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

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

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

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

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

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

Booker T. and the MG's – 64 Quartets

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

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

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

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

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

O.V. Wright | Spotify

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

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

Slow Jams And Stevie (Soul March 6th 1971)

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

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

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

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

candi staton and Clarence Carter

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

Finding the 'Real' Marvin — Adam White

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Funky Family Affair (Soul February 13th 1971)

The fastest rising record, up 16 places to #18 (with a bullet, a Super Soul Sure Shot indeed) on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for February 13th 1971 was on it’s way to a month long stay at the top position. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” headed both the R&B & the US Pop charts in March the third time that the Temptations enjoyed such a double header success. It’s such a great, even significant track that I’m not waiting until the 50th anniversary of this achievement so let’s get to it.

Image result for temptations just my imagination

Despite the defection of David Ruffin in 1968 The Temptations had maintained their position as the US’ premier vocal group. Three one-hour TV specials, two with the Supremes (R.I.P. the wonderful Mary Wilson), one their very own &, beginning with “Cloud Nine” (1968), a move to Psychedelic Soul kept them at the front of the pack. However the group was unhappy this new style was less dependant on their own superlative vocal performance than on the innovative but dominant productions of Norman Whitfield. In 1970 “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” became the first Tempts 45 to miss the US Pop Top 30 since 1964. With “Just My Imagination” Whitfield & his lyricist Barrett Strong returned to the emotional love ballad in the style of the “Classic Five”, they, arranger Jerry Long & the whole group delivered a beautiful perfect single. Eddie Kendricks had not provided the lead vocal on a Temptations A-side since 1968’s “Please Return Your Love To Me”. His performance of of this reverie about Love is perfectly pitched, the slower, clear reveal that “in reality, she doesn’t even know me” still resonates 50 years later. the Temptations were back.

Image result for temptations just my imagination

However things were not right with the group. Eddie Kendricks was, like David Ruffin before him, looking for a way out & already recording a solo album. The personal & health problems of Paul Williams were affecting his performances in the studio & on stage. In April 1971 doctors advised Paul to retire from the group. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show highlights the rift within the the Temptations, Eddie putting some distance between himself & his fellow members. Whitfield had lined up “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as the follow-up to “Imagination” but Eddie was gone by then & promotion without his featured vocals was impossible. Of course there were still great Temptations moments, more big hits to come but “Just My Imagination” serves as a poignant watershed in the long career of a great group.

Image result for chambers brothers new generation

With roots in Gospel & Folk the four Chambers Brothers, with the addition of electricity & a drummer, had by the mid-1960s a spirited, still sanctified live set incorporating Blues & Soul. Still, the full 11 minute glory of “Time Has Come Today” was a surprise, An epic, ambitious, assured mix of sock-it-to-me & the Summer of Love incorporating Sly Stone, James Brown & the new Psychedelia this was the shock of the new, Afro-Rock, an instant classic, now an obligatory inclusion on any film or documentary concerning the turmoil of late 1960s America. The edited single version made the US Top 20 & while their subsequent releases didn’t make the same impression or have the same commercial success the Chambers Brothers continued to make interesting, inventive records.

Image result for chambers brothers funky

Well alright! “Come in Mr. DJ, Phife by the microphone. Down with the Tribe Called Quest, yes man”. The rather fantastic “Funky” was at #30 on this week’s R&B chart & this is where TCQ found their introduction to”I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”. 1971’s “New Generation” is the fifth album by the Chambers Brothers since the success of “Time…” & it’s a varied, robust, dramatic collection, a collision of so many ideas that compares to Funkadelic. “Are You Ready?” sure sounds like a hit to me & it’s not the only one. If this had been the soundtrack to a blaxploitation movie we would still be finger-popping along to these tunes today. As it was this was not the group’s time & this line up went their separate ways the following year.

1970 had been a winning year for Sly Stone. A “Greatest Hits” collection would go on to sell five million copies, it included the single “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)” which hit #1 in the US Pop chart in February. The film of the Woodstock Festival, released in June, captured the excitement & immediacy of our music in a new way & Sly & the Family Stone’s electrifying performance of “I Want To Take You Higher” was a highlight of the fifth highest grossing movie of the year. Atlantic Records offered Sly his own Stone Flower imprint for any productions he wanted to give them. it was, of course, a family affair.

Image result for little sister somebody's watching you

Slipping down the chart at #33, Vaetta “Ven” Stewart was Sly’s little sister. Along with Mary McCreary & Elva Mouton she had provided backing vocals for his “Stand” album &, as Little Sister they recorded two singles for his new label. “Somebody’s Watching You” is a re-working of a track from “Stand”, a sparse, atmospheric cover it is too, a Sly & the Family Stone record in all but name so it matters. Alone in the studio with a new-fangled drum machine, a violin case full of drugs & the problems that such fame brought, Sly continued to innovate & redefine urban music. There were only to be four single releases on Stone Flower, Little Sister had returned to the background when later in 1971 Sly & the Family Stone were back at #1 on the chart with “Family Affair” & a ground-breaking, brooding album. The major Soul stars were ready with their state of the nation social commentaries at this time & “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” would sit among the very best of them.

For this week’s live highlight we jump forward three weeks to March 6th 1971, to Black Star Square in Accra, Ghana when great American Soul stars including Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, the Staple Singers & Santana honoured that country’s Independence Day. The all-singing, all-dancing, 100% energy of Voices of East Harlem get the funky party started in the best possible way. They are young, gifted & Black, there’s a whole wild bunch of them & it’s irresistible. My friend Mani attended this concert, proud & excited that his American idols should come to his city. I loved to share my lunchtime & his vivid memories of a great day.

Get On Up Get On Down (Soul January 30th 1971)

The artist celebrating his first #1 record on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations 50 years ago this week was 53 years old, had made his recording debut more than 20 years before, his experiences reaching back to the days of Black minstrelsy, touring the Southern states in travelling tent shows. Rufus Thomas was a legend in his home city Memphis, his show “Hoot & Holler” (“We’re feeling gay though we ain’t got a dollar, Rufus is here, so hoot and holler.”) on WDIA, the city’s premier African-American radio station, played the latest, hippest R&B, in 1953 his record “Bear Claw” was the first hit for Sun Records & he was involved with the Stax organisation when it was still called Satellite. It was his 17 year old daughter Carla who had that label’s first hit & Rufus, who had seen it all, was a mentor to the singers & musicians attracted to 926 E McLemore Ave.

