Posts Tagged ‘MFSB’

Enjoying A Mystery Gift

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 7, 2009

It’s not often that I can go to a music store and rummage around without having to think about a budget. But two days after Christmas I went to St. Cloud’s branch of the Electric Fetus, armed with the $100 gift card I’d received in the mail from someone who is both anonymous and generous.

I still have no idea who sent me the gift card. It arrived December 20, and I wrote about it a week later, having waited to see if someone would write or call to explain the gift or – and I wondered about this – to tell me it was all a mistake. By the time I wrote about the gift card, I was ready to shop, and I headed downtown that afternoon.

I first rummaged through the used CDs (habits of frugality are hard to break) and then headed to the new R&B. I found two of the three CDs I had in mind, both by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Dap-Dippin’ With . . . and 100 Days, 100 Nights. I’d been introduced to the group via another music blog and immediately loved the music, which sounds to me as if it were recorded in Memphis in 1967. If you like classic R&B and you’ve not heard the group before, you really should. (If you’ve heard Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, you’ve heard some of the Dap-Kings; several of them were among the backing musicians for the 2006 album.)

And then I wandered for a while, seeing a lot of stuff that would be fine to have but not, somehow, grand enough for the opportunity to buy almost anything I wanted. So I started to look at the box sets. The first one I pulled down was called Love Is The Song We Sing, subtitled San Francisco Nuggets, 1965-1970. Four discs covering pre-Summer of Love music, recordings from the San Francisco-area suburbs, music from the summer of 1967 itself and then recordings from later years. The four CDs came packaged in a book, with several essays, lots of photographs and a track-by-track commentary.

I tucked it under my arm and went to the box sets displayed on the far wall.

And there, I spotted Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia, another four-CD set chronicling the incredibly successful (and incredibly good) cluster of musicians, producers and songwriters that worked in Philadelphia from the late 1960s into the 1980s. The music starts with the Soul Survivors’ “Expressway (To Your Heart)” from 1967 and ends with Patti LaBelle’s “If Only You Knew” from 1983.

I grabbed that one, too.

I didn’t budget perfectly. But when all was done, I ended up paying less than ten dollars out of my pocket for the two box sets and the two Sharon Jones CDs. Ten days later, I’m still listening my way through all of the music, track by track.

Of the two box sets, it’s hard to say which is the better: I tend to like the music on Love Train a little better, maybe because the time frame covers more years when I was listening to radio. But the Philadelphia set doesn’t offer nearly as much information about the music and the artists as does Love Is The Song We Sing. The San Francisco book has, as I indicated above, brief comments about every track to go along with the expected basic credits, recording and chart history and discography. The Love Train set offers that same basic data about each of its tracks, but there’s no other information specific to the recordings. The Love Train book does have some interesting essays: The best of them is an account by historian Gerald Early of what it was like to grow up in Philadelphia during the years when producers like Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Thom Bell and all the others were making Philadelphia one of the central sources of the nation’s musical heart.

Here are three from Love Is The Song We Sing and three from Love Train. (I’ll likely offer a track or two by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings later this week.)

A Six-Pack From An Anonymous Friend
“Underdog” by Sly & the Family Stone from A Whole New Thing, 1967

“Rubiyat” by the Immediate Family, unreleased recording, 1967

“Why Did You Put Me On” by Notes From The Underground from Notes From The Underground, 1968

“You’re The Reason Why” by the Ebonys, Philadelphia International 3503, 1971

“T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees, Philadelphia International 3540, 1974

“I’m Not In Love” by Dee Dee Sharp, TSOP 4778, 1976

A few notes:

When I was rifling through the Love Is The Song We Sing book on the phone with Rick the other evening, he was startled to hear me mention Sylvester Stewart as the producer of some of the earlier singles included from areas east of San Francisco Bay. “Man, I always thought he was from Detroit or maybe someplace in the east,” Rick said. “The music isn’t the sound I think of when I think of San Francisco music!” I mentioned to him a comment by Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock and Soul: “After two hundred takes failed to get an acceptable ‘White Rabbit’ from a pre-Jefferson Airplane group featuring Grace Slick, disk jockey/record producer Sly Stewart vowed to forget that acid-rock shit. So he renamed himself Sly Stone and formed his own band to play ‘the first fusion of psychedelia and rhythm and blues.’” Maybe the main thing that a boxset like Love Is The Song We Sing underlines is that there were many sounds in San Francisco during those years, and we tend to focus on too few of them.

