A couple of weeks ago the BBC showed a programme called the Story of Funk, it featured the usual suspects, James Brown, Sly, George Clinton, Earth Wind and Fire it was all there, among the various artists being interviewed were two white gentlemen from Dundee called Onnie McIntyre and Alan Gorrie. Seeing these two catapulted me back to 1974 and my efforts to obtain their album AWB or the White Album as it now more commonly known, This disc was bought purely on the basis that had been reviewed favourably by New Musical Express (NME), at this particular time the frozen northerner only bought records on the advice of this magazine. NME held only three areas of interest, the soul section written by Roger St Pierre, the crossword and the album reviews which were done superbly by someone like Nick Kent or Charles Shaar Murray (Murray once wrote a great piece expounding the brilliance of the Jackson 5 album Skywriter, but that’s another story). So when they said go buy, I bought, at that particular time Newcastle had probably three main outlets to buy records Jeavons, Windows and probably Callers, none these places had even heard of the Average White Band, I vainly trolled every record shop in Newcastle without any success leaving with one last chance which was the hippy sanctuary on Ridley Place known as Virgin Records, unbelievably they stocked the album which, was happily purchased from some John Lennon lookalike and was taken straight home to be listened too. On a first hearing I was quite smitten with the band, the vocals of Hamish Stuart and Alan Gorrie were outstanding, which is probably a bit unfair on the rest of the band who were all at their very best on this album, there isn’t a bad track people on the LP and every song is a little piece of magic, “Pick up the Pieces” is the best known track, although my personal favourite is “Just want to love tonight. It was produced by the great Arif Mardin, with a little bit of help from Jerry Wexler; both men knew they were on a winner with these Scottish funksters, with the outcome being an album of the highest quality. I don’t think anyone has really appreciated the fact that AWB reached no1 in USA, both in the Billboard and R & B charts, some achievement for bunch of lads from Scotland. Any fan of soul and funk should buy this album because it will over time become a prized possession; just remember unlike me you won’t have to troll the streets of Newcastle to buy it.
In blog notes 26, I revealed my love for the music of Motown, so it is appropriate that I talk about the one album guaranteed to get you on the dance floor at any Christmas party. The best compilation album that has ever been made is, without doubt Motown Chartbusters Volume 3.Yes, there are some greatest hits LP’s that are up there like the Four Tops Greatest Hits which features 12 absolute gems, 10 of them penned by the peerless Holland Dozier and Holland but compilation albums are normally something that I tend stay clear of. However at this festive time of the year Motown Chartbusters Volume 3 must eased out of that wonderful silver cover, placed on a turn table and played relentlessly, this piece of pure Motown magic can only be played on vinyl as it would be sacrilege for it to be listened to in any other shape or form. This album was originally given to me by the illustrious Jackie Doogan who at that time was arguably the coolest kid in my Northumbrian pit village. In my formative years “The Doog” was the most stylish person I had ever come across and was a major influence on me , he was always telling me what clothes to wear and what music to listen to, he couldn’t play football to save his life but liked to think of himself as Shiremoor’s answer to Rodney Marsh which just added to his appeal. So when presented me with this album it was pretty much a no brainer that I going to like it, as usual at that time he was right on the money, once Marvin Gaye introduces you to the LP with “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” on side one track one, you are very quickly going to be up to your knees in “The Sound of Young America”, which is as near to paradise as you are going to get. I love all 16 tracks on the disc, my personal favourite on this album is “I’m Gonna Make You Love You” by Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations which features Ross and the late great Eddie Kendricks on lead vocals, picking this as my preferred choice is bound to cause a bit of controversy and may be a bit of an injustice to all of the other great songs on this album, but that is why we like to debate about music because everyone’s view is different. The “Doog” died at a very young age which was an absolute tragedy, the influence he had on me and other kids in my village should never underestimated or taken for granted, sometimes when listen to Motown Chartbusters Volume 3 I can close my eyes and be transported back to the early 1970’s, life was a lot simpler back but a whole lot better. Please play this record over the holidays it will make the place a whole lot happier.
