Friday, 30 November 2018

Cat Stevens




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The albums covered here are:-

Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
Tea For The Tillerman (1970)
Teaser And The Firecat (1971)
Catch Bull At Four (1972)
Foreigner (1973)
and Buddha And The Chocolate Box

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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MONA BONE JAKON (1970)

1. Lady D'Arbanville
2. Maybe You're Right
3. Pop Star
4. I Think I See The Light
5. Trouble
6. Mona Bone Jakon
7. I Wish, I Wish
8. Katmandu
9. Time
10. Fill My Eyes
11. Lilywhite                 

Cat Stevens had suffered from tuberculosis in 1968 and after considerable recuperation, he returned in early 1970 with this highly impressive album. Always a sensitive lyricist, the slightly pop styled songs he had released a few years previously had developed into some seriously reflective, spiritual and wise material. This was going to be his most productive and fecund period as a recording artist.
                      
Lady D'Arbanville is just gorgeous. Haunting and mysterious. Who was she, I wonder? His ex-lover, apparently. When listening to the song I always imagine her as some historical character. It is a supremely atmospheric song. Maybe You're Right is a mid-tempo rock-ish ballad with hints of Bob Dylan from the same era about it. Not sure which song. I Threw It All Away, I think.

Pop Star is blues rocky and sees Stevens already cynical about the pitfalls of fame and the music industry. I Think I See The Light is very early Elton John in style, full of vocal attack and a rocking vibe. This is Stevens at his effervescent, spirited best. His spiritual quest is beginning to be given expression.



Trouble is a laid-back, beautiful acoustic ballad. Again, Stevens did this sort of thing so well. Mona Bone Jakon is a short song in praise of Stevens’ penis, apparently. This was his name for it. Coming from the gentle, sensitive Stevens, it sits somewhat incongruously. I am sure the Lady D’Arbanville enjoyed it, though. I Wish, I Wish is a rocky, vibrant number with a ending drum and piano sound and Stevens ruminating on the pace of the modern world an hoping for a better future. A great guitar solo passage in the middle of it too.

Katmandu is a wistful, airy acoustic and sublime bass-based ballad, with a bit of folky flute thrown in there too. It is a truly beautiful piece of music and vocals. A bit Crosby, Stills and Nash in places. Tapping in to the relaxing, chilled-out folky trend of the era. It is perfect. Time is an almost psychedelic ballad, although it is still acoustic, with some sweeping string orchestration. It sounds like mid 1990s Paul Weller. He must have listened to this. It segues seamlessly into the similarly beguiling Fill My Eyes, another razor-sharp acoustic ballad. Lilywhite is a beautifully orchestrated song, its backing almost classical. A lovely end to a thought-provoking and meaningful piece of work.

 

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TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN (1970)


1. Where Do The Children Play?
2. Hard Headed Woman
3. Wild World
4. Sad Lisa
5. Miles From Nowhere
6. But I Might Die Tonight
7. Longer Boats
8. Into White
9. On The Road To Find Out
10. Father To Son
11. Tea For The Tillerman    

This is a melodic and effortlessly appealing album from an artist who was about enter the best few years of his career. Cat Stevens, as you would expect, from his later development, was beginning to express spirituality in his songs, but many of them were also simple tender, romantic and sensitive love songs. Stevens sung also of the conflict between young and old, the search for spiritual satisfaction and he expressed a dissatisfaction with a world he found increasingly soulless and at times abhorrent. However, at the same time as expressing all this angst that found so many eager listeners in student bedsits, Stevens never lost his skill in creating a perfect pop song, honed in the sixties. This was always with him. He had an ear for a melody, for sure.
                     
Where Do The Children Play? questions technological progress and builds up slowly and acoustically, with razor sharp guitars reproduced in wonderful remastered sound quality and ends with a solid rock beat. Just as it starts to up its beat, it comes to an end. Enjoyable though. Hard Headed Woman is tender and sensitive, immaculately sung and played, and Wild World is the incredibly catchy hit single well known to many. Maxi Priest released a credible reggae cover of it, as also did Jimmy Cliff.

  

Sad Lisa has hints of Elton John’s Sixty Years On, full of sweeping string orchestration and a stark but melodious piano and a typical articulate, gentle vocal from Stevens. There is a darker side to the song, however, as it explores Lisa’s psychosis. Miles From Nowhere is pounding vibrant almost rock song with some stirring piano and drums and a vocal of power and conviction. But I Might Die Tonight explores the same generation gap/advice themes that occur later in Father And SonLonger Boats is a lyrically incomprehensible mystery of a song, but it has a catchy refrain. Stevens said at the time it was about flying saucers. Yeah, ok Cat. Into White is quiet, introspective and folky. Nick Drake-ish. On The Road To Find Out is a lengthier song about setting out on a spiritual quest, all delivered very tunefully.

