Wake up Tamla Motown

04-197208XX 10Standing Ovation: Gladys Knight & The Pips: Tamla Motown STML 11208

Gladys Knight is one of the most underrated artists from the Motown stable. Even by Motown themselves, who only rarely put much effort into the promotion of her records. And the songs and arrangements Gladys is often saddled with do not allow her to show the full extent of her vocal capacity.

This is really a shame for an artist of her calibre. The quiet un-nerving power with which she delivers her vocals have at times made the most mundane of material seem inspired. And when Gladys occasionally has all the necessary ingredients she never fails in producing a minor soul classic. ‘Friendship Tram’ and her version of ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ are fine examples of her artistry, who’s roots are, deeper into blues and spirituals than most of the company’s other artists. These two tracks, although monstrous single hits in the States, meant very little over here except to Motown freaks. Even they though have managed to ignore many other great sides Gladys has put out.

One of the main problems is that Motown usually fails to bring out an album that is consistently good throughout its two sides. Marvin Gaye, now that he has broken loose from the company’s strictly self enforced production confines, has managed to release one of the best soul albums ever. What’s Going On’. Usually the only albums of Motown to make it are the ’Greatest Hits’ packages, of which Gladys’s is one of the better ones, for it contains all the most memorable tracks she has laid down whilst being with this company.

On ‘Standing Ovation’, Gladys succeeds in making a fairly well balanced album. The outstanding tracks are ‘It takes a whole lotta man for a woman like me’ and ‘Help me make it through the night’. Whilst most of the other tracks are memorable, the inclusion of ‘Fire and Rain’ is a great mistake. It’s a good song, but completely the wrong sort of material for Gladys. It is also a great pity that ‘He ain’t heavy, He’s my brother’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ are sung as a melody. Both songs are powerful enough on their own, and this type of severely restricting arrangement loses much of their potential.

If only Gladys would break away from the confines of her recording company, then we would hear her true worth; that of a gutsy evocative blues-based singer who would turn each song she sang into something personally her own, and stamped with her special brand of soul. But till this happens, ‘Standing Ovation’ is worth getting into, despite its limitations.

Nostalgia

04-197208XX 10“Garbo” M.G.M. 2353 059 (Mono)
“The Dancing Years” Sunset SLS 50313 Stereo

Initially, the soundtracks from the inscrutable Garbo’s famous films, most of which are featured on the record, seem quite camp and entertaining. Some of the lines are poignantly modem in their political comment – “Don’t make an issue of my womanhood”. (About Russia) “I have been fascinated by your five year plan for the last 15 years.” Nevertheless, I began to get rather bored about half way through the first side. Seemingly, film soundtracks, music excepted, rarely transfer successfully to records, seeming to lose their impetus when devoid of the visual accompaniment they were written for. I will concede however, that I am not really a Garbo fan, and the real addicts will probably find the record a lot more compelling than I did. The introduction by Walter Pidgeon on Side one sounds exactly like an American television commercial trying to sell the newest and whitest washing powder to middle-aged housewives.

“The Dancing Years – Evergreen Songs from the movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, played by the Sunset Dance Orchestra,” is a selection of well known bouncy numbers from Fred and Ginger’s 1930’s films. While the sleeve states the record is approved by the “Official Board of Ballroom Dancing”, most of us I expect, won’t be dancing the foxtrot while listening to the record, but just relaxing and hoping the person in our arms, can’t remember that far back. Most of the universally enjoyable evergreens are featured – “Top Hot White Tie and Tails, Cheek to Cheek Lets face the Music and Dance, Smoke gets in your Eyes,” etc. etc. The sound quality is exceptionally good for a cheap label record and the sound of the orchestra fairly authentic 1930’s.

Eye-catching covers/Ear-waking music

04-197208XX 10The Eagles : Asylum SYTC 101
Roxy Music : Island ILPS 9200
Fritz the Cat (Original Soundtrack Recording) : Fantasy V4U6

Although the musical styles on these three albums are completely different, there is one thing that connects them. Each has a fairly spectacular cover, depending of course on your own particular taste that is. Great, album covers should be pictorially and colourfully interesting; we pay for them don’t we, along with the slim pieces of plastic inside.

