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 cannot 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.

 


					

Diana, Doris And Bobby (Soul April 25th 1970)

The highest new entry on the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for April 25th 1970 was the debut solo single by a singer for whom her label had the greatest of expectations. In the preceding 10 years Tamla Motown’s commercial, artistic & indeed cultural influence had become the most incredible story in American popular music. The company began the new decade with the launch & instant success of the Jackson 5. It was now the turn of their biggest female star to take centre stage.

 

 

Diana Ross (1970) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

 

Diana Ross : Diana Ross (1970) (LP, Vinyl record album) -- Dusty ...Diana Ross had already sung on 12 US Pop #1 records with the Supremes, a trio that her name had been at the front of since 1967. For her debut LP she was placed with husband & wife writer/producers Nikolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson who provided 10 of the 11 songs, a surprising 6 of which had been previously recorded by other Motown acts. “Reach Out & Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” was the lead single & it sold 500,000 copies, more than respectable for any single. While it’s now one of Ms Ross’ signature songs #20 on the Pop chart & #7 R&B was lower than expected particularly while “Up the Ladder to the Roof”, the first 45 by the Supremes without Diana hit #10 & #5 respectively.

 

The “Diana Ross” LP is undoubtedly a fine record & the next single, a remake of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, a hit for Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, put Diana right back at the top, achieving the double whammy of #1 Pop & R&B. Despite this Motown rushed her back into the studio with staffer Deke Richards & another album “Everything Is Everything” was released in November 1970. There were more modern standards, 2 Beatles songs, Bacharach & David, Aretha Franklin & on the cover, after the previous dressed-down, doe-eyed, elfin look Diana was much more glam. Diana Ross was already an American musical icon before she started a solo career. Whether she was singing big, positive, emotional ballads or songs custom-made for her by the Bee Gees & Chic, new music from her was an event anticipated by her millions of fans & she remained a major star for over 30 years.

 

 

 

After a week in the Top 10 Doris Duke’s “To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman)”, a top shelf example of Deep Soul, was sliding down the chart to #21. Doris Curry, born in Georgia, had moved to New York to see what opportunities were offered by the music business. In 1966, now Doris Willingham, there was a single & regular gigs as a back-up singer at the Apollo theatre & for recording sessions. A spot as a member of Nina Simone’s touring band was certainly prestigious. In 1969 Doris was introduced to Jerry Williams Jr a performer/songwriter who was re-inventing himself as Swamp Dogg & setting up his own production operation. Mr Dogg made a deal with Phil Walden, the former manager of Otis Redding, so the pair headed off to the new Capricorn studio in Macon Georgia to make an album.

 

Soulful Detroit: Wonder B - 'The Wonder-photo Man' - 1Swamp’s vision was to make Soul “concept” albums & “I’m A Loser” is a collection of lovelorn, love-weary songs from the perspective of a grown woman. With Doris’ strong, Gospel-inflected vocals getting understated support from the talented Capricorn Rhythm Section (that’s got to be Duane Allman on “Ghost of Myself”) it really is Southern Soul at its best. The remarried Doris Logan became Doris Duke & they were ready to go.”To the Other Woman”, written by Swamp & Gary US Bonds, a Rock & Roller from the early 1960s, is a strong almost Country ballad, the lyrics unusual & distinctive enough to be memorable & to stand out when heard on the radio. It & the more upbeat follow up “The Feeling Is Right” both made the R&B chart.Doris objected to having little input in the recording process beyond providing vocals to finished tracks & her relationship with her producer was never a good one. The pair did record another LP together, “A Legend In Her Own Time” & then only because of the previous success. Swamp Dogg had his own thing going on, an album & a single rising up the chart. We’ll get to this in a couple of weeks.