Then there is Father To Son. The original, so wise and sensitive. What a song. Maybe Cat Stevens’ finest song ever. It is uplifting, inspiring, heartbreaking and beautiful.

Tea For The Tillerman ends this beguiling and interesting album with a minute’s worth of semi-song that breaks into a bit of gospel and then ends. You are left wanting more from that one, but not from the album as a whole. It is a good one, and so very 1970-71.



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TEASER AND THE FIRECAT (1971)

1. The Wind
2. Ruby Love
3. If I Laugh
4. Changes IV
5. How Can I Tell You
6. Tuesday's Dead
7. Morning Has Broken
8. Bitterblue
9. Moonshadow
10. Peace Train        

Cat Stevens released a series of phenomenally good albums in the early seventies. This is possibly the best of them. Back then he had the image of a wandering minstrel/troubadour and delivered wise, soothsayer-style lyrics in that reassuring voice of his.
                                   
The Wind is a beautiful, melodic acoustic opener. Ruby Love features the Greek string instrument, the bouzouki, and Stevens singing one verse in Greek (he was born to Greek parents). It is captivating, summery and lively. The Greek feeling makes it really evocative. If I Laugh has a lovely, deep and tuneful bass line and yet another wistful, haunting vocal from Stevens. Yet more crystal clear acoustic guitar and some mesmeric drum work introduces the staccato Changes IV which has Cat rocking out somewhat in his vocal in that stride, strong voice that he could use on such upbeat songs. There tend to be two types of Cat Stevens songs - gentle, tender softly-sung ballads and more aggressive, stop-start acoustic attached songs that usually include pounding drums. Changes IV is one of the latter. The next track, How Can I Tell You is one of the former. It has hints of Elton John’s Elton John album in its almost medieval keyboards. Lyrically, Stevens was either romantic in a child-like, starry-eyed and fascinated sort of way or else he was proselytising on the state of the world or else searching for spiritual fulfilment.


Tuesday's Dead has an upbeat, calypso-style infectious rhythm that sounds very Paul Simon-ish. This album has far more livelier moments than the previous Tea For The Tillerman album, which was more reflective in feel. Cat rocks out a lot more on this album.

Morning Has Broken is maybe my favourite, inspirational hymn of all time. Against a beautiful piano (played by Rick Wakeman of Yes), Stevens delivers in a lovely, gentle, sincere voice that makes it clear just what a beautiful song this was/is. Simply heart-warming, but sad too, in many ways. Just when you are feeling a bit sad and emotional, one of those punchy numbers is back with the rocking Bitterblue. I have to say at this point that the remastered sound is superb on this latest edition.

 

Moonshadow is one of those almost nursery-rhyme songs that Cat did so damn well. It is just totally entrancing. For me, Cat Stevens’ recordings from the early seventies bring so much joy, so much innocence, yet so knowing and wise at the same time. Peace Train continues in that wise vein - it is upbeat, vigorous and uplifting, full of gospelly handclaps and a vocal full of passionate conviction. Cat tells it as it is. Fantastic stuff. It is probably my favourite album of his.

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CATCH BULL AT FOUR (1972)

1. Sitting
2. The Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head
3. Anglesea
4. Silent Sunlight
5. Can't Keep It In
6. 18th Avenue (Kansas City Nightmare)
7. Freezing Steel
8. O' Caritas
9. Sweet Scarlet
10. Ruins        

This was Cat Stevens' final folky album before he bravely attempted to experiment with the following year's Foreigner. He was at a bit of a crossroads, and he was definitely still trying to put the world to rights. He was never comfortable with being a "pop star" yet he seemed to be able to put out regular, appealing albums that always contained a killer hit single. This was not a "bedsitter" album of poetic tenderness, however, there was far more attack, disillusion and religious undertones to be found in its tracks. Were the old studenty fans still with him? Maybe not.
                                             
Sitting is an Elton John-influenced, piano-driven solid ballad with Stevens on customary dominant vocal form. There is an impressive rolling drum passage half way through the song. The Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head has a T. Rex-inspired title and a very America-style acoustic guitar backing. It has a plaintive, poetic hippy-inspired lyric, as one had come to expect from Stevens in this period. It actually is a rather lovely song. however. Anglesea has a rapidly-strummed acoustic backing that reminds me of some of Neil Diamond's late sixties material. The track is energetic and committed and includes some wonderful keyboard riffs and some Greek folk music choral backing.

