Different Strokes For Different Folks (Soul February 1969)

Last month’s post on the Billboard R&B chart of 50 years ago was such a blast to write & hang about with. Spoilt (or is it spoiled?) for choice there were songs that had been favourites for all that time, other winners that I had discovered later & ones that had been forgotten or missed. I’m sure that moving it forward a month to February will prove to be just as rewarding. (Spoiler – it does, or I would be wasting our time here).

Tyrone Davis had his moment at #1 at the beginning of the month before being overtaken by Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”, the first of 3 of that multi-talented group’s songs to top both the Pop & the R&B charts. When I listen to them I’m still delighted & now a little surprised that such immaculate, innovative, positive music, up there with the best of its time, became so widely popular. The attraction of this archive is more than nostalgia, something was happening, Soul music knew what was going on & each chart, all the way down to number 50, is packed with creative, exciting records.

Image result for johnnie taylor take care of your homeworkAt #2 is Johnnie Taylor, the wonderfully named “Philosopher of Soul”, with “Take Care Of Your Homework”. 1968 had been a terrible year for his Stax record label & its hometown Memphis. The death in a plane crash of its major star Otis Redding hit the company & the music world hard. The Lorraine Motel was used by artists visiting the studio, in April the assassination there of Martin Luther King was a tragedy that shook the world. The sale of their distributor/supporter Atlantic Records got messy & Stax lost control of their back catalogue. The 3 million copies sold by Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul” album was a major boost to a label that needed one but before that Johnnie’s hit single “Who’s Making Love” kept the label in the game & showed that there was still talent at the East McLemore Avenue studio.

Related imageTaylor had made some great 45’s with the team of Isaac Hayes & Dave Porter. They were busy with their own albums & a new trio of writers calling themselves We Three provided Johnnie with “Who’s Making Love” a story of playing away & paying the price, his biggest hit yet & the first of 17 straight Top 20 R&B hits. “Take Care of Your Homework” is more of the same, a forceful vocal with a classic Stax backline of the immaculate Booker T & the MG’s with the blaring Memphis Horns…tasty! Johnnie kept up with changing styles & tastes & was back at #1 in 1976 with “Disco Lady. He never really made much impression in the UK but any “Best of…” selection will include a couple of songs you know & a whole lot more that you should know.

“Cissy Strut”, the only instrumental in the Top 10 (at #9),  is the opening track from the debut album by the Meters, a glorious gumbo of rhythm & groove by the house band on so much good music from down south in New Orleans. Further down, in the lower reaches of the Top 30 there are 4 non-vocal tracks in succession. Young-Holt Unlimited had their last week on the chart with “Soulful Strut” as had Jimmy McGriff whose Hammond organisation Soul-Jazz was straight from the fridge. Cliff Nobles & Co were an odd one. “Switch It On” was a galloping variation on their big hit “The Horse”, Cliff was the group’s singer & didn’t feature on the songs that sold. Then there was this little beauty.

Image result for hugh masekela riotHugh Masekela’s coming to America, from South Africa via London, was ostensibly to further his musical education. Already a prominent musician back home the deteriorating political situation after the massacre of 69 people in Sharpeville led to his friends & supporters getting him the flip out of Joburg. At the start of 1967 his trumpet solo for the Byrds on “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star” was as cool as it gets. As his own music assimilated his new environs he incorporated R&B & Pop into his African Jazz rhythms. A partnership with his producer/friend Stewart Levine brought, in 1968, “Grazing in the Grass” to #1 on the Pop charts.

Image result for hugh masekela 1969With such a background Masekela was bound to be affected by the struggle for civil rights in the USA. Throughout his life there was always a political dimension to his music whether instrumental or vocal. 1969’s album “Masekela” included a “Blues For Huey”, at the time Huey P Newton, a founder of the Black Panther Party, was imprisoned on charges which were later dismissed. “Mace & Grenades” & “Riot”, released together as a single, were commentaries on events in Vietnam & the USA. What a rhythm “Riot” is, the repeated guitar motif underpinning Hugh’s distinctive trumpet playing. In Jamaica Keith Hudson produced a fine Reggae version while just last year Earl Sweatshirt’s dense & personal “Some Rap Songs” finds some resolution with a song by a man close enough to his family to be “Uncle” Hugh. “Riot”, built to last.