 

 

Eclectic Vibes — Sam Cooke's Widow Marries Bobby Womack 77 Days...Further down the Top 50, stalled at #41, was a singer on the way to restoring his reputation as a significant talent. In 1964 Bobby Womack, with his sister-in-law Shirley wrote “It’s All Over Now” for the family group the Valentinos & a cover version by the Rolling Stones became that group’s first UK #1. Later in the year the untimely death of Sam Cooke, Bobby’s idol & mentor was a great blow. A hurried marriage to Barbara, Sam’s widow, met with disapproval from the Cooke family & a reluctance from radio stations to give airtime to his records. In Memphis Bobby found a place at American Studios where he played on many sessions, having a couple of his songs picked up & put on the chart by Wilson Pickett. “I’m In Love” & “I’m a Midnight Mover” featured on his 1969 debut LP. Covers of “Fly Me To the Moon” (the title track) & California Dreamin'” were R&B Top 20 singles.

 

Bobby Womack Soul Funk Art Poster | Etsy“More Than I Can Stand” is taken from the “My Prescription” album, a disc I don’t own but I know every song. Bobby was hitting his soulful stride with a mix of original songs & sometimes unlikely covers (“Everyone’s Gone To the Moon” & “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”) with great backing from his friends the session men at American. “Communication” (1971) &, after a move to Muscle Shoals, the self-produced “Understanding” (1972), with “I Can Understand It” & “Harry Hippie”, continued the run. I have a “best of…” from these first 4 records & it’s a double album. In the future Bobby’s title track for the “Across 110th St” movie became an instant & abiding classic. In 1981 the LP “The Poet” was something of a revival & while his subsequent recordings reflected changing times & styles he kept his essential qualities. The self-styled & justifiable “only survivor left in town” kept on until his passing in 2014. In 1970 Bobby Womack had already laid the foundation of his reputation, by the time he was done he was a legend.

Plant Love Seeds (Soul April 11th 1970)

My last post, on new records by Daniel Romano, could have been chiselled on to stone tablets & wouldn’t have been any slower to write. I’m three weeks into this isolation rigmarole, my age & health situation puts me in the “so long, it was nice knowing you” bracket so I’m doing it right. With any anxiety about that thing being usurped by an unease that the world has finally jumped the shark (it was coming) I found the usual flow wasn’t forthcoming. That’s not good & has to be nipped in the bud because I like doing this. So for the duration of this craziness my monthly missives about the great Soul music of 50 years ago from the “Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations” will now be a weekly word. Fine, fine music, that’s what I need. I’m feeling better already & here’s some now.

 

 

 

Cryin' In The Streets by George Perkins on SpotifyThe Number 1 R&B record on April 11th 1970 was by the teen sensation of the day. The Jackson 5’s “ABC” was the quintet’s second chart topper of the year & there would be two more before 1970 was done with. We must get to them later. The youthful vivacity of “ABC” is a perfect modern fusion of Pop & Soul while just behind it, at #4 in the Cash Box chart, is a song that, but for it’s subject & inspiration, could be at least 20 years old. The Silver Stars were a popular Gospel group from Louisiana whose 2 45s “They Call Him Jesus” & “Father Don’t Forget Me.” had been released locally in 1968. Things were changing & 2 years later leader George Perkins, inspired by the civil rights movement & the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, wrote “Crying in the Streets”.

 

What a beautiful record it is. Backed by the most basic of instrumentation (though that’s some fancy drumming) it’s the quality & emotion of a Gospel quartet that makes it right. There’s an essential playlist of significant songs concerned with the shift in American society at this time & “Crying in the Streets” rightfully takes its place on it. Released on the Golden label “Crying…” was successful in the Southern states before being picked up for wider distribution by Silver Fox in Nashville. George & the Silver Stars were surprised to have a national hit on their hands & delighted to have a week-long booking at New York’s Apollo Theatre. The follow up “How Can A Broke Man Survive” was back on Golden & failed to register as did subsequent records released while George combined music & a job in insurance. George Perkins was always “the Crying in the Streets man”, there are worse things to be known as.

