Sadly, some bad news to open with this time. The death of Junior
Walker (who, amazingly, made it to the Radio 4 morning news
programme), and finally, confirmation that Larry Banks did die
"about two years ago". Also, (both from Multiple Sclerosis),
Stuart Henry, a DJ who did Soul music a lot of favours back in the
60s, and the writer Brigid Brophy, who, though not involved in the
Soul scene, opened "Soul City" record store in Deptford High
Street back in the mid-sixties, and in her opening speech said "It
is highly significant and important, that this record shop is
devoted not just to music, but a particular sort of music".
Although the "cause" of Soul music is still championed in some
quarters, it is NOT defeatist to admit that, like the Republicans
in the Spanish Civil War, we LOST. We didn't take the castle, we
didn't convert the masses, but, that said, like the Republicans,
that doesn't mean our cause was wrong, misguided or our defeat
ignoble. Now, perhaps even more so than when the music was in its
full flower of creativity and magic, we can see even more clearly
how brilliant, how life-affirming and how enduring it was. But,
that alone is perhaps the best form of victory because we have
been vindicated, but, on the other hand, to pretend that there is
still some last remnant of hope that our dwindling ranks will
regroup and make one last gallant stand, is to ignore the reality
of cultural history over the last 50 years. All periods in history
have their own particular and peculiar abstract qualities, and,
although one can still deeply enjoy the artefacts of the past,
time and the cultural mood has passed on, and the collective
rhythm of the human heart is now beating to a different tempo to
what it was in the golden era of Blackamerican Soul music. But,
wasn't it GREAT to have dug it all when it was NEW... and who
could possibly take away from you that transitory, but indelible,
life experience? If life does have any meaning, it is all about
this; what you are able to respond to, and what you are able to
give back into the pool of human experience.
The music scene in Blackamerica has so changed over the years, as
more and more labels and artists have set up in brief and
transitory business, that it is often difficult to know just what
are the great, the good and the not-so-good sides. Geared-in, as
most everything is, to money, it is easy for critics to forget
that their first duty should only be to their readers, and not
ensuring their name stays on a record company's mailing list or
not alienating potential advertisers, and the hardest part of
record criticism is realising that it's no good just saying a side
is GREAT; but trying to explain in some detail WHY it's great. So,
ever willing to try and put my money where my mouth is, I thought
it about time I revived "Significant Sides", the occasional
feature I used to carry in my column in which I spotlighted
records which I thought had lasting quality and were worth seeking
out, and on which, every fortnight, I staked what "reputation"
people were kind enough to bestow upon me. With the CD revolution,
the field of re-issues and classic sides, sometimes being issued
for the first time ever over here, (albeit with often dubious
legality), I thought I'd trawl through the catalogues and see
what's on offer that I consider indispensable. It is also safe to
assume that if I've spotlighted a track here, then in my view,
that track alone is worth the cost of the entire CD it is featured
THE VASHONETTES "A MIGHTY GOOD LOVER"
(Written by L. Webber and Leonard Caston) CHECKER 1195 available
CHARLY CD "Sweeter Than The Day Before" CDARC 515.
Produced by Leonard Caston and arranged by Charles Stepney, The
Vashonettes' outing is a cracker of the first order, and yet
failed to do anything in the American charts when it was first
released, but this is an old, old story, and, as I've often
repeatedly said, commercial success is NOT necessarily the same
as, nor necessarily bestows, QUALITY. And too, many's the time
I've sung the praises of the CHESS/CHECKER outfit (not forgetting
the CADET and ARGO labels too, or their obscure CHECKMATE label),
who always seemed willing to give new talent a whirl and a chance,
picking up outstanding masters from tiny indie labels, and often,
whirling them up into sizeable hits. A strutting, sassy,
brass-dominated pace opens the side, with a delicious femme group
chanting a pretend-bored "Oo ooo yeah", and the lead singer enters
with a voice pitched midway between teen and woman, as she
proceeds to extol the virtues of her lover who can "make a fool
out of Casanova". (Tell that to Ruby Andrews!). Full of all the
no-nonsense drive so typical of Chicago sides, this is a classic
that should be in every Soul collection, and creates its addictive
tension through a combination of love-struck surrender and the
usual Chicago street-wise "don't take my sweetness for weakness"!
Chicago is self-evidently an environment that forces women to
become emancipated, and they don't come much more so than The
DENISE LASALLE "A LOVE REPUTATION"
(Written by L. Baker & W. R. Emerson) CHESS 2005 available on
CHARLY CD "Sweeter Than The Day Before" CDARC 515.
