Songs of Innocence And Experience (Soul May 15th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago this week was topped by a song that, since its release in January of the preceding year, had spent six weeks at the top of the US Pop chart & become a much covered standard across the full spectrum of popular music. Andy Williams had pushed it into the middle of the road, Buck Owens & the Buckaroos were ready for the Country, three Motown acts had added a little bit of Soul & Elvis Presley recorded it in Nashville before including a show-stopping version in his Vegas act. In 1971 it was the turn of Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul” to release her Gospel-inflected take on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” album. An edited single release, the one at #1 on the chart, sold two million copies & won the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the Grammys. We will get to this later.

The Honey Cone – Want Ads – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

Well OK, “Wanted, young man single and free, experience in love preferred, but will accept a young trainee”. I’m sure that in 1971, after seeing Honey Cone perform their big hit “Want Ads”, climbing one place up to #3 on the chart, on its way to a month at #1, I would have been in that long queue. The trio, formed in Los Angeles, had all been 20 feet from stardom for some time. Featured vocalist Edna Wright was introduced to Phil Spector’s operation as her older sister Darlene Love was the producer’s singer of choice. Shelly Clark had been on Broadway as a 7 year old & spent a short time as an Ikette while Carolyn Willis sang on many sessions, joining Edna & Darlene in the Blossoms. They were signed by Holland-Dozier-Holland the great hitmakers who had left Motown & Honey Cone were the first 45 & album releases on their new Hot Wax label in 1969. H-D-H produced the “Take Me With You” LP & the majority of the songs were credited to “Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne”. Dunbar was around the organisation but Holland-Dozier-Holland’s litigation over publishing with former boss Berry Gordy meant that they often used this pseudonym.

The Honey Cone Photo Gallery

This Motown pedigree did not bring instant success, though the singles “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” & “Girls It Ain’t Easy” sound pretty good to me. Honey Cone were not the new Supremes, with strong vocals & direct lyrics they were more like Martha & the Vandellas. A little work was put into “Want Ads” by General Johnson, off of Chairmen of the Board, & Greg Perry, both flourishing with their new mentors, to give the song that Pop-Soul bounce that had proved to be so commercial for the Jackson 5. The group had the sass & the style to be memorable & set the song on the way to the top of the R&B & Pop charts. There was another R&B #1, two more in the Top 10, all three made the Pop Top 30. Honey Cone were big, by the end of 1971, the cover of Jet magazine big. Unfortunately the owners of the label could not match their musical acuity in business & Honey Cone’s further releases were hindered by financial uncertainty before, in 1973, the Hot Wax/Invictus combo folded & so did the group. Honey Cone were a modern, modish girl-group whose influence became more apparent as time passed.

290. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles - The Tears of a Clown (1970) - Every  UK Number 1

A consideration of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles up to 1971 leads to a couple of very long lists, one of the group’s hit records, the other of the songs written for others by the man whose name was at the front. I’ll give you three of each but I will be overlooking songs that were fundamental to the Miracles’ success & to that of their label Tamla Motown. “Shop Around” was, in 1960, Motown’s first million selling record, 1962’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me” was covered by the Beatles on their second album & Smokey Robinson was known around the world, the perfect & poignant “Tracks of My Tears” (1965) is one for the ages. Smokey wrote, often with other Miracles, & produced “My Guy”, making Mary Wells the Queen of Motown, “My Girl” for the Temptations & 200 other artists, Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” & I’ll stop there. In 1963 the Miracles, with Claudette, Mrs Robinson, still in the group, were topping the star-studded bill of the Motortown Revue, young Smokey’s audience-rousing energy a surprise as he was the sweetest & smoothest of the label’s artists. 1971 was a strange time for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – I Don't Blame You At All (1971, Vinyl) -  Discogs

Smokey’s association with Berry Gordy, head honcho at Motown, had begun before there was a label. His influence extended beyond being a star performer & a leading creative force. He was vice-president of the company where plans to move from Detroit to Los Angeles were at an advanced stage. With this upheaval & two young children it was known that Smokey intended to retire from performing with the Miracles. Concurrently over in the UK long-time Motown Mod club favourites were reaching a wider audience putting the Elgins & the Isley Brothers on the chart. A 1967 Miracles album track, “Tears of a Clown”, was released in 1970 & reached the top of the UK chart precipitating a US remixed version which provided the group with their fifth R&B #1 & the first time they had topped the Pop chart. It made both musical & business sense for Smokey to keep on keeping on. The follow-up to “Tears…” was at #8 for the third week on this week’s chart. “I Don’t Blame You At All” is a new song, slick, melodic, it invites you on to the dancefloor & is immediately recognisable as the Miracles. When Smokey sings…well!

Way back then my best friend & I were a couple of teenage music geeks who bought the weekly “Record Mirror”, the only place we could scan the US Top 50 charts for records that we could expect to cross the Atlantic in a month or so. A name we often saw, if not in the chart then in the new releases or “bubbling under”, was Bobby “Blue” Bland. We didn’t hear much of Bobby’s music, if it did get radio play then the show would be way past our bedtime & that smoky dive bar where they played the Blues existed only in our imaginations or a future Tarantino movie. The little we did hear sounded to our young ears a little restrained, even old-fashioned. The energetic Soul sounds of young America coming out of Memphis & Detroit were much more our glass of Dandelion & Burdock. I know, I was so much older then.

