Archive for May 16th, 2013
As Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” was climbing the R&B and Pop charts in 1971, so was another, less-heralded Willie Mitchell arrangement. Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” epitomizes the sound of Memphis soul just as much as the better-known Al Green record, but it’s just one of the smoldering cuts on Ace Records’ new anthology dedicated to the Mississippi-born songstress. Making a Good Thing Better: The Complete Westbound Singles 1970-1976 collects the A and B-sides of every one of Denise LaSalle’s singles for Detroit-based Westbound Records, adding up to a primer on the career of LaSalle as singer and songwriter.
Honing her big voice in church and soaking up the influences of country, blues and R&B, Denise LaSalle (born Ora Denise Allen) first made a splash with 1967’s “A Love Reputation.” It was first released on the small Tarpon label but soon picked up by Chess – the same label that the young singer had been signed to, and then released from. The re-signing to Chess signified LaSalle’s place in the big leagues, but it didn’t last long. After two more singles, she was let go for the second time, but LaSalle continued to record for smaller labels like Crajon and Parks. Family ties soon led her to the studios of Memphis’ Willie Mitchell – Denise’s brother Nate “Na” Allen was married to singer Vee Allen, sister of deejay Al Perkins, for whom Mitchell had produced a hit single. When LaSalle set to work with Mitchell, the sound out of the studio was so encouraging that Westbound Records signed Denise. “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” was released in July 1971 on Westbound, entering the R&B charts the following month and reaching pole position in October. Perhaps even more impressively, LaSalle’s song nearly made the Top 10 on the pop chart, landing at No. 13. Mitchell’s production of Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” had reached the R&B Top 10 and Pop Top 20 just a couple of weeks earlier. Denise LaSalle was on her way.
Mitchell’s studio was becoming more and more in demand, though, as were the Hi Records rhythm section players heard on “Trapped.” LaSalle cut her sassy, sultry and assertive songs elsewhere in Memphis, including the No. 3 R&B/No. 46 Pop “The Deeper I Go (The Better It Gets)” and No. 4 R&B/No. 55 Pop “Man Sized Job,” both from 1972. She recorded in Memphis through the end of 1973, but with commercial successes becoming more modest, she felt inclined to make a change.
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Though Jack White’s Third Man Records imprint is known for doing some wacky pressings of things on wax – take, for example, the opulent-even-for-the-jazz-age gold and platinum pressings of the soundtrack to the new film version of The Great Gasby – their latest series, just recently announced, should appeal to a wide swath of rock fans. Third Man is licensing material from the Sun Records discography to repress on vinyl.
Sam Phillips’ Memphis label was, of course, a hotbed of activity for some of the best country, rock and soul acts of the 1950s. Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison are just five of the legends who got their start at Sun with unique songs and recordings that remain essential to the canon of popular music.
Third Man’s first three single reissues (the first in a promised series) are:
Rufus Thomas, Bear Cat b/w Walking in the Rain (Sun Records 181, 1953 – reissued Third Man Records TMR-185, 2013) – though Thomas would have more success in the ’60s and ’70s as one of the first hitmakers signed to Stax Records, this was a notable release – and not just because the song, a sort-of rewrite of “Hound Dog,” was the subject of a costly lawsuit between Sun and songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s an enduring set of R&B sides that did a fine job anticipating Thomas’ later works.
The Prisonaires, Baby Please b/w Just Walkin’ in the Rain (Sun Records 186, 1953 – reissued Third Man Records TMR-186, 2013) – one of Sun’s most unique acts was The Prisonaires, a doo-wop quintet so named for the prison sentences each man served in the state of Tennessee. “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” garnered enough local accolades to earn the group plenty of day passes away from jail to perform shows. (Elvis was a fan, and one of many who covered “Just Walkin’ in the Rain.”)
Johnny Cash, Get Rhythm b/w I Walk the Line (Sun Records 241, 1956 – reissued Third Man Records TMR-187, 2013) – “Get Rhythm” was a plucky little country tune that happened to have the terrible misfortune of sharing a vinyl platter with “I Walk the Line,” a country tune unlike any other, and the one that put The Man in Black on the map. Cash would record these songs anew when he signed to Columbia Records, but nothing surpasses the power of these original recordings.
