Sunday, 24 March 2013

SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES - MAKE IT HAPPEN (TAMLA 1967) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

The most underrated Miracles LP of the '60s, Make It Happen featured a spate of great songs, including three or four that really should've been hits (plus one that only became the group's biggest hit three years after release). Opening with "The Soulful Shack," a grooving dance number that would've fit perfectly on the previous year's Away We a Go-Go, the album featured plenty of near-misses, including a pair of delightful good-times dance songs, "My Love Is Your Love (Forever)" and "It's a Good Feeling," plus a great choice for a cover, a tender version of Little Anthony & the Imperials' "I'm on the Outside (Looking In)." The hits really did shine more than any of the other songs, though, marking yet another leap in the level of Smokey Robinson's compositional sophistication. "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage" is a brilliant twist on a romantic novelty in the Motown mold (with a production that deftly references the British Invasion), while "More Love" is the most sincere lyric and most emotive performance in the group's catalog, a song of reassurance occasioned by several miscarriages suffered by Robinson's wife (and fellow Miracle), Claudette. The capstone, however, was the last song, "The Tears of a Clown," originally written as an up-tempo instrumental groover by Stevie Wonder and his producer, Hank Cosby. Robinson's lyric is witty yet sublime, and his lead vocal is one of the best performances of his recording career. One of the biggest misses by the notoriously hit-conscious Motown organization was failing to release this as a single before it became an album hit on British radio in 1970, three years after it first appeared. It shot to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and prompted Motown to re-release Make It Happen under a new title, The Tears of a Clown.[allmusic] Here

ISLEY BROTHERS - THIS OLD HEART OF MINE (TAMLA 1966) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

A powerful set by the Isley Brothers, who tasted success with "Shout" and "Twist & Shout" before joining Motown. Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier produced the lion's share of tracks, and wrote most of them with the aid of Eddie Holland. An infectious "This Old Heart of Mine" took off -- its throbbing beat, memorable melody, and inspired vocals are as irresistible now as they were in 1966. The urgent "Take Some Time Out for Love," with its wailing vocals, made a little R&B noise; a creation of Robert Gordy and Thomas Kemp, it's one of two tracks not handled by Holland-Dozier-Holland. The other is the insightful, biblically titled "Seek and You Shall Find," done magnificently by Ron Isley, who sings the positive lyrics with understated fire. "I Guess I'll Always Love You" is a midtempo gem sung by Ron in his natural register, as he does all these songs; the sweet falsetto he used almost exclusively in the '80s and '90s is nowhere to be found. Isley versions of "Nowhere to Run," "Stop in the Name of Love," "Baby Don't You Do It," and "I Hear a Symphony" are comparable to, if not better than, the originals.[allmusic] Here

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS - EVERYBODY NEEDS LOVE (SOUL 1967) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

In 1966, Gladys Knight And The Pips signed to Motown Records’ Soul subsidiary, where they were teamed up with producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield. Knight’s tough vocals left them slightly out of the Motown mainstream, and throughout their stay with the label the group was regarded as a second-string act. Between 1967 and 1968, they had major R&B and minor pop hits in America with ‘Everybody Needs Love’, ‘The End Of The Road’, ‘It Should Have Been Me’ and ‘I Wish It Would Rain’, but enjoyed most success with the original release of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, an uncompromisingly tough performance of a song that became a Motown standard in the hands of its author Marvin Gaye in 1969. Gladys Knight And The Pips’ version topped the R&B chart for six weeks at the end of 1967 and also reached number 2 on the US pop charts. .............................
A decent debut album that didn't quite establish a musical idenity for the group, despite the inclusion of the classic "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and the wonderful, definitive version of the title track. (Mary Wells' little-known original ranks a close second.) The big drawback, however, is a bowdlerized (i.e. censored) version of "Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me." The editing not only severely damages the song's "story structure" (Berry Gordy had a firm belief that a song should tell a story), it undermines the erotic awareness Knight brings to the material.[allmusic] Here

FOUR TOPS - REACH OUT (MOTOWN 1967) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

Though it's one of the best Four Tops records of the '60s, Reach Out still feels weighted down by a few vain attempts at adult pop crossover. It certainly starts out right, with the glorious "Reach out, I'll Be There," the group's second pop/R&B chart-topper. After a faithful cover of the Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee," though, listeners are forced to sit through trite versions of "If I Were a Carpenter," "Last Train to Clarksville," and "I'm a Believer" to get to real highlights like the dramatic, impassioned "Standing in the Shadows of Love" and "Bernadette." There is room for a great lesser single ("I'll Turn to Stone"), but the flip side finds the Four Tops taking on "Cherish," which could've worked well but didn't. Reach Out still did better than any other original LP by the group, almost breaking the Top Ten.[allmusic] Here

