"It almost seems funny, but the tougher the life of this person, the more it is bordered with barricades imposed by society, politics, a tough existence, the more the Moon will drive the imagination and the need to create in the world a small world that is only his, in which he is free to read, write, paint, travel, believe that true values are not lost by gathering around him intellectuals, artists, people of style and class"
Diana Ross “Something On My Mind (Live)” (1970,Unreleased. From Diana Ross - Expanded Edition, 2002)
*Diana Ross Week*
There’s much to be said about Diana Ross’s solo career.Once truly defined by her work within the banner of The Supremes, there was an interesting dilemma about where she was to go as a Solo Artist. The later Supremes efforts in 1968-69 more accurately pointed a direction for the Ross-Free Supremes to go than where Diana herself should go.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that her first LP dipped back quite often into re-recording shining and neglected moments of Motown’s recent past. This ramble of internal dialogue set to music went under appreciated as a B-side for Syreeta back in early 1968, but by the time Diana tackled it, it was a 3 year old song.
Nevertheless Diana was really proud of her efforts, and it lead her live sets throughout the Spring and Summer of 1970, as demonstrated here. Also worth note is how much more “professional” live sets for Diana sounded compared to most Motown acts. She arrived a leading lady indeed.
The Supremes “I Guess I’ll Always Love You” (Motown 1116-B, 1967)
*Diana Ross Week*
So, it may come as a surprise, as someone that keeps up such a tumblr, that I’ve never been to a Diana Ross Concert. Around this hour on Friday I’ll have decided on something delightful to wear and will be heading to the Paramount Theater Downtown Oakland to encounter what it’s like to spend nearly $100 to sit in the balcony to watch a controversial living legend. In a concert year that’s gotten me to see Darlene Love, Irma Thomas and Sugar Pie DeSanto, why not?
I’m going to spend the next few days posting Ross/Ross lead Supremes songs to diffuse my excitement. It seemed appropriate to get started with a song she and fellow Supremes completed on September 22nd 1966, right around the time it was planned for Diana to actually go solo. After their run at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” assumed its assumed peak at #1, Ross was to go solo, with Barbara Randolph taking over the presumed lead (if Florence and Mary agreed, it’s pretty sure that they wouldn’t have had say in the matter).
For multiple reasons Diana didn’t go solo as 1966 turned into 1967, and the group found their latest LP hunting back to 1964-65 for cuts to support the 2 major hit singles. Although a moderate hit for The Isley Brothers in the Spring of ‘66, The Supremes version got a bit of notice as a favored B-side in the fall of ‘67 on the flip of “In & Out Of Love.” In reality, it’s one of the few times that the sentiment of a Supremes A & B side matched up so well.
Barbara Lewis “Just The Way You Are Today” (Enterprise 9012, 1970)
7 years on from her massive hit single, Barbara Lewis found herself bringing a dose of Northern Soul to the might label of the south, Stax, on their Enterprise imprint. Which is to say that the tracks associated with the singles and her Many Grooves of LP decidedly didn’t feel all that Stax-y, and seemed like natural extensions of the sophisticated soul she had been releasing at Atlantic for more than half a decade.
Whether that was the right track for a sustained career is open for debate or not, but it does provide an eye into her output being amazingly stylistically consistent while moving along to current musical trends. The lead single from her sessions for Enterprise listen like perfect updates of where she had been in 1965, which might have been the flaws to finding fortune with them, but make them such delights to listen to 4 and a half decades on.
The Marvelettes “I Should Have Known Better” (1964, Unreleased. From the LP From The Vaults, 1979)
There could be a debate of which former high priority Girl Group was in more distress in wake of the rise of The Supremes. Martha & The Vandellas were cresting pretty high with massive hits still, but had little material lined up for further hits as the year ground to a close.
The Marvelettes were searching for a newly adult approach, and this August 1964 track points at one certainty of the future; Gladys Horton out of front and center and Wanda Young in the spotlight. Interestingly, Wanda sings closer to her coo-y falsetto than what would come in her work during 1965 and beyond.
In some ways this better late than never finger snapper of wise choices is a splendid bridge between to eras in Wanda’s career as a front woman. Not quite ready for full time front woman duties, exercises like this allowed her to cut her teeth in preparation for the inevitable.
The Supremes “Not Fade Away” (1964, Unreleased. From Let The Music Play: Supremes Rarities, 2008)
So it’s the eve of “Baby Love” being released as a single. So what do I do? Go find some Supremes obscure cover of Buddy Holly & The Crickets that was spurred by the success of The Rolling Stones 1964 cover of the song. You can here “Baby Love” just about anywhere, so here’s something new.
The Supremes completed a whole slew of covers in September, 1964 that were British Invasion cuts or covers for the upcoming A Bit Of Liverpool LP. Tellingly though, the two tracks that feature the full group, and especially Florence so prominently, were left off the LP when it was released in October, 1964. Although the group itself still saw themselves as a unit of close friends, the shift was already on to make Diana the centerpiece.