Rufus Thomas at home in Memphis wearing his outfit from the Watt Stax  concert 1973 Stock Photo - Alamy

Here in the UK Rufus was known for his biggest record before “Push & Pull”. 1963’s “Walking the Dog” was covered on the Rolling Stones’ debut LP & included in the set of every teenage band moving from Mersey Beat to Mod R&B. There were 4 “Dog” tracks & then his records had less impact though I have to include here 1968’s outstanding “The Memphis Train”, used in Jim Jarmusch’s appreciation of the city “Mystery Train”. Booker T & the M.G.s propel the song like only they can, the Memphis Horns do their thing & producer Steve Cropper’s guitar stings like a bee. It was another dance record that put Rufus back on the chart when “Do the Funky Chicken”, his only hit this side of the Atlantic, dropped in 1969. His energetic, entertaining encouragements to get on up & get on down backed by hard-edged Funk were back in style & “The World’s Oldest Teenager” entered the most successful period of his long career.

Rufus Thomas - Modus House of Soul

“(Do The) Push & Pull” had first been recorded for the album “Rufus Thomas Live: Doing the Push & Pull at P.J.’s” (L.A.’s first discotheque, corner of Santa Monica Blvd & North Crescent Heights Blvd, you know it). The single version, backed by the Isaac Hayes Band featuring the chiming guitar of Michael Toles, packs a little more pace & punch. Apart from the odd clunker the album “Did You Heard Me” finds Rufus & the band on fine form & further instructions for “The Breakdown” & to “Do the Funky Penguin” made the R&B Top 20. There were more singles, more dances, the Funky Robot, the Funky Bird & the Double Bump. Rufus still D.J.’d in Memphis, always positive & exuberant, never drab or dreary, he was recognised as a great entertainer. There’s a boulevard in Memphis, a park in Poretta, Italy named for him & all those great records where, if you don’t know how to do it he’ll show you how to walk the Dog, the Chicken or whatever.

The Spinners - Classic Motown

At #36, rising from 47, on this week’s chart “We’ll Have It Made” was the Spinners’ follow-up to “It’s A Shame”, a Top 20 Pop hit & a return to the R&B chart after a four year absence. Since signing for Tamla Motown in 1963 the Spinners had found that there was only room for one five man vocal group on the label. A “Best of…” collection of their years in Detroit is very good but they neither established their individuality nor achieved commercial success & they were even working as roadies, chauffeurs & chaperones for other acts. “We’ll Have It Made” was, like “It’s A Shame”, written by Stevie Wonder & his wife Syreeta though while Stevie was in the studio for these tracks eight other producers were involved in the 1970 album “Second Time Around”. This was to be the Spinners’ final single for TM, knowing that Atlantic Records were waiting in the wings their contract was not renewed & they moved on.

The Spinners Vintage Concert Poster from Honolulu International Center, Dec  30, 1973 at Wolfgang's

It was not as easy as that, G.C Cameron had taken the lead on these two songs & he remained at Motown to be replaced by his cousin Philippe Wynne who joined Bobby Smith & Henry Fambrough as one of three lead vocalists. There was a deal of goodwill towards the group & when Atlantic matched the Spinners with producer Thom Bell over in Philadelphia he was able to highlight their individuality & unleash their potential. The first collaboration in 1973 produced three Gold records, four Top 10 R&B 45s & the Spinners were on the way to becoming one of US’s biggest groups of the decade. Here in the UK they were first known as the Motown Spinners then the Detroit Spinners to avoid confusion with a cable-knit jumpered Folk quartet with the same name. None of us were ever confused.

Gary Byrd - Presenting The Gary Byrd Experience | Discogs

On the lower reaches of the chart, at #58 was a young radio DJ who after reading his poem “Every Brother Ain’t A Brother” on his overnight show for WWRL-AM in New York & was encouraged by listeners to commit it to vinyl. It’s a cautionary rhyme that “Everything Black just ain’t Black & baby, that’s a fact”, not as militant as the Last Poets or Gil Scott-Heron but still positive & a reminder that there was plenty of spoken-word flow around before it was called Rap. The Gary Byrd Experience released an album & their 1973 45 “Soul Travelin'” is a review of the early 1970s Soul scene that you would be better served listening to than reading this.

Gary hooked up with Stevie Wonder & his lyrics for “Village Ghetto Land” “Black Man” were featured on “Songs in the Key of Life” (1976). It was in 1983thatthe Experience returned with “The Crown”, an almost 11 minutes long reinforcement of Black potential & positivity, recorded with & released by Stevie Wonder. One that got away in the US but deservedly hit the UK Top 10. Now Imhotep Gary Byrd he has 50 years of broadcasting experience, his Afrocentric talk career has always been of the moment & significant.

My last R&B review ended with a live, joyous performance by Billy Preston & I’d like to make that a thing. In 1972 an idea for a benefit concert by Stax Records affiliated to the Watts Summer Festival in Los Angeles blossomed into “Wattstax”, 112,000 people paying just $1 each to attend the Coliseum. At 6.26 pm Rufus Thomas, avuncular, in a natty pink shorts-suit, cape & white boots combo appeared to perform his current hits. The packed, excited, sharp-dressed crowd spilled out from the bleachers (is that the word?) on to the infield. There was no pushing & shoving, no Crips & Bloods brouhaha, just the beautiful Black people of Southern Los Angeles feeling the need to do the Funky Chicken & why the heck not!

Brothers Work It Out (Soul January 16th 1971)

At #8 on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for January 16th 1971 was a powerful, no punches pulled protest against the Vietnam War, a conflict that in 1968 involved over 500,000 US troops, that in 1970 President Nixon had expanded into neighbouring Cambodia. An increase in opposition culminated in the killing of four Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard while the scenes of US troops returning home in body bags on nightly TV news disturbed American homes. “Stop The War Now” is Edwin Starr’s follow up to the classic “War” & perhaps unfairly sits in the shadow of that great hit. The troubles of present day USA has been brought sharply into focus by last week’s events in Washington, incited by the soon-to-be ex-President. 50 years ago the best summation of the wider tumultuous state of the nation sat at #3 in the Cash Box R&B chart.