RIP Bobby "Blue" Bland - Sing Out!

Bobby Bland was part of an earlier generation of Memphis musicians, the Beale Streeters, who included Johnny Ace & B.B. King. He first recorded in 1951, finding success six years later when signed to Duke Records where he stayed for 20 years. The head of Duke, Don Robey’s, business practice included a tight control over publishing which led to his alias Deadric Malone being credited as the writer of many songs. Bland, disadvantaged by his illiteracy, was signed to a contract which paid reduced royalties consigning him to an arduous touring schedule to earn his living though the singer, aware of limited opportunities for an uneducated Black man, held little resentment towards Robey. Through the 1960s Bobby enjoyed consistent success on the R&B chart with only rare crossover on to the Pop listing. I can point you towards “I’ll Take Care Of You”, “Lead Me On” & “Turn On Your Lovelight” while his string of hits, with sophisticated arrangements by Joe Scott which added colour while Bobby sang the Blues without overwhelming a unique voice, is a formidable body of work. “I’m Sorry”, the highest new entry of the week at #44 is the latest of these fine songs.

Bobby Bland’s instrument was his voice, maturity & fine tuning adding a guttural growl to his rich sensual sweetness. He sang songs about the yearning for, the finding & the losing of Love with an impeccable emotionality, a sophistication & a comprehension that was unmatched. His brand of urban Blues, songs of experience, did not always have wide appeal but the more life you lived the more you understood & identified with this music for grown-ups. A move to a bigger label, with a wider choice of material & better promotion combined with repackaging of his Duke years brought a greater appreciation & recognition for Bobby, He truly was “The Voice”.

For this week’s live clip it’s back to that #1 record. Over the weekend 5th-7th of March 1971 Aretha Franklin played three explosive concerts at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Backed by King Curtis’ super band, Billy Preston, the Memphis Horns & the Sweethearts of Soul Aretha mixed her back catalogue with contemporary hits in a dramatic, landmark live performance. There are, as far as I am aware, 564 versions of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, none of them are better than this one.

It’s What’s Happening (Soul April 17th 1971)

This week’s review of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations chart of 50 years ago is a big one. On the previous listings for April 10th “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations ended its month long stint at the top spot. It was replaced by a song that became the title track of my favourite album of all time. So, I had better get this right. Here we go.

Your Morning Shot: Marvin Gaye, 1973 | GQ

The title of a definitive biography of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz is appropriately titled “Divided Soul”. When Marvin re-located to Detroit, following his mentor Harvey Fuqua, his musical aspirations were to become an all round entertainer like Nat “King Cole, playing nightclubs like Sam Cooke at the Copacabana. It was R&B becoming Soul that was the current thing & his label Tamla Motown were in the business of providing & defining this new music. In 1963 Marvin was married to Anna, his boss Berry Gordy’s sister & by the middle of the decade he was the label’s biggest solo male star. There was a long run of hits, none of them from his album of Broadway show songs or the tribute to Cole & by the end of the decade “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” & “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” were as good as Motown got & his biggest hits yet. However, his albums were still packaged around the current hit single, it had been 1965 since one of Marvin’s songs, “Pretty Little Baby”, had featured as an A-side. The collapse in 1967 & subsequent death in 1970 of Tammi Terrell, his partner on a string of wonderful duets, greatly affected him. As a black man turning 30 Marvin inevitably had concerns about his country’s escalating war in Vietnam & the social conditions experienced by his fellow African-Americans after the hope of the Civil Rights movement. A song, inspired by an incident of police brutality (sounds familiar?), by Renaldo “Obie” Benson had been rejected by his group the Four Tops then was polished & customised by Marvin to express these concerns & how he felt about what’s going on. As Obie said “we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it”.

This growing assertiveness met with opposition from his brother-in-law. In 1970 a cover of the socially conscious “Abraham, Martin & John”, a UK success, was not released in the US & Gordy’s refusal to release “What’s Going On” as a single brought a stalemate when Marvin refused to record any further tracks. It was without the boss’s knowledge that 100,000 copies were pressed, sold out on the day of release &, proving Berry Gordy wrong, became the fastest selling record in Motown’s history. “What’s Going On” has an insistent, never strident, groove, the party chatter, saxophone intro, cool rhythm section, backing vocals & strings balanced to match the depth of Marvin’s velvety multi-tracked vocals. There’s no question mark in the title, lyrically the song is a statement, a timeless one, that the problems of society could be helped by more love & understanding. Public enthusiasm for this new considered, mature style inspired Marvin to quickly record an album which similarly approached issues of war, ghetto life, ecology & spirituality with an assured, emphatic comprehension complemented by more gentle, imaginative Funk. The record is a snapshot of 1971 that endures as social commentary with the persistence of the same issues. Popular music has sometimes produced transcendent music that can be regarded as Art. “What’s Going On” is one of those landmark records. For the first time “The Sound of Young America” branding did not appear on the label. Motown & Soul was coming of age.

