France has never been fertile ground for inbred Rock and Pop at a real popular, mass cultural level; any French rocker or Pop fan will tell you that... Literature, Classical and Academic Arts such as paintings, sculpture, even comic book drawings and cartoon illustrations, YES! As far as music goes, some Classical again, maybe too in the great Music Hall revue tradition as in Folie Bergères, Moulin Rouge etc. and even greater music in movie scores, 'cause we do have some of the best library music writers and arrangers in modern contemporary it's true, but... Real Pop and Rock music, er... NO! It's always been a backyard business, found in Home studios and private gardens.
Once you have that in mind, and you are ready to dig a little deeper out of the mainstream, on the sideways and in the margins, you WILL ocasionally find some goodies, gems even, sometimes even an underground genius here and there... it's like Diggin' for Gold! :-)
Well, while not exactly a Masterpiece for times to come, such is the case for "Pop-IN-court", a private "Secret Affair" of Modern Pop chic found in the back alley of La Rue Popincourt, a famous street in Paris :
While Fontella Bass will always be thought of as one of the preeminent
Chicago soul artists (thanks in part to her massive hit, the brilliant
'Rescue Me") her roots and earliest recordings were in St Louis, MO.
Fontella's third release (1963), finds her backed by Tina Turner &
The Ikettes, and in my opinion is one of her finest records; the
personification of sass and power! While in St Louis, Fontella also sang
in the Little Milton band, and began an association with Bobby McClure
that continued on after her move to Chicago.
Bass relocated to Chicago in late '64, and cut her first duet record
with Bobby McClure ('Don't Mess Up A Good Thing') which was released in
early '65 and became a minor hit. A second duet disc was released in the
summer of '65 which was only a minor r&b hit. However, late in the
same year 'Rescue Me" was released and became a massive hit; the song is
still heard everywhere (a staple of commercials as well) and for very
good reason- it's the type of song and performance that will live on
forever. Fontella's followup disc, "Recovery" (early '66) is a lovely
song and another mighty fine performance, but it failed to match the
massive success of the big hit. further bitterness ensued when Fontella
claims she was cheated out of her share of songwriting credits on
"Rescue Me" (she eventually won co-writer credit in the 1990's). While
Fontella continued on making a few more great records through the '60's,
she, along with her husband, avant-garde sax man Lester Bowie (Art
Ensemble Of Chicago) moved to Paris. Her vocals grace the incredible Art
Ensemble track "Theme De Yo-Yo". Fontella Bass, R,I.P (1940-2012).
Also from Missouri (Kansas City), Marva Whitney (born Marva Ann
Manning) had one of the brassiest, funkiest, most powerful voices in all
of soul music. Like so many soul singers, her singing career began in
the church, and she was a member of family band The Manning Gospel
Singers, and at age 16 joined the Alma Whitney Singers (where she met
future husband Harry Whitney). Her gospel career ended in 1967, when she
joined the James Brown Revue, although the testifying power of her
voice always remained fully in the church. James Brown began producing
her records in 1968 (beginning with the incredible 'Unwind Yourself")
and the godfather certainly helped in unleashing the funk power of
sister Marva's voice.
"It's My Thing" (You Can't Tell me Who To Sock It To)" (1969), an
absurdly funky answer to the Isley Brothers "It's Your Thing" is not
only something of Marva's signature track, but is also a feminist call
to arms. James Brown's band vamps furiously behind her, while Marva
asserts her place in the world and tells the man that she doesn't NEED
him, taking the freedom aspect of The Isleys' jam to a whole other
Marva's debut solo single (1967) was 'Your Love Was Good For Me";
however, I prefer the flip side- "Saving My Love For My Baby". This
track bridges the gap beautifully between her gospel past (check out the
intro) and her funk future. When I listen to this track, I feel as
though I'm listening to the type of voice that is such a force of
nature, so raw, so powerful, that it's almost akin to looking too deeply
into a very personal side of an individual's life. I am thankful every
day that these performers gave so much of themselves in their music, and
while their passing is an indication of how fleeting life is, the music
will always resonate.
