Confession: I continually sleep on Betty Wright. She has such a deep catalog but I’ve been hella lazy in exploring it and given the quality of it, that’s rather embarrassing. The upside though is that, even after all this time, I can be surprised anew by her material. Case in point, I finally copped My First Time Around, her debut LP, which was recorded when she was 14, which is crazy to me. I mean, listen to this and tell me that she sounds like she’s 14:
Betty Wright: Girls Can’t Do What Guys Can Do
From My First Time Around (ATCO, 1968)
I’m torn about this song (an excellent cover of a Judy White original) since I love the arrangement – those horns! – and I really want to read some proto-feminist critique into the song about sexual double-standards but the lyrics tell the tale: she’s giving advice to other women about how they’re not allowed to play the field, unlike men, but the song itself doesn’t seem to rail against it…it sounds more a capitulation to sexism (albeit through gritted teeth).
This album also features two other songs that I thought showcased Wright’s early gifts, manifested:
Betty Wright: The Best Girls Don’t Always Win
Circle of Heartache
From My First Time Around (ATCO, 1968)
The first track is a cool little slow burner but “Circle of Heartache” is the sleeper jam, especially with Wright’s killer vocal performance.
Dusty Springfield: Crumbs Off the Table
Girls Can’t Do What Guys Can Do
From See All Her Faces (Philips, 1972). Also on Dusty In London.
I have an inexplicable habit of constantly under-regarding Dusty’s catalog…it’s as if every time I discover a cool new track by her I try to remind myself, “this is Dusty Springfield. She’s only one of the greatest soul artists in UK history. She probably has more stuff worth checking for.” But inevitable, I forget this small little point. This LP is just the latest reminder that I should pay closer attention, especially since its “sister” album is something I reviewed, uh, six years ago.
It’s closer to a comp than an LP, mostly because Philips more or less cobbled it together two years after half the principle cuts had already been recorded. There’s something like 8 producers at work here – including the Atlantic powerhouse trio of Wexler, Mardin and Dowd – and even once Philips finally put it out, it was never released in the U.S.
There’s some decent ballads on here but what caught my attention are the two funk covers, both backed by Derek Wadsworth’s orchestra. “Crumbs Off the Table” finds Dusty taking on “Crumbs Off the Table,” a song most probably associate with Laura Lee but Dusty actually recorded her cover two years before Lee; both women were covering Glass House’s original from ’69. For my money, the instrumental track from Dusty’s crushes here, even more so than Glass House’s original. So ill. And Dusty brings it rather hard here (well, for her at least).
The other cover I was drawn to was Dusty taking on Betty Wright’s “Girls Can’t Do What Boys Can.” I don’t think Springfield touches the source material here but we’re talking about one of Wright’s greatest tunes from the ’60s but that said, I love hearing Dusty over this particular vocal arrangement. It’s unlike most of the songs I associate with her but she sounds completely at home with it. Far as I know, neither one of these were ever released on single; pity!
The only downside to Numero Group is that they put out too much damn music!1 Just as I’m trying to catch up with the excellence that was their Boddie set, I’m now trying to stay atop of their upcoming Lou Ragland and Red, Black and Green Productions releases respectively and their dropping limited edition vinyl exclusives by gospel singer Shirley Ann Lee and the one I’m most jazzed about: this Boddie-vault rescue by the girl group, Love Apple.
Love Apple: What Will Tomorrow Bring?
From S/T (Numero Group, 2012)
The sound quality isn’t the best but that’s because this was a rehearsal tape recorded by Lou Ragland in 1978 (but sounding more like ’68) that was never saw the proverbial light of day.
And good god, this is awesome.
I. Love. This. Sh–.
So simple and good. It’s only six songs but it’s all quality, especially the ballads which, like the song above, just slay me. Obviously, it’s nice to imagine what this might have sounded like as a finished, studio product but the rawness of this would have been likely lost in the process too. Either way, what you have here can be well appreciated.
