Home > 70s Soul > The Age of the Afro: '70s Soul Vol. 3

The Age of the Afro: '70s Soul Vol. 3

March 14th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

After a hiatus of a few weeks, we return to the age of the Afro, the glorious times of sunny soul which talked about love and preached social-consciousness.

The Blackbyrds – Walking In Rhythm.mp3
If I were to set my alarm clock to wake me up with a song to start my day on a high, this might be it. “Walking In Rhythm”, which was released in 1975, exudes just the right measure of confident happiness, even as the lyrics speak of a certain desperation. As regular readers may recall, I dig the sound of the flute, so the solo here makes me even happier. The Blackbyrds, led by the great jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd, were a versatile bunch, doing Philly-type soul (like this track) one minute, and jazz-funk the next.

Billy Paul – Let ‘Em In.mp3
On his original, Paul McCartney gave shout-outs to his family and assorted pals. In his reworked and soulified cover version, Billy Paul subverts the concept and gives props to icons of black pride. The song gives the finger (or raised fist) to the white establishment as Malcolm X pronounces over the joyous opening strains: “You’ve been had, you’ve been misled, you’ve been took!” Snatches of political speeches about revolution and change continue throughout, ending with MLK’s cry of “I have a dreeeeeeam”. Where McCartney cited “Brother Michael” (his sibling) and “Brother John” (Lennon), Billy cites “Brother Martin” and “Brother Malcolm” “” and Louis Armstrong. That in itself is interesting in this anthem of black consciousness, since Satchmo had been saddled with a bit of an Uncle Tom reputation (unfairly so). When Billy Paul sings Armstrong’s name and in the way he pauses before emphasising his name, he is making a statement: Look not at black icons through white eyes.

Honey Cone – Want Ads.mp3
After leaving Motown, the legendary writing team Holland-Dozier-Holland formed their own Hot Wax label, and hit pay dirt with a song they didn’t even write. “Want Ads”, by a girl group formed to sing backing vocals for Burt Bacharach, was a US #1 hit in 1971, written by members of the Chairmen of the Board (Hot Wax label mates who will still feature in this series). The Motown influence is unmistakable: Martha & the Vandellas may be a fair reference point. Indeed, even by 1971, “Want Ads” must have seemed a little outdated. By 1974 Honey Cone had broken up; a year later Hot Wax went out of business.

The Delfonics – Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).mp3
Ah, the lush sounds of early Philly soul of which the Delfonics and other Thom Bell-produced acts (such as the Stylistics and later the Spinners) were early exponents. “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” was released in 1970, tailending a quartet of wonderful singles (“La La Means I Love You” from 1968, “Ready Or Not (Here I Come)”, and “Think It Over”, both from 1969). The inclusion of “Didn’t I” and “La La…” in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown used to vex me ““ by associating it with a murderous plot, Tarantino extracted the songs from the context in which I held them dear, just as a poor cover version hit might. Happily, I have forgotten much about the over-hyped style-over-substance flick, and the Delfonics sound is, in my mind, back where it belongs: in that group of late ’60s to early ’70s soul which represents the genre’s high-water mark.

The Presidents – 5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love).mp3
A slice of soul bliss from 1970, produced by Van McCoy, the man who a few years later gave us the infectious disco anthem “The Hustle”. This cute ode to marital happiness was the Presidents’ only hit (it reached #11 in the US), and I can’t claim to have heard anything else by them. I like to imagine that all their songs were as catchy as this one, which borrows from Curtis Mayfield and from the lilting sounds of Philadelphia soul by the likes of the Delfonics.

The Main Ingredient – Everybody Plays The Fool.mp3
One for your trivia quiz: the father of which Oscar-winning actor was a member of ’70s soul group the Main Ingredient? Cuba Gooding Sr joined the group as frontman in 1971, following the sudden death in 1971 of Don McPherson, who had written the excellent black consciousness track “Black Seeds Keep On Growing”. “Everybody Plays The Fool” was a hit soon after Gooding joined the Harlem group. The song ““ one of three here with great spoken bits (“Dig…this!”) ““ was later covered by Aaron Neville, competently but lacking in the comforting qualities of the original.

