Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Diana Ross - Selected other albums (1973-1976)

This is a selection of Diana Ross albums that I have not reviewed individually. I have collated brief bite-sized reviews for them here. Like Aretha Franklin, Ross is an artist that put out so many albums that it is a Herculean task to review them all in intricate detail, so I am dealing with some of them in this fashion.

Diana And Marvin (1973)

1. You Are Everything
2. Love Twins
3. Don't Knock My Love
4. You're A Special Part Of Me
5. Pledging My Love
6. Just Say, Just Say
7. Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart
8. I'm Falling In Love With You
9. My Mistake (Was To Love You)
10. Include Me In Your Life                                                                   
It would seem that this apparently harmonious collaboration between two of Motown's biggest stars in the early seventies was beset with problems. The album of duets between Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross had been mooted once 1970 but Gaye was having problems getting over the death of a previous singing partner in Tammi Terrell. He also felt that singing duets was not a good thing, as both Mary Wells and Kim Weston suffered career contract breakdowns after recording with him. So, he was loth to join up with Ross. He also blotted his copybook by smoking marijuana in the studio (as was his wont) as the then pregnant Ross showed up. Arguments and tension ensued. Then there was the problem of the billing - whose name would be mentioned first. Ross got the nod.

It was surprising, therefore, that the album turned out to be a very successful and polished sounding affair. Some of the material was recorded with the artists in separate studios but you would never have known. The album has a high quality sound throughout - nice and warm with a fine seventies stereo separation and a deep bass sound.

The big hit You Are Everything is very well-known and the two singers combine superbly, as they also do on the lively, semi-funky Love Twins, declaring their love for each other (they weren't a couple). Don't Knock My Love has the pair going funky, impressively. Apparently Ross hated the song and didn't want to record it. It is one of the best cuts on the album for me and she would be singing many tracks like this in three years time and beyond. She no doubt was happier, though, in 1973, with You're A Special Part Of Me, which is a typical Ross big ballad, with Gaye's vocals sounding a bit superficial. He takes the lead, however, on the syrupy ballad Pledging My Love.

Just Say, Just Say is a nice, uplifting, soulful Ashford & Simpson song and Thom Bell and Linda Creed's Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart was an appealing big hit. I'm Falling In Love With You is pretty unremarkable, but My Mistake (Was To Love You) was a fine, Gaye-led very Motown, upbeat and soulful number. It is another of the best songs on the album. Include Me In Your Life is another slow-paced, gentle ballad typical of the album. It was certainly an album with none of the social comment that Gaye was heavily involved in on his material at the time (even Ross got in on the act with Brown Baby). This was full-on, unthreatening romance all the way. The last word maybe should go to Gaye, who said "it's hard for me to deal with prima donnas..".

At the end of 1973, Ross, having given birth to a daughter, returned for another solo album:-

Last Time I Saw Him (1973)

1. Last Time I Saw Him
2. No-One's Gonna Be A Fool Forever
3. Love Me 
4. Sleepin'
5. You
6. Turn Around
7. When Will I Come Home To You
8. I Heard A Love Song (But You Never Made A Sound)
9. Stone Liberty
10. Behind Closed Doors                                                          
Last Time I Saw Him was a bit of a musical departure, being a bit of a lively ragtime, jazzy piece of vaudeville fun. It was only a minor hit single. No-One's Gonna Be A Fool Forever is a very typical Ross number, with a big, string-backed chorus and some Bacharach/David-style brass backing. This was instantly recognisable as Diana Ross, the early seventies were full of this sort of thing from her. Her stock was falling a bit, though, from doing no wrong in the previous three years of her solo career. Love Me was also a single, and a nice, sensual one but the days of automatic bits hits seemed to be suddenly in the past. Ross would always have a big hit in her, as subsequent years would prove, but it was not a given anymore. Sleepin' is an impressive late-night ballad, with some nice bass and that oh-so-seventies brass sound once more. The lyrics contain a rather mysterious story about a character, Johnny, that they never quite reveal fully. 

You is an Aretha Franklin-esque gospelly number. Ross is no Aretha, though, and her voice can't quite match the power that the song requires. The spoken vocal part is unnecessary, too. Turn Around, a Harry Belafonte song, is moving and emotive. This song, in comparison to the previous one, is Ross at her best. When Will I Come Home To You is a catchy, pleasant ABBA-esque love song with a light funk guitar backing on the chorus. Once again, this is where Ross shines. 

