Tutti Frutti And Disco Cuties (Soul June 20th 1970)

Fifty years ago this week on the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations chart the #1 record was by a new group who were not only the Soul sensations of the day but were enjoying almost unprecedented success on the Pop charts. “The Love You Save” was the Jackson 5’s third #1 of the year & there would be another one to come. Tamla Motown had plenty of experience in the development & marketing of their acts but even they can’t have anticipated the sudden rush of Jacksonmania which became the popular music phenomenon of the year.

Ebony September 1970 | Ebony magazine, Ebony magazine cover, Jackson 5The Jackson family band, Marlon 13, Jermaine 15, Tito 17, Jackie 19 & Michael 10, from Gary, Indiana had been prepared even drilled for stardom by father Joe. With no disrespect to the other four it was apparent from their 1968 Motown audition that young Michael was an extraordinary talent. Initial recording in Detroit with producer Bobby Taylor was heavy on the Motown & contemporary covers, Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You” captures the prodigy’s precocious agility, ability & maturity beyond his years. Label boss Berry Gordy wanted something extra. He moved the group to Los Angeles, assembled & included himself in a new team, “the Corporation”, who came up with “I Want You Back”, a song that captured the group’s vivacity & became the blueprint for their future singles. “I Want You Back”, as distinctive & fresh now as it was 50 years ago, is a landmark record, Soul music informed not by its Blues & Gospel roots but by the classic Pop & Tamla Motown of the mid-Sixties. Of course the teenagers loved it, the single & debut album “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5” sold millions & the snowball was rolling.

The Jackson 5 - The Love You Save (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs“The Love You Save”, another Corporation joint is taken from “ABC”, the Jackson 5’s second LP, released just six months after the debut &, like the title track, another sure-fire smash. They are captured in all their glory, energy, threads, coiffures, confidence, choreography & beauty on this appearance on the prime time “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Such chart dominance couldn’t last & two more albums released in 1970 emphasised quantity of product over quality control. After just one more LP in 1971 Michael’s solo career was launched with the “Got To Be There” album & he was able to succeed by himself & with his brothers. In 1975 they left Motown, Jermaine, married to Gordy’s daughter, stayed as did the group’s name. The renamed Jacksons found the increased creative input they sought at Epic & we watched Michael grow into a teen idol. While filming “The Wiz” he met producer Quincy Jones & together they created his fifth solo LP “Off the Wall” (1979). The group’s “Triumph” (1980) included the hit “Can You Feel It”, written by Michael & Jackie, & sold a couple of million. The groundbreaking “Off the Wall” was a statement that Michael, still just 20, was ready to go, it redefined his career, became the first LP to have four tracks reach the US Top 10 & sold 20 million records. He was well on his way to becoming the “King of Pop”, the next record “Thriller” (1982) hit  sales of 66 million. Michael was in a different orbit to not only his brothers but everyone else too. We know the story, we all have our own views but it’s sure that such incredible fame & fortune for an individual who had grown up in public can lead to strange craziness.

The Three Degrees - Maybe / Collage (1970, Vinyl) | DiscogsThis clip & record is new to me (it’s a big reason why I do this thing). We know the Three Degrees as the designated divas of the Gamble & Huff stable that the producer/writers were establishing in Philadelphia. Prince Charles’ favourite group whose “When Will I See You Again” was Bill’s off of “Kill Bill Volume 2” “favourite soul song of the 70s”. Well here are the pre-Philly Degrees with “Maybe”, rising 8 places to #21 on this week’s chart, their first 45 for Roulette records & the title track of their debut LP. It’s the same trio, Fayette Pinkney, Valerie Holiday & Sheila Ferguson, only this time it’s Valerie on lead vocals when we are so used to Sheila being at the front. The dramatic “Maybe”, here with a long spoken intro (“as evil as a wet hen”!), is a track they had first recorded in 1966, reached #4 on the R&B chart. It would be 1974 when they were the featured vocalists on MFSB’s chart-topping “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” that bigger success came their way.