Curtis Mayfield was, by 1971, already recognised as a significant contributor to American music. During his apprenticeship at Okeh Records young Curtis’ aptitude for simple, sweet melodies that caught a radio listener’s ear developed into a string of hits for his group the Impressions & others. Singles with more than a tinge of Gospel, “Amen”, “Meeting Over Yonder” were released alongside the gently romantic like “I’m the One Who Loves You” & “Talking ‘Bout My Baby”. A growing involvement in the Civil Rights Movement & an association with Martin Luther King Jr inspired songs that promoted Black positivity & pride. The spiritual “People Get Ready” was as early as 1964. Later “We’re A Winner”, “This is My Country” & “Choice of Colors” were more assertive & polemical. In 1970 Curtis left the Impressions & his first solo LP was rightly much-anticipated. The innovation & realisation of this new phase was still a surprise & a delight.

45cat - Curtis Mayfield - (Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All  Going To Go / The Makings Of You - Buddah - Germany - 2011 055

Curtis Mayfield was ambitious for & far-sighted about his music, his business & his race. The first minute of “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go”, an ominous fuzz bass, a female voice talking about the Book of Revelations, Curtis’ echoed shouts “Sisters! Niggers! Whities! Jews! Crackers! Don’t worry…” then a scream, shows that things have changed, doors have been kicked open, new ground has been broken. What follows is an update on Chicago Funk, an urgent, perfect mesh of brass, string, rhythm guitar & percussion. The radio edit of the track is half the length of the 8 minutes on the album, that introduction too strong for mainstream airwaves. Like “Move On Up” “If There’s A Hell…” is best appreciated as originally intended. There are still those so-sweet, romantic, melodic love songs on “Curtis” but this solo debut showed that Mr Mayfield knew it was time for shit to get real, that things needed to be said, that lyrically & musically he was a great force.

Kool & The Gang | Samuelsounds

Meanwhile at the Sex Machine club in West Philadelphia, on 52nd & Market, (long gone, a good time, you know it) Kool & the Gang were recording their first live album. The New Jersey school friend Gang got together in the mid-sixties as a Jazz group who soon found that for an eight piece band it was more financially viable to play Soul covers & back touring acts in local clubs. Spotted, signed, produced & managed by Gene Redd, bassist Robert “Kool” Bell’s name was moved to the front in 1969. A debut album, instrumentals dominated by a fresh, funky & kool horn section, included two Top 40 R&B hits & got their name about. On stage the band put on quite a show & the Sex Machine set was one of two live albums released in 1971.

Looking at a Kool & The Gang concert poster from back in the days feat. The  Chi-Lites & Major Har… | Vintage music posters, Concert posters, Vintage  concert posters

“Who’s Gonna Take the Weight (Part II), from “Live at the Sex Machine”, is at #28 on this week’s chart. I suspect that the relatively mild opinions expressed at the beginning of Part I meant that this was the side of the 45 played on the radio. Of the 10 tracks on the album four are covers of well-known songs that are difficult to improve upon (“Walk On By”, “I Want to Take You Higher”). Given the Kool treatment they become part of a tight Soul-Jazz set that’s very enjoyable even with the over-dubbed audience screams. “Who’s Gonna…” has a solid rhythm section underpinning the so fashionable wah-wah guitar & a hot brass ensemble. In 1973 Kool & the Gang had a commercial breakthrough when their “Wild & Peaceful” record produced two Pop Top 10 singles. As Disco became more prominent they smoothed out their style, still making the R&B chart but the albums were no longer going gold. In 1979, a new singer, J.T.Taylor & a change to ballad oriented material found the resurgent group hitting a run of success that lasted until the mid-1980s. Man, Kool & the Gang were a big deal. I know that “Celebration” (Wah-Hoo!) & “Get Down On It” are still well-loved by many but if I need a little K & the G around it’s the rougher Funk of “Live At the Sex Machine” I’ll be reaching for.

sgt. pepper's lonely hearts club blog. | Billy preston, George harrison,  The beatles

Master keyboard player Billy Preston was a late contender for the “fifth Beatle” belt. When, in January 1969, George Harrison invited him along to the “Let It Be” sessions it was to join a bickering not-so Fab Four who would break up before the year’s end. As George hoped the group were accepting of their guest & tensions were eased. Just a week later Billy was on the roof of Apple Corps in Savile Row (London’s glittering West End, just off Regent St, you know it) performing alongside them in their final live appearance. In April “Get Back” had “The Beatles with Billy Preston” on the label, the only time such credit was given. The respective beliefs of George & Billy in Krishna & Christ had a mutual credo of all you need is Love & after signing for Apple the pair began work on Billy’s album. For the title track of “That’s the Way God Planned It” Eric Clapton, Keith Richards & Ginger Baker showed out to assist on an impressive, positive song that sure sounded like the hit it was in the UK. The single suffered in the US from an inexperienced record label who had never really needed to promote Beatles records. Billy had recorded his first album when he was 16 years old, the respect for his talent was reflected in the demand for his services from many major artists. This Beatle association brought a whole different level of attention.

Billy Preston - My Sweet Lord (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs

“Encouraging Words” was recorded with another all-star cast. Co-producer Harrison, possibly hoping that his group would continue to record, contributed two of his song stash to the project. That’s how Billy Preston’s version of “My Sweet Lord”, at #50 on this week’s R&B chart, came to be released in the UK two months before the “original”. Billy takes the song to church, guests the Edwin Hawkins Singers making it more “Hallelujah” than “Hare Krishna”. It may lack the impact of Phil Spector’s Wall of Acoustic Sound on George’s version but Billy, aided by the Temptations’ touring band, sure gets his groove on. “Encouraging Words” is a fine mix of Soul, Gospel & Rock with Delaney & Bonnie’s stellar band providing great back up. Billy had a good 1970s with big solo success while maintaining an involvement with the Rolling Stones in the studio & on tour. In August 1971 he joined George & his friends for the “Concert For Bangladesh”. His barnstorming “That’s The Way…”, Billy feeling the spirit & dancing across the stage, almost stole the show. We’ll end with that because I & probably you could use a little Joy at the moment.

Back In The New Year’s Groove (Soul January 2nd 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations was a little static for the week starting January 2nd 1971. Just two records climbed into the Top 10, two others were new to the Top 20. The releases from Tamla Motown’s production line, still stood predominate with three of the Top 5 & a further four in the Top 20 originating from Detroit’s “Hitsville USA”. There will be plenty of time in the rest of the year for a deeper dive in search of those pearls whose quality was not matched by a high chart position. On this first post of the year I’ll start with the two songs that headed the chart 50 years ago. For the Supremes this was the eighth time the trio had enjoyed a #1 R&B placing, same as it ever was it seems but things were changing for Motown’s most established act.

