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”.

A Little Bit More Soul (January 1969)

So how long have I been just a click away from the Billboard R&B Chart archive? No matter, I’ve found it now & that sound you hear is my purr of contentment as I cruise the weekly Top 30 or, even better, Top 50 from past years, marvelling at just how many great songs were around at the same time. Let’s start with January 1969, 50 years ago, when Marvin Gaye’s classic “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” held the #1 spot for the whole month.

There were 3 other Tamla Motown releases in a distinguished Top 10 for January 18th 1969, I’m guessing that it had been pretty much the same every week for the past 5 years. Stevie Wonder was there & so were the Temptations, on their own & again with Diana Ross & the Supremes. 11-20 included the Delfonics’ “Ready Or Not Here I Come” & “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone, both certainties for the 1000 Best Soul records of the decade (not a real list but give me an hour & I’ll get back to you). OK, pick a number between 1 & 50… any one of them will be just fine.

 

 

Related imageAt #3 is Clarence Carter’s “Too Weak To Fight”. We never really got Clarence over here until the sentimental “Patches”, his only UK hit, came around in 1970 but, across 68/9, he was enjoying a consistent run of R&B chart success & crossing over to the mainstream Pop chart. Born without sight Clarence graduated with a degree in Music from Alabama State College in his hometown of Montgomery. He was already a fixture at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals when bigger record labels, hearing that the writers, musicians & producers there had got it going on, sent their own established artists along to grab some of that swampy Southern Country Soul. Carter’s records were picked up by Atlantic & the higher profile led to “Slip Away”, his second 45 on the label, selling a million copies.

 

My good friend Mitchell  kindly gave me his compilation of the “Best of C.C.” because I played it so often & took such delight every single time. “Too Weak…” is one of a string of songs featuring Clarence’s strong baritone, yearning in the heartbreak tunes, a lascivious chuckle in the…er…racier ones. The now famous Alabaman session players made it funky, gritty & sparkling. They made it sound easy too but if it was then everybody would have been doing it. There was a new name in the small print on the back of the album sleeves. Guitarist Duane Allman had shown up at FAME with his band Hour Glass & found himself hired. Duane brought his precocious Blues talent along, check out Clarence’s “The Road To Love”. Further on down that week’s chart, at #16, he was inventing Southern Rock on Wilson Pickett’s blistering “Hey Jude”.

 

 

Image result for the impressions this is my countryChicago was well represented in the Top 10 too. Producer Carl Davis, a man who knew what was what, removed Barbara Acklin’s vocals, added piano to the backing track & released “Soulful Strut”  (#6) by Young-Holt Unlimited, formed by the rhythm section of the successful Ramsey Lewis Trio. Davis’ newly founded Dakar records discovered a new star in Tyrone Davis. “Can I Change My Mind” (#4 up from #15) was an update of the classic Windy City sound, loping rhythms, vivacious horn & string arrangements, as smooth as Pop-Soul could get. Jerry Butler, a hit-maker for over a decade, went to Philadelphia to work with a hot new writing/production team.  “Are You Happy” (#10) was the third single taken from the resulting all killer no filler “The Ice Man Cometh” LP. Jerry enjoyed revived fortunes, Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff had a calling card for their talents which they parleyed into their own Philadelphia International label &, pretty much, world domination in just a few years.

 

Image result for curtis mayfield civil rightsWhen Jerry Butler left the Impressions for a solo career he maintained his relationship with Curtis Mayfield, the kid he had met in his church choir. Curtis had songs to spare for his pal, the acts at Chicago’s Okeh label & his own vocal trio. The Impressions’ progress from perfectly harmonious Gospel to equally euphonic Soul was as influential as any other African-American music of the time. In Jamaica the 3 Wailin’ Wailers were listening closely while up in Bearsville New York their “Keep On Pushing” album featured on the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home”. Like many young Americans Curtis was affected by & involved in the Civil Rights movement & his lyrics came to reflect the changing times. “This Is My Country”, #8 on the chart, the title track of the first LP released on his own Curtom label, tells it like it was, pertinent then & still is now & is an absolute gem.

