The Woman’s Got Soul (Soul 30th April 1972)

When Holland-Dozier-Holland, the songwriting/production wizards behind so many of the label’s great hits, left Tamla Motown to start up their own operation they knew that they would need a girl group on their roster. Their songs for Martha & the Vandellas & the Supremes had moved the sound along from Phil Spector’s work with the Crystals & the Ronettes (not forgetting the Shirelles, the Chiffons & the Shangri-Las) maintaining the female vocal group’s importance in American R&B/Soul. The first release on H-D-H’s Hot Wax label in 1969 was by Honey Cone, a trio from Los Angeles, by the 30th April 1972 the group were the girl group of the day, enjoying their fifth entry into the Top 10 of the Cash Box R&B Top 60.

Honey Cone had connections, lead singer Edna Wright was the sister of Darlene Love, the go-to vocalist on many of Phil Spector recordings. She & Carolyn Willis had sung on many sessions, Shelly Clark had been an Ikette. It was when Darlene was unable to fulfill a TV date on “The Andy Williams Show” that the stand-in trio were seen by Eddie Holland, signed up & brought to Detroit to record. The majority of their debut album were songs credited to “Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne”, H-D-H had not yet settled their publishing independence from Motown so could not us their own names. Ron worked for them, Edythe was a friend. It was Honey Cone’s fifth single “Want Ads” that really broke them out, #1 in the Pop & R&B charts, they looked good on TV in their hot pants, sounded good too. “Stick Up”, the follow up, put them back at the top of the R&B list, both bright, strong & driving like the Vandellas tunes, based on the new hit sound of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, a good sound & who cares when it was done so well.

The hits were both written by Greg Perry, producer & Edna’s boyfriend, & General Johnson, frontman of Chairman of the Board, flourishing with the encouragement of his new employers. On “Soulful Tapestry” (1971) Holland-Dozier-Holland stepped back from Honey Cone as it was apparent this pair knew what they were doing. Along with label mate Laura Lee, Millie Jackson & Ann Peebles, the album’s songs of female empowerment were part of a new thing. One of the three tracks H-D-H did provide, “The Day I Found Myself”, #26 this week was sliding down from the R&B Top 10. It’s a really good one bringing to mind the Marvelettes & the Velvelettes from Motown’s mid-60s. It’s also a change from the pure Pop-Soul of the previous hits, an indicator of the way Honey Cone could be progressing. Unfortunately H-D-H were discovering that there was more to the business of music than making hits, getting paid by their distributors was more important. With the label in financial trouble Honey Cone’s “Love, Peace & Soul” (1972) was their least successful album, a dissatisfied Carolyn left the group & there were to be no more recordings by the original trio. Honey Cone burned bright for a short time, their confidence & sass influential on future girl groups.

#26 down from 19

Barry White spent much of the 1960s in Los Angeles writing, producing, recording the odd overlooked solo record. His biggest success was with Felice Taylor whose “I Feel Love Coming On” made the UK Top 20 in 1967 – there’s a story about why I like that song so much but I don’t know you well enough to share it. White’s ambitions as an independent producer stalled until he assembled a girl group. He worked with sisters Glodean & Linda James & their cousin Diane Taylor for a year before launching them as Love Unlimited & 50 years ago this week their debut 45 “Walking In The Rain With The One I Love” was a big mover on the R&B chart, rising 14 places to #16 before crossing over to the Pop Top 20 in the US & the UK. “Walking…”, with Barry growling to Glo on the telephone, is from an album full of mid-tempo Love ballads, the Motown girl group sound with any sharp edges smoothed, the songs drenched in orchestration, the sweet, sweeping string arrangements of Gene Page making it distinctive.

Having discovered how to do it Barry did it better next time & “I’m Under the Influence of…Love Unlimited” (1973) was a Top 3 Pop & R&B album though I’m surprised that the title track & “It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart it’s Spring)”, both dusted down from the Felice Taylor times, were not bigger hits. He was looking for a male singer & found one at home – himself. In 1973 his debut was the first of four successive chart-topping R&B albums, the following year “Love’s Theme”, an instrumental originally included on L.U.’s “Influence…” was released by the Love Unlimited Orchestra & hit #1 on the US Pop listing. Barry married Glodean & Love Unlimited became an important part of the international superstar Barry White Show, still recording & heading the R&B chart in 1974 with his song”I Belong To You”. Disco was coming & Barry White was leading the way.

Honey Cone may have been carrying the girl group swing in 1972 but the long-time title belt holders were not about to hand it over yet. The group had not been “Diana Ross & the Supremes” since 1970 when their lead vocalist left for a solo career & Jean Terrell joined Mary Wilson (that’s the lovely…) & Cindy Birdsong. Frank Wilson had been one of “The Clan” assembled by Tamla Motown to fill the gap left by Holland-Dozier-Holland’s departure & had co-written hits for the Supremes when Diana was still around. Now, as sole producer, hits like “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, “Nathan Jones” & the sublime “Stoned Love” showed that there was still life in & love for a group who since there breakthrough in 1963 had established themselves as the most popular female group in the world. In 1971 “Touch” did well on the R&B chart but tanked on the Pop albums list, other producers were tried but a planned follow-up “Promises Kept” was shelved. The next man up for the job was label stalwart, vice-president & legend Smokey Robinson.

