“Listen – Sweet Thing MP3″
I hope everyone is still digging Monday’s mix. I’ve gotten some nice feedback, and rest assured there are more mixes ready to go in the weeks to come, as well as some excellent funk and soul groovers to keep you awake at your desk, tapping your foot and lusting for the warm sound of vinyl.
Today’s selection brings with it another chapter in the continuing saga, of how I found my way into the soul crates via our friends from the UK. Back in the day (maybe I should come up with some kind of gremlin, or other shorthand to replace that oft used phrase), when I was running with the Mod/Garage crowd, my good friend Bill Luther (now the music editor over at the Uppers site) was the first to hep me to the sounds of one Clive Powell, better known to all of us as Georgie Fame.
Though Fame never had a huge amount of success in the US (he did hit the top 40 a couple of times in 1965 and 1966), he was a major star in the UK. His popularity with the early 80’s Mod revival crowd (mirroring his enduring popularity with the original Mods) was an important link – at least for me – to the artists that Fame covered on his records. A look at his early-to-mid 60’s recordings reveals that Fame and his band the Blue Fames were working with a pretty diverse palette, filling their repertoire with ska, US R&B (Fats Domino and Mose Allison being particularly big influences on Fame), jazz and especially soul. On his first two US LPs, ‘Yeh Yeh’ and ‘Getaway’, Fame interpreted tracks by the Mar-Keys, Mongo Santamaria, Major Lance, Lee Dorsey, Joe Hinton, Billy Stewart and Don Covay among others, many of which led me back to the original artists.
One song – which appeared on the 1966 LP ‘Getaway’ – that for many years I had no idea was a cover, was the Spinners’ ‘Sweet Thing’. The Spinners – known in the UK as the Detroit or Motown Spinners, due to a UK folk group that already had the “Spinners” name – formed in Detroit in the late 50’s. They made their first recordings for the Tri-Phi label, and when the label was absorbed by Motown, so were the Spinners. Though their 1970 track ‘It’s a Shame’ (their first major chart hit) has long been a fave of mine, and most soul fans are aware of the string of hits for Atlantic in the 70’s – I had no idea how good their mid-60’s Motown/VIP singles were, especially ‘Sweet Thing’. Though the tune was also recorded by Marvin Gaye and the Supremes, the Spinners version was the first.
The tune is a great slice of sophisticated, melodic and danceable soul and features a memorable lead vocal by Bobby Smith. Written by Ivy Joe Hunter and Mickey Stevenson, ‘Sweet Thing’ sports one of my favorite Motown melodies, and it should have been a hit. I’ve read some accounts that suggest that when the Spinners first came to Motown, they weren’t getting the kind of attention they deserved (at least not in regard to promotion), so perhaps that had something to do with it. ‘Sweet Thing’ can be found on numerous reissues, including the phantasmagorically amazing ‘Complete Motown Singles: 1964” collection, perhaps the finest soul-related boxed set I’ve ever seen/owned. These volumes are expensive (over $100.00) but worth it in every sense. I plan on grabbing the 1965 set as soon as I can find it.
Listen – Tonight’s the Night – MP3
On that note, I also bring you today’s bonus selection, which I heard for the first time in the 1964 set, and grabbed a vinyl copy of soon after. According to the liner notes, little is known about the Headliners, other than that they were a white group from the Detroit area with an R&B sound. ‘Tonight’s the Night’ was the a-side of their sole VIP release, and as blue-eyed soul efforts go, it’s excellent. This has a lot to do with the fact that the Motown session players, especially Earl Van Dyke (who co-wrote the tune) give the session a great instrumental kick. The vocalists may not have been keeping the Temptations up at night worrying, but overall it’s a nice little dancer with some great guitar and organ work that has a certain Mitch Ryder-crossed with the Four Seasons-vibe.
NOTE: The scan of the Spinners 45 above comes from a 1970 UK 45, where ‘Sweet Thing’ was issued as the b-side of ‘It’s a Shame’. Original US copies of the ‘Sweet Thing’ 45 are both in demand, and costly.
In other news, I recently received a couple of New Orleans related CDs that you ought to check out. The first is the Dirty Dozen Brass Band reworking of Marvin Gaye’s landmark ‘What’s Going On’ LP, which features guest spots from Chuck D and Bettye Lavette among others, with some of the proceeds from it’s sale going to the Tipitina’s Foundation in New Orleans. I dig the disc, but for a taste you should head over to the essential and indispensable Home of the Groove blog for an excellent overview of the disc, as well as an interview Dan Phillips did with Roger Lewis of the DDBB.
Rhino has released the DVD version of ‘From the Big Apple To the Big Easy: Madison Square Garden Concert, which I watched on pay-per-view last September, not long after Katrina devastated New Orleans. Though the 2-disc set includes performances by Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel and Bette Midler (who delivers a verbal kick in the nuts to the Bush administration), the NOLA-specific content is amazing, Cyril Neville leading a wild performance of Fess’s ‘Big Chief’, the Meters/Neville Brothers, Jimmy Buffet laying down an excellent cover of ‘Fortune Teller’ as well as numbers by Elvis Costello, the DDBB, Irma Thomas, the Dixie Cups and others.
My recent flood of birthday loot included – courtesy of my wonderful parents – the new collaboration between Elvis Costello and the mighty Allen Toussaint. ‘The River In Reverse features Costello working it out (with help from AT) on a number of Toussaint classics (no less that four Lee Dorsey covers) and some new tunes as well. Even if you’re not a fan of Costello (which I am) you will dig this album, which like most Toussaint-related product, I recommend most highly.