Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Feel the need - classic seventies male vocal groups

Here are several seventies male vocal groups, some better-known than others. In order, they are - The Detroit Emeralds; The Detroit Spinners; The Delfonics; The Chi-Lites; The Stylistics; Blue Magic; Tavares; The Manhattans; The Natural Four; The Originals; The Dramatics and The Topics.

The best of them all, Chairmen Of The Board, have their own section :-

The Detroit emeralds - You Want It You Got It (1972)

The early seventies, three-man vocal group The Detroit Emeralds always seemed to be in the shadow of The Detroit Spinners, which was not surprising as the latter had lots of hits and this group had just the two. So - this 1972 album was the only one that seemed to do the rounds of the record shops - love the Blaxploitation-style cover too. The group were characterised by their excellent shared vocals and brassy grooving, soulful sound enhanced by some great bass lines. There is a bit of an urban grittiness to this album that I find draws me to it.

You Want It You Got It is incredibly catchy and overflowing with kick-ass brass breaks, fatback drums and great multi-vocals. It was a hit in the UK, reaching number 12 in 1971. I don’t remember it from the time, though. The beautifully bassy There's A Love For Me Somewhere and I'll Never Sail The Sea Again are both quality soul ballads, the latter being the slower and slightly less brassy of the two. It still carries some fine, subtle brass itself, however. 

Take My Love is a sublime slowie featuring some sumptuous saxophone and another rumbling bass line. It is a song with a really attractive, deeply soulful sound to it. I like it a lot. Then, of course, there is the wonderful single and their biggest hit Feel The Need In Me. I remember absolutely loving the upbeat, soulful strains of the song back in 1972-73 and the passing of time hasn't affected that at all. I played it endlessly on my little portable tape recorder back then and I still love it to bits. Check out that pounding beat, sweet strings and intuitively soulful vocal. The track cooks to boiling point from the very first note - sweeter to me than cherry pie indeed. It was one of the first records to really get me into soul as a genre.

I've Got To Move suffers a bit from a strangely muffled production but it finds the group getting all funky in convincingly fashion with the obligatory wah-wah guitars to the fore - this is a great funky little rarity. Slightly less funky but still bubbling nicely is the brassy, insistent, seductive bedroom groove of Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms). A similar horn-powered oomph can be found on the down 'n' dirty soul of I Bet You Get The One You Love. This appealing album ends with a soulful ballad in Till You Decide To Come Home. This is another in a long, long list of little-known but really high quality seventies soul offerings. Even seemingly average stuff was good back then, wasn’t it?

The Very Best Of The Detroit Spinners

The Detroit Spinners were, along with Chairmen Of The Board, one of the great “forgotten” (comparatively) soul groups of the seventies. I know that as The Spinners, the group had some marvellous recordings issued in the late sixties-early seventies on the Motown label, notably the wonderful I'll Be Around and It's A Shame, both of which are included on this compilation, but it is the songs released in the early/mid seventies on the Atlantic label that forms the bulk of this excellent collection. Singer G.C Cameron had left (remaining under contract at Motown) and the group, advised to sign for Atlantic by Aretha Franklin, no less, became Philippe Wynne, Henry Farnborough and Bobby Smith. Their harmonies were truly superb and yielded some excellent, soulful tracks, many of which were big hits.

My own personal highlights are the lovely, uplifting soul of Ghetto Child; the sweet, melodic vocals of Could It Be I'm Falling In Love; the catchy, upbeat Wake Up Susan and it’s cousin Lazy Susan; the rumbling, insistent funk of Rubberband Man; the rousing soul of Then Came You and I'm Coming Home. All of these are bona fide soul classics. The vocals are peerless and the backing always immaculately played with a real feel for a hook, the mark of Thom Bell’s production.

Then there is the inexplicable non-hit later made famous by Elton John in Are You Ready For Love and the two huge “last hurrah” hits of the late seventies-early eighties in Working My Way Back To You and Cupid-I've Loved You For A Long Time. These were big commercial hits and, although most enjoyable and singalong, they weren’t quite the genuine soul that the previous recordings had been. They were just a little bit sanitised. That raw soul feeling had gone, unfortunately. Those mid seventies recordings were the best it ever got for the group, but they were some true high points.