Smokey wrote all nine songs on the “Floy Joy” album. They’re not of the same quality as “Ooh Baby Baby” or “Tracks of My Tears” but it’s a smooth, sweet, consistent record, Jean being the featured lead voice with Mary & Cindy having their moments while the Funk Brothers (guitarist Marv Taplin had played with the pre-Supreme Primettes before joining Smokey & the Miracles) hit all the right notes. The two uptempo tunes were released as singles, the title track making the US Pop 20 & “Automatically Sunshine”, a new entry at #44 on this week’s R&B chart, James Jamerson’s bass leading in Mary & Jean’s shared vocals, was more successful in the UK than in the US. Cindy’s pregnancy was showing, her maternity leave replacement Lynda Lawrence is on the album sleeve & sings on “The Supremes Produced & Arranged by Jimmy Webb”, released later in 1972. It’s an interesting record, check out Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want”, that failed to connect with record buyers. With more line-up adjustments, disputes with Motown & changing tastes it would be four years before the trio, by then Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, returned to the Top 40 when Eddie & Brian Holland returned to produce an act they had helped to make the greatest,the dream girls, the most successful girl group ever.


Can’t Help Myself (Soul May 9th 1970)

In the Poptastic mid-1960’s there was a heaving rush of perfect 45’s, seven inch vinyl discs that broadened the scope of popular music not only appealing to a massive audience but forcing me to use the word “zeitgeist” here. In 1964 Phil Spector hooked up his Wall of Sound to the vocal talents of the Righteous Brothers for “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. The following year “Satisfaction” showed that there was much more to the Stones than their R&B influences, Folk god Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar for “Like A Rolling Stone” & the double whammy of “We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper” confirmed the growing maturity of the Merseyside moptops. In 1966 Brian Wilson immersed himself in then emerged from his studio with “Good Vibrations” while “the Sound of Young America”, Tamla Motown, released “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, an urgent, exciting & assertive instant classic to rank with the aforementioned. The Four Tops, already established in the US, became international stars.



The Four Tops: 'Reach Out I'll Be There' | Classic TracksOn the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for May 9th 1970 “It’s All in the Game”, the latest record by the Four Tops, rose from #34 to #26. The quartet were friends from Detroit high schools, formed in 1953, releasing their first single in 1956 as the Four Aims, they were older than other emerging groups at Motown. Matched with producer/songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1964 they were immediately successful with a string of records featuring the quintessential, magnificent, mature vocals of Levi Stubbs, the sweetness added by Obie Benson, Duke Fakir & Lawrence Payton, a line-up that endured until 1997. The “Reach Out” LP (1967) launched the Tops into the stratosphere. The album included an incredible 6 singles all of which charted in the Top 20 of the Pop & R&B listings. “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, “7 Rooms of Gloom” & “Bernadette” are all in the same class as the title track. In 1968 the first volume of The Four Tops’ “Greatest Hits” was some kind of wonderful.


Four Tops - It's All In The Game - sheet music – A Nickel And A NailPerhaps the Four Tops were affected more than most by the departure of H-D-H from Motown. “Reach Out” was to be their final collaboration but the later singles from the record “Walk Away Renee” & “If I Were a Carpenter”, soulful reworkings of contemporary Pop hits, indicated a change of pace. I wouldn’t say more restrained because Levi was still giving it his all. They recorded with different producers & there was a period where their records were more successful in the UK than at home. In 1970 the LP “Still Waters Run Deep” put their name back in the top frame. “It’s All In The Game”, a melody written in 1911, a hit in 1958, an arrangement where the other members were, for once, more prominent, started another run of Top 20 R&B hits which continued after they left Motown in 1972. The live clip above, recorded in a Vietnam veterans hospital for “The Ed Sullivan Show”, is a little extempore but still charismatic. We all know just how great the Four Tops were.




Flaming Ember | Discography | DiscogsThe Flaming Ember originally Embers, named after a Detroit hamburger joint, had made some records for small local labels. George Clinton was involved with 1967’s “Hey Mama (What’cha Got Good For Daddy) but their big Rock & Soul sound met with little attention. The group’s luck was in when they were signed by Holland-Dozier-Holland’s new post-Motown operation. The trio’s reputation for quality & commercial appeal was reinforced with “Mind, Body & Soul”, Flaming Ember’s debut for them & the group’s first hit.


