A Funky Family Affair (Soul February 13th 1971)

The fastest rising record, up 16 places to #18 (with a bullet, a Super Soul Sure Shot indeed) on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for February 13th 1971 was on it’s way to a month long stay at the top position. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” headed both the R&B & the US Pop charts in March the third time that the Temptations enjoyed such a double header success. It’s such a great, even significant track that I’m not waiting until the 50th anniversary of this achievement so let’s get to it.

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Despite the defection of David Ruffin in 1968 The Temptations had maintained their position as the US’ premier vocal group. Three one-hour TV specials, two with the Supremes (R.I.P. the wonderful Mary Wilson), one their very own &, beginning with “Cloud Nine” (1968), a move to Psychedelic Soul kept them at the front of the pack. However the group was unhappy this new style was less dependant on their own superlative vocal performance than on the innovative but dominant productions of Norman Whitfield. In 1970 “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” became the first Tempts 45 to miss the US Pop Top 30 since 1964. With “Just My Imagination” Whitfield & his lyricist Barrett Strong returned to the emotional love ballad in the style of the “Classic Five”, they, arranger Jerry Long & the whole group delivered a beautiful perfect single. Eddie Kendricks had not provided the lead vocal on a Temptations A-side since 1968’s “Please Return Your Love To Me”. His performance of of this reverie about Love is perfectly pitched, the slower, clear reveal that “in reality, she doesn’t even know me” still resonates 50 years later. the Temptations were back.

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However things were not right with the group. Eddie Kendricks was, like David Ruffin before him, looking for a way out & already recording a solo album. The personal & health problems of Paul Williams were affecting his performances in the studio & on stage. In April 1971 doctors advised Paul to retire from the group. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show highlights the rift within the the Temptations, Eddie putting some distance between himself & his fellow members. Whitfield had lined up “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as the follow-up to “Imagination” but Eddie was gone by then & promotion without his featured vocals was impossible. Of course there were still great Temptations moments, more big hits to come but “Just My Imagination” serves as a poignant watershed in the long career of a great group.

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With roots in Gospel & Folk the four Chambers Brothers, with the addition of electricity & a drummer, had by the mid-1960s a spirited, still sanctified live set incorporating Blues & Soul. Still, the full 11 minute glory of “Time Has Come Today” was a surprise, An epic, ambitious, assured mix of sock-it-to-me & the Summer of Love incorporating Sly Stone, James Brown & the new Psychedelia this was the shock of the new, Afro-Rock, an instant classic, now an obligatory inclusion on any film or documentary concerning the turmoil of late 1960s America. The edited single version made the US Top 20 & while their subsequent releases didn’t make the same impression or have the same commercial success the Chambers Brothers continued to make interesting, inventive records.

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Well alright! “Come in Mr. DJ, Phife by the microphone. Down with the Tribe Called Quest, yes man”. The rather fantastic “Funky” was at #30 on this week’s R&B chart & this is where TCQ found their introduction to”I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”. 1971’s “New Generation” is the fifth album by the Chambers Brothers since the success of “Time…” & it’s a varied, robust, dramatic collection, a collision of so many ideas that compares to Funkadelic. “Are You Ready?” sure sounds like a hit to me & it’s not the only one. If this had been the soundtrack to a blaxploitation movie we would still be finger-popping along to these tunes today. As it was this was not the group’s time & this line up went their separate ways the following year.

1970 had been a winning year for Sly Stone. A “Greatest Hits” collection would go on to sell five million copies, it included the single “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)” which hit #1 in the US Pop chart in February. The film of the Woodstock Festival, released in June, captured the excitement & immediacy of our music in a new way & Sly & the Family Stone’s electrifying performance of “I Want To Take You Higher” was a highlight of the fifth highest grossing movie of the year. Atlantic Records offered Sly his own Stone Flower imprint for any productions he wanted to give them. it was, of course, a family affair.

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Slipping down the chart at #33, Vaetta “Ven” Stewart was Sly’s little sister. Along with Mary McCreary & Elva Mouton she had provided backing vocals for his “Stand” album &, as Little Sister they recorded two singles for his new label. “Somebody’s Watching You” is a re-working of a track from “Stand”, a sparse, atmospheric cover it is too, a Sly & the Family Stone record in all but name so it matters. Alone in the studio with a new-fangled drum machine, a violin case full of drugs & the problems that such fame brought, Sly continued to innovate & redefine urban music. There were only to be four single releases on Stone Flower, Little Sister had returned to the background when later in 1971 Sly & the Family Stone were back at #1 on the chart with “Family Affair” & a ground-breaking, brooding album. The major Soul stars were ready with their state of the nation social commentaries at this time & “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” would sit among the very best of them.

For this week’s live highlight we jump forward three weeks to March 6th 1971, to Black Star Square in Accra, Ghana when great American Soul stars including Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, the Staple Singers & Santana honoured that country’s Independence Day. The all-singing, all-dancing, 100% energy of Voices of East Harlem get the funky party started in the best possible way. They are young, gifted & Black, there’s a whole wild bunch of them & it’s irresistible. My friend Mani attended this concert, proud & excited that his American idols should come to his city. I loved to share my lunchtime & his vivid memories of a great day.

