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September 24, 2016
Artist: The 5th Dimension
The Fifth Dimension’s unique sound lay somewhere between smooth, elegant soul and straightforward, adult-oriented pop, often with a distinct flower-power vibe. Although they appealed more to mainstream listeners than to a hip, hardcore R&B audience, they had a definite ear for contemporary trends; their selection of material helped kickstart the notable songwriting careers of Jimmy Webb and Laura Nyro, and their biggest hit was a medley from the hippie musical Hair, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” The group’s soaring, seamless harmonies were given appropriately sweeping, orchestrated period production by Bones Howe, which often placed their records closer to California-style sunshine pop. That’s actually part of the reason why the best singles from the Fifth Dimension’s heyday of the late ’60s and early ’70s still evoke their era with uncanny precision.
The Fifth Dimension began life in Los Angeles in 1965 as the Versatiles. Lamonte McLemore, Ron Townson, and Billy Davis, Jr. all grew up in St. Louis, and moved to Los Angeles independently of one another; each was trained in a different area — jazz, opera, and gospel/R&B, respectively. Marilyn McCoo was the first female singer to join, and she was soon augmented by Florence LaRue; both were ex-beauty pageant winners who’d attended college in the L.A. area. Their demo tape was rejected by Motown, but after a one-off single for Bronco, they caught the attention of singer Johnny Rivers, who’d just set up his own label, Soul City. Rivers signed the group in 1966 on the condition that they update their name and image, and thus the Fifth Dimension was born. Their first Soul City single, “I’ll Be Lovin’ You Forever,” was a flop, but a cover of the Mamas & the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go” climbed into the Top 20.
Budding young songwriter Jimmy Webb (“Macarthur Park,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” etc.) supplied the Fifth Dimension with their breakthrough hit, 1967’s “Up, Up and Away.” An ode to the pleasures of flying in a beautiful balloon, the song became the group’s first Top Ten hit, peaking at number seven, and went on to sweep the Grammy Awards, taking home five total (including Record of the Year and Song of the Year). Its success pushed the Fifth Dimension’s first album, also titled Up, Up and Away, to gold sales status. The group stuck with Webb for its second album, The Magic Garden, which featured only one non-Webb composition; it produced a couple of minor hits in “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man,” but nothing on the level of “Up, Up and Away.” Their third LP was thus more diverse, featuring several compositions by another up-and-coming songwriter, Laura Nyro. The title cut, Nyro’s “Stoned Soul Picnic,” went all the way to number three in the spring of 1968, selling over a million copies and putting Nyro on the map. The Nyro-penned follow-up single, “Sweet Blindness,” also reached the Top 20.
The Fifth Dimension’s success peaked in 1969 when the group caught a Broadway production of Hair, and immediately decided to cut a medley of two songs from the show. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was a monster hit and grew to become one of the era’s defining pop records; it spent six weeks at number one, sold a whopping three million copies, and won the group its second Record of the Year Grammy. Accompanying LP The Age of Aquarius went gold and nearly hit number one, and their Nyro-penned follow-up single, “Wedding Bell Blues,” followed its predecessor to number one as well. The song was something of a mirror of real life; Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo were married that year, and Florence LaRue also married group manager Marc Gordon.
Johnny Rivers sold Soul City to the Bell label in 1970, and the first Fifth Dimension LP on Bell was that year’s Portrait, which spawned several minor hits and the Top Five smash “One Less Bell to Answer,” a Burt Bacharach composition. 1970 also brought a controversial performance at the White House; although the group sang “The Declaration,” a socially conscious critique, the simple act of appearing before President Nixon further alienated the Fifth Dimension from the black wing of their fan base, at a time when their releases had already begun to peak higher on the pop charts than on the R&B side. Indeed, their Bell recordings moved farther into soft pop and away from R&B and the gently trippy vibes of their late-’60s material. Their album sales began to taper off, and their vocal arrangements now tended to spotlight soloists rather than unified harmonies. McCoo emerged as a focal point, singing lead on the 1972 Top Ten hits “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” and “If I Could Reach You.” They proved to be the group’s last major successes; another Bacharach tune, 1973’s “Living Together, Growing Together,” barely made the Top 40, and the following year’s Soul & Inspiration LP marked the end of their relationship with producer Bones Howe. 1975’s Earthbound was another full-length collaboration with Jimmy Webb, and much like The Magic Garden, its thematic unity failed to produce a significant hit single. It was also the last album by the original lineup; McCoo and Davis left the group to form a duo, and scored a big hit in 1976 with “You Don’t Have to Be a Star.”
