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Any Major Soul 1977

June 28th, 2018 1 comment

There was still some great soul music made in 1977, but the fuel of the great age was slowly diminishing, unable to compete with disco and slow to find a new direction.

That’s why after a few years that required two volumes each in the Any Major Soul series, 1977 merits only one. Some great tracks didn’t make the cut, and this mix has plenty of great music. Earth, Wind & Fire’s I’ll Write A Song For You, with Philip Bailey’s astonishing falsetto, in particular is a masterpiece, from the best soul album of the year, All ‘N All.

Two artists here turned out to become pastors. The conversion of Al Green, featured here with a track from his first record produced outside Hi Records — was alluded to in my review of his biography. The other future preacher here is O.C. Smith, who some years earlier scored a big hits with The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp and Little Green Apples. He has featured here several times; I especially like his contribution to the first Any Major Fathers mix. Smith died in 2001 at the age of 69.

Frederick Knight appears here with the original of a song which two years later was released by K.C. & The Sunshine Band. Betcha Didn’t Know That, which is superior in the cover version, featured on Any Major B-Side (which also featured Al Green). Knight also wrote Anita Ward’s monster 1979 disco hit Ring My Bell. You can see Knight in the superb Wattstax documentary, on the “Black Woodstock” in 1972 (the full film is on YouTube).

The Joneses, not to be confused with the 1980s California rock band, were a harmonising singing quartet from Pittsburgh who initially were championed by Dionne Warwick. The group, whose members were not called Jones, had a minor hit in 1974 with Sugar Pie Guy and something of a disco hit in 1975 with Love Inflation. They then broke up before being briefly revived by member Glenn Dorsey to bring out an eponymous LP in 1977, of which the track featured here, Who Loves You, was the lead single. And that was it for The Joneses.

There is an interesting family connection for Roger Hatcher; his cousin was Edwin Starr (née Charles Hatcher). His brother Willie was a soul singer, too, and his other brother, Roosevelt, a saxophonist. Roger, a prolific songwriter, began recording in 1968 but he changed labels so often that he never enjoyed a breakthrough. In part this was due to Roger’s uncompromising personality, in part due to the manipulative and/or incompetent ways of record executives. Hatcher died in 2002.

The most obscure artist here must be Bill Brantley. As far as I can see, he released two singles under his name, and a few more singles as the latter half of the duo Van & Titus. The track here could have featured in the Covered With Soul series: it’s a version (in my view superior) of a Dr Hook song. It was recorded in Nashville, and the country vibe is evident.

Bill Brandon, who has featured a few times on this site, is another great singer who never made that great breakthrough.  He made his mark in the late 1960s, when Percy Sledge covered his song Self Preservation. He also got some attention for his superb Rainbow Road, a murder ballad written by Dan Penn which was later covered by Arthur Alexander. After a string of singles he finally released his first and only album in 1977. Brandon left the music business in 1987 and became a truck driver and later a night club owner.

There was also just one album for Allspice, who were produced by the Crusaders’ Wayne Henderson — and the jazz fusion influence runs strongly through it. The band — made up of members of three soul groups — appeared to together on another album, Ronnie Laws’ Fever from 1976, which was also produced by Henderson.

The mix closes with a track from The Memphis Horns, who put out a series of albums besides plating on many soul classics. Led by Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, their 1977 Get Up And Dance album also featured veteran soul saxophonists James Mitchell and Lewis Collins and trombonist Jack Hale.

1. Crown Heights Affair – Dreaming A Dream
2. The Emotions – A Feeling Is
3. High Inergy – Save It For A Rainy Day
4. Linda Clifford – Only Fooling Myself
5. Marlena Shaw – Look At Me-Look At You (We’re Flying)
6. Minnie Riperton – Stay In Love
7. Earth, Wind & Fire – I’ll Write A Song For You
8. Shirley Brown – Blessed Is The Woman (With A Man Like Mine)
9. Al Green – Belle
10. Bill Brantley – A Little Bit More
11. Natalie Cole – Annie Mae
12. Rose Royce – Ooh Boy
13. William Bell – Tryin’ To Love Two
14. Frederick Knight – I Betcha Didn’t Know That
15. The Joneses – Who Loves You
16. Roger Hatcher – Your Love Is A Masterpiece
17. O. C. Smith – Wham Bam (Blue Collar Man)
18. Teddy Pendergrass – I Don’t Love You Anymore
19. Bill Brandon – No Danger Of Heartbreak Ahead
20. Allspice – Destiny
21. Memphis Horns – Keep On Smilin’
BONUS TRACK: Mark Williams – House For Sale

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Any Major Music from ‘The Deuce’

May 24th, 2018 5 comments

In many TV shows, music plays a character in its own right. A song on the radio can portend a looming crisis or the state of mind of two lovers in bed (with their Z-shaped sheet). The 2017 HBO drama The Deuce used music to brilliant effect to help set the scene of early 1970s in New York City’s underbelly of prostitution, pornography, police corruption and organised crime.

The series had no orchestral score to guide the viewer; that job is done by the incidental music — on the radio, from passing cars, on a juke box, etc. George Pelecanos, co-producer of The Deuce with David Simon (they also did The Wire and Treme together), has explained that much thought went into choosing the right song for each scene. Music placement on TV is never random, but here extraordinary thought went into it.

Much of the music draws from the pool of late-1960s, early-’70s soul and funk. With the setting being the underworld, and many of the protagonists being black, there must have been a temptation to litter the soundtrack with blaxploitation film music (The Tarantino Option, as I call it). Pelecanos said that this would have been inauthentic; people didn’t play that stuff on their HiFis or on the juke-box. It would have been clichéd and was wisely avoided.

