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Burt Bacharach’s Summer Songs

A few weeks ago, in the midst of San Francisco’s June Gloom I made the joke that I should make a Burt Bacharach Playlist of Fog songs that included flugelhorns, but in reality, there’s a number of Burt Bacharach songs that make sense as relaxing summer classics, starting with

1) Gene Pitney
“True Love Never Runs Smooth” (1963)

This song was one of the first hit songs by Burt Bacharach to use a decidedly “European” instrumental feel, sounding more like a French/Italian ballad with overdubbed English lyrics.

2) Jackie DeShannon
“So Long Johnny” (1966)

This relaxed Saxophone laced song about long distance love is interesting that it for the majority of its length sounds like a languid lounge jazz song, except for it’s bombastic bridge. Lyrically it’s not all that different from The Shangri-La’s “The Train From Kansas City”

3) Dionne Warwick
“You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)” (1964)

It’s the season of summer weddings, and it’s appropriate to think that during this time quite a few lectures about what may have happened at bachelor/ette parties the night before the wedding go exactly like this Dionne Warwick summer hit. Terse, moral and barely understanding.

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4) Jerry Butler
“Make It Easy On Yourself” (1962)

And simply, what is summer without a major epic overblown break-up ballad, sounding large as the day is long is Jerry Butler’s version of this Burt Bacharach chestnut

5) Timi Yuro
“If I Never Get To Love You” (1963)

And then what is Summer without a unrequited crush or two, or the ambition to actually make a summer romance happen? Timi Yuro’s turbocharged version of this song (oddly the versions by Gene Pitney and Lou Johnson seem.. well… pussified) Sounds like a declaration of war against loneliness. God this woman was awesome.

6) and 7) Dusty Springfield
“I Just Dont Know What To Do With Myself”

& “Wishin’ & Hopin” (1964)

Basically the combination of the Jerry Butler and Timi Yuro numbers. The odd thing was that The former was released worldwide in the summer of 1964, while the later was a US only hit for Springfield in the Summer of 1964.

8) Lou Johnson
“Always Something There to Remind Me” (1964)

Again the airy breezy feeling (although more folk guitar influenced this time around) is set against angst ridden lyrics of haunting romance. We won’t enumerate how many different times this song was covered, and I’ll just say Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles cover was the best version.

9) The Drifters
“Mexican Divorce” (1962)

And what happens when you don’t follow the advice of “You’ll Never Get To Heaven?” You end up below the national border, across the Rio Grande, and you “leave your past behind.” For such a sad song lyrically, it makes divorce sound rather neat, tidy and a relief. Song factoid, on Backgrounds are the Gospelaires (future Sweet Inspirations) and the the more crystal high soprano background voice standing out is Dionne Warwick, as this is the recording session that Burt Bacharach took notice of her voice, and her face, and his future muse.

and 10) Chuck Jackson
“They Don’t Give Medals to Yesterdays Heros” (1966)

As summer comes to a close and we don’t want to move on to another season of life, here’s a good song to remind us to keep looking forward, and not concentrate on the past. There’s seasons for a reason and I totally didn’t intend to rhyme that. Seriously.

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Happy Birthday Grandma Playlist

Probably more than half the reason I’m such a soul music junkie is that my late Grandmother, between reruns of Bewitched would spin her seemingly endless record collection that started in her teen years in the late 50s, and ended in the 1970s.

Half the time I feel like I’m chasing down every single sonic memory from the point in my life. Or reliving the thrill she had each time some song touched her soul as she heard it on a transistor radio in an Apartment on the south side of Chicago in 1965.

1) Estelle Brown – Stick Close (1965)

With this discovery this week, it becomes apparent that just about all of the women that were Drinkard Sisters/Sweet Inspirations/Gospelaires at some point released solo singles. Here’s Estelle Brown’s effort, the lovely cha cha “Stick Close” and

2) Sylvia Shemwell – “He’ll Come Back To Me” (1963)

One of those lovely woman scorned numbers, well, one of thousands really. So if you were looking to have a hit record with it, well… yeah.