The highest new entry of the week is “My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)” the debut solo single by David Ruffin, the former Temptation. Another time for David, maybe next month. In at #47 was Edwin Starr, another from the Motown roster, who was enjoying his return to the chart after 3 years away. “25 Miles” retains its impact 50 years on & plays over the opening scene of “Bad Times at El Royale”, a smart move to get you interested in a smart new movie.

Image result for edwin starr 25 milesEdwin’s early records with the Detroit label Ric-Tic were so much part of that city’s trademark sound that I could not have been the only one to have assumed that he was already with the Tamla Motown organisation. “S.O.S.” & “Headline News” were essentials in any DJ’s  set in mid-60’s UK. “25 Miles” took such liberties with Wilsoon Pickett’s 1967 track “Mojo Mama” that the songwriting credits were adjusted accordingly. Edwin’s forceful vocal matched to that driving Motown beat made for an irresistible mix. While this mini-skirt packed clip is as Mod As F… the audio isn’t the best. You can hear the full power of the song by clicking this. “25 Miles” put Edwin’s name back in the frame & he took his chance. On the opening track of his next record he asked a question, gave the answer that we all knew was the right one & found himself an enduring worldwide hit. “War! What is it good for ? Absolutely Nothing! Say it again y’all”.

Kindness And Friendship, And Dancing (Denise LaSalle)

Image result for cyrille regisStill a week to go in the first month of the year & Death has been felling too many tall trees. In the late 1970’s, when my football team had an away game, I would take the #11 bus around Birmingham’s Outer Circle to see Cyrille Regis play for West Bromwich Albion. A combination of strength & grace allied to a knack for scoring show-stopping goals transcended the parochial tribalism of English football fans & his talent merited greater international recognition than he received. On & off the field his quiet dignity in the face of hateful, ignorant racism inspired the next generation of Black footballers to believe that they too could make their mark. Hearing some of that generation, now retired, overcome by emotion in their tributes was testament to Cyrille’s legacy as a player & as a man.

 

Image result for hugh masekela 1969Hugh Masekela’s trumpet featured on the Byrds 1967 classic “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star”. The following year he had a #1 hit of his own with “Grazing in the Grass”. Masekela, already an eminent musician, left South Africa in 1960 when, after the Sharpeville massacre the manners of the White government became even more oppressive. Throughout a 30 year exile his music, for the head, the heart & the hips, never left Africa. His talent, his struggle, informed me about the insane apartheid policies of his home country as much as the travails of Nelson Mandela. (A shout here to the late Bill Clayton, a family friend who left Capetown when he was racially “reclassified” by the government. Even my 12 year old self knew that this was not only wrong but batshit crazy!).

 

Image result for mark e smithThe Fall have been part of the musical landscape of the UK for 40 years. There’s been a lot of wind talked about Mark E Smith who died yesterday. A contrary outsider, a trenchant motormouth &, later, an irascible drunk. “Hey dude! Give the info a rest and use your mind”. The Fall were popular enough to release 36 albums. If you want to hear their best songs well I’ve got 50 of them & a pile more in my pocket if you don’t like those. His voice & lyrics may seem individual but  his accurate, acerbic, archly humorous take on the world is one I recognise & has always been worth listening to. His band, despite a revolving-door personnel, was always on point. Mark’s autobiography reminded me of the year I spent in Manchester & the old boys I met in the pub (drinking at lunchtime…I miss that !). I liked them & I liked Mark E Smith. Over the years, when I have listened more closely, his band, his songs, his book, have been the best thing to have around.

 

As if this wasn’t quite enough loss there are others less celebrated on their departure who nonetheless made their mark. On the 8th of January the singer Denise LaSalle died aged 78 & it’s certainly worth spending some time with her music & to remember her.

 

 

 

Related imageIf Denise LaSalle had only made one record then “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” would be enough. From 1971 it was a #1 R&B hit when you had to be better than good to get that sort of attention. (It was preceded by the Persuaders’ “Thin Line Between Love & Hate”, displaced by Marvin’s “Inner City Blues”). “Trapped…” is a perfect realisation of the new Memphis Soul sound coming out of Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios. The vocal is sad, sweet & soulful & so is the band. It’s a song that’s built to last & in 2013 was central to a key scene in Jim Jarmusch’s film “Only Lovers Left Alive”. You know it, Eve (the White Witch off of Narnia) tells Adam (Loki) that eternal Life as a vampire really isn’t all that bad & they dance to this wonderful tune.

