What We Like To Play (Soul January 29th 1972)

It was Al Green’s second week at the top of the Cash Box R&B Top 60 on January 29th 1972. “Let’s Stay Together” was the star’s first chart-topper & there were to be five more ( four of his 45s “only” reached #2). Al was to be a major force in Soul music in the early 1970s, it’s certain that he will be a feature selection here in the near future just not right now. Let’s look a little further down the chart to see what catches the ear.

War

Eric Burdon was a big figure in the 1960s British Invasion, first as vocalist with the Animals then maintaining his popularity with his name at the front of a new pack of Animals. Five LPs in less than two years provided hit singles but was a hectic workload leading to burnout & leaving Eric without a band. Bringing along Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar, Eric hooked up with Night Shift, a backing group from Long Beach, California. A name change & the “Eric Burdon Declares War” record (1970) confirmed a surprising & serendipitous union, War’s Afro-Funk-Jazz-Latin grooves proving to be a great foil to Eric’s stoned Geordie Beat poetry. “Spill the Wine” became a Top 3 US Pop hit, the highest for the singer since 1964’s “House of the Rising Sun”. There was another album, a double, before personal troubles led to him leaving in the middle of a European tour. War, a seven piece band, were travelling the world, playing to bigger audiences, getting their name around. They also had a better record deal than their former front man ever had, with the tunes & the chops to rule out a return to the L.A. clubs.

Classic 70s Music Ads: WAR, '11 Million Records' (1974) | Bionic Disco

There’s a subtle texture to War’s music, resonances of the ensemble groove revealed by repeated listening & not enough people wanted to play their first LP again. They needed a track that would be played on daytime radio & “Slippin’ Into Darkness”, at #11 on this week’s R&B chart was that very thing. Playing live on “Soul Train” they unite around that bassline, sing great harmonies & you just wish they were playing the full six minutes rather than the shorter single version. The closer on the “All Day Music” album, “Baby Brother”, a live & loud Blues jam, later re-tooled into a hit 45, indicates a strong stage presence. Having got their crossover hit War seized the opportunity & there were to be two more Top 10 singles by the end of 1972, starting a decade of great rhythms & gold records. Lee Oskar was recognisable, he was the white guy with the afro, the other six did their thing, made their contribution & it is to the band’s credit that the line up was unchanged through all this success. War were an important, influential, individual group whose records sound as cool & fresh today as they did 50 years ago.

Deceit, Duplicity, and Despair: The Controversial Career of the Late, Great  Donnie Elbert | REBEAT Magazine

Donnie Elbert, a singer from Buffalo, New York had been recording since the mid-1950s, having his first R&B hit in 1957. With a career interrupted by a stint in the Army his releases met with little commercial success. In 1965 he recorded “A Little Piece of Leather”, highlighting the falsetto end of his three octave range. Picked up in the UK by Sue Records, a label jam-packed with great American R&B overseen by DJ Guy Stevens (later producer of Mott the Hoople & the Clash) for Island Records. A Mod club favourite Donnie moved across the Atlantic, recording a tribute to Otis Redding & a Rock Steady 45, “Without You”, a #1 in Jamaica. He returned to the US & the R&B chart in 1970 then, something he brought with him from England, a cover of the Supremes’ “Where Did I Love Go” crossed over to the Pop Top 20. Things were going well for Donnie 50 years ago today, only he & Sly & the Family Stone had two records on the R&B listing.

Donnie Elbert - Modus House of Soul

Another Motown cover, “I Can’t Help Myself” (the 4 Tops, “sugar pie honey bunch”, you know it) rose a healthy 11 places to #30 & “Sweet Baby” moved from #34 to 32. Both are perfect for all-night dancing in the Soul clubs of Northern England, if Donnie was well-liked in the US he was loved over here & in 1972 the re-released “A Little Piece of Leather” made the UK Top 30. The records were on different labels & Avco, the bigger one, had the idea that more covers were the way to go. Donnie had been burned by bigger companies before, he had worked hard to find his own place & his independence. At All Platinum he had sung, written, produced, played everything but the strings & that’s where he chose to stay until he was on the wrong end of a dispute with boss Sylvia Robinson over the composing credit for Shirley & Company’s hit “Shame, Shame, Shame” (now that’s a good tune) had him looking for a way out of a business where his talents were perhaps never fully appreciated & promoted.