  

Silent Sunlight is a plaintively sung ballad with some lovely strings and a moving vocal. Yes, Stevens' voice has always brought accusations of melodrama, but one could never doubt his sincerity or indeed, his ability to move the soul. The jerky, catchy Can't Keep It In was the album's hit single, and deservedly so. It has a captivating organ riff and a typically uncompromising vocal.

18th Avenue (Kansas City Nightmare) also has echoes of Elton John about it. Surely Billy Joel was influenced by this too. Great orchestration on it and inspirational piano. Freezing Steel is in the same vein, but more quirkily energetic. O' Caritas is sung in Greek (until right at the end) and borrows completely from the Greek folk tradition. It is most atmospheric. Sweet Scarlet is a gentle, tuneful, sparsely-backed ballad. Ruins is slightly reminiscent of David Bowie's acoustically-driven rock from the same period. The thoughtful lyrics and instinctive sincerity that characterised Stevens' late sixties/early seventies work is still here. This is still a good album.



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FOREIGNER (1973)

1. Foreigner Suite
2. The Hurt
3. How Many Times
4. Later
5. 100 I Dream        

After four folky, sensitive, acoustically-driven, wordily titled albums in Mona Bone JakonTea For The Tillerman, Teaser And The Firecat and Catch Bull At FourCat Stevens decided to change direction somewhat. Possibly inspired by contemporaries in the prog rock genre, he went experimental, releasing an album containing only five tracks. The original "side one" was one continuous "suite" lasting eighteen minutes. All very ambitious. The problem with ambition is that it can over-reach, and to a certain extent that was what happened here. The concept didn't really work and, tellingly, the next album, Buddah And The Chocolate Box saw a return to the previous blueprint.
                           
In many ways, the Foreigner Suite's content could have been divided in to four four minute-something songs, as opposed to an amalgam of tempting, teasing vignettes. Stevens also employs a group of New York session musicians in the place of his regular ones and the quality is good, powerful but it loses some of the previous albums' homely, folky appeal. This is muscular, solid stuff. Much of the sound is keyboard-based (as opposed to acoustic interplay) and there are sweeping string passages, Beatles-esque brass sections and even some funky, rhythmic parts straight out of a blaxploitation soundtrack, plus some Jethro Tull-influenced flute. Some Elton John piano is in there too. I remember at the time that the whole "concept" of this didn't really catch on with the public.

The "second" passage at about five minutes in, the "freedom calling" passage, would have made a fine Elton John-ish track. Each singing bit is linked by some impressive instrumental breaks. Stevens' voice, when it arrives, is strong and committed, the lyrics concerning his feelings about being considered something of a "foreigner" due to his Greek heritage, or so it sounds to me anyway. Stevens himself says it is about feeling a foreigner in attempting to play material influenced by black music. I'm not convinced by that, to be honest. While it has soulful aspects, it is certainly no exploration into black music.

 

The "there are no words" passage is evocative and Stevens' vocal is moving. This would have made a good track too. It is uplifting and inspiring, in a gospelly way at times. As I said earlier, there are several winning parts to this suite. The final piano part is infectious too. The whole suite is listenable, its eighteen minutes do not drag, due to its many changes of pace. Fair play to Stevens for attempting this.

The Hurt is a staccato rock tune with lots of female backing vocals and a strong vocal. How Many Times is a yearning ballad, with a solid bass, piano and drum backing. It is another emotive song. Later is probably the most "black music"-influenced number, with some funky wah-wah guitar and a pounding funk drum rhythm. It is a distinct change in style from anything Stevens had recorded previously. 100 I Dream has a catchy, almost country rock feel to it, the one throwback to his previous material. It is instantly recognisable as Cat Stevens and is a fetching track. It also has a few subtle soulful/funky touches as well.

This album is currently available very cheaply, particularly to download. It is well worth it.



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BUDDAH AND THE CHOCOLATE BOX (1974)

1. Music
2. Oh Very Young
3. Sun/C79
4. Ghost Town
5. Jesus
6. Ready
7. King Of Trees
8. A Bad Penny
9. Home In The Sky   

After the experimental five track only album in Foreigner that perplexed critics and fans alike, Cat Stevens returned with an album that was far closer to his previous ones. It proved to be one of his most successful and fondly-remembered offerings.

This is slightly less of a folky album than its predecessors,  though, carrying more of a rock thump to it in places. The old Stevens subtlety and unassuming beauty is omnipresent, however.
                               
