September 8 – Let’s Get It On Soundtrack To Getting Clothes Off?

This day in 1973, people were taking clothes off to the sound of “Let’s Get It On.” Marvin Gaye hit #1 in the U.S. for the second time in his career with the song some, like Purple Clover, think the sexiest pop song ever.

There’s no denying the sultry appeal of the smooth music and unabashedly (for the era) straight-forwardly naughty lyrics. As Rolling Stone put it, Gaye came up with a “vintage ’50s melody” with an “arrangement (which) centers around a slightly eccentric rhythm pattern that deepens the song’s power” resulting in “a classic Motown single, endlessly repeatable (with) Marvin Gaye’s best singing at its center.” The song spent 10 weeks in Billboard‘s top 5 and ended up as the fourth biggest single of the year not to mention becoming the biggest hit for Motown Records to that point in time, selling some four million copies by 1974. As such it got Marvin his first platinum single and pushed the album of the same name up to #2 on the charts, the highest for any of his. It lives on not only on radio but in countless movies, including Jack Black’s surprisingly-true rendition in High Fidelity, and ads. The b-side wasn’t bad either: “I Wish It Would Rain”.

September 2 – Cuba Found Main Ingredient To A Hit Single

Debuting on the American top 40 chart this day in 1972 was New York’s Main Ingredient, with their now-iconic hit “Everybody Plays The Fool.”

The lively, encouraging tune for the “heart broken” made a lot of sense telling people who’d gone from a breakup not to “sit around moping, cryin’ cryin’” since “there’s no guarantee the one you love is gonna love you”. It eventually got to #3 and earned them a gold single. The band was well-established by that point; they’d formed as a trio called The Poets back in 1964 and had been recording with RCA for a couple of years by that point. In fact, it was the fifth song they’d launched onto the R&B charts, but it was the first one to cross over to mainstream hit radio. Oddly enough singer Cuba Gooding said “Black stations wouldn’t even play it – they said it wasn’t R&B”. Indeed it was originally written for country artist Charlie Pride, but he didn’t think it was country enough. Good thing, as Main Ingredient did it up right! They’d score one more hit in 1974 with “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely.” and broke up in ’77, only to reunite times since.

The noteworthy thing about the band you might have noticed is that the singer on this song has a familiar name – Cuba Gooding. Gooding Sr. replaced the original singer, Don McPherson who died of cancer at a young age. Gooding at the time he was made their main singer was selling magazine subscriptions door to door, but yearning for more. “Growing up in Harlem,” he says, “(if) you didn’t want to be a pimp or a bum or a gangster, you sang and hoped to be in the music business. I grew up eight blocks from the Apollo theater, (and) could walk down the street and run into Sammy Davis Jr.,Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, Jackie Browne…” Needless to say, his son Cuba Gooding Jr. has gone on to that level of great fame in another field of entertainment.

August 16 – Long Live ‘The Queen’ (And ‘The King’)

A day when we remember not only “The King” but “The Queen”. The Queen of Soul that is. On this day in 2018, or 41 years to the day since the death of Elvis, Aretha Franklin passed away. She was at home, surrounded by family and friends including Stevie Wonder, in Detroit. Franklin was 76 and suffering from a variation of pancreatic cancer.

Franklin of course was successful; her 13 gold or platinum albums and 19 R&B chart #1s (starting with 1967’s “I’ve Never Loved A Man Before” and running through 1985’s “Freeway of Love” with greats like “Respect”, “Until You Come Back To Me” and “Spanish Harlem” in between) are testimony to that. She was also a well-known and respected voice for social justice throughout her life, but she was more than that. She was one of the great voices…the great voice, at least according to Rolling Stone.

That magazine ranked her as the greatest singer of all-time, just ahead of Ray Charles. They called her “a gift from God. When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one that can touch her.” Or as allmusic state, “more than any other performer, she epitomizes soul.” The “Queen of Soul” nickname was so widely known, Steely Dan referred to her by it in their ’81 hit “Hey Nineteen”; so great was her appeal that she visited the White House- several times. She performed at the inauguration galas for both Presidents Clinton and Obama, and invited to do so by President Trump, whom she turned down. In between Clinton and Obama was George W. Bush, who awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. She joined a list of musicians like Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald to be so honored.

