Son Of The Melody Maker

SYREETA – Mowest MWS 7001
CHAMELEON – Franki Valli & The Four Seasons – Mowest MWSA 5501

New from the Tamla Motown Corporation is Mowest Records. The label was set up to handle artists emerging from the West Coast of America. It has been in existence for a year in the States, and has now been launched in this country. Whilst occasionally finding fault with Motown, I cannot deny that they are responsible for some of the most entertaining and satisfying popular recorded music available today. And with that in mind, I expect to be well rewarded with much fine music from Mowest.

The initial album releases are an interesting pair. One is the first solo venture of Syreeta, who may be better known as Mrs Stevie Wonder. The other is another first, but with another meaning, for it is Franki Valli and The Four Season’s first release since joining the Motown Corporation’s stable of artists.

Knowing that most reviewers have found the Syreeta album the most significant of the two recordings, I would like to reverse that trend by saying that I find the Seasons the most noticeable and certainly the most pleasing.

Syreeta’s album, whilst being an adventurous outing, leaves me unsatisfied, and no matter how hard I try to listen to it, my attention has usually strayed to other matters before the end of a side.

I cannot deny though, that an enormous amount of work and thought has gone into the making of the album, including the intelligent use of synthesisers, as programmed by Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil (perhaps better known as Tonto’s Expanding Head Band). Most of the cuts were written by Syreeta and her husband, and despite the successful pairing of talents, as heard on Stevie’s latest album, this time it doesn’t seem to work. The inclusion of Lennon and McCartney’s She’s Leaving Home, for instance, leaves me sadly unimpressed. Keep on trying though, Syreeta, next time it may all work.

On the other hand, Franki Valli and The Four Seasons’ Chameleon offers nothing but delights. The Seasons and Mowest have completely recreated the group’s old sound, and the new maturity in the lyrics, music and production of Bob Gaudio especially takes the whole project up to a high-powered, inventive musical level. The tracks spotlighting the talents of Franki Valli work well and the other standout cuts are The Night and the orchestrally magnificent A New Beginning.

Whilst Syreeta’s album is a good try, that will appeal to some, it takes the Seasons to really impress and to be a good travelling companions down the many avenues of music.

SPACE ODDITY – David Bowie – RCA LSP 4813 (US import at UK price)
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD – David Bowie – LSP 4816 (US import at UK price)

Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World, re-issued by RCA, are the two albums that David Bowie recorded for Mercury Records a few years ago.

They are being re-released obviously because of Bowie’s recent rapid rise to success and self-imposed ‘stardom’. But it’s not just a matter of a record company cashing in with past ‘product’, for both these important albums were sadly ignored by the fickle record-buying public when they were first available. The trouble being that Bowie’s work on these albums was well in advance of the tastes or comprehension of the average listener to rock music at that time. Now they have caught up, as they have demonstrated by making ‘darling’ David a superstar and by buying his Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust records in vast quantities.

Space Oddity, first issued in 1968, contains the amazing single from which the album derives its name. This cut was a chartbuster on both sides of the Atlantic, and time has done little to dim the brilliance of this song. Other tracks of note are Cygnet Committee, The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud and Memory Of A Free Festival.

1970 was the year that The Man Who Sold The World first appeared. This album contained no hit single with which to promote it, and with the frighteningly strange lyrics and the sheer, screaming ‘wall of sound’ that accompanied the words, it gave little for the average listener of the time to hang on to or to accept, because of the new levels of intensity the record was exploring. Recent concert appearances have shown that audiences are now ready to take such numbers as The Width Of The Circle, All The Madness and Saviour Machine. A difficult, brilliant recording this, but well worth the effort of coming to terms with.

These are two very important re-releases, maybe the world is ready for them now.

LIFEBOAT — The Sutherland Brothers — Island ILPS 9212

Lifeboat is the second album from The Sutherland Brothers, who originate from Scotland. Their first release received many good reviews and subsequent ‘live’ appearances by the Brothers and their backup musicians confirmed the growing interest they were attracting.

The Sutherlands retain much of their Scottish folk music roots, but have expanded their sound with electric guitars and contemporary, heavy folk/rock keyboard arrangements. Stevie Winwood plays piano and organ on a couple of tracks.

