Blowing Your Mind (Soul February 1970)

The Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for February 1970 was dominated by Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. The single’s massive success, a six week occupation of the #1 spot, caused a Top 10 logjam of seriously good records, songs that earned gold discs for a million sales, that are remembered & loved today. Eddie Holman, an artist enjoying the biggest hit of his career, stalled at the #2 spot for three weeks with “Hey There Lonely Girl”, a song that is still instantly recognisable .

 

 

Image result for eddie holman 1970Eddie Holman was a gifted child & that gift was his remarkably dynamic voice. He performed around New York, trained at a music school in Harlem &, after a move to Philadelphia, studied for a music degree at college. Eddie made his first record while still a teenager & was only 19 & still a student when “This Can’t Be True” made the Billboard Top 20 in 1966. He subsequently released a string of good singles, the quality of his voice never in doubt. In 1969 Eddie moved to ABC records, was given the opportunity to record an LP & one of the tracks became the one for which he is mainly remembered. “Hey There Lonely Boy” had been a US Top 30 hit for Ruby & the Romantics in 1963. A gender-swap, a pitch perfect falsetto delivery from a great singer, a deserved gold record hanging on Eddie Holman’s wall.

 

Image result for eddie holman hey there lonely girlEddie’s album “I Love You” was produced by Peter De Angelis, an old school record man, a veteran of the Philadelphia teen scene which flourished in the hiatus between Elvis joining the Army & the arrival of the Fab Four. The song choice displays the singer’s great range but is, as are the arrangements, conservative even old-fashioned. There was no successful follow up though “Since I Don’t Have You”, the old Skyliners Doo-Wop hit, could have been. It would be 1977 before Eddie got to make another album. “Hey There Lonely Girl” was the ideal last-dance-of-the-night smooch & over here in the UK it took us longer to fully appreciate its quality. In November 1974, during one of our periodic Soul revivals it was in the Top 3 of our chart. There are recent clips of Eddie performing his big hit at British holiday camp gatherings of Soul fans, his voice still a show-stopping precision instrument, his warmth & delight in performing it reflected in appreciative audiences.

 

 

 

Image result for delfonicsWell hello Ms Jackie Brown ! Steady at #5 on the chart for February 14th were the Delfonics (that’s the fabulous…) with “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” (that’s the fantastic…). In 1966 the Philadelphian trio, lead vocal William Hart, baritone brother Wilbert & tenor Randy Cain were introduced to Thom Bell, a young producer/arranger. It’s all there on the first single “He Don’t Really Love You”, William’s strong emotional falsetto matched to solid harmonies complemented by Bell’s symphonic, soulful arrangement, individual, dramatic but not overpowering. A record ahead of its time, an early indicator of the sweet Philly groove that would become a dominant strain of Soul music in the next decade. The following year “La-La (Means I Love You)”, a signature Delfonics tune, blew up big on the Pop & R&B charts & though the equally memorable “Ready Or Not Here I Come” was not as big a hit as it maybe should have been, the Delfonics established had themselves as a new force on the Soul scene.

 

Image result for delfonics didn't i advertThe confidence & talent of the group & the producer is evident on the self-titled LP released in February 1970, their third studio record. This time William Hart, by himself  or with Bell, wrote all but one of the songs. The exception, “When You Get Right Down To It” was donated by seasoned hit-maker Barry Mann (You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling'”, “We Gotta get Out of This Place & a 100 others) & the result was outstanding work. Soul had never been sweeter, orchestrations never more lush & impressive. There were 5 charting singles released from the collection & the other tracks, particularly “Delfonics Theme (How Could You)”, were just as good. “Didn’t I”, a triumph, was the biggest hit of them all, winner of the Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group that year. Just when their standing had never been higher Randy Cain left the group & Thom Bell moved on to work with the Spinners & the Stylistics as Philadelphia became a new hit factory. The same Philly studio guys, now known as MFSB, were around, William still wrote the songs & there were to be tracks that belong on any essential Delfonics collection but the group never again hit the heights they reached in 1970.

 

 

Image result for chairman of the board give me a little more timeThere’s no reason to leave the Top 10 for this month’s final selection. Rising rapidly from #15 to #9 was the 4th single to be released on the Invictus label, the new project for Tamla Motown writer/producer powerhouses Holland-Dozier-Holland. The Chairmen of the Board, a quartet based in Detroit, were one of the initial acts signed, released the label’s debut LP & scored its first major hit with the dynamic “Give Me Just a Little More Time”. H-D-H were lawyered up to negotiate their separation from Motown & they were not allowed to put their own names to their songs. That Chairmen’s LP has 5 credits for “R. Dunbar & E,Wayne”. While there’s no doubt that Ronald Dunbar made his contribution, Edythe Wayne was a collective pseudonym for the most prolific hitmakers of the 1960’s & you can tell. “Give Me…” & another success, “You’ve Got Me Dangling On A String”, would have been ideal for the Four Tops but the Chairman of the Board, with the urgent lead vocals of General Johnson, did a fine job.