Otis Redding / Joe Tex Columbia 16" x 12" Photo Repro Concert Poster | eBay

At #39 this week, up 10 places pop pickers, was a record that was on its way to the top of the R&B chart & #2 Pop, 3 million copies sold. I’ve written about Joe Tex here & some of his regular hits have featured in earlier Soul Selections. “I Gotcha” was Joe’s first R&B #1 since 1965, his biggest crossover hit since “Skinny Legs & All” five years previously. Joe & his dancers give an energetic, er thrusting, performance of an insistent, confident gold record rap. After a sojourn at Atlantic Records where he was rather awkwardly given other people’s songs to record Joe was back with the Dial label, with producer Buddy Killen, the songs all his own work. On the LP that came with “I Gotcha” he sticks with what he’s good at, the sharp Memphis Funk sweetened by homespun homilies backed by Nashville session cats, both delivered with Joe’s good humour. Not as consistent as the compilations of his great singles the record still has its moments like “Takin’ A Chance”, always a favourite.

Joe, now Yusuf Hazziez, stepped away for a while to preach & fund raise for the Nation of Islam. bBy the middle of the decade Disco was the current thing & Joe, receptive to new styles & dances since Sam Cooke was twisting the night away had something to add. “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)” put him back in the R&B Top 10, the US Pop 20 & even some long-overdue attention here in the UK.

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What Is It Good For? (Soul August 29th 1970)

OK, is this thing on? I took a break from these reviews of the 1970 Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations (didn’t it used to be Top 50?) because the groundhog days of shielding was good for isolation, not so great for imagination & inspiration. Now I’m getting back in the world, unseen & invisible thanks to the camouflage mask so kindly provided by my lovely sister. You know something, it ain’t so bad out there, I may go again.

 

On my last look at the R&B listings from 50 years ago the Jackson 5 were toppermost of the poppermost with “The Love You Save” & Tamla Motown continued their incredible run of quality & success with #1 records for the Temptations & Stevie Wonder with “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” & “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” respectively. You know them both, great singles. At the beginning of August James Brown broke the Detroit dominance with “Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like A) Sex Machine), his first chart-topper of the year. For the week of August 29th though half of the Top 10 were from the Motown stable & the order of things was restored with the first #1 hit, a truly resonant, even significant song, for a less celebrated member of the label’s roster.

 

 

Edwin Starr, singer, (1970 US No.1 and UK No.3 single 'War') More Info : Edwin  Starr was an American singer and so… | Number one hits, Edwin starr,  American singers“War HUH! YEAH! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Enough said yeah. Edwin Starr, born Charles Hatcher in Nashville Tennessee, raised in Cleveland Ohio, left the army in 1962 & moved to Detroit to do the music thing. His first three hit records, all R&B Top 10, “Agent Double-O-Soul”, “Headline News” & “Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” are Motor City classics, co-written by Edwin & released on the Ric-Tic label whose artists were expensively bought out by Motown in 1968. The LP “Soul Master” combines these hits with early Motown 45s (check out his boisterous version of Smokey Robinson’s “Way Over There”) to concoct a pretty damn good collection. In the UK both “Headline…” & “S.O.S.” were dancefloor favourites which just entered our Top 40. In 1968 Tamla re-issued them as a double A-side which made the #11 spot. Edwin Starr was a name on both sides of the Atlantic, he just needed the right material to see this reflected in record sales. The pulsating “25 Miles”, a Top 10 US Pop hit, was certainly a start & in 1970 bigger things were to come.