3) Deena Johnson “The Breaking Point” (1965)

I think so far this is my favorite discovery of just hunting around this early summer for new old stuff to listen to. Turns out that “Deena Johnson” is singer-songwriter Josephine Armistead, who first got her start on the Top 20 Ikettes hit “I’m Blue (The Gong Gong Song)” and was the 3rd writing partner in the Ashford and Simpson writing team before they went to Motown in late 1966.

4) Jerry Butler “Whatever You Want” (1963)

Jerry Butler did some of the best string spliced Chicago Early soul, and this B-side released in 1963 lets his voice flourish and shine like many of his splendid productions in that time period, but is a rare treat to the ears

5) Laura Nyro – Stoney End (1966)

It still surprises people that growing up a lot of white artists of the 1960s were a staple in my listening diet, especially someone as cult figure-ish as Laura Nyro. But one listen to both sides of her first single, especially “Stoney End” with it’s gospel/girl group roots very visible and not too far from “Mama Said” it can be seen how this was always a favorite growing up. And yes, I think Barbra Streisand’s version is souless and sucks

6) Jackie Wilson – “Haunted House” (1964)

It’s weird not to see a Teddy Randazzo production credit on the label of this Jackie Wilson single, because it bears every imprint of concurrent Little Anthony & The Imperials/Royalettes singles, basically putting an R&B act in the most ornate quasi operatic settings possible. Of course I like the audible drama. And Jackie Wilson was as close as it got to an Opera singer in R&B at the time.

7) The O’Jays “Break Down (and Let It All Out)” (1965)

More than a half decade before they broke through big time with “Back Stabbers” The O’Jays were cutting uptown soul masterpieces like this version of this Van McCoy number mostly associated with Nina Simone.

8) The Drew-Vels – Creepin’ (1964)

See, “creepin'” isn’t something that T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili Created! This 1964 non hit for Patty Drew and her sisters follow up to “Tell Him” introduced the idea of creeping on the downlow 30 years prior.

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9) The Supremes – “Too Much A Little Too Soon” (1965)

I remember one of the “new” releases my grandmother invested in during 1987 was Diana Ross and The Supremes: The Never Before Released Masters and this was one of the interesting songs recorded by the trio that was left in the vaults as they recorded and toured and rehearsed for 50 weeks a year at their peak.

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10) Florence Ballard – “Forever Faithful” (1968)

Along with today would have being my grandmother’s 67th birthday, it would have also been Florence Ballard, founding member of The Supremes 67th Birthday also. Here’s one of the last songs she recorded for ABC records, and amongst her best, the flipside to her last solo single “Love Ain’t Love”

11) “Little” Peggy March – “Fool, Fool, Fool” (1966)

Apparently Peggy March made some Awesome Soul records after her early peak with her version of “I’ll Follow Him” in 1963. Sadly they’re pretty much neglected efforts now, like her version of “Fool, Fool, Fool” from 1966.

12) The Springfields – Island of Dreams (1963)

The Springfields biggest UK hit before Dusty Springfield went solo in the Fall of 1963 showcases why, well, Dusty didn’t need her older brother, nor needed to shackle her voice to being the British equivalent to Peter, Paul and Mary. The wistful soul that shines through on Dusty’s solos point to deeper emotions than you can tap into in Folk music, but a delightful postcard to what was and to become.

13) Wendy Rene – Bar-b-q (1964)

It’s the week before 4th of July, and you are so un-American if this song doesn’t at least want you to eat some BBQ Tofu and Potato Salad. Fewer songs are so gleeful about food.

