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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
“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.