 

Image result for chairmen of the boardGeneral Johnson had been about the record industry for a decade or so. In 1961 his group the Showmen had been in New Orleans with Allen Toussaint, the Rock & Roll manifesto “It Will Stand” was not the only memorable track that arose from these sessions. The General flourished in the freedom afforded by his new bosses, becoming the featured vocalist & taking on a greater share of songwriting duties. One track from that first LP, a rather, in my opinion, maudlin Country Soul lament “Patches” written with Ronald Dunbar, was picked up by Clarence Carter & won a 1971 Grammy for Best R&B Song. In 1971 Johnson had a co-credit on the effervescent “Want Ads”, a #1 Pop hit for Honey Cone, another successful act from the Invictus stable. There were just 3 LPs from the group, solo efforts from each member too & singles that made a bigger impression in the UK than at home. The final record for the label, “Skin I’m In” (1974) is a very strong funked-up collection employing the talents of the Parliament/Funkadelic posse who were often around the Invictus studio. The Chairmen of the Board were not around for too long but they made their mark.

 

 

Ask Yo Mama (Chairmen of the Board)

Right here are the Chairmen of the Board on the Soul Train promoting “Finder’s Keepers” the lead single from their 1974 album “Skin I’m In”. The trio, General Johnson, Danny Woods & Harrison Kennedy, were being helped out by some friends. On keyboards it’s Bernie Worrell (that’s the great…) & on bass there’s Billy “Bass” Nelson (again that’s…), a couple of Funkadelics taking time out to be on the telly. It’s a rare treat to see drummer Zachary Slater, McKinley Jackson (trombone) & the multi-talented Donald Baldwin (guitar). These guys were busy being part of the house band at Invictus Records & didn’t get out of the studio much.

 

 

Image result for Chairmen of the BoardThe Chairmen were having a good 1970’s. They hooked up with Holland-Dozier-Holland when the greatest hit makers of the decade left Tamla Motown to form Invictus/Hot Wax Records in 1969. General Johnson’s teenage group, the Showmen, had a hit with the marvellous “It Will Stand”. This time around he was ready to make his contribution. The label had big  hits with “”Want Ads” by Honey Cone & Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold”. General J co-wrote the former & had songs ready for Freda’s albums. Contractual folderol with Motown meant that H-D-H had to employ the pseudonym “Edith Wayne”, they, with Ronald Dunbar, provided the Chairmen of the Board with “Give Me Just a Little More Time”, a smash hit debut.

 

The group continued to make uptempo Pop-Soul records in the tradition of the label owners’ previous employers. All of them raise the spirits & make you dance. If anything they were more popular in Britain than in the US. The General became a producer & all three Chairmen got to make their solo albums. For the group’s 1972 LP “Bittersweet” he co-wrote all but one of the songs. Two years later, for “Skin I’m In”, others in the Invictus posse added their talents.

 

 

Image result for Chairmen of the Board Skin I'm InJeffrey Bowen came over from Motown where he had written for Marvin Gaye & produced the Temptations to be Vice President of the new label. He was given the tapes which were to become “Skin I’m In” & set about creating a whole new sound for the Chairmen of the Board. George Clinton’s psychedelic Funkateers were signed to Westbound Records while recording for Invictus with Ruth Copeland & under the old Parliament name. Bernie Worrell added layers of synthesizer, Billy Nelson co-wrote a couple of tracks with Donald Baldwin, a classically trained musician/arranger, a protege of Bowen’s who was proving to be very useful. Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazell was around too. The released LP, influenced by the Psychedelic Soul of Sly & the Family Stone & the Temptations, the new Funk of the Isley Brothers & Earth Wind & Fire is damn near a masterpiece.

 

The “Finder’s Keepers” clip shows Danny giving Ronald Isley a run while the band races, bubbles & has some fun. “Life & Death” is a suite, a Sly Stone joint linked by two Bowen/Nelson pieces. It’s Prog Funk, in a good way, & it’s amazing. Bernie Worrell’s work on this sits with stuff like this he did for Funkadelic & Talking Heads. The 9 tracks continue to surprise & delight. “Skin I’m In”, like the previous year’s O’Jays LP “Ship Ahoy”, displays the expanding range & ambition of Black American music. Both deserve to be considered alongside albums that are more highly regarded.

 

 

We have some time left here so let’s end with one of the classic singles that the Chairmen of the Board are remembered for. I’m spoilt for choice here so it’s “Pay to the Piper” for no other reason than it’s irresistible.

