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The Originals – Soul Vol. 2

February 25th, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

 

 

In part 2 of the lesser-known originals of soul classics, we look at the sources of two of Roberta Flack’s most famous songs, a few more originals of Gladys Knight hits, how the Pointer Sisters got to cover a Springsteen song he never recorded, the first version of ‘60s classic Tell Him, and much more… And when you hear the Kim Weston song, listen to the background vocals: they are by the trio known at Motown as The No-Hit Supremes. If you don’t feel like reading all this now, the package includes an illustrated PDF booklet with all the text below.

 

Tell Him
A few months before The Exciters had their 1963 hit with Tell Him, a singer named Gil Hamilton, one-time touring member of The Drifters, tried his luck with the first recording of what is now a quintessential girl-band song. Gil Hamilton had no hit with the Bert Berns-written track. Nor did he have any luck with his other two singles. Then he changed his name Johnny Thunder, made himself nine years younger, and had a 1963 hit with the novelty R&B number Loop de Loop (itself a cover), backed by The Bobettes, who featured on the ABC of the 1950s mix. It was his only hit of significance.

The Exciters had their hit in early 1963, with the production by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, recorded in October 1962, five months after Hamilton did. It would be their only Top 10, but apparently their version inspired Dusty Springfield to try her hand at a solo career.

 

Killing Me Softly With His Song
There are two stories describing the genesis of Killing Me Softly With His Song. The more widely-spread story has folk-singer Lori Lieberman so moved by Don McLean’s live performance of the song Empty Chairs that she wrote a poem about it, with the title Killing Me Softly With His Blues. The composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who were taking time out from their impressive TV theme production line (such as Happy Days) to write songs for Lieberman’s self-titled debut album, used her poem as the basis for the song which she would be the first to record in 1971, releasing it the following year.

That is the version of Lieberman. Gimbel’s recollection is very different. In an e-mail to this blog some years ago, he explained how it was an unnamed book he was referred to years earlier by composer Lalo Shifre that featured the line “Killing Me Softly With His Blues” (the title of the poem Lieberman says she wrote). He liked the idea and stored it away for a few years until he needed lyrics for the Lieberman album, changing the word “blues” to “song”. Gimbel died in December 2018.

Which of these two versions is the correct one? Who can say? Lieberman didn’t score a big hit with the song, but Roberta Flack stumbled upon it in 1972 while reading about Lieberman in the TWA airline magazine. Her interest piqued by the title of the song, she tuned into it on the in-flight radio, and decided to record it herself. Over a period of three months, Flack experimented with and rearranged the song, changing the chord structure, adding the soaring ad libs and ending the song on a major chord where Lieberman did it with a minor. Her remake made an immediate impression, topping the US charts for four weeks and reaching #6 in Britain. Her version won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1996, Killing Me Softly – its full title by now routinely and redundantly castrated – made a return to the album charts in the form of the Fugees’ cover (it wasn’t released as a single so as to boost album sales). Lauryn Hill’s vocals are fine, though the hip hop arrangement negates the confessional intimacy of Flack’s, or indeed Lieberman’s, version. And that would be adequate; the mood of a lyric often is disengaged from a song’s sound to little detriment (think of all the great upbeat numbers with morose lyrics). Besides, the Fugees had conceived of the song as an anti-drug anthem with the revised title Killing Him Softly, a plan that was abandoned when they were denied permission for such modification.

The whole exercise becomes something of a prank, however, thanks to Wyclef Jean’s repeated intonation of “one time” and “two time”, as though he was auditioning for the role of parody DJ on Sesame Street. No matter how affecting Hill’s vocals, Wycount von Count’s antics render the Fugees’ version one of the most deplorable covers in pop.

 

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
The first time ever we heard this song probably was in the version by Roberta Flack, whose performance on her 1969 debut album was barely noticed until it was included in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film Play Misty For Me. Those who dig deeper will know that it was written in the 1950s by British folk legend Ewan MacColl, for Peggy Seeger (Pete’s half-sister) with whom he was having an affair and who would become his third wife. She sang it on the song’s first recording, released in 1962.

