Archive for the ‘The Supremes’ Category

The Contours

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Side 1:

Listen: Can You Jerk Like Me / The Contours

Listen: That Day When She Needed Me / The Contours

Side 2:

Listen: Can You Do It / The Contours

Listen: I’ll Stand By You / The Contours

Looking back, The Contours probably released more dance instruction songs than anybody, with a possible exception being Chubby Checker. ‘Can You Jerk Like Me’ was one of their earliest.

They were never an act to achieve much more than lower chart success in the US, and excepting the reissue of ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’, none in the UK. They mirror The Marvelettes in Motown’s history books. That being, there was always some other act getting the best songs from their in-house writing machines, and ultimately the push at radio.

And like The Marvelettes, for my two cents, that became a benefit. Not to take away from The Four Tops or The Temptations, clearly on the A list then, but the quick in/quick out studio policy meant The Contours’ records remained unpolished and messier in the best way.

So in Berry Gordy’s world, if The Marvelettes were to The Supremes as The Rolling Stones were to The Beatles, let’s take it a rung lower in the case of The Contours. They were to The Temptations what The Pretty Things were to The Beatles.

Hence I covet every single they ever recorded. And heavens knows, no price is too high for their only EP.

The Marvelettes

Friday, December 6th, 2013

THE MARVELETTES / The Marvelettes:

Side 1:

Listen: Too Many Fish In The Sea / The Marvelettes

Listen: He’s A Good Guy (Yes He Is) / The Marvelettes

Side 2:

Listen: You’re My Remedy / The Marvelettes

Listen: Little Girl Blue / The Marvelettes

If you believe all the accusations contained in the handful of detailed Motown history books on the market, The Marvelettes got the second tier of important songs coming off the in-house songwriting assembly line. The cream of the most obviously commercial works went to The Supremes. It had been deemed early on that they were the label’s female superstars, and so The Marvelettes had fewer home run hits, but in the end, came off more intellectual. One might even slot them in as Motown’s biggest cult group.

Mind you, The Supremes were great, I loved them. The world loved them. But The Marvelettes, they had the darker slant, minor key at times, thereby giving them edge, even a touch of danger.

Their patch of Smokey Robinson written and produced ’66 to ’68 singles rate amongst Motown’s highest calibre. ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By THe Game’ and ‘My Baby Must Be A Magician’ to name a few.

But this EP, with earlier songs from ’63 – ’64 and their accompanying Motown bounce, mark a time when all things were a bit more juvenile and created a bit more equal, and the first division songs went around to all.

In the end, my two cents maintains The Marvelettes were to The Supremes what The Rolling Stones were to The Beatles. And I just love that.

H. B. Barnum

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Listen: Heartbreaker / H. B. Barnum

Let’s not forget what seemingly mediocre productions of non charting, weak Motown copy songs from the late 60′s and early 70′s became. They became a genre to themselves: Northern Soul.

Everyone loves the greatest songs ever written. Some people love the dodgy followups and non hits just as much. To be exact, that would be me, and in this particular situation, followers of Northern Soul.

Give a few of these songs two or three listens and you won’t believe what can happen. All those supposedly calculated, devoid of original idea tracks get under your skin in the most addictive way.

Scour the label for writer, arranger or producer credits, plus certain publishers and/or production companies, and you’ll start to find several reoccurring names, some whose careers blossomed later; or critically acclaimed folks that you want to like, but just never really got round to.

For some, the producer of ‘Heartbreaker’, David Axelrod, fits that bill. One of the house production guys at Capitol during the period, you’ll notice him often on label credits. Pay closer attention and a whole new world of untapped records will be come into your life and onto your want list.

Likewise H. B. Barnum, but more so as an arranger, back when songs needed arranging I guess: The Supremes, Little Richard and, in a most hands on capacity, Lou Rawls.

A few of H. B. Barnum’s many non hits spilled over to Northern Soul, like ‘Heartbreaker’, re-released in ’76 as a result of the UK’s insatiable taste for flops from America.

Brenda Holloway / Vivian Green

Monday, June 27th, 2011

brendahollowayuka, brenda holloway, tamla, motown, vivian green

Listen: Every Little Bit Hurts / Brenda Holloway
Every Little Bit Hurts / Brenda Holloway

Listen: Every Little Bit Hurts / Vivian Green
Every Little Bit Hurts / Vivian Green

Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ is nothing like his other massive hit, The Standells’ ‘Dirty Water’. With writing credits as diverse as The Chocolate Watch Band and Gloria Jones, it’s doubly impressive.