The Immediate Family came from the East Bay city of Concord, but Love Is The Song We Sing notes that the group practiced at the home of organist Kriss Kovacs, whose mother was a singing coach, with her clientele including names like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Johnny Mathis and other San Francisco luminaries. After gigging and sending out demos, the group was signed to record at Golden State Recorders in San Francisco. “Rubiyat” was one of the products of those sessions, taking verses from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and setting them in a “swirling, dreamy soundscape.”

Notes From The Underground was a Berkeley group. After recording an EP on the Changes label in 1968, the group was signed by blues scholar Sam Charters to a recording contract with Vanguard records. Notes From The Underground was asked to go to New York to record its first album; it did so, but the label – according to Love Is The Song We Sing – didn’t promote the album strongly enough, and the group fell apart. “Why Did You Put Me On,” says the book, is from that album but is “atypically edgy.”

The Ebonys, says All-Music Guide, were a mixed gender group that came out of New Jersey in 1968 and were discovered by producer Leon Huff. “You’re The Reason Why” made it to No. 10 on the R&B chart in 1971 (No. 51 on the pop chart). It should have done lots better than that, to my ears. After another hit – “It’s Forever” – in 1973, the Ebonys kept recording but with little success.

I know “T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)” is one of those tracks that everyone knows. But it’s so damned good, I had to post it. Dave Marsh wrote about the song: “[W]hen the Three Degrees show up, midway through, to chant ‘People all over the world!’ they did nothing more than state plain fact. In 1974, this is what the world sounded like. In another six months or so, they’d convert the beat and strings into a rigid formula called disco. ‘TSOP’ is what the ingredients sounded like in the test tube.”

Dee Dee Sharp had six Top 40 hits in the 1960s, with the most successful of them being “Mashed Potato Time,” which went to No. 2 for two weeks in 1962. (It was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart.) In 1967, four years after her last hit, she married Kenny Gamble, whose music – as the Love Train set underlines – was a key ingredient (if that’s not understating it) in what we call the Philadelphia sound. Nine years later, in 1976, Sharp recorded her first album for Philadelphia International: Her cover of 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” was released as a single and went to No. 62 on the R&B chart. The 10cc version, with its air of emotional disguise and reserve, had gone to No. 2 in the summer of 1975. Sharp’s version should have done at least that well.

It’s Time To Get A Little More Healthy

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2008

Our joining a gym last week was a last-gasp maneuver in the Battle of the Waist Line.

Neither of us – The Texas Gal or me – has ever been very active. I played some recreational softball, tennis and racquetball in my twenties and rode my bicycle on occasion during my late thirties and forties. But some chronic health problems – now under control – and the expected changes in lifestyle since I quit smoking about eight years ago have resulted in my gaining about fifty to sixty pounds.

I’m not pleased. And sitting on the couch, pondering how to lose weight while American Idol played out on the TV screen, didn’t seem to be solving the problem. So last week, the Texas Gal and I made our way to a new fitness center about six blocks away. It’s a pretty low-key place, and it has the things we need: treadmills for her, stationary bikes for me, and a reasonable collection of circuit training equipment. Our plan to is get to the center three times a week and see how it goes. While one of my goals is to lose some weight, my overall goal is simply to become more active and feel better doing it.

And so far, I’ve enjoyed our two visits. I like the stationary bicycle, and I’m learning about the circuit training. The fatigue I feel when we leave the center is a good feeling. But there are some things: The cardio machines – treadmills, bikes, and other training machines – face a wall on which there are four television monitors. Folks with mp3 players that have FM radios in them can listen to the televisions on specific frequencies. As I didn’t have one of those during last week’s two visits, I watched the monitors that showed closed-captioning, ESPN’s Sports Center on the first visit and That ’70s Show the second visit. The ESPN was okay, as it usually is, but it was a slow day. I was never impressed with That ’70s Show when I could hear it, and watching it with captions was no better. The Texas Gal – who was closer to the wall and had a good view only of one monitor playing some game show, agreed. We needed something to battle boredom.