 

Edwin Starr Discography Belgium - Gallery - 45cat“War” had first appeared earlier in the year on the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack” LP. The Tempts were recording tracks with a social commentary & “War” attracted attention but the label & perhaps even the group themselves thought that the its lyrics were too extreme for the sizeable part of their audience who knew them from Ed Sullivan’s show & prime-time TV specials with the Supremes.  Motown, never a company to neglect a commercial opportunity, put writer/producer Norman Whitfield together with Edwin Starr to re-record the song. Whitfield boosted the intense, anthemic quality complimented by Edwin’s emphatic, robust vocals. This classic remodel, an obvious commentary on the USA’s involvement in Vietnam but also one for the ages, sold 3 million copies. The partnership brought more R&B success then, when the hits got smaller, Edwin found love, respect & plenty of work entertaining Soul fans in the UK. Settled in Nottingham he continued to record & in 1979 enjoyed two Top 10 hits with songs he had written & produced. Edwin, always popular here, continued to perform until his death in 2003. Buried in his adopted home town, his headstone says “Our Agent 00 Soul”

 

 

The incomparable Soul Diva Mavis Staples!!In 1968 the Staple Singers signed to Stax Records in Memphis. The family group were already established established as preeminent in Gospel-Folk circles & through father Pops’ close relationship with Martin Luther King their music promoted spirituality & morality through the Civil Rights Movement. The voice of Mavis Staples was recognised as a talent ranked alongside the best in the R&B/Soul field. It was perhaps a plan for Mavis to record her first solo, secular records & this week “Since I Fell For You”, a standard written in 1945, a hit again in 1963, stood at #28 on the R&B chart. The track is taken from “Only For the Lonely”, her upcoming second solo release, smoother than the 1969 eponymous debut produced by guitar ace Steve Cropper. Both albums unite the talents of Memphis, Muscle Shoals & Mavis but a rather unimaginative choice of material didn’t always help. They are good records, listening to Ms Staples is always a particular pleasure, which fail to capture the unique warmth & emotion of a very special voice. Back with her family the world was soon to recognise this about Mavis.

 

Hot Music News - KEYS AND CHORDSIn 1971 the Staple Singers released their third LP on Stax. Steve Cropper had left the company & the co-owner, Al Bell, took over production, The single from “The Staple Swingers” (geddit?), “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)” began a 5 year long unbroken run of Top 20 R&B hits. Bell provided a rich framing for Mavis to blossom ahead of the backing harmonies of her father & sisters. The lyrics were positive & uplifting, the sound warm, often based on the simple Blues inflected rhythm guitar of Pops, undoubtedly rooted in Gospel but, moving to the Funk & thoroughly modern. It has become a cliche to reference the enduring relevance of the message of old music. Just as “War” is a great record & war is still good for absolutely nothing, in these turbulent times when a change surely must come the music of the Staple Singers provides a context for an understanding & a moving forward. Remember “If you don’t respect yourself
ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot”. Mavis Staples has continued to perform & to make great records & has achieved a deserved legendary status. When a new collection of hers arrives I’ll be listening.

 

 

 

 

THE VANDALS / IN MY OPINION (45's) - Breakwell RecordsThe Isley Brothers’ latest 45, “Girls Will Be Girls, Boys Will Be Boys”, not one of their best, was at #19 in this week’s chart. A distribution deal with Buddah for their label T-Neck meant that through 1970-71 the brothers were able to record & release a number of other artists. One of these groups was, making use of the extended Cash Box listing, a new entry at #53. The Isleys had signed a high school band from Baltimore calling themselves The Young Tempts after their idols the Temptations. The Y.T.s recorded a couple of Motown covers, including “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”, before the Detroit label put their legal department on to the kids. “Too Busy…” was re-released under the name the Young Vandals. The Y.V.s were still in their teens but the next records were credited to just the Vandals. “In My Opinion” is written & produced by Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly Isley & it’s a predecessor of the slow jams, the “Quiet Storm” that provided contrast to the mighty Funk on the brothers subsequent, massively successful, albums. The lovely falsetto lead for the Vandals was provided by Damon Harris.

 

The Vandals broke up when Damon was looking to college as an alternative to music. The following year, 1971, his role model Eddie Kendricks left the Temptations & was replaced by Ricky Owens who, it was soon discovered, ha problems remembering the words in live performance. Damon Harris auditioned for the group & for the next five years worked in the job he had dreamt about as a kid. The Vandals may be as new to you as they are to myself but you have heard Damon’s falsetto on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”.  Well’ I was aiming for a varied selection this time around now I’m back with “The Sound of Young America”. On the 1970 R&B scene Tamla Motown ran the game.

