The Woman’s Got Soul (Soul 30th April 1972)

When Holland-Dozier-Holland, the songwriting/production wizards behind so many of the label’s great hits, left Tamla Motown to start up their own operation they knew that they would need a girl group on their roster. Their songs for Martha & the Vandellas & the Supremes had moved the sound along from Phil Spector’s work with the Crystals & the Ronettes (not forgetting the Shirelles, the Chiffons & the Shangri-Las) maintaining the female vocal group’s importance in American R&B/Soul. The first release on H-D-H’s Hot Wax label in 1969 was by Honey Cone, a trio from Los Angeles, by the 30th April 1972 the group were the girl group of the day, enjoying their fifth entry into the Top 10 of the Cash Box R&B Top 60.

Honey Cone had connections, lead singer Edna Wright was the sister of Darlene Love, the go-to vocalist on many of Phil Spector recordings. She & Carolyn Willis had sung on many sessions, Shelly Clark had been an Ikette. It was when Darlene was unable to fulfill a TV date on “The Andy Williams Show” that the stand-in trio were seen by Eddie Holland, signed up & brought to Detroit to record. The majority of their debut album were songs credited to “Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne”, H-D-H had not yet settled their publishing independence from Motown so could not us their own names. Ron worked for them, Edythe was a friend. It was Honey Cone’s fifth single “Want Ads” that really broke them out, #1 in the Pop & R&B charts, they looked good on TV in their hot pants, sounded good too. “Stick Up”, the follow up, put them back at the top of the R&B list, both bright, strong & driving like the Vandellas tunes, based on the new hit sound of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, a good sound & who cares when it was done so well.

The hits were both written by Greg Perry, producer & Edna’s boyfriend, & General Johnson, frontman of Chairman of the Board, flourishing with the encouragement of his new employers. On “Soulful Tapestry” (1971) Holland-Dozier-Holland stepped back from Honey Cone as it was apparent this pair knew what they were doing. Along with label mate Laura Lee, Millie Jackson & Ann Peebles, the album’s songs of female empowerment were part of a new thing. One of the three tracks H-D-H did provide, “The Day I Found Myself”, #26 this week was sliding down from the R&B Top 10. It’s a really good one bringing to mind the Marvelettes & the Velvelettes from Motown’s mid-60s. It’s also a change from the pure Pop-Soul of the previous hits, an indicator of the way Honey Cone could be progressing. Unfortunately H-D-H were discovering that there was more to the business of music than making hits, getting paid by their distributors was more important. With the label in financial trouble Honey Cone’s “Love, Peace & Soul” (1972) was their least successful album, a dissatisfied Carolyn left the group & there were to be no more recordings by the original trio. Honey Cone burned bright for a short time, their confidence & sass influential on future girl groups.

#26 down from 19

Barry White spent much of the 1960s in Los Angeles writing, producing, recording the odd overlooked solo record. His biggest success was with Felice Taylor whose “I Feel Love Coming On” made the UK Top 20 in 1967 – there’s a story about why I like that song so much but I don’t know you well enough to share it. White’s ambitions as an independent producer stalled until he assembled a girl group. He worked with sisters Glodean & Linda James & their cousin Diane Taylor for a year before launching them as Love Unlimited & 50 years ago this week their debut 45 “Walking In The Rain With The One I Love” was a big mover on the R&B chart, rising 14 places to #16 before crossing over to the Pop Top 20 in the US & the UK. “Walking…”, with Barry growling to Glo on the telephone, is from an album full of mid-tempo Love ballads, the Motown girl group sound with any sharp edges smoothed, the songs drenched in orchestration, the sweet, sweeping string arrangements of Gene Page making it distinctive.