Flaming Ember - Westbound #9 (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs“Westbound #9”, at #45 on this week’s chart & headed for a much higher position, is the title track of the Ember’s debut LP on the Hot Wax label. I reckon that Levi Stubbs would have heard the 6 H-D-H songs on the record & thought that he & his group could have made a fair go of them. Featuring drummer/vocalist Jerry Plunk, that’s him out front in the love beads & bell bottoms giving it loads on the TV show “Upbeat”, the album’s instrumentation suggests that the house band, the Politicians, were busier in the studio than the four group members. They have more input on the next LP “Sunshine”, Jerry wrote a couple of the songs, but “I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper”, the standout track, another chartbound sound, followed by “Ding Need Dong (To Ding-A-Ling-A-Ding-Dong)” is an indication of its variable quality. The label was having bigger hits with other artists & Flaming Ember were soon back in the Detroit clubs. Still, you hear “Westbound#9” & that song sticks around for the rest of the day.



El Chicano - Viva Tirado (1970, Monarch Pressing, Vinyl) | DiscogsFrom blue-eyed to brown-eyed Soul. El Chicano were representing for their Mexican-American community in East Los Angeles who were developing a more visible political & cultural voice in parallel to the Civil Rights movement. “Viva Tirado”, an instrumental regional hit in their hometown was breaking nationally & was at #30 on the chart. There seems to have been an indeterminate number of members of El Chicano with a whole bunch of fine percussion surrounding the virtuoso Hammond B-3 organ playing of Bobby Espinosa complemented by the Jazz influenced guitar of Mickey Lespron. “Viva Tirado” is a Jazz tune & the integration of Funk, Soul, Latin, Salsa & Rock rhythms makes for a very tasty & moreish El Chicano sound.


Mexican-American band "El Chicano" including members Rudy Regalado ...I’m making up for lost time with El Chicano. The group released an LP a year until 1976 & there are new favourites to discover. Guest vocalists were added on later records but the instrumentals are the ones that hit the spot. Placing them somewhere between Santana & War their covers of well known tunes may not immediately impress new listeners but the band always hit the coolest of Latin grooves where foot-tapping & smiling is no longer optional. Here’s their take on Marvin’s “What’s Going On” to prove it. In the words of novelist Carlos Fuentes  “Soy chicano en todas partes. No tengo que asimilarme a nada. Tengo mi propia historia.” (I am Chicano everywhere. I don’t have to assimilate to anything. I have my own story). El Chicano are part of that story.



Looking For Sugar (Soul July 1969)

After 6 weeks at the top of the Billboard R&B chart Marvin Gaye’s “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” was replaced by yet another #1 hit from the Tamla Motown stable. Junior Walker & the All Stars were the most old-school at the Detroit label, Walker’s raspy saxophone & throaty vocal interjections backed by that driving R&B beat always hit the spot. The rough edges were smoothed a little for “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” & the group had their biggest hit since 1965’s “Shotgun”. The Top 10 was packed with great artists, James Brown, the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder. Climbing up to #10 was something new by someone new, another hit out of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.



Image result for candi staton i'd rather be an old man's sweetheartAs a teenager Candi Staton toured & recorded with her sister in the Jewell Gospel Trio. Married with four children, it was 1968 before she was ready to begin her solo career. Singer Clarence Carter, well established in Muscle Shoals & who was to become her second husband, introduced Candi to FAME. The studio pulled out all the Funky stops & a run of R&B hits, many written by Carter & George Jackson, earned her the title of “The First Lady of Southern Soul”. “I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool)” absolutely fizzes along & Candi could slow it down too. I definitely prefer her version of “Stand By Your Man” to Tammy Wynette’s original.


Related imageCandi moved to Warner Brothers in 1974. She stayed with producer Rick Hall for another LP before hooking up with Dave Crawford. Out of these sessions came “Young Hearts Run Free”, a #1 R&B hit, #2 in the UK, an enduring Disco smash. 1976 was the year that all my friends seemed to be getting married, the DJ spins “Young Hearts…”, everyone’s out on the floor & these are the good times. The Bee Gees’ “Nights On Broadway” returned Ms Staton to the UK Top 10 the following year. In 1991 she was back when a remix by the Source of “You Got The Love”, a great lost track, became a party anthem. Whether it was Soul, Disco, Gospel or Dance music, Candi’s strong recognisable vocals always delivered.



Image result for honey cone while you're out looking for sugarRising to #41 is another debut release, this time on a brand new label. By 1968 Pop’s greatest writing/production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, had become dissatisfied with their position at Tamla Motown records. Responsible for over 20 #1 hits & countless other chart entries there’s not a chance that they saw all the royalties that they were due. The trio got themselves an office in downtown Detroit, converted a movie theatre into a studio & started Hot Wax records. The Honey Cone, a female trio, were the first act signed to the label & “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” their first record. As you see from the above disc there’s no mention of H-D-H. Ongoing litigation, particularly with Jobete, Motown’s publishing company, meant that sole production credit was given to A&R man Ron Dunbar who shared the writing with “Edith Wayne”, an adopted pseudonym. No-one was fooled, take a listen to the track, that’s how a Holland-Dozier-Holland song goes.