The Supremes, 1970 | Natural hair styles, Afro hairstyles, Black hair

Since 1968 the Supremes had to manage without Holland-Dozier-Holland, the team who had written & produced enough songs for the trio that “Golden Hits Volume 3” was already on the racks. In January 1970 Diana Ross, the vivacious singer whose name had been placed at the front of the group, made her final on stage appearance, introducing her replacement Jean Terrell. Jean, Mary Wilson & the mellifluously named Cindy Birdsong began work on their LP “Right On” with new producer Frank Wilson, the man whose own Soul super rarity “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” was reportedly bought for £100,000 this year (I have it on CD so not me!). Mary was the only original Supreme now but the most popular female group in the world were still guaranteed spots on US prime time TV & radio. It was Frank’s first job to find the songs that would keep them in the spotlight.

The Supremes Stoned Love of Tamla Motown 45 Rare XL Sheet Music /  HipPostcard

The producer was tipped to Kenney Thomas, a Detroit teenager, by a local DJ. Invited round to Frank’s house young Kenney was startled & starstruck, as any 17 year old boy in 1970 would have been, to find beautiful superstar Mary Wilson there to check out his song. Frank added a little shape & a few words to the bare bones of a song, star Motown arranger David Van DePitte provided the lustre & that driving beat while the label persuaded radio stations that the nation’s darlings hadn’t given them a drug-related song to play. Kenney Thomas (credited as Yennek Samoht) had, with “Stoned Love”, a million-selling record on his hands, a glorious record too, instantly recognisable from when Jean sings the title & you still know now that something good is coming up. The Supremes would have other big hits like “Floy Joy” & “Nathan Jones” but “Stoned Love” is the finest post-Diana single. They sure look happy & fine on this TV appearance. Kenney didn’t write much more for Motown, his mother was wary of her son mixing in such starry circles & didn’t want him to neglect his studies. I hope that he heeded his mum’s counsel.

Gladys Knight & The Pips If I Were Your Woman Soul demo F 35078 Soul  Northern mo | eBay

Arranger David Van DePitte was also all over the record rising one place to #2 on the chart. “If I Were Your Woman”, a ballad that builds to a soulful crescendo, is the latest in a run of successes for Gladys Knight & the Pips, records that made Top 3 R&B & Top 20 Pop. Beautiful Gladys gradually raises the level while her Pips are, as usual, impeccably in synch with their steps & backing vocals. That’s another Hitsville classic. Gladys had over a decade’s experience before she & her group signed with Motown & they raised concerns about the adding of extra backing vocals to their songs as well as the choice of material they were given to record. At this highpoint in their popularity negotiations for a new contract proved to be unsatisfactory. In a case of “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone” “Neither One Of Us (Wants to be the One to Say Goodbye)”, the group’s final single, was one of the group’s biggest selling records to date. A move to Buddah in 1973 realised their crossover appeal, Gladys became an international superstar while the Pips were rightfully celebrated for their support, their choreography & their Whoo-Hoos.

PAM SAWYER: SoulMusic Hall Of Fame - 2020 Inductee (Songwriter) | Soul Music

“If I Were Your Woman” had three names on the songwriting credits. Clay McMurray, formerly head of Quality Control, had made the move to producer. In the coming years he was to leave his mark on Soul Music. Pam Sawyer, from Romford, Essex, had moved to New York in 1961 then, encouraged by Holland-Dozier-Holland, on to Detroit six years later. As part of the Clan, Motown’s new writing collective, Pam had her name on the labels of “Love Child” & “I’m Living In Shame” by the Supremes & David Ruffin’s “My Whole World Ended”. Now 83, Pam was inducted in 2020 to the Soul Music Hall Of Fame. She is responsible for the biggest British contribution to the label’s great success & deserves wider recognition here at home. In the UK Gloria Jones (a.k.a. LaVerne Ware) is better known for her original 1964 recording of “Tainted Love”, our best-selling single in 1981 for Soft Cell, & as the partner of Marc Bolan in the years before his tragic death. Encouraged in her songwriting talents by Ms Sawyer the Grammy nominated “If I Were Your Woman” was the best known song in her time at Motown.

Impressions, Gene Chandler, Jerry Butler, Gladys Knight & Pips, | Lot  #89221 | Heritage Auctions

OK, this great record is not actually on this week’s Cash Box chart but a cover version of it is & that’s how I discovered this gem. That’s close enough isn’t it? At #47, rising from #59 was “You Just Can’t Win (By Making the Same Mistake)” by Gene & Jerry, two Chicago Soul legends, Chandler & Butler. Jerry Butler had started out with Curtis Mayfield in The Impressions. His recent work with young producers Kenny Gamble& Leon Huff had established his straight-from-the-fridge cool as “The Ice Man”. Gene Chandler styled himself as “The Duke of Earl” after his #1 million-seller of 1962. A close relationship with ace producer Carl Davis (& thus Curtis M) kept his name in the frame throughout the decade. I mean no offence to Gene but if Jerry Butler is singing then I’ll be listening. “One On One” is a fine album of uptown Chicago Soul duets by the experienced stars.

Simtec & Wylie - Gotta Get Over The Hump (1971, Vinyl) | Discogs

Gene was expanding his interest in the business of music, producing & releasing a million-seller with Mel & Tim. On January 1st 1971 his new Mister Chand label (his face is on the records) introduced “Getting Over the Hump” by Simtec & Wylie. Walter “Simtec” Simmons and Wylie Dixon brought their own band & a dynamic style that gained comparison with Sam & Dave. “Getting Over…”, their only album, has a funked-up version of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” & “You Just Can’t Win”, their own song, twice as long as the one on the chart is absolute fire. It’s new to me & such discovery is why I so enjoy these investigations of 50 year old Soul. Well, that’s 1971 in 2021, a fine start & undoubtedly more of the good stuff to come.

Move To Another Groove (Soul December 19th 1970)

This final selection of the year from the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of December 19th 1970 leaves me, just like all the others, spoilt for choice such is the quality of this 50 year old chart. This week’s Top 10 is Motown-packed, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder & Gladys Knight & the Pips grouped together at numbers 2, 3, 4 & 5. Rising 7 places to #7 is the ground-breaking “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go”, Curtis Mayfield’s solo debut after leaving the Impressions while at #9 Al Green’s “I Can’t Get Next To You”, a Motown cover, began a run of success which made him the most popular male vocalist in Soul. Keeping all these great records from the #1 spot was the only major hit by King Floyd & it is this good…

In late 1969 celebrated arranger/producer Wardell Quezergue (pronounced Kuh-zair) whose work had earned him a place at the top table of New Orleans music set up a deal with the Malaco label to use their modern studio in Jackson, Mississippi. In May 1970, in a borrowed school bus, he & five artists made the three hour drive north. During the resulting sessions he supervised the recording of two stone Soul classics. Jean Knight’s “Mr Big Stuff” (“who do you think you are?”) will still fill a dancefloor anywhere in the world & “Groove Me” by King Floyd was the current #1 record on the Cash Box chart.

