Just A Shot Away (Soul January 15th 1972)

Joe Simon had the new #1 on the Cash Box R&B Top 60 (they seem to have dropped the “in R&B Locations” – I’ll miss it) of 50 years ago this week with “Drowning In the Sea of Love”. Just one place below Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was his first R&B Top 3 placing & by no means his last. There was 5 years of all-round greatness & success to come, the Reverend Al will surely feature in my future selections, probably before this year is done. Not this time though, the last post was exclusively male so this week it’s only fair to balance it out.

ᓰᓰᑫᐧᓯᐢ on Twitter: "Never forget Merry Clayton. She took Gimme Shelter from  classic to timeless. https://t.co/OAwRxmCe4f" / Twitter

In late 1969 singer Merry Clayton took a midnight phone call from her friend, producer Jack Nitzsche, asking her to come down to Sunset Sound Studio to help out his old friends the Rolling Stones. Merry, four months pregnant, got out of bed & in just three takes added a ferocious, full-throated vocal, absolutely appropriate for the apocalyptic “Gimme Shelter”, an already substantial observation on end-of-the-decade tumult. Ms Clayton had been recording since her school days, first with Bobby Darin, as a Raelette & providing backing vocals on records you have heard. This new significant credit brought a solo contract with producer Lou Adler, the title track of her debut in 1970 being “Gimme Shelter”. No Jagger this time, just Merry

Merry Clayton – After All This Time / Steamroller (1970, Vinyl) - Discogs

Merry had provided backing vocals for Carole King’s record “Tapestry”, a major success, & the hottest songwriter around returned the favour by passing over three of her unrecorded songs for the “Merry Clayton” album. Of course the singer could still take it to church, it’s what she did, both Neil Young’s “Southern Man” & James Taylor’s “Steamroller” are tours of force. It’s King’s songs, “After All This Time” is #22 on this week’s chart, & a couple of well-chosen others that bring a pleasing restraint to the collection. So does a studio full of all-star Soul-Jazz players, Billy Preston, the eighth Beatle, was a friend from the Ray Charles days, Wilton Felder & Joe Semple off of the Crusaders, David T Walker, Motown’s guitar man on the West Coast & Merry’s husband Curtis Amy do great work on the Funky grooves. Over the years Merry worked with an impressive list of musicians yet remained 20 feet from stardom. In 2014 both her legs were amputated at the knee after a car accident but she could still sing. With a little help from her talented friends 2021’s Gospel record “Beautiful Scars” is a lovely thing. It’s not a comeback album, Merry Clayton has always been around.

Martha & The Vandellas 1967 Vancouver, B.C. Nightclub Concert | Lot #89805  | Heritage Auctions

“In & Out of My Life” is the highest new entry on the list at #48. There was a time when Martha & the Vandellas were the premier group on the Tamla Motown roster. In 1963 “Heat Wave” & “Quicksand” made the US Top 10, helping to establish the company as “The Sound of Young America”. The following year “Dancing in the Street”, monumental Motor City Soul, was kept from the #1 spot by Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” while rising fast was “Baby Love”, the second of the Supremes’ phenomenal run of 5 successive chart toppers & it appeared that Motown’s star-making machinery would only support one superstar female trio. There were still some great 45s, “Jimmy Mack” is irresistible, “I’m Ready For Love”, a fine example of the strong, urgent Vandellas sound while the instant attraction I felt towards “Honey Chile”, the first credit to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, is now permanent. The departures of first producer/writer Mickey Stevenson, co-writer of “Dancing…” with Marvin Gaye & Ivy Joe Hunter, then Holland-Dozier-Holland, providers of 8 of the 12 tracks on 1966’s “Greatest Hits”, along with Martha’s debilitating addiction to painkillers, were barriers to maintaining a high quality output.

76 Martha Reeves (The Vandellas Years) ideas | martha reeves, martha, motown

By 1972 Martha Reeves’ Vandellas were sister Lois & Sandra Tilley & there hadn’t been a Top 20 Pop or R&B it since 1967’s “Honey Chile”. “Black Magic”, the soon to be released album, credited six production teams for just 11 tracks, giving the impression that if there was a spare afternoon with a song that perhaps Diana Ross had passed on then Martha & the Vandellas were called in. “In & Out of My Life” is a fine track, as is “Bless You” & a couple of the others but covers of songs by the Beatles, Jackson 5 & Dionne Warwick not so much. Motown were moving their operation from Detroit to Los Angeles & the group did not go with them. “Black Magic” was to be the trio’s final record & Martha Reeves was a solo singer before the end of 1972. MCA spent a good deal of money on Martha but she was never matched with the same quality of material as that which made Gladys Knight such a star after she left the label at the same time. Still, Martha is loved for a decade of hits & whether she is performing or showing up on “Celebrity Master Chef” it’s always a pleasure.

Ronettes Newcastle UK Club A Go Go 33 X 23 Inches Aporox | Etsy

I’m sorry to interrupt our normal programming but tribute must be paid to Veronica “Ronnie” Spector who unfortunately died this week. In late 1963, when I was hoping that Santa would show up with a piece of kit that could play those highly desirable, intoxicating 7 inch vinyl discs (he really came through – a brand new Dansette), the UK Top 10 was packed with the Mersey Beat, two guitars, bass & drum, yeah, yeah, yeah. In the middle of this noise from North West England was something from the USA, two sisters, Veronica & Estelle, with their cousin Nedra, from Spanish Harlem who had moved to Los Angeles to make records with “The First Tycoon of Teen” Phil Spector. I knew very little about the Wall of Sound, of Spector’s alchemy in Gold Star Studios but “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, with its boom-ba-boom-pah drum intro, orchestration & backing vocals a gathering storm under a siren’s call lead, strong, emotional, alluring, by Ronnie (“for every kiss you give me, I’ll give you three” – oh my!) was a perfect Pop song, more iconic with every homage, echo & attempt to emulate its precise excellence.

The Ronettes promo ad for Baby I Love You. January 1964 | The ronettes,  Wall of sound, 70s music

With “Be My Baby” & the following “Baby I Love You” the Ronettes toured the UK in 1964, topping a bill including the Rolling Stones. If you saw that tour then you are both lucky & old. When we did see photos & then moving pictures of the trio they proved to be sharp, stylish & flipping gorgeous. Their subsequent 45s were not as commercially successful, perhaps the Motown girl groups became the current sound. Spector’s productions, arranged by Jack Nitzsche who made that call to Merry Clayton, all featuring Ronnie’s distinctive, beguiling voice, endure as atmospheric “little symphonies for the kids”, often imitated, never equalled, undoubtedly the Ronettes.

Ronnie Spector

It took Ronnie some time to extricate herself from an abusive marriage to Spector & a new generation of music fans had heard little from her. Singles made with George Harrison & the E Street Band, a 1980 album with Genya Ravan were well received as were later records where she covered the likes of the Ramones & Johnny Thunders but these were too individual to revive any major success. Ronnie continued to tour, happy to perform her timeless hits to audiences who were happy to hear them. People I know who saw these shows tell me that it was a great night. Ronnie Spector made her mark, she was a legend & oh, did I mention she was flipping gorgeous.

1964, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, an all star bill for the T.A.M.I. Show. The Ronettes have just performed a wonderful live “Be My Baby” & the girls go a little off-script for their take on the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”. It’s wild, it’s free, fun & as Mod as heck. It certainly didn’t need all those Go-Go dancers cluttering up the stage.

Keep On (Soul January 1st 1972)

OK, it’s been a month since my last selections from the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago because y’know, Life. Right so, a New Year, new energy & a whole bunch of new entries on the chart. Let me at them & for sure it’s going to be another year of nothing but the real thing & there ain’t nothing like that.

