Monthly Archives: May 2010

Listening for the Summer: An early summer Playlist

So it’s that day, the unofficial start of summer here in the United States and it’s time to compile a list of tunes that will launch us headlong into the Month of June.

Open your ears.

1) “Downtown” Petula Clark (1964)

Ironically this song came on as I was starting to type this post. And given that it was a winter 1965 international hit, Something about the extended daylight hours of carefree activity makes this a more summery song to me. Summer is a time of “forgetting all your troubles and cares” (like having to plow snow or do taxes). So let’s all head downtown and dance.

2) “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” The Mad Lads (1969)

On the other hand, Summer is a season of travel, break ups and starting fresh on many stretches of life. High School and College Graduates leave their campuses and off into new lives. And into remarkably untested waters of expanded complexities of life. I think this Mad Lads version of the Jimmy Webb standard is better than Glen Campbell’s original hit. Thinking about how other people’s lives go on as you go on into a new path of life.

3) “Just Like In The Movies” Jackie DeShannon (1962)

And what is the summer without endless hours spent watching summer blockbusters and eating more buttered popcorn that one should dare. And what is summer without a bittersweet Romantic Dramedy? Well instead of wasting $11 ($15 for iMax) Basically skip anything with Katherine Heigl in it and listen to this Jackie DeShannon number, one of her first singles for Liberty in 1962.

4) “Never Forget You” The Noisettes (2009)

For the more Adult in theme of graduation and reunion, to all classes of 2010 I think this song is most appropriate. Or maybe I shouldn’t be pouring 17 year olds shots of Rum or Whiskey. I can’t help it, I’m almost 28 and have no kids. Sometimes I forget you don’t encourage alcoholism in the youth. Anyways. Gotta love the fact that this 1960s Girl Group resurgence that’s so big in England hasn’t died in 3 years yet. It leaves room for a lot of artists to breathe life into a fascinating genre.

5) “Only When I’m Dreaming” Minnie Riperton (1969)

Summer is that “Dream A Little Dream” season, so we need a sweet lilting ballad to caress our ears (or 50) to cast dream like states in twilight hours between now and Memorial Day, and this track from Minnie Riperton’s first Solo LP casts and enchanting spell. She said she wanted Bacharach/Warwick settings on steroids, and she got her magnificent dream.

6) “The Boy From Crosstown” The Velvelettes (1965)

One of the greatest non hits at Motown, done by The Velvelettes and The Marvelettes in two different versions then redone by Gladys Knight & The Pips is one of those songs that just sounds appropriate at summer BBQs and goes so well with Potato Salad, playing cards and communing under the Sun.

7) The Vogues “Magic Town” (1966)

Going back to the theme of launching into the great unknown that’s the signature in American Culture in early June, and given the current state of the national economy this song has a haunting resonance. In the last 30 years we expected certain things if we followed certain rules in society we’d make our way in the world. And a lot of times we ended up feeling empty, desolate and disenfranchised. Weird that this song, expansive and introspective all at once was from a similar turbulent era in America history.

8) “I Can’t Believe What You Say” Tina Turner (1965)

Along with the themes of the previous song, it seems this summer we can’t believe anything that anyone says, from our President, to political challengers to “the establishment” to corporate execs, to our own lives. Part of me thinks whenever we’re smelling bullshit this summer we need to sing this song in protest.

9) “A Brand New World” Freddie Scott (1963)

Ok enough gloom, doom and cynicism (for at least one song). Because scratch the surface of any cynic you’ll find a disillusioned romantic. And like Freddie Scott’s breakout hit “Hey Girl” he eventually got over his cynicism in song to get onto recording a cover of “I’ve Got A Woman”, but this splendid B-side is where the real faith in turning into peace and happiness lies.

10) “I’m Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend” The Teardrops (1965)

And worse comes to worse you can just start hunting around amongst your friends to see who is treating their loves poorly, get all balls to wall with it and steal away those poor neglected fools, and still maintain your moral high ground. You have my blessing.

