A Funky Family Affair (Soul February 13th 1971)

The fastest rising record, up 16 places to #18 (with a bullet, a Super Soul Sure Shot indeed) on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for February 13th 1971 was on it’s way to a month long stay at the top position. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” headed both the R&B & the US Pop charts in March the third time that the Temptations enjoyed such a double header success. It’s such a great, even significant track that I’m not waiting until the 50th anniversary of this achievement so let’s get to it.

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Despite the defection of David Ruffin in 1968 The Temptations had maintained their position as the US’ premier vocal group. Three one-hour TV specials, two with the Supremes (R.I.P. the wonderful Mary Wilson), one their very own &, beginning with “Cloud Nine” (1968), a move to Psychedelic Soul kept them at the front of the pack. However the group was unhappy this new style was less dependant on their own superlative vocal performance than on the innovative but dominant productions of Norman Whitfield. In 1970 “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” became the first Tempts 45 to miss the US Pop Top 30 since 1964. With “Just My Imagination” Whitfield & his lyricist Barrett Strong returned to the emotional love ballad in the style of the “Classic Five”, they, arranger Jerry Long & the whole group delivered a beautiful perfect single. Eddie Kendricks had not provided the lead vocal on a Temptations A-side since 1968’s “Please Return Your Love To Me”. His performance of of this reverie about Love is perfectly pitched, the slower, clear reveal that “in reality, she doesn’t even know me” still resonates 50 years later. the Temptations were back.

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However things were not right with the group. Eddie Kendricks was, like David Ruffin before him, looking for a way out & already recording a solo album. The personal & health problems of Paul Williams were affecting his performances in the studio & on stage. In April 1971 doctors advised Paul to retire from the group. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show highlights the rift within the the Temptations, Eddie putting some distance between himself & his fellow members. Whitfield had lined up “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as the follow-up to “Imagination” but Eddie was gone by then & promotion without his featured vocals was impossible. Of course there were still great Temptations moments, more big hits to come but “Just My Imagination” serves as a poignant watershed in the long career of a great group.

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With roots in Gospel & Folk the four Chambers Brothers, with the addition of electricity & a drummer, had by the mid-1960s a spirited, still sanctified live set incorporating Blues & Soul. Still, the full 11 minute glory of “Time Has Come Today” was a surprise, An epic, ambitious, assured mix of sock-it-to-me & the Summer of Love incorporating Sly Stone, James Brown & the new Psychedelia this was the shock of the new, Afro-Rock, an instant classic, now an obligatory inclusion on any film or documentary concerning the turmoil of late 1960s America. The edited single version made the US Top 20 & while their subsequent releases didn’t make the same impression or have the same commercial success the Chambers Brothers continued to make interesting, inventive records.

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Well alright! “Come in Mr. DJ, Phife by the microphone. Down with the Tribe Called Quest, yes man”. The rather fantastic “Funky” was at #30 on this week’s R&B chart & this is where TCQ found their introduction to”I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”. 1971’s “New Generation” is the fifth album by the Chambers Brothers since the success of “Time…” & it’s a varied, robust, dramatic collection, a collision of so many ideas that compares to Funkadelic. “Are You Ready?” sure sounds like a hit to me & it’s not the only one. If this had been the soundtrack to a blaxploitation movie we would still be finger-popping along to these tunes today. As it was this was not the group’s time & this line up went their separate ways the following year.

1970 had been a winning year for Sly Stone. A “Greatest Hits” collection would go on to sell five million copies, it included the single “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)” which hit #1 in the US Pop chart in February. The film of the Woodstock Festival, released in June, captured the excitement & immediacy of our music in a new way & Sly & the Family Stone’s electrifying performance of “I Want To Take You Higher” was a highlight of the fifth highest grossing movie of the year. Atlantic Records offered Sly his own Stone Flower imprint for any productions he wanted to give them. it was, of course, a family affair.

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Slipping down the chart at #33, Vaetta “Ven” Stewart was Sly’s little sister. Along with Mary McCreary & Elva Mouton she had provided backing vocals for his “Stand” album &, as Little Sister they recorded two singles for his new label. “Somebody’s Watching You” is a re-working of a track from “Stand”, a sparse, atmospheric cover it is too, a Sly & the Family Stone record in all but name so it matters. Alone in the studio with a new-fangled drum machine, a violin case full of drugs & the problems that such fame brought, Sly continued to innovate & redefine urban music. There were only to be four single releases on Stone Flower, Little Sister had returned to the background when later in 1971 Sly & the Family Stone were back at #1 on the chart with “Family Affair” & a ground-breaking, brooding album. The major Soul stars were ready with their state of the nation social commentaries at this time & “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” would sit among the very best of them.

For this week’s live highlight we jump forward three weeks to March 6th 1971, to Black Star Square in Accra, Ghana when great American Soul stars including Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, the Staple Singers & Santana honoured that country’s Independence Day. The all-singing, all-dancing, 100% energy of Voices of East Harlem get the funky party started in the best possible way. They are young, gifted & Black, there’s a whole wild bunch of them & it’s irresistible. My friend Mani attended this concert, proud & excited that his American idols should come to his city. I loved to share my lunchtime & his vivid memories of a great day.