Lifeboat is a hard, funky offering, with UK musicians working a musical area usually left to American artists. The Sutherlands incidentally play the first half of the Peter Straker concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 1st December.

ELEPHANTS MEMORY – Apple Sapcor 22

Any release by Apple Records is worth hearing and the album release by Elephants Memory is no exception. The band play heavy, raucous 1972 rock and roll, that steams its way through both sides of this record.

The album is produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with whom Elephants Memory have been working. They were heard to good effect on Lennon’s recently released Some Time In New York double set.

The energy and uncompromising vitality of this first release of theirs on Apple, shows why they are worthy of Lennon’s interest, as well as his support and help in getting their own material on to wax.

An album to play loud and to rock to, anyway ya wanna.

FUMBLE – Sovereign SVNA 7254

Fumble are a new group who try hard to recreate pop hits of the late fifties and early sixties. Their album includes such classics as Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Oh Carol, Teddy Bear, and Carole King’s first and only single of that period, It Might As Well Rain Until September. The Everly Brothers’ weepie Ebony Eyes is faithfully reproduced, and one of my pubescent passions, Bobby Vee, is remembered with Take Good Care Of My Baby.

Fumble capture the sound of the originals, but somewhere lose the fun and vitality that makes many of these songs perpetual favourites with rockers of all ages. Fortunately for me, I have copies of these songs by the artists who first recorded them and think I’ll stick to listening to those, leaving Fumble to turn on the generations who missed out on these numbers first time around. I hope that new converts to this golden period of rock and roll will treat Fumble only as an introduction and eventually get round to searching for the original versions.

Keep a look out for the album’s cover, it’s worth a nostalgic laugh.

RHYMES AND REASONS – Carole King – Ode 77016

Not much I can say about Carole King’s new album, Rhymes & Reasons, except that it’s as good, if not better, than her previous three albums. It certainly is up to the standard of Tapestry, which for me personally was her most outstanding venture until now.

With advance sales guaranteeing this record a chart-topper in this country as well as in America, it seems a little pointless to describe the songs.

They all speak for themselves, far better than any reviewer can do them justice. The lyrics seem more personally introverted than before, all touched slightly with an air of sadness, even the happy, light ones. Carole’s Keyboard playing is more to the front than before. It fits so perfectly with her singing, you sometimes wonder which is the instrument and which is the singer.

It would be difficult not to be delighted with this album. Romanticism, in the finest sense, is alive and well and living very near to Carole King.

CARAVANSERAI – Santana – CBS 65299

I quite liked Santana’s first two albums and found their third rather weak. Caravanserai is their fourth and latest offering, which I find over-long, often quite boring and the layers of rhythms that made their initial releases at times magical and exciting are insipid this time round when compared to previous outings.

Side one is reminiscent of the freaky experimenting of groups way back in 1966-7, and the blind alleys that many of those groups disappeared into then are now apparently leading Santana into the same wastelands of pretention. The second side is nearer to what they are usually noted for, but as I said before, it is barely a reflection of their past music. The vocals throughout make me wonder if they ever listen to themselves.

A very disappointing album. One is certainly entitled to expect more from a band of this stature.

FEEL GOOD — Ike and Tina Turner — United Artists UAS 29377

Despite the fact that for me Ike and Tina Turner’s greatest recorded moment was River Deep Mountain High*, thought by some to be the rock and roll cut of all time, I still get turned on, almost to raving point, by the frantic funk of Ike’s music and the roaring, sweating sexuality of Tina’s singing.

Any release of theirs means that the rocking dynamics of their sound are turned up full, and this album is no exception. Tina wails and screams out the passion and love in the lyrics, whilst Ike’s guitar and his band let loose with all that is wild and joyous in rock and roll.

Of the ten tracks on this release. Chopper, Feel Good, Kay Got Laid (Joe Got Paid), and She Came In Through The Bathroom Window are all outstanding, with Black Coffee taking the prize for setting up new highs in recorded excitement and deep, deep soul.

My only complaint is that the total playing time of the album is a mere 28 minutes and 16 seconds. Surely it wouldn’t have broken anyone to have included at least two more tracks on this release.


I’ve been playing this first album by Scottish group Stealers Wheel for just about a week now, and am finding that it becomes more rewarding with each new outing the record gets on my turntable.