11) “I’m The One Who Loves You” The Impressions (1963)

Or if that neglected person happens to be like, your best friend: What the hell are you waiting on. You better Jump!

12) “I’m Gonna Get You Yet” The Dixie Cups (1965)

Umm, I might have a theme running here. Oops.

13) “Function at the Junction” Shorty Long (1965)

Well, if it isn’t the season for reunions also, So appropriate is the clarion call for all “functions.” But who in the hell still serves Egg Fu Yung with BBQ? That sounds absolutely gross.

14) “Dear Uncle Sam” The Charmels (1966)

On this Memorial Day we think of people overseas, and how much we miss them. And wonder when they’ll actually make it back home. So here’s one of those Soldier Songs that pays appropriate tribute.

15) “Up The Ladder to the Roof” The Supremes (1970)

To Close out the playlist as we began, another song from winter that sounds so much better and a more appropriate activity during summer. You see the infinite starts opening up above you under clear warm skies. Here’s hoping everyone has a great Summer 2010.


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So you know Mary Wells had a career after Motown…

And she actually made it to the Pop top 40, and the R&B top 10 before fading into a decade and a half of relative “whatever happened to..”


In fact after Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells probably had the most success in her post Motown years than anyone from the golden age of the Label. And she slipped through as many genres as anyone, trying to keep relevant with the times.


When she was lured away from Motown by 20th Century Fox, she was offered a record $200,000 advance and “promises” of a film career, unheard of offers to a Black recording artist in 1964. What Fox thought, was what MGM thought with Kim Weston, what ABC-Paramount thought with Florence Ballard, and to a lesser extent, what MCA thought they’d get with Martha Reeves: You got Motown by signing the person.


While every one of these women were talented and charming, a one woman Motown Machine they weren’t. Ironically all of the women, minus Ballard, had a hand in writing some of their material, but were actively discouraged from doing so by Motown, nor did they have much to say in the production of their records (The Motown Machine, unlike the liberal Brill Building, was a remarkable old boys club, not many women songwriters, nor producers, or musicians). Add in the presentation polishing by Maxine Powell and Cholly Atkins, every one of these women were polished by a good 20 people by the time they hit the road or your TV Screen.

So without that ridiculous attention to detail, the surefire Motown success eluded most of them.

Mary Wells started with a stomping Motown-ish sounding single “Ain’t it The Truth.”

It peaked at a modestly successful #45 pop in September 1964, for a number of reasons. 1) Being that the flipside “Stop Taking Me For Granted” itself started to chart, peaking at #88 pop.

2) Mary Wells continued to perform at request to her audiences her Motown Material, which to most ears was only 4-6 months old and 3) there was rumors of Berry Gordy paying money to DJs to make sure her new material wouldn’t be played and the Machine that was The Supremes would be surely played.

So against those factors, and Fox assuming that the Wells magic would automatically hit without financial investment were completely wrong, ironically as Wells became a more mature, assured and comfortable vocalist, smoothing out any cracks that were in her 1962 record persona (although part of that 19 year old WomanChild Charm was part of her appeal).

Next up in January 1965 was “Use Your Head.” Produced ironically by a group a Chicagoans responsible for Jackie Ross aping Wells style for “Selfish One” it proved Mary’s last time in the Pop Top 40, peaking at #34.

One of the problems still hurting Mary was the fact that she was still singing her Motown Material. On this appearance of Shindig after she performed “Use Your Head” (an excellent uptempo piece that comes off far better live than on the record), she performed “My Guy” to close the show, which was nearly a year old by this point. It showed lack of faith in her new material, by TV producers, by her managers, by Wells herself, and perhaps even 20th Century.

The issues started to pile in with her next single, and a lot of her album tracks. “Never Never Leave Me” was intended as filler for Dionne Warwick’s Here I Am LP.