Music supervisor Blake Leyh explained in Billboard that “we made a conscious decision to feature lesser-known tracks to a large degree – although we have some of the more obvious favorites like James Brown and the Velvet Underground when appropriate. But much of the music is more likely found in a record collector’s obscurities bin.”

Starting with the smartly chosen theme song, Curtis Mayfield’s discombobulating If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go, there are songs that communicate purely by their sound the pressure and violence of that world. Other times there’s the old but useful trick of contrasting a sweet tune with cruelty on screen (one that was employed to particularly memorable effect in The Sopranos, when the weakened Tony Soprano beats up his hapless and innocent driver in a show of strength; all the while the cheerful doo wop tune Every Day Of The Week by The Students is playing).

Pernell Walker, James Franco and Maggie Gyllennhaal in a scene from HBO’s series The Deuce.

As it is with many other TV shows, the choice of music used in them presents us with a treasure of new songs to discover or to revisit forgotten tracks.

Pleasingly, the songs featured in The Deuce, other than the closing theme (by The Wire alumnus Lafayette Gilchrist), fit into the time-frame of the show. An exception is Johnnie Taylor’s Standing In For Jody in Episode 1, set in 1971. The song came out only in 1972 (perhaps the musical directors thought of Taylor’s 1970 song Jody’s Got Your Girl And Gone). And if that is the extent to which one can nitpick, then the music supervisors did a fantastic job.

Few songs here have been used in other TV shows, but Darondo’s sublime Didn’t has been used in several other TV shows: Ray Donovan (another series with excellent music), Breaking Bad, The Blacklist, I’m Dying Up Here and the shortlived Lovesick.

The present mix is a small selection of music featured in the show’s eight episodes (the first episode alone featured close to 30 songs). I’ve tried to create a bit of a story arch: The mix begins with the Mayfield theme, and ends with the Ray Charles track that plays in the jukebox as the series concludes, followed by the closing theme.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes home-pimped covers. PW in comments.

1. Curtis Mayfield – If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go (1970)
2. Rufus Thomas – (Do The) Push And Pull (Part 1) (1970)
3. Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose – Treat Her Like A Lady (1971)
4. James Brown – Out Of Sight (1965)
5. Darondo – Didn’t I (1972)
6. The Manhattans – I Don’t Wanna Go (1969)
7. James Carr – These Ain’t Raindrops (1969)
8. Lee Williams & The Cymbals – Peeping Through The Window (1967)
9. Johnnie Taylor – Standing In For Jody (1972)
10. Ann Peebles – I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home Tonight (1971)
11. Dusty Springfield – Haunted (1971)
12. Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds – Don’t Pull Your Love (1971)
13. The Guess Who – These Eyes (1969)
14. Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes (1969)
15. The Persuaders – Thin Line Between Love And Hate (1971)
16. The Notations – A New Day (1971)
17. Honey Cone – Want Ads (1971)
18. Jean Knight – Mr. Big Stuff (1971)
19. War – Slippin’ Into Darkness (1971)
20. George McGregor & The Bronzettes – Temptation Is Too Hard To Fight (1967)
21. The Temptations – Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) (1971)
22. The Lovettes – I Need A Guy (1967)
23. Ray Charles – Careless Love (1962)
24. Lafayette Gilchrist – Assume The Position (2004)

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Any Major Soul Train

April 12th, 2018 7 comments

 

If you say Soul Train, Americans of a certain generation and fans of soul and funk anywhere will think of funky dancers with big ’fros and hot threads, Don Cornelius’ flamboyantly fashionable suits and baritone voice, the animated train, hair care products ads, scrambleboards, awkward audience questions, cool catchphrases and great music. You could bet your last dollar, it was gonna be a stone gas, honey.

Soul Train’s cultural impact was tremendous. The first nationally syndicated black music show, it was owned by a black man (presenter Cornelius, who sadly committed suicide on February 1, 2012), staffed mostly by black people, sponsored by a black company selling black hair products, and featured black artists who did not often feature on TV. Socially, Soul Train was TV’s raised fist of black consciousness. Culturally, Soul Train helped popularise dances, fashion and hair.

 

Still from the famous Afro Sheen commercial with civil war era activist Frederick Douglass administering a lesson in ‘fro-dom. No wonder Donald Trump thought Douglass was still alive.

 

The afro, it is said, became so potent a symbol of black identity – the hirsute extension of the Rev Jesse Jackson’s “I Am Somebody” mantra – in large part thanks to Soul Train (and its sponsors, the Johnson Company with its Black Sheen products). The dances were widely copied, by the kids at home and by the stars. Michael Jackson copied the Moonwalk from Jeffrey Daniels, and breakdancing took its cue from Bodypopping, Locking, The Robot and other moves pioneered on Soul Train. And when rap broke in New York, Soul Train helped break it nationally – much as Cornelius resented hip hop. Soul Train even produced its own superstar musical act: Shalamar comprised Soul Train dancers Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley and, after a couple of personnel changes, Howard Hewett (boyfriend of Cornelius’ secretary), and in the US were signed to Cornelius’ Soul Train Records label.

 

Don Cornelius, who died on February 1, 2012 at the age of 75. This post, minus the mix but with other tracks, was first posted here in 2011 and re-posted after Don’s death. It is running here with a brandnew Soul Train mix.

 

And, of course, that’s what Soul Train was about most of all: spreading black music, from the smooth harmonies of The Delfonics to the gangsta rap of Snoop Dogg. This did not mean that the show practised apartheid. Gino Vanelli was the first white artist to appear on the show (Cornelius told the Italo-Canadian jazz-funkster that he was “half-black”; the first white act to feature was Dennis Coffey, whose funk anthem Scorpio provided the music for a Soul Train Gang dance number; the first mixed act to appear on the show was Tower of Power). Soon after, acts such as Elton John, David Bowie, Average White Band, Frankie Valli and Michael McDonald appeared on the show (in later years, such unsoul acts as Duran Duran, Sting, A-ha  and Berlin, as well as the dreaded Michael F Bolton, took a ride on the Soul Train).

