Posts Tagged ‘R&B’

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #65–The Drifters: “On Broadway” b/w “I’ve Got Sand in My Shoes” – Atlantic Oldies Series OS-13013 (J7/K7)

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #65–The Drifters: “On Broadway” b/w “I’ve Got Sand in My Shoes” – Atlantic Oldies Series OS-13013 (J7/K7)

It was one of the greatest songs to emanate from the Brill Building in New York City, and it was recorded by The Drifters, one of the greatest R&B groups of all time. “On Broadway” was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, with an assist from Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, four of the most hit-laden songwriters to come out of the hallowed halls of the Brill Building. The story behind the song’s inception exemplifies the creative and collaborative spirit of the writers who were also very much in competition with each other.

The Brill Building sound actually came from two buildings. There was the actual Brill Building at 1619 Broadway where Lieber and Stoller had their offices, and there was the offices of Aldon Music which were housed at 1650 Broadway. Weil and Mann worked at Aldon Music and originally recorded versions of “On Broadway” with The Cookies and The Crystals. Lieber and Stoller, who were housed at 1650 Broadway had booked a recording session the day after The Cookies’ session in the same studio and put word out that they were still looking for one more song for The Drifters to record. Weil and Mann forwarded “On Broadway” to Lieber and Stoller who liked it, but wanted to make some changes. An all-night writing session ensued with all four songwriters, culminating in a simpler rhythm and different lyrics.

Cynthia Weil: “We originally wrote “On Broadway” for a group called The Cookies. Our friends Carole King and Gerry Goffin were writing for them and Gerry was producing and they were short one song. Barry had this concept of writing a “Gershwinesque” pop song and I, being a Broadway fanatic wanted to write a lyric about my favorite street and all it stood for. The ideas seemed to mesh so we wrote the first version of “On Broadway.” The Cookies and later The Crystals cut it but neither record was released. Then our publisher told us that Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller were looking for songs for The Drifters. We played them our song and they thought we needed to make some changes for their group. They said we could go home and work on it or rewrite it with them. We idolized them and jumped at the chance to team up. Using the basic melody that Barry had written and my opening lines all we created the “On Broadway” that went on to be a hit by The Drifters and George Benson.” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil Website – http://www.mann-weil.com)

The Drifters had an ever-changing lineup (hence the group’s name) that included three main lead vocalists in succession. Their original lead vocalist was Clyde McPhatter who was with the group for one year and sang on the hits “Such A Night,” “Money Honey,” “Lucille” and “Honey Love.” The second main incarnation of the group featured Ben E. King who sang on the hits “There Goes My Baby,” “Dance With Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “I Count The Tears” and “Save The Last Dance For Me.” After King’s departure for a solo career, Rudy Lewis came on board and lent his golden tones to “Some Kind Of Wonderful,” “Up on the Roof” and today’s jukebox classic. Lewis was with the group from 1961 until his untimely death in 1964.

The musicians on the track included Phil Spector who played the guitar solo, Joe Newman and Ernie Royal on trumpet, Billy Butler, Bill Suyker and Everett Barksdale on guitar, Russ Savakus on Bass, Gary Chester on Drums and Phil Kraus, Nick Rodriguez and Martin Grupp on percussion. The song appeared on the group’s 1964 album Under The Boardwalk which featured Rudy Lewis’ last recordings with the group before his death, and the emergence of their next lead singer Johnny Moore, who had been McPhatter’s temporary successor in the 1955 incarnation of the group. (The numerous lineup changes within The Drifters are confusing to say the least and I won’t delve much farther into this here.)

The song reached the #9 position on the pop charts in 1963 and it was covered by George Benson, whose smooth jazz rendition brought it back to the top ten of the charts in 1978. The song has also seen covers by The Coasters, The Dave Clark Five, Eric Carmen, Bobby Darin, Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, James Taylor, Gary Numan, Tito Puente, Lou Rawls, Neil Young, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra and Sly & The Family Stone. Both David Bowie and Genesis quoted the melody and lyrics of this ever popular favorite in their respective songs “Aladdin Sane” and “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.”

The flip of today’s single is “I’ve Got Sand in My Shoes” was written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick who also wrote “Under the Boardwalk.” This sequel is strongly reminiscent of “Under the Boardwalk,” and just as good, to boot! It’s got a great guitar line at the front of the tune, and it appeared on The Drifters’ 1965 album I’ll Take You Where the Music’s Playing. The personnel on the track includes Johnny Moore on lead vocals, Charles Thomas on tenor vocals, Eugene Pearson on baritone vocals, John Terry on bass vocals and Billy Davis on guitar. The album was the first Drifters record to be released after the death of Rudy Lewis.

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over 14 years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Edited: August 17th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #53– Mary Wells: “The One Who Really Loves You” b/w “I’m Gonna Stay” – Motown 45 MT-1024 (C6/D6)

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #53– Mary Wells: “The One Who Really Loves You” b/w “I’m Gonna Stay” – Motown 45 MT-1024 (C6/D6)

She was Motown’s first big star and a favorite of The Beatles , and songs like this Smokey Robinson-penned gem that climbed to the #2 position of the R&B charts and the #8 position of the pop charts in 1962 are the reason why.

Wells came to Motown after passing Berry Gordy a song demo that she had intended for Jackie Wilson to record. Gordy had her sing the song for him and was suitably impressed enough to have her record “Bye Bye Baby” and released it as her first single which climbed to #8 on the R&B charts in 1961.

After this success, Gordy teamed her up with Smokey Robinson. Today’s jukebox classic was one in a long line of hits composed specifically for Mary Wells by Smokey Robinson, that also included “My Guy,” You Beat Me To The Punch” and “Two Lovers,” that established Wells as Motown’s first big star before leaving the company at the height of her powers in 1964.

“The One Who Really Loves You” is one of the finest examples of Robinson’s compositional magnificence. The song features a super-catchy ear worm of a tune highlighted by Wells’ cool lilting vocal that projects just the right amount of adult sophistication aloft in the mix. It all comes to you backed by a Harry Belafonte- influenced Calypso beat and smooth harmony vocals by The Love Tones (Carl Jones, Joe Marls & Stanford Bracely) who recorded backing vocals on many Motown sessions in 1962, but were never afforded a single of their own. The song was from Wells’ 1962 album of the same name which also included hit single “You Beat Me To The Punch.”

The flip of the single is every bit as good as the A-side, and was culled from Mary Wells’ 1961 debut Motown album called Bye Bye Baby I Don’t Want To Take A Chance. The single was reissued in 1965 after Wells left the label with the sides flipped to minimal chart action.

Wells’ success came to an end at Motown after a dispute with the label over the royalties from her recording of “My Guy” which she claimed were used to promote The Supremes’ single “Where Did Our Love Go” rather than one of her own records. Wells freed herself from Motown giving up royalties from the records she recorded for the label and the use of her own likeness to promote them, and signed with 20th Century Fox records where she had little chart success.

After recording many good records for Atco, Jubilee and Reprise that failed to chart, she finally found herself back on the charts again in 1981 with the Disco hit “Gigolo.” More records followed for a succession of smaller record labels that offered little promotion until Wells was diagnosed with cancer in 1990. She also sued Motown for unpaid royalties and reached a settlement with the label. Wells succumbed to laryngeal cancer in July of 1992 at the age of 49 leaving a legacy of soulful gems in her wake that are ripe for reinvestigation.

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over 14 years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Edited: July 20th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #36 – The Friends Of Distinction: “Grazing In The Grass” b/w “Going In Circles”

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #36 – The Friends Of Distinction: “Grazing In The Grass” b/w “Going In Circles” – Collectables 45 RPM Single COL 04769 (M4/NL4)

Some of the world’s best-loved and biggest hits have their origin in afterthought…

“Grazing In The Grass” was originally an instrumental hit recorded by South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela that topped the charts in 1968. Masekela came to record the song after purchasing a cowbell-infused novelty record in Zambia called “Mr. Bull #5.” After turning in his debut album to UNI Records which was contractually short by three minutes, the label suggested he cover the single. While in the studio, actor and singer Philemon Hou came up with a new melody which became “Grazing In The Grass.”

Masekela thought little of the song, but included it on the album anyway to fulfill his contract. When UNI executive Russ Regan decided to release it as a single, Hugh Masekela became the first South African recording act to reach number one on the pop charts. (Fun fact: The guitarist on Masekela’s version of the song was Bruce Langhorne, who was the subject of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”) (songfacts.com)

The Friends of Distinction was a soul group from southern California that formed in 1968 around Harry Elston, Floyd Butler, Jessica Cleaves and Barbara Jean Love. Elston and Butler were members of The Hif-Fi’s, who warmed up for Ray Charles on tour, along with Marilyn McCoo and Lamont McLemore who went on to form The 5th Dimension. The group secured a recording contract with RCA Records after joining forces with ex-Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown who took on management of the group.

When Elston heard Masekela’s hit version of the song, he wrote lyrics to it for Friends Of Distinction to record. Their version hit #3 on the pop charts and #5 R&B.

The song has been covered by Stevie Wonder, Chet Atkins, Boney James and Meco, and has been featured in many films including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Jackie Brown, I Shot Andy Warhol and I’m Gonna Get You Sucka.

