Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Other White Negress: Miss Chris

So, in the birthday roll call tribute of Aquarian women, next up is shadow legend… that other White Negress, Chris Clark.

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Primarily known for her freakbeat Holland Dozier Holland classic “Love’s Gone Bad” she wasn’t the first white woman signed to Motown (honors there go to Debbie Dean) nor the first to reach the national charts (honors there… again, go to Dean), but she is the best known and most highly regarded before the signing of Teena Marie 13 years later.

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Born in Santa Cruz February 1st 1946, and making a name for herself playing army bases somehow ended up in Detroit by late 1964, impressing Berry Gordy (knowingly) performing “All I Could Do Was Cry” (for those that don’t know was 1) Etta James first Top 40 Pop hit, and biggest R&B hit since “The Wallflower” and 2) Co-written by Gordy, one of the last Chicago hits he’d pin before Motown took off).

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She debuted with the gritty “Do, Right Baby (Do Right)” a precursor to the greasy Muscle Shoals sounds that Aretha would bring to the charts in 18 months (and remarkably swamp dog blues for Motown in 1965, and the all white vocal cast on the record, as it also features The Lewis Sisters.. i.e:”The Singing School Teachers” on background).

Next came her classic “Love’s Gone Bad” That shot onto R&B stations playlists… then she was sent out to promote the record, and….promptly OHMIGODSHE’SAWHITECHICK damaged her chances in newly polarized radio playlists (mind you major R&B stations only 2 years before accepted and promotedsingles by Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, Peggy March, The Angels et al).

Undaunted, Motown released her first LP, the remarkably well done Soul Sounds(1967) That, from my perspective was perhaps the second best Female act LP release on Motown that year (only behind the splendid Everybody Needs Love from Gladys and the Pips), some of the best of the dying breed of Holland Dozier Holland Classics (“Until You Love Someone”) with “new” Motown sounding late 1960s numbers like “I Wanna Go Back There Again” and “Day by Day Or Never” make it a remarkably unified effort, showing Motown at the transition of the HDH slowdown, and new and veteran writers showing that there was life after “Classic Motown” (notably “I Want To Go Back There Again” was re-released with a few guitar and extra drumming overlays, but otherwise untouched, by Thelma Houston 6 years later).

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All for nothing really, The LP became one of those “39 cents in a bin at Woolworth” sleeper LPs and got lost to history…

….then came the CC Rides Again the only LP released on Motown’s subsidiary label Weed. All I can say about it is well, it was marketed with this line: This release featured the tongue-in-cheek tagline, “Your Favorite Artists Are On Weed.”

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It primarily features weird covers of late 60s songs, with the original “Can I see You In the Morning” possibly being the only redeeming song.

So, then, the music was over for Chris, so she co-wrote the screenplay for Lady Sings the Blues (receiving an Oscar Nomination along the way) and faded into relative obscurity til, you guessed it, those whacky brits and their love of Northern Soul All Nighters started dusting off her best work and spinning it like crazy, peaking with the release in that line of Motown’s forgotten, those lovely mid decade anthologies, of her, Barbara McNair, Brenda Holloway, Kim Weston and Jimmy Ruffin.

My absolute favorite from that collection is the delightful distaff Dionne Warwick “Are You There/You’ll Never Get To Heaven” spawn “I Just Can’t Forget Him” that highlights the intentions of Motown: To Have their own Dusty Springfield (although vocally Clark hems *far* closer to Supreme Mary Wilson).

So here’s a marvelous happy birthday to one of the most significant, if unheralded of Motown women… on her 64th Birthday.

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Happy Birthday “other” white negress.

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The Sweetest Peaches

So Today is the Birthday of Etta James, Anita Baker and Ellen DeGeneres. Weird combination of Celebrity Birthdays I’d say.

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I don’t think I’ve extensively covered Etta James, as oddly she is one of the few Female R&B singers of the Rock era that deservedly gets all the credit and recognition that she deserves. In the mighty triumvirate of Teen to Twentysomething R&B ingenues from the 1950s that bridged the Gap between Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn and Big Momma Thorton to Mary Wells, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and countless Girl Groups she stands far above her peers Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker..

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albeit those two actually sold more records and had bigger crossover hits at the time and their careers were dead as soon as the 1960s arrived.

