Tuesday, February 26, 2008

(My)Space Hopping

As I mentioned hereabouts recently I enjoyed a few days break in New York recently with the wife and some friends. Whilst there we took in a Broadway show, as you do. Our choice was Hairspray (we loved it). Currently Darlene Love is appearing in the show as Motormouth Maybelle. Darlene was only vaguely familiar to me. I remember she was part of Phil Spector’s entourage of girls and girl groups in the early Sixties, and if she featured on Spector’s “A Christmas Gift For You” then I even have her on vinyl – somewhere. The other day I thought I would do a bit of Googling and find out a bit more about her. I found Wikipedia, as usual nowadays, is a starter if you are interested in learning more about her. Darlene is not actually the subject of this post though. Her MySpace page acted as the launch pad for my little game of (My)Space Hopping, and that is (the subject).

In a sort of variation on the idea of six degrees of separation I thought it would be idea to click on a “friend” of Darlene’s on her MySpace page and then do that a total of six times. (OK, I bet you have all done this before, but I’m slow to catch on, alright?). Then post a track from the artist (it had to be an artist) that I ended up at.

So it was that Darlene led me initially to Freda Payne, who in turn led me to her younger sister Scherrie. Unfortunately Scherrie Payne had decided not to let non members of MySpace explore (for want of a better word!) her friends, and I am a bit long in the tooth to have a Myspace page myself. So I backed up to Freda’s page and chose Spanky Wilson instead. Spanky’s page is well worth visiting with about six of her songs streamed that seem to represent very well the various stages of her career. (Side note: I need to get me some Spanky Wilson). Spanky led me to Vic Pitts. The only thing I knew about Vic was that he had at some point a group called the Cheaters and I had downloaded a track of his a while back from somewhere in the Interweb. I now know a bit more about him.

Around about now I noticed that some of the “friends” on these pages were in fact dead! (Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway for example). How does that work? Yeah, I know, MySpace is just another marketing tool at the end of the day. I decided that dead people, however gifted they may have been when alive, were not allowed in my chain. I now also realised that in the friends lists the big names always seemed to appear first. Marketing again muscling in on the act I suspect. Anyway that made my game easier, quite frankly I had already spent (wasted?!) way too much time doing this – there were cats to feed, washing up to do. So I stuck to the big guns, the names I recognised. So Vic Pitts led me to Steve Gadd, who led me to Marcus Miller, who led me to my final destination……………Jill Scott.

A few years ago I became aware of artists such as Jill Scott, Angie Stone, India Arie and Sunshine Anderson. All seemed to be bursting onto the scene at roughly the same time and I thought, hey, there could be a bright new future for soul music. Although talented I don’t think any of those artists have really followed through though. To varying degrees they all seem to have got sucked into the business and more recently ended up releasing some relatively formulaic R&B in the maddening (to my ears) clicktrack, rap sprinkled tradition. For example Jill Scott’s page features tracks off her latest album. Underneath they all have a good feel and groove, something I can relate to, and I love Jill’s vocals, but why do they all have to have a dominant click track? It’s been eight years since Jill released her excellent debut Who Is? Click tracks are in evidence here too but not so dominant, or perhaps the arrangements are so good your attention is directed elsewhere. In the ensuing years her output has not been that prolific, and I don’t think it has surpassed her debut. And surely it’s time to ditch those click tracks. I thought she would drift towards Jazz. Maybe she wants to but her management and record company are driving her in a more commercial direction. If so it’s a shame and it’s an example of why I now mostly look to the past for my soul music fix. (I know, I’m just an old fuddy duddy). Jill seems to be developing parallel careers by the looks of things, she has a book of poetry about to go on sale. Clearly a talented lady.

So let’s also back up to Scherrie Payne. Scherrie, Mary Wilson and Susaye Green made up the final incarnation of The Supremes. Their final album Mary, Scherrie, & Susaye was released in 1976 and outside of the clubs passed by virtually unnoticed. It in fact contains a number of strong tracks with a sophisticated soul/disco flavour. Less than a year later as Britain was preparing for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and teenagers everywhere were donning bondage trousers and trying to decide exactly where they should put that safety pin The Supremes would choose to make their final appearance at London’s Drury Lane. Put like that it sounds like 1977 was in fact operating in a number of parallel universes.

Jill Scott – Love Rain 2000

The Supremes (Scherrie Payne lead) – Sweet Dream Machine 1976


whiteray said...

Hey Darcy,

Yeah, if you have the Christmas album you have Darlene. According to a friend of mine with access to one of the principals of those sessions, Darlene was Spector's go-to voice when he absolutely needed something sung right. And on the Christmas album, she took over for another vocalist and did the album's best track, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Good post, and don't despair: You're not the last person in the civilized world to think of friend-hopscotch on MySpace -- I'd never thought of it until I read your post!

Anonymous said...

Hi Darcy,
This post took me back, I was lucky enough to be at the Supremes Drury Lane show in 1977! I've still got the programme buried somewhere.

Darcy said...

Hi Whietray, thanks for the comments. Loving Echoes, as always.

Welcome, Mike H.
I still have a lot of my programmes (generally). Sad thing is I know where they are as well!