Having discovered how to do it Barry did it better next time & “I’m Under the Influence of…Love Unlimited” (1973) was a Top 3 Pop & R&B album though I’m surprised that the title track & “It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart it’s Spring)”, both dusted down from the Felice Taylor times, were not bigger hits. He was looking for a male singer & found one at home – himself. In 1973 his debut was the first of four successive chart-topping R&B albums, the following year “Love’s Theme”, an instrumental originally included on L.U.’s “Influence…” was released by the Love Unlimited Orchestra & hit #1 on the US Pop listing. Barry married Glodean & Love Unlimited became an important part of the international superstar Barry White Show, still recording & heading the R&B chart in 1974 with his song”I Belong To You”. Disco was coming & Barry White was leading the way.

Honey Cone may have been carrying the girl group swing in 1972 but the long-time title belt holders were not about to hand it over yet. The group had not been “Diana Ross & the Supremes” since 1970 when their lead vocalist left for a solo career & Jean Terrell joined Mary Wilson (that’s the lovely…) & Cindy Birdsong. Frank Wilson had been one of “The Clan” assembled by Tamla Motown to fill the gap left by Holland-Dozier-Holland’s departure & had co-written hits for the Supremes when Diana was still around. Now, as sole producer, hits like “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, “Nathan Jones” & the sublime “Stoned Love” showed that there was still life in & love for a group who since there breakthrough in 1963 had established themselves as the most popular female group in the world. In 1971 “Touch” did well on the R&B chart but tanked on the Pop albums list, other producers were tried but a planned follow-up “Promises Kept” was shelved. The next man up for the job was label stalwart, vice-president & legend Smokey Robinson.

Smokey wrote all nine songs on the “Floy Joy” album. They’re not of the same quality as “Ooh Baby Baby” or “Tracks of My Tears” but it’s a smooth, sweet, consistent record, Jean being the featured lead voice with Mary & Cindy having their moments while the Funk Brothers (guitarist Marv Taplin had played with the pre-Supreme Primettes before joining Smokey & the Miracles) hit all the right notes. The two uptempo tunes were released as singles, the title track making the US Pop 20 & “Automatically Sunshine”, a new entry at #44 on this week’s R&B chart, James Jamerson’s bass leading in Mary & Jean’s shared vocals, was more successful in the UK than in the US. Cindy’s pregnancy was showing, her maternity leave replacement Lynda Lawrence is on the album sleeve & sings on “The Supremes Produced & Arranged by Jimmy Webb”, released later in 1972. It’s an interesting record, check out Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want”, that failed to connect with record buyers. With more line-up adjustments, disputes with Motown & changing tastes it would be four years before the trio, by then Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, returned to the Top 40 when Eddie & Brian Holland returned to produce an act they had helped to make the greatest,the dream girls, the most successful girl group ever.

Not Like Everybody Else (23rd April 1972)

A couple of weeks ago I checked out the Cash Box album chart from 50 years ago, made my selections from those listed between 101 – 150, dug out some old records & hit a problem. The soft rock of Loggins & Messina just didn’t seem as interesting & as engaging as it had done in 1972. It was the same with the Raiders (formerly Paul Revere & the…) & Harry Chapin. I’m an enthusiast not a critic, I don’t want to waste my, your’s, anybody’s time with music I don’t really like so, for the first time this year, I scrapped the weekend blog post. On to the chart for the 23rd of April 1972 & ah, that’s much better. One of my selections is a favourite record by a favourite group so excuse me if later it all gets a bit florid.

Philadelphian Todd Rundgren’s teenage band, the Nazz, made an impression with their Psych-Pop, now classic, “Open My Eyes”. Leaving after a second album Todd, with his own ideas about the recording process, found employment as a sound engineer/producer with Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman’s Bearsville organisation, preparing a mix (Glyn Johns did one too) for the Band’s “Stage Fright” (1970). The record “Runt”, written, produced but not released under his name was a vanity project, a favour from the boss. They were both surprised when the track “We Gotta Get You A Woman” made the US Top 20 & Todd had a solo career. “Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren” (1971), like the debut, failed to attract big sales but those who were listening could hear the influence of sweet New York & Philly Soul & Laura Nyro, the melodicism of the Beatles, the Hard Rock of the Yardbirds, the inspiration of Jimi Hendrix – phew! All of this was evident on the next record, no more Runt, his name on the sleeve. Todd was in control & did not want to be viewed as just another singer-songwriter.