They Wanna Move Their Feet, Hit It! (Soul March 1970)

Image result for brook benton rainy night in georgiaThe guys behind Atlantic Records, the Ertegun brothers Ahmet & Nesuhi with Jerry Wexler, were often ahead of the other players in the Pop music game. Their subsidiary label Cotillion was initially an outlet for Blues & deep Southern Soul but the trio were record men who took the trouble to make discs that they could sell. They signed a veteran artist whose commercial success had faded, matched him to more contemporary material &, in March 1970, found themselves at the top of the Cash Box Top 50 R&B chart. Brook Benton was a consummate pro who had been making records for over 20 years & enjoyed a string of hits in the late 1950’s & early 1960’s. Brook’s sophisticated delivery & a lush orchestral backing by the best New York session players made Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” his biggest hit for 7 years. It’s now a tried & tested way for established names to revive their fortunes. Those Atlantic people knew what they were doing.

 

Last month my Soul selections were all from the Top 10 of the February chart. Let’s look a little lower down & see if there was anything of interest & quality to be found. Of course there was.

 

 

 

 

Sly Stone had finally been dislodged after 6 weeks at #1 & “Thank You” was slipping down the chart but at #13, rapidly rising from #21, was the first release from his new Stone Flower label & it was still a family affair. Vaetta (Vet) Stewart, Mary McCreary & Elva Mouton had recorded a Gospel LP as the Heavenly Tones before, straight out of high school, providing backing vocals for Vet’s big brother as Little Sister. “You’re the One (Parts I & II)”, it was Part II that got the radio play, sounds like a Sly & the Family Stone record. It’s Cynthia & Jerry providing the horns & I like to think that it’s Larry Graham playing that sensational bass line but it’s just as likely that Sly himself is responsible for all the other instrumentation.

 

Image result for little sister you're the oneTo my ears the insidious rhythms & simple lyrical chant of “You’re the One” predates Disco by about four years. Music from the future, that’s what Sly Stone was about in 1970. Lil Sis’s next record “Somebody’s Watching You”, an alternate take on the Family Stone track from “Stand”, was the first to use programmed drums. As Sly followed his own path & got a little lost Stone Flower only released a few singles, enough for a very interesting compilation LP & that’s a pity. Solo albums by brother Freddie & Sister Rose would have been interesting to hear because the Stone family were a very talented bunch & their music was setting the scene in 1970.

 

 

 

 

Image result for martha and the vandellas 1970 i should be proudBack in 1964 when Martha & the Vandellas were calling out around the world they were contending for the title as the biggest girl group in not only Detroit but the world. There’s no doubt that the Supremes, benefitting from Tamla Motown’s promotional push, soon had a firm grip on that belt but Holland-Dozier-Holland, the label’s ace writing/production team continued to provide the Vandellas with hit singles. “Nowhere to Run” & “I’m Ready For Love” were tailor made for Martha’s strong, urgent vocals. An older track, the charming “Jimmy Mack”, was a major US success while here in the UK the romantic b-side “Third Finger Left Hand” was equally popular on the dancefloor.

 

Image result for martha reeves and the vandellas 1970All of Motown was affected by the departure of H-D-H though 1967’s “Honey Chile”, written by Sylvia Moy & new producer Richard Morris & the first single credited to Martha Reeves & the…, was no drop in quality. Things were changing, Vandella Betty Kelley was replaced by Martha’s sister Sandra while the lead singer took some time out to deal with problems related to an addiction to pain-killers. The 1970 LP “Natural Resources” marked her return to the studio. The dramatic “I Should Be Proud” questioned whether the death of a young soldier in Vietnam was for a noble cause. Cash Box placed it at #35 on their chart but the single had limited radio play, the stations were not yet ready for Motown with a message. Later in 1970 “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations & Edwin Starr’s “War” brought a social conscience to commercial Black music & the Hit Parade. Martha Reeves & the Vandellas’ “I Should Be Proud” can be considered alongside them as a harbinger of this new trend for saying it loud.

 

 

 

 

Image result for joe tex 1970Ah the great Joe Tex had a new record out & here at loosehandlebars we always have time for Joe. Joseph Arrington Jr from Rogers, Texas was part of the great roster of Atlantic artists, “the Soul Clan”. A close relationship with Dial Records owner/ producer Buddy Killen allowed him to record in Nashville, move south to Memphis or Muscle Shoals if he needed a little more Funk in the mix & maintain his independence while enjoying the distribution & promotion of a big label. Plenty of hit records, a dynamic stage show & an in-house publishing deal meant that Joe was doing well for himself. In 1968 the actual Colonel Sanders commissioned a KFC jingle from Joe, paid him $10,000 & two Cadillacs. Unfortunately in 67/68 he was a pallbearer at the funerals of first Otis Redding & then of Little Willie John. Joe Tex was a big deal & deservedly so.

 

Image result for joe tex you're right ray charlesBack when Joe started to make records the two biggest R&B stars were Sam Cooke, a big influence on Joe & many others, & Ray Charles. “You’re Right, Ray Charles”, at #40 on the chart, passed on some advice given to the singer by Brother Ray. Joe Tex was a prolific songwriter, adept at faster Soul belters (“Show Me”, “S.Y.S.L.J.F.M.”) & ballads (“The Love You Save”, “Buying A Book”) delivered with the flow, wisdom & humour of a Southern preacher. Mr Charles’ tip was to make music for the kids not the grown-ups but I think that Joe knew that already. “You’re Right…” was part of a relatively unsuccessful run of 45’s but Joe, who had converted to Islam in 1966, was always grounded & still able to find hit. In 1977, still in Nashville with Buddy Killen, “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With a Big Fat Woman” gave him his only UK success. Joe’s many albums are always interesting but the collection of his singles made for Dial is an essential treat for any devotees of 1960’s Soul music.