Silly Symphonies

GOLDEN HITS OF THE SHANGRI-LASPhillips International 6336215.

No doubt about it, the Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las is one record that every lover of pop music should possess. And that doesn’t mean to say that you have to be a rock and roll intellectual to appreciate it. Amongst the twelve tracks included on the album are songs that are already legends in pop history, the best examples being Leader Of The Pack and Remember (Walking In The Sand). The former has just proved its worth for the second time by again making the top twenty, eight years after it originally appeared in the charts.

The main inspiration behind these recordings was Shadow Morton, who took the Shangri-Las up to the levels of success previously only reached by black vocal groups such as The Ronettes, The Crystals and The Chiffons. When Morton recorded these numbers it was still the single that was the backbone of the recording industry, whereas today it is the album. Subsequently it is unlikely that anyone will ever again reach the peaks of perfection Morton took the three minute single to. He made them within their own limitations, into a new art form, very much in keeping with the areas Andy Warhol has worked in.

The Shangri-La’s records were more than just songs — they were a form of theatre. A prominent feature of Morton’s production technique was the emphasis he placed on bringing out the tension and drama within the story-line of a song. This was achieved in a number of ways. To start with, there was always a strong melody and a well arranged two-part chorus. To this he would add sound effects, like the seagulls and rolling breakers on Remember or the thunder on Give Us Your Blessing, and because of the inventive way he utilised them, they would evoke a depth to the situation that is as near to theatre as can be. Also, by the use of monologues, which were pushed to the front of the recording, he helped involve the listener even further in the story. The result of this can be clearly seen on Leader Of The Pack, which also happens to be one of pop’s classic ‘death songs’.

Forgetting the technicalities and intricacies of the recordings, these tracks are as exciting and enjoyable as anything being produced today. Apart from the cuts already mentioned, other highlights of the album are Past, Present And Future, Out In The Streets, Give Him a Great Big Kiss and the absolutely incredible I Can Never Go Home Any More. Very reasonably priced at £1.35, I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

LIVE CONCERT AT THE FORUMBarbra Streisand – CBS 65210

The record companies are certainly churning out some ‘class albums’ at present. In January the amazing first album of Bette Midler was issued. This month there are new releases from Ethel Merman and Laura Nyro. In March, Liza Minnelli’s Liza With A “Z” will be available, after the screening of her television spectacular, from which the recording comes. Even Mae West has an album scheduled, called Great Balls Of Fire. Also, in the first week of February, Barbra Streisand’s Live Concert At The Forum is being released.

This record is particularly interesting and very enjoyable for a variety of reasons. It is over fourteen months since her last album was released, and it’s a recording of the first live concert she has given in six years. Judging from the audience’s reaction, it is about time she started appearing more frequently on stage, not forgetting a few concerts In this country as well. The Forum concert happened in April of last year, and was a fund raising benefit for Senator George McGovern, who, as we all now know, later failed in his attempt for the presidency of the USA.

Barbra Streisand

McGovern may have not made the White House, but Barbra undoubtedly succeeded in giving a great performance. Over half of the songs included have never been available on record by her before. Amongst these are a version of Didn’t We and melodies of Sing/Make Your Own Kind Of Music and Sweet Inspiration/Where you Lead. Of the songs we have previously been able to hear are On A Clear Day, Stoney End, and Happy Days Are Here Again, which all come over sounding remarkably fresh and exciting, especially the classic Streisand number People, which closed the show. Despite the familiarity of these songs, Barbra seems to put a more immediate, a more mature meaning into the lyrics, which fitted in well with the reasons for the concert. Her in-between-songs chats with the audience were very revealing, notably her progressive ideas on the legalisation of ’pot’.

It is hardly surprising that Live Concert At The Forum is high in the American album charts. The whole 45 minute recording is a very special kind of entertainment, from one of the few performers who justifiably deserve to be called a ’star’.

LIFE GOES ONPaul Williams – A&M, AMLS 64367.

Life Goes On is the second album by Paul Williams, who seems determined to establish himself as a performer, as well as one of the most gifted songwriters around. William’s songs have given a large number of artists hit records, in particular The Carpenters, who shot up the charts when they recorded his We’ve Only just Begun.