 

The Soul Train Gang in action, 1972.

 

Soul Train’s theme song, in its second incarnation, became a #1 in the US, and a massive hit all over the world (to borrow from its brief lyrics). In 1973 Cornelius approached Philadelphia soul maestros Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff to come up with a theme for the show to replace King Curtis’ Hot Potatoes, which it did in November 1973. The result was so good, that the composers wanted to release The Theme of Soul Train as a single. When they did, recorded by the Philadelphia International Records (PIR) house band M.F.S.B. with The Three Degrees providing backing vocals, it topped the charts and provided the sound of 1974.

But it didn’t chart under the title The Theme of Soul Train. Cornelius baulked at the idea that PIR release it using the words “Soul Train” in the title because, as he recalled in a VH-1 documentary a couple of years ago, he was being overprotective of his trademark. He would describe that as the “worst decision” he had ever made. So today the Soul Train theme is known as T.S.O.P. (for The Sound Of Philadelphia).

In 1976, T.S.O.P. was replaced as a theme by The Soul Train Gang’s theme, but made a comeback in 1987 in George Duke’s version. It would remain the Soul Train theme, in several re-recordings, until the show’s end in 2006, some 13 years after Don Cornelius signed off for the last time with the words: “And as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and SOULLLLLL!”

If you dig the pics in this post, there are 179 more which I made of Soul Train scenes HERE.

 

Here is a mix of songs that were performed on Soul Train. To narrow down the selection I chose only from tracks that appeared on the wonderful 7-DVD set of Soul Train performances. The first two themes feature on the mix as they appeared on the show; the Soul Train Gang theme, which really is not great, is included as a bonus track on its full version.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-souuuuuuuled covers. PW in comments.

1. Soul Train (King Curtis) – Hot Potatoes Theme (1971)
2. The Five Stairsteps – O-o-h Child (1970)
3. The Chi-Lites – Have You Seen Her (1971)
4. The Spinners – I’ll Be Around (1972)
5. Main Ingredient – Everybody Plays The Fool (1972)
6. Four Tops – Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got) (1972)
7. Brighter Side Of Darkness – Love Jones (1972)
8. The Sylvers – Wish That I Could Talk To You (1972)
9. O’Jays – Love Train (1972)
10. Soul Train – Souuuuuuuuuuuuul Train
11. Jermaine Jackson – Daddy’s Home (1973)
12. The Stylistics – You Make Me Feel Brandnew (1973)
13. Gladys Knight & The Pips – Neither One Of Us (1973)
14. Tower Of Power – So Very Hard To Go (1973)
15. Isley Brothers – That Lady (1973)
16. Soul Train Theme (1973)
17. Barry White – Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Baby (1974)
18. Billy Preston – Tell Me Something Good (1974)
19. Ecstasy, Passion & Pain – Good Things Don’t Last Forever (1974)
20. L.T.D. – Love Ballad (1976)
21. Lou Rawls – You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine (1976)
22. Marvin Gaye – Got To Give It Up (Part 1) (1977)
23. Teddy Pendergrass – The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me (1977)
24. Don Cornelius – Love, Peace and Soul
BONUS TRACKS: MFSB – TSOP (1974)
Soul Train Gang – Soul Train ’75 (1965)

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Any Major Soul 1976 Vol. 2

February 8th, 2018 2 comments

It’s 1976 in Any Major Soul land, with Volume 2. It was the last really great year for soul of the great soul decade, and therefore arguably the last really  great year for soul.

One artist who appears here made it big in the 1980s. Luther Vandross features as the lead singer of the group Luther, which presumably took its name not as an homage to 16th-century religious performers. Vandross had already enjoyed a career as a session singer, most famously on David Bowie’s Young Americans album, on which he also co-wrote the song Fascination with Bowie. Later he also backed acts like Roberta Flack, Chic, Sister Sledge, Odyssey, Carly Simon, Average White Band, Bette Middler, Chaka Khan, J. Geils Band and others on their hit albums, duetted on two tracks of Quincy Joiners’ Stuff Like That album, joined the group Change, and finally in 1981 released his first solo album, Never Too Much.

Some big names failed to make the cut — Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, The Isley Brothers — but one soul legend had to feature in 1976: Stevie Wonder. Songs In The Key Of Life, released that year, is the opus in a great decade of soul music. That isn’t to say it is flawless. The fusion work-out that is Contusion is misplaced, and some songs go on for double its natural lifespan (basically all of Side 3). But, oh, Side 4! There are many great songs on the album, so the exquisite Knocks Me Off My Feet features here.

The Choice Four was a Washington DC act that was produced by Van McCoy. The band may be remembered better as a disco act, especially for their hit Come Down To Earth (by the time it became a hit, the group had split). They also recorded the first version of the David Ruffin hit Walk Away From Love. Both featured on In Memoriam – July 2017.

The mix kicks off with something rather more obscure. A 12-piece band from Milwaukee, Step By Step released one single album, I Always Wanted To Be In The Band.

Norma Jenkins sounds like a southern soul singer but actually hailed from New Jersey. She released only one album, in 1976, though her recording career went back into the 1960s. After 1976 she disappeared from the music scene.

You may recognise John Edwards as the future lead singer of The Spinners, joining the band in 1977. He led on Working My Way Back to You. He had enjoyed a career before that, enjoying a few hits in the R&B charts. A stroke in 2000 forced his retirement.

The artist who on this mix follows Edwards also has a Spinners connection. Lee Garrett co-wrote the bands hit It’s A Shame. He also co-wrote Stevie Wonder’s Signed Sealed And Delivered (like Wonder, incidentally, Garrett is blind) and Jermaine Jackson’s Let’s Get Serious. As a singer, he enjoyed success with 1976’s You’re My Everything. I picked a different song for this mix.