 

 

 

Live with Otis, Janis & Jimi | Documentary of the Week | WNYCAt #34 on the chart “Wicked” Wilson Pickett commemorated three musical icons who had died in the past decade. “Cole, Cooke & Redding” is a sincere tribute to Nat “King”, Sam & Otis set to the tune of “Abraham, Martin & John”, a Top 10 US Pop hit for Dion in 1968 & a UK best seller for Marvin Gaye in 1970. Just two places below, at #36, was a posthumous release by one of these stars. In July 1967 Otis Redding’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival had electrified “the Love Crowd” & showed him the possibility of reaching a new audience. Otis’ response was to write & record “(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay”, a song with a more restrained approach which was finished at Stax’ Memphis studios on December 7th. Just three days later Otis, his valet, four members of the Bar-Kays & the pilot were killed when their plane crashed near Madison, Wisconsin. Before this tragedy Otis had already confirmed his status as an outstanding talent in American music. That the fatal accident occurred just before his development & potential would surely have led to greater success make the event even more poignant.

 

Otis Redding - Tell The Truth [White Label Promo] (Vinyl LP ...“Demonstration” is one of Otis’ final posthumous single releases. It’s taken from the LP “Tell the Truth”, the 4th studio collection since his death. There were no more tracks like “Dock of the Bay” in the vaults, this is the old-school Otis & while these records may not sit alongside “Otis Blue” or, my favourite, “The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul” every one of them, indeed every song has its moments. These may have been unfinished tracking vocals but the heartfelt soulfulness still excites as does the inimitable groove of Booker T & the M.G.s & the gritty power of the Memphis Horns. “Demonstration” is not an Otis Redding single that comes immediately to mind but it’s a great example of how they did it in Memphis in the1960s when no-one was doing it better.

 

 

MARVIN GAYE DISCOGRAPHYThe pairing by Tamla Motown of Marvin Gaye, the label’s biggest male star with young Tammi Terrell was a great call. Marvin had previously recorded with Kim Weston & Mary Wells & Tammi proved to be the perfect foil. Their first release “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was a smash & it began a run of success with, mostly, songs tailor-made for the duo by husband & wife writer/producer team Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson. “The Onion Song”, a new entry on the Cash Box chart at #39 was their 9th & final Top 20 R&B hit. The single had a US release on March 20th 1970 just 4 days after Tammi succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 24. She had not had an easy life & I’m not about to summarise the abuses she suffered as a child & at the hands of her male partners which surely contributed to her early death. Tammi Terrell’s obvious affinity with Marvin had established her as a vivacious talent & personality, holding her own with a much bigger name. This, allied to the efficiency of the Motown star-making machinery, would undoubtedly have led to greater things had she lived longer.

 

marvin gaye & tammi terrell - Google Search | Marvin gaye, Tammi ...“The Onion Song” had been released in the UK in October 1969 & became Marvin & Tammi’s biggest hit here. At the time it was not my favourite of their singles. I found the lyric a little clumsy compared to the more delicate “You’re All I Need to Get By” & the charm of “You Ain’t Livin’ Till You’re Lovin'”. Yeah, I was so much older then, I was wrong. I don’t really care that Tammi’s illness prevented her recording & that Valerie Simpson’s vocals were used on the later songs. The three albums that Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell released together are full of romance, spirit & optimism & we could all use those things in these trying times, I know that I could.

Doing Our Thing On The Friendship Train (Soul December 1969)

The #1 song on “The Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations” (I wonder what that means) through December 1969 was a valedictory single by Tamla Motown’s most successful artists, indeed one of the biggest groups of the decade. The label were making plans for the 1970’s & those plans included separating Diana Ross from the Supremes.

 

 

Image result for supremes someday we'll be together advertIn fact “Someday We’ll Be Together Again” was slated to be the first solo single by Ms Ross. The Detroit trio had enjoyed 11 previous #1 hits on the Pop chart (you probably know them all) but 1969’s releases had not proved to be as popular & that’s no way to say goodbye. “Someday..” was the final 45 to have “Diana Ross & the Supremes” on the label & it added to that list of chart toppers. The Supremes performing “Baby Love” were the first young, stylish African-American women I had ever seen on UK TV. The bespoke hits, provided by Holland-Dozier-Holland, just kept on coming. In 1967 the Modtastic “The Happening” was a sure fire smash by international superstars then troubled & dissatisfied Florence Ballard was ungraciously replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Backing vocals on the records were increasingly provided by session singers & next time out the psychedelicised “Reflections” had Diana’s name as first billing.

