Happy 74th Birthday to Mitty Collier, one of the MIGHTIEST voices in Soul Music, who was born on this day in Birmingham, AL. She was discovered in 1959 when after touring as a gospel singer, she entered DJ Al Benson's Chicago talent contest. She was soon signed to Chess Records she recorded her signature song, her secular rendition of Rev James Cleavland's "I Had A Talk With God". In the pages of soul history Mitty's career has often been summed up in just that one record, but there's much more to Mitty Collier, including a handful of uptempo #45records that over the years have become soul dance party floor-filler classics.
My favorite will always be the B-Side to "I Had A Talk With My Man" soul bopper "Free Girl (In the Morning)" which I played at Club Nitty Gritty this past Friday. In this performance Mitty packs a powerful punch when she swings two fists of booming blues belts. Ba-BAM! This song hits you with it's celebratory feminist liberation, but it's also representative of what is incredibly common in soul music of the 1960s, a veiled reference to the struggle for Civil Rights.
In honor of the birthday of Shirley Owens Alston Reeves, founding member of the Shirelles, I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend the Shirelles live LP "Spontaneous Combustion". So often music fans of the younger generations are left with only recordings, a handful of photos, and if we're lucky one or two video clips of artists from the past. These are the things that draw a picture of our perception of who these folks were in their hey day. The portrait we're left with is often incomplete.
Such is the case with a group like the Shirelles, in spite of them being hugely popular. Most of us know the Shirelles from their extremely polished sound on their recordings. Unlike artists of today like Beyonce and Kanye West for example, we don't get a glimpse of their personalities outside of their records. That's why this live LP, released slightly after the height of their popularity, is such a treat. We get to hear a more laid back and gritty side of the Shirelles, complete with entertaining stage banter. They joke around with each other, make references to their romantic involvements and personal lives, and they get to cut loose. In other words, we get to see them as real people. The entire album is worth a listen just for the experience of getting to know the members of the Shirelles a little bit better.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
As Mad Men comes to a close, I can't help but process my thoughts and feelings about the final episode. I keep reading disappointed reviews by critics, however I found the final episode a fitting conclusion and surprisingly satisfying.
All of us mid-century junkies were sucked into this show for the aesthetics. As for myself, I begrudgingly began watching after the first season had fully aired. As a dedicated feminist, I was originally deterred by all the male Mad Men fans who were actively celebrating the sexist "good ole days" depicted on the program. It wasn't long before the gorgeous artistic direction of the show proved to be something I simply couldn't resist. After a handful of episodes I found this wasn't a show about MEN as much as it was the story about the journey of women (admittedly mostly white women) during the decade that would forever transform gender roles in the United States, all told against the backdrop of the industry that did so much to control and define the confining roles and impossible standards set for women in the 20th century.
Modern feminists grabbed a hold of the character Peggy Olson and claimed her as their representation. A lot of feminists are angry about the conclusion of Peggy's story in a variety of ways. They seem to think she was betrayed by a storyline not true to her character. But is that really true, or is she being judged by modern standards? Are people just angry because she didn't make the choice they would have liked her to make?
My viewpoint is different. I think her decision to stay at McCann was totally in-line with the character. She obviously LOVED being a part of that system. She loved playing the game that would allow her to ascend up the ladder within that system and patterning her career after her mentor, Don Draper. She revelled in the power she could wield over her subordinates. It makes perfect sense that she would be happy staying with McCann.
In terms of the sudden love connection with Stan, it seemed to me that Peggy just went along with Stan because...why not? Nothing better had come along and they're best friends. That's something Peggy had done throughout the series in terms of romance. She just kind of goes along with whatever's in front of her. Many people have criticized the sappiness of love story at the end, but I think the "corniness" of it was intentional. It played like the contrived emotions of a vintage television ad for Bell telephone company. What could be more appropriate for a tv show about advertising?
For all of us who hung our professional feminist dreams on Peggy (myself included), the joke is on us. CLEARLY we should have been less surprised by the triumph of Joan. Aren't we a bunch of jerks for not realizing that it was JOAN all along who was the closest representation of today's modern feminist SHEros? I was literally cheering (complete with fist pumps) for her throughout the episode. I think most people assumed that Joan would continue to be punished for utilizing her sex appeal for advancement in the business world.
I feel fairly confident that like me, most women have felt underestimated at times. Perhaps that's why it feels so incredibly satisfying to see Joan seize opportunity and establish her own power. She represents all of us who have been written off, dismissed, or ignored - The people who weren't allowed to thrive within the established power structure, who have come to realization that if we want to flourish we'll have to do it ourselves. We have to build our own thing from the ground up.
