Monthly Archives: October 2009

Soulful Wallpaper

Ok, so I’m one of those people that’s totally junkie obsessed with Mad Men, the awesome AMC series about Madison Avenue Advertising men and their dysfunctional early 1960s lives (Think McMahon & Tate from Bewitched without the slap stick humor…)

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And of all recent things that they have done is a tie in on iTunes that details what then current music would the major players be listening to in 1962-63 on their transistor radios in their cars, and homes as they carried out life…

There are some quite awesome passing of the guard soul classics, from Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” to Mary Wells lamenting about being “Your Old Standby” (an odd choice given that this is an East L.A. Chicano soul classic more than something that, frankly Peggy Olson would have been attached to… a better bet would have been Maxine Brown’s “Ask Me”)…

But intriguing nonetheless is to think about how, as the value systems of the late 1950s were falling apart more, how R&B music was morphing into a higher social consciousness as “Soul” music.

A more sophisticated, nuanced form of musical expression than its roots in R&B, Country, Gospel and Jazz… coming above board and being “socially acceptable” even in that bastions of Post-war bastions of conservatism such as Madison Avenue. It’s interesting to think of the Draper family having The Miracles I’ll Try Something New lp amongst the Dean Martin and Anita O’Day.

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Weird to see the seeds of pop culture upheaval portrayed so subtly…

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15-20-25 (and the Power of The Marvelettes)

Another one of those imports from LiveJounal, About The Marvelous Marvelettes

So I seem to be getting to Anniversary posts about Motown 50th things a little delayed, Yesterday being the day that The Marvelettes “Please Mr. Postman” was released to the world, in the height of Camelot, The height of Kennedy-esque optimism about the future, The first wave of the Girl Group Phenom, which The Marvelettes were technically only the 4th Black Act to really “break through” out of the Ghetto of R&B and into the mainstream, pop, middle class arena of Pop music, and impact our collective imaginations

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*(The others, in Order, The Bobbettes with “Mr. Lee”, The Chantels with “Maybe” and The Shirelles with their Quartet of Top 40 hits in late 1960-early 1961)*

The Marvelettes, from this point, of recording a plea that more than a million assertive teenagers took a love to in the Fall of 1961 (from it’s release date in late August, the song didn’t peak until a week or two after Thanksgiving in December, 1961). The Marvelettes, were allowed to grow up through all of the stages of adolescence through adult hood, from 15 (the realistic age of Gladys Horton when she recorded the song in the Spring of 1961, and the instrumental similarities to The Supremes “Buttered Popcorn”, recorded in the same area) Through dealing with adult concerns of “Too Many Fish In The Sea” and “Danger, Heartbreak Dead Ahead” come around 20, and the complexities of romance that date our mid 20s and the rest of adulthood like “Rainy Morning” and “Marionette”

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Most musical acts don’t get to “grow up” on record. Even Their Motown labelmates, regardless of gender (especially if you compare them to their natural label rivals The Supremes and Martha & The Vandellas, and to a lesser extent The Velvelettes), You didn’t “grow up” with them, since most other Motown Acts, save Stevie Wonder had their major breakthrough closer to their 18th, if not 20th, birthday, Hell…Florence Ballard could legally drink in any state by the time “Where Did Our Love Go” hit #1

The diversity of “experience” that The Marvelettes displayed on record, noting how romance without finance doesn’t work (My Daddy Knows Best), how career can come in the way of finding love (Here I Am Baby) or just how stalking backfires (Hunter Gets Captured By The Game) makes them relevant on a deeper level than history gives them credit for.

Sure they didn’t have a consistent “sound” (but if you break down The Supremes and The Vandellas, they had various “styles” and “sounds”) Sure they weren’t the “greastest” singers (although the straightforward grittiness of Gladys Horton makes her one of Motown’s first “homegirls” to tell it like it is, Wanda Young the sexy, seductive torch carrier into the girl group field of jazz singers like Billie Holiday and R&B/Jump Blues singers like Little Esther, and the “untrained” background call and response far more authentic in a “girl talk” sense that is at heart of the girl group phenom). But in the innate complexity of their sound, the variety of material they recorded makes them worth an extensive listen and enjoyment.

I purchased my first exclusively Marvelettes purchase at the age of 15 (ironically around the same time Gladys Horton recorded “Please Mr. Postman”) after being familiar with the hits that they had, thanks to KDIA….and got deeper, and some of my absolute favorite songs of all time come from that, as I get older and want a little bit of myself to stay “Young and in Love” or have patience for that “Good Guy(Yes He Is)” or make little new discoveries that make getting a bit older a bit easier like “Little Girls Grow Up”.