The flip of today’s single is The Friends’ follow-up single “Going In Circles” which was also a million seller that climbed to #3 on the R&B charts and #15 pop in 1970. The slow jam heartbreak/coming-of-age song was written by Jerry Peters and Anita Poree and has been covered by The Gap Band, Isaac Hayes (on his Black Moses album) and Luther Vandross.

The story goes that after six albums and five years of hits including “Love or Let Me Be Lonely,” “Time Waits for No One,” and “I Need You,” The Friends Of Distinction broke up somewhat acrimoniously with Elston and Butler going separate ways to work outside of the music industry. By 1990 the legacy and influence of The Friends’ recordings had grown substantially. After not speaking to each other for many years, Elston and Butler agreed to work together again, however the reunion was short lived as Butler suffered from a heart attack and died in Elston’s arms. Elston reformed the group in 1996 with new members including Geno Henderson, Wendy Brune and Berlando Drake. They continue to tour and perform the music of The Friends of Distinction around the world today.

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over 14 years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Edited: May 31st, 2015

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #31 – The Isley Brothers: “That Lady (Part 1)” b/w “That Lady (Part 2)” – T-Neck 45 RPM Single 2251 (A4/B4V3)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #31 – The Isley Brothers: “That Lady (Part 1)” b/w “That Lady (Part 2)” – T-Neck 45 RPM Single 2251 (A4/B4V3)

From gossamer to “grit-tay”…the other day I featured a satiny-smooth jukebox classic by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles…today we’re going gritty with this funky 1973 track by The Isley Brothers.

They were one of the longest running R&B groups of all time forming in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1959 and recording and touring together in some form through 2010.

The Isley’s were responsible for such indelible hits as “Shout,” “Twist And Shout,” “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You),” “Black Berries,” “It’s Your Thing,” “Pop That Thang,” “Love The One You’re With,” “Summer Breeze,” “Fight The Power,” “Harvest For The World,” plus many others. Today’s Song Of The Day comes from their 1973 album called 3+3.

The album’s title alludes to the fact that the three original members of the group, Ronald, Rudolph and O’Kelly Isley, made their brother-in-law Chris Jasper and brothers Ernie and Marvin Isley, the other 3, full time members of the group.

The album became their first platinum album, selling over one million copies. Along with “That Lady,” two other tracks from the album made waves on the R&B charts including their cover of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” (#10 R&B) and “What It Comes Down To” (#5 R&B). The group also covered Jonathan Edwards’ hit “Sunshine” and James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” for the album.

“That Lady” was originally recorded by The Isley’s back in 1964 under the title “Who’s That Lady.” That version was cut at a slower tempo and was driven by a spare staccato drum pattern, a roller-rink organ part and a full-blown horn section. The group decided to record the song again after Santana covered it on their Spirits Dancing in the Flesh album.

At first, Ronald Isley was against cutting the track again, however the rest of the group convinced him that the arrangement would be much different and it would highlight the guitar work of brother Ernie. Ernie’s guitar playing was informed by the Isley Brothers’ association with Jimi Hendrix who played with the group in 1964. Hendrix can be heard on the group’s “Testify” and “Move On Over And Let Me Dance” singles. The song became their first top-ten hit since 1969’s “It’s Your Thing,” climbing to #2 on both the Pop and R&B charts. Brother Ernie’s guitar solo was later sampled by The Beastie Boys on the track “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” from Paul’s Boutique.

Another distinction about today’s jukebox classic is that it is one in a long line of two-part singles. When 45 RPM singles ruled, it was customary to break longer tracks into two parts for the single release. The Isley Brothers were no stranger to the two-part single, and as far back as 1959, “Shout” was released as a two-parter. Many of James Brown’s singles were released in the two-part format including “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud,)” “Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine,” and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.” Other notable two-part singles include Joey Dee’s “The Peppermint Twist,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Suzie Q,” Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Eddie Kendricks’ “Keep On Truckin’,” George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby,” Rick James’ “Super Freak,” Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” and Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane.” What other two-part singles can you think of?

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over 14 years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Edited: May 18th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #29 – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: “I’ll Try Something New” b/w “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” – Collectables 45 RPM Single MOT-00505 (S3/T3)

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #29 – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: “I’ll Try Something New” b/w “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” – Collectables 45 RPM Single MOT-00505 (S3/T3)

Before The Miracles, before Berry Gordy and before Motown, a talented singer and aspiring songwriter named William Robinson formed a group called The Matadors. The Matadors consisted of Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White, Warren Moore and Claudette Rogers.

They met a hungry promoter named Berry Gordy who had his first taste of success by writing the Jackie Wilson hit “Reet Petite.” The Matadors auditioned for Gordy who liked the group, especially their lead singer. When Williams told Gordy that he could write songs, the two sat down and wrote an answer record to The Silhouettes’ 1958 hit “Get A Job,” and called it “Got A Job.”

Gordy thought the name, The Matadors, was far to masculine for a group that featured a vocalist like William Robinson and also a female vocalist, so he changed their name to The Miracles. Gordy negotiated a release of the record on the independent End record label in 1958 and it became a minor hit.

With the money earned from the hit record, Gordy went on to found the Motown record label making Robinson the vice-president…so you may say that both Gordy and Smokey Robinson (as he became known) “Got A Job” with the release of the record of the same name.

The Miracles consisted of Smokey Robinson on lead vocal, Claudette Rogers Robinson (his wife) on backing vocal, Pete Moore on backing vocal, Ronnie White on backing vocal, Bobby Rogers on co-lead vocal and backing vocal, Marv Tarplin on guitar with all other instruments performed by The Funk Brothers.

Songs don’t come any more romantic than the top side of today’s double A-sided single! The first thing that grabs you is the angelic, echo-laden production sound of “I’ll Try Something New” with its elaborate and plush bed of strings. If that doesn’t automatically get your attention, then Robinson’s gossamer vocals are sure to woo even the most hardened heart. (Note: For the ultimate in greatness, check out his soulful vocals during this record’s fade.)

The song was one of The Miracles early singles from 1962 and was also the title track to their third album. Upon its release, it climbed to the #11 position on the R&B charts and settled at #39 on the pop list. In 1969, the song was released as a single by The Supremes and The Temptations together that climbed to #25 on the pop charts and #8 R&B. It was also covered by the disco group A Taste Of Honey in 1982.

The flip of today’s single was a much bigger hit for The Miracles topping the R&B charts and climbing all the way to #8 on the pop list while selling a million copies. “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” is deservedly in the Grammy Hall Of Fame and also holds the distinction of being covered by The Beatles on their second album.

The song was written by Smokey Robinson for his wife (and group member) Claudette after hearing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” on the radio while on a business trip in New York City. When originally released, it was relegated to the B-side of the song “Happy Landing,” however DJs flipped the record and liked it much better. Both songs appeared on The Miracles second album The Fabulous Miracles released in 1963.

The Beatles first heard the song after finding an imported copy from the U.S. and it quickly became a staple of their early live repertoire. It was recorded for their second album WithThe Beatles (in the U.K.) and The Beatles’ Second Album (in the U.S.) featuring an indelible lead vocal by John Lennon.

The Beatles re-recorded the song after EMI acquired their first four track recording equipment; however that version was deemed no better than the original and remains unreleased to this day. They also recorded it four times for broadcast on BBC radio. The song can also be heard in the 1970 Let It Be and it was also featured in a live version from Stockholm, Sweden in October 1963 on the Anthology 1 album.

The Beatles covered several Motown songs early in their career, including “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Please Mr. Postman,” because Berry Gordy gave the group reduced rates as an enticement since they were such a big recording act. The song has also been covered by a myriad of artists including The Supremes, The Temptations, The Zombies, The Jackson 5, Mickey Gilley (#2 Country Hit), Phil Collins, Mike + The Mechanics and She & Him.

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over 14 years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Edited: May 13th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #13 – Stevie Wonder: “Superstition” b/w “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” – Motown 45 RPM Single Y559F (E2/F2)

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #13 – Stevie Wonder: “Superstition” b/w “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” – Motown 45 RPM Single Y559F (E2/F2)

The A-Side of today’s double A-sided jukebox single was the lead single from Stevie Wonder’s landmark album Talking Book. Jeff Beck guested on the album playing guitar on the song “Looking For Another Pure Love.” While in the studio, Beck came up with the drum pattern that kicks “Superstition” into motion. From there, Wonder added the funky clavinet riff that runs through the song and a classic was born. After Wonder wrote the song, he offered it to Beck to record.

In the meantime, Motown chief Berry Gordy heard Wonder’s version and immediately knew it was a surefire smash and pressured Wonder to release it as a single before Beck could commit his version to tape. “Superstition” went on to become Wonder’s second chart-topping hit, his first since “Fingertips” hit the top of the charts in 1963. Jeff Beck was given the song “Because We’ve Ended As Lovers” as a consolation prize which he recorded for his 1975 album Blow By Blow. Beck later recorded Wonder’s “Superstition” with the group Beck, Bogart & Appice.

When Wonder turned 21, he renegotiated his contract with Motown Records giving him total control over his music with increased royalties and publishing. The first fruit of his negotiation was the album Music Of My Mind that included “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You),” the flip side of today’s double-A sided jukebox classic.