“Something/Anything?”, #124 on this week’s chart, is a double album, four different sides of a prolific & restlessly forward-thinking artist. There were long studio sessions while Todd played all the instruments & sang all the vocals on intricate arrangements. An L.A. earthquake took him back to the East Coast to finish the record with a band. Side one, “a bouquet of ear-catching melodies” opens with the sure-fire hit “I Saw The Light” & does exactly what it says on the label. There’s more than a touch of Prog on the “cerebral” side, a “Pop Operetta” revived “Hello It’s Me” for an even bigger hit. My selection, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”, may not have invented Power Pop but certainly raised the bar. More songs like this would have been welcome. “Something/Anything?” may. like many double albums, may be self-indulgent but it’s a major work by a major talent. If it was recorded on Ritalin & weed the follow-up “A Wizard, A True Star” (1973) employed synthesizers & acid & was as madly chaotic as a box of frogs. Todd himself called it “career suicide” though to say the album is worth sticking with is understating its appeal. He could care less anyway, keeping busy with his band Utopia, running in parallel to his solo releases, while establishing himself as a leading producer. My subscription to the “Todd Is God” society lapsed some time ago though I’ll always listen to his output when it comes my way. The early albums, well I’ll always have time for those.

When sixth form ( a college but still school really) had finished for the day me & Butch would hop into his Morris Minor & scoot over to a local record shop where his girlfriend Natalie would let us listen to the new albums we wanted to hear but couldn’t afford to buy. The song that brings to mind those two young idiots spilling out of the listening booth (remember those?) whooping with the Rock & Roll excitement of it all is “Coming Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from “On Tour With Eric Clapton” (1970). Delaney Bramlett, raised in Mississippi, moved to Los Angeles after service in the Navy hooking up with other Southern musicians in the orbit of Leon Russell. Bonnie O’Farrell’s experience as a backing singer included three days onstage with Ike & Turner as the first white Ikette. Moving West in 1967 she met Delaney & they were married later that year. Delaney & Bonnie had many “Friends”, their first record was recorded at the Stax studios with Booker T & the M.G.s & the Memphis Horns, released by the label as part of their 27 album reinvigoration it got a little lost in the crush. On “Home” & “Accept No Substitute” (both 1969) Gospel, Country & R&B coalesced into an intoxicating rootsy Southern Rock. With their killer band augmented by Clapton, Dave Mason & sometimes George Harrison they had a great live show, the set recorded at the less-than-glamourous Fairfield Halls, Croydon becoming their most successful album.

In 1970 that band, Bobby Whitlock (keyboards), Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) went off with Eric to be Derek & the Dominos. Delaney & Bonnie still had plenty of friends, Little Richard, Duane Allman, Gram Parsons – it’s a long list – to help out on their records. The acoustic “Motel Shot” included “Never Ending Song of Love”, a US Top 20 entry as was their version of Dave Mason’s “Only You Know & I Know”. The latter, like the studio version of “Coming Home” was released was released by Atco along with the accompanying album “Country Life” which was withdrawn by label boss Jerry Wexler who thought it lacked quality. Columbia picked up the record, shuffled the tracks & released it as “D & B Together”, #101 on the Cash Box chart. Wexler made a tough call, audiences may have been moving towards the guitar-based Southern rockers (Allman Brothers, ZZ Top) but there’s plenty of passion & soul on the record including “Groupie (Superstar)”, later a hit for the Carpenters. While D & B were “together” professionally they were separated then divorced by the end of the year. For a while it had seemed to be a sure thing that they would be big stars but it didn’t happen. Their five albums, particularly “”Accept No Substitute” & “On Tour” still rock.