The remaining trio carried on with new members, and nearly had a hit in 1976 with the LaRue-sung “Love Hangover”; unfortunately, Motown issued Diana Ross’ own version shortly after the Fifth Dimension’s hit the charts, and hers proved far more popular. Strangely enough, the Fifth Dimension signed with Motown not long after, releasing two albums in 1978. Townson briefly left the group to try a solo career, but soon returned, as the group resigned itself to the nostalgia circuit; meanwhile, McCoo served a stint as the host of Solid Gold. Phyllis Battle joined in the mid-’80s, and the original quintet reunited in 1990 for a tour. In 1995, the quintet of LaRue, Townson, McLemore, Battle, and Greg Walker recorded a new album, In the House, for Click Records. In 1998, Willie Williams replaced Townson, who passed away in 2001 due to kidney failure. Battle departed in 2002, to be replaced by Van Jewel. Steve Huey, All Music Guide
Better known as the early-1969 Top Five hit for the Brooklyn Bridge “Worst That Could Happen” is also a bit more identifiable from the repetitive line “Girl, I heard you’re getting married.” The 5th Dimension cut their version (not issued as a single) in mid-1967 as part of The Magic Garden album. It’s a downcast ballad that touches on a man’s emotions when finding out that an ex-girlfriend (that he still loves) is marrying. The overall effect of the music is very much in the Righteous Brothers tradition of a “big” ballad. Oddly, despite the brilliance of Jimmy Webb, the recording here has a slightly dated, almost cloying quality that didn’t quite mesh with the 5th’s overall buoyancy. Matthew Greenwald, All Music Guide
This record did contain the small hits “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man,” but the group, or more likely arranger/conductor Jim Webb, was probably shooting for something a bit higher than the Top 40. Aside from a misfired cover of the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” Webb wrote everything on this album, which — with between-track segues, lyrics expounding dreams and possibility, and dense orchestral settings — seemed to be aiming for a song cycle of sorts. It’s not Pet Sounds, however, or even Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle. It’s overambitious MOR pop-soul with mild psychedelic colors, and a bit ludicrous, though not unattractive due to the typically conscientious harmonies. “Orange Air” is probably the group’s best shot at pseudo-psychedelia; “The Girls’ Song,” on much firmer MOR territory, was done much better by Jackie DeShannon; and “The Worst That Could Happen,” Webb at his most disagreeably sentimental, was covered for a huge hit by the Brooklyn Bridge about a year later. A recent biography of cult singer/songwriter Nick Drake, by the way, revealed that this album, along with such estimable underground classics as Love’s Forever Changes and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, was a special favorite of his because of its combination of rock and orchestration. That means it might suddenly become a lot harder to find in the dollar bins, although many of those copies will probably find their way right back there after Drake fans play it once or twice. The album was also reissued by Soul City under the title The Worst That Could Happen. Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
The second version of the Magic Garden LP, simply brilliant work – arguably the best album the 5th Dimension ever cut! The reason for this is Jimmy Webb – who arranged and conducted the album, which is comprised entirely of his own work. Gone are the simple pop tunes of earlier years, and in their place are some incredibly dark tunes that ride the razor edge between love and sadness in the best mode of Bacharach’s genius work from the same time. Includes the sublime “The Girl’s Song”, a track that out-Bacharachs Burt himself – plus “Requiem 820 Latham”, “The Worst That Could Happen”, “Paper Cup”, and “Carpet Man”.