Image result for honey coneHoney Cone, Carolyn Willis, Shelly Clark & Edna Wright, were brought to the Motor City from Los Angeles where Shelly had been an Ikette & Edna had sung with her sister Darlene Love, a favourite of Phil Spector. The record buying public took some time to become accustomed to this urgent, energetic sound that wasn’t Diana Ross & the Supremes, “While You’re Out…”, “Girls It Ain’t Easy”, “Take Me With You” & the Funktastic “When Will It End” all should have been bigger hits. It was “Want Ads” that finally sold a million in 1971 & succeeding records followed it into the Billboard Pop Top 30. Their star was on the wane by 1973 when Holland-Dozier-Holland proved to be better record men than label executives & Hot Wax folded due to financial problems. That was it for Honey Cone which was a pity as they were not only well-liked but were a worthy part of the American girl group lineage.



This is where I love being the boss of this thing. The chart was crammed with great songs worthy of our consideration but at #45 was a single by one of my all-time favourite vocalists. So, my final selection for July has to be Howard Tate.


Image result for howard tate these are the thingsTate, born in Georgia, raised in Philadelphia, sang Gospel then R&B with Garnett Mimms. His friend brought Howard along to writer/producer Jerry Ragovoy & between 1966-68 the pair created a blend of Tate’s emotional Bluesy lamentations with a sophisticated Uptown New York Soul that was as good as it gets. Jerry liked a touch of drama in his arrangements, with Howard a lighter touch allowed a great singer to shine, never more so than with “Get It While You Can”, the title track of the one LP they made together & a song that has been equalled but rarely bettered. “These Are the Things That Make Me Know You’re Gone” was recorded, without Ragovoy, for Lloyd Price’s Turntable label. (Lloyd had major hits in the 1950’s with songs that you’ve heard of. That’s his photo on the above disc, well it was his company!) The LP “Howard Tate’s Reaction” is not as strong as his previous output but Howard sings the all heck out of the songs & there are not too many of his records about.


By the late-70’s Howard had quit the music business & got a real job. A family tragedy led to addiction & homelessness. He was back on the right track when in 2001 a disc jockey discovered him & encouraged him to return to performing. That wonderful voice had endured & there was an acclaimed new LP made with his old producer. Other records followed, the old ones were re-released & the renewal of interest allowed Tate to sing for a new international audience. Plenty of artists, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Ry Cooder & others have covered his songs but, as Soul fans know, there ain’t nothing like the real thing & Howard Tate is certainly that.

Put On Your Wig Woman (Junior Walker)

As the 1950’s headed towards the 1960’s songwriter Berry Gordy was doing nicely from his connection with singer Jackie Wilson (Berry wrote “Reet Petite”, “Lonely Teardrops” & others) while having a shrewd eye on the business of music through an involvement with talent he found in his hometown Detroit. His Tamla label released its first disc in 1959, the Miracles’ “Shop Around” became its first million seller the following year & the Motown Record Corporation would soon stake a claim to be “the sound of young America”, as big an influence on the decade’s popular music as the British Beat explosion.


Image result for junior walker & the all-stars come seeWe all know the great stars signed to the label, Marvin, Stevie, Diana & the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations. There were plenty of other acts who benefited & contributed to the Motown sound. That driving beat of the house band, the Funk Brothers, matched to a melodic & lyrical acuity & urbanity placed African-American music firmly in the Modernist movement of the decade. Pop Art…you betcha! Junior Walker, a saxophonist, a little older than the others, never really adhered to the Hitsville formula but he & his All Stars enjoyed much success because their distinctive, individual style was pretty irresistible.



Image result for junior walker concert posterJunior Walker, born in 1931, was playing in bands in Battle Creek, Michigan, 120 miles east of Detroit, in the mid-1950s. The All Stars played both kinds of music, the Rhythm & the Blues, tenor sax playing Junior being influenced by the Jive of Louis Jordan & the Jazz of Illinois Jacquet (great name). The band signed with Harvey Fuqua, a singer turned label head, whose hits with the Moonglows, the classic “Sincerely” & the extra classic “The 10 Commandments of Love” were as good as Doo Wop got. Harvey was Berry Gordy’s brother in law & when he joined the family company he took his roster with him. The second 45 issued under the growing Motown umbrella found Junior Walker & the All Stars at the top of the R&B charts & in the Pop Top 10, a list that was pretty much all British Invasion & Tamla.


Image result for junior walker roadrunnerOn “Shotgun” (coming up later) the band were augmented by a Funk Brothers backline, including the peerless bassist James Jamerson. It’s a Soul Explosion, the honking sax, call & response vocal shouts & a demand that you dance urgency is the trademark of Junior Walker & the All Stars. Gritty is not the adjective most associated with Detroit at this time, these guys were, they found an audience & Motown let them do their thing. “(I’m A) Roadrunner”, the 4th Top 10 R&B 45, was written by ace team Holland-Dozier-Holland, another injection of Soul adrenaline, a super smash. King Curtis & Cannonball Adderley were masters of Soul/R&B saxophone & Junior Walker was not only just as groovy but his records were a whole lot of fun.



