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Well, if you’d asked me a year ago would I attend a Northern Soul Weekend I’d have given a negative response, sighing that those days were over for me. But no, here I am going to an event “The Northern Soul Survivors” in Skegness, Lincolnshire, kicking off on 20 September for three nights. I’ll give you the line-up as it stands at present – Chris Clark, Brenda Holloway, Gloria Jones, Bobby Brooks Wilson, Tommy Hunt, Dean Parrish, Eddie Holman, Angelo Starr and The Team, Lorraine Silver, and Ritchie Sampson. Alongside these are British acts like Signatures featuring Stefan Taylor, Paul Stuart Davies and Johnny Boy. I’m told other artists are yet to be announced, so more when I know.
The place to be is Butlin’s and the event covers five venues. Thirty legendary DJs are booked, with a dance competition (that’s me out for sure!), meet and greets, record and memorabilia stalls, silent disco, dance workshop, spa, water world and a host of other attractions. More information can be gleaned from bigweekends.com or 0330 1009750. All I can say is the three girls are back in town and personally speaking I can’t wait to meet them again. Hope my accommodation is next to theirs as we’ve years of catch-up to take care of! I’ll pass on more details when they arrive courtesy of Russ Winstanley, who is organising the event. Meantime, I’ve one nagging question: how on earth do I get to Skegness from East Sussex!
I’m not going to dwell on the CBS television special “Motown 60: A Grammy Celebration” which aired Stateside on Easter Sunday – where Berry Gordy closed the show with his speech about his dreams coming true and where he thanked people who helped make his company “a legacy of love” – but rather wanted to make mention of a short interview Martha Reeves gave to The Daily News. As you know, her performance was axed from the two-hour show which included her colleagues Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, alongside non-Motowners. Martha said she was originally asked to sing “Nowhere To Run” and not her signature song “Dancing In The Street”. Then when the programme was edited, there was nothing at all. As always, she proved what a Motown ambassador she is, when she told the newspaper, “I’ve learned to handle the decisions that Motown made from the early beginnings. The history of Motown is in my heart and I guess I’m one of the best people to express it because I’m one of the only people living who can.” To be honest, I don’t know that I’d have been that gracious. Let’s move on….
I’m grateful to my colleague Adam White for mentioning this book a few months ago in his West Grand Blog. I knew I’d got it, but took a few exasperating hours to locate it! Anyway, what am I talking about? Janie Bradford’s Rolling! Take One! Lyric, Rhyme & Prose published in 1996 by Mountain Goat Press. The book is a little worst for wear and well thumbed but extremely enjoyable as an insight into her writing talent. When Janie first met Berry Gordy, she gave him a notebook filled with her poems, passing them off as song lyrics. He saw through her ruse but believed they could be structured into commercial songs. “I’ve always felt a kinship to rhyme” she wrote. “I guess that is why I have been writing poems as far back as I can remember….It was while I was attending Lincoln High School …that I began to amass the notebook filled with poems.”
Born in June 1939, in Charleston, Missouri, Janie was known for her quirky sense of humour, which she wrote, was inherited from her minister father “who would preach a hell-fire and brimstone sermon that brought his audience to their feet, then he would tell the most unrelated joke and lay them in the aisles with laughter.” She had two siblings, brother Joe and sister Clea who, when older was a respected jazz singer. She relocated to Detroit, so Janie joined her. Clea often worked with Jackie Wilson, who lived a short distance away from them, and who often fell asleep on their floor in front of the television. It was through Jackie that Janie met Berry Gordy, and from that, the two began writing together, where one of their first collaborations was “Lonely Teardrops” for the before mentioned Mr Wilson. In between composing, Janie was Motown’s first receptionist, but I’m assuming she left that role when writing took up all her time. So, next of note was “Money (That’s What I Want)” first recorded by Barrett Strong and subsequently covered over two hundred times. From here, she moved on to work with Smokey, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, among others, notching up hits like “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”, “Your Old Standby”, “Contract On Love”, “Hip City Part 11”, “Honey Bee Keep On Stinging Me”, “My Smile Is Just A Frown Turned Upside Down”, “Share My Love” and so many others.
Being so engrossed in writing songs, Janie’s first love of writing poetry was relegated to the back burner. However, they were regularly retrieved when she was asked by some of the guys working at Motown to compose a love letter to win the heart of a potential lover. She wrote – “Granted most of them were songwriters and producers themselves, but I guess they could not muster up that something extra special needed to create a…speciality letter.” By doing this she knew who was dating who, yet never told because “they paid me very well!” Enterprising lady. The bubble burst for Ms Bradford when Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. When told she had to be a credited producer or performing artist to ensure her work was recorded, it was the close of an era for her.