In 1964, Mary Wells was the premiere Female Soul Singer in the Country, but in 1965 she was fighting for Dionne Warwick album filler like scraps off the kitchen Table. It showed in the #15 R&B Pop#54 listing. And it was worse in the case of some of her album tracks: Patti Austin’s version of “He’s Good Enough For Me” was killer compared to Mary’s singsongy version. And the Sapphires covered “Why Don’t You Let Yourself Go.” None of her Material was specifically written or produced with her talents in mind.


So two more singles whimpered out of 20th Century: “Me Without You” (Ppo#95) and “He’s A Lover” (Pop#74) Which was a cover of a Tutti Hill non-hit.

Mary Wells, ran for her life to Atlantic Records, and ended up trying again with the Chicago sound with “Dear Lover” and, sorta fantastic results happened: R&B#6 (her first top 10 hit anywhere in 18 months), but Pop#51, hurt by the Motown style stomper “Can’t You See (You’re Losing Me) that took off so strong in Detroit and Philly that it charted in it’s own right, peaking at #94 pop

This was followed by “Me and My Baby” which sounded just like a splendid rewrite of her 1963 hit “What’s Easy For Two Is Hard For One” and “Such A Sweet Thing” that peaked at #99pop. All efforts that were more cohesive than her Fox outings (One of the last ditch efforts of fox was the LP Mary Wells Sings Love Songs To The Beatles, Jesus). but it was imitation of sounds already present, and Atlantic wasn’t really known for nurturing female artists at this point: Barbara Lewis had an uneven career there, and Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles, signed just months before Wells, spent a frustrating 4 years there.


Only Aretha really got the support Wells had been used to 2 years earlier at Motown, so halfway through 1967, sensing it was halfway over, she paired up with new Husband Cecil Womack, headed to Jubilee Records, and broke out her writers pen to compose what would be her last “hit” record.

The sexy, sly “The Doctor” was exactly what Wells needed to be doing: With hinting lyrics reminiscent of Dinah Washington’s more risque material, it pointed in a more adult, mature way she could push herself, and write and produce for herself. Too Bad it was at the cash strapped Jubilee Records. The only reason “Doctor” did so well was based on Wells and Womack’s connection with DJs throughout the US, not Jubilee’s sales department, which, by 1968 was totally non-existant.


So a respectable R&B#22, Pop#65 was the last time Wells made the Hot 100, and save for 1969’s “Dig The Way I Feel”, she wouldn’t chart anywhere with much significance until 1982 with Gigolo:

Gigolo was Real big on the Club scene, especially in Gay clubs, and made a big showing, peaking at #13 on the Club/Dance Play charts, but made for a middling #69 R&B showing, and no Pop showing. So Wells gave up on recording “new” material, and joined the Nostalgia bandwagon, and performed almost exclusively her Motown Material til she stopped performing in 1990 because of Cancer.

So Yes my darling readers, through ups and downs, The First Lady Of Motown made memorable music beyond that. Here’s hoping that you give it more of a chance that the initial listeners.


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Soldier Women of Song: The Shirelles

The oddest thing about The Shirelles, despite their groundbreaking foray into the Pop Music landscape as the Fabulous Fifties became the Camelot era 1960s is, in residual… there’s not much left to visually grab a hold of their accomplishments.


Not too many publicity stills if you Google for their images, nor too many clips of them performing on Television mystically saved from oblivion and posted on Youtube.

But they distilled the haunted need for recognition of The Chantels, The exuberance of youthful life of The Bobettes and the smoothness of The Original Cookies, the founders of the modern R&B Girl Group phenom that would overwhelm pop music for a brief brilliant moment between 1962 and Mid 1964.

They formed in Passaic, New Jersey in 1958 as The Poquellos. They were Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie “Micki” Harris , and Beverly Lee. They sang their original composition, the delightful round robin styled “I Met Him On A Sunday” at their High School talent show, and friend recommended them to record label owner/bored Jewish Housewife Florence Greenberg, that ran Tiara Records. She quickly recorded and licensed the song to Decca Records, where without much help, peaked at #49 pop by the summer of 1958.