Jimmy Helms – Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse.mp3
One of two songs previously posted, but worth recycling. Although an American, Helms scored his only hit in Britain, with this gorgeous falsetto proposition from 1972. Though a one-hit wonder, Helms did not quite fade into obscurity, and bounced back nearly 20 years later as a member of the group Londonbeat (“I’ve Been Thinking About You”), for which I am prepared to forgive him on grounds of “Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse”.

Gladys Knight & the Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia.mp3
The song that had all the wags check LA’s train schedules. And, guess what, no such train to Georgia at midnight, which totally destroys the song because… oh, never mind. “Midnight Train To Georgia” was written by former American football star Jim Weatherly as “Midnight Plane to Houston”. In fact, the whole Imagination album, which yielded this 1973 hit, was a tribute to Weatherley (then still just 30).

The Chi-Lites – Have You Seen Her.mp3
That spoken intro is just the saddest thing: “One month ago today I was happy as a lark. But now I go for walks; to the movies, maybe to the park. And have a seat on the same old bench to watch the children play. You know, tomorrow is their future, but for me, just another day. They all gather around me, they seem to know my name; we laugh, tell a few jokes, but it still doesn’t ease my pain.” I’m not so much sad for poor Eugene Record here but for the passing of an age when his behaviour did not automatically raise suspicion. The spoken bit towards the end, at 3:57, is a classy conclusion to the song ““ especially its last line. The spoken intro was inspired by Isaac Hayes’ rapping ways. I might even declare the spoken bit of “Have You Seen Her” the greatest non-Ike soul rap, but the winner in that category will be revealed in this post’s final entry.

War – The World Is A Ghetto.mp3
It isn’t possible to categorise War. Co-founder Eric Burdon (he of the Animals) wanted to play the Blues, finding to his big surprise that the black guys in the multi-racial group objected to the Blues as what they described as “nigger music”. We may feel rewarded that they thought so, because instead of being perpetrators of interminable blues wankery (cf. Eric Clapton), War became a melting pot of musical styles: soul, funk, jazz, rock, Latin. “Ghetto”, released in 1972 (two years after Burdon left the group), falls into the soul category. It drips with anger and with resignation, an anthem for black disillusionment in the ’70s.

Minnie Riperton – Light My Fire.mp3
There are two “Light My Fires”: the Doors original and José Feliciano’s Latin-tinged cover. Where from Jim Morrison’s mouth the line “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” sounds like the drug reference it probably is, sung by Feliciano it is an exclamation of giddiness. On her final album, released just two months before her death from cancer in July 1979, Riperton took the Feliciano route “” and towards the end, the great José drops in to duet. Her version is wonderful, even if Minnie did not need to exercise her extraordinary five-octave range much. The final album, titled Minnie, yielded my favourite Riperton track, “Never Existed Before”, which I really ought to post a some point.

The Spinners – I’ll Be Around.mp3
I had four Spinners songs shortlisted for this post, and could not decide which one to use. So I picked the one whose title invited a poor pun on the group’s tendency to change record labels (I mean, they were on Motown and Atlantic). I’ll not use the pun now because it is quite awful, but the song is here. Incredibly, the Spinners have been around (oh, OK, I’ll stop it) since 1954. Their heyday was the ’70s, which they kicked off with the Stevie Wonder composition “It’s a Shame” (one of the four contenders) on Motown before having a string of big hits on Atlantic ““ to which they had moved after the apparent urging of Aretha Franklin ““ of which “I’ll Be Around” was the first. Their producer during that run was Thom Bell (cf Delfonics), who infused the Detroit group with the sound of Philly.

Earth, Wind & Fire – Reasons (live).mp3
The other recycled track. It is my favourite of all soul songs, especially in its live version from 1975’s Gratitude album. Philip Bailey’s falsetto is quite astonishing here as he goes head-to-head with an alto sax. Glass almost shatters. Bailey’s vocals are the rightful star here, but “Reasons” would be half the song it is if not for the bassline and that great riff.