The song was one of the first tracks that Wonder worked on with Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff who invented the TONTO (The Original New Tumbrel Orchestra) synthesizer and recorded under the name Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. Margouleff: “Stevie showed up [at our studio] with the TONTO LP under his arm. He said, ‘I don’t believe this was all done on one instrument. Show me the instrument.’ He was always talking about seeing. So we dragged his hands all over the instrument, and he thought he’d never be able to play it. But we told him we’d get it together for him.” (songfacts.com) The duo would go on to help shape the recording of Wonder’s Talking Book, Innervisions and Fullfillingness’ First Finale albums.

Wonder is heard playing all of the instruments on the record including the TONTO, except for the electric guitar which was played by Buzz Feiten and the trumpet and saxophone played respectively by Steve Madaio and Trevor Laurence.

The song clocked in at over eight minutes in its original guise on the Music Of My Mind album and was written about former Motown secretary and Wonder’s first wife Syreeta Wright. The lyric “trying to boss the bull around” is about Syreeta trying to exert some control on Wonder who is a Taurus.

The first part of the song talks about “Mary’s” desire to leave her current life behind to chase the goal of stardom. The song’s second “Where Were You When I Needed You” part finds the song’s narrator wondering when she will be coming back and why it is taking so long. Musically, the second part of the song was a re-working of Wonder’s 1971 single “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” from his Where I’m Coming From album. The song was released as a single and climbed to the #33 slot on the pop charts. Indeed, Wonder’s marriage to Syreeta broke up soon after he completed work on Music of My Mind.”

Both songs on today’s Jukebox classic double A-sided single were originally issued as separate singles, each with a different B-side. The original B-side to “Superstition” was “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” and the original “Superwoman” B-side was “I Love Every Little Thing About You.”

The clip of “Superstition” accompanying this piece is an alternate live in-studio performance of the track with a full backing band.

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over fourteen years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Edited: March 31st, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #6 – Rufus – “Tell Me Something Good” b/w “Smokin’ Room” – ABC Records 45 ABC-11427 1974 (K1/L1)

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #6 – Rufus – “Tell Me Something Good” b/w “Smokin’ Room” – ABC Records 45 ABC-11427 1974 (K1/L1)

In taking stock of the records that inhabit my jukebox for The Jukebox Series, I’ve come to learn something about myself that I’d like to share. I find it somewhat amusing that there are no records newer than the 1970s included, and with the exception of a few 1950s nuggets, nothing earlier than the 1960s. This leads me to believe that I either find myself in a state of musical developmental retardation, or that every record I’ve chosen for the jukebox is geared to make me feel nostalgic for the years when I was in middle and high school.

This really shouldn’t be such a surprise because when you think about it, the music that we consider OUR music typically harks back to those golden teenage days when we were in public school. It doesn’t matter that those years for some (me included) were the most dreadful years of my life. We still look back on them with rose colored glasses verifying the idea that nostalgia truly is the past with the pain removed, and the musical comfort food that inhabits my jukebox really points this out.

Today’s Song of the Day is Chaka Khan’s breakout hit as a member of Rufus. Rufus evolved out of the ashes of Chicago group, The American Breed who scored a hit with “Bend Me Shape Me” in the late 1960s. After the American Breed disbanded several members formed a band called Smoke who added vocalist Paulette Williams to the lineup. That group later became Ask Rufus named after a column in the magazine Popular Mechanics. After several more lineup shifts, Ron Stockert was added to the group as vocalist and artistic director and Williams left, recommending her friend Chaka Khan as her replacement.

During the early days of Rufus (shortened from Ask Rufus), Khan was considered one of two co-lead vocalists sharing vocals duties with Ron Stockert. However, when the songs featuring Khan’s lead vocals began to get attention, she became the focal point of the group leading to Stockert’s departure during the recording of their 1974 Rags To Rufus album.

At this point, the group consisted of Chaka Khan on lead and background vocals, Dennis Belfield on bass and background vocals, André Fischer on drums and percussion, Kevin Murphy on organ and clavinette, Al Ciner on guitar, Ron Stockert on vocals and keyboards, Tony Maiden (uncredited) on guitar and talk box and Nate Morgan (uncredited) on keyboards.

The Rags To Rufus album was the group’s last album credited to Rufus, after this they would be forever known as Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. The album also included the huge hit “You Got The Love” (#10 pop/#1 R&B) written by Ray Parker Jr. and Khan, and on the strength of its two singles, the album sold well over one million copies earning a platinum certification.

Today’s Song of the Day was written by Stevie Wonder and climbed to the #3 position on the pop and R&B charts in 1974. Wonder is said to have recorded a version of the song, but it remains unreleased to this day. “Tell Me Something Good” was one of several songs that Wonder wrote and gave away to female vocalists around this time. Two others notable examples are Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” (#1 R&B/#3 Pop) and the title track to Minnie Riperton’s chart-topping album Perfect Angel.

Wonder liked the way Chaka Khan sang his song “Maybe Your Baby” on Rufus’ self-titled debut album and decided to give the group another one of his songs to record. As Khan tells it, “Tell Me Something Good” was not the first song that Wonder brought to the band. Wonder came by the studio and played a song called “Come And Get This Stuff,” but Kahn told Wonder that she didn’t like the song. After learning Khan’s astrological sign, Wonder then gave Rufus “Tell Me Something Good” to record and also helped in the studio with the arrangement, going as far as to coach Khan in the way he wanted her to sing it. The single would go on to win the 1975 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. (Note: Wonder’s “Come And Get This Stuff” would later turn up on his ex-wife’s album Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta.)

“Tell Me Something Good” also features an early example of the use of a talk box during the chorus. The talk box was played through a guitar by Tony Maiden and was also made famous by Joe Walsh on his track “Rocky Mountain Way” and by Peter Frampton on “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like I Do.” The sultry B-side of “Tell Me Something Good” is “Smokin’ Room,” an album cut also culled from Rags To Rufus.

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over fourteen years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Edited: March 18th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “The Horse” by Cliff Nobles & Co.

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “The Horse” by Cliff Nobles & Co.

Cliff Nobles was a gospel singer from Alabama who relocated to Philadelphia to break into the recording industry. He was quickly signed to Atlantic records where he recorded three singles: “My Love Is Getting Stronger,” “Let’s Have A Good Time” and “Your Love Is All I Need” that failed to find any action on the charts.

As a result of his affiliation with Atlantic, he was signed to a local Philadelphia record label called “Phil-L.A. of Soul Records” by independent producer Jesse James and formed the group Cliff Nobles & Co. consisting of Benny Williams on bass, Bobby Tucker on guitar, and Tommy Soul on drums.

The group’s second single was “Love Is All Right” b/w “The Horse.” The single didn’t feature the playing of Nobles regular band but, instead, featured a group of Philadelphia session musicians put together by Leon Huff called the James Boys who went on to become the Sigma Sound house band MFSB.

While “Love Is All Right” made no waves on the charts, DJs began play the instrumental track on the flip. “The Horse” was merely the instrumental backing track to “Love Is All Right” and Cliff Nobles was nowhere to be found on the record.

The song began to climb the charts, peaking at #2 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts in July of 1968, and went on to sell a million copies. Once the song began to ignite a nationwide dance craze, Nobles went back into the studio and recorded a new vocal track outlying the dance moves to the song. The label released the album The Horse and several instrumental follow-up singles all credited to Cliff Nobles & Co. in which Cliff Nobles was nowhere to be heard.

After his music career was over, Nobles worked in construction and later in the electricity generation industry. He died in Norristown, Pennsylvania in October 2008, at the age of 67, leaving behind this indelible and instantly recognizable instrumental classic.

Edited: March 1st, 2015

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #92 – WAR: “The Cicso Kid” b/w “Beetles In The Bog”– United Artist UA-XW163-W

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #92 – WAR: “The Cicso Kid” b/w “Beetles In The Bog”– United Artist UA-XW163-W

Welcome back my friends, to the series that never ends…

When they first began recording, it was Eric Burdon and WAR and WAR was billed as the backing band for Eric Burdon of The Animals. The group was the brainchild of Burdon and Jerry Goldstein who was a member of The Strangeloves and the co-writer of a whole host of classic singles like “I Want Candy,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Come On Down To My Boat,” “Sorrow” and “Hang On Sloopy.”

Goldstein was Sly & The Family Stone’s manager when he saw WAR performing in a bar and signed them to his own Far Out Production company. With Burdon at the helm, WAR scored the smash hit “Spill The Wine” from their 1970 debut album Eric Burdon Declares War. Another album followed, before Burdon went his own way leaving WAR to establish themselves as an entity in their own rite.

With Goldstein’s management of the band, it wasn’t long before WAR began scoring hits on their own like “All Day Music” and “Slippin’ Into Darkness” from their 1971 All Day Music album. WAR’s unique sound was steeped in Latin Jazz, psychedelic Rock and Funk, layering Lee Oskar’s harmonica lines over Charles Miller’s saxophone in unison on extended jams.

The year 1972, saw the release of their breakthrough chart-topping album, The World Is A Ghetto, with its title track hit (#3 R&B, #7 Pop) and AM radio classic “The Cisco Kid” which climbed to #2 Pop and #5 on the R&B charts.

The origins of the character of The Cisco Kid came from the O. Henry story The Caballero’s Way in which the character was a villain. When The Cisco Kid debuted on TV, he became a Mexican hero and the show centered on his adventures in the old west. The show ran from 1950-1956 and starred Duncan Renaldo as The Cisco Kid.

