Velvelettes – Lonely Lonely Girl Am I (VIP)
Betty Harris – I Don’t Want To Hear It (Sansu)
Irma Thomas – What Are You Trying To Do (Imperial)
Flirtations – Nothing But A Heartache (Deram)
Cooperettes – Shingaling (Brunswick)
Barbara West – You’re No Good (Ronn)
Kim Weston – Helpless (Gordy)
Betty Everett – Getting Mighty Crowded (VeeJay)
Shirley Ellis – Soul Time (Columbia)
Christine Cooper – S.O.S. (Heart In Distress) (Parkway)
Persianettes – It Happens Every Day (OR)
Marvelettes – I’ll Keep On Holding On (Tamla)
Thelma Jones – Stronger (Barry)
Bonnie & Lee – The Way I Feel About You (Fairmount)
Martha & The Vandellas – In My Lonely Room (Gordy)
Linda Jones – I Can’t Help Loving My Baby (Loma)
Liberty Belles – Shingaling Time (Shout)
Jean Wells – With My Love and What You’ve Got (Calla)
Top o’ the morning/afternoon to ye….
Today brings us to the fourth installment of Funky16Corners Radio, this time bearing the title ‘S.O.S. Heart In Distress’, borrowing its name from the record of the same name, representing a storming collection of mid-60’s, danceable, female-driven soul sides.
As with all previous Funky16Corners mixes, this one is a distillation of a personal mix I’ve been rocking for a few years, playing and replaying until it was boiled down to it’s essence. Composed of 18 of my faves, almost all compelling the listener to get up and dance (or at least nod one’s head vigorously).
If you’re a cardholder in the world of hardcore soulies (or a regular reader of this blog), some of these tracks will be familiar, but hopefully many will be fresh and new (to you) and you will dig them accordingly.
Disinterested in wasting time, we kick in the door (as it were) with what I consider to be one of the finest records to have been produced in Detroit during the 1960’s. ‘Lonely Lonely Girl Am I’ by the Velvelettes , is an example of the early brilliance of Norman Whitfield. Cowritten by Whitfield, Eddie Holland and Eddie Kendricks, the tune is just over two minutes of dancefloor soul brilliance. Sporting a classy arrangement and a fantastic vocal by Carolyn Gill, it’s the finest of many excellent 45s by the Velvelettes.
Not willing to let up one iota, the next tune, ‘I Don’t Want To Hear It’ is one of Betty Harris’s best. Harris, who recorded ballads, upbeat soul and funk under the aegis of the brilliant Allen Toussaint between 1965 and 1970 (and is back performing today, having recently won back the rights to her catalogue) wails like a woman scorned. I’d love to know how Toussaint got that deep bass sound at the beginning of the record.
Speaking of the Soul Queens of New Orleans, the only woman that can give Betty Harris a run for her money in competition for that title is the legendary Irma Thomas. Thomas recorded a series of brilliant 45s for the Imperial label in the mid-60’s. Though many of these were recorded in California, the best of them (including this track) were recorded in her home base of New Orleans with Allen Toussaint. ‘What Are You Trying to Do’ is one of those brilliant Toussaint productions/arrangements that seem to transcend a “New Orleans” feel, skyrocketing into the pop/soul stratosphere. Thomas’s soaring vocal is complemented by a propulsive beat and elegant strings. It took me a long time to find a copy of this one, but boy was it ever worth it.
The Flirtations ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ is a mindblower. I first found this record years ago, purchasing it unheard, mainly because it was a Deram 45 that I’d never encountered before. As soon as I got it home I realized what a find I had (keeping in mind that this was back in the day when this was a cheap record). The Flirtations recorded their first 45s in the US for the Josie label, but it wasn’t until they relocated to the UK and recorded for Parrot and then Deram that they really broke out. The recorded a series of tunes written by UK pop songsmiths Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington who had done time in Pete Best’s band and went on to write a number of pop hits. ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ grabs you from the opening piano chords, and seemingly manages to pack the power of ten records into this one recording. The tune was recently recorded by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes.
I don’t know much about the Cooperettes aside from the fact that they hailed from Philadelphia and they recorded a number of excellent 45s. The best of them is the Northern Soul classic ‘Shingaling’. Recording for the Harthon organization, the backing track for ‘Shingaling’ was recycled for Irma and the Fascinators brilliant, unreleased but often comped ‘You Need Love’. Opening with casual high-hat hits that build into a powerful drum roll, the tune is a storming dancer with some amazing production.
Changing things up a bit, with a moody feel is Barbara West’s version of ‘You’re No Good’. Written by Clint Ballard (who also wrote the Mindbenders ‘Game of Love’ and ‘I’m Alive’ for the Hollies), the tune is perhaps best known in versions by Betty Everett and Linda Ronstandt. I dig West’s gritty, pained take on the number. When she’s shouting ‘You’re no good!” in the chorus, she sounds like she means it. West recorded four 45s for the Ronn label.