The basis of the group’s music is the excellent bass of Tony Williams and the drumming of Rod Coombes, with guitars and keyboard completing the overall sound. The songs rock along, without becoming excessive, ably assisted by the tasty lead guitar flourishes of Paul Pilnick.

But it is the Stealers’ singing, harmonies and arrangements that really make me take notice. To say they sound like the now quartered Beatles is the nearest I can get to describing them. And the group deliberately seem to be inviting such comparisons. These similarities are uncanny but in no way detract from the enjoyment of their music.

Surprises aren’t exactly unexpected though when one learns that those masters of rock and roll, the writing and producing team of Leiber and Stoller are responsible for production. And one wonders what else. Leiber and Stoller, for those who don’t read the credits on records, have collaborated on such a large number of hits, it would be a difficult task to count them all

Stealers Wheel may well be set tor a big future if enough people pick up on them. It all depends on how listeners react to their Beatlish melodies. Maybe the group’s name has something to do with what one ends up hearing. I don’t know, listen and judge for yourselves.

ROCK OF AGES – The Band – Capitol E-STSPJ1 (2 record set)

The Band’s latest album, a double, is titled Rock Of Ages, and is made up of tapes made during a concert on New Years Eve, 1971. All the songs have appeared on previous releases, but the capturing of their ‘live’ sound adds much to their material. The double set is reasonably priced at £3.25.

All their most respected numbers are here, including The Weight, Chest Fever, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Rag Mama Rag and Life Is A Carnival.

At the concert they were ably assisted by a first rate brass section, led and arranged by Allen Toussaint, who has worked with The Band in the past on studio recordings.

Here are four very fine sides of important American modern music, making it an absolute must for the group’s large following, as well as an excellent introduction to those who have missed out on one of the most original bands writing and performing today.

* Recently re-released by A&M Records on a maxi-single, with two other Spector/Turner classics, A Love Like Yours and Save The Last Dance For Me.

Between The Grooves

SUNDOWN LADY – Lani Hall – A&M AMLS64359

One of the most pleasing records I have heard recently has been Sundown Lady by Lani Hall. It is this lady’s first solo outing, but you may find her voice familiar as she was lead singer with Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 for a number of years. (At present she is a ‘close friend’ of Herb Alpert.)

Now that she is starting a solo career, she manages to exhibit far more tenderness and maturity than was evident in the past. The choice of songs for this initial venture (an important matter for a first effort and also difficult if the majority of material being used is from other writers) is superb. Her capabilities, which are by no means limited, are especially suited to what she has chosen to sing here.

The album opens with Lesley Duncan’s Love Song. A very good beginning. Then follows Tiny Dancer by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. If you are not converted by these first two tracks, then one of Cat Stevens’ better songs, How Can I Tell You is next. And how beautifully she performs it. Also included are Don McLean’s Vincent, and an unaccompanied version of Paul Simon’s very lovely Wherever I May Find Her. Particularly of note too is Sun Down from which the album gets its title. This is written by Willis Alan Ramsey, a little-known but superb songwriter and musician. The rest of the material is as strong as that already mentioned.

Lani has a gentle, smokey, expressive voice. Completely relaxing and undemanding of the listener. Perfect for the quiet hours.

I highly recommend Lani Hall to you. The moods created, the sensitive singing and the sympathetic arrangements all combine to form a great addition to quality, intelligent but popular, music and entertainment.


A must for Diana Ross addicts is her newly issued Greatest Hits compilation. It contains all of her hit singles, plus some of the best tracks from past albums. The twelve tracks 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.

There isn’t much to say about Diana Ross that hasn’t been said before. The freedom of now being a solo artist has meant the range of her talents has been vastly extended.And always the fully orches trated backings and faultless production are in perfect harmony with the songs and Diana’s singing.

This is a great collection by a great artist. It’s handy to replace those worn out singles and Remember Me and I’m Still Waiting will stand out as two of the best pop songs in recent years.

GRASS ROOTS — Dillard and Clarke – The Flying Burrito Brothers — A&M AMLB 51038

Grass Roots is a very interesting collection of material by two of the finest country/rock bands that have been around in recent years. They are the Flying Burrito Brothers and Dillard and Clarke. Both groups have now sadly gone their separate ways, but this record comes as an excellent reminder of their strength and achievements. And at the low price of 99p it is remarkably good value.