The cover of Tomorrow’s People’s LP suggests female membership. Not so: the group comprised four brothers. A little gem that was long forgotten (and sought after by collectors), it was re-released on CD recently. With the masters long lost, that CD had to be compiled from various sources. The real highlight of the album is the 20-minute track that fills Side 2.

One of the bright spots in 1990s soul was La Bouche, who were produced in Germany. Hearing their hit Fallin’ In Love invariably puts me in a good mood. That song was originally done in 1975 by AOR  act Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds — their version featured on the Not Feeling Guilty Mix Vol. 4. Here it is covered by The New Birth, in a way that neither recalls the original nor presages the 1990s cover.

It also closes with an obscure outfit, Sounds Of The City Experience. How this New York City band never broke big is one for the Cold Case Files. And it won’t be too difficult to finger the bad guy: mafia frontman and full-time crook Morris Levy, the template for The Sopranos’ Hersh Rabkin (who was rather more likable than Levy). Levy signed this talented band to his tax dodge label. Their one shot at stardom was sabotaged so that it wouldn’t sell, in order to make a scumbag money. Fuck Morris Levy.

As always CD-R length, covers, PW in comments.

1. Step By Step – Cool Days Are Out Of Style
2. The O’Jays – Let Life Flow
3. Zulema – New Day Coming
4. Marlena Shaw – You And Me
5. G.C. Cameron – Include Me In Your Life
6. Al Green – Soon As I Get Home
7. Curtis Mayfield – Only You Babe
8. Stevie Wonder – Knocks Me Off My Feet
9. Al Jarreau – Rainbow In Your Eyes
10. Luther – This Strange Feeling
11. The Choice Four – Just Let Me Hold You For A Night
12. Norma Jenkins – I Did It For Real
13. Carolyn Franklin – From The Bottom Of My Heart (To The Bottom Of Yours)
14. Tomorrow’s People – Hurry On Up Tomorrow
15. Charles Brimmer – Your Man’s Gonna Be In Trouble
16. The New Birth – Fallin’ In Love
17. John Edwards – That’s That
18. Lee Garrett – Heart Be Still
19. Rufus & Chaka Khan – Do You Love What You Feel
20. Sounds Of The City Experience – Keep On Keepin’ On
Bonus track: Vivian Reed – Baby, You’re A Good Thang

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Al Green Sings Covers

November 30th, 2017 6 comments

Sometimes the less you know about your favourite singers, the better. Who knew that Al Green, the soul legend, is not an all-round good egg, nor, indeed, an all-round bad egg. The good Reverend is one hell of a conflicted cat. And that conflicted soul makes for intriguing reading in Jimmy’s McDonough new, authoritative biography of Al Green, Soul Survivor (Da Capo Press, 2017). For fans of popular music, and especially of soul, the book is a treasure.

Obviously the focus is on Green, but to understand Green – in as far as the man can be even remotely understood – one must also know the context in which he has existed and recorded. So McDonough introduces a cast of co-stars and supporting actors along the way. There is, naturally, Albert Leorn Greene’s family, including his pimp brothers.

The cover of Jimmy McDonough’s absorbing Al Green bio Soul Survivor, published in August 2017 by Da Capo Press.

A substantial portion of Soul Survivor is devoted to Willie Mitchell and his Hi Records. As Green’s producer and his musical home in the singer’s pomp, Mitchell and Hi are key to the Green story. So are backing musicians like the Hodges brothers—Charles on organ, Leroy on bass, and, perhaps most importantly, Mabon “Teenie” on guitar—as well drummers Howard Grimes and Al Jackson Jr and the Memphis Horns (mainly Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love), and later people like Reuben Fairfax.

It’s fascinating to learn how Mitchell turned Green, who fancied himself as a soul growler, into that quiet singer into whose vocals you can disappear, as McDonough eloquently puts it. Mitchell and Al Jackson Jr wrote the melody for Let’s Stay Together; Al Green’s task was to write the lyrics. So he locked himself up in a studio room and wrote them in 15 minutes – starting one of the great love songs as a reflection on black politics… Green then wanted to sing the song in shouty southern soul style. Mitchell insisted he sing it all mellow. Green was very unhappy with that idea and sped off in his car, wheels all a-screeching. When he returned, he deliberately sang the song as relaxed and with as little emotion he could muster, just to spite Mitchell – who in turn said that this was exactly the sound he wanted. No more takes were needed; a new kind of soul singer was born that day. The Hi Records part of the Al Green story is a most welcome bonus in this book.

Along the way we also encounter people like Laura Lee, a great soul singer in her own right and Green’s on-off girlfriend. It’s Lee about whom Green wrote Tired Of Being Alone. That song also introduced the backing vocals of the Rhodes sisters, who surprisingly were country singers, with sax player Charles Chalmers (Sandra Rhodes also played rhythm guitar on How Do You Mend A Broken Heart). If you are surprised to learn that Al Green’s soulful backing singers on those great Hi records were white, you surely are not alone.

Who’s a pretty pimp? Al Green makes his Soul Train debut in 1971, singing Tired Of Being Alone while wearing gold boxer boots, black vinyl hot pants, magenta vinyl vest, a gold chain, a pink pimp hat at a jaunty angle, and a man-bag on his shoulders. Give him a cane and he could fit into a scene from The Deuce.

 

McDonough is insightful in examining Al Green’s records. Obviously a devoted fan, he speaks with authority even as he expresses strong opinions. One wants to play the songs he is writing about just to hear what he hears. But at other times his opinions can be intrusive, such as the reference to the “dreaded Chicago”. And much as I agree with McDonough on the Talking Heads’ awful cover of Take Me To The River – “Fuck the Talking Heads”, he opines – in a book like this it’s better to not to try and force the reader’s mind. And only the good Lord knows how McDonough arrives at his churlishly-expressed opinion that “clown-haired” Lyle Lovett lacks talent.