In 1965 the Kinks were one of the biggest bands in the world. The previous year “You Really Got Me” started a pretty much five year long unbroken run of UK Top 10 singles, the first three of them hitting the same in the US. Preceded by a fractious reputation an American tour was marred by poor ticket sales, in-band arguments, unsatisfactory shows & finally a punch-up before an appearance on the “Dick Cavett Show”. The American Federation of Musicians were now able to defy the invasion of the Limey Longhairs & the Kinks’ ban from performing in the US lasted four years. Ray Davies developed an idiosyncratic British sensibility, sometimes cynical, increasingly nostalgic, a catalogue of great albums & popular 45s, all embellished by the guitar of brother Dave. “Waterloo Sunset”, a perfect, pivotal moment in 1960s British music made no impression on the US charts. In the UK the now influential, still wonderful “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” (1968) failed to match the commercial success of albums by their contemporaries but in 1970, their US ban served, “Lola” was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The group ended their US deal with Reprise who now had a load of great, deserving of a wider hearing, music & the label found an imaginative way to re-release it.

“The Kink Kronikles”, a new entry at #142, is not a greatest hits kollektion (sorry). Compiled by critic & big fan John Mendelsohn it’s a 28 track non-chronological selection from the group’s 1966-71 output. There are great 60s singles (“Dead End Street”, “Autumn Almanac”), the later hits (“Lola”, “Apeman”), three songs by Dave, who never released the solo album he should have done, album tracks & some hard-to-get in the US stuff. Of course there are omissions (“Big Sky”, only the title track from “Village Green”) but the selection is wide ranging & considerately assembled. My current favourite is “God’s Children”, from a fag-end of the 60s (1971 actually) Brit-com – Hywel Bennett has a penis transplant – that Ray provided the soundtrack for. It’s possibly the most uplifting song he has written & never fails to bring a smile. If I don’t want one of the classic albums then I reach for “The Kink Kronikles”, an excellent, still surprising playlist from a very creative time of a great band. God save ’em.

kauai

Soul Instrumentals (16th April 1972)

On my first look at these Cash Box R&B charts I am initially drawn to the many great Soul singers. There are always instrumentals on the list & 50 years ago with the success of Isaac Hayes & increased interest in movie soundtracks maybe a few more stood a chance of being heard. Here are three selections from the chart of April 1972.

One conclusion that viewers of “Get Back”, Peter Jackson’s lengthy Beatles documentary, must (or should) have made was that Billy Preston was not only a great keyboard player but a bloody good bloke too. The fractious Fabs, had grown up, become wealthy & grown apart. They were musicians who had not played on a stage for over two years & muddling about in a studio seemed like the last thing they wanted to be doing. When Billy arrived to help out the respect for their guest’s ability & personality is clear, the band were never more unified or happier than when running through the Rock & Roll standards they had played back in Hamburg. Billy played with them on the Apple Corps rooftop, the single “Get Back” had “with Billy Preston” on the label, a unique credit for a non-Beatle. In 1970 Billy played on his first Rolling Stones record, that became a regular thing & by 73 he was touring with the band. It was around this time that Miles Davis named a tune in his honour but Billy Preston was more than a sideman to his heavy friends & 50 years ago this week “Outa-Space” from “I Wrote A Simple Song”, his eighth studio album & his most successful yet, was a new entry at #48 on the R&B chart.

Billy Preston, a self-taught child prodigy, was backing Little Richard at 15 (where he met the Beatles), recorded his first album the following year, had a gig in the house band for the “Shindig” TV show then, still just 20, joined Ray Charles’ group. There were a lot of cover versions on his sometimes quickly recorded releases but his own “Billy’s Bag”, a Mod classic, justifies the album title “The Most Exciting Organ Ever” (1965). His two records for Apple are a fine mix of Gospel, Rock & Soul, Billy tore up the Concert For Bangladesh with his enraptured single “That’s The Way God Planned It”, a bigger hit in the UK than in the US. The self-produced “I Wrote A Simple Song” is more of the same & “Outa-Space”, Billy trying out a clavinet played through a wah-wah pedal for the first time, is a Funk outlier that the record company were less sure about than the million people who bought the record. This was the first of four successive albums to make the R&B Top 10, Billy’s lyrical spirituality may have seemed a little simplistic but it was direct & honest, when he was playing some irresistible Funk or, as on the title track, organ swirls along with George Harrison’s Dobro you knew that he was a special talent.