Jet magazine (December 23, 1971) — The Three Degrees with ...There were just the two albums recorded with Gamble & Huff & while they subsequently made little impression in the US their popularity in Europe & the UK (two different places apparently) was maintained. A live LP was recorded at the glamorous (probably) Bailey’s nightclub in Leicester England. Fayette left, was replaced by former Degree Helen Scott & in 1978 they were matched with ace Disco producer Georgio Moroder & his Music Machine team. The two records they made in Germany were hardly “I Feel Love”, the Three Degrees always did lean towards middle-of-the-road cabaret Soul, but when the master’s electronic Disco barrage is at its most effective it was pretty good. It brought them more UK Top 10 hits, they seemed to be never off the TV & for a while there the Three Degrees were the most popular female group around here.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr pay tribute to Little Richard – The ...Back in the days of Rock & Roll Little Richard had been as sensational as the Jackson 5. During his stint at Specialty Records, from 1955 to 1957, the frantic, almost feral, accelerated take on R&B matched to an uninhibited, unpredictable showmanship changed & defined the new teenage music. The first hit “Tutti Frutti” (“A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”), a fresh, wild, kinetic explosion started a run of 17 Top 20 R&B hits before “The King of Rock & Roll” abdicated his position. “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip It Up”, Ready Teddy”, “Lucille”, it’s a list. His recordings in the next decade were Gospel-oriented & sporadic but Little Richard’s work was done, He influenced all his fellow rock & rollers from Elvis on down, inspired his fellow Macon, Georgia native Otis Redding & a generation of young British musicians, especially the Fab Beatles, in their own attempts to emulate him while the sexuality & stagecraft of Prince tips its beret Richard’s way. When Michael Jackson bought the Beatles’ publishing catalogue it included the rights to those Specialty songs & he gifted them back to the Originator, nice move.

Little Richard "Rolling Stone" cover. I twisted a lot of carpet ...In August 1969, two weeks before Woodstock, the Atlantic City Pop Festival had brought together a similarly impressive lineup of contemporary music. An electric performance by Little Richard, at a white grand piano, closed the concert & had brought an audience too young to remember his heyday to their feet. Encouraged Richard put up his own money & entered Muscle Shoals studio to record his first album in three years. “Freedom Blues”, climbing a healthy 15 places to #33 on this week’s chart, is the opening track on “The Rill Thing”, a meeting of Rock & Roll & swampy Funk which proves to be very effective. Richard’s voice is still gymnastic & surprising & the musicians, particularly guitarist Travis Wammack & the horn section grasp the space afforded by the singer’s production. “Freedom Blues” sets the tone, “Greenwood Mississippi” shows where John Fogarty & CCR were coming from & a spirited “I Saw Her Standing There” would make his Mersey Beat friends proud. The title track, a 10 minute long Funk instrumental jam, gives the band a workout that you don’t often & is a joy to hear. Little Richard’s death in May 2020 was marked by many tributes but there was a lot of bad news about in those days. He really was a treasure of our music.

A Christmas Story (Santa make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down)

Friday evenings…Man, Monday I got Friday on my mind & the weekend starts here. Business taken care of, the city that put money in my pocket becomes my adventure playground. I wanted to swing from the ropes, hang from the climbing bars, graze both knees, get down & dirty. I deserved it. First there was a tried & tested transition from work time to playtime to be undertaken. Loud. fast music because bouncing of the walls is good, a couple of spliffs to…er…keep my mind limber. I was just building the first of the bifters when the phone rang. The caller was my good friend Sally, she said she needed a favour, ” a big favour”.

Now Sally was a Mama Lioness with 3 cubs, Charlie, an 11 year old hoodlum, 5 year old George, a wrecking ball on legs & Danielle, 8, an angel in the middle. When Mum needed a favour it meant that just minutes later my life was no longer my own. There was a facade of control but all 4 of us were in on the gag. I was outnumbered & we all knew that too. Just don’t get hurt, don’t hurt each other & try to break as little of my stuff as possible. Oh, we must all laugh as much as we can too, that was a big part of the deal. When Sally needed a favour I never said “No”. I loved being part of that gang, I loved all of that family.