King Floyd Tulsa Civic Center Concert Poster (1970s).... Music | Lot #89620  | Heritage Auctions

After a stint in the Army King Floyd III joined a gang transplanted from NOLA to Los Angeles led by producer Harold Battiste & Dr John. His album failed to attract attention so he returned to New Orleans to take a job with the Post Office. his trip to Malaco studios changed his fortunes when the self-penned, punchy, irresistible “Groove Me”, initially a b-side picked up regional airplay before busting out when Atlantic stepped in. Quezergue, with steadfast support from the session men, created a lovely collision between the rhythms of New Orleans & the drive of Memphis to create a new Southern Soul sound. It made the name of the studio & the rhythm section, labels sent their artists to Jackson hoping to share & it was influential on the pioneering disco of TK Records in Florida. King continued to record some fine tracks at the studio, the groovy “I Feel Like Dynamite” featured in a 2018 TV commercial back when Corona was just a beer, without the same success. Hey, he & we will always have “Groove Me”

The CHI-LITES | Soul music, Funk bands, Black music

Eugene Record’s high school group the Chanteurs became the Hi-Lites & both incarnations released singles. Another unit had claims to their current name so, in honour of their home city Chicago, they became the Chi-Lites. In the mid-Sixties they came to the attention of Carl Davis who had gathered & encouraged the city’s young talent at the Okeh label & aimed to repeat that in his new role as head of Brunswick’s Chicago operation. In Eugene he signed an ambitious musician & a prolific songwriter who responded to the mentorship of Davis. A fruitful partnership with singer Barbara Acklin found hits for her & others. When a piano track was added to the backing of Barbara’s “Am I the Same Girl” & released by Young-Holt Unlimited as “Soulful Strut” Eugene found himself as the writer/producer of a gold record. Having earned his trade & proved himself it was time for the Chi-Lites to step into the spotlight.

Chi-Lites / Delfonics / Chairmen of the Board 1970 Chicago Jumbo | Lot  #89526 | Heritage Auctions
Er…WOW!

OK Ms Beyonce Knowles, you got good taste. The opening blaring brass hook of “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)”, #20 this week, was a prominent sample on “Crazy In Love”, a world-wide super smash from her debut album. Eugene, properly, had a writing credit, a 21st century Grammy &, I’m sure, sizeable royalty cheques arriving in the post. In 1970 the Chi-Lites were consolidating the reputation they had made on their own debut “Give It Away” with two hits from the album “I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine)”. Both the title track & “Are You My Woman” have got the Funk & owe quite a lot to the urgent vocal gymnastics of the Temptations’ new direction. The following 45 “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People”, there was a fondness for a bracket in early 70s Soul, was in a similar vein & the group’s most successful yet. At the end of 1971 Eugene, gauging a change in taste, dusted of an older, slower song “Have You Seen Her”. This & “Oh Girl” took the Chi-Lites to the top of the Pop charts, giving the group a popularity on both sides of the Atlantic which they maintained for some years even after Record left for solo pursuits.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David Songs, 10 Works of Genius

I was painting the exterior of a shop in South West London directly opposite a vintage vinyl emporium…irresistible, of course. This was before record collecting became the new trainspotting for middle-aged men so bargains were to be had. These used records may have been slightly scratched but would sure look good in our stack so the right thing had to be done. That’s how unplayed copies of Dionne Warwick’s Golden Hits Parts I & II, on the US Sceptor label ended up round my house & it’s difficult to think of any other 24 track collection that is more beautifully crafted tunesmithery, wonderfully & sympathetically interpreted by a singer. Young Dionne’s group, the Gospelaires, were in-demand backing singers in New York when she was called upon to record demo vocals on the songs of Burt Bacharach & Hal David. The synergy was immediate, Dionne was signed to Sceptor & when “Anyone Who Had a Heart” & “Walk On By” were recorded in a morning session in November 1963 the only problem was which one should be released first. Both records made the US Pop Top 10 at a time when the British Invasion was all the rage. The reputations of the singer & songwriters were firmly established.

Dionne Warwick - Very Dionne (1970, Unipak, Vinyl) | Discogs

“Make It Easy On Yourself” was one of the first Bacharach/David songs Dionne was given but housewife turned Sceptor label boss Florence Greenberg passed on it & Jerry Butler ended up with the US hit record. Dionne would later express resentment about other artists having chart success with songs she considered hers but for the rest of the decade her sophisticated interpretations of often intricate songs ,which challenged the ephemeral nature of Pop music, provided an uninterrupted run on the Pop & R&B listings. “I Say A Little Prayer”, had us at the “wake up/make up” opening rhyme, the eerie beauty of “Walk On By” is another perfect record. We all have our favourites & I will never fail to be charmed by “Are You There (With Another Girl)” & “You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)”. Dionne’s original of “Make It Easy…”was included on her 1963 debut album “Presenting…”. At #30 on the Cash Box chart this week was a live cut of the song performed at the Garden State Arts Center in her home state of New Jersey. This time around Marie Dionne Warwicke from East Orange was returning as an urbane, assured international superstar & on this track you can hear why.

I really do enjoy writing these posts about the R&B chart of 50 years ago. There have been times in 2020 when my coping mechanism for all this isolation business has caused a flatlining which affected any inspiration to write for the blog. I always found that a look at the current Cash Box listing would clear the cobwebs. I’m always saying that this was a Golden Age of Soul Music but listening to old favourites, re-discovering forgotten ones, hearing tracks that are new to me is genuinely exciting & transcends nostalgia. I haven’t looked at any of the charts from 1971 but it’s sure that I’ll keep on keeping on with this. Here’s to a busier, still soulful 2021 for us all.

