Happy Halloween! The record of the day is brought to you by the extraordinarily talented Linda Hopkins whose career stretches back to her childhood in the 1930s. She was discovered by Mahalia Jackson at age 11, so by the time this record was released in the early 60s, Linda had been in the business for nearly three decades.
This Berry Gordy composition was recorded by a couple of folks in the 50s before it made its way to Linda in 1964. It's a swingin' soul floor-filler produced by Nat Tarnopol (Jackie Wilson's manager) and is complete with hand claps and the commanding vocals of a seasoned blues-belter who whips you up into a freaky frenzy on the dance floor.
I'm fairly confident this song will do the TRICK to satisfy your craving for a Halloween TREAT! Enjoy!
As a party producer I've been gearing up for Halloween for 3 months. Sometimes I forget that it hasn't already happened for everyone else. So, in honor of the approaching holiday which is sometimes called "Gay Christmas", I have this incredible record by Canadian rockabilly singer Jack Scott.
This record has it all! Clever lyrics dramatically delivered by a master vocalist, a genius arrangement with creative instrumentation (listen to those frenzied strings playing the part of the witch), and a wild, driving danceable beat! There's a monster dance party in those grooves!
Happy 69th Birthday to Melba Moore, superb vocalist and legendary stage actress of the 1970s and beyond.
Though I'm a fan of a lot of Melba's work, today I am celebrating her epic version of the Curtis Mayfield song "Make Me Believe In You" produced by Van McCoy at the height of his reign as the King of Disco. There is a more famous Mayfield-produced version of this song by Patti Jo that predates Melba's by three years. I love that version too, but Van McCoy takes it even further while he riffs on the original arrangement by infusing it with some solid sophisticated disco-soul sounds.
The extended dramatic intro sounds like it's plucked from the film score of a mid-70s Black action film, which is great because you can direct the scene in your imagination. Here is how I like to imagine it - A lonely woman is briskly walking down a dimly-lit city street at night. She's holding back tears as she encounters various acquaintances on the street. She tosses them artificial smiles and niceties making her way from block to block as the song's intro continues to build until...BAM BAM! At the 1:46 minute mark she busts through the doors of a the neighborhood disco, fights her way through the crowd to the dance floor and confronts her cheating significant other. At the 3:47 mark she would definitely be engaged in a very empowering solo spinning dance with arms stretched out while everyone else gathers around her and watches in awe.
I have to admit that as a young person, it was the music of Ted Hawkins that demonstrated to me more than anything else that soul music and country music are two sides of the same coin. Ted taught me that it's all about context. I didn't know at the time that many of the songs he covered were classic country songs. I just loved his music, whatever it was.
I always saw a straight musical genealogical line from Sam Cooke to Otis Redding to Ted Hawkins. The three are intrinsically connected in my head. Yet, Ted didn't have the reach or influence of the other two. But he did die somewhat prematurely on the brink of something big, just like the other two.
For younger folks who might not be aware of Ted's story, I'll try to give the nutshell version. Ted Hawkins had a rough 'n' tumble childhood in Biloxi. Surviving by the skin of his teeth, he became inspired to become a musician through the music of Sam Cooke and later Otis Redding. He ended up recording a small handful of singles in the 60s, then spent the rest of his days as a busker in Venice Beach, Ca. A couple of well-meaning record label dudes "discovered" him at different times over the next two decades. He was popular in Europe but mostly ignored in the states. However, in the early 90s he recorded a slickly produced album that (at the time) nicely showcased his talent to a modern audience. It was well-received and gaining momentum when Hawkins died of a stroke at age 58. He was on tour at the time and I was planning on seeing him. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
The record of the day (actually from an LP) is Ted's country composition "My Last Goodbye" recorded with his wife Elizabeth in 1985 for Rounder Records. A classic honky tonk bopper by a man whose talent was too unique to be easily packaged and sold by the music industry. It was too real for the 80s, too raw for an era of synthetic plastic dreams. The 90s could handle him. I wonder how he would have handled the 90s.
One of the country ladies I've grown very found of since I started country DJing is Bonnie Lou. TODAY SHE TURNS 90 YEARS OLD! I realized recently she's not only from the Midwest (like me), she based her entire career in Cincinnati. She had lots of opportunity to grab a major label record contract, but she wanted to stick to her roots and chose to record for Ohio indies like King Records and Fraternity. I think my favorite Bonnie Lou fact is that her real first name was Mary Jo. For some reason people thought "Bonnie Lou" had more of a ring to it.
Bonnie was one of the first country ladies to transition into rockabilly. Her commitment to her region didn't allow for her to find the fame of her rockabilly contemporaries like Wanda Jackson or Brenda Lee. Nevertheless, her legacy lives on in her Midwestern country-rockabilly yodel 'n' polka PARTY records. Bonnie Lou never fails to get the party started. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mary Jo Bonnie Lou! DJ Action Slacks Loves you!
The Record of the Day is "Texas Polka" complete with accordion, yodeling, and lots of handclaps. It's a foot-stompin' good time! Also, something about a Midwesterner singing about Texas strikes my funny bone. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mary Jo Bonnie Lou! DJ Action Slacks Loves you!
I thought that maybe I should pick up the tempo today with some Sunday morning music. As a young person I was introduced to this song by Sounds of Blackness, a gospel ensemble from my home state. You don't have to be religious to appreciate the universal message of this song. It's about hope and freedom.