14) The Secrets – The Boy Next Door (1963)

One of they few copy cat songs in the “My Boyfriends Back” genre was this surprise hit for The Secrets in 1963. The record was such a massive hit that when The Secrets played on the same bill as The Supremes in early 1964, the higher charting “The Boy Next Door” made sure they received higher billing compared to The Supremes, whose “Lovelight” had peaked 5 positions lower than The Secrets big, and only, hit.

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15) The Cookies – Softly In The Night (1963)

And to round things out, a lovely b-side that was popular in Philadelphia for the oh so sweet Cookies that can be seen as the answer to the above Drew-Vels song. enjoy.

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The Dark Genius of Mitty Collier

Few voices that came in contact with an 8 track stereo recording machine in the 1960s lit fires that blazed as strong as the well deep vocal talents of one Mitty Collier.

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Far too bluesy and honest in delivery to really break through and have consistent success like her Chess records contemporaries (And I’m calling mighty fine Soul Singers like Etta James and Fontella Bass less bluesy in this case), her records have the dual blessing of being a direct link to raw Chicago blues and gospel, often put in Uptown soul surroundings that blessed many a Chess Record Recording.

Born June 21, 1941 (So Happy Birthday in a short 12 hours Reverend Collier) in Birmingham, she took the tradition route almost every female singer of the 1960s took to our ears, grew up in a gospel choir and at some point before hitting 21, was convinced to go secular. She won the weekly Talent show at the Regal Theatre in Chicago in 1959, which lead to a 6 week engagement as an open act for BB King and Etta James, where she was noticed by Chess record executives, and signed in 1961.

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She recorded brilliant combinations of straight up blues in String laced uptown settings from the starting with “Got To Get Away From It All” (She packs her pistol here) and continuing with “Miss Loneliness” which brings a rich depth to a typical lonely girl Girl Group Number. Success would finally appear as her answer song “I’m Your Part Time Love” propelled her into the R&B top 20 in 1963:

Today her B Side “My Babe” is considered the killer side

However her biggest, most classic hit was a reworking of the gospel standard “I Had a Talk With My God” as “I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night” in 1964. The beautiful ballad that makes bedside conversations with the one you love sound like the most spiritual thing you can do peaked at #3 R&B and #41 Pop in the fall of 1964.

It was followed by “No Faith, No Love” (R&B #29, Pop #91) and “Sharing You” (R&B# 10, Pop #97) in 1965 and 1966 respectively.

During this time, here blues uptown soul approach tended to be a hard sell in a crossover sense. The odd blend between her gut wrenching approach and the atypical presentation of Chess female soul singers (Think Motown with extra glossy strings or a little bit more syrup in the Rhythm section) seemed at cross purposes to the ears of consumers at the time (although it seems slightly brilliant now).

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Given that she was more of a straight up blues shouter in the Koko Taylor tradition, she might have benefitted from stripped down settings for success at the time however.

But my favorite Mitty Collier song will forever be “My Party”

No other song cuts the vein wide open on how devastating it was to see a significant other going off to fight a war that almost meant guaranteed death. The darkness of celebrating the gathering grief, and Mitty’s power just kill the song. Try not to be haunted by this song (whether live or the recorded single). No Surprises here, it wasn’t a hit in 1966.

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She closed out her Chess Career with a re-recording of her first single, and dropped out of singing in 1971 when she developed polyps on her vocal chords.

In the late 70s after years of medical procedures and rehabilitation she returned to the Gospel field, and became an ordained Minister in 1989, where she preaches and sings in a Chicago Church to this day, perhaps singing in Church this Sunday as I type this.

So, wherever you stand, let The Reverend preach to you. I’m sure your soul is the better for it.

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Motown Summer of ’65 #2: The Four Tops On Top!

