ARETHA FRANKLIN-LADY SOUL.
Commercial success and critical acclaim didn’t come easy for Aretha Franklin. She was no overnight star, if such a thing exists. Her recording career started back in 1956 and she’d released ten albums before signing to Atlantic Records. Until then, success had been a stranger to Aretha Franklin. However, signing to Atlantic Records proved to be a turning point in Aretha Franklin’s career.
Now signed to Atlantic Records, Aretha Franklin was about to enter a period where critical acclaim and commercial success were constant companions. Between 1967 and 1969, Aretha Franklin released five albums, which all reached number one in the US R&B Charts. This run of commercially successful albums began with 1967s I Never Loved A Man Like I Loved You and Aretha Arrives, took in 1968s Lady Soul and Aretha Now and finished with Soul ’69. Three of these albums were certified gold, including I Never Loved A Man Like I Loved You, Aretha Now and Lady Soul which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013. Before I tell you about the music on Lady Soul, I’ll tell you the background to what is, one of the albums that resulted in Aretha Franklin being crowned the Queen Of Soul.
Lady Soul was Aretha Franklin’s third album for Atlantic Records, and was the followup to Aretha Arrives. It was her second album of 1967, a year that totally transformed her life and career. Aretha’s Atlantic Records’ debut I Never Loved A Man Like I Loved You, had reached number two in the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B Charts. This resulted in the first gold disc of Aretha’s eleven album career. Proving I Never Loved A Man Like I Loved You was no fluke, was Aretha Arrives, released later in 1967. Aretha Arrives reach number five in the US Billboard 200 and reached number one in the US R&B Charts. Like I Never Loved A Man Like I Loved You, Aretha Arrives featured two US R&B number one singles, which were certified gold. It seemed Aretha Franklin, guided by producer Jerry Wexler, had the Midas Touch. Would this continue with her third album for Atlantic Records, Lady Soul?
For Lady Soul, Aretha and her husband Ted White cowrote Sweet Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone) and Good To Me As I Am To You, while Aretha’s sister Carolyn contributed Ain’t No Way. Some of the other tracks were written by some of the best songwriters and musicians of that time. This included Don Covay’s Chain Of Fools, Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready and Gerry Goffin, Carole King and Jerry Wexler’s (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman. James Brown and Nat Jones contributed Money Won’t Change You, Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigat’s Groovin’ and Walter Davis’ Come Back Baby. The other track on Lady Soul was Niki Hoeky, penned by J. Leslie McFarland and Sidney Wyche. These ten tracks were recorded in New York, at Atlantic Studios.
When Aretha entered the Atlantic recording studios in New York, Jerry Wexler had assembled a tight, talented band. This included a rhythm section of drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist Tom Cogbill and guitarists Jimmy Johnson, Joe South and Bobby Womack. Spooner Oldham played piano and organ, while tenor saxophonist King Curtis was part of a horn section. Backing vocals came from the legendary Sweet Inspirations. Once Lady Soul was recorded, it was released in January 1968.
Lady Soul was released in January 1968, reaching number two in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Since Lady Soul’s release, it’s been recognized as one of the most important albums in the history of popular music. Rolling Stone magazine put Lady Soul at number eighty-four in their list of the 500 most important albums of all time. The lead single from Lady Soul was (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman, which reached number eight in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Chain Of Fools reached number two in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This resulted in Aretha’s fifth gold disc for a single. Then Sweet Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone) made it gold disc number six, after reaching number number five in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Ain’t No Way, the B-side to Sweet Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone) then reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 100 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. Aretha had regained her crown. She was still the Queen Of Soul, after the release of Lady Soul. You’ll realize why, when I tell you about this hugely important album.
Opening Lady Soul, is Chain of Fools, which has that familiar opening. Brief bursts of guitar set the scene for Aretha, accompanied by The Sweet Inspirations. She delivers an angry, frustated vocal. Her voice is powerful and emotive, as she sings about being mistreated by her partner. Accompanying Aretha, are sweeping harmonies. They soar high, proving the perfect accompaniment Aretha, while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along, providing its heartbeat. Stealing the show, is Aretha’s emotive, angry vocal, filled with disappointment, disbelief and hurt. Truly, her vocal is a Magnus Opus, that played its part in Chain Of Fools becoming a timeless, soul classic.
James Brown and Nat Jones cowrote Money Won’t Change You. It burst dramatically into life. Guitars and drums combine before Aretha’s vocal enters. Like on Chain of Fools, her vocal is a mixture of controlled power and emotion.The tempo is quick, with horns and the rhythm section creating a relentless, driving sound. Horns blaze, drums pound while guitars soar and chime. The Sweet Inspirations accompany Aretha, their soulful interjections a contrast to Aretha’s powerful, emotive, soaring vocal. Aretha and her band kick loose. The powerful, driving arrangement proves a perfect foil to her vocal, as Aretha mixes sincerity and emotion, confidently forecasting that money won’t change her.
If you mention the song People Get Ready to most people, they associate Curtis Mayfield with the song, either as a solo artist or with The Impressions. Aretha’s cover is emotive, thoughtful and soulful, but with gospel-tinged. Just The Sweet Inspirations, rasping horns and piano accompany Aretha’s impassioned pleas. When the rhythm section and Hammond organ enter, the gospel influence grows. Aretha’s gospel influenced delivery is spine-tingling, helped no end by The Sweet Inspirations. Similarly, the band produce one of their best performances on Lady Soul. They play their part in bringing the song to life, and in the process, bringing out the meaning in the almost spiritual lyrics. By the end of the track, you feel privileged to have heard such a beautiful song, sung with such emotion and feeling.
Blazing horns, a pounding rhythm section and searing, chiming guitars set the scene for Aretha as Niki Hoeky unfolds. Aretha delivers a sassy, feisty vocal accompanied by The Sweet Inspirations. Their short, soulful interjections provide a contrast to Aretha’s powerful vocal. Her voice combines control, power and sensuality as she realistically, plays the part of a woman whose partner is in prison. Despite Aretha, The Sweet Inspirations and her band’s best efforts to make the song swing, the lyrics let the song down. Ultimately, it’s a disappointing track.
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman is a song Aretha made her own. With Spooner Oldham playing piano, Aretha starts to sing what was, a career defining song. Her voice is strong, laden in emotion and feeling, as she delivers the lyrics. The Sweet Inspirations, short soulful interjections, punctuate the track, while strings sweep grandly, and a strong, slow bass line provides the heartbeat. Spooner Oldman’s performance on piano is crucial to the track’s success. He gives the performance of a lifetime.Meanwhile, Aretha’s heartfelt, impassioned delivery is a mixture of passion and emotion. This results in one of the most heartachingly beautiful songs in the history of soul music. Whether Aretha or Jerry Wexler realized the importance of the song in 1967, when it was recorded, we’ll never know. What we do know, is it’s a timeless, classic.
Since You’ve Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby) is the first of two songs Aretha cowrote with her husband Ted White. As Aretha’s powerful vocal soars above the arrangement, the rhythm section, piano and rasping horns accompany her. A joyous sounding arrangement unfolds. Aretha mixes power, emotion, drama and a touch of sass, as she sings about her man leaving her. The Sweet Inspirations’ gospel-tinged harmonies prove the perfect foil to Aretha’s vocal masterclass on a track that gave Aretha her sixth number one US R&B single.
Ted White and Aretha cowrote Good To Me As I Am To You. It has a subtle, understated introduction. Just piano and guitar combine before Aretha sings. This subtle backdrop suits the song, with Aretha’s voice taking centre-stage. Quickly, the arrangement grows, with the rhythm and rasping horns entering. Aretha’s vocal and the arrangement grow in drama, power and emotion. Powerful, passionate and controlled. Aretha warns her man, you’d better be good to me. By now, she’s almost shouting the lyrics, accompanied by soaring, screaming guitars and throwing in the odd whoop and holler for good measure. As the track ends, you can only admire Aretha’s controlled power, and almost aggressive vocal. She can bring a song to life, inject meaning and feeling, that other vocalists fail to do.
Growling horns open Come Back Baby track that has a really quick tempo, driven along by a melange of rhythm section and Hammond organ. The Sweet Inspirations live up to their name. Their sweet and soulful interjections help inspire Aretha. Her delivery is quick and soulful. It rises and falls, a combination of restrained power and emotion. Likewise, the arrangement has a joyous sound, with horns blazing, guitars chiming and the rhythm section driving the arrangement along. They seem to take their lead from Aretha’s emotive, impassioned vocal, matching her every step of the way.
Groovin’ was originally recorded by The Young Rascals, who for me, recorded the definitive version of this song. Here Aretha interprets the track. Just the rhythm section and Hammond organ combine brightly and melodically as Aretha sings. The song is slowed down, with Spooner Oldham’s atmospheric Hammond organ and The Sweet Inspirations tender, subtle harmonies playing important roles. Aretha gives a much more gentle, restrained and soulful vocal. Behind her, a beautiful and understated arrangement unfolds. Add to the arrangement, Aretha’s thoughtful and soulful vocal, and this is one of the best versions of this song I’ve ever heard.
Ain’t No Way closes Lady Soul and was written by Carolyn Franklin. A piano, slow sultry horns and drums combine, before Aretha’s vocal enters. It’s hugely emotive, thoughtful and drenched in horns, with Cissy Houston contributing vocal obbligato. The Sweet Inspirations add tender harmonies, while rasping horns punctuate the arrangement, and lush strings sweep. By now the arrangement has a grand but soulful sound, with Aretha’s voice soaring emotionally and powerfully heavenwards. Behind her, one of the best arrangements on Lady Soul unfolds. Elements of a big band sound combines with the best soul music has to offer. This is potent and beautiful mixture, made all the better by Aretha’s brilliant vocal and a stunning contribution from Cissy Houston. It’s the perfect way to end Lady Soul, one of the best albums Aretha Franklin ever recorded.
During Aretha Franklin’s long and illustrious career she has recored many great albums and received critical acclaim, awards and plaudits aplenty. Aretha won eighteen Grammy Awards, had twenty R&B number one singles, with ten of her albums topping the R&B Chart. Then there’s the small matter of thirty-eight studio albums. However, Aretha Franklin’s best music was the albums she recorded between 1967 and 1969. Starting with 1967s I Never Loved A Man Like I Loved You and Aretha Arrives, taking in 1968s Lady Soul and Aretha Now and finishing with Soul ’69, these albums are Aretha’s finest. The other album I’d include is 1972s Young, Gifted and Black. 1969s Lady is undoubtably one of Aretha Franklin’s greatest albums.
Lady Soul features two songs that Aretha made her own, Chain of Fools and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Not only have both songs since become synonymous with Aretha, they’ve become two of her best known, and best loved tracks. On Lady Soul, Aretha also gave stunning interpretations of People Get Ready, Come Back Baby and Groovin.’Demonstrating her talents as a songwriter are two tracks Aretha cowrote with her husband Ted White for Lady Soul. These are the US R&B number one single Since You’ve Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby), and Good To Me As I Am To You. Then on Money Won’t Change You and Come Back Baby, Aretha breathes life, meaning and emotion into the tracks. She transforms these tracks, especially Money Won’t Change You, which in the hands of a less talented vocalist, may come across as an average track. The only track on Lady Soul which disappoints is Niki Hoeky, which despite the best efforts of Aretha, The Sweet Inspirations and her band, never rises above mere mediocre. That’s the only track that stops Lady Soul from being a flawless album.
Whether its sadness, hurt and heartache, frustration, anger or emotion, or confidence, sass and sensuality, Aretha Franklin could bring all these things and more to a song. She has you believing she’s lived and survived the lyrics. Lady Soul, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013, is one of Aretha Franklin’s classic albums. As such, Lady Soul belongs in every record collection. Quite simply, it features Aretha Franklin at her very best. To me, Lady Soul is the perfect introduction to the career of one of the greatest female soul singers of all time. Standout Tracks: Chain of Fools, People Get Ready, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Ain’t No Way.
ARETHA FRANKLIN-LADY SOUL.
PAAAARTY TIME-SERIOUS FUNK FROM THE 70S.
After its birth in the mid to late sixties, funk’s popularity quickly grew. With its fusion of soul, R&B and jazz, funk’s heyday was the seventies. While the peak of funk’s popularity was during the seventies, it was during the seventies that some of the greatest funk music was produced. Indeed, looking back at the seventies, the quality of funk produced during that decade has never been equalled. No wonder. Just look at the giants of seventies funk. James Brown lead the way, with Sly and The Family Stone, Earth Wind and Fire and in Philly, M.F.S.B. following in the Godfather of Funk’s wake. There was more to funk than most people realized. It was a musical genre that not only has been influenced by various disparate musical genres, but gave birth to many sub-genres.
While funk’s roots can be traced to soul, jazz and R&B, out of funk, other sub-genres emerged. Jazz-funk, fusion and P-Funk, pioneered by Parliament and Funkadelic. Often, funk had a soulful or jazz tinged influence. Proof of this is Nina Simone and Esther Phillips, two female funk pioneers who feature on Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s, which was released on 20th May 2013, by Harmless Records’ Backbeats’ imprint. Sometimes, funk’s R&B influence shines through. On Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s Johnny Otis demonstrates this. So, funk, we can safely say, in the seventies, was a broad musical genre, one with many sub-genres emerging. Not only that, but during the seventies, funk was in the rudest of health. It seemed its popularity would last forever. That however, didn’t happen.
Music as we know, is cyclical. Musical genres drift in and out of fashion. Funk’s popularity didn’t last forever. Not at all. Instead, it’s popularity waned and it was forced to reinvent itself. The near death experience that disco suffered, affected funk’s popularity. It was almost guilt by association. After all, many disco artists came from a funk background. None more so than Chic, whose popularity slumped. So realizing the end was neigh, shrewd funk groups new their music had to evolve. It was survive or die. To stay relevant as the eighties dawned, funk albums became much more spartan.
Gone were horn sections. Out too were keyboards that had become synonymous with funk. So funk groups waved goodbye to their Hammond organs, clavinets and Fender Rhodes. Replacing them were synths. Even the drums weren’t sacrosanct. Not at all. They were replaced by drum machines. For veterans of seventies funk, this was unbearable. It was a step too far. Not only had they thrown out some of funk’s most effective, and important instruments, but they’d thrown out funk’s very soul. Funk was no longer the musical genre it had once been. For some people, it was a mere synthetic shadow, stripped of its soul and potency. No longer would music like the nineteen tracks that feature on Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s be released. The track on Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s are a powerful reminder of why the seventies were funk’s greatest days.
Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s features nineteen tracks from labels like RCA Records, Date Records, Epic Records, Jewel Record Corp, Philadelphia International Records, Columbia and Trius Records. Among the familiar faces on Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s are Sly and The Family Stone. M.F.S.B, Nina Simone, Esther Phillips, Jimmy Castor and Shuggie Otis. These artists show the different sides to funk music. This includes the soulful, jazzy or even R&B-tinged sides to funk. One thing each of the tracks on Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s have in common is their quality. Compiler Dean Rudland has dug deeply and diligently, compiling nineteen quality tracks, which I’ll now choose the highlights of.
My first choice from Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s is Nina Simone’s Funkier Than A Mosquitos Tweeter. This was a track Nina’s 1974 album Is It Finished. It was released in 1974, on RCA Victor. This was during one of Nina’s most successful and critically acclaimed periods. Whether it was jazz or funk, Nina was equally at home. Here, it’s funk all the way. Her vocal is sassy and strident, playing an important role in this classic track’s success.
While Nina Simone was one of the most successful artists in the history of music, Esther Phillips is one of the most underrated. Although she enjoyed some success as Little Esther Phillps and later, during her time at Kudu, she never truly enjoyed the success her talent deserved. Proof of this is Home Is Where The Hatred Is, a track from her 1972 album Alone Again, Naturally. Released on Kudu, Esther’s vocal is a fusion of anger, frustration and power. She unleashes a vocal masterclass that’ll have you spellbound. So much so, that you’ll be adding some Esther Phillips to your record collection.
One of The Jimmy Castor’ Bunch’s best known tracks is his cover of We’ve Only Just Begun. It was a track from the 1972 album It’s Just Begun, which was released on RCA Victor. Since the birth of hip hop, It’s become a source of inspiration for hip hop artists, who’ve liberally “sampled” it. This includes the Jungle Brothers, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Bomb The Bass and 45 King. No wonder they’ve sampled this track’s delights. Quite simply, it’s a storming slice of gloriously funky music. With its blazing horns, wah-wah guitars and funky rhythm section, this is seventies funk at its best.
Johnny Otis has two claims to fames in life. His first is that he was one of the pioneers of R&B. He released his debut single, That’s Your Last Boogie, in 1948. Later, that year, Johnny and Little Ester Phillips has a US R&B number one single with Double Crossing Blues. Johnny’s other claim to fame is he’s the father of Shuggie Otis, one of music’s most reluctant, but gifted musicians. By 1972, Johnny had adapted to changes in music. Not only was still making music, but his music had elolved. The Johnny Otis Show released Watts Breakaway as a single. Although a prime slice of seventies funk, Johnny’s R&B roots shine through on this explosive slice of driving funk.
Shay Holiday’s career may not neither have been the longest, nor the most successful, but it was truly memorable. After all, she released It’s Not How Long You Make It on Jewel Record Corp, in 1973. Written Jerry Strickland and Bobby Patterson, who produced the single, Shay’s vocal is sassy, powerful and soars soulfully above the funky arrangement. This marriage of soul and funk results in not only a hidden musical gem, but an extremely expensive one.
I didn’t just choose Casey Jones’ single Good Thing Part 2, so I could make a gratuitous joke about railways. Not at all. In many ways, I was almost railroaded into choosing this track, given its quality. After an understated opening, where hypnotic drums provide the arrangement’s heartbeat, Casey’s vampish vocal enters, and the track explodes into life. Soon, you’re embarking on a musical journey, one that’s both soulful thanks to Casey’s vocal, but fast and furiously funky thanks to his backing band.
I’ve often said that M.F.S.B. were much more than Philadelphia International Records’ house-band. Quite the opposite. This multitalented band were also songwriters, arrangers and producers. Often, their role in the Philadelphia International Records’ success story is downplayed. That suits certain people though. However, what made M.F.S.B. such an outstanding band is their versatility. Family Affair, a track from their 1973 sophomore album M.F.S.B, which reached number 131 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty in the US R&B Charts. Here, M.F.S.B. combine some heavy duty funk with mellow, jazzy keyboards and a touch of Philly Soul.
Apart from Nick Drake, Shuggie Otis must be one of the most reluctant musicians of the seventies. He could’ve and should’ve been huge. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. His seventies back-catalogue amounts to three albums. Ice Cold Daydream is a track from his 1971 album Freedom Flight. While Strawberry Letter is a better known track, Ice Cold Daydream allows Shuggie to kick loose his shackles and become a strutting funkateer, a role which he carries off with considerable aplomb.
Mention seventies funk groups, and many people will reply Sly and The Family Stone. For four years, between 1969 and 1973, their star shawn brightly. Sadly, amidst chaos and a trail of destruction, their star burnt out. Thankfully, during that period, they released three peerless studio albums. 1969s was the first of these. It featured genre-sprawling Sing A Simple Song, where seamlessly Sly Stone fuses funk, psychedelia, soul, rock and jazz. The result is a timeless, anthemic track that epitomizes an era.
Al Kooper’s Toe Hold is my final choice from Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s. Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, it was a track from Al’s 1968 debut album I Stand Alone, which was released on Columbia Records. Although Toe Hold is a primarily a funky track, albeit with a real late sixties sound, it incorporates soul, gospel and rock. Here. Al’s vocals veer between soul and rock, accompanied by gospel tinged harmonies. His band keep things funky, but sometimes, especially the keyboards, have a rocky sound. Having said that, this is a tantalising taste of the multitalented Al Kooper, as he embarks upon his solo career.
For anyone who likes their music seriously funky, then Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s is an album that must find its way into your record collection. During the nineteen tracks on Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s, you can hear funk’s soulful, jazzy and R&B roots shine through. What else shines through is the quality of music. There’s contributions from familiar faces like Sly and The Family Stone, M.F.S.B and Nina Simone. You’re also introduced to some hugely underrated artists. Many people won’t have heard of Esther Phillips, Shay Hliday, Casey Jones or Johnny or Shuggie Otis. So hopefully, Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s will introduce their music to a much wider audience. Maybe after hearing Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s, which was released on 20th May 2013, listeners will embark on a musical voyage of discovery.
Compiler Dean Rudland, deserves credit for not just sticking with the tried and tested tracks that feature on many funk compilations. Instead, Dean’s dug deep into his record collection. No corners of his collection have been left unexplored, in his quest for the funkiest of music. After much crate digging, Dean’s come up with nineteen slices of the funkiest music you’re ears will be lucky to hear. This is Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s, a compilation guaranteed to get any party started.
In many ways, Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s is a reminder of the golden age of funk. Long gone and much mourned, the golden age of funk is but a passing memory. Thankfully, Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s is a reminder of these few short years. Indeed, Paaaarty Time-Serious Funk From The 70s is a like a musical walk down memory lane, where you hear familiar tracks and forgotten treasures. By the end of your trip down this musical memory lane, you realize that funk doesn’t get any better than this. Standout Tracks: Esther Phillips Home Is Where The Hatred Is, Shay Holiday It’s Not How Long You Make It, M.F.S.B. Family Affair and Al Kooper Toe Hold.
PAAAARTY TIME-SERIOUS FUNK FROM THE 70S.
BACKBEATS: DIGGERS DELIGHT-MORE RARE-GROOVE GEMS.
For many DJs and music-lovers, crate-digging for hidden rare-groove gems is the musical equivalent of an Olympic sport. Whether its record shops, thrift stores, dusty warehouses or junk shops, there’s nowhere that the determined crate-digger won’t head. Nowhere is off-limits in their search for rare of obscure vinyl. A crate-digger is the modern equivalent of a big game hunter. The only difference between the two, is that a crate-digger’s hunting musical gold. Often, a determined and persistent crate-digger can strike musical gold by finding a rare and valuable album for little, or no money. That however, is fast, becoming a thing of the past.
The reason for this is the internet. Nowadays, people have become much more savvy about how much vinyl is worth and bargains are becoming harder to unearth. Granted, there’s still bargains out there, but they’re becoming even harder to find. Not helping the situation, is the economically straightened times we live in. Being smack bang in the middle of the biggest recession in financial history, people have less money to spend on vinyl. So for anyone looking to compile a collection of rare-groove gems, a good place to start is Backbeats: Diggers Delight, the latest installment in Harmless Records’ Backbeats compilation series, which will be released on 20th May 2013. Featuring fifteen slices of rare-groove, Backbeats: Diggers Delight, features some obscure, rare and valuable slices of funk, soul and jazz, which I’ll pick the highlights of.