 

Related imageDiana, Mary & Cindy, all gussied up & glittery, made their customary appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” to promote “Someday…”. It’s poised & polished but the performance lacks producer Johnny Bristol’s ad-libbed interjections of encouragement which added grit, depth & drama to the record. The song is a remake remodel of Bristol’s 1961 original recording with his duo Johnny & Jackey, a much simpler, almost Ska-like affair. It’s an appropriate conclusion to such a remarkable run of success. Diana’s solo debut was coming along the following year & there were rather hopeful plans to make her into a Hollywood star. Mary Wilson continued as the only original member of the Supremes & there’s a run of memorable 45’s to come. Despite all the personal positioning & politics between the women & the label there’s no doubt that the Supremes were not the same without Diana & equally no doubt that they were sensational.

 

 

Image result for gladys knight friendship trainAt #6 on the chart was another Motown act, another female with her name at the front of the group. Gladys Knight & the Pips were an established name, particularly for their impeccably choreographed live performances, before they signed for the label in 1966. Producer Norman Whitfield made good use of Gladys’ urgent delivery for “Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me” (a big UK hit), “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” & “The End of the Road” but she never shook the feeling that Motown were not providing the material & promotion that others received. The fantastic, funky “Friendship Train”, assertive & affirming, a different “calling out across the nation” this time, written by Whitfield & Detroit stalwart Barrett Strong, is certainly one from the top shelf. Beautiful Gladys & the equally attractive Pips sang the song when they were the star turn on the first syndicated episode of “Soul Train” in October 1971. A fine start to the show’s 35 year long run.

 

Image result for gladys knight buddah records advertGladys Knight & the Pips remained with Motown when the corporation moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. Their records continued to make the Top 10 of the R&B chart. The album featured Gladys’ strong, emotional vocal interpretations of popular ballads. 1971’s “Standing Ovation” included “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, “Fire & Rain”, “The Long & Winding Road” & others while the dead-stone Northern Soul classic “No One Could Love You More” was overlooked. In the final week of 1972 the group released “Neither One of Us (Wants to be the One to Say Goodbye)” a massive hit, their farewell to Motown having refused a new contract & finding the love they deserved at Buddah Records. In 1974 “Neither…” was awarded the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or a Group. Gladys Knight & the Pips were already on a journey to even bigger things aboard the “Midnight Train to Georgia” which won Best R&B Performance on the same night. Woo-Hoo!

 

 

Image result for betty everett been a long timeFurther down those Cash Box listings for December 13th 1969, at #41, was a track by a singer who had been enjoying a revival in her fortunes this year. Betty Everett had left Mississippi for Chicago in 1957 while still a teenager. Her biggest success came in 1964 with the vibrant super-catchy “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” while the more atmospheric “You’re No Good”, “Getting Mighty Crowded” & duets with Jerry Butler established her accomplishments across a range of styles. Betty & Jerry were the crossover stars of Vee Jay, an R&B label whose diversification led them to having the 4 Seasons & the Beatles, the biggest acts around on their roster. The logistics of pressing & distributing truckloads of vinyl & a mountain of cash in the hands of an owner with a weakness for the casinos in Vegas became a recipe for financial chaos & bankruptcy. It would be some time before Betty’s career was back on solid ground.

 

Image result for retro styleFinding a home at UNI “There’ll Come A Time” (1969) is a showcase for Betty’s mature talents. The slower songs aim for & come pretty close to the sophistication of Dionne Warwick while distinctive Chicagoan arrangements, sweeping string & punchy brass, keeps it soulful & the quality high. The title track, co-written by Eugene Record off of the Chi-Lites, put Betty Everett back on the R&B chart. “Been A Long Time”, not on the LP, was plucked from the “Ice On Ice” LP by her friend Jerry Butler in partnership with young writing/production team Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. This fresh, talented pair were breaking on through & this modern uptempo treat is yet another sign that their time was coming.

 

Well, this is the final monthly selection from the R&B charts of 1969. It’s been nothing but a pleasure revisiting these 50 year old tunes, truly from a Golden Age of Soul. My only problem has been that every month great tracks haven’t make the cut. I’ve not taken a look at the charts for the new decade but I’m pretty sure it will be the same mix of classics, rediscoveries & others that are new to me. Looking forward to that.

