Getting Down To It (Soul October 17th 1970)

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

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

Blues & Soul 44/ October 9 1970

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blowing Your Mind (Soul February 1970)

The Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for February 1970 was dominated by Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. The single’s massive success, a six week occupation of the #1 spot, caused a Top 10 logjam of seriously good records, songs that earned gold discs for a million sales, that are remembered & loved today. Eddie Holman, an artist enjoying the biggest hit of his career, stalled at the #2 spot for three weeks with “Hey There Lonely Girl”, a song that is still instantly recognisable .

 

 

Image result for eddie holman 1970Eddie Holman was a gifted child & that gift was his remarkably dynamic voice. He performed around New York, trained at a music school in Harlem &, after a move to Philadelphia, studied for a music degree at college. Eddie made his first record while still a teenager & was only 19 & still a student when “This Can’t Be True” made the Billboard Top 20 in 1966. He subsequently released a string of good singles, the quality of his voice never in doubt. In 1969 Eddie moved to ABC records, was given the opportunity to record an LP & one of the tracks became the one for which he is mainly remembered. “Hey There Lonely Boy” had been a US Top 30 hit for Ruby & the Romantics in 1963. A gender-swap, a pitch perfect falsetto delivery from a great singer, a deserved gold record hanging on Eddie Holman’s wall.

 

Image result for eddie holman hey there lonely girlEddie’s album “I Love You” was produced by Peter De Angelis, an old school record man, a veteran of the Philadelphia teen scene which flourished in the hiatus between Elvis joining the Army & the arrival of the Fab Four. The song choice displays the singer’s great range but is, as are the arrangements, conservative even old-fashioned. There was no successful follow up though “Since I Don’t Have You”, the old Skyliners Doo-Wop hit, could have been. It would be 1977 before Eddie got to make another album. “Hey There Lonely Girl” was the ideal last-dance-of-the-night smooch & over here in the UK it took us longer to fully appreciate its quality. In November 1974, during one of our periodic Soul revivals it was in the Top 3 of our chart. There are recent clips of Eddie performing his big hit at British holiday camp gatherings of Soul fans, his voice still a show-stopping precision instrument, his warmth & delight in performing it reflected in appreciative audiences.

 

 

 

Image result for delfonicsWell hello Ms Jackie Brown ! Steady at #5 on the chart for February 14th were the Delfonics (that’s the fabulous…) with “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” (that’s the fantastic…). In 1966 the Philadelphian trio, lead vocal William Hart, baritone brother Wilbert & tenor Randy Cain were introduced to Thom Bell, a young producer/arranger. It’s all there on the first single “He Don’t Really Love You”, William’s strong emotional falsetto matched to solid harmonies complemented by Bell’s symphonic, soulful arrangement, individual, dramatic but not overpowering. A record ahead of its time, an early indicator of the sweet Philly groove that would become a dominant strain of Soul music in the next decade. The following year “La-La (Means I Love You)”, a signature Delfonics tune, blew up big on the Pop & R&B charts & though the equally memorable “Ready Or Not Here I Come” was not as big a hit as it maybe should have been, the Delfonics established had themselves as a new force on the Soul scene.

 

Image result for delfonics didn't i advertThe confidence & talent of the group & the producer is evident on the self-titled LP released in February 1970, their third studio record. This time William Hart, by himself  or with Bell, wrote all but one of the songs. The exception, “When You Get Right Down To It” was donated by seasoned hit-maker Barry Mann (You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling'”, “We Gotta get Out of This Place & a 100 others) & the result was outstanding work. Soul had never been sweeter, orchestrations never more lush & impressive. There were 5 charting singles released from the collection & the other tracks, particularly “Delfonics Theme (How Could You)”, were just as good. “Didn’t I”, a triumph, was the biggest hit of them all, winner of the Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group that year. Just when their standing had never been higher Randy Cain left the group & Thom Bell moved on to work with the Spinners & the Stylistics as Philadelphia became a new hit factory. The same Philly studio guys, now known as MFSB, were around, William still wrote the songs & there were to be tracks that belong on any essential Delfonics collection but the group never again hit the heights they reached in 1970.

 

 

Image result for chairman of the board give me a little more timeThere’s no reason to leave the Top 10 for this month’s final selection. Rising rapidly from #15 to #9 was the 4th single to be released on the Invictus label, the new project for Tamla Motown writer/producer powerhouses Holland-Dozier-Holland. The Chairmen of the Board, a quartet based in Detroit, were one of the initial acts signed, released the label’s debut LP & scored its first major hit with the dynamic “Give Me Just a Little More Time”. H-D-H were lawyered up to negotiate their separation from Motown & they were not allowed to put their own names to their songs. That Chairmen’s LP has 5 credits for “R. Dunbar & E,Wayne”. While there’s no doubt that Ronald Dunbar made his contribution, Edythe Wayne was a collective pseudonym for the most prolific hitmakers of the 1960’s & you can tell. “Give Me…” & another success, “You’ve Got Me Dangling On A String”, would have been ideal for the Four Tops but the Chairman of the Board, with the urgent lead vocals of General Johnson, did a fine job.

 

Image result for chairmen of the boardGeneral Johnson had been about the record industry for a decade or so. In 1961 his group the Showmen had been in New Orleans with Allen Toussaint, the Rock & Roll manifesto “It Will Stand” was not the only memorable track that arose from these sessions. The General flourished in the freedom afforded by his new bosses, becoming the featured vocalist & taking on a greater share of songwriting duties. One track from that first LP, a rather, in my opinion, maudlin Country Soul lament “Patches” written with Ronald Dunbar, was picked up by Clarence Carter & won a 1971 Grammy for Best R&B Song. In 1971 Johnson had a co-credit on the effervescent “Want Ads”, a #1 Pop hit for Honey Cone, another successful act from the Invictus stable. There were just 3 LPs from the group, solo efforts from each member too & singles that made a bigger impression in the UK than at home. The final record for the label, “Skin I’m In” (1974) is a very strong funked-up collection employing the talents of the Parliament/Funkadelic posse who were often around the Invictus studio. The Chairmen of the Board were not around for too long but they made their mark.