The song was written by the group’s guitarist Howard Scott who wanted to write a song about an ethnic hero. On the day he wrote it, he was visited by drummer Howard Brown.

Drummer, Howard Brown: “Howard has always been a major contributor. He was in Compton, he had this apartment. I came up there and when I got up there he was sitting on his amp. He said, ‘Harold, I got this idea. Cisco kid was a friend of mine.’ That idea came about because there were no ethnic heroes at that time. Mainly, we were seeing people like Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers. There wasn’t really anybody to relate to except Cisco Kid. He was like the total different kind of person.

We wanted to give kids, people, another alternative besides the ones that were right in our face, obvious heroes. And it worked out really good, because it had the right kind of hook, it was a fun song. People at that time didn’t want to be hearing about no more wars or anything, they just wanted fun music. And the tonality was brilliant.”  (Songfacts.com)

Today’s jukebox classic features the group’s classic lineup of Lee Oskar on harmonica, Lonnie Jordan on vocals, organ and percussion, B.B. Dickerson on bass, Papa Dee Allen on percussion, Howard Scott on guitar, Harold Brown on drums and Charles Miller on saxophone. The flip is a tribal funk instrumental that closes out he The World Is A Ghetto album.

WAR continued to score hits throughout the 1970s including “Low Rider,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” “Summer,” “Gypsy Man” and many others. Charles Miller was murdered in 1980 and Papa Dee Allen succumbed to a heart attack while performing on stage in 1988.

In the mid-1990s, Far Out Productions/Jerry Goldstein won the use of the name WAR in federal court, and original keyboardist Lonnie Jordan began touring under that name. The other 4 surviving core members toured under the name The Music Band and formed The Lowrider Band in 2007. Meanwhile Burdon got back together with Lonnie Jordan for a one-off reunion, billed as Eric Burdon and WAR, at The Royal Albert Hall in 2008.

“The Jukebox Series” focused on the 80 records that currently inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within. Over the years, records have come and gone out of the ranks of the juke, but they were all at one time juke-worthy. I’ve decided to expand “The Jukebox Series” to include many of the “juke-worthy” records that are no longer currently in the mix, but at one time inhabited a coveted slot.

Edited: March 24th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #65–The Drifters: “On Broadway” b/w “I’ve Got Sand In My Shoes” – Atlantic Oldies Series OS-13013 (J7/K7)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #65–The Drifters: “On Broadway” b/w “I’ve Got Sand In My Shoes” – Atlantic Oldies Series OS-13013 (J7/K7)

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

It was one of the greatest songs to emanate from the Brill Building in New York City, and it was recorded by one of the greatest R&B groups of all time, The Drifters. “On Broadway” was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, with an assist from Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, four of the most hit-laden songwriters to come out of the hallowed halls of the Brill Building. The story behind the song’s inception exemplifies the creative and collaborative spirit of the writers who were also very much in competition with each other.

The Brill Building sound actually came from two buildings. There was the actual Brill Building at 1619 Broadway where Lieber and Stoller had their offices, and there were the offices of Aldon Music which were housed at 1650 Broadway. Weil and Mann worked at Aldon Music and originally recorded versions of “On Broadway” with The Cookies and The Crystals. Lieber and Stoller, who were housed at 1650 Broadway had booked a recording session the day after The Cookies’ session in the same studio and put word out that they were still looking for one more song for The Drifters to record. Weil and Mann forwarded “On Broadway” to Lieber and Stoller who liked it, but wanted to make some changes. An all-night writing session ensued with all four songwriters, culminating in a simpler rhythm and different lyrics.

Cynthia Weil: “We originally wrote “On Broadway” for a group called The Cookies. Our friends Carole King and Gerry Goffin were writing for them and Gerry was producing and they were short one song. Barry had this concept of writing a “Gershwinesque” pop song and I, being a Broadway fanatic wanted to write a lyric about my favorite street and all it stood for. The ideas seemed to mesh so we wrote the first version of “On Broadway.” The Cookies and later The Crystals cut it but neither record was released. Then our publisher told us that Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller were looking for songs for The Drifters. We played them our song and they thought we needed to make some changes for their group. They said we could go home and work on it or rewrite it with them. We idolized them and jumped at the chance to team up. Using the basic melody that Barry had written and my opening lines all we created the “On Broadway” that went on to be a hit by The Drifters and George Benson.” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil Website – http://www.mann-weil.com)

The Drifters had an ever-changing lineup (hence the group’s name) that included three main lead vocalists in succession. Their original lead vocalist was Clyde McPhatter who was with the group for one year and sang on the hits “Such A Night,” “Money Honey,” “Lucille” and “Honey Love.” The second main incarnation of the group featured Ben E. King who sang on the hits “There Goes My Baby,” “Dance With Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “I Count The Tears” and “Save The Last Dance For Me.”  After King’s departure for a solo career, Rudy Lewis came on board and lent his golden tones to “Some Kind Of Wonderful,” “Up On The Roof” and today’s jukebox classic.  Lewis was with the group from 1961 until his untimely death in 1964.

The musicians on the track included Phil Spector who played the guitar solo, Joe Newman and Ernie Royal on trumpet, Billy Butler, Bill Suyker and Everett Barksdale on guitar, Russ Savakus on Bass, Gary Chester on Drums and Phil Kraus, Nick Rodriguez and Martin Grupp on percussion. The song appeared on the group’s 1964 album Under The Boardwalk which featured Rudy Lewis’ last recordings with the group before his death, and the emergence of their next lead singer Johnny Moore, who had been McPhatter’s temporary successor in the 1955 incarnation of the group. (The numerous lineup changes within The Drifters are confusing to say the least and I won’t delve much farther into this here.)

The song reached the #9 position on the pop charts in 1963 and it was covered by George Benson, whose smooth jazz rendition brought it back to the top ten of the charts in 1978. The song also saw covers by The Coasters, The Dave Clark Five, Eric Carmen, Bobby Darin, Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, James Taylor, Gary Numan, Tito Puente, Lou Rawls, Neil Young, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra and Sly & The Family Stone. Both David Bowie and Genesis quoted the melody and lyrics of this ever popular favorite in their respective songs “Aladdin Sane” and “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.”

The flip of today’s single is “I’ve Got Sand In My Shoes” which was written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick who also wrote “Under The Boardwalk.” This sequel is strongly reminiscent of “Under The Boardwalk,” and just as good, to boot! It’s got a great guitar line at the front of the tune, and it appeared on The Drifters’ 1965 album I’ll Take You Where The Music’s Playing. The personnel on the track included Johnny Moore on lead vocals, Charles Thomas on tenor vocals, Eugene Pearson on baritone vocals, John Terry on bass vocals and Billy Davis on guitar. The album was the first Drifters record to be released after the death of Rudy Lewis.

Edited: January 23rd, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #53– Mary Wells: “The One Who Really Loves You” b/w “I’m Gonna Stay” – Motown 45 MT-1024 (C6/D6)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #53– Mary Wells: “The One Who Really Loves You” b/w “I’m Gonna Stay” – Motown 45 MT-1024 (C6/D6)

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

She was Motown’s first big star and a favorite of The Beatles , and songs like this Smokey Robinson penned gem that climbed to the #2 position of the R&B charts and the #8 position of the pop charts in 1962 are the reason why. Wells came to Motown after passing Berry Gordy a song demo that she had intended for Jackie Wilson to record. Gordy had her sing the song for him and was suitably impressed enough to have her record “Bye Bye Baby” and released it as her first single which climbed to #8 on the R&B charts in 1961.

After this success, Gordy teamed her up with Smokey Robinson. Today’s jukebox classic was one in a long line of hits composed specifically for Mary Wells by Smokey Robinson, that also included “My Guy,” You Beat Me To The Punch” and “Two Lovers” that established Wells as Motown’s first big star before  leaving the company at the height of her powers in 1964.

“The One Who Really Loves You” is one of the finest examples of Robinson’s compositional magnificence. The song features a super-catchy ear worm of a tune highlighted by Wells’ cool lilting vocal that projects just the right amount of adult sophistication aloft in the mix. It all comes to you backed by a Harry Belafonte- influenced Calypso beat and smooth harmony vocals by The Love Tones (Carl Jones, Joe Marls & Stanford Bracely) who recorded backing vocals on many Motown sessions in 1962, but were never afforded a single of their own. The song was from Wells’ 1962 album of the same name which also included hit single “You Beat Me To The Punch.”

The flip of the single is every bit as good as the A-side, and was culled from Mary Wells’ 1961 debut Motown album called Bye Bye Baby I Don’t Want To Take A Chance. The single was reissued in 1965 after Wells left the label with the sides flipped to minimal chart action.

Wells’ success came to an end at Motown after a dispute with the label over the royalties from her recording of “My Guy” which she claimed were used to promote The Supremes’ single “Where Did Our Love Go” rather than one of her own records. Wells freed herself from Motown giving up royalties from the records she recorded for the label and the use of her own likeness to promote them, and signed with 20th Century Fox records where she had little chart success.

After recording many good records for Atco, Jubilee and Reprise that failed to chart, Wells found herself back on the charts again in 1981 with the Disco hit “Gigolo.” More records followed for a succession of smaller record labels that offered little promotion until Wells was diagnosed with cancer in 1990. She also sued Motown for unpaid royalties and reached a settlement with the label. Wells succumbed to laryngeal cancer in July of 1992 at the age of 49 leaving a legacy of soulful gems in her wake that are ripe for reinvestigation.