 

 

 

 

 

Loan Me Your Funky Mind (Soul October 1969)

Tamla Motown started 1969  with Marvin Gaye at the top of the US R&B chart &  the Hitsville studios in Detroit kept the number ones coming throughout the year. Diana Ross & the Supremes, Marvin again & Jr Walker & the All Stars all, according to Cash Box, reached that pinnacle & in October, for the whole of the month, it was the turn of the Temptations. Since a breakout hit in 1964 with “The Way You Do the Things You Do” the Tempts being top of the R&B pops came around almost every year.

 

 

Image result for temptations 1969In 1968 the Temptations had parted company with David Ruffin, a charismatic performer whose delectable baritone had come to predominate on a string of outstanding 45’s. The group knew that you gotta walk & don’t look back & while for many the music made by the “Classic Five” line up remains their best there was no dip in popularity when Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards. The three LPs released in 1969 (two more with the Supremes) were all successful. “Cloud Nine” was producer Norman Whitfield’s big new idea, a heavily arranged/orchestrated take on the Psychedelic Soul of Sly & the Family Stone. Most of the LP was familiar Temptations fare but the title track won the Tempts a Best R&B Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental Grammy. The future was freaky & Funky. “The Temptations Show” is a mix of the old, the new & slick show biz, the soundtrack to their very own TV special, that’s how big a deal the Temptations were.

 

Related imageOn “Puzzle People” there were still cover versions (“Hey Jude”, “It’s Your Thing”, even “Little Green Apples”) but Whitfield & Motown stalwart Barrett Strong provided more original material. This new sound used all five voices on lead, Edwards was recruited for his strong vocals, Eddie Kendricks (that’s the great…) sang lead on many of their hits, it had been some time since Otis Williams, Paul Williams & Melvin Franklin had been stood at the front for the singles. “I Can’t Get Next to You” doesn’t have the social commentary of some of these new epic songs, it’s an urgent, brilliant slab of Funk but I’m telling you something you already know here. A massive hit, their second Pop #1, the ninth time at the top of the R&B chart, the Temptations were the leading vocal group of the time, a new face, a new phase but taking care of business as usual with so much more fine music yet to come.

 

 

 

Funkadelic…the clue is in the name. The highest new entry on the chart of October 18thImage result for funkadelic  1970 was the second single from a new group. It could have been luck, more likely it was George Clinton’s judgement that, when he needed instrumental backing for his vocal group the Parliaments, assembled a young talented crew whose innovative lysergic fuelled jams on a framework provided by Sly Stone & Jimi Hendrix placed them in the vanguard of the new breed of Funk groups. George had mislaid the rights to the name of his own group so the expanded collective signed a new contract as Funkadelic. “I’ll Bet You” reached back to Clinton’s times around the Detroit music scene. In 1966 the song had been recorded as an uptempo dead-stone floor filling Soul stomper by Theresa Lindsey. Funkadelicised, with a little help from some of Motown’s Funk Brothers, the song is a raw, dense, insistent blend of Rock & Soul, one of the first tracks you play to those less versed in the ways of Parliament-Funkadelic.

 

Image result for funkadelic  1970The self-titled LP, a landmark record, did not appear until the following year. Guitarist Eddie Hazel, Billy “Bass” Nelson & drummer “Tiki” Fulwood were given plenty of scope by producer Clinton to blow our funky minds. On tracks like the opener “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?” & “What is Soul?” George laid the foundations of the P-Funk lore which, after extensive recording, exciting live shows & tweaks in personnel, finally saw the group recognised as one of the foremost African-American units of the time. (Soul is apparently “a ham hock in your corn flakes” or “a joint rolled in toilet paper”, your choice!). Funkadelic were signed to Armen Boladian’s Westbound Records & Boladian later gained control of all Funkadelic’s publishing rights by allegedly forging George’s signature. A litigious man he sued every artist who used a sample of their music, that’s like over 50% of the US Rap scene. Screw the “allegedly” let him sue me, I’ve got no money. Fly on baby, fly on.