The Best Of The Delfonics

The Delfonics were a three-piece Philadelphia soul vocal group whose main success was in those classic years for smooth, string-driven, highly-orchestrated soul of the late sixties-early seventies. Their style was a forerunner of 
The Chi-Lites and The Jackson 5's more soulful numbers. The recognisable, distinctive falsetto vocals were provided by William "Poogie" Hart. They were one of the first of many similar soul groups, paving the way for so many others through the seventies.

Break Your Promise is a very Chi-Lites sounding heartbreaker of a ballad on which the vocal harmonies are outstanding. The first big hit in this collection is the classic harmony-led number Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time), which is enhanced even more by its sweeping strings and strident horn section. How Long Will You Stay is a sad smoocher of a ballad as is If The World Runs Out Of Love. At times Hart's high-pitched vocals are a bit grating, but on the occasions he nails it, he really nails it.

Two hits were the low-key but sumptuously melodic, string-enhanced I'm Sorry and their first big one, La La Means I Love You. The latter laid the foundations for lots of seventies soul numbers, with its lush production, soulful drums and soaring, unique vocals. 
Listen To My Heart is similarly slick while the group's other big hit, the much-covered Ready Or Not (Here I Come) is simply superb - another fine mix of killer vocals, strings and horns. She Said Don't Love Me is a later recording from the mid seventies, with a laid-back, soulful Philly-style backing, while Trying To Make A Fool Of Me returns to classic ballad fare. You Got Yours And I'll Get Mine is a big, orchestrated re-make of the two big hits.

The Delfonics produced a few classic cuts, but, for me, despite their status as trail-blazers, have always remained second division in terms of consistent, quality output. Many subsequent groups were consistently better - The Chi-LitesThe Detroit SpinnersThe StylisticsChairmen Of The BoardThe O' Jays and Tavares to name just a few.

Incidentally, the quality remasterings of The Delfonics' output can be found on The Essential Delfonics album, which, at forty songs, is far too long for my Delfonics needs, but as I said, the sound is good. There are some hidden gems on it too, like the Northern Soul-ish Can't Get Over Losing You the sweet soul of You Are Gone and the lively, catchy soul of Hurt So Bad. 

The Best Of The Chi-Lites

The early-mid seventies threw up so many great male vocal soul groups that we were really spoilt for choice. The O'Jays, Chairmen Of The Board, The Detroit Spinners, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Stylistics, Blue Magic, The Undisputed Truth, Tavares, KC & The Sunshine Band, not forgetting the Motown stalwarts of The Temptations and The Four Tops. Chicago's Chi-Lites were another, often overlooked group with an impressive list of hits under their belt. 

Led by Eugene Record, they were a combination of sweet, laid-back soul harmonies and a touch of upbeat funk every now and again. Occasional social comment crept in to some of their lyrics too in an era of potent black consciousness. Most notably, in their case, it comes in the Sly & The Family Stone meets The Temptations militant funk of For God's Sake Give More Power To The People, which has echoes of The Temptations' Ball Of Confusion and The Law Of The Land. Great track.

The one everyone nows is the simply beautiful, sad and soulful Have You Seen Her, with its instantly recognisable opening guitar riff and moving lyrics of a heartbroken, lonely man. Another big hit was the catchy and singalong Homely GirlOh Girl was a stark, quite bleak, lover's lament for his his lost love, sung against a slow backing and a plaintive harmonica. Beautiful orchestration and a killer, heart-rending vocal delivery. Too Good To Be Forgotten lifts the heartbreak with a lively, high voice vocal and clavinet backing tribute to one hell of a girl. The lively commercial funk and more clavinet of I Found Sunshine ploughs the same "happy lover" furrow as does the simply beautiful vocal of Stoned Out Of My Mind. These are soul singles of the highest quality. A little bit of misery is never far away when listening to The Chi-Lites, though, and The Coldest Days Of My Life provides it with another yearning lament. What a great vocal. Nobody did this strings orchestration and soulful vocal better than The Chi-Lites. 

