Music, April 1971: What’s Going On

More random music recollections based on the book Never A Dull Moment.

You probably think you know the story of Marvin Gaye’s standout album, What’s Going On, how the Artist recognized what’s REALLY happening in the world and puts out a album designed to stick it to the Suits at the record company. The actual story was a bit more prosaic.

In fact, the title song began with a wisp of of an idea by Obie Benson, the bass singer of the Four Tops, who thought that maybe he had another song like the Coke commercial, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” He and Motown songwriter Al Cleveland thought it might fit Marvin, but he wasn’t impressed. They pushed, and Marvin gave it some tweaks, thinking he might produce it for the Originals.

In July 1970, he came into the studio, had some football buddies for the party noise, captured sax player Eli Fontaine warming up, and basically fell into a sound. He managed to slip it out as a single in January 1971, while Motown owner/brother-in-law Berry Gordy was out on the West Coast. Gordy thought two things: 1) he hated the song, and 2) wondered where’s followup album was after it became a hit.

The What’s Going On album was recorded in March and released in May, with a second mix by Gaye that defined not only the LP, but changed the expectation of listeners regarding what was expected from a Motown album. I played it a lot in college; Inner City Blues especially STILL seems relevant.

Another Motown artist was giving Berry Gordy headaches. Stevie Wonder was married, living in NYC with new wife Syretta, and about to turn 21. His lawyers sent a letter to Gordy disavowing his Motown contract.

Meanwhile, Stevie discovered The Original New Timbral Orchestra, or TONTO, keyboard system. Wonder had lost interest in his new album, Where I’m Coming From, which was actually the first Stevie album I ever bought, as his own sound was developing.

His next album, Music of My Mind, made in 1971 and released the next year, was more representative of the groove he was going for. The FOUR albums after THAT, all dominant on my turntable in the 1970s won FOUR Grammy albums of the Year awards in five years.

Sly Stone’s album was two years late, and he became “the least reliable superstar in the history of popular music.” The eventual downbeat, indecipherable There’s A Riot Goin’ On, released in November 1971, was a contact high of an album. One did not have to BE stoned to FEEL stoned listening to it.

Was Shaft blaxploitation or black empowerment? It was a movie by noted black photographer Gordon Parks, with Richard Roundtree as the handsome black detective, whose looks drove the lyrics written by STAX artist Isaac Hayes. The “shut your mouth” was delivered by Telma Hopkins, whose hit with Dawn, “Knock Three Times”, came out earlier that year. My sister Leslie owned this double LP, which he had to get partially replaced because the package had two of the same LPs.

Listen To

What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Inner City Blues – Marvin Gaye
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron
Family Affair – Sly & the Family Stone
I Can’t Get Next to You – Al Green
Toussaint L’Ouverture- Santana

Music Throwback Saturday: STAX Christmas

Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday was a minor success in 1967.

William Bell
William Bell

When I obtained two box sets of the Memphis-based soul label STAX several years back, I noticed that there were a few holiday-related singles in the collections. Here are just three.

Booker T. and the MG’s

The STAX house band, included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg, replaced in 1965 by Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass), and Al Jackson, Jr. (drums). They also had some hit singles.

The group released a holiday album, In The Christmas Spirit in 1966. It put out one seasonal single that year, Jingle Bells, b/w Winter Wonderland. “Jingle Bells peaked at #20 on Billboard’s list of Christmas-related singles in 1966. It did not make the standard pop charts.”

The next December, STAX released another single, Silver Bells b/w the non-album track, Winter Snow.
Booker is still playing music, often with Steve Cropper.

LISTEN to Silver Bells with the painfully lovely Winter Snow at 2:30

William Bell

The singer/songwriter/pianist had a number of soul hits. Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday was a minor success in 1967, getting to #33 on the r&b charts.
Bell was still performing at the beginning of 2015.

LISTEN to Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday

Isaac Hayes

The keyboard player/songwriter for STAX, the singer, who died in 2008), released a couple of albums in 1970, but also a holiday, non-album single, one that invokes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bells, and We Three Kings, among other songs.

LISTEN to The Mistletoe and Me

Sam Moore of Sam & Dave is 80 (tomorrow)

Sam Moore was blown away, and uttered “Play it, Steve” spontaneously.

sam-and-daveSamuel David Moore (born October 12, 1935) and the late Dave Prater (May 9, 1937 – April 9, 1988) comprised, inarguably, the most successful and critically acclaimed soul-singing duo, Sam & Dave, from 1961 to 1981. They are members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1992) and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Sam Moore has continued his career as a solo performing and recording artist.

They had a complicated recording situation, signed to Atlantic Records, but leased to the soul label Stax for a time in order to get the Memphis feel. Their working relationship was also strange; “according to Moore, they did not speak to each other offstage for almost 13 years.”

A Place Nobody Can Find, written by David Porter, was their first STAX single, b/w Goodnight Baby (Isaac Hayes/Porter), both sides featured Dave Prater singing lead. It failed to chart. That would soon change.

Many of the song description narratives are from the great book Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of STAX RECORDS by Rob Bowman. Links to all songs.