Edited: January 7th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #36 – The Friends Of Distinction: “Grazing In The Grass” b/w “Going In Circles” – Collectables 45 RPM Single COL 04769 (M4/NL4)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #36 – The Friends Of Distinction: “Grazing In The Grass” b/w “Going In Circles” – Collectables 45 RPM Single COL 04769 (M4/NL4)

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Some of the world’s best-loved and biggest hits have their origin in afterthought…

“Grazing In The Grass” was originally an instrumental hit recorded by South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela that topped the charts in 1968. Masekela came to record the song after purchasing a cowbell-infused novelty record in Zambia called “Mr. Bull #5.” After turning in his debut album to UNI Records which was contractually short by three minutes, the label suggested he cover the single. While in the studio, actor and singer Philemon Hou came up with a new melody which became “Grazing In The Grass.”

Masekela thought little of the song, but included it on the album anyway to fulfill his contract. When UNI executive Russ Regan decided to release it as a single, Hugh Masekela became the first South African recording act to reach number one on the pop charts. (Fun fact: The guitarist on Masekela’s version of the song was Bruce Langhorne, who was the subject of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”)

The Friends Of Distinction were a soul group from southern California that formed in 1968 around Harry Elston, Floyd Butler, Jessica Cleaves and Barbara Jean Love. Elston and Butler were members of The Hif-Fi’s, who warmed up for Ray Charles on tour, along with Marilyn McCoo and Lamont McLemore who went on to form The 5th Dimension. The group secured a recording contract with RCA Records after joining forces with ex-Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown who took on management of the group.

When Elston heard Masekela’s hit version of the song, he wrote lyrics to it for Friends Of Distinction to record. Their version hit #3 on the pop charts and #5 R&B. While many people believe that the song is about getting high, it’s actually about bulls grazing in the grass.

The song has been covered by Stevie Wonder, Chet Atkins, Boney James and Meco, and has been featured in many films including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Jackie Brown, I Shot Andy Warhol and I’m Gonna Get You Sucka.

The flip of today’s single is The Friends’ follow-up single “Going In Circles” which was also a million seller that climbed to #3 on the R&B charts and #15 pop in 1970. The slow jam heartbreak/coming-of-age song was written by Jerry Peters and Anita Poree and has been covered by The Gap Band, Isaac Hayes (on his Black Moses album) and Luther Vandross.

The story goes that after six albums and five years of hits including “Love or Let Me Be Lonely,” “Time Waits for No One,” and “I Need You,” The Friends Of Distinction broke up somewhat acrimoniously with Elston and Butler going separate ways to work outside of the music industry.  By 1990 the legacy and influence of The Friends’ recordings had grown substantially. After not speaking to each other for many years, Elston and Butler agreed to work together again, however the reunion was short lived as Butler suffered from a heart attack and died in Elston’s arms. Elston reformed the group in 1996 with new members including Geno Henderson, Wendy Brune and Berlando Drake. They continue to tour and perform the music of The Friends Of Distinction around the world today.

Edited: November 25th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #31 – The Isley Brothers: “That Lady (Part 1)” b/w “That Lady (Part 2)” – T-Neck 45 RPM Single 2251 (A4/B4)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #31 – The Isley Brothers: “That Lady (Part 1)” b/w “That Lady (Part 2)” – T-Neck 45 RPM Single 2251 (A4/B4)

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

From gossamer to “grit-tay”…the other day I featured a satiny-smooth jukebox classic by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles…today we’re going gritty with this funky 1973 track by The Isley Brothers.

They were one of the longest running R&B groups of all time forming in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1959 and recording and touring together in some form through 2010.

The Isley’s were responsible for such indelible hits as “Shout,” “Twist And Shout,” “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You),” “Black Berries,” “It’s Your Thing,” “Pop That Thang,” “Love The One You’re With,” “Summer Breeze,” “Fight The Power,” “Harvest For The World,” plus many others. Today’s Song Of The Day comes from their 1973 album called 3+3.

The album’s title alludes to the fact that the three original members of the group, Ronald, Rudolph and O’Kelly Isley, made their brother-in-law Chris Jasper and brothers Ernie and Marvin Isley, the other 3, full time members of the group.

The album became their first platinum album, selling over one million copies. Along with “That Lady,” two other tracks from the album made waves on the R&B charts including their cover of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” (#10 R&B) and “What It Comes Down To” (#5 R&B). The group also covered Jonathan Edwards’ hit “Sunshine” and James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” for the album.

Today’s Song Of the Day was originally recorded back in 1964 by The Isley’s under the title “Who’s That Lady.” That version was cut at a slower tempo and was driven by a spare staccato drum pattern, a roller-rink organ part and a full-blown horn section. The group decided to record the song again after Santana covered it on their Spirits Dancing In The Flesh album.

At first, Ronald Isley was against cutting the track again, however the rest of the group convinced him that the arrangement would be much different and it would highlight the guitar work of brother Ernie. Ernie’s guitar playing was informed by the Isley Brothers’ association with Jimi Hendrix who played with the group in 1964. Hendrix can be heard on the group’s “Testify” and “Move On Over And Let Me Dance” singles. The song became their first top-ten hit since 1969’s “It’s Your Thing,” climbing to #2 on both the Pop and R&B charts. Brother Ernie’s guitar solo was later sampled by The Beastie Boys on the track “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” from Paul’s Boutique.

Another distinction about today’s jukebox classic is that it is one in a long line of two-part singles. When 45 RPM singles ruled, it was customary to break longer tracks into two parts for the single release. The Isley Brothers were no stranger to the two-part single, and as far back as 1959, “Shout” was released as a two-parter.  Many of James Brown’s singles were released in the two-part format including “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud,)” “Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine,” and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.” Other notable two-part singles include Joey Dee’s “The Peppermint Twist,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Suzie Q,” Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Eddie Kendricks’ “Keep On Truckin’,” George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby,” Rick James’ “Super Freak,” Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” and Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane.” What other two-part singles can you think of?

Edited: November 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #29 – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: “I’ll Try Something New” b/w “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” – Collectables 45 RPM Single MOT-00505 (S3/T3)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #29 – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: “I’ll Try Something New” b/w “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” – Collectables 45 RPM Single MOT-00505 (S3/T3)

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Before The Miracles, before Berry Gordy and before Motown, a talented singer and aspiring songwriter named William Robinson formed a group called The Matadors. The Matadors consisted of Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White, Warren Moore and Claudette Rogers.

They met a hungry promoter named Berry Gordy who had his first taste of success by writing the Jackie Wilson hit “Reet Petite.” The Matadors auditioned for Gordy who liked the group, especially their lead singer. When Williams told Gordy that he could write songs, the two sat down and wrote an answer record to The Silhouettes’ 1958 hit “Get A Job,” and called it “Got A Job.”

Gordy thought the name, The Matadors, was far to masculine for a group that featured a vocalist like William Robinson and also a female vocalist, so he changed their name to The Miracles. Gordy negotiated a release of the record on the independent End record label in 1958 and it became a minor hit.

With the money earned from the hit record, Gordy went on to found the Motown record label making Robinson the vice-president…so you may say that both Gordy and Smokey Robinson (as he became known) “Got A Job” with the release of the record of the same name.

The Miracles consisted of Smokey Robinson on lead vocal, Claudette Rogers Robinson (his wife) on backing vocal, Pete Moore on backing vocal, Ronnie White on backing vocal, Bobby Rogers on co-lead vocal and backing vocal, Marv Tarplin on guitar with all other instruments performed by The Funk Brothers.

Songs don’t come any more romantic than the top side of today’s double A-sided single! The first thing that grabs you is the angelic, echo-laden production sound of the record with its elaborate and plush bed of strings. If that doesn’t automatically get your attention, then Robinson’s gossamer vocals are sure to woo even the most hardened heart. (Note: For the ultimate in greatness, check out his soulful vocals during this record’s fade.)

The song was one of The Miracles early singles from 1962 and was also the title track to their third album. Upon its release, it climbed to the #11 position on the R&B charts and settled at #39 on the pop list.  In 1969, the song was released as a single by The Supremes and The Temptations together that climbed to #25 on the pop charts and #8 R&B. It was also covered by disco group A Taste Of Honey in 1982.

The flip of today’s single was a much bigger hit for The Miracles topping the R&B charts and climbing all the way to #8 on the pop list while selling a million copies. “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” is deservedly in the Grammy Hall Of Fame and also holds the distinction of being covered by The Beatles on their second album.

The song was written by Smokey Robinson for his wife (and group member) Claudette after hearing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” on the radio while on a business trip in New York City. When originally released, it was relegated to the B-side of the song “Happy Landing,” however DJs flipped the record and liked it much better. Both songs appeared on The Miracles second album The Fabulous Miracles released in 1963.

The Beatles first heard the song after finding an imported copy from the U.S. and it quickly became a staple of their early live repertoire. It was recorded for their second album With The Beatles (in the U.K.) and The Beatles’ Second Album (in the U.S.) featuring an indelible lead vocal by John Lennon.