The fifteen funky, soulful and jazzy cuts on Backbeats: Diggers Delight are from labels like Arista, CTi, Epic, RCA, Chi-Sound, Columbia, Universal and Buddah Records. This includes contributions from Weldon Irvine, Shuggie Otis, Idris Muhammed, Mandrill, Larry Young’s Fuel, Jimmy Castor Bunch and The Modulations. Looking at the track listing, and given their rarity, these tracks would require deep pockets and determination to find. After I’ve picked the highlights of Backbeats: Diggers Delight, I’ll tell you how much it would cost you buy the fifteen tracks on Backbeats: Diggers Delight.
My first choice from Backbeats: Diggers Delight is Herbert Law’s Family, which was the title-track to his 1980 album. Released on Columbia, an all-star band accompanies Hubert. This includes bassist Nathan East, drummer Leon Ndugu Chancier and pianist Bobby Lyle. As the track unfolds, it’s mellow and understated. Then, all of a sudden, the track explodes into life. Key to this soulful, jazzy and funky track, is Debra Law’s vocal. Hubert’s sister delivers an impassioned, powerful vocal.
Idris Muhammed released Turn This Mutha Out in 1977, on Kudu. One of the tracks on Turn This Mutha Out was Crab Apple, which was written by producer David Matthews. Of the seven tracks on Turn This Mutha Out, Crab Apple is head and shoulders above the rest. Key to this are Michael Brecker’s schorching saxophone, Wilber Bascomb’s pounding bass and Cliff Carter’s synths. With Idris’ drums providing the heartbeat, the result is a tough, funky track that quite simply, is one of the highlights of Backbeats: Diggers Delight.
Lalo Schifrin forged a reputation as one of the most talented and innovative film composers of his generation. When not writing film scores, Lalo enjoyed a successful solo career. His 1977 album Towering Toccata featured Theme From King Kong, z five minute fusion of funk, rock and jazz. With blazing horns, the funkiest of rhythm section and rocky guitars Lalo creates a dramatic, Uber funky reinterpretation of a familiar track.
One of music’s best kept secrets is Shuggie Otis, who released four albums between 1969 and 1974. The last of this quartet of albums is 1974 Inspiration Inspiration, which featured Aht Uh Mi Hed. Like all of Shuggie’s music, It’s a captivating fusion of soul, funk, psychedelia, rock and jazz from one of music’s most reluctant stars, whose music everyone should discover.
All too often, compilers overlook Weldon Irvine’s music. Thankfully, Dean Rudland, who compiled Backbeats: Diggers Delight is guilty of that. We Gettin’ Down was written by Weldon and featured on his 1975 album Spirit. Released on RCA Victor, it’s a slow, funky and atmospheric track. Squelchy synths usher in blazing horns, rocky guitars and a myriad of percussion. Soon, strings are dancing in appreciation, while Weldon’s keyboards provide a backdrop to a compelling and often, beautiful fusion of harmonies, percussion and swathes of strings.
Back in 1973, Earth, Wind and Fire embarked upon a journey where critical acclaim and commercial success were ever-present for a decade. The second album in this unbroken run success was 1974s Open Your Eyes. It reached number fifteen in the US and number one in the US R&B Charts, and was certified gold. Mighty Mighty was a single Open Your Eyes, which reached number twenty-nine in the US Billboard 100 and number four in the US R&B Charts.Tough, funky, soulful, laden with hooks and dance-floor friendly, it’s no surprise Earth, Wind and Fire were so successful.
Not only did The Brecker Brothers enjoy a successful recording career during the seventies, but were the go-to-guys for anyone looking for a hot horn section. The sound of Michael’s saxophone and Randy on flugelhorn or trumpet graced many an album. Their debut album was 1975s The Brecker Brothers. Released on Arista, it featured Sneakin’ Up Behind You, which is best described as an infectiously catchy, melodic and timeless slice of jazz-funk.
The last track I’ve chosen from Backbeats: Diggers Delight just happens to be the final track. This is The Modulations’ It’s Rough Out Here, which was the title-track to their one and only album. Released on Buddah Records in 1975, it’s a tough, funky and soulful track. Disco strings accompany the vocal while soaring harmonies, growling horns and vibes provide a backdrop as seamlessly, soul, funk and disco unite peerlessly. Given how obviously talented The Modulations were, it’s a pity their recording career amounts to just one album. Mind you, what an album It’s Rough Out Here is.
Of the fifteen tracks that feature on Backbeats: Diggers Delight, each of compiler Dean Rudland’s choices deserve their place on this compilation. With neither faux pas nor filler on Backbeats: Diggers Delight. That’s quite a feat. Usually, on compilations there’s the odd track that disappoints. Not here. No, not at all. Instead, there’s just quality rare-groove from Angela Bofil’s People Make The World Go Round right through to The Modulations’ It’s Rough Out Here. Soulful, funky and jazz-tinged, Backbeats: Diggers Delight is an eclectic selection of quality music. It’s a combination of a few familiar tracks, rarities and hidden gems. For anyone whose a fan of rare-groove, then they’ll thoroughly enjoy discovering the delights of Backbeats: Diggers Delight, which will be released by Harmless Records’ subsidiary Backbeats on 20th May 2013. in fact, Backbeats: Diggers Delight is the perfect companion to Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk. Both compilations are soulful, funky and jazzy, and will be welcome additions to any self-respecting record collection. Standout Tracks: Idris Muhammed Crab Apple, Lalo Schifrin Theme From King Kong, Shuggie Otis Aht Uh Mi Hed and Weldon Irvine We Gettin’ Down.
BACKBEATS: DIGGERS DELIGHT-MORE RARE-GROOVE GEMS.
BACKBEATS: IN THE POCKET-70S JAZZ FUNK.
Ever since the birth of jazz, the music has never stood still. Instead, it’s been constantly evolving. That was the case in the early seventies. By the early seventies, jazz had to evolve to survive. Jazz’s popularity had been surpassed by soul music. Even soul jazz which had proved popular during the sixties, was losing popularity. So, what was needed was change.
Bringing about this change, were some of the most innovative and pioneering jazz musicians of the time. This included Herbie Hancock, Charles Earland, Ramsey Lewis, Lonnie Liston Smith, Harvey Mason and Freddie Hubbard. These musicians were responsible for jazz funk, which was seen as not just the future of the jazz, but its savior. By taking soul jazz and adding a sprinkling of funk, a new musical genre was born…jazz funk.
Jazz funk proved to be the answer to jazz’s problems, giving jazz’s popularity an unexpected boost. Since then, jazz funk is one of the most celebrated sub-genres of jazz. For anyone yet to discover jazz funk, Harmless Records next batch of its Backbeats’ compilation series includes Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk, which will be released on 20th May 2013. Featuring twelve tracks from some of jazz funk most successful, innovative and pioneering musicians, including Herbie Hancock, Charles Earland, Lonnie Liston Smith and Harvey Mason, Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk is the perfect primer for the newcomer to jazz funk. Having said that, for veterans of jazz funk, Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk, which was compiled by Dean Rudland, will bring back memories of the jazz funk’s glory days. You’ll realize why, when I pick the highlights from Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk.
Fittingly, given the important role Herbie Hancock played in the development of jazz funk, Just Around The Corner opens Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk. This was a track from Herbie’s 1980 album Mr. Hands, released on Columbia Records. Joining Herbie on Just Around The Corner are a jazz supergroup of guitarist Wah Wah Watson, drummer Alphonso Mouzon, bassist Freddie Washington and percussionist Sheila E. Given their combined talents, it’s no surprise that they produce a truly innovative slice of jazz funk.
For many people, myself included, Charles Earland is one of the greatest Hammond organ players of his the last fifty years. However, outside jazz circles, Charles is almost unheard of. That, to me, is a great shame. So, I’m pleased to see compiler Dean Rudland has included Charles’ Coming To You Live, This was the title-track to Charles’ 1980 album, which saw him move from soul jazz to jazz funk. Almost seamlessly he made the progression, reinventing himself in the process.
By the time Ramsey Lewis released Salongo in 1976, he was into his third decade as a recording artist. He’d earned a reputation as a musical innovator, someone who embraced change. That was fortunate, because during his career, musical fashions had changed. So, Ramsey had to reinvent himself several times. 1974s Solar Wind and 1975s Don’t It Feel Good saw Ramsey settle into jazz funk. Salongo surpassed both these albums. It was an exploration of Latin and African music, which was combined with jazz and jazz funk. One of the highlights was sultry Latin delights of Brazilica, which since then, has been a favorite of jazz funk fans.
During the seventies, any jazz player looking for a drummer, called Harvey Mason. Alongside his career as a session player, Harvey enjoyed a successful solo career. His debut album was 1975s Marching In The Street, which reached number forty-five in the US R&B Charts. Marching In The Street featured Hop Scotch, a track that’s not just innovative and features an all-star jazz funk band, but epitomizes all that’s good about jazz funk. After all, it doesn’t get much better than some of the best jazz musicians of the seventies showcasing their considerable talents.
Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk is almost like a who’s who of jazz funk. Everyone whose anyone features on the disc. This includes jazz trumpeter and bandleader, Freddie Hubbard. His contribution is Put It In The Pocket, a track from his 1975 album Liquid Love. Although best known for be bop and hard bop, Freddie embraced jazz funk, especially on Liquid Gold. On Put It In The Pocket, Freddie and his band give an uber funky, sassy and dramatic performance, while Freddie demonstrates just why he’d gained a reputation as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of his generation.
Weldon Irvine’s contribution to Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk is Sinbad, a track that explodes into life with growling, blazing horns. Sinbad was the title-track to Weldon’s 1976 album. Quite simply, it’s six majestic minutes of music. Featuring a guitar masterclass, scorching horns, sassy harmonies and a tough, funky street sound, it’s the perfect introduction to the music of Weldon Irvine.
My final choice from Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk is Hubert Laws Chicago Theme (Love Loop). It’s a track from, his 1975 album Chicago Theme, which reached number eighteen in the US R&B Charts. Hubert was an early member of The Jazz Crusaders, but established a reputation as a versatile flautist. He was just as comfortable playing jazz, classical or jazz funk. By 1975, his music was becoming more commercial.Chicago Theme (Love Loop) is proof of this. While his band lay down some funky licks, swathes of strings accompany Hubert’s wistful flute. Add to that are growling horns, and the result is a track that not only showcases Hubert Laws’ versatility and talent, but how he was determined to produce music that would be commercially successful.
Earlier I said that Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk was not unlike a who’s who of jazz funk. That was no exaggeration. With Herbie Hancock, Charles Earland, Lonnie Liston Smith and Harvey Mason, here were some of the most talented, innovative and influential musicians. As the seventies dawned, they faced the realization that jazz music wasn’t just changing, but was no longer as popular. Put simply, jazz had to change. The status quo wasn’t an option. Unless jazz changed, it would become marginalized and become the musical equivalent of an endangered species. For the musicians that feature on Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk that wasn’t an option.
While it was more a case of evolution, rather the revolution, jazz changed and survived. Out of the ashes of soul jazz, came jazz funk. All it took was a sprinkling of funk and soul jazz became jazz funk. Soon, jazz funk changed jazz’s flagging fortunes. With the innovators that feature on Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk, jazz was in safe hands. Jazz moved in a new, brave and bold direction. The music was energized, attracting a much wider audience. Jazz funk albums crossed over into the mainstream, making stars of jazz musicians who had previously, been known to only a small, niche audience.
So in many ways, jazz funk was the savior of jazz. Just as jazz was about to receive the musical equivalent of the last rites, along came jazz funk. Somehow, jazz made a miraculous recovery. Crucial to that recovery were a group of pioneering and innovative jazz musicians. These pioneers and innovators feature on Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk, which will be released on 20th May 2013. Standout Tracks: Herbie Hancock Just Around The Corner, Charles Earland Coming To You Live, Harvey Mason Hop Scotch and Weldon Irvine Sinbad.
BACKBEATS: IN THE POCKET-70S JAZZ FUNK.
BACKBEATS: PHILLY GEMS-MORE PHILLY DISCO FLOOR-FILLERS
One of the music industry’s big success stories of recent years has been Harmless Records’ Backbeats compilation series. In the last three years, the Backbeats’ compilation series has grown to become the world’s most popular compilation series. That is a remarkable achievement. We shouldn’t be surprised though. After all, for the last three years, Backbeats has consistently delivered quality compilations at budget prices. For soul, jazz and funk fans on a limited budget, the Backbeats compilations aren’t going to break the band. Not at all. Indeed, the next six installments of the Backbeat series are available for just £3, $4.50 or €4 each when they’re released on 20th May 2013. Of the next six installments in the Backbeats series, one I’ve been looking forward to is Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers.
Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers compiled by Ralph Tee, features sixteen tracks from labels like Philadelphia International Records, Buddah Records, Epic and Columbia. Featuring tracks from Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, M.F.S.B, The Trammps, The O’Jays, Philly Devotions and The Futures, it’s like a who’s who of Philly Soul. This all-star lineup continues with the songwriters, arrangers and producers. Among them are Gamble and Huff, McFadden, Whitehead and Carstarphen, John Davis, Jefferson, Simmons and Hakwes and Norman Harris to name but a few. Whether you’re a veteran of Philly Soul compilations like myself, or a relative newcomer, then there’s plenty to interest you on Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers, which I’ll pick the highlights of.
What better way is there to open Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers than with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ The Love I Lost. This was a track from their sophomore album Black and Blue, which was released in 1973, on Philadelphia International Records. It reached number fifty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. When The Love I Lost was released as single, it reached number seven in the US Billboard 100 charts and number one in the R&B Charts. That’s no surprise though, as Teddy’s heartbroken, emotive vamp was a career defining vocal, resulting in the track becoming a Philly Soul classic.
Gamble and Huff had guided The Intruders career since their 1967 debut album The Intruders Are Together. This included signing them to Gamble Records, then Philadelphia International and producing their 1968 number one single Cowboys To Girls. With McFadden and Whitehead, Gamble and Huff cowrote Save The Children, the title-track to their 1973 album. Released in 1973, Save The Children was their fourth album. It reached number 133 in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. When Save The Children, which was produced by Gamble and Huff, was released as a single, it fared better reaching number thirty-six in the US Billboard 100 and number six in the US R&B Charts. Beautiful, soulful and heartfelt, it’s a potent reminder of one of Philly Soul’s most underrated groups.
What many people forget, is that there’s much more to Philly Soul than the music released on Philadelphia International Records. Proof of this is the Philly Devotions’ I Just Can’t Say Goodbye. Originally released on Don Re in 1974, it was rereleased in 1975 on Columbia. Sadly, its release on Columbia didn’t achieve the hit the record label had hoped for. Written and produced by John Davis, this single epitomizes Philly Soul. Matthew Covington’s lead vocal is not unlike Russell Tompkins of The Stylistics, as he lays bare his soul with swathes of strings and cascading harmonies for company.
During his eight-year spell at Philadelphia International Records, Billy Paul released nine albums, and in the process, become the label’s first male superstar. People Power was from his 1975 album When Love Is New. It reached number 139 in the US Billboard 200 and number seventeen in the US R&B Charts. People Power reached number eighty-two in the US R&B Charts and number fourteen in the US Disco Charts. When Love Is New was a combination of beautiful love songs and songs filled with social and political comment. The album opener People Power, was written by McFadden and Whitehead with Victor Castarphen. Thirty-eight years later, this soulful call for unity and action is just as relevant.
The Futures’ Party Time Man is a tale of escapism from the 9-5, Monday to Friday drudgery. Party Time Man was a track from The Futures’ sophomore album Past, Present and Futures. Released in 1978, on Philadelphia International Records, it stalled at number ninety-four in the US R&B Charts. Written Ted Marchall and Sherman Marshall, who produced the track, this hook-laden, dance-track benefits from The Sweethearts of Sigma’s joyous harmonies. They’re the perfect foil to The Futures on a track that’s became synonymous with them.
Love Epidemic was originally released by The Trammps in 1973, on Golden Fleece Records. This was a label owned by the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, who produced the track. It was written by Leroy Green and Norman Harris and reached number seventy-five in the US R&B Charts. Two years later, Love Epidemic featured on The Trammps debut album Trammps, released on Golden Fleece. Trammps was an early disco album, and reached number 159 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty in the US R&B Charts. Along with Where Do We Go From Here, Love Epidemic is one of the highlights of Trammps and features the vocal prowess of the late Jimmy Ellis, disco preacher par excellence.
Of all the artists on Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers, David Morris Jr. might not have had the longest or most successful career, but he’s responsible for one of the most soulful offerings. Midnight Lady was released on Buddah Records in 1976. Produced by Ed Biggins, Bud Ross and Bobby “Electronic” Eli, who arranged the track, this is a real hidden gem that even many Philly Soul fans won’t be aware of. Incidentally, the B-side of Midnight Lady, Jack In The Box, features on Tom Moulton’s forthcoming compilation Philly Re-Grooved Volume 3.
By 1975, Anacostia had been signed to Columbia Records for three years. During that period, success had eluded them. They’d released four singles, to little or no success. Something had to give. So in 1975, Columbia hooked them up with one of the hottest production teams of the time..Baker, Harris, Young. The legendary rhythm section and production team transformed the Tom Boyd penned All I Need into a delicious slice of Philly Soul. Soulful, dance-floor friendly and thirty-eight years later, is a truly timeless track, one that deserves a wider audience.
One of the most recognizable songs on Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers is The O’Jays’ Love Train. It reached number one in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts in 1973. Love Train was a track from Backstabbers, The O’Jays first album for Philadelphia International Records. Backstabbers reached number ten in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts. This started a run where The O’Jays next eight albums were certified either gold or platinum. Crucial to The O’Jays success were M.F.S.B. Here, the original lineup of M.F.SB. featuring the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, vibes virtuosos Vince Montana Jr, percussionist Larry and guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli kick loose. Not only did M.F.S.B. help transform The O’Jays into Philly Soul’s most successful group, but provide the backdrop for one of their most joyous and uplifting songs, Love Train, a musical slice of sunshine.
My final choice from Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers is M.F.S.B’s Love Is The Message. This was the title-track to their 1973 album. It reached number four in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. When Love Is The Message was released as a single, it only reached number eighty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. What Love Is The Message demonstrates, is how important a role M.F.S.B. played in the Philadelphia International Records’ success story. Often their role is overlooked or underestimated. That should never be allowed to happen. Listen to Love Is The Message and you’ll hear some of the greatest musicians of the seventies in full flight. Quite simply, it’s a joy to behold.
Having looked forward to the hearing Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers, I wasn’t disappointed. Compiler Ralph Tee has dug deep, and come up with a combination of familiar tracks and hidden gems. This mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar means Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers will appeal to different types of buyers. Familiar tracks from Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Biilly Paul, The Futures, The Trammps, The O’Jays and M.F.S.B. will appeal to either to newcomers to Philly Soul or occasional compilation buyers. What I refer to as hidden gems, including Gateway, David Morris Jr, City Limits and Anacostia will appeal to veterans of Philly Soul compilations. So, compiler Ralph Tee has managed to find a happy medium between Philly Soul classics and hidden gems. What he’s also done, is proved that there’s more to Philly Soul than Philadelphia International Records.
For many people, Philly Soul starts and ends with Philadelphia International Records. How wrong could they be? There’s much, much more to Philly Soul than one label, albeit Philly Soul’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful labels. Many labels, both big and small, released Philly Soul. Philly Groove Records, Don Re, SAM Records, Atlantic, Atco, Epic and Columbia are just a few of the labels who released Philly Soul. Overlook these labels at your peril. If you do, you’ll miss out on some of the greatest Philly Soul ever released. This would included The Spinners, The Stylistics and The Delfonics, all produced by Thom Bell. You’d also overlook many of the artists Richard Rome, John Davis and Norman Harris produced. So you’d never hear the delights of Blue Magic, First Choice, Major Harris and The Ritchie Family. That would be a great shame, these artists and producers were responsible for some of Philly Soul’s finest moments.
Not only does Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers feature some of Philly Soul’s finest moments, but features forgotten and hidden gems. They’re given new life and introduced to a new, and wider audience by compiler Ralph Tee on Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers, which will be released by Harmless Records on 20th May 2013. So whether you’re a veteran of Philly Soul or relative newcomer to Philly Soul, then Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers is essential listening. Standout Tracks: Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ The Love I Lost, Billy Paul People Power, David Morris Jr. Midnight Lady and M.F.S.B. Love Is The Message.
BACKBEATS: PHILLY GEMS-MORE PHILLY DISCO FLOOR-FILLERS.
For many people, the first time they heard of Paul Randolph, was when they heard his track Soldier on the eight-track Offering Recordings Ade Sampler 2012. Paul Randolph was in good company, given the artists that featured on Offering Recordings Ade Sampler 2012. Idrissa Sissoko, Ade Alafia Adio, Sage Monk, Mammy Wata and Sons of Arhat all featured on Offering Recordings Ade Sampler 2012. In many ways, this was Offering Recordings showing the music industry how many talented artists they’d signed. One of most talented and up-and-coming artists was Paul Randolph. It was obvious from the first time you heard Soldier. Now, the next step in introducing Paul Randolph to a much wider audience swings into action with his forthcoming E.P. Soldier. This however, is no ordinary E.P. Quite the opposite. Instead, it’s a mammoth eleven track E.P. Rather than one Soldier, it’s more like a platoon. Before I tell you about the Soldier E.P, I’ll tell you about Paul Randolph.
When it comes to musical pedigrees, Paul Randolph’s is second to none. He comes from a musical family and was born in one of America’s most famous musical cities…Philadelphia. Paul first began his musical journey as a child playing guitar. Then when he was six, his family moved to Brazil. That transformed his life. Not only did he become fluent in a second language, but immersed himself in music, which in Brazil, is part of the culture. This included studying guitar with the same Brazilian tutor as his father. By the time Paul was a teenager, his family were on the move again.
Next stop for Paul was Detroit, another a musical city. Although Paul graduated from Central Michigan with a degree in marketing, music was his first love. Throughout his university course, music was ever-present. He played in the Detroit area, and by this time, had mastered percussion and bass. After graduating, Paul has made music his career, and worked with a number of well-known artists.
Among the artists Paul has accompanied, are Odetta, Tony Allen, Dennis Coffey and Johnny Johnston. After that, Paul was lead singer of Mudpuppy, a Detroit based group whose music was inspired by New Orleans funk and blues. Following his departure from Mudpuppy, Paul accompanied Amp Fiddler, Carl Craig, iSoul8, Catz ‘n’ Dogz and Zed Bias to mention just a few names. Paul Randolph it seems is a versatile musician, whose equally comfortable playing funk, blues, Nu-Soul and electronic music. Regardless of the musical genre, Paul can play it. As well as being a member of Mudpuppy, Paul has also released a trio of albums.