Saturday, 14 July 2012

THE CHECKMATES LTD. - LOVE IS ALL WE HAVE TO GIVE (A&M 1969) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

"Black Pearl" is one of the great Phil Spector productions, a phenomenal song with his extraordinary sound. That being said, it would be easy to try to dismiss this excellent album and focus just on the hit. That's the wonderful paradox of Love Is All We Have to Give by the Checkmates, Ltd. and Sonny Charles. Charles only re-scratched the Top 40 once (and that in 1983), but it is this album which showcases his major voice. The Leiber & Stoller composition "I Keep Forgettin'" has that sound from the 1966 Billy Stewart hit version of Gershwin's "Summertime" without the scat singing. Spector's remake of his own 1961 classic for Ben E. King, "Spanish Harlem," fits perfectly here, while "Proud Mary," the simple John Fogerty title, becomes a gospel tour de force falling somewhere between Tina Turner and the Edwin Hawkin Singers. The indomitable Perry Botkin, Jr., who would hit seven years later with "Nadia's Theme" (aka "The Young & the Restless"), arranges and conducts side one with assistance from Dee Barton. Side two is another kettle of fish. Barton arranges Spector's adaption of "The Hair Anthology Suite" from the play Hair, most notably the material made famous by the 5th Dimension ("Age of Aquarius"/"Let the Sunshine In"). Though both artists probably tracked it around the same time -- the 5th Dimension hitting in March and "Black Pearl" hitting in May 1969 -- there is none of the life here that Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis, Jr., and their group put into their first number one hit. Like a classic Spector 45, this album has one side that is totally inspired and brilliant, and a flip that won't get as many spins. All in all, it's a very important, and largely forgotten, bridge in Spector's catalog and his only hit in America on A&M, the same label he brought the Ronettes and Ike & Tina Turner's classic "River Deep, Mountain High."[allmusic]

IKE & TINA TURNER - RIVER DEEP MOUNTAIN HIGH (A&M 1966) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

The title song was Phil Spector's last major effort, a Wall of Sound production from 1966 that hit in the U.K. but flopped in the U.S., leading to his retirement. There were a few other Spector tracks with the Turners (actually, only Tina appears on "River Deep -- Mountain High"), and an album was scheduled on Spector's Philles Records label. Discs were printed for a 1967 release, but no covers, and the LP never appeared. Two years later, A&M Records (its catalog now controlled by Universal) finally put it out. It turned out that Spector hadn't produced a whole album's worth of material; in addition to his productions ("A Love Like Yours [Don't Come Knocking Every Day]," "I'll Never Need More Than This," "Save the Last Dance for Me," and the title song), Ike Turner had produced a batch of typical Ike & Tina material, including remakes of their early-‘60s hits "A Fool in Love," "I Idolize You," and "It's Gonna Work Out Fine." Turner's simple, direct R&B production style has nothing in common with Spector's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style, so the resulting collection is full of odd juxtapositions in sound. But no matter who's in the producer's chair, the center of the music is still Tina Turner, emoting for all she's worth.[allmusic]

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

SAM COOKE - HITS OF THE 50's (RCA VICTOR 1960) Jap Blu-Spec cd cardboard sleeve

Sam Cooke was the most important soul singer in history -- he was also the inventor of soul music, and its most popular and beloved performer in both the black and white communities. Equally important, he was among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of the music business, and founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. Yet, those business interests didn't prevent him from being engaged in topical issues, including the struggle over civil rights, the pitch and intensity of which followed an arc that paralleled Cooke's emergence as a star -- his own career bridged gaps between black and white audiences that few had tried to surmount, much less succeeded at doing, and also between generations; where Chuck Berry or Little Richard brought black and white teenagers together, James Brown sold records to white teenagers and black listeners of all ages, and Muddy Waters got young white folkies and older black transplants from the South onto the same page, Cooke appealed to all of the above, and the parents of those white teenagers as well -- yet he never lost his credibility with his core black audience. In a sense, his appeal anticipated that of the Beatles, in breadth and depth.
Sam Cooke's second RCA album is mostly a missed opportunity, in terms of representing much about Sam Cooke as an artist or singer -- having him cover pop hits of the previous decade wasn't a terrible idea on its face, but Cooke was still getting accustomed to working at RCA, and he wasn't inspired by the material or the way it was chosen, and the result is an album aimed at what the label thought the white teenage market was all about (and what the company thought the parents of those kids would be most comfortable with them buying from a black recording artist), that's a lot less interesting than some of the singles, including "Chain Gang" and "Wonderful World," that he was doing around the same time. His versions of hits associated with Nat "King" Cole, Johnnie Ray, and the Platters should have made for a more interesting record. Hits of the Fifties is still an improvement over its immediate predecessor, Cooke's Tour, but it's also one of the records that for many years -- in the absence of his best material being available -- blighted Cooke's reputation as a soul singer.[allmusic]