For MacColl, the political troubadour, the song is a radical departure, supporting the notion that he didn’t just write it for inclusion in Peggy’s repertoire but as the intimate declaration of love it is. Followers of the 1960s folk scene might have known the song before they heard the Flack version; it was a staple of the genre. The Kingston Trio even cleaned up the lyrics, changing the line “The first time ever I lay with you…” to the more prissy “…ever I held you near”. After the success of Flack’s intense, tender, sensual, touching and definitive version — which captures the experience of being with somebody you love better than most other songs — there was an explosion of covers, with Elvis Presley’s bombastic version especially infuriating MacColl, who compared it to Romeo singing up at Juliet on the Post Office tower.

It does seem that he did not take kindly to the intimacy of his song being spread widely and, indeed, corrupted. And Peggy Seeger never sang the song again after Ewan’s death in 1989.

 

Neither One Of Us
In February this year we lost Jim Weatherley, who wrote Neither One Of Us, as well as Midnight Train To Georgia (featured on The Originals Soul Edition Vol. 1) and Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me, all hits for Gladys Knight & The Pips — who recorded a total of 12 Weatherley songs. Neither One Of Us was the first of them, giving Knight and Pips their biggest hit to date — with their final record on Motown before their fertile move to Buddah.

Neither One Of Us was first recorded by Weatherley, an ex-football player turned country singer-songwriter, and appeared on his eponymous debut album in 1972, which also featured the song then still known Midnight Plane To Houston, before its mode of transport and destination were changed.

 

I’ve Got To Use My Imagination
The move to Buddha was good for Gladys Knight & The Pips. Treated like unwanted stepchildren on Motown, they now enjoyed a string of hits. One of these was I’ve Got To Use My Imagination, which was written by Gerry Goffin (Carole King’s ex-partner) with blues musician Barry Goldberg, who released the song a month before it appeared on Knight’s Imagination album in November 1973. The single was the follow-up to the chart-topper Midnight Train To Georgia, and reached #4 in the US. Their next single was Weatherley’s Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me (the original version, by Steve Lawrence featured on the Soul Originals Vol. 1).

Goldberg’s version is very different from Gladys’ smooth interpretation. His blues background is very much evident. A decade earlier, Goldberg had played with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and Howlin’ Wolf. He then played keyboards with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, in which capacity he was part of the backing band as Bob Dylan went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. In 1967 he founded The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield, and then formed a band with Steve Miller.

 

Fire
We don’t really regard Bruce Springsteen as the writer of classic soul songs, and he wasn’t best pleased when The Pointer Sisters had a 1979 hit with the song that had failed to make the cut for his Darkness On The Edge Of Town album. While Springsteen was still searching for his first big hit, a year earlier Patti Smith scored a global smash with his Because The Night (another Darkness reject), and before that Manfred Mann’s Earthband had a hit with his Blinded By The Light. Now even a group of soul sisters had a hit with one of his songs. Springsteen would finally have a hit with Hungry Heart in 1980 — a song he had written with the Ramones in mind.

Springsteen didn’t record Fire, though it was part of his live setlist in the late 1970s. Instead he gave the song to a friend of E Street Band bassist Garry Talent, a rockabilly singer named Robert Gordon. Springsteen had seen Gordon on stage with guitarist Link Wray, and evidently thought that this singer would give the song the appropriate treatment. Gordon and Wray recorded it in December 1977.

The Pointer Sisters came to Fire through their producer, Richard Perry, who had a cassette bootleg of Springsteen singing it in concert. He thought it would make a great song for Anita Pointer — and the song’s success proved him right. Fire was released in October 1978 as the lead single for the Sisters’ Energy album. Springsteen finally had a hit with Fire in 1987, with a live recording from December 1978…

 

I’m In Love
Here’s one song that ties in three legends of soul: Bobby Womack, who wrote I’m In Love during his enforced social and professional exile for marrying Sam Cooke’s widow, as a declaration of the authenticity of his love for the erstwhile Mrs Cooke. But Womack gave the song to Wilson Pickett who recorded it in 1967. Just after Pickett’s version was released, Womack also recorded his version. Pickett’s version did fairly good business, reaching #4 on the R&B charts, and #45 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1974 Aretha Franklin released her marvellous version and had greater success with it, topping the R&B charts and reaching #19 on the Hit 100.