There’s a brand new Top 3 for 1972 & the #1 on the R&B list is also at the top of the Pop chart. The Jackson 5 were the teen sensation of the day & “Got To Be There” was the debut solo 45 by 13 year old Michael. A more serious song, the boy with the prodigious voice & moves was growing up, a nailed on international hit while the family band were rising to #9 with “Sugar Daddy”, a more typical Pop-Soul confection. At #2 19 year old Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” didn’t crossover to become a Pop hit but its fresh Miami sound, that guitar riff by Little Beaver, makes it still recognisable 50 years later. Joe Simon had moved from Nashville to Philly, getting an update to his sound from producers Gamble & Huff, still making the Top 3 with “Drowning In the Sea of Love”. That’s a pretty good selection right there

Bobby Womack: The Greatest Soulman – Echoes Magazine

In 1965 Bobby Womack’s marriage to Sam Cooke’s widow just 77 days after the star’s death brought criticism from family, fans & the music business. Leaving his own family group, the Valentinos, his first solo efforts were badly received. Bobby found a place in Memphis as a session guitarist at American Sound Studio where his songwriting talent provided hits for Wilson Pickett & led to a new recording contract. After a couple of albums he was picked up by United Artists, a bigger label, moved to Los Angeles where he became Sly Stone’s drug buddy & contributed to “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”. Staying in L.A. to record his third solo record, with better promotion & a growing reputation, it was time for Bobby Womack to break on through.

Bobby Womack: Communication 8 Track Tape Cartridge for Sale

“Communication” matches spare, modern Funk to Bobby’s Old Soul voice & it’s the three of his own songs that are, in my opinion, the highlights of the collection. “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha”, #12 this week, up from 16, is a sweet Soul-Blues with his brothers on backing vocals & the Muscle Shoals band. The title track & “If You Don’t Want My Love) Give It Back” cut it too. Bobby always had a taste for a monologue & a trademark spoken intro & I have always found them engaging, it’s the easy listening covers, present on all his early records, that I find to be less successful. This time around it’s James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” & Ray Stevens’ “Everything Is Beautiful”. No matter, Bobby Womack was building an impressive catalogue & there was an upcoming LP, “Understanding” in May 1972 that really is a classic Soul album.

A poster for the 'Soul To Soul' Independence day concert held in... News  Photo - Getty Images

It was out on the youth club dancefloor, dancing awkwardly with the girls (well, near the girls) to the exciting Atlantic singles recorded by Wilson Pickett in 1965-66, a list that starts with “In the Midnight Hour” & ends with “Mustang Sally”, that made this too young to be a Mod a Soul Boy. The Wicked Pickett was my gateway to Southern Soul, to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, that Stax sound with a little more grit than those Motown sensations that were calling out around the world. I’ll admit that after voting for Wilson as the World’s Top Vocalist in the NME’s end of year poll 12 months later my choice was Otis but Pickett’s gruff & ready soul-shouting & shrieks were a Soul wonder & the hits kept on coming & he was such an international star that in 1971 when Soul went to Africa it was his name at the top of a star-studded bill. “15 continuous hours” of music in Black Star Square, Accra, Ghana, you know it, by the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. Well maybe not but my workmate Manny does & it was a very big deal when Soul Brother #2 (after James) performed in his home city. The light in his eyes was brighter when he told me his stories about that day over a decade later.

Soul Serenade: Wilson Pickett, “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won't Do)” – Popdose

In 1969 the wicked one recorded a coruscating cover of the Fabs’ “Hey Jude”, sparks flying between Wilson & that new guitar-slinger, young Duane Allman, the Muscle Shoals band giving it loads. The 45’s success led to other covers from the Pop/Rock catalogue & this week 50 years ago, up a healthy 10 spots to #22 was “Fire and Water” written by Andy Fraser & Paul Rogers, half of the band Free, the young ones of the British Blues boom. Free were a tight unit with a great live show & a growing reputation when a track from “Fire & Water”, their third album, the anthemic Rock classic “All Right Now”, made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. The songwriters, Fraser, a melodic bassist, & Rogers, a forceful vocalist & frontman, were up to the job of reinforcing this success but the unreliability & increasing heroin dependency of ace guitarist Paul Kossoff destabilised a great band that coulda been a contender. Wilson Pickett did a great job on “Fire & Water”, an imaginative choice, looking fly on “Soul Train” in his silver lame suit. He perhaps missed a trick by not picking up on “The Stealer”, another fine Blues-Soul song from Free.

Nolan Porter | Discography | Discogs

It”s a last chance to include this great tune in my selections as this week “Keep On Keeping On” by Nolan Porter had slipped from #36 to #54. Nolan’s first LP, “No Apologies” (1970) had been recorded in Hollywood with Little Feat, the band adding an attractive rockier edge to the singer’s soulful interpretations of songs by Van Morrison, Don Covay, Randy Newman & others. Released on producer Gabriel Mekler’s small label Lizard the record received little promotion & failed to gain attention. When a new recording, a reggae version of “Groovin’ Out On Life”, a song by the great Bobby Charles, was a small R&B hit it was under the name Frederick II so did little to raise Nolan’s profile. An eponymous second album included remixes from the debut along with four new tracks though, as can seen from the label above, “Keep On Keeping On” is by N.F. Porter. So few recordings so many names for Nolan Porter.

Stone Foundation mini UK/Spain tour with Nolan Porter | Stone Foundation  Blog

Both this 45 & the following “If I Could Only Be Sure” featured distinctive, almost eerie, lead playing by Johnnie “Guitar” Watson, different enough to attract attention from the Northern Soul scene in the UK. The quality of these records & that there would be no more releases by Nolan until 1980 added to their reputation. The riff for “Keep On…” being incorporated into Joy Division’s “Interzone”, Paul Weller covering “If I Could Only…”. A new generation of British Soul fans knew about Nolan Porter & he received a great welcome from fans & musicians when he visited. Unfortunately Nolan died last February, just two albums, less than 20 tracks. It really won’t take long to check him out & it will be worth it. More than anything, at the beginning of another uncertain year, we have to “Keep On Keeping On”. HNY.

All Things Considered I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia (Soul November 6th 1971)

So this week my link to the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago just disappeared. The venerable American music magazine now wants some of my hard-earned to access not only crummy content in which I have little interest but also their chart archive which I find so fascinating & inspiring. Ah well, at first it seemed that my game was up but these are they Interwebs, it’s all there if you know where to look or you get lucky. I have found this week’s listing, can’t tell you where in case the Cashbox folk are around & they send their heavies around to hold me upside down out of the window to get me to reveal my source. It’s OK, I live on the ground floor & anyway I’ll never squeal. Right, in a week that saw the “Theme From Shaft” leap a rather impressive 35 places into the Top 3, my selections are all from Philadelphia. The City of Sisterly Love, home of the Philly cheesesteak & the Hoagie (whatever they are), had been making significant musical ripples for some time. By November 1971 these new young guns were hitting their stride.

Much of the impetus for the greater interest in the sounds of Philadelphia came from the talent, ambition & success of songwriter-producer team Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff & the Intruders were a big part of the pair’s first steps to establish themselves. In 1966 they started their own Gamble label & four of the first five releases were by the local four-piece vocal group. It was all there on the Intruders’ breakout hit “Cowboys To Girls” (1968). Sam “Little Sonny Brown’s strong lead vocal, complimented by sweet harmonies, lush strings & punchy brass was a template for the future Sound of Philadelphia.