 

 

Image result for lee dorsey give it upFurther down the Cash Box chart, a newcomer at #46, was an artist who had experienced success over the past decade. Lee Dorsey, a former boxer turned singer out of New Orleans had his first million seller in 1961 with “Ya Ya”, later covered by John off of the Beatles, but similar nursery rhyme based lyrics probably deservedly failed to connect. In 1965 a partnership with the Big Easy’s master songwriter/producer/arranger Allen Toussaint created a string of 45’s which re-established him in the US & made him a firm favourite on the UK Mod scene. It’s an impressive list, good enough to make a “Best of…” collection essential. Everyone knows the jaunty, irresistible “Working in a Coal Mine”, a Top 10 hit in the Pop charts on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1980 the Clash invited the still spry Lee Dorsey to open on their US tour.

 

Image result for clash lee dorsey

Lee & the Clash

The Dorsey/Toussaint connection continued to make fine singles which met with less commercial success. Lee always had his auto repair shop to fall back on when he was less in demand. In 1969 the team’s statement record was “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)” & “Give It Up” showed that they walked it like they talked it. This was a mature New Orleans take on the New Groove. Toussaint’s songs were stronger, his horn arrangement on “Give It Up” sensational. (When the Band needed charts for a brass section they knew who to call). The studio band, the Meters, confidence high from their own success, provided diamond-sharp backing for their city’s premier vocalist.

 

The singles, issued on the small Amy label, made little impact but in 1970 Lee got to make his first LP for 4 years, a proper one not a compilation of past releases. There were some great R&B LP’s coming round & “Yes We Can”, not a big seller, was among them. The title track endured as a political slogan for young Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. “Who’s Gonna Help a Brother Go Further” is another example of a growing modernity & social awareness of the lyrics. “Riverboat” was picked up by Little Feat, “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” by Robert Palmer. Now the record has the highest of reputations, back then Lee Dorsey was regarded as being from the old school. That’s a pity because a lot of people missed out on something very good.

 

Into The Groovy (Soul June 1969)

In the Summer of 69 I was 16 going on 17, you know what I mean, & the money in my pocket was not going to match the lifestyle to which I aspired. (I’m joking, none of these things that I do have ever amounted to a “Lifestyle”). My hometown steel plant employed temporary student labour but paid a lower rate to under-18’s so my Dad, a life-long socialist & keenly aware of the exploitative nature of the surplus value of labour, hooked me up with a friend’s construction company. It was my first proper work, the paper route didn’t count, & I loved it. The physical aspect of the job was enjoyable, they let me use the cement mixer, how cool was that? I may have been the butt of the older guys’ banter (there’s no such thing as tartan paint!) but it kept you fit & sharp. The holding folding for the weekend, after Mum had taken her cut (it’s OK, I owed her), well that was the point.

 

Oh yeah, the radio played all day long & there were some good ones about in June 1969. The UK Top 10 included the Beatles, Jethro Tull, the Beach Boys, Smokey Robinson & CCR. The feelgood hit of the summer, the  #1 record on the Billboard R&B chart for the whole of June & most of July, was a song that did it for me then & still does now.

 

 

Image result for marvin gaye too busy thinking about my babyAt the end of 1968 Marvin Gaye had cleaned up, deservedly so, with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. A worldwide hit it became the biggest selling single for Motown, a label that was no stranger to the people who handed out gold records. Norman Whitfield had co-written “Pride & Joy” Marvin’s first US Top 10 record. With the departure from the company of ace producing/writing team Holland-Dozier-Holland, already well established, he stepped up his game. His work with the Temptations became more ambitious & experimental while for Marvin, re-working songs from his own back catalogue, Whitfield constructed perfect Pop-Soul classics. “Grapevine”, a recent hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips, became an ominous cry of betrayal & disbelief while “Too Busy Thinking ‘Bout My Baby”, originally on a 1966 Temptations’ LP, a joyous declaration of love. You hear that opening “Ah-ah-ha, Oh Yeah” & you know that here comes 3 minutes of happiness. A beautiful record, a consummate follow-up tailor-made to enhance Marvin’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost Soul singers.