Image result for junior walker & the all-stars come seeThe major influence of the label on the artist was to point him towards the cupboard where they kept their back catalogue. First, in 1966, Marvin’s “How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You)” & “Money (That’s What I Want)” were Walkerfied. The following year H-D-H’s hit for the Supremes, “Come See About Me” was given a gutbucket revival, guaranteed to pack out any dancefloor anywhere. In the UK Junior Walker was a major Mod favourite. His records may not have made Top of the Pops but were played on the pirate radio stations & were essentials for any DJ in clubs (in my case youth clubs) all over the country. The ones already checked, “Shake & Fingerpop”, “Pucker Up Buttercup”, the killer “Shoot Your Shot”, it’s becoming a list & we knew them all.


In 1969 Walker & his producer Johnny Bristol, an ally since before Motown, changed it up & had a big success. “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”, written by Bristol, Fuqua & staffer Vernon Bullock, was recorded in 1968 for the “Home Cookin'” LP & released with some reluctance by the label. It’s slower paced, the edges are smoothed, the vocal more featured & it sold a million. Followed by a fine cover of the Guess Who’s “These Eyes” this new style kept Junior in the game, away from the golden oldie circuit in the new decade.



Image result for junior walker concert posterJunior Walker came out of the Jumping Jive R&B tradition & found his place in Soul music. He had international success with his records & the evidence is that his live shows were not to be missed. If, in June 1969, you were at the Fillmore West in San Francisco for the All Stars/Grateful Dead double bill then I am jealous. The group were regular, popular visitors to the UK & this clip (in colour!) of their 1967 gig at the Ram Jam Club, you know it, on the Brixton Rd, above Burton’s & the gas showroom, yeah you know, is just wonderful. Junior & his band, Willie Woods, guitar, James Graves, drums & Vic Thomas, organ, (bassist unknown) blow up an absolute storm. If I ever get this time machine finished then look out for me in the audience the next time you watch this lovely thing.



















































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.



Better Late Than Never (Motown Hits)

In March 1965 a series of 6 four track EPs marked the establishment of the Tamla Motown label in the UK. Previous releases had been through London American, Fontana, Oriole & finally Stateside. The assembly line at Hitsville USA in Detroit was sustaining 5 subsidiaries, Tamla, Motown, Gordy, Soul & V.I.P. The same writer/producers, the same musicians, a unique & successful operation, “the Sound of Young America”. There were 43 singles on the new label in the first 9 months. They couldn’t all be chartbusters, weren’t all by the great stars of the roster. Sometimes it took a little longer for the record buying public to catch on to some of the gems from Tamla Motown.



Image result for isley brothers soul on the rocks“This Old Heart of Mine” by the Isley Brothers was the #1 record of my youth club years (that’s the ones immediately before I could get served in pubs). The debut Motown release for the Brothers, January 1966 in the US, March in the UK, it was their only Top 20 hit in the US for the label & scraped into the Top 50 over here. If you were not already out on the floor then you certainly were before Ronald started singing. Over two years later the song was still being played in the great Soul/Ska sets I attended in the upstairs rooms of bars. A re-release saw it become a Top 3 hit, another smash for the crack Holland-Dozier-Holland unit. Trouble was, for Motown, the Isley Brothers had already left the label before this success.


“The Isleys’ wild call & response songs “Shout” & “Twist & Shout” had been picked up by the British Beat Boom & the group were a little too rugged for the sophisticated Detroit sound. The first LP for Motown had heavy involvement from H-D-H but 3 of their songs were a little second-hand having already been hits for others. On the “Soul on the Rocks” LP (1967) the A Team were absent & , while talented people were around to produce, the Isleys were dissatisfied with with the material & promotion they received. Motown went back to an old hit “I Guess I’ll Always Love You” & it did well again. “Behind a Painted Smile” had not been considered as a single in 1967. By May 1969 it & other stomping Isley tracks were favourites in the Soul clubs. This dense, dramatic classic, a perfect blend of impassioned vocals & the driving Funk Brothers rhythm section (James Jamerson, Benny Berrigan ?), Joe Messina’s fuzz guitar became a Top 5 hit. The Brothers Isley were more popular in the UK than at home until “It’s Your Thing”, on their own T-Neck label, scored their biggest sales yet. A couple of years later resistance was futile as their expanded family band just took over.



Oh yes ! The Elgins only got the one shot at Motown. The LP “Darling Baby” (1965) was produced by Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier, again featuring song’s by Detroit’s most talented songwriting trio with 4 covers of Atlantic hits as the filler. The title track & “Heaven Must Have Sent You” were R&B hits but there was to be no second LP from the group. In 1967 singer Saundra Mallett Edwards left the group & though she was replaced just look at the clip, from “Swingin’ Time” & you will see why she was missed. “Swingin’ Time” was a music show out of Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. They got some great Motown acts as guests & the surviving Y-tube clips are worth searching out.


