"It almost seems funny, but the tougher the life of this person, the more it is bordered with baricades 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"
The Dixie Cups “The Sugar That I Need” (From the LP Riding High, 1965)
Here’s one career that didn’t have to die. Due to a dispute with Red Bird, their manager moved them to ABC-Paramount, a seemingly greener pasture. As with most Girl Groups that had success, it didn’t follow them as they jumped from label to label, with different production teams.
Also hindering the possible magic were innovative efforts to update their sound being ignored in one way or the other. No doubt the cute charm of this little ditty could have restored Rosa, Barbara and Joan to the hit parade.
In an attempt to give the now 20 year old Teen Idol Tony Orlando another chance at a hit, he was passed some more modern gems. Now an adult, might as well sound like one, right?
And what was more manly than a spanking new Bacharach/David machismo infused song? Maybe it was the accordion interludes that doomed it to the B-side. Or those darned Bacharach Time signatures. But it delights as a worthy obscurity in the vast bank of songs they generated for a variety of artists.
For Orlando, he would try again in this newfound Blue Eyed Soul vein, next moving on to Atco, and becoming recording booth buddies with the other master of overblown uptown soul, Teddy Randazzo.
The Marvelettes “So Glad It’s Summertime” (1966, Unreleased. From The Marvelettes Forever More, 2011)
It seems everyone is doing it up with Summer around these parts a week before Memorial Day (nevermind a full on month before it’s summer technically). Weddings, Graduations, Vacations, laziness. Summer is really a state of mind, and a lot of you are already there.
Granted, it’s been “one of the longest winters I’ve ever seen” and does Good Lady Gladys and the Good Ole’ Marvelettes have the jam for you. Turn it up, and keep the denial that it’s actually summer already going.
Poor Timing. That’s probably why this isn’t a well known Carla Thomas single. It was double cursed. You see, at the same time, Motown decided to reach all the way back to the 1965 can of Marvin Gaye/HDH productions and release the very similarly titled “Your Unchanging Love.”
Then Deejays started flipping over the single and playing the more uptempo Supremes/Vandellas flavored “When Tomorrow Comes.” Lovers of Carla Thomas know she’s at her most satisfying on these soothing as Mint Julep ballads, and this one, with just a little sweetener of strings is one in a long line of a beautiful sub genre you owe it to yourself to check out.
Chris Clark “Day By Day Or Never” (From the LP Soul Sounds, 1967)
Often touted as Motown’s Dusty Springfield, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Chris Clark’s first Motown LP feels a lot like a 1967 take on a early Dusty Springfield LP: A smattering over covers of well known and unknown songs spliced with singles and a few originals.
One of the songs from that LP that didn’t make it to prime time, but sounded like a logical attempt at a hit was this track from the dead center of the LP. Buried, but screaming for a little promotional attention all the same, had Motown really spent the time to invest in her singles the same way it took the time to craft LPs for her, she might have had more hit singles.
A voice that was a staple of R&B of the 1950’s, Mabel Louise Smith did a rather effortless transition to Sixties soul without losing much, if any, of her vocal identity. Although consistent hits weren’t always forthcoming, she always ended up with material suited to her voice.
Her voice was one that could blur genre lines, and for her first release for Rojac, we have this beautiful blend between girl group, pseudo country and R&B.
The Crystals “In The Morning” (1966, Unreleased. From The Crystals: Ultimate Collection, 2006)
Once the rather nasty split from Phil Spector happened, The Crystals ended up back in their home stomping grounds of New York City. It should be no surprise that their recordings for United Artists ditched the wall of sound and embraced Brill Building ethos that seemed more appropriate for The Shangri-Las or The Dixie Cups.
But the shadow of the Wall Of Sound proved too dark for any of The Crystals new releases to escape. Like Mary Wells, for most of 1965, television programs featured them spooling up their 2 or 3 year accomplishments instead of their latest releases. Which means intricate gems like this 1966 recording got locked in the vaults for 40 years.
Stevie Wonder “Hold Me” (From the LP Up-Tight, 1966)
*Happy Birthday Stevie Wonder*
Another Motown legend celebrates a birthday on May 13th. That would be national treasure Stevie Wonder. The Blind since birth dynamo (and Lothario….) turns 63 years old today.
Like birthday mate Mary Wells, his artistry and early success was elemental to establishing Motown as a force to be reckoned with in the recording industry. And like Wells, he entered a chart slump in 1965. Unlike Mary however, he had the creative forces to collaborate with to get out of it.
Being a songwriter himself helped his Motown LPs always stand a cut above generic filler that could sometime clog even the best LPs of other Motown acts. This beautifully double tracked cut from his resurgence deserves more than a passing glance.
