Ms. Lorraine Ellison
“Listen – Call Me Anytime You Need Some Lovin’ MP3″
I have returned from what – despite sheets of freezing rain – turned out to be a pretty nice vacation. The fam and I managed to get some rest, have some fun, consume much lobster (in roll and pie form, more on that in a minute) and see some fantastic scenery on the Maine coast. I also managed to hit a couple of record stores and scoop up a grip of excellent vinyl (mostly LPs), the likes of which would have been double (triple, quadruple) the price here in Jersey, had they not already been bought up years ago.
My Maine haul – courtesy of Enterprise Records in Portland, a very chill place with lots of great stuff – consisted mainly of 60’s pop/blue eyed soul and a couple of odd folk and soundtrack discs.
The second stop happened en route back to the homestead, when we were visiting with my in-laws (very hospitable folks) in the Schenectady, NY area. There’s a shop in Saratoga Springs that seems to get in a lot of excellent jazz collections, and this time they also had some very nice funk and soul LPs, which of course I adopted so that they might live out the rest of their natural lives in a good home. I even managed to grab some cool 45s – nothing rare, just cool – out of the $1.00 bin.
So, aside from the constant, nagging dread that comes with knowing that you have to eventually return to work, I’m feeling relaxed, revivified, refreshed (physically and vinyl-ly) and ready to get back into the blogging thang.
To take a brief culinary detour, if you dig lobster – and you know you do, you gourmet you – you need to journey to New England (especially Maine) where the good folks know (in the deepest, zen sense) their lobster, and prepare it in many delicious ways, all of which pay proper tribute to the greatness of the little beclawed bottom feeders.
There are of course the famous lobster rolls, in which lobster meat (the good stuff, i.e. claws’n’tails) is laid gracefully inside of a grilled hot dog bun (the cool New England kind with the flat sides) for your delectation. Some folks will toss the lobster with mayonnaise and serve it as “lobster salad”. No matter how much you like mayo (and I do) putting it on a substance as sublime as lobster is a dreadful mistake. Not that it doesn’t taste delicious, but a certain lobstery essence disappears once mayonnaise elbows its way into the act.
The REAL way to serve up a lobster roll, is to adorn the meat with it’s only true bosom pal – the way Marvin and Tammi, Ike & Tina, beer and pretzels, and oil and vinegar go together – that being drawn butter. These two elements (three if you count the roll) thusly combine to create a gustatory experience rivaled by few others.
One of those others also involves lobster, butter and bread (of a kind). In Wells, ME, on the side of RT1 there lies the Maine Diner, a fantabulous haven wherein the lobster fan may indulge in a veritable wonderland of crustaceana. It is at the Maine (in Maine) that the great minds of lobsterdom decided that the buttered lobster roll wasn’t enough, so they created the Lobster Pie. When I tell you that the lobster pie at the Maine Diner is a dish of the most eye-rollingly decadent food you will ever consume, I ain’t lying brother.
They take chunks of lobster, mix it with a bread stuffing and bake it in a casserole dish, after which the consumer (that’s me) applies drawn butter to taste. Man, oh man…lobster heaven (literally and figuratively). None of this – of course – could possibly be good for any part of you (other than your tastebuds, of course) – but I only get up there once a year, so I’m not going to feel too badly about it.
Now, on to the music…
I first heard today’s selection a while back courtesy of the late, lamented blog Number One Songs In Heaven*. While I certainly knew who Lorraine Ellison was, I had never heard ‘Call Me Anytime You Need Some Lovin’’, and the song quickly became a new fave of mine (thanks Lee!).
While you can pick up a little background info in a previous Funky16Corners post on Ellison (here), I can try to do justice to this truly amazing record.
I suppose I should start by referencing – once again – Peter Shapiro’s outstanding tome ‘Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco”. Among the many new things I learned in this wonderful book was that a few of the major movers and shakers of the Northern Soul movement in the UK – Ian Levine and Kev Roberts – were also involved in the evolution of the disco era, as DJs, record producers and above all tastemakers.
