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.

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.

 

 

Marvin Gaye (the duets)

I can’t muse upon Motown without thinking of the duets recorded by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. There are other man/woman duets which I rate as highly. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood’s, “Some Velvet Morning” has a mystery, an otherness. “Love Hurts” in the hands and voices of Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris  is melancholy beauty defined. The songs of Marvin & Tammi are joyous, potent & young, everything you want from cheap popular music. They make me happy.

The songs have the same effect on others. Whoever has enhanced the sights and sounds of this clip has done us all, and the song, a big favour. Marvin was Motown’s biggest male star but not the happiest. He had come from the church and was looking to go to cabaret. His idol was Nat “King” Cole, Marvin wanted to croon. Tammi was not a star at all. The care he shows for the young Mod girl, helping her through the nonsense of record promotion, adds to the already immense charm and chemistry of their songs. I am not going to dwell on the tragedy of her collapse while onstage with Gaye in 1967. That and her failure to recover (she died, aged 24 in 1970) contributed to a new maturity on Gaye’s part. His subsequent recording of the best LP recorded in the history of popular music, “What’s Going On”, stands as a fine tribute.

A young couple (later married) Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, wrote the songs. It is their dual voices which make the songs so effective. They are written to be sung as duets. Reliable sources have said that Simpson sang on the later records as Tammi was too ill to record. Others, around at the time, have challenged this. I really don’t care. This was released as Marvin & Tammi & that’s how I first loved it. “Good Lovin” was not a big hit in the UK, the inferior “Onion Song” made a bigger impression. This song is such a personal favourite.

The record label were eager to put the “King and Queen of Motown” together. Marvin was not as enthusiastic. When he finally agreed there were delays for the producers, Ashford & Simpson (their last job for Motown). The record was released in 1973. The stories from the making of the record are very funny. The pair were not the best of friends and both possessed a sizeable ego. Not surprisingly I take Marvin’s side in most of the arguments. If he needed a joint or two to ease his voice then…& why is the LP not titled “Marvin & Diana”?

The producers only had two songs for the couple. They turned to a new hit factory over in Philadelphia for two songs which had already been hits. Thom Bell & Linda Creed wrote “You Are Everything” a hit for the Stylistics. The song is not a duet rather a song they sing together. Marvin was no-ones backing singer & rose to the occasion for his performance. He joins Diana for the first chorus and then sings the second verse himself. I still find this to be one of the loveliest, most affecting vocal performances I have ever heard. Marvin is really trying on this one.