Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Gap Band

Still sounds good. And if Charlie Wilson isn't one of the best vocalist/front men of any musical genre during the 1980s, I don't know who is.

And sure this sounds like their earlier hit "Outstanding." But it's still a jam. And I'm digging the video:

Monday, December 28, 2009

What Can I Say Monday? "Cherchez La Femme"

"Cherchez La Femme" by the oddly-titled Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band is one of the more unusual--and memorable--hits of the mid-1970s.

The 1976 song is one part Big Band; one part Disco: an intelligently-written ditty of misfortune and heartbreak with a killer hook--"Cherchez La Femme"--and the sweet, twinkling vocals of lead singer Cory Daye. (Patti Austin sang background on the track.)

"Cherchez" was co-written by Buzzard band member August Darnell, who is playing bass in the above video, and his brother Stony. In the video, you'll note the group omits the middle part of the song which tells of Miggie Bonija, a woman tired of living in debt who nonetheless cheats on her hard-working man and, as Daye sings, she "goes next door, I know that she's just playing the whore." (Before Springer and Povich, kids, you couldn't really call a woman a "whore" on daytime TV.)

By the way, Darnell himself found success in the 1980s as Kid Creole, zoot-suited frontman of Kid Creole & the Coconuts:

"Cherchez" has held up over the years. Gloria Estefan did a remake in the 1990s. And in 2000, Ghostface Killah nicely borrowed from "Cherchez" for his "Cherchez LaGhost":

So what does the title mean? It's a French phrase that means if a man is in some kind of trouble, "look for the woman" to be the cause of it somehow. Writer Alexandre Dumas created the reference in the 1860s (he actually wrote "cherchons la femme") in the novel "The Mohicans of Paris," in a passage where a detective figures a woman was at the root of a crime. A Google search shows O Henry used the phrase in 1909, "Ah! yes, I know most time when those men lose money you say 'Cherchez la femme' - there is somewhere the woman."

See what you can learn by visiting the Soul Closet?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Spinners

My soul-loving 14 year old daughter, Cassandra, found the above video clip on youtube a few weeks back. It's the R&B group The Spinners, at the height of its power, performing "Mighty Love" at what I am guessing is the 1975 Grammy Awards.

"Mighty Love" is one of group's best songs if not THE best. On vinyl, it begins as a song of remembrance as lead singer Bobby Smith beautifully and wistfully expresses pain of lost love. Then co-lead singer Philippe Wynne, who joined the legendary group just three years earlier, rides in on his siren-like tenor, testifying to the power of love--and solidifying his place as one of the most electrifying singers of his brief era.

Here's the group again, lip syncing "Could it be I'm Falling in Love" on Soul Train. Smith takes us through most of the song, then Wynne slips in at the 3:38 mark, ending the song with as brilliant a piece of ad-libbing as you'll ever hear on wax.

Wynne leading the group on their biggest hit, "Rubberband Man" on the Midnight Special TV show.

Wynne left the band in 1977 for a solo career that never quite got off the ground. He did make some great music briefly with Parliament-Funkadelic, most notably his vocal gymnastics on "Knee Deep"--best part of that song: When Wynne, almost surprised, sings the killer line, "Could this be me? Immersed in funk so deep?" The great voice was stilled when Wynne died of a heart attack in 1984.

Bobby Smith, now 73, still leads the group, although, in addition to Wynne, four other original and early members of the group have died.

A Soul Closet Mystery:
Remember the Spinners song, "Games People Play"? There is clearly--or so it seems--a woman singing some of the verses. But whenever the group appeared on TV back then, I remembered my pre-teen self waiting to see what the woman with the feathery voice looked like, only to have the camera cut to Spinner member Henry Fambrough---a dude!--singing the girly part. What the heck? I mean, dig:

So was it a chick or Fambrough? Session singer Barbara Ingram was credited as the female voice, but according to Wikipedia, the group's songwriter and producer, the legendary Thom Bell, said it is actually Fambrough with his voice sped up. Ingram died in 1994.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Forgotten Soul: Alton McClain & Destiny

There were a quite a few great girl vocal groups in the late 1970s disco/soul scene: The Emotions, High Energy, and more. I'd almost forgotten about Alton McClain & Destiny, a trio who made it big in 1978-1979 with this hit, "It Must Be Love."

"Love" is a great piece of late 1970s disco/R&B: Alton McClain's agile, feather-light soprano washes over a bouncing musical sea not unlike, say, The Emotions "Best of My Love."

