever Sent You” is taken from “Naturally Together”, their second album of 1970. That driving Motown beat may not have been apparent, it’s a slow jam in the smooth romantic style becoming more popular with the success of groups like the Delfonics & the Chi-Lites. Producer Clay McMurray, along with British woman Pam Sawyer provided the songs & the Originals all had fine, strong voices without perhaps a distinctive lead voice to make them discernible from other groups. “The Only Time You Love Me Is When You’re Losing Me” sure sounds like a hit but was not released on 45. The Originals made 8 albums with Motown, surviving, reduced success & line up changes before “Down In Love Town” topped the new Disco chart in 1976 ensuring that they left the label on a high. The group is not always considered in the front rank of the Motown roster but they made good records & they made their mark.

Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder in London, February 3rd, 1966. : beatles

The highest new entry of the week at #44 is one of my favourite Beatles cover versions. This was Stevie Wonder’s first 45 of 1971, the fourth track to be lifted from his “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” LP. Like the title track from that record “We Can…” is sparkling, imaginative & wonderfully sung. Still only 20 years old Stevie was enjoying a fantastic run of great singles & was established as a major artist. More of his own songs were included on the album & he was taking greater control in the studio. His Motown contract came up for renewal on his 21st birthday & he was already recording the more expansive music with an expression of his social conscience that greater independence would allow. In April 1971 the release of “Where I’m Coming From”, produced by Stevie, written by himself & Syreeta Wright, marked that coming of age. It seems that most of Stevie Wonder’s singles are included in these selections of mine. His records certainly all made the R&B chart, they still sound fresh & we know them all. There was much more great music to come & it’s a sure bet that I wont be able to resist those either.

This week’s live bonus is not a contemporary clip. As part of the 2011 Americana Music Awards show Candi Staton stepped out in front of an All-Star band including Don Was, Spooner Oldham & some faces I should be able to put names to & gave a lovely performance of “Heart On A String”. It’s a song from 1969, the B-side no less of “I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’)” that never made it on to her albums of the time. Co-written by, here’s that name again, George Jackson, it’s a perfect slice of Pop Soul that has deservedly been resurrected. The blissful smile of ace guitarist Buddy Miller betrays how happy he is to be playing that Muscle Shoals sound, sharing the stage with the effervescent, still gorgeous at 70, legendary Ms Staton. This makes me happy too.