There's been a real debate amongst Rock'n'Roll erudites and scholars on who actually wrote the classic "Love is Strange" (which later made hits most notably for the Everly Brothers, later Sonny and Cher, and inspired Buddy Holly's "Words Of Love"... ), and that debate lately heated up when Mickey Baker, the writer of Rock'n'Roll's first guitar method and original hitmaker with Duet partner Sylvia Robinson (herself future founder of Rap's first hit label : Sugarhill Records... ! ), died last year... until I read a quote from an original interview printed on an article about Mickey Baker on the latest French Oldies magazine : "Jukebox magazine" that recounted what had actually happened...
The story goes like this : apparently, Sylvia who was a great fan of Bo Diddley's and used to attend a lot of his gigs, loved an original number which he would perform on stage that she thought would be wonderful for the duet act she was having with Mickey Baker at the time; it was called "Paradise", but remained unreleased since Chess rejected the track and Ellas "Bo Diddley" McDaniels had to register the song under his wife's maiden name "Ethel Smith" for contractual reasons. Now, Mickey disliked the tune, finding the original lyrics even ridiculous... he finally gave out to Sylvia's urging and rewrote the lyrics, readapting the tune as "Love is Strange", keeping the intantaneously recognizable gimmicky guitar riff by Jody Williams (which Williams had played on Billy Stewart's debut single "Billy's Blues" before!.. ) that was later used by Dave "Baby" Cortez in his 1962 instrumental song "Rinky Dink" too (...the mind boggles! )... and the rest is Rock'n'Roll HIstory!
Nevertheless, the co-writers of the song are of some dispute since, Sylvia Robinson claims that she and Mickey Baker wrote the lyrics, while Bo Diddley claims that he wrote them. However (according to Wikipedia source... ), it appears the first recorded version of "Love Is Strange" was performed by Bo
Diddley himself (! ), who recorded his version on May 24, 1956 with Jody Williams on
lead guitar (this version was not released until its appearance on I'm a Man: The Chess Masters, 1955-1958 in 2007... ); while Mickey & Sylvia's version was recorded several months later on October 17, 1956... hm!
Now, if you type the words "LOVE IS STRANGE" on the BMI website, they currently list the writers as all three : Bo, Mickey and Sylvia... !!!?
BAKER MICKEY SACEM 1863218 (French copyright )
ROBINSON SYLVIA BMI 26288282
MC DANIEL ELLAS BMI 63640292
Hm... What to think now? Love is Strange indeed! ;-)
(PS : The funny part is, despite the dispute, Bo Diddley went on to pen a song specialy for the Duo called : "Dearest"... ! ) :
I try my best not to pick favorites of anything, since my introduction to The Dells I've always thought of them as the ultimate soul vocal group. It's with a heavy heart that I write this tribute to their lead vocalist, the amazing Marvin Junior; a man whose powerful baritone voice embodied the epitome of soul music. Laid out end to end, I probably have three feet of Dells 45's and LP's, and the thought of distilling their career into 4 sides is daunting to say the least. While I have your attention, I'm gonna start out with the track that, if I were asked, would be the one that sums up the greatness of this group in 2:40. With a super funky intro (what *is* the instrumentation???), a sublime wordless harmony intro, and the arrival of Marvin Junior's vocals this record sends me into a zone where no distractions could pull me out of the hypnosis that great music induces.
The Dells formed
while the members were still in high school (1952) during the early doo-wop
years, and it's not hard to imagine these young men honing their chops while singing under a street lamp in their hometown of Harvey, IL (just south of Chicago). Their first single was released as The El-Rays in 1954
(featuring the lineup of Marvin Junior, Mickey McGill, Lucius McGill,
Verne Allison, Chuck Barksdale, and Johnny Funches), and by 1955 they
had renamed themselves the Dells and became a quintet after the
departure of Lucius McGill. The group cut the exquisite "Oh What A
Night" for Vee Jay Records in 1956 which became a million seller, and
one of the most loved doo-wop songs in the history of the genre. As simple as a haiku it goes straight to the heart, and the purity of this record sends chills down my spine, and Marvin co-wrote this track with group member Johnny Funches.
