Friday, 29 July 2011

Kent Stop Loving You

There seems to be a universe of soul re-issues and compilations out there these days.  There’s not a dusty US r’n’b label that hasn’t had its back catalogue well and truly rinsed and re-mastered by enterprising labels from the UK to Germany to Japan.  So it’s hard to describe the impact that Kent Records had for a teenage lad stuck in the black music desert of rural Hampshire in the mid 1980s.  But I’m telling you now, Harboro Horace saved my life.

Harboro Horace aka northern soul legend Ady Croasdell is the man behind Kent Records’ stunning series of soul compilations and single artist re-issues that started life in the early 80s.  A subsidiary of Ace Records, Kent specialised in turning out high quality soul re-issues initially through its access to the vaults of its US parent company Kent/Modern and subsequently a range of other great underground soul labels like Okeh, Sceptre/Wand, Goldwax, Mirwood and others.

Growing up on a diet of The Jam, 2 Tone, The Who, The Small Faces and generally the gospel according to Paul Weller, largely force fed to me by my older brothers, I developed a keen ear for black music at a stupidly young age.  By the age of 14, I felt I’d had my fill of Stax, Atlantic and Motown.  I yearned for more but didn’t know where to turn.  Accidentally stumbling across the Record Collectors Centre in Guildford one Saturday afternoon (some might recall it was opposite the old bus depot) I came across a treasure trove of soul.  Real, bona fide, fuck off soul.  Crates of 45s in front of me, full of new names, artists and labels alike.  All depressingly out of the price range of me and my part time job at the Happy Eater. 

But what caught my eye was an LP called ‘On The Soul Side’.  16 tracks, 16 artists, striking art work, quirky sleeve notes and all for well under a tenner.  I was having some of that.  I got home and was blown away by the quality of the music therein.  The O’Jays ‘Lipstick Traces on a Cigarette’, Timi Yuro’s ‘What’s the Matter Baby?’ (covered brilliantly by The Small Faces, of course) and Benny Spellman’s simple but relentless ‘Fortune Teller’.  On reflection, by far from the best of their releases but this was a pivotal moment for me.  A serious, fulfilling and longstanding love affair with rare soul and, yes, Kent Records was about to begin.

That being Kent 006, I was soon on the case tracking down the first five releases and then playing catch up as Ady and his team brought out new comps at a prolific rate.   Each featuring the artwork of DJ Ian Clark and the sleeve notes from the sardonic pen of Harboro Horace.

Three things stand out about those Kent comps for me.
First, the quality control was amazing.  True, they took a couple of wrong turns.  But overall there’s hardly a filler among them.  Just track after track of great soul, largely focussed on the mid to late 60s golden age but also venturing in the 70s (introducing me to a whole new world of niceness) and deeper offerings.  In retrospect, the ballads and deep soul LPs they brought out are probably their finest, or maybe that’s just more my cup of tea these days.

Second, they did a brilliant job digging up unreleased masters from the vaults and giving them a new lease of life.  Maxine Brown’s ‘Torture’ languished for years on a cellar somewhere until Ady got hold of it, dropping it at his 100 Club residency to utter dance floor mayhem and then getting it out on Kent with much pride.  Ah, Maxine Brown.  Me and Ady loved that woman.  What a voice. 

Third, being the main man behind the 6TS all-nighters at the 100 Club, Ady was in a prime position to reflect was happening at that time on the rare soul scene.  Many of the comps that came out reflected pretty much what was on offer at either the 100 Club or Stafford’s Top of the World, the two premier nighters of the time.
This is an important point because, although the period is usually ignored in the oft-told history of the northern soul scene, the mid to late 80s were an utterly fantastic time for those of us involved.  As the bubble burst on the 70s heyday as the early 80s saw the closure of the Wigan Casino and the shedding of thousands of punters across the UK, the scene managed to go back underground and rediscover the joys of unearthing newly discovered rarities (known as ‘60s newies’ just to be confusing) and reinstating the ethos of maximum quality control.  No more brainless stomping instrumentals, no more Wigan’s Chosen Few, no more patches and baggy trousers.  Just real music heads loving their prime quality soul, from the 60s through to the modern and 70s selections.  Ady and other DJs like Keb Darge, Ian Clark, Brian Rae, Guy Hennigan, Butch, Soul Sam, Arthur Fenn, Tony Rounce and others were at the forefront of this.  And that’s what made Kent such a special vehicle for those of us looking for those special tracks. 