The funk pop of You Don't Have To Go and the solid You Got To Be The One bring back the funk and a most-underrated later hit for the band was the sumptuous soul of It's Time For Love, which was their last big chart hit. They also do a credible, funked-up cover of Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) where they sound like The Undisputed Truth. One of the finest melancholy Chi-Lites songs was the moving Never Had It So Good And Felt So Bad, which is unfortunately, not included on this compilation. The beauty of the digital age, however, means that I can add it to the album, making it even better. It actually did appear on this album below, however...

The Chi-Lites - Chi-Lites (1973)

This is one of the group's best albums. The Chi-Lites were not renowned for albums and some of them are extremely difficult to get hold of. This one, though, is a really good one. 

Homely Girl was a huge hit single and is a lovely serving of sensitive soul, augmented by a totally catchy melody and trademark vocal harmonies. Go Away Dream is a beautifully syncopated piece of rhythmic harmonious soul. There is a wonderful falsetto vocal on the big hit Too Good To Be Forgotten and the also commercially successful, clavinet-dominated funky groover I Found Sunshine.

The heartbreaking, divorce-themed tearjerkerI Never Had It So Good (But Felt So Bad) is followed by an equally maudlin number on the same theme in Marriage Licence"I wish that a marriage licence is like a driver's licence, that expires every two years..." has to be one of the  most unusual love song lyrics. The sad subject of both of these songs is exacerbated by the simply superb shared vocals. The backing on the latter is also excellent. The Chi-Lites used top quality musicians. The lively and funky I Forgot To Say I Love You Till I'm Gone explores the now familiar relationship break-down theme, this time against a jaunty, brassy backing that somewhat hides the sad lyrics. One Man Band (Plays All Alone) also concerns a man left on his own, this time sung against a rhythmic backing.

Bet You'll Never Be Sorry is a breezy and fast tempo number and this perfectly-executed seventies soul album album ends with the sublimely beautiful big hit, Stoned Out Of My Mind, with its superb lead vocal and captivating shuffling beat.

The Best Of The Stylistics

The early-mid seventies were, as pointed out in other reviews, absolute heaven for lovers of classic soul. Harmonious, sweet soulful male vocal groups were all over the place. The Stylistics were another in a long list, and they too had a similar long list of hit after hit. They were always just a little too saccharine for my liking, therefore I was not able to declare them as one of my absolute favourites, lacking the heartbreaking soul of Chairmen Of The Board, Detroit Spinners and The Chi-lites or the funky social consciousness of The O'Jays or The Temptations. Nevertheless the instantly recognisable falsetto vocal of Russell Thompkins Jr. left a legacy of some pretty unforgettable soul singles. Fans of The Stylistics may also be interested in checking out the remarkably similar 70s Philadelphia group, Blue Magic.

Leading the way, of course, is the group's huge number one of I Can't Give You Anything But My Love with its sweeping brass and strings intro. Also in the same falsetto, sweet strings and a killer hook category are the beautiful Let's Put It all Together and You Make Me Feel Brand New

A heartbreaking ballad is there in Na Na Is The Saddest Word and there is also my own personal favourite, an absolute seventies soul classic - I'm Stone In Love With You. What a vocal. Soul heaven.

Sing Baby Sing is a joyous celebration, while the often-forgotten 7000 Dollars And You fits into the lively, vibrant, brass-driven category. The moving soul is back with the lovely Betcha By Golly Wow and the plaintive, soulful classic that is Star On A TV Show. Sixteen Bars is an upbeat number and the group even get a bit funky for once with Funky Weekend. Their orchestrated, brassy cover of Can't Help Falling In Love is also impossible not to sing along to. One of my favourites, however, has always been the somewhat quirky Rock 'n' Roll Baby with its amusing lyrics - “he could hardly walk but he sure knew how to sing the blues…” about a two year-old singer belting out the blues in his “little orthopaedic shoes”. Silly, but I have always liked it. Overall, a pretty good collection. Hit after hit.