Album: The Worst That Could Happen
Release date: 1968
02. The Magic Garden
03. Summer’s Daughter
05. Carpet Man
06. Ticket To Ride
07. Requiem: 820 Latham
08. The Girl’s Song
09. The Worst That Could Happen
10. Orange Air
11. Paper Cup
‘The Worst That Could Happen’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers (Click On The Thumbnails)
September 24, 2016
Artist: The Kelly Brothers
The Kelly Brothers could well be described as secular gospel being the group equivalent of such southern soul charters as Otis Redding and James Carr.
Swank group harmonies from the north meet gritty vamping & growling from the south, and you get the answer to the soulful musical question, ‘What if Otis Redding was split into 3 people?’ The Kelly Brothers began as a gospel act, were sometimes called the Kingpins, & recorded in Memphis & Muscle Shoals, Alabama. They issued a few singles on labels in Chicago & Nashville before returning to the gospel circuit.
Album: Too Much! Soul
Release date: 1966
01. If That Will Hold You
02. Got The Feeling
03. Can’t Stand It No Longer
04. Crying Days Are Over
05. Make Me Glad
06. How Can True Love Be This Way
07. Falling In Love Again
08. I’d Rather Have You
09. My Love Grows Stronger
10. I’ve Got My Baby
11. You’re The Most
12. You’re That Great Big Feeling
‘I’d Rather Have You’ On YouTube
‘You’re That Great Big Feeling’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers & Labels (Click On The Thumbnails)
September 24, 2016
Artist: Bobby Moore And The Rhythm Aces
Bobby Moore’s sole album for the Chess label was paced by “Searching for My Love,” the fine soul ballad that made the R&B Top Ten and the pop Top Thirty in 1966 (though it was sung by Chico Jenkins, not by saxophonist/bandleader Moore). Nothing else on the LP comes close to its quality, and though it’s OK overall, it definitely has its share of filler, including some stock soul instrumentals. Better are the vocal ballads, which have the smoochy organ/sax/guitar sound of much grassroots romantic soul of the period. Though it’s fairly Southern in feel (having been recorded in Muscle Shoals), it’s not quite as churchy or down-home as much of the “deep soul” from the region; it’s a bit more pop in slant, though it’s passionate enough. There’s the occasional above average tune, like the nonsensical rap in the novelty dance number “The Hamburger Song” and the pensive “When I Get This Feeling.” But overall it’s quite an average 1966 soul album, neither too good nor at all bad. All 12 of its songs are on the 24-track compilation Go Ahead and Burn, which also includes all of the songs from Moore & the Rhythm Aces’ four non-LP 1966-1970 singles, along with four cuts (two from 1968 and two from 1970) that had only appeared previously on a Japanese LP. Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
A wonderful album of southern soul – and the only full-length LP cut by Bobby Moore and his long-lived Rhythm Aces combo! The group’s the sort that slaved away endlessly in live shows all over the south – playing on their own, or providing extra backup for countless big stars touring through the area. Bobby’s on tenor, and the group has some incredibly rich vocal talents – unnamed, but with a group harmony style that’s equally at home with sweet ballads or hard stompin party numbers. The latter style is the band’s strongest suit, though – with an approach that’s somewhere between the hard soul of Sam & Dave and the party grooves of Doug Clark & The Hot Nuts – and like that group, Moore’s style was probably forged out of years of playing at beach dances, frat parties, and bar gigs, the real proving ground for a tight combo like this! A great little LP, with a fresh sound throughout – and tracks include “The Hamburger Song”, “Follow Me”, “Searching For My Love”, “Hey, Mr. DJ”, “Searching For My Love”, “Jenny, Jenny”, “Come Back Baby”, and “We’ve Got That”. Recorded at Fame in 1966 with Rick Hall, too!