Chi-Lites – Give More Power To The People / Troubles A' Comin' (1971,  Vinyl) - Discogs

Back in 1971 a record took some time before it hit the upper reaches of the chart. “What’s Going On” had first entered at #55 in the middle of February. “Do Me Right” by the Detroit Emeralds, a big success at #5, had been around for 14 weeks. So “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” by the Chi-Lites, moving from #51 to #29 then to this week’s #10, was kind of a big deal. The vocal group, formed in high school, had been around the Chicago scene from the beginning of the 1960s. The Hi-Lites became the Chi-Lites &, with a settled four man line up Marshall Thompson, Creadel “Red” Jones, Robert “Squirrel” Lester & Eugene Record, their luck changed when they signed to Brunswick Records. With the patronage of the city’s panjandrum of Soul Carl Davis the group were more visible, their records featuring on the R&B chart while Eugene Record flourished as a songwriter for the likes of Jackie Wilson, Barbara Acklin & Gene Chandler. A credit for Young-Holt Unlimited’s million selling “Soulful Strut”established that Eugene had more than potential. In 1971 it was Chi-Lite time.

Google Image Result for  http://www.postercentral.com/Concert%2520Posters/Before%2520They%25… |  Concert posters, Vintage concert posters, Facts about michael jackson

The group’s first two albums were hurriedly framed around the hit singles “Give It Up” & “I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine)”. In fact the latter of these included seven songs from their debut. “Give More Power To The People” was a more considered, more experienced effort. Written & produced by Eugene the eleven songs showcase a range of styles & influences. That fast-rising, urgent, socially conscious title track incorporates the rhythms of Sly Stone with the vocal intricacy of the Temptations. When they slow it down the Chi-Lites can be as sweet as their fellow Chicagoans The Impressions. It is a very good album by a group who really did know what’s going on in music. Later in the year the fourth single taken from Eugene’s record, the distinctive, excellently produced slow jam “Have You Seen Her” broke out internationally & into the US Pop Top 3, keeping the album around for some time. The Chi-Lites had arrived & there was more to come from them.

Vinyl Album - Margie Joseph - Margie Joseph - Atlantic - USA

Further down the chart at #29 is a cover version that sounds rather unlikely when heard for the first time. Margie Joseph, from Mississippi, was still in her teens when she signed with the Stax subsidiary Volt in 1969, the year that Isaac Hayes released the blockbuster album “Hot Buttered Soul” which resuscitated the label & with just four tracks in its 45 minutes marked an evolution in Soul. For Margie’s debut album her producer pulled in Dale Warren, the arranger for “The Isaac Hayes Movement” to re-imagine the 1965 Supremes’ hit “Stop! In The Name Of Love”. With a nearly three minute spoken prelude “Woman Talk” before an eight minute elongation of the Motown classic I’m not sure that such a perfect Pop-Soul song has the inherent drama of the classic “Walk On By” & “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” chosen by Hayes but a shortened edit found a place on radio playlists & put Margie on the R&B chart. On her two records recorded in Memphis Margie shows she has a great voice but was unable to find success though some of her more conventional songs sound pretty good to me.

Margie moved to Atlantic Records making three records with ace producer Arif Mardin & the best New York session men. They are classy bits of work which remind me of Minnie Riperton though without the amazing vocal range. Her biggest hit was a cover of Paul McCartney’s “My Love” which reached the R&B Top 10. Later there was an album with Lamont Dozier, one third of the team responsible for “Stop! In The Name Of Love” & many more sure-fire Motown smashes. Again it’s a well-crafted, elegant collection without finding that song to set Margie Joseph apart from the rest of the female singer field.

It’s 1972 & in Washington D.C., his birthplace, Marvin Gaye Day is being celebrated. The singer had been absent from the stage for four years, since the incapacitation of Tammi Terrell. Here, flanked by the master Motown bassist James Jamerson, he returns to perform his great hit & it’s perfect.

 

Slow Jams And Stevie (Soul March 6th 1971)

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

Candi Staton – He Called Me Baby / What Would Become Of Me (1970, Vinyl) -  Discogs

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.

candi staton and Clarence Carter

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.

Finding the 'Real' Marvin — Adam White

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.

The Originals – God Bless Whoever Sent You (1972, Vinyl) - Discogs

“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.

Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder in London, February 3rd, 1966. : beatles

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.

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.

Image result for temptations just my imagination

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.

Image result for temptations just my imagination

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.

Image result for chambers brothers new generation

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.

Image result for chambers brothers funky

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.

Image result for little sister somebody's watching you

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.

Back In The New Year’s Groove (Soul January 2nd 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations was a little static for the week starting January 2nd 1971. Just two records climbed into the Top 10, two others were new to the Top 20. The releases from Tamla Motown’s production line, still stood predominate with three of the Top 5 & a further four in the Top 20 originating from Detroit’s “Hitsville USA”. There will be plenty of time in the rest of the year for a deeper dive in search of those pearls whose quality was not matched by a high chart position. On this first post of the year I’ll start with the two songs that headed the chart 50 years ago. For the Supremes this was the eighth time the trio had enjoyed a #1 R&B placing, same as it ever was it seems but things were changing for Motown’s most established act.