 

Marvin Gaye, always a complicated man, was not in a good place in 1969. His early ambitions to emulate his idol Nat King Cole were now outdated as times changed, he had been deeply affected by the onstage collapse & subsequent illness of Tammi Terrell, his partner for a spectacular run of hit duets. His relationship with Berry Gordy, his brother-in-law as well as his label boss, was turbulent. A period of depression & introspection allied to a desire for the greater autonomy that other Soul artists were enjoying realised a flourishing creativity & an individual form of expression that genuinely moved Soul music forward. I’m sorry but if you don’t think that “What’s Going  On” (1971) is a cornerstone of modern American music then it’s unlikely that we could ever be friends.

 

 

Image result for supremes no matter what sign you areSticking in Detroit with Motown at #25 in the chart of June 21st was the latest 45 from the label’s premier female unit. These were unstable times for the Supremes, now known as Diana Ross & the… The drawn-out, messy departure of Florence Ballard, replaced by Cindy Birdsong, affected the group’s popularity. Despite Diane’s star treatment fans held all three of the original members in high regard. The rich seam of smash hits from the Holland-Dozier-Holland production line was drying up. In 1968 while “Love Child” became an 11th #1, other singles including  the marvelous H-D-H song “Forever Came Today”, were less successful. Plans for Ms Ross’ solo career were fixed & ready to be given the green light.

 

I liked “No Matter What Sign You Are”, the Age of Aquarius was thing back then. The trio, fixtures on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, give it plenty in their glittery, fringed finery. Diana is lip-synching to her own voice, Mary & Cindy were not needed in the studio where the Andantes took care of the backing vocals. Written by Berry Gordy & Hank Cosby it was intended to be the group’s farewell record but despite this groovy prime-time promotion it did not achieve the success anticipated by the label. Later in the year “Someday We’ll Be Together Again” was a more appropriately valedictory choice, the group’s 12th & final US #1 song. The phenomenon that was Diana Ross & the Supremes were now two separate acts.

 

 

Back in the very olden days when I didn’t know much about anything at all (& didn’t need to) I had a strong feeling that I really did like the records made by the Coasters. In 1958/9 the group, based in New York, had 3 UK Top 20 hits with irrepressible, irreverent story-songs, my first experience of cool American humour & probably my initial exposure to Rhythm & Blues. Both “Yakety Yak” & “Charlie Brown” featured  exciting, honking saxophone insertions played by a young Texan establishing himself on the NY session scene. Later, when I became aware of just how good King Curtis was, I wasn’t surprised that he had caught my ear previously.

 

Image result for king curtis instant groove“Instant Groove” was a new entry on the Billboard R&B chart this week at #35. King, Curtis Ousley, had signed with Atlantic & assembled a group of the finest session players in New York. “Memphis Soul Stew” was as succulent as it sounds, each ingredient/instrument successively introduced to the pot, a recipe for a spicy, effervescent brew that few instrumentals could match. “Instant Groove” is exactly what it says on the label. Originally recorded & produced by KC with his “Orchestra” (including young Jimi Hendrix) as “Help Me” for Ray Sharpe in 1966, the following year the “Gloria” inspired riff reappeared on Aretha Franklin’s first LP for Atlantic as “Save Me”. The NYC Funk version features a great bass solo by Jerry Jemmott. He & the other Kingpins, Richard Tee (keyboards), Cornell Dupree (guitar) & Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (drums) could play any music put in front of them. When they played with King Curtis he brought out their Soul.

 

Image result for king curtisBy 1971 King Curtis was at the apex of his career. In March he & the Kingpins supported & backed Aretha Franklin for 3 concerts at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Live albums of the occasion were released by both artists. “Soul Train”, a new TV programme called when a theme tune was required. The actual John Lennon needed half a pint of horn for a couple of tracks on “Imagine” & KC, who had been on the undercard at Shea Stadium back when Beatlemania was a thing, was the best man for the job. In August of that year, on the steps up to his Manhattan apartment, he became involved in an argument with a couple of drug dealers & was fatally stabbed, he was 37 years old. Tragic.

Different Strokes For Different Folks (Soul February 1969)

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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