When following singles (Including “Dedicated To The One I Love”) failed to match or exceed expectations, the licensing agreement with Decca was dropped, and Florence Greenberg started Scepter records and enlisted Luther Dixon, who took a cue from Leiber & Stoller, surrounded The Shirelles in strings and a Baion Beat and took them instantly into the Top 40 with the suggestive “Tonight’s The Night”

The storyline continued, posing a question quite radical, but foreshadowing the sexual revolution underway during 1960 (The same year the birth control pill hit the market) with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”: A poignant question from the female perspective of, if I have premarital sex… is it just sex? Must have been a very resounding question for heterosexual women (and probably a lot of gay men) because the song shot to #1 as President Kennedy took office and peaked at #3 in the UK in early 1961.

The flush of success was continued with a re-release of “Dedicated to The One I Love” which shot to #3

And shortly thereafter “Mama Said” climbed to #4

(I’ve always loved this short film that embodies the tumultuous era The Shirelles music was a soundtrack and a reflection of. It’s not the actual Shirelles but gets the point across so lovely).


Then the influence started kicking off. Girl Groups like The Marvelettes followed in their footsteps and onto the charts and onto the road, And other girl groups moved from rec rooms and school glee clubs to their local record labels believing as Ronnie Spector said: “If The Shirelles could, we could too

And as The Shirelles charted 4 more songs before 1961 was over (“Big John” went #21pop, “A Thing of The Past” fought with “What A Sweet Thing That Was” for topside status and “Baby, It’s You” Started it’s trek into the top 10), Why not think “why not us”


And definitely the influence was staggering, The Cookies became the pet darling of Goffin & King, the songwriting duo that produced The Shirelles big breakthrough, and the number of idolizers/competitors grew tenfold in 1962. But The Shirelles still managed to score their biggest hit “Soldier Boy”, “Stop The Music” and a cover of Doris Day’s “Everybody Loves a Lover” before the year was out.

But by 1963, the vanguard of Girl Group records had moved away from the string saturated paeans to romance to rougher, rawer expressions of female desire. The School of thought championed by Gladys Horton (The Marvelettes) Darlene Love and LaLa Brooks (The Crystals) Martha Reeves (and The Vandellas) and Peggy Santiglia (The Angels) got in your face, and proclaimed their feelings directly.

The prim and proper routine of The Shirelles started to fail in a one-two punch. 1) Luther Dixon left as A&R director of Scepter records and started his own production company and 2) The overtly moral “Foolish Little Girl” would be the last time The Shirelles would go Top 5

By mid 1963, they were recording the soundtrack to It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad (I forget how many Mads) World and singles started to become an afterthought as Florence Greenberg switched attention and promotion funds to a former substitute Shirelle named Dionne Warwick.

“Don’t Say Goodnight and Mean Goodbye” was their last time in the Top 40, peaking at #26, and a succession of singles (including the highly appropriate “What Does A Girl Do?”) struggled to make it out of the middle of the charts.


Insult to injury, the trust that was set up by Greenberg proved to be empty by the time all of the singers turned 21 in early 1964, and the lawsuits flew… giving Scepter records little incentive to promote even worthwhile new material,

like “Sha-La-La” that made it to #69pop before a Manfred Mann cover version outcharted it. The lawsuit dragged on til.. I dunno, yesterday? Actually into the middle of 1965. But by that point so much had changed since 1960: The Supremes, Shangri-Las, The Toys and to a lesser extent Martha & The Vandellas were the vanguard in Girl Groups, but more popular was the female soloist, more marketable, more malleable, less likely to get married and/or pregnant.

So a lot of cast offs were given to the Shirelles that sounded like facsimiles of hit records of the day, like “You Could Be My Remedy”

Until they wished on a Miracle. Literally. Their last charted single was called “Last Minute Miracle”… sadly it peaked at a lowly #99pop in 1967

They finally left Scepter records midway through 1968, and did a lot of Northern Soul inspired items through the early 1970s, with Shirley finally going solo around 1975, only for the group to reform to tour the oldies circuit in the early 1980s.


