"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 Ronettes “You Baby” (From the LP The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica, 1964)
"When I hear applause, it’s like having an orgasm" is a recent quote from Ronnie Spector. Well, such a vivid, vibrant quote. This is something only a Leo would say in an interview. So it seemed appropriate to dig around their tunage and post one of those golden classics.
To the detriment of being an object of desire for many men, The Ronettes, and Phil Spector’s maniacal devotion for what he considered perfection, means that there isn’t as much in the way of material from The Ronettes golden age of recording compared to their girl group contemporaries.
Even within that, it’s a bit surprising that this sultry ballad on saw LP service, given its popularity, it could have been yet another chart entry for the group.
Tommy Good “Honey Lane” (1964, Unreleased. From Tommy Good: The Motown Collection, 2006).
It must have sucked being one of the only white dudes on the Motown roster at the height of the golden age. White Privilege be damned, Tommy Good only got one single out the door in 1964.
Which in a way is a shame. The lion’s share of the material he recorded was pretty top flight. In another bit of an anomaly, a good portion of what he recorded was written and produced by the rather mysterious Stauton/Walker pairing who on the surface don’t seem all that prolific until you realize the lion’s share of their written output, halfway between the Motown Sound and the orchestral tendencies of Bacharach and Randazzo, also mostly saw vault time.
A perfect storm to become a forgotten singer I guess. Although this grand throwback to romance of the recent past comes from the pen of the Boss Man himself working with Norman Whitfield.
Dusty Springfield “Baby Don’t You Know” (Philips 40303-B, 1965)
*Happy Birthday Dusty Springfield*
Although gone from this physical plane, the Queen of Blue Eyed Soul that danced with so many demons so we didn’t have to would have been 75 years old today. In her 40 year career, like a number of Soul singers, once you dig in her discography, you notice that Soul is more a state of mind that a type of music. Springfield inhabited just about all of her material with ocean deep emotion, soothing souls on just about every continent her records were available.
But typical for me, I go straight for a mid-tempo soul Ballad B-side for her birthday this year. Beatrice Verdi, sister of one off Blue Eyed Soul singer Liz Verdi, handed this composition over to Springfield (along with the UK Top 10 a-side) before she became a staff writer at Motown. Showing that Springfield was always at home being a contemporary of Mary Wells and Martha Reeves, this oft forgotten little ditty is a pleasant palate cleanser among her more bombastic efforts.
The Miracles “A Fork In The Road” (Tamla 54118-B, 1965)
Welcome to a rather bumpy intersection in the road, well, if you follow Astrology at all. There’s an eclipse this week that leads into the heightened Grand Cardinal Cross. All that frentic energy has me reaching for some silky soul music with a moral to calm my nerves, and wouldn’t you know the smooth Piscean Leads of Smokey Robinson is perfect for this Venus Conjunct Neptune weekend.
Anyways, a little less Astrology and a bit more fact. This wide sweeping warning floater, far more typical of the work of The Superbs on Dore was the extremely popular B-side of “Tracks Of My Tears.” Although it never charted nationally as some Miracles B-sides did, it proved so regionally popular that it soon became a staple in The Miracles live act through the rest of the 1960’s. It would be later tackled in very pretty fashion by Rebbie Jackson nearly 20 years later.
Barbara English “Small Town Girl (With Big Town Dreams)” (Reprise 349, 1965)
Although a lot of Dusty Springfield’s material during the sixties was cover material, she did a lot of crate digging for some wonderful songs. One of her overlooked pieces of Album Fluff was an equally overlooked piece from session singer, Brill Building Secretary and former Clickette Barbara Jean English.
English, after her performing career with The Clickettes dwindled, was one of many demo queens that walked a weird line between the consistent income of studio work, but wanting to branch out to a solo career. Although she did some remarkable Uptown Soul work from 1963 through ‘67, her efforts, no matter how sparkling, had a hard time finding national radio play, leaving her to take some time off until the 1970’s to give solo stardom another shot.
Here we have a Springfield Stamp of approval, since Dusty’s late ‘65 cover is one of the most note-for-note covers she ever did.
Ruby & The Romantics “Much Better Off Than I’ve Ever Been” (Kapp 578-B, 1964)
It’s not so much that Ruby & The Romantics struggled for a new direction after their initial sound struggled to maintain favor with record buyers. It’s moreso Kapp Records didn’t seem to have faith to throw promotional muscle behind different ideas, and stuck with what worked in the past.
Hence, this decidedly perky song displaying a fresh update of common tricks that supported Ruby Nash and crew (notably the organ) got relegated to the B-side of their first single out the door for ‘64. Right when they could have used a fresh infusion against the British Invasion. Whoops.
Marvin Gaye “Pretty Little Baby” (Tamla 54117, R&B #16, Pop #25, 1965)
*Happy Birthday Marvin Gaye*
Perhaps the saddest of birthday honors. This Wednesday would have marked Marvin Gaye’s 75th Birthday. Of Course, the sober reality of the crossroads of family dysfunction and mental illness brought about his death 30 years ago this April Fool’s Day. Although Gaye himself was pretty exhausted from 25 years of performing, fans still wonder what more wonders he could have created with more time on earth.
So I throw out one of his most angelic, and overlooked hit singles of his career. Gaye quite often had a hand in penning his material years before he unleashed the fury of “What’s Going On” and late 1964 found him doing this song two ways: One as a seasonal ode to love (Purple Snowflakes) and the plea for devotion found here.