In Houston, Texas, Joe Sample (piano), Wilton Felder (saxophone) & Stix Hooper (drums), fellow pupils at Phillis Wheatley High School, hooked up with Wayne Henderson (trombone) to form the Swingsters then the Modern Jazz Sextet. After a move to the West Coast in 1960 they were the Nite Hawks for a while before settling on the Jazz Crusaders. From 1961-70, across 17 albums, they bopped hard, their versions of contemporary hits were tight & sophisticated. Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” caught deserved attention, Sample’s piano similar to the Jazz-R&B of Cannonball Adderley’s group, the dual horns assertive, still melodic & very impressive. Both Sample & Felder, who had become more than proficient on bass guitar, were in demand as session players for a wide variety of artists. “Old Socks New Shoes…New Socks Old Shoes” (1970), Joe on the Fender Rhodes piano, with a couple of electric guitarists, opens with a “Hell Yeah!” version of Sly Stone’s “Thank You Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin”, it was their most popular record yet & the last to feature “Jazz” in the group’s name, from now on they were The Crusaders.

I don’t know whether the Crusaders played Soul-Jazz or Jazz Fusion or whatever, they had got it going on. Great musicians who had grown up together with a shared vision for the power of the unit, sympathetic support for each other’s parts. “Crusaders 1”, the third album with their abbreviated name still had plenty of Jazz with the added ingredient of young lead guitarist Larry Carlton. He shines on “Put It Where You Want It”, #55 on this week’s chart, a forerunner of the cool, insistent groove , gently but firmly propelled by Stix, the Crusaders favoured on their succeeding albums, records that, for the discerning listener (that would be me & my friends), fitted right in with the likes of Steely Dan, Grover Washington & Weather Report. In 1979 I spent the Summer away from the UK & away from music. I was surprised to find that on my return the Crusaders were only in the British Top 10 with “Street Life”, a collaboration with singer Randy Crawford. By this time Henderson & Carlton had moved on & it wasn’t the same after Stix left in 1983. Surely he, Joe & Wilton, Houston high school boys, could not have imagined that their musical journey would take them so far.

Crusaders #55

Dennis Coffey was born in the right place at the right time. The guitarist was just 15 years old when he played on his first Detroit recording session. His passion, like millions of teenagers, was rockabilly but on his return after a stint in the military he found session work on the burgeoning Motor City Soul scene. Backing artists like Edwin Starr, J.J. Barnes & Darrell Banks (Dennis is a Northern Soul Legend in the UK) it was at the Ric-Tic/Golden World studio that he met the moonlighting from Motown Funk Brothers (they were fined by the label). When Ric-Tic merged with Tamla Motown ($1 million changing hands) he moved over to 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Hitsville USA, his first session spent adding the guitar effects to “Cloud Nine” for Norman Whitfield & the Temptations. Dennis became part of the crew who played on more hits than they can remember, he & his effects pedals always in demand. The wah-wah guitar on “In The Rain” by the Dramatics, #2 in this week’s chart, Dennis Coffey is that guy.

With Motown making plans to move to the West Coast & Dennis ambitious to see what he could do with himself & after a slow start with a 1969 album signed a solo deal with Sussex Records. “Evolution” (1971) by Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band featured a whole load of multi-tracked guitars & help from his Funk Brother friends including Jack Ashford on tambourine because, well, this is Motown. “Scorpio”. from the soundtrack of a blaxploitation movie that really should have been made hit the Top 10 of the Pop & R&B charts & sold a million. “Goin’ For Myself” (1972) was a little more reflective with horns & strings, covers of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” & Carole King’s “It’s Too Late”. “Taurus”, #23 on the chart of 50 years ago, became a sizeable follow-up hit. The next album, “Electric Coffey” (1972) had a bunch of songs with more star signs in the title but sales were not as high. These are all good, interesting records, Dennis is a tasty & tasteful player. By this time he had re-located to Los Angeles & was in the Mowest studio making hits for Berry Gordy’s label & it is for his contribution to so many records we know that he will be best remembered.