The Beatles re-recorded the song after EMI acquired their first four track recording equipment; however that version was deemed no better than the original and remains unreleased to this day. They also recorded it four times for broadcast on BBC radio. The song can also be heard in the 1970 Let It Be and it was also featured in a live version from Stockholm, Sweden in October 1963 on the Anthology 1 album.

The Beatles covered several Motown songs early in their career, including “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Please Mr. Postman,” because Berry Gordy gave the group reduced rates as an enticement since they were such a big recording act. The song has also been covered by a myriad of artists including The Supremes, The Temptations, The Zombies, The Jackson 5, Mickey Gilley (#2 Country Hit), Phil Collins, Mike + The Mechanics and She & Him.

Edited: November 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #13 – Stevie Wonder: “Superstition” b/w “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” – Motown 45 RPM Single Y559F (E2/F2)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #13 – Stevie Wonder: “Superstition” b/w “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” – Motown 45 RPM Single Y559F (E2/F2)

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

The A-Side of today’s double A-sided jukebox single was the lead single from Stevie Wonder’s landmark album Talking Book. Jeff Beck guested on the album playing guitar on the song “Looking For Another Pure Love.” While in the studio, Beck came up with the drum pattern that kicks “Superstition” into motion. From there, Wonder added the funky clavinet riff that runs through the song and a classic was born. After Wonder wrote the song, he offered it to Beck to record.

In the meantime, Motown chief Berry Gordy heard Wonder’s version and immediately knew it was a surefire smash and pressured Wonder to release it as a single before Beck could commit his version to tape. “Superstition” went on to become Wonder’s second chart-topping hit, his first since “Fingertips” hit the top of the charts in 1963. Jeff Beck was given the song “Because We’ve Ended As Lovers” as a consolation prize which he recorded for his 1975 album Blow By Blow. Beck later recorded Wonder’s “Superstition” with his group Beck, Bogart & Appice.

When Wonder turned 21, he renegotiated his contract with Motown Records giving him total control over his music with increased royalties and publishing. The first fruit of his negotiation was the album Music Of My Mind that included “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You),” the flip side of today’s double-A sided jukebox classic.

The song was one of the first tracks that Wonder worked on with Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff who invented the TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) synthesizer and recorded under the name Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. Margouleff: “Stevie showed up [at our studio] with the TONTO LP under his arm. He said, ‘I don’t believe this was all done on one instrument. Show me the instrument.’ He was always talking about seeing. So we dragged his hands all over the instrument, and he thought he’d never be able to play it. But we told him we’d get it together for him.” The duo would go on to help shape the recording of Wonder’s Talking Book, Innervisions and Fullfillingness’ First Finale albums.

Wonder is heard playing all of the instruments on the record including the TONTO, except for the electric guitar which was played by Buzz Feiten and the trumpet and saxophone played respectively by Steve Madaio and Trevor Laurence.

The song clocked in at over eight minutes in its original guise on the Music Of My Mind album and was about former Motown secretary and Wonder’s first wife Syreeta Wright. The lyric “trying to boss the bull around” is about Syreeta trying to exert some control on Wonder who is a Taurus.

The first part of the song talks about “Mary’s” desire to leave her current life behind to chase the goal of stardom. The song’s second “Where Were You When I Needed You” part finds the song’s narrator wondering when she will be coming back and why it is taking so long. Musically, the second part of the song was a re-working of Wonder’s 1971 single “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” from his Where I’m Coming From album. The song was released as a single and climbed to the #33 slot on the pop charts. Indeed, Wonder’s marriage to Syreeta broke up soon after he completed work on Music Of My Mind.”

Both songs on today’s Jukebox classic double A-sided single were originally issued as separate singles, each with a different B-side. The original B-side to “Superstition” was “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” and the original “Superwoman” B-side was “I Love Every Little Thing About You.”

The clip of “Superstition” accompanying this piece is an alternate live in-studio performance of the track with a full backing band.

Edited: October 23rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #6 – Rufus – “Tell Me Something Good” b/w “Smokin’ Room” – ABC Records 45 ABC-11427 1974 (K1/L1)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #6 – Rufus  – “Tell Me Something Good” b/w “Smokin’ Room”  – ABC Records 45 ABC-11427 1974 (K1/L1)

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

In taking stock of the records that inhabit my jukebox for The Jukebox Series, I’ve come to learn something about myself that I’d like to share. I find it somewhat amusing that there are no records newer than the 1970s included, and with the exception of a few 1950s nuggets, nothing earlier than the 1960s. This leads me to believe that I either find myself in a state of musical developmental retardation, or that every record I’ve chosen for the jukebox is geared to make me feel nostalgic for the years when I was in middle and high school.

This really shouldn’t be such a surprise because when you think about it, the music that we consider OUR music typically harks back to those golden teenage days when we were in public school. It doesn’t matter that those years for some (me included) were the most dreadful years of my life. We still look back on them with rose colored glasses verifying the idea that nostalgia truly is the past with the pain removed, and the musical comfort food that inhabits my jukebox really points this out.

Today’s Song Of The Day was Chaka Khan’s breakout hit as a member of Rufus. Rufus evolved out of the ashes of Chicago group, The American Breed who scored a hit with “Bend Me Shape Me” in the late 1960s. After the American Breed disbanded several members formed a band called Smoke who added vocalist Paulette Williams to the lineup. That group later became Ask Rufus named after a column in the magazine Popular Mechanics. After several more lineup shifts, Ron Stockert was added to the group as vocalist and artistic director and Williams left, recommending her friend Chaka Khan as her replacement.

During the early days of Rufus (shortened from Ask Rufus), Khan was considered one of two co-lead vocalists sharing vocals duties with Ron Stockert. However, when the songs featuring Khan’s lead vocals began to get attention, she became the focal point of the group leading to Stockert’s departure during the recording of their 1974 album Rags To Rufus.

At this point, the group consisted of Chaka Khan on lead and background vocals, Dennis Belfield on bass and background vocals, André Fischer on drums and percussion, Kevin Murphy on organ and clavinette, Al Ciner on guitar, Ron Stockert on vocals and keyboards, Tony Maiden (uncredited) on guitar and talk box and Nate Morgan (uncredited) on keyboards.

The Rags To Rufus album was the group’s last album credited to Rufus, after this they would be forever known as Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. The album also included the huge hit “You Got The Love” (#10 pop/#1 R&B) written by Ray Parker Jr. and Khan, and on the strength of its two singles, the album sold well over one million copies earning a platinum certification.

Today’s Song Of The Day was written by Stevie Wonder and climbed to the #3 position on the pop and R&B charts in 1974. Wonder is said to have recorded a version of the song, but it remains unreleased. “Tell Me Something Good” was one of several songs that Wonder wrote and gave away to female vocalists around this time. Two others notable examples are Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” (#1 R&B/#3 Pop) and the title track to Minnie Riperton’s chart-topping album Perfect Angel.

Wonder liked the way Chaka Khan sang his song “Maybe Your Baby” on Rufus’ self-titled debut album and decided to give the group another one of his songs to record. As Khan tells it, “Tell Me Something Good” was not the first song that Wonder brought to the band. Wonder came by the studio and played a song called “Come And Get This Stuff,” but Kahn told Wonder that she didn’t like the song. After learning Khan’s astrological sign, Wonder then gave Rufus “Tell Me Something Good” to record and also helped in the studio with the arrangement,  going as far as to coach Khan in the way he wanted her to sing it. The single would go on to with the 1975 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. (Note: Wonder’s “Come And Get This Stuff” would later turn up on his ex-wife’s album Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta.)

“Tell Me Something Good” also features an early example of the use of a talk box during the chorus. The talk box was played through a guitar by Tony Maiden and was also made famous by Joe Walsh on his track “Rocky Mountain Way” and by Peter Frampton on “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like I Do.” The sultry B-side of “Tell Me Something Good” was “Smokin’ Room,” an album cut also culled from Rags To Rufus.

Edited: October 14th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 9/28/13 – “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire

As a pimply-faced Jewish teen growing up in a predominantly white New Jersey suburb, my exposure to the black experience was extremely limited. Sure there was Soul Train on TV and disco music on the radio, but the few African-American kids in my middle school mostly kept to themselves.

At the same time, I volunteered at a hospital in predominantly black Newark, New Jersey where my mother was a nurse, and most of the African-American people I came into contact with were much older than me. Being a sheltered 14 year old, I was intrigued by their seemingly hip lifestyle, but knew little about their history or the way they experienced the same world that we shared.

Earth, Wind & Fire gave me an early inkling into the black experience with their Afro-centric kalimba-soaked mélange of jazz, funk and soul, combined with their use of astrological imagery and the funky threads they sported on their album covers. They were the real deal, and a great musical group to boot!

I remember purchasing That’s The Way Of The World when it was a new release in 1975 from Vogel’s Records in Elizabeth, New Jersey, which had the best selection of urban records anywhere in my area. I was already keenly aware of today’s Song Of The Day, “Shining Star” from hearing it on the radio and had to have it.

The album topped the U.S. pop charts for three weeks and the R’n’B charts for five weeks in 1975, however, most people aren’t aware that the album was actually the soundtrack to a film of the same name, starring Harvey Keitel as a record producer and Earth Wind & Fire as the group he produced. The film was a complete flop, but the album was a huge hit. In fact, it was Columbia Records’ biggest selling album of 1975.