 

 

Holland, Dozier, Holland – After Motown

Tamla Motown’s modus operandi has been compared to the mass production lines of the auto factories of the company’s home city, Detroit. Such was the expertise & efficiency of all aspects of Motown that their bright & shiny product, “The Sound of Young America” had soon sold exactly 2.5 gazillion records.  Previously both singers & songs were here today, gone tomorrow but a new industry was being forged. The young creative artists saw that this music thing could be a career. The rules were being  made up as they went along but , somewhere, there was a big pile of money.  In the Summer of 1967 the Motor City was burning after 5 days of riots. Around the same time there were members of Berry Gordy’s Tamla tribe who were looking to get their share & to get paid.

The composers/producers, Lamont Dozier & brothers Eddie & Brian Holland were a very potent triple threat. They wrote an incredible 25 #1 hits & in 1967 were disputing the royalties they had received. The split with Motown was a messy one. The trio staged a work slowdown & left in 1968 to work for Holland-Dozier-Holland Productions Inc. By 1969 their 2 labels, Hot Wax & Invictus, were back on the charts.

And that’s why they were called HOT pants ! In 1970 the beautiful Freda Payne hit the Top 3 in the US with “Band of Gold”. HDH had sued Motown & had been met by a counter suit which took almost 10 years to unscramble. “Band of Gold” is credited to Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne…yeah right. Ms Wayne was a pseudonym adopted by HDH as they were prevented from using their own names in the dispute. The record was a UK #1 hit for 6 weeks & I remember getting a little tired of it at the time. Not now, it’s a floor-filling stomper of an absolute Motown vintage. The Supremes must have been thinking “Hey, that should be our song !”

In a converted Detroit cinema HDH & other talented writers attempted to replicate Motown’s success. Freda Payne had another US Top 20 hit with the anti-Vietnam war song “Bring The Boys  Home”, banned by American Forces Network at the time & still rarely heard, it’s that good. The record was made by a team which included General Johnson, a man who was getting a second chance with Invictus & was giving it his best shot.

General, I have just discovered, was writer & singer on “It Will Stand” a 1961 hit for the Showmen. Listening back it’s “Well, of course he was”. It’s a truly uplifting song…this or Jonathan Richman’s cover will set you right up for any day you start with it. He hooked up with producer Greg Perry & brought his new band to the new label. The Chairmen of the Board had some hits, more in the UK than the US, but were around in the years between those 60s TV pop shows & “Soul Train”. Surprisingly this odd clip of “(You’ve Got Me) Dangling On A String” is the only one I can find of them on the Y-tube. It’s a good song but the film is funny rather than funky, cheesy when it needs to be greasy. Hell, it’s a proper single, another irresistible call to do the funky chicken or whatever elese was the current thing.

Their first & biggest hit was “Give Me Just A Little More Time” , an Edythe Wayne original (I do hope that there is a real Ms Wayne) produced by HDH  & recorded using the Funk Brothers who were moonlighting from Motown for their old buddies. There were successes over on the sister label Hot Wax. In 1971 the hottest female group in the US were a trio from Los Angeles & the first signing to the label.

Hmm-hmm…”Want Ads” by Honey Cone. Well hello Ms Jackie Browns ! “Wanted, young man single and free. Experience in love preferred, But will accept a young trainee”. Well I was in that, presumably long, line…still waiting. The trio, Edna, Carolyn & Shelly, had experience in Los Angeles girl groups (Edna Wright is the sister of the incomparable Darlene Love, Phil Spector’s voice of choice on many songs). They got together in 1969 & were the first signing to Hot Wax. 1971 was their year, gold records & “Want Ads” at #1. It is a perfect update of the Motown pop-soul formula, sparring with “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 as the twin peaks of a turn of the decade, feelgood hit. Not quite disco yet but you know that a change is gonna come. The song was written by Perry, Johnson & engineer Barney Perkins, I would be surprised if Ms Edythe Wayne did not contribute. By 1973 the Honey Cone hits has stopped but so had Holland, Dozier, Holland’s plans for their own independent label.

It must have been difficult for the artists to become businessmen. HDH could hire capable people to manage their affairs but a hit single generates a heap of money very quickly. Getting & keeping a share of this heap can be a difficult thing. In 1973 Hot Wax folded with debt & cash flow problems while Invictus signed a distribution deal with Columbia. Of course we know now that Columbia’s fortune tellers had presciently predicted that pop music would come to be dominated & shaped by music made by black artists. HDH joined the other 2 prominent black independent labels, Stax & Philadelphia International as lambs lying down with the lion. By 1976 the entertainment titan, motivated by the dollar bill rather than creativity, had pressurised & controlled distribution, subsumed or cherry picked from the 3 famous labels. Conspiracy theory ? Hey sue me…I have no money.

For some time the Tamla triumvirate separated when Lamont Dozier pursued a solo career. He was replaced but Holland, Beattie, Holland ?…Nah. When Invictus finally folded in 1977 HDH Records came around & control over the valuable back catalogue was established. As Pop left behind its juvenescence there was a rush to bestow lifetime awards & to establish Halls of Fame. Not a one, Rock, Soul, any kind of music you got, was able to overlook the lasting, still amazing, contribution made by these 3 outstanding talents.