 

It Hurts So Good
Written by soul singer-songwriter and producer Philip Mitchell, It Hurts So Good was one of the signature songs for Millie Jackson and a 1975 hit for Susan Cadogan & The Diamonds. But first it was recorded in 1971 by Katie Love and The Four Shades of Black, for whom it was the only record. Katie Love would release one more single in 1973, and that was it for her recording career.

In Millie Jackson’s version, It Hurts So Good reached #3 the R&B charts and #24 on the US Billboard Hot 100 pop chart (it also featured in the blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones). It was the first time Jackson’s appeared in her real voice — on her debut album, the producers sped up her deep voice to make it sound higher. So on the follow-up, Jackson was a co-producer, preventing any meddling with her natural voice.…

Due to Jackson’s raunchy image, people with impure minds have suggested that the song was about the joys of the kind of intercourse that could get you arrested in many states. It’s not, but if it was, I hope Millie’s partner did not “bounce me like a rubber ball”.

 

Love On A Two-Way Street
The song which The Moments recorded in 1968 and had a hit with two years later has been given second and third lives, first by the 1981 hit version by Stacy Lattislaw and later by way of the instantly recognisable sample on the Alicia Keys & Jay-Z hit Empire State of Mind. But before The Moments got around to it, a singer named Lezli Valentine recorded Love On A Two-Way Street (with the sample Jay-Z would lift from The Moments’ version). It was one of just three records she released, all on the All Platinum label, owned by future sex-song siren and hip-hop impresario Sylvia Robinson.

Robinson shares the writing credit with Bert Keyes, who had co-written Nat King Cole’s 1958 hit Angel Smile. But Valentine insisted that she should have received a writing credit, too, for contributing a significant chunk of the lyrics. Legal steps she took apparently amounted to nothing.

 

Show And Tell
It’s quite a coincidence that on the album on which Johnny Mathis gives us an original, he also covered two songs featured here: Neither One Of Us and Killing Me Softly With Her Song, the title track of his 1972 LP. Written by Jerry Fuller (whose biggest songwriting hit was Gary Puckett & Union Gap’s Young Girl), Show And Tell gave Mathis a minor Easy Listening hit.

In 1973, the song was covered by soul singer Al Wilson, who topped the US charts with in January 1974. It later was also a R&B hit for Peabo Bryson.

 

Ai No Corrida
It’s a far way from England’s gritty post-punk scene to the shiny LA studios governed by Quincy Jones, but so it was with Ai No Corrida. The song was first recorded by Chaz Jankel, erstwhile member of Ian Dury’s Blockheads, who co-wrote it with US songwriter Kenny Young, who sadly featured in the In Memoriam – April 2020 post.

Ai No Corrida was inspired by the Japanese 1976 film In the Realm of the Senses, originally titled Ai no Korīda (“Bullfight of Love”), a film that was precluded from general release due to scenes of unsimulated sex.

Somehow Jankel’s version came to the attention of Quincy Jones, who polished it up, handed the lead vocals to a singer going by the name of Dune (with Patti Austin assisting), and put it on his The Duke album, whence it became a global hit.

As always, CD-R length, home-basslined covers, all the above text in an illustrated PDF booklet, PW in comments. PLUS: three surprise bonus tracks of originals of future hits by Aretha Franklin!