Extra Extra Read All About It (Edwin Starr)

Edwin Starr is rightly remembered for his one prodigious hit record. “War” (1970) is a landmark single, its assertive energy & steadfast message makes it distinct in a tsunami of Detroit soul. The song was originally recorded by the Temptations on the “Psychedelic Shack” (that’s where it’s at !) LP, Motown boss Berry Gordy was reluctant to release the track as a single but did put producer Norman Whitfield on to a re-recording with Edwin. Over 40 years later it is part of the culture. “War ! What is it good for ?” We all know the answer to that.

Edwin was based in Detroit but did not join Motown until 1968 when the Ric-Tic label was acquired by its bigger neighbour. It was at Ric-Tic he made the 45s that established a big reputation in the UK. Songs that even now make men of a certain age ignore their arthritic hip & wonder if their old dexedrine dealer is still around. First “(S.O.S.) Stop Her On Sight ” then “Headline News” just smacked it for anyone near a dance floor. I thought they were Motown jams, surely some of the Funk Brothers were moonlighting on these tunes. They certainly fit right in with “This Old Heart Of Mine”, “Third Finger Left Hand”, “My Guy”, that great smooth, smart & sassy early stuff

Edwin Starr - Classic MotownThe hook up with Motown was an immediate charm. The title track of the LP “25 Miles”, a flagrant lift of “Mojo Mama” was a US Top 10 hit, the follow up, “I’m Still A Strugglin’ Man” bombed but…it’s great. Hitsville’s second wave of writers & producers, Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua, Paul Riser & others contributed but it is Edwin’s powerful & exuberant vocal stylings that work the trick. Of course a worldwide hit like “War” seriously raised the stakes & I’m not convinced that the label reacted to this success too well. There must have been more appropriate songs to cover than “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” but it was 1970, an album was needed pretty sharpish & that song was everywhere. Significantly Edwin, who had composition credits on most of his singles, had just one co-credit on this rushed LP.

Edwin followed the funk flow. “Stop The War Now” is a pretty obvious successor to the big hit. It has its appeal because “War” still comes around & this one has been forgotten. In 1974 he got his very own blaxploitation soundtrack. The music for “Hell Up In Harlem” was by ace producer/writers Freddie Perron & Fonze Mizell. Starr just blasted it with “Big Papa”. This was the last LP with Motown & it was some time before, in 1979, his records were getting heard again. “Contact” was a #1 Disco song in the US. This & “H.A.P.P.Y Radio” were both Top 10 in the UK, a country that Edwin now called home.

By 1973 the singer was spending more time in England where the Soul scene was still running hot. Northern Soul honoured the perquisition of obscure riches but Edwin’s gems needed little excavation. In 1968 a double header re-issue of “S.O.S.”/”Headline News” was a chartbound sound, bigger than before. His music was a gateway into a whole scene going on across the country. In the USA, with no backing from his label, he was facing travelling around a big country as a golden oldie. In Britain he was possibly the biggest attraction on a club circuit where audiences knew stuff about his songs that he had forgotten.

Edwin Starr stayed around for 30 years living in Nottingham at the time of a fatal heart attack in 2003.  That revival in 1979 was hitched to the Disco bandwagon but so was all pop music at that time. I am sure that he got knocked about by the music business. He helped to write hit songs that continued to find a market. I hope that the royalties found their way to him. Tamla Motown never properly supported a popular, distinctive singer, preferring singles with a touch of novelty to artistic development. In the UK he was more than valued. A lot of fans got  to meet him, DJs & promoters hung out with him. I have never heard or read a bad word about Edwin Starr. A younger generation of artists often called to remix old tunes & to record new ones.

He was more than a singer whose biggest hit was in the olden days. We value classic music round here & Edwin was a Soul Master. A proper compilation of his songs goes long on quality. Here is Track 1, “Agent Double-0 Soul” a pop hit from 1965. It was written & sung by a young, sharp, handsome Starr at a time when Jackie Wilson was the sweetest feeling around. It was a great beginning.