Soul Brother & Sisters (Soul November 14th 1970)

At #17, rising 10 places, on the Cash Box Top 60 For R&B Locations for 14th November 1970 was “Big Leg Woman (in a Short, Short Mini Skirt)” by Israel “Popper Stopper” Tolbert. This credit alone justifies inclusion in any monthly chart review & it’s a fine bluesy, brassy Muscle Shoals party. While I could knock off a couple of paragraphs concerning big leg women & skirts that no-one needs to read, I know very little about the Big Popper so we’ll leave it with the link. Anyway, this week there was a new chart topper by one of the greats of Sixties Soul. The first time he had hit #1 since 1967.

Remembering Wilson Pickett; daughter, Veda, helping to keep his memories  alive - Music Life Magazine

Yeah ! In 1966 this 13 year old cast his vote in the New Musical Express Readers Poll for Wilson Pickett in the World Male Vocal category. The Wicked Pickett released 4 singles that year, “634-5789”, “Ninety Nine & a Half (Won’t Do)”, “Land of 1000 Dances” & “Mustang Sally”, Blimey! My pocket money was still spent on discs by the British Beat groups but the raw, impassioned vocals & that driving beat made these records the highlight of the weekend Youth Club dances. They, more than any other, first brought the Stax studios in Memphis & the Alabaman FAME gang of session musicians to my attention. It’s a devotion that endures to the present day. “Spotlight on Wilson Pickett now, that wicked wicked Pickett. Singin’ Mustang Sally, Oh yeah, oh yeah”.

Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia - Rolling Stone

By 1970 Wilson may have been supplanted in my affections by the greater sophistication & wider range of Otis, Marvin, Stevie. After his 1968 success with the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” he released a number of Souled-up covers of Rock & Pop hits. It was in 1970 that Atlantic moved Pickett away from his usual recording setting, matching him with Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff the young writer/producers rapidly establishing their reputation. The resulting album, “Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia”, introduces more varied instrumentation, a little sweetness, without changing his gritty, forceful voice. That was his trademark, what made him “Wicked”, there would be no point. The record is a little uneven but when it was done right, & the groovy, funkified “Engine Number 9” certainly is that, it worked. Both 45s lifted from it returned Pickett to the US Pop Top 20 & that was the point. In the following year , Gamble & Huff having their own thing to do, Wilson successfully returned to Muscle Shoals before leaving his long-time home at Atlantic & not bothering the chart compilers so much. “Engine Number 9”, a welcome update on his sound, is not always included in the top rank of his hits, it should be.

Ann Peebles | Concert posters, Music concert posters, Vintage music posters

Down in Memphis bandleader Willie Mitchell had been working at Hi Records since 1961. Increasingly involved in production, by 1970 he had his ducks in a row & made his move. Taking over as executive vice-president of the label he had two new singers, Ann Peebles & Al Green, to record & develop along with a stellar studio band anchored by the Hodges brothers, Charles, Teenie & Leroy & star drummer Al Jackson Jr. from Booker T & the M.G.s. “Part Time Love” was the fourth single released by Ann Peebles. It was at #3 on this week’s chart, a breakthrough, the biggest hit yet for the new kids on the Memphis block though how “Generation Gap Between Us”, the lead 45 of 1970, missed out remains a mystery to me.

Ann Peebles - Part Time Love / I Still Love You (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs

Ann’s “Part Time Love” album re-works four of the tracks from her debut of the previous year & includes covers of contemporary hits that are very good but y’know it’s difficult to improve on the Isley Brothers’ original of “It’s Your Thing”. It’s a showcase for a great singer, tough, confident & passionate, beautifully matched to Mitchell’s new Hi sound, a tight, smooth, mid-tempo groove, the Memphis Horns less urgent but just as prominent as they were on their Stax recordings. In the near future Al Green used this template to join the pantheon of male Soul stars while Ann Peebles, apart from “I Can’t Stand The Rain” (1974) struggled to find more commercial success. Together with her writing partner & later husband Don Bryant, she did have more input in her later more mature recordings & while her individual albums are worthy of investigation any “best of” assemblage, 17 or 18 tracks showing how well Memphis Soul was done in the first half of the 1970s, is essential.

ARETHA FRANKLIN "BORDER SONG" SHEET  MUSIC-PIANO/VOCAL/GUITAR/CHORDS-1969-NEW!! | eBay

The two highest new entries on this week chart were songs written by white British musicians. (the third highest was Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go”, a good week or a Golden Age? You decide). Santana’s performance at the Woodstock Festival, the barnstorming “Soul Sacrifice” being a highlight of the movie & of the million seller soundtrack album, had brought much wider attention. “Black Magic Woman”, in at #38, is a Peter Green song. Green had made his reputation as Eric Clapton’s replacement in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. His instrumental talent & a developing individuality as a songwriter made his group Fleetwood Mac one of the best & most interesting of the British Blues bands rather than the coked-out, polyamorous purveyors of Soft Rock it became after his departure.

Elton John Recalls Aretha Franklin's Final Performance in Heartfelt Tribute

In late August 1970 the buzz created by Elton John’s US debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles had set him on the path to becoming Elton John. Aretha Franklin was, of course, “Lady Soul”, the Queen, on an incredible run of 10 albums between 1966 & 1974 that defined & refined the emotional intensity of African-American music. In 1970 her current LP “Spirit in the Dark” brought another pair of hit singles, adding to a list so long that I can’t be bothered to count. Her latest 45, entering the chart at #36, was a song from Elton’s eponymous second LP &, oh my, she took “Border Song (Holy Moses)” to church. Aretha’s vocal, her own piano, Billy Preston’s Hammond organ & a choir led by the Sweet Inspirations invest the song with a grandeur & a spirituality that surpasses the original. I sure that Elton John & his lyricist partner Bernie Taupin, still finding their way, still some months away from the success of “Your Song”, were equally stunned & thrilled that an artist of Aretha’s stature would cover one of their songs. I’m sure too that they would agree that she made it better.

Getting Down To It (Soul October 17th 1970)

On the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations chart for the 17th of October 1970 there was a new #1 record. “Express Yourself”, the toppermost for the past two weeks, was to be the only time that Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band would attain such heights. Its successor “I’ll Be There” was the fourth time that the Jackson 5 had reached that pinnacle in 1970! The Top 3 was rounded out by another from the Tamla Motown roster. On the departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland from the label the Four Tops had adopted a smoother, less urgent style. Of course the inimitable lead vocals of Levi Stubbs were still prominent & popular. Still Water (Love), supplied by producers Smokey Robinson & Frank “Do I Love You” Wilson, was their latest hit.

It’s been a month or so since my last review of the R&B chart of 50 years ago & there are plenty of new records around. The Top 10 is of such high quality that it would be easy to select three from there. Let’s start with one of them & see where it leads us.