Image result for the elgins heaven must have sent youBy 1970 columnist Dave Godin had identified a North-South divide in UK Soul fans. While Funk began to carry the swing in the USA “Northern Soul” fans were more interested in crate-digging for obscure uptempo dance records from the mid-60’s. In 1971 the 6 year old “Heaven Must Have Sent You” was re-released, broke out of the clubs & was a Top 3 hit. In the Spring of 1971 Stevie Wonder released “Where I’m Coming From”, Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”, Diana Ross, no longer a Supreme, was filming “Lady Sings the Blues” & plans for Motown to leave Detroit for Los Angeles were in advanced stages. The success of “Heaven Must…” showed that the public still wanted to dance & sing along to those classic Holland-Dozier-Holland, themselves no longer with the label, songs OK…♫ I’ve cried through many endless nights, just holding my pillow tight. Then you came into my lonely day, with your tender and your sweet ways. ♫ Smashing !




Image result for r. dean taylor there's a ghost in my houseCanadian R Dean Taylor signed for Motown as a songwriter & recording artist in 1964. The records didn’t go so well but writing credits kept his name in the frame. There was a Marvelettes track with Norman Whitfield, a Brenda Holloway A-side with Frank Wilson. In 1967 “7 Rooms of Gloom” was the 4th single from the 4 Tops greatest LP “Reach Out”. It was the B-side, “I’ll Turn to Stone”, with the credit Holland-Dozier-Holland-Taylor (that’s good company to keep), which became a dancefloor favourite. A dramatic self-produced single from that year, “Gotta See Jane”, written with Brian Holland, failed at home but reached the UK Top 20 in 1968. With the departure from the label of the great trio Motown’s production staff had to step up to keep the hits coming. Taylor had co-credits on two singles by Diana Ross & the Supremes, “Love Child”, a #1,& “I’m Living in Shame”. You know more R Dean Taylor songs than you thought you did.


In 1970 R Dean moved to Rare Earth, a label Motown set up for white artists. He scored with “Indiana Wants Me” an odd song about a murderer chased & caught by the police. It was his only US success but we hadn’t finished with him yet in the UK. Back in 1966 he had recorded “There’s a Ghost in my House”, another track with that impressive H-D-H-Taylor credit. Another irresistible Motown stomper that went missing at the time, it became a staple of Northern Soul DJ sets & reached the Top 10 in 1974. That’s 3 Top 20 hits for R Dean Taylor, an individual Motown talent.


All 3 of these songs were resurrected by the Northern Soul scene but you didn’t have to be a regular at the Casino or the Twisted Wheel to appreciate & enjoy them. The scene was big in the early 1970’s, these rediscovered breakout hits received wider radio play & sold to a bigger audience. We were listening to Sly, Marvin, the Isleys, Funkadelic, the new sounds of Black America but the fact remained that you could not beat a bit of classic Tamla Motown to make your weekend go better.

Mo’ Motown. Clean Out Of Sight.

In May 1965 Tamla Motown started to release records on their own UK imprint. Now we all love a list but the Motown discography really is a thing of wonder. The first three 45s are “Stop In The Name Of Love” (Supremes), “Nowhere To Run” (Martha & the Vandellas) & “Ooh Baby Baby” (Miracles). It’s like…how did they do that ?

The label did take a little time before it became the nonpareil Hit Factory. That first year saw releases by Choker Campbell’s Big Band, crooner Billy Eckstein & rockabilly Dorsey Burnette. I’m sure that these, like others who did not trouble the chart compilers, had merit but they were hardly “The Sound Of Young America”. There were other acts who were around, who even made a significant contribution to the label, but are not considered to be in the pantheon of great Motown artists. And here’s one now.

A new year, a new name for the Elgins who recorded their first Motown release as the Downbeats. The female singer, Saundra Mallett was new too. The band were produced by Holland & Dozier & got first shot at some pretty good songs by the ace team of Holland, Dozier, Holland. Both “Heaven Must Have Sent You” & “Put Yourself In My Place” were Top 10 R&B hits in the USA & were absolute dance floor fillers in the UK. 1966 was an annus mirabilis for H-D-H but I’m surprised that “Heaven” was not held back for Diana, Mary & Flo’ because it is an absolute Motown classic stomper. A 3rd single from their only LP, the lovely “I Understand My Man”, bombed & the Elgins were over by 1967. Thanks then to “Swingin’ Time”, a music show out of Windsor Ontario just across the river from Detroit, for capturing this charming, pure 1966 Motown moment. Five years later the Elgins had hit records in the UK when re-issues of these golden oldies captured the next generation of youth clubs & soul dances. Top stuff !