The basis of Etta’s cultural iconography seems to be limited to “At Last” and then maybe “Tell Mama” and “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” but as a woman that recorded and was a den mother of modern soul music (without the influence of her Uptown Soul leaning At Last LP there’d be no template for people to springboard from during the early/mid 1960s) And her initial R&B hit “Roll with my Henry” (w/The Peaches) is implicit in introducing “Call & Response” vocals to pop music.

Her classic Chess years, though I lean towards the block of hits starting with “Somethings Got a Hold On Me” in 1962 to “Security/I’d Rather Go Blind” in 1968 as her classic period as essential listening. My favorites include the cheesy cha-cha classics “Pushover” (surprisingly, at it’s #25 Pop peak, her second biggest Pop hit ever) it’s follow-up “Payback” and the ode to the cool dudes “Mellow Fellas” (1964).

So, on her 72nd birthday, I’d 1) advise you to find a copy of her hilarious “auto” biography Rage to Survive Including many passages of her early affinity with her gay fan base (and thanking them for her classy/trashy stage persona of Endora Eye Make-up, Platinum blonde bouffants and skin hugging gowns that were only rivaled by The Ronettes Spanish Harlem Prostitute tributes), and some hilarious insights into the horrors of drug abuse… and the thrills of robbing banks and Stealing Cadillacs…

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Um, and as you do, at least dive head into her well documented chess recording career Starting with “All I Could Do Was Cry” in 1960..

Whatever you do… Don’t watch Cadillac Records

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Beyonce…as Etta James…. Child Please….

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Umm, Hit Single, jingle or Commercial

So in a conversation I had earlier this week, I said that I hated jingles, and then said I prefered TV Theme songs. I think I said something along the lines of:

see, Tv Theme songs are in another strata…the Perfect Strangers theme song! that’s possibly the best 80s power rock ballad about overcoming adversity cut down to 75 seconds ever!

And… here.. tell me that this, with about 2 more minutes, couldn’t have been a hit for Tears for Fears or Something…

But like all good debate points that get me in trouble… something happens that changes my stance (yeah… Gemini curse)… So a friend tweeted about something relative to the awesome healing powers of a Coke and French Fries….

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Being the 1960s Pop Culture junkie I digged up The Supremes Coke Commericials from 1965…. but ran across a more original batch from 1966.

Starting with this one:

Which coulda totally with no obvious reference to coke and 90 more seconds, coulda been the follow up to “You Can’t Hurry Love”

and then this one:

This mournful ditty even disguises it’s Coca Cola references well enough… til that damned tagline, to be an excellent follow up to “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone”

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which makes me wonder why Holland Dozier Holland (most likely) wasted such pretty melodies on softdrink jingles that didn’t bring them much in the way of royalties.

Fairing a bit worse is Martha & The Vandellas Pepsi spots, sounding more like distaff Jay & The Americans records…. maybe it was the influence of Joan Crawford…. or something

(DON’T FUCK WITH ME FELLAS)

and back in the groove with a Fontella Bass “Rescue Me” Coke Commerical

and then Marvin and Tammi making coke rather… umm… sensual…

It make me either wish one of two things. All of these diversions into making good jingles was used to make more music at the time…

…or jingles just suck these days, because, well, they aren’t consumerist anthem redheaded step children of hit singles anymore…

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Making the case for Rodgers & Hart Supremes Style

So, one of the most underrated, ignored part of The Supremes legacy is that, as an R&B act positioned to conquer the great white middle class (and deprive them of their income one LP at a time) they recorded some fantastic renditions of “tradtional” pop…

By 1965 each hit single was bookended with a standard. For every perfomance of “I Hear a Symphony” came “Somewhere” from West Side Story or “You’re Nobody til Somebody Loves You”

Had to win over the Republicans somehow….

The peak of the pandering came with their Rodgers and Hart LP recorded in late 1966 and released in conjunction with an ABC Special featuring them, Bobby Darin, Petula Clark, The Mamas and the Papas and Count Basie.

Originally to be a 2LP Gatefold, it was cut down out of doubt into a single disc… with the songs of the great tin pan alley duo molded into beats to sound within grasp of people sending The Supremes Sing Holland Dozier Holland into the Top 10 LPs during the spring of 1967.