Album: Searching For My Love
Release date: 1966
01. Searching For My Love
02. Mr. Starlight
03. Follow Me
04. The Hamburger Song
05. Hey, Mr. D.J.
06. When I Get This Feeling
07. We’ve Got That
08. How Can You Do It, Baby
10. Jenny, Jenny
11. I Will Never Trust Love Again
12. Come Back Baby
‘Searching For My Love’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers & Labels (Click On The Thumbnails)
September 23, 2016
Artist: Chuck Jackson
He’s relatively forgotten today, and his brand of uptown soul is dismissed by the relatively vocal clique of critics who prefer their soul deep and down-home. But Chuck Jackson was a regular visitor to the R&B charts (and an occasional one to the pop listings) in the early ’60s with such early pop-soul concoctions as “I Don’t Want to Cry,” “Any Day Now,” and “Tell Him I’m Not Home.” His records were very much of a piece with New York pop/rock-soul production, with cheeky brass, sweeping strings, and female backup vocalists. Those production trills make his work sound dated to some listeners, and his hoarse, emotional vocals weren’t as subtle or commanding as peers like Ben E. King or Wilson Pickett. On its own terms, though, his best work is quite good, whether you prefer pop to soul or vice versa.
Jackson sang with one of the best doo wop groups, the Dell-Vikings, for a while in the late ’50s (although he doesn’t appear on their hit singles). Spotted by Scepter Records while performing with Jackie Wilson’s Revue, he started recording for the label in 1961. As was the case with labelmates Dionne Warwick and the Shirelles, Jackson’s early-’60s arrangements blended pop, R&B, and New York-session professionalism. Like Warwick, Jackson was one of the first singers to successfully record Bacharach-David material; one of his best singles, “I Keep Forgettin'” (1962), was written and produced by Leiber-Stoller. Jackson had some success with some duets with Maxine Brown in the mid-’60s, but he left Wand in 1967 for Motown, at the urging of Smokey Robinson. Jackson was (perhaps understandably) lost in the shuffle during his four years at Motown, and he’s barely been heard from since, although he remains a favorite on England’s “Northern soul” scene. Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
Berry Gordy switched Chuck Jackson to the VIP label for his final LP for the Motown family. It didn’t help sales, as this album of ballads and midtempo love sagas sold as poorly as two previous efforts. Many of Jackson’s Motown tracks were remakes; the first two albums were loaded with them, but there are only two here. “The Thrill Is Gone” and “Rainy Night in Georgia” are both done in Chuck’s distinctive baritone; they’re nice, but they have nothing on the originals. “Baby I’ll Get It,” backed by “The Day My World Stood Still,” flopped, as did its lumbering successor “Let Somebody Love Me,” an odd choice for a single since its flip “Two Feet from Happiness” had more juice. Chuck’s last two singles were Smokey Robinson productions, “Pet Names” and “Who You Gonna Run To”; both stiffed, and neither are on this collection. The latter, originally done by the Temptations, appeared on Jackson’s Motown debut Chuck Jackson Arrives. A good CD compilation of Chuck’s Motown sides is way overdue. Andrew Hamilton, All Music Guide
An obscure one by Chuck Jackson – but a great one too! The album was cut for Motown’s VIP subsidiary, during a time when Chuck was experimenting with a slightly southern style – a bit in the mode of Solomon Burke or Brook Benton, but with a lighter touch, as you’d guess from Chuck’s earlier recordings. The format provides a perfect platform for Chuck to open his voice a bit more, melt the ice from his earlier Wand sides, and get into a bit deeper vocal style. Titles include “Baby, I’ll Get It”, “I Can’t Let My Heaven Walk Away”, “Let Somebody Love Me”, “Two Feet From Happiness”, “Just A Little Love”, “That’s Me Lovin You”, and “Have You Heard About The Fool”.