So, to those who say the Mad Men finale wasn't feminist enough simply because of Peggy didn't follow the trajectory you define as feminist, I say feminism can and should include whole host of perspectives. Feminism can be Betty staking claim in what's best for her children. It can be Peggy simply choosing to do what she wants to do rather than following a contemporary idea of ambition. AND it can be Joan choosing her own professional ambition instead of a man. MOST of all, feminism is the telling of all of these women's stories and their journeys to their own brands of self-empowerment. Our power lies in having options.
Today's record of the day goes out to Joan who was branded a sex-pot and a party girl. The message is, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE a "party girl", or any woman for that matter. There are still barriers to be broken and we're coming to claim or stake!
This song was recorded by the Big 3 featuring Cass Elliot (pre- Mamas and the Paps days) in the early days of when the Mad Men series takes place. Women's liberation was just beginning to simmer under the surface and the women performers within the early 1960s radical folk music scene took inspiration from classic blues artists. This record is a cover of an Ida Cox song originally recorded in 1924. In this song we celebrate the women who bucked traditions so that the women of today could have options. And it's a reminder to keep being wild and untamed. Never settle for less than what you deserve.
Loretta Lynn (Webb) was born on this day in 1932 bringing with her a tidal wave of feminist country music and 2-named siblings who would follow in her footsteps (Peggy Sue and Crystal Gayle I'm looking at you). It brings me great joy to say that she launched her music career in the Pacific Northwest (in the state of Washington) and she's been cookin' with Crisco ever since. Which is apropos since Crisco parties were a BIG deal up in this region.
She was often imitated but never duplicated. What Loretta brought us was unprecedented REALNESS (to use a term popular in the Queer community) in popular country music. Though at the time she didn't identify as a feminist, by most other standards that's exactly what she was. Her songs have a recurring theme of a woman advocating for her own needs and rights. And though some of her songs in which she threatens to punch or shoot another lady over the ownership rights to a particular man may not promote sisterhood in a feminist way, I can still appreciate her willingness to defend her "property". I guess I'm guilty of giving her a free pass on that. "It'll Be Open Season On You" is a real guilty pleasure for me.
My selection of the day was not written by Loretta, but it's representative of the spirit of her music, and demonstrates that themes emerging in country music were not far from the radical ideas in popular music at the time.
One last country rarity before we hit the dusty trail to the Kenton Club tonight for Touch Your Woman 4, my annual celebration of the ladies of classic country. I haven't been able to find anything out about Sharon Smith, probably because the name is so common. I can tell you she released at least 3 singles. I can also tell you she is one of 3 Smiths you'll hear tonight, the others being Connie and Sammi.
This record is representative of the early 1970s feminist country era and encapsulates everything this night is about: shedding societal gender expectations and just being free to be yourself. Yes, it's largely about class issues, but there's also a feminist aspect to it.
Freedom to be oneself is certainly something I appreciate having grown up in an era where nearly everything I wanted to do in life (and everything I wanted to wear) were things little girls were NOT encouraged to do. Things have vastly improved in many ways, but they've also regressed in so many other ways. Until we see a lasting change in the advancement of women's rights, as long as we still have to work twice as hard to receive any recognition, until we're no longer accused of being "bitches" for advocating for ourselves, as long as the men in power try to control our bodies, as long as we're still judged for our sexuality, as long as the media defines what is and isn't beautiful about us, as long as our achievements and contributions are undervalued, as long as our voices are ignored, I will continue to have these celebrations of our accomplishments and our creative expressions about the glory and the frustrations of being a woman in an unjust world.
I hope you will come celebrate with me.
From what I can tell, Bonita Stevens was a child country singer ala Brenda Lee and Rita Faye. It was kind of a thing in the 50s and 60s. A lot of times these records by "kiddie" singers were of the novelty variety, however this one by Bonita is a little different. It's more of a little girl power anthem.
I wanna be the leader of an all girl band
Play the best country in this wonderful land
I wanna steel a fast guitar hand (?)
I wanna be the leader of the band!
It appears to have been "self-released" with the help of Memphis underground custom record label legend Style Wooten, who seems to have had a gift for capturing raw Memphis musical magic.
This is seriously one of my favorite records ever.
We hear quite a bit about June Carter in pop culture, but beyond her involvement with the Carter Family we don't hear much about her younger sister, vocalist and bass player Anita Carter. When I started to dive into country 45 collecting, I kept happening upon Anita Carter records (much MUCH more often than I found June Carter records) and with each new discovery, I began to realize ANITA was truly a force.
I've heard people refer to Jeannie C. Riley as the "Nancy Sinatra of country music" but musically and thematically, I think Anita Carter more accurately fits that description. In fact, I made a Nancy Sinatra-themed mix last summer and Anita's records blended right in.