The last three tracks are all good ones - I Heard A Love Song (But You Never Made A Sound) is an upbeat, slightly rock-ish, brass-driven number with the album's most pounding beat. It has a bit of a sixties Motown feel to it in places. Stone Liberty is a soulful number with a bit of a message to it - female empowerment, and also functioning as simply a song of freedom. It is an unusually hard-hitting song for Ross, lyrically and musically. Charlie Rich's hit country song, Behind Closed Doors, is given a soulful makeover that works well. It would be two and a quarter years before Diana Ross would release another solo (not soundtrack) album.

Diana Ross (1976)

1. Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)
2. I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)
3. Love Hangover
4. Kiss Me Now
5. You're Good My Child
6. One Love In My Lifetime
7. Ain't Nothin' But A Maybe
8. After You
9. Smile                                                                
By the time early 1976 had arrived, sweet soul had, to a certain extent, been taken over by the pounding rhythms of disco and Diana Ross got in on the trend early. She would, for subsequent years, be associated as much with classy disco as for her sweeping, polished ballads. The interesting thing about this album is that all the tracks (apart from Smile) have extended, chunkier, bassier alternative versions on the latest release of the album, which I much prefer. 

This imaginatively (not) titled album (it was her second eponymous album, would you believe, after 1970's debut) contained two huge hits in the beguilingly beautiful Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To) and the now iconic disco groove of Love Hangover. These were classic examples of the big hits that Ross still had in her armoury. The latter is included in its full seven minute-plus glory. It sort of set the foundations for many disco/soul grooves in the same period and beyond. The way it builds up through a few minutes of slow-burning smooth soul before it breaks out at 2.45 into that instantly recognisable disco riff is one of the song's main strengths. It powers along on the one main riff, like Chic's disco material did. This would be the sound of disco from 1976-1979.

I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love) continues in the same easy, smooth ballad style as the opener, with some laid-back verses and a catchy chorus. Kiss Me Now, however, resists the vaudeville, camp, stagey feel of Last Time I Saw Him (the song) from two years earlier. 

You’re Good My Child has a nice depth to its bass sound and although a ballad, it is a soulful, muscular one. It has a vague rhythmic undertow to it. One Love In My Lifetime is a superb slice of Diana Ross soul. Again, it has an engaging bassy thump to it. It is a really fine track, far superior to anything on the previous album. A slow disco-ish rhythm once more lurks beneath the soul vibe. Also impressive is the grinding groove of Ain’t Nothin’ But A Maybe, which is enhanced by some fuzzy rock guitar, particularly on the alternative version.

After You is a solid, appealing slow number, while Smile is a pleasant enough cover of the 1936 easy listening standard.

For me, this was a fine, varied album of quality soul with some disco diversions that was Diana Ross’s finest solo album thus far. I would always choose the "alternative" version of the album, though, every time. It is grittier, more "street/soul" and less "pop".

More albums will be added in time to this collection of reviews, hopefully. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Christmas Playlist

These are some of the favourite Christmas songs that always get played while we consume our Christmas feast, year in year out. Even though each year we say we will give them a miss, we never do. Funnily enough, though, once they are played, they never get played again, once Christmas Day is over, that's it.

The playlist is pretty unashamedly seventies-oriented, plus several from persona favourites like Steeleye Span and Mary Chapin Carpenter that may not make it on to most people's list.

Yes, there is some cheese on there, but Christmas is a time for consuming cheese.

Step Into Christmas - Elton John
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Darlene Love
Once In Royal David's City - Mary Chapin Carpenter
The First Nowell - Steeleye Span
Happy Christmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band
In Dulci Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
Thank God It's Christmas - Queen


Fairytale Of New York - The Pogues
Lonely This Christmas - Mud
Mary's Boy Child - Boney M
A Winter's Tale - David Essex
Good King Wenceslas - Steeleye Span
Gabriel's Message - Sting
When A Child Is Born - Johnny Mathis
Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
See Amid The Winter's Snow - Annie Lennox
Ring Out Solstice Bells - Jethro Tull
All Alone On Christmas - Darlene Love
Soul Cake - Sting
Merry Christmas Everyone - Shakin' Stevens


Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Steeleye Span
Wombling Merry Christmas - The Wombles
Another Rock 'n' Roll Christmas - Gary Glitter
Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight) - The Ramones
Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) - The Darkness
Mistletoe & Wine - Cliff Richard
On A Quiet Christmas Morn - Mary Chapin Carpenter
Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
Driving Home For Christmas - Chris Rea
Gaudete - Steeleye Span
Angels From The Realms Of Glory - Annie Lennox
I Believe In Father Christmas - Greg Lake
December Will Be Magic Again - Kate Bush
A Spaceman Came Travelling - Chris De Burgh
In The Bleak Midwinter - Steeleye Span