Blue Magic - Blue Magic (1974)
How could I have lasted from 1974 to 2018 without knowing too much about Blue Magic, other than that they appeared in my Atlantic Soul box set with their original of Barry Biggs's reggae hit from 1976, Sideshow. Much as I liked Biggs's version, Blue Magic's soulful original puts old Bazza in the shade.

I came across this Stylistics-esque 70s smooth soul/quality vocal-lush backing band via hearing the monumental seven minute soul beauty of Just Don't Want To Be Lonely on BBC Newcastle's now-defunct excellent "Saturday Night Soul Show" (now on Nova Radio - check out "the blogs I like" list on the main page right hand column).

Although Just Don't Want To Be Lonely is the standout track (just how the hell wasn't it a hit?), and Sideshow a close second, all the album is quality. Spell, the poppy but goes funky at the end Look Me Up, the sweet soul of What's Come Over Me and Tear It Down are other highlights. Also the upbeat pre-disco disco groove of Welcome To The ClubStop To Start is incredibly like The Stylistics, it has to be said. If you like Stylistics-Chi-Lites-Delfonics style 70s soul, then you cannot go wrong with this relatively unknown gem.

Tavares - The Greatest Hits

Rhode Island male vocal group Tavares had their main period of success in the disco-dominated years of 1976-78, therefore they are considered, retrospectively, to be a disco group, like Shalamar or Odyssey. This is to overlook their soul roots which yielded a minor hit single in their soulful cover of Daryl Hall and John Oates’ She's Gone. However, it has to be said that they were one hell of a danceable disco group, with some completely infectious numbers that instantly transport you back to those heady days of 1976-77 - hot summers, girls in summer clothes, tan lines and “Saturday Night Fever”.

Their first disco hit was 1975’s  catchy It Only Takes A Minute with its instantly appealing chorus hook. Also released in the same year was the enjoyable soul of My Ship.

It was 1976 that really broke the group big, however, with the mighty Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel which not only had a great disco rhythm (particularly in its extended version) but a fantastic vocal and killer chorus. It has a wonderful intro too. 

Don't Take Away The Music was similarly instant in its appeal. Another easy to sing refrain and, again, impressive in its lengthier incarnation. My own favourite was always the next single, the less successful, poppy disco soul of The Mighty Power Of Love which featured some more top notch vocals. Whodunit was a bigger bit, but never really did it for me and One Step Away was a tuneful, medium hit. Their last big hit in what had been a rollercoaster year or so was the now iconic More Than A Woman from Saturday Night Fever. I have always preferred this version to that of The Bee Gees, by far. Another compilation album of great seventies soul-disco memories. They did an album on the back of the three best singles too, so let's take a look at it...

Tavares - Sky High (1976)

The only Tavares album I have come across is this one, which, like many soul albums of the period, is a delightful mix of quality, energising, melodic singalong disco and uplifting smooth soul. 

It kicks off with the energetic and infectious Mighty Power Of Love, which provides a great start to the album. It is full of verve, vitality and vigour. It's bloody brilliant. End of. Ridin' High is a melodic, extremely pleasant bit of lively and bassy sweet soul. To The Other Man is one of those moving slow soulful tales about growing up in poverty but with strong mama, a proud sense of morality and learning "give respect to the other man". Nice song. It segues into the truly wonderful disco groove of Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel of which no further comment is needed. As on the Best Of compilation, it is the extended version that is included, which is fine by me. I love it. Six and a half minutes of one of the best disco records of all time.

Bein' With You is a marvellously upbeat piece of poppy, brassy soul highlighting the group's harmonious skill and sheer joie de vivre. Wonderful is a smoochy ballad enhanced by some sumptuous saxophone. The sweet soul continues on the equally lovely Guiding Star. This song is one of those that girls loved back in the seventies, so to get in with them you had to like it too. As it happened, being an old (or young) romantic, I did anyway. Check out those falsetto vocals at the song's play out - fantastic. This tracks just lifts me up, sky high. By the end of it I'm shrieking out my awful vocals at full volume. Back to the dance floor for another real glitter ball classic - the thoroughly infectious Don't Take Away The MusicSeventies soul albums are what they are - half an hour or so of incredibly pleasing fare. Nothing earth-shattering but containing stuff that will take you to soul heaven.