10. I Take What I Want (Hayes/Mabon Hodges/Porter), 1965 – another early song that failed to chart. Note that many of these songs were written by the team of Isaac Hayes (of “Shaft” fame), and David Porter, who also produced these and many future songs. They also wrote hits for other STAX artists.

9. You Got Me Hummin’ (Hayes/Porter), #77 pop, #7 r&b in 1967 – such nice rhythmic humming, it wasn’t the bawdy song that the writers had envisioned.

8. You Don’t Know Like I Know (Hayes/Porter), #90 pop, #7 r&b in 1965 – their first hit, due in no small part to the promotional skills of STAX’s Al Bell. It was inspired by the gospel song You Don’t Know Like I Know What the Lord Has Done for Me. Sam Moore hated the song, and about half the tunes presented to him at STAX because Hayes and Porter made him sing high in his vocal range. Dave sings the first verse, then they trade lines. Instead of a solo, Hayes and Porter put in a horn ensemble, inspired by Otis Redding’s In the Midnight Hour.

7. You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me (Eddie Floyd/Steve Cropper) #48 pop, #20 r&b in 1968 – I’m not a great fan of talking in pop songs. But when Sam & Dave do it – “Eddie FLOYD wrote the song” – it’s different. Steve Cropper is best known as the guitarist of the Stax Records house band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s.

6. Soothe Me (Sam Cooke), the live version went #56 pop, #16 r&b, #35 UK – smooth like Sam Cooke was.

SamMoore 5. Soul Man (Hayes/Porter), #2 pop for three weeks, #1 r&b for seven weeks, 24 UK in 1967. A Grammy Hall of Fame song. Isaac Hayes suggested Steve Cropper play a slide guitar lick, and Cropper, not having a proper slide, used a cigarette lighter. Sam Moore was blown away and uttered “Play it, Steve” spontaneously, which was kept in the mix. The success of the Blues Brothers’ cover, for some reason, made me irritable.

4. Wrap It Up (Hayes/Porter) – B-side of I Thank You, 1968. The lead vocals were recorded in Paris while the duo was on tour, because the label thought, correctly, that the A-side was going to be a big hit.

3. I Thank You (Hayes/Porter), #9 pop, #4 r&b, #34 UK in 1968 – more talk that works. Sam’s “I want everybody to get off your seat, And get your arms together, And your hands together, And give me some of that old soul clapping” sounded like church, especially the word “old.” Also love the clavinet, played by Hayes. It features background vocals by Ollie and the Nightingales.

2. Hold On, I’m Comin’ (Hayes/Porter), #21 pop, #1 r&b in 1966 – the first Sam & Dave song I was aware of. Hayes had yelled to Porter to hurry, and finish up in STAX’s washroom. Porter responded, “Hold on, man, I’m coming.” Sam is on lead vocals from the start. Little mistakes, such as Wayne Jackson missing a trumpet entrance, were left in. Often covered, never surpassed.

1. When Something is Wrong with My Baby (Hayes/Porter), #42 pop, #2 r&b in 1967 – this song, a rare ballad for the duo, is gorgeous. Inspired by Porter’s bad marriage and his fantasies about what would feel like to be in love. Sung primarily by Sam, with harmonies by Dave. Also covered a lot, notably by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville.
Coverville 1096: The Villes are alive with the sound of Covers. And Sam & Dave. And Indie Hodgepodge!

Isaac Hayes would have been 70

Isaac Hayes was undoubtedly best known for composing and performing music for the soundtrack of the film Shaft

Isaac Hayes was one of those behind-the-scenes guys at the Memphis-based Stax Records in the 1960s. He co-wrote songs with David Porter for Sam (Moore) and Dave (Prater), Carla Thomas, and others. He was a producer and session musician.

Some of their songs for Sam & Dave (LISTEN!):
You Don’t Know Like I Know
Soul Man
When Something Is Wrong with My Baby
Hold On I’m Comin

Hayes himself became a recording star, with his second album, almost out of commercial necessity.  The label was reeling from the death of its big star, Otis Redding, in a plane crash in December 1967. Stax had leased some of its songs to Atlantic Records, for wider distribution, but somehow lost all of its back catalog to Atlantic in early 1968. Some labels might have decided to pick a small number of albums to release and promote; instead, Stax wanted a couple of dozen albums, in a throw-them-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks methodology.

From the Wikipedia:
[Hot Buttered Soul] is noted for Hayes’ image (shaved head, gold jewelry, sunglasses, etc.) and his distinct sound (extended orchestral songs relying heavily on organs, horns, and guitars, deep bass vocals, etc.)… Hayes re-interprets Walk On By (listen)… into a twelve-minute exploration. By the Time I Get to Phoenix (listen) starts with an eight-minute long monologue before breaking into song, and the lone original number, the funky Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic (listen) runs nearly ten minutes…

But he was undoubtedly best known for composing and performing music for the soundtrack of the film Shaft. “The title theme (listen), with its wah-wah guitar and multi-layered symphonic arrangement, would become a worldwide hit single, and spent two weeks at number one in the Billboard Hot 100 in November” 1971.

Here’s my Stax post from five years ago.

Unfortunately, the singer “was found unconscious and unresponsive in his home located just east of Memphis on August 10, 2008, ten days before his 66th birthday,” and died of an apparent recurrence of a stroke.

I remember Ike.