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.

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.