His first release didn’t fare too well, as it suffered from most of the mistakes, namely over-indulgence, which usually effect the initial recording of songwriters turned performers. But his recent BBC2 In Concert appearance was a perfect showcase for his talents and has generally strengthened his reputation with his obvious ability to convey his own material as well as the others who use it. And Life Goes On is further proof that he now has everything very much together.

Paul has a warm, almost fragile voice, that at first reminds one of Nilsson, although repeated listenings soon obscure this similarity. And with his songs he diplays his mastery at writing romantic, yet never slushy, lyrics, as this album amply demonstrates.

During the last few years, a number of very talented singer/songwriters have emerged, such as Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro and Nilsson. Paul Williams justifiably is part of this growing number of lyricist/performers who between them are very much responsible for the improvements and developments in popular music. A nice new label for their music could be superpop.

STYLISTICS 2Avco 6466010

The Stylistics seem to be every reviewer’s favourite group to put down, judging from the amount of bad press given to Stylistics 2. They have been accused of singing watered down soul music to attract a wider, less demanding audience, whilst others have said that they are just imitating Motown’s super-group, The Temptations.

Utter rubbish. The Stylistics have an extremely original style all of their own. An enormous amount of effort has gone into their harmony work which is amongst the most pleasing I’ve heard. The lead singer has a very distinctive voice, with a remarkable range. His phrasing is particularly good, as is the rest of the groups’. Also the type of soul music they are into is not meant to be of the ‘heavy’ variety. They’re into melodic, very rhythmic music that is a joy to hear when it is as good as this.

Included are their two latest hits, Peek-A-Boo and I’m Stone In Love With You, the latter being destined to be popular for some time to come. Their version of Carole King’s It’s Too Late is particularly memorable, as is the seven minute Child Of The Night.

Responsible for the outstanding production, orchestration and arrangements is Thom Bell, who’s almost symphonic use of strings fits in well with the group’s singing and the various moods the lyrics create.

In conclusion, Stylistics 2 is a fine example of one direction contemporary soul music is taking, without the pretentions many groups fall foul of.

SWINGThe San Remo Strings — Tamla Motown STML 11216.

The San Remo Strings first attracted attention in this country when Festival Time became a much sought after single in the north of England. Subsequently it became a firm favourite in discotheques up there and eventually in clubs throughout the country.

I found Festival Time an interesting diversion from what one usually expects from Tamla Motown, and the follow-up, I’m Satisfied, was no less satisfying. Now Motown have released a whole album of the violin playing of the San Remo Strings, called Swing. And I’m afraid that this is where I lose interest. Whilst the occasional string arrangement of a Tamla classic is a worthwhile experiment, a collection of fourteen tracks isn’t, especially when some of them are only uninspired, wooden versions of ‘standards’ such as Ol’ Man River or Blueberry Hill.

Taken as a complete entity, as I think an album should be judged, Swing is little more than musak, of the type you can expect to find in any railway station, supermarket or bar. Save your money and wait until the new Gladys Knight & The Pips album is released.

360 DEGREES OF BILLY PAULBilly Paul – Epic 65351

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES – CBS 65350

HERE I GO AGAIN – Archie Bell & The DrellsAtlantic K40454

One of the most important songwriting/production partnerships in contemporary commercial soul music is the teaming of the talents of Ken Gamble and Leon Huff. And their current, seemingly infallible formula for creating hit after hit isn’t something new. They have been responsible for a vast number of successful records during recent years.

Based in Philadelphia, Gamble and Huff are currently attempting to show the music scene, if not the world, the power and originality of vocal groups and musicians working and living in that city. And without a doubt, they are certainly proving their point, as each artist or group under their direction rockets up the album and singles chart.

Last year, the O’Jays scored an enormous hit with Back Stabbers. That cut was one of the best soul numbers to be issued in 1972, and it is bound to become an all-time soul classic. The strength behind the song was the inspired arrangements and production of Gamble and Huff.