Howard, Frederick, New Temptations (Soul 16th April 1972)

Another good week on the Cash Box R&B Top 60 from 50 years ago. Roberta Flack’s stunning version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, a Folk song written by Brit Ewen MacColl, swapped places at the top with “In The Rain” by the Dramatics while the rest of the Top 10 included Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Al Green & Joe Tex who makes the cover of this week’s issue. There are plenty of good records further down the list, so many that a double post is justified. We will see – here are three selections for a start.

First up it’s a surprise, a good one, to find Howard Tate, one of my favourite R&B vocalists, on the chart with “She’s A Burglar”, steady at #58 on the Top 60. Born in Georgia, raised in Philadelphia Howard had spent three years singing with keyboard player Bill Doggett before returning to Philly & finding that his teenage Gospel/Doo Wop group, the Gainors, re-named Garnett Mimms & the Enchanters had a hit 45 with “Cry Baby”. Mimms recommended Tate to his producer Jerry Ragovoy & from 1966-68 they made some of the best R&B records to come out of New York studios. Highlighting Howard’s vocal range, lighter on the producer’s liking for orchestration the effervescent “Ain’t Nobody Home” & “Look At Granny Run” made the Top 20 R&B chart while the smouldering “Get It While You Can”, surely now recognised as a Soul masterwork, failed to trouble the compilers. The album resulting from these sessions, also titled “Get It While…” (1967) is a wonderful Blues-Soul thing – essential. Ragovoy was using the royalties from Janis Joplin’s hits with his songs to build his Hit Factory studio while Howard, frustrated by a lack of success, moved to another label for “Howard Tate’s Reaction” (1970), an album with a terrible sleeve, a fine voice & less distinctive, sympathetic production.

In 1972 the gang, Tate, Ragovoy & the best NY session men available, got back together. Like they had never been gone the eponymous record has it all there, Howard’s great voice, Jerry’s songs & production, great playing. There’s the fine single, covers of Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country”, the Band’s “Jemima Surrender”, I don’t think it’s possible to do a bad version of “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” & the album was pretty much ignored. There were a few more singles before Howard retired from music, took a day job before a family tragedy led to addiction & homelessness then his religion helped his recovery. In 2001 a New Jersey DJ tracked Howard down, reunited him with his old producer &, with his voice wonderfully preserved, “Rediscovered” (2003) introduced Howard to a new audience & to new opportunities in music which he followed until his death in 2011. The record included a new version of “Get It While You Can”, simpler, just piano, Howard’s voice. In Paris in 2003 the great Soul singer was joined onstage by the writer/producer for a performance that I have enjoyed many times & now it’s your turn.

At #46 there was a new entry, another good one. Frederick Knight studied music at Alabama A&M University before an unsuccessful spell in New York, returning home & signing to Stax. “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long”, his first 45 for the label, was distinctive enough to get radio airplay, good & then popular enough to make the R&B Top 10, the US Pop 30 & even the Top 30 here in the UK where we knew absolutely nothing about this new singer. Frederick was independent, wanting to handle his own business. He recorded his album at the Sound of Birmingham studio in his hometown & it’s quality Southern Soul all the way. Some of the session crew from Muscle Shoals came down from Florence to help out but there’s a lighter touch than their usual sound & guitarist Pete Carr gets to shine on not only the hit single. “I’ve Been Lonely…” was co-written by Frederick’s wife Posie, he wrote the majority of the rest of the record which closes with a funky cover of the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together” which brings to mind Bobby Womack. The excellent follow up “Trouble” (later covered by Ry Cooder) failed to connect & Frederick is remembered as a one hit wonder. Of course there was more to come.

Knight appeared at the Stax showcase “Wattstax” & while there were no more albums stuck with the label until its bankruptcy in 1975. He then started his own label, Juana, & publishing companies to look after his own songs which were recorded by many artists. In 1979 he wrote & produced “Ring My Bell” for Anita Ward, a massive international Disco smash. Frederick Knight was, still is, a smart dude.