The Manhattans - The Manhattans (1976)

Amazingly, this was the seventh album from five-piece seventies soul vocal group The Manhattans. It was released on the back of their biggest hit, the infidelity-themed heartbreaker, Kiss And Say Goodbye and is largely comprised of lushly orchestrated smooth, slickly produced and beautifully harmonised ballads, with a couple of disco soul numbers in there too. The overall ambience, however, is a laid-back one. Although released on the CBS label, it is a very Philly-sounding offering.

Searching For Love is a melodic piece of string-backed disco soul in the Tavares-Detroit Spinners style. It has a good vocal-percussion-bass interplay bit near the end as well. It has an alternate version with less strings and more of a bassy disco feel, which I prefer. We'll Have Forever To Love is a slow, tender ballad with one of the spoken intros the group specialised in. Take It Or Leave It is also from the late night smoocher school. Reasons is a bit more punchy but still sticks to the smooth soul ballad formula.

How Can Anything So Good Be So Bad For You ups the tempo on a delicious serving of Detroit Spinners soul fare. Check out those superb harmonies. 
Hurt has a spoken intro and takes the pace down low once more. Those deep, spoken bits are provided by Winfred "Blue" Lovett in true gruff but seductive Barry White fashion. The track was a follow up to Kiss And Say Goodbye and really should have come after that track in the album's running order. Lovett takes some of the lead vocals on  the sumptuous soul of Wonderful World Of Love and If You're Ever Gonna Love Me, another ballad, features the higher vocals of Gerald AlstonLa La La Wish Upon A Star is very Delfonics-influenced, from the first note. Classic soft seventies soul but a bit more 1972-72 than 1976.

The album ends with an absolute copper-bottomed soul classic in Kiss And Say Goodbye, introduced by Lovett's spoken part and taken skywards by Alston's superb singing part. The extended album version is undoubtedly superior to the unnecessarily-edited single release. Incidentally, the group are backed by Philly house band MFSB on this one. It is just a spine-tingling, beautiful song and stands head and shoulders over anything else on the album, however competent the rest of it is. This album was all about the vocals. To be honest, I would have preferred a couple more livelier tracks, but the ballads were what the group did best, so fair enough.

The Natural Four - The Natural Four (1974)

The Natural Four were a Californian soul group that existed from 1967-1976, here I have checked out one of their best albums. This particular album dates from 1974 and was, surprisingly, only their second album, recorded on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. It was not a commercial success and now the album is pretty difficult to track down. It is popular with soul aficionados as a nostalgic example of soul music of the era. It is very 1972-74 in its smooth instrumental style and honeyed vocals.

An impressive opener indeed is the laid-back, harmonious beauty of Can This Be Real, with its sumptuous saxophone, horns, percussion and seductive soulful vocals. It has become a bit of a cult sweet soul hit. It is not surprising as it is bloody marvellous fare. Similar praise can be given to You Bring Out The Best In Me which also sounds so good, even today, superb sound quality and really impressive delivery. There is something about that crystal clear seventies soul cymbal sound, the sweet strings and the bass lines too that make it so special. It is amazing just how many great, comparatively undiscovered soul-funk albums exist - I am thinking in particular of not only this one, but those by Blue Magic and The Eliminators.

Try Love Again showcases the group’s ability to do a horn-driven, slightly funky number as indeed does You Can’t Keep Running Away, with its absolutely killer bass line. This was 1974 and the influence of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Curtis Mayfield’s material, among many others, was still very strong, and the socially-conscious This Is What’s Happening Now is a great example of that. Quite how this stuff slipped under the radar is a travesty. Love That Really Counts is a high quality soul ballad that helps to strengthen my opinion that there is not a sub-standard song on this album. Try To Smile is a lively Stylistics-influenced number with elements of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes in there too. Love's Society is a smooth, slick ballad in the style of many of Curtis Mayfield's more romantic material. The funk is back on the conscious Things Will Be Better Tomorrow, complete with some Superfly percussion and Mayfield-esque falsetto vocals. I repeat, this is a short, but seriously good seventies soul album. Highly recommended. Overlook the naff stage costumes though.