Numero is generous enough to sponsor a giveaway for one vinyl copy. You know the deal: email us, subject line “Love Apple”. I’ll pick a winner at random by the end of the week.(Congrats Samuel B.!)
And if you just want to go out and get it, don’t wait too long.
- This is not a real complaint. Well, mostly it’s not. ↩
Etta James was a singer who I always enjoyed on the periphery…in other words, I never made a concerted effort to really get that deep into her catalog but I understand, on a very basic level, that this was a Very Important Artist and not just because she sang one of the very best ballads ever sung in the history of people singing ballads. 1
So for this appreciation, I’m not going to try to pull off some “Etta James’s most important songs” post because I simply can’t claim to know this. I can, however, offer up some of her songs that I discovered over the years that I’ve enjoyed. Hope you will too.
This was the first EJ recording I ever bought, mostly because 1) I thought the cover looked cool and 2) it sounded funky.2 Even then, I knew this was a bit of a departure for James in terms of her most classic Chess sides from a decade earlier but she sounded pretty good (I mean, it’s Etta James) and the L.A.-based band she rocked out with held it down pretty well too. This LP used to be a super-easy find (presumably since “At Last” fans couldn’t hang with it); definitely worth copping on the cheap.
“I’d Rather Go Blind” was one of two songs included on the infamous Soul Sides Black Label collection but it wasn’t to many years later that I realized she had recorded this song with the Muscle Shoals band. Funny enough, I was watching the pilot episode to the new HBO series, Luck and this song came out of nowhere during a scene. Seemed apropos.
James’s cover of “I Got You Babe” might as well make you forget that it’s a Sonny and Cher tune; the band is murdering it on the rhythm track and though James sounds mixed a bit low, she still sizzles.
My interest in the At Last! album wasn’t from the title song, it was actually from hearing her rendition of “Sunday Kind of Love” on…um…a Dockers ad. 3 And in finally listening to her most classic longplay, I discovered this absolute lovely version of “Stormy Weather.” I’m sure it’ll be in some khakis ad in the future.
I heard this at Funky Sole when Miles threw it down and had no idea that Sugar Pie Desanto and James had ever collaborated. Love this squawking kind of R&B cooker.
- Seriously, I take it as a personal affront when lesser singers try to sing this. It’s beyond you. Don’t go there. ↩
- This being the time in my life where “sounding funky” was good enough to warrant a purchase. I’m not dogging on funk – I love funk – but “sounding funky” is also what lead me to buy a shitload of middling fusion jazz albums. Don’t laugh, you know you did it too. ↩
- Hey, I don’t care how milquetoast their image may be, you can’t front and tell me they have bad taste in music. ↩
There are other songs that could have made this list but I really went with those songs that, at the end of the year, I still enjoyed as much as when I first heard ’em. Interesting trends I noticed in my listening taste as a result of putting this playlist together: gospel was obviously big for me this year, reggae was not, and despite a wealth of Latin, only a few songs really stayed with me. As always, soul was huge but not so much funk. Jazz was totally shut out. We’ll have to see what 2011 brings…
2010 MIX (RS)
Little Ann: Deep Shadows
Tammy Montgomery: Sinner’s Devotion (From Come On And See Me: The Complete Solo Collection)
The Five Stairsteps: Danger, She’s a Stranger
Mayer Hawthorne: I Need You (From 12″)
Al Sharp: Gentle Is My Love
Carlton & The Shoes: Never Give Your Heart Away (From Love Me Forever)
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Better Things To Do (From I Learned The Hard Way)
Lord Echo: Thinking Of You (From Melodies)
Quantic y Conjunto: Dre en Cumbia
Trio Servando Diaz: El Viejito Cañandonga
Los Exciters: Morning
Ralph Thamar Featuring Mario Canonge: Siboney
Lee Moses: Got That Will
T.N.T. Band: Making Tracks (From Making Tracks)
Las 4 Monedas: Buena Suerte
Akwid: Esto Es Pa Mis Paisas [Explicit] (From Clasificado R)
Betty Moorer: Speed Up
Sugar Pie DeSanto: I Don’t Wanna Fuss
The Inspirational Gospel Singers: The Same Thing It Took (From Good God! Born Again Funk)
Numonics: You Lied (From Groove Merchant Turns 20)
Lou Bond: Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards (From Lou Bond)
Chicano Batman: Itotiani (From Chicano Batman)
Donnie and Joe Emerson: Baby
Kanye West: Devil In A New Dress (From My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
T.L. Barrett & Youth For Christ Choir: Like A Ship (From Like a Ship)
Marius Cultier: Nathalie
Erykah Badu: Out My Mind, Just In Time (Part 1) (From New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh))
The Gospel Hummingbirds: Trouble Don’t Last Always
I sat in for Michael Barnes on KPFK’s Melting Pot today. Included a few tracks I’ve had up here of late but a lot you haven’t heard from me yet. Enjoy!