Brenda Holloway in May 1967, in colour…oh yes ! Berry Gordy Jr signed Brenda to his label when she was just 17. She was from California & chose to remain on the West Coast rather than re-locate to Detroit. This independent streak did not always serve her well but a hit record on her first go around positioned Brenda as the female solo star to replace Mary Wells, the “Queen of Motown” who left the label in 1964. “Every Little Bit Hurts” is an emotional blockbuster of a song, a soul classic. Brenda toured with the Beatles in 1965 but Smokey Robinson gave her Wells’ old songs to record & the hits were not repeated. By the time “Just Look What You’ve Done” was recorded she had her problems at Motown. Her self-determination was regarded as trouble-making & more amenable acts got more promotion. The track, written by Frank Wilson & R. Dean Taylor, is vintage Motown & sold quite well. Brenda wanted more &, in 1968, walked out of a Detroit recording session, returned to Los Angeles & never went back.

To say that Brenda is looking good in this clip is a statement of the bleeding obvious, She was a striking  woman &  40 years later she still is. We know because her music has not been forgotten, especially around the UK Northern Soul scene. “Every Little Bit Hurts” has been recorded by Aretha & Alicia. Here in Britain the Spencer Davis Group, the Small Faces & the Clash have paid their respects. After Motown Brenda almost retired. It was the interest from the UK which encouraged a return to performing & a chance to see an artist who made some great records but who’s potential was perhaps never fully realised by the label.

In 1966 Jimmy Ruffin got the break that all singers looked for. His recording of “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” caught the wave of Tamla tenderness & became a world-wide smash. Jimmy had passed on an offer to become a Temptation to his younger brother David. It seemed that he had done the right thing. “I’ve Passed This Way Before” was the next along. The same team of James Dean & William Weatherspoon (without arranger Paul Riser) wrote the song & it made the Top 20  but Jimmy struggled to establish his own identity as a performer. There were diminishing returns for subsequent 45s. In 1970 the Ruffin Brothers made an LP together which can still make you sit up & listen to it’s sweetness & passion.

Jimmy remained at Motown & around 1970 records which meant little in the US became big hits in the UK. This is because Jimmy had not been forgotten. Over here we do try to value quality over the latest bright shiny thing being waved before us. It is also because “I’ll Say Forever My Love”, “Farewell is a Lonely Sound” & “It’s Wonderful (To Be Loved By You)” were all good songs, well produced, that were certainly worth having around.  Jimmy Ruffin, like Edwin Starr & others, moved to England because there was money to be made & a greater appreciation of the enduring worth of his music. In this country we can be a little obsessive & excessive with regards to Soul Music. These songs & artists, from a halcyon time for African-American music, deserve to be remembered alongside the pantheon of the Supremes, Marvin, Stevie, Smokey & the rest. It’s a freaky, geeky job but someone’s got to do it.

When You Need A Hand To Hold, Darling, Reach Out (Four Tops)

The Northern Soul scene in the UK has prolonged the careers of artists who would struggle to call what they used to do a career. There has though been a tendency to value rarity as much as quality.  Only 250 demo copies were pressed of Frank Wilson’s Motown 45 from 1965. it is a fine record but £25,742 ($40,000) for a copy ? I’ve got it on CD ! Many great tracks have been excavated & played out by DJ obsessives but I find it does help to get back to where you once belonged. To renew contact with the soul greats, the artists who’s music put the bug in your ear & led you down the road to infatuation. Here’s four of them now.

In 1965 “the Sound of Young America” started out of West Grand Boulevard, Detroit (Hitsville USA) & spread to the rest of the world. For 3 consecutive years the Four Tops had 4 hit singles. The group were not too young, they had worked together for a decade & were all coming up to 30. They were though the epitome of the Motown sound. Holland-Dozier-Holland…check, the Funk Brothers’ indefatigable insistence that we should dance…check, as Marvin sang, a “Pride & Joy”, yup, it was all there. The first hit, the impassioned “Baby I Need Your Loving”, was pinched in the UK by some Mersey magpies. The subsequent run, which included “The Same Old Song”, were left alone, any approximation of these perfect, floor-filling stompers would just be gimpy. Their records only reached the lower Top 30 over here but were the toppermost in every club in the country.

What a clip this is. The Tops, Duke, Obie, Lawrence & Levi, are smart casual here, instead of the usual matching band uniforms, they look the better for it. There’s an off-the-cuff feel about the presentation, certainly compared to the precisely drilled choreography of the Temptations. Of course Levi Stubbs is lead vocal, centre stage but he’s happy singing & dancing with his boys. Sugar pie, honeybunch, this song just flows with a simple, urgent logic.This is how a great pop song sounds & I have to smile, I can’t help myself.

In 1966 Motown & the Four Tops went into overdrive. There was a lot of competition but “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” was not just a great soul song, it was alongside “Good Vibrations”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Eleanor Rigby”, stuff like that. The group were #1 in the world & they consolidated their primacy with a run of subsequent 45s which were, as I believe the young Americans say, awesome ! I remember a friend, a vocalist of ability who has made his own albums, hearing “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” for the first time & being stopped in his tracks. I could have picked any of these hits but “Bernadette” just never pales, the pause before Levi returns for the fade-out…perfect. Here the boys are suited & booted, smart guests in American lounges of a Sunday night. It’s Levi’s show now, the songs’ pleading lyrics encouraging him to strain his powerful tenor voice. The backing vocals were lower in the mix & Levi Stubbs can be remembered as a great male Motown voice with Marvin, Smokey & David Ruffin.

