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.

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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.

Chicago: Second City Soul (July 4th 1970)

I first became aware of Major Lance in the Autumn of 1964. In that first wave of British Beat it was customary for the new groups to record their own versions of US R&B hits, As an 11 year old I knew the meaning of neither “cultural” nor “appropriation”, in fact these energetic Anglo attempts led me to the original versions which, in most instances I found that I preferred. This was certainly the case with the intriguingly titled “Um,Um, Um,Um,Um,Um”, a UK hit for Manchester’s Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, a US smash for Major Lance. “Um, Um,Um…” is a smart, melodic little story, a change from the “moon” & “June”, “baby”, “maybe” rhymes. On Wayne & the Mindbenders’ label it was credited to Curtis/Mayfield, a pair to keep an ear on. Turns out that it was just the one man, my introduction to The Man. Curtis & Major had met at Wells High School in North Chicago. Curtis was just 16 when his group the Impressions had a big hit with “For Your Precious Love”. He went to work at Okeh Records under the tutelage of producer Carl Davis & arranger Johnny Pate & this team created Major’s first record for the label, the charming “Delilah”, in 1962. A new entry at #42 on the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for July 4th 1970 was “Stay Away From Me (I Love You Too Much)”, sung by Major Lance, written, arranged, produced & released through his new label by Curtis Mayfield.

 

 

 

Major Lance PageMajor Lance had been a featured dancer on “Time For Teens”, a local TV show so Mayfield wrote him a dance song.”The Monkey Time” was a breakthrough hit, the start of a run of success that by 1965 brought the release of a “Greatest Hits” album, 12 tracks all written by Curtis. Some were tailor-made for the singer, others were later recorded by the Impressions, all had a bright, danceable Latin tinge. It’s the  the sound of Chicago R&B becoming Chicago Soul. When Curtis started Curtom he brought his friend with him & “Stay Away From Me”, which rose to #13 on the R&B chart, is a great example of the innovation he was bringing to his music. The lively, dramatic interplay of strings & brass underpinned by the insistent percussion of “Master” Henry Gibson & Mayfield’s own guitar would be heard more on the release of Curtis’ solo debut in September of 1970.

 

With The Song Of Life: Major Lance - Everybody Loves A Good Time ...There was just one more 45 on Curtom & in 1972 Major Lance moved to the UK where a thriving Soul scene appreciated his records & his live performances, His 1973 album “Live at the Torch” in Stoke-on-Trent captures the energy of the music & audiences at these all-night clubs. On his return to the US he recorded with various labels before, in 1978 he served three years of a 10 year stretch for selling cocaine & his career stalled. Just as Lee Dorsey & Allen Toussaint were making significant, popular music characteristic of New Orleans so were Major Lance, Curtis & the Okeh team in Chicago. “Everybody Loves A Good Time” is a 40 track collection of his work at that label. It’s essential for those interested in the development of Curtis Mayfield & for fans of great Soul music. I have just found out that Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, so eloquent during the recent BLM protests, is Major Lance’s daughter. His legacy lives on.

 

 

Classic and Collectable: Gene Chandler - Duke of Earl by Gene ChandlerGene Chandler is another Chicago Soul legend. He made his mark before Major Lance when “Duke of Earl”, a song he recorded with his Doo-Wop group, the Dukays, & released under his name sold a million in 1962. Gene ran with it, adopting a cape, top hat, monocle & cane for live performances & releasing tracks under his new title. Any thoughts after a  couple of less successful follow-ups that he could be a one-hit wonder were dispelled when a strong ballad “Rainbow” written by (this is Chicago…you guessed it) Curtis Mayfield put him back in the R&B Top 20. Gene did write his own songs but it was Mayfield’s which brought him the biggest success. I’m sure that Carl Davis & Jerry Pate were already involved. From 1964 their names & others from a team of talented arrangers appeared on the record sleeves. I have to mention the swinging, consummate “Nothing Can Stop Me”, a US Pop 20 hit in 1966 & so popular in UK Soul clubs that a 1968 re-release almost made the Top 40 over here.

