To me, nothing says "Sunday vibe" like some easy groovin' soul singles. One of the coolest radio traditions of my lifetime (and one which educated me about many records in my formative years) are the oldies Sundays programs that have been popular in many major cities since the 80's (I've listened to them growing up in L.A, the Chicago area and here at my home in the bay area). Taking a cue from these shows, I'll pop in every now and then on a Sunday to lay out some tracks that you probably won't hear on the radio, but certainly should.
The Emotions (made up of the Hutchinson sisters) are purveyors of some of the greatest girl group harmonies in history, and even though they started recording early (around '67 when the ladies were teenagers), it took until 1976 for them to hit big. I'm a lover of harmony singing to the highest degree, and the Hutchinson
sisters (Sheila, Wanda and Jeanette) outta Chicago consistently laid
out some of the most divine (and in this case, serious stomp and ass
kicking) harmonies ever cut to wax. There is simply NOTHING like the
harmony blend of blood relations, and here, the ladies lay out some of the most heavenly vocals ever cut to tape.This record was cut in 1969, and thanks to Bedazzled host Spike Priggen, footage of the horn players rehearsing their part for this song at Stax studios is available for your viewing pleasure here.
Unfortunately, nothing is known about these Mellow Fellows that cut this record in 1968. When my wife and I got married, we put together a CD comp of all of our favorite love songs which we gave away to guests; it was a no brainer for this song to be included, as it is plain and simply divine.
This next one (from 1970) is so beautiful, I could sit and listen to it 20 times in a row...
The Vandals began their singing career as a teenage Temptations tribute
act called The Young Tempts around 1967, while the singers were still in
high school. A court order from The temptations saw the group change
their name to The Young Vandals, then, by the time of this final
release, The Vandals. Lead singer Otis Harris nails Eddie Kendricks'
falsetto lead vocal style. After this release, Harris broke up the group
because he wanted to go to college. fate had other plans, and in a
bizarre twist of life imitating art, Harris BECAME the lead singer for
the Temptations in 1971, as a friend urged him to audition for
Kendricks' vacated slot. After changing his first name to Damon, Harris
held the position which he until 1975. His falsetto, which we hear
here, is all over the massive hit and stone classic "Papa Was A Rolling
First off, a confession- I am downright obsessed with this record, and
it's probably an unhealthy obsession. Not only the song itself, but the
overall production is one of the greatest I've ever heard.
I've listened to this record so many times in a row, trying to absorb
every element of its magic; the first thing that's striking is the
plink-plink muted guitar part that runs thru the song. Perhaps because I
just downright love reverb-ed guitar, and being a guitarist myself this
to me is one of the coolest hooks I've ever heard!
When Tutti Hill's vocal comes in, if you don't instantly melt, check
your pulse and other vital signs. She delivers this ultra cool
performance that oozes confidence and extreme vocal prowess. As I also
produce music myself (with The Bang Girl Group Revue)
in this style, I am constantly drawing upon the resource of the music I
love for ideas on WHAT is happening sonically; just listen to how loud
Tutti's vocals are mixed; they are RIGHT THERE and so tangible, while
the backing chorus of girls gently sway amidst that lovely reverb. This
record takes on a few of the Spector wall of sound techniques but strips
away the layers and leaves something far more human and earthy, while
still having that other worldly mysterious quality. Basically everything
I'd ever want to achieve sonically in a studio happens on this track.
Tutti's vocal style is reminiscent of Mary Wells, and Mary herself cut
this song a few years later. While I practically worship every Mary
Wells record, her version is great but *this* is the version.
This seems to be the only release from this shadowy Tutti Hill figure. WHO IS SHE????
While the crop of old school sounds that have popped back into consciousness within the past ten or so years may be looked at as a revival or comeback, only a fool would say that soul music had EVER gone away.
Music has always been the center of my existence, and I remember back in the late 70's/ early '80's, TV commercials were full of reworked soul tunes (remember that floor cleaner using Robert Parker's 'Barefootin'?), and it's impossible to go anywhere in the world without hearing classic soul music, whether on the radio, piped into stores, etc. Not difficult to understand, as this music is LIFE.
Of the current soul groups, I really, really love Oakland, CA based Myron & E. They've released 4 great 45's in the past few years, and the first time that I heard 2010's 'It's A Shame" I was fooled for a moment and thought it was an early '70's bay area track that I'd never been hipped to before! The song has that perfect melancholy-but-swinging late '60's/ early '70's sound that's heard on records by the likes of The Natural Four, but adds a definite little bit of post hip hop flavor in a way that I can't quite explain. The duo vocals have a very unique vibe that's part hesitant, part confident, but 100% pure soul.
"Cold Game" is the duo's debut 45 from 2008, and the sound is laid out perfectly on the debut, which has such a great intro. The guitar lick, amazingly soulful drumming and groovy strings set it all up for this cool song that gets even better when the vocals arrive. The vocals are unison a whole lot of the time, then the fellas break out into a super funky harmony that just makes me smile.
Turns out that Myron has been performing for 20+ years, and was one of the dancers on TV's In Living Color in the early '90's. He eventually relocated to the bay area, toured as a backing singer with Blackalicious which is where he met E (aka E Da Boss). E has been collecting soul records and DJing since his teens, and released a solo album as E The Boss. While on tour in europe, E recorded some tracks with The Soul Investigators group, and eventually realized that the tracks were perfect to collaborate vocally with Myron on.
The duo's debut LP is set to be released this July- preorder it from Stones Throw and get an immediate four song EP download (which is fabulous, by the way).
PLUS, I'm super excited to be sharing the stage with these fellas Saturday night in berkeley at the Starry Plough, with my band The Bang Girl Group Revue. The super cool New Love Soul Revue are also on the bill, and E will be joining me behind the turntables for some DJ action.
Here's the final installment of my three-part series on the pre-Funkadelic productions of George Clinton. I've left out the Parliaments (plural) recordings from '67-'69, as they are relatively well known, amazing and easily obtained. Original copies of Pat Lewis' INCREDIBLE 1967 release "No One To Love" are nearly impossible to track down (no, I do not own an original, but this weird bootleg, probably pressed in the UK in the '80's). This record is a milestone in Detroit soul, and why it's so rare is a mystery (even a beat up copy will fetch over $2000). Perhaps it was hastily withdrawn; I have never heard a plausible explanation to its scraceness, but I can attest to its greatness.
No One To Love Clinton, along with the great J.J Barnes fully realized the soul potential found in the Beatles "Day Tripper" when this groundbreaking record was released in late '65, and they cut a VERY hard driving version to wax in '66. J.J's career, which begain in 1960, never achieved the fame that this exceptionally talented singer (and songwriter) so deserved.
When I watch old episodes of Top of the Pops once in awhile there's a group like this. They seem authentically American and appropriately Soulful, not one of those oddball homegrown UK Soul things they liked to feature on TOTP. Seems like there were quite a few US Soul acts that had all or most of their chart success in the UK. Case in point: Limmie & The Family Cookin.