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One of the prettiest, yet little known soul Christmas singles.
I'm not sure if this Betty Lloyd is the same singer who was a member of
the east coast girl group The Percells; Thomas Records was a Chicago label (an offshoot of Curtis Mayfields' Curtom label), and this track certainly has an indelible
Chicago stamp on it.
The lyrics brilliantly capture the feeling of being alone at Christmas,
but without self pity. Oozing with quality, this song should truly be a
Christmas arrived early this year, in that I found a copy of this record (that I've been chasing for many years) back last July.
Issued both in 1976 (to the fan club in limited numbers) and again in
1986 (this copy), this single hardly ever turns up for sale because both
pressings were so limited, and most people tend to hang onto them. I
have no idea where the '86 release was even SOLD, as I was both a
Monkees fan and reading Goldmine magazine as a youngster during this era
and I never remember seeing it for sale, and certainly have never seen
it in any record stores. Perhaps producer Chip Douglas repressed it for
the fan club only, I'm simply not sure. I've had both sides of this 45
on a lo-fi bootleg LP for over 20 years, but nothing beats having this
copy with the uber-cool picture sleeve showing the fellas in the studio,
Chip Douglas and (Turtle) Howard Kaylan wrote the song back in 1968, and
it was issued as a single by a group calling themselves The Christmas
Spirit, which was made up of several Turtles and Linda Ronstadt. While
the song was revisited for The Monkees version, it was completely
re-arranged in a far superior way for their track, which is pure magic.
The group was unable to use the name Monkees due to legal restrictions,
so the record was cleverly released as We Three Monkees. Michael Nesmith
chose not to participate, but the rumor mill claims that it's none
other than Nez playing pedal steel guitar on both sides. Micky and Davy
take turns on the lead vocal, which is heartfelt and lovely, and the
song itself is a wonderful thing. What's in the grooves makes it obvious
that everyone involved was having a ball when they made the record.
Davy takes the lead for a very moving, country flavored version of
"White Christmas" on the flip side, which shows how this man could croon
with the best of them and how missed he is.
The words written on the back of the picture sleeve, "An expression of
friendship and togetherness to make the holidays a little brighter for
all of us" couldn't be more spot on.
Whatever it is that you celebrate, I wish you peace, love, and happiness today, tomorrow and everyday.
THE MONKEES - CHRISTMAS IS MY TIME OF YEAR b/w WHITE CHRISTMAS
What happened when (Monkees producer and Turtles member) Chip Douglas, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, Gene Parsons, Howard Kaylan, Henry Diltz, Cyrus Faryar, and (probably) Micky Dolenz' Moog synthesizer got together in '67? This beautiful piece of folk-rock melancholy holiday sound was born.
Unjustly obscure, in a perfect world this is the type of record that would be heard everywhere during the holiday season.
Peace and love to all.
THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT - WILL YOU STILL BELIEVE IN ME
This song has been continuously playing in my head recently, as every damn day brings a new level of disgust with what is happening in the US. Square one: stop calling the police on black folks who are simply trying to live their lives, and start treating fellow human beings with dignity and respect - everybody has their own personal struggles and stories, and what bonds us is the fact that we are all just trying to get thru this thing called life. Very simple concepts.
(originally posted 9/2/13)
I've had this record sitting in my stack of potential 45's of the day
for years, and I had forgotten how AMAZING it is; thankfully, it popped
up on shuffle play on the ipod during a long road trip I took last week.
Until this morning, I had no idea the story behind it and how HEAVY it
actually is (a BIG thank you to Ayana @ darkjive.com and her research on the group).