So yesterday, we made another small step into the current world: I wandered out to one of our major electronics dealers and bought two portable mp3 players. They’re by Creative, a firm I’d never heard of before, and the model is called Zen V Plus; they seem perfectly adequate to our needs. Each has two gig of storage (actually, 1.89), and it was simple enough to install the software and have mine pull 384 songs at random from my computer. After figuring out the random function, the only way to celebrate this one small piece of my commitment to better health was to take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard:

“Sweet Cocaine” (live) by Fred Neil from Other Side of This Life, 1971

“Love Song” by Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection, 1970

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac from Then Play On, 1969

“My Home Is A Prison” by Lonesome Sundown, Excello single 2012, 1960

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees from TSOP, 1974

“White Dove” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King from Live in the Cook County Jail, 1971

“Comin’ Back To Me” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Old Brown Dog” by Ralph McTell from You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, 1971

“Overall Junction” by Albert King from King of the Blues Guitar, 1969

“Devil Got My Woman” by Bob Brozman from Golden Slide, 1997

“Adam’s Toon” by Trees from On The Shore, 1970

“Just Like A Woman” by Bob Dylan from Before The Flood, 1974

A few notes:

Fred Neil’s Other Side of This Life was the last record released by the reclusive singer/songwriter during his lifetime. Cobbled together from a live performance and from bits and pieces that seemed to be studio outtakes, it didn’t draw much attention. But some of the live performances were among the best versions Neil had ever done of some of his songs. “Sweet Cocaine” falls into that category, as does Neil’s performance of his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’” Considering the slenderness of Neil’s discography, Other Side of This Life is a pretty good record.

The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon was the first album the New Orleans-based group released on A&M, and it was a pretty good effort, with some updated sounds being blended into the Neville’s traditional R&B/funk mix. The Nevilles even try something that sounds like hip-hop dragged through the swamp on “Sister Rosa.” The version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” does pretty well, too, in a far more traditional vein.

The Fleetwood Mac of Then Play On is made up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and guitarists Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green and Danny Kirwin. The group was no longer a blues band, per se, although blues still informed a lot of the material. But longer pieces like the nine-minute “Oh Well” showed that the group was clearly listening to other music being recorded around them in England circa 1969. It’s a fascinating piece off a pretty good album.

I know nothing more about Lonesome Sundown than what All-Music Guide can tell me: Born Cornelius Green in 1928, the singer recorded numerous swampy blues like “My Home Is A Prison” between 1956 and 1965, when he retired from blues to devote his energies to the church (coming out of that retirement for one album in 1977). Green died in his home state of Louisiana in 1995 at age sixty-six.

“TSOP” was in fact the sound of Philadelphia and – in a very short time – the sound of all America. The brainchild of Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song – originally produced as the theme for the television show Soul Train­­ – went to No. 1 in March 1974 and helped set the stage for the disco explosion to come. The version here is the album track, which was 2:15 longer than the single edit. Still makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it?

The Richie Havens track is an excellent version of one of the better songs Jefferson Airplane ever recorded. “Comin’ Back To Me,” a Marty Balin composition, was one of the best things on 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s second album and first with Grace Slick. I remember, during high school, reading the words to “Comin’ Back To Me” in a book of rock lyrics assessed as poetry and being blown away by them. More than thirty years later, their effect is the same. And Havens pretty much steals the song with his performance.

The three blues performances here – by B.B. King, Albert King and Bob Brozman – are pretty good. Brozman is certainly the least known, and I’m not going to say he rises to the level of the two Kings, who need no words from me about their brilliance. But Brozman’s pretty good. I’m not sure where I stumbled across his album, Golden Slide, but Brozman’s name went pretty quickly onto my list of performers I want to hear a lot more often.