The opener, Music is a vibrant, drum, guitar and piano driven number. Very “rock”. Even Oh Very Young, the melodic hit single, has a catchy, mellow rockiness to it when it kicks in. The tune is just so typical Cat, though. So mellifluous. The piano is sumptuous. The song is simply beautiful. Sun/C79 has an intoxicating rhythm and pulsating attack from Stevens vocally and with his firmly strummed trusty acoustic guitar. Ghost Town is almost bluesy in places, with a harmonica backing and resounding drum sound.

  

Jesus is a short rumination upon the character of Christ and Buddha that unfortunately ends before it has truly got going. Many of the songs on the album were full of religious imagery, however.

Ready is another short but catchy number. King Of Trees is longer - a lovely piano-led melody, full of cadence and harmonious backing vocals, a full minute or so before Stevens arrives. It seems allegorial about the environment. These songs are so sincere, so intense, so serious, but so appealing too.

That familiar medieval-style keyboard is used on A Bad Penny to great effect, as it always is. Cat’s vocal is excellent on this one, as is the backing. Home In The Sky starts with some a capella vocals before a churchy piano and organ lead us into an infectious slow and beautiful closer. Beautiful is a word I have used a lot. “Music is a lady that I still love” sings Cat. Yes, and she is beautiful.



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Thursday, 29 November 2018

Out Came The Freaks!: Island Post Punk Anthology


  

This is a most enjoyable but ever so slightly flawed box set. A "post punk" compilation should surely include material by Magazine, Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Gang Of Four, Doll By Doll, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Public Image, New Order and early Simple Minds amongst others? (More on that later...). Furthermore, wonderful as though the Roxy Music, Nico, John Cale and Brian Eno tracks are and how they definitely fit the musical tone, they date from several years before punk, let alone post punk. The reggae tracks do not really fit, either, let's be honest. Or the funk ones. For me, "post punk" was largely about moody keyboards, "industrial" somnolent ambience, evocative, dark guitar riffs, reflective, doom-laden lyrics. We don't get much of that here, it has to be said. Here, we get all sorts in the box - reggae, punk, funk, hip hop, rap, dance....

All that said, yes, I know that obviously there are restrictions in that they can only use what was recorded on the Virgin label or its subsidiaries. So this is not a criticism, really, the box set is truly outstanding in both content and sound quality. It throws up lots of interesting material that I may not have even come across, otherwise. I really enjoy listening to it, but when I do, I don't feel I am having a "post punk" session. Anyway, here are my personal highlights (with their genres in some cases) :-

Re-Make Re-Model - Roxy Music (glam)
Baby's On Fire - Brian Eno (glam-ish)
Teenage Depression - Eddie & The Hot Rods (more punk but there you go)
Do Anything You Wanna Do - Eddie & The Hot Rods (ditto)
Typical Girls - The Slits (punky reggae)
Ku Klux Klan - Steel Pulse (reggae)
Hiroshima Mon Amour - Ultravox!
Rock Lobster - B-52s (new wave)
Broken English - Marianne Faithfull (post punk? hmmm)
11 O'Clock Tick Tock - U2
Warrior Charge - Aswad (reggae)
Television, The Drug Of The Nation - The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy (hip hop)
Busting Out - Material & Nona Hendryx (more dance/funk?)
Nasty Girl - Betty Davis (funky but not really post punk)
World Shut Your Mouth - Julian Cope (new romantic)
How Much Are They? - Holger Czukay & Jah Wobble (dance)
Dr. Mabuse (First Life) - Propaganda (dance/synth pop)
I'm A Wonderful Thing, Baby - Kid Creole & The Coconuts (dance/pop)
Wild Thing - Tone Loc (dance/hip hop)
No Sell Out - Malcolm X (hip hop)
Big Powder Dust - Bomb The Bass (rap)

B-

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Gladys Knight & The Pips




The albums covered here are:-

Everybody Needs Love (1967)
Feelin' Bluesy (1968)
Silk 'N' Soul (1968)
Nitty Gritty (1969)
If I Were Your Woman (1971)
Neither One Of Us (1973)
All I Need Is Time (1973)
Gladys Knight & The Pips: Gold
The Best Of Gladys Knight & The Pips (Buddah Years)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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EVERYBODY NEEDS LOVE (1967)

1. I Heard It Through The Grapevine
2. I'll Be Standing By
3. Just Walk In My Shoes
4. Since I've Lost You
5. Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone
6. Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me
7. He's My Kind Of Fellow
8. My Bed Of Thorns
9. Yes I'm Ready
10. Everybody Needs Love
11. Do You Love Me Just A Little, Honey
12. You Don't Love Me No More                    
This was Gladys Knight & The Pips’ first album, from 1967, and it is not a bad first outing at all. It is full of Motown originals, as opposed to the covers of middle of the road “standards” that appeared on many Motown albums of the period.