Each band has taken one side of the record. The material included is a selection of some of the better tracks from their past albums. Of note are Dillard and Clarke’s Don’t Come Rollin and their version of the Everly Brothers hit, So Sad, whilst the Flying Burrito’s are at their best on Dark End Of The Street and Cody Cody. All told there are eleven tracks, all of them perfect examples of what happened when rock musicians returned to their country roots.

An important reissue, this, and an essential buy for those who have an interest in the development of rock and roll.

IN SEARCH OF AMELIA EARHART – Plainsong – Elektra K42120

Plainsong are very much a neo-folk band, who occasionally stray into country music. And the sound they end up with is a very agreeable mixture that is both easy listening and relaxingly rewarding. In Search of Amelia Earhart is their initial album release, and is, for a first outing, both entertaining and competent, if not a particularly exciting effort.

The title of the record comes from the famous woman aviator who was believed lost whilst attempting a flight around the world in 1937. Recent newspaper stories, which are repeated on a printed insert that comes with the record, offer other ‘possibilities/probabilities’ of what happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator. Two tracks refer to this heroine of the air and her disappearance. Of the other songs, those written by Ian Matthews, are handled extremely well, whilst the rest are never less than pleasant

Plainsong will sell well to folk enthusiasts and are good enough to attract other ears.

LOOKIN’ THROUGH THE WINDOWS – The Jackson Five – Tamla Motown STML 11214

Coming fairly quickly after their recently released Greatest Hits collection, is a new Jackson Five album.

Apart from the tracks which have already been single hits, there is a very good cross-section of other songs.The inclusion of Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes is a particularly good choice, and their performance of this beautiful song is excellent. Also a version of Roy (Professor Longhair) Byrd’s classic Little Bitty Pretty One is a great success.

With each album the Jackson’s release they become more proficient, which in turn means more enjoyable, quality pop entertainment for us. These kids are really going to be something by the time they all reach their twenties, if they are still working together.

THERE IT IS — James Brown — Polydor 2391033

One of the most powerful and successful black men in America has just unleashed another album to keep ‘frenetic soulsters’ and discotheque people up and moving on their feet. For the ‘king of soul’, James Brown, has a new release, full of his tight, uptown brand of funk. There’s no stopping this guy, he keeps on bringing out hit after hit and in quantities to make any record company executive leap with joy. In the States he’s never out of the charts, although in this country he doesn’t receive the same amount of attention, and certainly does not get the fanatical adoration his North American fans lay upon him. But his records sell consistently well here and each new cut released is a must for every club and disco.

The basic format of a Brown album is the latest batch of single smashes he’s had. For instance, There It Is and Greedy Man are both included. Then there’s a few new tracks to fill the record out. Of these Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing and I Need Help are the most outstanding and contain all the vibrating magic that Brown can instil into them. King Heroin and Public Enemy No 1 are both heavily anti-hard drugs and are the type of ‘message to society’ songs Brown is fond of experimenting with now and again. Hopefully they will reach the ears of those involved in that form of chemical self-destruction.

There It Is isn’t really meant to be analysed. It’s for dancing and grooving to, and on that level the album’s achievements are admirable.

ON STAGE – Richie Havens — Polydor 2659015 (2 record set)

Richie Havens has been around now for a number of years, and despite being a confirmed favourite at festivals and the like (also one of the ‘heroes’ of Woodstock) has never managed to catch the imagination of the majority of the record buying public. A slightly puzzling situation considering his talents, but one that also applies to many other excellent, original artists who find great difficulty in breaking through to a mass audience.

This new release, a double album, is made up of recordings from three ‘live’ concerts and contains many of the numbers Havens is well-known for. Plus there are a few new songs that haven’t appeared on his previous waxings. These include Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey and Bob Seeger’s immortal Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Amongst the old favourites are Freedom, Just Like A Woman, and Rocky Racoon.

On Stage captures the essence of Havens’ performances very well, but I’m afraid that its appeal will mostly be to the already converted, and stands little chance of reaching many new ears. But if you feel like taking the trouble to discover a most satisfying entertainer, this could well be a perfect introduction to a lot of rewarding musical experiences.