 

 

OK, that’s the Top 10 pretty much covered. Let’s look further down at the page for the week’s new entries. A big favourite round here, “Grits Ain’t Groceries” by Little Milton, scrapes in at #50. “If I don’t love you, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry & Mona Lisa was a man!”. Right On! Further up at #41 Arthur “Sweet Soul Music” Conley entered FAME Studios to cover Paul McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” but you don’t want to hear that. I’m afraid there’s very little Soul to be extracted from this piece of cod-Reggae fluff & not even Duane Allman’s guitar contribution can add much value. So then Pop Pickers (heh, heh) in at #44 it’s…

 

Related imageTammi Terrell experienced great commercial success in 1968 when “You’re All I Need”, her second collection of duets with Marvin Gaye was released. The young Motown Mod was the perfect foil for sharp dressed Marvin, the label’s major solo star solicitous of their ingenue. A clutch of bespoke songs provided by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson added further class to an already classy pairing. Unfortunately Tammi was unable to fully enjoy her hit records, in October 1967 she collapsed onstage with Marvin & a brain tumour was diagnosed. After a first surgery Tammi was able to return to the studio but was never well enough to perform again & her health quickly declined. She died in March 1970 aged just 24. In January 1969 her only solo LP was released. “Irresistible” compiled the 11 tracks, just 30 minutes of music, that she had recorded for Motown between 1965 & 1968. I’m sure that Hitsville had plans for the new star & that with material tailored to her alluring voice & personality more success was inevitable. We’ll never know that now.

 

Image result for tammi terrell this old heart of mineHearing the Isley Brothers’ version of “This Old Heart Of Mine” will always be my youth club madeleine. Dancing until almost bedtime on nothing stronger than a can of Vimto & a packet of Oxo flavoured crisps. Walking that little girl home because well, she lived just round the corner from me. Tammi’s version, recorded in 1966, produced by two of the writers, Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier, will never hold the same resonance but if ever you need a classic, uptempo, floor-filling stomper, “the Sound of Young America”, then you’ve come to the right place.

 

 

Put On Your Wig Woman (Junior Walker)

As the 1950’s headed towards the 1960’s songwriter Berry Gordy was doing nicely from his connection with singer Jackie Wilson (Berry wrote “Reet Petite”, “Lonely Teardrops” & others) while having a shrewd eye on the business of music through an involvement with talent he found in his hometown Detroit. His Tamla label released its first disc in 1959, the Miracles’ “Shop Around” became its first million seller the following year & the Motown Record Corporation would soon stake a claim to be “the sound of young America”, as big an influence on the decade’s popular music as the British Beat explosion.

 

Image result for junior walker & the all-stars come seeWe all know the great stars signed to the label, Marvin, Stevie, Diana & the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations. There were plenty of other acts who benefited & contributed to the Motown sound. That driving beat of the house band, the Funk Brothers, matched to a melodic & lyrical acuity & urbanity placed African-American music firmly in the Modernist movement of the decade. Pop Art…you betcha! Junior Walker, a saxophonist, a little older than the others, never really adhered to the Hitsville formula but he & his All Stars enjoyed much success because their distinctive, individual style was pretty irresistible.

 

 

Image result for junior walker concert posterJunior Walker, born in 1931, was playing in bands in Battle Creek, Michigan, 120 miles east of Detroit, in the mid-1950s. The All Stars played both kinds of music, the Rhythm & the Blues, tenor sax playing Junior being influenced by the Jive of Louis Jordan & the Jazz of Illinois Jacquet (great name). The band signed with Harvey Fuqua, a singer turned label head, whose hits with the Moonglows, the classic “Sincerely” & the extra classic “The 10 Commandments of Love” were as good as Doo Wop got. Harvey was Berry Gordy’s brother in law & when he joined the family company he took his roster with him. The second 45 issued under the growing Motown umbrella found Junior Walker & the All Stars at the top of the R&B charts & in the Pop Top 10, a list that was pretty much all British Invasion & Tamla.

