Oh yeah! This is wonderful and it feels good to hear both these albums again. Released in 1973 on Blue Note, the Sisters’ first album has always been a huge favourite in my collection. Cleverly packaged and marketed, it shot to the top of the US R&B chart, passed gold status, proving they were here to stay and this debut was testament to that. The imaginative use of vocals from Bonnie, June, Ruth and Anita which are often combined, sometimes scat and jazz-tinged, but always with an edge. They drive and wail, pitch and touch their voices in and around tracks that are excitingly divine.
With the album cover showing them in 40s’ styled clothes, we knew we were in for a treat, starting with their take of “Yes We Can Can”, both sassy and cool. The quirky full-spirited, energetic “Wang Dang Doodle” and the amusing “Old Songs” with its pounding rhythm steering their voices reminded me of Bette Midler. Hell. Should I have written that? With the ability to mix R&B with a fresh approach, and with cover versions rubbing grooves with a couple of Pointers’ compositions – “Jada” and “Sugar” – this was a brilliantly conceived launching pad for them. Check out too “That’s How I Feel”; rather zany, with improvised vocals and nonsense lyrics, with their voices used as instruments.
Ragtime starts “That’s A Plenty” with “Bangin’ On The Pipes/Steam Heat”. Both fast and furious, totally impulsive and crazy because how can a song about a radiator be so deliriously lovely? With lyrics that mean nothing but rather highlight a scat/bebop vocal which they do so well, “Salt Peanuts” races along like a speeding train over its tracks, taking no prisoners on the way. Change of style with the country-flavoured “Fairytale” which gave them their second top forty hit, crossing over into the C&W chart enabling them to become the first African-American vocal group to star at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The song also won them their first Grammy Award for Best Country Performance. Glorious tight vocals shine across “Grinning In Your Face” against a steady, unhurried beat, while a young Bonnie Raitt plays slide guitar.
The Pointers’ self penned “Shaky Flat Blues” is followed by “That’s A Plenty/Surfeit USA” crammed with surprises as it shifts from one genre to another in quick succession, and from the sounds of it, great fun and laughter resonated around the studio. Meanwhile, “Black Coffee” instantly stills the mood with low key, heartfelt Blues, sedately presented. So cool. The “That’s A Plenty” album sleeve, while not colourful, does strike an impressive pose in stark black and white, silhouetting the four ladies dancing. There’s absolutely nothing to fault across these two albums; they’re both steeped in originality whether from a soul, jazz or Blues songbook, and the Pointer Sisters (while probably out of breath most of the time!) are incredible. Absolutely priceless!
It was the five bonus tracks on this double CD package that excited me the most. These single versions of the biggest disco tracks around in the late seventies/early eighties, had my blood pressure rising, adrenalin bubbling and voice singing at full pelt. Let me remind you – “Uptown Festival”, “Take That To The Bank”, “Right In The Socket”, “The Second Time Around” and “I Owe You One”. Know what I mean? Hard driving dance that never lets up, with building chorus and hooklines, they’re so totally addictive and so epitomise the best in disco. Formed in 1978 by the producer and host of the innovative US music show “Soul Train” and featuring Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley and Gary Mumford, the trio couldn’t sing a bum note as their string of UK hits proved. OK, so the line-up changed slightly but so long as Jeffrey and Jody were there, we knew we were onto a winner.
On offer here are Shalamar’s first three albums, “Uptown Festival”, “Disco Gardens” and “Big Fun”, and on the first we’re treated to ten Motown tracks sung non-stop over a seventies disco beat. Two further company songs are given the Shalamar treatment, namely, “Ooo Baby Baby” and “Forever Came Today”. For “Disco Gardens”, with the membership of Jeffrey, Jody and Gerald Brown, the highlight hinges on the hit “Take That To The Bank”, with occasional inspiring musical moments via “Shalamar Disco Gardens” and “Leave It All Up To Love”. It’s one long dance party although listening to it now, am sad it hasn’t travelled well. The third, “Big Fun”, however, boasts the classic membership of the two Js and Howard Hewitt, and is just what it says on the album cover. Fun! It also way outsold its predecessor thanks to the included hits, like their biggest seller “The Second Time Around”. Shalamar have such an instantly distinctive sound, said to be the very heart of Solar Records, and it is true to say their singles are immediately recognisable from the opening vocals, despite some of the cuts falling short of the excellence we came to expect from them. Nonetheless, a worthy compilation for disco fans.
Being the gal I am, I immediately headed for Marlena’s version of “Touch Me In The Morning” – and what a wow! track it is! Taken at a dance pace, the song dips and rises through this remix, grabbing attention as the Diana Ross ballad is transformed into a disco classic. Fabulous! So, now calm and my curiosity stemmed, here we have another in SoulMusic Records’ much loved anthology series from Ms Shaw, revisiting her Columbia Records tenure between 1977 – 1980. Not being too familiar with her musical heritage I researched her background and rise to fame while listening to this diverse collection of music which earned her the title of soul/jazz legend. Her uncle and jazz trumpet player, Jimmy Burgess, introduced her on stage during one of his performances at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, and from here she studied music. She dropped out of the course to get married and sang in jazz clubs as and when. During 1963 she auditioned unsuccessfully for Columbia, before signing to Chess Records to release a pair of albums on their Cadet imprint, followed by five albums for Blue Note.
“Yu-Ma/Go Away Little Boy” from her Columbia debut “Sweet Beginnings” in 1977 is obviously a highlight on this anthology, soaring into the US R&B chart where it stayed for 11 weeks. Love her spoken rap here which, by all accounts, she perfected while performing in an upstate New York club. Van McCoy’s beautifully styled ballad “Walk Softly” mixes easily with “Look At Me, Look At You (I’m Flying)”, a lustrous cool jazz item. Her acapella introduction on “You Bring Out The Best In Me” leads into a compelling song, while the mood changes for “Mamma Tried” with its gospel feel, where Marlena accompanies herself on keyboards. Her first three charting singles for Columbia are here – the lively “The Writing’s On The Wall”, “Pictures And Memories”, upbeat and catchy, and “No Deposit, No Return”, her own composition. Then the beautifully haunting “Theme From ‘Looking For Mr Goodbar’ (Don’t Ask To Stay Until Tomorrow)” from the 1977 film is quite outstanding. I may not have known too much about Miss Shaw before hearing this, but now, after listening to this 2-CD package, I feel like we’re old friends.