Saturday, April 29, 2006

Blue is the colour

London Lee over at #1 Songs In Heaven nailed his colours to the mast recently with his touching words on Peter Osgood the great Chelsea player who died recently.

Well it’s my turn to show my colours now, and yes, they are the same as London Lee’s.

CONGRATULATIONS to Chelsea FC - English Premier League CHAMPIONS for the second season running following their 3-0 win over Manchester Utd.

A commentator on the game today said that Chelsea wait 50 years for a league title and then two come along at once. This draws on the UK saying that you wait ages for a bus and then two come along at once.

Of course in true British fashion Chelsea, as winners, are now the team to hate in the partisan world of football supporters. Plenty say that it is Roman Abramovich’s money that has bought the title. But a huge amount of credit must go to the players and the manager Jose Mourinho who has developed a fantastic team spirit – a funky driver on a funky bus.

In fact listening to today’s track although the title sits perfectly with my point the lyrics are less appropriate. But as I see it there is something for everybody in this post – Chelsea fans can enjoy my words, Chelsea naysayers might relate to the lyrics in Charles Leonard’s track, and for those of you couldn’t care less about English Premier League football (which I suspect will be most of you who read this) you can simply enjoy the music!

Back to the celebrations!

Charles Leonard – Funky Driver On A Funky Bus Pt.1 1971 (gone)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hard wired

Memory is a funny thing. Why is it that some experiences fail to register and reappear whereas others, however inconsequentail, end up hard wired? I can never listen to Natalie Cole’s "Annie Mae" without the opening bars of Level 42’s "Weave Your Spell" popping into my head. Why? Well I guess because on one of my mix tapes for the car that I put together in the ‘80s the Level 42 track immediately followed "Annie Mae". It has to be said it wasn’t one of my better efforts in terms of sequencing. Anyway "Annie" got a lot of repeat plays and so by sort of default Level 42 did too. So it seems the two songs are indelibly etched into the ipod in my memory with no shuffle feature available. Maddening in it’s own little way for me but I don’t let it detract from the brilliance of "Annie Mae", and don’t worry I haven’t posted Level 42 here too. (Don’t misunderstand me, I was/am partial to some of the output of The Isle of Widget’s finest, but "Weave Your Spell" can in no way hold a candle to "Annie Mae", although it is a pretty apt description of the effect "Annie Mae" has on me).

Natalie Cole was born in 1950 to a very famous father – Nat ‘King’ Cole. Has that helped or hindered her career? Both at certain points I am sure. In any event she is clearly a very talented lady. Before embarking on her recording career she gained a degree in child psychology. She was 25 before music became her chosen path. Commercial soul was the focus from 1975 to 1983. Then after two spells in rehab to kick drink and drug habits her career took off again through into the early 90s with what really can be described as pure pop music. Then another change of musical direction in the 90s saw her move into more of a mor/jazz groove. In all she has, to date, amassed eight Grammy awards. She has more recently turned her hand to acting too - in film, stage and television – and this year has appeared in the currently running Grey’s Anatomy. When you analyse it she has clearly had a long and successful career although this may not be that obvious as it seems she has never been a particularly hip name to drop.

As I said, Natalie’s recording career started in 1975, by which time many would say the sun had set on the golden age of soul. Her career has traced a different arc from soul divas that had gone before, and, it seems, has formed a template for many that have followed – Whitney Houston comes immediately to mind, and even a repackaged Aretha Franklin as far as the musical content is concerned. By 1975 the big record companies had well developed commercial muscle and were big business. Capitol, her first recording label, probably saw her as product to sell first, and soul singer second. So from the outset her output seemed primarily commercially driven. Most of Natalie’s releases made it on the pop charts (and how!) and I’m not sure you could say they crossed over from R&B because, although there was a dose of soul in the mix, I think they were fairly and squarely aimed at the mainstream – lush or glitzy arrangements, positive themes, radio friendly. “Annie Mae” was, however, something of an exception in that it made no significant impact on the pop charts, although it reached #6 in the US R&B charts in 1978.
Clearly not as commercial as her other output the lyrics were written by Natalie and I believe concerned someone she knew who was possibly a runaway but was certainly “growing up much too fast”. Richard Evans is credited as co-arranger so you kind of know you’re going to be in for a treat. “Annie Mae” sweeps you along with a simple piano chart and guitar down in the mix, stabbing horns and an irresistible string arrangement. Natalie’s vocals seem effortless as she swoops and soars. The tempo is upbeat but is very much a song not a dancer. It has a couple of beautiful pauses for breath in the middle and a great fade. Altogether an outstanding track and much too good for a high pop chart placing (or is that just me being a soul snob).