Having reviewed this record when it was new in 1966, it is
remarkable how well it still stands up; the sure insignia of a
classic if ever there was one. Originally issued on the local
TARPON label, it was picked up by CHESS for national distribution,
although again, hit status mysteriously eluded it. Part of this
particular record's great strength lies in the arrangement; the
hypnotic hook line delineated with piano and rhythm section, which
moves at a slightly more urgent pace than the melody of the song
itself. Try imagining the vocal track by itself, and you'll see
what I mean. There is a certain celebratory feel to this side as
well, and maybe its psychological appeal is so strong because it
speaks of so much that society denies us! If you let it, that is!
Strange that the Women's Movement, which of course is dominated by
theorising academics and self-styled intellectuals, should be so
totally ignorant and oblivious to the very radicalism of sides
like this which impress their message rather than spell it out!
One might have thought that the CHESS/CHECKER catalogues had by
now been thoroughly milked and every "lost gem" and "forgotten
treasure" exploited, but... there are still a few Cinderella sides
that languish in the vaults... Who would ever have reckoned at the
time, that the decade from 1960 to 1970, would have provided such
an explosion and upsurge in Blackamerican creativity that we'd
carry on feasting on it well into the 21st century? And hand it
all on for the next generation to relish too!
JIMMY REED "SHAME, SHAME, SHAME"
(Written by Jimmy Reed) VEE JAY Unknown number available on
CHARLY CD "20 R&B DANCE FLOOR FILLERS" CDRB 23
The late Jimmy Reed is perhaps undergoing something of an eclipse
in status at present, but, in his day, one could hardly wait to
hear his latest release. I remember my mate Mick Ashby had an aunt
in the States who used to send him records, and one Monday, he
phoned me at work to tell me that he'd just received Jimmy Reed's
latest LP from the States... I could hardly sleep in anticipation
of hearing it the following weekend! Such was our innocence in
this far off days! But, there is still a potent quality about
Jimmy Reed. All great art in my view is almost always simple, and
sides hardly came more starkly simple than Reed's VEE JAY output;
but oh, the conviction they carried, and the pure poetry of them
all. Yet somehow, he always managed to fall between two stools in
getting his records accepted; he was never (whilst alive) that
great a hit with blues purists, and his blues roots somehow made
him miss the boat of the Soul boom, but in my view, he was an
indispensable link between what went before and what can
afterwards. And his voice... and that mean harmonica... and an
earnestness in his delivery that was so real that at times it
almost sounded like a threat. When he sang "I'm gonna love you
pretty baby", you knew he wasn't kidding! Perhaps his sides were
more suited to jiving than twist-influenced body dancing, for,
like all dances that follow a set pre-learnt pattern, so his music
had a similar, almost formal structure. One of the true greats of
Blackamerican music in my view, and one who will in time, be
re-recognised as such.
MAURICE & MAC "YOU LEFT THE WATER RUNNING"
(Written by Rick Hall, Dan Penn & Oscar Franks) CHECKER 1197
CHARLY CD "20 R&B DANCE FLOOR FILLERS" CDRB 23
I first encountered this song via Barbara Lynn's superb reading of
it for TRIBE in 1966, and, since this Maurice & Mac version was
issued in 1968, I assume that her's was the original, but, both
are superb renditions of a great song, and certainly Maurice & Mac
maintain that great tradition (so close to my own peculiar heart!)
of male-duo harmony singing.
Z. Z. HILL "NOTHING CAN CHANGE THIS LOVE"
(Written by Sam Cooke) KENT 481 available on
KENT CD "SLOW 'N' MOODY, BLACK & BLUESY" CDKEND 003
The late Z.Z.Hill has a well deserved reputation in Soul circles,
but this track is as good as anything he ever did. From a cleverly
(and accurately) titled CD compiled with obvious taste, skill and
sound Soul judgement by Adrian Coasdell, this Sam Cooke
composition is "classic" Deep Soul; simple to the point of
starkness, and yet with an underlying conviction that Hill conveys
with some quite superlative vocal gymnastics. The "performance"
(and in that I cover not just the singing, but also the "acting"
ability; a so-essential ingredient in Deep Soul that is so often
overlooked as a factor), is one that ebbs and flows; one moment he
is cool(ish), and then, as he takes stock, he surges into a
passionate declamatory delivery, which, when backed as it is here
by simple rhythm section, guitar, piano and organ, is a formula
that, for Deep Soul fans, is sanctifying and an essential side
because yes, we do "know what he's talking about"!
Well, that about all I have space for this time, but in the next
edition, I'll continue digging through the "essentials" and trying
to sort them from the "semi-essentials"!
Keep the faith. Right on now !