“Take A Look Around”, falling nine places to #19 this week is probably not one of the Temptations records that come to mind as being among the greatest of ther hits. By 1972 there had already been 11 R&B #1 singles with more to come & I’m not going to count others that made the R&B Top 10 in a decade of success that established the Tempts as the leading vocal group in the US. The times they were a changing for the Temptations, in 1968 the “Classic Five” era ended when David Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards then Paul Williams’ serious illness meant that on live gigs, when he was able, he would lip-synch while Richard Street would sing his parts from behind a curtain. After Ruffin’s departure Eddie Kendricks, the glorious falsetto voice, became more disaffected & in 1970 he signed a solo contract with Motown. The “Sky’s The Limit” album (1971) included more ballads alongside the now Tempts trademark Psychedelic Soul & Eddie’s parting gift was his lead on “Just My Imagination (Running Away From Me)”, as sweet & perfect as a single could be, a hit as big as the group had ever had – & that’s big.

“It’s Summer” a track for the “Solid Rock” record (1972), was recorded by the four remaining Temptations before Paul Williams was unable to continue as a member. Richard Street stepped out from behind the curtain, Damien Harris brought his own falsetto joining Edwards, Otis Williams & Melvin Franklin, the two remaining from the 1960s quintet. Producer Norman Whitfield & his writing partner Barrett Strong kept the quality high, the arrangements with his expected flourishes though less psych. It is perhaps a sign of greater inner-group democracy that on the two singles from the album both feature all five voices. “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” is a reply to criticism by their departed colleagues & “Take A Look Around” a more subtle social commentary than the “Stop The War Now” track. It’s a lovely song, the live performance showing that these new Temptations were still a world class act. By the end of 1972 they released “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” & we all know how that one goes.

Brothers And Sisters (Soul 2nd April 1972)

There are a lot of good & interesting R&B entries in the Cash Box album chart for the first day of April 1972. Some, Al Green, Denise La Salle, Honey Cone, were selling on the back of their smash hit singles, “Pain” by the Ohio Players was eventually to become the first of a run of big-selling collections & Stevie Wonder had the significant “Music of My Mind”, a coming-of-age record that we had all been waiting for. Oh look, there’s a Bobby Womack album & anything Quincy Jones released under his own name is surely worth checking out. But wait this is Cash Box R&B Top 60 week not albums,& a new entry at #57 on that chart is the lead 45 from a very high class 33 and a third .

“Little Esther” Phillips, mentored by bandleader Johnny Otis, had her first R&B #1 in 1950 when she was just 14 years old. It was a momentous year for the teenager, two more chart-toppers in a run of seven Top 10s ended when a dispute over royalties led to Esther leaving the Otis band & signing to Federal where there was just one more R&B hit two years later. The singer’s addiction to heroin meant that recording & performing was sporadic for the next decade before “Release Me”, a Country Soul ballad in the current style of Ray Charles, found her high in the Hot 100. In a couple of spells at Atlantic Records they couldn’t decide if Esther was a Blues, Jazz or Soul singer. “And I Love Her”, a classy cabaret Beatles cover attracted deserved attention & for “Burnin'” (1970) King Curtis brought along his saxophone & his band for a live album that consistently showcased her mature range & ability to sing the heck out of her set of chosen songs. It was Esther’s last album for Atlantic but Creed Taylor, boss of CTI Records, had plans for her.