After her passing, she was quickly given tributes from all over, including one of this decade’s big female voices, Adele who wrote “I cannot remember a day in my life without Aretha Franklin’s voice and music filling my heart” , to Hillary Clinton who said “she deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts.”

July 22 – Not At All Too Late For Cornelius Family 50 Years Ago

Pity Billie Jo! She was the fourth, and ergo unnamed member of the soul quartet Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose. They hit #2 this day in 1972 with their biggest hit, “Too Late To Turn Back Now.” It was their second single and second to go gold in the States, but alas, also the last significant hit they would register.

The name was pretty much who they were when it came to Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose. It was a family out of Florida, consisting of brothers Eddie and Carter Cornelius and their sister, Rose. The brothers began writing a few songs and singing together around the beginning of the decade but felt something was lacking, so they invited their sister, who was already a respected gospel singer, to join them. They got signed to United Artists, and added in another sister, Billie Jo before starting work on their first album. Guess they figured “Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose and oh, look, there’s Billie Jo too” might not fit well on a 7” record label.

The self-titled debut hit the American top 30 based largely on the two upbeat R&B singles that led it off : “Treat Her Like A Lady” (which got to #3 in the States) and this one. “Too Late To Turn Back Now” actually topped Canadian charts ( a rare case of a soul song doing better north of the border back then) and made the Australian and New Zealand top 20. Two more singles followed and squeaked into the U.S. top 40, “Don’t Ever Be Lonely” and “Never Gonna Be Lonely Again” but fame was fleeting.

A 1973 follow-up album drew almost no notice and they disbanded in ’76 when the brothers took a cue from their sister perhaps. Eddie became a born-again Christian pastor, while Carter joined the Hebrew faith and changed his name to Prince Gideon Israel and began making Jewish religious music until his death in 1991. At last word, Rose still lives and sings in Florida.

July 13 – Pairing Got A Lot Of Spins In ’74

What’s better than a new record from a great R&B act? Maybe a new record from two great R&B acts! That’s what we found in 1974 when The Spinners got together with Dionne Warwick and put out what would end up being the only #1 single of either’s career – “Then Came You.”

Both were well-known then, but were looking like they were on opposite ends of their careers. Warwick had been a popular singer in the 1960s, but her career had wobbled in the ’70s. Her biggest hit had come in ’67 with the #4 hit “I Say A Little Prayer”. The Spinners however were a bit newer and were on the rise; they’d scored top 10 hits each of the previous two years with “I’ll Be Around” and “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” However, at the time, Warwick was still the more popular concert draw. They’d teamed up to tour together in 1973, at which point they had the idea of doing a record together. The result was this single.

Although both were signed to divisions of Warner Music, they went to Philadelphia for their inspiration on it. They brought in Thom Bell to produce (and play keyboards on) the record. Bell was synonymous with Philadelphia Intl. Records and their soul sound. He brought in two of his staff writers, Phillip Pugh and Sherman Marshall to write it. Dionne and The Spinners’ Bobby Smith played off each other’s voices (with Philip Wynne of the band adding a bit of his rougher voice at the end)

The Spinners seemed happy enough with it, but Bell remembers “Dionne made a face when we finished it. She didn’t like it much.” He did though, and says they ripped a dollar bill in half, with him and her signing a half each and exchanging them. He told her “if it doesn’t get to #1, I’ll send you my half back.” Instead, weeks later, she sent him her half-bill …with an apology.

The song did indeed hit the top of the charts in the U.S., and also made it to #7 in Canada (curiously, it did better on the cumulative year-end charts there than in the States though), and #29 in Britain. Both artists put it on their next albums, which each came out late in ’74.

The Spinners stayed hot through much of the decade, posting four more top 10 hits, including “Rubberband Man” and a cover of “Cupid.” Warwick however, remained a little less in vogue, until she had a bit of a comeback in 1979 with the gold, top 10 single “I’ll Never Love This Way Again.”

An oddity about the record – for unstated reasons, Warwick added an “e” to the end of her name on the single. And in Europe, as the picture shows, the Spinners were referred to as “the Detroit Spinners” at the time.