That these mavens of danceable soul music should be involved in the disco era comes as little surprise because what Northern Soul and disco have in common (aside from the obvious, that being dance music created largely by black Americans) is dancer’s anthems. Though to someone at a distance from either genre this might seem unusual, putting things into sharper focus, the similarities between the two grow as the differences become less and less significant.
A great dance record should be an object lesson in the use of beat and dynamics. The beat – first and foremost – compels the seated to become upright, and to move to the groove. The dynamics, i.e. using a variety of elements including volume, pop hooks, adjustments in tempo etc, allow the makers of these records, including the songwriters, singers, producers and arrangers, to build the effect the record has upon the audience (with varying degrees of subtlety). In doing so they can transport a crowd from a baseline groove in which the dancers needs are served at least adequately, into cascades of ecstatic experience that go back to the earliest historic interaction between music makers and music consumers.
This construct, i.e. people being carried away by music and dance, has been around pretty much forever, and still exists as a part of many religious rituals. Referring to the gathering of people to groove on music and dance as a religious ritual may seem blasphemous to some, but that’s just too bad because – and I’m certain of this so bear with me – they’re wrong.
Sure, not every dance experience ends with the crowd trance-ported (sic), but most of them do to one degree or another. This has been true since the days of tribal drummers, whirling dervishes, the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, the disco dance floor and right on into the rave years. The idea of people, all digging the same kinds of sounds gathering together to experience said sounds – intoxicated, whether by good feelings, the love for one’s fellow man/woman, or via chemical assistance (in the form of fermented whatever, mushrooms, hash, LSD, purple hearts, poppers or ecstasy) – has been around since time immemorial, and continues to this very day and will go on into the future.
So, you ask, what does this have to do with anything?
Both Northern Soul and disco have long traditions of records specifically designed to transport listeners via the dance experience, and ‘Call Me Anytime You Need Some Lovin’’ is one of those. Take the time if you will to listen to records like ‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’ by the Marvelettes, ‘Baby You’ve Got It’ by Maurice and the Radiants, ‘I’ll Try’ by Sam & Bill as well as classics like ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes** (or the more famous cover by Thelma Houston, also excellent), or Gloria Gaynor’s version of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and realize that what they all have in common is a solid, propulsive verse that builds to an explosive chorus, the arrival of which causes any self respecting rug cutter to roll their eyes back into their head and shift into overdrive.
I’ve given a fair amount of thought to how much influence the lyrics of these anthems contribute to the experience, and I still haven’t made up my mind. The vast majorities of these records are love songs – some dealing with loss, others with triumph –and probably give almost anyone something to identify with. However, what all of these records also have in common is the aforementioned “build”, as well as absolutely deadly hooks. I haven’t taken the time to make a serious empirical study of the art form (and it’s not likely that I will), but maybe someday somebody will.
That all said, the record (waxed in 1966) is fantastic, due in large part not only to Ellison’s killer vocal but by the authorship and musical direction of one of our old friends here at the Funky16Corners Blog, Mr. Lou Courtney.
The record has the good taste to open up (aside from a brief horn fanfare) with the chorus, after which Miss Ellison digs down deep into the verse. Standing alone, the verse could have been pulled from any number of pop tunes/styles of the era (dig the handclaps, fuzz guitar etc), but when the chorus comes along, and Ellison takes off into the vocal stratosphere we’re all on the express train to Soulville. The way she stretches out in the choruses reminds me more than a little of a record like ‘With My Love and What You’ve Got (We Could Turn the World Around)’ by Jean Wells, in that the singer seems to reaching for seemingly unattainable heights, and almost gets there, all the while pushing the limits of what magnetic tape could deliver.
This is a record that absolutely demands that it be played at high volume, and if you can’t swing that, slap on some headphones and get carried away.
You can thank me after you regain consciousness.
*Make sure you follow the link to Lee’s new blog ‘Crying All the Way To the Chip Shop’
** If you’ve never heard the HM&the BNs original, stay tuned to this space as it is in the ‘to be blogged’ stack