Paul’s debut album was 2004s This Is…What It Is, which was released on Mahogani Music. Three years later, Lonely Eden was released in 2007 on Still Music, with Echoes Of Lonely Eden following in 2010. Despite not releasing an album since 2010, Paul has been busier than ever. During 2012, he released seven projects, including collaborating with Jazzanova. Then late last year, came Paul Randolph’s first release for Offering Recordings. Straight away, it was obvious that Paul Randolph was a man with a big future in music ahead of him. Soldier is a tantalizing taste of Paul Randolph’s talents. On the Soldier E.P. there’s not just one, two or three versions of soldiers, but a might eleven versions, which I’ll pick the highlights of.
Just a lone acoustic guitar opens the Main Mix of Soldier, before drums and percussion enter, giving the track an African Roots sound. Then Paul throws a curveball. His tender vocal is accompanied by pounding drums. Now the track head in the direction of the dance-floor. Synth, keyboards and backing vocalists join the percussion and acoustic guitar as African Roots meets deep house. Paul teases and tantalizes the listener, dropping the tempo before building the track back up. This results in a track that’s compelling, catchy and beautiful oh and very dance-floor friendly.
Apart from the Main Mix of Soldier, another of the highlights of the Soldier E.P. are the Radio Mix. It’s just four minutes long, two minutes shorter than the Main Mix. This seems to result in a much more potent and powerful track. Somehow, it’s even catchier, not unlike to a call to dance, but one you can’t resist. Best to submit to its charms. Talking of infectiously catchy, dance-floor fillers, that’s a good way to describe the Daz i Kue Vocal Mix and the eleven-minute GiKu Remix. They’re two of the best of vocal remixes.
Showing a very different side to Soldier are the instrumental or dub versions. Choosing between the various remixes isn’t easy, given their consistent quality. However, Boddhi Satva is responsible for peerless dub remixes. These are the Ancestral Dub and Dubthrudamental Mix. Along with the Instrumental and Kickless Remixes, the eleven remixes on Paul Randolph’s Soldier E.P. have one thing in common…their quality.
While there are nine different remixes of Soldier on the E.P. this isn’t overkill. Not at all. Each of the nine remixes bring something new, compelling and captivating to the original version of Soldier, which is a quite beautiful song. Soldier is also melancholy, wistful, emotive and haunting. It’s all these things and much more. I’d describe it as one of these tracks that stay with you. It’s not just memorable, but makes you think and asks questions of you. If only more music like this.
Listening to Paul Randolph’s eleven track E.P. Soldier, it’s obvious Paul is a hugely talented singer, songwriter, musician and producer. He has a great future ahead of him. Not only did Paul write Soldier, but produced the track and arranged it with Boddhi Satve. Soldier is just a tantalizing taste of what’s to come from Paul Randolph. Hopefully, it won’t be too long until the release of Paul Randolph’s next album. Until then, you’ll be able to enjoy Paul’s forthcoming E.P. Soldier, which will soon be released by Offering Recordings.
THE MUGGSY STORY.
Although Johnny De Mairo’s name is synonymous with Henry Street Records, the label he founded with Tommy Musto in 1993, that wasn’t the only label he founded. Not at all. Once Henry Street Records was an established label, and had forged a reputation as one of the most innovative and influential labels in house music, Johnny D decided to found a new label. There was a good reason for this. Henry Street Records had established a reputation for specializing in releasing soulful house that had been influenced by disco. Johnny wanted to release a much more eclectic selection of music. So, a few years after founding Henry Street Records, Johnny D founded Muggsy Records.
Originally, Johnny planned to release music with a more tribal sound on Muggsy Records. This tribal sound would launch Johnny D’s nascent label. The problem was, finding the right track. That wasn’t going to be easy. Then fate, luck or the musical gods intervened. Chris “TKC” Staropoii approached Johnny D with a track entitled Black Jack. It was the perfect track, with the sound Johnny was looking for. Not only was it tribal, but had a harder sound and was innovative. Without hesitation, Johnny D signed Chris “TKC” Staropoii to Muggsy Records. Black Jack became the first single released on Johnny D’s newly founded Muggsy Records. Soon, Muggsy Records were releasing tracks by some of house music’s luminaries, including Chicago’s Robbie Rivera and Ralphi Rosario, Miami’s Mike “Da Mooch” Mucci and New York’s Kenny Dope and Johnick, Kenny D’s studio partnership with Nick Palermo. Tracks from each of these innovative producers feature on The Muggsy Story, which will be released by BBE Music on 27th May 2013. Before I tell you about the music on The Muggsy Story, I’ll tell you about Johnny D’s career.
Johnny DeMairo was just twelve when he started learning to mix. Armed with a pair of Lafayette T-2000s, Johnny took the first step in his DJ-ing career. Quickly, Johnny managed to master his set of Lafayette T-2000s. A year later, Johnny graduated from the Lafayette T-2000s to a new set of Technics 1200 Mk IIs. Soon, Johnny was DJ-ing in his local neighborhood. Next step were block parties, where he’d meet older and more experienced DJs. Undeterred, and with an impressive array of records, Johnny soon won over the older DJs, with his skill and choice of music. His selection of music was eclectic to say the least. Italo disco and Led Zeppelin sat next to classics on the West End and Prelude labels. Having impressed his peers with his skills, he’d soon meet a DJ whose skills would impress Johnny no end.
Aged fourteen and helped by a fake id, Johnny gained entry to New York’s hottest nightclub, Studio 54, where he meet resident DJ Leroy Washington. His mixing skills on a set of Thorens’ turntables blew Johnny away. Leroy mixed every type of music, all with impeccable timing and stunning mixing skills. Leroy was just one of a series of people who’d inspire Johnny, and a year later, Johnny would have his own residency.
When Johnny was fifteen, he met Danny Cole, a Brooklyn DJ who had a residency on Friday and Saturday nights at Brooklyn’s Plaza Suite. Danny invited Johnny to join him. This wasn’t Johnny’s only job. He played at parties and held down a job in his family’s business. This allowed him to continue building his record collection, which now numbers eighty-thousand records. These records would find their way into his DJ sets. Around this time, he met another DJ who’d become a huge influence in Johnny’s career, Shep Pettibone.
Back then, Shep Pettibone was one of the hottest DJs on New York radio. Along with Frankie Crocker, they ruled New York’s airwaves on Kiss FM. Johnny was impressed by Shep’s reediting and mixing skill. Lke Leroy Washington, Shep influenced Johnny’s career. So too did freestyle DJs The Latin Rascals and The Dynamic Duo. All of these DJs influenced Johnny’s DJ career.
Through meeting DJ at record pools and in clubs, Johnny soon had numerous contacts among New York’s music community. However, he needed contacts further afield. To do this, he got a job at Vince Pellegrino’s promotion company the Street Information Network. This allowed Johnny to network with DJs worldwide. After leaving the Street Information Network, Johnny worked for Atlantic Records. During this time, Johnny founded Henry Street Records in 1993 with Tommy Musto. Five years later, Henry Street Records was an established label. The time was right for Johnny D to launch his new label Muggsy Records, which released a much more eclectic selection of music. You’ll realize that when I tell you about The Muggsy Story.
Opening The Muggsy Story is the single that launched Muggsy Records. This is TKC’s Black Jack. Released in 1998, Black Jack it’s a real slow burner. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds. It’s if not wanting to reveal its secrets. Having said that, it’s well worth the wait. The arrangement has a tribal sound from the get-go, before TKC introduces a sample of Steely Dan’s Do It Again. Its familiar sound is swathed in filters, percussion and echo. From there, TKC relentlessly teases you, gradually revealing its secrets, subtleties and charms.
Brutal Bill has three tracks on The Muggsy Story. The first is Brutal Bill Presents The Funkryders’ Woman of Angels. This four-track E.P. was released in 1998 and features three different mixes of Woman Of Angels, including the Whiskey-A-Go-Go Mix. Produced by “Brutal Bill” Marquez, Woman Of Angels samples The Doors’ classic Riders On The Storm. Here musical influences old and new are combined, including house and sixties, psychedelic rock. Adding a trademark house sound are thunderous drums. They’re joined by hissing hi-hats and percussion, which add to the drama. Having built up the drama, they’re joined by that unmistakable sample. Memorable and moody, it floats in, proving the perfect foil for the jacking arrangement. The result is a dramatic, memorable and melodic track.
The second track from Brutal Bill is the Club Mix of Do You Know About Love. This was Brutal Bill presents Soul Function’s single from 2000. Produced by “Brutal Bill” Marquez, this is quite different to Woman Of Angels. It’s best describes as a track that’s soulful, jazz-tinged and funky. Seamlessly, this fusion of musical influences unites, resulting in an irresistibly catchy, dance-floor friendly track.
Da Mooch’s Twist The Knob was released back in 1998. It was a five-track E.P. produced by Miami producer Mike “Da Mooch” Mucci. From the opening bars, you’re smitten. Resisting the charms and delights of this track isn’t easy. No wonder. Like so much of the music Henry Street Music released, here it’s house music with a strong disco influence. Waves of the arrangement unfold, while a diva-esque vocal delivers a strutting, vocal Magnus Opus.
Most people know Kenny Dope as one half of Masters At Work. That’s unfair though. Kenny has enjoyed a successful solo career, both as a producer and DJ. Proof of this is Kenny “Dope” Presents DBX’s And There Aint. Released in 1998, And There Ain’t was a three-track E.P, which featured Troopa’s Deep Mix. Opening with a sample of Young and Company’s I Like (What You’re Doing To Me), you embark upon a hypnotic and irresistible journey. Hectic, funky, soulful and melodic, here’s a track guaranteed to still fill any dance-floor.
Next up, are two back-to-back tracks from JohNick Presents The Sopranos. First up is, Is It Really Real, the title-track from an E.P. released in 2000. It has that trademark JohNick sound, where house has been heavily influenced by classic disco. That’s definitely the case here. Uplifting, joyous and with a plentiful supply of hooks, this is house with a strong disco influence. Quite simply, it’s the best track on The Muggsy Story. Coming a close second is the other contribution from JohNick presents The Sopranos. This is First and Henry, a track from their 1999 Untitled E.P. Quite simply, this is a totally timeless and irresistible track. One listen and you’ll be smitten.
Brutal Bill’s third contribution is Disko-Tek, a track from his 1999 E.P, The Disko-Tek. It’s drama-laden from the opening bars. Wave upon wave of driving, dramatic music unfolds. Classic seventies disco and nineties house become one. It’s as if the eighties never existed, and that the decade that taste forgot, was but a nightmare. With the cascading vocal, stomping beat and memorable melody, you’re swept along, above waves of glorious music.
Da Mooch’s other contribution to The Muggsy Story is That’s What It Is. Listening to this track, it’s hard to believe that it was released in 1999, as part of the That’s What It Is E.P. Given how good a track Twist The Knob was, Da Mooch has a lot to live up to. He rises to the challenge, mixing his familiar fusion of classic disco and house. Key to the disco influence is the strident, sassy vocal. He adds to this, elements of soul and jazz. The result is an eclectic track, one worthy of baring the Muggsy Records’ label.
Closing The Muggsy Story is Ralphi Rosario’s You Used To Hold Me. Released in 1998, this version is Ralphi’s Salsa Mix. It doesn’t take long before you discover that what an infectiously catchy track. Keyboards, percussion and crispy drums accompany a vocal that’s best described as a strutting diva. The vocal is crucial to the track’s success, transforming a good track into a great track.
The ten tracks on The Muggsy Story are the perfect introduction to Johnny De Mairo’s “other” label. While most people remember Johnny D for Henry Street Records, overlooking Muggsy Records is something they should do at their peril. After all, Muggsy Records was a label that was synonymous with innovative, influential and eclectic music. Indeed, one of Johnny D’s reasons for founding Muggsy Records, was to release a much more eclectic selection of music. This was music that Henry Street Records might not release. Given Johnny D’s reputation within the music industry, he’d soon, some luminaries of house music beating a path to his new label’s door. With producers of the standard of Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, Robbie Rivera, Ralphi Rosario, Mike “Da Mooch” Mucci, Brutal Bill and JohNick on their roster, Muggsy Records concentrated on quality not quantity. Better to release ten great tracks than twenty average tracks seems to be Johnny D’s thinking. So, while Muggsy Records may not have been one of the most prolific record labels, their releases had one thing in common…their quality. The ten tracks on The Muggsy Story which will be released by BBE Music on 27th May 2013 are proof of this. Standout Tracks: TKC Black Jack, JohNick Presents The Sopranos Is It Really Real, JohNick Presents The Sopranos First and Henry Street and Brutal Bill Disko-Tek.
THE MUGGSY STORY.
KEB DARGE AND LITTLE EDITH’S LEGENDARY WILD ROCKERS 3.
It doesn’t seem like a year since I was telling you about the delights of Keb Darge and Little Edith’s latest compilation Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 2. However, a year has passed and during the previous twelve months, Keb Darge and Little Edith have been compiling another compilation. This is Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3, which will be released by BBE Music on 10th June 2013. Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 features twenty slices of the rarest rockabilly and surf music from the fifties and sixtes. Now if Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 matches the quality of Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 2, then this compilation will be a must-have for music lovers everywhere. Is that the case though? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve reminded you about the lift and times of Keb Darge DJ, record collector extraordinaire, compiler and founding father of “deep funk.”
Keb Darge was born in Elgin, Scotland, and from an early age, was absorbed in music. His first exposure to music was as a record collector. Having accumulated an impressive record collector, DJ-ing was the next step for Keb. He travelled around Scotland and eventually, to Wigan. The road to Wigan was a well travelled road for Scottish soul fans. Most headed to the Wigan Casino, whereas Keb landed a DJ residency near the casino. He continued to DJ until he was twenty-two, then decided to move to London.
After moved to London, Keb quit DJ-ing. Promoters persisted in asking him to DJ. Eventually, he relented, allowing London’s club-goers to experience the Northern Soul sound. Then disaster struck for Keb in 1987. His divorce saw him forced to sell his beloved record collection. Obviously, without records, a DJ-ing career wasn’t feasible. Heading out into civvy street, Keb tried various jobs to make ends meet. Then, when he rediscovered some records in his loft, this would change his career, and life.
The pile of records that Keb discovered in his loft were what Keb called “junk records.” They included what was the beginning of what would become “deep funk.” Keb took this junk records to the Wag Club in 1989. Although this was the height of the Acid House’s popularity, the Wag Club was best known for Acid Jazz. After the night ended at The Wag Club, Keb met fellow DJ and record collector Snowboy. This was the start of a long and successful partnership.
Snowboy and Keb transferred their deep funk night to another venue. Due to the popularity of house music, the night never gathered momentum. From there, they headed to Soho. This was the perfect venue. Their Legendary Deep Funk night became hugely successful. It was so successful that the new venue quickly establishing itself as a club. Keb continued to DJ at the Legendary Deep Funk night lasted until 2010, when he decided to quit. He still continues to DJ at a variety of venues, spinning his own unique brand of Northern Soul, rockabilly, early R&B and jump-blues. However, by 2010, Keb’s career was heading in different directions. Not only was he busy compiling compilations for various labels, but was running Kay Dee, a label he founded with Kenny Dope.
By 2010, Keb Darge had compiled various compilations, including several volumes of his Legendary Deep Funk, plus Soul Spectrum, Funk Spectrum and Lost and Found with Paul Weller. 2010 saw the release of the first of Keb Darge and Little Edith’s collaborations. In 2010, Keb Darge and Little Edith released Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Rockin’ R&B. Then in 2011, came the first installment in Keb and Little Edith’s new compilation series.
Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers was released in July 2011, with Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 2 following in July 2012. Now just eleven months later, Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3. Given how critically acclaimed Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 2 was, Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 has a lot to live up to. Can Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 somehow surpass the quality of its predecessor? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about some of Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 highlights.
Choosing the perfect track to open any album of compilation is never easy. Keb and Little Edith’s decision to open Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 with Gamimian & His Oriental Music’s Come With Me To The Casbah, is a masterstroke. This is a track from the 1959 album Come With Me To The Casbah, which was released on Atco Records. After an intriguing introduction, a scorching slice of frantic R&B, with blazing horns driving the arrangement along, unfolds. Irresistibly catchy, funk, jazz, blues and world music crammed inspire and influence this track.
Anyone who loves surf music will love Angie & The Citations’ Headache. Quite simply, this is a track you must hear once in your life. That’s easier said than done. Only 150 copies of Heartache were pressed in 1963, when it was released by Angela Records. Some of the band didn’t even get a copy of Headache. They’re missing a stunning slice of surf music. After an understated introduction, the track literally explodes into life. Waves of music pour out of your speakers, and your taken of a magical, joyous musical journey. So good is this journey, that once it’s over, you can’t stop yourself reliving it again.
The great thing about compilations like Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3, is that you’re able to hear tracks that are extremely rare for the price of just one CD. Another of these tracks is Johnny Knight’s Rock & Roll Guitar. It was released in 1958, on Morocco Records. From the opening bars, the track is an explosion of energy, emotion and power that’s best described as rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly combined.
Choosing just a few tracks from Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 isn’t easy. After all, the quality of the music is so high. Indeed, on another day I might choose different tracks. One track I’d still choose is Tony & Jackie Lamie With The Swing Kings’ Sunset Blues. Released in 1958, on Sunset Records, country and rockabilly meet head-on, creating one of the compilation’s highlights.
Ever wondered where The Beatles got the inspiration for Magical Mystery Tour? Well, listen to the opening bars of The Shindigs’ Thunder Reef and you could have the answer. The similarities may be brief, but like Magical Mystery Tour, Thunder Reef is quality all the way. Rather than psychedelia, it’s surf music The Shindigs specialise in. Thunder Reef was the B-side to Wolfman, a single released in December 1964 on Mustang Records. Ironically, Thunder Reef was a much better track than Wolfman, never reaches the same heights as the flip side. Quite simply, Thunder Reef is a hidden gem and much better than Wolfman.
Johnny Powers With The Band Of Stan Getz & Tom Cats’ Rock Rock is another B-side. It was the B-Side to Johnny’s second single Long Blond Hair is, Red Rose Lips, which was released on Fox Records in 1957. Good as the A-side Long Blond Hair is, Red Rose Lips is, the irresistible and infectiously catchy Rock Rock surpasses it. So, it’s no wonder that Johnny enjoyed a long and successful musical career, signing to Sun Records and then Motown.
Eddie Gaines And The Rockin’ Five’s Be-Bop Battlin’ Ball was was the B-side to Try This Heart For SIze. It was released on Summit Records, in April 1958. Best described as raw, explosive and emotive, instantly, you’re transported back to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll by this vintage slice of vintage rockabilly.
The best way to describe Ray Taylor & Alabama Pals’ Connie Lou is a real fusion of musical genres. There’s elements of blues, rockabilly and country during this three minute track. As for Ray’s vocal, it’s not dissimilar to Johnny Cash in delivery and sound. While Connie Lou was the B-side to My Hamtramck Baby, it yet again demonstrates that you should always check the B-side to a single. If you don’t, you’re liable to miss hidden gems like Connie Lou.
Joe Lee and Orchestra’s Hang Out is quite different from other tracks on Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3. It was released on 1959, on Fernwood Records. Produced by the legendary Scotty Moore, again, it’s a captivating and dramatic, fusion of influences, including jazz, rockabilly and exotica.
Fittingly, my final choice from Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 is the final track from the compilation. This is The Country Dudes’ Have A Ball. Released on 1959, on Dallas’ label Azalea, Have A Ball features a weary, wistful vocal from Clay Allan as seamlessly, The Country Dudes fuse country and rockabilly. Given the vocal and the lyrics, this is the best track on Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3.
Earlier I wondered whether Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 would match or better the quality of their previous compilations? That’s a question I also posed a year ago. This year I wondered if this was possible to surpass their previous efforts? After all, they’d set the bar high. To do this, would be the musical equivalent of a Fosbury Flop. Then I wondered whether the previous volumes of Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers had exhausted their supply of hidden surf and rockabilly gems?
Thankfully, having set the bar high, Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 surpasses the quality of the two previous volumes. This is testament to Keb’s encyclopedic knowledge of music. Quite simply, he knows where to dig for hidden gems. Keb knows where there are a few musical treats lying undiscovered, including many of the twenty slices of surf music and rockabilly that feature on Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3. It seems that Keb Darge and Little Edith haven’t exhausted their supply of hidden gems. Not at all. Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 features another twenty glistening rockabilly and surf gems for your enjoyment.
Indeed, whether your preference is for rockabilly or surf, there’s plenty there for you to enjoy on Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3. From the opening bars of Gamimian & His Oriental Music’s Come With Me To The Casbah right through to the closing notes of The Country Dudes’ Have A Ballyou’re enthralled, captivated and in awe of Keb and Little Edith’s flawless musical taste. During Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3 you’ll continually wonder where this music has been all year life? However, many of these tracks are extremely rare. Even if you could find copies of the twenty tracks, you’ll need a second mortgage to buy them. Thankfully, you can save yourself the money, time and effort by buying a copy Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3, which will be released by BBE Music on 10th June 2013. If you can’t wait that long, you can always investigate the delights of Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers and Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 2. By the time you’ve savored their delights, then it’ll be time for the release of Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Wild Rockers 3. Standout tracks: Angie & The Citations Headache, The Shindigs’ Thunder Reef, Joe Lee and Orchestra Hang Out and The Country Dudes’ Have A Ball.
KEB DARGE AND LITTLE EDITH’S LEGENDARY WILD ROCKERS 3.
ROBERTA FLACK-KILLING ME SOFTLY.
In a previous article about Donny Hathaway, I mentioned how closely he had worked with Roberta Flack during his tragically, short career. I also mentioned how the pair were recording an album of duets just before his death. Ironically, the album that preceded Killing Me Softly, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013, was an album of duets with Donny Hathaway. This was the first album of duets the pair had recorded entitled Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. At the time of Donny’s death in 1979, they were recording a second album of duets, but had only recorded two songs before Donny tragically died. The two songs were released on Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, which was released in March 1980. Like the first album of duets, it was certified gold, reaching number twenty-five in the Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. However, it’s the album that followed 1972s’ Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway the first album of duets, that this article is about. That album is Roberta Flack’s 1973 album Killing Me Softly, which would become her biggest selling album.
By the time Killing Me Softly was released in 1973, Roberta Flack was a hugely successful artist. Three of her four previous albums had been certified gold, and the other platinum. Her debut album First Take, released in 1969, reached number one in both the US Billboard 200 and US R&B Charts, and was certified platinum. This was quite remarkable for a debut album, but when she released Chapter Two in 1970, it only reached number thirty-three in the Billboard 200. It however, was certified gold, as was her next two albums. They were 1971s’ Quiet Fire which reached number eighteen in the Billboard 200 and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, released in 1972, which reached number three in the Billboard 200. So, when Killing Me Softly was released in August 1973, on Atlantic Records, she was hoping to replicate the success of previous albums. Little did she know, that Killing Me Softly would prove to be the biggest selling album of her career. On the album’s release, it reached number three in the Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts, and was certified double platinum, selling over two million copies. In 1974, the album was nominated for a Grammy Award, but lost out to Stevie Wonder’s album Innervisions. This was just one of four Grammy Awards that Roberta had been nominated for. The other three were for a song that she would become synonymous with.