Janie’s book – where the foreword is a collection of quotes from Claudette Robinson, Chuck Jackson, Levi Stubbs, Brian Holland, Mable John and Mary Wilson – is split into sections. For example, there’s Poems That Make You Go Mmm prefaced by Janie noting “Erasers were put on pencils for mistakes made on paper. Words spoken cannot so easily be erased from the mind”. While others include Identity, Friendship, Black Heritage, Music and Growing Through Changes. Dotted about are pictures of her family and her professional life, and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my little insight into the talents of this remarkable wordsmith. However, that’s not all this lady is known and respected for, as Motown fans will know. …read on….
Janie created The Heroes And Legends Scholarship Programme (HAL) to help talented young people in the community to shape their careers in one of the performing arts. HAL also spotlighted positive role models from many diverse backgrounds, including leaders in the fields of theatre, music, films and business, who have utilised their celebrity status to benefit the community. In September 1990 Janie and her team launched the first HAL Awards black tie ceremony in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to raise money for their Scholarship Fund which, I understand, helps those promising students who have achieved at least a 2.0 grade average. The Fund provides financial assistance to enable them to complete their education, later being honoured at the star studded annual Awards event. Nine Awards are presented annually, including Legacy, Icon, Theatre and TV/Film and The Unsung Hero sections, and past recipients cover Smokey, the Four Tops, Della Reese, Thelma Houston, Tyne Daly, The Temptations, Ray Parker Jr, Gladys Knight and Berry Gordy. HAL also recognised the talents of producers, composers and industry figures like Universal executive Andy Skurow, and so well deserved too. Last year the event was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where honourees were Deniece Williams, the Undisputed Truth, Suzanne de Passe and Switch, among others. Brenda Holloway, Brenda Lee Eager and The Dennis Edwards Review provided the entertainment, while Martha Reeves, Freda Payne, Claudette Robinson and Ms Houston, wore the presenters’ hats. Will there be an awards ceremony this year I wonder?
And that’s not all as Janie Bradford went on to open Twinn Records with fellow-Motowner, writer/producer/singer Marilyn McLeod. Born in Detroit, Marilyn came from a musical family as her parents were singers, and her pianist mother composed music. According to www.twinnrecords.com, her five siblings were musical, particularly her older brother Ernie Farrow who played upright bass with the noted jazz musician Yusef Lateef, while her late musician sister Alice was married to the legendary saxophone player John Coltrane and recorded several albums as a keyboardist and harpist. Long story short, Marilyn joined Jobete as a songwriter during 1968 where she stayed for fifteen years. Her compositions are no strangers to Motown fans, as she pitched songs for the likes of Diana Ross with “Love Hangover” which won the singer her fourth US chart topper in 1976. Co-penned with Pam Sawyer, it was earmarked for Marvin Gaye, but its producer Hal Davis believed it suited the sensual Diana better, as it weaved between ballad and dance. In fact, once Diana heard the backing track, she stamped her mark on it, with the result launching her as a major player in the disco market. First heard as a track on her self-named album, it was rush-released when the 5th Dimension issued their version, thereby killing her “I Thought It Took A Little Time” which had charted.
Other McLeod written and co-written tracks include Jr Walker’s “Walk In The Night”, Marvin Gaye/Diana Ross/Stevie Wonder/Smokey Robinson’s “Pops We Love You”, the Four Tops’ “Body And Soul”, Marvin and Diana’s “Love Twins” and “Include Me In Your Life”. “The World Is Rated X” for solo Marvin, and High Inergy’s “You Can’t Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On)”. These are just the ones that spring to mind. Then, it seems she moved on to record with Nu Page for the Mowest label, and as a member of Pure Magic. From Motown, Marilyn released “(I Don’t Wanna Dance Tonight) I Got Love On My Side” for Fantasy Records in 1979, before co-writing numerous tracks for Ian Levine’s great Motorcity Records, and recording her own album “I Believe In Me” in 2010 for Twinn Records, which she kindly sent to me at the time. Phew! That was a long sentence. It was an excellent release, co-written with Janie Bradford, with a handful of top songs including “What Would Marvin Say”, “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Day” and “About U”. The CD is certainly a worthy addition to any soul fan’s collection.
Yeah, I did digress a bit this time, as the intention was to tell you about Janie’s book, but one thing led to another, and here we are, nearly at the close of this month’s offering. However, I can’t close yet without mentioning “Motown: The Complete No 1’s” box set, due at the end of this month. Released as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations (what?! I must have missed them – thank goodness though for the wonderful Jr Walker & the All Stars’ box set “Walk In The Night – The Motown 70s Studio Albums”)!