Marva Whitney, R.I.P: 1944-2012
Hailing from Cleveland, OH, The Valentinos were made up of the Womack brothers (Bobby, Curtis, Harry, Friendly Jr, and Cecil). Curtis and Bobby were discovered as young teenagers in 1956 by Sam Cooke while the brothers were singing gospel music. Four years later, Cooke had the group travel to California where he signed them to his SAR record label. The group initially wanted to record only gospel material, but their gospel debut flopped. Thanks to an arrangement with Cooke, the group agreed to branch out into the world of secular music, although their powerhouse singing never lost its roots in the church.
After a few years of minor r&b hits for Cooke's label, the group found that The Rolling Stones caught wind of their new single "It's All Over Now" either shortly before or immediately upon its release in 1964 and The Stones wanted to cut the record themselves for a single release. Initially, Bobby was adamantly against the Stones covering the song, but he eventually allowed them to cut the song (which became their first US hit). The Valentinos original take is raw, rough and frankly lacked the ability and chance to cross over to the pop charts. This assesment is not a slight whatsoever, as the record is magical in its earthy groove with those fabulous brotherly harmonies driven along by a drummer that takes some serious chances with beats and fills but keeps it hot and danceable amidst sounding as though it can fall apart at any second.
Tragically, shortly after the release of this single, Sam Cooke was murdered, and Bobby found himself embroiled in a scandalous relationship with Cooke's widow, in which they were married perilously close to Cooke's death. In the last years of Cooke's life, Bobby was a member of Cooke's touring band (on guitar).
During this era, the group released more records as a group, and Bobby also began striking out on his own for solo relases. The group was signed to Chicago based Chess records in 1966, which is where they cut their masterpiece, "Sweeter Than The Day Before". The song was written by Cecil Womack and Mary Wells, who by this time became his wife. The wikipedia entry for the Valentinos has a mistake in which they list the year of this release as 1968 on Jubilee records, which is well after Bobby left the band. I am quite certain that he is lead singer of this track, which is a Northern Soul staple. The record is a swirling, stomping raver which is completely inspired, from the strong backing track to the brothers vocals which keep climbing higher and higher into the soul stratosphere.
Bobby was definitely out of the band by 1967, and the group carried on for a bit before breaking up in 1968. With the help of brother Bobby's massive early '70's success, The Valentinos reformed in the early 70's, only to fall apart again thanks to another love triangle story, this time involving Mary Wells, Cecil and brother Curtis. My last offering, 1968's "Tired Of Being Nobody", shows off Curtis' lead vocals in a brilliant track that has lyrics which can be interpreted as being about a love affair or even possibly an analogy to the civil rights movement with its message of overcoming strife. Tragically, brother Harry died in 1974; Bobby's excellent (albeit incredibly sad) 1973 track 'Harry Hippie" details his brothers' decline into drug addiction hell. If one were only to look at the negatives and lack of deserved success that the brothers faced through the years, it would make for quite an American tragedy. However, all one needs to do is give a listen to these glorious records to hear the real success is in the grooves.
Brenda Holloway is perhaps best known for being the west coast face of Motown, years before the label uprooted itself from Detroit to shift opeartions to Los Angeles. Along with her younger sister often on backing vocals, Brenda cut a remarkable run of singles for Tamla Motown. In addition to those records, her discography is a maze of incredible, obscure records cut under mysterious circumstances and with a number of pseudonyms; here are some of my favorite sides.
1962 found 16 year old Brenda (and 14 year old Patrice) put to wax an extraordinary debut single, "Echo". Del-Fi records released the "Echo" master three times (as "More Echo" and "Echo Echo Echo", respectively) with different flip sides. The sisterly harmonies of Brenda and Patrice are haunting but so sweet. These Del-Fi releases are incredibly hard to find (I have two of the three, and they hardly ever surface).
The following year (1963) saw Brenda paired up with songwriter/ producer Hal Davis (who was one of the key players in Motown moving west, and saw much success in the late 60's and thru the 70's) for "It's You"; a lush, luscious side of west coast pop soul perfection.