Quantic: Cumbia De Dilla
The East St. Louis Gospelettes: Have Mercy On Me
Kanye West: Devil in a New Dress
The Whatnauts: I’ll Erase the Pain
Golden Harmonettes: I Do Love You
Syl Johnson: Try Me (LP Version)
Syl Johnson: All I Need Is Someone Like You
Syl Johnson: Soul Heaven (All from The Complete Mythology)
Onuma SIngsiri: Mae Kha Som Tam
Plearn Promdan: Wan Maha Sanook (Both from The Sound of Siam)
Olguita: Hay Un Sentimiento
Dom Kennedy: Locals Only
Lee Dorsey: Give It Up
Numonics: You Lied
Ron Forella: Crystals (Both from Groove Merchant Turns 20)
Ozzie Dasilva: Zig Zag
Tammi Terrell: All I Do Is Think About You
Nottz: I Still Love You (feat. Mayer Hawthorne) (from You Need This Music)
Lito Barrientos: Para Que
Charles Bradley: Why Is It So Hard?
Since OUr Last Goodbye (Both from No Time For Dreaming)
N’ Goma Jazz: Mi Cantado Para Ti
Africa Tirmos: Pica O Dedo (Both from Angola Soundtrack)
Ramon Veloz: Comete Tu Pinol
Joe Bravo: Think It Over
Fitz and the Tantrums: Don’t Gotta Work It Out
Gladstone Anderson and the Mudies All-Stars: Mad Mad Ivy
Quadron: Baby Be Mine (Live on KPFK)
Finger 5: I Want You Back
Jackson 5: Walk On By/Love You Save
Please: Sing a Simple Song
Al Hirt: Harlem Hendoo
Del-Tones: Rocking Chair
Sugar Pie DeSanto: I Don’t Wanna Fuss
Spider Harrison: Beautiful Day
Quantic: Cumbia En Dre
Betty Moorer: Speed Up
From 7″ (Wand, 1967)
Viola Wills: Sweetback
From 7″ (Supreme, 1971)
Full Speed: It Must Be Love
From 7″ (Real Thing, 197x)
In just the last few weeks, I’ve been able to knock down a few singles that I’ve been hankering after for a while and coincidentally, all of them are by female artists.
The Flirtations’ incredible “Nothing But a Heartache” was introduced to me by Murphy’s Law and I was completely blown away by it. Easily one of the greatest soul tunes ever produced out of England (by Wayne Bickerton) during a span where this South Carolina band went across the pond to find better opportunities than what the American market was offering. There’s a remarkable dynamism to the arrangement – seriously, just try to follow all the parts here – the change-ups, the layers of instruments, how the vocals fit into this massive sound. If this doesn’t take your breath away, have your lungs checked.
Betty Moorer’s “Speed Up” is a beaut of a Northern Soul track that offers up Moorer’s powerful vocals and a hook that you’ll find yourself singing when you aren’t even aware of it. This is one of those singles where I initially was intrigued by the other side – a cover of “It’s Your Thing” called “It’s My Thing” but it was “Speed Up” that ended up being the main reason to hunt this down.
