The first time I heard “Dedicated to the One I Love” was in February 1967 when the Mamas & the Papas released the song as a single. The year since the arrival of their debut LP “If You Can Believe Your Eyes & Ears” had been golden for the four part harmony group. Apparently John and Mitchy were getting kind of itchy just to leave the folk music behind. With Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott the Phillips’s sang like a band of angels. “California Dreaming” & “Monday Monday”, instant classics, blended West Coast sunshine with grown up songs. The four voices were such a natural fit they could have recorded excerpts from the phone book & it would have sounded fine.
“Dedicated to the One I Love” was the group’s fifth Top 10 hit in 2 years. The Mamas & the Papas epitomised Los Angeles bohemian chic & the musicians of Laurel Canyon were displacing the movie stars of Hollywood as the city’s cool set. I’m not going to be able to leave this without declaring that in 1967 Michelle Phillips, “Dedicated…” being her finest recording, was quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the world. You don’t believe me ? Then watch this…
“Dedicated to the One I Love” & the Mamas & the Papas were such a perfect fit I assumed that John Phillips had written this one too. This was not the case, the song had been a hit for the Shirelles in 1961. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, the first big one of many for the songwriting team Goffin & King was one of theirs. “Soldier Boy” that was another one. The 4 Jersey Girls pioneered the girl-group sound, a big part of 60s American Pop. In 1966 I loved the Crystals, Ronettes, Shangri-Las & the graduates of the Motown charm school. The Shirelles seemed a little over by then, I had never heard their version of “Dedicated…”. What did I know ? Back then I had never even heard of the 5 Royales.
Now that’s how it originally went. In the days before Rock & Roll the 5 Royales were a pretty big deal. The group, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, took up permanent residence in the R&B Top 10 between 1952-54. At Apollo Records in New York they were skilled at taking Gospel groups & steering them towards Doo-Wop. The Selah Jubilee Singers became the Larks & the Royal Sons Quintet, the 5 Royales. These early hits featured the strong lead vocal of Johnny Tanner & a tenor sax break. Band member Lowman Pauling had a facility for writing fine songs & he was soon to prove that he had another 6 strings to his bow.
The group’s sound was updated when the saxophone was joined by Lowman’s guitar. His stinging, economical, innovative style marked the 5 Royales out from the crowd. Young guitarists like Steve Cropper, later to be such a presence at Stax, & John Fogarty, off of Credence Clearwater Revival, certainly listened & imitated. Lowman continued to provide great material. In 1957 there was another burst of success with songs that were not only popular but influential. “Think” was recorded by James Brown, “Tell the Truth” by Ray Charles. For “Dedicated to the One I Love”, co-written by Pauling & producer Ralph Bass, Johnny Tanner’s younger brother Eugene stepped up to add the sweetness that the song needed & made it such a popular, enduring classic. The swagger from Lowman Pauling’s guitar is what makes it outstanding. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is not a concept that much concerns me but when the 5 Royales were ushered through the door in 2015 I was happy to see them recognised.
In 1968 Stax Records of Memphis found themselves at the wrong end of a deal with Atlantic. In September 1969, to counter the loss of a stellar back catalogue, the label released 27 new LPs. One of them, “Hot Buttered Soul” by Isaac Hayes sold 3 million copies, inspired a whole lot of Orchestral Soul & kept Stax in the record-making game. Producer Jo Bridges set up the subsidiary We Produce label & brought along the Temprees, a trio who had been friends from high school in Memphis.
There are 3 Temprees albums, all large helpings of sweet, symphonic Soul. In 1972 it was the vocal groups up in Philadelphia, the Gamble & Huff stable, O’Jays, Bluenotes, the Stylistics who were getting the hits. Then there was the Chi-Lites & always the Temptations. The lead falsetto vocals of Jabbo Phillips stand comparison with Russell Thompkins of the Stylistics but the Temprees never achieved similar success. Their unhurried take on “Dedicated…” is a delight, a great vocal supported by Stax’ house orchestra, Isaac Hayes’ back-up, the Movement. Never fails to hit the spot this one…”Ooh Baby !”.
So here’s 3 versions of a great love song from 3 different decades each one a fine example of a style current at the time. Then there’s the Shirelles US Top 10 record, Bitty McLean’s reggaefied UK hit, the title track of a Linda Ronstadt LP, a live tribute by Laura Nyro, a champion of New York R&B. Lowman Pauling died in 1973, he’s buried in Winston-Salem next to his brother Clarence Paul, mentor of Stevie Wonder, co-writer of “Fingertips”, “Until You Come Back to Me”, “Hitch Hike” & many others. Man, that’s a talented family. The man whose name is on these & many other versions saw very little money from his composition. At the time of his death he was working as a night watchman at a New York church. Lowman now has a reputation as a star guitarist (try “The Slummer the Slum”, an early use of feedback) but something is not right there.