Here's another clip of them singing the same song. The budget for this one didn't cover much beyond the camera, donuts and the cost of filling the pool behind them, but video is fun to watch. And they shake a little harder in this one:

Alton McClain & Destiny broke up in the early 1980s. Alton married the supremely gifted songwriter Skip Scarborough--one of my favorite songwriters--who will get profiled here in the Closet soon, trust me. Just for openers, Scarborough co-wrote LTDs "Love Ballad," wrote "Lovely Day" with Bill Withers (who also sang it); Phyllis Hyman's "The Answer is You"; Anita Baker's "Giving You the Best the I've Got." He also produced Confunkshun during their peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But I digress...

Sadly, Destiny member D'Marie Warren (she's wearing black pants in the second video above) was killed in a car accident in 1985. Scarborough's sensitive pen was silenced in 2003 when he died of cancer. Alton McClain Scarborough is still in the game and sounding good. Here she is giving glory to the Lord last year at Mt Pleasant Ministries in Bethesda MD.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas...with Soul

We getting yuletide, now, here at the Soul Closet. And what better way to do it with Salsoul Orchestra's "Merry Christmas All" from 1976. Pound for pound for my money the second best Christmas song of the past 40 years. Salsoul Orchestra was the at-times 50 piece latin/soul/disco orchestra that backed up Salsoul Record's stable of artists during the label's heyday in the mid-to-late 1970s. "Merry Christmas All" comes from a their successful "Christmas Jollies" album. Denise Montana, who is still in the game, crisply handles the lyrics.

The late, great Eartha Kitt with the sexiest Christmas song on record:

This next clip isn't about Christmas. But its wintry. And it's got Soul:

So if "Merry Christmas All" is the second-best Christmas song of the past 40 years, what's the best one? Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." Peace...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Afro Sheen

Someone should study the cultural impact of the partnership between "Soul Train" and the Chicago-based Johnson Products Company. Owned by George E. Johnson, Johnson Products--not to be confused with Johnson Publications, which publishes Ebony and Jet--was a leading sponsor of the Train during its 1970 and 1980s heyday. And the commercials for Johnson Products' Afro Sheen and other hair goods featured proud and respectful depictions of black people--played out before a national audience.

George Johnson started the company with $500 in the 1950s. By 1971, Johnson Products was the first black-owned enterprise to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company's hold on black hair care products slipped when the Revlons and Avons of the world elbowed their way into Johnson's market. The company was sold in 1993 and ultimately became part of L'Oreal.

But the commercials, which aired almost exclusively with Soul Train episodes, are priceless:

The Afro Sheen Blow-Out Kit! I got one when I was 8.

And dig these 1980s Classy Curl spots, one with Matt and Ola, who themselves became near-celebs behind this campaign (and dig a young Stacey Dash, bouncing her curl around in the second spot):

And we close with three classy spots from 1975:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Give yourself a little time and check out this performance by the incredible Sister Rosetta Tharpe, one of the most inventive artists of 20th century gospel music. Her voice had the heat of a blues singer--not surprising since gospel and blues are cousins--but when Tharpe straps on that electric guitar? Glory.

The mind-blowing performance above of Sister singing "Didn't it Rain," was recorded live at a Manchester England train station in April or May of 1964 as part of the American Folk Blues and Gospel Caravan show that toured the UK then. That's Cousin Joe Pleasant (who made great music with Sidney Bechet 20 years earlier) on piano introducing Tharpe.

Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas in 1915. Her 1944 gospel hit "Strange Things Happening Every Day" was a top 10 Billboard hit on the secular black music chart. No wonder: the song is straight boogie woogie behind its spiritual fact, listen closely and you wonder if it's really a bit of rock-and-roll a decade before the fact. Especially when Tharpe comes through with guitar solo at 1:32 mark:

This live version of "Down by the Riverside" has great solo at 1:30. (Queen Latifah: Learn how to play guitar and here's your Oscar) And wait..listen to Tharpe spitting rhymes in this one:

Tharpe's long career ended in October 1973 when she died following a stroke. She lost the use of her legs after a stroke three years earlier but still performed until the end. But we don't have to end on such a sad note. Sister wouldn't want that. So let's go back to Manchester for this slow burner "Trouble in Mind." Swing out, Sister; Swing out:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When Felix and Oscar were black...