This 11-CD is, I presume, identical to the one I bought in 2008, but with an added CD. If this is the case, fans like myself, who have the original, will be forking out around £120 for the following handful of tracks: The Miracles and the Jackson 5’s “Who’s Lovin’ You”, the Jackson 5’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”, Stevie Wonder’s “For You Love”, and Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (2017 remix), “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down” (2018 mix). Well, if that’s so, here’s one gal who won’t be buying it.
Thank you for being with me this month, always love your company, and I’ll be back before you know it.
Marilyn McLeod - (I Don't Wanna Dance Tonight) I Got Love On My mind (1979 disco) - YouTube
David Nathan and Kevin Goins honor the Elements known as Earth, Wind & Fire during their 50th anniversary this year. David discusses meeting the band’s departed founder, Maurice White, during EWF’s successful 1975 international tour. Kevin explains the impact their music had on listeners and both talk about the group’s early beginnings as the Salty Peppers…
One of the first UK groups to literally ‘export’ horn-driven ’70s funk and soul back to the US and achieve international success in the process, Average White Band (or AWB as they became known) created a catalogue of compelling grooves and heartfelt ballads that have stood the test of time. No surprise then – with classics like “Pick Up The Pieces,” “Cut The Cake,” “Queen Of My Soul,” “School Boy Crush,” “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” “Cloudy” and “A Love Of Your Own” – that the music of AWB (inducted by popular vote into The SoulMusic Hall of Fame this month) is among the most sampled in history.
The June 2019 release of “Average White Band – Gold” as a 3-CD and 2-LP set provided SoulMusic.com founder, ‘British Ambassador Of Soul’ David Nathan with the opportunity to sit down in London with AWB’s Hamish Stuart to reflect and reminisce on the band’s impact, musical inspirations, collaborators, the timelessness of their music and the real origin of the group’s name!
SoulMusic.com May 2019 Interview with Hamish Stuart (Average White Band) Pt.1 - YouTube
Pt. 2 - Hamish Stuart (Average White Band) May 2019 SoulMusic.com Interview - YouTube
Just when you think all is well with the world, the gremlins get into your computer and gobble up a morning’s work. And that’s exactly what happened with the result that this Motown Spotlight covers two months. So let’s TCB before anything else happens!
While rifling through my collection the other day, I came across a CD I’d forgotten about, probably because it was mis-filed. Anyway, that aside, it got me thinking, and here’s what I came up with….
As you know, in 1970 Berry Gordy entered the American political arena with his spoken-word Black Forum label, giving a public platform to leading black activists and intellectuals. He initially had grave reservations about dipping his record company into such a volatile and violent market because it worried him that if Motown became too political it would damage the almighty success of groups like Diana Ross and the Supremes. After all, Motown was the top international black recording company, steering street artists into global stars and turning over millions of dollars annually as it did so. The music was aimed at all races, but by now, to mostly white record buyers due to its commercial slant. The early raw ‘race music’ or R&B aimed at black audiences was gone, replaced by lush productions over blue-eyed soul presentations. Yet, it can’t be disputed the music benefitted all as it broke down racial barriers in its quest for unification. However, digging deeper into the formation of Black Forum, it appeared Ewart Abner and Junius Griffin were instrumental in convincing Berry Gordy it was the right move to make. The time was right to make a stand.
Further research revealed that radio and television broadcaster, Alvin Hall, wrote a half-hour programme about the label for the BBC, and indicated that both Abner and Griffin were actually involved in aspects of the civil rights movement, either with Dr Martin Luther King or C.O.R.E. (Congress of Racial Equity). “They saw the need to educate the public, to give the public more information about what was going on nationally – and they were the ones who convinced (Gordy).”
Two years after Dr King was assassinated, Black Forum debuted with his “Why I Oppose The War In Vietnam”, recorded in 1967 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta. Showing Dr King in the foreground of the album sleeve, fighting soldiers in the background, and with the words “Black Forum” boldly prominent down the right-hand side, it was a stark black and white drawing on haunting blue. The sleeve was both dramatic and somewhat poignant, while the actual album within was powerful in the extreme, and as I played it back in the day, recall I could have actually been in Dr King’s presence. The record went on to win a 1971 Grammy for Best Spoken-Word Album, Motown’s only winner that year.
