Throughout her career, Marlena Shaw has traversed the worlds of jazz, R&B, soul, pop, funk, and dance with equal aplomb. Following stints at Chess Records offshoot Cadet and the venerable Blue Note label, Shaw made her boldest bid for the mainstream at Columbia Records. Her time at the label has recently been rediscovered by Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint on the 2-CD set Go Away Little Boy: The Columbia Anthology.
Shaw joined Columbia in 1977, remaining on the label for three albums through 1979: Sweet Beginnings, Acting Up, and Take a Bite. The first two LPs were produced by Bert DeCoteaux, who had previously worked with Marlena at Blue Note. Marlena’s second LP for Cadet had been titled The Spice of Life, and that title would have applied to the Columbia outings, as well, because they were equally filled with variety. All ten tracks from Sweet Beginnings are reprised on this anthology (though not in album order) including the Philly big-band swing of Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s “I Think I’ll Tell Him” (originally recorded by Ronnie Dyson at Columbia as “I Think I’ll Tell Her”), the jazz-inflected “Look at Me, Look at You (I’m Flying),” and the floor-filling single “Pictures and Memories.” Motown alumnus Leon Ware co-wrote the LP’s title song with the prolific lyricist John Bettis. The album also featured Shaw’s extended reworking of her early Cadet favorite, a cover of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Go Away, Little Girl.” As “Go Away, Little Boy,” the song was melded with her rap “Yu Ma.” The tour de force performance had been honed in her concert act and became the centerpiece of Sweet Beginnings.
All ten tracks from Marlena’s 1978 follow-up Acting Up are included here. DeCoteaux again assembled the top tier of LA’s session musicians to bring the album to life. Bill Tragesser, who wrote a couple of songs on Sweet Beginnings, was tapped for another pair, “Moonrise” and “I Wonder.” Marlena brought a couple of her own compositions, too: “More” and the gospel-tinged “Mamma Tried.” Motown tunesmiths Kathy Wakefield and Ken Hirsch penned “Rhythm of Love,” and another Motown writer, Kenny Stover, contributed “I’m Back for More.” Shaw cut her version around the same time as the recording by Leo’s Sunship, but it took a 1980 recording by Al Johnson and Jean Carne for the song to enter the soul pantheon. Acting Up also features Marlena’s rendition of Carol Connors and Artie Kane’s theme to the film Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
For her third and final Columbia long-player, Take a Bite, Shaw immersed herself in disco, the strains of which had pulsated in her dance-oriented music since the Blue Note days. Side One was dedicated to the 18-minute, continuous Suite Seventeen, which threaded Marlena’s rewritten version of Ervin Drake’s classic “It Was a Very Good Year” (most famous in Frank Sinatra’s epochal recording) with other tunes including “Love Dancin'” (presented on this set in its extended 12-inch version) and a new interpretation of Ron Miller and Michael Masser’s sultry “Touch Me in the Morning,” a chart-topper for Diana Ross. That, too, is heard here in a lengthier remix. Suite Seventeen was produced by Meco Monardo and Tony Bongiovi, while Shaw herself handled the balance of the album’s production with Broadway veteran Harold Wheeler. The team of Allee Willis and Franne Golde wrote “Suddenly It’s How I Like to Feel,” and both Marlena and Bill Tragesser brought their compositions to the table. Most of Take a Bite is included here in either the album or remixed form; only two short interludes have been excised.
Marlena’s final sessions for Columbia were held with longtime A&R man/producer Jack Gold, responsible for many of Johnny Mathis’ classic ’70s LPs. Only one track has surfaced from their sessions, however. Gold brought his pop strengths to “The Best Days of My Life,” which appeared on The Best of Marlena Shaw and earns its spot here. Nick Robbins has remastered everything, and David Nathan has provided the liner notes for this fine overview of the vocalist’s short but exciting Columbia period.
Go Away Little Boy: The Columbia Anthology is available at the below links from Cherry Red and SoulMusic Records!
- The Writing’s on the Wall
- No Deposit, No Return
- I Think I’ll Tell Him
- I’m Back for More
- No One Yet
- Haven’t We Been in Love Before?
- Sweet Beginnings
- Pictures and Memories
- Suite Seventeen: It Was a Very Good Year/I’m a Foster Child
- Love Dancin’ (Special Disco Version)
- I Thank You
- Touch Me in the Morning (Remix)
- Yu-Ma/Go Away Little Boy
- Shaw Biz/Suddenly It’s How I Like to Feel/Shaw Biz (Reprise)
- Look at Me, Look at You (We’re Flying)
- Rhythm of Love
- I Wonder
- You Bring Out the Best in Me
- Theme from Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Don’t Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow)
- The Best Days of My Life
- Walk Softly
- Mamma Tried
- I’ll Be Your Friend
CD 1, Tracks 1-3, 7, 9 and CD 2, Tracks 1, 3, 11 & 13 from Sweet Beginnings, Columbia PC 34458, 1977
CD 1, Tracks 4 & 8 and CD 2, Tracks 4-10 & 14 from Acting Up, Columbia JC 35073, 1978
CD 1, Tracks 5-6, 10 & 12 and CD 2, Tracks 2 & 15 from Take a Bite, Columbia JC 35632, 1979
CD 1, Track 11 from Columbia 12-inch single 43-11025, 1979
CD 1, Track 13 from Columbia 12-inch single AS-678, 1979