We’re coming into 2021 with a quickie playlist and some grabs of mini-blog entries from the old Tumblr Blog bought to you. It’s Black History Month, so we’re gonna soul you up with some Soul Sirens you need a history lesson on.
1) Mable John “It’s Catching” (Stax 192-B, 1966)
With enough strut to carry herself, it’s a little sad that Mable John didn’t have a consistent solo career. After her fruitless stay at Motown, it decidedly looked promising to have an R&B smash out the door at Stax. Unfortunately her career didn’t continue to live up to the hype, and not long afterwards she found herself a Raelette (although her distinct vocals gave The Raelettes some of their own chart singles apart from Ray Charles).
One case of waste was using this funky vaccine wish against the flu the love bug brings as a B-side. Surely this has all the stamps and signals that a Stax R&B Classic has, but out of Mabel’s solo output it sits in relative obscurity. Time for shining some light on it.
2) The Three Degrees “Do What You’re Supposed To Do” (Swan 4197-B, 1964)
While it was the A-side that got The Three Degrees their first chart entry, the more interesting side is this rather lascivious B-side. For a girl group record in 1964, it’s pretty racy, with a seductive half spoken lead vocal in the versus that builds to an almost orgasmic hook into the chorus.
Granted, none of the DJs of the land dared flip this wanton sexual abandon over, but, it would have been a more controversial, and possibly business supplying start for the group, who would have to wait another 5 years for a bonafide chart entry.
3) Elaine “Look But Don’t Touch” (Roulette 4514, 1963)
I had previously thought the singular sensation “Elaine” (whoever you are) was truly singular. I had thought her “It Should Have Been Me (Instead of Company)” was her only effort.
But it turns out this more forceful stomper from earlier in 1963 was her first shot at success. Her distinctive “Yeah” ticks already present, it’s a bit astonishing that Roulette wasn’t able to push her to pop or R&B success as both her single releases were delightful bits of Camelot Era Pop Soul with enough tartness and bite to set them apart from the thickening pack of Femme Pop efforts from 1963.
4) Stormie Wynters “Life Saver” (Mercury 72505-B, 1965)
It wasn’t just small independent labels that gave start up singers a one off shot at success on the airwaves in the 1960’s. Whether it was leasing a single from a smaller label or stumbling across a promising singer, so much could hinge on one trip to the studio.
So here we have the exuberant “Stormie Wynters” giving it her all on this rave-up Motown Knock off B-side, sounding all the much like a random Gladys Horton-Lead Marvelettes outtake from the Mid-60’s. Given the stage name and the one off shot at fame, who knows who or where “Stormie Wynters” was from, or where she went after her chance at Mercury.
5) Leola & The Lovejoys “Wait ‘Round The Corner” (Tiger 101-B, 1963)
Of consistently high quality and bad luck, Leola Jiles, solo and with her typical singing partners Billie Barnum and Ella Jamerson recorded for a variety of labels between 1962 and 1969, most often as The Apollas, but never scored a national hit.
Maybe because this splendidly soulful tale of being left in a dark alley, in the midst of a stand up, was the far stronger side of their debut for Leiber and Stoller’s Tiger Label that the A-side. Or the fact that Tiger, as a label, didn’t have as much success launching careers as the Red Bird imprint that grew out of it.
6) Betty Harris “Nearer To You” (Sansu 466-B, R&B#16, Pop#85, 1967)
Betty Harris was a perpetually slept on vocalist that, like a host of soul sirens from the Class of ’63, only had one major hit. But her fierce cover of “Cry To Me” outcharted Solomon Burke’s original (and a quick listen to it can tell you why).
But her remainder of releases, while top flight, never reached the same heights. Initially a Brill Building darling under the wing of Bert Burns, in late 1965 she found herself under Allen Toussaint, who added his traditional New Orleans flourishes to her output. But without a major label backing her, few of her efforts made entries into the charts.
Except her brazen, brilliant B-side from the spring of 1967, that out shadowed the top side and broke into the R&B Top 20 by that summer.
7) Maureen Gray “I Don’t Want To Cry (In Front Of You)” (Chancellor 1091-B, 1961)
Although not that well known nationally, Maureen Gray was a well regarded teen star on the Philadelphia Music Scene. Although 12 years old at her debut on Chancellor records, her voice and the mature surroundings of her records gave her a far much more mature sound than her age and experience let on.
Although she only charted once, she was the template used for many early sixties female pop stars originating from Philadelphia. Although she exited recording by the time she entered High School in 1964, she continued to perform up until 6 months ago, and the influence of her majority Madara-White produced work found its way to influence a full scope of femme-pop work.
Today we feature her quite excellent emotive ballad that rode the flip of her second single from the second half of 1961.
8) The Drew Vels “I’ve Known” (Capitol 5244-B, 1964)
Although between her family group The Drew-Vels and her solo career, Patti Drew has some of the best known modest hits in soul music history.
Given that they did have a major label behind them, and wonderful songs behind them, it’s strange that the original take of “Tell Him” and the subsequent singles didn’t did do well for Patti and her family and man friend. After switching to the Quill label, she re-emerged on Capitol for another run of a singles and 3 LPs as the 1960s drew to a close. We pull up the all knowing b-side to their last group outing on Capitol at the tail end of 1964.
9) Barbara Lewis “Better Not Believe Him (Sorrow)” (From The LP It’s Magic, 1966)
There’s three distinct periods to Barbara Lewis’s career at Atlantic: The Detroit produced material that spawned her sprint to the Pop charts with “Hello Stranger,” Her middle opus of Brill Building gems from 1965 and 1966 and then the return of that Detroit influence for a sweet soul influence.
From that middle period we pull this song. It’s possibly one of the most chipper warning songs that you’ll ever hear. Very much a quiet, polite warning of sisterly advice for the ladies for afternoon tea set.
10) Damita Jo “Besame Mucho” (From The LP This One’s For Me, 1963)
To close out, I’m going to take it easy and hand it over to Damita Jo De Blanc from her period where her vocal similarities to Dinah Washington were played up to maximum effect. Around the release of this LP, she was actually teamed with Brook Benton, in hopes that the duet paring would spark another round of hit records.