It wasn’t long before I was a regular on the dance floor at the 100 Club and that period from 85 to 89 was something special.  My haircut at the time was something special too, as I alarmingly found out through this YouTube clip recently >>>HERE<<< .  Yes, that’s me with ‘the Gazza’ coming into view around 2’35 ... Christ on a bike.

That was the 10th anniversary in 1989 and Ady’s still running those nights to this day.  That’s some passion.

While we’re on that footage, to get a flavour of the quality of those nights check out Chuck Jackson ‘What’s with this Loneliness?’  >>>HERE<<< and then Monique’s massive 100 Club anthem ‘If you Love Me’ >>>HERE<<<  Seriously this tune still makes me choke up when I hear it.  You basically don’t get much better soul music than this.  The bit where Monique’s voice cracks with emotion at 1’07.  Woah, I’m going all giddy.  A quintessential 100 Club moment that, a classy mid-tempo, soul-drenched production, intense music lovers shuffling away at 5am in that pitch dark sweat box with a rousing reception at the end of the track.  A unique place.

Amazingly Kent are still at it, still turning out the gems and still maintaining impeccable standards.  Last year’s ‘Deep Shadows’ compilation is among their very best.  You have to have it, no arguments.

There's plenty out there who sneer at the compilation.  Lawd knows, on a scene with obsessive collectors, cover ups and 45s going for upwards of a oner, there's plenty like that on the soul scene.  And good luck to the collectors, they're do a fine job.  But me, I'll always have a place in my heart for a good old comp.  Compiled with love, curated with care and served up to the proles, dancefloor democracy in action.  So let's hear it for the comps and let's hear it for Kent.

But going back, here’s my Top 10 compilations from that golden period:

Brain Stormers Kent 042
Very much a 100 Club-oriented affair with dance floor faves like Willie Hutch ‘Love Runs Out’ and the Malibus ‘Gee Baby I Love You’.  Then there’s the oh so classy and sophisticated tracks like Garland Green ‘Aint that Good Enough’ and Freddie Butler ‘That’s When I Need You’ which was lapped up by the knowledgable crowd down there.  And the Bobby Bland and Bud Harper tracks show a touch of the more rugged blues-tinged r’n’b that was popular in the mid 80s, particular up at Stafford.

Mecca Magic Kent 090
The Blackpool Mecca is up there with the Paradise Garage and Shoom as clubs I never went to but will definitely go to once my time machine is up and running.  So when Kent brought out this ode to the Ian Levine and Colin Curtis’s northern institution, I was made up.  And it doesn’t disappoint with Norman Connors ‘Once I’ve Been There’, Bobby Wilson’s ‘Deeper and Deeper’ and the Modulations ‘I Can’t Fight Your Love’ being highlights.  This LP was instrumental in waking up my senses to the beauty of 70s soul after a pretty much 60s only diet till then.  What a great steer this gave me.

Soul Superbowl Kent 060
Again, sums up the 100 Club for me.  Side 1 is all 60s with the beautiful and timeless ‘Please Give Me One More Chance’ by Clyde McPhatter, the mid-tempo ‘Baby Boy’ by Buster Jones, great lyrics, vocals and superb brass arrangements, always puts a smile on my face and then there’s the classic, almost doo-wop harmonies of the Commands ‘Hey, It’s Love’.  All topped off with Romance Wilson’s heartbreaking ballad ‘Where Does that Leave Me?’  And that’s just side 1.  The flip is an all 70s affair with Al Hudson’s ‘Spread Love’ (nicely covered in a house stylee by Lenny Fontana in the early 90s), Anacosta ‘What Kind of Love’ and the awesome Alicia Meyers ‘I Fooled You This Time’, a finer slice of soulful disco you will not find.  An impeccable vocal performance from Ms Meyers and my favourite string arrangement ever.  Yes, ever.  A bold statement but true none the less.