Incidentally, during 1963, two Dr King albums were issued on the Gordy label, namely, “The Great March To Freedom” and “The Great March On Washington”, followed five years later by “Free At Last”. When Berry Gordy suggested royalties earned from these albums should be split between King’s family and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King refused. “(He) told me, ‘There is enough confusion out there right now, as it is. I cannot allow the perception of personal gain, right or wrong, to confuse the message of the cause.'” Gordy wrote in his “To Be Loved” autobiography. “Not since Pop (Gordy’s father) and the Reverend William H Peck (his family’s pastor) had any man’s words aroused such deep feelings within me.” He also touched upon the significance of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) which was in the forefront of the fight for civil rights, by writing – “As a kid I remembered them always taking up some unpopular fight for freedom and justice. Now some thought (they) had done too little. I often said if it hadn’t been for them we would never have come this far.”
He also compared Motown to the world Dr King was tirelessly fighting to achieve, where people of different religions and races worked together harmoniously for one goal. “While I was never too thrilled about that turn-the-other-cheek business, Dr King showed me the wisdom of non-violence.” Tragically, King’s death was the result of the violence he wanted to eradicate.
Civil Rights activist and member of the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael’s “Free Huey!”, and political writers Langston Hughes and Margaret Danner with “Writers Of The Revolution” followed Dr King’s Black Forum debut. In February 1972, the Black Fighting Men Recorded Live In Vietnam’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, narrated by Wallace Terry, was issued. Next up were Ossie Davis and Bill Cosby’s “The Congressional Black Caucus; Emamu Amiri Baraka and The Original Black Poets’ “Black Spirits”; Emamu Amiri Baraka’s “It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music”, and Elaine Brown’s eponymous album, rounded off the releases on this short-lived label that opened in 1970 and closed three years later. According to Alvin Hall, it was simple economics. When distributors ordered a healthy quantity of, say, The Temptations’ albums, the order for Black Forum records failed to reach double figures. “There was never the demand or distribution for the records like they anticipated. So after losing money, Berry Gordy closed the door on it.” Nevertheless, Black Forum provided a solid representation of the most radical thinking of their era on record and, to be fair, Gordy should be applauded for taking on such a non-commercial venture which, if it had gone horribly wrong in the political arena, could have had a disastrous financial effect on Motown’s future success.
Based on this, it’s easy to see why Berry was concerned when Marvin Gaye steered his “What’s Going On” project into the political quagmire of war and social issues. Stevie Wonder too, when he publicly ventured into African-American consciousness, with his tenuous approach to political and spiritual statements. Several other Motown artists also flexed their political music muscles and Edwin Starr immediately springs to mind with his version of Whitfield/Strong’s “War”. Previously recorded by The Temptations, this anti-Vietnam protest was released in preference to the group’s less intense version, to become one of the most popular protest singles of all time.
However, there’s more tracks….and they are included in a special 2-CD compilation named ” Power To The Motown People! Civil Rights Anthems And Political Soul 1968 – 1975″ (Universal-Island Records/ M980 090 2) which I unearthed from my collection and which, to be honest, inspired me to re-visit the Black Forum label. I do urge you to check this out if you haven’t already done so. However, before moving forward with this, I’ve just been reminded of the “Love Child” album in 1968. Discarding the glamorous gowns, coiffured hair and pouting poses to dress in cut-off jeans and sweatshirts, Diana Ross and the Supremes wore little make-up with their hair in the afro style popular at the time, on the album sleeve. The aim was probably to show they were streetwise and one of the gang. The music was a markedly different sound for the trio – who were used to Holland, Dozier, Holland compositions – as writers and producers like Ashford & Simpson, R Dean Taylor, Pam Sawyer, Smokey Robinson and Gordy himself, were pulled together across tracks like the album’s title, “I’m Livin’ In Shame” and their version of “Does Your Mama Know About Me”.
The single “Some Things You Never Get Used To” was released prior to the album and the intention was to use this as the album’s title. However, when the single failed to rack up big sales, the plan was scrapped, and it was relegated to “Love Child” instead. “Love Child” the single, co-penned by Pam Sawyer, was released to rejuvenate the trio’s selling power to become their 11th US chart topper, propelling the album into a top selling item. On her Facebook page, Pam had nothing but praise for Diana Ross. “I was lucky to be allowed to work directly in the studio and I was thrilled (Diana) was so co-operative. We actually went into a small bathroom adjacent to the studio where she could listen privately, where she wrote signs and underlined words in her own writing….as she couldn’t read my badly written handwriting. She is the consummate artist.” The single was a mere toe dip into the urban, socially conscious whirlpool because the remainder of the album was devoted to rather sweet soul tracks, with moments of inspiration.