The Supremes, 1970 | Natural hair styles, Afro hairstyles, Black hair

Since 1968 the Supremes had to manage without Holland-Dozier-Holland, the team who had written & produced enough songs for the trio that “Golden Hits Volume 3” was already on the racks. In January 1970 Diana Ross, the vivacious singer whose name had been placed at the front of the group, made her final on stage appearance, introducing her replacement Jean Terrell. Jean, Mary Wilson & the mellifluously named Cindy Birdsong began work on their LP “Right On” with new producer Frank Wilson, the man whose own Soul super rarity “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” was reportedly bought for £100,000 this year (I have it on CD so not me!). Mary was the only original Supreme now but the most popular female group in the world were still guaranteed spots on US prime time TV & radio. It was Frank’s first job to find the songs that would keep them in the spotlight.

The Supremes Stoned Love of Tamla Motown 45 Rare XL Sheet Music /  HipPostcard

The producer was tipped to Kenney Thomas, a Detroit teenager, by a local DJ. Invited round to Frank’s house young Kenney was startled & starstruck, as any 17 year old boy in 1970 would have been, to find beautiful superstar Mary Wilson there to check out his song. Frank added a little shape & a few words to the bare bones of a song, star Motown arranger David Van DePitte provided the lustre & that driving beat while the label persuaded radio stations that the nation’s darlings hadn’t given them a drug-related song to play. Kenney Thomas (credited as Yennek Samoht) had, with “Stoned Love”, a million-selling record on his hands, a glorious record too, instantly recognisable from when Jean sings the title & you still know now that something good is coming up. The Supremes would have other big hits like “Floy Joy” & “Nathan Jones” but “Stoned Love” is the finest post-Diana single. They sure look happy & fine on this TV appearance. Kenney didn’t write much more for Motown, his mother was wary of her son mixing in such starry circles & didn’t want him to neglect his studies. I hope that he heeded his mum’s counsel.

Gladys Knight & The Pips If I Were Your Woman Soul demo F 35078 Soul  Northern mo | eBay

Arranger David Van DePitte was also all over the record rising one place to #2 on the chart. “If I Were Your Woman”, a ballad that builds to a soulful crescendo, is the latest in a run of successes for Gladys Knight & the Pips, records that made Top 3 R&B & Top 20 Pop. Beautiful Gladys gradually raises the level while her Pips are, as usual, impeccably in synch with their steps & backing vocals. That’s another Hitsville classic. Gladys had over a decade’s experience before she & her group signed with Motown & they raised concerns about the adding of extra backing vocals to their songs as well as the choice of material they were given to record. At this highpoint in their popularity negotiations for a new contract proved to be unsatisfactory. In a case of “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone” “Neither One Of Us (Wants to be the One to Say Goodbye)”, the group’s final single, was one of the group’s biggest selling records to date. A move to Buddah in 1973 realised their crossover appeal, Gladys became an international superstar while the Pips were rightfully celebrated for their support, their choreography & their Whoo-Hoos.

PAM SAWYER: SoulMusic Hall Of Fame - 2020 Inductee (Songwriter) | Soul Music

“If I Were Your Woman” had three names on the songwriting credits. Clay McMurray, formerly head of Quality Control, had made the move to producer. In the coming years he was to leave his mark on Soul Music. Pam Sawyer, from Romford, Essex, had moved to New York in 1961 then, encouraged by Holland-Dozier-Holland, on to Detroit six years later. As part of the Clan, Motown’s new writing collective, Pam had her name on the labels of “Love Child” & “I’m Living In Shame” by the Supremes & David Ruffin’s “My Whole World Ended”. Now 83, Pam was inducted in 2020 to the Soul Music Hall Of Fame. She is responsible for the biggest British contribution to the label’s great success & deserves wider recognition here at home. In the UK Gloria Jones (a.k.a. LaVerne Ware) is better known for her original 1964 recording of “Tainted Love”, our best-selling single in 1981 for Soft Cell, & as the partner of Marc Bolan in the years before his tragic death. Encouraged in her songwriting talents by Ms Sawyer the Grammy nominated “If I Were Your Woman” was the best known song in her time at Motown.

Impressions, Gene Chandler, Jerry Butler, Gladys Knight & Pips, | Lot  #89221 | Heritage Auctions

OK, this great record is not actually on this week’s Cash Box chart but a cover version of it is & that’s how I discovered this gem. That’s close enough isn’t it? At #47, rising from #59 was “You Just Can’t Win (By Making the Same Mistake)” by Gene & Jerry, two Chicago Soul legends, Chandler & Butler. Jerry Butler had started out with Curtis Mayfield in The Impressions. His recent work with young producers Kenny Gamble& Leon Huff had established his straight-from-the-fridge cool as “The Ice Man”. Gene Chandler styled himself as “The Duke of Earl” after his #1 million-seller of 1962. A close relationship with ace producer Carl Davis (& thus Curtis M) kept his name in the frame throughout the decade. I mean no offence to Gene but if Jerry Butler is singing then I’ll be listening. “One On One” is a fine album of uptown Chicago Soul duets by the experienced stars.

