Loan Me Your Funky Mind (Soul October 1969)

Tamla Motown started 1969  with Marvin Gaye at the top of the US R&B chart &  the Hitsville studios in Detroit kept the number ones coming throughout the year. Diana Ross & the Supremes, Marvin again & Jr Walker & the All Stars all, according to Cash Box, reached that pinnacle & in October, for the whole of the month, it was the turn of the Temptations. Since a breakout hit in 1964 with “The Way You Do the Things You Do” the Tempts being top of the R&B pops came around almost every year.

 

 

Image result for temptations 1969In 1968 the Temptations had parted company with David Ruffin, a charismatic performer whose delectable baritone had come to predominate on a string of outstanding 45’s. The group knew that you gotta walk & don’t look back & while for many the music made by the “Classic Five” line up remains their best there was no dip in popularity when Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards. The three LPs released in 1969 (two more with the Supremes) were all successful. “Cloud Nine” was producer Norman Whitfield’s big new idea, a heavily arranged/orchestrated take on the Psychedelic Soul of Sly & the Family Stone. Most of the LP was familiar Temptations fare but the title track won the Tempts a Best R&B Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental Grammy. The future was freaky & Funky. “The Temptations Show” is a mix of the old, the new & slick show biz, the soundtrack to their very own TV special, that’s how big a deal the Temptations were.

 

Related imageOn “Puzzle People” there were still cover versions (“Hey Jude”, “It’s Your Thing”, even “Little Green Apples”) but Whitfield & Motown stalwart Barrett Strong provided more original material. This new sound used all five voices on lead, Edwards was recruited for his strong vocals, Eddie Kendricks (that’s the great…) sang lead on many of their hits, it had been some time since Otis Williams, Paul Williams & Melvin Franklin had been stood at the front for the singles. “I Can’t Get Next to You” doesn’t have the social commentary of some of these new epic songs, it’s an urgent, brilliant slab of Funk but I’m telling you something you already know here. A massive hit, their second Pop #1, the ninth time at the top of the R&B chart, the Temptations were the leading vocal group of the time, a new face, a new phase but taking care of business as usual with so much more fine music yet to come.

 

 

 

Funkadelic…the clue is in the name. The highest new entry on the chart of October 18thImage result for funkadelic  1970 was the second single from a new group. It could have been luck, more likely it was George Clinton’s judgement that, when he needed instrumental backing for his vocal group the Parliaments, assembled a young talented crew whose innovative lysergic fuelled jams on a framework provided by Sly Stone & Jimi Hendrix placed them in the vanguard of the new breed of Funk groups. George had mislaid the rights to the name of his own group so the expanded collective signed a new contract as Funkadelic. “I’ll Bet You” reached back to Clinton’s times around the Detroit music scene. In 1966 the song had been recorded as an uptempo dead-stone floor filling Soul stomper by Theresa Lindsey. Funkadelicised, with a little help from some of Motown’s Funk Brothers, the song is a raw, dense, insistent blend of Rock & Soul, one of the first tracks you play to those less versed in the ways of Parliament-Funkadelic.

 

Image result for funkadelic  1970The self-titled LP, a landmark record, did not appear until the following year. Guitarist Eddie Hazel, Billy “Bass” Nelson & drummer “Tiki” Fulwood were given plenty of scope by producer Clinton to blow our funky minds. On tracks like the opener “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?” & “What is Soul?” George laid the foundations of the P-Funk lore which, after extensive recording, exciting live shows & tweaks in personnel, finally saw the group recognised as one of the foremost African-American units of the time. (Soul is apparently “a ham hock in your corn flakes” or “a joint rolled in toilet paper”, your choice!). Funkadelic were signed to Armen Boladian’s Westbound Records & Boladian later gained control of all Funkadelic’s publishing rights by allegedly forging George’s signature. A litigious man he sued every artist who used a sample of their music, that’s like over 50% of the US Rap scene. Screw the “allegedly” let him sue me, I’ve got no money. Fly on baby, fly on.