Mary Wells “Oh Little Boy (What Did You To Me)” (Motown 1056-B, 1964)
*Happy Birthday Mary Wells*
The first queen of Motown would have been 70 years old May 13th. In the afterglow of her fame being re-ignited with most, if not all of her Motown output being released and a biography out, there’s plenty of ways to get to know the woman whose artistry kept Motown afloat in a lot of ways during its earliest days.
In the midst of her tumultuous split from the label, a lot of interesting material got left behind or buried. And one of the most intoxicatingly weird efforts of her career lies in plain sight on the flipside of her megahit “My Guy.” This 2 and a quarter minute boozy horn driven psychotic episode shows how much of a wonderful vocal actress she was.
Bonus points for the “WTF Liz Lands?” operatic interlude before the record fades out.
Perhaps the most prolific composer of the Post War era, Burt Bacharach, turns 85 years old this Sunday. With a career that spanned from 1957 to this very day, the meat of what people consider his career was smack dab in the Brill Building, churning out Pop/Soul masterpieces to rival Holland/Dozier/Holland, Lennon/McCartney and Goffin & King.
So that means he and Hal David provided their fair share of femme pop, some of it more campy and incredulous to the modern eye that others. So today I’ve spared you Timi Yuro’s UBERCAMPY original mild hit of this song. That version, from the the boozy trombone to the super tense “release” at the end of the verses, sounds way too close to an anthem to the penis.
Evie Sands, not all that dissimilar in vocal texture from Yuro, takes on the song, and almost makes you forget the sexist overtone of the main lyric. Well almost, but she does a fabulous job of switching the feeling of being an overriding communal sense, to something remarkably intimate.
Dee Dee Sharp “Help Me Find My Groove” (Atlantic 6587, 1968)
Countless women got lost in the shuffle of indifference at Atlantic records. From the pioneers that built the label like Ruth Brown and La Vern Baker, to legends like Mary Wells, and to an extent, Dusty Springfield, Atlantic only devoted consistent resources to Aretha Franklin. No jokes about being a cash cow Got 2 Be Real fans….
Another of those ignored voices would be dance hit queen Dee Dee Sharp, who followed husband Kenny Gamble’s production deal with the label to the house that Ruth Built. Always far more capable that teen twisting fare, her stint at Atlantic allowed her to mature, but didn’t bring any hit records no matter how well produced or, in the case of this, her last release for the label, seductive.
The Tymes “To Each His Own” (Parkway 908, Pop #78, 1964)
Although Doo-Wop was pretty much a lost art by 1963, The Tymes proved it timeless with their #1 smash “So Much In Love.” Although long regarded a One Hit wonder, they actually made the Top 40 four more times, as late as 1974.
Maybe it was their seasoned veteran status, as they had been together since 1956. Maybe it was their classy reinterpretation of MOR standards that sound remarkably fresh. So it must have been a surprise when this strolling reimagining of The Ink Spots #1 smash from 18 years previous didn’t trouble the charts all that much. In an era of British Invasion and Motown’s final ascent into the spotlight, maybe even beautiful updates were out of step.
By the early sixties, early soul pioneer LaVern Baker found herself grasping for straws. For every time she had a pretty good hit in the early sixties, there seemed to be 3 or so singles in between that went nowhere, not for the lack of trying.
Here we have her doing a double shot at trying. 1) A young Phil Spector takes over the producing duties, around the same time he helped a hand in “Spanish Harlem” for Ben E. King. 2) We have her doing wonderful answer song to a then current Elvis Presley record, which adds a wonderful “What if” Elvis was really singing “Little Sister” to a Black woman.
Well, perhaps, in 1961… is why LaVern’s effort wasn’t a hit….
Ethel Ennis “Who Will Buy?” (From The LP This Is Ethel Ennis, 1963)
In the interweaving years of solo chanteuses of the Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan variety, yet before Nancy Wilson’s prominence there were singers like Ethel Ennis. Getting her start in the mid 1950’s, her sound was decidedly more pop orientated and cool, and not as rooted in glossy jazz reinterpretations of standards like those a little bit older.
She was kind of a proto-Nancy Wilson that nowadays doesn’t get as much attention. This has nothing to do with her talents or her remarkably pure voice. Now in her eighties, she occasionally performs around her hometown of Baltimore. But tonight, we find her trying on a little bossa nova daydreaming around the same time she turned 30.
The Three Degrees “Do What You’re Supposed To Do” (Swan 4197-B, 1964)
While it was the A-side that got The Three Degrees their first chart entry, the more interesting side is this rather lascivious B-side. For a girl group record in 1964, it’s pretty racy, with a seductive half spoken lead vocal in the versus that builds to an almost orgasmic hook into the chorus.
Granted, none of the DJs of the land dared flip this wanton sexual abandon over, but, it would have been a more controversial, and possibly business supplying start for the group, who would have to wait another 5 years for a bonafide chart entry.