So this rather gleeful glimpse at the three women standing apart and together on the same song is a bittersweet glimpse of the group that was before fascination with fame and fortune took center spotlight. Relish the sounds of Mary’s hickory alto and Florence’s piercing soprano (rare for her to display on an uptempo song) alongside one of Diana’s more mellow nasal leads. Not Fade Away, indeed.
The Temptations “The Girl’s Alright With Me” (Gordy 7032-B, R&B#39 Pop #102, 1964)
In reality the Motown Juggernaut was pretty much in Full Swing as Summer slid into Fall of 1964. It was hard to turn on the radio and not hear something from one of the Artist at West Grand Boulevard cranking out something that got some airplay. It wasn’t just The Supremes; it was Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes and Velvelettes too, and Brenda Holloway and The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye and Eddie Holland and…. am I missing anyone?
The Temptations were in a weird place. Having had a Top 20 breakout hit record, their next effort, the slightly downtempo “I’ll Be In Trouble” made for an interesting detour, but didn’t build upon the groups initial success.
It’s interesting that the B-side, that continues the good time romantic vibe started to get a life of its own. Out of their early successful singles, it’s my absolute favorite, so it seemed appropriate, 50 years on from its time in the sun, that it would be the song I’d smile and sing along to as the Sun sets this evening/
Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston “It’s Me” (1964, Unreleased. From The Marvin Gaye Collection, 1990)
Kim Weston, in more ways than one, seemed to be, in a number of ways to be Mary Wells #2. But so many successive ways she didn’t meet up to expectations. Not all of them her fault however.
One beacon of brightness was her immediate paring with Marvin Gaye in the wake of the success Gaye had with Mary in the Spring of ‘64 with year old duets. Spurring the pairing along was the massive success Jerry Butler and Betty Everett had in the following months.
The problem being, the chosen lead single “What Good Am I Without You” decidedly traded in sonic patterns and arrangements that harkened back to the sound that got Gaye on the Map as ‘62 turned into ‘63. It performed surprisingly well despite its retrograde sound, moseying it’s way into the Billboard Hot 100. But, if Motown would have gone with a more modern effort, like this very revealing effort that has Kim sounding slightly ghostly with a phased vocal part slightly distorted against Gaye’s crystal clear lead, may have landed the duo a higher ranking, and a bigger launching pad for Weston to carve out her hit making career in ‘65.
One of the most prolific songwriters of the 1960’s, Bob Crewe, passed away this Thursday at age 83. He’s best known for his work with Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, but he gave many a fresh face and veteran vocalist efforts successful (and not so successful) over the years.
One of his pet projects was the so-called “Female Frankie Valli” Tracey Dey. The once Nora Ferrari did make a few chart entries, but never rose to the level of success that her male counterparts made it to. It wasn’t for the lack of effort on Dey’s or Crewe efforts, this secret “stealing my sister’s man” number had all of the juicy melodrama needed to catch the attention of listeners during the Fall of ‘64.
So, to one of the earliest out Gay Icons in popular music, thanks for crafting years worth of timeless music (some of it more saucy and obviously speaking from personal experience than others).
Judy Clay “Children Don’t Get Weary” (From the Soundtrack LP Uptight, 1969)
*Happy Birthday Judy Clay*
Perhaps the most “almost” of all the women in the Drinkard Dynasty, the once upon a time Judith Guions, would have been 76 years old this September 12th. Although she followed her adopted sisters Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick to a solo career and a few chart entries, she’s virtually not remembered as well today.
Pity because she crafted a wealth of wonderful Soul Records during the 1960’s with her earthy rich vocal stylings that were flexible enough to inhabit smooth jazz, uptown soul, deep down delta blues and straight up gospel. A fine mixture of all of these elements come together in this version of “Children, Don’t Get Weary” she helmed in front of Booker T. & The MG’s. A standout track from the film soundtrack, it could have been the effort that pushed Judy finally to the forefront of R&B, but it wasn’t destined to happen.
There’s plenty of musical acts that I feature here that 40+ years on really make me (and followers) scratch their heads in amazement that they aren’t better known, or were more successful during their original recording run. One of the most criminally overlooked Girl Groups was Honey & The Bees. Although they got off to a shaky start as The Yum Yums in 1964, their run of exquisite Philly Soul from 1967 through 1972 is pure unearthed gold.
Here we find them on their 12th Single release, ready to head out on tour with James Brown, although the collectively headstrong group didn’t fair well with Brown’s dominating ways. And this wonderful single of come hither intentions with an expiration date truly, in some other dimension, is a Soul Classic played on oldies stations on Sundays with plenty of requests, and plenty of conquests via utilization by listeners.
Maybe you’ll use this to seduce a perfect partner, I know I will….