Pure Soul Kent 019
Not the most original title but it does what it says on the tin.  Kent put out a heap of deep soul ballads, including the much acclaimed Dave Godin compiled series Deep Soul 1 – 3.  But this collection of gems stands out.  If only for the Saints ‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall’.  Will you hear more powerful gospel soaked vocals?  Not many.  Classy gear from Bobby Bland and Garland Green again.

Trippin’ On Your Soul Kent 096
A comp from 1990 and another 70s selection.  Outstanding quality throughout, the Staple Singers ‘Trippin on your Love’ being an obvious contender but the Charmels ‘Sea Shells’, the Madd Lads ‘Did My Baby Call?’, John Gary Williams ‘Come What May’ and Rance Allen’s ‘Aint No Need for Crying’ are all 5 star, gold plated must haves.  In fact, every single track on this comp pretty much fits that description.

On the Soul Side Kent 006
Not the best by a long shot but the first in my collection so it has to get a mention.  And it has a simple charm.  The O’Jays standing the test of time, what a group they were from their very early 60s output to their golden Philadelphia International age, there’s no denying their absolute class.

A Whole Lotta Soul is Here Kent 048
One of the best for representing the scene at the time.  The Trends ‘Not Too Old to Cry’ and the Impressions ‘I Need You’ showing the attention to quality that the DJs and dancefloor alike were giving at the time, mid or even down tempo tracks were getting dropped and the clued up punters would lose themselves in the harmonies, production and soulfulness without needing a pounding beat to keep them going.  Little Charles and the Sidewinders ‘Talking About You Babe’ is a mighty production in every sense, massive brass, massive vocals, massive anthem basically.

Leapers, Sleeper and Creepers Kent 031
Worth it just for Patrice Holloway’s civil rights anthem ‘Stay With Your Own Kind’, superb lyrics telling the story of doomed love affair between a young sister and her white fella, sung with such heartfelt emotion that you’d think it was a true tale from Patrice herself.  Perhaps it was.  There’s a great little track from Bobby Womack with ‘What You Gonna Do (When Your Love is Gone)’ and a gorgeous down tempo delight in Sam E Solo ‘Tears Keep Falling’.  One of those sophisticated productions, the kinda down to mid tempo tracks we’d call ‘beat ballads’.  It just oozes class.  Right up my strasse, that one.

Club Soul Kent 022
A nod to the northern scene’s heritage, featuring selections that first got played at London’s Flamingo right back in the pioneering mod days.  So you have classic items like Chuck Jackson’s ‘Hand it Over’, Jack Montgomery ‘Dearly Beloved’ and Nella Dodd’s ‘Honey Boy’.  But why I picked this is for one track alone.  Big Maybelle comes correct with ‘Lord, What Are You Doing to Me?’  This is music from the very depths of the heart, a heartfelt expression of the human experience at its rawest.  If you listen to this without developing goose bumps or a lump in your throat then you are not human.  Or you’re just a dick.

Soul Class of 66 Kent 011
I love this because it features Garland Green turning in yet another classy gem ‘Girl I Love You’.  And I played this as me and my missus walked down the aisle after getting wed.  And I’m a soppy old git. 

My 100 Club Top 10
Garland Green - Girl I Love You
Cajun Hart - Gotta Find a Way
Maxine Brown - Let Me Give You My Loving
Monique - If You Love Me
Sam Fletcher - I'd Think It Over
Johnny Maestro - Stepping Out of the Picture
Melba Moore - The Magic Touch
Tony Middleton - Spanish Maiden
Spyder Turner - Just Can't Make it Anymore
Betty Moorer - Speed Up

Matt Dykes July 2011.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


A few happenings worth checking out right now.

