ABDOU EL OMARI: MOROCCAN MAGIC

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Naima Samih, Abdou El Omari: Rmani Rih
From 7″ (Disques Gam, 1977)

Abdou El Omari: Zifaf Filada
From 7″ (Disques Gam, 1977)

I basically know nil about Moroccan music/records but my friend Bachir, out in France, laced me with both of these. He’s North African by heritage and he’s been steadily collecting Tunisian and Moroccan records, especially pic sleeve 45s. Both of these songs feature the mesmerizing instrumental work of organist Abdou El Omari (Aquarium Drunkard briefly wrote about him earlier this year), whose zippy playing style is all over “Zifaf Filada” (“Wedding In Space”?) though I think it’s the percussion on that track that really sets things off. (That song also seems to be featured on the recently reissued Nuits D’ete LP).

“Rmani Rih” (“Wind Thrown”?) features the vocals of Moroccan singer Naima Samih who came to fame in the 1970s and would have been in her mid=20s when this track was recorded. El Omari’s organ work adds the spacey element here, especially around :25, when the rhythm track comes sliding in.

Thanks again to Bachir for these!

THE IMPRESSIONS: KEEP ON TRYING

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The Impressions: I’ve Been Trying (ABC-Paramount, 1965). Also on The Complete A & B Sides

At random times, I’ll just start singing to myself, “I’ve been trying…lord knows that I’ve been trying.” Don’t ask me why; that’s how ear worms work sometimes but it reminds me of how The Impressions could craft these simple but incredibly memorable lyrics out of just a few words, especially in the mid’60s with hits like “People Get Ready,” “Keep On Pushing,” and of course, “I’ve Been Trying.”

Every time I listen to this, I marvel at how unadorned it is. The guitar and horns are kept to a minimum and the drums are so subtle, they’re practically invisible. Even the vocals are relatively restrained, almost matter-of-factly in tone. I’d like to think it’s because the singers are trying to capture an emotion somewhere between despair and hope and in order to resolve that, you end up in the flat middle. Whichever way, the affect is haunting.

(I think the sparseness of the original is one reason I have a hard time getting into most of the covers of the song. Most of them sound overproduced to me, including versions by The Notations, Jerry Butler and Clarence Reid. Better would be Archie Bell’s flip, which adds some heavier brass but otherwise keeps it faithful. Likewise, my friend Sam turned me onto the Mayfield Singers’ version which, as you might expect, is also very loyal.)

WILLIE HARPER: HE’S LOST THAT LOVING FEELING

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Willie Harper: I Don’t Need You Anymore (7”, Tou-Sea, 1968)

The first 30 seconds of this song are damn near perfect.

There are some songs which ostensibly claim “I don’t need you anymore” but really, it’s all a fake out. Those singers are lying to themselves – they still do need the inconstant object of their affection, they just can’t bring themselves to fully admit it so they sing us the lie instead.

But Willie? He is done. Gone. Vamoose. 5000.

His first two lines – the inflection in his tone, the bottomless pit of pathos they suggest – leave little room for confusion. You almost don’t even need the rest of the song because nothing else in it will convey Harper’s sentiments as effectively. This love affair is over.

(Shout out to the great Wardell Quezergue, aka “Big Q” for the magnificent production on this)

PATTI JO: YOU GOT TO BELIEVE

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Patti Jo was a teenager from Nashville when Curtis Mayfield first discovered her circa 1972.1 At this point, Mayfield had already left The Impressions to embark on his solo career and manage his label, Curtom. It’s unknown why Mayfield didn’t sign Jo directly to Curtom but instead, she ended up recording with New York’s Scepter and its subsidiary, Wand.

Jo’s first single came out in ’72: “Ain’t No Love Lost/Stay Away From Me.” However, it would be her next single, “Make Me Believe In You,” in 1973 that would help immortalize her (with some help from Tom Moulton). Mayfield both wrote and produced the song (and his frequently collaborated, Rich Tufo, arranged it) and it’s worth noting how the string arrangements and steady backbeat are such mainstays of disco’s conventions but this was cut half a decade before disco’s mainstream dominance.2

Here’s that original 7″ version:

Patti Jo: Make Me Believe In You (Scepter, 1973)

The single was a minor hit but its true ascension into the disco canon came two years later when pioneering remix guru, Tom Moulton, was given access to a slew of Scepter songs to help produce the Disco Gold compilation of 1975.

Patti Jo: Make Me Believe In You (Tom Moulton Remix)
Disco Gold (Scepter, 1975)

Mouton’s remix is a masterpiece of extending a song’s best elements without radically altering it. The biggest change he makes, right off the bat, is taking the original’s 12 bar intro and extending it six-fold. That instrumental build, which takes up the first 2/5ths of the entire song, folds in different elements from other parts of the song and it’s a masterful slow-burn build where the listener – and really, dancer – already has undergone a journey of sorts before Patti Jo’s vocals even enter the picture.