 

Image result for junior walker roadrunnerOn “Shotgun” (coming up later) the band were augmented by a Funk Brothers backline, including the peerless bassist James Jamerson. It’s a Soul Explosion, the honking sax, call & response vocal shouts & a demand that you dance urgency is the trademark of Junior Walker & the All Stars. Gritty is not the adjective most associated with Detroit at this time, these guys were, they found an audience & Motown let them do their thing. “(I’m A) Roadrunner”, the 4th Top 10 R&B 45, was written by ace team Holland-Dozier-Holland, another injection of Soul adrenaline, a super smash. King Curtis & Cannonball Adderley were masters of Soul/R&B saxophone & Junior Walker was not only just as groovy but his records were a whole lot of fun.

 

 

Image result for junior walker & the all-stars come seeThe major influence of the label on the artist was to point him towards the cupboard where they kept their back catalogue. First, in 1966, Marvin’s “How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You)” & “Money (That’s What I Want)” were Walkerfied. The following year H-D-H’s hit for the Supremes, “Come See About Me” was given a gutbucket revival, guaranteed to pack out any dancefloor anywhere. In the UK Junior Walker was a major Mod favourite. His records may not have made Top of the Pops but were played on the pirate radio stations & were essentials for any DJ in clubs (in my case youth clubs) all over the country. The ones already checked, “Shake & Fingerpop”, “Pucker Up Buttercup”, the killer “Shoot Your Shot”, it’s becoming a list & we knew them all.

 

In 1969 Walker & his producer Johnny Bristol, an ally since before Motown, changed it up & had a big success. “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”, written by Bristol, Fuqua & staffer Vernon Bullock, was recorded in 1968 for the “Home Cookin'” LP & released with some reluctance by the label. It’s slower paced, the edges are smoothed, the vocal more featured & it sold a million. Followed by a fine cover of the Guess Who’s “These Eyes” this new style kept Junior in the game, away from the golden oldie circuit in the new decade.

 

 

Image result for junior walker concert posterJunior Walker came out of the Jumping Jive R&B tradition & found his place in Soul music. He had international success with his records & the evidence is that his live shows were not to be missed. If, in June 1969, you were at the Fillmore West in San Francisco for the All Stars/Grateful Dead double bill then I am jealous. The group were regular, popular visitors to the UK & this clip (in colour!) of their 1967 gig at the Ram Jam Club, you know it, on the Brixton Rd, above Burton’s & the gas showroom, yeah you know, is just wonderful. Junior & his band, Willie Woods, guitar, James Graves, drums & Vic Thomas, organ, (bassist unknown) blow up an absolute storm. If I ever get this time machine finished then look out for me in the audience the next time you watch this lovely thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better Late Than Never (Motown Hits)

In March 1965 a series of 6 four track EPs marked the establishment of the Tamla Motown label in the UK. Previous releases had been through London American, Fontana, Oriole & finally Stateside. The assembly line at Hitsville USA in Detroit was sustaining 5 subsidiaries, Tamla, Motown, Gordy, Soul & V.I.P. The same writer/producers, the same musicians, a unique & successful operation, “the Sound of Young America”. There were 43 singles on the new label in the first 9 months. They couldn’t all be chartbusters, weren’t all by the great stars of the roster. Sometimes it took a little longer for the record buying public to catch on to some of the gems from Tamla Motown.

 

 

Image result for isley brothers soul on the rocks“This Old Heart of Mine” by the Isley Brothers was the #1 record of my youth club years (that’s the ones immediately before I could get served in pubs). The debut Motown release for the Brothers, January 1966 in the US, March in the UK, it was their only Top 20 hit in the US for the label & scraped into the Top 50 over here. If you were not already out on the floor then you certainly were before Ronald started singing. Over two years later the song was still being played in the great Soul/Ska sets I attended in the upstairs rooms of bars. A re-release saw it become a Top 3 hit, another smash for the crack Holland-Dozier-Holland unit. Trouble was, for Motown, the Isley Brothers had already left the label before this success.