The group at this time featured the classic front line of Maurice White, Philip Bailey and Verdine White on vocals, with Larry Dunn on keyboards, Fred White and Ralph Johnson on drums and percussion, Verdine White on bass, Andrew P. Woolfolk on reeds and Al McKay and Johnny Graham on guitar. Their sound was typified by Philip Bailey’s soaring soprano and White’s soulful tenor, a dynamic horn section that injected the funk into their tunes, dazzling instrumental jazz workouts and lots of Kalimba (African thumb piano) interspersed throughout. Their albums also had interesting instrumental interludes between the songs as well.

“Shining Star” was written by Maurice White, Larry Dunn and Philip Bailey, and it won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. It was one of the group’s funkiest recordings with its flying horns and tightly wound rhythm guitar patterns, but the song’s end is the real grabber as the band repeats “Shining Star for you to see, what your life can truly be” three successive times, each one with instruments dropping out leaving the last time completely a cappela bringing it to an abrupt cold dry ending.

On the album, the song immediately bumps up against the beginning of the title track to the album, which is one of their all-time greatest ballads. The whole sequence conjures the type of drama and excitement that only EWF were capable of. (“Shining Star” also holds the distinction as the song used in the classic Seinfeld episode where Julia Louis Dreyfus’ Elaine unleashes her spastic dance.)

Another incredible track on this album is “Reasons” which was a vehicle for Bailey’s soaring falsetto, especially on the live version from the Gratitude album. While it never charted as a single, it is considered one of EWF’s signature songs and appears on several of their Greatest Hits albums. The horn-pierced funk of “Yearnin’ Learnin’” and “Happy Feeling” keep the good times going, while “All About Love” features a wigged out instrumental interlude at the beginning and end of this deep soul ballad. “Africano” is a jazz-funk instrumental similar to what the band cut its teeth on in their earlier albums, featuring a blazing sax solo courtesy of Andrew Woolfolk.

The group went on to release a string of indelible singles throughout the 1970s including “Sing a Song” (#5 pop/#1 R&B), “Can’t Hide Love” (#11 R&B), “Getaway” (#12 pop/#1 R&B), “Saturday Night” (#4 R&B), “Serpentine Fire” (#13 pop/#1 R&B), “Got To Get You Into My Life” (#9 pop/#1 R&B), “Fantasy” (#12 pop), “September” (#8 pop/#1 R&B), “Boogie Wonderland” (#6 pop/#1 R&B) and “After The Love Has Gone” (#2 pop/#2 R&B), and over the years they’ve sold over 90 million albums, performed at The White House, have won numerous Grammy and American Music Awards and are members of The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

But it was their jubilant sound that gave me insight into a world I barely knew existed back in 1975. Earth, Wind & Fire still continue today and just released a brand new album last week called Now, Then and Forever.

Edited: September 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Hold On Longer” by John Legend

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This spectacular piece of song craft and mood comes from John Legend’s latest album “Love In The Future.” I’ve literally played this song over and over since it came out several weeks ago, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the best Stevie Wonder song that Wonder never wrote.

Yet, in two minutes and thirty-nine seconds of splendor, Legend manages to match the seemingly unmatchable level of artistry of classic Stevie Wonder.

The song lists amongst its writers John Stephens (aka John Legend), Kanye West who also gets an executive producer credit along with Legend and Dave Tozer. Like Legend’s other albums, his latest is a stone-classic in the making.

Edited: September 22nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 7/18/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Horse” by Cliff Nobles & Co.

Cliff Nobles was a gospel singer from Alabama who relocated to Philadelphia to break into the recording industry. He was quickly signed to Atlantic records where he recorded three singles: “My Love Is Getting Stronger,” “Let’s Have A Good Time” and “Your Love Is All I Need” that failed to find any action on the charts.

As a result of his affiliation with Atlantic, he was signed to a local Philadelphia record label called “Phil-L.A. of Soul Records” by independent producer Jesse James and formed the group Cliff Nobles & Co. consisting of Benny Williams on bass, Bobby Tucker on guitar, and Tommy Soul on drums.

The group’s second single was “Love Is All Right” b/w “The Horse.”  The single did not feature the playing of Nobles regular band but, instead, featured a group of Philadelphia session musicians put together by Leon Huff called the James Boys who went on to become the Sigma Sound house band MFSB.

While “Love Is All Right” made no waves on the charts, DJs began play the instrumental track and today’s Song Of The Day on the flip. “The Horse” was merely the instrumental backing track to “Love Is All Right” and Cliff Nobles was nowhere to be found on the record.

The song began to climb the charts, peaking at #2 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts in July of 1968, and went on to sell a million copies.  The label released the album The Horse and several instrumental follow-up singles credited to Cliff Nobles & Co. in which he also did not appear.

After his music career was over, Nobles worked in construction and later in the electricity generation industry. He died in Norristown, Pennsylvania in October 2008, at the age of 67, leaving behind this indelible and instantly recognizable instrumental classic.

Edited: July 17th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 7/16/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited

It was a breath of funked out fresh air when “Soulful Strut” hit the charts in 1968, and today the song is one of the most refreshing instrumentals of all time.

Eldee Young (bass) and Isaac “Red” Holt (drums) were Chicago musicians who made up the rhythm section for The Ramsey Lewis Trio. After gigging with Lewis for ten years and scoring the monster hit “The In Crowd,” Young and Holt left to form their own jazz combo called The Young-Holt Trio with pianist Don Walker.

Together, the trio scored a top 20 R&B hit with “Wack Wack,” and recorded several records for the Brunswick record label. By 1968, Young and Holt replaced Walker with Ken Chaney and renamed the group Young-Holt Unlimited in an effort to sound more current and tap into the youth market with their recordings.

Today’s Song Of The Day got its start as the backing track of “Am I The Same Girl,” a minor hit by Barbara Acklin (#33 R&B/#79 Pop) which was written by Eugene Record (Acklin’s husband) and Sonny Sanders. Acklin was a Chicago soul singer who scored numerous hits on her own, but is perhaps best known as the co-writer (with Record) of the Chi-Lites’ smash hit “Have You Seen Her.”

It was Brunswick Records producer Carl Davis who got the idea to remove Acklin’s voice from “Am I The Same Girl” and to release it as an instrumental. Acklin’s vocal was replaced with a piano solo played by Floyd Morris and the instrumental was renamed “Soulful Strut.”  The instrumental version was released before Acklin’s “Am I The Same Girl” and it climbed all the way to the #3 position on both the R&B and pop charts.

The single was credited to Young-Holt Unlimited; however it is believed that the backing track was actually performed by the Brunswick Records studio band with neither Eldee Young nor Red Holt present on the track. At least three other songs from Young-Holt Unlimited’s Soulful Strut album were originally Acklin backing tracks including “Please Sunrise,” “Love Makes A Woman” and “Just Ain’t No Lovin’.”

As a vocal, “Am I The Same Girl” was covered by both Dusty Springfield and Swing Out Sister, who both scored minor charts hits with their versions (although Swing Out Sister’s version did top the adult contemporary charts). As an instrumental, “Soulful Strut” was later covered by George Benson in 1979, and again by Grover Washington Jr. in 1996. The song has also been sampled by 2 Live Crew and The Beastie Boys, and Joss Stone used the track as the basis for her 2005 track “Don’t Cha Wanna Ride.”

Edited: July 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 7/7/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright

She doesn’t do windows, and for that matter she doesn’t even clean houses. But the “Clean Up Woman” of Betty Wright’s top-ten hit from 1971 sure ‘nuff cleaned up on the charts!

Bessie Regina Norris (aka Betty Wright) got her start as a three year old member of her family Gospel group The Echoes Of Joy who recorded albums during the early 1960s. By the time she was a young teen, she was scoring minor regional hits including her first Top 40 hit in 1968 with “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do” and an album called My First Time Around.

But it wasn’t until the age of 17 in 1971, that Betty Wright scored her signature hit (and today’s Song Of The Day) “Clean Up Woman.”  The song was  written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clark a became a huge hit (#2 R&B, #6 Pop) which went on to be one of the most sampled records of all time sporting appearances on hit recording by Afrika Bambaattaa, SWV, Mary J. Blige and Sublime.

Throughout the 1970s, Wright struggled to come up with a record as potent as “Clean Up Woman,” but managed to score with a self-penned hit “Baby Sitter” (#6 R&B, #50 Pop) and “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker” (#10 R&B, #50 Pop) that exemplified her ease singing in the whistle register (the highest register of the human voice).

But it wasn’t until she began to release disco records that Wright’s career began its second resurgence with the Grammy Winning Best R&B song “Where Is The Love,” which was co-penned by Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch of KC & The Sunshine Band.

She had greater success overseas, particularly in the U.K. with her 1974 disco album Danger! High Voltage!  The album included the hits “Shoorah! Shoorah!” and “Tonight Is The Night,” which charted twice in a studio version and then again as a live version with monologue that climbed to #11 on the R&B charts in 1978.

Wright also recorded a duet with Alice Cooper in 1978 and opened for Bob Marley during his Survival Tour. After success with the Stevie Wonder written hit “What Are You Gonna Do With It,” she also contributed vocals to the Richard “Dimples” field hit “She’s Got Papers On Me.”