During the last month, three albums by their artists have been released, each of them including at least one track that has either been or is a hit single. The first is 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. Me and Mrs Jones, a track taken from it, is at present in the top tens of both the UK and the States.

98.4° of Billy Paul

And the rest of the songs are all up to the standard of that number. Billy Paul has, like all Gamble and Huff artists, a very distinctive style. Add to this the adventurous arrangements and the amount of depth Paul puts into the lyrics, and you end up with a most inspired and stunning record. His version of Elton John’s Your Song is considered to be the best since the original was recorded.

The second album is by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. Gamble and Huff have been working with this group for fifteen years, which is quite an achievement when one considers the average length of time a performing unit stays together. The Blue Notes are also in the singles charts with If You Don’t Know Me By Now. Previously they had a smash with I Miss You, and the full 8 minute, 31 second version of it is included on the album. As with Billy Paul’s record, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes are consistently good throughout theirs, offering the listener a fine collection of layered vocal harmonies, with the inventiveness of the arrangements making the whole venture more than just another soul album.

Not quite so exciting, although this depends on individual tastes, is the recent album of Archie Bell & The Drells, called Here I Go Again. Like Billy Paul and the Blue Notes, Archie Bell has already had a hit with the title track of his record, but, for me, very few of the other cuts come near to being as good. It is only the arrangements and production that catch one’s attention, most of the tracks being ideal for discotheques but possibly have little appeal beyond that.

What does distinguish these three albums from the many others being issued, is the fact that Gamble and Huff produce a sound that is very much their own. It is as different to Muscle Shoals as it is to Tamla Motown, and bears no relation either to the production techniques of Isaac Hayes or the funk of Curtis Mayfield. Also the lyrics show a maturity that is rarely present in this type of music. Time will tell if they can keep this incredibly successful output up, but whether or not they can, for now ‘The Sound Of Philadelphia’ is a most welcome addition to the world of popular music.

SUITE FOR LATE SUMMERDion – Warner Bros K46199

One of my all-time favourites on disc is Dion. And his new labum, Suite For Late Summer, comes as a welcome release in chilly/cold/wet January.

Dion

Dion has been recording for quite some time now. His career began in the early sixties when he recorded monster hits such as Runaround Sue and The Wanderer. Later, after a label change, he followed his earlier successes with Ruby Baby.

After a period of chart inactivity, he scored heavily with Abraham, Martin and John, one of the most meaningful songs of 1968. During the same period he made the charts again with one of the best versions of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. The last two songs mentioned appeared on the very neglected and underestimated album simply called Dion. (London SHP 8390). Another outstanding track on that record was The Dolphins, a simple but very moving song, written by Fred Neill, the composer of Everybody’s Talkin’.

Since 1970, Dion has released four consistently good albums for Warner Bros Records, which are very often beautiful, both lyrically and musically. Suite For Late Summer is the latest and is no less satisfying than his previous work. Dion’s songs are extremely personal. They delicately convey the thoughts and experiences he has recently gone through. Sometimes they are obviously painful memories, at other times they describe his great joy at being alive and free. There is a genuine sensitivity about the lyrics that never allows them to become emotionally tearful or embarrassingly self-conscious.

Suite For Late Summer is a rewarding addition to my collection of Dion albums. If you bother to hear it for yourselves, you’ll find that it’s an indispensible record for those ‘quiet moments’ when something relaxing but stimulating is called for.

GET ON THE GOOD FOOT – James Brown – Polydor 2659018

James Brown rarely makes an unexciting album. But sometimes they are a little uneven, perhaps a trifle pretentious, and usually contain a track or two that’s already appeared on at least one other recording of his.

Brown’s latest release, a double set, is slightly more uneven than usual. Maybe it’s because he’s attempting to include too many of his numerous styles, resulting in four sides of music that are never quite one thing or another. The cuts that do come off, like the title track Get On The Good Foot, contain all the raw energy and pure funk expected from James Brown. Others, such as The Whole World Needs Liberation and Funky Side Of Town, also allow Brown’s magic to work perfectly, but the drawn out Recitation By Hank Ballard seems no more than an extended space filler, that succeeds in being both boring and rather childish.

