Rare Earth were a Motown rarity in that they were an all-white, initially five (soon to be six) piece multi-instrumental band that specialised in lengthy jam-style rock workouts and catchy cover versions of other songs (including Motown ones)....
Get Ready (1969)
....despite their obvious incongruity they were relatively successful, notching up a few Top 40 hits in the late sixties-early seventies. This was their second album and a mighty interesting thing it is too. Their first album, from 1968, seems to have slipped under the radar and is pretty difficult to source these days.
Magic Key was a lively, pounding opener, full of bristling fuzzy guitar, thumping drums, country rock-sounding "doo-doo" backing vocals and a late sixties freaky vibe, both in the music and the lyrics. It is almost psychedelic in places, as well as freakbeat-ish. It is a notable Motown rarity, for me and well worthy of credibility being bestowed upon it. It rocks punchily from beginning to end. Next up is a version of the much-covered Tobacco Road, slowed down to almost walking pace here, backing by some swirling Deep Purple-style organ. Check out the searing guitar interjection a minute in and the seriously deep, insistent bass line. It is full of soul and rock power, merged perfectly in true 1969 fashion. You almost expect Joe Cocker or David Clayton-Thomas to take over on vocals. The saxophone solo is great too and the freaky organ solo. Really impressive stuff. It is rock, though, certainly not Motown. Feelin' Alright is a grinding, funky, wah-wah driven cover of Traffic's classic, and again much-covered 1968 song. This sort of track would seem to be tailor-made for Rare Earth's solid, organ-powered sound.
In Bed is a deliciously deep, bassy shorter number with hints of Blood, Sweat & Tears and early Chicago about it. Once more the fuzz guitar is outstanding. I think CCS must have taken some inspiration from this too. The lyrics say "we're born in bed, in bed we die". Indeed. Train To Nowhere is an upbeat, organ-led very late sixties rocker. It features some fine rolling drums, a great guitar solo and that far-out organ. It is so very 1969. The highlight of the album is that now-extinct beast, a side long twenty-three minute track. It is a cover of The Temptations' Get Ready and, from a slow, laid-back beginning, it bursts out into a powerful rendition. Some live crowd noises are dubbed on to give the impression that it is live but it was in fact a studio recording. It is overflowing with various superb solos - saxophone, lead guitar, organ, drums and a killer bass one and it also features some captivating percussion throughout. While it is instrumentally mightily impressive it is also a pretty long listen, unless you're doing something else at the same time. Overall, this is a most intriguing album from Motown that had precious little in common with anything else on the label.
This album, from 1970, found Rare Earth merging their robust rock-soul-funk sound with contemporaneously popular themes of cultural awareness and concern for the future of the planet. The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth, Curtis Mayfield and latterly Marvin Gaye were all recording similar material in this period.
Born To Wander was a successful single and it is irresistibly funky - loaded with massive guitar riffs, rampant rock organ breaks, great percussion, flute and a vocal that sounds like Paul Rodgers of Free. This is a fine example of late sixties-early seventies funk-rock at its best. That statement can also be applied to the magnificent bassy rock punch of Long Time Leavin’, which is simultaneously soulful and bluesy rocking, again in that Free way. This is as far from archetypal Motown as you could get but it doesn’t detract from its stupendousness. Even better is the group’s massive, powerful extended take on The Temptations’ (I Know) I’m Losing You, which is ten minutes of titanic rock-soul. It would seem to be tailor-made for Rare Earth. Like The Undisputed Truth, they knew how to cover and enhance a Temptations song to perfection. No doubt because they were all produced by Norman Whitfield. The vocal (from, I think, Gil Bridges) could be David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears, it is that strong. Check out that guitar, drums and organ interplay at five minutes in. The guitar solo at nine minutes is incendiary. This has to go down as one of the greatest covers of a Motown song in existence. Sensational.
Also outstanding is the next track, Satisfaction Guaranteed, (not the Harold Melvin song). It positively boils over from the outset with cookin’ funky rock rhythm, buzzy guitar, insistent organ and superb vocals. It is another classic of its genre and era. Nice Place To Visit is a searing, thumpingly heavy rocker that expresses those afore-mentioned ecological concerns. That is quality muscular issue-driven rock. “Nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here” says the lyric. Quite. A wonderful piece of guitar introduces the typically late sixties-early seventies Chicago-influenced upbeat groove of No. 1. Man. There are hints of freakbeat and psychedelic rock in here too. Once again it possesses a killer guitar solo. These guys could play, for sure. Everyone did Beatles covers at the time, didn’t they? The group take on Eleanor Rigby and turn it into an eight minute Blood, Sweat & Tears soulful workout. It sort of works because of the group’s power, but it loses the original’s sad plaintiveness, taking some of the meaning from the lyrics. This was a fine, innovative album that outdid its predecessor, for me.
** Interesting non-album material from the period was the dreamy hippiness of Generation (Light Up The Sky) and When Joanie Smiles; the Hendrix-influenced rock of Here Comes The Night; the chunky ecological grind of Hey Big Brother; the melodic, chilled-out acoustic vibe of Love Shines Down; the top notch funky instrumental Fresh From The Can and the smouldering bassy funk of Chained. There was almost enough for another album in this lot.
This was Rare Earth's fourth album, from 1971, and did not garner as many rave reviews as its two predecessors. It is ok, but it does lack something of the vibrant uniqueness of those two albums. The musicianship is still top drawer, however.