An interesting find from 1982: the short-lived ABC sitcom, "The New Odd Couple," with Demond Wilson as Oscar Madison and Ron Glass as the persnickety Felix Unger. It only lasted 18 episodes and although not as funny as Neil Simon's original renderings of Oscar and ain't bad and its nicely cast. In fact, compared to "Tyler Perry's House of Payne," and "Meet the Browns," it's damn near Noel Coward.(And the opening titles and updated Odd Couple theme kinda rock.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jean Knight

This song has been sampled more times than the counter goodies in the candy shop next door to the Jenny Craig. But it still sounds good.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Soul Closet Bureau of Missing Persons: "J.T."

The holiday season is almost upon us. And if you were a kid in the early 1970s, this was the time of the year when CBS would air "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and ABC would show those crazy Rankin & Bass stop-motion animated holiday specials like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." And for some of us, it meant the yearly viewing of "JT."

Aired by CBS beginning in 1969, "J.T." starred a young Kevin Hooks as J.T Gamble, a Harlem boy who saves an alley cat and nurses it back to health during the Christmas season. Ja'net DuBois--Wilona from "Good Times"--plays his mother. It's a quiet, nuanced film and only an hour long. And there's a sad spot in it--which was pro forma kids films back then--but has a happy ending.

Hooks, the son of actor Robert Hooks, was 11 years old when he made "J.T." He became a director in the early 1980s and enjoyed success sitting in the boss' chair on a number of films and tv shows including "ER," "24" "Prison Break" and "Monk."

"J.T." was directed by Robert M. Young, who later went on to direct eps of the newer "Battlestar Galactica" series. The film was written by Jane Wagner, who is comedian Lily Tomlin's long-time partner. Talk in 1973 of turning "J.T" into a tv series faded.

I hadn't seen the film since 1973 or so until I found the above clip on youtube. The two clips here represent about a 1/3rd of the film. So Happy Holidays.

I remember when CBS played this...

...something cool was about to come on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

History Lesson: Hazel Scott, Nina Mae McKinney & Dorothy Dandridge

We go waaaaay back today to bring three classy female performers from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The above clip is of the late Hazel Scott from 1955, performing for a March of Dimes film short. Charlie Mingus is on bass! And Rudy Nichols is on the skins.

The below video from 1932 is fun as all get-out. The clip begins with singer/actress Nina Mae McKinney singing to the Nicholas Brothers in the kitchen. Then later, Eubie Blake turns up in a chef's outfit on piano, and the Nicholas Brothers get down. Later, Nina then sings promises that everything she's got--and baby, she's got a lot--belongs to you. And then a bunch of skeletons appear at the very end:

And cute Dorothy Dandridge in this 1942 clip...although the guy Paul White, while spitting some mean rhymes, kinda reminds me of Miss J on "America's Next Top Model":

Friday, October 23, 2009

Donny Hathaway

Let's end the week with some 1971 gold from the late Donny Hathaway. Note to the young'uns: This is live, baby. No autotune. No tricks and gimmicks. This is singing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Frank's Place

"Frank's Place" was a brilliant sitcom that aired for a season on CBS beginning in 1987. The show starred Tim Reid as Boston professor Frank Parish who moves to New Orleans after inheriting a Crescent City restaurant from a father he hadn't seen in decades.

The show was prematurely canceled by CBS for low-ratings, leaving behind 28 episodes of one of the most witty and sophisticated comedies on TV; a fine ensemble of actors in a production that, if made today, would be a stinging rebuke to the juvenile whoopin', hollerin,' neck rolling and assorted black sitcom coonery on TV right now.

The show's not on DVD, which is a shame. But the clips here provide a sense of the show's tone and direction.

Friday, October 16, 2009

(Neo) Soul Friday

We close out the week with a quick trip back to the 1990s (which seems like yesterday to us old folks) to take a look at some neo-Soul/acid jazz acts from the day. No better place to begin than with the Young Disciples in full groove with "Apparently Nothing"--and stone jam that never gets played anymore--from 1991. The formidable Carleen Anderson is on fire...

Brand New Heavies with N'Dea Davenport at the mic:

Leena Conquest's "Boundaries" from 1994:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Praise of Chicago Soul

Chicago's 1960's soul scene isn't talked about nearly enough. Motown and Stax get all the glory while Chicago gets left behind. But the city turned out some great soul music in the 1960s and early 1970s, every bit as good Detroit's and Memphis's. Consider the The Chi-Lites. Gene Chandler. The Impressions. Not to mention the above track, the great singer/songwriter Barbara Acklin's groovy-as-hell "Loves Makes a Woman." Try not snapping your fingers to this one.