I strongly recommend reading the whole story at the above link, but, in a
nutshell, songwriter/ musician/ civil rights activist Oscar Brown Jr
(composer of "Work Song" among other classics) contacted the notorious
Chicago gang The Blackstone Rangers in 1967 about the possibilities of
life beyond gangs. It turns out that the gang was full of talent, and
Brown created a show call Opportunity, Please Knock that
showcased the talents of these young people that didn't really have much
of a chance in life. The show was a success and there was even a
performance from the troupe on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
As for the record, it's extremely powerful stuff even without knowing
the back story. Learning what I did this morning makes it even more
THE OPPORTUNITY PLEASE KNOCK CHORUS - ALL THIS TALK ABOUT FREEDOM
The tragic story of Chris Bell is well told elsewhere; through personal darkness came transcendent art. Thanks to the support of his brother David Bell, in 1974, the brothers took a trip to England and the European continent that was designed to both help lift Chris out of depression (and the hell of drug and alcohol abuse), and to record some of Chris’ new songs. As a Beatles fanatic, it must have been a dream come true for Chris to work with (Beatles engineer) Geoff Emerick for his masterpiece ‘I Am The Cosmos’. Geoff and Chris achieved a massive, hypnotic, swirling sound that captures the anguish and emotional torture of on/off love that are portrayed so honestly and directly in the lyrics.
The flip side ‘You And Your Sister’ (with no Emerick involvement) found Bell reunited with fellow Big Star co-founder Alex Chilton. While Alex himself may have also been wrapped up in his own madness of (in his own words) ‘bad drugs’, he contributes a tender and downright angelic harmony with Chris here.
Sadly, David Bell was not able to get a record deal for his brother, and his album wasn’t released until 1992. Thankfully, musician Chris Stamey (himself a massive Big Star fan, and Alex Chilton band member) released this single on his label in 1978, just a few short months before Chris’ death.
It's sad to hear of the passing of Otis Rush; he was truly one of the last of a very special breed. It's a tragedy that Otis was unable to play guitar for the past 15 years due to a stroke, as he was one of the greatest electric blues guitarists in history.
(originally posted on 3/13/2013)
After the city laid out the foundation of electric blues in the late
'50's thru the 1950's, Chicago blues of the 1960's turned into a whole
new thing. Influenced by the budding soul music scene, the so-called
"West Side" sound of Magic Sam and Buddy Guy introduced a new type of
intensity and a hard swinging rhythm into a reverb drenched stew that
was unique, propulsive and (in this writers opinion) the last gasp for
the sound before it veered into cliche after cliche.
Otis Rush was only 27 at the time of this recording, but his career at
the time had slid into a nadir after several r&b hits starting in
While it's merely speculation on my part based in no small part by my
love of where the music "went" during this era, I honestly believe that
these great Chicago musicians realized that in order to appeal to a
younger generation it was crucial to modernize their sound, and the
result was a sophistication in the music that is heard brilliantly on
this side (just LISTEN to what the organ does throughout the track, not
to mention the horns). If Otis' "Oh Baby's" (especially the one heard at
:32) doesn't send a shiver down your spine, you may have landed at the
wrong place by mistake.
Understated in its elegance, 'Sometimes I Wonder' is one of those tracks that epitomize the Chicago soul sound.
Major Lance may have been a bit lacking in vocal strength, but his delivery and charisma (and top notch material) push his best records into greatness. This may well be my favorite of his; a superb Curtis Mayfield composition, with Curtis and the Impressions providing glorious backing vocals, and a typically superb string-laden (but still kinda raw and very exciting sound) that Mayfield- (co-producer) Carl Davis and (arranger) Riley Hampton excelled at.
LA's The Odyssey released one of THE great nods to the English freakbeat sound on this pulverizing record.
Not only did this band take a cue from the feedback driven sound of The Who, The Yardbirds, and The Creation, but they also incorporated it into the melodic content of the song in a way that is flat out mesmerizing as it howls and drones away, completely in tune, and fully controlled (NOT easy to do). On top of that, the drums are manic, and the vocals bring those kinda harmonies that are SUCH an LA thing. The song also captures the feeling of one of those passionate, toxic on/off relationship that takes us to heaven and hell better than any other. Absolutely perfection.
While this was the only record released as The Odyssey, several (perhaps all?) members were part of The Looking Glass (aka The Looking Glasses, aka The Clouds) that released the disturbing bad trip psych 45 'Visions' the previous year. They went on to release a very subdued cover of the Beatles 'Two Of Us' in 1970 as Shake. Guitarist Louis Maxfield had a European hit (as Daddy Maxfield) in 1973 with 'Rave N Rock', and also did a fair amount of session guitar work thru the 70s-80s.