"I'll Fly Away" was written in the 1920s by Albert E. Brumley while picking cotton in the fields of Oklahoma, or at least that's how the story goes. With one song Mr. Brumley has lifted millions of hearts for the better part of a century. What an amazing gift to give the world! Now combine a powerful song with powerful group and you get my Record of the Day.
No other musical act has carried me through more difficult times than the Staple Singers. Their 1965 version of "I'll Fly Away" features the pulsating, electric delta blues guitar of Pops Staples, which became a musical backdrop for the Civil Rights Movement. While this composition has been a staple (no pun intended) in both bluegrass and Black gospel, it's undeniable that with this particular song the meaning changes with context. In this modern era of entitlement and the search for fulfillment through the never ending acquisition of expensive yet disposable material gratification, it seems almost unbelievable that something so simple as one song could bring so much meaning to so many people.
And so, I suspect that if the most stubborn skeptic considered the impact of a group like the Staple Singers and a song like "I'll Fly Away", maybe even they could be convinced to believe in gifts from the divine.
*BONUS - If you need another dose of "I'll Fly Away" check out this version by the 5 Blind Boys of Alabama.
I guess the rain has put me in a mellow mood this week. It just takes one overcast day and couple of raindrops to send me straight down Introspection Road. And there's nothing I love to listen to more while I'm strolling down that street than a slow soul burner.
"Please Don't Change Me Now" is a rarely mentioned recording by the legendary Chicago group, The Dells. It's actually the b-side of one of their finer dance records "Wear It on Our Face". Both of the tunes are off of the Dells comeback There Is album released over a decade after their initial success with 1956's "Oh What A Night". What I love about "Please Don't Change Me Now" is that it brings the Dells' 1950s doo-wop roots into what was then "modern times" by decorating it with psychedelic arrangement. The contrast of these two sounds make this record all the more surreal.
It was arranged by the legendary Charles Stepney who was recruited by Chess Records in the late 60s to breathe new life into the label and give them an edge with the psychedelic hippie crowd. His arrangements have been met with mixed reviews over the years. Some folks have called them over-the-top. Others think his psychedelic experiments with blues and doo wop just didn't meld very well. His body of work can be challenging listening and doesn't always appeal to the masses, but there are definitely some masterpieces in there. I think the entire "There Is" album is one of them.
Give this cut a listen and you be the judge. I think it's perfect for a lazy, rainy Saturday morning.
Claude Gray was a countrypolitan Nashville-Sounder, much in the way Jim Reeves was. Also like Jim Reeves, Claude was a Texan. Apparently a very TALL Texan. This is not one of his celebrated records, but I think it should be. Sure, it is very reminiscent of Gentlemen Jim, but who cares?! Just listen to that shimmery guitar! It's one of those echoey reverb records good for a rainy day or a late night drive in the country. I can't resist. The introvert in me just wants to curl up in front of the fire with a cup of cocoa and good book and listen to this over and over and over. And over again. All alone.
Who doesn't love a good break-up song?! It's like a wonder drug that carries you through the rough patches and its only hangover is that you have a lingering feeling of greater self-respect. "Boom Boom, My Honey" is actually my favorite break-up song dressed in a different title.
I've never met a version of "Gonna Get Along Without You Now" I didn't like. Word on the internet is that it was originally recorded by Teresa Brewer in 1952 in a swingin' big bandish style (with a jaw harp thrown in as a gimmicky hook to remind us that sometimes Teresa likes to get a little country). Since then, it has been recorded in an endless array of styles. It's really hard to choose which I like the best. Is it the Latin R&B of Trini Lopez? Or the 1950s kiddie pop of Patience & Prudence? How about Skeeter Davis? Or maybe Laverne & Shirley? The truth of the matter is, my favorite version is whatever version I'm listening to at any given moment.
This version is by "sister act" Cynthia and Kay Strother who performed as the Bell Sisters in the early to mid-1950s. It's a bit of a curiosity featuring a calypso rhythm accompanied by an unusual atmospheric vocal arrangement. It's true this record walks that fine line between the incorporating of influences and the cultural appropriation/exploitation that was so prevalent in mid-century America. It kind of sounds like a 1940s Disney princess singing her answer to Harry Belafonte's "Jamaica Farewell." But for some reason, it works for me. It leaves me feeling as if I'm sailing away into the sunset of a happy ending in an enchanted animated feature film. Are there three tiny fairy godmothers dancing around my head waving magic wands? When I listen to this record, it feels likely.
I have so deeply fallen in love with this record that I've begun to wonder if I'm crazy. Why do I think that? Because I don't understand why this record is only mentioned in passing whenever some soul nerd writes about Memphis deep soul belter Barbara Brown. So I have to wonder, do I just have bad taste or are other people just not paying attention? That's a rhetorical question. Don't feel compelled to answer that.
Maybe it gets overlooked because it's the flip side of Barbara's classic deep soul, slow burner "I Don't Want to Have to Wait." Who knows.
All I know is that this record moves me. I love Barbara's performance. I love the production. I love the arrangement. I love the concept. I love that it falls in the sisterhood of "listen here girls" songs. It perfectly captures the feeling of emptiness of the person left behind in a relationship.
All the more special was finding my copy in Barbara's home town of Memphis exactly one year ago. It really was my favorite recording at the time and there it was waiting for me to find on 45 in the heart of Memphis.
Take a listen.
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!