Chicago Soul was a little sweeter than its counterparts; a kind of soul that was chilled by the icy Lake Michigan breeze. Tight background singing. A lot more horns and a touch of pathos in the lyrics. For instance, listen to the absolutely beautifully-done "Find Another Girl" by The Impressions, with Jerry Butler at the mic. Let the lyrics soak in...Curtis' guitar winding through the song--and his falsetto sitting just behind Jerry's baritone during the chorus. This is the businesses, y'all:

Fontella Bass (what a great name) gets down with "Rescue Me."

Tony Clarke sings "The Entertainer":

Speaking of Gene Chandler, here he is, singing "Nothing Can Stop Me."

Tyrone Davis:

The Impressions, holding it down in 3-piece suits:

"I'm Gonna Miss You" by The Artistics...sweet!

Or "Right Track" a 1964 jam by Jerry Butler's brother Billy.

And we close out with this priceless 1972 Soul Train clip with the soulfully resplendent Major Lance singing "Since I Lost My Baby's Love." The good Major was better known for the 1960s hit, "Monkey Time".

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Respect for Trevor Rhone

Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone died of a heart attack in Kingston last week. He was 69.

I never got a chance to see Rhone's plays, and the loss is truly mine. But I have seen--a few times--one of his works: "The Harder They Come" a mindblowing 1972 Jamaican film starring reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff as an ill-fated outlaw. Rhone, co-writer of the tight, powerful script, fearlessly used patois in the script which--along with the documentary-style cinematography--gives the movie a sense of realism. (Watch "Harder" and you'll forever laugh at the "yeah mon" pidgin English that passes for Jamaican dialect in most American movies.)

"Harder" is a uncompromising film with beautiful music woven into the scenes and the plot. Truth be told, the movie packs a bigger wallop than almost all of the far more celebrated movies of American blaxploitation genre (perhaps with the exception being "Across 110th Street.") "The Harder They Come" isn't talked about much these days. But it should be. Check it out. And when you do, give a nod to Brother Trevor.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Sorels & Streets of Fire

The only good thing in the 1984 film "Streets of Fire" comes at the end, when the vocal group The Sorels perform "I Can Dream About You." The performance is about 4 minutes of joy--even if it is diluted a bit with cutaways to the lead actors dully summing up the movie--as the Sorels bounce, clap, shimmy and moonwalk (!) their way through the song.

Yep, that's Stoney Jackson as The Sorels' lead singer, Bird. Robert Townsend, Grand Bush and Mykelti Williamson were Lester, Reggie and BJ, respectively. They're not the song's true vocalists, but they sell it so well--especially Jackson--that the song and the performance were re-cut into this music video and released as a single (and that's where things get a little interesting. More, after the clip):

The "I Can Dream About You" single became a big hit (#6 on the Billboard charts) for Dan Hartman, who wrote the song and sang the vocals. But the version of the song in the movie--and in the first clip above--wasn't sung by Hartman at all, but by C. Winston Ford, Jr., an relatively unheralded singer who was, according to rumor, at least, working in Radio Shack when he was picked to sing the vocals for the movie.

But when the single and the soundtrack were released, Ford's lead vocals were replaced by Hartman's. And though Ford was black and Hartman was white, their vocal styles were similar enough that most people never noticed two different men performed the song.

The actors who played The Sorels all found a measure of success after "Streets of Fire." The song's two singers, sadly, have died. Hartman died of a brain tumor in 1994. Ford who never became famous, but developed into a journeyman music talent whose work spanned gospel, R&B, rock and jazz, was killed in an car accident in Colorado in 2007. His childhood friend Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire sang "Keep Your Head to the Sky" at Ford's funeral.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Brenda Holloway

Motown was more than Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes. But you wouldn't know it by listening to any oldies station. Terrestrial or satellite, the folks at the controls are content--and have been for the past 30 years--to play "Baby Love," "Heard it Through the Grapevine" and "My Girl" until the wheels fall off them jokers.

So today, we're standing on a suitcase, moving that Nehru jacket aside and breaking out the lantern flashlight to lay a beam on some Motown artists and songs that deserve a little more love.