Unfortunately, some record companies exploit the fact that some people will buy records whatever their covers look like, thus the first album by an American group called The Eagles has a double cover and an interesting inner sleeve but we are charged an extra 26p for the pleasure of listening to the group and having something pretty to litter the carpet whilst the disc is playing. Strangely enough though. Island Records can present us with the fascinating and as expensive sleeve that the Roxy Music record is encased in, but charge us no more. Now it seems to me that if the record companies have enough sense to realise that a graphically successful cover receives, in time, more attention and acclaim than an uninspired one, then they should surely bear the cost. They make a big enough profit on a successful ‘product’ anyway, and wrapping doesn’t fool anyone anymore, it’s the ‘goods’ inside that matter. Eventually this exploitation of well designed sleeves will fall flat on the record companies that indulge in this practice; and also will damage the chances of new groups trying to find an audience, especially unknown foreign groups. People will get fed up with having to fork out so much money, and it’s the disc firms, as well as the groups, that will suffer.

Back to the music. The Eagles, a new band on a new American label (Asylum), have produced a well-balanced, not over-ambitious album. Musically they are a step above most other groups into the soft/heavy rock style that is very much a part of the 70’s pop scene. The band play and sing well, using a mixture of their own and other people’s material. The Jackson Browne songs, and the Gene Clark/Bernie Leadon classic from the first Dillard and Clark album, ‘Train leaves here this morning’, are very fine, whilst their own material varies from excellent to just passable. But the goodies well out-weigh the near misses. Repeated listening brings out the many striking moments of harmonising and faultlessly layered back-up playing.

Roxy Music, sounded at first to me like the return-of-the-son-of-King-CrimsonThat’s a little unfair to say now perhaps, but first listenings to this album proved difficult and the music remained slightly inaccessible, much like the recent recordings of King Crimson. Maybe it has something to do with the producing of ex-Crimsonite Peter Sinfield. But after hearing the album a number of times, the originality and strengths of the group begin to emerge from the multi-styled and influenced world of sound that they work in.The varied and unusual vocal styles are at first a little hard to take, but they do eventually fit into the overall sound. One continuing grumble I have though is that the group do not use more of the late fifties/early sixties influenced material that they demonstrate on the last short track of this album. I think it’s likely though that we shall hear more of this on future albums. Sales of the record are good, being in the bottom thirty of the album charts, so seeing 1 am not alone in my liking and excitement for this record, I would suggest that you have a listen, it’s sure to turn some of you on.

Roxy Music’s cover is one of the year’s best, using model Kan-Ann in a striking lengthwise pose across the double cover. The inside reveals the group in poses and clothes best left for you to discover. (Grinspoon’s fallen in love with both Paul Thompson and Eno.)

The soundtrack recording from the first full-length X-rated animated feature ‘Fritz the Cat’ seems to be of interest primarily to those who have seen the film. The music is a good reminder of scenes from the cartoon along with the colourful cover depicting characters and events from the film’s story.

The music is a mixture of styles and artists. A number of tracks are hip/soul pieces, others are cinematically psychedelic, complementing action and moods. There’s a track from the late Billy Holiday, a Bo Diddley rock classic, and the camp ‘You’re the only girl (I ever really loved)’ sung by Jim Post. The album is a good cohesive jumble of sounds, but the music is best heard in the context of the movie before forking out any cash.

He’s Where He’s At

04-197208XX 10Fritz and Cat (X) — based on characters created by Robert Crumb
Directed by Ralph Balshi 78 mins, cut.

If you don’t like the underground, after this film you will hate it. If you do, then you’ll find you and your friends sent up rather cruelly. The Daily Express will have it’s worst suspicions confirmed. Mary Whitehouse won’t see it for fear of having an orgasm. Whatever else this film is it’s certainly real – a bit too real at times. It took me a whole evening afterwards to realise that the straight world caricatured the same way would be absolutely unbearable, unfilmable.