“A big favour. I need a man in a big, red suit with a long, white beard”. I did not mention that this Friday was in mid-December, Xmas was a-coming. I could avoid any festive folderol until Noche Buena. If you have kids I guess that the momentum starts to build soon after Halloween. “Sally…Fuck Right Off”…kneejerk I know but I had to make my position clear. My friend explained that Santa had let them down, that no-one else would do it & I was absolutely the last resort. Yep, she really sold it to me. As she spoke I kind of knew that I was going to cave in & do this thing.

When Sally picked me up she was already most appreciative. The kids looked excited. Charlie was in his Sea Scouts uniform, the flipping Sea Scouts…in Birmingham, as far from the coast as it is possible to be in the UK. The 2 youngest looked at me with admiration, understanding the lengths I was prepared to go to make an absolute idiot of myself. Danni was here with her Brownie friends, George was, I think, just along for the craic. The local Round Table, a charitable association of businessmen had arranged this convocation of children’s groups to tour a neighbourhood & make a collection. At the heart of the procession, the star of the show, was Santa/Father Christmas. That would be me then. In a pub car park I was given the scarlet uniform & a cotton-wool beard. Did I need extra padding ? What was my motivation ? Sally Sims is a formidable woman, someone not to be crossed. She would owe me big time if I carried this off. That’s enough.

I was shown to my “sleigh”, a hastily converted old milk float. There was no red-nosed reindeer guide but there was a Rein-ge Rover (thank you & sorry). I had been given a microphone & an outsize bag of confectionery to distribute to the local cherubs. Now I do not consider myself to be the type who seeks to make a loud public display. I do place some value on subtlety & volume control. No one wants a self-effacing, reticent Santa do they ? As we approached the suburban residential streets I resolved that I had better be good for goodness sake & here’s Ho-Ho-Hoping that it would not be a Christmas calamity.

It went really well, I was great. First the curtains twitched & old people returned Santa’s wave. Cool…gimme that microphone. I want to wish those codgers a Merry Chrimbo ! The children came piling out to meet & greet the custodian of…you get me. I needed some method for this mayhem & I needed it quickly before I was torn apart by a frenzied rabble fighting to get to my sweets. So, what would the real Santa do ? He would ask them what they wanted for Xmas & whether they had been good children this year. It absolutely worked. The kids all answered, some, sweetly, did not mind, others were more specific, wanting particular toys. One of them, when asked what he wanted, replied “Everything !”. Greedy little tyke. I promised that I would do my best & that seemed to be enough. They all claimed that they had been good this year, while some were obviously lying, I took my interrogation no further. Not a single one told me that my suit was shit & my beard worse so how good was that ?

My sleigh had a cassette player &  a tape of seasonal pop hits. I am no great fan of the Xmas song & “Now That’s What I Call An Uncool Yule” was not the best selection. Still we were taking it to & shaking it in the streets with a rocking Santa singalong. I do like “A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector” despite its creator’s fall from grace. However when “Another Rock & Roll Christmas” by the convicted molester Gary Glitter came around I’m afraid a line had been crossed, young ears needed protection & just where was the fast forward button on this thing ? “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” , the unrealistic claim by a former Beatle & his wife, was a sitting duck for this too confident, improvising, ironic Santa. I congratulated all those within earshot of my amplified voice on ending all conflict. I hoped their New Year would be a “good one, without any fear”. I was doing a good thing here, I knew I could get away with it.

All too soon the sweets had nearly gone. There was one last dash for cash in a local pub & we were back on the main road. My job was done here. Peace & goodwill had been spread to all in this part of North Birmingham. Danni & her friend had hitched a lift on my sleigh. I handed over the microphone & they wailed a selection of Robbie Williams songs to the passing traffic. Who put the merry into Xmas ? That would be us then.

Photos were taken in the car park. I suppose that I would have to take this beard & suit off at some time but I really did like being Santa. There was still time to get off home, stick some powder up my nose & head off in search of too much alcohol. I was having too much fun with these 3 lovely children & their Mum, who had offered to feed me back at theirs. Besides, Dad would finish work soon & we could all tell him our new story. These kids are now fine young adults. I am so glad that we were able to have times like this one & a lot of others too when it was all about as much enjoyment & laughter as possible. Hey, the day I got to be Santa…strange but true.