Recently Mick invited me to write a column reviewing records that I particularly like and which are keeping me warm at home during these winter nights. So I have selected 20 sides that hopefully some of you may not be familiar with and for those who do know the records, hopefully you will feel I have done them justice.
Bobby Sheen; “The Shelter of your arms” (Capitol 5984)
Coming sometime after his big popular Northern record “Dr Love” (backed by the even better “Sweet, sweet love”), this is a brilliant beat ballad. Bobby feels like a bit of a “nobody” as he goes about his day to day life, but, like many of us, when we are with that special person in our lives, we feel so much better. Bobby’s vocal ranges respond to the chord changes wonderfully. Plenty of strings and brass make this a dancers’ delight, especially towards the end of an evening.
The Groovers; “I need you” (A&M 1077)
Another which fits into beat ballad country. Starting off with plenty of strings and girly backing vocals, focusing on the title. Then the tempo rises perceptibly as the lead singer reflects on the way he has mistreated his girl and now regrets this realising how he misses her “without you life is just no good at all”. This track has a great pedigree being penned by Goffin & King, are there other versions? Is this the same outfit who recorded for Minit?
Vessie Simmons; “Better to bend than break” (Simco )
Vessie is of course well known in soul circles for her earlier Simco recording “I can make it on my own” (Simco 62466), still a popular attraction for the dancers. This time we don’t get a catalogue number but we do get a very catchy number. Intro sounds like flutes/trombones setting a nice mid-tempo as Vessie is looking forward to her man coming back home to her. You form the impression that she might just have to accommodate him “straying” again in the future as she adopts the title.
Vessie released 2 albums “On my own” (1970) and “Hold onto a love story” (1971) but this track is not on either.
O’Jays; “Be my girl” (Amy 8250)
The flip side of “I dig your act” (so nothing particularly rare here) but this is a lovely mid-tempo number, very reminiscent of some of their Imperial sides, this track lopes its way through the speakers with the groups vocals coming through and giving you itchy feet to get onto that dancefloor. Another great George Kerr production.
Blues Buster; “Inspired to love you” (Shout 235)
A great Hammond organ introduces this moving opus, then the driving brasswork comes in to support the repetitive (but not boring) title. Produced by Rick Hall who we lost very recently. The Shout catalogue released some great songs, both dancers and ballads, very few, if any, “duds”. Not something you can say about many record labels.
Willie Johnson; “What am I gonna do (without your love)” (Savannah Int 1103)
A catchy, classy, crossover song from state to finish. Johnson will be well known to most in Soul music circles, mainly for his deeper sides and this is another tremendous song. The track moves along nicely with girl vocal backings coming in to bring added harmony to Willie’s vocals, as our hero really goes for it towards the end of the 4mins plus as the stylus reaches the run out groove.
5 Degrees Farenheit “Just let your heart be your guide” (A-Bet 9443)
Oh for the days when new releases like this could be found weekly in your local HMV store!! But of course nothing ever stays the same. However there may be many reading this who are relatively new to our music and many of the tracks in this column are dedicated to them. This is a tremendous 70s up-tempo side which, from memory found favour at Blackpool Mecca and Manchester’s Ritz, to name just a few. My ears pick up traces of Innervisions’ “Let me love you” rarity.
Ann Peebles ; “When I’m in your arms” (Hi 770502)
I could hardly ignore Memphis in a soul column now could I? This was, I think, the second side issued on the re-designed Hi label in 1977. Everything about this track cries out MEMPHIS!!, the unmistakable Memphis Horns are there, written by Ann together with Don Bryant and Gene Anderson and Produced by Willie Mitchell. This is actually the “B” side to “If this is heaven”, itself a mid-tempo track that has found popularity with the dancers over the years and written by Willie Mitchell and Earl Randle.
Royal Five; “Gonna keep lovin’ you” (Tyler 200)
Whatever your thoughts are about rare Northern tracks, for me many have one redeeming quality and this is often found on the flip of the more frantic paced side. Whilst “Say it to my face” may at times get the dancers rushing to the floor this gentle group ballad is ideal for listening to in the quietness of your record room or in the car. A balmy side with a light voiced lead singer taking us through a quality side accompanied by the rest of the “Five”. Seems like it was self-penned by the group who appear to have shared production and arrangement duties as well.
Robert Dobyne; “Spent a lot of years (loving you)” (Kwanza 7714)
Right, some real self-indulgence time here, a side which, will always be in my Top 10 soul records. Released 27 May 1973 this is a sad tale of Robert’s wife leaving him and the children for another man, something Robert finds hard to understand when he reflects on their life together. He looks forward to how things would be if she would only come back and he could tell the children “hey kids, mommas home, mommas home”. Seems this was a Mono/Stereo only release, how I would love to have heard more of his voice on a different B side. Written by Otis Leavill.