Blues & Soul 44/ October 9 1970

At #9 on the chart, climbing 5 places, the Philadelphia trio the Delfonics were enjoying a run of hits. William Hart & his brother Wilbert had been in vocal groups since high school. An introduction to young producer/arranger Thom Bell led to a contract with Cameo-Parkway & a couple of 45s. On the demise of their label a move to the new Philly Groove gave Bell the freedom to realise his vision. Their next single “La-La (Means I Love You)”, released in January 1968, crossed over into the Pop chart, sold a million & placed the Delfonics in the vanguard of a new effortlessly smooth, pristine, symphonic Soul. Over the next 4 albums Bell developed his fastidious orchestrations of songs written by himself & William Hart. William’s falsetto leads over a dramatic, melodic backdrop blew our minds on succeeding hits & they were very soon the favourite of Ms Jackie Brown from the film of the same name.

“When You Get Right Down To It” is the fourth song from the group’s eponymous 1970 LP to make the R&B chart. “The Delfonics” is an album of such quality that the truly majestic “Delfonics Theme (How Could You)” was almost overlooked. The “La-La…” record (1968) has the shock & the thrill of the new. Now Bell could bring confidence & imagination to a proven hit sound providing a showcase for his & the group’s talents. “When You Get…” is the only one of the 10 tracks not written or co-written by Bell & Hart. The songs of Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill had progressed popular music in the 1960s. “On Broadway” (the Drifters), “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (the Animals) & “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (Righteous Brothers) are just three. I’ve missed out the Crystals & the Ronettes, it’s a long list. Mann’s new song was in good hands & it’s a gentle, beautiful noise.

Just one place lower,at #10, is a record by Bobby Byrd. Bobby worked for James Brown whose own rapidly rising “Call Me Super Bad” would enter the Top 10 the following week. It hadn’t always been this way, way back in the 1950s Bobby had met James when the future “Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk” was serving time in juvenile prison & the Byrd family had sponsored his parole. Byrd’s band was called the Flames by the time James joined, initially as a drummer then singing. The label of “Please, Please, Please” said “James Brown & the Famous Flames” which displeased the other members but that was the way it stayed when the record sold over a million copies. After a brief split the Flames & Bobby rejoined Brown & stayed for over a decade, partners in a production company, singing backing vocals, carrying James’ cape & recording his own singles through the 1960s.

1970 King Promo 45: Bobby Byrd I Need Help (I Can't Do It Alone) Pt. 1/I Need  Help (I Can't Do It Alone) Pt. 2 – The James Brown SuperFan Club

In 1970, after a break for a couple of years Byrd returned to Brown’s set up when the singer’s band had left over the same financial disputes experienced by the singing Famous Flames. The pair quickly hired the young Collins brothers, Bootsy (bass) & Catfish (guitar), who alongside trombonist/arranger Fred Wesley brought an energy & drive to the Funk which maintained James’ popularity & his reputation as an innovator. Bobby co-wrote & can be heard on Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” & “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved”. The new band, the J.B.’s, continue that same brio & groove on “I Need Help (I Can’t Do It Alone)” with Brown shouting encouragement in the background. James had always produced tracks for Bobby, his female singers & his band. They are companion pieces to whatever he had going on at the time & are often great records, not all of them were as successful on the chart as this one. The following year Bobby released “I Know You Got Soul”, extensively & memorably sampled by Eric B & Rakim on their landmark debut “Paid In Full”. Over a 21 year long professional relationship Bobby Byrd & James Brown…they got it!

Signed, Sealed & Delivered by Stevie Wonder (Album, Soul): Reviews,  Ratings, Credits, Song list - Rate Your Music

Over the past 55 years Stevie Wonder has recorded many, yes many, songs that remain significant in Soul music. “Heaven Help Us All”, at #40, the highest new entry on this week’s chart from 50 years ago is one of them. In 1965, still only 15 years old, Stevie dropped the “Little” from his stage name & confirmed the “Wonder” with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, straight from the fridge, a new deeper voice & the first single on which he had a co-writing credit. In 1970 Motown released 2 “live” records, fine collections but I can’t imagine that many of his young Mod fans made it to the Talk of the Town, a cabaret club in that London. The “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” album was a step forward, the title track, “We Can Work It Out”, one of the best Beatles covers, “Heaven Help Us All” & others. Written by Motown staffer Ron Miller, a man with the knack who had previously provided Stevie with songs, “Heaven Help…” reflected the singer & Soul’s growing social conscience. Live appearances on US TV by Motown artists could suffer from the backing band not being the Funk Brothers. No problem here as Stevie’s impassioned Gospel-inflected vocal bring it all on home. When, at around 2.54, he screams & flashes the peace sign on the prime time “Johnny Cash Show”… Ah man!

Call Answered: Mark Arthur Miller: "SOUL SEARCHING" at The Triad Theater  NYC — Call Me Adam
A Wonder & Ron Miller

Subsequent to this Stevie asserted himself against his label, took over production duties & 1971’s “Where I’m Coming From” was solely written by himself & his new wife Syreeta. On his coming of age, with full artistic control, this led to “Music of My Mind” & “Talking Book” in 1972 & he was unstoppable. Stevie was driving the car, choosing the route & we were happy to learn from him & go along for the ride. It’s a debate point as to when Stevie Wonder’s imperial phase began but certainly “Heaven Help Us All” stands as a signpost of things to come. In 1977 Tamla Motown released a well-compiled three album retrospective of Stevie’s career up to 1971. That first thing in the morning slouch from the bed to the kettle, to the turntable, finding Side 6, Track 1 of “Looking Back/Anthology”, put a little love in your heart & more of a spring in your step. “Heaven Help Us All” did it then & still does.

This week there were two new tracks from Stevie Wonder. It’s a problem that 50 years on we still need songs about racial injustice. Stevie was never going to ignore the events of 2020 & if I want to hear from anyone then he’s certainly that one. The toe-tapping Go-Go groove of “Can’t Put It In The Hands Of Fate” includes Busta Rhymes & three other rappers who I’m much too old to know much about. I love it. “You say that you believe in all lives matter. I say, I don’t believe the fuck you do”… Ah man!

What Is It Good For? (Soul August 29th 1970)

OK, is this thing on? I took a break from these reviews of the 1970 Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations (didn’t it used to be Top 50?) because the groundhog days of shielding was good for isolation, not so great for imagination & inspiration. Now I’m getting back in the world, unseen & invisible thanks to the camouflage mask so kindly provided by my lovely sister. You know something, it ain’t so bad out there, I may go again.

