Having previously chronicled 1956-1966 over eleven volumes, Ace has returned to its London American Label series for a last (?) hurrah. The London American Label Year by Year: 1967 is packed with 28 stellar selections to illuminate a year in which the label was in steadfast decline. London had long been the destination for great American records, but the major U.S. companies were launching their own U.K. arms and declining to license to London. This led London to release fewer 45s from Bang/Shout, Challenge, Hi, Kapp, and White Whale, and numerous even smaller labels. Tony Rounce’s notes for this volume indicate that, of the 74 45s released by London in 1967, only two made the U.K. top 40. This was London’s lowest number of hits since 1954, when three out of 117 releases made the top 20 (there were no top 40 listings then).
Of the 28 selections here covering pop, rock, country, and soul, nine charted in America. The Association’s gorgeous “Never My Love” was the final London release from its affiliation with Warner Bros.’ Valiant imprint. (In the U.S., the single came out on WB proper.) But the U.S. No. 2 hit failed to make an impression in the U.K.; in fact, not one of The Association’s classic recordings made the U.K. top 40. The other big U.S. hit here, The Fantastic Johnny C’s funky “Boogaloo Down Broadway,” was a No. 7 Pop record at home on the Phil L.A of Soul label; it, too, didn’t register with U.K. buyers. The single was the only London release from Phil L.A. of Soul.
The sound of music was changing in 1967, and many tracks reflect this progression, i.e. The Raggamuffins’ attractive harmony folk-rocker “Four Days of Rain,” Freddie Scott’s uptown soul reworking of Van Morrison’s “He Ain’t Give You None,” The Nightcrawlers’ nugget “The Little Black Egg,” or Kenny O’Dell’s sunshine-filled “Beautiful People.” Brenda and the Tabulations’ aching “When You’re Gone” is a beautiful slice of early Philadelphia soul, arranged and co-written by future MFSB keyboardist Lenny Pakula. Other artists weren’t looking forward, but were firmly in a retro mode (Roy Orbison’s “Cry Softly, Lonely One,” Nino and April’s “My Old Flame”). Still other tracks released in ’67 were actually drawn from years past to capitalize on current successes, such as Micky Dolenz’s pre-Monkees novelty “Huff Puff” and Wilson Pickett and The Falcons’ “Billy the Kid.”
Mel Tillis (“Life Turned Her That Way”) and The Willis Brothers (“Bob”) were among the country-and-western artists from London’s 1967 roster. Nashville’s Hickory Records was a London acquisition for 1967, but the label’s sides were hardly all country as evidenced by Sue Thompson’s fuzz-drenched “The Ferris Wheel” and Gail Wynters’ bluesy “Snap Your Fingers.” Pop singer Guy Mitchell migrated to a country direction after his hits dried up; “Traveling Shoes” showcases his laconic charm. Future “Silver Fox” Charlie Rich was still finding his sound; his versatile voice is heard to great effect on the Stax-inspired R&B of “Love Is After Me,” written by that label’s famed team of Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter (and also cut by Sam & Dave at Stax). Like Rich, The Knickerbockers wouldn’t be relegated to just one style. The New Jersey band behind the Beatles-esque “Lies” delivered “Can You Help Me,” a brassy and funky blast of garage rock co-written and produced by Jerry Fuller, to London in 1967. Other rock-flavored rarities include The Sixpence’s “You’re the Love,” The Fallen Angels’ “I Don’t Want to Fall,” and The Forum’s “The River Is Wide.” Presented in its U.K. single edit, the latter song is better known to American listeners via The Grass Roots’ version, but The Forum’s take is appropriately grand.
The Critters’ criminally unknown “Marryin’ Kind of Love” – a Vini Poncia/Pete Andreoli/Doc Pomus tune arranged and conducted by Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner – is yet another example of a song that deserved a better chart fate on both sides of the Atlantic. Jack Jones’ “I’m Indestructible” presented the velvet-voiced crooner in a big, blue-eyed soul setting. Despite his loyal fan base in the U.K., none of Jones’ Kapp sides released on the London American label ever became a hit.
Tony Rounce’s comprehensive track-by-track notes put all of these disparate songs in context, and the 20-page booklet is – as usual – lavishly illustrated with labels for each single plus other memorabilia. Duncan Cowell has remastered all tracks. The London American singles series continued with the same numbering through 1982; while it’s doubtful Ace will continue anthologizing the label through that late point, one hopes that at least a couple more volumes will dig up gems from the lean years much as this compelling volume has.