What'd I Say is indeed the Ray Charles song but, to. be totally honest, it sounds nothing like it. In places you get a riff or two that you recognise but it is pretty much like a Rare Earth original. Whatever, it is a seven minute plus rocking workout that utilises both the group's instrumental prowess and their irrepressible energy. The jazzy bit about three minutes in is excellent. If I Die is a contemporarily-relevant anti-war number delivered in a typically early seventies rock fashion, a bit like something Derek & The Dominoes may have done, featuring lots of backing vocals. The Seed expresses ecological concerns that were also popular at the time on a confident bit of soulful rock, featuring a great guitar solo.
I Just Want To Celebrate was the album's successful single and it is a few minutes of fuzzy guitar rock mixed with soul rhythms. There are hints of The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival in its rock parts, and Sly & The Family Stone and The Jackson 5 in its soul. Someone To Love is a rather ordinary track redeemed by a superb bit of bass-drum-organ interplay in the middle. Any Man Can Be A Fool is a very 1971-sounding serving of mid-pace rock driven along by an acoustic riff and some fine organ. The fuzzy but slightly uninspired rock of The Road and the pleasantly riffy Under God's Light end what was a somewhat underwhelming album that certainly does not merit a play above its two forerunners. Oh, and the cover was awful too.
Willie Remembers (1972)
This album, from 1972, was the first to find Rare Earth featuring all their own work with no cover versions. Although not a successful album, it was, for me, an improvement on the previous one. It was pretty much an archetypal early seventies boogie rock album, though, despite being on the Motown label. The funk and soul had been left behind, it seems.
Good Time Sally is a typical piece of early seventies riffy rock that certainly contains none of the soul or funk influence of much of the group's output. It rocks solidly, full of riffs and cowbell hits and concerns a good time girl, a common theme for the period. A bit more funk is found on Every Now And Then We Get To Go On Down To Miami but it is still more of a punchy rock song than anything else. It has vague hints of Little Feat about it. It features a nice bit of bass-drum-vocal interplay in the middle of the song. Think Of The Children is a laid-back America-style ballad concerning ecological issues, another popular subject at the time. A nice saxophone solo enhances the song along with a great organ solo.
Gotta Get Myself Back Home is a copper-bottomed guitar-driven on-the-road barroom rocker that contains some rollicking piano. It's a good one. Come With Your Lady is chunky, mid-pace dense rock enlivened by a fine guitar solo. Some funky congas arrive at the end, but too late to have a notable effect. Would You Like To Come Along is inoffensive enough, but its AOR feel is certainly nothing special. Once again, however, the group's instrumental ability raises the song higher than it probably deserves - great piano, bass and guitar this time. Finally, some funky wah-wah arrives on the excellent funk rock of We're Gonna Have A Good Time. It has a bit of a Chicago feel about it in its jazzy vocal improvisation. The final track, I Couldn't Believe What Happened Last Night, is a twelve minute-plus serving of Rare Earth rock jamming with hints of Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers and Chicago in there along with a bit of Tower Of Power. It is full of impressive soloing - including some Deep Purple-style organ - as you would expect. Does it get anywhere? No, not really, but that's not the point. This is what Rare Earth did best and they did it supremely well. Best track on the album. This album did not match albums two and three in the band's canon but it certainly had more quality and cohesion than its predecessor.
This was Rare Earth's final album on Motown, from 1973, and it saw them re-united with Norman Whitfield, who wrote the album's five songs and produced it. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the old Temptations/Undisputed Truth vibe is back with songs done by them previously and delivered with Rare Earth's solid rock-soul-funk soul sound, fine-tuned by Whitfield's production. It is when they were like this that Rare Earth were at their absolute best, their own rockier, AOR material didn't quite match up.
Before I discuss the songs, as a brief aside, it has to said, though, that the album's cover was completely bizarre.
Ma is a truly magnificent seventeen minute cover of The Tempatations' tale of honest, hardworking backwoods Ma. It is overflowing with instrumental and vocal brilliance - searing guitar licks, pounding drums, rumbling bass, clunking piano, funky wah-wah and a killer soulful vocal. After a couple of patchy-ish largely self-penned albums, this was Rare Earth back to doing what they did better than anything - extended, instrumentally shimmering covers of existing songs, giving them a feeling and sound all of their own. This is simply wonderful and, in many ways, outdoes even the original. Rock-soul of the highest quality - just superb.
Oh lordy - just listen to that bass line that introduces the upbeat, brassy funky soul of Big John Is My Name. Wonderful. There is considerably more funk to be found in the two tracks so far on this album than on the whole of the two previous offerings put together. Smiling Faces Sometimes, made famous by The Undisputed Truth, is slowed down to a seductive pot boiling funky groove. Hum Along And Dance, done by The Temptations and The Jackson 5, is given a frantic, almost Deep Purple-esque organ-powered makeover. When the soulful vocal kicks it grabs you firmly by the balls. Those huge riffs too. Lord have mercy. Help yourself to a little of the bass and percussion on offer here, and that kick-ass guitar solo too. Come With Me is a seductive, acoustic and wah-wah backed instrumental whose only vocals are the unmistakable sounds of female sexual pleasure, and not just a bit of it either - the lady here enjoys herself big time, grunting and groaning continually. Fine by me. So, that was it for Rare Earth and Motown. They were a unique entity in the Motown family, their sound and influence should not be overlooked.
Regarding "best of" compilations, these two should suffice - on the left is a greatest hits one, on the right a complete studio albums from 1969 to 1973, which covers all the best stuff - the albums, singles and 'b' sides:-
|The Temptations||Undisputed Truth||Jackson 5|