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All for the worse, because all of the songs done in a traditional jazz/big band feel are the stellar tracks, and a splendid return to the beautiful harmonies that were the heart of the group. Indeed their renditions of “Blue Moon” “Thou Swell” and “There’s a Small Hotel” are some of the best harmonizing between Diana and Florence (and pointed to a sad loss that the group legacy was about to suffer in a few short months with Ballards departure), while “Spring is Here” and “Little Girl Blue” display the hickory smokiness of Mary Wilson that repeatedly gets lost in Supremes lore.

It’s incredibly sad and poignant to think of this LP, the last full one done in The Supremes classic period. Mainly in the fact that it proved that deep down, between all the hard work, crushed dreams and favoritism that was about to pull the most successful female act apart within half a year, there was 3 women who, above all else, just wanted to sing, sing their hearts out, make themselves happy (and those they touched by default) by their innate vocal talents.

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To think later Standards LPs by The Supremes (Notably Diana Ross and The Supremes sing Funny Girl), like a majority as their Pop/R&B Material was overdubbed by in-house background singers The Andantes (and as wonderous they are, when they started backing every Girl Group release at the label, it lead to a blandness not only to The Supremes recordings, but The Vandellas and Marvelettes as well) make these recordings a poignant moment of never will be again.

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New Years Playlist

Ok it’s been awhile and, well, I’m digging out from the destruction of my iPod death, so it’s been relatively hard to think of the songs that have been on my mind for this, the first month of a new decade…

…but nonetheless.

1) “When a Boy Falls In Love”
Mel Carter (1963)

So it’s the beginning of a new year, and who, if you’re alone, doesn’t want to think of falling in love in the soft lilting way? The arrangement seems slightly to the left of The Miracles “I’ll Try Something New”, slightly more anchored with sandblocks and more early Spector-esque drumming. The paint by numbers analysis of falling for a new person. Sweet and charming, and often forgotten.

2) “In The Middle of a Heartache”
Ruby Winters (1966)

January can also be the most lonely and desolate of months, and Ruby Winters, appropriately gives a stark, pained vocal to match lyrics that match the sensation of how long winter nights can be, all to a stark Anti-Phil Spector arrangment: same stop and start tempo that was familiar to the giants last big hits by the Righteous Brothers, all agonizing slow verses and wailed, slightly uptempo choruses, but nothing but a guitar and a drum, some backgrounds, muted horns and reeeally distant strings

3) “Until You Love Someone”
Chris Clark (1966)

I personally think this song should be submitted as testimony in the Prop 8 hearings. The arguments for Gay Marriage could be summed up by this: the access to full love and happiness shouldn’t be denied anyone, if they want it. The reason I give the Chris Clark version a nod over The Four Tops version is because, well, like Kim Weston’s “Helpless” her version sounds “finished” and it’s one of those many times Chris works the smoky uneven quality against the silkiness of a string laden Motown song. Plus for an album track, the backing track is given a full on “Supremes #1 a-side” polish.

4) “My Heart”
Tammi Terrell (1966)

In another “the original seems unfinished” comparison shop, Tammi Terrell’s cover of Carolyn Crawford’s last Motown single works better. Not that anything about Carolyn’s original is “bad”, but there’s is the innate charm that Tammi Terrell graces with each song she recorded, and who would ever leave someone that pleas and yearns as well as Tammi Terrell? And yes, I can get over the Mandolins on crack that begin and end the song.

5) “Chico’s Girl”
The Crystals (1962)

In the historic gold category this month we have the original intended follow up to The Crystals masterpiece “Uptown” in Chico’s girl. It got shelved for the Sado-masochistic “He Hit Me(and it Felt like a kiss)” and in the hilarity over the radio bans and disgruntled Crystals refusing to come out to LA The Blossoms recording of “He’s a Rebel” (stolen from liberty records and Vikki Carr) released as The Crystals, this poor song got lost until it was recorded by The Girls in 1966 (and went nowhere). It’s just as somber as all of The Crystals songs of the period, and the question is, would it have been a hit? Riddle me this…

6) “I Won’t Dance”
Blossom Dearie (1957)

In the new year, my big conquering collection jump is to really get more Blossom Dearie. I fell in love with her Live at Ronnie Scotts re-issue last year and think that she was literally the birth of tongue in cheek cool. The beauty of her girlish voice combined with sparkling wit and warmth are absolutely magical. My favorite so far after departing the ground I landed on with appreciation for her is this item from 1957.