Did you click the vidclip above and check out that tasty-looking Brenda Holloway [fine and can sing, too? why didn't she have a bigger career] getting down in 1967 with "Just Look What You Have Done." Her biggest hit was "Every Little Bit Hurts" from 1964 and check this out: She opened for the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, then co-wrote "You Make Me So Very Happy", a hit by Blood Sweat and Tears in the 1970s. Maybe she's home counting her stacks from her royalty checks.

Shorty Long's "Function at the Junction," is an absolute jam from 1966.

The Marvelettes' "Too Many Fish in the Sea."

Jr. Walker & The All Stars, doing "Shotgun" live on Shindig in 1966.

[I saw Junior Walker in the mid 1980s at Biddy Mulligans. Twenty years after "Shotgun," he could still jam.]

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles aren't forgotten, but the poignant "Come Round Here" could use a little more love. Smokey's falsetto is rockin' here...and how the Miracles and the other background singers sorta wander against the groove--tight.

Oh wait. Back to Brenda Holloway. Look at this video. She's past 60 now and the voice still sounds good. And she still looks good. She could be my mama...or rather my lil mama...if she wasn't married:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bern Nadette Stanis!

Be Still My Heart, Y'all

Thelma is still looking good, y'all. I shot this photo a few days ago of actress Bern Nadette Stanis, who played Thelma on the 1970s sitcom "Good Times." She was at the African Festival of the Arts in Chicago's Washington Park. She was a warm and gracious woman who got greeted like family by almost everyone who stopped by her booth.

"I said to her, 'You were every black teenage boys fantasy,' " one smiling brother said as I stood with a group of men by her booth. The brother is right. There is hardly a black man in America over the age of 40 who will not nod when three words are uttered: "Thelma was fine."

Let's roll film [And try to tune out the sight and sound of Jimmy Walker's Neo-Coon character, JJ]:

She's lookin' 80s-fine on this clip from the "Cosby Show."

She turns 56 in December. She is also a painter, a writer...and a stone fox.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Poster from my youth.

Not too long after Farrah Fawcett's death, I was chatting with a buddy about hot girl posters from our childhood. Farrah's poster made her a household name, of course.

"Do you remember the one with the Jamaican woman in the red--" my buddy said. He didn't need to say anything else. Heck yes I remember.

In 1970s, the above poster of the moistened, nubile and bra-less honey in the very wet JAMAICA t-shirt, was ubiquitous. It was a brilliant marketing piece: water, adventure, beauty and maybe the promise of sex was all conveyed in the simple photo of a happy woman in a clingy shirt.

So who was the woman? She is Sintra Arunte-Bronte(who was actually from Trinidad.) Anyway, read more about her here in this 2001 story.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Alexander O'Neal

I always liked singer Alexander O'Neal. He has a great voice and sung some stone jams in the 1980s as one of the many acts benefiting from Prince's Minneapolis Sound.

But O'Neal seemed a little more worldly than the other performers in the Purple One's extended family. First off, he had the sound of a 1960s soul singer (and his best material never quite put his voice to its fullest use) and he was already past 30 when be broke big. In videos, he appeared little raffish; a little the brother had lived some before he found himself before a mike.

So the Soul Closet shuts this week with a look at Alexander O'Neal. Above, her turns up on Cherelle's "Innocent" from 1985. And below, a personal fave--both video and song: "Fake" from 1987.

And we close out with "Criticize" from 1987. And, man, if I ruled the world, Alexander would show up in an episode of "Mad Men"--dressed the way he is in this video--eyeballing Joan in the elevator while stroking his chin, and daring anybody to say anything.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

To the Land of Funk...!

The Soul Closet has much love for Lakeside, a group that was part of that great--and sorely-missed--wave of self-contained R&B funk bands of the late 1970s and pre-Hip Hop early 1980s.

The above video for their hit "Fantastic Voyage", apparently cribbed from a Netherlands broadcast in 1981, showcases the band in its prime. Mark Wood--as underrated a lead singer as they come--brings the heat and the band is as tight as that brother's stripped pirate shirt. My favorite part? The transformation and subsequent breakdown at 1:26.