In 1967 H-D-H, left Motown. The band needed new writers & new producers. The Temptations headed off to psychedelic soul but that was never going to suit the Tops. There were different producers, including the very same Frank Wilson. A new policy of taking new, classy pop songs by young writers brought them hit versions of Left  Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” & Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter”. The band were making some classy cabaret soul, Levi could ease off & still deliver a world class vocal. Now the hits were bigger in the UK, “Do What You Gotta Do” (1969) is a Jimmy Webb song, an early one from when the young tunesmith would write true stuff down in songs. Nina Simone recorded the definitive version of this song but Levi does his thing &, while it may be from the middle of the road, he does it well.

The band left Motown in 1972 & they did have a few more hits. Man, they had a lot of credit in the bank after a decade of success. If you didn’t rate Levi Stubbs then you were wrong (Feed Me Seymour ). The 4 friends continued to perform together until 1997, welcome all over the planet. Only the unfortunate death of Lawrence Payton broke the sequence. Now Duke Fakir is the only surviving member but when you play those Motown records they are all still around.

I am not posting this without including this performance at the RFK Stadium in Philadelphia on July 13 1985. While Phil Collins was being tiresome on both sides of the Atlantic on the same day. While Queen’s (spit !) posturing pantomime pomp-rock pretence embarrassed us all. The Four Tops appeared at Live Aid (between the Hooters & Billy Ocean !) & they were this brilliant.


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.

Detroit dream girls (the supremes)

The Supremes’ story is now part of pop music’s DNA. The promotion of Diana Ross at the expense of her friends. The reaction of Florence to this marginalisation leading to her being dumped from the world’s leading female act & to a sad demise. It has become one of the folk tales of the 60s. Like the Beatles in Hamburg, developing a self-belief & a sound that would affect the world or the separation of Brian Jones from the group that he thought he led, it has been told & re-told from many different perspectives. We think we know the “truth” of these stories. We don’t need Carl Jung to come over & explain to us how a culture develops it’s own myths & legends.

Well…”Forever Came Today”. What a great pop single this is. The third single released as Diana Ross & the Supremes burns with a slow fuse before building to a fine dramatic climax. The “Reflections” LP introduced a touch of psychedelic soul to the hit sound but this track eschews the gimmicks and excess of the title track. The restraint of the arrangement, in the verse the electric piano is joined by a tambourine as a lead instrument, adds to the power of the song.

These were turbulent times at Hitsville & not just for the Supremes. Holland-Dozier-Holland, the writers responsible for the group’s amazing run of winners (10 #1 hits) were unhappy. They slowed their song production & were planning a future away from Motown. “Forever” was the last 45 they wrote for the girls. Recorded in 1967, released early in 1968, it was the first record of their’s to miss the top 20 since their success had begun & the first record to use session singers in place of the harmonies of “and the Supremes”. By the end of 1968 the Supremes were back in the top 10. Lamont Dozier & the Holland brothers had left Motown in a blizzard of suit & counter-suit.

There are clips of the Supremes promoting their world-wide smash of the 1967  summer of love, “The Happening”, with Florence. In others Cindy Birdsong (wonderfully, her real name) had tip-toed into her place. Two singles later Ed Sullivan was introducing Cindy as part of a group who promoted all their releases on Sullivan’s prime time TV show. The group always had their best new frocks on for these performances. Anyone who wants a view of the range of 60s fashions only has to check on the Supremes’ photos. Whether dressed like Vogue models or in more “street” clothes they were never less than immaculate.

The performance shows how Diana was now the focus. Her ambition can be criticized but she could sure sell a song. However, the Sullivan house band are not the Funk Brothers. This absence of groove makes for a pretty insipid result & perhaps influenced the song’s eventual sales. I have included this clip because it shows Mary Wilson at her best despite the exclusion from recording & the absence of her chidhood friend.

The Supremes first came to the UK on the back of a 2nd hit with “Baby Love”. They appeared on Top of the Pops in quite low cut dresses & made an immediate impression on my young self. I had never seen beautiful, young Afro-American women on British TV before. It was Mary who made the biggest impression. Francoise Hardy, Monica Vitti, Julie Christie, for myself  Mary Wilson joins that list of great 60s beauties. Diana can smile & over-emote , she can take the majority of the camera shots. Show me a clip of the Supremes in the 60s & I only have eyes for Ms Wilson…and there ain’t nothing I can do about it !

I have been looking around for a clip to show just how good the Supremes could be. The early appearances are in black and white. They often sang live with a white bread band making little effort to emulate the sound of the record because that would be impossible. I have settled on the breathless rush of “You Can’t Hurry Love”,often copied but never bettered. This is another great pop record from Tamla Motown.