Moulton also stripped down the tracks behind the first vocal verse. If you go back to the original, Mayfield brings in strings almost immediately but Moulton muted those stems in favor of just the drums, bass line and light flute track. He waits instead to bring in the full string arrangement on the hook, which feels like a reward for the listener/dancer’s patience. From here on out, he adds more layers back into the mix as well as extends the song’s bridge in what we now would think of as a conventional disco edit fashion. All in the all, an unqualified classic remix of the era.

Notably, Mayfield himself recorded a version of the song for his 1974 album, Sweet Exorcist. Melba Moore also covered the song in 1976 on This Is it, with a take that songs like it was definitely influenced by the Moulton remix rather than strictly the original. Both versions sound less…urgent than Jo’s original, partially because neither has as strong of a back beat. In 2007, Amerie covered the song – rather loyally – on her 2007 album Because I Love It and I don’t think it’s harsh to say that it’s not exactly essential.

As I mentioned in that first footnote…it’s surprising how difficult it is to find much information on Patti Jo herself. After those first two singles, she disappeared from the scene and then came back, years, later, to record a couple of new songs but I’ve yet to find a single interview with her available anywhere on the interwebs. If someone knows something I don’t, holler.

  1. It’s shockingly difficult to find anything about Jo’s history and what I managed to patch together was taken from a number of internet forums so take all this with a grain of salt.
  2. My point being: disco was never, ever a flash in the pan. It built and bubbled up over the course of the entirety of the 1970s.

7 DAYS OF SOUL: ZILLA MAYES

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Zilla Mayes: All I Want Is You (Tou-Sea, 1968, 7″) (Available on The Lost Sessions)

Even if this song screams “NOLA” thanks to the touch of writer/arranger/co-producer Allen Toussaint, Zilla Mayes/Mays herself was far more of a fixture in Atlanta. As a recording artist, she primarily cut blues tunes; there’s a phenomenal series of photos killer photo of her recording “Come Back to Me” for RCA’s Groove subsidiary in 1955. However, Mayes was best known as a pioneering radio DJ, the first Black woman to grace a booth in Georgia when she first began broadcasting as “The Mystery Lady” in 1954 for WAOK in Atlanta.

I couldn’t find any info on how/why she ended up recording this single on Toussaint’s Tou-Sea subsidiary in the late 1960s. By this point, she wasn’t recording much at all; she only has three credited releases in the entire decade (this being the last and musically, it’s quite unlike any of her previous sides). Regardless, I think “All I Want Is You” is one of the finest female funk/soul recordings to come out of NOLA – which is saying a lot – especially with that passion that Mays brings to the track (and that rolling piano does amazing work too).

7 DAYS OF SOUL: THE RELATIVES

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The Relatives: More Time (To Explain) (Archway, 1971, 7″)

I learned about this Bay Area 7″ from the late Matthew Africa; I not only have a soft spot for Bay Area sweet soul and songs that use both male and female singers, but throw in some background harmonizing and I’m positively weak in the knees.

Best that I can piece together, the Relatives were a one-off group put together by Archie Reynolds III (producer) and Larry Coney (singer/writer/co-arranger). There’s a remarkable musical biography of Reynolds available here; he grew up in New Orleans but moved to San Francisco in the war years and became a fixture in the local gospel scene there, particularly via his involvement with The Paramounts. He created Archway in the early 1960s, alongside a variety of entrepreneurial endeavors, the most successful being Archie’s Hickory Pit down in Bayview.

It doesn’t sound like Archway ever released much besides a comedy album and this 7″ which included Reynolds’s long-time friend Coney. Unfortunately, I can’t find any info on who the female background singers were but I presume they were likely recruited out of the various gospel camps that Reynolds was affiliated with.

7 DAYS OF SOUL: MAJOR LANCE

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Major Lance: Sweet Music (Okeh, 1963, 7″) (Available on The Best of Major Lance

There’s an entire generation of early 1960s R&B artists that I’ve yet to sit with; a huge gap in my soul knowledge. That certainly includes Major Lance who I was mildly aware of but until I picked up this pic-sleeve 7″  from the Groove Merchant in the fall, I had never owned anything by him before. I had heard “Um Um Um Um Um Um,” before but “Sweet Music” was entirely new to me and I was  instantly charmed by the shimmering guitar and finger snaps on the intro. Sweet music, indeed.

It’s also an interesting b-side insofar as it’s not quite a ballad but also not another dance tune. More than anything, it reminded me of something  Brenton Wood might have recorded, albeit four years later. Then again, maybe I’m just mashing up “Boogum Oogum” with “Um Um Um Um Um Um” in my head.

7 DAYS OF SOUL: HENRY LUMPKIN

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For day 3 of the 7 Days of Soul challenge, I plucked out a b-side from a 7″ I scored whilst out in Paris in the summer (s/o to Superfly).