Simtec & Wylie - Gotta Get Over The Hump (1971, Vinyl) | Discogs

Gene was expanding his interest in the business of music, producing & releasing a million-seller with Mel & Tim. On January 1st 1971 his new Mister Chand label (his face is on the records) introduced “Getting Over the Hump” by Simtec & Wylie. Walter “Simtec” Simmons and Wylie Dixon brought their own band & a dynamic style that gained comparison with Sam & Dave. “Getting Over…”, their only album, has a funked-up version of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” & “You Just Can’t Win”, their own song, twice as long as the one on the chart is absolute fire. It’s new to me & such discovery is why I so enjoy these investigations of 50 year old Soul. Well, that’s 1971 in 2021, a fine start & undoubtedly more of the good stuff to come.

Getting Down To It (Soul October 17th 1970)

On the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations chart for the 17th of October 1970 there was a new #1 record. “Express Yourself”, the toppermost for the past two weeks, was to be the only time that Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band would attain such heights. Its successor “I’ll Be There” was the fourth time that the Jackson 5 had reached that pinnacle in 1970! The Top 3 was rounded out by another from the Tamla Motown roster. On the departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland from the label the Four Tops had adopted a smoother, less urgent style. Of course the inimitable lead vocals of Levi Stubbs were still prominent & popular. Still Water (Love), supplied by producers Smokey Robinson & Frank “Do I Love You” Wilson, was their latest hit.

It’s been a month or so since my last review of the R&B chart of 50 years ago & there are plenty of new records around. The Top 10 is of such high quality that it would be easy to select three from there. Let’s start with one of them & see where it leads us.

Blues & Soul 44/ October 9 1970

At #9 on the chart, climbing 5 places, the Philadelphia trio the Delfonics were enjoying a run of hits. William Hart & his brother Wilbert had been in vocal groups since high school. An introduction to young producer/arranger Thom Bell led to a contract with Cameo-Parkway & a couple of 45s. On the demise of their label a move to the new Philly Groove gave Bell the freedom to realise his vision. Their next single “La-La (Means I Love You)”, released in January 1968, crossed over into the Pop chart, sold a million & placed the Delfonics in the vanguard of a new effortlessly smooth, pristine, symphonic Soul. Over the next 4 albums Bell developed his fastidious orchestrations of songs written by himself & William Hart. William’s falsetto leads over a dramatic, melodic backdrop blew our minds on succeeding hits & they were very soon the favourite of Ms Jackie Brown from the film of the same name.

“When You Get Right Down To It” is the fourth song from the group’s eponymous 1970 LP to make the R&B chart. “The Delfonics” is an album of such quality that the truly majestic “Delfonics Theme (How Could You)” was almost overlooked. The “La-La…” record (1968) has the shock & the thrill of the new. Now Bell could bring confidence & imagination to a proven hit sound providing a showcase for his & the group’s talents. “When You Get…” is the only one of the 10 tracks not written or co-written by Bell & Hart. The songs of Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill had progressed popular music in the 1960s. “On Broadway” (the Drifters), “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (the Animals) & “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (Righteous Brothers) are just three. I’ve missed out the Crystals & the Ronettes, it’s a long list. Mann’s new song was in good hands & it’s a gentle, beautiful noise.

Just one place lower,at #10, is a record by Bobby Byrd. Bobby worked for James Brown whose own rapidly rising “Call Me Super Bad” would enter the Top 10 the following week. It hadn’t always been this way, way back in the 1950s Bobby had met James when the future “Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk” was serving time in juvenile prison & the Byrd family had sponsored his parole. Byrd’s band was called the Flames by the time James joined, initially as a drummer then singing. The label of “Please, Please, Please” said “James Brown & the Famous Flames” which displeased the other members but that was the way it stayed when the record sold over a million copies. After a brief split the Flames & Bobby rejoined Brown & stayed for over a decade, partners in a production company, singing backing vocals, carrying James’ cape & recording his own singles through the 1960s.

1970 King Promo 45: Bobby Byrd I Need Help (I Can't Do It Alone) Pt. 1/I Need  Help (I Can't Do It Alone) Pt. 2 – The James Brown SuperFan Club

In 1970, after a break for a couple of years Byrd returned to Brown’s set up when the singer’s band had left over the same financial disputes experienced by the singing Famous Flames. The pair quickly hired the young Collins brothers, Bootsy (bass) & Catfish (guitar), who alongside trombonist/arranger Fred Wesley brought an energy & drive to the Funk which maintained James’ popularity & his reputation as an innovator. Bobby co-wrote & can be heard on Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” & “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved”. The new band, the J.B.’s, continue that same brio & groove on “I Need Help (I Can’t Do It Alone)” with Brown shouting encouragement in the background. James had always produced tracks for Bobby, his female singers & his band. They are companion pieces to whatever he had going on at the time & are often great records, not all of them were as successful on the chart as this one. The following year Bobby released “I Know You Got Soul”, extensively & memorably sampled by Eric B & Rakim on their landmark debut “Paid In Full”. Over a 21 year long professional relationship Bobby Byrd & James Brown…they got it!