45cat - The Intruders - (Love Is Like A) Baseball Game / Friends No More -  Gamble - USA - G-217

In 1971, with hits by the Intruders, Jerry Butler, Dusty Springfield & others on their palmares, Gamble & Huff, with the backing of Columbia, started Philadelphia International. With new financial & artistic clout they were able to assemble a roster of artists & background staff with the ability to finesse a Soul strand to rival Detroit & Memphis. Through all this change the pair stuck by the Intruders & “I Bet He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” up just one place to #30 became the group’s ninth R& Top 20 hit, all Gamble & Huff compositions. By this time Bobby Starr had replaced Little Sonny on lead, joining Eugene “Bird” Daughtry, Phil Terry & Robert “Big Sonny” Edwards. The Intruders already had their name on the roll of important Philadelphia artists & there was still more to come from them

Getting Down To It (Soul October 17th 1970) | loosehandlebars

Thom Bell, Jamaican born, raised in Philadelphia, was an early recruit to the new record label. His talent as an arranger was already proven & when Gamble & Huff formed a publishing company Bell was the third of Mighty Three Music. In 1967 he was introduced to the Delfonics, the Hart brothers, William & Wilbert, & Randy Cain. William’s love songs, sung in his sweetest falsetto, were matched to supertight harmonies & symphonic, atmospheric orchestration. The first two 45s were not hits, hearing them now they sound pretty fine, instantly recognisable as Delfonics’ music. With their label Cameo-Parkway, a fixture in the city for the previous 10 years, about to fold they recorded “La La (Means I Love You)” & released it locally but you know it, Ms Jackie Brown knows it, we all do. It was just too good a record, a true individual classic, to not leave a major impression on the chart & in our musical memories.

“Walk Right Up To the Sun”, rising a sprightly 10 places to #37, followed more Bell-produced hits including “Ready Or Not Here I come” & “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”. It’s another smooth, airy piece which sits well on any of the group’s “Best Of” collections only this time, as on the rest of the forthcoming album “Tell Me This Is A Dream”, Thom Bell’s name is absent from the credits. He had work to do on new projects based at the Sigma Sound Studios. William Bell continued to write, Randy was replaced by Major Harris whose cousin Norman took a prominent role (he co-wrote “Walk Right Up…”), playing arranging & assisting group manager Stan Watson on production. The hits were never as big again but hey, it’s the Delfonics, you hear them you know them.

THOM BELL AND LINDA CREED: LOVE IS THE MESSAGE

Linda Creed, raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, passed on college to pursue a musical career. She found her talent was as a lyricist & she was only 21 when Dusty Springfield recorded a song she had written with the aforementioned Mighty Three. Paired with Thom Bell the new partners worked on songs for the debut album by the Stylistics, a group referred to them by the Avco label. Eight of the nine songs on “The Stylistics” (1971) were Creed-Bell compositions &, given full creative control, Bell marshalled MFSB, the ready for prime time studio band, & a shimmering string section to frame the strong, sweet tenor to falsetto voice of Russell Thompkins Jr. I could name the other four Stylistics though they made no contribution to a record that produced five Top 10 R&B hits & was truly a landmark of the greater sophistication of Soul music.

It was such a landmark that when Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye were matched by Motown for an album of duets two of the Bell-Creed songs, “You Are Everything” (a new entry at #44 this week for the Stylistics) & “Stop Look Listen (To Your Heart)”, were included. Things were tense between the label’s biggest solo stars during the recording of “Diana & Marvin” (1973), she objected to his dope smoking, he wanted to know why her name came first. “You Are Everything” is the opening track, Diana takes the first verse before Marvin, showing he is not to be messed with, sits up & delivers the greatest 30 seconds of male vocal I have ever heard. Controversial? Not in the slightest -check it out.

Sunshine, Szabo & Joe Tex (Soul September 25th 1971)

“Stick-Up” by Honey Cone had been on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 10 weeks before reaching the top spot. Longevity, a slow & steady rise, was more of a thing 50 years ago & three of the Top 10 had entered the chart over three months ago. I am now, of course, like everyone else in the 21st century, only attracted the shiny, new things & much of the current Top 10 has been featured in previous posts. There is one record, at #4 on September 25th 1971 after one week at #1, that has not been included so let’s start with one we all know, a classic hit, before excavating the listing’s lower reaches for some less well-known good stuff.

Ain't No Sunshine' 9 Memorable Covers

In 1971 things were all new for Bill Withers & he was new to record buyers. The cover of his debut album showed him, lunchbox in hand, at his job as an assembler at Weber Aircraft in Burbank, California. Bill was 32 years old, reluctant to quit in case this music thing didn’t work out. “Just As I Am” was produced by Booker T Jones who called in his fellow M.G.s Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass & drummer Al Jackson Jr. Steve Cropper was unavailable so Stephen Stills brought his guitar along. Heavy friends for a freshman recording artist. Judicious, expert use of strings added a sheen tosongs such as “Harlem”, Grandma’s Hands”, “Hope She’ll Be Happier” & the breakthrough “Ain’t No Sunshine” (I know, I know, I know that you know that one) that showed Bill Withers to be a songwriter with the ability to capture emotion with a dextrous lucidity. The overall impression was one of likeability & sincerity. It was no surprise that this was just how Bill was.

Bill Withers, Singer-Songwriter Of 'Ain't No Sunshine,' Has Died At Age 81  | KUAR

While he was trying to obtain a contract Bill made demo tapes using local Los Angeles musicians from Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. When the time came to take his show on the road they joined him &, as displayed on TV appearances & the 1973 “Live At The Carnegie Hall” album, their sympathetic, insouciant groove turned the Soul-Folk into an effortless Funk. In 1972 “Ain’t No Sunshine” was deservedly awarded the Grammy for Best R&B Song. It was followed by “Still Bill”, a very successful record produced by Bill & his band which not only included “Lean On Me” (US Pop #1) & “Use Me” (Pop #2) but also enough songs to make a damn fine list. After a move to a bigger label in 1975 he became increasingly dissatisfied with the insensitivity of the star making machinery & its effect on his creativity. “Menagerie” (1978) featured “Lovely Day” another song we all know, there was a hit collaboration with Grover Washington Jr, an album in 1985 & that was it. I hope that Bill Withers was fairly remunerated for those much-loved, much-covered songs he wrote. I do know from interview & documentary evidence that he was a content & admirable man who liked to live his life on his own terms.

This is a Gibson guitar print ad featuring Gabor Szabo.

Gabor Szabo, just like my Uncle Erno, was a young man when they both escaped a Red Army invasion of Hungary in 1956. Erno found his way to the UK where he absolutely lucked out by marrying Ruth, my favourite Auntie while Gabor arrived in California via Austria , a guitarist already Jazz-influenced by exposure to the Voice of America radio station in Budapest. After a couple of years studying in Boston he returned west & joined a quintet led by established bandleader Chico Hamilton with whom he made his first recordings. His solo records, 8 across 1966-67, often included versions of contemporary songs by the Beatles & others. I have never been sure about Jazz’s interaction with the Pop canon, however cool, stylish & well-played or however “Jazz Raga” you make “Paint It Black”. A creative & business partnership with vibraphonist Gary McFarland led to the formation of Skye Records & “Dreams” (1968) is fine collection of his many influences including Hungarian Folk music. His most commercially successful work with vocalist Lena Horne was released just as Skye had to declare bankruptcy.

Gabor Szabo / Bobby Womack – Breezin' / Azure Rain (1971, Vinyl) - Discogs

So to 1971 & the “High Contrast” album with “Breezin”, this week rising a healthy 12 places to #30. Now with the famed Blue Thumb label this was a collaboration with Bobby Womack who played rhythm guitar on the sessions & wrote 4 of the 7 songs. This is much more to my taste, a leisurely Jazz-Funk groove that anticipated later music by the Crusaders, Grover Washington Jr, Bob James, Eric Gale & the rest of the CTI crew. Gabor continued to record & often returned to Hungary. He had though picked up something else from American Jazz musicians & died when just 45 years old after a long-standing heroin addiction. Gabor Szabo is fondly remembered by those who were listening at the time. The great Carlos Santana cites him as an influence & merged Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen” with Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” to create a killer track.

JOE TEX/PERCY SLEDGE - Knoxville 1968 Music Concert Poster Art | eBay

A new record from Joe Tex was always a good thing. Since “Hold What You Got”, his first hit in 1965, there had been over 20 placings on the R&B Top 30. The 5 successive Top 10 singles across 1965-66, released on the Dial label, distributed by Atlantic, placed him in the front line of the Southern Soul artists who were coming to national attention. While Joe could write Soul stompers like “Show Me” & “S.Y.S.L.J.F.M. (The Letter Song”) it was his three minute homilies, homespun observations told with a moral told with humour, warmth & exuberance, that became his stock-in-trade. “Skinny Legs & All” crossed over to the Pop chart in 1967, “Men Are Getting Scarce” (“Men are gettin’ scarce, scarcer than hen’s teeth, & that’s mighty scarce!”) were just two of a long line of memorable, individual hits which, along with an outstanding stage show (including impersonations), made him a major star.

