‘O-o-h Child’ With Green Peppers

Originally posted March 24, 2009

It was 1986, and the Five Stairsteps almost cost me some major auto repairs.

Well, that’s not true. It was my desire for a free pizza that almost cost me a huge auto repair bill. But the Five Stairsteps were involved.

It was a spring morning and I was driving through south St. Cloud, heading to my public relations job at St. Cloud State University. As I drove, I listened to one of the St. Cloud radio stations, and as I got near the campus, the station conducted its morning “Name That Oldie’ contest. The first caller to name correctly the song and performer won a free pizza from one of St. Cloud’s many pizza places.

As I drove, I scanned the nearby territory for a phone booth, just in case. I saw one in a service station parking lot just before the next intersection, and the traffic slowed, leaving me at the driveway to the lot just as the music started. I needed no more than the short drum riff and two notes to recognize the record as “O-o-h Child,” the 1970 hit by the Five Stairsteps. (It went to No. 8.) I pulled into the parking lot, got out of my beat-up 1979 Chevette with my quarters in my hand, and called the radio station.

I was right, of course, and qualified for a free pizza. I provided my mailing particulars, and as the deejay and I completed our business, I glanced at my car. It was beginning to roll backwards, toward the driveway and the morning traffic.

I dropped the phone and raced around the front of the car. I managed to catch up with it, and I reached in and yanked on the parking brake. By that time, the rear bumper was no more than two feet from the street. As I acknowledge, the fault was mine, not that of the Five Stairsteps. Nevertheless, when I hear the song these days, the first thing that flashes through my mind is my frantic race to save my Chevette.

That was true last weekend, when the song popped up on the RealPlayer. But as well as thinking about potential automotive disaster, I also wondered – as I generally do these days – about cover versions. Who else has recorded “O-o-h Child”?

I have three versions beyond the original by the Five Stairsteps: Richie Havens included it in 1974 on his Mixed Bag II album; Valerie Carter recorded it for her 1977 album Just A Stone’s Throw Away; and the Edwin Hawkins Singers included the song on I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, released in 1972. (I’m searching for a better vinyl copy of that last album.)

All-Music Guide lists 200 CDs that include a recording of “O-o-h Child” (often spelled simply “Ooh Child”), but almost half of those listings are of the Five Stairsteps’ original version. Beyond the ’Steps and the three artists listed above, though, we find some interesting names:

Brand Nubian, Destiny’s Child, Hall & Oates, Ramsey Lewis, Keith Marks, Donnie McClurkin, Milton Nascimento, Laura Nyro, the 103rd Street Gospel Choir, Beth Orton, the Posies, Dee Dee Sharp, Nina Simone, the Spinners, Dusty Springfield and Lenny Williams. Lots of those sound interesting, and I think I’ll have a few more CD titles to put on my wish list. Especially interesting is the prospect of the Laura Nyro version, which is a bonus track laid onto an expanded CD version of her Gonna Take A Miracle album.

Of the three cover versions I have, I’ve already posted the Havens and Carter versions, but it’s been a while, so I’ll post those again. And as long as we’re talking about cover versions, I have at times seen the Five Stairsteps’ single listed with its B-Side, which must have gotten some airplay. So I’ll post the Five Stairsteps’ version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” as well.

“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 [1970]

“Ooh Child” by Valerie Carter from Just A Stone’s Throw Away [1977]

“Ooh Child” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag II [1974]

“Dear Prudence” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 [1970]

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