Follow up singles didn't hit (although fortunately the music business of the 50s' and 60s allowed artists to continue recording and building their audience), and the group was derailed temporarily
after a serious 1958 car accident which involved Mickey McGill. The
group put their career on hold until 1960, when Mickey recovered, but
Johnny Funches had left (to be replaced with Johnny Carter). This lineup
remained stable for FIFTY years until Johnny Carter passed away in
2009. However, it's hard to imagine the Dells carrying on without Marvin...
The Dells spent the early part of the '60's as studio singers (most
notably singing the backups on Barbara Lewis' "Hello Stranger"; a
performance which I rank as one of the all time greats, not only from
Barbara Lewis and The Dells, but in the history of recorded music). The group cut several unsuccessful (but
usually quite good) singles for Vee Jay during these years (such as this one from 1965,
career renaissance began when they were signed to Chess records and
began working under the production and writing talent of Bobby Miller.
The singles released by the group between '66-'68 are some of the
greatest ever, and the LP There Is, which collects some of
these 45's and adds in a few more stellar tracks, is simply one of the
greatest soul LP's ever released. "Run For Cover" is featured on that LP, and was also released as a single. The track has it all- drama, tension, and a groove that, once again, hypnotizes me and sends me into a really great place.
Over at the Daily 45, I re-posted another amazing Dells track, the title track of their masterpiece LP, There Is. Check it out here. I recommend immediately buying and listening to this LP as soon as possible! While the '60's soul era is typically best represented by singles, this album hangs together as a whole, and every song on the album is stellar.
"Stay In My Corner" proved to be one of the Dells biggest hits, and this ballad (once again) shows Marvin's uber-powerful voice along with those sublime group harmonies. Luckily for us, this incredible live performance is available for our viewing and listening pleasure.
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
Call me a softy if you wish, but I have a special fondness for Christmas music; I always look forward to spinning seasonal LP's by The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, The Supremes, Temptations, Vince Guaraldi, and of course the Phil Spector collection while trimming the tree, cooking meals and opening prezzies with the wife. There's a handful of Xmas 45's that get yearly spins as well; here's a few favorites- some well known, most too obscure than they deserve to be.
One area that wasn't explored very deeply by US garage bands was the
Christmas record; however, Chicago's Saturday's Children were way too
sophisticated to be called a garage band.
Here, the band (deeply
influenced by the Beatles) melds "Deck The Halls" with Dave Brubeck's
jazz standard "Take Five' and turns it into a jazzy, quasi-psychedelic
number that I almost guarantee will bring on some holiday cheer. This
group had an incredible knack for harmonies, and tackle the tricky 5/4
time signature with ease making for the most hypnotic Christmas record
I've ever heard. The other side ("Christmas Sounds") is an exceptional holiday original
showcasing their excellent group harmonies and songwriting skill. This song gets closer to my heart with each passing year, and sadly, Saturday's Children main man Ron Holder passed away about a month ago (not to mention Mr Take Five himself, Dave Brubeck) making this record extra powerful this season.From 1966.
One of the prettiest, yet little known soul Christmas singles.
not sure if this Betty Lloyd is the same singer who was a member of the
east coast girl group The Percells; Thomas Records (named after Jamo
Thomas) was a Chicago label, and this track certainly has an indelible
Chicago stamp on it.
The lyrics brilliantly capture the feeling
of being alone at Christmas, but without self pity. Oozing with quality,
this song should truly be a holiday standard.
Here's an incredible double-sided bit of holiday wonderment from the
master. Released in 1968 (exactly one year after Otis' tragic death),
this superb record showcases the two sides of Otis; his reading of the
perennial "Merry Christmas Baby" shows his uptempo driving vocals, while
his take on "White Christmas" shows that this man could pull so much
emotion out of a ballad and turn a song completely into his own.
Among his brilliant skills arranging, producing and performing, Donny
Hathaway also co-wrote and put to wax the first version of this song
that has since become a Christmas standard. Tragically, Donny only lived
34 years; however, the gifts of music that he left behind are immortal.
Cut by William Bell for the Stax/ Atlantic Soul Christmas
LP release, "Every Day Is Like A Holiday" is a favorite Christmas style
song that doesn't go over the top oozing with Christmas sentiment
(although I admit I'm a sucker for lots of Xmas music). I wanted to
feature the William Bell version, but I don't have it on 45. Then I
remembered this gem that I picked up at Domino Sound Records in New
Orleans (one of the best little record stores on the planet, as a matter
Turns out "Van" is Van Broussard, one of the
progenitors of the Louisiana "swamp pop" sound; this 45 finds him in
deep southern soul mode.