One thing that must have helped sales of the album, was the success of the title track, Killing Me Softly WIth His Song, when it was released as a single. It reached number one in the Billboard Hot 100, spending four weeks there. Roberta won three Grammy Awards in 1974 for her version of the song, winning Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal By A Female Performer. Since then, a multitude of artists have recorded Killing Me Softly WIth His Song, but it’s widely recognized that Roberta’s version is the definitive version. One of the most recent versions was by hip hop group The Fugees in 1996. In 1999, Roberta’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and both Rolling Stone magazine and Billboard include the Killing Me Softly in their lists of the greatest songs of all time. Killing Me Softly is also the track that opens the album, which I’ll now tell you about.
Killing Me Softly opens with the title track, and a song that regardless of what she did before or after, Roberta Flack will always be synonymous with. Written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel and originally recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1971, it was two years later in January 1973, that Roberta made the song a huge hit. When the track opens, straight away, you’re enveloped in the song’s beauty. Roberta sings gently and tenderly, as multi-tracking backing vocals accompany her. Keyboards melodically play, a gentle acoustic guitar is strummed while a slow, thoughtful bass, subtle percussion and metronomic, atmospheric, drums accompany Roberta’s vocal. It’s a combination of tenderness and thoughtfulness, she delivers the lyrics with, bringing the beautiful lyrics to life. Meanwhile, guitars chime, while the bass sits at the bottom of the mix. Drums and percussion are used sparingly. The keyboards are at the heart of the arrangement, their soft melodic sound key to the success of the track. However, what made this track such a huge hit and a timeless classic is Roberta Flack’s delivery of some beautiful lyrics. Her voice and the key she sings the song in, is just perfect. Combine that with an arrangement that’s subtle and sympathetic, and you’ve the recipe for a timeless classic.
The song that has to follow Killing Me Softly has a lot to live up to. After all, how do you follow one of the best songs ever recorded? Here, the track chosen is Jesse, written by Janis Ian, another slow and gentle track. It opens with piano and strings drenching the arrangement in pathos and sadness. When Roberta sings the lyrics she gets across the sadness of the lyrics about someone who is missing, and how they still await their safe return years later. Her delivery is perfect, bringing the lyrics to life, so much so, that you can almost picture the scenes unfolding before your eyes. Like Killing Me Softly, the arrangement is subtle, but here, it’s stripped down to piano, strings and bass. This is effective, suiting the song and Roberta’s delivery. Overall, it’s a lovely song, beautifully sung and arranged, even though lyrics have a slight saccharine quality.
No Tears (In the End) opens with a piano grandly playing before percussion enters. Things move up a gear when funk laden, chiming guitars reverberate, and the rhythm section enter. Roberta’s voice is louder and stronger, her delivery considered and confident. Horns blazing, inject their rasping sound, while the funky guitars and rhythm section help drive the song along. Later, what sounds like a gospel influenced choir of backing vocalists unite soulfully and brilliantly. They really help lift this song. Their voices combine really well with Roberta’s. A combination of great vocal and a much fuller, joyous sounding arrangement, make this an irresistible and excellent track. By the end of this bright, uptempo sounding track, a very different side of Roberta has become apparent.
After a much more uptempo track, Roberta drops the tempo on I’m the Girl. It’s a song about love lost, and an old love affair, where she knew her partner loved someone else. Written by James Allan Shelton, it features another understated arrangement from producer Joel Dorn. Again, a piano and strings combine to accompany Roberta’s strong vocal, which again is thoughtful, but tinged with sadness. Apart from Roberta singing and playing piano, the arrangement features just strings and a really subtle contribution from an upright bass. This really suits the song, allowing Roberta’s vocal and delivery of the lyrics to take centre-stage. Her delivery of the track is hugely powerful, bathed in sadness, tinged with regret at what might have been. Like other tracks, she brings the song to life, allowing the listener to imagine the scenario unfolding scene by scene.
River, has a different sound and feel. Chiming guitars and rhythm section combine. Drums pound repetitively, their sound metronomic, controlled, before Roberta’s vocal enters. When it does, her voice is high, but always in control. Then, backing vocalists unite, accompanying her with their joyous, gospel tinged sound. This meeting of voices and styles really lifts the track, improves it. Still, the arrangement features just the guitars and rhythm section, with the drums at the forefront of the arrangement. Offering some variety are strings which sweep in, while the guitars seem to want to inject a modicum of funk into proceedings. What’s almost a wah-wah sound is straining at the leash, but is never unleashed. The same can be said of the track. Throughout it, I always expect it to break out into something joyous and beautiful, maybe Roberta interacting and feeding off the backing vocalists. Sadly this never happens, and it seems a missed opportunity. Instead, the track has a slightly flat feel and sound. Although not a bad track, it isn’t the best on the album by a long shot.
Hopefully, Conversation Love will make amends for the previous track, River. Straight away, things sound promising, when a piano, flute, string and rhythm section combine with Roberta’s voice which is deeper, richer and charismatic. The arrangement is fuller, grander, with lush strings sweeping while the piano’s contribution is subtle, while the rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. Waves of music rise and fall dramatically, with the strings shimmering and sweeping beautifully, responsible for this. This is a much better track, mainly because of Roberta’s beautiful, considered delivery of the lyrics, and the much fuller arrangement, which is bathed in drama and atmosphere. It’s very much a return to form for Roberta, after the slight disappointment of the previous track.
Things change quite dramatically in terms of style on When You Smile, when Roberta rolls back the years, delivering the song in a style that brings to mind ragtime and big band music. The track bursts into life with rhythm section, piano and banjo combining with Roberta’s vocal. Her delivery of the lyrics is in a dramatic, big band style, with horns serenading her. Talking of the lyrics, they’ve a lovely sentiment, and you can’t help but smile when you hear them. Quite simply, you can’t help but be seduced by the catchiness of the track, it’s totally melodic and hook laden. A combination of an excellent vocal and infectiously catchy arrangement by Joel Dorn easily make this one of the track’s highlights.
Killing Me Softly closes with a cover of a Leonard Cohen track Suzanne, which Roberta delivers dramatically and thoughtfully, against a suitably subtle arrangement. It’s an epic version of this song lasting nine and a half minutes, and is up there with Leonard Cohen’s version of the song, as the definitive version. As the track opens it’s just piano and percussion that combine before keyboards and bass then enter. They play gently, subtly and thoughtfully before Roberta’s tender and gentle vocal enters. Straight away, it’s apparent Roberta’s slowed down version is transforming the song totally. She seem to enliven the lyrics, so much so, that you can visualize and empathize with Suzanne’s plight. During the track, the tempo rises and falls, with the arrangement a mixture of subtle and dramatic. Both the piano and strings are responsible for increasing both the tempo and drama, while a combination of melodic keyboards, gentle chiming guitars, percussion and rhythm section all play with a subtlety. Like the arrangement, Roberta’s vocal rises dramatically, demonstrating her power and versatility, delivering the lyrics with drama, passion and soul. By the end of the track, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my favorite version of the song. I even prefer it to Leonard Cohen’s original version. To me, the combination of Roberta’s excellent vocal and an arrangement that’s a mixture of drama and subtlety transform this song totally. Just as the album opened with a brilliant song in Killing Me Softly, Suzanne provides a fitting ending to the album.
I’d long planned to write about Killing Me Softly, hich was rereleased by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013, since I wrote about Donny Hathaway’s album Everything Is Everything. My reason for wanting to write about this album is that when people talk about R&B and soul music nowadays, people seem to forget about Roberta Flack. This to me is strange considering how hugely successful a career she had. Between 1969 and 2003, she had seven albums and five singles that were certified gold and three albums that were certified platinum. That demonstrates just how huge a star she was. Nowadays, people seem to remember her for two of her most successful singles The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face and Killing Me Softly. One of my reasons for writing this article was to remind people that there was much more to Roberta’s career than these two singles. Granted both are brilliant songs, with Killing Me Softly being the outstanding track on the album Killing Me Softly. On that album, Roberta demonstrates her versatility and talent as a vocalist, singing songs in different styles, including soul, jazz and R&B. Killing Me Softly is an excellent album, containing some wonderful music. Apart from Killing Me Softly, the album contains an outstanding version of Suzanne, a Leonard Cohen song, and When You Smile which features an arrangement that has its roots in ragtime and big band music. These are just some of the great tracks to be found on this album. Should you have never heard Roberta Flack’s music, Killing Me Softly and First Take are the perfect introduction to the career of a hugely talented singer, songwriter and musician. Standout Tracks: Killing Me Softly WIth His Song, I’m the Girl, When You Smile and Suzanne.
ROBERTA FLACK-KILLING ME SOFTLY.
SWEAT BAND-SWEAT BAND.
After George Clinton and his manager Archie Ivy formed Uncle Jam Records, the nascent label’s first release was the debut album from Bootsy Collins newly formed P-Funk supergroup Sweat Band. Formed out of the ashes of Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Sweat Band was a short-lived P-Funk group, who released just one album in 1980. This was Sweat Band, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records. However, Sweat Band were no ordinary band. Instead, they’re worthy of being described as a P-Funk supergroup, albeit with a soulful twist. Before I tell you about Sweat Band, I’ll tell you about the background to the band and their only album Sweat Band.
Sweat Band were formed out of the ashes of Bootsy Collins’ previous group, Bootsy’s Rubber Band. They were one of a number of P-Funk spin-off groups, formed by members and former members of Parliament and Funkadelic during the seventies. This included Parlet, Quazar and Mutiny. However, not every P-Funk group enjoyed the success of Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Between 1976 and 1980 they released four albums, including the critically acclaimed and commercially successful sophomore album Ah, The Name Is Bootsy, Baby. Everything was going well for Bootsy’s Rubber Band, until a folk group challenged their legal right to use the name “Rubber Band.”
When the case came to court, Bootsy Collins lost the right to use the name Bootsy’s Rubber Band. So, what might have become the fifth album by Bootsy’s Rubber Band became Sweat Band’s debut album. Despite the change of name, Sweat Band featured many of the same members as Bootsy’s Rubber Band.
For Sweat Band, Bootsy Collins, wrote Body Shop and cowrote the other six tracks. With Gary Shider and Carl Small he cowrote We Do It All Day Long and We Do It All Day Long (Reprise). The trio also cowrote Freak To Freak with Jeanette Washington. Bootsy and Joel Johnson cowrote Hyper Space, while Bootsy and Maceo penned Love Munch. Maceo and Bootsy then cowrote Jamaica with Robert Johnson. These seven tracks became Sweat Band’s debut album Sweat Band.
When Sweat Band began recording at Detroit’s United Sound System, it was a P-Funk supergroup that Bootsy had put together. Bootsy was a one-man rhythm section, playing bass, drums and guitar, while also playing percussion. Augmenting his efforts were drummer Jerry Jones plus guitarists Garry Shider and Michael Shider. They were joined by keyboardists Bernie Worrell and Joel Johnson, percussionist Carl Small and The Horny Horns, who included Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Richard Griffith and Larry Hatcher. The backing vocalists included Ray Davis, Michael Payne and ex-Spinner Phillip Wynn whose Wynn Jammin’ was due for release at the same time as Sweat Band. Once Sweat Band was recorded, it was due for release in November 1980, a controversial release date if there ever was one.
Before the release of Sweat Band, Freak To Freak was released as the lead single in September 1980. It reached number twenty-five in the US R&B Charts and number forty-seven in the US Disco Charts. Controversially, Sweat Band was released in November 1980, on the same date at Bootsy’s fifth album for Warner Bros. Ultra Wave. Sweat Band reached number 150 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. The second single Body Shop, released in December 1980, failed to chart. Despite Sweat Band’s all-star lineup, it wasn’t a commercial success. Maybe this was why Sweat Band was the only album Sweat Band released? However, was this a missed opportunity and if Sweat Band had been given time, could’ve been a successful P-Funk group like Bootsy’s Rubber Band?
Opening Sweat Band is Hyper Space, an instrumental penned by Bootsy and Joel Johnson. Although there’s a strong Parliament and Funkadelic sound, elements of jazz, boogie and disco shine through. Driving the arrangement along, are synths and Sweat Band’s uber funky rhythm section and hypnotic handclaps. By now, there’s a much more mellow, laid-back sound. Gone is the really heavy funk of other P-Funk groups. Even when percussion, bubbling, sci-fi synths and searing, rocky guitars are added this doesn’t spoil things. Quite the opposite. They play there part in a track that’s variously mellow, jazz-tinged, hypnotic, dramatic and dance-floor friendly.
Freak To Freak has a much heavier P-Funk sound, and is the polar opposite of the opening track. Key to this is Bootsy’s elastic, slapped bass. He hollers and ad-libs as the Sweat Band kick loose, combining funk, soul and blues. Chiming guitars, blues harmonica, handclaps, stabs of piano and sweet, soulful harmonies join the hypnotic handclaps. Soon, the Sweat Band are in the tightest and funkiest of grooves. You wish they would stay there for much longer than seven minutes. Especially with harmonies this sweet and soulful adding the finishing touch.
Love Munch is another instrumental, where Bootsy and Co. demonstrate their versatility. There’s a real jazzy sound as horns rasp and strings sweep, providing a wistful backdrop for the piano, percussion and rhythm section. The arrangement literally floats along. Described by some people as smooth jazz, that’s a misnomer. Smooth jazz equals bland. This is far from bland. While the percussion provide a shuffling backdrop, the horns take centre-stage. Not only are they played with passion, but controlled power that results in one of Sweat Band’s highlights.
We Do It All Day Long sees a return to the P-Funk sound of Freak To Freak. This version of We Do It All Day Long is only two minutes long. Despite the track’s brevity, you’re smitten from the get-go. Sweet and sassy sing-along vocals accompany growling horns, dark synths, handclaps and a funk-laden rhythm section. Irresistible and infectiously catchy, the only thing wrong with the track is its brevity. However, at least the Reprise is an eight-minute epic.
Jamaica is something of a misnomer. You’re expecting a reggae track, perhaps something paying homage to Jamaican music? Not at all. This is no reggae track. Instead, it’s an explosive slice of funk. It’s like the type of track you’d expect to find on the soundtrack to a seventies Blaxploitation movie. When the track bursts into life, you can imagine a high speed car chase. Driven along by the rhythm section and keyboards, horns growl and blaze. Sassy, feisty and chatter, percussion and harpsichord augment the horns and rhythm section. Crucial to this storming and joyous track’s success is Bootsy’s bass playing. Quite simply he delivers a masterclass in how to play an uber funky bass.
Body Shop was written by Bootsy Collins. After Bootsy hollers: “I like your body,” sassy, feisty female backing vocals strut in. They’ve a slight hip hop sound. That’s the signal for the arrival of some heavy duty P-Funk. Soon, the Sweat Band are into the tightest and funkiest of grooves. Bootsy unleashes some of his trademark bass lines, while scorching guitars, Hammond organ and haunting, moody male vocals accompany him. By now, the arrangement fuses everything from P-Funk through hip hop, psychedelia, seventies funk, jazz and rock. This results in a captivating, genre-sprawling track whose influences span three decades.
Closing Sweat Band is We Do It All Day Long (Reprise). While the original version was just a mere Amuse Bouce, this is a much more substantial musical meal. Slow, thunderous drums are joined by a Hammond organ, bubbling, sci-fi synths and sassy harmonies. As Bootsy’s bass weaves its way across the arrangement, disco strings dance, guitars chime and urgent harmonies soar above the arrangement. Together, they create the tightest of grooves. Crucial to the song’s success are the singalong vocals. They delivers the cheeky hook with just the right combination of sass and sensuality, while the rest of Sweat Band combine to create a nine-minute, hook-laden musical Magnus Opus.
Although Sweat Band stalled at number 150 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts, it’s a much better album than that. After all, Sweat Band featured some of the best funk musicians of their generation. Lead by Bootsy Collins, and featuring the combined talents of Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Bernie Worrell, Carl Small and ex-Spinner Phillip Wynn, Sweat Band was a multitalented, versatile, all-star band. Indeed, there’s much more to Sweat Band than P-Funk.
With its combination of P-Funk, jazz, boogie, disco and soul, there’s much to commend Sweat Band. Tracks like Freak To Freak, We Do It All Day Long, Body Shop and We Do It All Day Long (Reprise) feature the trademark and familiar P-Funk sound. During these tracks, Sweat Band kick loose and do what they do so well. For lovers of P-Funk, then these four tracks feature Bootsy and Co. rolling back the years. The other three tracks are very different, demonstrating another side to Sweat Band’s music.
On Sweat Band’s other three tracks, a different side of Sweat Band emerges. Hyper Space features a mellower sound and like Love Munch, features a jazzier sound. Indeed. Love Munch is the highlight of Sweat Band. Jamaica, rather than a reggae track, is a storming slice of seventies funky music. Gone is the P-Funk sound, with Bootsy and Co. just laying down some peerless funky licks. Which side of Sweat Band you prefer will be down to personal preference. Of the two sides to Sweat Band, I much prefer it when they move away from the P-Funk sound. After all, that was the same sound Funkadelic, Parliament and their various spin-off groups had been releasing since 1970. New and innovative as P-Funk was a few years earlier, this was now 1980, and music was changing. The various P-Funk groups, including the newly formed Sweat Band had to change to stay relevant.
Maybe the reason Sweat Band wasn’t a commercial success, was that P-Funk was no longer as fashionable. It had been overtaken by new musical genres. Granted funk was still popular, but not as popular as during the seventies. So, possibly, Sweat Band was possibly the wrong album at the wrong time? A new decade had dawned, and music fans were looking for new and innovative music. This was certainly something Sweat Band were capable of. Proof of this is Hyper Space, Love Munch and Jamaica. These three tracks saw Sweat Band take their music in a new, innovative and exciting direction. It’s just a pity Sweat Band, with its all-star lineup, didn’t take this innovation further. After all, Sweat Band were a new band, and this was the perfect opportunity to do this. Having said all that, Sweat Band with its mixture of familiar P-Funk and innovative music is an album that’s well worth discovering.
Whether you’re a newcomer to P-Funk, or a veteran of many a Funkadelic and Parliament album, then Sweat Band is well worth discovering. There’s neither faux pas nor filler on the seven tracks that comprise Sweat Band which was recently released by BBR Records. Instead, Sweat Band never miss a beat as they seamlessly veer between P-Funk, jazz, boogie, disco and soul. Sadly, Sweat Band was their only album. This to me, is a missed opportunity. Who knows what direction Sweat Band’s music would’ve headed in. Maybe they’ve forsaken their beloved P-Funk, in an attempt to create new, exciting and innovative music that would’ve inspired a new generation of musicians? That, however, wasn’t the case. Instead, Sweat Band remains a tantalizing reminder of what might have been. Standout Tracks Hyper Space, Love Munch, Jamaica and We Do It All Day Long (Reprise).
SWEAT BAND-SWEAT BAND.
THE GAP BAND-THE GAP BAND VII.
For The Gap Band, commercial success didn’t come overnight. Quite the opposite. Instead, it took three albums. Neither 1974s Magician’s Holiday nor 1977s The Gap Band charted. Then when The Gap Band signed to Mercury Records, their third album The Gap Band reached number seventy-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. This was just a taste of the commercial success that was about to come The Gap Band’s way.
Starting this run of commercially successful albums was The Gap Band II, which was The Gap Band’s second album for Mercury Records. Not only did The Gap Band II reach number forty-two in the US Billboard Charts and number three in the US R&B Charts, but was certified gold.
This success was surpassed with 1980s The Gap Band III, which reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Having sold over one million copies, The Gap Band III was certified platinum. Ironically, just as The Gap Band were about to become one of the biggest bands of the early eighties, they left Mercury Records.
Having left Mercury after The Gap Band III, next stop for brothers Ronnie, Robbie and Charlie Wilson was Lonnie Simmons’ Total Experience Records. Things started well for The Gap Band at Total Experience Records. The Gap Band IV was their most successful album. It reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This gave The Gap Band their second platinum disc. A year later, in 1983, The Gap Band V-Jammin’ reached number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts, resulting in a second gold disc for The Gap Band. However, this proved to the beginning of the end of the commercial success The Gap Band had enjoyed.
Although 1984s The Gap Band VI reached number one in the US R&B Charts, it stalled at number fifty-eight in the US Billboard 200. This meant there was neither a platinum, nor gold disc for The Gap Band. The Gap Band’s ninth album, The Gap Band VII, which was recently released by BBR Records, this found a group at the crossroads. Was The Gap Band VI just a minor blip, or was the beginning of the end of The Gap Band’s popularity?
For The Gap Band VII, much of the the same personnel that had worked on their two previous albums for Total Experience Records would play an important role in the album. This included Jonah Ellis and Oliver Scott. Not only were they producers, but songwriters. Jonah Ellis penned three of the nine tracks on The Gap Band VII. This included Desire, Ooh, What A Feeling and I Want A Real Love. Oliver Scott wrote I Need Your Love, while Jerry Peters penned Going In Circles and Raymond Callhoun wrote I Know We’ll Make It. The Wilson brothers cowrote Bumpin’ Gum People, while Charlie Wilson, Anthony Walker and Billy Young cowrote Automatic Brain and Lil’ Red Junkin’ Hood. These nine tracks became The Gap Band VII, which was recorded at Total Experience Recording Studios in Hollywood, California.
When recording began at Total Experience Recording Studios in Hollywood, California, Charlie Wilson took charge of lead vocals, keyboards, percussion. Ronnie Wilson played horns, keyboards and percussion, while Robert Wilson played bass and percussion. Accompanying them were some of Total Experience Records’ house-band, including producers Jonah Ellis and Oliver Scott. Once the nine tracks that became The Gap Band VII were recorded, the album was released in December 1985.
On the release of The Gap Band VII it stalled at number 159 in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. This was The Gap Band’s least successful album since their third album The Gap Band. Desire was released as the lead single in November 1985. It reached number forty-six in the US R&B Charts. When Going In Circles was released in January 1986, it reached number two in the US R&B Charts. Automatic Brain was the last single released from The Gap Band VII, and stalled at number seventy-eight in the US R&B Charts. The Gap Band VII was The Gap Band’s least successful album since their third album The Gap Band. This wasn’t just a minor blip. Indeed, it looked like it was the beginning of the end of The Gap Band’s popularity. However, why didn’t The Gap Band VII match the commercial success of the Gap Band’s earlier albums?
Opening The Gap Band VII is Desire. Subtle chiming guitars proved to be something of a curveball, as the arrangement bursts into life. Soon, The Gap Band kick loose. A driving rhythm section, featuring pounding drums and Rolling Stones influenced guitars provide the heartbeat. They’re joined by keyboards and washes of synths. By now the arrangement is a busy combination of synth-funk and rock. There’s just enough space in the arrangement for Charlie’s lead vocal. It’s equally dramatic, feisty and confident.