Firstly, the first "proper" contribution from someone else to this blog, and it is from an original Pompey soul boy and Proper Cynic, Matt Dykes.  Great to read about what it was that got someone excited about certain music, especially as in this case it is a series of compilations that allowed many of us an entrance into what I feel was an otherwise difficult to understand world of esoteric US labels and never heard before artists.  The world of collecting soul.

You can check out Matt's piece by navigating this site, or by clicking >>>HERE<<<

Elsewhere, check out Greg Wilson's site >>> HERE <<< as he has changed the forthcoming "Living To Music" event to be Amy Winehouse's "Back To Black" LP.  Greg's blogs are always interesting and well informed as you would expect from someone who has been in the industry so long and successfully.

Talking of other Blogs, please check out Mr Krum & His Wonderful World Of Bizarre always entertaining and the mixes are well worth downloading, He continues to DJ both alone and with the "Vinyl Veterans" crew.

I'd also recommend regular Brownswood contributor, Mike Mongo's blog/radio show >>> HERE <<<.  Again, always entertaining.  

Enjoy the summer, I've been caning my Steely Dan CDs in the car lately, so that might be the next post, then again, it's the 20th anniversary of the Young Disciples LP, so it could be that, and the ATCQ film is out, so who knows......

King Canute. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Pieces Of A Man - Gil Scott-Heron

I first discovered Gil on an alarm clock radio.  It must have been about 1988 and I used to sit in my bedroom at my mum and dad’s house and listen to “Andy Peebles’ Soul Train” on Radio 1.  I remember he played a live version of “Johannesburg” and although the song wasn’t the best thing he played that night, and still not one of my favourites now, there was something about the writing that appealed as Gil’s band crackled out of the single speaker that night that made me investigate further.

I bought a greatest hits package and the diversity of it really surprised me, it contained most of the LP “Pieces Of A Man” plus some of his earlier poetry stuff such as “Whitey On The Moon” and “Brother.”  This purchase sparked off an admiration for Gil that I know I’ll have forever; it caused me to find out about Gil’s life, read his work and collect his music.  I learned about the first black footballer to play professionally in Scotland and I heard great beat poetry, soul ballads and jazz funk.  I listened to a lot of great music.  One such piece of music is his second LP “Pieces Of A Man.”

I’m not bad at dating records, not the best, but still pretty good, play me a bit of music and I’ll have a good go at telling you the year it was released.  I do this from either making a guess based on production style or instruments used, remembering some vague connection (especially useful with pop music, Style Council “Long Hot Summer?” Lyme Regis 1983, my brother refusing to take his fish tail parker off on the beach), or by just knowing.

I was born in 1971, so perhaps oddly; I can list some 1971 releases.  “Sky’s The Limit” by The Temptations, “There’s a Riot Going On” by Sly and the Family Stone, “Hot Pants” and others by JB (including “Revolution Of The Mind”), Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” Carol King’s “Tapestry,” “Where I’m Coming From” by Stevie and Marvin’s epic “What’s Going On.”

And “Pieces Of A Man” by Gil Scott Heron.

The reason I’m wittering on about release dates is because it sets a scene.  It is all too obvious to write about artists influencing each other, of course they did.  Looking at the LPs above it is also obvious that artists were influenced by political and social changes that were happening, none so more than Gil.  It intrigues me however to know which of the above had heard of Gil Scott-Heron, Stevie Wonder namechecks him on sleevenotes a few years later and went on to tour with him (replacing Bob Marley) but were Marvin and Curtis digging him?  My money is on a very definite “yes”

He invented rap you know?  Of course he didn’t, that credit should go to countless other poets and preachers, but........ as any article you might find by working the google on the internet machine will reveal, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is a seminal moment in hip-hop history, and it is the track that Gil Scott-Heron decided to open the LP I’m listening to tonight.

Ron Carter, most talented bass player of his generation?  Played with all the greats and could play complex virtuoso jazz pieces, so is that what he’s doing here?  Nope.  He’s nailing down a very simple octave funk line that is as memorable as it is funky.  A funky Pretty Purdie beat, some moody Hubert Laws flutework and we’re off, “You will not be able to stay home brother.”