7) “What a Day”
Barbara McNair (1966)

So it’s that season of new year resolutions and new beginnings. So how about awakening each morning appreciating how great every new day really is? And bouncing out of the door like a bulldozer with the zeal to live each day to the fullest. Barbara McNair has the razzmatazzy show tune for you. The impressive squawk she gives to the last “Cock-a-doodle What?” is one of those brilliantly beautiful and unintentionally hilarious moments, reminding you underneath the sophisticated lounge singer persona still lay a 30 year old Black woman ready to take on the world.

8) “I Don’t Wanna Hear it”
Betty Harris (1966)

This delightful Country Soul gem from Betty Harris can qualify as NY resolution record #2: Get rid of the dead weights (and cheating lying menfolk in your life) to get rid of stress and access freedom in life.

9) “Little Bell”
The Dixie Cups (1965)

The forgotten anti-“Chapel of Love” (peaking at #51 at the beginning of 1965) that out of societies over familiarity with that massive hit for this girl group from New Orleans I love to death. Plus the crossing of signals and misunderstandings makes it the perfect song for any Mercury Retrograde period (Mercury, in Capricorn, goes direct today btw).

10) “Insane Asylum”
Koko Taylor and Willie Dixon (1967)

For our last song this month, a reminder to not go crazy. Going crazy is some crazy shit. So… umm, don’t do it. You crazy bastard. It all works out in the end. It’ll all be alright… just keep cool… and chill…

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The New Decade and Little Girls Growing Up.

It’s been hard, finding motivation to write about “new” songs in this new year. As said in the post below this, my iPod decided to be the next Apple product of mine that decided to have a mid-life crisis and commit suicide…

So I haven’t had the ease of some random device, some set of programming to spool random songs for me to write about. I’ve had to rely on remembering and getting re-acquainted with songs that I know that make me feel “good” by listening to them.

And I define good in a rather abstract way. It’s not necessarily “feel good” it’s also those songs that make you tap into whatever emotional state and relating your emotional state to the melody and the lyrics that you are listening to. Whether those lyrics and melody are melancholy or filled with rage, knowing something to set or alter your mood always “wins”….

For some reason, at this point, this weird actually “happy” despite the uncertainty transition into a new decade I feel… I related this weird feeling, that as I waltz into my late 20s… my life is

“Little Girls Grow Up” by The Marvelettes (1965, unreleased until 2008).

Lyrics of trading blue jeans and childhood schemes for laces and marriage, and adulthood seems an appropriate subject, add in some delightfully awkward ascending chord changes and… you have a feel good song to make a nearly 28 year gay man feel not so bad about the relative competence of his current life.

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Something to stay optimistic about what may come tomorrow, each day unfolding before you with another surprise for better or worse, cause that’s just life.

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iPod Death, Collection Phoenix rising

So this morning my iPod, the consolidated source of over 6,600 songs I had collected on CDs, and through iTunes, LPs and 45 RPM records and.. well frankly a few MP3s found for *free* over the internet died this morning…

I tried pulling all the files, but the bittersweet attempt landed me with a list of 6,612 songs that over the last 4 years had filled my 30G Apple device (my first in more than 6 years) and filled my life with so much joy, a place of comfort, and less hunting through stacks of CDs and worrying about broken needles on record players..

And All I can say is that I’m glad at least I was able to recover the names (a 166 page long word document) of all the songs that I gathered…

…and wow… from Dusty Springfield… to James Brown, to Blossom Dearie… to Lily Allen and Back to “Granny Rapper” it held a lot of things… not everything “first class” or up to a music critic tastes, but plenty of splendid moments (and apparently a good months worth of continual play) was on a little portable harddrive that I’ll eventually replace…

…not before thanking my luck that I have a number of CDs 45s and LPs still in my possesion and considering backing everything up and possibly putting it in a bank vault before I trust technology again.

But… It’s Alright…
Yes it’s Alright…

I know I can find what I love… and I can keep going and growing the collection, as life goes on…

Now what you say…..

…oddly I had two consecutive dreams about my music collection.. One about how my next birthday party (get your suits gents, get your wigs and furs ladies… it’s gonna be a stylish night) and then my uncle Laurence (long story on how our names are the same) telling me how proud he was of my taste…

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Now what you say…… as he used to say…

I long forgot how he used to say that all the time… til I ran across Kim Weston’s “He’s Alright” this year (recorded live in 1963) nwhen she lets loose, in banter with the audience that

Now what you say….

and I know all will be ok…

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