Of the new versions of previously recorded material, Cold Sweat and Please, Please, Please make it, whilst the rest are best forgotten. Dirty Harri on side four is an instrumental, and to hazard a guess, I’d say it was Brown playing electric organ.

Priced at £3.90, I feel that the sales of this double album will be restricted to only the most devoted of James Brown’s followers. Discotheques though would do well to pick up on the best of the material included.

Artists And Records Of The Year

David Bowie — Artist of the Year

It at first seemed like a difficult task to choose just one artist out of the scores of successful ones currently recording. But thinking back over the last year, it soon became apparent that one performer stood head, shoulders, faded jeans and eye shadow over all the rest. It is of course, David Bowie, the man who brought showbiz and glamour back to rock and roll.

Bowie’s major release this year was the brilliant The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. No other album has received such critical acclaim or enabled an artist to be rocketed with such speed to the pinnacle of his profession. Even Alice Cooper’s Mrs Mary Whitehouse upsetter School’s Out pales in comparison.

Ziggy Stardust is made up of a series of songs, and even if it isn’t a concept album as such, all the tracks are inter-related. Amongst the basic futuristic themes are apocalyptic visions of the world of tomorrow. These are told in part by Bowie as a narrator, and also by the mythical superstar ‘Ziggy Stardust’, who is Bowie himself. One of Bowie’s main attributes is his insight into what he is and what he is expected to be. And accordingly he plays the part of a superstar placed on a pedestal to the limit. Through this kind of awareness of image and of the medium he is working in, the lyrics, although extravagant, never sink to the level of just being pretentious or embarrassingly self-conscious.

Recently Bowie has had two of his previous albums re-released. They are Space Oddity (1968) and The Man Who Sold The World (1970). Both are important records, which were way ahead of their time when first issued. A new single by Bowie, The Jean Genie, has come out during the last couple of weeks. The title is, of course, a word play on Jean Genet, the French author, who is perhaps best known in this country for his novel Our Lady Of The Flowers. The lyrics are stranger than ever and their meaning is best left up to the individual listener to fathom out.

Apart from success in the recording field, Bowie has also been responsible for bringing entertainment back to rock concerts. For too long groups and solo artists have had trite, lack-lustre stage acts. But after a David Bowie concert, audiences will be reluctant to accept the mediocre, slipshod stage presentations of the past.

Bowie’s theatrical, uninhibited professionalism when giving a ‘live’ performance, has broken through many social barriers and taboos. And everywhere audiences have reacted enthusiastically to his assaults on accepted convention and narrow-minded morality. Mind you, he has brought out the worst forms of imbedded Puritanism from many rock journalists. But make no mistakes, if Bowie is limp-wristed then Muhammed Ali is queen of the fairies.

The terms Glam Rock and Gay Rock have been invented to try and categorise Bowie and the few other rock artists who have progressed beyond the rigid conformity that has governed the stage presentation of rock/pop groups in this country for quite some time. Even the puppet prancings of Mick Jagger look mechanical when compared to the high energy performances that Bowie gives.

Incidentally, Bowie is giving a concert at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park, on 24th December. I couldn’t recommend a better, more spectacular start to the Christmas holidays. I also expect David Bowie’s recordings and performances in 1973 to be a significantly influential to the modern music scene as they have been during the last year.

The World of David BowieDecca SPA 58
Space OddityRCA LSP 48133
The Man Who Sold The WorldRCA LSP 4816
Hunky DoryRCA SF 8244
Ziggy StardustRCA SF 8287
The Jean GenieRCA 2302


Roxy Music — Group of the Year

No other group has amassed such a strong following over the last year as Roxy Music. They have also caused a fair amount of controversy amongst rock purists, who have found it difficult to come to terms with the wild mixture of music and electronics the group deliver. But a hit single removed most of the sceptical criticism they initially received.

