"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"
Madeline Bell “Baby I’ll Come Right Away” (From the LP Bells ‘A Poppin’, 1967)
Whenever a pretty good song doesn’t become a hit record like this early Ashford & Simpson composition, there’s a fair shot at it getting redone. It’s pretty interesting when such songs don’t end up being carbon copies of the first effort.
Madeline Bell’s version is far more smooth, more of an elixir than the maestro’s manifesto that Mary Love’s original recording was. Perhaps that starchiness in Mary’s version was the preventative factor in it not becoming a chart entry. Shame that Madeline’s version stayed on her first LP and didn’t see single release.
Betty Everett “Trouble Over The Weekend” (Vee-Jay 716-B, 1966)
In the waning days of Vee-Jay records, the biggest casualty seemed to be the promotional efforts put behind Betty Everett’s later singles. As she evolved along with Soul Music through the mid 60’s, the failing label had no muscle, blood or sweat to provide the juice needed to keep her a consistent hit maker.
More than just mere trouble over the weekend, it was trouble of label terminating strength. Luckily Betty survived intact, surfacing at ABC the following year, but this foreboding final B-side served as a metaphorical tale. She might have had to work hard against a former flame to keep the peace with her current man, and she had to work hard against the sinking ship of her first major label before surfacing with another hit record in 1969.
Dinah Washington “Soft Winds” (Mercury 70906, R&B #13, 1956)
*Happy Birthday Dinah Washington*
90 years ago somewhere in Tuscaloosa Alabama, Ruth Lee Jones was born. About 18 years she became the legendary Dinah Washington. In 23 years of performing and 22 years of recording, She amassed a beautiful catalog of vocal performances in wide sweeping genre busting grace before her untimely death in 1963.
By 1956, the 32 year old Washington had racked up nearly 30 Top 20 R&B Hits on the Billboard Charts, with an occasional dalliance on the Billboard Pop Charts. During this period there was more than a careful effort to push her recording output in a more youthful direction, and this slightly Doo-Wop influenced swinging piece of Jazz proved to be another Top 20 R&B notch in her belt.
The Lollipops “Need Your Love” (V.I.P 25051, 1969)
The Lollipops did such a good job imitating a Motown Girl Group with their effort “Step Aside, Baby” in 1967 that, well, they ended up at Motown in just over a years time. The details of how they exactly ended up at Motown are sketchy, but the 6 tracks they laid down for the label in 1969 were refreshing pieces of late 60’s Girl Group Candy.
Had there been some effort here, Motown would have had a formidable rival group to new Girl Groups like The Honey Cone, The Fuzz and Love Unlimited. But like many artists shuttled to the V.I.P subsidiary at Motown, their career became such an afterthought. Only one single sneaked out in the Fall of ‘69, when most of the hoopla at the label was centered around Diana Ross’s departure from The Supremes.
Which left this delightfully atmospheric war cry for love with no love from promotional or the radiowaves, nevermind the Billboard Hot 100. But it’s incredibly one of the finer late 60’s Girl Group efforts from Motown.
Valerie & Nick “Lonely Town” (Grover 3000-B, 1964)
*Happy Birthday Valerie Simpson*
One of the most prolific Singer-Songwriters of classic soul celebrates her 68th birthday today. So we hitchhike back to the start of the performing and writing career of Valerie Simpson. The hard-working all purpose Virgo lady that she was, she proved excellent session and lead singer as well as songwriter and producer.
Appropriate too is this song at the end of a summer 50 years later as many a big American City feels a bit colder and lonelier than they might have felt only shortly before. Had the focus not been so much on her and partner-soon to be husband Nick Ashford’s efforts with the Onion Skins, the burbling potential of their first of 3 singles for Glover may have focused them in a more solidly self contained singer-songwriter direction that they’d eventually carve out for themselves in the 70’s and 80’s.
But by 1965, their splendid compositions were in demand for a variety of other artists, and Valerie put her recording career on hold until her splendid efforts at Motown in 1971.