Micki Harris sadly died of a heart attack in 1982 after leaving the stage with a smile on her face, and secondary lead singer Doris Jackson died in 2000 from breast cancer.

Today Beverly Lee (the sweet coy Soprano) and Shirley (now) Reeves tour as two separate entities, Beverly as the “official” Shirelles and Shirley solo.


Catch them if you can, to witness a 6 decade old legacy of popular music, and true legends still going strong.

There’s never too much of a good thing like The Shirelles.


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Symphonic Soul: The Royalettes

The definitions of Soul Music can be extremely amorphous. It basically comes down to the definition that if you feel connected beyond the words of the music you’re listening to, it’s Soul.

So by that definition I can find Soul in Judy Garland, Patsy Cline and Edith Piaf. And of course I can find it in the density of the full orchestral sound that became the calling card of The Royalettes.


Formed in Baltimore in 1961, They were sisters Sheila And Anita Ross and Cousins Terry Jones and Veronica Brown. They got their big break through with their perfectly harmonized cover of The Chantels “He’s Gone”, performing it to win the amateur contest presented on Baltimore’s The Buddy Deane Show (Which, if you know your movie/Broadway history, is the show the Corny Collins Show was based on in the Hairspray movie/musical).

Their win lead them to a contract with Chancellor records, with “No Big Thing” coming and going, and “Blue Summer” bubbling under at #122pop during 1963

“Blue Summer” set an artistic template that they would find their most success with: Sheila’s willowy but intermittently powerful Soprano lead over lush backgrounds, with the accelerator pedal to the floorboard into Uptown Soul arrangements, lush strings, timpani, muted horns.

eventually this Bacharach on Steroids approach would bring a hit.

But not after a cover of The Velvelettes “There He Goes” (and a label switch to Warner Brothers), A formal cover of “He’s Gone” (and a contract with MGM records and a production deal with Teddy Randazzo) and a version of “Watch What Happens” went by virtually unnoticed.

Randazzo was the producer behind the resurgence of Little Anthony & The Imperials, the man who blessed us with that 1960s chestnut of crazy “Going Out Of My Head” and the last great baron of the Uptown soul style.

By 1965 Burt Bacharach was moving Dionne Warwick towards MOR, Maxine Brown was trying to recast herself as Kim Weston Meets The Supremes, and Dusty Springfield was tinkering with Italian Ballads. The Imperials resurgence with 3 top 20 baroque tributes to this unrespected form of Soul Music (along with brief flares from a Post Motown Mary Wells and Jackie Ross) proved their was still room in America’s ears for sweet strings and soulful longing

and 3rd time was a charm… sort of…

In June 1965, “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” was released… And it took off.. In New York, Philadelphia, And Detroit. All major East Coast Markets it rapidly appeared in the Top 10 listings…

the royalettes Pictures, Images and Photos

But on the west coast, in the midst of the first stirrings of psychedelia and Folk didn’t catch on, and nationally their big break peaked at #28 R&B, Pop #41.

But being the decent big break it was, it opened the door for their first full length LP, Appearances like the clip above on National TV and offers to Tour all over the US and in England. The sweet soul ballad “I Want to Meet Him” (R&b#26, Pop#72) and the split single “You Bring Me Down” and “Only When Your Lonely” were culled from the LP and fought for airplay on the charts.

Undaunted by their lack of chart action, Randazzo pulled out all of the stops for their next LP, using a 21 piece orchestra for the masterpiece of Uptown Soul (and the blueprint for early 70s Philly Soul) The Elegant Sounds of The Royalettes


Even The Supremes were not set in such rich, lush, complex and frankly all out artistically gratifying surroundings. To me one of the best Soul LPs ever to be released (combination of great songs, great singing, and excellent muscianship) It was possibly the only LP released by a female act up to that point outside of Jazz done as a complete piece. And it shows. Even in the diversity of material, there’s a common thread of lushness and unity.