They aren’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame yet. But The will always be in mine…Forever

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Soulful Movie#1: Grace of My Heart

When I think of a movie I love to watch again and again because of it’s music there is no movie that isn’t a traditional musical that I love more than Grace of My Heart(1996)

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The movie is basically a pastiche of the people associated with the Brill Building Pop/R&B music that came out of New York in the late 1950s (the years after the beginning of Rock & Roll and Mitch Miller Pop) and the early 1960s (The years before The British Invasion, Motown, Folk Rock and Psychedelia).

Blend together Carol King, Ellie Greenwich and Cynthia Weil and you get Denise Waverly

Blend Gerry Goffin, Jeff Barry, and Barry Mann and you get Howard Cazsat

Blend Leiber and Stoller, Phil Spector, and Jerry Wexler and you get Joel Milner…

You blend The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Dixie Cups and The Chiffons and you get their doppelganger girl group The Luminaries in the movie…

even the “hits” they have in the movie are cute imitations of familiar girl group classics.

It’s a rare movie that actually gives credit to a time in pop music that due to the lack of White Heterosexual male normativeness of it’s performers (Elvis was in the Army, The Beatles still covering, ironically Brill Building Songs in Liverpool) as a productive and fruitful time in American Pop culture (The maturing dreams of 1950s post war idealism, the burgeoning independence, intelligence and celebration of individual gifts that weren’t allowed since World War II, and the realities that 1950s/1960s “Camelot” idealism wasn’t something that could be substained.. everything changes).

Frankly it’s possibly the best movie representing how R&B music actually worked in the past (with exception of possibly Ray). Light years ahead of Dreamgirls It’s a more enjoyable movie, with actual good pop songs…

Get to “know” some unsung heros… it’s like a $1.65 on Amazon…

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How to keep a romance from going stale?

Stay in a perpetual state of acting like your on the verge of break up!

Well that’s the theory that Sylvia and Judy swap verse and chorus with on this 1969 Non-Hit by New York Awesome Girl Group The Chiffons “Love Me Like You’re Gonna Lose Me”

…and oddly I kinda agree…

1) Once the honeymoon phase of dating… a relationship can settle into the doldrums. Without some kinda of dynamic tension there’s no place for a spark to ignite to keep the fire going.

2) The psychosis of believing that you are always on the verge of losing someone means you always operated in that area of striving to make things work, by doing special things…

…or you could just end up insane…

but we’ll just ignore that ūüôā

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Lounge Soul Goddess: Barbara McNair

To the majority of people, all Barbara McNair did in popular culture was be that Black Nun in that Elvis movie with Mary Tyler Moore, Change of Habit

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But, she also starred in a variety of movies during the 1960s and 1970s, hosted her own variety series, replaced Diahann Carroll in No Strings and by my count, released 5 albums and a variety of singles between 1957 and 1969… including 2 Albums and 5 singles that went nowhere for Motown between 1965 and 1969….

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She was signed with the premise of giving Motown a Jazz/MOR singer that was already an industry veteran. Which totally would have worked had The Supremes hadn’t started including standards in their live act as soon as they had hit records, and were technically making their way towards being coming the worlds first really MOR R&B act. So, instead of recording the Lounge Jazz that she had recorded for the first 7 years of her career, she got to record an odd mix of typical Motown fare and Jazz Standards for her first LP, and then a lot of grab bag Late 60s Lounge Soul for her second… affectively making her one of the first female lounge soul singers (well, devoid of actual hit records).

Think of her as like a female, Motown legitimized version of Johnny Rivers. The same Vegas razzmatazz to her voice, and the same amount of cognac in your snifter in her delivery ( a lot of hazily sexy vocal runs that sound barely indistinguishable from moaning orgasms)…

The best example of which, I think is her original version of “Here I Am, Baby” from late 1966, which in the spring of 1968 was redone by The Marvelettes in a funkier, but far less slinky, sexy and obvious transition from dominance to submission of a 1960s career woman than Barbara’s original.

She recorded a number of equally awesome sleazy, velvety confections on the label.. like her “Steal Away Tonight” and her Cellarful of Motown:Volume 1 Fave “Baby A-Go Go” …and I’m quite fond of her charming “Into My Empty Arms” her freakbeat “(Anonymous) Nothing But Trouble” and her rerecording of The Supremes cast off “Wheels of The City.”