I have to say that most of Natalie’s output is not really to my taste, being too commercial for my liking, but “Annie Mae” is a stand out, and the 1977 album that it appears on – “Thankful” - together with the singles “Sophisticated Lady”/ “Good Morning Heartache”, “This Will Be” and “Inseparable” - all early career output – are also worth seeking out.

Natalie Cole – Annie Mae (gone)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Walking the dogs....

(29/04/06 - Dub's Up!)

… not a canine link more a reference to the fact that today’s track will exercise your woofers!

This post is going to be bit short on the words as, with one thing and another (mainly holiday mode), I haven’t spent much time on the computer over the last few days. With some lovely sunshine over the Easter weekend and a hint of warmth it looks like spring is finally here in the UK (having said that it’s raining again!). It’s been a long drag of a winter this year. The weathermen predicted a cold one and so it turned out. They don’t seem to want to talk about the summer though, so let’s try and make it two weather predictions in a row coming true – it will be a long hot summer – there, that’s my prophecy.

I did say at the outset of this blog that although you would find mainly soul and funk here it wouldn’t be exclusively so. Anyway, the sunshine prompted me to spin some reggae over recent days so I thought I would drop one of the tracks on you by way of a change.

Turn this one up loud and you will certainly feel it. This is heavvvy on the bass. “Prophecy” has been in my collection since its release in 1977. Until a quick bit of googling just now though I knew nothing about the record. I wasn’t surprised to find that it is now revered as something of a classic on the reggae scene. The track was recorded in Jamaica – legendary producers Jack Ruby and Lloyd Coxsone are credited. Tribes Man was a small London label and this 12” (with Jimmy Lindsay on the other side doing a version of The Commodores “Easy”) is difficult to find now. Although I am not sure exactly why, it was banned from airplay on release in it’s native Jamaica (one can guess it was taking a potshot at the incumbent government of the time in Jamaica). So it gained “pre-release” status in the UK on a UK label. The track was subsequently also released on Black Swan and Island.

Fabine is in fact an incorrect credit. She was more usually credited as Fabian and is in fact Faybiene Miranda a poet, writer and singer now based in the USA. This was her first single release. Faybiene now lives in Brooklyn NY with her husband Cliff ‘Moonie’ Pusey. ‘Moonie’ joined the long running reggae band Steel Pulse in 1989 as lead guitarist (Steel Pulse were formed in 1973 in Birmingham, UK and were of course were responsible for another classic reggae track “Ku Klux Klan”).

In true reggae 12” fashion for the time the track clocks in at a mighty 9+ minutes, the 2nd half being a dub version. I’ve just put up the vocal.

You can find the track on a number of compilations including the first of Joey & Norman Jay’s Good Times series which contains a good representation of the soul, funk, jazz and reggae blasted out by their sound system at London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival.

Fabine (sic) – Prophecy 1977 (gone)
Prophecy Dub (gone)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Plenty of seats available

Every now and then I get obsessed with a particular record - if you have become a regular reader of my humble offerings then the chances are you are also something of a vinyl junkie and will therefore probably have been there too. In the Volt discography, in 1971, sandwiched between releases from more well known acts - Major Lance and The Dramatics – came the one and only release on the label (or anywhere?) from one Joni Wilson - “Loser’s Seat”, and this was the object of a recent obsession of mine. The initial attraction came during an ebay trawl about 18 months ago, and for three reasons: a) I liked the title, b) the scan showed G.Clinton etc in the writing credit - I had only recently become aware of pre 70s George Clinton - so was this The Parliaments “All Your Goodies Are Gone” ? , and c) it had a sound clip of both A and B side. I downloaded the clips and was hooked. All the usual tell tale symptoms applied - the hairs on the back of the neck standing on end, a fluttery feeling inside, eyes closed and whisperings of “oh yes” under the breath. And that was just listening to a sound clip! I needed this record. Unfortunately the bidding ran away from me. It eventually went for either $80 or £80 I can’t remember which, but anyways it was out of my league.