In the shadow of mega hits from The Supremes, Four Tops and Temptations in the summer of ‘65, it got lost in the shuffle of memorable material spilling out of Hitsville U.S.A. at the time. But it remains a favorite of mine, and hopefully is one of yours.
Betty Everett “My Baby Loving My Best Friend” (ABC 10978-B, 1967)
I must be in a Chicago frame of mind. Anyways, here we have Betty Everett’s interpretation of a classic girl group theme; gossip turned gruesome. In this case she’s the loser moreso than, say, Diana Ross on The Supremes “He’s All I’ve Got.”
Poor Betty doesn’t stand a chance, because her hussy of a best friend right out stole her man, kind of like the job Anna King pulled on “Sally.” The amazingly breezy and remorseful tune written by Ex Ashford and Simpson collaborator Josephine Armstead is a fitting close to Betty’s rather unsuccessful year long excursion at ABC records
Jan Bradley “It’s Just Your Way” (Chess 2023, 1967)
Like Jackie Ross, Jan Bradley made her biggest splash right out the gate at Chess Records. And like the other Miss Ross, she made a career out of Riley C. Hampton washed soul numbers through the rest of the decade.
Unfortunately the parallels of how often those songs didn’t make a huge impact on the charts haunted Bradley as well, as just one more trip to the R&B Top 40 was in store for her after she followed Mama’s advice way back in 1962. But the brace of singles she recorded for Chess over 5 years are a perfect snapshot of Chicago soul, like her penultimate A-side from 1967.
Christine Kittrell “Ain’t Never Seen So Much Rain Before” (Federal 12540-B, 1965)
Like many blues matriarchs of the 40’s and 50’s, Christine Kittrell made a stab at moving towards soul music in the early 1960’s. With a particularly youthful, rich voice, she didn’t sound as “matronly” as some of her contemporaries trying to make that transition.
Her second to last effort to make relevance between her extensive touring for the USO is this particularly silky organ driven dirge perfect for cloud bursts in the midst of early Spring.
Sarah Vaughan “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” (From the LP Snowbound, 1963)
*Happy Birthday Sarah Vaughan*
The Divine, Sassy, Sailor was born 90 years ago today. Through a career that spanned every acre of popular music, Sarah Vaughan is yet another timeless voice that shaped the concept of Popular music for ages. From Jazz to toe dips in Big Band, Pop and even Soul, her voice and performance persona knew no bounds and should be a college course all it’s own. Wouldn’t you like to major in Vaughan?
Today we celebrate her birth in early spring with the closing track from a splendid Don Costa arranged LP released as the snow begin to fall at the end of 1963. It’s really worth checking out the wealth of goodies she recorded for that label, as most of the attention centers around her extensive time with Mercury Records.
The Supremes “Queen Of The House (Live)” (1966, Unreleased. From I Hear A Symphony - Expanded Edition, 2012)
Happy Birthday Diana Ross
Diane Ernestine Earle Ross turns 70 years old today. Over 56 years of professional performing, she is perhaps the most prominent African American performer of the Post War era. Collectively at the front of 16 U.S Pop #1 hits and once an Academy Award nominee, she changed the representation of what it meant to be an African American woman in the media.
So of course I go and find an effort with her as a Supreme that especially highlights that a huge part of her legacy was built in teamwork and solidarity with other women, but most notably her fellow Supremes Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson (how’s that for a slice of humble pie on your birthday).
A staple of their live act from their Copa debut until Jean Terrell took over the center spot in 1970, The Supremes jointly crafted a live version of Jody Miller’s 1965 ode to the housewife that was crackling with humor and irony. The best part of any version is Florence’s retort to the theoretical husband’s morning boner seeking a chance for at tempting a 5th child out of fate and thin air.
Aretha Franklin “When They Ask About You” (1961, Unreleased. From Just A Matter Of Time: Classic Columbia Recordings 1961-1966, 2009)
It’s Aries Diva Birthday Week, and first up, we wind up a pitch with Aretha Louise Franklin. The undisputed Queen Of Soul turns 72 years old this Tuesday. In nearly 6 decades of entertaining she’s racked up countless hits and accolades.
So it’s interesting to remember her middling beginnings at Columbia Records where she was positioned as an heir to Dinah Washington’s throne (among other women, notably Freda Payne, for example). However, one possibly more successful track that was explored (and then abandoned) was potentially casting her as the next Maxine Brown. This molasses thick pleader, however stayed in the vaults for close to 50 years as syrupy interpretations of standards became standard bearer for The Queen in Waiting during 1962 and ‘63.
Yet another Dusty groove from the early days of this tumblr gets dusted off this Sunday evening. Although barely 18 years old at the time she recorded this song, the conviction that Jo Ann Garrett brings to her first effort for Duo records is absolutely otherworldly.
Incredible in hindsight that this potentially anthemic song did not catch on outside of the Chicago area in early ‘68. Although not as positively feminist as some songs would be by the beginning of the next decade, it does strike a positive vibe of strength, even if it’s in the context of negotiating relationship rules and boundaries.
The Radiants “The Clown Is Clever” (Chess 2021, 1967)
In a long line of declarative gems, you’d think The Radiants would be a bit better known beyond their few entries into the Billboard Hot 100. Alas, for whatever reason they could never break through in a huge way like The Impressions or The Dells did.
One of their best non-charting efforts is this simmering warning from 1967. Burbling thick with percussion, kind of an Anti-Delfonics, It boggles the soulful brain that this single avoided both the R&B and Pop charts at the time.