1. Chaz Jankel – Ai No Corrida (1980)
The Usurper: Quincy Jones (1981)

2. Average White Band – What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me (1980)
The Usurper: Chaka Khan (1981)

3. Turley Richards – You Might Need Somebody (1979)
The Usurpers: Randy Crawford (1981), Shola Ama (1997)

4. Jim Weatherly – Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Good-bye) (1972)
The Usurpers: Gladys Knight & The Pips (1972), Bob Luman (1973)

5. Lori Lieberman – Killing Me Softly With His Song (1972)
The Usurpers: Roberta Flack (1968), The Fugees (1996)

6. Eddy Arnold – You Don’t Know Me (1956)
The Usurpers: Ray Charles (1962), Mickey Gilley (1981)

7. Sonny Thompson with Lula Reed – I’ll Drown In My Tears (1952)
The Usurpers: Ray Charles (1956), Aretha Franklin (1967), Simply Red (1986)

8. Al Braggs – Cigarettes And Coffee (1962)
The Usurper: Otis Redding (1966)

9. Arthur Prysock – My Special Prayer (1964)
The Usurper: Percy Sledge (1969)

10. Dan Penn – I’m Your Puppet (1965)
The Usurper: James & Bobby Purify (1966)

11. Jerry Butler – I Stand Accused (1964)
The Usurper: Isaac Hayes (1970)

12. Dyke & the Blazers – Funky Broadway (Part 1) (1966)
The Usurper: Wilson Pickett (1967)

13. Wilson Pickett – I’m In Love (1967)
The Usurper: Aretha Franklin (1974)

14. Katie Love and the Four Shades – It Hurts So Good (1971)
The Usurpers: Millie Jackson (1973), Susan Cadogan (1974), Jimmy Somerville (1995)

15. Lezli Valentine – Love On A Two Way Street (1968)
The Usurper: The Moments (1970), Stacy Lattisaw (1981)

16. Johnny Mathis – Show And Tell (1972)
The Usurper: Al Wilson (1973), Peabo Bryson (1989)

17. David Oliver – Love TKO (1980)
The Usurper: Teddy Pendergrass (1980)

18. Ruby and the Romantics – Hey There Lonely Boy (1963)
The Usurpers: Eddie Holman (as Hey There Lonely Girl, 1970)

19. Gil Hamilton – Tell Her (1962)
The Usurpers: The Exciters (as Tell Him, 1962), Billie Davis (as Tell Him, 1962)
Claude François (as Dis-lui, 1963), Hello (1974)

20. Kim Weston – It Should Have Been Me (1963)
The Usurper: Gladys Knight & the Pips (1967), Yvonne Fair (1975), Adeva (1991)

21. Barry Goldberg – I’ve Got To Use My Imagination (1973)
The Usurper: Gladys Knight & The Pips (1974)

22. Robert Gordon with Link Wray – Fire (1978)
The Usurper: The Pointer Sisters (1978)

23. Cheryl Ladd – I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again (1978)
The Usurper: Dionne Warwick (1979)

24. Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1962)
The Usurper: Roberta Flack (1968)

GET IT! or HERE!

More Originals:
The Originals: The Classics
The Originals: Soul
The Originals: Motown
The Originals: Country
The Originals: The Rock & Roll Years
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 2
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 2
The Originals: 1980s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1980s Vol. 2
The Originals: 1990s & 2000s
The Originals: Beatles edition
The Originals: Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 1
The Originals:  Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 2
The Originals: Carpenters Edition
The Originals: Burt Bacharach Edition
The Originals: Rat Pack Edition
The Originals: Schlager Edition
The Originals: Christmas Edition

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  1. amdwhah
    February 25th, 2021 at 09:41 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. rat-a-tat-tat
    February 25th, 2021 at 16:03 | #2

    Amazing research, tunes I did not know existed.
    This will make for a grand weekend listen.
    By chance might you re-up that Vol. 1 of this series on RG? It says, “File not found.”
    My best to you. More cups of coffee en route.

  3. billymac
    February 26th, 2021 at 04:47 | #3

    Thank you for this. Great idea on your part. Should be fun. Lookin’ for vol 1 right now!

  4. amdwhah
  5. billymac
    February 26th, 2021 at 18:56 | #5

    Thanks for the link, amdwhah. Fascinating listening.

  6. Rhodb
    March 19th, 2021 at 23:21 | #6

    Thanks for the original soul vol 2

    The posts not only have great music but the information supplied is eye opening

    Great work

    Regards Rhodb

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