For the next 4 or 5 posts I’m going to write about what is widely acknowledged as the peak of the Motown Sound: The Summer of 1965. By this point the label had formulated all of the stylistic elements that it would be classically defined by, and produced it’s most memorable material

45 years ago this week, Motown scored one of the most impossible torch passings in pop music. The Supremes fifth #1 hit, “Back In My Arms Again” passed the #1 pop torch to The Four Tops for their first #1 hit “I Can’t Help Myself” Both songs were also from the same pen and production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and both we’re on their way to becoming million selling singles and chesnut (albeit “Back In My Arms Again” tends to rest in the shadows of the 4 other #1s The Supremes had between August 1964 and June 1965).

And because of this torch passing, the pop criticism that The Motown Sound was indeed that, just a sound, began in earnest from “legit” music critics and from African Americans thinking that Motown had genuinely sold out by this point. Where I think weirdly you just need to take a listen to these songs back to back to tell the immediate difference.

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“Back In My Arms Again” is set to a strutting tempo versus “I Can’t Help Myself” having a vaguely uptempo swing tempo. Mike Terry doesn’t bless The Supremes number with one of his brilliantly ironic sax solos (other than to punctuate certain lines) and there isn’t those strings in The Supremes song either. No Supremes hit single would feature a string section until “I Hear Symphony”

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Perhaps as a tongue in cheek parody of the criticism, over the 4th of July weekend 1965 Holland-Dozier-Holland came up with the coyly titled “It’s The Same Old Song.” It peaked at #5 pop before the summer was out.

I’ve always had more of a fondness to “The Same Old Song” over the massive hit preceding it. But that’s just me.

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Nonetheless all of this great material made it’s way to The Four Tops Second Album Which, I was going to write about as a Summer of ’65 post all it’s own, but 1) It wasn’t released until Veterans Day 1965 (Oops) and contains the excellent “Something About You” which was released in September.

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Album review of that, like it’s Supremes Counterpart, coming soon.

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Motown Summer ’65 #1: More Hits By The Supremes

For the next 4 or 5 posts I’m going to write about what is widely acknowledged as the peak of the Motown Sound: The Summer of 1965. By this point the label had formulated all of the stylistic elements that it would be classically defined by, and produced it’s most memorable material

First up is the reigning queens of Motown at that point, and their LP (which to me always plays as their absolute best of original material)

More Hits By The Supremes (released July, 23rd, 1965).

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This LP was the first album of original material released in nearly 11 months by the group (The intervening LPs, such as We Remember Sam Cooke were tribute albums, although The Supremes Sing Country, Western & Pop had a few originals), and included chesnuts such as the now well worn “Stop! In The Name of Love” and “Back In My Arms Again” (which actually 45 years ago this week was spending it’s time at the top of the Pop and R&B Charts).

At the same time the finishing touches were being put on this LP, The Supremes made their absolute mainstream breakthrough into Middle of The Road American pop culture: on June 29th, 1965 they debuted at the Copacabana, filling their live act with Tin Pan Alley standards and shunning the R&B roots and condensing their hit song performances into medleys and advertisements for their latest singles.

the supremes 1965 Pictures, Images and Photos

The material included here was as old as a reusage of “Ask Any Girl” (recorded in April, 1964) as the opening track, to “Mother Dear” which was finished just a month before the LP was released, and represented a time in The Supremes where the group would last be presented as a full group before it became obvious to all that Diana Ross was being spotlighted as the star in the group.

Never again would you hear the pure, tart and moody harmonies that rang so true on tracks like “The Only Time I’m Happy” or “Honey Boy” and soon after you wouldn’t see them perform as a cohesive unit on stage.

Starting with “I Hear A Symphony” (The Song and the LP) Diana was always seemingly to the right:

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In the right channel of the Stereo Mix, in the right of your TV screen to capture her close-ups.

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It’s a magically bittersweet snapshot of Three early twenty something women making beautiful music. From the leftover Mary Wells material, notably “Whisper You Love Me Boy” to the aforementioned “Mother Dear” dueling with “Nothing But Heartaches” for the chance to be that elusive 6th #1 hit in a row (which was destined to not happen).