In the late 1980s, Wright formed her own “Miss B” record label and became the first black female to score a gold album on her own label with Mother Wit. In 2006, she was appointed by Sean Combs as a mentor on the TV show Making Of The Band leading to work contributing songwriting, backing vocals, production, and engineering work to albums by Gloria Estefan, Erykah Badu, Regina Belle, David Byrne, Jennifer Lopez, Lil Wayne and Joss Stone (whose Mind, Body & Soul album won a Best Pop Album Grammy Award).

Her 2011 album, Betty Wright: The Movie was recorded with The Roots and was nominated for a Grammy Award, as was the single “Surrender.” With a glorious set of pipes, and tons of talent to spare, Betty Wright is one “Clean Up Woman” who continues to leave a spotless legacy in her wake.

Edited: July 7th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/14/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Creepin’” by Stevie Wonder

Today’s Song Of The Day is from Stevie Wonder’s 1974 album Fulfillingness’ First Finale which was released shortly after a car accident that almost took his life, making the album an all-the-more-important part of his canon. While on tour in North Carolina in August of 1973, Wonder’s car smashed into the back of a logging truck, and the bed of the truck crashed into the windshield of his car. Wonder suffered head injuries that left him in a coma for four days. He also partially lost his sense of smell and temporarily lost his sense of taste.

The brush with death had a great impact on the tone of the album, bringing a renewed spirituality and an awareness of his mortality to the lyrics. During the first interview he gave at the hospital several days after the accident, Wonder had this to say: “I was unconscious, and that for a few days, I was definitely in a much better spiritual place that made me aware of a lot of things that concern my life and my future, and what I have to do to reach another higher ground.”

At the time of its release, Fulfillingness’ was seen as somewhat of a disappointment following nearly-perfect records like Innervisions and Talking Book. It also didn’t help that his next record was 1976′s Songs In The Key Of Life which was a critically acclaimed double album, leading most people to gloss over this record.

However, upon closer inspection, Fulfillingness’ is a first rate collection of songs that finds Stevie Wonder in transition, but still stands mighty tall amongst his other releases. And any album that can sport classics like “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” “It Ain’t No Use,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Please Don’t Go” betters most of the records on the musical landscape circa 1974.

Like on his previous albums, Wonder played almost all of the instruments here, enlisting  first class help from Michael Sembello on guitar, Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel,  James Jamerson and Reggie McBride on bass, and on background vocals The Jackson 5, Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams, Paul Anka, Syreeta Wright, The Persuasions, Shirley Brewer and Jim Gilstrap.

The album was his first to top the Billboard album charts and it spawned two big singles including the funky “Boogie on Reggae Woman” (#1 R&B/#3 Pop) and his indictment of the Nixon administration, “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” (#1 R&B/#1 Pop) featuring background vocals by the Jackson 5. It also won three Grammy Awards for Best Male Pop Vocal, Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance (for “Boogie On Reggae Woman”), and Album of the Year.

When it comes to a vibe, today’s Song Of The Day has it all: dreamy atmosphere, lush melody and deeply romantic lyrics. The song features Wonder on lead and background vocals, Fender Rhodes, harmonica, drums, Moog bass and T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer. Crucially, the vibe comes down to the T.O.N.T.O. (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) synthesizer that was the first and largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer in the world. It was brought into the fray by Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff and used on Wonder’s three previous albums. The female background vocals on the track were supplied by Minnie Riperton, and the song was also covered by Luther Vandross and Kenny Rankin.

Bottom line: the run of records Stevie Wonder released from 1971′s Music Of My Mind through 1976′s Songs In The Key Of Life are an essential part to any comprehensive music collection!

Well, it seems that Stevie Wonder’s recording of “Creepin’” has been blockedon YouTube by thought police (or is that the thoughtless police) at the record companies. So if you have Spotify or this Stevie Wonder album, I recommend that you cue it up and enjoy it while reading this…and if you don’t have it, buy it immediately…and you can thank me later.

Edited: June 13th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/4/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bacon Fat” by Andre Williams and his New Group

Oh lawd, have moicey…this “Bacon Fat” is show nuff greasy!

I listened to Taj Mahal’s 1969 double album Giant Step earlier this week for the piece I wrote on his cover version of “Take A Giant Step.” The album also has a version of the song “Bacon Fat” that is credited to J.R. Robertson and Garth Hudson of The Band.

Upon digging deeper, I found out that “Bacon Fat” was originally written by Andre Williams, who scored a top-ten hit with the song in 1956, and the erroneous writing credit probably stems from an arrangement credit they received for the song when they were performing as Levon & The Hawks shortly after they left Ronnie Hawkins and before they joined forces with Bob Dylan.

Williams cut the original “Bacon Fat” for the Fortune record label along with several other hits including “Jail Bait” and “Greasy Chicken.” When “Bacon Fat” began to take off on the charts, Fortune leased the record to Epic Records for national distribution and the song climbed all the way to #9 on the singles chart. Contrary to popular belief, “Bacon Fat” is not an ode to clogged arteries or some weird sexual proclivity for food by-products, but rather the “Bacon Fat” of this song is a dance.

Early on, Williams realized he wasn’t gifted with a voice as good as other soul singers of the day like Clyde McPhatter or Jackie Wilson, so he began to talk over his records instead of sing. As a result, many people have credited him as “The Father Of Rap” for developing a new style.

Following his stint with Fortune, Williams spent four years working at Motown as a recording artist, arranger and songwriter. Although he did not release any records for the label, he did co-write Stevie Wonder’s first hit “Thank You For Loving Me,” and “Twine Time,” a hit for Alvin Cash and the Crawlers. His best known composition is “Shake A Tail Feather,” which became a big hit for Ike & Tina Turner.

After supervising the recording of two albums by Motown group, The Contours, Williams became a roadie for Edwin Starr before signing with Chess Records in 1966. He recorded many great R&B tunes for Chess, although none became big hits. During the 1970s, Williams also wrote for Parliament and Funkadelic.

A long period of drug addiction followed before he was signed to Chicago’s Bloodshot Records in 1998 where he recorded records with The Sadies (who were also covered in this column last week for their work with John Doe), Jon Spencer and Two Star Tabernacle (featuring a young Jack White). He was also the subject of a documentary, Agile, Mobile, Hostile that premiered at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival.

Williams released two albums in 2012 on Bloodshot Records and continues to tour around the world today.

Edited: June 3rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/18/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Shelter Of Your Arms” by Clyde McPhatter

Singles and albums that came out of the Brill Building during the early 1960s have a distinct sound of their own. It’s not just down to the great songs that were written by the best songwriters New York City had to offer, or the now-legendary musicians who played on the sessions, but it also came down to the production sound, which was the key ingredient that made each record sound great coming out of a mono speaker on a car radio or record player. Without that production sound, there was no record.

One of the great albums to come out of The Brill Building was Clyde McPhatter’ s 1964 release Songs Of The Big City, which was a concept album featuring, you guessed it, songs about city life. The album has that classic New York City sound with similar production values to singles by Dionne Warwick, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Neil Sedaka and the classic productions of Phil Spector.

By the time it came out in 1964, McPhatter had already been a key member of Billy Ward and his Dominos, singing on their hits “Do Something For Me” and “Sixty Minute Man.” Ward was a strict taskmaster who didn’t pay his singers very well, so McPhatter left The Dominoes in 1953 and was replaced by Jackie Wilson.

When Ahmet Ertegun heard that McPhatter left the group, he quickly signed him to Atlantic Records, and together they set upon forming Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters. McPhatter’ s vocals graced the hits “Money Honey,” “Such A Night,” “White Christmas” and “What’cha Gonna Do,” before McPhatter left in 1955 to serve in the Army. Upon his discharge, he released dozens of singles as a solo artist for Atlantic, MGM, Mercury, Amy, Deram and Decca Records, but only scored one substantial hit with “A Lover’s Question” in 1958.

In 1964, McPhatter was deep into his contract with Mercury Records when he recorded “The Shelter Of Your Arms.” The song became a big hit for Sammy Davis Jr., who released his version the same year on Reprise records. It was one of two hits the song’s writer Jerry Samuels would score, the other was “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” which he wrote, produced and recorded under the pseudonym Napoleon XIV.

Songs Of The Big City featured songs by many of the Brill Building best writers including Jerry Lieber and Phil Spector’s “Spanish Harlem,” Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Up On The Roof” and “On Broadway” by Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.

Jerry Radcliffe co-wrote many of the other songs on the album, including “Deep In The Heart Of Harlem,” “My Block,” “A Suburban Town” (which interlopes phrases from “On Broadway,” and “Uptown” into its verses), “Three Rooms With Running Water” and “Coney Island.”

Radcliffe was part of a cadre of in-demand session vocalists including Doris Troy, Dee Dee Warwick, Cissy Houston, Melba Moore, Toni Wine, Jean Thomas and Barbara Jean English, who all appeared on hundreds of singles during this time. 

Also of note are the very “hip” liner notes on the back cover of the original album jacket, which were written by Ira Howard. Howard was a writer for Cashbox during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and mingled with the likes of Bobby Darin, The Supremes, Dick Clark and Phil Spector, to name a few. I was lucky enough to work with him at Reader’s Digest Recorded Music in the early 1990s, where he used to regale me with tales of the wild and wacky record business during the time.

After years with no hits, McPhatter was on the precipice of another comeback recording for Decca in 1972, when he died of complications from alcoholism at the age of 39.

Edited: February 17th, 2013