Stop The Cavalry - Jona Lewie
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
Last Christmas - Wham!
2000 Miles - The Pretenders
Little Town - Cliff Richard
Come Darkness, Come Light - Mary Chapin Carpenter
Adeste Fideles - Bob Dylan
Mary's Boy Child - Harry Belafonte
Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid
Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth - Bing Crosby/David Bowie
White Christmas - Bing Crosby
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard
Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade

Aretha Franklin - Selected other albums (1967-1972)

Aretha Franklin's discography is so immense that I don't have the wherewithal to review every single one of them individually. I have reviewed I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, Lady Soul, The Mono Singles Collection and Respect: The Best Of Aretha Franklin. Some of the others I will cover here in bite-sized chunks, maybe adding to the list as time goes by.

The albums covered here so far are - Aretha Arrives; Aretha Now; Soul '69; This Girl's In Love With You; Spirit In The Dark and Young, Gifted & Black.

Aretha Arrives (1967)

1. Satisfaction
2. You Are My Sunshine
3. Never Let Me Go
4. 96 Tears
5. Prove It
6. Night Life
7. That's Life
8. I Wonder
9. Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)
10. Going Down Slow
11. Baby I Love You                                                         
This came after the highly successful I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You and was not quite as popular as that album, and was seen in some quarters as an underwhelming follow up to a big smash album. That is somewhat unfair as there is certainly some fine material on here. The sound isn't quite as top notch, though, just a little less clarity. You have to turn the volume up a bit.

Aretha had suffered a bad car accident and damaged her arm during the recording and this hampered the fact that she was on piano for quite a bit of this one. Indeed, she played some parts using just the one hand. Highlights are the brassy, Atlantic soul-style cover of The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction, the gospelly You Are My Sunshine and a funky, organ-driven cover of ? And The Mysterians freakbeat-ish 96 Tears (this was also covered by The Stranglers in the 1990s).You can't beat the late night bluesy soul of Night Life either. The gospel attack on That's Life makes it infinitely preferable to Frank Sinatra's version, for me, anyway. Check out the bassy, classic soul of I Wonder and its bluesy guitar too. Really impressive.

Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around) is kick-ass, punchy, brassy soul of the kind you had come to expect to expect from Aretha. This is certainly not a second-best song. No sir. The same applies to the blues of Going Down Slow and the copper-bottomed soul of Baby I Love You. Prove It and Never Let Me Go are hardly sub-standard either, let's be honest. Yes, perhaps other albums do overshadow this possibly hastily-released one but that should not blind one to its good points. quite why the sound is definitely slightly more muffled than the albums either side of it is unclear, however.

The next album, Lady Soul, would prove to be more instant and consequently gained more critical acclaim as indeed would the one after that, which was:-

Aretha Now (1968)

1. Think
2. I Say A Little Prayer
3. See Saw
4. The Night Time Is The Right Time
5. You Send Me
6. You're A Sweet, Sweet Man
7. I Take What I Want
8. Hello Sunshine
9. A Change
10. I Can't See Myself Leaving You                       
The typically sixties-titled Aretha Now kicked off with three big ones in the irrepressible Think, the iconic I Say A Little Prayer and the infectious See Saw. The quality continues on The Night Time Is The Right Time. The sound is excellent on this album too - well-defined and crisp, particularly on the cymbal work. Listen to that glorious bass on Sam Cooke's You Send Me and the shuffling, funky rhythm on You're A Sweet, Sweet Man, which appropriates a bit of Sweets For My Sweet.

I Take What I Want is a lively and catchy number with Aretha and the backing singers giving it the big one. Once again, that rumbling bass is a thing of beauty. Jerry Jemmott is the bassman. The gospel soul vibe is continued on the uplifting Hello Sunshine. A Change has a delicious bass and drum toe-tapping backing. Aretha goes all Otis Redding at one point on the vocals - the  "if you don't this girl is gonna make you pay.." bit. I Can't See Myself Leaving You was a hit single and deservedly so for its great vocal and sumptuous bass. It is a quality track to end the album on.

You can pick any one of the songs from this album to be honest, they are all good. Horn-driven soul of the highest quality.

This is one of my favourite albums of these 1967-1969 releases, with for the fine quality of its sound and the irresistible nature of the songs. It is simply a great listen.