“Home Is Where The Hatred Is” had been written & recorded in 1971 by rap-poet Gil Scott-Heron. It’s a harrowing story of ghetto addiction, unflinching & the truth, a brave, inspired choice for Esther who sings it like she knows it – because she does. Creed Taylor was a Jazz guy who, with his new Kudo imprint, wanted to set a standard for a new, polished Jazz-Funk sound. He had access to the finest New York session men & had hired the saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, former musical director with James Brown, as arranger & conductor. Pee Wee is a Jazz guy with a co-writer’s credit on, among others, “Cold Sweat” & “Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud”, he was around when Funk was invented. The combination of Esther’s voice, great playing, well-chosen songs matched to sumptuous, empathic arrangements made “From A Whisper To A Scream”, the atmospheric title track one of two songs by Allen Toussaint, an outstanding album. Esther & Pee Wee were involved in some fine, fine music in their long careers & this is a highlight for both of them. The story goes that at the following year’s Grammy Awards Aretha Franklin, winner of Best Female R&B Performance for “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, handed over her trophy to the also nominated, deserving Esther. You know that I hope this story is true.

The Isley Brothers in two paragraphs – that’s not gonna happen! Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly made their first record in 1957, had their first hit “Shout” two years later. The mid-60s were spent at Tamla Motown where the quality of releases like “This Old Heart Of Mine”, “I Guess I’ll Always Love You”, “Behind A Painted Smile” & others was not reflected in higher chart placings. In 1969 the trio’s first post-Motown 45, “It’s Your Thing”, an influential Funk anthem, established their independence & them as a force in the new music. With full control over their recordings for their own T-Neck label “Giving It Back” (1971), a collection of contemporary covers, had included a hit version of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One Your With”. “Lay Away”, the first single from their upcoming record rose a healthy 12 places to #29 in the R&B chart this week.

“Brother, Brother, Brother” has its share of Soft Rock covers too, three from Carole King (a 10 minute take on “It’s Too Late”) & Jackie DeShannon’s “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”. It’s the three self-written tracks that stand out, “Work To Do” an insistent classic, the rumbling “Pop That Thang” & the Soul-Rock of “Lay Away”, performed on “Soul Train” by a group who don’t have dance moves – they just groove. “Brother…” is a significant progression of a long-held, well thought out strategy by the Isleys. Two younger brothers, guitarist Ernie & bass player Marvin, along with brother-in-law Chris Jasper had been more involved in the studio, the young guns had probably put the older guys on to the more current songs they had covered. Now, for the first time, these three appeared on the sleeve credits of a record that still featured Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly on the cover. Chris had one of his songs on the album. Everything was in place for a big move, T-Neck’s distribution was moved from Buddah to the bigger Epic & the expanded group recorded “3+3” (1973) with the smash hit “That Lady”. It was the first of a run of 12 LPs to make the R&B Top 3, eight of them in the Pop Top20. For the rest of the decade it was gold & platinum albums all the way for one of the most popular, most enduring groups in the world.

We didn’t get to see “Soul Train” here in the UK. Starting in Chicago in October 1971, shown in just eight cities, a black music programme produced by black people quickly proved to be something to see. It was also a great opportunity for artists to get the kind of national TV exposure they had never had before. So here’s Millie Jackson promoting “Ask Me What You Want”, her second single taken from her eponymous debut album, rising 11 places to #18 on this week’s chart & on its way to the Top 10. Working with producer Raeford Gerard there’s a variety of styles on Millie’s record, “Ask…” & the next hit “My Man, A Sweet Man” both have more than a touch of Motown melodicism & danceability. After a fine start the following year she recorded “It Hurts So Good”, included in the blaxploitation movie “Cleopatra Jones” & her biggest hit yet, crossing over to the Pop chart.

Millie had always talked to her audience between songs. Initially it helped her nervousness but she was good at it, she would say what she liked & people liked what she said. The chat, about how women were treated, how they expected & deserved to be treated, became a bigger part of her show. After three quality albums that tended to follow current styles, with “Caught Up” (1974) Ms Jackson played to her strengths & hit her stride. The songs suited this strong, opinionated woman, a side from the other woman’s viewpoint, another from the wife’s, both of them taking no crap from their man. The Muscle Shoals crew were as strong or as silky as necessary & Millie had the first of her gold records. More were to follow, her tours were a sell out, she was a Soul superstar. I may not be the biggest fan of Millie Jackson though plenty were, anyway she wasn’t talking to me she was talking about me!