Also, in closing… as a note of pride to the late Barbara… as far as I know she was 1) The first African American woman to appear in the top 10 most beautiful women list complied by the International Society of Cosmetologists (basically saying that, well she needed as little make up as possible to look beautiful) and 2) As far as I know… The only Motown star to be a playboy centerfold… somewhat SFW photo below…

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Add all of that up and you have more than just a good lounge singer. You have a quite awesome woman…

Here she is, on Hullabaloo in fall 1965 debuting her first Motown single “You’re Gonna Love My Baby”

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Songs that I think should go die: #1

I’m jumping into it and going for Motown Chestnut “My Girl” by The Temptations.

*HERETIC*

I hear the calls for my head to be chopped off by every baby boomer and everyone that has a cursory love for soul music…

But before I’m lead to my credibility death…. let me set up my defense that overplay=overkill=this can kill a once good song and make it a tired piece of pop history.

Example A: What other Temptations song can you name off the top of your head. Considering they were the 2nd most charted act at Motown behind The Supremes during the 1960s, a few other songs should come to your mind (like their other #1 Pop hits “I Can’t Get Next To You” or “Just My Imagination”)

Example B: How many times on TV, in a Movie, like, anywhere besides a dedicated music space have you heard this song? I think the average for most americans that aren’t a part of the Aryan nation and avoid all things related to minorities, by the age of 25 you would have heard at least portions of this song about 5,643 times.

Example C: It’s not Smokey Robinson’s most clever work. At All. It’s a straightforward ballad with an interesting bass intro. And that’s about it. The Temptations would actually record more interesting ballads about the pleasures of coupledom written by Smokey Robinson, like… with the next single… “It’s Growing” (maybe I’m just a sucker for “odd” musical gimmicks like the stark piano entry on that song and… well… metaphors… like I always kinda giggle at the fact that the “growing” metaphor can also mean this guy is totally also getting a boner).

So, to finish off my insult to what just about everyone will say is the #1 most important Motown Song ever… I’m gonna advocate for it’s follow up (rival) by posting a Youtube video of that song instead.

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Sonic Memories that stick with you #1

There have been multiple times in my life that songs strike me like a punch out of nowhere. More often than not though for me, It was a song that debuted 45 or 50 years ago. It’s been a lifelong phenomenon that continues to delight me well into adulthood.

Today I relate how I came to love Jackie Ross’s “Selfish One” (Chess 1903. R&B#4 Pop#11, 1964). Once upon a time there was *another* Miss Ross out to seek the “Queen of Pop-Soul* title by seizing the place in the record market occupied recently by Mary Wells. Her delightfully fluffy fantasy debut at Chess records will always hold a dear place in my heart.

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About halfway through my 6th grade year I had switched from listening to KBLX to KFRC, the local oldies radio. Most likely I was getting in touch with the child that ¬†purchased¬†Diana Ross & The Supremes Greatest Hits Volume II… with his first allowance.¬†Otherwise I kinda came out to your parents at 5.

Not long after I found KDIA on the AM dial. The Big 1310!¬†Which, actually in the 1960s was *the* Top 40 R&B station in the bay area. I used to tape songs out of my financial reach as a broke teen off of the radio. I’m pretty sure I have a memorex tape that still has Darrell Banks “Open the Door To Your Heart” somewhere at my dad’s house 20 years later.

It was one of those July evenings over summer after my freshman year of high school and my dad and me were driving back from Redwood City on El Camino. I remember it was a full moon, and this was the last summer I’d have to suffer in the same a/c-less, vinyl interior’d Cutlass I’d had grown up in…

That Cutlass also had a Delco radio that had AM Stereo. So it was a weird combination of Left and Right Channels and AM Radio warmth pop and hiss… when that vaguely lifted from “Hello, Young Lovers” intro hit.

My hand instantly went for the volume dial and turned it all the way up.. full strings, late 1950s stroll Piano, handclaps, … geographically a record that sounds like, if it was born in South Bend, Indiana… enough Motown, Chicago Soul and Country Pop elements to denote it as “Midwestern Soul” if there was such a thing.

I can still listen to this song some 2 decades later and go Ooh that’s my (one on 1,105) Jams!!!!”

It’s also a warning to me at 32 years old not to be as uptight about love and affection… no one can win your heart when it’s “tucked up on a shelf”

Hope you enjoy it as much as I do….

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