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.

 

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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.

 

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.

 

 

Temptations Bout To Get Me (Cover Versions)

While giving myself twisted blood trying to get it right about the Temptations in just 1000 words & 3 video clips (I like a challenge…soon come) I was reminded of some memorable cover versions of their work by a wide variety of artists from rock, soul & reggae. So here are just 3 of those…OK there are 4…I do what I can.

Oh Yeah ! The wonderful Faces from 1971 crashing their way through a show-stopping take on “I’m Losing You”, the Norman Whitfield/Edward Holland Jr/Cornelius Grant song released by the Temptations in 1966. 1971 was a big year for the group. It started with the release of their 2nd LP “Long Player” & there was another to follow in November when “A Nod’s As Good As A Wink” came around. With the Beatles done, the Stones, the Who & Led Zeppelin gone global, Faces became the best rock & roll band in Britain. Formed when Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood off of the Jeff Beck Group joined the 3 remaining Small Faces to replace Steve Marriott, these 2 records fused their energy, humour & talent, blending bluesy good-time rock with Ronnie Lane’s more considered compositions.

However, the record everyone bought in the summer of 1971 was “Every Picture Tells A Story”, Rod Stewart’s 3rd solo LP. He had joined Faces with his own contract already in his back pocket. The 3 solo records are a mix of his own songs with very well chosen cover versions. “Every Picture…” & the single Maggie May” were #1 hits around the world & Rod became a very big name indeed. So, the hard-edged “I’m Losing You”, his first Motown cover, recorded by all of the band & performed in their set, was released under the singer’s name. In the US they found themselves billed as Rod Stewart & the Faces which must have affected the rest of the band. There was to be just one more LP from the group while Rod released 2 more. Ronnie left & in 1975 Stewart hooked up with Britt Ekland…I don’t want to talk about it.

Over in Jamaica, where vocal groups were always a thing, the Temptations were regarded as a close second to the sweet gospel-soul of the Impressions. Local musicians regularly covered the Motown hits. The move from Detroit to Kingston inspired a lovely alchemy, imagination & inventiveness adding shine to material that was already golden. Trojan Records’ 3 CD collection “Motor City Reggae” is a Who’s Who of Sixties & early Seventies Jamaican music. Back then JA produced singers like they now roll out world class sprinters. Slim Smith is included in Trojan’s treasure trove though his cover of “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, an absolute delight, isn’t. How the heck did the band come up with that bouncing rhythm, the loping bass ? It’s original, irresistible & I love it. I’m thinking that we are hearing the Soul Syndicate, from Greenwich Farm, with bass player George Fulwood. That’s some group.

Slim sang with the Techniques & the Uniques before starting a solo career. His sweet, passionate vocals proved to be very popular but Slim suffered with mental health problems & entered a sanitorium in 1972. The next year he cut his arm when he broke a window of his parents’ house & bled to death aged just 25. Slim is remembered for more than his sad passing, he was one of the finest singers in a very crowded Jamaican field. Check him out. In 1971 toaster Hugh Roy (that would be U Roy, “The Originator”) & producer Bunny Lee took Smith’s song & came up with “Love I Bring”, a great song, a superior mix of singer & DJ & a bonus version. It’s quite a way from the Temptations’ original & I include it here, in all its scratchy glory, for Danny McCahon who I know is partial to this sort of thing.

Heaven 17 were formed after the bifurcation of the Human League in 1980. While still committed to the Man/Machine electro-pop they still loved the funk. The 1981 debut LP “Penthouse & Pavement”, a classic prescient satire on a corporate culture which was rearing its ugly head, opened with their own Norman Whitfield inspired Motown Manifesto, the hectic “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”. Their own enterprise ran parallel with the production company British Electric Foundation who, in 1982, released “Music of Quality & Distinction Volume 1”. It’s a odd mix of great pop songs, former pop stars & Billy McKenzie. Once you recover from Gary Glitter’s platform-booted stomp through Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” there’s an LP that does what it says on the sleeve. The lead track is the Temptations track “Ball of Confusion”, initially meant for James Brown who asked for too much money & was replaced by Tina Turner.

Since her split with Ike in 1976 Tina had done little of note (She was the “Acid Queen” in the 1975 movie of “Tommy). Her tour may have been called “The Wild Lady of Rock” but Tina was on the chicken-in-a-basket cabaret oldies circuit. “Ball of Confusion” was noticed by Capitol Records who offered her a new deal. In November 1983 her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” put her back on the charts then the LP “Private Dancer” took her to the Thunderdome & a decade of platinum records. “Let’s Stay Together” was another B.E.F. production. Whatever your opinion on Rock & Soul’s favourite granny she was skillfully managed, recorded & promoted. I’ve always thought that not enough credit came the way of Heaven 17 for bringing Tina bang up to date & putting her back in the frame.