‘Helpless’ by Kim Weston is a fine example of Holland/Dozier /Holland goodness. Weston, who recorded a number of duets with Marvin Gaye, also recorded a grip of winners as a solo, most notable this gem from 1966. After leaving Motown she went on to record for MGM, Volt and People among other labels.
Speaking of Betty Everett, she may best be known as the singer of one of the most overplayed oldies ever, i.e. ‘The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)’ but she was certainly no slouch. She recorded a number of killer sides for the VeeJay label, including the classic ‘It’s Getting Mighty Crowded’. Written by Van McCoy, the tune was later covered by Alan Price, and even later by Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
Shirley Ellis is another great singer who’s finest work is often overlooked because of her big hits (in her case ‘The Name Game’). Ellis recorded a number of excellent sides for the Congress label (including ‘Nitty Grity’) before jumping to Columbia in 1966. ‘Soul Time’ (taken from the LP of the same name) is one of her best sides
Christine Cooper recorded three outstanding 45s for the Cameo/Parkway label, the rarest of which ‘Heartaches Away My Boy’ trades for hundreds of dollars. 1965’s ‘S.O.S. (Heart In Distress)’ may be more affordable, but it’s no less a killer. Featuring a bright, poppy arrangement, and a “morse code” riff in the chorus (predating the Five Americans), ‘S.O.S. (Heart In Distress)’ is simply a great record.
The Persianettes/Persionettes were another Phildelphia group, part of the Ben-Lee stable that included artists like Patti & The Emblems, Timmy & the Empires, Cindy Scott and Kenny Gamble. ‘It Happens Every Day’ which was released on Open Records, was one half of a brilliant two-sided 45 (with ‘Call On Me’ on the flip). The Persianettes recorded sides for Swan, Olympia, Guyden and Open/Or, as well as singing backup on other Ben-Lee productions.
The Marvelettes ‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’ is one of the greatest Motown sides of the 60’s, as well as a beloved Mod/Northern Soul classic. Covered in the mid-60’s by UK Mod gods the Action (which is where I first heard it) ‘I’ll keep On Holding On’ is nothing less than an anthem. It has a pounding arrangement, memorable lead and backing vocals (gotta love those Oooooweeoooo’s) and builds to a sing-a-long chorus that you never want to end.
Thelma Jones recorded a string of great 45s for the Barry label between 1966 and 1968, including the original (and superior) version of ‘The House That Jack Built’. ‘Stronger’ was the b-side of her first single for Barry in 1966.
Years ago I picked up a beat up copy of ‘The Way That I Feel About You’ by Bonnie & Lee for a buck at a record fair, and fell in love with it instantly. Fortunately I was able to mint up a few years later at a similarly low price. It’s an amazing record (released in 65 or 66 on Philly’s Fairmount label), and why it remains undiscovered is a mystery to me. Though this is a duet – and doesn’t adhere strictly to the format of this mix – Bonnie’s vocals are so good I couldn’t hold it back.
Another song I heard by the Action before the original recording is 1964’s ‘In My Lonely Room’ by Martha and the Vandellas. Opening with jangly rhythm guitar and vibes, the drums soon kick in and take this record to another level entirely. By the time Martha and the girls drop is things are moving at a brisk pace, making this one of my favorite Motown dancers. The way the rhythm builds up, with the guitar, drums, tambourine and handclaps one on top of another, along with Martha Reeves powerful lead vocal is amazing.
Linda Jones recorded a bunch of great 45s for Loma in the mid 60’s. Her biggest hit was 1967’s ‘Hypnotized’, but I’m here to hep you to it’s energetic flip side ‘I Can’t Stop Loving My Baby’. Featuring a very solid vocal by Jones, and a tight, danceable arrangement, this one ought to get your feet moving.
I know nothing about the Liberty Belles, aside from the fact that ‘Shingaling Time’ is a killer. Dig that ‘Ha Ha!’ at the beginning and the pounding drums. The tune was also released in the UK on JayBoy.
The mix closes out with another personal favorite and is probably the latest tune in this batch, hailing from 1968. Jean Wells recorded excellent 45s for a number of labels (including Quaker Town, Sunshine, ABC and Calla) through the 60’s, and ‘With My Love and What You’ve Got (We Could Turn The World Around)’ is by far the finest. An absolute stunner with an arrangement that builds to a powerful chorus (which continues to build on itself right into the run off groove) this record never lets up. The record has sophisticated production with an eye turned to the pop market, and Wells vocal, especially in the last 30 seconds of the record is incredible.