Ace celebrated a different label – Westbound Records – on a recent anthology, as well. Everything Is Gonna Be Alright: Celebrating 50 Years of Westbound Soul and Funk marks a half century of the landmark Detroit indie label whose artist roster has boasted Funkadelic, Denise LaSalle, The Fantastic Four, The Detroit Emeralds, and The Ohio Players. Founded in 1968 by Armen Boladian – who still owns the label today – Westbound proved that African-American music could still flourish in Detroit even after the departure of Motown Records from the city in the early 1970s. Ace’s collection brings together 24 singles originally released in the halcyon ten-year period of 1969-1979. As such, the set features a variety of soul styles.
In its early days, Westbound specialized in vocal groups. The title track comes from Bill Moss and The Celestials’ 1969 cut. Moss’ outfit was one of the first gospel groups to use electric instrumentation, and the gently grooving number illuminates how well Moss and wife Essie fused their gospel recordings with contemporary soul sounds. Other highlights here of Detroit group soul include The Houston Outlaws with the brassy floor-filler “Ain’t No Telling;” The Magictones with the falsetto-led “I’ve Changed” (imagine if The Stylistics began in Detroit rather than Philadelphia!), The Detroit Emeralds with their 1972 top 10 R&B entry “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms),” and Toledo, Ohio’s Unique Blend on the smooth, Latin-influenced “Yes I’m in Love.” The latter group appeared on the short-lived Eastbound sister imprint. Eastbound’s best-selling track, reprised here, was a reissue of Donald Austin’s appealingly upbeat instrumental “Crazy Legs” first issued on the small Woody label. Eastbound also experimented with jazz. Guitarist Melvin Sparks made one album for Eastbound before moving West. From his Westbound LP comes “Get Ya Some,” a cinematic track in a fusion vein.
Mississippi native Denise LaSalle’s star burned brightly at Westbound prior to her decamping for ABC Records and then Malaco. The southern soul queen is represented here with 1971’s R&B chart-topper “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” (which crossed over to the Pop top 20) and 1974’s hard-hitting “Get Up Off My Mind.” No Westbound collection would be complete without an appearance (or two) from Funkadelic. The group had accompanied bandleader-producer George Clinton on his journey from doo-wop group The Parliaments to science-fiction-influenced funk band Parliament, but they had splintered by the time of 1969’s driving “I’ll Bet You.” Dean Rudland’s liner notes quote Funk Brother and future MFSB member Bob Babbitt as recalling that he, Andrew Smith, and Rare Earth’s Ray Monette actually played on the record. (The scorching lead guitar likely came from overdubs performed by Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel.) The acid-funk track has had a long life, being covered by The Jackson 5 and sampled by The Beastie Boys. 1974’s “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On” was co-written by Clinton and Hazel. Its overt hooks helped earn the track a top 30 R&B berth.
A less psychedelic version of Funkadelic, The Ohio Players developed their enduring career at Westbound after stints on the Compass, Tangerine, and Capitol labels. “Pain Pt. 1,” with its slinky jazz vibes, became a top 40 R&B hit in 1971 but was handily eclipsed by the second song featured here: 1973’s oft-sampled, synthesizer-driven “Funky Worm.” The near-novelty reached No. 1 R&B and went top 20 Pop, too. Everything Is Gonna Be All Right also includes the Stevie Wonder-esque “If You Love Him” from The Ohio Players’ Junie Morrison. Like Wonder, Morrison wrote, produced, and played on his solo records; in 1977 he joined Parliament-Funkadelic and contributed mightily to the combined unit’s success.
The most successful artist to come to Westbound was The Fantastic Four, who had previously recorded for Ric-Tic and Motown. They took a page from the Motown playbook with “Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster),” a soul-funk epic in a Temptations psychedelic soul style. Also associated with Motown was guitarist Dennis Coffey who lent his guitar licks to many of the Tempts’ classics such as “Cloud Nine” and “Ball of Confusion.” Coffey, still a Detroit mainstay today, lent his talents to a variety of tracks for Westbound including three on this collection. Coffey co-wrote and co-produced percussionist King Errisson’s boisterous “The Magic Man” in 1976 with his partner Mike Theodore. The same year, Errisson would join Neil Diamond’s band for a decades-long run. Coffey and Theodore also helmed the 1977 disco track “Devil’s Gun” for CJ and Co. (formerly The Strides) and released disco material under their own names. Coffey’s “Calling Planet Earth” and Theodore’s “High on Mad Mountain” close out this impressive Westbound sampler.
