The Three Degrees – Collage

The Three Degrees - Collage

So you’re probably seeing this week’s featured artist and are a little surprised that I’d feature The Three Degrees, especially given the type of sounds that I normally bring you. Well, much like last week’s selection today’s is another example of a new-found appreciation (well I say new-found, but it does go back more than 10 years ago!) of someone who I had previously written off for being a bit cheesy and disco.

The Three Degrees were probably best-known for their 1974 UK Chart Topper “When Will I See You Again?”, a song that makes me slightly nauseous if I’m honest. That kind of over-produced soul-pop cum middle of the road sound really doesn’t do it for me, but Gamble & Huff were more than happy with it as it earned a gold record and went on to be one of their biggest selling releases – so what do I know?.

“Collage” was released in 1970 and goes for a different sound altogether. It’s kinda funk, slightly modern, a little psychedelic and ultimately a lot darker than what the group were known for both before and after this single. It’s quite slow as well (something else that I’m not exactly known for playing) but it has that extra something about it and has been sampled in a few hip-hop records over the years. I hope you all dig it. Cheers!

Brenda & The Tabulations – The Wash

Brenda & The Tabulations - The Wash

So the weather has dramatically taken a turn for the worse here in Belfast over the last few days with Summer most definitely behind us (did we actually get a Summer at all?). With that in mind I guess today’s choice seems kinda appropriate (rain, wash – you see what I did there?). This is a track that I had sort of forgotten about until the weekend when I was digging through my collection for a few 45s to bring down to the vinyl session at the coffee shop I own. This one didn’t make the cut, but it came back into my life again so we should all be grateful for that at least…

Brenda & The Tabulations were a soul group who formed in Philadelphia in 1966 and released their early singles on the Dionn label before moving to Top & Bottom Records and later, Epic. The song I bring you today is the b-side to their first ever single in fact – “Dry Your Eyes”. This proved to be the biggest hit for the group and probably explains why original copies can be picked up so cheaply. As so often happens it’s the b-side I prefer rather than the “A” which is slower and a little more commercial.

Some of you may remember this being used in a tv commercial a number of years ago for Lynx shower gel (or if you’re Stateside “Axe” shower gel). I’m also a big fan of their version of the classic “California Soul”, a record that sadly never got a 45 release. Apart from the aforementioned tracks arguably their next most well-known song was “Hey Boy” something that become pretty popular on the Northern Soul scene. That’s all for now – enjoy the rest of your week and let’s hope the weather picks up a bit!

Bunny Sigler – Great Big Liar

Bunny Sigler - Great Big Liar

Much like last week, the record I bring you today is something that I had to double-check to ensure I hadn’t featured it before. Luckily for you, my dedicated readers, I haven’t, so you get to enjoy it today!

If you’ve ever heard The Corner Boys’ “Take It Easy Soul Brother” you’ll recognise the music from this track. Released on the Neptune label in 1970 (issued a year after The Corner Boys “original”) you get the added bonus of some great vocals combined with the lush arrangement that you’d expect from a Gamble & Huff production. This release was probably around the time of my favourite G&H sound before it went a bit too modern soul/disco for my liking.

Sigler himself had a pretty long and distinguished career – he was instrumental in working with Gamble & Huff to create the “Philly Sound” as well as releasing around 50 singles across labels such as Decca & Parkway. His credits run into the hundreds and he has even co-wrote songs with Jay-Z (not that, that impresses me because I think he’s rubbish. Ha!)

Before I go, I really should indulge in a little bit of self promotion (it is my blog after all). I’ll be dj’ing this Bank Holiday Sunday on a boat. Yes, on a boat. In Belfast. I’ll be spinning the usual funk & soul on vinyl alongside my soul brother Pete, with a live instrumental funk set courtesy of the Freedom 35s. If you’re coming along, you’re guaranteed a great night out. As far as I know all the tickets have been sold, so if you’re one of the lucky ones, I’ll see you there. In the meantime, enjoy Bunny Sigler’s “Great Big Liar”

 

Billy Paul – Am I Black Enough For You?

Billy Paul - Am I Black Enough For You

Unfortunately this week’s update is yet again brought about as the result of the passing of another great artist just last night, Mr Billy Paul. Billy (or Paul Williams as he was christened) died at the age of 81 after a battle against pancreatic cancer.

The Philadelphia born singer started out in the early days of his career singing alongside such legends as Nina Simone, Miles Davis & Dinah Washington who were all idols of his. Alongside Gamble & Huff, Paul was credited with being one of the driving forces behind what became known as the “Philly Sound” in the late 60s. Commercial success was to arrive with the colossal worldwide smash hit “Me & Mrs Jones” which netted him a Grammy in the process.

The song I feature for you today was the follow up single to Me & Mrs Jones and proved to be something of a flop by comparison. Paul himself was dead set against releasing the single at the time as he wanted to capitalise on the success of Me & Mrs Jones and felt Am I Black Enough For You? was too controversial a subject matter to follow as his next single. Peaking at just 79 in the US chart, Paul was to be proved right, however the single was to find favour among a very different group of people.

I first came across this track about 15-20 years ago when if featured on a box set that I bought entitled “Diggin’ Deeper, The Roots Of Acid Jazz”. What struck me was how different it sounded to a lot of the other songs on the compilation and it had a vibe about it that made it sound as though Stevie Wonder & Curtis Mayfield got together in the studio and this was the outcome.

With the opening bars of the clavinet particularly reminiscent of some of Stevie’s best work mixed with the bongos and socially-charged lyrics evoking Curtis’ inner-city storytelling, Am I Black Enough.. encapsulated the type of feeling and sound that was dominant in early 70s black America. Still to this day the song sounds so fresh and still does the business in a club and so I’ve featured the full 5 minute version in tribute. R.I.P. Paul and thanks for the music.