A bluesy harmonica and slow, moody rhythm section open Going In Circles. Straight away, you realize this track is something special. Charlie’s vocal is heartfelt, tender and filled with hurt. The Gap Band are totally transformed. You hear another side to their music. No longer are they an eighties synth-funk group. Instead, they combine balladry with blues, resulting in one of The Gap band VII’s highlights.
Automatic Brain is a dance track with a sound that’s reminiscent of Cameo. Drums crash, while synths weave their way across the arrangement. Anthony “Baby Gap” Walker and Billy Young lay down raps against a backdrop of searing, rocky guitars and harmonies. Combining synth funk, rap and rock guitars, the result is a track that’s infuriatingly catchy.
L’il Red Funkin’ Hood sees The Gap Band seek inspiration from George Clinton. That’s where the P-Funk sound comes from. Synths, harmonies, percussion and an uber funky rhythm section combine. Then the arrangement reveals its surprises. Rather than a vocal, it’s more akin to a rap, laden with quick-witted witticisms. Its augmented by sweet, soulful harmonies. They’re joined by screaming rocky guitars, thunderous drums and a funky bass line. The finishing touch is a carefree, uplifting, melody and you’ve a track that’s full of surprises and curveballs.
Ooh, What A Feeling is another track penned by Jonah Ellis. R&B and funk meet head on as the track opens. Buzzing synths, stabs of keyboards and crashing drums provide the dramatic backdrop for Charlie’s vocal. He matches the arrangement for drama, his vocal a mixture of power and emotion. Urgent harmonies accompany him, before sweeping elegantly in as soul, funk and R&B combine seamlessly.
I Want A Real Love sees the tempo drop, and Charlie Wilson deliver one of his best vocals. Impassioned, emotive and wistful describes Charlie’s delivery. Charlie demonstrates he’s equally at home on ballads on uptempo, funky tracks. The arrangement sees a slow, rhythm section, synths and keyboards accompany his soul-baring vocal.
Bumpin’ Gum People has similarities with L’il Red Funkin’ Hood. Both tracks have been influenced by P-funk. Percussion, rhythm section and synths combine as Charlie lays down a vocal that’s full of hollers, chuckles and one-liners. The best is: “even ET bumped his way home.” Backing vocals accompany him, while Charlie’s vocal veers between ad-libs, raps and scats. This he does against a P-funk inspired backdrop.
I Know We’ll Make It is best described as a post-disco track. It shows that there was life after disco. This is a dance track that takes its inspiration from disco, boogie and eighties pop, it’s a captivating and eclectic combination. Stabs of piano, crashing drums, percussion and squelchy synths provide a hypnotic backdrop for Charlie’s heartfelt, but assured vocal. Dance-floor friendly, hypnotic, soulful and captivating, this track’s all these things and more.
Closing The Gap Band VII is I Need Your Love. As the track reveals its secrets, its reminiscent of something Chicago or Foreigner would’ve released. Having said that, it’s still a very beautiful track. With just piano, cascading harmonies and an understated rhythm section for company, Charlie’s vocal is needy, emotive and filled with loneliness. Although very different from other tracks on The Gap Band VI, it’s a very beautiful, emotive track, which demonstrated how versatile a group The Gap Band were.
During the nine tracks on The Gap Band VII, The Gap Band veer between P-funk, ballads, synth-funk and soul. Add to that, eighties electronica and rock and you’ve an album that’s truly eclectic. Taking inspiration from numerous musical influences and genres, The Gap Band VII is filled with surprises and subtleties aplenty. This allowed The Gap Band to demonstrate just how versatile a group they were. While other eighties groups were one-trick ponies, you certainly couldn’t accuse The Gap Band of that. The nine tracks on The Gap Band VII are proof of this. Despite being an accomplished and eclectic album, The Gap Band VII didn’t replicate the commercial success of earlier albums.
The Gap Band VII didn’t replicate the success of the four albums The Gap Band released between The Gap Band II and The Gap Band V-Jammin.’ Having said that, The Gap Band VII still reached number six in the US R&B Charts and featured some quality music. However, by 1985, when The Gap Band VII was released, The Gap Band’s most successful era was behind them. Sadly, 1983s The Gap Band V-Jammin’ proved to be the end of an era for The Gap Band. After that, The Gap Band never ever, replicated the commercial success of that four year period. Although they released six further albums, they only released two more albums for Lonnie Simmons Total Experience Records. Neither 1986s The Gap Band 8 nor 1988s Straight From The Heart were commercially successful and saw The Gap Band’s popularity continue to decline.
However, between 1979 and 1984, The Gap Band were one of the most successful groups in America. Two of their albums were certified gold, two platinum and three reached number one in the US R&B Charts. Although The Gap Band VII, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records, didn’t match the commercial success of their earlier albums, it’s an album that demonstrates just how talented and versatile The Gap Band were. Whether its synth-funk, ballads, P-Funk and soul, The Gap Band VII features all that and more. Standout Tracks: Desire, Going In Circles, I Want A Real Love and I Need Your Love.
THE GAP BAND-THE GAP BAND VII.
Having founded Philadelphia International Records in 1971, Gamble and Huff made Billy Paul one of the first signings to their new label. Gamble and Huff had know Billy since 1967, when he was working on his debut album Feelin’ Good At the Cadillac Club. Billy’s debut album needed some work to complete it, so Kenneth Gamble helped him complete it, and released it on his Gamble Records. For Billy’s 1970 sophomore album Ebony Woman, it was produced by Gamble and Huff and released on their Neptune Records. So, when Gamble and Huff founded Philadelphia International Records in 1971, it was no surprise that Billy Paul was one of their first signings.
Later in 1971, Billy released Going East, which was the first of eight studio albums he’d release for Philadelphia International Records. However, it was 1972s 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul that transformed Billy’s career. Not only did 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul feature the single Me and Mrs Jones which reached number one in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts, but was the most successful album of Billy’s career. It reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Over the next eight years, Billy Paul would release six more albums which, although they reinforced Billy’s reputation as Philadelphia International Records’ first male superstar, didn’t match the success of 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. Then 1979s First Class, proved to be Billy Paul’s final album for Philadelphia International Records, a label whose fortunes were changing.
By 1979, Philadelphia International Records was no longer soul music’s most successful, innovative and influential label. Not only had the hits nearly dried up, but the calibre of artists signed to Philadelphia International Records was nothing like the label’s glory days between 1972 and 1976. The O’Jays were the only artists from the label’s glory days, and even their run of commercial success was ending. Philadelphia International Records’ most successful artist was Teddy Pendergrass. As the eighties dawned, things got worse for Philadelphia International Records.
In 1982, Teddy Pendergrass was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed. Although he recovered, and his recording career continued, the last two album Teddy released for Philadelphia International Records 1982s This One’s For You and 1983s Heaven Only Knows failed to match the commercial success of his previous albums. Following Heaven Only Knows, Teddy left Philadelphia International Records. This meant Philadelphia International Records had lost their most successful artist. Then when Billy Paul’s contract was due for renewal, Gamble and Huff decided not renew it. This meant Philadelphia International Records’ first male superstar and his successor had both left the label. Luckily, Lonnie Simmons, who owned Total Experience Records, wanted to sign Billy. The result was Billy’s 1985 album Lately which was recently rereleased by BBR Records.
Lonnie Simmons was a self-made man. He had made his money running nightclubs in Los Angeles, before he founded Total Experience Records. The label’s roster included The Gap Band, Pennye Ford and Prime Time. For Total Experience, The Gap Band were their big success story, with their albums being certified gold and platinum. Previously, Total Experience’s fusion of synth-funk and R&B had been distributed by Polygram, but by 1984, RCA had signed a multimillion dollar deal to do so. With RCA distributing Total Experience, the future looked good for Lonnie Simmons’ label. So six years after the release of First Class, Billy Paul was back with his eleventh studio album Lately.
For Lately, Total Experience’s resident songwriter would contribute five tracks, including Fire In Her Love, Sexual Therapy, Hot Date, Get Down To Lovin’ and Me and You. Oliver Scott penned I Search No More and Let Me In, while Marvin Jenkins contributed Lately. Along with covers of I Only Have Eyes For You and On A Clear Day, these ten tracks became Billy’s eleventh album Lately.
Recording of Lately took place to Total Experience Recording Studios in Hollywood, California with Jonah Ellis and Oliver Scott producing the ten tracks. Accompanying Billy Paul were drummer Gerry Brown, bassist Nathan East and Jonah Ellis, who also played lead guitar, electronic drums, percussion and sang backing vocals. Oliver Scott, played keyboards, synths, electronic drums and sang backing vocals. Playing synths and keyboards were David Tillman and Juan Luiz Cabaza. Adding backing were Marva King and The Waters Sisters. Once Lately was recorded, it was released in August 1985.
On the release of Lately in August 1985, it reached number fifty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Of the two singles released from Lately, neither Lately released in July 1985, nor Sexual Therapy released in September 1985 charted. Sexual Therapy did reach number eighty in the UK. However, why wasn’t Lately a bigger commercial success, given Total Experience’s fusion of synth-funk and R&B was proving popular? That’s what I’ll tell you?
Opening Lately, is Fire In Her Love, one of five tracks written by Jonah Ellis. Just wistful keyboards and subtle percussion give way to synths and electronics drums. With their dramatic, eighties sound, it’s as if they’re setting the scene for Billy’s vocal. It’s lost none of its qualities. Best described as smooth, sultry and filled with emotion, Billy breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. By now, the melody will be reminding you of a familiar track. It’s The O’Jays Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby. Tender soulful harmonies and bursts of guitar accompany Billy, as synths, keyboards and drums provide a backdrop to his heartfelt vocal.
During Sexual Therapy it’s as if Billy is paying homage to his old friend Marvin Gaye. So closely related are both tracks, they could be musical brothers. With synths, drums and a bass creating a slow, sensual and funky backdrop, Billy’s vocal is sensual, seductive and pleading. Tight, sweeping and needy harmonies provide the perfect accompaniment as one soul great Billy Paul, pays tribute to another Marvin Gaye with a sultry, bedroom ballad.
Just a pensive piano and washes of synths open Lately. Having set the scene for Billy, he delivers a heartbroken vocal, filled with hurt and confusion. With a much more understated arrangement accompanying him, Billy’s vocal brings out the heartbreak, hurt and loneliness he’s experiencing. He sings the lyrics about a relationship crumbling as if he’s lived the hurt he’s singing about. The result is a poignant, moving reading of some hurt-filled lyrics.
From the get-go, I Search No More has an eighties sound. Synths, pounding hypnotic drums and soaring harmonies accompany Billy as one of his favorite tracks from Lately unfolds. Gone is the hurt and heartbreak of the previous track, replaced by hope and joy. Soulful, funky and featuring what was a contemporary sound, this saw Billy’s music given an eighties makeover. This worked well, given the tracks infectiously catchy sound.
I Only Have Eyes For You is a classic track, which is given an eighties makeover by producer Johan Ellis. While Gamble and Huff would’ve given the track a string laden, big band sound, Jonah goes for a more contemporary sound. This means synths and electronic drums play an important role in the arrangement. They join chiming guitars and stabs of piano. Billy’s vocal is heartfelt and filled with emotion. Harmonies answer his call, sweeping in, their tight, soulful sound the perfect foil to Billy’s vocal as he reinvents a classic track.
Hot Date sees Billy combine soul, funk and poppy hooks. Written by Jonah Ellis, you’re smitten by the tracks charms from the opening bars. Synths, chiming guitars, funky bass and harmonies accompany Billy. His vocal is filled with hope and happiness, that maybe, tonight will be the night, he meets miss right. When keyboards and synths replace Billy’s vocal, their raison d’etre is setting the scene for Billy’s vampish vocal. Picking up the baton, Billy unleashes an emotive, impassioned vocal, rolling back the years in the process.
Get Down To Lovin’ sees searing guitars, strident drums and moody keyboards set the scene for Billy Paul, bedroom balladeer supreme. Smooth, sultry and sensual this is what Billy does so well. Keyboards add a dramatic contrast to Billy’s needy, vampish pleas as he delivers a vocal Magnus Opus.
Let Me In sees the tempo drop, with Billy doing what he does so well, deliver romantic ballads. With just synths and drums providing the backdrop for Billy, the arrangement gradually unfolds. Soon, Billy is delivering one of his trademark seductive vocals. Tight, soulful harmonies prove the perfect foil for Billy, as he pleas, heartfelt and hopeful, Let Me In.
Me And You sees synths, drums and bass combine to create a dramatic backdrop for Billy’s vocal. Needy and tinged with longing, Billy’s vocal grows in power, drama and emotion, while the arrangement pays homage to Me and Mrs Jones. Guitars and percussion join the arrangement. Like Billy’s vocal, it grows in power. Using his four decades of experience, Billy breathes emotion and meaning into Jonah Ellis’ lyrics.
Closing Lately is a cover of On A Clear Day. Washes of synths, keyboards and powerful drums create a moody backdrop to Billy’s vocal. A repetitive bass line accompanies Billy’s vocal, before he unleashes a powerful, strident vocal. Using his full vocal range, he draws upon his jazzy roots. So too, the band, with the piano picking up where Billy left off. When Billy’s vocal reenters, he’s determined not to be outdone, so ups his game, closing Lately on a jazz-tinged, but soulful and dramatic high.
Six years after Billy Paul released his final album for Philadelphia International Records, First Class, Billy made his comeback. Total Experience Records were a label that wanted Billy Paul, and were determined to rejuvenate his career. Lonnie Simmons set his best songwriters, musicians and producers to work. Jonah Ellis and Oliver Scott played important roles. Not only did Jonah write five tracks, but produced eight tracks, while Oliver wrote and produced two tracks. Total Experience’s house-band accompanied Billy and although they were no M.F.S.B. circa 1972-1975, they worked well with Billy, giving his music an eighties makeover. While Total Experience did everything they could to make Lately a success, so did Billy Paul.
For his part, Billy doesn’t disappoint, rolling back the years on Lately. Ballads, standards and uptempo tracks, Billy Paul breathes life, meaning and emotion into them. Where Billy’s at his best is delivering ballads. Seductive, sultry and sensuous, Billy’s vocals are needy, pleading and heartfelt. Despite not having released an album in six years, Billy Paul was still one of the finest soul singers of his generation. This neither guaranteed that Lately would be a commercial success nor critically acclaimed.
Sadly, Billy and everyone at Total Experience’s best efforts were in vain. Lately which was recently rereleased by BBR Records, stalled at number fifty-seven in the US R&B Charts. This meant that there was no followup to Lately on Total Experience Records. For everyone involved with Lately, this must have been a huge disappointment. Lonnie Simmons’ Total Experience Records didn’t release another Billy Paul album. Indeed, following Lately, Billy Paul only released one more album Wide Open. This concluded Billy Paul’s career, a career that lasted nearly forty years and twelve studio albums.
Of the twelve studio albums Billy Paul released, Lately demonstrates another side to Billy’s music. Jonah Ellis and Oliver Scott gave Billy an eighties makeover. Billy’s music was given a more contemporary sound using synths, sequencers and electronic drums. However, one thing remained the same…the quality of Billy Paul’s vocals. During the ten tracks on Lately, Billy Paul rolls back the years and when delivering ballads, is at his very best. Heartfelt, seductive and sensual describes the ballads on Lately, which is something of a glittering hidden gem, awaiting discovery in Billy Paul’s back-catalogue. Standout Tracks: Fire In Her Love, Sexual Therapy, Get Down To Lovin’ and Let Me In.
THE SPINNERS-YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW.
For The Spinners, their 1977 album Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow would mark an end of an era for the group. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013, was Phillip Wynn’s final album as lead singer of The Spinners. This wasn’t the only thing to change. Unlike their five previous studio albums, there were no songs written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed. Similarly, there was a change in the personnel that accompanied The Spinners. No longer was the classic lineup of M.F.S.B. providing the musical backdrop for The Spinners. Granted guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, percussionist Larry Washington and legendary backing vocalists The Sweethearts of Sigma all feature on Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Given much of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was recorded at the same time as Happiness Is Being With The Spinners, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section didn’t provide the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow heartbeat.The biggest difference with Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was its commercial performance. Between 1973 and 1976, The Spinners had enjoyed five consecutive gold albums. That was about to change, as you’ll find out, when I tell you the background to The Detroit Spinners’ seventh album Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
For Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, eight songs were chosen. Thom Bell only cowrote one track, Honey, I’m In Love With You, with Leroy and Tony Bell. Sherman Marshall cowrote four tracks on Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. He penned Me and My Music and You’re Throwing A Good Love Away with Ted Wortham, plus I Found Love (When I Found You) and Just To Be With You with Phillip Pugh. Charles Simmons and J.B. Jefferson wrote I Must Be Living For A Broken Heart and I’m Riding your Shadows Down To Love with Bruce Hawkes. Phil Terry and Michael Burton cowrote You’re The Love of My Life. These eight tracks became Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Like the Happiness Is Being With The Spinners, recording of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was split between Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, but also at Kaye Smith Studios in Seattle. Indeed, much of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was recorded at the same time as their Happiness Is Being With The Spinners.
When the recording sessions began at the two studios, Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, but also at Kaye Smith Studios in Seattle, little did The Spinners realize that Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow would be the final album released by the classic lineup. Lead singer Phillip Wynn, Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson and Bobby Smith were joined by a tight, talented band. This included a rhythm section of drummer Andrew Smith, bassist Bob Babbit and guitarists Tony Bell and Bobby “Electronic” Eli. Pervis Jackson also played bass on Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. They were joined by keyboardist Thom Bell and percussionist Larry Washington. Adding backing vocals were legendary backing vocalists the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Thom Bell arranged and produced Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which would be released in 1976.
On the release of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow in 1977, it reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B Charts. This became The Spinners’ least successful album since signing to Atlantic. There was no sixth gold disc for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. However, considering that disco was now at the height of its popularity, this is no surprise. Indeed, for a soul album, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow had been a commercial success. After all, disco was now King. Over in the UK, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow didn’t fare any better, stalling at number thirty-six. By the time Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was released, Phillip Wynn had announced his departure from The Spinners. You’re Throwing A Good Love Away was the lead single from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, reaching number forty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Me and My Music then stalled at number thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts. While Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and the singles released from the album weren’t as successful as previous releases, this was the end of an era for The Spinners. DId this era end on a high? That’s what I’ll tell you, when I tell you about the music on Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
Opening Side One of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, is Me and My Music, the second single released from the album. A piano, rhythm section and chiming guitar combine, before growling horns enter. They set the scene for Phillip’s joyous vocal, which swings along. He seems to be holding back, doesn’t quite unleash his vocal. Punchy harmonies and braying horns accompany him, while the rhythm section provide the arrangement’s heartbeat. There’s quite a different sound and feel from The Detroit Spinners’ previous albums. Although the band are tight, they don’t have the slick, polished sheen of M.F.S.B. Having said that, it’s still a good song, although not a classic from The Spinners.
Just subtle, pizzicato strings opens I Found Love (When I Found You), Straight away, this much more like what you’d expect from The Spinners. The tempo is slow, with layers of lush, emotive strings and wistful horns accompanying Phillip’s heartfelt tender vocal. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide an understated backdrop, while harmonies from the other Spinners and The Sweethearts of Sigma sweep in. They provide the perfect accompaniment and play their part in a track that has “Philly Sound” written all over it.
I’m Riding Your Shadows (Down To Love) picks up where the previous track left off. Here, the tempo is slow. Thom Bell’s arrangement combines swathes of sweeping strings, keyboards, pensive horns and a subtle rhythm section. When the lead vocal enters, it changes hands. Phillip then delivers a beautiful, impassioned vocal. The contrast between the vocal styles adds to the emotion of the lyrics, as do the tight, soulful harmonies. Flourishes of harpsichord punctuate the arrangement, adding to the beauty and emotion of this tender ballad, something The Spinners do so well.
You’re The Love of My Life is another track that has The Detroit Spinners’ name written all over it. Growling horns and swirling strings swirl are at the heart of the arrangement. The rhythm section and Larry Washington’s percussion combine, as the band build the drama. Having set the scene, Phillip’s grateful, needy vocal enters. He goes on to deliver one of his best vocals on Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Harmonies from the Spinners and The Sweethearts of Sigma sweep in. They match Phillip for emotion and sincerity. Meanwhile, strings dance and horns punctuate the arrangement, as The Spinners roll back the years, one more time.
I Must Be Living For A Broken Heart was written by Charles Simmons and J.B. Jefferson. It’s a hurt-filled ballad, where each of The Spinners play their part. Just piano, the rhythm section, complete with Southern Soul guitars and harmonies combine to create an emotive backdrop. Then Bobby Smith and Phillip Wynn take turns of delivering the lead vocal. Phillip’s delivers his vocal with equal amounts of hurt and heartache. Quivering strings and piano add to the melancholy sound of the arrangement. Later, harmonies from The Spinners and The Sweethearts of Sigma. They add to the sheer emotion and heartache, as The Spinners demonstrate how they were capable of breathing life and meaning into lyrics.
A chiming, funky guitar opens Honey, I’m In Love With You. Soon, things get uber funky, thanks to the rhythm section, wah-wah guitars, percussion and growling horns. The tempo increases, as the arrangement mixes funk, soul and disco. Phillip’s vocal combines power and passion. Sometimes, it becomes vampish, complete with hollers and whoops Punchy, soaring harmonies accompany him, while sometimes, the horn riffs seem to “borrow” from David Bowie’s Fame. It’s a very different track from The Spinners, straddling musical genres, as they attempt to keep up to date with musical fashions.
Just an understated combination of piano and drums opens Just To Be With You. It’s the first of two eight-minute epics. Gradually, the arrangement builds. The bass and half-spoken, almost ironic vocal are joined by the lushest of sweeping strings. Then come the wistful horns and Phillip’s hopeful, needy vocal as Thom Bell’s arrangement reveals its beauty and secrets. Heartfelt harmonies join the deliberate piano, swathes of strings as the rhythm section create a beautiful, emotive backdrop as Phillip delivers a captivating, soul-baring vocal, that demonstrates how important he was to The Spinners’ success story.
Closing Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and Phillip Wynn’s time as lead vocalist of The Spinners is You’re Throwing A Good Love Away. This eight minute epic, is a fitting finale from Phillip. Bursts of rasping horns, cascading strings and a rhythm section complete with hissing hi-hats give way to Phillip’s melancholy vocal. Flourishes of harpsichord, bursts of braying horns and dancing strings see the vocal change, before Phillip takes charge. Soulful, heartfelt harmonies cascade, while Thom Bell adds jazz tinged piano and Larry Washing adds piano. Here, The Spinners deliver some of their tightest, most soulful harmonies, demonstrating just why with Phillip Wynn, this was the classic lineup of The Spinners.