There was an HBO program several seasons back, AMERICAN DREAMS, all about Philadelphia in the 60′s. The daughter of the family it centered around was a dancer on AMERICAN BANDSTAND, so every episode featured a current artist kitted out as someone who had appeared on the show during that time period, and doing the same song originally performed. When they wanted Vivian Green, there weren’t many cover choices left as they’d already used material from Mary Wells and Tina Turner. The 60′s were an era of girl groups, but as Vivian was a solo artist, Motown acts like The Supremes or Martha & The Vandellas weren’t options. I suggested Brenda Holloway, never expecting them to go for it, but they did.

Doing the TV show was a two day affair. Day one, Vivian went in to record her vocal at Ocean Way Studios and on day two, she was dolled up in costume (looking exactly like Brenda Holloway to a T) and mimed the newly re-recorded version on a mock AMERICAN BANSTAND stage. It was a blast.

Vivian was completely prepared, plus being the flawless vocalist that she is, laid it down in one take. Everyone’s jaw dropped. The engineer said “You’re done” and her response was “I was only warming up. You mean I can’t sing it again?” Of course they let her, but also said if she wanted to bail and go shopping, they had what they needed. The above Vivian Green version is that first take.

Brenda Holloway actually called later that day, having heard the new version, to thank Vivian for a job well done.

Darrell Banks

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

DarrellBanksOpenDoorUS,  Darrell Banks, Stateside, Revilot, Northern Soul

DarrellBanksOpenUKA, Darrell Banks, Stateside, Revilot, Northern Soul

Listen: Open The Door To Your Heart / Darrell Banks
Open The Door To Your Heart / Darrell Banks

All the Northern Soul hits from this period, around ’66, sound like baby versions of The Supremes ‘Nothing But Heartaches’. Not that there’s a problem with that idea, you couldn’t find a better parent. Must be that xylophone bit, gives it a signature sound every time.

It’s easy to fall in love with the era as relived through the obscure club music of it’s day. Every time you hear a classic that should’ve been, you want more, a great example of why Northern is so addicting. This one’s of particularly good value for the money, given the record’s a true double sider.

DarrellBanksOurLoveUS, Darrell Banks, Stateside, Revilot, Northern Soul

DarrellBanksPocketUKB, Darrell Banks, Stateside, Revilot, Northern Soul

Listen: Our Love (Is In The Pocket) / Darrell Banks
Our Love (Is In The Pocket) / Darrell Banks

This was actually the original US A side. I first knew ‘Our Love (Is In The Pocket)’ as one of the best tracks from ROUND by The Amen Corner, who were England’s version of Wayne Cochran and The C.C. Riders I guess one could proclaim. Their version indeed did go out as a single in Holland. But little did I know at the time, Darrell Banks had slam dunked this right here at home, in fact, just a town or two away, in Buffalo.

Barbara Randolph

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Barbara Randolf / I Got A Feeling

Listen: I Got A Feeling / Barbara Randolph BarbaraFeeling.mp3

Back in the 70′s, when Howard was still in London, we had a pretty intense record exchange thing going on. This started in the early punk days of ’76. Great records were literally coming out weekly. We’d keep each other up on the latest from the UK and US respectively. Pretty quickly, we were exchanging more than punk though.

This Barbara Randolph record was one such example. Undeservedly, a non hit when originally released by US Motown in ’67, ‘I Got A Feeling’ eventually received exposure in the 70′s via the UK Northern Soul clubs and was reissued a few times as a result. One such time, in ’79, Howard thankfully sent a copy my way. I’d not heard it until then.

On Saturday night night, Vicki Wickham contributed her original A label (above) to my wall shelf. More on her singles to come.

Barbara Randolph was actually a member of The Platters and almost replaced Florence Ballard in The Supremes but word is Diana Ross nixed that. Probably a blessing. Maybe someone from the studio heard her audition and the result was this classic.

The Marvelettes

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game / The Marvelettes

Listen: The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game / The Marvelletes MarvelettesHunter.mp3

I loved The Supremes, who didn’t? But there’s something about the underdogs that make them even more appealing to me. Happens every time.

I guess The Rolling Stones (who I always preferred) were considered second to The Beatles for a while there; and then The Pretty Things to The Stones. Or as I mentioned in an earlier post, Inez & Charlie Foxx to Ike & Tina Turner.