The Originals - Miscellaneous Singles      
The Originals were an interesting Motown group. I have no access to any albums to review here, just a succession of singles, so I have covered those that I own, sourced mainly from The Complete Motown Singles Box Sets. I have listed them pretty much chronologically. I have also covered one of their disco albums. They were a vocal group that appeared un-credited on some of the label's biggest hits - try 
Jimmy Ruffin's What Becomes Of The Broken HeartedStevie Wonder's For Once In My Life and Yester-Me, Yester-You, YesterdayDavid Ruffin's My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)Marvin Gaye's Chained and Edwin Starr's War and 25 Miles for starters. Their members had done the rounds too, before forming the group, singing in groups like The (Detroit) Spinners and contributing to writing songs like Please Mr. Postman.

They released lots of singles between 1969 and 1972 in their own right and then diversified into disco by the mid-seventies. Their over-riding sound is that of slow, immaculately sung, multi-harmony ballads. That smoothness, easy listening vibe and comparative lack of either funk, poppiness or vitality means that, for me, there were many other Motown acts that I favoured above them. Quite a few in fact. They were good at what they did, though, there was no doubt about that.

You're The One is a polished, lush ballad with a lovely deep bass sound. The group's harmonies are top notch. It was not really hit single marital, though. We've Got A Way Of Love is also a ballad, but a slightly more upbeat one with a solid drum sound powering the song along. The song suffers from "hiss" a bit. Check out that big, rumbling bass, however. Moment Of Truth continues the balladry on another slick number. Green Grow The Lilacs was one of their best-known tracks. It is a lovely, melodic song featuring superb harmonies. A big hit for the group was the slow, fifties-influenced ballad Baby I'm For Real

Desperate Young Man
 is the first track so far to have any real "oomph" to it, with a grinding, soulful, brassy beat, great bass and gritty lead vocal. God Bless Whoever Sent You returns to the syrup, but it is a tasty jar. This is a beautiful song. Some of the lead vocals are impressively soulful. I Like Your Style is a Smokey Robinson-Temptations-esque number. I really like this one. I'll Wait For You is an over-stringed ballad, for me, anyway. Probably the group's best-known song was The Bells. I have never been a huge fan of it. I, unfortunately find it dull, however well it was performed. 

The same applies to We Can Make It Baby. The next five tracks all plough the same furrow and are relatively indistinguishable. My track listing picks up now with the lively Northern Soul groove of Suspicion. If only the group had recorded stuff like this more often. Even better is the upbeat Judge's DaughterDown To Love Town dates from 1977 when the group had returned, dabbling in disco, to great effect. It is a killer cut, overflowing with disco funk. Love Still Lives In My Heart is a return to to the soulful ballad style on a Harold Melvin-esque number.

The Originals - Down To Love Town (1977)

The 1977 album, 
Down To Love Town, is a fine offering of lush, string-backed, typically late seventies disco groove. The highlights are the afore-mentioned Down To Love Town, the classic disco of Hurry Up And Wait, the Tavares meets  Harold Melvin extended groove of You Are A Blessing To Me and the gritty, funky soul groove of Call On Your Six Million Dollar Man. This material was, for me, eminently more appealing than the ballad-based stuff. 

There is a fine ballad present on the album, however, in the sumptuous Mother Nature’s BestSunrise is an impressive, soulful power ballad as well, very much in the mid-late seventies fashion. It is beautifully orchestrated and the lead falsetto vocal top notch, as is the deeper co-vocal. The disco groove is back for the closer, the fantastically funky Been Decided. This album is a bit of an undiscovered disco diamond. Returning to the bulk of the Motown material, though, an hour or so of all these slow-pace ballads is too much for my taste, I'm afraid. If an Originals track turns up on a playlist then that's fine. They remind me of The Dramatics from the Stax label for the same reasons.