It's a minor miracle that Aretha became the legend that she is; her first six years as a recording artist was filled with a series of mis-steps as a Columbia Records artist. for whatever reasons, Aretha wasn't able to be ARETHA on the majority of her Columbia recordings, which tended to be far to the pop or pop jazz side. Thankfully, once signed to Atlantic Records in early '67, Aretha was able to unleash her greatness onto the world.
However, there were a few Columbia sides that hinted at her majesty; 'Lee Cross', rooted in gospel, is one. Written by her downright awful, abusive first husband (unfortunately), 'Lee Cross' tells the story of a manipulative, philandering man. Aretha delivers the lyric as an all-knowing warning.
With a breezy sort of haunting melancholy, this is the type of record that could only have been recorded on the west coast. It draws some inspiration from the immortal 'I Only Have Eyes For You' by The Flamingos in its ethereal, late night sound that's made to listen to at the top of Mullholland Drive at midnight with your special one.
Hal (Davis) was the producer/ songwriter that discovered a young, budding with talent Brenda (Holloway), and this record was cut shortly before Brenda was signed to Motown (the first major west coast signing for the budding Detroit giant). Showing remarkable vocal range and emotion, Brenda was all of 17 years old when this record was cut.
This incredible record shows the beauty and tragedy of Little Willie
John's voice in an enigmatic and deep way that shows once again how he
is one of the most under appreciated greats in all of music.
lyrics read like a series of metaphorical haikus, and the musical backing repeats the
(downright creepy) jazzy blues vibe of "Fever". This is one of Willie's final singles -directly
before the mighty "I'm Shakin", a past 45 of the day- before his
(probably trumped up) incarceration and sad demise in prison.
This debut 45 from California's Fuller Brothers (Erskin and Major
Fuller) is one of the most fully realized debut recordings I've ever
Delivered with pure soul and a restrained confidence, the brothers
deliver a sublime, pure harmony vocal that gives me shivers and a big
lump at the back of my throat. This is the type of record that exists in
that upper echelon- a place where music simply does not get any better.
The Cryan' Shames (not to be confused with the English Cryin' Shames)
hailed from the affluent Chicago suburb of Hinsdale. The group was
heavily influenced by the British Invasion, and their biggest national
hit was a cover of the Searchers "Sugar And Spice"; a record which
landed them a contract with Columbia Records. While this group was far too sophisticated to be labelled as a 'garage band', a whole lot of their music had that kind of energy and drive (just listen to the propulsive drums and distorted 12 string electric guitar heard here).
The groups' second LP, A Scratch In The Sky, is a minor masterpiece and found them taking a more ethereal direction undoubtedly influenced by the work of The Beatles Revolver, Brian Wilson c1966 and The Byrds (and contains this track as well). A strong Revolver
influence is felt on this track, which is easily one of my favorite
American records of the era. In fact, it was one of the very first 45's
of the day, at the dawn of this blog TEN years ago.
"The Sailing Ship", with its melodic lift underlined by melancholy
darkness is a masterpiece in every way- a brilliant song, fantastic
vocals, and those DRUMS.
This song was brilliantly adapted by The Brian Jonestown Massacre as "Sailor" in 2001. I could listen to either version a dozen times in a row and still wanna hear it again.
This amazing track was recorded during the in-between period of Johnny Nash's career, between his hitmaking eras. Johnny started out
as a teen idol in the 50's, then became immersed in Jamaican
music c1967 where he began not only recording on the island but also
became involved with Bob Marley and the Wailers. Even though this was recorded before Johnny's Jamaican period, it still shows a very strong bluebeat influence. This is one of those songs that, in a just world, would have been a massive hit.
I would love to know who the backing musicians are on this track. It was arranged by the great Chicago fixture Johnny Pate.
Today's selection is a record that I've dreamed of owning for years;
incredibly rare, I've never had the guts to snatch up one of the copies
that turns up in top condition for heart stopping prices. Recently, this
copy came up for sale in rough shape but I don't trip on condition.
Unless there's skips, I'm just happy to have these records around in any
Unfortunately, THIS ONE HAD A HORRIBLE SKIP. Undisclosed by the seller
who stated "excellent sound quality". Uh huh. Kinda like saying, this
car is in mint condition, except for the smashed fender.
