The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week was headed this week by “Mama’s Pearl”, the fifth of six consecutive #1 records by Motown’s teenage sensations the Jackson 5. Family bands were all the rage in 1971 & at #3, down from the second spot on the chart were the Osmonds, five Mormon brothers with an age range from 21 year old Alan to Donny, just 13, whose toothy wholesomeness had made them familiar faces on prime time TV shows starring Andy Williams & Jerry Lewis. Reportedly the song “Guess Who’s Making Whoopie (With Your Girlfriend)” was considered to be too racy for young Michael Jackson so new lyrics were provided by a team of Motown writers. Conversely the Osmonds needed to toughen up if they wanted a share of that teenage heartthrob dollar. Sent to FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals they liked “One Bad Apple”, a George Jackson (no relation) song written with the Jackson 5 in mind. The result was a crossover success on the Pop & R&B charts. Anyway, if you think that the Osmond Brothers are making my selection of Classic Soul then think again.
Down in Alabama they may have been expanding their range into Teen Pop but at #16 on the chart, after three weeks in the Top
10, was a great example of the Muscle Shoals Sound. Candi Staton had sung in a teenage Gospel group before spending most of the Sixties raising her four children. She was in her late-twenties when, in 1968, her husband-to-be Clarence Carter introduced her to FAME. Candi was instantly successful, her first album “I’m Just A Prisoner” (1970) came off the back of two Top Twenty R&B hits & displayed a strong, rich, mature voice to handle the emotional songs, comfortable with the innuendo of the women getting together to talk about men ones. The following year’s “Stand By Your Man” repeated two from her debut while for the new tracks producer/arranger Rick Hall did exactly the job that was needed to establish Candi as “The First Lady of Southern Soul”. The title track, a hit for Tammy Wynette, had been covered by most of Country’s female royalty, only Bettye Swann had added a little bit of Soul. Candi’s take has an insistent bass foundation for the string & brass flourishes & earned her a Grammy nomination.
He Called Me Baby” is another Country standard . Written by the great Harlan Howard the most well known interpretation was by Patsy Cline for whom Howard had also written “I Fall To Pieces”. Candi’s Gospel, Blues & Country ingredients, flavoured with a classy, building arrangement makes for a plaintive, gorgeous dish of Soul. “Stand By…” is not a record full of Country covers. Once again the studio’s staff writers, George Jackson most prominent, provided strong varied material for their new star. The new FAME gang of studio musicians were finding their feet too, it really is a fine collection. In 1976 Candi’s “Young Hearts Run Free” was a feelgood hit of the summer & other dance floor favourites followed. She may have returned to her Gospel beginnings but young British groups like the Source & Groove Armada were happy to have her guest on their dance records leading to compilations of her earlier work bringing a deserved higher visibility & reputation.
At #14 on the chart was a vocal quartet who had sung with various Detroit groups before signing to Tamla Motown in 1966 as The Originals. Joe Stubbs, briefly a member was the brother of the more famous Levi of the Four Tops while Freddie Gorman, in 1961 & working as a mailman, had co-written “Please Mr Postman” by the Marvelettes, the label’s first #1 record. With few of their own recordings they provided studio backing vocals to many hits & remained 20 feet from stardom until, in 1969, their friend Marvin Gaye intervened. Marvin wrote & produced “Baby I’m For Real”, a song that would not be out place on “Let’s Get It On”. He showcased all four Originals’ voices & the record was a #1 R&B , Pop Top 20 hit. “The Bells” was a follow up success & the early 1970’s became a very productive period for the Originals.
“God Bless Whoever Sent You” is taken from “Naturally Together”, their second album of 1970. That driving Motown beat may not have been apparent, it’s a slow jam in the smooth romantic style becoming more popular with the success of groups like the Delfonics & the Chi-Lites. Producer Clay McMurray, along with British woman Pam Sawyer provided the songs & the Originals all had fine, strong voices without perhaps a distinctive lead voice to make them discernible from other groups. “The Only Time You Love Me Is When You’re Losing Me” sure sounds like a hit but was not released on 45. The Originals made 8 albums with Motown, surviving, reduced success & line up changes before “Down In Love Town” topped the new Disco chart in 1976 ensuring that they left the label on a high. The group is not always considered in the front rank of the Motown roster but they made good records & they made their mark.
The highest new entry of the week at #44 is one of my favourite Beatles cover versions. This was Stevie Wonder’s first 45 of 1971, the fourth track to be lifted from his “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” LP. Like the title track from that record “We Can…” is sparkling, imaginative & wonderfully sung. Still only 20 years old Stevie was enjoying a fantastic run of great singles & was established as a major artist. More of his own songs were included on the album & he was taking greater control in the studio. His Motown contract came up for renewal on his 21st birthday & he was already recording the more expansive music with an expression of his social conscience that greater independence would allow. In April 1971 the release of “Where I’m Coming From”, produced by Stevie, written by himself & Syreeta Wright, marked that coming of age. It seems that most of Stevie Wonder’s singles are included in these selections of mine. His records certainly all made the R&B chart, they still sound fresh & we know them all. There was much more great music to come & it’s a sure bet that I wont be able to resist those either.
This week’s live bonus is not a contemporary clip. As part of the 2011 Americana Music Awards show Candi Staton stepped out in front of an All-Star band including Don Was, Spooner Oldham & some faces I should be able to put names to & gave a lovely performance of “Heart On A String”. It’s a song from 1969, the B-side no less of “I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’)” that never made it on to her albums of the time. Co-written by, here’s that name again, George Jackson, it’s a perfect slice of Pop Soul that has deservedly been resurrected. The blissful smile of ace guitarist Buddy Miller betrays how happy he is to be playing that Muscle Shoals sound, sharing the stage with the effervescent, still gorgeous at 70, legendary Ms Staton. This makes me happy too.