Their album, Roxy Music, is certainly one of the strangest to be released in 1972. The record defies all attempts at categorisation and its acceptance depends on the limitations of taste the listener may or may not have. Even if you find the album difficult to relate to at first, it is worth the effort of hearing it a number of times. If one analyses the Roxy’s sound, apart from the electronics and use of modern phasing techniques, the underlying inspiration seems to come from fifties

On stage, Roxy Music have seemingly been following the footsteps of David Bowie. Their stage presentation, physical appearance and clothes are extreme almost to excess but, like Bowie, they are into entertainment as much as they are into producing good and exciting music.

Despite the limited number of ‘live’ appearances by the group and the sparse air-play their album has received on the radio, the last few months have been extremely eventful for them. In 1973 I expect Roxy Music to reach both a far wider audience and receive even greater acceptance of their most original style.

Roxy MusicIsland ILPS 9200


Bill Withers — Soul Artist of the Year

Soul music isn’t just screams and wild dancing, as Bill Withers undeniably proves. Soul is the amount of depth and feeling an artist puts into a song, and Withers certainly doesn’t hold anything back.

His Still Bill album contains some of the most memorable and moving adult songs, about love and relationships, that I have heard this year, and is frequently to be found on my turntable.

Withers recent concert appearance in London showed that his talents aren’t just limited to a recording studio. As a member of the audience at that gig, I was impressed by the warm, responsive two-way relationship he created between the stage and the crowded auditorium, as he sang his sensitive rhythmic songs about matters which touch us all at some time or other.

Purists may prefer to stick to the wilder aspects of soul music, but Withers, with his Still Bill album especially, will make soul music many new friends and admirers. His previous release, Just As I Am, also contains some very good material, including the song which looks like becoming a soul classic, Ain’t No Sunshine. Through these two albums and his hit single Lean On Me, Bill Withers has firmly established himself as an outstanding new talent, who one can expect even greater things from, next year.

Just As I AmA&M AMLS 65002
Still BillA&M AMLS 68107


Seals & Crofts — Folk Artists of the Year

Whilst not working in the traditional areas of folk music, the American duo, Seals & Crofts are certainly the most pleasing contemporary folk artists performing and recording today.

At present their current release, Summer Breeze is highly placed in the American album charts, and this comes as no surprise. The record is filled with happy and sincere songs, that tell of love, life, a passing season and the things that all too quickly pass us by. There is also mention of the duo’s religious convictions, but without any undue pressure being placed on the listener to be converted to their particular beliefs.

James Seals and Dash Crofts with Summer Breeze deliver a series of often beautiful, relaxing and rewarding experiences for those who care to listen. This is an album I shall play for some time to come, besides eagerly awaiting their subsequent releases in 1973.

Summer BreezeWarner Bros, K46173.


Tamla Motown Album of the Year

There is no looking back for Diana Ross. After an extremely rewarding career with The Supremes, she has continued her success as a solo artist. And her Greatest Hits album shows why. Most of the songs are of the high standard one expects from Tamla Motown, whilst a few are bound to remain firm favourites for some time to come.

This compilation record of Diana’s contains all her hit singles, plus some of the best tracks from her past albums. The twelve cuts selected make for very good value, and the inclusion of the full six minute version of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is an added bonus.

As I said earlier, one expects a high quality performance from Motown artists, and this album is a perfect example of how good records from them can be. You can rest assured that many fine sounds will be coming from the company and its stable of artists next year.

Diana Ross Greatest HitsTamla Motown STMA 8006


Taj Mahal — Blues Artist of the Year

One of the most important exponents of the blues alive today is Taj Mahal. Although still only a young man, his performances to date, whether in concert or on record, have been some of the most significant developments in this particular area of music.

Traditional country blues have always been the basis of Taj’s sound, but over the last few years he has impressively experimented with all aspects of his music. No two of his albums are alike, and the originality of his latest release. Recycling The Blues and Other Related Stuff, surpasses even the best of what he has issued before and makes me wonder what he is going to do next. The other album he has released this year, Happy Just To Be Like I Am, is a necessary addition to any serious collection of modern blues.

One thing I always love about Taj Mahal is his wonderful sense of humour, which he successfully instils into all his music.

Taj is a great blues artist, and hasn’t had to wait for recognition till he was either in his old age or dead, before people have become aware of his potential and significance.