Signed, Sealed & Delivered by Stevie Wonder (Album, Soul): Reviews,  Ratings, Credits, Song list - Rate Your Music

Over the past 55 years Stevie Wonder has recorded many, yes many, songs that remain significant in Soul music. “Heaven Help Us All”, at #40, the highest new entry on this week’s chart from 50 years ago is one of them. In 1965, still only 15 years old, Stevie dropped the “Little” from his stage name & confirmed the “Wonder” with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, straight from the fridge, a new deeper voice & the first single on which he had a co-writing credit. In 1970 Motown released 2 “live” records, fine collections but I can’t imagine that many of his young Mod fans made it to the Talk of the Town, a cabaret club in that London. The “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” album was a step forward, the title track, “We Can Work It Out”, one of the best Beatles covers, “Heaven Help Us All” & others. Written by Motown staffer Ron Miller, a man with the knack who had previously provided Stevie with songs, “Heaven Help…” reflected the singer & Soul’s growing social conscience. Live appearances on US TV by Motown artists could suffer from the backing band not being the Funk Brothers. No problem here as Stevie’s impassioned Gospel-inflected vocal bring it all on home. When, at around 2.54, he screams & flashes the peace sign on the prime time “Johnny Cash Show”… Ah man!

Call Answered: Mark Arthur Miller: "SOUL SEARCHING" at The Triad Theater  NYC — Call Me Adam
A Wonder & Ron Miller

Subsequent to this Stevie asserted himself against his label, took over production duties & 1971’s “Where I’m Coming From” was solely written by himself & his new wife Syreeta. On his coming of age, with full artistic control, this led to “Music of My Mind” & “Talking Book” in 1972 & he was unstoppable. Stevie was driving the car, choosing the route & we were happy to learn from him & go along for the ride. It’s a debate point as to when Stevie Wonder’s imperial phase began but certainly “Heaven Help Us All” stands as a signpost of things to come. In 1977 Tamla Motown released a well-compiled three album retrospective of Stevie’s career up to 1971. That first thing in the morning slouch from the bed to the kettle, to the turntable, finding Side 6, Track 1 of “Looking Back/Anthology”, put a little love in your heart & more of a spring in your step. “Heaven Help Us All” did it then & still does.

This week there were two new tracks from Stevie Wonder. It’s a problem that 50 years on we still need songs about racial injustice. Stevie was never going to ignore the events of 2020 & if I want to hear from anyone then he’s certainly that one. The toe-tapping Go-Go groove of “Can’t Put It In The Hands Of Fate” includes Busta Rhymes & three other rappers who I’m much too old to know much about. I love it. “You say that you believe in all lives matter. I say, I don’t believe the fuck you do”… Ah man!

What Is It Good For? (Soul August 29th 1970)

OK, is this thing on? I took a break from these reviews of the 1970 Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations (didn’t it used to be Top 50?) because the groundhog days of shielding was good for isolation, not so great for imagination & inspiration. Now I’m getting back in the world, unseen & invisible thanks to the camouflage mask so kindly provided by my lovely sister. You know something, it ain’t so bad out there, I may go again.

 

On my last look at the R&B listings from 50 years ago the Jackson 5 were toppermost of the poppermost with “The Love You Save” & Tamla Motown continued their incredible run of quality & success with #1 records for the Temptations & Stevie Wonder with “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” & “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” respectively. You know them both, great singles. At the beginning of August James Brown broke the Detroit dominance with “Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like A) Sex Machine), his first chart-topper of the year. For the week of August 29th though half of the Top 10 were from the Motown stable & the order of things was restored with the first #1 hit, a truly resonant, even significant song, for a less celebrated member of the label’s roster.

 

 

Edwin Starr, singer, (1970 US No.1 and UK No.3 single 'War') More Info : Edwin  Starr was an American singer and so… | Number one hits, Edwin starr,  American singers“War HUH! YEAH! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Enough said yeah. Edwin Starr, born Charles Hatcher in Nashville Tennessee, raised in Cleveland Ohio, left the army in 1962 & moved to Detroit to do the music thing. His first three hit records, all R&B Top 10, “Agent Double-O-Soul”, “Headline News” & “Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” are Motor City classics, co-written by Edwin & released on the Ric-Tic label whose artists were expensively bought out by Motown in 1968. The LP “Soul Master” combines these hits with early Motown 45s (check out his boisterous version of Smokey Robinson’s “Way Over There”) to concoct a pretty damn good collection. In the UK both “Headline…” & “S.O.S.” were dancefloor favourites which just entered our Top 40. In 1968 Tamla re-issued them as a double A-side which made the #11 spot. Edwin Starr was a name on both sides of the Atlantic, he just needed the right material to see this reflected in record sales. The pulsating “25 Miles”, a Top 10 US Pop hit, was certainly a start & in 1970 bigger things were to come.