Joe Tex – Give The Baby Anything The Baby Wants / Takin' A Chance (1971,  Vinyl) - Discogs

Joe Tex was involved with the Soul Clan, a superstar collective with higher ideals than just making records which never received the promised backing of Atlantic. There was a move to Mercury Records but, through a partnership with manager-producer-Dial label owner Buddy Killen, he maintained his independence, recording what & where he wanted, using the best musicians from Muscle Shoals & American Sound Studios in Memphis. The Memphis Boys, Reggie Young (guitar), Tommy Cogbill (bass), keyboard players Bobby Emmons & Bobby Wood , would come on over to Nashville if Joe had sessions there. “Give The Baby What The Baby Wants”, #41 this week, is a fine, funky workout for the crew that sits just right on the collection of Dial A-sides that is an essential for any Soul enthusiast. The following year “I Gotcha” became Joe”s biggest hit (#1 R&B, #2 Pop) but recording became more sporadic when Joe, a convert to Islam in 1966, announced his retirement in 1972, returning three years later after the death of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)” was one last hit in 1977. Joe never really suited Disco & his music lacked the progression of some of his contemporaries. There were both health & financial problems before a fatal heart attack in 1982 which is a shame but there’s always the great, uplifting music of Joe Tex – a Soul Man.

Groovin’ With The King (Soul September 11th 1971)

The Top 10 of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week can take a backseat this time around. The highest of the 10 new entries on the chart is such a great record that we will get straight to that then it really should be no problem to to select another two of the higher numbers from lower down the page.

How much do I love the voice of Overton Vertis Wright? Flipping loads! 50 years ago I was just 18, you know what I mean. Young & in love, leaving my parent’s home for new adventures in a town 150 miles away, dumb as a box of hair. Everything was new, that’s the way I liked it & Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, the Soul innovators, were the soundtrack to the excitement & anticipation. The deep Southern Soul of O.V. Wright seemed, I’ll admit, a little staid. I knew nothing about the pain of loss, heartbreak & the tribulations Life brings. Now I’m almost grown (huh!) & have a greater experience of all that tricky stuff, I believe that O.V. is one of the singers (it’s a short list) who is able to communicate & illuminate these feelings most honestly & convincingly.

O.V. Wright 1970 Detroit, MI Jumbo Globe Concert Poster.... Music | Lot  #89880 | Heritage Auctions

“A Nickel & A Nail” entered the chart at #45, O.V. had started his recording career with two R&B Top 10 hits but, while popular in the southern states, he never emulated the success of some of his contemporaries. His Gospel group, the Sunset Travellers also included James Carr (blimey!). The pair went to Goldwax Records together but O.V. had signed a contract with the smaller Back Beat label whose owner Don Robey always (as Deadric Malone) seemed to have songwriting credit. A run of fine 45s brought the involvement in the late 1960s of producer Willie Mitchell & when Willie got his own thing going at Royal Studio in Memphis he brought O.V. along. With the Hi (Records) Rhythm Section & the Memphis Horns the backing was sweeter & stronger though never overpowering his intense, immaculate vocals. Yeah, there have now been times when all I’ve had in my pocket was a nickel & a nail & O.V. Wright sounds like he has too. That’s the Blues.

O.V. Wright (Overton Vertis Wright) | Facebook

O.V.’s run at Hi Records was interrupted by his involvement with narcotics leading to jail time. After a 4 year break he resumed recording in 1977. Such were the times that the music was now Disco-inflected but O.V. still sang it like it was. His take on Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”, part of a 10 minute long medley, is spine-tingling & “Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose)” is just too much. In September 1979 the Hi band (with the three Hodges brothers) got together with O.V. for a tour of Japan. Looking frail, a little sick & tired of being sick & tired, his voice is still a wonder, the resulting live album is a run through his career & a triumph of Memphis Soul, O.V.’s testification made all the more poignant by his fatal heart attack, at the age of 41, in the following year. O. V., you’re gonna make me cry.

Now this is an odd one. Just making the chart at #59 this week is “Groovin’ Out On Life” by Frederick II. I know the song from the original Jamaican hit by Hopeton Lewis, a lovely version by Dennis Brown, recorded at Studio One with Coxsone Dodd when the singer was just 14 years old & its inclusion on Nolan Porter’s 1972 album “Nolan” but Frederick II, you got me there. It turns out that there’s not a long-lost recording by the briefly King of Prussia (March 1888 – June 1888) but that this is the Nolan Porter track issued under a different name & that’s nothing but a good thing!

Nolan Porter | Discography | Discogs

If Nolan Porter was not in with the In Crowd of Los Angeles then he was certainly in with an In Crowd. His producer Gabriel Melker had been responsible for records by Steppenwolf (“Born To Be Wild”!), Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin & others. Married to Frank Zappa’s, off of the Mothers of Invention, sister Candy, Nolan was able to recruit the assistance of the members of Little Feat, soon to be the coolest band on this planet. Subsequently a little more Rock innovation was added to the Soul, well-chosen cover versions (Booker T Jones, Randy Newman, a Little Feat song) were mixed with his own compositions. It was a prescription that served Rod Stewart pretty well in 1971. A 45, “I Like What You Give”, was a small R&B hit but the LP “No Apologies” by simply “Nolan” failed to register. Anyway there was always Frederick II.

Stone Foundation on Twitter: "There aren't enough words on here to express  our sadness in the passing today of our dear friend and brother Nolan Porter.  You taught us so much in

In 1968 Desmond Dekker’s sensational “The Israelites”, a #1 in the UK, reached the US Pop Top 10 but Jamaican music had not made the same impression there as it had on this side of the Atlantic. There were two Reggae songs on Nolan’s re-mixed, re-shuffled (four new tracks) & re-released album & “Groovin’…” is a pretty sweet tune even if the L.A. boys don’t totally re-create the depth & feel that the JA studio cats could play all day, every day. Is this the first US Reggae record to make the R&B chart? Nolan’s record company went bust & that was it from him. His music was distinctive & good enough to attract devotion in UK Northern Soul clubs then enthusiasm from younger listeners. “If I Could Only Be Sure” & “Keep On Keeping On” (the riff borrowed by Joy Division for “Interzone”) are the “hits” but all of Nolan Porter is worth checking out.

Funkadelic : Live At Meadowbrook 1971 (Vinyl Reissue) : Aquarium Drunkard

Just sneaking on to this week’s chart at #60 is a track taken from “Maggot Brain”, the third album released by Funkadelic in 14 months. George Clinton’s vocal group, the Parliaments had integrated with its backing band to create an amalgamation who set off on a lysergically-fuelled magical mystery expedition, where the rules are that there are none, in search of that “way back yonder Funk”. The group’s first two records laid the foundation of the Funkadelic P-Funk credo, “Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow”, psychedelia energetically & free spiritedly combined with many Black & Rock influences, always music you could dance to. George encouraged the talented musicians he had assembled to express themselves & “Maggot Brain” is the realisation of their ideas about forging something modern, different & individual. It’s a landmark record.

Funkadelic & The Parliament gig flyer, 1971: OldSchoolCool

The acoustic guitar intro to “Can You Get To That” is pretty calming after the opening title track, a 10 minute long intense mind-melting instrumental led with rare skill & emotion by guitarist Eddie Hazel who knew that the talent of Jimi Hendrix was as much from the heart as well as the hands. “Can You…” is Gospel reinforced by Funk,the vocals by Isaac Hayes’ backing singers Hot Buttered Soul,& it’s as catchy as heck. Funkadelic enjoyed modest success with their records & it would be their ninth studio album, in 1978, before a platinum disc arrived. George was ready with a stadium-filling space spectacular based around some Mothership craziness & innovative, inspired music. “One Nation Under A Groove” is undoubtedly a great, still influential album. I prefer Funkadelic from 1971 when they had “rusty ankles and ashy kneecaps”.