It will surely be Gil’s most memorable legacy and could be critiqued line by line and is as relevant today as ever, but what makes it such an interesting piece for this blog is that on the same LP with only a few seconds of silence in between, it is followed by “Save The Children” a sublimely peaceful ballad about the world our kids will inherit.  This is the same writer and the same band as “Revolution” that’s why it is so special.
Gil demonstrates his knowledge of jazz heritage and the emotional uplifting power of music with the next selection “Lady Day And John Coltrane” is it any wonder that players like Ron Carter and Hubert Laws were taking him seriously? It takes my troubles away.

Gil’s troubles were never really fully taken away, by music or anything else.  What follows is a very personal and confessional song about addiction, the line “you keep saying kick it, quit it, Lord but did you ever try,” the way he turned the old proverb “home is where the heart is” upside down to comment on environmental influences on self control is a powerful, but simple bit of poetry.  I’d urge you to seek out Esther Phillips cover of “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” too, a Kudu funk classic.

All very deep and meaningful, but a whole LP of it would bring you down a little, that’s not Gil’s style though (we have Radiohead for that).  So Side A is finished off with a couple of lovely uplifting soul ballads “When You Are Who You Are” and “I Think I’ll Call It Morning”.  OK, “When You Are” is not the conventional love song, by I love it, especially the slightly cheesy bluesy guitar solo (“Come on Norburto!”) and the sax work.  The final track is like a soundtrack to a late spring Sunday morning. Great piano work and shuffling drums after the “be no rain” refrain.  He doesn’t have the perfect singing voice but it oozes character in its timbre, a great way to close Side A.

For the most part, Side b is an altogether more sombre affair.  Title track “Pieces Of A Man” and “A Sign Of The Ages” being particular examples.  “Jagged jigsaw pieces tossed about the room” a very sad song about the effect of unemployment.  Ron Carters double bass work suits both songs perfectly.  Writing this now, I can’t help wondering why whoever chose “Pieces Of A Man” as the LP title did so, it was probably because it made a catchy title that implied the songs were pieces of Gil, or did they want to promote the LP on this song?  Until we get a thorough biography, we will never know.

“Or Down You Fall” continues the dark themes, backed by great jazz chord progressions and words of crusading a message of perseverance until you....fall down.  Great flute solo, Hubert sounding classical in parts, bluesy in others.

“The Needles Eye” changes the tempo and mood slightly, but juxtaposed against the almost Northern Soul changes are lyrics that Bono would love to have written while nagging the rest of us to save the world,  “all the millions spent for killing, seems the whole world must be dying,  all the children who go hungry, how much food we could be buying, him that who don't fit through the needle's eye, him that just don't understand, understand, a brand new sense of freedom,  a brand new sense of time, him may go and stand alone now, and leave, the hate and fear behind.”  With its ecological views and nods towards the Old Testament it could be Marvin or Curtis, but this song is the work of Gil and longtime collaborator Brian Jackson.

“The Prisoner” closes the album and is perhaps the least accessible song, but please don’t let that put you off, the playing alone is worthy of a standalone instrumental jazz LP from the time and the lyrics, like the rest of the LP are well worth a second, third, one hundredth listen.  It is sparse in its arrangement compared to the ballads on side A, and challenging lyrically too, but remember: That is the genius of the man, critical, confessional, thoughtful and downright funky – all on one LP.

Gil Scott-Heron died on 27th May, this year, 2011, leaving what I hope will be a lasting legacy of music and words.  I have not aimed to talk too much about the man in this post, only about one particular LP.  If Gil is new to you however and you have even a spark of interest, please research the man further, he had a fascinating life that deserves to be commemorated, I'm sure there have been loads of obits and bios written since his passing, and loads of mixes by DJs who are fans.  Check some out

I’d appreciate anything you have to add, however short or long, and any suggestions or additions for the blog.  I’ve been off writing for a while but would like to get back in the saddle.