In many ways, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow closed a chapter in The Spinners’ career. Not only was Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Phillip Wynn’s final album as lead singer of The Spinners, but ended a run of five gold albums. From 1973s Spinners, through 1974s Mighty Love and New Improved then 1975s Pick of The Litter, The Spinners could do no wrong. This incredible run of critically acclaimed and commercially successful music ended with Happiness Is Being With the Spinners. While Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was still a commercial success, it didn’t match the success of The Spinners’ five previous albums. This wasn’t helped by the lack or material from the songwriting team of Thom Bell and Linda Creed. Although they’d only written two tracks on Happiness Is Being With the Spinners, they contributed no songs for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Similarly, the lack of the Baker, Harris, Young who for so long, had provided the heartbeat on The Spinners’ albums, including Spinners, Mighty Love, New and Improved and Pick of The Litter, were badly missed. Granted the rhythm section that played on Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow were tight and talented, they were no match for The Mighty Three. Another problem for The Spinners was the change in musical tastes.
By 1977, when The Spinners released, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013, disco was the most popular musical genre. Soul groups, even commercially successful and critically Philly Soul groups weren’t as popular. So in some ways, that Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was as commercially successful bucked musical trends. Phillip Wynn, seeing how musical tastes were changing, decided it was time to part company with The Spinners. In January 1977, Phillip announced he was leaving The Spinners. When, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow was released, John Edwards was chosen as Phillip Wynn’s replacement. Although The Spinners still enjoyed sporadic success, they never replicated the success they enjoyed with Phillip Wynn as lead singer. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow marks Phillip Wynn swan-song as lead singer of The Spinners. Although not as consistent as previous Spinners’ albums, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow demonstrates just why The Spinners were one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed groups in the history of Philly Soul, which their five albums between Spinners and Pick of The Litter proves. Standout Tracks: I Found Love (When I Found You), I’m Riding Your Shadows (Down To Love), Just To Be With You and s You’re Throwing A Good Love Away.
THE SPINNERS-YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW.
CANDIDO-DANCIN’ AND PRANCIN.’
Two of the most innovative record labels in the history of modern music are Blue Note and Salsoul Records. However, there was only one artist who released albums on both labels. That artist is legendary Cuban percussionist, Candido, who released two albums for Salsoul in 1979. Candido’s Salsoul debut was Dancin’ and Prancin,’ which was recently rereleased by BBR Records. Not only was Dancin’ and Prancin’ an innovative album, but it epitomized the Salsoul sound. By 1979 when Salsoul released Dancin’ and Prancin,’ their trademark sound was just about to change, change beyond recognition. Before I tell you about Dancin’ and Prancin,’ I’ll tell you how the Salsoul sound came about, and why, and when, it changed.
Originally, Salsoul was a small label that specialized in releasing Latin music. That wasn’t what Ken Cayre, one of the owners of Salsoul wanted. What he wanted was an orchestra similar to Philadelphia International Records house-band M.F.S.B. Ken’s vision was an orchestra who could fuse salsa, Philly soul and disco. Ken got his disco orchestra after a fortuitous meeting with Vince Montana Jr.
Vince Montana Jr. approached Ken Cayre about bringing a Latin vocal to Mericana, another of Salsoul’s labels. Ken wasn’t interested in Mericana, but explained his vision to Vince. He explained that he was looking for an orchestra similar to M.F.S.B. Having explained his vision to Vince, Ken wrote Vince a cheque. In return, Vince would deliver three songs where Philly Soul, disco and salsa were fused. Without even looking at the cheque, Vince headed back to Philadelphia to record three songs with M.F.S.B. Eventually, Vince looked at the cheque. He was shocked to discover it was for $10,000. Back in Philly, M.F.S.B. recorded Nice Vibes, Dance A Little Bit Closer and Salsoul Hustle.
After the three tracks were delivered to Ken Cayre, he took Salsoul Hustle to CBS who’d first refusal on Salsoul releases. Unluckily for CBS, they were busy releasing albums by Bob Dylan and Barbara Streisand. CBS passed on Salsoul Hustle, as did Atlantic and Polydor Records. So Salsoul released and distributed Salsoul Hustle. Immediately, Salsoul had a hit single on their hands. This proved to be the best $10,000 Ken Cayre had ever spent. Then in Philly fate intervened again.
Less than a hundred miles away from Salsoul’s New York headquarters, problems were afoot at Philadelphia International Records in 1979. Gamble and Huff were locked in a dispute with Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house band M.F.S.B. over money. When this dispute couldn’t be resolved, members of M.F.S.B. quit Philadelphia International Records and headed to New York where they became The Salsoul Orchestra. In one fell swoop, Ken Cayre had his orchestra.
From Salsoul’s earliest releases in 1975, the fusion of salsa, Philly Soul and disco was at its strongest. This was the case right through to 1979, when Candio signed to Salsoul. Commercial success and critical acclaim were never far away. However, by 1979, Salsoul’s trademark sound was changing and had become diluted. The reason for this was the change in personnel at Salsoul. Some of the musicians, arrangers, producers and songwriters who were crucial to Salsoul had left the label.
With Vince Montana Jr. at the helm of The Salsoul Orchestra, the fusion of influences Ken Cayre wanted was at its strongest. After Vince left following a disputed with the Cayres over royalties, this was the start of dilution of the trademark Salsoul sound. The dilution of the Salsoul sound continued when other key personnel either left Salsoul or played less important roles. This included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and Bobby “Electronic” Eli. Playing an important role were remixers, including Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons and Tom Moulton, who’d also produce and write tracks for Salsoul. The music Salsoul was releasing began to change. Recent signings included Silvetti, Claudja Barry, Gary Criss, The Miami Disco Band and Skyy. However, after Candido signed to Salsoul, the music changed dramatically. Candido’s Dancin’ and Prancin’ would mark the end of an era at Salsoul.
Candido was born in August 1921, on the outskirts of Havana in Cuba. From an early age, Candido was immersed in music. He started to learn music when he was four. His uncle taught him to play bongos and then Canido learned to play the tres, a three stringed Cuban guitar. By the time Candido was a teenager, he’d mastered the congas. This lead to him performing at the Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Soon, he was backing Carmen y Rolando, a dance duo whose reputation was worldwide. This lead to Candido accompanying them to New York, where he gained a reputation as a true musical innovator.
In New York, when Candido was accompanying Carmen y Rolando, their budget couldn’t stretch to hiring two conga players, which were needed. Candido, realizing that the only way round this, was to play two congas simultaneously. He’d watched tympani players doing something similar, so realized it was possible. When the time came, Candido played two congas simultaneously. This had never been done before and people were mesmerised. Then Candido took things even further. Soon, he was playing three congas, all tuned at different pitches simultaneously. After this, American jazz legends began to take notice of the name Candido. So it made sense for Candido to move to America.
Now living in America, Candido played alongside Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holliday and Tito Puente. They were able to experience firsthand this visionary percussionist. Then in 1956, the wider public were able to hear Candido when he released his debut album. Candido was released on ABC-Paramount. Over the rest of the fifties, Candido featured on albums by The Billy Taylor Trio, The Lecuona Cuban Boys and The Don Elliot Octet. There was also numerous appearances on albums by everyone from Gene Ammons, Kenny Burrell, The Jazz Messengers, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. Candido also released two more solo albums, 1957s The Volcanic and 1958s In Indigo. If the fifties had been busy for Candido, then the sixties would be even busier.
During the sixties, Candido’s solo career continued alongside his collaborations with other artists. He released 1962s Conga Soul,1963s Congas Comparsa and featured on Jazz At The Philharmonic In Europe. However, Candido was gaining the reputation as the busiest percussionist in jazz music. Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Elvin Jones, Donald Byrd and Gene Ammons all called upon Candido when it came to percussion. Little did Candido realize, as the sixties became the seventies, that he’d release albums on two of the most important labels in the history of music.
Candido’s first album of the seventies, was one the best albums of his career. Thousand Finger Man was released in 1970, on jazz’s premier label Blue Note, with Beautiful following in 1971. Apart from the two albums for Blue Note, Candido only released two other albums before signing to Salsoul. These were 1971s Brujeras De Candio/Candido’s “Latin McGuffa’s Dust” and 1973s Drum Fever. For the remainder of the seventies, Candido worked as a session player, working with everyone with Elvin Jones, Randy Weston, Duke Wellington and Sonny Rollins. Then in 1979, having started the seventies signed to a label synonymous with jazz, Candido ended the seventies signed to disco’s premier label…Salsoul.
In many ways, Candido was similar to Joe Bataan, one of the Cayre’s earliest signings for Salsoul. Joe’s music was a fusion of Latin, soul and disco. He’d two spells at Salsoul. His first spell resulted in his best known track, a cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s The Bottle. So maybe, Joe could replicate the success of Joe Bataan?
Producing what became Dancin’ and Prancin,’ was an old friend of Candido’s, Joe Cain. The pair had worked together on albums like Thousand Finger Man and Beautiful. Joe had been brought to Salsoul by the Cayres, as General Manager of Salsoul Salsa and Mericana. During his career, Joe had produced over 400 Latin albums. However, when it came to disco, Joe was lacking in experience. That wouldn’t stop Joe Cain and Candido trying to produce an album worthy of baring the Salsoul logo. That album would be Dancin’ and Prancin.’
Accompanying Candido on Dancin’ and Prancin,’ were the members of Kleer, who when working with Patrick Adams, Greg Carmichael and Leroy Burgess, were known as The Universal Robot Band. Kleer included a rhythm section of drummer Woody Cunningham, guitarist Richard Lee and bassist and keyboardist Norman Durham. Completing the lineup of Kleer was percussionist Paul Crutchfield. Kleer would play an important part in Dancin’ and Prancin.’ Not only did they accompany Candido, but cowrote two of Dancin’ and Prancin’s tracks.
Dancin’ and Prancin’ consisted of four lengthy tracks. The title-track Dancin’ and Prancin’ and Thousand Finger Man were penned by Woody Cunningham and Louis Small, while Carlos Franzetti wrote Rock and Shuffle (Ah-Ha). Jingo was written by Michael Olatunji. Recording of Dancin’ and Prancin’ took place at The Power Station in New York.
Joining Candio and Kleer, were a horn section, backing vocalists, drummer Jimmy Young, bassist Ken Payne, guitarists Sandy Santana and Joe Caro. Adding keyboards and synths were Louis Small and Carlos Franzetti. Candido played everything from congas, bongos, cowbells, jawbone, clave, quinto and tumbao. Producing this compelling fusion of musical genres was Joe Cain. However, would Dancin’ and Prancin’ be a commercial success?
On the release of Dancin’ and Prancin’ in 1979, it failed to chart. The lead single Jingo, reached number twenty-one in the US Disco Charts, while Dancin’ and Prancin’ failed to chart. Although Dancin’ and Prancin’ hadn’t been a commercial success, it was well received by critics, who hailed Dancin’ and Prancin’ as a minor classic. Why was that?
Opening Dancin’ and Prancin’ is the title-track Dancin’ and Prancin.’ Straight away, thunderous drums grab your attention, and provide a dance-floor friendly backdrop. They’re joined by flourishes of keyboards, cowbells and a myriad of percussion, including congas, bongos and jawbone. Having set the scene, soulful and sassy harmonies sweep in. They add to the irresistible dance-floor friendly backdrop where soul, funk, disco and Latin music seamlessly combines. Keyboards drift in and out, while strings float elegantly and gracefully. Ever-present are the drums that provide a pulsating heartbeat. Horns growl while synths prove their perfect foil. When the soulful harmonies return, they’ set the scene for a virtuoso performance from Candido. Quite rightly, his percussion is at the centre of the mix. You’re enthralled by his jazz-tinged style. Not only is it dramatic and inspirational, regardless of whether he’s improvising or not, but features Salsoul’s trademark sound.
Saying Jingo has a dramatic start is almost an understatement. It’s not unlike Jimi Hendrix teasing you with a guitar solo before diving head first into a familiar track. Instead, it’s keyboards that take centre-stage. Then pounding drums and percussion drive the arrangement along. Combining elements of rock, jazz, Latin and dance music it’s a captivating track. Layers of music unfold, revealing subtleties and nuances aplenty. Urgent, punchy harmonies enter. They soar above the arrangement. By now, you’re swept along atop what’s akin to a musical roller coaster. Candido’s trusty percussion plus banks of synths and keyboards join a powerhouse of a rhythm section, on what is a truly captivating, compelling and genre-sprawling track.
As Thousand Finger Man begins, the arrangement is laden in drama, reminiscent of a seventies sci-fi movie. Soon, drama becomes understated and almost elegant. After that, the two unite, with synths and piano at the heart of the action. When thunderous drums, percussion and ethereal vocals enter, it’s a very different track. Granted there’s still drama and elegance, but the vocal brings a haunting beauty. Keyboards join the funkiest of rhythm sections and heartfelt harmonies. From there, the track reveals its secrets. The result is a track that’s funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. Add its Latin influence and it’s a track that’s dramatic, elegant, tinged in beauty and filled with secrets and surprises.
Closing Dancin’ & Prancin’ is Rock & Shuffle (Ah-Ha). From the get-go, the arrangement is like a call to dance. Resistance is impossible. As keyboards, a funk-laden rhythm section, blazing horns and percussion combine, you’ll be on your feet and Dancin’ & Prancin.’ Bursts of soulful harmonies sweep in and out while this tight, talented band kick loose. It’s a joy to behold. Fusing musical influences and genres seamless, Candido and his band never miss a beat. Driven along by blazing horns, rhythm section and percussion, keyboards and harmonies add the finishing touch to what is, the best track on Dancin’ & Prancin.’ Quite simply, it’s a hook-laden and infectiously catchy fusion of musical genres like you’d expect on a track released by Salsoul.
For fans of Salsoul, Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ was a landmark album in the history of disco’s premier label. Dancin’ & Prancin’ was one of the final albums to feature what had been the trademark Salsoul sound. This was a mixture of salsa, Philly Soul and disco. After Dancin’ & Prancin,’ disco nearly died. Its popularity nosedived, so Salsoul had to evolve to survive. It was a case of change or die. Other disco labels had folded, so Salsoul change was vital. Salsoul started signing what I’d describe as “post-disco” artists. Aurra, Inner Life and Logg joined groups like Instant Funk and Skyy. Disco was replaced by boogie, while funk and eighties electronics started making inroads into post-disco Salsoul. Suddenly, Salsoul’s trademark sound could no longer be heard on Salsoul releases. One of the final albums to feature Salsoul’s trademark sound was Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin,’ which was a minor classic. However, there was much more to Dancin’ & Prancin’ than the Salsoul sound.
Listen carefully to Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ and you’ll hear a complex, multilayered album. Dancin’ & Prancin’ has been influenced by numerous musical genres and influences. There’s everything from jazz, funk, disco, Latin, Philly Soul and even rock during the four tracks on Dancin’ & Prancin.’ Soulful, fabulously funky and dance-floor friendly, Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ is a truly timeless album that’s irresistible and infectiously catchy. Featuring some hugely talented and versatile musicians, Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ which was recently released by BBR Records, is a reminder of Salsoul’s trademark sound. Thirty-four years after the release of Dancin’ & Prancin,’ it’s still perceived as a minor classic. If anything, Dancin’ & Prancin’s’ importance has grown, as a new generation of music fans discover its delights. Sadly, Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin’ marked the end of a musical era. Following Dancin’ & Prancin’ Salsoul Records’ sound changed. It was no longer disco’s premier label. Although disco hadn’t died, it had been badly wounded. It was no longer King. Its rein was over and disco lover’s marked the end of a musical era. However, what better way is there to end an era than with Candido’s Dancin’ & Prancin,’ an album that’s an irresistible and infectious fusion of musical genres.
CANDIDO-DANCIN’ AND PRANCIN.’
By the time Skyy released their fourth album for Salsoul Records, Skyy Line, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records, Salsoul, and indeed music, had changed dramatically. Between 1975 and 1979, Salsoul Records had established a reputation as disco’s premier label. Salsoul Records gained a reputation as an innovative and influential label, who released commercially successful and critically acclaimed albums. Among Salsoul’s success stories were Loleatta Holloway, First Choice, Double Exposure and The Salsoul Orchestra, whose members were crucial to the success of Salsoul.
The Salsoul Orchestra were no ordinary disco orchestra. Quite the opposite. They were the best and were made up of some of the most talented songwriters, musicians, arrangers and producers of the disco era. Lead by Vince Montana Jr, and featuring the combined talents of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, percussionist Larry Washington and guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, they were crucial to Salsoul’s success. First to leave was Vince Montana Jr, after a dispute with the Cayre brothers over royalties. Gradually, other musicians, including Baker, Harris, Young played less of a part in Salsoul’s music. Norman Harris, who ran Gold Mind Records, a subsidiary of Salsoul was a huge loss. He was more than a songwriter, musician, arranger and producer, he was a talent scout, who discovered First Choice and Double Exposure. By 1979, The Salsoul Orchestra had lost some of its biggest names. Then in 1979, disco almost died.
During 1979, there was a huge backlash against disco. The Disco Sucks movement came to a head on 12th July 1979, at Comiskey Park, Chicago. Spectators heading to a Chicago White Sox game were offered the chance to get in for 99 cents if the brought along a disco record. Later, thousands of disco records were blown up, nearly taking with it the stadium. That night, disco almost died. It was read the last rites and on its recovery, headed underground. After that, disco became hugely unpopular. Labels dropped disco artists who were now, really unpopular, disco labels folded and disco was no longer played on radio. Unlike other labels, Salsoul survived and lived through the turmoil.
Having survived the turmoil surrounding disco’s near death experience, Salsoul as a label, had to adapt to survive. No longer could they continue releasing the same music. So, disco changed, evolving and reinventing itself. Boogie was one of the musical genres that replaced disco. However, one group on Salsoul survived the as attempted assassination of disco and flourished in the post-disco era. They were Skyy, founded by Randy Muller and Solomon Roberts Jr, back in 1973, when disco was just about to stretch its wings.
Back in 1971, Randy Muller was a member of Brass Construction, who’d just released their debut single. Around that time, in Brooklyn, New York he first met four sisters who were known as The Sounds Of Soul. This included Denise, Delores and Bonne Dunning, three sisters who were students at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Bensonhurst. Soon, The Sounds Of Soul were opening for Brass Construction. However, Brass Construction wasn’t the only band Randy was involved with.
Randy Muller while trying to refine Brass Construction’s sound, was working with B.T. Express, managed by Jeff Lane. Jeff asked Randy to arrange the strings on B.T. Express’ 1974 debut, Do It To Your Satisfied. Later in 1974, he arranged Isis’ single Bobbie and Maria. This was just the start of Randy’s career in arranging and production. Later in 1974, he arranged Isis’ single Bobbie and Maria. Still, Brass Construction were without a record deal. That changed in 1975.
Having been searching for a record deal for some time, Randy Muller’s Brass Construction finally, signed to United Artists in 1975. Their first album was Brass Construction, which was produced by Randy Muller. It featured the hook-laden number one single Movin.’ With Brass Construction signed to United Artists, The Sounds Of Soul were out on a limb. Luckily, Randy introduced The Sounds Of Soul to Solomon Roberts Jr.
Solomon Roberts Jr. was working with guitarist Anibal Sierra. They’d decided to put together a band comprising four female vocalists. The Sounds Of Soul fitted the bill. Unfortunately, the fourth member decided to leave. This left Denise, Deloroes, Bonne Dunning and Sierra. Soon, bassist Gerald Lebon and drummer Tommy McConnel joined the band. Using what he’d learnt working with Brass Construction and B.T. Express, Solomon started honing Skyy’s sound. Needing a name, Solomon hit on Skyy, which he felt not only summed up the seventies, but brought to mind a myriad of moods. When keyboardist Larry Greenberg joined Skyy, the lineup was complete. Now Skyy could record their debut album.
Before Skyy recorded their debut album, Solomon Roberts Jr. and Randy Muller formed their own production company Alligator Bit Him Productions. By the time Solomon and Randy formed Alligator Bit Him Productions, Randy had produced Brass Construction’s first five albums. Randy was an experienced songwriter, arranger and producer and produced Skyy’s debut album. Once Skyy was recorded, Randy and Solomon pitched the album to record companies.
Having pitched Skyy to various record companies, some labels wanted the band, others just wanted The Sounds Of Soul. Then Salsoul heard Skyy and decided that here was an album of unique and innovative music. Soon, Randy and Solomon signed Skyy to Salsoul.
Now signed to Salsoul, First Time Around was released as Skyy’s debut single in 1979. It reached number twenty in the US R&B Charts, while Skyy’s debut album Skyy reached number 117 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty in the US R&B Charts. This was a good start to Skyy’s nascent recording career. However, things would get even better.
1980 saw the release of Skyy’s sophomore album Skyway. It reach number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number seventeen in the US R&B Charts. The lead single from Skyway, High reached number 102 in the US Billboard 100 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. This was Skyy’s biggest hit single so far.
Later in 1980, Skyy released their second album of 1980 Skyyport. It nearly matched the success of Skyway, reaching number eighty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. However, all that would be surpassed by Skyy’s fourth album Skyy Line, which featured their most successful single Call Me.
For what became Skyy Line, Randy Muller wrote Call Me, Girl In Blue and Get Into The Beat. Solomon Roberts Jr. penned Jam The Box and When You Touch Me. He also cowrote Gonna Get On with Gerald Leon, while Tommy McConnel contributed Let’s Celebrate, which was apt given the success coming Skyy’s way.
Once Skyy Line was recorded, Call Me was released in October 1981. Call Me was a huge commercial success, reaching number twenty-six in the US Billboard 100, number one in the US R&B Charts and number three in the US Disco Charts. Then when Skyy Line was released in November 1981, it reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Let’s Celebrate reached number sixteen in the US R&B Charts and number sixty-seven in February 1982. When You Touch Me was released in May 1982, reaching number forty-three in the US R&B Charts. Skyy Line had transformed Skyy’s career, with commercial success and critical acclaim coming their way. However, why was Skyy Line such a successful album?
Opening Skyy Line is Let’s Celebrate, where the funkiest of rhythm section joins eighties synths before tight, heartfelt and soulful harmonies sweep in. Solomon’s lead vocal is equally impassioned and soulful, expressing a sense of joy, satisfaction and sometimes, disbelief. This is apparent from the lyric: “walking on clouds.” Stabs of horns punctuate the arrangement, while the rhythm section play an important part in the song’s success. Tommy McConnell’s drums provides a steady heartbeat while Gerald Lebon’s bubbling bass weaves its way across the arrangement. Both provide a fitting backdrop for the soulful strains of Skyy as seamlessly, soul, funk and boogie unite.