But that is a minor criticism. McDonough marshals his widely collated resources well, even if it becomes difficult at some points to keep track of who is who. The author hopes that his book will be the definitive biography on Al Green, and he wasn’t going to leave many gaps.

Soul Survivor has a few moments of great trivia. We learn that Take Me To The River co-writer Teeny Hodges reported that his biggest payday had come not from the Green or Talking Heads recordings of the song but from royalties earned via the song’s “performance” by the animatronic fish Big Mouth Billy Bass in The Sopranos. And among the more startling revelation is that Green apparently is a freemason, in an African-American wing of the secret society that has also included such luminaries as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Richard Pryor.

Take Me To The River payday: the animatronic fish Big Mouth Billy Bass in The Sopranos.

 

There is an alarming story about how a goon gangster broke Al’s arm when the singer didn’t want to perform. But don’t feel too bad for Green, who allegedly felt quite entitled to assault women. Which takes us to the 1974 suicide of Mary Woodson and her attack on him with boiling grits (Green tends to insist it was Cream of Wheat) that preceded it. McDonough cites a lot of research on the incident; all it shows is that the official verdict of suicide should be seen as inconclusive. While a lot points to Woodson’s death having been self-inflicted, there are some questions that likely will never be answered.

Woodson’s death might or might not have played a role in Green’s conversion – which took place, of all places, after a gig at Disneyland, the result of a bargain he said he had made with God in 1969. A substantial section of the book covers Green’s career as a pastor (he’s now a bishop, whatever that means in non-hierarchical church). As with everything, Green is a walking contradiction in that role. One moment given to evangelical zeal and Christian charity, the next driven by that nasty underside that always seems to reside beneath his surface. Green’s style of ministry seems to be always a bit or a lot unhinged.

The man who emerges in the pages of Soul Survivor is alone and lonely, one who attracts people easily with charm and kindness, and then always finds ways to repel them with appalling behaviour. His outsized ego perhaps makes Al Green the only suitable companion for Albert Leorn Greene. It ain’t easy being Green.

And so to the mix. Whoopie Goldberg, in a rare moment of lucidity, said: “No one can cover Al Green.” It’s true: how many good covers of Al Green originals do you know? But Green is a superb interpreter of other people’s songs, most famously perhaps of The Bee Gee’s How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (an mind-blowing vocal performance, but don’t disregard Mitchell’s fine arrangement that sets the scene for those vocals). So here is a mix of Al Green singing other people’s songs. In the parentheses I cite the respective song’s most famous performer.

As always, the mix is timed to fit in a standard CD-R length, includes home-lurved covers. PW in comments.

1. I’ve Never Found A Girl (1972 – Eddie Floyd)
2. I Can’t Get Next To You (1971 – The Temptations)
3. Drivin’ Wheel (1971 – Roosevelt Sykes/Junior Parker)
4. The Letter (1969 – The Box Tops)
5. Summertime (1969 – from ‘Porgy And Bess’)
6. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (1972 – The Bee Gees)
7. For The Good Times (1972 – Kris Kristofferson)
8. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (1973 – Hank Williams)
9. Funny How Time Slips Away (1973 – Jimmy Elledge/Joe Hinton)
10. I Stand Accused (1969 – Jerry Butler)
11. Unchained Melody (1973 – Righteous Brothers)
12. I Want To Hold Your Hand (1969 – The Beatles)
13. Oh, Pretty Woman (1972 – Roy Orbison)
14. Light My Fire (1971 – The Doors)
15. Together Again (1976 – Buck Owens)
16. Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home (1984 – Joe South)
17. People Get Ready (feat. Margie Joseph, 1981 – The Impressions)
18. A Change Is Gonna Come (live, 1994 – Sam Cooke)

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Any Major Soul 1976 Vol. 1

June 22nd, 2017 4 comments

The year 1976 was a great year for soul. Even as disco made its influence felt, there was still a lot of music that built on the foundations of what had come in the years before, the more clinical sounds of the 1980s still in the future.

To exemplify, the opening track, by former James Brown sidekick Lyn Collins, has a vibe that would not have been out of place in 1968. The track that follows it, by the Brothers Johnson, follows Collins’ track quite naturally but also nods vaguely in the direction of disco, in a funky kind of way. Philly Soul, which is richly represented here, was in many ways part of the disco movement, but it always referenced the heritage of soul.

The most bizarre background story of acts featured on this mix concerns Spice, who recorded on the TSG label. Trouble was, TSG wasn’t really into making money, never mind making stars of their signings; their racket was to create tax write-offs. So Spice saw a single — the featured track — released, to no success. An LP was also produced, but it seems the band members didn’t know about it until about seven years ago when the singer’s octogenarian mother heard a track from it on a blog and recognised the voice of her son, Richard Brown Jr.  Brown was mentored by the Main Ingredient’s Donald McPherson in the craft of songwriting and arranging. Before too long they came to the attention of singer and label owner Lloyd Price, whom they also backed. But one night the band threw in the towel after another inadequate pay check. Their pretty good LP was never distributed, so the few copies that were circulation became a sought-after collector’s item — one that not even its singer would be aware of for almost 35 years. It finally was issued on CD in 2013.

Alas, I have virtually no information about Revelation. I can find no biographical detail other than the members’ names and producers, despite their having released five albums between 1976 and 1982. Revelation’s 1976 debut appeared on RSO, but most of the backing musicians where from the Philly Soul scene, and the album certainly sounds like it — which is a recommendation.