Next up for Aretha was an album of eclectic cover versions in:-

Soul '69 (1969)

1. Ramblin'
2. Today I Sing The Blues
3. River's Invitation
4. Pitiful
5. Crazy He Calls Me
6. Bring It On Home To Me
7. The Tracks Of My Tears
8. If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody
9. Gentle On My Mind
10. So Long
11. I'll Never Be Free
12. Elusive Butterfly                                                   
Despite its slightly misleading, uninventive title, this was an album that saw Aretha concentrate on her bluesier, jazzy side, employing some respected jazz musicians such as Kenny Burrell on the backing. The album was one of her most overlooked late sixties offerings, containing no big hits and being a bit leftfield. It is an understated, enjoyable album, however, and one that showed Aretha's versatility and also her impeccable taste.

Ramblin' is a blues meets big-band cooker of a track with jazzy elements and a big, stand-up bass sound as well as some soaring brass. Aretha's vocal is a great, attacking blues/soul one. Today I Sing The Blues is a proper slice of red-hot slow burning blues. River's Invitation has an appealing groove to it, with some nice drums, bass and horns. Aretha's vocal is gospelly and uplifting. Listen to that great bass, piano and drum bit around 1.30. Pitiful is a blues of the kind Southside Johnny no doubt loved.

The late night, smoky vibe of Crazy He Calls Me is one of the most "jazz" cuts on the album, with Kenny Burrell's guitar instantly noticeable. Actually, possibly even more jazz is the jaunty interpretation of Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me. Smokey Robinson's The Tracks Of My Tears is a difficult one to cover but Aretha's laid-back, vaguely Bossa Nova (in places) cover is quite intoxicating, particularly the gentle guitar and the bongos. I really like this, and I don't usually like covers of this originally wonderful song.

If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody is one that, despite its jazzy brass breaks, harks back to Aretha's more usual soul side. Gentle On My Mind is a cover of a song from country artist John Hartford. Aretha gives it a rhythmic, soulful, lively ambience with an attractive drum/bass solo part. So Long is a fine serving of jazzy blues, as is the laid-back groove of I'll Never Be Free. Elusive Butterfly is a quirky piece of jazzy gospel to end this slightly different Aretha Franklin offering. As a soul man, it is always the soul albums I return to as default ones, but this one is certainly worth a listen.

Soul returned on the next one, although it is still pretty heavy on the cover versions:-

This Girl's In Love With You (1970)

1. Son Of A Preacher Man
2. Share Your Love With Me
3. Dark End Of The Street
4. Let It Be
5. Eleanor Rigby
6. This Girl's In Love With You
7. It Ain't Fair
8. The Weight
9. Call Me
10. Sit Down And Cry

Son Of A Preacher Man is a muscular, gospelly cover of the song made famous by Dusty Springfield. As usual with Aretha's covers, she gives them a different ambience to their originals, making them almost into different songs. This one contains a slowed-down "bridge" in the middle. Share Your Love With Me is a corker of a brass 'n' bass soul ballad. Dark End Of The Street is heading into Aretha classic territory as she lifts us higher on an absolute soul classic, no question. Material like this is up there with some of the finest soul music you will ever hear. Let Aretha take you to Heaven. It is simply peerless.

Aretha's cover of Paul McCartney's Let It Be was actually the first time the song had been released, as The Beatles one had not come out yet. It is a gospelly interpretation, unsurprisingly, of course Aretha turns it in to her own song. The next Beatles cover, Eleanor Rigby, was one of those quirky, radically-altered covers of hers, she sings in the first person - "I'm Eleanor Rigby, I pick up the rice...." and the song has a soul/rock uptempo backing. Bacharach/David's easy-listening classic This Girl's In Love With You is given a suitably soulful makeover without losing all of its gentle, string-backed appeal. It has a lovely, deep bass on it too.

It Ain't Fair is a sleepy, laid-back soulful blues, enhanced by some smoky, jazzy saxophone from King Curtis and some impressive blues guitar from guess who - yes none other than top-notch bluesman Duane Allman (sadly not too long before his passing). With regard to The Band's The Weight, not many cover it very well (Diana Ross & The Supremes had made a mess of it). Aretha, unsurprisingly, makes a good fist of it but I will always feel that the stonking original can't be beaten.

Call Me is not the Al Green song, but it is a similarly soulful number as is the gospel strains of Sit Down And Cry. Aretha's voice is once again towering, lifting the song and the souls of all its listeners higher, seemingly effortlessly.