Written by Randy Muller who produced Call Me with Solomon Roberts Jr, this single gave Skyy the biggest hit of their career. From the opening bars, it’s apparent something special is unfolding. The arrangement marries elements of funk with a disco beat. Above the loping bass line, crisp driving beats and chiming guitars sits a dramatic vocal accompanied by sweeping harmonies. Later, bursts of keyboards and rocky guitars add an element of drama to this career defining track. Not only was Call Me the best track on Skyy Line, but the best track they ever recorded.
A James Brown inspired holler and drum roll signal something funky is unfolding. Girl In Blue has a sassy, P-Funk sound from the get go. A loping bass, hypnotic drums, searing rocky guitars and synths accompany Solomon’s sassy, feisty vocal. He struts his way through the track, with stabs of blazing horns and percussion for company. Solomon delivers a vocal that’s not just sassy, but dripping with confidence against an uber funky backdrop.
Jam The Box is a track with a variety of influences. Funk is the biggest influence, although Talking Heads and boogie can be heard throughout the track. The rhythm section have a foot in two decades. The drums have an eighties sound, while Gerald Lebon’s bass has a seventies sound as it provides the arrangement’s heartbeat. Solomon’s vocal is powerful and confident vocal, as he sings call and response with the former The Sounds Of Soul. Making their first appearance on Skyy Line are Skyy’s trademark Skyyzoos. They play their part in giving this track its infuriatingly catchy sound.
When You Touch Me sees the tempo drop, and soon, a beautiful ballad unfolds. Just an understated combination of chiming guitars, piano and subtle drums combine. Then a dramatic burst of drums signals the arrival of a beautiful, tender female vocal. Harmonies sweep in, complimenting and reinforcing its beauty. Drums add to the drama as the vocal grows in power, beauty and sheer soulfulness. Although very different, it’s a gorgeous track, that shows another side to Skyy.
Gonna Get It On sees Skyy continue to demonstrate their versatility. After the chiming guitars, Skyy throw a curveball, when a real reggae influence enters. The rest of rhythm section enter, and are joined by rasping horns, synths and piano. Solomon’s vocal is needy and sensual, while the Dunning sisters add sweeping, soulful harmonies. The result is a slice of musical sunshine, that demonstrates Skyy’s versatility.
Closing Skyy Line is Get Into The Beat, written by Randy Muller. The tempo is slow, with just the rhythm section, chiming guitars and flourishes of strings producing an arrangement that seems to pay homage to Chic. When a female vocalist enters, her vocal veers between urgent to tender and sensual. It’s the perfect foil to the rest of the arrangement, which brings back memories of Chic at their best, during disco’s glory days.
So what made Skyy’s fourth album Skyy Line such a successful album? Well, by 1981, when Skyy Line was released, Skyy had already released three albums. Skyy had also just released a number one US R&B single Call Me. For newcomers to Skyy’s music, Call Me was the perfect introduction. Soon, Skyy, who’d been a successful band, were on their way to becoming one of the biggest dance groups of 1982. Not only that, but Skyy were now on their way to becoming Salsoul Record’s most successful group of the post-disco era.
Not only were Skyy a successful band, who’d gained a reputation for producing music that was unique, innovative and influential. That was key to the success of Skyy’s music. However, they took this further on Skyy Line. It’s best described as a genre-sprawling album. The nine tracks saw Skyy veer between boogie, disco, soul, funk and on Gonna Get It On, reggae. Some tracks were a fusion of several musical genres, which Randy and Solomon seamlessly combined. That’s what attracted people to Skyy’s music. Masterminded by Randy Muller and Solomon Robert Jr, Skyy released seven albums between 1979 and 1984. However, their most commercially successful and critically acclaimed was Skyy Line, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records. For anyone yet to discover the music of Skyy, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Skyy Line is the place to start. Standout Tracks: Let’s Celebrate, Call Me, When You Touch Me and Get Into The Beat.
THE TRAMMPS-DISCO INFERNO.
Eight months after The Trammps released Where The Happy People Go in April 1976, they released their third studio album Disco Inferno In December 1976. A year after The Trammps released Disco Inferno, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013, their career was totally transformed. This transformation took place when Disco Inferno featured on the soundtrack to a low-budget movie. Little did anyone realize the effect Saturday Night Fever would have on disco and the career of everyone involved.
Saturday Night Fever was a low-budget movie, produced for only $2.5 million dollars, produced by Robert Stigwood and featuring John Travolta. It featured music from M.F.S.B, The Bee Gees, Tavares, Yvonne Eliman and The Trammps’ Disco Inferno. Even when Saturday Night Fever was released, little did anyone connected with the project realize its impact. Soon, Saturday Night Fever became one of the biggest films of the seventies. At the box office, Saturday Night Fever grossed $282.4 million. As for Saturday Night Fever’s soundtrack it was certified platinum fifteen times, selling over fifteen-million copies and staying at number one in the US Billboard Charts for twenty-four weeks between January and July 1978. For every artist or group who featured on the Saturday Night Fever, this was a career game-changer. Disco Inferno became synonymous with The Trammps. However, when The Trammps released their third album in December 1976, it was a very different story.
The Trammps had signed to Atlantic Records in 1975 and released their sophomore album Where The Happy People Go in April 1976. It had reached number fifty in the US Billboard 200 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. Now The Trammps had to build on the momentum of Where The Happy People Go. For their third album, Disco Inferno lead Jimmy Ellis, Earl Young, Robert Upchurch and Harold and Stanley Wade got to work with a few of their Philly friends.
For what became Disco Inferno, Earl Young’s two musical collaborators Norman Harris and Ron Baker would contribute three tracks. Norman cowrote Body Contact Contract with Bruce Gray and Jimmy Hendricks and Starvin’ with Earl Young and Ron Tyson. Ron Baker wrote I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark SIde of the Moon). Leroy Green and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey cowrote the title-track Disco Inferno. Little did they know that Disco Inferno would become a legendary disco anthem. T.G. Conway, Allan Felder and Ron Tyson cowrote Don’t Burn No Bridges. You Touch My Hot Line was written by Jerry Atkins, Victor Drayton, Reginald Turner and Johnny Belmon. These six tracks were recorded in the familiar surroundings of Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios.
Joining the five members of The Trammps, Jimmy Ellis, Earl Young, Robert Upchurch and Harold and Stanley Wade at SIgma Sound Studios were an all-star cast of Philadelphia’s musicians. Baker, Harris, Young provided the rhythm section and Bobby “Electronic” Eli and T.J. Tindall the guitars. Larry Washington and Robert Cupit played congas, while Bruce Grey, Carlton Kent, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and T.G. Conway keyboards. Evette Benton, Carla Benson and Barbara Ingram, The Sweethearts of Sigma added backing vocals and Don Renaldo Strings and Horns played an important part in Disco Inferno’s sound. Producers included Norman Harris, Ron Baker, Earl Young and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. Once Disco Inferno was recorded it was released on 29th December 1976, at the height of disco’s popularity.
Disco Inferno was chosen as the lead single from Disco Inferno and reached number fifty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. Over in the UK, Disco Inferno reached number sixteen. On the release of Disco Inferno on on 29th December 1976, it reached number forty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. This was an improvement on That’s Where The Happy People Go. When the Ron Baker penned I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark SIde of the Moon) was released as a single, it reached number fifty-two in the US R&B Charts. Although The Trammps must have been pleased that their second album for Atlantic Records had been such a success, little did they know what was about to happen. That was still to come. However, what does the music on Disco Inferno sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
Opening Disco Inferno is Body Contact Contract, arranged and produced by Norman Harris. The track bursts into life with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, growling horns, dancing strings and keyboards producing a pulsating heartbeat. Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds a searing solo and Robert Upchurch’s barotone adds punchy backing vocals. That sets the scene for Jimmy Ellis’ vocal. It veers between tender and a grizzled growl. He grabs the song and brings the lyrics to life. With Earl Young’s thunderous drums driving the arrangement along, harmonies sweep in urgently, joining flourishes of keyboards and bursts of Robert’s baritone drift in and out. Meanwhile, frenzied strings dance, horns blaze and bray while Baker, Harris, Young produce a powerhouse of backbeat. It’s the perfect song to open Disco Inferno, dramatic, urgent, soulful and dance-floor friendly, providing a showcase for the twin-talents of The Trammps and their all-star backing band. Now The Trammps have your attention, they won’t let go.
Starvin’ is another track Norman Harris cowrote, arranged and produced. He cowrote the track with Earl Young, Allan Felder and ex-Temptation Ron Tyson. Again, Baker, Harris, Young provide the heartbeat, while melodic keyboards, cascading strings and blazing horns combine to create a dramatic backdrop for Jimmy Ellis’ vocal. His vocal’s full of emotion and pain, as he sings “I’m Starvin’ for your love.” Loneliness and heartache fill his voice, before his vocal becomes a vamp, pleading and begging. Robert Upchurch’s interjections are timed to perfection, proving hugely effective. Similarly, the band provide a dramatic, emotive backdrop. Strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp and Baker, Harris, Young give a masterclass. Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drive the arrangement along and Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds his trademark funky licks. Meanwhile, sweeping, cooing harmonies from the other Trammps and the Sweethearts of Sigma provide the finishing touch, to Jimmy’s needy pleas.
Ron Baker wrote, arranged and produced I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark SIde of the Moon). Earl Young’s issing hi-hats and Ron Baker’s lightning-fast bass combine, as the arrangement unfolds. Crystalline guitar licks from Norman Harris and then banks of keyboards unite to build the drama. After a minute, dramatic bursts of Earl’s drums and keyboards signal the arrival of Jimmy Ellis’ pleading, heartfelt, vampish vocal. Tender harmonies from The Trammps and the Sweethearts sweep in. Soon, they grow in power and soulfulness. Meanwhile, the arrangement grows and grows. Philly Soul, funk, jazz and disco unite. Strings dance joyously, horns growl, keyboards add dramatic flourishes and Baker, Harris, Young produce a powerful, dramatic and funky heartbeat. Handclaps and harmonies give the track a gospel twist, as Jimmy Ellis unleashes one of his most impassioned vamps on Disco Inferno.
Disco Inferno literally bursts into life. It’s arranged and produced by Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. The Baker, Harris, Young section are like a musical juggernaut, with drummer Earl Young driving the track along his hi-hats hissing. Ron Baker’s tough, funky bass matches Earl every step. Don Renaldo strings swirl frantically and his horns growl. Hypnotic keyboards play their part. Then when Jimmy Ellis delivers his vocal, he’s like a disco preacher. His powerful, grizzled vocal grabs the song. Soon, he’s waving his magic, like a disco wand. Punchy, sweeping and cooing harmonies from The Trammps and the Sweethearts of Sigma grow in power. It’s as if they realise something special is unfolding. It is. From the opening bars to the closing notes, Baker, Harris, Young are at the heart of the action. Earl and Ron provide a pulsating heartbeat, while Norman Harris’ jazz tinged guitar playing is subtlety personified. The result is a ten-minute disco Magnus Opus; an anthemic track featuring disco preacher extraordinaire Jimmy Ellis with The Trammps and Philly’s finest musicians produce one of disco’s greatest, most iconic tracks.
Following such anthemic track as Disco Inferno isn’t easy, but Don’t Burn Any Bridges has to do this. Comparisons are almost unfair. Produced by Norman Harris, T.G. Conway’s arrangement has a jaunty, uptempo opening. Flourishes of quizical strings, bursts of drums and grizzled horns combine. Then with a flamboyant flourish of keyboards, urgent harmonies sweep in. When they drop out, Jimmy Ellis takes on the role of preacher, spreading wisdom and advice with a powerful, impassioned vocal. It’s filled with energy, emotion and totally heartfelt. Behind him, strings slip and dance, horns blaze and Earl Young reflects the power and passion in Jimmy’s vocal. Tight soulful harmonies from The Trammps and the Sweethearts of Sigma accompanying Jimmy, as he delivers one of his most heartfelt, sincere and soulful vocals on Disco Inferno.
Closing Disco Inferno is the Earl Young produced You Don’t Touch My Hot Line, arranged by T.G. Conway. Searing guitar licks from Bobby “Electronic” Eli join the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, while strings sweep and swirl. Soon, Jimmy Ellis delvers a vocal that’s a combination of passion and power. It’s also deeply soulful, like The Trammps tight, sweeping harmonies. They’re joined by lush strings and blazing horns, while Bobby Electronic” Eli and Norman Harris’ guitars provide contrasts. Horns growl and Earl Young’s drums inject power and drama as Jimmy and rest of The Trammps vamp their way through the rest of the track, closing Disco Inferno on a song that has made in Philly written all over it.
It seems that The Trammps picked up where they left off on Where The Happy People Go. Not only did The Trammps build on the momentum created by their sophomore album, but Disco Inferno saw The Trammps take their music to even heights of soulfulness and dance-floor friendliness. Philly Soul, funk, jazz and disco were all poured into The Trammps musical melting pot. The result was a delicious and timeless fusion of musical genres. From the opening bars of Body Contact Contract, right through tracks like I Think I’ve Been Living (On the Dark SIde of the Moon), Disco Inferno and the deeply soulful strains of You Don’t Touch My Hot Line, The Trammps never miss a beat.
A combination of The Trammps vocal prowess, plus some of Philly’s best songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians saw to this. Norman Harris, Ron Baker, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Earl Young all deserve credit for their productions on Disco Inferno. So do the all-star line of musicians, featuring some legendary Philadelphia musicians. Especially with such a charismatic vocalist as Jimmy Ellis bringing each song to life with power, passion and emotion. The Trammps and Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies were just the finishing touch. When you look at the personnel involved in Disco Inferno and hear the six tracks, you wonder why the album wasn’t a much bigger success. Then a year later, somewhat belatedly, one of the tracks on Disco Inferno which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013, became an anthemic, iconic disco classic.
When Saturday Night Fever was released, the title-track Disco Inferno became disco’s anthem worldwide. Fifteen-million copies of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack were sold and suddenly, everyone knew The Trammps and their music. Some of the artists that featured on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack didn’t enjoy the longevity of The Trammps. Thirty-six years later, The Trammps music is just as popular. Indeed, many of The Trammps songs, including Disco Inferno , have become anthemic, iconic tracks, part of disco’s rich and vibrant history. Standout Tracks: Body Contact Contract, Starvin’, Disco Inferno and Don’t Burn Any Bridges.
THE TRAMMPS-DISCO INFERNO.
BLUE MAGIC-MYSTIC DRAGONS
The story of Blue Magic, is far from unique. Their eponymous debut album Blue Magic, released in January 1974, reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. This resulted in Blue Magic being certified gold. Blue Magic featured the million-selling Philly Soul classic Sideshow, written by Vinnie Barrett and Bobby “Electronic” Eli. Sadly, after their debut album, Blue Magic failed to replicate the success of Blue Magic.
The Magic of The Blue, released in December 1974, reached number seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B Charts. Even when the Vinnie Barrett and Bobby “Electronic” Eli, penned Three Ring Circus was released as a single, it stalled at number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Blue Magic’s fortunes improve during 1975.
1975 saw Blue Magic embark on their first world tour. It lasted sixteen grueling and exhausting weeks. However, their luck was about to improve. Blue Magic won an Ebony Award for the best new group. Then in September 1975, their third album, Thirteen Blue Magic Lane reached number fifty in the US Billboard 200 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. With Blue Magic’s fortunes improving, work began on their third album Mystic Dragons which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013. For Mystic Dragons, there would be some changes.
Unlike Blue Magic’s first three albums, Norman Harris wasn’t producing Mystic Dragons. Neither would Norman provide any of the songs on Mystic Dragons. Given Norman had co-written eleven songs on Blue Magic’s three previous albums this would be a huge void. Another void was the loss of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. They’re didn’t provide Mystic Dragon’s heartbeat. Only Norman Harris would play on Mystic Dragons. For Mystic Dragons, Bobby “Electronic” Eli would produce and cowrote six of the nine tracks.
Mystic Dragons featured nine tracks, with Bobby “Electronic” Eli contributing six tracks. With Vinnie Barrett, Bobby “Electronic” Eli penned To Get Love (You Must Give Love). Bobby cowrote Freak-N-Steln, Mother Funk, Summer Snow and Making Love To A Memory with Len Barry. They then penned Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival with Keith Barrow, who wrote It’s Something About Love. Blue Magic’s lead singer wrote Spark of Love and cowrote See The Bedroom with Keith Beaton. These nine tracks became Mystic Dragons, which was recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios.
Blue Magic returned to Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios for the recording of Mystic Dragons. They were accompanied by some of Philly’s best musicians. The rhythm section included bassists Larry LaBes and Michael “Sugarbear” Forman, drummers Jerry James and Larry James plus guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Norman Harris, T.J. Tindall and Ted Cohen. Vince Montana Jr, played vibes, Larry Washington congas and percussion and Evette Benton tambourine. Carlton “Cotton” Kent, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Erskine Mills played keyboards, while Dexter Wansell and Travers Huff played synths. Alto saxophonist Jack Faith and violinist Don Renaldo were part of the woodwind, string and horn section that featured on Mystic Dragons. Add backing vocals were The Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Once Blue Magic had finished recording Mystic Dragons, it was released in 1976.
On the release of Mystic Dragons in 1976, it was the least successful album of Blue Magic’s career. It stalled at number 170 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-four in the US R&B Charts. Three singles were released from Mystic Dragons during 1976. Freak-N-Steln only reached number seventy-three in the US R&B Charts. It’s Something About Love then reached number forty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Summer Snow proved to be the most successful single, reaching number forty in the US R&B Charts. This must have been hugely disappointing for Blue Magic. This was a long way from their million-selling album Blue Magic and single SIdeshow. So, why wasn’t Mystic Dragons a commercial success? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on Mystic Dragons.
Opening Mystic Dragons is Freak-N-Steln, penned by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Len Barry. Straight away, you hear a very different sound to Blue Magic. It’s a tougher, funkier sound, but still soulful. Searing guitars, stabs of keyboards and a funk-laden rhythm section combine, before a powerful, almost dramatic vocal enters. Sweeping harmonies provide the soulful side of the track. Growling horns add to the tough, funky side, while soaring synths from Dexter Wansell provide another new side to Blue Magic. Although a long way from the dreamy, wistful sound of Sideshow and Three Ring Circus, it’s almost as Blue Magic are trying to reinvent themselves. While it’s still a quality track, maybe the new sound alienated Philly Soul lovers?
To Get Love (You Must Give Love) has a much more Blue Magic sound. Written by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett, the track has a dreamy, melancholy sound. It features Ted Mills’ first lead vocal. The tempo slows, keyboards, a wandering bass and Vince Montana Jr’s bass combining. Then comes Ted’s tender, heartfelt vocal. Accompanying him, are harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma and the rest of Blue Magic. A piano and bass play a crucial role in the arrangement, while the drums reflect the drama and emotion in Ted’s vocal. Synths are deployed, and thankfully, don’t detract from the arrangement. Norman Harris’ chiming guitar makes an appearance, on this beautiful ballad, that quite simply, is one of the highlights of Mystic Dragons.
See The Bedroom sees another change in style. There’s everything from rock, funk and soul combining. Sometimes, there’s even a psychedelic era Beatles sound in the mix. The rhythm section, searing guitars and blazing horns combine with vocal, before the track heads in a dramatic and soulful direction. It’s the vocal that provides the soulfulness, while the rhythm section, horns and synths that add the drama. Cascading harmonies and searing guitars accompany Ted’s vocal, as Blue Magic combine elements of Philly Soul, psychedelia and funk. Drama and soulfulness are combined, as Blue Magic continue to reinvent themselves with this experimental track. Ironically, the previous track, which had Blue Magic’s name written all over it, is what they do best.
Given the title Mother Funk, it’s no surprise the track has a heavy-duty funky sound. It’s like Blue Magic trying to reinvent themselves as Funkadelic. From the get go, riffing guitars, blazing horns and a pounding, funky rhythm section accompany the vocal. It’s edgy, tough and sassy. Cascading, soulful harmonies and percussion join an arrangement where, a driving rhythm section, growling horns and riffing guitars combine. Then Don Renaldo unleashes a violin solo. Country and folk are his reference points. Somehow, Blue Magic have managed to pull off the impossible, by combining elements of Philly Soul, funk and Southern Rock. By then, Blue Magic’s mystical, heady brew of musical genres suddenly all makes sense. This seems a fitting way to close Side One of Mystic Dragons.
Summer Snow opens Side Two of Mystic Dragons, with a much more Blue Magic sounding track. They return to their Philly Soul sound. Just a combination of the rhythm section, piano, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and chiming guitars accompany Ted’s tender vocal. Suddenly all is well with the world, as Blue Magic do what they do so well. I can even forgive the use of the synths. When the vocal changes hands, Blue Magic showcase their combined vocal prowess. Similarly, their harmonies are tight, heartfelt and soulful, as they do what they do best, deliver soulful, beautiful music.
As Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival unfolds, it’s as if Blue Magic are in church, testifying. Then having given thanks, the arrangement explodes. Searing guitars and a driving rhythm section accompany the powerful, joyous vocal. Funk, rock and soul combine. Slide guitar and piano play leading roles, complete with handclaps and gospel harmonies from Blue Magic and The Sweethearts of Sigma. The result is an infectiously catchy, genre-sprawling track, hooks-laden track.
Just an understated arrangement opens It’s Something About Love. Synths, a subtle rhythm section and flute combine, before Ted’s vocal enters. The only problem is the synths, which jar. This means Ted’s vocal is forced to compete with the synths. His vocal is a mixture of hope and happiness, but tinged with confusion. Subtle sweeping, cooing harmonies, piano and rasping horns combine, as the vocal changes hands. From there, Ted’s vocal grows in power, passion and joy, complete with some delicious harmonies. Apart from the synths, which seem out of place and jar somewhat, this is a gorgeous Philly Soul ballad, which demonstrates that even by 1976, Blue Magic had neither lost any of their soulfulness nor magic.
Making Love To A Memory is the last of the Len Barry and Bobby “Electronic” Eli songs. Just Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and keyboards combine, before a burst of drums signals the cooing, tender harmonies to sweep in. Blue Magic are joined by The Sweethearts of Sigma as the lead vocal is delivered with sadness and regret. Harmonies answer the vocal, sweeping in, as if sympathizing with the plight. Meanwhile, the arrangement allows the vocal and harmonies to take centre-stage. Just the rhythm section, keyboards and percussion accompany Blue Magic, as they roll back the years, delivering a vintage slice of Philly Soul.
Closing Mystic Dragons is Spark of Love, penned by Ted Mils. The rhythm section build the drama and emotion, before the lead vocal enters. It’s hurt-filled and emotive, with the synths providing an accompaniment. Sometimes, it seems out of place, competing with the vocal and harmonies. Here, it’s a case of the synths are overused. A little goes a long way. They should’ve been used sparingly. It’s a shame, as Blue Magic are at their soulful, dramatic and emotive best. The arrangement cascades along, like a merry-go-round. Just the rhythm section, piano provide the accompaniment to Blue Magic. For their part Blue Magic seem to drive each other to greater heights of emotion, drama and sheer soulfulness.