 

 

Image result for lee dorsey give it upFurther down the Cash Box chart, a newcomer at #46, was an artist who had experienced success over the past decade. Lee Dorsey, a former boxer turned singer out of New Orleans had his first million seller in 1961 with “Ya Ya”, later covered by John off of the Beatles, but similar nursery rhyme based lyrics probably deservedly failed to connect. In 1965 a partnership with the Big Easy’s master songwriter/producer/arranger Allen Toussaint created a string of 45’s which re-established him in the US & made him a firm favourite on the UK Mod scene. It’s an impressive list, good enough to make a “Best of…” collection essential. Everyone knows the jaunty, irresistible “Working in a Coal Mine”, a Top 10 hit in the Pop charts on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1980 the Clash invited the still spry Lee Dorsey to open on their US tour.

 

Image result for clash lee dorsey

Lee & the Clash

The Dorsey/Toussaint connection continued to make fine singles which met with less commercial success. Lee always had his auto repair shop to fall back on when he was less in demand. In 1969 the team’s statement record was “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)” & “Give It Up” showed that they walked it like they talked it. This was a mature New Orleans take on the New Groove. Toussaint’s songs were stronger, his horn arrangement on “Give It Up” sensational. (When the Band needed charts for a brass section they knew who to call). The studio band, the Meters, confidence high from their own success, provided diamond-sharp backing for their city’s premier vocalist.

 

The singles, issued on the small Amy label, made little impact but in 1970 Lee got to make his first LP for 4 years, a proper one not a compilation of past releases. There were some great R&B LP’s coming round & “Yes We Can”, not a big seller, was among them. The title track endured as a political slogan for young Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. “Who’s Gonna Help a Brother Go Further” is another example of a growing modernity & social awareness of the lyrics. “Riverboat” was picked up by Little Feat, “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” by Robert Palmer. Now the record has the highest of reputations, back then Lee Dorsey was regarded as being from the old school. That’s a pity because a lot of people missed out on something very good.

 

Funky Like Lee Dorsey

 

Everything I do gotta be funky like Lee Dorsey seems as good a yardstick to measure your life by than anything else. If Irma Thomas was the Queen of New Orleans soul then Dorsey was the king. Throughout the 1960s his easy-going, confident, funny and funky records never failed to hit the spot. He is remembered for just a few of them. “Working In A Coal Mine” ? Everybody knows that one, right. You can get compilations of his best work with maybe 25 tracks and not one of them is a dud.

Lee Dorsey and Allen Toussaint go together like cocaine and waffles. They had hit records in the early 60s with songs that were almost nursery rhymes but they had a New Orleans beat and that’s what sold at the time. Dorsey went back to working in his garage, in the 50s he had boxed as a light-heavyweight under the name “Kid Chocolate”, when Toussaint got a deal at Amy records he called his boy and in 1965 they were making hits again. “Get Out my Life Woman” is one of them and his strutting performance of the song (you gotta have some cojones to wear that shirt !) is Lee Dorsey at the top of his game as a soul star. Stax-Volt sent their reserve backline on this tour with Sam & Dave but this is a fine thing to see.

The records stopped selling but in the Mod era UK he was still a big deal. “Coal Mine”, “Holy Cow”, “Ride Your Pony” were all big soul club and youth club dance records. They were all written, produced and played on by Allen Toussaint. His distinctive backing vocals are a feature on them all too. New Orleans was in the shadow of Memphis and Motown for a time, as soul turned into funk the loping rhythms of the city were back in the game. Toussaint had the songs and the musicians he wanted and it was Lee Dorsey who benefited from this new energy.

“Give It Up”, released in 1969, was not a hit but that says more about the market than the song. It is not a James Brown punch to the solar plexus, more a dance, jab and move, a sinuous, a benignly insidious groove. The Meters and friends slide into the pocket and…well they are the pocket. In the same year Lee Dorsey had another fine 45 for us.

“Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)” is a statement record from Allen Toussaint and he lived up to his promise. I just love the way New Orleans funk hits a groove and provides a whisper of a conventional pop song but just stays in that rhythm because hey, conventional is not their way. In 1970 an LP was released. The two singles were not included but Toussaint had a collection of songs which have become classics. The title track, “Yes We Can”, was adopted by Barack Obama (not brave enough for “Funky President”) as his campaign song. “Riverboat”, “Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley”, “Who’s Gonna Help A Brother ?” and others make “Yes We Can” a milestone in funk and soul music. That it did not sell probably mattered more to Lee Dorsey, he got one more shot 8 years later with the discofied “Night People”, another worthwhile effort. Me, I don’t care if it was not a hit because I always have Lee Dorsey’s great feelgood records around to put the bounce back into my stride.