The Chi-Lites feature on this mix; a couple of songs later we encounter Maryann Farra & Satin Soul, for whom former Chi-Lites leader Eugene Record did arranging, though not on the featured track. That song is a gender-adapted cover of the Chi-Lites’ Living In The Footsteps Of Another Man, which featured on Any Major Soul 1972 Vol. 1. Farra and her band also covered Stoned Out Of My Mind, a great song which I’ve just realised inexplicably has never featured on any major mix. I really thought it had…

There have been many acts called First Class; the most famous of whom may be the lot that had a hit with Beach Baby (featured on Should Have Been A Top 10 Hit Vol. 3). The incarnation featuring here was from Baltimore, and enjoyed only limited success, mostly on the east coast. Their sound drew from Philly, with falsettos and the works.  By 1980 the band was done recording albums. Don’t be alarmed by the abrupt end to the song, and therefore to this compilation). The lyrics explain why.

As always, CD-R length, home-souled covers, PW in comments.

1. Lyn Collins – Me And My Baby Got A Good Thing Going
2. Brothers Johnson – Free and Single
3. Earth, Wind & Fire – On Your Face
4. The Drifters – You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book
5. Archie Bells & the Drells – I Could Dance All Night
6. Lou Rawls – Groovy People
7. Anthony White – Where Would I Be Without You
8. Ronnie McNeir – Selling My Heart To The Junkman
9. Revelation – We’ve Gotta Survive
10. Chi-Lites – Happy Being Lonely
11. The Ebonys – Mr. Me, Mrs. You
12. Maryann Farra & Satin Soul – Living In The Footsteps Of Another Girl
13. G.C. Cameron – Include Me In Your Life
14. Margie Joseph – Hear The Words, Feel The Feeling
15. Tommy Hunt – Loving On The Losing Side
16. David Ruffin – Good Good Times
17. Bo Kirkland & Ruth Davis – I Feel Love In This Room Tonight
18. Terry Huff – I Destroyed Your Love, Pt. 1
19. Spice – Everything Is You
20. Diana Ross – I Thought It Took A Little Time
21. Rose Royce – I Wanna To Get Next To You
22. First Class – Coming Back To You

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Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 2

April 6th, 2017 2 comments

The first Protest Soul mix, posted to coincide with the inauguration of Honest Donald in January, seems to have been quite popular. More than that, I hope it brought some kind of relief from the anguish of seeing that sphinctermouthed spluttermachine being heaved into the presidency — and seeing him wreaking his revenge on common decency without having received a clear mandate.

More should be made of this: Trump lost the popular vote, so his mandate is not unambiguous. He won the presidency legitimately, and therefore occupies his office and nominally exercises its authority legitimately — but his mandate is tainted by having been invested in him against the will of the people. So when he drains the swamp and fills it with sewerage, he is doing so without a clear mandate. The question, again and again and again, should be: “What mandate do you have to do what you do without a majority of the popular vote?” Trump has no answer to that; he knows his mandate is mandate is tainted. That’s why he lies about the supposed voter fraud. So say it loud and say it clear: “President Trump, on whose mandate are you acting?”

But this mix is not about Sphinctermouth. I’m posting it to coincide with the 49th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The songs here were released in a range of within a year of MLK’s murder to eight years after.

As with the first mix, this is collection of soul songs that make an appeal for social justice, for racial equality and harmony, for black consciousness, or for political activism — some deal with one or two of these issues, some with all of them. There is no party-line, and the sentiments of some songs may clash with those of others. Together, they reflect a conversation in the black politics of the time, even if not comprehensively so — the Black Panthers don’t have an equal voice. These mixes are good companion pieces to the Songs About The Ghetto Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 mixes.

Some of the artists here are well-known for having articulated voices in that conversation — Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield, Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye (featuring here with a performance from 1973’s Save The Children concert) — but one who is not widely-known is Bama The Village Poet. Seek out his songs — one, the astonishing I Got Soul, featured on the Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 1.

As far as I know, his 1972 Ghettoes Of The Mind album on Chess was his only release. It featured Purdie on drums, Richard Tee on keyboards, Gordon Edwards on bass and Cornell Dupree on guitar. All I know of him is that he was born as George McCord in Birmingham, Alabama (hence, I suspect, the name Bama). Bama’s incisive poetry deals with issues that remain relevant today, but even if one doesn’t dig the black consciousness vibe, the music is magnificent.

I’m adding a bonus track, a funky and much-sampled groove from 1973 by The Honey Drippers who are calling to “Impeach The President”. I’d love to see Trump impeached and, if there is justice, jailed for whatever huckster stuff it is that will get him impeached. But as a pragmatist, I’m not so sure that it is such as good idea. Mike Pence is pretty bad news in his own right. Impeach them both — and clear out the Democratic Party of their lobbyist-beholden, strategy-bereft, courage-eschewing, compromise-making, backbone-lacking deadwood so that the sewerage that holds control of the White House, Senate and Congress can be flushed out.

Fight the Power!

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-fist-raised covers. PW in comments. And feel free to comment, even Trump supporters who provided us with some good laughs in the comments to the last mix.