For some months following I searched for other copies for sale, but to no avail, and so made do with playing and replaying the one minute clips I had downloaded. Then last summer up popped another copy on ebay. From the description it seemed it wasn’t in great shape and maybe that put bidders off, in any event I was the only bidder and picked it up for only $10. When a couple of weeks later it arrived on my turntable I was pleased to find it wasn’t in terrible shape - there is surface noise but not too much to detract from the music, and it all adds to the atmosphere anyway (it sounds better on my turntable than the mp3 copy, sorry). So now it proudly sits as a jewel in my collection.

I think Joni Wilson, and how this record came to be released, would be something that the Soul Detective could really get his teeth into, because I can find no information at all that sheds any real light. Perhaps my obsession with it is due in part to the mystery of it. The (also excellent) B side is “Flame, Flame, Flame” – a real slow burner - and is credited to Liz Bacone. Don’t know who that is. As for Joni Wilson, well she is a she - so that narrows it down a bit! There was a (large) group called Joni Wilson & The Debonaires that recorded in the 60s, Pittsburgh based(?) and had a couple of albums released on the Gateway label. I have seen a cover of one of these albums and it looks like an all male group to me. The only possible clue I can come up with is a George Clinton connection. By coincidence a girl group called the Debonair(e)s recorded for Ed Wingate’s Golden World and Solid Hit labels in the mid sixties. George Clinton and The Parliaments were at the labels at the same time and wrote songs for and produced(?) the Debonaires. A member of the Debonaires at that time was a Joyce Vincent Wilson. There is some doubt about other members of the group although Joyce Wilson’s cousin was a member. Maybe Joni was another relation and another group member, or just hung about the label?. By 1971Clinton had left Revilot and the Parliafunkadelicment tripout had launched and landed at Invictus (Parliament) and Westbound (Funkadelic). Somehow Volt seems an odd label for a Clinton song to turn up on. Ron Banks sang on an early Parliaments release “Heart Trouble” and then went onto be in The Dramatics – who recorded on Volt. At that time if Clinton was on the credit then the chances were he also had a hand in the production - the production credit is “Enigmatic Productions”, an enigma indeed but just the sort of name Clinton might hide behind. Maybe Joni was a side project he just touted around, or then again maybe there was no Clinton connection beyond the fact that he wrote the song. I’m chasing shadows I know, but that’s all I can offer.

I can only find “Loser’s Seat” included on two CD compilations: “The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Vol2”, which weighs in at a hefty price it being a 9 CD set. If you find that beyond your means, you could try “The Whole Damn World is Going Crazy (21 Stax Heartmenders)” which was a German only CD/vinyl issue on Fantasy in 2004.

For good measure I am posting three versions of this song today. George and the boys were never afraid to plunder there own back catalogue so along with Joni Wilson’s version and The Parliaments original version from 1967 you get Parliament’s (note the apostrophe) fresh take on the song that was included on the “Up For The Down Stroke” album in 1974. I leave it to you to compare and contrast, they’re all great!

Joni Wilson - (Let Hurt Put You In The) Loser's Seat 1971
The Parliaments - All Your Goodies Are Gone 1967
Parliament - All Your Goodies Are Gone 1974

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Special Moments

I’m continuing down the All Platinum road today. My previous post featured The Rimshots, house band in the 70s with Joe & Sylvia Robinson’s All Platinum studios, and it’s likely they played on the tracks posted here. The All Platinum group included all of the following imprints: All Platinum, Astroscope, Stang, Turbo, Vibration, A-1, Alithia and Chanson, and possibly others as well.

The Moments were formed in 1968, their core members being Harry Ray, Al Goodman, and Billy Brown, although I believe Brown replaced Mark Greene so wasn’t an original member. Ray & Brown were both from New Jersey, Goodman hailed from Jackson, Mississippi (and incidently celebrated his 59th birthday last week). They were masterful purveyors of the sweet soul sound and enjoyed a number of hits throughout the first half of the seventies. Their first R&B #1 came with “Love On A Two Way Street” in 1970 which stayed at the top spot for 5 weeks (Billboard), and another #1 was “Look At Me (I’m In Love)” in 1975. Between 1970 and 1977, when the Moments name was dropped and they became simply (or not!) Ray, Goodman & Brown, they released 17 singles on the Stang label, and several albums too. They were obviously a hit with the ladies (or at least thought they were) as evidenced by two live album releases – “Live At The New York State Women’s Prison” and “Live At The Miss Black America Pagaent”. As the seventies wore on they did tend to veer towards the poppy end of things (e.g. “Dolly My Love”), but no matter.