So, Blue Magic’s fourth album Mystic Dragons, produced by Bobby “Electronic” Eli saw a change in sound and style from one of Philly Soul’s giants. With Norman Harris no longer producing Blue Magic, their familiar Philly Soul sound changed. Gone were the lush strings of the three previous albums. Similarly, the horns were used much more sparingly. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section were also badly missed. So too, were the songwriting skills of Norman Harris and his various songwriting partners. Having said that, this doesn’t mean Mystic Dragons is a bad album. Quite the opposite. There’s much to commend Mystic Dragons
Producer Bobby “Electronic” Eli combined elements of funk, rock and even psychedelia with Philly Soul. Freak-N-Steln and the Funkadelic inspired are very different to Blue Magic’s previous music. Of the two tracks, Mother Funk works best. On See The Bedroom, Philly Soul, funk and Southern Rock are fused. Somehow this works, and works well. Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival is a hook-laden track where Blue Magic and The Sweethearts of Sigma testify their way through the track, fusing Funk, rock, soul and gospel. Ironically, although each of these tracks see producer Bobby “Electronic” Eli take Blue Magic out of their comfort zone, it was the Philly Soul tracks which stand out.
Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett, who penned Blue Magic’s biggest single Sideshow, cowote The To Get Love (You Must Give Love). This was the best track on Mystic Dragons. It had a lovely, dreamy, wishful sound, just like Sideshow and Three Ring Circus. Of the other four tracks, Summer Snow and Making Love To A Memory see Blue Magic back to their soulful best. Both are tracks quite beautiful slices of Philly Soul. So too are It’s Something About Love and Spark of Love, which could’ve been an even better tracks if the synths hadn’t been used during the track. Overall, the five Philly Soul tracks were what Blue Magic did so well. However, given the change in musical tastes, Blue Magic’s music had to change.
Disco was now the most popular musical genre. Funk was also a popular musical genre. Philly Soul was no longer as popular. So it made sense for Blue Magic to change direction. However, Mystic Dragons didn’t sell well. Indeed, Mystic Dragons which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013, was the least successful album of Blue Magic’s career. While Mystic Dragons is a good album, it doesn’t match the quality of their first three albums. For anyone looking to discover the music of Blue Magic, then Blue Magic, The Magic of The Blue and Thirteen Blue Magic Lane are the place to start. After that, Mystic Dragons is an album to explore and enjoy, as Blue Magic open the next chapter in their career. Standout Tracks: To Get Love (You Must Give Love), Summer Snow, It’s Something About Love and Making Love To A Memory.
BLUE MAGIC-MYSTIC DRAGONS.
ARETHA FRANKLIN-I NEVER LOVED A MAN THE WAY I LOVED YOU.
Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most overused word in the English language is the word “classic.” Nowadays, something can’t just be good, it must be a classic. It doesn’t matter if someone is talking about a book, cuisine, technology, a architecture or art, the word classic is used to describe anything that rises above average. Whether it’s a book, building, painting, phone or automobile, chances are, critics will refer to it as a classic. Nowhere is the word classic more overused than in music. Anyone who reads the music press will see the word classic both overused and misused. In truth, very few of the hundreds of thousands of albums ever recorded, deserve to be called classics. However, one album that certainly deserves that accolade, is Aretha Franklin’s breakthrough album I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013.
By the time Aretha Franklin recorded I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You, she was not only a hugely experienced singer and recording artist, having released ten previous albums. Three of those albums Running Out of Fools released in 1964, 1965s Yeah! and Soul Sister, released in 1966, had all reached the top ten in the US R&B Charts. That however, was the extent of her commercial success. Her previous album 1966s Take It Like You Give It had failed to chart. All this would change considerably, in 1967, when she took a trip to Muscle Shoals to record her next album.
Aretha Franklin’s destination was the legendary Fame Recording Studios, where she recorded with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, who’d graced numerous Southern Soul hits. Once there, she recorded a track that would change her career I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You, a track where Aretha’s gospel influence shines through. On returning to New York, she cut the B-side of what would be her next single, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You. The B-side Do Right Woman, Do Right Man. On the single’s release, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You reached number nine in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts, resulting in the first gold disc of Aretha’s career.
Following this success, an album was released, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You, which had been recorded at the Fame Recording Studios n Muscle Shoals and Atlantic Recording Studios in New York, during January and February of 1967. With the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section Aretha recorded a total of eleven tracks, including a cover of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and Otis Redding’s Respect. Aretha’s cover of Respect reached number one in both the US Billboard 100 and the US R&B Charts, earning Aretha another gold disc. On its release in March 1967, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You reached number two on the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This lead to the album being certified platinum, having sold over one million copies.
Although most critics loved the album, Rolling Stone magazine had a number of criticisms. They criticized the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section’s “lack of versatility,” with the drums and guitar incurring the wrath of Fame’s finest musicians. Another person coming in for criticism was producer Jerry Wexler. His “production lacked polish,” was their opinion. Whether any of this either reached or bothered the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Jerry Wexler or even Aretha Franklin, is unknown. After all, everyone concerned had just played their part in a platinum selling album. However, after a volte-face in 2002, the same magazine made the album number one in their Women In Rock: 50 Essential Albums list. A year later, after their volte-face they included I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You at number eighty-three in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Since its release, back in 1967, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You is still perceived as one of the greatest albums Aretha Franklin ever released, and it’s that album I’ll now tell you about.
I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You opens with a cover version of the Otis Redding track Respect, albeit with a change in the lyrics. Whereas, Otis’ version was from the perspective of a desperate man, willing to do whatever it takes to please his woman, Aretha sings the song from the perspective of a confident, independent woman. She knows what he wants, never does him wrong and demands his respect. Making her point, she spells out R-E-S-P-E-C-T, while behind her, backing singers unite to sing “sock it to me.” The song became an anthem to the feminist movement, and earned Aretha two Grammy Awards in 1968. When the songs opens, it’s a combination of blazing horns, chiming, searing guitars and driving rhythm section that accompany Aretha’s sassy, confident vocal. Behind her, The Sweet Inspirations, Aretha’s backing vocalists unite soulfully, their voices a contrast to Aretha’s power and confidence. Together with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, they help drive the track quickly, along. The result is not only a timeless, track, but a feminist anthem.
Drown In My Own Tears was a track previously covered by Dinah Washington and Ray Charles. Here, Aretha reinterprets the track written by Henry Glover. It’s just a piano that opens the track, giving way to a hugely powerful and emotive vocal from Aretha. Drums join the piano, played gently, as they should be on this track, while Aretha injects both beauty and emotion into the lyrics. Later, rasping horns enter, and like The Sweet Inspiration, punctuating the rest of the track. Jerry Wexler’s arrangement is perfect, allowing Aretha’s vocal to take centre-stage, where it soars emotively and beautifully, as she offers up a beautiful interpretation of the song.
The track that really launched Aretha’s career after eleven years and ten albums of trying was I Never Loved A Man (the Way I Loved You). Written by Ronny Shannon, it gave Aretha her first US R&B number one single. It’s that familiar combination of piano, organ and drums that open the track, before Aretha’s frustrated, angry vocal enters. She’s despairing at being in love with a no-good, good cheating guy, who treats her badly, but can’t leave him because of how he makes her feel. Rasping horns punctuate the track, while, the piano is key to the track. Occasionally The Sweet Inspirations accompany Aretha, adding to the already emotive and dramatic sound. Soon, horns accompany Aretha’s energetic, desperate soaring vocal as she sings how she’s never loved a man like him. In just under three minutes, Aretha covers a gambit of emotions from angry and frustrated, to lovestruck and desperate and everything in between. It’s a very real story the mistreating, cheating guy and the woman who would and should leave him, but can’t because she loves the way he makes her feel. However, no-one can tell the story like Aretha. Her version of this seminal, career changing track is peerless.
Aretha changes things on Soul Serenade, which features a truly tender vocal. Just Aretha and the piano combine, before blazing horns and the rhythm section enter. The horns enter into call and response with Aretha and are at the heart of the sound. This proves really effective.
Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream features a much more powerful vocal from Aretha, who co-wrote this track with her husband Ted White. Just the rhythm section and backing vocalists accompany Aretha. Whether this song is autobiographical one wonders, given the lyric “if I lose this dream, it’s goodbye love and happiness?” Although the lyrics are good enough, they and the song don’t quite match the quality of its predecessors. Sinilarly, Jerry Wexler’s production gives the track a dated sound.
Baby, Baby, Baby was written by Aretha and her sister Carolyn. A combination of piano and Hammond organ that accompany Aretha’s hugely emotive and sad vocal. Hurt by the man she loves, the rhythm section and The Sweet Inspirations gently accompany Aretha on this slow, sad song. Emotive and impassioned, her love for her man is almost tangible. This becomes sadness and desperation, when rasping, horns and soaring harmonies join. Truly, it’s a powerful track, full of emotion, thanks to Aretha’s reading of some heartbreaking lyrics.
Another track Aretha and Ted White penned was Dr Feelgood (Love Is A Serious Business). Straight away, there’s a real Southern Soul feel as a Hammond organ and piano combine, before the rhythm section and Aretha enter. They’re accompanied by bursts of horns and guitar, while Aretha gives a thoughtful, slightly angry vocal. She’s angry as she sings about neither wanting anyone, nor anything, to come between her and her man. Aretha sings the lyrics with frustration, anger and passion, combining soul and jazz seamlessly.
Aretha covers two Sam Cooke tracks on I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You. The first of these is Good Times, where Aretha makes the song swing with the help of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Along with blazing horns, Aretha gives a sassy, swinging rendition of Sam Cooke’s lyrics. Her delivery is jazzy, but still soulful as the makes Sam Cooke’s lyrics swing,
Dan Penn and Chips Moman cowrote Do Right Woman, Do Right Man. Although this track has been covered many singers, Aretha’s version is the definitive version. Key to this is the gospel influence, which continues to the bridge. Just the piano, Hammond organ played by Aretha and rhythm section accompany Aretha’s gospel tinged vocal. Behind her, The Sweet Inspiration contribute peerless harmonies. Aretha’s vocal is laden with emotion, as she urges men to treat women as their equals, as well as treating them well, not cheating on them or abusing them, and certainly, never to take them from granted. The other theme of the lyrics is temptation, and how women can be tempted towards infidelity, but resisting temptation, can have its rewards. Aretha’s vocal is laden with emotion and sincerity, as she demonstrates her gospel roots, while delivering the definitive version of a classic track.
Save Me was written by Aretha and Carolyn Franklin with Curtis Ousley. Searing guitars and the rhythm section accompany Aretha’s pleas, as she almost screams for someone to save her, to love her and take away her hurt. Later, short, sharp bursts of horns punctuate the arrangement, while the guitars and rhythm section drive the track along. As the track progresses, Aretha’s pleas become even more desperate, full of emotion, sadness and passion. This results in a track that’s drenched in drama, emotion and desperation.
Closing I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You is Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come. Of all the songs Sam Cooke wrote, this is one of the most powerful and became synonymous with the civil rights movement. Although the song was only a minor hit for Sam Cooke in 1963, the song’s impact was huge and important. When it’s sung by either Sam Cooke or Aretha Franklin, it has the capacity to bring a multitude of emotions to the surface. It makes you sad, frustrated and angry at the injustice of the early sixties when the song was released by Sam Cooke, but happy and joyous that by 1967, slowly change was indeed coming. Just a piano accompanies Aretha’s tender, determined and thoughtful vocal. As a Hammond Organ enters, her voice soars. Aretha brings life and meaning to Sam Cooke’s lyrics, her voice soaring from tender to a powerful, emotive and impassioned style. By the end of the this outstanding, hugely emotional paean of hope, you can’t failed to be moved and be uplifted by this beautiful song, which is a fitting and poignant way to end I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You.N
Not only did I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You launch Aretha Franklin’s career at Atlantic Records, but it was the album that saw her make a commercial breakthrough. Critically acclaimed and certified gold, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013, is one of Aretha’s greatest albums. Quite simply, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You is a stunning album, with some hugely powerful music on it. Among the highlights of I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You are Respect, I Never Loved A Man (the Way I Loved You), Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and A Change Is Gonna Come. These are four tracks not only feature Aretha at her best, but demonstrate her ability to bring life and meaning to lyrics. There’s e confident, independent and sassy Aretha on Respect. Compare this to the Aretha on Never Loved A Man (the Way I Loved You), where she’s been mistreated, cheated on, but still can’t stand to leave. The difference is huge, but the portrayal are very real. Then there’s the message of equality on Do Right Man and the positivity and emotion of A Change Is Gonna Come. This allows you to see how Aretha Franklin could bring a song to life, make to you believe in the lyrics and emotions behind it. Although I’ve just mentioned these four songs, there are many other great tracks on the album. Aretha’s interpretation of Henry Glover’s Drown In My Own Tears is both emotive and very beautiful. Overall, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You is one of the few that deserves to be rightly called a classic album. Nowadays, this accolade is given to too many unworthy albums. However, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You richly deserves the accolade.
Having released ten albums before signing to Atlantic Records, I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You was a career defining album. It saw Aretha on her way to being crowned Queen Of Soul. However, this was just the start of a string of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. From 1967s Aretha Arrives, Lady Soul, Aretha Now, through 1969s Soul ’69 and 1972s Young Gifted and Black Aretha Franklin was the undisputed Queen Of Soul. Nobody else came close. These were the best albums of Aretha’s long and illustrious career. However, the album that started Aretha Franklin’s career was I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You, which transformed her career and deserves to be called a classic. Standout Tracks: Respect, I Never Loved A Man (the Way I Loved You), Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and A Change Is Gonna Come.
ARETHA FRANKLIN-I NEVER LOVED A MAN THE WAY I LOVED YOU.
ROBERTA FLACK-FIRST TAKE.
Mention Roberta Flack’s name, and most people automatically think of two songs, The First Time I Saw Your Face and Killing Me Softly. The story of First Take is one where if fate hadn’t intervened, might have resulted in the album forever remaining a hidden gem. Having been released in 1969, First Take which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013 wasn’t a commercial success. Remarkably, when First Take was released in 1969, The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face wasn’t released as a single. Instead, Compared To What was the first single released from First Take. It wasn’t until two years later, in 1971, when fate intervened and The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face featured in the Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty For Me. This lead to the song being released as a single, giving Roberta her first US number one single. Spurred on by sales of The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, First Take started selling, transforming Roberta’s career. Two years after its release, First Take would go on to sell over one-million copies, resulting in the album being certified platinum. However, things might have been very different, if The First Time I Saw Your Face hadn’t featured in Play Misty For Me. Before I tell you about the music on First Take, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.
First Take was Roberta Flack’s debut album for Atlantic. She was then thirty-two, and had been working as a teacher, while singing at weekends before signing to Atlantic. Les McCann had been in the audience when Roberta performed at a benefit concert for the Inner City Ghetto Children’s Library Fund. Having been smitten by Roberta’s performance, Les arranged for Roberta to audition for Atlantic. During the audition, Roberta played forty-two songs in three hours for producer Joel Dorn. Soon, Roberta found herself signed to Atlantic, recording thirty-nine songs in less than ten hours in November 1968. After this, the next time Roberta was in a recording studio would be record her debut album First Take.
Recording of First Take was scheduled to take place at Atlantic’s Recording Studios in New York. Eight songs were chosen for First Take, none of which were written by Roberta. Among these tracks were Gene McDaniels’ Compared To What, Donny Hathaway and Leroy Hutson’s Tryin’ Times, Leonard Cohen’s Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye and Our Ages of Our Hearts which Donny Hathaway and Robert Ayers cowrote. One other track was Euan McColl’s The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, a track which two years later, would prove crucial in Roberta’s future career.
Once recording of First Take was underway at Atlantic’s Recording Studios in New York, Roberta’s band didn’t waste time. Together, guitarist John Pizzarellli, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Ray Lucas accompanied Roberta, who played piano. Recording started on 24th February 1969, ending on 26th February 1969. In total, First Take was recorded in just ten hours. Later, strings and horns were overdubbed, with First Take set for release in June 1969.
On the release of First Take on June 20th 1969, but the album wasn’t a commercial success. Only one single was released from First Take Compared To What, which failed to chart. This must have been hugely disappointing for Roberta, Les McCann who’d discovered Roberta and producer Joel Dorn. However, that wasn’t the last that would be heard of First Take
Fast forward two years to 1971. By then, Roberta had release the followup to First Take, 1970s Chapter Two and 1971s Quiet Fire. Both albums had proved commercially successful, being certified gold. First Take must have seemed a long time ago for Roberta, until a film was released. Clint Eastwood released the movie Play Misty For Me in 1971 and It featured The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, which was a track on First Take. Given the success of the film and how many people loved The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, Atlantic decided to release the track as a single. This resulted in First Take becoming belatedly, becoming a huge commercial success.
The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face was released in January 1972, reaching number one in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. Spurred on by the success of The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, First Take reached number one in both the US Billboard 200 and US R&B Charts. Eventually, First Take sold 1.9 million copies, resulting in the album being certified platinum three years after its original release. I’ve always wondered whether this commercial success might have happened sooner if The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face had been released as a single instead of Compared To What back in 1969? At least First Take found the success it deserved, if somewhat belatedly. However, why did it take three years for First Take to become a commercial success? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on First Take.
Opening First Take is Compared To What, the only single originally released from the album. Written by Gene McDaniels, the track is jazz-tinged from the start. Just a standup bass and piano accompany Roberta’s vocal. Her voice quickly grows in power, full of emotion and frustration that’s perfect for the thoughtful, powerful lyrics. Bursts of blazing horns dramatically punctuate the arrangement, while Roberta’s small band leave space for her vocal, which is impassioned and emotive.
Flourishes of piano and a slow moody bass combine, creating a spellbinding combination as Angelitos Negros opens. Then Roberta’s vocal enters, accompanied by a light military beat, quivering strings and Spanish guitar. She articulates the lyrics beautifully, delivering them in such a way that’s deeply moving and powerful. Later, strings add to the track’s beauty, and are the perfect accompaniment to Roberta’s heartfelt, poignant vocal.
Donny Hathaway and Robert Ayers cowrote Our Ages Or Our Hearts. Here, producer Joel Dorn’s understated arrangement allows Roberta’s vocal to take centre-stage and shine. It’s just Roberta on piano, accompanied by strings that evoke a sense of sadness that precede the introduction of her vocal. When her vocal enters, it’s poignant, full of sadness and regret. The reason for this at the thought of two lovers being kept apart because of the difference in their ages. Wistful strings are ever-present, a constant companion to Roberta’s vocal on this very beautiful, but poignant song.
I Told Jesus is a traditional song, arranged by Roberta. Lush strings sweep slowly, while an equally slow, meandering standup bass accompanies it. As Roberta’s vocal arrives, it’s thoughtful and considered. Gradually, it grows in power and emotion, with bursts of rasping horns punctuating the arrangement. The longer the song progresses, the better Roberta’s vocal gets. It takes on a spiritual quality, growing in power, feeling and emotion.
Having heard various versions of Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye written by Leonard Cohen, this has always been one of my favorites. Roberta songs unaccompanied, before a the piano, acoustic guitar and bass enter. So good is Roberta’s vocal, that you find yourself mesmerized by it. There’s both a warmth and passion in her vocal, resulting in her bringing out the beauty in Leonard Cohen’s lyrics. She’s just accompanied by flourishes of strings, before guitar, bass and piano take over. This understated arrangement, allows you to focus on not just one of Roberta’s best vocals on First Take, but one of producer Joel Dorn’s best arrangements.
Why The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face wasn’t released as a single when the album was released in 1969 seems strange? Quite simply, it’s the best song on the album. It was written by folk singer Euan McColl, and producer Joel Dorn’s arrangement brings out the beauty in the song and its lyrics. Key to the song’s success are a beautiful, but subtle arrangement. Just an acoustic guitar, bass and Roberta on piano accompany her vocal. Roberta’s vocal is slow, delivering the song with feeling, articulating the lyrics gently and softly. Wistful strings drift in and out of the track, as Roberta’s almost half-speaks the lyrics, delivering the as if she means them, feels them. Her delivery of some stunning lyrics, plus Joel Dorn’s arrangement results in not just a beautiful, very romantic song, the highlight of the album, but a true classic song.
Tryin’ Times is another song Donny Hathaway cowrote, this time with Leroy Hutson. As the track begins, Roberta’s band play subtly. Drums are played with brushes, while the bass is slightly more prominent, repeating the same line over and over again. Then when Roberta’s vocal enters, it offers a contrast. It’s louder, much more powerful, but full of frustration and disappointment at the Tryin’ Times Americans are experiencing. Poverty, inequality and conflict are the cause of Roberta’s disappointment and frustration. Later, percussion, piano and the bass combine, playing with a similar power as Roberta’s vocal. This helps Roberta reinforce Donny and Leroy’s message, doing so with equal amounts of sincerity, sadness and frustration.
Closing First Take is Ballad Of The Sad Young Men, a track where Roberta seems to have saved one of her best vocals. She’s accompanied just by swathes of strings, flourishes of acoustic guitar and drums played with brushes. This works really well, allowing Roberta to demonstrate just how talented and versatile a vocalist she truly is. Her vocal is tinged with sadness and a poignancy that suits the lyrics.
For a debut album, First Take, which was rereleased by WEA Japan is an accomplished album where Roberta Flack demonstrated just how talented a vocalist she was. This talent had been honed and refined over many years, before she signed to Atlantic Records in 1968. Having released her debut album First Take in 1968, she must have been hugely disappointed and saddened that it wasn’t a commercial success. Then luck, fate or whatever you want to call it intervened, when The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face featured in the Clint Eastwood film Play Misty For Me. It resulted in The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face being released as a single. It reached number one in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts, while First Take reached number one in both the US Billboard 200 and US R&B Charts. By then Roberta had released two other albums, both of which had been certified gold. However, The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face is a song that’s become synonymous with Roberta Flack. Together with Killing Me Softly, these are two of Roberta’s best known songs. While The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face is the best known track on First Take, it’s an album with much more to offer than just one track. Listening to First Take thirty-three years later, it’s an album that doesn’t sound like it was recorded in 1968 and released in 1969. Instead, it jazz-tinged sound sounds like it was recorded earlier, with just the understated combination of standup bass, drums and guitar accompanying Roberta. That’s part of First Take’s charm and beauty. It allows Roberta’s vocal to shine, and you to wallow in its quality, emotion and beauty. On the eight tracks on First Take, Roberta interprets them is such a way that she brings out their nuances, subtleties and charms. In doing so, Roberta Flack produced in First Take a classic album, which belatedly found the commercial success and critical acclaim it deserved. Standout Tracks: Angelitos Negros, The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye and Our Ages Or Our Hearts.
ROBERTA FLACK-FIRST TAKE.