Anyway, I’ve digressed. “Power To The Motown People!” includes Detroit mixes of Marvin’s “What’s Going On, “What’s Happening Brother” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”, with the unexpected inclusion of “You’re The Man (Pts 1 & 11). The Undisputed Truth’s magnificent ten minute version of “Ball Of Confusion”, “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” and “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, stand proudly next to David Ruffin’s “Flower Child” (lifted from his “My Whole World Ended” elpee). Naturally, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers’ “Does Your Mama Know About Me” is included. Diana Ross and the Supremes’ haunting “Shadows Of Society”, “The Young Folks” and the disturbing “I’m Livin’ In Shame”, sit happily with Syreeta’s distressing history of African-Americans in “Black Maybe”, and Stevie Wonder’s “Do Yourself A Favour.”
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ emotional “I Should Be Proud” is another co-penned by Pam Sawyer, with lyrics highlighting the devastating news of Private Johnny C Miller losing his life in the Vietnam War. With Martha as the narrator, she tells the story of people around her gushing how proud she should be because he fought and died for his country, while all she wanted was her lover safely back home. Due to the anti-war message, Martha said the single was pulled from many radio stations’ playlists, but more importantly, it was personal to her as one of her brothers lost his life in a Vietnam War related incident. To this day, it remains one of the most upsetting of releases although Ms Sawyer again indicated on her Facebook page that she felt creatively restricted because some of the original lyrics dealing with drug addiction were changed. “The lyric at the end originally said ‘now he can’t live without a needle in his arm’.” The intention was to tell the story of the young boyfriend being an innocent when he went to war but due to his injuries, returned a broken man hooked on heroin. Regrettably, or thankfully, Motown’s Quality Control committee gave it the thumbs down.
The Temptations are obviously featured on this special 2007 compilation with “Masterpiece”, “War”, “Plastic Man”, the hard-hitting “Slave” and the George Clinton-inspired “Message From A Black Man”, while Edwin Starr is present with “Stop The War Now” and “Cloud Nine”. Welcome additions here are Reuben Howell’s “Help The People” and Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” and “Life’s No Fun Living In The Ghetto.” The CD is then rounded off with Smokey Robinson’s passive “Just My Soul Responding”; Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Friendship Train”; The Miracles’ “Ain’t Nobody Straight In LA”, Eddie Kendricks’ “My People…Hold On”, and Jr Walker and the All Stars’ “Right On Brothers And Sisters”. All these message songs are, of course, heightened by Motown’s constantly evolving recording techniques, where producers’ imaginations were adventurously exploited.
I was, however, a little surprised that one track in particular was overlooked; that by Tom Clay released on the Mowest label. Titled “What The World Needs Now Is Love”/”Abraham, Martin And John”, it is a thought provoking compilation of clips from the song, interspliced with speeches by John and Bobby Kennedy, Dr King, among other items. This ground-breaking single went on to sell over one million copies and prompted the release of a follow up “Whatever Happened To Love”, and the album “What The World Needs Now.” Alas, one can’t have it all!
Compiled and annotated by Peter Doggett, “Power To The Motown People!” is an extremely potent selection of songs. While it doesn’t condone or condemn what was happening in America and the world at the time, it does go to show Motown was aware and cared in a non-violent manner. And I, for one, salute them!
It was with a heavy heart that I read of the passing of Lilian Kyle, known to so many people in the business. Lilian was Edwin Starr’s manager, later that of The Team, featuring Edwin’s younger brother Angelo. I’ve known the dear lady for years and admired and respected her tremendously. She was tireless in promoting her artists but never let business get in the way of having a chat in her inimitable warm way. I’ll miss her regular contacts via social media and, of course, not meeting up with her at concerts. She loved life, fought the battle but sadly lost. My sincere condolences go out to her family, friends and fans – Lilian Kyle was one helluva lady and I was honoured to have her in my life.
Now there’s time to mention three fabulously exciting releases. First out is Scherrie Payne’s magnificent “The Man That Got Away”, her version of the Judy Garland song from “A Star Is Born”. Produced by Rick Gianatos and taken from her forthcoming album “Vintage Scherrie: Volume Two”, the ex-Supreme throws her heart and soul into this moving ballad. Her voice is breathtakingly emotive as she weaves through the lyrics and melody, tugging at the emotions on several levels. I have to say, it’s such a joy hearing her like this; nothing fancy or distracting, just pianist Garrett Miller and Scherrie – the voice. Pure magic! Available in a gate-fold package housing the CD and DVD, it’s released by Altair Records and available from most reputable sites.