The Viola Wills is a local L.A. single that, much to my pleasure, was produced by the great James Gadson. Wills has had a remarkable career, spanning funk to disco to gospel, and was apparently a discovery by Barry White in the mid-1960s. Her single here is clearly an homage to the Sweetback of blaxploitation fame. Too bad they couldn’t get this onto the soundtrack of the actual movie; it would’ve been smokin’.
As for Full Speed, I could find nothing on their background at all and as far as I know, this was their only release (at least that I could find). Great double-sider, with a funky, uptempo dance cut on the flip, “Put ‘Em On the Right Track” but for me, it is all about “It Must Be Love,” probably the most sultry ballad I’ve heard in ages. It opens so memorably and the way the drums drop in when the first set of vocals begin is just spot-on perfect.
And now we come to the pièce de résistance:
Dee Edwards: I Can Deal With That
From 7″ (Deto, 1977?). Also on Searching For Soul
I’ve been after this single since I first heard it on the Searching for Soul comp – five years ago! Easily one of my favorite slices of funky femme soul ever; beautiful production and Edwards sounds fantastic on here. The lyrics are rather astounding too. Here’s what I wrote back in ’05: “when you actually listen to what Edwards is saying, you realize how completely f—ed up of a message she’s sending here, basically, “you can cheat on me, but as long as it’s on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ tip, I don’t really mind.”
I know this summer has not been as bountiful with posts as you (or I) would like; things have just been crazy busy with everything else. Just hold tight with me and in the meantime, enjoy this track above which is one of my recent acquisitions; I’ll be doing a formal post soon, promise!
Oh, and speaking of to-do post, I had been meaning to write about these two LPs for the longest time but hey, Franko saved me the trouble. Excellent!
Mary Jane Hooper: Don’t Change Nothing
I Feel a Hurt
From Psychedelphia (Funky Delicacies, 1997)
I was recently working on a 3 hour, NOLA-inspired consignment mix and it gave me a wonderful excuse to revisit all sorts of tunes, especially the slim but memorable catalog of Mary Jane Hooper, one of the best female vocalists to come out of the Crescent City. Hooper’s “I’ve Got Reasons” was one of the few releases she enjoyed back in the day but in the late ’90s, a mess of her unreleased material finally made it out.
The two cuts above both made the final mix. “Don’t Change Nothing” opens great with that breakbeat and bass but it’s when Hooper’s hook kicks in that I’m officially onboard. Love the chorus on this song especially; totally sells the song for me.
With “I Feel a Hurt,” Hooper delivers a beautiful Southern soul ballad over a heaving organ track. Don’t have much to say about this one except to sigh contentedly.
Smokey Johnson: It Ain’t My Fault Pt. 1
From 7″ (NOLA, 1964). Also on It Ain’t My Fault
Betty Harris: There’s a Break In the Road
From 7″ (SSS Int’l, 1969)
Surprised I hadn’t posted up the Smokey Johnson before; it’s a stone-cold second line classic. Just dig the complexity of Johnson’s polyrhythms and you can easily hear the roots of funk layered all in there. “Ba-donk donk donk.”
Fast-forward five years and you arrive at Betty Harris, backed by the Meters, on her best known single, “There’s a Break In the Road.” I have to say – I never get tired of hearing the Meters play behind other artists. They have such a distinctive sound and as good as their own group material obviously was, to hear them working with an array of vocalists is an added bonus.
Skip Easterling: Grass Is Greener
From 7″ (Alon, 1967)
Besides that Hooper ballad, one of the other closers was this tune from Skip Easterling, who, like Harris, worked with local production legend Allen Toussaint (though this single was produced by Eddie Bo, who I should have noted earlier, produce Hooper’s material). The sound here is so distinct with its slow, swampy, swing; it could only come from New Orleans.