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.