One more thing.  1971.   Did I mention “Live!” by Curtis Mayfield?  Find out why I love it elsewhere on the blog, cheers, King Canute.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Living To Music - Grace Jones

The Sly and Robbie produced "Nightclubbing" is this month's featured LP.

Read about it and find other links at Greg's site by clicking HERE!

Sunday night at 9pm is the time to listen, with events going on in Brighton and NYC.

I'll be having a little early 80's tribute myself using headphones and a sofa.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye - Diana and Marvin

I was inspired to dig out the following LP after hearing a cover version of one of the songs on it while walking around the romantic setting of discount shop “Wilkinson” looking for green tea towels.  It reminded me what a great “lovers album” this LP is and how it’s been a long time since I listened to it.

What more appropriate way to start discussing what for me was the 20th century’s best example of a body of music made for lovers than talking about……..


My copy of this LP comes with a cover that opens in the centre of the LP cover, it has a nasty crease in it that I did when putting the LP away once, but the cover has never been in great nick all the time I’ve owned it.  A previous owner left an ominous stain to the left of Diana’s nose.

Once the card is “spread opened” we are met with a big 12” picture of Marvin and Diana sitting closely together.  A bearded Marvin has put on a few pounds from how he looked on the “What’s Going On” and “Let’s Get It On” covers (that were later to be so inspirational to David James for a few games).  Diana is leaning on Marvin’s shoulders and looking, well, like Diana Ross.

I like the fact that now and again labels would make an effort to do something different with the 12” cover format, who wouldn’t enjoy folding out “Black Moses” in all its grandeur?  But they didn’t do it very often, and often not on all the issues (mine is a German Tamla release), so it brought back some nice feelings of nostalgia when I dug out this LP from my dusty utility room and placed it on the ones and twos.

The Stylistics had crossed over successfully in the 70s with the songs of Thom Bell and Linda Creed.  My Source?  I don’t need Billboard charts or old Guinness books of hit records to inform me, I know it because I grew up hearing my dad singing their songs while decorating, you know you’ve made it when painters sing your songs, it may have been this success that influenced the choice to cover a couple of Bell/Creed songs on his LP, in fact it is a Stylistics cover that opens up “Diana and Marvin.”

The production of “You Are Everything” replaces the soft but spacey Philly sound of the Stylistics version with something altogether sexier.  The rhythm section are joined by lush strings and Marvin is just this side of embarrassing cliché in his talky opening, if he’d moved a Rizla thickness more in the direction of “sexy” I’d have had to listen with a cringe that I normally reserve for watching Alan Partridge.  As it stands, it’s a marvellous opening, and one that he follows up with the soulful yearning that he injected into so much of his work.  The boy sounds hurt, RIP MPG.

Before discussing track two, I want to get my feelings for Diana Ross out in the open.  I don’t like her.  Much.  It’s not that I hate her, and it is too easy to quote stories and rumours about being a diva from before I was born, or go digging on google for facts about special treatment by Berry Gordy.  It is not a political reason I don’t much like her, it is just that her voice has never excited me.  On this LP though she sounds like a well chosen foil to Marvin’s soulful range, a range used brilliantly on my favourite track, “Love Twins.”  After another great intro, the band settle down into a funky little groove with Marvin reaching almost Eddie Kendricks heights of falsetto before the heart warming “I love you baby, I love you too Marvin” interplay that again sits dangerously close to corny but they pull off charmingly.

It’s a great LP, that the above two tracks sum up well, a mixture of romanticism and lustful desire, but I don’t want to write too much about each individual track, it is a near perfect example of the LP as it should be, a collection of songs carefully picked and ordered with the listener in mind (what you’d expect from the Motown machine I suppose, left to his own devices Marvin may have done things differently, but that shouldn’t detract from this LP).  I would like to make a few hounarble mentions however.

“Don’t Knock My Love” is an upbeat cover of “Wicked” Pickett’s funk opus, and makes the listening experience a more dynamic one, placed where it is at track three.  “Just Say, Just Say” is a wonderfully touching breakup/come together song at the beginning of side two, by the end of that and the start of “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” I’m almost weeping into the keyboard!  Their version is by far the best in my opinion and has been sampled and remade in that style a few times.