PLIGHT OF THE REDMAN – Xit – Rare Earth SREA 4002

Plight of the Redman is an explicitly biting album from a new Red Indian rock band called Xit. It is divided into two ‘phases’, each of which takes up one side of the record.

‘Phase 1’ describes Indian life before the coming of the white man, in what was then a vast, sprawling, unspoilt continent. ‘Phase 2’ is more intense and is concerned with the rape of the Indian people through countless atrocities, committed by the ‘invaders’. The last track is spoken condemnation of the ‘immigrants’ who destroyed the redman’s tribes, stole their lands, and humiliated them almost out of existence. The words are direct and simple and are filled with anger and frustration. At times they sound very pretentious, but, for me, the sincerity and truthfulness of the statements compensates adequately.

Musically the band are extremely proficient. Side two, which comprises exciting, extended pieces, and reaches two thrilling, rhythmic climaxes, is the most rewarding. The production and arrangements are also of a high standard.

Xit have produced a fine first album, and promise better things to cnme with subsequent releases. More experience should remove the limitations they saddle themselves with, in the form of repetitiveness and over stagey lyrics.

TWO WEEKS LAST SUMMER – Dave Cousins – A&M AMLS68118

Dave Cousins is lead singer and songwriter with the Strawbs, who with their last album, Grave New World, managed to achieve the success and popularity they had sought for some time. Two Weeks Last Summer is Cousins’ first venture solo, and to Stawbs fans it will come as a very welcome release.

Cousins has a soft, folky voice, and whilst never losing sight of his folk roots, is not afraid to experiment and to make use of all a modern 16-track studio has to offer. Thus we have an album that attempts to go further than The Strawbs have gone with their recordings, through the occasional use of electronic effects and the often bizarre songs. All the compositions incidentally, are written by Cousins. Also there are some very tasteful lead guitar breaks amidst the songs.

It all works very well, and as I said earlier, is sure to delight Strawbs devotees. Two Weeks Last Summer is also different and inspired enough to attract a lot more attention from people previously unreceptive to that group’s work.

Progressive Soul

19720914-10Still Bill – Bill Withers – A & M AMLS 68107

Bill Withers has a new album out. It’s called Still Bill and contains his hit single Lean on Me, that is currently riding high on the single charts.

I thought his first album disappointing, even though it contained a few good tracks. But this new set is a vast improvement on even the best of that initial release. There are very few other soul artists who can not only produce uncluttered, funky dance music, but also write extremely sensitive, adult songs.

Bill Withers succeeds in every way. Even the use of strings does not allow the sentiments to become syrupy – a fault that all too often happens with arrangers who permit the sound they create to swamp an artist’s talent and originality. The string arrangements used here either help to set a mood or bring in a needed tension to supplement the lyrics.

Soul music has been progressing considerably recently and this album is one of the best examples of this welcome trend. Listen to it a few times before forming any opinions, it really does need a little concentrated listening before you fully realise the amount of thought and perception that has gone into producing this very stunning and rewarding record.

Lean on Me is a very beautiful track, instantly appealing, as its chart success indicates. But songs like Another Day To Run, Take It All In And Check It All Out, and Who Is He (And What Is He To You)? further portray the maturity of Wither’s vision and musical accomplishments.

This record should prove to be one of the soul ballad albums of the year. Don’t miss out on it.

The Hits of Edwin Starr – Edwin Starr — Tamla Motown STML 11209

The new ‘greatest hits’ collection from Tamla Motown is the Hits of Edwin Starr. The album contains not only Starr’s recent chart singles, but also his earlier successes. These include numbers such as Headline News, 25 Miles and Agent Double O Soul, which previously only had limited exposure in this country when first released, although they have always been firm discotheque favourites

Of his later period, chart-toppers such as Time and the incredibly arranged and produced War still prove to be as exciting as ever.

Edwin Starr has shown over the years that he can produce consistently good soul sounds, which are both original in concept and fun to dance to.

The lyrics of his songs always make me think of him as the Chuck Berry of soul music. For while some may say the words are banal, if you listen closely enough they reveal valid reflections of space age society.

In conclusion, this is a top-rate, good value (14 tracks) collection of one man’s contributions so far to soul music. And it’s a must for parties or whatever you call the gatherings you attend.

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.