Lou Johnson was perhaps the perfect African American vocalist to hand this aspiring capitalist dream to. Given that he had the vocal capabilities, but not necessarily the chart successes to back up his talents, this soaring ode to unlocking the key to American Dreams circa 1965 seemed the perfect fit for his repertoire of Uptown Soul.
It’s far more Broadway Show Tune and Social Commentary; you listen to it and basically hear Walter Lee spouting dialogue to a imitation Bacharach/David arrangement, right down to Lou being a Chauffeur to a Wall Street Broker and striving for some semblance of that pie. Perhaps that’s what doomed it first to B-side status, then to relative obscurity. It’s one of the most beautiful, yet blatant wishes for economic parity of some sort in R&B music at the time.
The Four Tops “Baby, Baby Come Home” (1964, Unreleased. From Lost Without You - Lost & Found, 2006).
As we look back 50 years ago the 2nd week The Supremes held down the Pole Position on the Pop Charts, it’s worth remembering that two other Motown groups broke out during 1964. Notably in the wake of The Supremes Juggernaut, The Four Tops landed on a wave of strings and soul with “Baby I Need Your Lovin’” which made it to the Pop Top 20 as Summer became fall of 1964. Despite its #11 Pop ranking, it’s perhaps remembered as a far bigger hit record than it actually was.
So, in that wake of that somewhat surprise success, Motown didn’t exactly know where to take their newest premiere male vocal act, especially as they commanded as much writing and producing attention from Holland-Dozier-Hollad as The Supremes did.
So, some beautiful potential sonic detours came burbling up in the studios throughout the year for consideration. This sudsy post-doo-wop ballad is one of the many gems that didn’t pass first inspection.
Jackie DeShannon “When You Walk In The Room” (Liberty 55645, Pop #99, 1963)
*Happy Birthday Jackie DeShannon*
Singer/Songwriter and peace-wisher Jackie DeShannon turns 73 years old today. Although she’s one of the most prolific Singer-Songwriters of the 1960’s and beyond, most of her biggest successes were found when she stepped from behind the sheet music and let someone else handle the music and production duties.
But she did craft some wonderful Pop Perfect moments for herself, which laid blueprints for others to cover accordingly.Her last single of 1963 took equal parts Beach Boys and The Crystals and brewed up something that, apparently outside of California, didn’t quite make sense, but is a delightful blip before the Bacharach Barrage she’d launch in 1965.
The Reasons “Window Shopping” (United Artists 961, 1965)
In the legion of Blue-Eyed Soul Girl Groups, perhaps the most obscure are The Reasons. Working with a number of producers, they managed to get a few releases (and some unreleased gems as well) at United Artists in 1965-66.
One of their finer efforts is this delightfully consumerist for love number that’s an early effort of Ashford-Simpson and Armstead. Not only is it a particularly joyous confection that deserved more than obscurity, it shows how much of a wealth of Material Ashford & Simpson was creating with their partner Josephine Armstead before joining Motown at the end of 1966.
Maxine Brown “Wrong Number, Right Girl” (1965, Unreleased. From Spotlight On Maxine Brown/Greatest Hits, 2000)
Happy 75th Birthday Maxine Brown.
I shouldn’t play favorites with fire, but Maxine Brown is totally my favorite Leo Leading Lady of Sixties Soul. Her uniquely tart and flexible voice with commanding power and remarkable tenderness caressed a number of songs from the dawn of Sixties soul and beyond. Although not a consistent chart topper, she placed a number of efforts in the Billboard Hot 100 throughout the 60’s, a number of her earlier ones she penned herself.
Along with her plethora of singles and smattering of LPs, she did manage to have a fair share of her efforts vaulted, especially during her run at Scepter Records from 1963 through 1967. This delightfully brazen romp has been a favorite of mine since it debuted nearly 15 years ago, and is a perfect celebration of this unheralded Queen of Soul.