July 9 – People Liked To Lean On Bill’s Sound 50 Years Back

We often celebrate stars who were child prodigies, today we praise one who started late – Bill Withers. Withers had done a stint in the Navy and worked in a factory for years before getting serious about being a musician. But when he did, he didn’t take long to rise to the top. His classic, “Lean on Me” hit #1 on Billboard this day in 1972.

By that time he was in his 30’s and working on his second album, “I could afford to buy myself a little Wurlitzer electric piano” and this was one of the first things he wrote on it. He calls the song of friendship “A rural song that translates across demographics.” That it did! It also hit the top 20 in Canada and the UK and some 14 years later, a dance version by Club Nouveau would also top the charts, making it one of only nine songs to be a #1 hit in the U.S. for two different artists. Withers notes it’s a great song to play when learning piano, “just put your fingers in one position and go up and down the keyboard.”

The upbeat message about being a friend reflects Withers’ philosophy. He grew up in a small town in West Virginia, “where people were a little more attentive to each other, less afraid.” He had other top 10 songs with “Use Me” , “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Just the Two of Us” the Grover Washington Jr. song he did vocals on.

Withers was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, John Legend playing this song at the induction. Sadly he passed away at age 81 two years back.

June 28 – The Low & Loving Booming Bass Baritone Of Barry

If chocolate fudge cake could sing, it would sound like” this, according to the BBC. The voice that launched a thousand babies, Barry White, put out his biggest single, “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Babe” this day in 1974.

It was the title track from his third album, which came along a few weeks later. The distinctively bass-voiced R&B singer was by then 29 and quite a veteran of the music world…albeit fairly new as a solo singer. He grew up largely in L.A., listening to a lot of classical music his mom favored. In the ’60s, he’d put out a few unsuccessful singles but also worked as an A&R man for a small label, produced several records and even wrote music for the kids show The Banana Splits! Around 1970 he joined Love Unlimited, a soul girls’ group, as a producer and writer, writing their 1972 hit “Walkin’ in the Rain” and the 1973 #1 instrumental “Love’s Theme.” In time, 20th Century Fox gave him a solo recording contract (though a huge player in movies, Fox never made a major impression in music…but they gave it a shot). His first two albums both went to #1 on R&B charts and got him noticed at least on hit radio with the single “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More” This song though put him front and center among the biggest acts going in ’74.

Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Babe” was his only #1 hit single, and hit a career-best #5 in Canada. Coupled with the follow-up, “You’re the First, The Last, My Everything,”, it also pushed the album to the top of American charts.

White would go on to have six #1 albums on the R&B charts in the ’70s, but his disco-soul sound fell out of favor in the ’80s. This song lives on in various movies and TV shows though, including The Simpsons. They used it in their “Whacking Day” show in which Lisa recruits Barry and his low voice to sing for snakes; he was a fan of the show and even wrote an original song for that episode.

White passed away in 2003, suffering from various smoking and diabetes related problems.

May 14 – At Times Staton’s Heart Ran Too Free

Happy birthday to a lady who’s been dubbed “the Queen of Southern Soul”, a disco superstar and a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. And at 82 and still active, Candi Staton‘s a survivor, which she says is the one title she’s proudest of.

She’s come through numerous changes to the music scene, being molested as a child, several abusive marriages and breast cancer…which she told NPR was her hardest fight. “Fighting a human is one thing, fighting something you can’t see is another.”

She was born in rural northern Alabama, but her family moved to Nashville while she was still quite young, and sent her to a Christian school where her great voice got noticed. By the early ’50s, she, her sister and another young woman had formed the Jewell Gospel Trio and toured churches and revivals in the South with the likes of Mahalia Jackson, beginning to cut records by 1953 – when Candi (born Canzetta) was just 13. They were quite popular, but by the mid-’60s, she’d transitioned more to mainstream R&B or soul music, eventually compiling a dozen top 20s on U.S. R&B charts, usually covers like “In the Ghetto” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man”, which was her first regular chart hit, getting to #24 in 1970.