 

Denise was born in Mississippi & moved to Chicago when she was a teenager. It wa there, with Chess Records that she made her first recordings. “A Love Reputation”, co-written by the fantastic Billy “the Kid” Emerson, is R&B mixed with that driving Motown beat. Northern Soul 4 years before the term was coined, it was a small regional hit in the US & an enduring floor-filler in the clubs of the North of England. In the words of Disco-Tex & his Sex-O-Lettes “Get Dancin'” !

 

 

Denise wasn’t a kid when she made that first record & when it didn’t work out at Chess she had it together for the second time around. “Trapped…”may have had the inimitable Hi stamp & Mitchell is credited with the arrangement but the production is by Crajon Enterprises, LaSalle & her husband Bill Jones, who had a deal with Detroit’s Westbound Records for our star & for other artists. The LP recorded on the back of the hit is a classic of Southern Soul, a couple of well-chosen covers & the rest written by Denise herself.

 

Image result for denise lasalle lick itWillie Mitchell was busy with Al Green & Ann Peebles & in the mid-70’s Disco was the thing so Denise followed the trend. She continued to record regularly, gaining the title “Queen of the Blues”. Her strong voice matched her adult tales of relationships gone wrong. “Lick It Before You Stick It” is not the only song that is not suitable for work. In 1984 she found herself on Top of the Pops when her  synth-pop Disco cover of Rockin’ Sidney’s zydeco “Don’t Mess With) My Toot Toot” was a Top 10 hit in the UK. There are a lot of records & all of them are classy & well made.

 

 

Image result for denise lasalleIt’s the 3 records Denise made for Westbound in the early 70’s that, for me, are the real gold. “Here I Am” (1975) employed the arranging talents of David Van De Pitte whose credits at Motown included “What’s Goin’ On”, “Let’s Get It On”, “Psychedelic Shack” & plenty of others you know so you can be sure that this will be listening time spent well. “Married, But Not To Each Other”, another of her own songs, was picked up by Barbara Mandrell & became a Top 3 Country hit. Denise LaSalle left a legacy of fine music, she deserves to be & will be remembered fondly.

 

 

His Body Abused, But His Mind Is Still Free You’re So Blind That You Cannot See

  1. Our crew gathered for Saturday brunch…well, coffee & cigarettes…at the Camberwell commorancy that we had all called home at some time. June 28th 1986, a sunny London summer morning. We had a full, exciting day ahead of us chanting down Babylon, attending the Artists Against Apartheid rally just down the road at Clapham Common. There was still an element of having to tiptoe through those Tory twats, apologists for white South African racist exploiters. Today was no street-fighting urban warrior deal, more a picnic in the park with some speeches, some music. A chance to state the obvious truth that supremacism must be superceded & that Nelson Mandela must be released from his prison cell. Say, what’s the word…? These good companions hit the mean streets of South London (joke) in an almost vivacious (steady there) disposition. Della & Helen had not met before. They both had something to say, liked to laugh. I expected an easy affinity & was enjoying being proved right, right there on the busy pavements.

Busy ? You ain’t seen nothing yet ! We reached Oval tube station & the place was just rammed. Everyone was showing out for this one. Under & overground was a road block leaving no option but to join the pedestrian swarm to the Common. The turn out was estimated to be between 200-300,000 people. A hubbub on the street bubbled bemusement & exhilaration as our city was usurped by those of us who opposed the South African regime & supported the African National Congress, a body our own government considered to be terrorists. Up in Clapham this impressive congregation sorted itself out with an easy, amicable grace. Man, this was a popular picnic !

Here’s a taste of the music from that day…great stuff eh ? We had a bit of a wait before things were shaking though. I suppose that it was good to see Boy George out of the house. The Summer of 86 was not his best, what with the arrest for cannabis possession, a guy dying round his yard, his own addiction. Did the little girls still love him ? Then Sade brought her sumptuous, spurious soul from #1 in the US charts. A bloke off of Spandau Ballet was instantly forgotten. Just don’t get me started on Paul Weller, pretend punk, mock mod, now sham-soul style councillor, plodding through Curtis’ classic “Move On Up”.