It kicks off with what actually was the original version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Gladys’s version is upbeat and soulfully delivered, but Marvin Gaye’s version is now so iconic that you can’t help but compare it unfavourably to his one. I'll Be Standing By is a confidently sung, mid-pace soul ballad from the pen of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie SimpsonJust Walk In My Shoes is funky, vibrant shuffling pot-boiler of a track that has become quite an appreciated “rarity”, garnering some popularity in the seventies on the Northern Soul circuit.

 

Since I've Lost You is a sweet soulful number with a killer hook that was also covered successfully a couple of years later by The Temptations. Another song done by them was the funky, driving down ’n dirty soul of Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone, which features a thumping, urgent drum backing and one of Gladys’s best vocals. She commands this song from the very start. Still a young girl, she had a vocal attack that belied her age. This track cooks.


Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me is her finest moment on the album. It is another supremely confident vocal over a solid backing with an instantly recognisable keyboard part. Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua’s He's My Kind Of Fellow is a melodic, pretty conventional piece of standard soul, while Smokey Robinson’s My Bed Of Thorns is delivered in a very Aretha Franklin style by Gladys.

Yes, I'm Ready is a beautiful, well-sung ballad, but not one that sticks in the memory. Everybody Needs Love is a sumptuous typical mid-sixties Motown slowie, great backing, orchestration and soulful vocals. Mary Wells did this earlier and you can tell how it suited her. Do You Love Me Just A Little, Honey is another very laid-back slice of classic soul. The real catchy tunes are in the old “side one” of the album. The latter half of it is more highly competent but unremarkable soul (comparatively). You Don't Love Me No More was also subsequently covered by The Temptations, probably slightly more convincingly. Nice bass line underpinning this version, though.

The sound on this release is a full, bassy stereo mix. Overall, this is a solid sixties Motown album.

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FEELIN' BLUESY (1968)

1. The End Of Our Road
2. That's The Way Love Is
3. Don't You Miss Me A Little Bit Baby
4. The Boy From Crosstown
5. Ain't You Glad You Chose Love
6. I Know Better
7. Don't Let Her Take Your Love From Me
8. It Should Have Been Me
9. Don't Turn Me Away
10. What Good Am I Without You
11. Your Old Standby
12. It's Time To Go Now               

Feelin’ Bluesy was an excellent Motown album from Gladys Knight, full of Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong material, as opposed to covers of standards. Not all sixties Motown albums cut the entirety of the mustard, but this one did.
                            
The End Of Our Road is a bass-driven, funky slice of Franklin-esque blues with a great, soaring vocal from Gladys and the boys on back up. That's The Way Love Is has a killer, upbeat horn intro that Southside Johnny would have loved, a thumping beat and, of course, a superb vocal. Some wonderful vocal harmonies again. Gladys own this track, though, her vocal riding high over the Stax-y backing. Don't You Miss Me A Little Baby is a bassy, rumbling piece of Motown blues. I just love this album, it is one of the best Gladys did for Motown. There is no filler on the album, in comparison with several other Motown albums of the time, which often suffered by a desire to reach an “adult mainstream” audience. Not this album. It is solid bluesy soul from beginning to end.

My favourite track is the red hot Boy From Crosstown - killer percussion, horns, bass, drums and voice. Wonderful stuff. Motown was not all about its excellent singles. Stuff like this stayed in vaults for years. God knows why. Ain't You Glad You Chose Love has a sumptuous bass line and a real Northern Soul beat. A classic “rarity”. I Know Better has some typically beautiful Motown strings orchestration. To think all these tracks were, in many ways, rejects, is incomprehensible. There are some corkers on here. Don't Let Her Take Your Love From Me has another big, rumbling bass line and, my God, Gladys’s vocal does it. One of the great soul voices of all time. Diana who? Such a shame Gladys was so far down in the Motown pecking order.

It Should've Been Me was, of course, a huge hit for Yvonne Fair in 1976. This was the original that nobody paid much attention to for years. The hit version had that sparse, metronomic backing that isolated the vocal. This one, however, has an absolute belter of a bass line and some great harmonies. Don't Turn Me Away has that guitar sound used a lot on Temptations recordings at the time. A superb piece of soul across the board. The final three tracks pretty much follow the same pattern of high quality. This is simply an outstanding bluesy soul album.