 

Edwin Starr Discography Belgium - Gallery - 45cat“War” had first appeared earlier in the year on the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack” LP. The Tempts were recording tracks with a social commentary & “War” attracted attention but the label & perhaps even the group themselves thought that the its lyrics were too extreme for the sizeable part of their audience who knew them from Ed Sullivan’s show & prime-time TV specials with the Supremes.  Motown, never a company to neglect a commercial opportunity, put writer/producer Norman Whitfield together with Edwin Starr to re-record the song. Whitfield boosted the intense, anthemic quality complimented by Edwin’s emphatic, robust vocals. This classic remodel, an obvious commentary on the USA’s involvement in Vietnam but also one for the ages, sold 3 million copies. The partnership brought more R&B success then, when the hits got smaller, Edwin found love, respect & plenty of work entertaining Soul fans in the UK. Settled in Nottingham he continued to record & in 1979 enjoyed two Top 10 hits with songs he had written & produced. Edwin, always popular here, continued to perform until his death in 2003. Buried in his adopted home town, his headstone says “Our Agent 00 Soul”

 

 

The incomparable Soul Diva Mavis Staples!!In 1968 the Staple Singers signed to Stax Records in Memphis. The family group were already established established as preeminent in Gospel-Folk circles & through father Pops’ close relationship with Martin Luther King their music promoted spirituality & morality through the Civil Rights Movement. The voice of Mavis Staples was recognised as a talent ranked alongside the best in the R&B/Soul field. It was perhaps a plan for Mavis to record her first solo, secular records & this week “Since I Fell For You”, a standard written in 1945, a hit again in 1963, stood at #28 on the R&B chart. The track is taken from “Only For the Lonely”, her upcoming second solo release, smoother than the 1969 eponymous debut produced by guitar ace Steve Cropper. Both albums unite the talents of Memphis, Muscle Shoals & Mavis but a rather unimaginative choice of material didn’t always help. They are good records, listening to Ms Staples is always a particular pleasure, which fail to capture the unique warmth & emotion of a very special voice. Back with her family the world was soon to recognise this about Mavis.

 

Hot Music News - KEYS AND CHORDSIn 1971 the Staple Singers released their third LP on Stax. Steve Cropper had left the company & the co-owner, Al Bell, took over production, The single from “The Staple Swingers” (geddit?), “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)” began a 5 year long unbroken run of Top 20 R&B hits. Bell provided a rich framing for Mavis to blossom ahead of the backing harmonies of her father & sisters. The lyrics were positive & uplifting, the sound warm, often based on the simple Blues inflected rhythm guitar of Pops, undoubtedly rooted in Gospel but, moving to the Funk & thoroughly modern. It has become a cliche to reference the enduring relevance of the message of old music. Just as “War” is a great record & war is still good for absolutely nothing, in these turbulent times when a change surely must come the music of the Staple Singers provides a context for an understanding & a moving forward. Remember “If you don’t respect yourself
ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot”. Mavis Staples has continued to perform & to make great records & has achieved a deserved legendary status. When a new collection of hers arrives I’ll be listening.

 

 

 

 

THE VANDALS / IN MY OPINION (45's) - Breakwell RecordsThe Isley Brothers’ latest 45, “Girls Will Be Girls, Boys Will Be Boys”, not one of their best, was at #19 in this week’s chart. A distribution deal with Buddah for their label T-Neck meant that through 1970-71 the brothers were able to record & release a number of other artists. One of these groups was, making use of the extended Cash Box listing, a new entry at #53. The Isleys had signed a high school band from Baltimore calling themselves The Young Tempts after their idols the Temptations. The Y.T.s recorded a couple of Motown covers, including “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”, before the Detroit label put their legal department on to the kids. “Too Busy…” was re-released under the name the Young Vandals. The Y.V.s were still in their teens but the next records were credited to just the Vandals. “In My Opinion” is written & produced by Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly Isley & it’s a predecessor of the slow jams, the “Quiet Storm” that provided contrast to the mighty Funk on the brothers subsequent, massively successful, albums. The lovely falsetto lead for the Vandals was provided by Damon Harris.

 

The Vandals broke up when Damon was looking to college as an alternative to music. The following year, 1971, his role model Eddie Kendricks left the Temptations & was replaced by Ricky Owens who, it was soon discovered, ha problems remembering the words in live performance. Damon Harris auditioned for the group & for the next five years worked in the job he had dreamt about as a kid. The Vandals may be as new to you as they are to myself but you have heard Damon’s falsetto on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”.  Well’ I was aiming for a varied selection this time around now I’m back with “The Sound of Young America”. On the 1970 R&B scene Tamla Motown ran the game.

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.

Got To Have It (Sixties Soul Power)

OK, I’ll take a break from the 1970 R&B chart & dial it back just a few years to the Sixties…I know, I just can’t stop it…These three clips, recently arrived on the Y-tube are of such good songs, of such good quality &, in the case of two of them, can justifiably be categorised as “rare”, a much overused term on that website. I am working on a couple on non-Soul posts I promise but I love this music. What else could I do?