In 2013 Jeff Tweedy, off of Wilco, got back together with Mavis Staples to record a successor to the album “You Are Not Alone” from three years earlier. Mavis, a Queen of Soul with her family band, can make any song better with her presence & passion & “Can You Get To That”, from “One True Vine” was a perfect candidate for revival. I try not to post phone clips but I will never get enough moving pictures of Mavis & her fine touring band. She takes you there!

It’s A Love Rights Thing (Soul August 28th 1971)

As a compilation of Aretha Franklin’s hit records had been released only two years previously, for the 1971 “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” collection the singer recorded three cover versions that had not been included on either singles or albums. In May “Bridge Over Troubled Water” had become the tenth of her 45s to hit the #1 spot on the R&B chart. “Spanish Harlem”, climbing two slots to #2 on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago, was just a week away from being her eleventh. 1971 was, as if there was any doubt, the year that Aretha’s “Queen of Soul” title was confirmed.

Spanish Harlem - As performed by Jimmy Justice, Aretha Franklin, Norrie  Pramor and Ben E King only £10.00

In 1960 Pop prodigy Phil Spector, just 20 years old, had flown across the US to network with the great & good of New York’s R&B music community. Ace writer/producers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller were working on material for Ben E King, the lead voice on enduring hits they had crafted for the Drifters. “Spanish Harlem” was written by Spector & Leiber, though I’m sure that Stoller was in the room too, & it provided the singer with his first major hit. A couple of tunes Spector had written with lyricist Doc Pomus were recorded at the same session as was “Stand By Me” & we all know how that one goes. The original had the slow samba baion rhythm so popular in NY at the time. Aretha added a little pace, a little Funk, changed the red rose to black & the song was a hit again.

This was the second time that Ms Franklin had revived a King tune. In 1970 “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)”, one from 1962, had been another R&B #1. “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” was to be released in September, her “Live At The Fillmore West”, a great achievement, had come around earlier in March. A nonpareil singer was at her commercial & artistic peak. She had the “Young Gifted & Black” album ready to go, a record that included five songs that made the R&B Top 10. Even Aretha’s B-sides were making the chart in 1971.

Laura Lee – Women's Love Rights (1971, Vinyl) - Discogs

Women were representing for the Hot Wax/Invictus labels, the operation set up by the crack team Holland-Dozier-Holland on moving across Detroit from Tamla Motown. The vocal trio Honey Cone are at #7 with “Stick Up”, on its way to emulating the chart-topping “Want Ads” while Freda Payne, known for “Band Of Gold”, had “Bring the Boys Back Home”, sweet Soul with a rock hard centre of Vietnam protest, a message that got itself banned by the overseas American Forces Network. Up three places to #32 is a singer who is possibly less remembered but Laura Lee’s “Women’s Love Rights” had got it going on.

Laura Lee was from the pool of Detroit talent who joined a new label where their potential could be more realised. She had sung & recorded with the Meditation Singers since she was a pre-teen, having a couple of solo Top20 R&B hits in 1967 when Chess Records sent her down to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. Back in Detroit she was matched with one of the less heralded former Motown staffers William Weatherspoon who had co-written “What Becomes Of the Broken Hearted” & other great hits for Jimmy Ruffin while also producing the attention-grabbing orchestral “When You’re Young & In Love” by the Marvelettes. The two talents proved to be in synch.

Laura Lee | Discography | Discogs

With a strong, assertive voice to write for Weatherspoon, together with Angelo Gold who also had a credit on the Freda Payne single, provided Laura with plenty of attitude. You better be a do right man or else, as “Women’s Love Rights” says “Love who you wanna ’cause a man is sure gonna”. The song was the title track of an album with titles like “I Don’t Want Nothin’ Old (But Money)” & “It’s Not What You Fall For, It’s What You Stand For”. I’m not sure if they were but it really does sound like the Funk Brothers were moonlighting at the Town Theatre studio because the whole thing absolutely grooves. A further LP, “Two Sides Of…” combined imaginative cover versions with more smoking, sturdy originals. Unfortunately as Hot Wax/Invictus folded Laura became seriously ill & retired from music for some years before returning to Gospel. Around this time Millie Jackson was mining a similar seam on the theme of modern love, selling millions of albums that were no spunkier or funkier than the two Laura Lee made.

The Gambler by Ralfi Pagan

Ralfi Pagan, from the Bronx, New York, had first recorded as Ray Paige before signing with Fania Records, a label started by bandleader Johnny Pacheco as an outlet & showcase for the Latin music community of the city. Ralfi’s debut album, all in Spanish then re-released with a couple of songs in American highlighted some fine, romantic, falsetto balladry. Young & handsome, Ralfi’s sweet Latin Soul was very popular. “Make It With You”, #35 this week, a cover version of David Gates’ song for Bread, a hit in 1970, is embellished by his delicate, emotional voice, expanded by an excellent arrangement. It was in 1971 that the Fania All Stars, an assembly of stellar Latin musicians, played their “Live At the Cheetah” concert which, when released, deservedly gained them worldwide reputation & recognition of Salsa. Some of these guys were in the studio making Ralfi’s music & it is certainly classy. A particular tip of the fedora to the guitarist.

The singer moved to Los Angeles & was a success with the Californian Chicano audiences. In 1978 Ralfi was touring in Colombia when his body was found on a local beach. Accepted as a murder the case remains unresolved. His brother puts the finger on an unnamed promoter/business associate while there are more lurid versions involving cocaine. I’m not looking for clues so I’ll just say that Ralfi Pagan was 30 years old when he died. As the appreciation of Latin music grew surely such a honeyed, individual voice as his would have become more widely known.

It’s The Keeping It Real Thing (Soul August 14th 1971)

The Top 3 of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for August 14th of 50 years ago was packed by the heavy hitters of Soul. “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye displaced James Brown at the top spot while the Isley Brothers remained at #3. The two fastest rising records in the Top 10 were both by groups finding themselves in such exalted company for the first time. I am not too familiar with the bands or the tunes but they are both pretty, pretty good so let’s get to it with those two.

Label: Phil-L.A. of Soul - Rate Your Music

In 1971 Philadelphia, through the two partnerships of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff with Thom Bell & Linda Creed, a Philly identity was being established that would emulate the commercial success of Soul music from Detroit, Chicago & Memphis. A melodic, string drenched sound which, according to James Brown’s trombonist Fred Wesley was “putting the bow tie on Funk”. Two of the most recent hits from the City of Brotherly Love had been released by the Phil-LA of Soul label (it’s a fishy pun, say it quickly), a conduit for local talent & for what was happening down in Miami. Both “Boogaloo Down Broadway” by the Fantastic Johnny C & Cliff Nobles & Co’s “The Horse” were distinctive, danceable, deserved but surprise hits & the small label was unable to follow up such success. This week, with “I Likes To Do It” by The People’s Choice, rising five places to #5, they had found themselves another break out hit.

Amazon Music - The People's ChoiceのI Likes to Do It - Amazon.co.jp

There had been a People’s Choice recording out of Detroit before Frankie Brunson & David Thompson took that name for their new Philadelphia band in 1971. Brunson had made solo records in the 50s & 60s as well as being a member of the Fashions alongside Thompson. He wrote & played keyboards on “I Likes To Do It”, their debut 45 for Phil-LA & what a groovy record it is. Like a funky Ramsey Lewis Trio, not as Jazz-based but with the same simple, insistent, toe-tapping groove. Very nice. There was no big successor to “I Likes…”, no album recorded for the label. The group had been spotted by Gamble & Huff & in 1975 moved across to Sigma Sound Studios to record the “Boogie Down USA” album. The lead single “Do It Any Way You Wanna”, as funky as Philly Soul had ever been, was an R&B #1, Top 20 Pop smash & a proto-Disco international hit.