Also released in 1970 was:-

Spirit In The Dark (1970)

1. Don't Play That Song 
2. The Thrill Is Gone (From Yesterday's Kiss)
3. Pullin'
4. You And Me
5. Honest I Do
6. Spirit In The Dark
7. When The Battle Is Over
8. One Way Ticket
9. Try Matty's
10. That's All I Want From You
11. Oh No Not My Baby
12. That's Why I Sing The Blues                                       
This was quite a robust, bluesy offering with less cover versions. There is a fair amount of muscular drum sounds and rollicking blues piano to be heard. It is more "rock" and "blues", whereas the previous one had been a bit more "gospel" and "soul". They difference is in the drum and piano sound.

Don't Play That Song is a lively, Motown-ish number to start with, with an almost early/mid-sixties vibe about it. Aretha really rocks out on it. The second track of an Aretha album has often been a deep, blues potboiler and we certainly get that here with the bluesy depth of The Thrill Is Gone (From Yesterday's Kiss). It features some killer blues piano from Aretha and great bass from Tommy McClure. Pullin' is an addictive groove of a number with lots of call-and-reponse gospelly backing vocals in the Think style.

You And Me is a solid, typically early seventies string-backed soul ballad. You can't get away from Aretha's extraordinary voice, however. It dominates every track. Honest I Do is a strong blues chugger and Spirit In The Dark is very soulful but in possession of a firm rock beat. It breaks out into a rousing gospel finish, however. When The Battle Is Over is a gritty, grinding piece of bluesy soul. Duane Allman appears on guitar, as he had done on the previous album. One Way Ticket, while being a nice, jazzy soul number with some fine guitar, has, for some reason, backing vocals that come over too loud, giving the track a bit of a disjointed feel.

Try Matty's is a lively, brassy song in praise of a venue called Matty's where all the action seems to take place in the morning. That's All I Want From You is a sumptuous, organ and brass-powered soul number. Check out those horn parts. Goffin & King's Oh No Not My Baby has been covered by many, including Rod Stewart, who had a top twenty hit with it in 1973. Aretha's jazzy soul version is pretty definitive, however. The upbeat strains of That's Why I Sing The Blues is magnificent - proper horn-driven soulful blues. It is my favourite track on the album.

A two year hiatus followed as the seventies progressed and soul music changed in a fair few ways:-

Young, Gifted & Black (1972)

1. Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)
2. Day Dreaming
3. Rock Steady
4. Young, Gifted & Black
5. All The King’s Horses
6. A Brand New Me
7. April Fools
8. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
9. First Snow In Kokomo
10. The Long And Winding Road
11. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)
12. Border Song (Holy Moses)                                   

This album, from 1972, saw a considerable change in Aretha’s music. Gone are the horns, organ and piano of the sixties. It is all syncopated rhythms, subtle, melodic bass and strings these days. Sweet late night soul and funk were de rigeur. It was either relevant social comment or dim the lights seduction in this era, with a bit of dance rhythm thrown in. This album sort of led the way. Artists like Diana Ross would do several like this, without Aretha’s voice, of course.

Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby) is a lush, polished piece of sweet soul in tune with the sound of 1972. The quality of the sound and the production has now got slicker and warmer. The song just has a feeling of soul perfection about it. The strings and the bass mix near the end in a big, dramatic end. Day Dreaming continues the laid-back soul vibe with a late-night, almost easy-listening number. Aretha can cope, of course, her voice still brings light to every song and it does here.

Funk was also the sound of 1972 as well and Rock Steady was probably Aretha’s first funker, overflowing with rubberband bass lines and fatback drums. It cooks from beginning to end. Young, Gifted & Black finds Aretha totally reworking Bob & Marcia’s inspirational reggae classic, turning it into a slow burning piece of gospel funk. Once you’ve got used to it, it is very effective. All The King’s Horses is a delicious serving of slow soul. As I said, this is all very 1972. Soul music had changed.

A Brand New Me is a very Diana Ross-esque, jaunty soulful number. It gets loosely jazzy near the end, with some jolly piano and brass. Again, very Ross-like. April Fools brings back the funk, this time with a light wah-wah backing. Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long is more in the traditional soul style we had come to expect. The First Snow In Kokomo is a piano, bass and voice slow ballad. This is now very mature stuff.the last three are covers - The BeatlesLong And Winding Road is given a funky organ and bass makeover, The DelfonicsDidn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) is a soulful, funky reinvention with a seriously great vocal, while Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Border Song (Holy Moses) is as gospelly as it was always intended to be. Elton always loved Aretha so he would have loved her singing it.

You can tell that this album was a more substantial, varied product, because I have written more about it.

More albums will be added to this collection of reviews over time, hopefully.

Monday, 9 December 2019