All this style over substance was a bit much. This was a worthy cause so kudos to them all for showing out when they were usually showing off but this was becoming a little underwhelming. The local pub, the Windmill, was inundated…out of the question. On the Southside, Bedford Hill way, the Nightingale was a little treasure unknown to over 250,000 of those massed around us. OK let’s go get a beer before Bananarama turn up.

Back in time for Big Audio Dynamite…we’ve got the moves today. B.A.D. was Mick Jones’ next gang in town after being sacked by the Clash. He went back to the Westway but not to the garage, this time around there were dance beats, samples, technology. If anyone was playing the “I’m still a punk & you’re not” in 1986…ever had the feeling  you’ve been cheated ? B.A.D. sounded like the London that I could hear just like his other group used to back then. “E=mc²” is a tribute to the films of Nic Roeg, more mature & a guitar-heavy live version. Mick Jones has always written great tunes, I really like B.A.D., more later.

This thing was starting to fly. Speeches by representatives of the African National Congress & leading anti-apartheid figures were always going to hit the spot. The music had already picked up & you can never see Elvis Costello & the Attractions play live enough times. It made Helen’s day, Elvis was her boy. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love & Understanding”… the very thing for all these good people who stood up for, pure & simple, respect for humanity. We could have torched some stuff that day, broken some things, the cops or stewards could not have stopped us. This festival, it seems inappropriate to call it a demo, showed a great many responsible, well-intentioned people cared about this injustice & that it was time for others to listen up. It was a point very well made.

I knew about Hugh Masekela back in 1967 when he played trumpet on “So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star” by the Byrds. His early talent was mentored by Trevor Huddlestone, a prominent opponent of apartheid. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 exposed the dangerous reality of life in South Africa. Masekela got the fuck out of Jo’burg & remained in exile for many years. Through the Byrds thing, the hit singles, the deeper jazz, you could always hear the roots of his rhythms. You can take the man out of Africa but…you get me. Those records on Jive Africa are proper world music, respectful of tradition, no trace of cultural tourism…Afro-funk, “Don’t Go Lose It Baby”, oh yeah !

Round our house in the mid-80s we made our own video mix tapes for after the pub gatherings. No high-tech, dual-deck editing, knob twiddling, just being near the right place at an appropriate (approximate ?) time & our own innate good taste (ha !). One of our pride & indeed joys of hours of music was “Stimela”, a landmark work of art by Hugh Masekela. A story of forced upheaval & disturbance, a coal train blues, a serious, beautiful, soulful song. It was something to be with this crowd listening to this music. We had not expected to hear this monumental tune today, Mitch & I exchanged a glance. This was as good as it gets. Click that clip…this performance is one of my greatest musical memories.

And the hits just kept on coming. Peter Gabriel, the inventor of world music (wink), behooved with “Biko”, another serious, appropriate tune, before whoever happened to be in the Specials that day came to do their thing. It had been some time since Jerry Dammers & his group had carried the swing in British music. He was front of house on this occasion, relied upon to do the right thing. Their music, with the confidence of rebellious youth, moved from ska revival to social commentary. There’s a case to be made, mostly by myself, that “Ghost Town” (1981) was the last time that such an assured lyrical & musical provocation was the most popular song in the country. “Free Nelson Mandela”, angry, celebratory & conciousness-raising, was the only way to end a day which surely placed South Africa in the political foreground.

Two year later there was another day of action. A Live Aid template filled Wembley Stadium & attracted international television coverage. Last time around it was the numbers, the attitude of those making the scene which…made the scene. This time there were less people…in a football ground…the celebrities were bigger so that’s better…OK ? Sting, Simple Minds, Dire Straits…rock & roll. Intros by Emily Lloyd, Corbin Bernson…who & why ? Any notion of political protest became so diluted that poor befuddled Whitney Houston wasn’t sure if she was fighting the power or attending a birthday party. Fox TV just wanted a Summer gig in London, anybody got too direct at the “Freedomfest” missed the cut. I thought the whole thing sucked.

Still, millions now knew about Mandela. In February 1990, an emotionally charged “walk to freedom” proved that sometimes the good guys win. In South Africa the majority of the population were no longer victims of state oppression because of their colour. Nelson Mandela became an international symbol of political honour & human decency. To mark his passing Jerry Dammers, who had so adroitly caught the mood in the 1980s, assembled his Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra for this furious, relevant, version of “Free Nelson Mandela”. Now this is what I call music !