Like Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes were certainly playing second fiddle, at best, to The Supremes over at Motown. There’s a terrific book CALLING OUT AROUND THE WORLD / A MOTOWN READER by Kingsley Abbott, detailing (and I mean detailing) those heydays of Motown. It describes the songwriting rivalries, struggles for priorities, everything. It’s a fascinating read. According to Kingsley, William Robinson, or Smokey as we know him, was always under appreciated by Berry Gordy. Even when coming off of a hit, Smokey’d be starting over. Marvin Gaye too. The girl groups were in a constant struggle to get first dibs on the strongest new songs. It’s why Mary Wells left the fold – well at least according to this book.

In the case of The Marvelettes, there were few occasions when they got those gems. Like ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game’ (another Smokey composition), many of The Marvelettes releases had a slight darkness to them – not quite as glistening with all the pop flash that those Supremes singles packed, hence their cult appeal? Probably.

I'll Keep Holding On / The Marvelettes

Listen: I’ll Keep Holding On / The Marvelletes MarvelettesHoldingOn.mp3

Let’s face it – The Marvelettes were hip. Hats off to The Action for the brave and triumphant cover of ‘I’ll Keep Holding On’

My Baby Must Be A Magician / The Marvelettes

My Baby Must Be A Magician / The Marvelettes - UK

Listen: My Baby Must Be A Magician / The Marvelettes MarvelettesMagician.mp3

And thank you to Tony King for generously giving me the UK promocopy of ‘My Baby Must Be A Magician’ pictured above.

The Contours

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

The Contours / Just a Little

ContoursLittleUKA, The Contours, Tamla

Listen: Just a Little Misunderstanding / The Contours 06 Just A Little Misunderstanding.mp3

Most times the really successful acts are great, but after they’re pounded into your brain relentlessly, you can go off them a bit. The Beach Boys come to mind and their biggest hits at that. I love ‘California Girls’ but never need to hear it again. Likewise ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’.

So yeah, we all loved The Supremes and The Four Tops too, but those lesser known Motown acts were just as great. Some had the occasional smash, Like Mary Wells or The Marvelettes, yet some just never got near their fair share. Like The Contours.

It’s in hindsight I’ve come to appreciated them. Northern Soul has given a lot of great singles an unexpected success story, if not in big sales at least in big appreciation. ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’ is one. I heard this on a few of those truly great Northern comps like THE IN CROWD – THE STORY OF NORTHERN SOUL and it’s accompanying must-read book.

Gladys Knight & The Pips

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

GladysEndRoad, Motown, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Soul, Norman Whitfield

Listen: The End Of Our Road / Gladys Knight & The Pips GladysEndRoad.mp3

Feeling victims, as were The Marvelettes and Mary Wells, of being tossed the leftovers, those songs passed on by Motown’s A level acts (The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations) according to legend, really pissed off Gladys Knight and her Pips (all family members as it turns out). Having moved from Vee Jay to Motown in ’65 with wider success in mind, they quickly found themselves relegated to subsidiary Soul, set up for the more RnB, less leaning pop acts. good call there. From ’66 – ’68, they recorded some of the label’s dirtiest and most raw sides. I’m sure to Berry Gordy’s surprise, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ became the company’s biggest selling single at that point, leaping to #2 pop and bringing Gladys Knight’s signature rasp to the mainstream.

Even better was “The End Of Our Road’, it’s followup. Peaking at #15 on Billboard’s Hot 100, it was a mighty strong showing for such a picture perfect dirt and grime black single. Their performance, recording and mix are so aggressive, it’s impossible to not be dragged in. Played this a few nights ago at the Otis Clay show – it sounded mighty powerful through that big system, filled the room, every last head and foot surrendering.

The Supremes

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

supremesbabyloveps, Supremes, Motown
Above: Front Cover, Below Back Cover
supremesbabypsb, Supremes, Motown

Listen: Baby Love / The Supremes SupremesBaby.mp3

How many consecutive hits did they have once their amazing chart run began with ‘When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes’? Somewhere between twenty and thirty, many after Diana Ross split – as though nothing had changed. It’s pretty hard to tire of those many singles, even the few that are overplayed.

Despite being their first US and UK #1, ‘Baby Love’ is always positioned to be the not quite as successful followup to ‘Where Did Our Love Go’. Hmm, my dime’s on ‘Baby Love’ as the favorite.

Beware, this picture sleeve is getting mighty scarce these days.

And by the way, Flo was the hottest. I have a feeling she was a real good night out.