As anyone who has ever crossed over the big ponds knows, transatlantic
jetlag can cause people to do odd things; for me, it means when I come
home from Europe I tend to be up way too early in the morning. This
particular morning, with headphones on, I slapped this platter on the
turntable and just about wept when I heard the SKIP. I HAVE had pretty
good success getting skips out of records, but this one was really bad
and I didn't have much hope. I spent about 20 minutes on it then gave up
for a while and listened to a few more discs in the "to listen to"
piles. Something about my love for this song made me come back to skip
doctoring, and I think if you've read this far, as soon as you hear the
organ intro of this song you just might understand my insanity.
Here's what I do with vinyl record skip removal in a nutshell- first,
figure out WHERE it skips. Then, I take a stylus needle and trace
through the groove that I have put just a dab of dish soap (for
lubricant) on a q-tip and wipe it over the groove. Odds are you when
running the needle SLOWLY and lightly thru the groove, the needle will
get hung up on the skip, where I'll gently rub the needle thru the
groove to clear out the damage.
It took many tries (about 2 hours) but the skips (yes, after I fixed one
I found another on the adjacent groove) are GONE. And when you hear
Bobby Reed's voice come in so sweetly after that glorious organ intro,
you will understand why. Or, you are simply in the wrong spot on the
Bobby Reed is from Washington, DC and released a small handful of
singles before hooking up with the amazing Van McCoy for this sublime
release. Very little is known about him, although he released at least
one more 45 after this one.
This Ohio based group (who later became one of the bastions of the
Philly Soul scene) released many great 45's in the 60's, and this one is
my favorite by far. From the gorgeous vocals to the uplifting groove, this sound is the epitome of '60's soul, and in my opinion it simply does not get any better than this.
A typical formula for soul 45's in the 60's
seemed to have been a ballad on one side (usually the a side) with the b
side being a dancer...It's a rare treat when both sides are uptempo as
we have here. Both sides are absolutely gloriously uptempo soul.
Oakland, CA's Eugene Blacknell released a handful of cool 45's over the years, but his guitar mastery and band leadership skills were sadly confined within the bay area.
This record would be legendary if only for the intro drum break, and by the time the band comes in with a super funky bed of percussion, organ stabs, and bubbling bass, we're already in funky heaven. It all sets the stage for Eugene himself to come in with a fried out fuzz and wah-wah drenched guitar part that is simply unbelievable.
One of the bands I play in is the LA based Wyldewood Green - this record is essentially the template of what we're cookin' up.
This is a record that I had wanted to feature during the original run of this blog, but it wasn't until after I had ended things here that I managed to score a copy.
The intimidating dude on the picture sleeve is Freddie 'Fingers' Lee, most known in the UK as a rockabilly revival artist throughout the 70's. However, on this record, there's absolutely no 'billy' but a downright overdose of 'rock'. Freddie spent the early 60s as both guitarist and pianist with UK legend Screaming Lord Sutch before striking out on his own around 1965.
In just under two and a half minutes, Freddie and his killer band, The Upper Hand, lay out one of THEE most unhinged freakbeat tracks ever cut to wax. If the fuzzed out riff don't get ya, Freddie's wild vocal leaps most definitely WILL. Musically and lyrically this track is flat out incredible.
While I drive a Honda Hybrid that's nowhere near as cool and certainly doesn't have 'high compression cylinder heads' that Freddie's driving here, I've found myself accidentally speeding over 90 MPH when this song comes on during my regular drives up and down California's I-5.
Freddie recorded only two 45's with the Upper Hand before he went completely in the rockabilly bag. His intensity didn't slow down; there's clips of him destroying pianos with axes and chainsaws on unhinged UK TV appearances.
This record is so beautiful, I could sit and listen to it 20 times in a row...
The Vandals began their singing career as a teenage Temptations tribute
act called The Young Tempts around 1967, while the singers were still in
high school. A court order from THE Temptations saw the group change
their name to The Young Vandals, then, by the time of this final
release, The Vandals. Lead singer Otis Harris nails Eddie Kendricks'
falsetto lead vocal style. After this release, Harris broke up the group
because he wanted to go to college. Fate had other plans, and in a
bizarre twist of life imitating art, Harris BECAME the lead singer for The Temptations in 1971, as a friend urged him to audition for
Kendricks' vacated slot. After changing his first name to Damon, Harris
held the position which he until 1975. His falsetto, which we hear
here, is all over the massive hit and stone classic "Papa Was A Rolling
Of course the one recurring theme in music is that of love; for me, the two are one in the same! While I believe in practicing and sharing love every day of the year, I suppose that 2/14 is a fine day to share two soul tracks that epitomize those 'butterfly in the tummy' feelings of love.May all of our days be filled with pure, unfiltered, organic, and genuine love.