Her big break was the disco hit “Young Hearts Run Free”, a catchy song of independence. She said it was rather a companion piece to her friend Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Staton said Gaynor broke the “glass ceiling” with that one. Before it, she figured DJs wanted songs by females to be “baby, please don’t leave me…I’m your slave.” “I Will Survive” and her hit made it OK for women to be headstrong. The song took her career several steps ahead quickly. Before it, she says “I was playing what they called the ‘Chitlin Circuit’…backwoods, R&B, juke joint clubs with women painted on the walls. Most nights you’d have to chase the promoter down to get paid.”

She says she recorded it in one take – “the hurt in my voice is real…I was singing my life.” She took her own advice, and “was smart enough to …get rid” of an abusive husband she said was a drug-abuser and pimp “and run to my Mom’s house.” Soon she could probably afford better accommodations for herself (and maybe her mother too!) with the single hitting the U.S. top 20, and #21 to the north in Canada. But it was Britain where it really made a mark, getting to #2, going platinum …and re-charting again in both the ’80s and ’90s. It helped set her up as a star over there, with her recording four more top 40 hits in the decade that followed, including a cover of “Suspicious Minds.”

In the ’80s she became friends with Jim and Tammy Bakker and they helped her set up a ministry in Atlanta with her new husband; at that time she switched to mostly gospel music which has been well-received in that circuit and represents about half of her 30 studio album discography, although her most recent album, 2018’s Unstoppable is described more as “retro R&B”.

As smart as she is, she’s not had the best of luck picking mates. She’s been married six times, including to R&B star “Strokin’” Clarence Carter and even baseball player Otis Nixon. They haven’t always gone well, prompting her to begin a charity called A Veil of Silence, dedicated to helping women escape violent relationships and educating authorities about the issue….helping “Young Hearts Run Free.”

April 2 – Marvin Moved Motown Toward Music That Mattered

Today we mark the 83rd anniversary of the birth of one of the 20th Century’s most important and celebrated musicians – Marvin Gaye. Born this day in 1939 in Washington DC and tragically killed by his own father a day shy of his 45th birthday in L.A., he crammed a lot of great Detroit music in the time he had. According to Casey Kasem, Gaye was the most successful solo artist of “the Beatles years”, a time when groups reigned supreme. And yet, his best work was still to come at that point. We’ve looked at his life before, so today we’ll look a bit at why he’s so revered. After all, he’s one of very few artists to be enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

While Gaye ran off an impressive list of hit singles in the ’60s, like “How Sweet It Is” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, as well as duets with Tammi Terrell like “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, there wasn’t yet much to distinguish him from other popular Motown artists of the day, or many of the other pop singers on other labels for that matter. He had a great voice, but basically just sang what his record company bosses told him to. However, around the end of the decade, that began to change. Ironically, he’d written some hit singles, like Martha and the Vandellas “Dancing in the Streets”, but not recorded them himself.

Maybe it was letters from his brother serving in Vietnam. Maybe it was seeing footage of the race riots going on, many near his record company’s front doors. Maybe it was seeing the growing level of poverty in Detroit, or reading of one young performer after another dying from heroin. Whatever it was, he had an epiphany. “In 1969 or ’70, I began to re-evaluate what I wanted to say,” he told Rolling Stone. “I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people.” So he set out to do that, and along the way probably came to realize that he needed more control over other aspects of the music. He was a professional drummer before joining Motown, and a competent enough keyboardist too, and he’d spent enough time in a recording studio to know how things worked. He began to play some of the music himself, produce the records himself and when he used other musicians, he was going to give credit to the session players and name them on his record notes.

None of this pleased his record company or its owner, Berry Gordy. As Rolling Stone put it, “the last thing Motown wanted its fans to do was think about what was happening in the world.” Motown had struck a gold mine in the ’60s with happy-sounding, easy-breezy love songs that made acts like the Supremes and Four Tops superstars. He didn’t want to rock the boat, even if he had to close his own offices and studio a time or two because the rioting on the streets outside made it too dangerous to get there. But Gaye persevered and recorded What’s Going On?, his 1971 masterpiece – which his boss hated. As the Songwriters Hall point out, with that album not only did he begin to take total control over his recordings but “he took on political and social issues like the Vietnam War, drugs, equality and the environment, while incorporating jazz, pop and classical styles.” It was as big a change from what he’d done before as The Beatles Abbey Road was from “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Not only did Gordy hate it, he wouldn’t allow the title track, nor “Mercy Mercy Me” to be put out as singles until Marvin threatened to go on strike and not record or tour again for the label unless they were. Of course, he was proven right. The song “What’s Going On?” became Motown’s biggest hit single to that point and the album sold millions. What’s more, it’s still critically-acclaimed, being named the greatest album of all-time by Rolling Stone recently (previous versions of their list had it ranked at #6) and by The Guardian in Britain back in 1997.