But you know what else is cool? That almost 30 years after, them brothers can still get down:

Monday, August 24, 2009


It's been a l-o-n-g time since I've listened to Sade. We gonna fix that today, even it comes at the expense of me feeling old. I can't believe it's been 25 years since I bought her debut album, "Diamond Life" on vinyl. I've never seen her in concert, though. I gotta fix that. Until then, enjoy:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blue-Eyed Soul Closet (part 2)

Quite a few folks have knocked on the Soul Closet's door since yesterday's post on blue-eyed soul, so a follow-up is order.

And maybe a little clarification, too. The discussion is really about white acts who contributed to soul and R&B canon, as opposed to those who ripped off black music and high-tailed across town to play before white audiences. So again, a Michael McDonald gets the soul brother shake; a Michael Bolton gets to kick rocks. Hall & Oats get in. Rick Astley (sorry, reader James) does not.

One Soul Closet reader suggested the Average White Band. Agreed. AWB's "School Boy Crush" is about as funky as it gets.

Josiah, a buddy from high school gave a shout out to Ambrosia, a group (frankly, one I'd forgotten about) whose song "Biggest Part of Me" was played on black radio back in 1980:

And remember the 1987 hit, "Making Love in the Rain" by Herb Alpert? It still gets played during "Quiet Storm" programs. Alpert handled the horn playing of course and Janet Jackson does the backgrounds. But white Lisa Keith does the soulful slow burn on lead vocals.

Reader Quintin dug in the crates for the name of Gino Vanelli. His "I Just Wanna Stop" also got heavy rotation on black radio in the 1970s

Hall & Oates "Rich Girl."

And dig this white girl, Chris Clark, who sang on the Motown label in the 1960s. I'd never heard of her until a year ago when I downloaded this song by mistake. She is fierce.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blue-Eyed Soul Closet

Soul and R&B are black musical genres, of course. But the field has always been open to white--and non black--artists who know how to bring it. And up until recently, pretenders, fakes and hijackers need not apply. Teena Marie and Bobby "What You Won't Do For Love" Caldwell? In. But Michael Bolton? Hell naw.

Those who brought something to the game were welcomed and made part of the family. Like Toto, a white AOR group from the 1970s and early 1980s who created the classic "Georgy Porgy". It helps that an uncredited Cheryl Lynn--who is black--sings the hook, but that's just icing. The bass is velvety as the inside of a Crown Royal bag. And lead singer Bobby Kimball doesn't try to mimic the wild runs and phrasing of "black" singer. Indeed, he finds his coolness in restraint--like a Peabo Bryson does to even better effect--and pulls off a heck of song.

I cringe with the next song, though. Not because it isn't a brilliant piece of 1970s blue-eyed soul--because it is--but because of that commercial for a glorified mop uses it as a jingle and has ruined it for me. But here goes:

The Native American band Redbone had a R&B jam in the early 1970s with "Come and Get Your Love."

Even Elton John--for a moment there--in the early 1970s, long before all that "Candle in the Wind" bullcrap:

And you gotta get Michael McDonald in on this:

We close the door with this super-oldie from the O'Kaysons, "I'm a Girl Watcher."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Adventures in 'Afro American' Advertising

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Time for more black advertising from the late 1960s and early 1970s, courtesy of my stack of old Ebony magazines from the era.

We begin our journey with the happy young couple of above. Look at the husband...the kiss-up. Striving, trying to impress the boss. So much so, you know he invited Bossman over at the last minute and now his wife not only has to be beautiful, but she's got to cook all that shrimp and hang them evenly around that bowl. Mama told her--told her--not to marry that guy. He was to cheap to spring for wedding rings. Now give her a couple of pops of Old Forester so she can get though the night.

Surgically Clean?

The above ad: You see that, don't you? That soap doesn't just get her clean. I mean any cheap-azz bar of Lava could have done that. This soap gets her surgically clean. That's the difference right there. Do you think when she came out of this shower, her man said, "Come here baby...mmmm, you smell not just clean, but surgically clean!"

Dress Patterns go Mod

Theory: It was 1969. Simplicity was tired of churning out countless patterns of do-it-your-self poodle-skirts and mock-turtle neck outfits. "We need be happening, Man. With-it. Today. Dig," somebody said. So they threw caution into the wind and create this pattern. Never occurred to them--not until 1970, I bet--that the dress will reveal two things nobody wanted revealed in 1969: (a) the wearer ain't wearin' drawers (b) the wearer is wearing a big pair of above the navel bloomers because the thong wouldn't be invented until 1974.

I Believe! I Believe!