 

Once again, as on her debut album, the stereo sound is excellent.

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SILK 'N' SOUL (1968)

1. I Wish It Would Rain
2. The Look Of Love
3. Goin' Out Of My Head
4. Yesterday
5. Groovin'
6. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
7. Theme From "Valley Of The Dolls"
8. Baby I Need Your Loving
9. Together
10. The Tracks Of My Tears
11. You're My Everything
12. Every Little Bit Hurts   

This is an excellent album of covers of other artists' soul/Motown songs from the rapidly developing, but still contemporarily underrated voice of Gladys Knight. Recorded in excellent Motown stereo sound (for 1968), it is an eminently listenable album. Gladys makes every song her own, to an extent. They are not just note-for-note covers, far from it.
                    
The TemptationsI Wish It Would Rain is marvellously soulful, and features a big, rumbling bass underpinning the whole thing. Gladys's Aretha/churchy soulful vocal is sublime. The Look Of Love is sumptuous, of course, and has become one of her best known songs. Going' Out Of My Head is upbeat, horn-driven and slightly funky, while The BeatlesYesterday is given a soul makeover. Groovin' also becomes quite funky, while You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' has a bit of a Latin feel in its intro, and Gladys's vocal is awesome, as it is too on Smokey Robinson's The Tracks Of My TearsThe TemptationsYou're My Everything and The Four TopsBaby I Need Your Loving are both excellent too.

 

As I said, this is a really enjoyable album, with great sound and Gladys's voice is just superb throughout. She got a bit of a rough deal from Motown. At this time, she was firmly in Diana Ross's shadow. For me, she was by far the better singer.



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NITTY GRITTY (1969)

1. Cloud Nine
2. Runnin' Out
3. Didn't You Know (You'd Have To Cry Sometimes)
4. (I Know) I'm Losing You
5. The Nitty Gritty
6. Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone
7. All I Could Do Was Cry
8. Keep An Eye
9. Got Myself A Good Man
10. It's Summer
11. The Stranger
12. I Want Him To Say It Again                    
13. Billy, Come On Back as Quick As You Can
14. Friendship Train    

In 1969, psychedelic, funky, conscious material was where Motown was at. The Temptations led the way, followed by Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Even Diana Ross & The Supremes had put out the controversial Love Child single. Here, another of Motown's most competent, and comparatively underrated at the time, vocalists did the same, produced by the master of that genre, Norman Whitfield.
                                            
This is Gladys Knight & The Pips' heaviest, funkiest, most "aware" album. It kicks off with their powerful, funky take on The TemptationsCloud NineRunnin' Out is a big, thumping bassy number, while Gladys's vocal on Didn't You Know (You'd Have To Cry Sometimes) is positively Aretha Franklin-esque. This is just a monster of a soul song, just perfect. Their version of The Temptations'  I Know I'm Losing You has the most pulsating, powerful backing (great stereo sound,  by the way) and, again, Gladys' vocal is peerless. Any of these tracks that have been covered by her, you have to say that she does them superbly. Just listen to her voice (and those horns) on the impossibly funky, cookin' Nitty Gritty. Many people know Gladys for her seventies work on the Buddha label (Midnight Train To GeorgiaThe Way We Were etc), but this is where Gladys really cut her teeth. Some of the stuff she did for Motown was superb, and it never really got the credit it deserved.

 

Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone is another slice of pure funk. This is, in my opinion, up there with Aretha Franklin's I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You as one of the great sixties female soul albums. All I Could Do Was Cry is not quite as good as the others, but it is certainly more than acceptable. Keep An Eye is a soaring, upbeat punchy, pugnacious number as, too, is Got Myself A Good Man, with Gladys in Aretha mode once more. The TemptationsIt's Summer is covered soulfully.

The Stranger has a real Northern Soul feeling about it, with a pounding beat and killer saxophone in the middle. I Want Him To Say It Again is jam-packed with funky organ breaks and piledriving bass and drums. This really is a vibrant, energetic album, dripping with Motown pumping down'n'dirty funk. Billy, Come On Back As Quick As You Can is a bit of a Cloud Nine re-write, but it is still hot, and the social consciousness of Friendship Train, with its searing guitar intro is both rousing and uplifting. "This train stands for justice..." Gladys hollers - her voice on this is great, she is in total command. Singers like this had such a gift. She was definitely up there with the very best and should duly be acknowledged as such.