 

“The Isleys’ wild call & response songs “Shout” & “Twist & Shout” had been picked up by the British Beat Boom & the group were a little too rugged for the sophisticated Detroit sound. The first LP for Motown had heavy involvement from H-D-H but 3 of their songs were a little second-hand having already been hits for others. On the “Soul on the Rocks” LP (1967) the A Team were absent & , while talented people were around to produce, the Isleys were dissatisfied with with the material & promotion they received. Motown went back to an old hit “I Guess I’ll Always Love You” & it did well again. “Behind a Painted Smile” had not been considered as a single in 1967. By May 1969 it & other stomping Isley tracks were favourites in the Soul clubs. This dense, dramatic classic, a perfect blend of impassioned vocals & the driving Funk Brothers rhythm section (James Jamerson, Benny Berrigan ?), Joe Messina’s fuzz guitar became a Top 5 hit. The Brothers Isley were more popular in the UK than at home until “It’s Your Thing”, on their own T-Neck label, scored their biggest sales yet. A couple of years later resistance was futile as their expanded family band just took over.

 

 

Oh yes ! The Elgins only got the one shot at Motown. The LP “Darling Baby” (1965) was produced by Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier, again featuring song’s by Detroit’s most talented songwriting trio with 4 covers of Atlantic hits as the filler. The title track & “Heaven Must Have Sent You” were R&B hits but there was to be no second LP from the group. In 1967 singer Saundra Mallett Edwards left the group & though she was replaced just look at the clip, from “Swingin’ Time” & you will see why she was missed. “Swingin’ Time” was a music show out of Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. They got some great Motown acts as guests & the surviving Y-tube clips are worth searching out.

 

Image result for the elgins heaven must have sent youBy 1970 columnist Dave Godin had identified a North-South divide in UK Soul fans. While Funk began to carry the swing in the USA “Northern Soul” fans were more interested in crate-digging for obscure uptempo dance records from the mid-60’s. In 1971 the 6 year old “Heaven Must Have Sent You” was re-released, broke out of the clubs & was a Top 3 hit. In the Spring of 1971 Stevie Wonder released “Where I’m Coming From”, Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”, Diana Ross, no longer a Supreme, was filming “Lady Sings the Blues” & plans for Motown to leave Detroit for Los Angeles were in advanced stages. The success of “Heaven Must…” showed that the public still wanted to dance & sing along to those classic Holland-Dozier-Holland, themselves no longer with the label, songs OK…♫ I’ve cried through many endless nights, just holding my pillow tight. Then you came into my lonely day, with your tender and your sweet ways. ♫ Smashing !

 

 

 

Image result for r. dean taylor there's a ghost in my houseCanadian R Dean Taylor signed for Motown as a songwriter & recording artist in 1964. The records didn’t go so well but writing credits kept his name in the frame. There was a Marvelettes track with Norman Whitfield, a Brenda Holloway A-side with Frank Wilson. In 1967 “7 Rooms of Gloom” was the 4th single from the 4 Tops greatest LP “Reach Out”. It was the B-side, “I’ll Turn to Stone”, with the credit Holland-Dozier-Holland-Taylor (that’s good company to keep), which became a dancefloor favourite. A dramatic self-produced single from that year, “Gotta See Jane”, written with Brian Holland, failed at home but reached the UK Top 20 in 1968. With the departure from the label of the great trio Motown’s production staff had to step up to keep the hits coming. Taylor had co-credits on two singles by Diana Ross & the Supremes, “Love Child”, a #1,& “I’m Living in Shame”. You know more R Dean Taylor songs than you thought you did.

 

In 1970 R Dean moved to Rare Earth, a label Motown set up for white artists. He scored with “Indiana Wants Me” an odd song about a murderer chased & caught by the police. It was his only US success but we hadn’t finished with him yet in the UK. Back in 1966 he had recorded “There’s a Ghost in my House”, another track with that impressive H-D-H-Taylor credit. Another irresistible Motown stomper that went missing at the time, it became a staple of Northern Soul DJ sets & reached the Top 10 in 1974. That’s 3 Top 20 hits for R Dean Taylor, an individual Motown talent.

 

All 3 of these songs were resurrected by the Northern Soul scene but you didn’t have to be a regular at the Casino or the Twisted Wheel to appreciate & enjoy them. The scene was big in the early 1970’s, these rediscovered breakout hits received wider radio play & sold to a bigger audience. We were listening to Sly, Marvin, the Isleys, Funkadelic, the new sounds of Black America but the fact remained that you could not beat a bit of classic Tamla Motown to make your weekend go better.