Second out is a Kiki Dee three CD set “Gold”, which sneaks in here thanks to her Motown connection. Firstly though, I was disappointed that no notes or booklet were included with this major release from a singer who was the first from Britain to record for the company. Anyway, there are 45 tracks included on this Demon Music Group release including Kiki’s soul and/or Northern Soul treatments on “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”, “I Second That Emotion”, “Walk On By”, “Why Don’t I Run Away From You”, “The Day Will Come Between Sunday And Monday”, “How Glad I Am” and with Elton John “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”. “I was approached by (Motown) and went over there for eight days to look round” said Kiki in a 1970 interview. “I met the producers and writers, and generally got to know what was going on. I signed the contract on the day I left, and then returned …for two months recording. They taught me about my voice and how to use it. In fact I learnt so much in such a short time I couldn’t believe it.” By all accounts, there were plans for her to duet with Marvin Gaye but, for some reason, the project was shelved. However, during her American stay, she recorded the “Great Expectations” album and performed – “so that the people who were working with me would have some idea of what I was capable of and to give them a chance to decide what material would suit me best. The idea wasn’t for the producers to turn me into a soul singer but rather to record me on material to which I’m most suited.” Sadly, the album wasn’t the hit it should have been, despite the critically-acclaimed debut single “The Day Will Come Between Sunday And Monday”, which I personally loved.
After Motown, Kiki drifted in and out of the British charts, “Amoureuse” and “I’ve Got The Music In Me” being the most successful, until she enjoyed a worldwide hit with Elton titled..
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is helping celebrate its 16th birthday and the 200th birthday of the epicenter of American music, Memphis, Tennessee, by compiling a list of the 200 most indelible soul songs recorded in Memphis between 1957 and 1975. From Stax stars Otis Redding and Sam & Dave to Hi Records royalty Al Green and Ann Peebles, and all artists, labels, and studios in between, the list covers dozens of artists who recorded at studios throughout Memphis during that golden era of soul music.
“These are the 200 songs we feel best represent “Memphis Soul,” said Jeff Kollath, executive director of the Stax Museum. “Our only rules were no more than five songs per artist and it had to be predominantly recorded in Memphis between 1957 and 1975. We have created a list that goes across record label, studio, and era. Certainly, there are going to be some songs that the fans want to see represented, but just because it is not on the list doesn’t mean they can’t vote for it – just like a regular election, you can write-in! And we encourage everyone to share their ballots on social media and defend their selections!”
The museum invites everyone to participate and VOTE for their Top Ten starting May 15 and running through June 30!
In this edition of Soul Talkin,’ David Nathan and Kevin Goins discuss the latest releases from SoulMusic Records – one being a compilation of classics from BILLY PAUL – ME & MRS. JONES, THE ANTHOLOGY, the other an expanded edition of the 1986 debut album by SHIRLEY MURDOCK, which features her biggest hit, “As We Lay”. All this and more reissue talk with David and Kevin!
Why this was hyped as the ‘lost’ album is confusing because the material isn’t new as such which I think we were led to believe in the pre-publicity. Most of the tracks have snuck out as individual items in one form or another, on compilations like “Marvin Gaye: The Anthology”, “Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye:Never Before Released Masters”, “The Master: 1961-1984” and so on. So strictly speaking, the songs weren’t lost. However, having said that, I can fully appreciate why the album stayed under wraps as the track “You’re The Man Part 1” bombed when released as a single in America only during April 1972. Here’s a little back track. Hot on the heels of Marvin’s “What’s Going On” project which ignited music from the soul for the soul. A work dictated by human conscience, highlighting in music intense, soul searching issues that included unlocking the secrets of environmental disasters, and crying unashamedly over the futility of war. “What’s Going On” was a masterpiece on so many levels and changed, not only Motown’s strict code of recording, but that of the industry as a whole, and inspired other artists, like Stevie Wonder for instance, to have the courage to tread into previously forbidden territories.
Following the release of “What’s Going On” Marvin toyed around with ideas, fielded off third party material, with a state of mind that was far from solid. Gutted that “You’re The Man Part 1” died, and Berry Gordy’s directive that the proposed project be squashed, he said “I had a whole album planned around that track because I very much wanted to work in the movie field and I wanted to use this music as a soundtrack.” So, he strove to regain public acceptance once more, and while Motown was cautious about taking too many chances with his work, they both realised it was an impossibility to follow “What’s Going On”. Every aspect of Marvin’s life conflicted at this time; his personal life changed for the worst while his career expanded, yet Marvin lived one day at a time. “There were disputes over financial matters, over promotion, over a whole heap of things. Also my marriage was beginning to run into difficulties. Anna (Gordy) and I had in fact separated.”