The Temptations had a similar problem getting there opus “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” released the following year, but Berry had seemingly learned to not argue against records his artists felt strongly about, even when he disagreed. And soon after, Stevie Wonder came into his own, taking a similar trajectory to Gaye, soon writing, playing and producing most all of his own records in the ’70s, many of them making pointed social commentaries on many of the same issues Gaye had. Some – and I would put us here as among those “some” – would say Wonder even did it better than Marvin… but it’s reasonable to wonder if he’d have had a chance to were it not for Gaye mapping the trail first.

Gaye of course kept recording after What’s Going On? with mixed results, producing some very good and popular and some not so well-received records and seemed to be just beginning a career rejuvenation when he was murdered. But if we remember him for just one thing, it would be that record… and his letting other artists know, by his example, to be their own men (and women) and if they were being forced to make music they didn’t feel, ask themselves “what’s going on?” 

*Tomorrow, I’m happy to be kicking off a new feature we hope to run periodically through the year. In addition to regular posts , we’ll be running a guest column each day for four or five, with great music fans talking about one topic . I hope you’ll like it and see one topic through various eyes – and ears.*

February 19 – The Voice That Made Motown

Happy 82nd birthday to one of the great voices – and minds – of 20th-Century pop- Smokey Robinson. William Jr. got the nickname “Smokey Joe” from an uncle who took him to cowboy movies as a kid, but as much as he liked the flicks, Robinson loved music more. Growing up in “Motown” (Detroit), near Diana Ross, he’d formed a doo-wop group called the 5 Chimes by age 13; they’d morphed into The Miracles by 1958. Soon after, he met Berry Gordy Jr. and The Miracles became one of the first acts signed to the then new Motown label. Their “Shop Around” became Motown’s first million-seller and before he was done, he’d contributed to 26 top 40 hits for them, writing many and singing lead on most.

But hits like “Tears of A Clown” and “I Second That Emotion” weren’t all Smokey gave to the record company. By the mid-’60s he was VP of the company and he thought so much of his boss he named his first two kids “Berry” and “Gordy.” The feeling seemed mutual; Gordy wrote that “he reminded me of me – so passionate about his music.” He briefly quit the performing side of music around 1972, to devote more time to his family and business career but quickly found that boring and launched a successful solo career which yielded ten more top 40s through the ’70s and ’80s, like “Cruisin'” and “Being With You”, a gold single which went to #1 in the UK in 1981. His career continues albeit it at a slowed rate; his most recent works being an album of duets with the likes of Elton John, Sheryl Crow and John Legend in 2014 and a Christmas album in 2017.

Robinson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, among an elite group of early rock pioneers that included Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. In their words, he “put (Motown) on the map” with his “gorgeous” songs and his work as a talent scout. More recently, he was the recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize, their highest honor for musicians, in 2016.

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This marks post #3000 here at A Sound Day! I look forward to thousands more to come but would like to thank all of you for reading, especially the regulars like Max (Badfinger 20), Jim (New Epic Author), Obbverse, Deke and Lisa (Tao Talk) who seem to be daily visitors and commentators which is much appreciated. But whether this is your first visit to my site or your thousandth, thank you!

In the coming months I hope to have some more new artist interviews and record reviews in addition to the usual daily columns, and perhaps try to get an index going. With 3000 articles mentioning literally thousands of artists and records, that will be quite a task, as you might imagine, but it remains a goal. In the meantime, don’t forget you can search for your favorite artist or record through the search button (the magnifying glass) which appears on top of the site on mobile phones and around the bottom on computer web browsers. Or if using the computer, you can click on the 75 most popular topics for the articles related to them, as listed on the right side.

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