Sadly worth a mention is the lack of any musician credits on the LP, the writers get credits (including one Gloria Jones, of “Tainted Love” fame and widow of Marc Bolan), producers get a mention, but the poor old “Funk Bros”, presuming it is them, remain anonymous.  I know Bob Babbit and Denis Coffey played on Wilson Pickett’s track, so they may be on here.  But who knows?

SPOILER ALERT If you want to listen to the LP in its entirety and marvel at how close and charming the two singers sound then proceed with care, or don’t read at all….

According to a Marvin Gaye biography I read, Diana and Marvin where thousands of miles apart when they recorded this LP.  When I read this I was shocked, I regarded it as the pinnacle of “duet” recordings, above Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, above Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, above any other duet I’ve ever heard.  It spoiled it a bit for me, I loved the charming little asides between the singers, so I felt cheated by the fact.  A decade later however and a  chance hearing of a dodgy remake in “Wilkos” and the fact that youtube has films of the singers singing together made me want to dig the LP out and give it another go.

I’m glad I did.

A1 You Are Everything  3:10
A2 Love Twins  3:28
A3 Don't Knock My Love  2:20
A4 You're A Special Part Of Me  3:35
A5 Pledging My Love  3:34
B1 Just Say, Just Say  4:10
B2 Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)  2:53
B3 I'm Falling In Love With You  2:42
B4 My Mistake (Was To Love You)  2:55
B5 Include Me In Your Life  3:04

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions

It is actually quite exciting sitting down and re-appraising "Innervisions" from beginning to end.  All of Stevie’s most acclaimed output was made before I was 10 years old, so I, like many others, came to the LPs late.  In my formative teenage years I was aware of the much maligned but then contemporary stuff like “I Just Called” and “Ebony and Ivory”, songs which I won’t slate here, they were of their time and the time was pretty tacky.  The saddest thing about those songs is what I call the “High Fidelity” effect, and though I’d normally argue against snobbishness generally, I still feel the need to go all evangelical on Stevie’s other work when discussing him with people who are not fans, but this turns you into a bit of a bore!

Luckily, as well as the tacky 80's stuff and courtesy of some old Motown greatest hits records and tapes belonging to my family, I was aware of Stevie’s 60s work too, but the period I knew nothing about was the period that I later found to be Stevie’s most successful in terms of creativity, the 1970s.

“Songs In The Key Of Life” was my way in, and I still have great affection for it, I then bought “Music of My Mind” and then “Innervisons”  before collecting all of Stevie's LPs.  It is "Innervisions" though that thanks to Greg Wilson’s “Living To Music” project I listened to on Sunday night.

Now let’s get right on down to the skit…..Stevie is a genius, even people who are not fans may have heard the old “Little Stevie played every instrument in the Motown studio aged 11” story, and must admit, that is pretty special for a blind kid who must have had limited educational opportunities.  He is an amazing songwriter, musician and important political figure.  But what of Innervisions?

It is a great LP, and one which demands to be listened to as a whole, sure the singles are good, but the whole LP just “makes sense”.  “Too High” is as jazzy as some of the crossover stuff that came out of Blue Note at the same time, in fact I’d dare say that it is as close to jazz in it’s changes and delivery as the tracks from those great Mizell bros LPs from Donald Byrd et al.  The harmonica solo is wonderful and the way it skips around the chord changes adds a very funky jazzy edge to the whole thing.

“Visions” continue this jazz theme and the vocal is delivered in a beautiful reflective style.  Stevie must have spent all his time thinking, writing playing.  Thinking, writing playing.  Again and again until he had knocked out all those 70s LP.  Genius?  Hard worker too.