There’s not much I know about Electric Express. A group from Greensboro, N. Carolina, their debut 45, “It’s the Real Thing” was moving on up a healthy 6 rungs of the chart ladder to #10. There were only to three more singles after this hit, all four written by band members James Powell & Vick Hudson & despite “I Can’t Believe We Did (the Whole Thing)” being on the larger Avco label an album was never forthcoming. “It’s The Real Thing” certainly is, Part 1 is a raw, saxophone led stone Funk groove, the other records are too. All the members of Electric Express are fondly remembered by family & friends in Greensboro & nights at The Carlotta Supper Club or The El Rocco Supper Club on Market St with the group laying it down sound like a great time. In fact any club playing Electric Express & the People’s Choice in 1971 is our kind of place.

45cat - The Persuaders - Thin Line Between Love And Hate / Thigh Spy - Atco  - USA - 45-6822

OK, “the sweetest woman in the world can be the meanest woman in the world, if you make her that way”. On it’s second week in the chart, rising a healthy 11 places to #39 (pop pickers), The Persuaders, a vocal group begun in New York by former members of the Independents & the Topics, were crossing the “Thin Line Between Love & Hate”. By the second verse lead singer Donald “Smokey” Scott is “laid in the hospital, bandaged from feet to head”!. It’s a cautionary tale, distinctive, dramatic & catching enough ears to eventually spend two weeks at the top of the listings of October 1971. “Thin Line…” was written by the Poindexter Brothers, Robert & Richard, along with Jackie Members, Robert’s wife. The subsequent album, a Poindexter’s production, highlighted the vocal adroitness of the quartet & included “Love Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out)”, another R&B Top 10 hit.

In 1974, with only Scott remaining from the original line up, the Persuaders were sent to Philadelphia to capture some of the shimmering sound that was sweeping the nation. Their third album was produced by the writer/producer trio called the Young Professionals who included Tony Bell, the younger brother of the famous Thom. From this came the group’s third & final entry into the R&B Top 10. “Some Guys Have All The Luck” has been covered by Robert Palmer, Rod Stewart & Maxi Priest. It’s a sweet Philly Soul cracker.

Stays On My Mind (Soul July 31st 1971)

The Top 10 records on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week were the same as the week before only in a slightly reshuffled order. Gladys Knight & her Pips had enjoyed just one week at #1 with “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong” & was now replaced by the impressively double bracketed “Hot Pants (Part 1) (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants), the 11th time that James Brown had hit the top spot. The most recent release of these 10 was a song that was initially slated to be a single for the Temptations but the departure of lead vocalist Eddie Kendricks for a solo career in March 1971 meant that a Plan B was required. Producer Norman Whitfield took his song “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, cut from over 12 minutes to under 4, re-recorded it with his Psychedelic Soul proteges, the Undisputed Truth & made the hit it was always going to be. Anyways, we looked at these big hits in the last post & there are other great artists & records, some of my favourites, further down the listing so let’s get to that.

Barbara Lynn | Letterpress poster, Vintage music art, Jazz poster

Way back when I first invited the World Wide Web into the house it brought along a Y-tube clip from 1966 of Barbara Lynn performing “You’ll Lose A Good Thing”, her hit from four years earlier. I was convinced that me & this new e-world would be getting along just fine. An R&B prime cut, filmed in colour an elegant young woman singing her own song, playing her guitar left-handed just like Jimi, the whole package just seemed so assured, so modern. Barbara was just 20 when she made the 265 mile journey to New Orleans to record with Huey P Meaux, “the Crazy Cajun”. “…Good Thing”, her debut, was such a success that she was able to record regularly in the next few years. One of her songs “Oh Baby (We’ve Got a Good Thing Goin’)” was covered by the Rolling Stones in 1965. It was Meaux’ connections in the music business that got Barbara signed to Atlantic in 1967 & in the following year “Here Is Barbara Lynn”, an album recorded in Mississippi with Meaux was released.

Barbara Lynn | Sheila B | Page 2

“(Until Then) I’ll Suffer”, rising from #52 to #46 on this week chart is a 1971 release lifted from that three year old album. It appears to have been the b-side of “Take Your Love and Run”, another cut from a record that seemed to point Barbara towards sub-Motown Soul stompers which were good enough but it was the five songs she wrote, where the Blues was added to her Gulf Coast Soul that stood out. It is no surprise that “(Until Then) I’ll Suffer” in the style of “…Good Thing”, recognisably a Barbara Lynn joint, was the side preferred by radio stations. Any plans for new material from her were stalled by the imprisonment of Huey Meaux after a conviction under the Mann Act for transporting an underage female across state line for immoral purposes (later things got worse for Huey). Barbara, a new wife & mother, stepped away & took 20 years off to raise her kids before returning to recording & touring, still looking, singing & playing just fine. There were plenty of people pleased to see her.

Denise LaSalle Lyrics, Song Meanings, Videos, Full Albums & Bios | SonicHits

I hope that you are able to spare three minutes to listen to a new entry at #58 to the Cash Box chart because “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” by Denise LaSalle is a wonderful thing. Denise had relocated from Mississippi to Chicago when she was a teenager. She was into her thirties before she began to record. It was perhaps this maturity showing when she & her husband Bill Jones set up their independent Crajon Enterprises company & negotiated a deal with Detroit’s Westbound label. It was certainly an astute move to go to Royal Studios in Memphis where producer Willie Mitchell was finessing a signature sound combining the melodic groove of his rhythm section with bright punchy interjections by the Memphis Horns. In 1971 Mitchell was establishing Al Green as a new force on the Soul scene & his arrangements for “Trapped By A Thing…” & Denise’s subsequent LP provided the same freshness. Eight of the eleven songs were written by Denise herself, she & her husband produced an album that is a fine, individual example of the way Southern Soul was heading. Incidentally the track “If You Should Loose Me” (sic) is a cover of Barbara Lynn’s “You’ll Lose A Good Thing”. Denise continued to write & record into the 21st century, her reputation as a “Blues Queen” fully justified.

In Jim Jarmusch’s fine Rock & Roll vampire movie “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013) Eve (Tilda Swinton, that’s the great…) is listening to Adam (Loki Hiddleston), her husband over many centuries, whinge on about the drawbacks of immortality, of waiting round to never die. She walks across the room to the turntable, selects “Trapped By This Thing Called Love” & says “How can you have lived for so long and still not get it? This self obsession is a waste of living, It could be spent surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship, and dancing”. Life affirming words & music indeed.

The Dells - The Love We Had (Stays On My Mind) / Freedom Means - Cadet -  USA - CA 5683 - 45cat

Ah, the mighty, mighty Dells, at #53 with their latest 45 “The Love We Had Stays On My Mind”. The quintet came together in 1953 as high school friends in Harvey, Illinois, just south of Chicago. “Oh What A Nite”, hit big in 1956, Johnny Carter (the new guy!) joined in 1962 & he, Marvin Junior, Chuck Barksdale, Michael McGill & Verne Allison were still together 50 years later. When, in 1966, their record company Vee-Jay declared bankruptcy a move across town to Chess Records led to a string of R&B hits with standards or material provided by producer Bobby Miller, finely tuned by ace arranger Charles Stepney. With the departure of Miller to Motown in 1969 Stepney took over production duties, continuing the ambitious, imaginative, urbane Soul vision he had pursued with the group Rotary Connection. In 1971, with the release of the “Freedom Means” album the Dells, already regarded as the most senior of the vocal groups, around since the days of Doo-Wop, were pushing the boundaries of melodic, harmonious Soul.