Despite the fact that there was 3 singles pulled, none of them charted. From the “Miracle” doppelganger hope “It’s Better Not to Know”

To the man stealing “I Don’t Want to be the One”

To the Vandellas Via Symphony “When Summer’s Gone”

The LP and the songs faded from memory, and Uptown Soul basically died a silent and uncelebrated death at the same time… except MGM tried one more time, with a new producer, Righteous Brother Bill Medley, having successfully copied Phil Spector’s style and gone #1 came up with a Randazzo meets Spector Cinderella Waltz with enough charm, “He Is (My Man)”

Again… not noticed… and released from their contract, The Royalettes tried once more with Roulette records. But their cover of Barbara Banks “River of Tears” seemed rushed and forced… and after 6 years, marriage, family, and normalcy did what it did to almost every Girl Group of the 1960s. They Broke up.

Sheila became a Playboy Bunny, Anita, Terry, and Veronica just went on to normal suburban lives.

But their legacy of rich lush work was influential almost immediately on the works of Laura Nyro (her tribute album to soul music was even titled Gonna Take a Miracle and it’s a oft covered song) Minnie Ripperton and Deniece Williams, along with songwriter Linda Creed and Gamble & Huff, who crafted lush music through the 70s based on the Randazzo/Royalette Principle.


Whenever in doubt, make it smooth

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Black Folks Essentials: 10 songs every Black person grew up on in the Postwar era (Part 1)

This post came out of this conversation:

Me:every black family, when they get married …need to get the society classics…on a CD
Miss Fina: gotta have a mix tape of them, though. Only on tape
Me: I might have to make a mix/playlist….OH YES
the memorex 90 minute!
Miss Fina: long as u remember
me: starting with Bill Withers Grandma’s Hands!

bill withers grandma%2527s hands Pictures, Images and Photos


1) Bill Withers “Grandma’s Hands” (1971)

For almost every African American experience, the bedrock of one’s existance is due to Big Mama, the maternal loving influence that was the glue, seemingly to every existance.

2) Gladys Knight & The Pips “On & On” (1974)

With the daily suffering and strife, there’ll always be another day, wash, rinse and repeat, and something that will always be the bedrock, sticking like glue, just loving you.

3) “Hit The Road Jack” Ray Charles (featuring Margie Hendrix) (1961)

But sometimes the demands aren’t enough, especially when you ain’t payin them bills and holding up your end of the bargain, sometimes you gotta hit the road, and not come back no ‘mo…

4) “Only The Strong Survive” Jerry Butler (1969)

One (of many cases) when I think the title says it all. And also the importance of parental advice of how to negotiate adult life.

5) “Mama Said” The Shirelles (1961)

The first in many “Young girl will find true love someday” songs that assures the listeners that the virtues of traditional romance, though skipping over them, will actually find them someday

6) Aretha Franklin “Respect” (1967)

I personally have always prefered Otis Redding’s quite sexist original, but when it comes to leveling the gender wars in Black Culture, nothing shoots between the eyes like ReRe’s powerhouse #1 Cover

7) “My Girl” The Temptations (1964)

Much as I think this song should just roll over and die… yeah…

8) “Ooh Child” The 5 Stair Steps (1971)
Because we always need a little bit of encouraging

9) “Don’t Mess With Bill” The Marvelettes (1965)

Essentially the original “take your hands of my man you skank ho” classic. Well not “the” original, but the most sassy and biggest hit to that point that made the point, or remains the province of electric sliding to at every 4th of July BBQ

10) “You’re Still a Young Man” Tower of Power (1972)
Their first hit, and a lesson on growing up from boyhood to manhood.

Not that I necessarily like all of these songs. Many of them slip into camp and cliche in my book. But, to understand the soul song, the soul performance as culture and moral, you have to at least respect these (and countless other songs) impact on a segment of society


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