Making music was all he had, yet his next project was an unexpected move which once again stretched Motown’s promotion department to the limit. In the wake of Isaac Hayes penning the movie soundtrack for Shaft and the growing popularity in low budget, semi-violent black flicks, Marvin jumped on the merry-go-round to write his only film score “Trouble Man”. He totally immersed himself in the project, adopting the role of the film’s main character ‘Mr T’ to write the whole album. The result was moody and jazz-tinged, almost a sinister reflection of his darkest moments. Despite offering film-goers similar ingredients as the other black flicks, “Trouble Man” was a non-starter, much to Marvin’s annoyance. Without the film’s visuals to support the music much of the excitement of “Trouble Man” was lost. “I wanted to say that I could divert from ‘What’s Going On’ and actually go into another area completely.” Following its release, Marvin admitted it wasn’t the official follow-up to “What’s Going On”, but rather a diversion, because he planned to write about his two passions in life – women and sex – and the “Let’s Get It On” ball breaker was conceived.
So, here we are, back to now, re-living songs recorded during this experimental period of indecision, where Marvin was in a dangerously fragile state of mind, where his sense of normality was scorched, and his cluttered mind bursting with ideas and emotions that made him unpredictable. His musical route was born from his confusion and this compilation is the result. From the opening and title track where he mercilessly attacks the political way of thinking which, to be honest, has changed not at all, we’re treated “The World Is Rated X” where Marvin returns to dissect certain aspects of “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”. Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer’s composition “Piece Of Clay” is divine as it weaves through the way people are moulded like clay by dictatorship, while “You Are That Special One” is an upbeat Willie Hutch song, and a favourite of mine. Marvin’s unique falsetto voice inspires “Where Are We Going” and it’s an optimistic singer who sings “We Can Make It Baby”. Listening to “Symphony” sent shivers up my spine; beautifully conceived and styled; likewise “I’d Give My Life For You”, leaving a more funkier style to seep through on “Try It, You’ll Like It”. I smiled at the cheeky inclusion of “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” because it’s relevant to the period in Marvin’s life, yet so out of place here.
With a fresh vision injected into some of the songs by Salaam Remi, wiping the dust from the grooves, this compilation is a previously-loved collection of songs, and bringing them together as an 80th birthday present, was a stroke of genius, or was it a stroke of a quick dollar? However, accepting it as the former, it’s with a sad and happy heart that fans like myself will play this again and again, reminding ourselves that despite the tormented traumas Marvin was living through at this time, these songs are reflective of his unquestionable talent. As an aside, I wonder if the man himself would have approved?
BILLY PAUL: ME & MRS JONES: THE ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
Now this is an interesting 31-track package as it spans the ten studio albums between 1969-1985 by a man who’s considered to be one of the top soul/jazz stylists of our age, and one of the most distinguished names on the Philadelphia International artist roster. Mr Billy Paul, known to the world for his 1972 chart topping single “Me & Mrs Jones”, recorded powerful political songs alongside the tenderest of love tunes, with a sincerity that convinced the listener Billy suffered or enjoyed every moment. Telling of an extra-marital affair between and man and his lover, who meet in secret ‘every day at the same café’, “Me & Mrs Jones” tugged at millions of heart strings; some experiencing the same situation or others wishing they could. With a nice pulsating beat, “Bring The Family Back” is slightly overshadowed by “Brown Baby”, with its subtle support vocals melting into the hookline. While Paul McCartney took a personal view in his composition “Let ‘Em In”, Billy Paul pulls back the shutters to take on a civil rights stance with explicit lyrics, snippets of speeches from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, alongside mentioning past civil rights leaders like the Kennedy brothers and Elijah Muhammad. A landmark release, but not the only one to carry a message: check out “We All Got A Mission” or “False Faces”. Then, on the other hand, Billy re-works Elton John’s “Your Song” to the extreme, by dramatising and, perhaps, soul-ising the pop song, with the added attraction of over-vocalising in sections.
This Anthology features all thirteen American hits for Philadelphia International, like, the up tempo funky, message laden “Am I Black Enough For You”, the follow-up to “Me & Mrs Jones”; “New Day, New World Comes” and “Thanks For Saving My Life”. I was instantly drawn to his version of Jerry Butler’s “Only The Strong Survive” which, lyrically alone, begs attention. Of the ballads, there’s “This Is Your Life”, or “Sexual Therapy” which respected/acknowledged his friend Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. So, there’s a mood, lyric and style for everyone here; political statements and love whispers, so what’s not to like?