In 1964, Brenda was signed to Motown and her entire discography at the label is recommended; her sensual voice was wrapped around stellar material for an intoxicating, sexy musical concoction. The flip side to her debut Tamla/ Motown single (the sublime "Every Little Bit Hurts") is "Land Of A Thousand Boys"; a song that sounds as if it's beaming down from another planet (high praise indeed). Brenda was kind enough to sign my copy of this; my favorite of her records cut under her own name. Barry Gordy was known to have a watchful eye not only on his stars but also even session musicians, yet, somehow, (probably the physical distance between LA and Detroit) Brenda was involved in the production of a few legendary records that did not use her name but took full advantage of her incredible voice.
In 1965, Brenda, (probably) Patrice and who knows who else cut to wax the absolutely incendiary "Nobody But You" as the Wooden Nickles for the tiny Los Angeles label Vault. While the talk of discs taken to a desert island is one that is repeated far too often, if I could only take one Platter Pak full of 45's with me to some final destination, this single would be one of the easiest to select. The energy, the distorted production, the excitement and Brenda's SOARING lead vocal drive this record to the stratosphere. This was a busy year for the sisters, as they also released "I'll Be Satisfied" as The Sequins; a trio which also contained Patty Hunt and shows off the echo chamber from legendary L.A studio "Gold Star" (heard on countless Phil Spector productions). It's a stellar effort; a dreamy girl group number that softly stomps it's way into our hearts.
1966 saw the Holloway sisters join up with Sherlie Matthews (songwriter of great reknown for many of the artists featured on the brilliant LA Mirwood label) to form the Belles. The trio went so far as to even list pseudonyms on all official label/ studio documents relating to the group! "Don't Pretend" is the record that gets me all hot and bothered, led by a breathtakingly sexy lead vocal from Brenda.
Brenda continued recording for Motown through 1967, and the late 60's also saw her lovely song recorded by (butchered rather, in my opinion) Blood Sweat And Tears; this overblown bombasity became a huge hit at around the time Brenda retired from the music business. Sometime around 1967-68, Brenda recorded "Before You Break My Heart (reconsider)" which was never released for some odd reason; this stormer of a track has been a favorite of the northern soul community for many years and serves as a fitting footnote to Brenda's recording career. I saw her perform in Los Angeles a few years back and she still has *it*; a lovely lady with a voice that still melts hearts within hearing range.
Speaking of The Quik, check out this video of them on French TV doing "Stand By Me" from The Speakeasy. They nail it. They must have been a hell of a live outfit to see. And I love the fact that even though they are doing soul, they are still dressed in some fine Carnaby Street style clobber. The Quik. Who knew?
DM 139 was the The Quik's second release on Deram, "King Of The World". There isn't much known about The Quik themselves, but it is safe to say that they were heavily influenced by soul music. And that they used a Hammond organ to good effect. This record is possibly the least note worthy of their three releases on Deram, but it is still a good Northern Soul type dance floor raver that has a nasty Hammond break that goes off into a rave up and then somehow ends up with a bit of an oom pah sound. That was the brilliant thing about 60s records. Man, you just never knew what you were gonna get. Great dance record from this Southampton based group! The more I listen to this, the more I come round to this is a bit of a classic!
This record is almost ridiculous in its high velocity soul attack; dare I say proto-soul-punk? Since their debut (hit) release "Tell Him", the mixed gender Exciters released a string of superb singles that were some of the finest pop-soul of the 60's. Interestingly enough, this record was reissued by RCA in 1972, making me wonder why. Was it getting play in the New York club scene, for instance, that necessitated a reissue? Perhaps an A&R person felt that it had hit potential and deserved another shot? The record certainly caught on with the northern soul crowd, but it's unlikely that was the reason for a second issue (with different catalog number and all). Whatever the story, this is a brain melting record that I could easily play every night in my living room and every DJ set for the rest of my life and never tire of. from 1969...