 

 

Bar-Kays - Soul Finger | Releases, Reviews, Credits | DiscogsWay, way back when I was just old enough to go to the weekend Youth Club disco it was the first time that the exciting Stax Soul records I had heard on the radio were played at a serious volume with other people in the room. Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” & Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood, every week or questions would be asked & “Soul Finger” by the Bar-Kays, the soundtrack to my first attempts at dancing in public. I was not a Mod, my mother still bought my clothes but I would have been if I could have been. This wonderful record was as Mod as it got for this 13 year old boy. Man, I even missed Emma Peel in “The Avengers” to be out on the floor on a Saturday night.

 

We remember...Otis Redding - 50BOLD“Soul Finger”, with its nursery rhyme intro, blaring horns, stinging guitar & the neighbourhood kids, hyped on sugary drinks, chanting the title, still sounds immediate & thrilling. Things were happening quickly for the Bar-Kays in 1967. Memphis boys recruited & groomed as the back up studio band for when Booker T & the M.G.s were not around, selected by Otis Redding to be his backing band for live shows & they had written a hit record of their own. Here they are in all their optimism & glory on the US TV show “Upbeat”  that has been around the Y-tube for some time but never in such clarity. Of course there’s an unavoidable poignancy to this clip. On the 10th of December 1967 Otis & four of these young men, friends from high school, still in their teens, were killed when their plane crashed into Lake Monona, Wisconsin. Trumpeter Ben Cauley survived the crash, bass player James Alexander was not on the flight but Jimmie King (guitar), Ronnie Caldwell (organ), Phalon Jones (sax) & drummer Carl Cunningham were lost & their memory, young, fine & Funky, will be eternal.

 

 

28 Best Motown Adverts images | Motown, Tamla motown, Berry gordyBack to the beginning of 1965 now & the marvelous Marvelettes, the girl group who, in 1961, had achieved the first #1 for the new Tamla Motown organisation with “Please Mr Postman” a song that became part of the Beatles’ live set & was included on their second album “With the Beatles”. There were other R&B hits before first Martha & the Vandellas & then the Supremes claimed the position of Motown’s premier girl group. Originally a quintet, the Marvelettes had recently become a trio, before this promotion of “Too Many Fish In the Sea”. Georgeanna Tillman had sung on the record but illness had forced her departure. Still Gladys, Wanda & Kathy, their dress & dance moves courtesy of the Motown charm school are as sharp & as energetic as the song, written by Norman Whitfield & Eddie Holland & the Marvelettes’ biggest hit for a couple of years. There are not many clips of The Marvelettes, what a treat this is.

 

Story Behind The Image - Classic MotownIn 1966 Smokey Robinson took over production/songwriting duties. “Don’t Mess With Bill”, “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” & “My Baby Must Be a Magician” were distinctive, a little idiosyncratic & brilliant. A non-Smokey track, the emotional, dramatically  produced “When You’re Young & In Love” was equally successful & the Marvelettes only UK hit. In 1980 there were plenty of white men in Hammersmith Palais to see Graham Parker & the Rumour on “The Up Escalator” tour & the Marvelettes were the support act. I have no idea how many of the three African-American women of a certain age were original members of the group & I didn’t care as we were treated to a set packed with Greatest Hits that made us dance, sing along & glad to be out of the house on a chilly October evening. (Remember going out to gigs? Ah well, someday).

 

 

The Sweet Inspirations (album) - WikipediaWell known in Gospel circles, Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney, had been so wary of secular music that she continued her factory employment while nieces Dionne & Dee Dee Warwick progressed from backing vocals to solo recording contracts. Helping out when Dionne was otherwise engaged Cissy discovered that two days in a New York studio paid better than a week assembling tubes for TVs so…y’know. These women were the classic “20 Feet From Stardom”. If it was recorded in New York & had female backing singers (& they all did) then that was the Sweet Inspirations. They were there on Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” & for “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” when Jimi Hendrix came to town. Atlantic gave a settled line-up, Cissy, Sylvia Shermwell, Estelle Brown & Myrna Smith a chance to record & two singles put their name out there. In 1967 they went to American Sound Studios in Memphis to make an album.

 

The Sweet Inspirations - Sweet Inspiration (1968, Vinyl) | DiscogsThe eponymous debut LP is heavy on covers of the hits of the day but Cissy’s lead & the natural interaction of all four voices bring a vivacity & originality to songs you know well. The exception is “Sweet Inspiration”, written by Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, regulars at American & onlookers at the session it was quickly recorded & became a Top 20 Pop hit. The Sweets continued to record, for themselves & for others then in 1969 Elvis Presley, a fan of the single, returning to the stage after 9 years away, engaged them as his opening act & as part of his backing singers for a run of Vegas shows. Cissy left for a solo career while the remaining Sweet Inspirations toured & recorded with Elvis until his death in 1977. That gig & the occasional concert tour with Aretha Franklin maintained their reputation as the best support singers in the business.  In 1968 Motown seemed to have the girl group scene, such a big deal in the early years of the Sixties, to themselves. I have no idea where the above promo for their big song comes from, I just know that it’s flipping brilliant to see the Sweet Inspirations, an essential female group of the time, as well as hear them.

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.