In late 1980’s I bought Nick Logan’s “Arena” magazine religiously, it for me had everything, this was a great magazine and had great pieces of writing by the likes of Tony Parsons, Nick Kent, Julie Burchill to name but three, I was enthralled and soaked up every article in each publication. Somewhere in each issue there was a section labelled “Arena Recommends” highlighting art, books, films and music. Their musical recommendation were practically flawless and albums were bought purely on their advice. So when in the 1988 spring/summer Dylan Jones announced that Mica Paris was an “extraordinary gifted singer” it was fairly obvious that I was going to purchase her debut album “So Good”. Young, black, talented and most of all British Mica Paris drew on her gospel background to sing like an angel, making us believe that here was female soul singer that was going to give her American counterparts a run for their money. The title of the album was perfect because the LP was “So Good” there isn’t a bad track on the whole record which peaked at number 6 in the charts, it spawned four great singles, “Like Dreamers Do” “My One Temptation” “Breathe Life Into Me” and her duet with Will Dowling the cover version of the Flack/Hathaway classic “Where Is The Love”. I find it hard to believe that “Sway” was never released as a single, perhaps I am getting bit carried away, but when I hear her beautiful vocals on “My One Temptation” ably backed up by those gorgeous horns in the background then I know this is an album of the highest quality. I still play this record endlessly especially in the summer when I am lying on some Italian beach. It is hard to believe that Mica Paris never matched the success of her debut album, true her next album Contribution made to the top 30 in the album charts, but none of the singles released from that record had any impact, Mica Paris still tours on a regular basis and still has that superb voice, it is mystery to me why she did not become a star of epic proportions, but then again there is nothing quite as fickle the music business, I hope and pray that Mica has one more great album in her locker that can put her back on top because that is where she belongs.
I bought this Roberta Flack album featuring Donny Hathaway probably around 1980 after hearing the track ‘Back Together’ in Julie’s nightclub in Newcastle. Up until I heard this track I have to say that I was not a very big fan of Ms Flack, despite the fact that she had enjoyed great success with the two major number 1 hit singles, ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ and ‘Killing me Softly’. For me personally, I always thought she was at her best when singing with Donny Hathaway and this album goes a long way to prove it and is, in my opinion her finest piece of work. This LP (yes LP) should only be played vinyl and nothing else, if you are truly to appreciate the brilliance of this classic soul album. Produced by Flack and Eric Mercury and featuring back-up vocals by the likes of Luther Vandross, Gwen Guthrie, Stevie Wonder and Jocelyn Brown, the album features 7 great songs with the two standout tracks being ‘Back Together’ and ‘Don’t Make Me Wait Too Long. The album proved a watershed for both Flack & Hathaway due to the tragic early death of the latter, leaving us only with the thought of what might have been. Roberta Flack has had a long and successful career and has produced some great songs, but for me she has not done anything that comes anywhere near to this sublime masterpiece, play it late at night and ease into the groove with this breathtaking piece of R&B/Soul magic.
It has taken me 25 blogs to get to the subject of music, the way people listen to music has changed so much over the years, there are so many different types of sound systems it makes my head spin. To be honest I am not really interested what system you have, it is the artist and their music that interests me. So what does the frozen northerner listen to in his very limited leisure time. Well, I suppose what I listened to in my youth will and still does have a strong bearing on what I listen to now. Kids in my school fell into two categories, if you had long hair you were listening to bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath etc. and if you had short hair (possibly with potential skinhead tendencies) you chose soul or reggae if chose soul it would in all probability have a heavy Motown influence. The chances of me having long hair were nil, so when a good friend of mine lent me a copy of Motown Chartbusters Volume 3 the die was pretty much cast. Once that glorious piece of vinyl had been eased out of that magical silver cover sleeve and placed it on that Fidelity turntable, a whole new world was about to open up and introduce me to likes of Stevie, Martha, Junior, Smokey, The Temps and The Tops. They were all there, singing motor city classics that made your feet tap instantly. No one caught my imagination more than Marvin Gaye, he looked so cool in a tux and with that red pocket square he was impossible to resist, furthermore he sang like a dream, either as a solo artist or in a duo with Mary, Kim or Tammi, he was the man and I loved his albums.
Then 1971 he released ‘What’s Going On’ an album way ahead of its time, this was not a record aimed at getting your feet moving, this was a serious disc dealing with serious issues such as social depravation and racial injustice. It changed the face of black music and would heavily influence performers like Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield. To be brutally honest it took me years to really understand it, but now I regard it as seminal piece of work, which is right at the top of my music collection. Like any great album there are some standout tracks, although for me, none compare with Inner City Blues, a song that is as relevant today as it was 44 years ago. True, it may not be the happiest album you will listen to, but it is surely one of the best.