The Dramatics - Stax Classics 
The Dramatics were in the shadow of 
The StylisticsThe Chi-LitesThe Detroit Spinners and The Delfonics in their particular field of soul, however. The four members from these classic years all passed away early, in their forties or fifties, three of whom from heart attacks, which was quite tragic.

The hits are the first two tracks on this impressive , remastered Stax compilation - In The Rain has a slightly reggae feel to its slow backing, although its vocal is proper smooth seventies soul. I also has a hint of Third World about it, for me. Watcha See Is Watcha Get was a hit single in 1971 and has a typical early seventies laid-back soul sound.

The group discover their funk in the James Brown-esque groove of Get Up And Get Down. The falsetto vocal is excellent as is the lip-smacking funky guitar lick that is present throughout the song. 

Hey You! Get Off My Mountain is a Stylistics meets The Delfonics smoocher that once again is very representative of its era, in particular the super-sweet, high vocal. And I Panicked continues in the same vein and has a wonderfully, melodic, deep and slow bassline. Your Love Was Strange is a punchy, bassy piece of grinding soul. It really pounds. It is one of my favourites of theirs. The Devil Is Dope begins with some infernal noises and maniacal laughter before we get a brassy, soulful message song condemning the evils of drug abuse. Thank You For Your Love is a very Chi-Lites influenced slow, rhythmic soul ballad. Toast To The Fool is a sumptuous, immaculately sung slow number that sees the group’s male voices harmonising perfectly.

Fall In LoveLady Love continues in the same sweet soul vein. There is nothing ground-breaking in tracks like this, but there is nothing unpleasant either. 
I Fell For You ploughs the same furrow and features some impressive vocal gymnastics - high and low taking their turns. The collection ends with a brassy, bassy Temptations-Undisputed Truth soulful funker in Gimme Some (Good Soul Music). It is a fine upbeat note upon which to end an appealing group of songs from a classic period for soul music.

The Topics - Giving Up (1976)

Who exactly were The Topics? Let's try and find out. This is a soul album from 1976 that I am struggling to find anything about, anywhere. So much so that I have had to put the album cover as the group picture heading above. The group appear to be a mixed male and female vocal one. I managed to find out that one constant in their line-up was Ronald McCoy, who has admitted that at least thirty other members came and went over a period of time. They were constantly auditioning vocalists, apparently. This album was, I think, a conglomeration of tracks recorded in the period from 1972-76.

The sound is pleasant enough. Philly-style seventies soul. Whoever played bass does a fine job and there are some punchy horns but overall I can sort of hear why the album remained in the second division. There was so much great soul around, so this didn't quite cut the mustard but is, however, perfectly listenable.

God And You is a very mid-seventies soul song, featuring great vocals from both male and female vocalist, sumptuous horns and rumbling bass line. Gotta Get You Back is a Harold Melvin-Manhattans-style big soul ballad enhanced by some fine guitar and a solid male vocal. It is probably the album's best cut. The cover of Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman and Brook Benton's Rainy Night In Georgia is not convincing, vocally, surprisingly, but it has a lovely deep and melodic bass line. I just love lines like that. The upbeat At Last It's Over is a bit Jackson 5-ish, especially in the "bum-bum-bum" vocal bits. Good Things Can't Last is a brassy piece of soul harmony. Giving Up is pretty standard big production seventies soul ballad fare. Moving On Down The Line flirts with funkiness as indeed does the equally upbeat Bookin' Up and The Undisputed Truth-influenced You've Got The PowerThe final tracks are big ballads. As I said at the beginning, this album is an enjoyable listen, but it lacks a "wow factor" and that is probably why it has remained virtually unknown for so long. I love unearthing albums like this, though, the great little bits of forgotten musical history that they are. Who were The Topics? I guess we'll never know fully. They weren't even on the cover. To give this album new life in 2020 is a real pleasure for me.

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