Lenny Williams – ‘Cause I Love You.mp3 (re-uploaded)
Back in the day, some people scoffed at Lenny Williams’ epic outpouring of emotion. These people were dead wrong. In structure and performance, it is a classic. At the start, Lenny confesses his love for his girl, but soon reveals old scars from a previous relationship. Williams proceeds to convey a gut-wrenching inner drama, summed up by his inarticulated cries of pain of “oh-oh-oh”. You feel for him when he explains how his heart was broken, and more yet when he tells us, in a spoken interval, of what happened next: “And then I went home and I watched television until television went off. And then I played my records until I just didn”t want to hear them anymore. And finally I went to bed, but I found myself waking up a few hours later. And the tears were running down my face.” And at the end of the rap (possibly the best in soul outside the oeuvre of Isaac Hayes) comes the slow-building, groin-thrusting declaration of love for the new girlfriend. Glorious.

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  1. Jim
    March 14th, 2008 at 16:01 | #1

    On “Midnight Train,” Gladys says that New York proved too much for the man.Sorry, but I love me some Ms. Knight!

  2. Jim
    March 14th, 2008 at 16:02 | #2

    Sorry again – I’m way off base! I need to do penance with my old GK records.

  3. Fusion 45
    March 15th, 2008 at 01:02 | #3

    Gotta agree with you on The Blackbyrds, AMD: such a happy song! Thanks for the Minnie Riperton, too. My original is way scratched. And, finally, if you ever run down a video of The Pips singing ‘Midnight Train’ sans Gladys (from their TV show), let me know. It’s a riot, as I remember.Fusion 45

  4. Anonymous
    March 15th, 2008 at 03:27 | #4

    Thank you! Thank you for the Presidents’ “5-15-15…Years of Love”.Been searching for it for awhile with no luck, ’til now!Thanks again!

  5. jb
    March 16th, 2008 at 15:27 | #5

    Superb choices here. I’d cast a vote for “Have You Seen Her” in the Saddest Record of All Time Contest, for “Want Ads” in the Greatest Summer Records of All Time Contest, and “5-10-15-20” in the How Come This Isn’t on Oldies Radio Contest.Thanks a lot.

  6. whiteray
    March 19th, 2008 at 05:53 | #6

    Superb post and great selections. As usual, you’ve filled gaps in my collecton and in my knowledge. Thanks!

  7. billie
    March 21st, 2008 at 15:49 | #7

    Great song choices! Walking in Rhythm and Reasons are my all-time favorites. “It’s all about loove, ooh baby…” Thanks!

  8. Anonymous
    March 22nd, 2008 at 01:52 | #8

    Thanks for the Jimmy Helms track. Never heard it before, but I love it! “Have you seen her,” is a classic, but nowhere are the Chi-lites’ tight, icy harmonies better displayed than on the b-side of that record, “Yes I’m ready, if I don’t get to go,” a song, if I recall, about the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Speaking of b-sides, did you know that the Spinners’ “I’ll be around” was originally a b-side. “How can I let you get away,” a gorgeous ballad, was the a-side, which charted on the soul charts, but it was the flip that became the big hit.Keep on Keeping on!Ben

  9. ally.
    March 22nd, 2008 at 12:25 | #9

    fantastic selection sweetie, as always. my light my fire is a wreck too so this is especially welcomex

  10. albgardis
    July 20th, 2008 at 05:56 | #10

    Great selection, again. I am coming back, knowing you have the same taste as I have, so I take no risk in downloading any unknown songs. I will like them, I know. And yes, I do. Most of these I have never heard before. Well, I have left Germany much later than you have (just 5 years ago), so I was not really in touch with american soul music. We had Boney M., Precious Wilson and such, you know…I am sorry to report tha the last one in this selection (Lenny Williams) is “404” now (“cannot be found”), most likely because it had not been downloaded for 60 days. I have put a placeholder in my playlist now, so if you ever have time to fix it, I will be able to put that track into its place within the playlist. Thank you in advance.

  11. Any major dude with half a heart
    July 21st, 2008 at 08:52 | #11

    Thanks again for your kind comments. Immer schön zu hören, daß jemand meinen Blog gerne liest, und meine Musikwahl gutheißt.The Lenny Williams and Diana Ross tracks have been re-upped, but, I’m afraid, on DivShare, because that service does not delete files.

  12. albgardis
    July 22nd, 2008 at 19:01 | #12

    Hey super, danke!!!!Das ist ja ein toller Service hier!Yes, I really enjoy your selections, and I share your kind of humour. Thanks so much, Dude!

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