 

On my last look at the R&B listings from 50 years ago the Jackson 5 were toppermost of the poppermost with “The Love You Save” & Tamla Motown continued their incredible run of quality & success with #1 records for the Temptations & Stevie Wonder with “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” & “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” respectively. You know them both, great singles. At the beginning of August James Brown broke the Detroit dominance with “Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like A) Sex Machine), his first chart-topper of the year. For the week of August 29th though half of the Top 10 were from the Motown stable & the order of things was restored with the first #1 hit, a truly resonant, even significant song, for a less celebrated member of the label’s roster.

 

 

Edwin Starr, singer, (1970 US No.1 and UK No.3 single 'War') More Info : Edwin  Starr was an American singer and so… | Number one hits, Edwin starr,  American singers“War HUH! YEAH! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Enough said yeah. Edwin Starr, born Charles Hatcher in Nashville Tennessee, raised in Cleveland Ohio, left the army in 1962 & moved to Detroit to do the music thing. His first three hit records, all R&B Top 10, “Agent Double-O-Soul”, “Headline News” & “Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” are Motor City classics, co-written by Edwin & released on the Ric-Tic label whose artists were expensively bought out by Motown in 1968. The LP “Soul Master” combines these hits with early Motown 45s (check out his boisterous version of Smokey Robinson’s “Way Over There”) to concoct a pretty damn good collection. In the UK both “Headline…” & “S.O.S.” were dancefloor favourites which just entered our Top 40. In 1968 Tamla re-issued them as a double A-side which made the #11 spot. Edwin Starr was a name on both sides of the Atlantic, he just needed the right material to see this reflected in record sales. The pulsating “25 Miles”, a Top 10 US Pop hit, was certainly a start & in 1970 bigger things were to come.

 

Edwin Starr Discography Belgium - Gallery - 45cat“War” had first appeared earlier in the year on the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack” LP. The Tempts were recording tracks with a social commentary & “War” attracted attention but the label & perhaps even the group themselves thought that the its lyrics were too extreme for the sizeable part of their audience who knew them from Ed Sullivan’s show & prime-time TV specials with the Supremes.  Motown, never a company to neglect a commercial opportunity, put writer/producer Norman Whitfield together with Edwin Starr to re-record the song. Whitfield boosted the intense, anthemic quality complimented by Edwin’s emphatic, robust vocals. This classic remodel, an obvious commentary on the USA’s involvement in Vietnam but also one for the ages, sold 3 million copies. The partnership brought more R&B success then, when the hits got smaller, Edwin found love, respect & plenty of work entertaining Soul fans in the UK. Settled in Nottingham he continued to record & in 1979 enjoyed two Top 10 hits with songs he had written & produced. Edwin, always popular here, continued to perform until his death in 2003. Buried in his adopted home town, his headstone says “Our Agent 00 Soul”

 

 

The incomparable Soul Diva Mavis Staples!!In 1968 the Staple Singers signed to Stax Records in Memphis. The family group were already established established as preeminent in Gospel-Folk circles & through father Pops’ close relationship with Martin Luther King their music promoted spirituality & morality through the Civil Rights Movement. The voice of Mavis Staples was recognised as a talent ranked alongside the best in the R&B/Soul field. It was perhaps a plan for Mavis to record her first solo, secular records & this week “Since I Fell For You”, a standard written in 1945, a hit again in 1963, stood at #28 on the R&B chart. The track is taken from “Only For the Lonely”, her upcoming second solo release, smoother than the 1969 eponymous debut produced by guitar ace Steve Cropper. Both albums unite the talents of Memphis, Muscle Shoals & Mavis but a rather unimaginative choice of material didn’t always help. They are good records, listening to Ms Staples is always a particular pleasure, which fail to capture the unique warmth & emotion of a very special voice. Back with her family the world was soon to recognise this about Mavis.

 

Hot Music News - KEYS AND CHORDSIn 1971 the Staple Singers released their third LP on Stax. Steve Cropper had left the company & the co-owner, Al Bell, took over production, The single from “The Staple Swingers” (geddit?), “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)” began a 5 year long unbroken run of Top 20 R&B hits. Bell provided a rich framing for Mavis to blossom ahead of the backing harmonies of her father & sisters. The lyrics were positive & uplifting, the sound warm, often based on the simple Blues inflected rhythm guitar of Pops, undoubtedly rooted in Gospel but, moving to the Funk & thoroughly modern. It has become a cliche to reference the enduring relevance of the message of old music. Just as “War” is a great record & war is still good for absolutely nothing, in these turbulent times when a change surely must come the music of the Staple Singers provides a context for an understanding & a moving forward. Remember “If you don’t respect yourself
ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot”. Mavis Staples has continued to perform & to make great records & has achieved a deserved legendary status. When a new collection of hers arrives I’ll be listening.

 

 

 

 

THE VANDALS / IN MY OPINION (45's) - Breakwell RecordsThe Isley Brothers’ latest 45, “Girls Will Be Girls, Boys Will Be Boys”, not one of their best, was at #19 in this week’s chart. A distribution deal with Buddah for their label T-Neck meant that through 1970-71 the brothers were able to record & release a number of other artists. One of these groups was, making use of the extended Cash Box listing, a new entry at #53. The Isleys had signed a high school band from Baltimore calling themselves The Young Tempts after their idols the Temptations. The Y.T.s recorded a couple of Motown covers, including “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”, before the Detroit label put their legal department on to the kids. “Too Busy…” was re-released under the name the Young Vandals. The Y.V.s were still in their teens but the next records were credited to just the Vandals. “In My Opinion” is written & produced by Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly Isley & it’s a predecessor of the slow jams, the “Quiet Storm” that provided contrast to the mighty Funk on the brothers subsequent, massively successful, albums. The lovely falsetto lead for the Vandals was provided by Damon Harris.

 

The Vandals broke up when Damon was looking to college as an alternative to music. The following year, 1971, his role model Eddie Kendricks left the Temptations & was replaced by Ricky Owens who, it was soon discovered, ha problems remembering the words in live performance. Damon Harris auditioned for the group & for the next five years worked in the job he had dreamt about as a kid. The Vandals may be as new to you as they are to myself but you have heard Damon’s falsetto on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”.  Well’ I was aiming for a varied selection this time around now I’m back with “The Sound of Young America”. On the 1970 R&B scene Tamla Motown ran the game.