The Temptations:The Classic Five (1966-68)

After leaving university I took a job in a drop forge, banging the crap out of hot metal. That’s what they used to do in the Midlands industrial crucible the Black Country. The place was noisy, dirty & you counted your fingers after every shift but I’d spent my summers working in a noisier, dirtier steel works, I knew the game. The men & women I worked alongside, despite their sometimes impenetrable accent, could not have been more welcoming of an overeducated longhair (that would be me). When Keith heard that I was saving for a proper top of the range stereo system he showed up the next day with some spare gear & insisted that I took it until I was sorted. Keith had 5 years on me, he was married & held a black belt in Karate. He had been a skinhead, a top man in the Wolverhampton Wanderers crew. Before that he was a Mod, a young kid not a Face. His own “Quadrophenia” moment came when he got out of his brain on the 5.15 to Birmingham & joined his tribe to witness a performance by Tamla Motown sensations the Temptations.

 

 

For a young, blocked-on-blues Mod around 1968/69 a Temptations concert must have been the epitome of Cool. 5 very sharp dressed men moving in perfect synchronization, delivering hit after perfectly crafted hit, was a very fine musical experience. 20th century American music has a tradition of harmony vocal groups through gospel, blues, jazz, country, rhythm & blues, doo-wop & pop.  The music made by the Temptations defined the new vocal group sound, music that was made 50 years ago but can still be considered modern. The Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, The Blind Boys of various Southern States, are held in high regard but every male vocal group, boys or men, since the 1960s have aspired to emulate & been compared to the Temptations.

 

“Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” is the 3rd of 4 singles in 1966 that all became #1 R&B records. Since 1964 the group had been producer/writer Smokey Robinson’s boys. “Beauty…”, their biggest hit since 1964’s “My Girl”, was preceded by “Get Ready”, falsetto lead vocal by Eddie Kendricks, the last of Smokey’s run & by “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, a David Ruffin led song produced by Norman Whitfield who was handed the keys to the studio & kept them until 1974. Ruffin had joined in 1964 to complete the “Classic 5” line-up. The other Temptations, Otis Williams, Paul Williams & Melvin Franklin all took their turn as lead on album tracks but it was the double whammy of Ruffin & Kendricks, 2 great soul voices who established the group as Motown’s & the USA’s top vocal group.

 

 

The hits just kept on coming but there was trouble ahead. As the Supremes became “Diana Ross & the…” one member of the group imagined that “David Ruffin & the Temptations” was a possibility. David’s growing separation from the others, his erratic behaviour not helped by a taste for cocaine, led to a messy & litigious departure in June 1968. His replacement Dennis Edwards was not sure of his place when Ruffin showed up at the group’s shows & joined them onstage. Eventually there were 2 solo LPs, still on Motown, in 1969 but a completed record was shelved by the label & David Ruffin never became the major star that he should have been.

 

The lyrics of “You’re My Everything” (1967) were written by Rodger Penzabene, a new, young recruit to Motown. The song honours his wife but he was heart-broken when he discovered she was having an affair. 2 great songs, “I Wish It Would Rain” & “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)” came out of this upset, both perfectly interpreted by Ruffin’s anguished vocal, both #1 R&B hits. On New Year’s Eve 1967 Penzabene shot himself & died aged just 23, a poignant footnote in Motown’s history & a tragic end when there was surely so much more to come.

 

 

Norman Whitfield began to exercise more control over the group’s material & in 1968 “Cloud Nine” was the first of his innovative “psychedelic soul” experiments to be released. The single was successful but the Temptations were not fully convinced of the move away from their blockbuster ballads to the Sly & the Family Stone-influenced soul underground. They continued to release more mainstream LPs, 2 with Diana Ross & the Supremes, live from prestigious nightclubs in New York & London, even a Christmas record. Whitfield continued to work with the Temptations until 1973 by which time only Otis & Melvin remained from the classic 5. There are some terrific songs, more big hits from this later period…another time. These Ruffin/Kendrick led classics, a greater Motown maturity after the early hits, are the ones that did it for me then & still do.