THE BAR-KAYS: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (ROBINSONGS)
This is a mammoth Bar-Kays release across a 3-CD package covering 1967 – 1989, combining releases on Warner Brothers, Volt, Stax and Mercury, tracing the Bar-Kays evolution from a raw Memphis-based unit into a global, headlining act. Of the 46 tracks here, all their top ten R&B hits are included like, of course, their evergreen anthem “Soul Finger”, their debut single. Reviewing their career would cover pages but suffice to say it covered “tragedy to triumph, plane crash to gold discs, Otis Redding to Isaac Hayes” – and they survived all to tell the tale and play on. Some titles also crossed over into the US mainstream chart, including “Son Of Shaft”, a top sixty hit in 1971; “Shake Your Rump To The Funk”, top thirty in 1976; “Too Hot To Stop”, top eighty, a year later; “Move Your Boogie Body”, top sixty in 1979; “Today Is The Day”, top sixty, a year later; and “Freakshow On The Dance Floor”, top eighty, 1984, from the film “Breakin’”. And there’s so much more here that highlight the changing styles of a dedicated bunch of musicians, like “Dirty Dancer” and “Let’s Have Some Fun”.
From a studio session group at Stax Records, the Bar-Kays were chosen by Otis Redding as his backing group, exposing them to growing audiences. Throughout the years, their membership altered for various reasons, but the music continued from early R&B through to the funk years of the seventies. Next to Motown’s Funk Brothers, the Bar-Kays rose from nowhere to everywhere, with musical visions that went a long way to define the music we love.
TOMMY HUNT: COMPLETE MAN – 60s NYC SOUL SONGS (KENT RECORDS)
It was Dusty Springfield’s version of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” that encouraged me to seek out more from Tommy Hunt, who, as you know, recorded the original during 1962. Then, when the Four Tops recorded “It’s All In The Game”, I looked some more. Tommy’s early life wasn’t easy. When he was ten years old he was released from reform school to move to Chicago with his mother, where, following a stint in the US air force, he deserted to be with his then dying mum. He subsequently served a prison sentence, then pursued his love of music. He formed The Five Echoes, which later led to him joining The Flamingos, where he enjoyed several hit singles including their top twenty pop hit “I Only Have Eyes For You” in 1959. Leaving them a year later, following musical clashes, Tommy met Luther Dixon who signed him to the Dynamo label. Here the pop-slanted “The Parade Of The Broken Hearts” with the slowie “Human” on the flipside, was released. His deeply rich and powerful voice, coupled with his smooth talking ways and the hippest of struts, he became very much in demand.
Although his British success had been limited to the soul market, Tommy excelled as a headlining act at several Northern Soul events, and following a deal with Spark Records, went on to savour a couple of UK mainstream hit singles, “Crackin’ Up” and “Loving On The Losing Side”, followed by “One Fine Morning” during the mid-seventies. Anyway, back to this release which is a kaleidoscope of goodies. “One Of These Days” is a cool ballad of note, while the real romantic side of the man seeps through with songs like “Girls Are Sentimental”. The beat escalates with “The Work Song” and “The Pretty Part Of You”, and of the unissued Scepter recordings, there’s “What’s The Matter Baby” previously only released by The Shirelles. Tell you what, if you’d like to know more about this intriguing singer, do check out his autobiography “Only Human – My Soulful Life”, published by Bank House Books in 2008. Words with music, a great combination!
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: RARE GROOVES (WIENERWORLD)
“Dance To The Music”, “Everyday People”, “Family Affair” – can’t be anyone else can it? Headed by Sylvester Stewart, this group of men and women was one of the first racially integrated units, who were a pioneering force in the development of psychedelic soul. Their music, therefore, was a melting pot of funk, rock/soul and psychedelia with huge influences from Stax and Motown thrown in for good measure. With their recognisable fuzz bass and wah-wah guitar, they enjoyed a hugely successful career. As Sly Stone became lost in the world of drugs, so the band suffered until it disintegrated during the seventies, whereupon Rose Stone recorded a solitary eponymous album for Motown under the name Rose Banks in 1976 and supported Marvin Gaye on tour. “Rare Grooves” is their re-named ‘comeback’ album “Back On The Right Track” from 1979 for Warner Brothers, with the bonus track “Somebody To You”. Singles “Remember Who You Are” and “The Same Thing (Makes You Laugh, Makes You Cry)” were poor sellers and, of course, this reflected on the album’s sales. Nonetheless, with several of the original members on board like, Rose, Pat Rizzo and Cynthia Robinson, Sly captured much of the group’s original funk/soul magic, without meandering into their previous darker social commentary. Check out the opening track “It Takes All Kinds” or “Sheer Energy” and you’ll see what I mean. A very worthwhile and enjoyable release for sure.
On March 2nd, David Nathan attended the memorial service honoring the late Nancy Wilson, who passed on in December 2018. We discuss that celebration of Nancy’s life as well as who was in attendance. In addition, we share the first time each of us had discovered her music as well as David’s recollections of his interviews and discussions with Ms. Wilson. All this and Nancy’s music too on this edition of Soul Talkin’