1. Eddie Floyd – People, Get It Together (1969)
2. Segments Of Time – Song To The System (1972)
3. Marlena Shaw – Woman Of The Ghetto (1969)
4. The Staple Singers – This Old Town (People In This Town) (1971)
5. Brothers Unlimited – A Change Is Gonna Come (1970)
6. The Four Tops – Right On Brother (1974)
7. Funkadelic – If You Don’t Like The Effects, Don’t Produce The Cause (1972)
8. Candi Staton – Clean Up America (1974)
9. Lyn Collins – People Make The World A Better Place (1975)
10. Change Of Pace – People (1971)
11. The Dells – Freedom Means (1971)
12. Bama The Village Poet – Welfare Slave (1972)
13. Lim Taylor – The World’s In A Bad Situation (1974)
14. Johnny Taylor – I Am Somebody (1970)
15. Brother To Brother – Hey, What’s That You Say (1974)
16. Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On The Moon (1974)
17. Stevie Wonder – You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (1974)
18. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (live) (1973)
19. Curtis Mayfield – Miss Black America (1970)
20. Sounds Of The City Experience – Babylon (1976)
Bonus Track: The Honey Drippers – Impeach The President (1973)

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Any Major Soul 1975 Vol. 2

February 16th, 2017 3 comments

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Man, 1975 was a fine vintage for soul. Any Major Soul 1975 Vol. 1 was great; the second mix is no less wonderful. There are so many songs that failed to make the cut. And if you want more 1975 vibes, Any Major Soul 1974/75 is still up.

The mix begins with a time-capsule novelty: The Soul Train Gang preaching colour-blindness, with the late, great Don Cornelius, the presenter of Soul Train, rapping over the backing vocals of the quintet he founded. Flute fans will get something out of the outro.

Most acts on these mixes are North Americans, with the occasional Brit showing up — as Linda Lewis does in this edition with a song that is gospel-tinged soul but influenced, like all of Lewis’ music, by folk-rock. But here we also have a South African, Richard Jon Smith, who had a brief period of international success. As his fellow South African Jonathan Butler, Smith emerged from Cape Town’s vibrant “mixed-race” music scene where the boundaries between jazz, funk and soul are virtually meaningless — and it shows in their music.

By 1975, the heyday of JJ Barnes was over. He’d been an artist on Motown, though none of his songs were released by the label, and he enjoyed a 1967 hit with Baby Please Come Back Home. In the 1970s he moved to Britain, where his catalogue was popular on the Northern Soul scene. He released a few records in the UK, but had no chart success.

Founded in the wake of funk acts like Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang, Memphis band Chocolate Milk were also Allen Toussaint’s backing band. They were versatile, dabbling in funk, disco, soul, ballads and jazz.

In this mix, Clydene Jackson’s song recalls the southern soul of the late 1960s — perhaps not surprising, since she was produced by Ray Charles. Jackson didn’t record much for herself, but did (and still does) a lot of session work for acts like Rick James, Randy Crawford, Teddy Pendergrass, Tom Petty, Neil Diamond, Anita Baker, Martha Reeves, Mary Wilson, Gil Scott-Heron, Patti LaBelle, Michael McDonald, Hugh Masekela, Rod Stewart, Richard “Dimples” Fields, Tom Scott, Idris Muhammad, Neil Young, Muse  and lots others.

Leon Haywood’s seriously sexy I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You was famously sampled by Dr Dre for Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang — and by many other hip hop acts, such as Redman on Rockafella. A word of warning, the female backing vocalist’s contribution to the song, especially towards the end, might be NSFW. Haywood died in April 2016.

As ever, CD-R-length, covers, PW the same as always (amdwhah)

1.  Soul Train Gang – Spectrum
2.  Chocolate Milk – Ain’t Nothing But A Thing
3.  Leon Haywood – I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You
4.  Merry Clayton – Room 205
5.  Linda Lewis – Love, Love, Love
6.  Minnie Riperton – Feelin’ That Your Feelin’s Right
7.  Clydene Jackson – If You Were Mine
8.  Johnny Bristol – Leave My World
9.  J.J. Barnes – I Think I’ve Got A Good Chance
10. Richard Jon Smith – Live For You
11. Smoked Sugar – My Eyes Search A Lonely Room For You
12. Loleatta Holloway – I Know Where You’re Coming From
13. Melba Moore – Get Into My Mind
14. Barbara Acklin – Give Me Some Your Sweet Love
15. Carl Graves – You’re Gonna Be All Alone
16. Curtis Mayfield – So In Love
17. Freddie North – Cuss The Wind
18. Roberta Flack – Mr. Magic
19. Bill Withers – I Wish You Well
20. Vernon Garrett – I Learned My Lesson
21. Impressions – Groove

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Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 1

January 19th, 2017 24 comments

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It was difficult to come up with a name for this mix, and if “protest” implies the kind of angry, black voices that has many whites scared, then that is not quite an accurate reflection of the tone of the songs. Even if some songs are righteously angry and even militant, most are conciliatory, and a few even quite naive.

This is a mix of soul songs that appeal for a social justice, racial equality and harmony, for black consciousness, and for political activism — some deal with one or two of these issues, some with all of them.

It covers roughly the era after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King and subsequent uprisings, to the decline of the civil rights movement towards the mid-to-late 1970s. So this mix not only addresses the racism and its effects of the time, but also the conversation within black activism between the heirs of MLK and the Black Panthers.

The timing of this post is not by chance. On January 20 — just four days after Martin Luther King Day — the most corrupt and racist US president of modern times will be sworn in. Donald Trump is, of course, a bigot of many badges: he is a xenophobe, a misogynist, a racist and so on. He despises the poor and serves the rich. He mocks the disabled and encourages the bullies. He was endorsed by the Ku Klax Klan and he did not distance himself from them. His impeachment cannot come soon enough, if the venal slimeballs in the GOP can muster enough self-interest to make real what should be inevitable.

Which brings us to 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected president. If we call Trump a racist, then on scale it is fair to describe Nixon in rather more diplomatic terms. Let’s say that Tricky Dick was not an unequivocal friend of African-Americans. There are a few echoes from 1968 in 2016. In both years, right-wing presidents were elected during times of war on the Asian continent; both were elected at a time when the hope for a better future by black Americans — raised by the Civil Rights Act and the election of a black president respectively — was followed by unrest which only the willfully ignorant or the terminally racist would see as unprovoked.