(originally posted 10/16/11)
This beautiful song has a rather strange story, and one that is unique
to this record (to my knowledge); namely, the same track was released
three times, in a span of 4 years, by three separate labels, and under
two different group names!
Originally released in 1965 by the Joytones, apparently the producers of
the record felt strongly enough about the record to re-release it,
hoping for the success that it deserved. Unfortunately, it did not hit
the charts on any of its releases.
I believe that it is a Detroit recording, but I may be wrong.
THE LOVE POTION - THIS LOVE
(originally posted 10/27/08)
There's no good way to describe my love affair with the Chicago soul sound of the '60s and early '70s better than whats contained in the grooves. The propulsive motion and swing that's heard in so many Windy City cuts is not only an inspiration, but it's a downright life affirming sound, and it's heard on hundreds and hundreds of superb 45's.
The Dynamic Tints were an extraordinary vocal group that was discovered by musician/ producer/ and Twinight Records A&R talent scout Syl Johnson. While the group penned several of their own sides, this one was written by the incredible session bass player Bernard Reed, whose bubbling style is heard on hundreds of records - some hits (Tyrone Davis - 'Turn Back The Hands Of Time'), but far too many such as this that should have been hits.
There is an underlying sweetness to this record that just hits me straight in the heart; it sounds as though it's beaming down straight from the stars...
I was sad to see that Denise La Salle has passed away; she spent her entire life in music, and was a staple on the blues festival scene until the end. Her debut 45 is one of THE greatest Chicago soul singles, and made such a splash on the Chicago scene that Chess Records licensed it for national release.
(originally posted 9/28/09) here's what I wrote then:
Born in Mississippi and relocated to Chicago, this is the debut 45 from
Denise who later went on to score big with the excellent 1971 track
'Trapped By A Thing Called Love". This number, however, is one of those
tracks that epitomizes the mid 60's Chicago sound and in my opinion is
one of the greatest debut singles ever made. The exact same backing track was used for Nolan Chance's 'Just Like The Weather'; IMO, though, THIS is the version.
Rick Hall was one of the most important 'behind the scenes' folks in the history of soul music. His Fame Studios (and record label), based in the sticks of Muscle Shoals, AL, had a SOUND. During the most intense years of the struggle for racial equality and in the middle of some of the nastiest racial segregation, Hall and the 'Fame Gang' encouraged integration and sent it straight out to wax. Here was a studio in rural Alabama, run by a white man, where (mostly) white musicians laid down some incredibly soulful sounds for some of the greatest black singers of all time.
A few years after the first studio opened, Hall scored his first hit as a producer with Arthur Alexander's beautiful country fried soul track 'You Better Move On'. The success of this single allowed for a new studio to be built, and the first session yielded the incredible 'Steal Away' by Jimmy Hughes (who sang and wrote this track). 'Steal Away' is easily in my 50 favorite songs of all time if I were to compile such a list; in my opinion, it is the epitome of the deep soul sound.
Fame found their biggest successes when Atlantic Records sent Wilson Pickett south to capture some of the Muscle Shoals sound, and Wilson was initially skeptical upon arrival. However, any cynicism was brushed aside when the Fame Gang cut 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' with the Wicked Pickett. Further triumphs were achieved in the studio with Aretha Franklin, and Etta James (both of whom, arguably, cut their greatest records at Fame).
While Rick Hall's greatest strength was as a technical whiz and a friendly presence who made his artists comfortable in the studio (evidenced by the other worldly performances), he also had a hand in some songwriting. Joined up with Dan Penn and the mysterious Oscar Frank, this trio penned the classic breakup cut, 'You Left The Water Running'. While it wasn't cut at Fame, Barbara Lynn's swinging version is a true gem.
Thank you, Rick Hall. You were an American treasure.