Posts Tagged ‘The Contours’

The Vibrations

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Misty / The Vibrations

Listen: Misty / The Vibrations

There are many, many covers of this classic. Some people will complain it’s a schmaltzy adult bore, or that it’s too camp. But be informed, the greats have done it in varying styles: Aretha Franklin, Donald Byrd, Johnny Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Richard Groove Holmes, Donny Hathaway, Julie London, Stan Getz even Timebox. I like them all. Interestingly, it can withstand many very different interpretations.

The Vibrations, like The Contours, were in that poor man’s Temptations or Four Tops category. Consequently, both often tipped into Northern Soul. Their version of ‘Misty’ though brings me right back to the Syracuse War Memorial October 30, 1965. The Vibrations, along with Pattie La Belle & The Blue Belles, were opening for The Rolling Stones. Bravely, they performed this clad in shiny purple chino suits; and the power of the vocal had ten thousand restless kids in silent awe. Check out the final high notes here, you’ll see what I mean.

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.

LaBrenda Ben & The Beljeans

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Listen: The Chaperone / LaBrenda Ben & The Beljeans

LaBrenda Ben was an early Motown signing, releasing ‘Camel Walk’ b/w ‘The Chaperone’ in December ’62. By the end of ’63 though, with just two Gordy singles on the market, she and her group were dropped, thereby also becoming an early roster casualty. Too bad. Sure sounds like she could sing to me, even have succeeded with some Holland-Dozier-Holland or Smokey Robinson songs.

Years later, this B side gained some traction in Northern Soul clubs. The label eventually repressed ‘The Chaperone’ as an A side, this time on Motown (M 1033) as opposed to the original Gordy (G 7009). In keeping with Northern Soul’s formula of non hit Motown sounding knock-offs though, ‘The Chaperone’ more than fits the bill. Just shy of a real chorus, the metallic thumps and all the right jingle jangles were almost enough to cover for lack of one. Records like this came off the label’s conveyer belt as often as cars did down the street. All in all, ‘The Chaperone’ might have worked if only it had gotten some airplay as opposed to being relegated to the flip.

Listen: I Can’t Help It, I Gotta Dance / LaBrenda Ben

Cursed with a seemingly misspelled stage name, LaBrenda’s back up singers’ moniker, The Beljeans, probably didn’t help.

Looks as though that opinion wasn’t mine alone, given they were nowhere in sight on the label copy for their followup and swan song.

No idea who was making the decisions around Motown then, but legend has it Berry Gordy was a major control freak, and he clearly knew a hit. So how did ‘I Can’t Help It, I Gotta Dance’ end up as a B side? I thought lightning never struck twice.

Not only, as with ‘The Chaperone’, was ‘I Can’t Help It, I Gotta Dance’ the noticeably stronger track, the song was about The Contours. And they were on the label for God’s sake.

The Contours

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Listen: Shake Sherry / The Contours

The musical chairs surrounding the often interchanging members of The Contours will have your head spinning if you let it. Some of the guys still perform today, and a family tree type timeline is readily available on Wikipedia. But be forewarned, it’s for the clear headed only and I do commend whoever got all those details together.

‘Shake Sherry’, one of the many lyrically intentional dance songs the group recorded, followed up their only Top 10, ‘Do You Love Me’. As with the majority of their other 60′s Gordy label releases, it peaked mid chart (#43). Seemingly in the shadow of The Temptations and The Four Tops, apparently The Contours were the act whose wild live performances on those Motown Revue package tours would truly tear the house down.

Even despite being written by Berry Gordy himself, and getting a top vocal drill by Billy Gordon, the record just didn’t get the muscle at radio from the Motown machine. Who the hell let that happen?

The Contours ended up benefitting from numerous Northern Soul dj’s bringing many of their records justice years later. And in fact, when ‘Do You Love Me’ was used in 1987′s DIRTY DANCING, the re-released single found it’s way back into the US BILLBOARD chart, peaking at #11. As we all know, a very uncommon result in America.

Shades Of Blue

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Listen: Oh How Happy / Shades Of Blue
Oh How Happy / Shades Of Blue

Like The Casinos from around the same time period (1966), Shades Of Blue were basically a white, really white, vocal group that got mistaken for black. It became a big part of their story. ‘Oh How Happy’ could have easily been The Contours or The Vibrations suddenly coming on to your local pop station that summer, when a groundswell of airplay surrounded the single’s release.

Although the label copy indicates otherwise, Shades Of Blue’s website claims Edwin Starr co-wrote ‘Oh How Happy’ with their help. Either way, someone turned out a mainstream blue eyed soul benchmark in the process.

One of the many RnB indie label licenses Guy Stevens acquired for UK release through Sue, I’m betting he too thought they were from the hood.

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.