The single that holds both the tracks here was released in 1974 not long before “Girls” which was a massive crossover, and UK, hit for them with the Whatnauts. That probably places it in time pretty well. I can’t find any chart details but I am guessing it was no more than a modest R&B hit. A Greatest Hits album released in 1977 featured neither of the tracks. “The Next Time I See You” (a different version?) also featured as a B side (to “With You”) in 1976, which was the single that immediately followed “Nine Times” - another big hit on both sides of the pond, and has recently been popular again on the Northern scene I believe.

I’ve seen All Platinum/Stang output referred to as low-fi. A lot of the output certainly had a distinctive sound and I can sort of get what people mean, guitars seem to be featured more than horns for example. However you want to describe the sound I think the two tracks here demonstrate really high quality production and quite complex arrangements, and to me sound ahead of their time. A reason for it not being a big hit would be that it definitely wasn’t one of their poppier outings. I love the guitar motif on “Sweet Sweet Lady”. Overall the vocals are superb. “The Next Time I See You” is my favourite of the two I think. Sweet yes, but not sickly -to me it’s sumptuous, sensuous and sophisticated. Go ahead and see if you agree.

You can pick up this single for next to nothing, or for more special Moments you could try this (UK USA)which is a comprehensive CD collection of their output.

The Moments - Sweet Sweet Lady 1974 (gone)
The Moments - The Next Time I See You 1974 (gone)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Rimshots hit the spot

Up until recently my record collection had spent a long period lying pretty much idle, untouched and unloved. Also, lately, I seem to possess an increasingly misfiring memory (just and age thing, nothing serious you understand). Put these two things together and there is in fact a big upside, and that is when I dig out records from my boxes it’s like going on a voyage of discovery all over again.

Today’s featured single is a case in point. “Dance Girl” reminds me of the Fatback Band’s “Wicki Wacky” I thought spinning it for the first time in years. Then I noticed the credits and realised it was written by the Fatback Band. I then noticed I had actually written Wicki Wacky in brackets on it’s cardboard sleeve. I must therefore have gone through exactly the same thought processes when I originally acquired this record, which would have been about 30 years ago now. What I didn’t have at my fingertips back then though was tinternet, which has now allowed me to shed some more light on this track.

“Dance Girl” was originally recorded and released by the Fatback Band in 1973. It was their last release on the Perception label before moving to Event/Spring. For some reason the track was released with the performer credit Fatback Brother Bill Curtis and not the Fatback Band. Perception folded right after the release and it pretty much sunk without trace. With such a strong track disappearing so quickly it was clearly ripe for a cover and so in stepped the Rimshots. (It was also covered by the Mighty Tom Cats).

The Rimshots were the resident band at Joe and Sylvia Robinson’s All Platinum label stable. They were led by guitarists Walter Morris and Tommy Keith, who also did occasional double duty as composers and producers. I don’t know who exactly played on the tracks here as their line-up was somewhat fluid, which I guess is not unusual for a house band. They had sizeable, increasingly disco tinged, funk hits in the mid 70s with "Do What You Feel, Pt. 1" , "(7-6-5-4-3-2-1) Blow Your Whistle" and “Super Disco”. Prior to this however their brand of funk had carried a much harder edge as you will hear on the tracks in this post.

On the B side of this single is “Who Got The Monster”. This made a UK single release on All Platinum as an A side but I don’t think “Dance Girl” made it in the UK in any form. I remembered “Monster” as being more in the disco mould and not as strong as “Dance Girl”. Again the memory was malfunctioning, because it is in fact a storming instrumental with some searing guitar licks.

They’re both strong tracks, I can’t separate them, so you get both. Double delight!

7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Blow Your Whistle - Anthology

The Rimshots - Dance Girl 1974 (gone)
The Rimshots – Who Got The Monster 1974 (gone)