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IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN (1971)

1. If I Was Your Woman
2. Feelin' Alright
3. One Less Bell To Answer
4. Let It Be
5. I Don't Want To Do Wrong
6. One Step Away
7. Here I Am Again
8. How Can You Say That Ain't Love
9. Is There A Place (In This Heart For Me)
10. Everybody Is A Star
11. Signed Gladys
12. Your Love's Been Good For Me     

Gladys Knight's time at Motown still had a few years left and she was going to carry on putting out solid, quality soulful albums.
          
If I Was Your Woman (this time using "was" in the title instead of the "were" of the album's title) is an excellent, bassy piece of slow-burning soul. Some great stereo sound and percussion ushers in a muscular cover of Traffic's Feelin' Alright. Great piano break near the end too. One Less Bell To Answer is another cover, from The Fifth Dimension, but it is done so soulfully, with Gladys's vocal on top form, that you feel it is her own song. Covers of The BeatlesLet It Be are not always what one needs, but in the hands (and voice) of Gladys you simply can't go wrong. It is superb. I Don't Want To Do Wrong is one of those typical Gladys soulful ballads. The bass is outstanding on it as well. That and the title track were the two big soul singles that made this a popular album.

 

One Step Away is horn-driven, Gladys soul-by-numbers. She can handle songs like this in her sleep. You can pretty much say the same for the rest of the numbers on the album. They don't really need analysis, other than that the class of Gladys, her Pips and her quality Motown backing band raises standard soul songs to a higher grade than maybe they are. How Can You Say That Ain't Love shows that Gladys can handle faster material as well. It is one of the better of the second side of songs. Check out her voice on Everybody Is A Star  too. It is a nice album, I have to say, and the sound quality is excellent.

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NEITHER ONE OF US (1973)

1. Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)
2. It's Gotta Be That Way
3. For Once In My Life
4. This Child Needs Its Father
5. Who Is She (And What Is She To You)
6. And This Is Love
7. Daddy Could Swear, I Declare
8. Can't Give It Up No More
9. Don't It Make You Feel Guilty  

After seven impressive but underrated years with Motown, Gladys Knight & The Pips decamped to Buddah Records. This was their last official studio album for Motown (late in 1973 the label released All I Need Is Time, made up of unreleased material). It is a good album, with excellent sound quality as well. It was a shame Motown never seemed to push the group forward as much as they may have done. All the material they recorded for Motown was of high quality.
                        
Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye) is a classic and needs no introduction, with superb vocals from both Gladys and The Pips. It's Gotta Be That Way is a supreme soul ballad of the style that would be so successful in subsequent years. Lovely bass and orchestration on it. Gladys has always been great at interpreting other Motown artists' songs (and all artists for that matter), and she does it here with a slowed-down, soulful cover of Stevie Wonder's For Once In My LifeThis Child Needs Its Father is a socially aware, Temptations-style slow piece of "message" funk/soul. The vocal is once again top notch.

  

Bill WithersWho Is She (And What Is She To You) is covered in full, bassy, kick-ass funky fashion. Great stuff. And This Is Love is a heartbreaking, muscular, punchy soul number which again delivers a solid message. Daddy Could Swear, I Declare saw Gladys in full-on funky attack in praise of her pugnacious father. It is three minutes of pounding soul. "Daddy couldn't read, daddy couldn't write, but one thing he could do right was swear... Lord have mercy....". You tell 'em how it was, Gladys. Can't Give It Up No More is another wonderful slice of classic seventies soul. Don't It Make You Feel Guilty ends the album and says goodbye to Motown with another high quality slow tempo soul groove. Things would get better and better for Gladys Knight in the next few years. This album should be viewed as up there with the best of her seventies work.



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ALL I NEED IS TIME (1973)

1. I'll Be Here (When You Get Home)
2. All I Need Is Time
3. Heavy Makes You Happy
4. The Only Time You Love Me Is When You're Losing Me
5. Here I Am Again
6. There's A Lesson To Be Learned
7. Oh! What A Love I Have Found
8. The Singer
9. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)     

After Gladys Knight left Motown in 1973, the label released this album of previously unreleased material.

I'll Be Here (When You Get Home) is a big, brassy ballad typical of Gladys Knight's subsequent Buddah Records work, as indeed is the slow tempo, romantic All I Need Is Time. As always, her voice is superb on these recordings. She is impressive on these soulful ballads, just as she is on the upbeat percussion-driven funk of The Staple SingersHeavy Makes You Happy and Sly & The Family Stone's Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again). She really was a most versatile soul singer. The unfortunate thing about her future Buddah material was the while the big, soul ballads remained, she cut back on the funky stuff, which was a pity as she did a great job on those numbers.