Henry Lumpkin: If I Could Make Magic (Buddah, 1967, 7′) (Available on Classmates)

I had never heard of Lumpkin before and perhaps that’s not surprising since he was one of those ’60s artists who landed some promising opportunities – first at Motown, then at Buddah – but couldn’t crack the barrier to national stardom. One rumor I read was that he was too heavy-set for the consumer public and whether that’s true or not, his voice is so light on this side that I was surprised to know he had the reputation for being big.

None of this is particularly relevant to how lovely this song is.”It I Could Make Magic” was written by a trio of men who previously had worked on the Shangri-La recordings – Kenneth Hollon, Robert Bateman, and Ronald Moseley – with Bateman co-producing the song alongside Lou Courtney. This sweet soul number is gentler then most of Lumpkin’s ’60s output and while it’s not too far outside of a conventional, doo-wop-influenced crooner, it has all the elements in a classic lowrider oldie including a heavy, lumbering rhythm and an unexpected dash of flute that darts beneath Lumpkin’s vocals. Throw this one on during a summer night drive under moonlight; top down if possible.

 

 

Lumpkin worked with Robert Bateman – an incredibly prolific writer, arranger, producer – as well as producer Lou Courtney and co-writer

7 DAYS OF SOUL: THE ARCS

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Day two of the 7 days of soul challenge brings me to a song I first heard via Heartbreak Radio:

The Arcs: Stay In My Corner (Nonesuch, 2015, Yours, Dreamily)

The Arcs pairs Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys with Leon Michels of Truth and Soul Records plus a crack team of New York’s retro-soul studio musicians including drummer Homer Steinweiss and bassist Nick Movshon. I confess, when I first heard about this project in the late spring, I was looking forward to see how their album, Yours, Dreamily would turn out but totally forgot that it came out, um, in September. Oops.

That said, “Stay In My Corner,” stayed in heavy rotation for much the year. It’s got this perfect blend between the kind of Southern fried blues sound the Black Keys are known for – weighty and a touch distorted – with the kind of bright, soulful flair that Michels and company have been cooking up in Brooklyn since the days of Desco. It’s a deeply romantic song (even though, unexpectedly, it’s dedicated to the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight since the single’s release was timed with that rather disappointing bout (they couldn’t have known that, but still). Now, you’ll have to excuse me while I go catch up with Yours, Dreamily.

7 DAYS OF SOUL: BOBBY TAYLOR AND THE VANCOUVERS

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Back in October, Michael Barnes invited me to the 7 Days of Soul Challenge but I didn’t have a chance to get to it until now and I figured this could double up as a short year-end wrap of some of my favorite songs of 2015. However, before we get there…

1) I began the year with the best of intentions: to post a song a day for the entire year. However, as my few daily readers know, I made a good run through June but the momentum couldn’t sustain itself.1 Still, 2015 saw more Soul Sides posts than probably the previous 2-3 years combined. I’ll try to finish the year strong with a week’s worth of posts.

2) In thinking about which 7 songs to focus, I inevitably thought of many songs I posted earlier in the year. Those include, in no ranked order:

Here’s the first of 7 new songs that I kept in heavy soul rotation in ’15:

Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers: Malinda (Gordy, 1968, 7″) (Available on The Complete Motown Singles: 1968

“The Vancouvers” could be the answer to a Jeopardy question: “What Motown-associated band did comedian Tommy Chong play guitar in?” I had no idea about Chong’s musical history until a friend put me up on it but indeed, he was originally a member of the San Francisco-based group The Bachelors and managed to convince his bandmates, albeit temporarily try out the name “Four N____rs and a Ch__k.” You couldn’t claim Chong didn’t have a twisted sense of humor, even back then. Regardless, by the time vocalist/producer Bobby Taylor joined them and Berry Gordy Jr. signed them to his Gordy imprint, they became Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. “Malinda” reflected their entry into the Motown machine as Smokey Robinson both co-wrote and co-produced this b-side from “It’s Growing” (it also appears on the sole Taylor/Vancouvers’ LP.

I learned about “Malinda” via Vince Staples’s incredible rumination on his parents’ fraught marriage, “Nate.” Some samples immediately reach out and box you across the head and that’s how “Malinda” powers “Nate.” Is it all about the bells? That’s what my ears always hone into: their brightness, how they carry the main melody (I also like how the horns pop into the little pockets between the melody).

I don’t know if I would have guessed that Smokey had a hand in this had I not already known it but it also makes sense when you compare this composition to similar mid-tempo groovers by the Miracles in the same era. Perhaps had the Miracles actually recorded it, the song would merit a higher status within the behemoth that is the Motown catalog but I get the sense this is underrated despite it being, to me, one of the best tracks laid down out of Hitsville in the era: a crack rhythm section, a smart, subtle use of strings, the vocal harmonies, and of course, those 🔔🔔🔔. I don’t know if “Malinda” was my hands-down favorite soul song of 2015 but it’s the one that gave me the most pleasure to listen, each and every time.

  1. As always, the lack of feedback/comments plays a central role in why my posting frequency lags. I’m not saying this to blame my readers; I don’t comment on many people’s posts either! But for me, feedback is like oxygen to my writing fire.