Sunshine; “Going home to an empty house” (Phil LA of Soul359)
Even more pathos than Robert Dobyne’s offering above. A similar tale but recorded at a funeral pace (in parts). A slow piano intro precedes the singer’s opening offering as he feels the pain of arriving home to his home where his lover/wife used to be. A highly melodic song with strong vocals supported by lovely female support. Who is Sunshine? Well most (including me) think it is Herb Ward, who wrote both sides of the record. If not, it does not matter, it is a tour de force of a soul record.
Billy Butler; “Careless Heart” (Brunswick 55347)
Certainly few will not know this, the other side of “I’ll bet you” another Northern spin. This is however the epitome for me, of the best that Chicago offered us in the 60s & 70s. Strings in the background, tinkling piano/guitar, Billy’s voice tells of a tale of warning to his heart regarding a possible lover. Written by Billy, produced by Carl Davis, arranged by Sonny Sanders and directed by Gerald Sims, all the classic ingredients of Chi-Town are there. Bettered only by his “Love turns bitter”. Now that IS a tune.
Al Johnson “Love waits for no man” (South Camp 7002)
Another from the Cotswold Top 10. When Johnson went to the Broadway Studios in Alabama, little did he probably know the legacy he would be created in terms of real soul. Another horn laden opus behind Al’s strong vocals. We kick off with a slow guitar picking then Al comes in accompanied by the horns as once again we find a guy reliving a tale of lost opportunity in love.
Tony Owens; “I don’t want nobody but my baby” (Buddah 471)
When Kent released “Dave Godin’s Soul Treasures Vol 2” CD in 1998 this was the one revelation to my ears. I thought I knew most of Tony’s recordings, mainly on “Soulin” from New Orleans but this track just sat me back in my chair. The search for this led to many frustrated years as the A side “All that matters” was one of those prolific double A siders that labels such as Buddah seemed to specialise in, unaware of the total gem resting on the flip side of the issue copies.
A really slow but poignant ballad with Owen’s fine voice in great form as he tells his girl just what she meant to him after she leaves him. Is a pattern happening here to our heroes?
Whatever, John Manship came to the rescue a few Soul Essences ago, and now it resides in the Cotswolds ☺
Barbara Stant; “You know I love you” (Shiptown 203 326)
I’m no different to many collectors who, for whatever reason, harbour a liking for particular labels and this small label from Norfolk, Virginia has spawned a small number of classic sides over the years. Barbara was one of the stable’s key artists and this sweet ballad is just superb. Label owner Norah Biggs produced and arranged this simple but atmospheric song. On the flip we have the Sam Dees classic “Unsatisfied woman” also recorded by Jean Battle(Red Lite 119).
Sunlovers; “This love of ours” (Mutt & Jeff 18)
Also recorded on the Breakthough label this is a wonderful double sider that leaves you that great win-win decision where whichever side the stylus lands on you will be transported to 3 mins of soul heaven. Another group who please both the dancers (“You’ll never make the grade”) and the armchair listeners. Wonderful falsetto vocals take us through a sweet ballad, whilst the flip “My poor heart” may even temp the dancers at the end of a session.
Ambers; “Now I’m in trouble” (Verve 10436)
Back to our Northern heroes and the flip of “I love you baby”. We have another side similar to arrangement to the Royal Five with a great lead vocal again regretting how he might have blown it with the girl of his dreams. Can it get any better than this?
Betty Swann; “(My heart is) closed for the season” (Capitol 2263)
There cannot be one person reading this who is not familiar with at least one track by Betty and this double sider is one of her best. Spending many of her formative years with the LA based Money label, her move to the major label brought a number of great recordings inc a LP “The Soul View”.
“My heart….” has a mid-tempo feel that could (and might) have tempted some jocks to programme it at some more open-minded venues.
Betty Swann; “I’m lonely for you” (Capitol 2263)
“My heart….” obtained two releases but with different B sides, this one is somewhat later than the first where there was “Don’t touch me” on the flip, a nice country soul record but one which I personally feel doesn’t hit the spot that “I’m lonely…” does. This side encompasses a nice change of tempos and has more atmosphere and attraction to it. However, if the label says “Betty Swann” then, how can we lose?
Carlton Jumel Smith “I can’t love you anymore” (Timmion 718)
Brand new through the letter box this morning direct from Timmion, this actually has, for me, shades of Memphis in its arrangement. The Finnish label is fast establishing itself as a prime source of new soul releases. House band Cold Diamond & Mink provide superb backing to Carlton’s fine vocals. Check out Simply Soul for copies & sound file.
Well that’s it for me. If Mick gives me a second chance then we’ll be album tracking next time with Sharon Jones & Dap Kings, James Hunter Six to name just a few.
Until next time!