 

Gene Chandler - "Groovy Situation" | Songs | Crownnote“Groovy Situation”, a new entry at #41 on this week’s chart, was to become Gene’s biggest Pop hit since “Duke of Earl”. His established team had dispersed to pursue their own things & Chandler had not only signed a new contract with Mercury Records but was confident enough to start his own Bamboo label. “The Gene Chandler Situation” (1970), his first self-produced LP, effectively matches his strong, smooth voice to an updated sound for new songs rather than the cover of standards & recent hits that had filled earlier records. The fine single (“Can you dig it?”) & the less successful but, to my ears just as good, “Simply Call It Love” are great examples of an artist responding to changing times. In 1970 Gene was awarded “Producer of the Year” by the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (against Norman Whitfield & Gamble & Huff). It was not only his work on his own album that had earned him this accolade.

 

 

Mel & Tim | Discography | DiscogsMel Hardin & Tim McPherson were cousins from Holly Springs Mississippi. Discovered by Gene they were signed to Bamboo (an operation that also involved Mel’s mother) & began work on their debut LP, produced by Gene with the assistance of experienced Chicago hands. It was the track “Backfield In Motion” that caught the record-buying public’s ear & the new act found themselves with a R&B Top 3, Pop Top 10 hit with a gold record for a million copies sold. “Mail Call Time”, rising to #38 in this week’s listings, was the third selection from the album to chart after the title track “Good Guys Only Win In The Movies” had made the R&B Top 20. I’m sure this song about letters from home resonated with those serving in South East Asia & those at home writing the letters. Mel & Tim were no dynamic Sam & Dave, their record, which rather individually includes two covers of British Prog-Rockers Spooky Tooth, still packs a punch & is very pleasant. In 1972 the duo recorded another album, this time at Muscle Shoals, & repeated the million-selling success of “Backfield…” with “Starting All Over Again”.

 

Another track on the record was “Groovy Situation”, obviously a very good call for Gene Chandler to take it for himself. Gene recorded an album with Mercury’s other Chicago Soul star, Jerry Butler, before the hits got smaller. In 1977 he was sentenced to a year in prison when he sold a pound of heroin to undercover federal agents. While still on probation he came straight back to music & the R&B Top 10 with the Discofied “Get Down”. Jeez, these Chicago Soul guys lived some kind of lives.

Tutti Frutti And Disco Cuties (Soul June 20th 1970)

Fifty years ago this week on the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations chart the #1 record was by a new group who were not only the Soul sensations of the day but were enjoying almost unprecedented success on the Pop charts. “The Love You Save” was the Jackson 5’s third #1 of the year & there would be another one to come. Tamla Motown had plenty of experience in the development & marketing of their acts but even they can’t have anticipated the sudden rush of Jacksonmania which became the popular music phenomenon of the year.

Ebony September 1970 | Ebony magazine, Ebony magazine cover, Jackson 5The Jackson family band, Marlon 13, Jermaine 15, Tito 17, Jackie 19 & Michael 10, from Gary, Indiana had been prepared even drilled for stardom by father Joe. With no disrespect to the other four it was apparent from their 1968 Motown audition that young Michael was an extraordinary talent. Initial recording in Detroit with producer Bobby Taylor was heavy on the Motown & contemporary covers, Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You” captures the prodigy’s precocious agility, ability & maturity beyond his years. Label boss Berry Gordy wanted something extra. He moved the group to Los Angeles, assembled & included himself in a new team, “the Corporation”, who came up with “I Want You Back”, a song that captured the group’s vivacity & became the blueprint for their future singles. “I Want You Back”, as distinctive & fresh now as it was 50 years ago, is a landmark record, Soul music informed not by its Blues & Gospel roots but by the classic Pop & Tamla Motown of the mid-Sixties. Of course the teenagers loved it, the single & debut album “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5” sold millions & the snowball was rolling.

The Jackson 5 - The Love You Save (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs“The Love You Save”, another Corporation joint is taken from “ABC”, the Jackson 5’s second LP, released just six months after the debut &, like the title track, another sure-fire smash. They are captured in all their glory, energy, threads, coiffures, confidence, choreography & beauty on this appearance on the prime time “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Such chart dominance couldn’t last & two more albums released in 1970 emphasised quantity of product over quality control. After just one more LP in 1971 Michael’s solo career was launched with the “Got To Be There” album & he was able to succeed by himself & with his brothers. In 1975 they left Motown, Jermaine, married to Gordy’s daughter, stayed as did the group’s name. The renamed Jacksons found the increased creative input they sought at Epic & we watched Michael grow into a teen idol. While filming “The Wiz” he met producer Quincy Jones & together they created his fifth solo LP “Off the Wall” (1979). The group’s “Triumph” (1980) included the hit “Can You Feel It”, written by Michael & Jackie, & sold a couple of million. The groundbreaking “Off the Wall” was a statement that Michael, still just 20, was ready to go, it redefined his career, became the first LP to have four tracks reach the US Top 10 & sold 20 million records. He was well on his way to becoming the “King of Pop”, the next record “Thriller” (1982) hit  sales of 66 million. Michael was in a different orbit to not only his brothers but everyone else too. We know the story, we all have our own views but it’s sure that such incredible fame & fortune for an individual who had grown up in public can lead to strange craziness.