The songs on this mix speak to the Nixon era, but substitute the dated political and cultural references with current ones, and they have application even today. There were plenty more such songs than what will appear on subsequent mixes (to start with, I keep to my usual rule of one song per artist, with a couple of exceptions. I’m guessing there will be three mixes). Since the 1970s, the art of catchy black protest soul songs nearly died out. The corporatisation of music has seen to it. The militant hip hop of the 1980s was a necessary reaction to the jheri-curled soul singers of the age who kept it strictly romantic. But in the 1990s, hip hop became a vehicle for gangsta bling, spinning rims, bustin’ caps in yo ass and rampant misogyny of the kind even Donald Trump would blanche at, rather than to mobilise for social change. Pac died, and Snoop won.

Now Kanye West, that fraudster in charlatan’s clothes, requests an audience with the racist Trump. But we must take courage, there are some artists who do social commentary well — from Eykah Badu, The Fugees or The Roots in the Clinton/Bush era to Frank Ocean, Gregory Porter, Solange or her sister Beyoncé (who did so with Formation, which is no Gil Scott-Heron, though he might have approved anyway) in 2016/17. The protest soul song is making a comeback, in time to stand up to the racists who say racism is dead while revving up the racism. Now it must return to the mainstream, as it did 40+ years ago.

Maybe there is value in reviving the memory of protest and social commentary of the Nixon generation and give it meaning in the Trump era, when it is politically correct again to be racist because the racists have taken off their white hoods or “see no colour”. And if all of the above (other than my empirical views on Donald Trump and his racist pals) is rubbish, take this mix as my contribution to Black History Month.

As always, this mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-blackpowered covers. PW  in comments.

1. The Temptations – Ball of Confusion (1970)
2. The Chi-Lites – Give More Power To The People (1970)
3. The Main Ingredient – Black Seeds Keep On Growing (1971)
4. Sly and the Family Stone – Stand! (1969)
5. The Impressions – Mighty Mighty (Spade & Whitey) (1969)
6. Grady Tate – Be Black (1968)
7. Syl Johnson – I’m Talkin’ ’Bout Freedom (1970)
8. Billy Paul – Am I Black Enough For You (1972)
9. Lou Rawls – The Politician (1972)
10. Z.Z. Hill – Think People (1971)
11. James Carr – Freedom Train (1969)
12. Lee Dorsey – Yes We Can (Part 1) (1970)
13. S.O.U.L. – Tell It Like It Is (1972)
14. Jackie Moore – If (1973)
15. Ernie Hines – A Better World (For Everyone) (1972)
16. George Soulé – Get Involved (1973)
17. The Bar Kays – Six O’Clock News Report (1971)
18. Darondo – Let My People Go (1974)
19. Marion Black – Listen Black Brother (1972)
20. Swamp Dogg – I Was Born Blue (1970)
21. The Isley Brothers – Fight The Power (Parts 1&2) (1975)
22. Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1971)

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Any Major Soul 1975 Vol. 1

August 25th, 2016 5 comments

Any Major Soul 1975 Vol. 1

The first Any Major Soul mix for 1975 — another excellent vintage — has that wonderful sunny feel of Philly soul, even if most of the songs aren’t from Philadelphia. But that is how pervasive the sound was in the mid-’70s.

Of course, a fair number of acts here are Philly Soul exponents, such as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, The Intruders, Bunny Sigler. The Spinners were on Atlantic but had many of their records, including the present song, produced by Philly soul pioneer Thom Bell.

Sounding much like the O’Jays on the featured track are South Shore Commission, a Chicago band who had a dance hit that year with Free Man.

Defying our expectations, the Chicago Gangsters were actually from Ohio, recording in Cleveland. The song here is a very fine ballad, the title track of their debut album. The album also featured Gangster Boogie, which LL Cool J sampled for Mama Says Knock You Out.

Ronnie McNeir’s track Nothing But A Heartache has the joyful sound of Philly, but it’s very much a Detroit song: Alabama-born McNeir who arranged the album himself, recorded it at Holland, Dozier, Holland Studios in Detroit. On drums is Carl Graves, who’ll turn up in his own right on Volume 2.

Jimmy Ruffin’s track also has that Philly vibe, but that is thanks to Van McCoy producing the album for Motown. McCoy was, of course, the man who brought us the most Philly non-Philly song ever: The Hustle.

Also from Detroit was Sugar Billy, whose joyous Super Duper Love was covered almost three decades later by Joss Stone. There seems to be little known about Sugar Billy Garner.

I have introduced Jim Gilstrap before, but feel duty-bound to repeat: he’s the guy who sings the first verse of Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life. The track here is from his debut LP, Swing Your Daddy.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes covers. PW in comments.

1. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – Keep On Lovin’ You
2. Sugar Billy – Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin’ On Me)
3. Maxine Nightingale – If I Ever Lose This Heaven
4. James Gilstrap – House Of Stranger
5. The Intruders – A Nice Girl Like You
6. Bunny Sigler – Things Are Gonna Get Better
7. Black Ivory – Will We Ever Come Together
8. South Shore Commission – Train Called Freedom
9. Billy Paul – My Head’s On Straight
10. The Spinners – Honest I Do
11. Ronnie McNeir – Nothing But A Heartache
12. David Ruffin – I’ve Got Nothing But Time
13. Natalie Cole – Needing You
14. Jackie Moore – Make Me Feel Like A Woman
15. Bobby Womack – (If You Want My Love) Put Something Down On It
16. Joe Simon – It’s Crying Time In Memphis
17. Sam Dees – The Show Must Go On
18. Chicago Gangsters – Blind Over You
19. Gwen McCrae – He Keeps Something Groovy Goin’ On
20. Lea Roberts – Loving You Gets Better With Time
21. Maxine Weldon – I Want Sunday Back Again
22. Allen Toussaint – When The Party’s Over

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