Today's Record of the Day is a perfect example. "It's My Life" has a sassy, independent message and a rockin' rhythm. Just remove the dancing twang on that guitar and you've got a Nancy Sinatra record.
"No one knows my needs like me...
It's my life and I'll live it
So leave me alone
Don't you think it's time I was on my own?
Give it a listen and see what you think.
This weekend I kicked the prep for the upcoming Sugar Town into high gear and getting so excited to celebrate the ladies of classic soul and r&b as we launch into Women's History Month. I've been gathering all kinds of fresh 45s for this event and I can't wait to share them with you!
This will be the 4th edition of the Ladies of Classic Soul version of Sugar Town, but I've been throwing versions of this party since 1996. The record of the day is one of the recordings that's been a go-to for me since the early years. It lives up to it's name as a real scorcher written and performed by Varetta Dillard on this day in 1959.
Varetta was born in Harlem in 1933. She enjoyed moderate success in the mid-1950s, and from the beginning was promoted as a "rock n roll" artist by the legendary DJ Alan Freed (who coined the term "rock n roll"). In fact, Freed included Ms. Dillard in his very first presentation of a rock n roll revue concert in 1952.
Though Varetta's name had largely been missing in the pages of rock 'n' roll and r&b history, today her music is finding a wider audience and a handful of her records are highly sought after by DJs of vintage soul.
Join me at The Spare Room on March 7th to celebrate the music and lives of more ladies of vintage soul and R&B. AND get warmed up for the event by listening to this red hot R&B!
I grew up in the 1980s, however I consider myself a child of the 1960s. Well, actually I'm a child of 1960s nostalgia. It was during my childhood that people (white people specifically) who grew up in the 1960s were the target demographic for marketers. Today we're bombarded with nostalgic revisiting of the 1990s for the target demographic of today. But back in the 80s pop culture was saturated in nostalgic looks back into the late 1950s and the entire 1960s. From Back to the Future to Stand By Me to The Big Chill to "oldies" radio stations to the California Raisins commercials to 1950s-themed burger joints to The Wonder Years to the music featured on Moonlighting to the revival of The Monkees to Dirty Dancing to Hairspray and the list goes on and on.
Of course nostalgia is a simplified and romanticized view of something. In light of that, my understanding of the 1960s was narrow at best. And that's why for many years I had very little appreciation of Lesley Gore. All I knew of her was that she sang two of my least favorite songs "It's My Party" and "Judy's Turn to Cry". Those were the records they chose to revive during the nostalgia era. It was the 80s, the decade in which they tried to turn back the clock to more conservative values. They weren't going to be pulling out Lesley's declarations of independence or anything that would challenge the traditional conservative way of living. So, when daytime talk shows would have their "where are they now" shows dedicated to pop idols of the 1960s, it was "It's My Party" that they wanted Lesley Gore to lipsynch to. I thought she was a travesty because young me couldn't imagine letting some boy ruin my party.
It wasn't until the late 1980s that I found out about "You Don't Own Me." I'm not even sure how I heard it. I just know that it completely changed my perspective about everything I thought I knew about women of the 1960s. I rarely felt connected to the pop music of the 80s. I mean, one of the biggest hits of 1987 was "Only In My Dreams" by Debbie Gibson, who like Lesley Gore, was the teen star of her day. It is a far cry from a demand for respect of one's personal identity. That's why as I grew into a teenager who would come to identify myself as a feminist, I realized the music of the 1960s had so much more to offer me in terms of radical messages than the pop music that was made for my own generation.
Additionally, it's worth considering the magical partnership of Lesley and Pacific Northwest native Quincy Jones. I really think that even to this day it's not widely known that Q produced most of Lesley's greatest records. He often gave her a soul-pop influenced sound that was key in her phasing out of teen drama and crossing over to become a tiny giant in pop music history.
So today, I grieve for Lesley Gore. I lament the way she's regretfully been summed up in today's headlines as Singer of "It's My Party", because Lesley Gore is so much more than that. She deserves to be recognized and acknowledged as someone who lit a fuse for feminism in the hearts of millions of young girls everywhere. Her anthem was one of the reasons that women like me were able to break free from societal expectations and go our own way, and though the path we choose my be uphill and rough and rugged, at least it's ours. Our choices belong to us.
She lived the life she sang about in her songs. She took the difficult path and remained true to herself, living as a lesbian in much less accepting times. As I said yesterday, I can't imagine how difficult it must have been juggling pop superstardom as a lesbian in the early 1960s. She deserves accolades for that in itself.
Today's song of the day is another one of Lesley's songs of independence. It's also a KILLER dance record. Just a couple of weeks ago I finally got my hands on a copy (thanks to Wildman James) after years of searching. Today I ask you to salute Lesley Gore by dancing to this record and then celebrate your individual identity, what ever it may be.
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!