Sunday, October 29, 2006

One thing leads to another...

Work dominates again at the moment I’m afraid, so this post will be short. If you’re a regular visitor you will have been expecting a follow on from The Ohio Players post in the form of another Capitol release from 1968. Just three Capitol releases earlier than The Ohio Players was this one from Bettye Swann. “(My Heart Is) Closed For The Season” was the B-side of “Don’t Touch Me” on Capitol 2382 although it had also appeared as an A-side earlier in the same year on Capitol 2236. “Don’t Touch Me” was a minor hit I think but maybe assisted by it’s, to my ears, superior B-side. I don’t think “Closed For The Season” was a hit in it’s own right but it deserved to be a monster. Bettye’s voice may be sweet and pure, but on this track the tone is anything but - she’s hurt and indignant as she pours her heart out over the realisation that her latest love affair wasn’t all it seemed. Like the song’s subject matter the arrangement is also complex, and the horns in particular remind me of something else, but I have never been able to nail it (if somebody could help me out with that I would be grateful). On top of all that it’s got a great title.

In 2004 Honest Jon’s followed their great collection of Candi Staton’s Fame material with a similarly fine Bettye Swann compilation focussing on her Capitol material that includes this track. Also here you can find (some?) liner notes from that compilation which give insight into Bettye’s musical career and what she is (maybe) doing now.

Happy Birthday Bettye, 62 earlier this week.

As I post this there is only just over an hour to go before British Summer Time is closed for the season – have you turned those clocks back?

Bettye Swann - (My Heart Is) Closed For The Season 1968

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

...and another

So where have those dots in the post title led from? Well, the next post actually. Confused? So am I! I’ll try and explain.
The Ohio Players single in my previous post had made my mind up on my next post – it reminded me of a 45 I had been going to feature some time ago but hadn’t quite got round to. The reason for the nudge being that this other record is also on Capitol and, to use one of my favourite cricket commentary phrases, is very adjacent in the catalog. Not plum you understand, just very adjacent*. Anyway, back from another European jaunt a few days ago I needed a vinyl fix so pulled out a few 45s to spin. One of them was Betty Wright’s “One Thing Leads To Another”. Now that’s a perfect title for my post on the (at the moment mystery) Capitol track I thought, and so it will be. But hey, this Betty Wright single deserves the spotlight turned on it too, so, as Betty sings, one thing leads to another… and another, and Betty’s track has muscled it’s way into today’s post and will serve as a bridge to the next post by dint of it’s title. So, with my next post laying claim to “One Thing Leads To Another” as it’s subject title, today’s post gets the sequel title although it has ended up as the prequel. Also, I thought with the Previous Posts list reading backwards in time the post titles will eventually read correctly with the ellipses** flowing naturally into each other.

* If you know your Capitol catalog you are welcome to guess which track it will be – no prizes, just a bit of fun.

**I may be on shaky ground but I think these are called an ellipsis. More than you ever wanted to know about ellipses can be found here.

If you’re still with me you deserve a medal! And I haven’t been smoking anything, honest!
Enough of all this - what’s the word I’m looking for? - drivel?!

Time to let Betty Wright take centre stage with a cautionary tale for all the young ladies out there. By the end of this song Betty’s in trouble!
I would venture to say this isn’t one of Betty’s better known tracks, but it’s nevertheless a wonderful piece of Miami styled slippery, slinky funk. At two and half minutes it’s small but perfectly formed, and still manages to incorporate a few pauses which I really like. I love Betty’s voice, and on Alston (named after Steve Alaimo and Henry Stone) with Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke on writing and production credits that was quite a team back in the seventies. Betty is truly a legend on the soul scene. She seems to have been around forever yet she is now only in her early fifties. Her first Alston single “Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do” was released in 1968 when she was only 15. This was in fact already her third single, earlier releases having been made on Deep City and Solid Soul. At the still tender age of 18 she hit it big with “Clean Up Woman” which was single number 12 (“Clean Up Woman” was on the 1972 album “I Love The Way You Love” which I highly recommend, and it’s not difficult to find on vinyl, nor expensive). For the record the single featured here was number 18 and when you realise how young she still was the lyrics were no doubt very pertinent. She is still very active on the music scene and recently, of course, was a key element in the production team responsible for Joss Stone’s “Soul Sessions”. Betty’s Wikipedia entry has a few interesting bits of trivia.

Betty Wright – One Thing Leads To Another 1974

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Observations in time

Week in week out Mr. Fine Wine over at WFMU keeps on coming up with the goods. Downtown Soulville is chock full of soul/r&b classics every week. The records may be generally 30-40 years old but many are new to me, and therein lies the joy of tuning in (in reality, of course, “tuning in” simply means a couple of mouse clicks nowadays). I like the paradox - I’m excited and invigorated by hearing music that is new and fresh to me, at the same time knowing that it is all from a bygone age. Every now and then the excitement becomes full blown intoxication - you know, that special feeling you get when you hear a record for the first time and it hits you right between the ears and your moved to say "WOW! this is fantastic, who is this?!" (out loud, to nobody and anybody, and it’s like a knee jerk reaction – you know, you just can’t stop yourself). Well, in my experience, that happens fairly often listening to Mr. Fine Wine, and it certainly happened a couple of weeks ago. Tucked in near the end of his show were The Ohio Players with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow”. Now, being born in the late 50s, my musical radar didn’t really attune until the 70s when, among others, it picked up The Ohio Players loud and clear with their own unique brand of slinky, senuous funk (with an occasional twist of hard rock). Incidentally, their album covers registered elsewhere too! What I didn’t realise then, nor in fact, until very recently, was that the band had paid their dues, so to speak, through the 60s. In much the same way as many other 70s heavyweights – George Clinton’s extravaganza Parliament/Funkadelic and the O’Jays for example – some enduring members of The Ohio Players (originally the Ohio Untouchables) had started out at the dawn of the 60s in almost a doo-wop vein before moving (with the times) into straight ahead soul later in that decade.

“Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” dates from 1968. Structurally reminiscent of Smokey’s “Tracks Of My Tears” it is one of the finest examples of a soul record you are ever likely to hear. Sometimes in my archaeological digs through soul music’s golden age I begin to think that maybe there are no more classics to unearth, but then such a track as today’s selection pops up and I know the digging is worthwhile, and so I carry on, refreshed.

Another good thing about Downtown Soulville: although some of the featured records are almost impossible to get hold of, many are fairly easy(=cheap) to find. So to continue the notion of the “old is new” paradox, barely two weeks after hearing this track for the first time I now have my very own vinyl copy of it. In these situations – i.e. hear a record, got to have it - the Internet is truly a wondrous thing. I went onto Gemm and found a handful of copies available, and so it was that a few days ago, all the way from sunny Brighton UK, a copy dropped through the letterbox. I popped it on the turntable and I am sure experienced pretty much exactly the same feelings as I did some thirty odd years ago when playing The Ohio Players then new release “Love Rollercoaster” for the first time. Yes, I still get those same tingly feelings, just like a kid with a new toy.

“Here Today And Gone Tomorrow”, and the other side of this single “Bad Bargain” – which judging by the catalog numbers on the label may well have been the original A side – were both featured on The Ohio Players second album “Observations In Time”. Both these tracks and much of their late 60s Compass/Capitol output is available on the Charly CD Trespassin’.

The Ohio Players – Here Today And Gone Tomorrow 1968