SAM COOKE - THE BEST OF (RCA VICTOR 1962) Jap Blu-Spec cd cardboard sleeve

This original 1962 LP compilation is the perfect introduction to the soulful pop of Sam Cooke. It contains all of his best-loved songs in their original versions and represents the wide variety of moods the man conjured with his music. His unique vocal style combined the smooth, tasteful pop approach of Nat King Cole with a grittier, more emotive soul sound.
His compositions brought those two worlds together in a similar manner, the worksong providing fodder for the melodic pop of "Chain Gang," for example. "You Send Me" is the ultimate expression of romantic rapture, while "Sad Mood" is the most mournful of lost-love songs. Somehow, even when capturing a sense of celebration ("Having A Party," "Twistin' The Night Away") there's still a subtle twinge of sadness in Cooke's expressive voice, giving his performances an extra layer of depth.
Originally released in August 1962 under the title The Best of Sam Cooke, Volume 1 [RCA 2625], this album was reissued in 1965 as The Best of Sam Cooke [RCA 3466, later RCA 3863]. An above-average greatest hits collection, although no sampler could fully convey Sam Cooke's genius. It has since been reissued on CD [RCA 3863], so at least it's still in print.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


One of America's most popular entertainers long after her mid-'40s commercial peak, Dinah Shore was the first major vocalist to break away from the big-band format and begin a solo-billed career. During the '40s, she recorded several of the decade's biggest singles -- "Buttons and Bows," "The Gypsy," and "I'll Walk Alone" -- all of which spent more than a month at number one on the Hit Parade. After launching a television variety series in 1951, Shore appeared on one program or another, with few gaps, into the 1980s.
Born in rural Tennessee, Dinah Shore was performing on Nashville radio while still a teenager. Her professional career later took her to New York, where she sang with Xavier Cugat. After failing auditions with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey however, she decided to simply become a solo singer. Shore signed to Bluebird, and recorded several hits during 1940-41, including "Yes, My Darling Daughter," "I Hear a Rhapsody" and "Jim." Her first million-seller came in 1942 with the prototypical blues crossover nugget, "Blues in the Night." Later that year, she moved to Victor and hit big with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and her first number one hit, 1944's "I'll Walk Alone." Shore also began appearing in films, including 1944's Up in Arms and 1946's Till the Clouds Roll By.
The late '40s proved to be her most popular era for recording. Between 1946 and 1949, she hit big with several songs, including "The Gypsy," "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons," "Anniversary Song," "I Wish I Didn't Love You So," "Buttons and Bows" and "Dear Hearts and Gentle People." Though her records didn't chart as high during the '50s, Dinah Shore enjoyed even more exposure with her top-rated variety show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. For many, Shore's opening and closing every show with "See the USA in your Chevrolet, America's the greatest land of all" practically defined the '50s. Her Chevrolet sponsorship lasted until 1963, but she returned in the '70s with a new format, the daytime talk-show. During the 1980s, she began performing once again, but returned to television once more with a series that ran for two years. She died of cancer in 1994.[allmusic]

LITTLE WALTER - THE BEST OF [His First Album] (CHESS 1957) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve + 3 bonus

If there's a blues harmonica player alive today who doesn't have a copy of this landmark album in their collection, they're either lying or had their copy of it stolen by another harmonica player. This 12-song collection is the one that every harmonica player across the board cut their teeth on. All the hits are here: "My Babe," "Blues with a Feeling," "You Better Watch Yourself," "Off the Wall," "Mean Old World" and the instrumental that catapulted him from the sideman chair in Muddy Waters' band to the top of the R&B charts in 1952, "Juke." Walter's influence to this very day is so pervasive over the landscape of the instrument that this collection of singles is truly: 1) one of the all-time greatest blues harmonica albums, 2) one of the all-time greatest Chicago blues albums, and 3) one of the first ten albums you should purchase if you're building your blues collection from the ground floor up.[allmusic]