“Freedom Means” had its covers of well known songs along with six of the ten, including the title track & “The Love We Had…” written by Terry Callier, a Chicagoan friend of Curtis Mayfield & Jerry Butler. His mid-60s album “The New Folk of…” was embellished with Jazzy idiosyncrasy & now, as a Stepney protege, he was bringing a distinctiveness to the Dells. “The Dells Sing Dionne Warwicke’s Greatest Hits” (1972) sounds a little more mainstream but blimey Bacharach & David’s modern classics are only enhanced by the vocals & arrangements. “Sweet As Funk Can Be” (also 1972), seven Callier/Wade compositions & one cover, is an almost-concept album, tracks linked by spoken segues & as far out as the Dells ever got. It is perhaps a taste to be acquired but the album does exactly what it says on the cover &, for what it’s worth, my one-word review is “Magnificent”.

The Dells – Sweet As Funk Can Be (1972, Vinyl) - Discogs

The Dells were by no means Stepney’s surrogates. Chuck’s bass added texture while Michael & Verne had been doing their harmony thing for so long now that they absolutely had it down. The powerful baritone voice of Marvin Junior really is a special thing. You hear that, it’s the Dells. While Marvin came with the thunder he was set up & perfectly, uniquely complemented by the lightning of Johnny Carter’s range from tenor to falsetto. There’s much more to the group than sheer durability. As tastes in music changed the Dells made slight adjustments, always classy, elegant & relevant, ensuring their longevity. My good e-friend Jennifer Hannah Cocozza, a woman of immaculate taste, will tell anyone who cares to listen that Marvin Junior is the outstanding voice in a talented, crowded Soul field. I’m the guy stood behind her saying “Yeah, that’s right!”

This week’s live clip is from the same 1972 performance by the Dells on the landmark but short-lived “Soul” TV series. “Stay In My Corner” was a hit in 1965 the re-recorded three year later, becoming the group’s biggest R&B and Pop hit of the 1960s. Developed into an expanded onstage showstopper it showcases the amalgamated talents of the five while featuring the quite extraordinary alignment & blessing that Marvin & Johnny had refined. It does not get better than this.

A Rose In A Fisted Glove (Soul July 10th 1971)

While “Mr Big Stuff” by Jean Knight & Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong” remained at the head of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for July 10th 1971 there was significant movement just below these hits. No less than five singles were newly welcomed to the Top 10 so this week’s review will not be crate-digging for barely remembered or perhaps never heard before songs from the lower reaches of the chart. Instead it’s big hits from big stars all the way. Let’s get to it.

The Isley Brothers○Love The One You're With○1971 - YouTube

In 1971 the Isley Brothers were a-changing just like the times. The sleeve of their current album featured Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly, the family band whose high-octane early 60s hits “Shout” & “Twist & Shout” had appealed to the wild side of the British Invasion groups. A spell at Tamla Motown was perhaps more appreciated on the UK Soul scene than at home. In 1969 the self-written, produced & released “It’s Your Thing” celebrated the trio’s independence & established their Funk credentials. “Love the One You’re With”, rising a big 10 places to #4 on this week’s chart of 50 years ago was becoming their most successful single since then. Younger brother Ernie, then just 16 (!) had played bass on “It’s Your Thing” & was now the band’s guitarist, his bass duties taken up by little brother, 17 year old Marvin. Rudolph’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper, another young gun, played keyboards so the Isleys had their own in-home & at the studio band. I don’t know if it was the regulars or all these young dudes who chose the songs for their new album, whatever, it was an inspired move, a step forward for the Isley Brothers.

the Isley Brothers | Members, Songs & Facts | Britannica

The “sounds crazy but it just might work” idea of “Givin’ It Back” was to cover contemporary, familiar hits by mainly white artists. So there’s James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain”, Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” & “Spill The Wine” off of Eric Burdon & War. “Love the One You’re With” is one of two songs by Stephen Stills, ascendant as one quarter of Crosby Stills Nash & Young while rising star Bill Withers contributed & played on his song “Cold Bologna”. The album opens with “Ohio/Machine Gun”, Neil Young’s immediate & angry reaction to the killing of four Kent State students by the Ohio Army National Guard segues into a song by Jimi Hendrix, a former member of their backing band. The whole is nine minutes of incendiary, incisive militancy, an atmospheric arrangement, Ronald’s impassioned vocals matched by Ernie’s wailing guitar, influenced & inspired by his friend. This epic track invokes the now less-remembered fatal shooting of two black students at Jackson State a matter of days after the deaths in Ohio, it showcases the fresh energy of the Isley Brothers, confidently moving into social commentary & progressive Soul. Two albums down the line the album “3+3” recognised that the band now had six members who all had their first platinum record.

JAMES BROWN OLYMPIA PARIS DVD - 1971 COLOR - JAMES BROWN PARIS FRANCE

James Brown, Soul Brother #1, Mr Dynamite, The Godfather of Soul, Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk, had two records in this week’s Top 10. “Escape-ism (Part 1) rose three places to #6 while the impressively double-bracketed “Hot Pants (Part 1) (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)” flew from #16 to #5. After 14 years of recording for King Records these two 45s were the first releases on James’ People label, set up for him through his new deal with Polydor. In March of the previous year most of James’ road band had voiced their concerns about payment & quit. With live dates & recording sessions to fulfill “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” acted quickly by recruiting the Collins brothers, guitarist Catfish & bass player Bootsy, & the first release with this new young band, the J.B.’s, was “Get Up ( I Feel Like A Sex Machine)”. James was still getting on the scene, as popular as ever, same as it ever was. On a European tour in March 1971 disputes over money (again) & Bootsy’s lysergic indulgence left James without a band again. Stalwart trombonist Fred Wesley had returned to the fold, drummer Jabo Starks abided & the new J.B’s were assembled. These two current hits were the first recordings with his fresh crew.

Ad – The James Brown SuperFan Club

So the first album for Polydor can sound like the singer & the group jamming in the studio getting to know each other. On “Escape-ism (Part 2)” James spends three minutes asking his new allies where they are from! Still, musicians taking their chance to show the boss that they’re the guys to keep that distinctive, tight funky groove, with Fred as band leader there’s now a touch more brass in there & it all makes for a pretty good noise. “Hot Pants”, the title track, is the most structured of the cuts, it’s not one from the top shelf of James Brown classics, that’s a high shelf, but it’s on point, one of the great run of R&B hits he had for so long. Oh yeah, Hot Pants were a big fashion thing in 1971, ask your Grandma if she’s still got her’s.

Here’s another cover version taken from one of the singer-songwriters whose softer, acoustic rock was carrying the swing on the Pop Album charts in 1971. Carole King was already a US Pop legend for her compositions, written with her husband Gerry Goffin. Switching coasts from the Brill Building in New York to Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon she hung out with James Taylor & Joni Mitchell while recording her solo album “Tapestry”. “You’ve Got A Friend” was written in response to Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” & his version, a #1 Pop hit, was released in June 1971. An R&B take on the Grammy “Song of the Year”, a duet by two rising stars of the genre, was shipped on the same day & this week rose to #9 on our chart.

Where Is The Love": Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's Collaborations |  WTTW Chicago

Donny Hathaway, from Chicago, was studying the noted Howard University when he was tempted by musical opportunities in his hometown. His name started to feature on records as a writer, arranger & producer & he worked with big names such as Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler & Betty Everett. Pretty soon he had a solo deal & in 1970, on “Everything Is Everything”, he displayed a sensitive, velvet voice to match his natural musicality. The record did not sell too well, even “The Ghetto (Part 1)”, a wonderful, influential, jazz-influenced groove, failed to make the mark it undoubtedly deserved & now has over time. Roberta Flack also studied at Howard, her talent earning a full scholarship at the age of just 15. Her progress was hindered by the death of her father & a return to her family home in North Carolina before a move to Washington D.C. & her appearances in the city’s nightclubs led to great appreciation of her talent. Like Donny Ms Flack was not an instant success, “First Take”, her 1969 debut, which included two songs by Hathaway, did not become a #1 hit until 1972 when Clint Eastwood employed “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (you know it) in his film “Play Misty For Me”. In 1971 the two friends, both talents of the highest class, were matched by Atlantic for an album of duets.