Album: Teardrops Keep Fallin’ On My Heart
Release date: 1970
01. Let Somebody Love Me
02. I Can’t Let My Heaven Walk Away
03. Is There Anything Love Can’t Do
04. The Thrill Is Gone
05. Baby, I’ll Get It
06. Rainy Night In Georgia
07. Just A Little Love (Before My Life Is Gone)
08. I’ll Fight (‘Till I Win Your Love)
09. There’s A Rainbow In Your Heart
10. Two Feet From Happiness
11. That’s Me Lovin’ You
12. Have You Heard About The Fool
‘The Thrill Is Gone’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers & Labels (Click On The Thumbnails)
September 20, 2016
Artist: King Hannibal
As obscure R&B legends go, the Mighty Hannibal remains perhaps the most interesting to grace the stage or airwaves of the 1950s and 1960s. A first cousin of maligned Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan and a flamboyant player all his life, Hannibal’s music was as exciting as his life. Born James Shaw he started singing doo wop as an Atlanta teenager, and eventually released a string of moderately successful (and generally highly praised) singles for a variety of independent labels. Shaw’s first group, the Overalls in 1954, included future Pips Edward Patten and Merald Knight. His first notable single as a solo performer (1958’s “Big Chief Hug-Um an’ Kiss-Um”) was released under the name Jimmy Shaw on Concept. Other early singles of note include “My Name Is Hannibal” for Pan World, the Jack Nitzsche-penned “The Biggest Cry” (it of course featured a lush string arrangement courtesy of the writer), and the bluesy “I Need a Woman (‘Cause I’m a Man).” For a time, Hannibal even recorded for his own Sharob label.
But it was his mid-’60s work that put Hannibal (as he was officially known by now) on the map. “Jerkin’ the Dog” and “Fishin’ Pole” showed the turban-decked one growing measurably in his singing and arranging skills. But it was the prophetic Shurfine hit “Hymn No. 5,” a sobering gospel-blues about a black soldier writing home from Vietnam, that Hannibal will perhaps be best known for. Released in 1966, the tune beat the white hippie acts to the punch by at least a year in its anti-war consciousness. But by now, however, Hannibal had developed a serious heroin habit and was spending more time as a pimp than a performer, and wasted much energy trying to sound like the newly funkified James Brown and producing somewhat weaker singles.
By 1972, he had kicked heroin for good and recorded some of the best work of his career to this point. On “I’m Coming Home,” Hannibal again visits the Vietnam quagmire, this time (it is now 1970) sending a young black man out of cities torn by drugs and riots into an even worse nightmare (could this be the younger brother of the vet described in “Hymn No. 5” half a decade earlier?). His anti-drug screamer “Truth Shall Set You Free” saw him (now calling himself King Hannibal) finding new direction in gospel, but it marked a low period for his songwriting. Hannibal spent most of the 1970s as a bit actor in films like The Buddy Holly Story and Roots or as a staff producer at Venture Records. He even worked as entertainment editor for a time at Atlanta Voice newspaper. The cult glam film Velvet Goldmine featured some of his music and helped jump-start his career again. John Duffy, All Music Guide
Mad funky soul from King Hannibal – a down and dirty singer from the Atlanta scene of the 70s! The notes on the back say “He’s black, he’s proud, he’s arrogant – the combination is powerful” – and we’ve gotta say that we agree with that assessment, because King really grabs his groove from the very first note on the set! Backings are hard and funky – lots of fuzzy guitar work from Herman Hitson and Lee Moses – and the tunes come across with a gritty mode that sometimes rolls into mellower southern soul styles, but still never lose their edge. Bits of politics creep into the lyrics nicely, but never get in the way of the groove – and tracks include a long version of Hannibal’s classic “Hymn No 5”, plus “Party Life”, “I Got That Will”, “The Truth Shall Make You Free”, “Wake Up”, “Black Girl”, and “It’s What You Do”.
Release date: 1973
1. I Got That Will
2. The Truth Shall Make You Free
3. Party Life
4. Same Ole’ Fool Again
5. Black Girl
6. Wake Up
7. It’s What You Do
8. Hymn No. 5
‘The Truth Shall Make You Free’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers, Labels & Promo (Click On The Thumbnails)