A 24-page booklet features an essay by Rudland plus a spotlight on Armen Boladian featuring photos of the entrepreneur with such heavyweights as Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and Dionne Warwick. Duncan Cowell has again remastered for superb sound. Ace has mined the Westbound catalogue in depth in the past, but Everything Is Gonna Be All Right is an ideal introduction for those new to the label as well as a refresher course for longtime collectors.
The London American Label Year by Year: 1967 and Everything Is Gonna Be Alright are both available now from Ace Records at the links below!
- Love Is After Me – Charlie Rich (HLU 10104)
- He Ain’t Give You None – Freddie Scott (HLZ 10172)
- My Girl Josephine – Jerry Jaye (HLU 10128)
- Cry Softly Lonely One – Roy Orbison (HLU 10143)
- Humphrey Stomp – Earl Harrison (HL 10121)
- Four Days of Rain – The Raggamuffins (HLU 10134)
- My Old Flame – Nino Tempo and April Stevens (HLU 10130)
- Life Turned Her That Way – Mel Tillis (HLR 10141)
- Can You Help Me – The Knickerbockers (HLH 10102)
- Eight Men, Four Women – O.V. Wright (HLZ 10137)
- Never My Love – The Association (HLT 10157)
- Bob – The Willis Brothers (HLB 10132)
- Huff Puff – Micky Dolenz (HLH 10152)
- Snap Your Fingers – Gail Wynters (HLE 10144)
- The Little Black Egg – The Nightcrawlers (HLR 10109)
- Billy the Kid – Wilson Pickett and The Falcons (HLU 10146)
- Beautiful People – Kenny O’Dell (HLZ 10167)
- The Ferris Wheel – Sue Thompson (HLE 10142)
- I Don’t Want to Fall – The Fallen Angels (HL 10166)
- When You’re Gone – Brenda and The Tabulations (HL 10174)
- You’re the Love – The Sixpence (HLJ 10124)
- The River Is Wide (U.K. Edit) – The Forum (HLM 10120)
- Boogaloo Down Broadway – The Fantastic Johnny C (HL 10169)
- Marryin’ Kind of Love – The Critters (HLR 10119)
- I’m Indestructible – Jack Jones (HLR 10131)
- Three Hundred and Sixty Five Days – Donald Height (HLZ 10116)
- Traveling Shoes – Guy Mitchell (HLB 10173)
- Big Boss Man – Erma Franklin (HLZ 10170)
All discographical information pertains to London Records, 1967
- A Letter from Vietnam – Emanuel Lasky (Westbound 143, 1969) (*)
- I’ll Bet You – Funkadelic (Westbound 150, 1969) (*)
- Everything Is Going to Be Alright – Bill Moss and the Celestials
- Ain’t No Telling – Houston Outlaws (Westbound 179, 1971)
- I’ve Changed – The Magictones (Westbound 180, 1971)
- Trapped by a Thing Called Love – Denise LaSalle (Westbound 182/Westbound LP WB 2012, 1971)
- Pain Pt. 1 – Ohio Players (Westbound 188, 1971) (*)
- Why Not Start All Over Again – The Counts (Westbound 191, 1971)
- Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms) – The Detroit Emeralds (Westbound 203, 1972) (*)
- Yes I’m in Love – Unique Blend (Eastbound 601, 1972) (*)
- Crazy Legs – Donald Austin (Eastbound LP EB 9005/Woody 105/Eastbound 603, 1972)
- Funky Worm – Ohio Players (Westbound 214, 1973)
- I Love You – Motivations (Eastbound 604, 1973) (*)
- Music Man Pt. 1 – Pleasure Web (Eastbound 617, 1973)
- Get Up Off My Mind – Denise LaSalle (Westbound 223, 1974)
- Standing on the Verge of Getting It On – Funkadelic (Westbound 224, 1974)
- Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster) – Fantastic Four (Westbound 5009, 1975)
- Get Ya Some – Melvin Sparks (Westbound 5010, 1975)
- If You Love Him – Junie (Westbound LP W-228, 1976)
- The Magic Man – King Errisson (Westbound 5031, 1976)
- Devil’s Gun – CJ and Co. (Westbound 55400, 1977)
- Feel the Need – The Detroit Emeralds (Westbound 55401, 1977)
- Calling Planet Earth – Dennis Coffey (Westbound 55414, 1978)
- High on Mad Mountain – The Mike Theodore Orchestra (Westbound 55421, 1979)
All tracks stereo except (*) mono