All three can be ordered separately at the above links or together right here; the official release date is this Tuesday, May 21. Additionally, 150 copies of limited yellow and black “Sun Ray” vinyl will be made available; 50 copies of each will be randomly substituted for the standard editions on order, and the remainder will be sold through Third Man’s “Rolling Record Store” from May 28-30. Here’s where to find each:
- 5/28: Johnny Cash – Sun Records, Memphis, TN
- 5/29: Rufus Thomas – Please and Thank You, Louisville, KY
- 5/30: The Prisonaires – Sun Ray at Luna Records, Indianapolis, IN
When I was heavily ensconced in a retail job, I had the task of stocking new music and movie releases and sharing the new releases with the rest of the store on Tuesday morning. Without fail, every time a NOW That’s What I Call Music! compilation came out, someone would marvel how many such compilations existed, prompting me to tell my co-workers that they should check out the NOW series as it originated in the U.K., back in 1983, where they were double albums and released with slightly more frequency to the point where the 84th volume hit stores in March (as opposed to the single-disc 47th volume that streeted in the U.S. last Tuesday).
Of course, here at The Second Disc, I’m surrounded by record collectors and pop enthusiasts, so this illumination is nothing new. (That’s one of many reasons why I’m a lot happier editing these pages, I’ll tell you that!) But anyway, the point is that NOW That’s What I Call Music is indeed celebrating 30 years – and its doing so with a new, triple-disc compilation of highlights from its lengthy run.
NOW That’s What I Call 30 Years features an interesting, semi-chronological hodgepodge of pop cuts from the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and today, from Michael Jackson to Madonna, Take That to the Spice Girls, Adele to PSY. It’s disappointingly centered on the traditional pop scene on both sides of the Atlantic, thereby ignoring some of the R&B and rock-infused diversity that the NOW series was often known for (Radiohead appeared on at least one volume, for cryin’ out loud). As such, it’s a very, very patchy portrait of pop, passing a good chunk of the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. (Also, a considerably more minor quibble, but what’s up with the 20th Century-Fox meets Pink Floyd cover art?)
But NOW are one of the best – and one of the only – games in town as far as anthologizing pop music for the masses, so NOW That’s What I Call 30 Years might be a set for your collection when it’s released May 27 in England. Hit the jump to check out the full track list and order your copy off Amazon.
It’s a shame, isn’t it? When Motown mainstays The Spinners departed the venerable Detroit label for the greener pastures of Atlantic Records, lead singer G.C. Cameron didn’t make the switch. Cameron, the unmistakable main voice of The Spinners’ Stevie Wonder-penned No. 14 hit “It’s a Shame,” remained with Motown. Cameron suggested his cousin and close friend Philippe Wynne replace him, and soon watched Wynne and co. score the group’s first ever Top 10 pop singles. In fact, Atlantic debut Spinners charted five hits and two Top 10s – including the million-selling “I’ll Be Around.” Cameron never reached the commercial peak of his old group. But he was a productive and prolific recording artist for Berry Gordy’s empire even as The Spinners were notching all of those smashes in Philadelphia. Most of his output, however, has inexplicably remained absent from CD. Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint rectifies that with an expanded edition of Cameron’s 1974 Motown solo debut, Love Songs and Other Tragedies. It adds thirteen non-LP single sides – most of which have never appeared in the CD format – to the original album, creating a truly comprehensive survey of the singer’s early solo years at Motown and West Coast subsidiary MoWest.
Many names familiar to Motor City enthusiasts fill the credits of Love Songs and Other Tragedies: Frank Wilson, Willie Hutch, Gene Page, Paul Riser, James Carmichael, Dave Van De Pitte, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Even more top-tier Motown names figure in the singles portion of the new reissue: Pam Sawyer, Gloria Jones, Hal Davis and Smokey Robinson! In 1971, the newly-solo Cameron was placed on the MoWest label, for which Berry Gordy had high hopes. But in 1973, the label was shut down and G.C. was shuttled to Motown proper, where he began cutting his solo album. As a result, most of the singles included here predate Love Songs.
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