Happy Just To Be Like I AmCBS 64447
Recycling the Blues & Other Related StuffCBS 65090


Reggae Record Of The Year

Reggae has had a long hard fight to gain mass acceptance in this country, but the soundtrack album from the Jamaican film The Harder They Come, may well prove to be the record that gains this music the wider audience it deserves.

The album is made up of tracks from various artists. Particularly of note is Jimmy Cliff, who sings four numbers, including the title track and a very beautiful song called Many Rivers To Cross. Other excellent contributions are made by lesser known reggae artists, such as Desmond Dekker and the Maytals.

If you have always thought of reggae as a rather limited musical form, give this album a listen. It’s a cert to change your mind, and will become an essential ingredient of any party you are holding or attending.

The Harder They ComeIsland ILPS 9202


Rock Album of the Year

To pick one rock record out of the hundreds issued during the last twelve months was nearly as difficult as picking out the most important and influential artist of the year.

But an album by a little known American guitarist is my choice. It is the first recorded outing of Roy Buchanan, who plays some of the cleanest, captivating guitar I’ve heard in a long time.

Whilst the backings are adequate and the singing bearable, it is the guitar playing that is always to the front. As it should be, for one doesn’t often have the chance of hearing such excellent rock musicianship. Roy Buchanan makes it all sound so simple too, but as any guitarist or passionate follower of rock music will tell you. some of the things he lets loose coma solely from years of playing and practising, and are only likely to be heard from the most proficient of artists. Of the incluences in Buchanan’s playing, apart from rock and roll, the most noticeable are country and blues.

As an introduction to this man’s work, I suggest you listen to Sweet Dreams which opens side one, and the mind-boggling The Messiah Will Come Again on side two. If these two tracks don’t immediately convert you, nothing will. So if you want to hear something a little different to the usual heavy rock sound being produced by the majority of bands, then make the effort to hear this album, you won’t be disappointed.

Roy BuchananPolydor 2391042


Laid Back Album of the Year

The term ‘laid back’ has come into use frequently during the last year. Basically it refers to a relaxed, unhurried musical style, but in no way means that the quality of the sounds is impaired.

A perfect example of this style is an album called Naturally by J. J. Cale. His music is a combination of blues, country and rock influences, whilst he delivers the vocals in a gravelly relaxed manner.

No single track stands out from the rest, but this does not mean that there are any duff tracks included. All make for worthwhile listening and the album comes into its own if heard late at night, when one is relaxed and doesn’t want anything too overpowering to cope with. Cale’s guitar playing is nothing less than stunning and one hangs onto every note of the never overlong breaks he allows himself. The After Midnight track on side two when released as a single in the States sold extremely well, and I recommend you to hear this cut as an introduction to the album.

Naturally is one hell of an album, by a musician/composer of the highest calibre. There will be more recorded delight? coming from him next year, when it is also planned for him to come over to this country for concert performances.

NaturallyA&M AMLS 68105


Colin Blunstone — Rising Talent of the Year.

In the early sixties Colin Blunstone was part of the now legendary group known as the Zombies. After a break from the music industry, Colin returned last year with an album called One Year which was favourably received by the pop press, but in no way shot him up the ladder to stardom, despite the success of a track that was taken from the album and released as a single.

Now his second album has been issued. It’s called Ennismore, and it is bound to take him a lot further than his previous solo effort. And with him starting to give ‘live’ performances around the country, it is just a matter of time before this very gifted singer/songwriter gets the recognition he deserves.

The songs on Ennismore are all concerned with relationships — the ones that worked and those that proved disastrous. There is a compelling directness in the lyrics that makes them easy to identify with. This results in shared experiences rather than just listening to those of someone else’s. The opening track, I Don’t Believe In Miracles, says far more about Blunstone’s work than I can, and as it is currently headed for the top of the singles charts, you can see and hear why I am so enthusiastic about this artist’s work for yourselves.

Ennismore will open up new horizons for Colin Blunstone, and the coming new year should establish him as one of this country’s leading singers and lyricists.

One YearEpic EPC 64557
EnnismoreEpic EPC 65278