Police really are pigs here, and rather dumb ones too – everyone else is some sort of nasty animal. Fritz the Cat is a kind of naive college-kid revolutionary. There’s a sort of mix-up in the usual cartoon conventions – people really do fuck, they do die when they get shot, but Fritz escapes virtually unhurt from the centre of a massive explosion (though he is hospitalised first). It’s really a horror movie to out-horror anything Lee or Price could contrive.

It’s also truly funny – if you can remember it’s a cartoon. I forgot.

‘Someone So Beautiful’

04-197208XX 10“STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING” starring Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, Tom Bell. Colour, directed by Peter Collinson. A Hammer Production from Anglo E.M.I. released by MGM-E.M.I.

“Straight on till Morning” is something of a departure for Hammer, not being a horror film in the usual sense of the word, but a kind of anti heterosexual, anti swinging London, anti plastic relationship film. Plain looking Brenda (Rita Tushingham) leaves Mum in an industrial Northern town to come to London, in search of a man who’s going to love her and give her a baby. She arrives and wanders through Earls Court bewildered by the frightening, rushing horror of London. She answers an ad., goes to work in a boutique run by a girl crazy, sterotype, boring het., and after a few non events goes to share a flat with the het’s girlfriend, who spends her time unemotionally screwing and throwing parties. Not Brenda’s scene she’s the awkward emotional type who’s awful at trendy parties, so she gets really cheesed off after one of them, and rushes through the streets crying. She finds a dog, an extremely scruffy one, takes it home and next morning goes round to the address on its collar. The door is answered by a very pretty blonde young man (Shane Briant), who much to Brenda’s surprise, asks her to come and live in his house and look after him. You see the poor boy is so tired of pretty women only wanting him for his body, that he’s murdered two such ladies, and he murders the dog too, because Brenda has washed it and made it look beautiful. He wants emotional love and he thinks an ugly girl can give it to him, and Peter Collinson the director really quite credibly shows the agony of someone who is so beautiful, they can never trust their love to anyone, because the other is always likely to only want their body. Unfortunately Brenda goes and gets a face lift and a fancy hair style, so our pretty little murderer, goes and does her in too.

The whole thing must sound quite wierd to the humble reader, but I must implore each and everyone of you to see the film. Peter Collinson manages to make it really eerie and thought provoking:- The sad futility of the straight Kings Road scene, and for the first time in any film I’ve seen, an attempt is made to be anti sexist. Sexism is the love and worship of physical beauty alone, without regard to the inner person.

Playing with “Straight on till Morning” in this double bill is a much more regulation Hammer horror, “Fear in the Night”, with Peter Cushing, and Judy Geeson. Strange, mysterious and entertaining goings on in a boy’s public school. Trouble is no boys, and that phrase is relevant to the film.

Hi Jacker Reveals Himself

04-197208XX 10“SKYJACKED” starring Charlton Heston, Yvette Mimieux, Walter Pidgeon, James Brolin. Screenplay by Stanley R. Greenberg, Directed by John Guillermin. Colour. Panavision, An M.G.M Presentation Distributed by M.G.M. — E.M.I.

“Skyjacked” is a wholly successful attempt to show the hijack of an intercontinental jet, factually, entertainingly and suspensefully. The film works magnificently on all these three levels, from the opening scenes at Los Angeles Airport, where the passengers embarkation is shown with good documentary accuracy, through the early stages of the film as the hijacker reveals himself and his plan, and how the passengers react to the situation; through to thrilling climax after thrilling climax, as the plane is forced to land in impossible weather conditions at an Alaskan airport, before being directed by the hijacker to Moscow, and en route being buzzed by Russian jets. Here as throughout the film John Guillermin’s direction creates genuine tension, and his realistic cross section of characters always behave in very much the way I suppose you or I would.

The aerial scenes are outstanding, and the film even contains several pieces of very subtle humour. I emerged from the cinema, totally satisfied, immersed in the film, excited and entertained.