And here we come to an end of the 1970s in the Any Major Soul series. There are two mixes covering ’80s soul HERE and HERE. Still, the years 1980/81 and possibly 1982/83 were good enough to yield any major mixes; I’ve not thought about later years.
It’s tempting to dismiss the soul music produced in the disco era. I think this mix shows that it was still a golden era for soul, if not of quite the incredible standards a few years earlier when there was the happy confluence of the influences exerted by the likes of Philly, Motown, Hi, Muscle Shoals, Atlantic, and the Chicago scene.
If I was asked which of these tracks in this mix I’d take with me to a desert island, I would be hard pressed to choose between Bill Withers’ Love Is and Minnie Riperton’s Never Existed Before. I think the latter would win. Released after her death from cancer, Minnie’s vocals are equally cute and sexy (nobody has done cute and sexy as well as Minnie did). It’s not the best-known track from the Minnie LP, but it is my favourite Riperton song.
Several of the songs here are touched by disco golddust. The Gary Toms Empire are perhaps more disco than soul. Former Motown writers Ashford & Simpson certainly were in their disco groove, and You Know How To Love Me by Phyllis Hyman (another wonderful soul singer who died too young, in 1995, the same year Bobby DeBarge, featured in the bonus tracks, died) is the sort of mid-tempo song one can dance or chill to.
Cheryl Lynn is better remembered for one of the great dance tracks, Got To Be Real. The track featured here, You’re The One, comes from the same eponymous 1978 album, one of the few ballads on the LP on which the 21-year-old Lynn delivered a fine, octave-traversing vocal performance. Signed by CBS on strength of her winning performance on the TV talent programme The Gong Show, Cheryl Lynn was a prodigious session singer too. It’s her soaring voice on Toto’s excellent Georgy Porgy, and she also backed Lenny Williams, whom we encounter in the bonus tracks.
Peabo Bryson does not have a good reputation among soul fans (with that name, it’s surprising he ever enjoyed any credibility), while Natalie Cole’s soul credentials have taken a knock with her endeavours to become her father. Don’t let such perceptions worry you as you hear their excellent jazzy cover of Bobby Caldwell’s What You Won’t Do For Love.
Jean Carn (later rendered as Carne, for “numerological” reasons) sang with Duke Ellington’s orchestra just before his death. Through her stint as a regular on US TV shows she was picked up by Gamble & Huff for their Philadelphia International Records label.
The Jones Girls also found success with Gamble & Huff, via two soul legends. The Chicago sisters were first mentored by Curtis Mayfield, through whom they got to work with Aretha Franklin. It was as a support act for Diana Ross that the Jones Girls — Shirley, Brenda and Valerie — came to Gamble & Huff’s attention. Besides releasing their own albums, they also provided backing vocals for the PIR roster.
Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson was cited by Jimi Hendrix as a major influence. He might also have been nicknamed “Organ”, for he played keyboard for Herb Alpert during the 1960s, reuniting with Alpert for his 1979 hit Rise [EDIT: Apparently he didn't. See comments]. Before that, the man known as “Elvis’ private guitar player” had toured with Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. Here he gets seriously funky, providing one of the few instances of snoring released on vinyl. Another legend, Wilson Pickett, made a brief comeback fusing the funk with old school soul, creating a sound which Tom Jones has tried to emulate for years, but never coming near his ambition.
The “Pops” in the title of the penultimate track is, of course, Berry Gordy, paid tribute here by four of the greatest stars in music history. I’d not have included it was it not for this year being Motown’s 50th birthday.
1. Gary Toms Empire – Welcome To Harlem
2. Ashford & Simpson – It Seems To Hang On
3. Jean Carn – Don’t Let It Get To Your Head
4. Bill Withers – Love Is
5. Rufus and Chaka Khan – Stay
6. Cheryl Lynn - You’re The One
7. Denise LaSalle - A Miracle You And Me
8. Neville Brothers - Washable Ink
9. Minnie Riperton - Never Existed Before
10. Natalie Cole & Peabo Bryson – What You Won’t Do For Love
11. Phyllis Hyman – You Know How To Love Me
12. The Jones Girls – You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else
13. Johnny Guitar Watson – It’s A Damn Shame
14. Wilson Pickett – Lay Me Like You Hate Me
15. The Whispers - Let’s Go All The Way
16. D Ross, M Gaye, S Robinson, S Wonder – Pops, We Love You
17. Roberta Flack – And The Feeling’s Good
At one point I thought of making this a two-part mix, because a bunch of longer numbers would fit on the mix, which I have kept, as always, to standard CD-R length. Instead, here are a few bonus tracks.
These include Betty Wright’s live recording of the song about losing her virginity, Lenny William’s fantastically overwrought lament of lost love (“…and then I played my records till I didn’t want to hear them no more), Mtume’s The Closer I Get To You which was a hit for Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack written by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas, the O’Jay’s tribute to a dog, Kandidate’s proto ’80s soul sound, a track by Motown artists Switch who included two older DeBarge brothers, and more.
Lenny Williams – Because I Love You.mp3
Heatwave – Mind Blowing Decisions.mp3
Betty Wright – Tonight Is The Night.mp3
Ray Goodman Brown – Inside Of You.mp3
Brenda Russell – So Good, So Right.mp3
Switch – I Call Your Name.mp3
Mtume – The Closer I Get To You.mp3
The O‘Jays – Brandy.mp3
Kandidate – I Don’t Wanna Lose You.mp3
Rick James – You And I.mp3