 

The Only Time You Love Me Is When You're Losing Me is a big production, orchestrated, Philadelphia-sounding ballad. Again, this is a pointer to the type of material that the Buddah years would yield. The same applies to Here I Am Again. The remaining tracks apart from Thank You are similar, grandiose ballads. Personally, I prefer Gladys when she gets funky, so, while this is a good album in many ways, I much prefer her last "proper" Motown album in Neither One Of Us. This is still worth a listen, though, and the sound quality is excellent.



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GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: GOLD

 

This excellent Motown compilation covers all of Gladys’ Motown career and has the usual fantastic sound quality that all these “Gold” releases have.

It stops in 1973, when she switched to Buddah Records, but it is often forgotten just what great material she put out on Motown and she was often unfairly overlooked. Highlights are Just Walk In My Shoes, Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me, Since I’ve Lost You, the original of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Neither One Of Us and The Nitty Gritty. There are also Gladys’s versions of Cloud Nine, I Wish It Would Rain, It Should Have Been Me, The Tracks Of My Tears, (I Know) I’m Losing You and For Once In My Life.

It was quite amazing just how many songs there were that came out of the Motown songwriting factory, many of which didn’t get much attention. Invariably they are all top quality. You could take any of the tracks on here and make a case for them. There really isn’t a duff track on here. You can hear the progression from gospelly beginnings through catchy pop/soul to smooth, polished ballads as the album plays. It is certainly a fine listen.

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THE BEST OF GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS (BUDDAH YEARS)

1. Make Yours A Happy Home
2. The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
3. I Feel A Song In My Heart
4. Part-Time Love
5. The Going Ups And The Going Downs
6. Midnight Train To Georgia
7. On And On
8. Where Peaceful Waters Flow
9. I've Got To Use My Imagination
10. I Can See Clearly Now
11. Try To Remember/The Way We Were   

This was the first post-Motown Gladys Knight compilation, containing material from her immediately post-1973 output on Buddha Records. It was the first compilations of hers that I bought. I soon followed it up with a collection of her earlier Motown singles, but this one had very much the sound of 1977 on it. Gladys had considerable chart success at this time and seemed to be a constant fixture in the singles charts.

It is a typical seventies "best of" album in that it contains only eleven tracks, but it was very successful and all the tracks are top class examples of polished, well-produced, catchy soul. It is a very nostalgic album for me and was the first one I played after receiving my first pair of big hi-fi round ear headphones for Christmas 1976, along with Motown Gold and Queen's A Day At The Races, it became my soundtrack for late December/early January 1977. Just looking at the cover takes me right back.

                  
It kicks off with the sumptuous, laid-back brassy disco soul groove of Make Yours A Happy Home. Gladys's voice soars on this one, rising above the smooth, quality easy listening brass backing. The Pips are on top harmony form behind the "we can do it" refrain. The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me is simply a beautiful example of a sophisticated soul ballad. It was a huge hit and has a great chorus and a lovely deep, melodic bass line too. It is a classic example of quality seventies soul. The same can be said for the slightly funkier but still soulful I Feel A Song In My Heart which features another killer chorus.



Part-Time Love is a short but typically seventies Gladys sort of number - slow build up, big belting chorus, you know the sort of thing. The Going Ups And The Going Downs is a beautifully harmonious, slow burning piece of sweet late night soul. Then we get the glory of Midnight Train To Georgia, with its iconic drum intro followed by that brass riff. Gladys's vocal is wonderful and, along with Help Me Make It Through The Night, is probably her most famous song. There is no praise high enough for it, it is simply magnificent. The vocals, the brass, the rumbling bass, everything. Just listen to Gladys's vocals on the fade out for proof.

Gladys's funky cover of Curtis Mayfield's On And On is impressive and shows a different side to her delivery - she can do gritty funk too. It is by far the funkiest cut on the album. Another fine Jim Weatherley song (there are four on the album) is the lovely Where Peaceful Waters Flow. It was always a favourite of mine.

A thumping, Native American type drum and brass introduces Goffin/King's I've Got To Use My Imagination. It is a rhythmic soul stomper. Johnny Nash's pop reggae hit I Can See Clearly Now is given a soul makeover with a reggae lilt to the backing and one of The Pips on lead vocals. The final track is another well-known one - The Way We Were/Try To Remember. Gladys covers the song made famous by Barbra Streisand most impressively, although it was never as much of a favourite of mine as some of the others. You have to love that spoken intro though. It has some live crowd noise on it, but I am not sure if it was a live recording. It may have been of those strange superimposed "live" things that were quite popular in the seventies.

Overall, it is a short collection, but one of top quality.

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