I’m less keen on the more funky numbers like “Living For The City” (there, I said it), it is not that it isn’t great, the whole decade of Stevie is superb, it is just that I like my funk served up a little different.  Still a great song though, and rounds things up nicely before my favourite track, “Golden Lady”.  Listening to it for the first time in years gets me reaching for the player credits on the sleeve.  That bassline is 100% James Jamerson, but….. hang on….. it’s a moog isn’t it?  Damn straight it is, and Stevie is playing it.  And Fender Rhodes, and drums. And no doubt the other synth parts and goodness knows what else.  Did I mention he was a genius.  It’s a great song all the way to the key changes on the fade out.  Takes me right away.

This would normally be the point where the vinyl is flipped except for the fact that Innervisions is a cursed album for me.  I have two dodgy UK vinyl copies, one with a nasty scratch on side a, one with a jump on side b.  So I bought a CD (two for a tenner at Asda), that skips on the last two tracks having spent some time under the passenger seat of my car, so I’m listening to a CD copy up to the last two tracks, then getting on the youtube express to save dusting off the dodgy vinyl.

Back to (ahem) Side b.  I’ll take back what I said earlier about Stevie’s funky stuff.  The way that clav kicks in on “Higher Ground” is funky like grandma’s bloomers, and Stevie is playing all the instruments on here.  Not the most clever lyrics Stevie has ever produced, but the bit where he goes “I’m so darn glad he let me try it again” is a very catchy relief from the kind of call/response lyric form of the rest of the song.

The great synth work continues on “Jesus Children Of America” Stevie must have been doing as much as anyone to promote synth music, and this LP sold shedloads, bringing Avant Garde to the masses, with a little preaching and questioning thrown in, and a nod to the Beatles if I’m not mistaking.  Round about 3min 40secs the song goes into very funky shuffle before fading out and into All In Love Is Fair”, a sad and contemplative love song that shows Stevie’s songwriting maturity.  Don’t know how old he was in 1973 (I avoid googling when writing these), but he’s bloody convincing as a man who’s lived a long eventful life.  It builds like the kind of ballad you might expect someone like Barbra Streisand to have used as a big showstopper, and in some ways it signals a change of mood on this LP too.

Paris Peru, Iraq Iran,”  I’ve listened to the start of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” loads of times and I’m still not sure exactly what relevance it has to the rest of the song, perhaps someone can explain.  Lovely percussion work and shuffling Latin jazz piano work underpin the soulful vocals and lift the mood perfectly from the previous track ready for the LP closer, “He’s Misstra Know-It –All.”

Nixon?  Berry Gordy?  Someone better read than me can elucidate I’m sure.  And why “Misstra?”  I’ve never heared the word “Misstra” in any other context?  Perhaps that is just my limited travel experience, I doubt they call people “moosh” in Detroit like we do here in Pompey.  What I do know is that this is a great way to close an LP.  It’s an uplifting mid-tempo soul song with some classic Stevie scatting.

So there it is, “Songs In The Key Of Life” is still my personal favourite for reasons more to do with nostalgia and packaging than musical content (yeah, that’s shallow!), but this is without doubt a more rounded “package,” in equal parts challenging, reassuring and soothing.  The way that Stevie uses synths and plays so many of the other instruments himself is astounding, the writing is great, even the artwork seems to fit the mood of the LP perfectly.  Thanks Greg for organising the event, please check out the responses !! HERE !!

“Songs In The Key” same time next year perhaps?

A1 Too High                                4:37    
A2 Visions                                   5:17    
A3 Living For The City                 7:26    
A4 Golden Lady                           5:00    
B1 Higher Ground                        3:54    
B2 Jesus Children Of America       4:04    
B3 All In Love Is Fair                    3:45    
B4 Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing  4:55    
B5 He's Misstra Know It All            6:06

Friday, 4 February 2011

Living To Music: Innervisions

Please check out the links to Greg Wilson's web page and the facebook page for the "Living To Music" event.

Greg has organised a mass listening event for Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" LP.  Some people may gather together to listen, there is a pub hosting a listening event, others will listen alone at home.  All of us are invited to join in the discussion after the event.

This is exactly the kind of thing I'm interested in with this blog and I'd encourage you to get involved.

Gregs Blog (Innervisions page).

The facebook event page

I hope you get a chance to enjoy the event and, of course, the album.