The Three Degrees - Maybe / Collage (1970, Vinyl) | DiscogsThis clip & record is new to me (it’s a big reason why I do this thing). We know the Three Degrees as the designated divas of the Gamble & Huff stable that the producer/writers were establishing in Philadelphia. Prince Charles’ favourite group whose “When Will I See You Again” was Bill’s off of “Kill Bill Volume 2” “favourite soul song of the 70s”. Well here are the pre-Philly Degrees with “Maybe”, rising 8 places to #21 on this week’s chart, their first 45 for Roulette records & the title track of their debut LP. It’s the same trio, Fayette Pinkney, Valerie Holiday & Sheila Ferguson, only this time it’s Valerie on lead vocals when we are so used to Sheila being at the front. The dramatic “Maybe”, here with a long spoken intro (“as evil as a wet hen”!), is a track they had first recorded in 1966, reached #4 on the R&B chart. It would be 1974 when they were the featured vocalists on MFSB’s chart-topping “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” that bigger success came their way.

Jet magazine (December 23, 1971) — The Three Degrees with ...There were just the two albums recorded with Gamble & Huff & while they subsequently made little impression in the US their popularity in Europe & the UK (two different places apparently) was maintained. A live LP was recorded at the glamorous (probably) Bailey’s nightclub in Leicester England. Fayette left, was replaced by former Degree Helen Scott & in 1978 they were matched with ace Disco producer Georgio Moroder & his Music Machine team. The two records they made in Germany were hardly “I Feel Love”, the Three Degrees always did lean towards middle-of-the-road cabaret Soul, but when the master’s electronic Disco barrage is at its most effective it was pretty good. It brought them more UK Top 10 hits, they seemed to be never off the TV & for a while there the Three Degrees were the most popular female group around here.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr pay tribute to Little Richard – The ...Back in the days of Rock & Roll Little Richard had been as sensational as the Jackson 5. During his stint at Specialty Records, from 1955 to 1957, the frantic, almost feral, accelerated take on R&B matched to an uninhibited, unpredictable showmanship changed & defined the new teenage music. The first hit “Tutti Frutti” (“A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”), a fresh, wild, kinetic explosion started a run of 17 Top 20 R&B hits before “The King of Rock & Roll” abdicated his position. “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip It Up”, Ready Teddy”, “Lucille”, it’s a list. His recordings in the next decade were Gospel-oriented & sporadic but Little Richard’s work was done, He influenced all his fellow rock & rollers from Elvis on down, inspired his fellow Macon, Georgia native Otis Redding & a generation of young British musicians, especially the Fab Beatles, in their own attempts to emulate him while the sexuality & stagecraft of Prince tips its beret Richard’s way. When Michael Jackson bought the Beatles’ publishing catalogue it included the rights to those Specialty songs & he gifted them back to the Originator, nice move.

Little Richard "Rolling Stone" cover. I twisted a lot of carpet ...In August 1969, two weeks before Woodstock, the Atlantic City Pop Festival had brought together a similarly impressive lineup of contemporary music. An electric performance by Little Richard, at a white grand piano, closed the concert & had brought an audience too young to remember his heyday to their feet. Encouraged Richard put up his own money & entered Muscle Shoals studio to record his first album in three years. “Freedom Blues”, climbing a healthy 15 places to #33 on this week’s chart, is the opening track on “The Rill Thing”, a meeting of Rock & Roll & swampy Funk which proves to be very effective. Richard’s voice is still gymnastic & surprising & the musicians, particularly guitarist Travis Wammack & the horn section grasp the space afforded by the singer’s production. “Freedom Blues” sets the tone, “Greenwood Mississippi” shows where John Fogarty & CCR were coming from & a spirited “I Saw Her Standing There” would make his Mersey Beat friends proud. The title track, a 10 minute long Funk instrumental jam, gives the band a workout that you don’t often & is a joy to hear. Little Richard’s death in May 2020 was marked by many tributes but there was a lot of bad news about in those days. He really was a treasure of our music.