There’s something extremely fleeting in quality about the complete listen of this LP. It represent a continuation of where Where Did Our Love Go left off, but in listens to songs that were recorded afterwards it was becoming obvious that the studio magic was fading. It’s a quality that is shared by the next three LPs I’ll spotlight: The Four Tops Second Album, The Temptin’ Temptations and Martha & The Vandellas Dance Party.

It wasn’t unique to The Supremes that the wick on the candle was already halfway burned as summer turned into fall 1965, as pop music goes you might be hot and cold just as much as the seasons changes, but the problems (save the Four Tops) were remarkably the same:

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the pressures of fame and ego took enormous tolls on group members, along with the pressure to stay at the top, would make the results less carefree and fun in later works.

Everyone behold, by ear why The Supremes became legendary.

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That hazy zone where Jazz and Soul intersect.

During my day musical journey today I made a weird slide in the last 3 hours. I started out discussing En Vogue performing at Denver Pride, to the One Off wonder pairing of Lucy Pearl…

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somehow sliding into a Few of Post Doo-Wop’s The Superbs into Sarah Vaughn, into Anita O’Day into Blossom Dearie, Annie Ross and Mose Allison.

How did I get from NeoSoul that was produced 10 years ago to Jazz more than 50 years old (Sarah Vaughn still knocks me out with Perdido, Anita O’Day brings me Tea For Two and Nancy Wilson asked me Guess Who I Saw Today) is a question I ask myself.

Other than each song somehow tugged at me emotionally to listen and pay attention. And A lot of these veteran singers either still amongst us or not influenced most modern singing technique than any other generation.

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You can hear the influence of Vaughn in Elanor Green of The Superbs delivery, and thousands of others.

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The free form expression that was part of Jazz and Blues singing was the most important influence on Soul singing as that became the foremost form of music contribution from minorities as the late 1950s and early 1960s. And oddly a lot of times Jazz performers (Notably Nancy Wilson, that I’ve brought up waaay back before, and even Sarah Vaughn’s pop hits and Nina Simone’s forays into Uptown Soul that would do Maxine Brown proud) ended up performing music that was decidedly in the Soul Category.

So I stop debating with myself, and just relax in the good feeling that I get from the musical journey that I made this afternoon.

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Another Saturday Night…

So, every other year it seems I make sure that I go out Dancing for my Birthday. And in the Bay Area one of the finest Saturday Nights is Soul Night at the Mission District’s Elbo Room.

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In a competitive scene catering to Northern Soul In San Francisco (Edinburgh Castle’s 1964 and The Knockout’s Oldies Night to give a shout out to a few) I don’t know what draws me every other year to this particular club and inspires me to dance for 3 hours til I’m sore to celebrate life.

Then I heard from a few other ears why this smacks somewhat of a former era:

There’s a healthy percentage of people that actually get their shirts pressed, their ties and nylons out, and do their hair. Just like going out used to be a special occasion, a chance to dress and impress (and some extension of validation of your outward presence and charisma) as if you yourself were as much of a star as those that you’d be dancing with.

Then there’s the influence of dancing to the Soul music itself. Being a Northern Soul Geek I normally spend the week after tying to remember in an alcohol influence haze what I had heard familiar and what I had heard anew.

A friend of mine noticed a lot of people treated it almost as a Pentecostal Church experience, which is almost as accurate as I can describe it. Albeit a more complex experience. The songs as diverse as everyones condition in the room, Joys and pain and financial woes and hitting your stride are detailed in lyrics compressed down to 3 minute time capsules on little vinyl 45s, dedicated to each of us and not some monotheistic deity.

Exhaulting our lives, for the people, by the people.

You can say this is basically any true club/rave/dance experience. Letting the rhythms (and hopefully) the words overtake you and inspire you to feel better about being alive.

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I’m thankful I remember to do it every once in a while. I’m thankful for all of those who wrote the words, plucked guitars and beat out rhythm on the drum before I set foot into the world so I can continue to do so.

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