180 Donny hathaway ideas in 2021 | music, legacy projects, soul music

Together Donny & Roberta made a fine, mature album, the covers classic & contemporary, original songs are interesting, the combination of Jazz, R&B & Gospel influences are effective & mellifluous. “You’ve Got A Friend” will always be associated with King & Taylor but the more than a little bit of Soul added by Hathaway & Flack make it my personal preference. The album, recorded with the finest New York session players, was released in 1972 & with Roberta’s star newly ascendant “Where Is The Love” reached the Top 10 on the Pop chart. In the following years Roberta confirmed her unique ability to understand & possess a song, her interpretation becoming definitive & selling records to the millions of buyers who could hear this. Donny released a glorious live album including “…Friend”, Marvin’s “What’s Goin’ On” & John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. Unfortunately his erratic behaviour led to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia & he was prescribed extensive medication, a regime to which he did not always adhere. His progress stalled until a reunion with Roberta produced a major hit with “The Closer I Get To You” in 1978. While recording a planned album of duets, in January 1979 his behaviour in the studio was described as delusional & the session was aborted. That day he was found dead in the street below his 15th floor hotel; room. Donny Hathaway was just 33, a sad, terrible loss to the music world.

No video is available for this week’s live performance. This is the brilliant, extended version of “The Ghetto” from Donny’s “Live” album. We have these records so keep his memory is eternal.

Hot Stuff, Can’t Get Enough (Soul June 12th 1971)

50 years ago this week the great writing/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland were having it their way on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations chart. No longer employed by Tamla Motown, still working in Detroit with their Hot Wax/Invictus labels, two of their records were in the Top 4. “Want Ads” by Honey Cone was still toppermost of the poppermost & had been for a month while at #4 was a song that had been released as the b-side of the million selling “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” by 100 Proof (Aged In Soul). Not wanting to put the brake on those sales “She’s Not Just Another Woman”, an urgent drum-propelled slice of pure Detroit Soul & an obvious hit, was re-released under the name 8th Day, a made-up name for a band that didn’t exist. H-D-H were better at making hits than doing business. At #2 the Wicked Wilson Pickett was enjoying his biggest success since 1967 with “Don’t Knock My Love” while the fastest rising record on the chart, this week’s #3, was a record that if you hear it this weekend you will smile & “Get Dancin'” like Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes just like all those record buyers from 50 years ago.

In May 1970 the spectacularly named Wardell Quezergue, a stalwart musician/producer of the New Orleans scene, borrowed a school bus to drive five artists the 200 miles to Jackson, Mississippi where he had made a deal to use the Malaco studio & the musicians who worked there. “Groove Me” by King Floyd was another b-side that was brought to the attention of Atlantic Records after local airplay. National distribution & better promotion made it the final #1 R&B record of 1970. Other labels showed interest in what Wardell had been up to & Tim Whitsett, head of publishing at Stax & a Jackson man, picked up a track from the session for release. This was “Mr Big Stuff” by Jean Knight, “who do you think you are?”, you know it.

Jet magazine August 12, 1971 Jean Knight | eBay

Jean Knight, from New Orleans, had recorded locally without much success & was working in Loyola University’s cafeteria when she was given the chance to work with Quezergue. “Mr Big Stuff” was an instant super smash, a month at the top of the R&B chart, #2 on the Pop listing, double platinum sales (that’s big numbers) & a Grammy nomination. This & the King Floyd record had the slip & slide of the Big Easy sound then added a clear funky punch, even slickness, that sounded very modern. “Mr Big Stuff” is a Stax favourite but it definitely ain’t from Memphis. They made Malaco’s reputation as a place to be & influenced the new Disco music coming out of TK Studios down in Florida. The success of the single led to a very engaging album of the same name, all original songs, no cover version filler. There are some big productions, the studio had the money, but it’s best when guitarist Jerry Puckett, bassist Vernie Robbins & James Stroud on drums are confidently doing their thing. Jean Knight didn’t make another album for a decade & though she did chart again she is remembered as a one-hit wonder & what a hit it is. “Mr Big Stuff” has been a fixture of sets by the UK’s premier DJ Norman Jay since his early “Shake & Fingerpop” times because he knows that it’s a dead stone dance floor filler.

Jet - February 4, 1971 | Jet magazine, Ebony magazine cover, Ebony magazine

Two versions of the same song were on this week’s Top 10, one by the teenage Soul sensations of the day, the other by a man who was discovering a new mass market for albums by a black artist. The Jackson 5’s version of “Never Can Say Goodbye”, a song written Clifton Davis, a songwriter working at Motown West, Los Angeles who later was more visible as an actor, was slipping to #9 having been at #1 for two weeks. Two places higher was a very different take by Isaac Hayes. When, in 1969, Stax found themselves at the wrong end of their deal with Atlantic & lost the rights to their back catalogue it was all hands on deck to provide new material. It was Hayes, best known for his writing partnership with David Porter & their great songs for Sam & Dave, who gave the label the hit they needed with his “Hot Buttered Soul” album. There were just the four tracks on “H.B.S.”, the modern classics, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” & “Walk On By” by Bacharach & David were 18 & 12 minutes respectively. Isaac had an ear for a great song then adapting it to an expansive arrangement over a steady groove & his deep authoritative voice. It was a formula that worked & it’s how he rolled on the two subsequent albums released in 1970. The 45s were not major hits but Stax were shipping long-playing discs by the lorryload.

Sasa of In Flagranti - Dalston Superstore

Isaac kept himself busy in 1971. “Never Can Say Goodbye” was the first track to be released from November’s double album “Black Moses”. This time the cover versions, interspersed with “Ike’s Raps”, included Curtis Mayfield & Kris Kristofferson. It’s a monumental work, a little stretched but the arrangements are original & all the elements that made his music so successful are present & in the correct place. A reduced by 90 seconds “Never..” was his biggest single yet, it’s a durable song, both a Discofied Gloria Gaynor (1974) & the High Energy of the Communards (1987) enjoyed hits with it. But hold on, Isaac was working on something else. In June 1971 his soundtrack to “Shaft” was a major factor in taking Blaxploitation movies uptown. The theme track was a #1 Pop hit as was the album, Isaac was dealing with Oscars, Grammy awards & major international recognition.

45cat - The Stylistics - Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart) / Stop, Look,  Listen (To Your Heart) - Avco Embassy - USA - AVE-4572

Earlier in 1971 the debut single by the Stylistics from Philadelphia had made the R&B Top 10. “You’re A Big Girl Now” has a slightly clunky construction, a cheesy organ riff & distinctive, if idiosyncratic, drums. It’s great. For the album their label sent them to the local Sigma Sound Studios where Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff & Thom Bell were finessing a sweet Soul sound that became associated with the city & an influence on the development of popular music. Thom Bell had realised a shared symphonic soul vision with the Delfonics. Now he & his lyricist partner Linda Creed prepared eight new songs, custom built for their Stylistics project, four of which would join “You’re A Big Girl…” in entering the R&B Top 10. Rising four places to #27 was “Stop, Look (Listen to Your Heart)”, the first we heard of the way that the Philly Sound was headed.

The Stylistics - the Original Debut Album — The Stylistics | Last.fm

Bell employed the startling soprano voice of Russell Thompkins Jr as lead on all of the album tracks. The other stylists, Airrion Love, Herb Murrell, James Dunn & James Smith were around but, according to those who were too, it’s said that backing vocals were the work of the Sigma Sound crew. The studio band, soon to be world-known as MFSB, provided the gentle, lavish, string-laden grooves. The other cuts from the album were “You Are Everything”, “Betcha By Golly Wow” & the ambitious “People Make the World Go Round”. We know them all & after that run the group were established as a leading vocal group. There were to be two more albums from the Bell/Creed/Stylistics combination, more hits with Russell’s voice making them instantly recognisable. The City of Brotherly Love was making serious Soul Music waves. It will be impossible not to include more music from Philly in my selections from the next few years.