Look. At. That. Car. A 1970 Buick Riviera. Great name. Great car. But wait a second. Look at that guy. And that jacket. You think maybe he's the guy from the Old Forester ad above? His wife got rid of him after Bossman's visit, but he bounced back with a new car, a new woman with straighter hair, and a brown vest to go under that jacket. He gave up the Old Forester, but he'll be drinking Colt .45 in the back seat of that car by 1978.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Adina Howard

"It's hot outside," a woman said to me last week. "But not enough to make me come out the house with some Adina Howard shorts on."

Adina Howard. Dag, I had forgotten all about that girl.

It's been 14 years since Adina dropped the "Do You Wanna Ride" CD, which featured the above track, "Freak Like Me" (not to mention "You Got Me Humpin'" "Horny for Your Love" and "Baby Come Over)".

"Freak Like Me," and the video were racy then, drawing the ire of parents and feminists. Other videos by female R&B/Hip-Hop acts of the era drew the same fire. I can remember the clucking of tongues over the thrusting and jiggling in Oaktown 357's "Juicy Gotcha Krazy" video and B Angie B's "I Don't Wanna Lose You Love" video.)

Fifteen years onward, "Freak Like Me" seems pretty tame now when viewed against what the industry has put out since. What also grabs me now? Adina can really sing. No wonder "Freak" went platinum.

But that song, so far, is about as good as it's gotten hitwise for Adina. Her next album didn't do as well. In 1998 she did a song "T-Shirt & Panties" with Jamie Foxx for the movie "Woo". (You know you don't remember that movie and don't feel bad. Jada Pinkett-Smith probably forgot about "Woo"...and she was in it.) And I guess Adina's "Nasty Grind" made a little noise in 2004, but nothing like "Freak" a decade earlier.

Yes, a question from the audience? You, there, with the Afro:
Q: Mr. Soul Closet, does that mean we can't see the video for "Nasty Grind"?
A: Yes we can see it. But it's not really safe for work and parents should use a little caution. 'Cause Adina ain't talking about bad coffee. And she is nekkid. Like D'Angelo was in that video back in the day.

Adina's still out there making music. Her MySpace page features a load of tracks and current music.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Coolest Thing You'll See Today

Let's pretend it's 1974 again. It's Saturday afternoon and the "Fat Albert" episode ended about three hours ago. You played some strike-out, or maybe a little hoops with that de-spoked bicycle rim nailed onto the back of somebody's garage that ya'll use for a basket. But you're tired now, so you run back home for a drink of water or Kool-Aid. You pass by the television on your way to the kitchen. Your sister's watching "Soul Train."

And for two minutes and 34 seconds, the rest of the day can wait.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Soul! LIVE!

Martin V., my boy in Arizona, posted on his Facebook page yesterday this fonky clip of Marva Whitney singing live--and backed by the JBs--on the Mondrian-inspired pop art set of the Mike Douglas Show in 1969.

Dig it. Now dig it again. It's okay.

The Soul Closet is turning over the day to live performances. Check em out:

Otis Redding:

Sam & Dave bringing it--unfortunately before a crowd of astoundingly dispassionate Germans:

Labelle. Live on "Midnight Special."

And we close it out with Sly and the Family Stone live on "Soul Train." Actually live, y'all, not lip synching.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Forgotten Jam Friday

It's Friday--finally--here in the Soul Closet. Time to dig in the crates for some old skool jams that you might not often hear. We kick off with the 12" version of "All Night Thang" a 1980 cut by The Invisible Man's Band, a group composed of members of The Five "Oooh Child" Stairsteps. You can't hear nothing this fonky on the radio no mo..

This 80s jam from Aurra. Or where they Deja by then?

I STILL have this on vinyl: Unlimited Touch, "Searching to Find the One" from 1981.

Next: "This Beat is Mine" by Vicky D.

Billy Ocean, 1980. Before he went mainstream and stuff in the mid 1980s. Makes me think of the old WDAI (Disco 'DAI) in Chicago.

And we close out with Carly Simon. Carly Simon? Yep. Produced by Chic (you can tell when you hear it.) Believe it or not, I found this years ago in the basement of my (then) mother-in-law. And I swiped it! With permission, of course.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Originally uploaded by ChicagoEye

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Goodbye, Reverend Ike

The Right Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II died this week. He was 74.

The name probably means little today. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, there was probably no bigger name on the cultural/religious landscape than Eikerenkoetter's--shortened to the better-known "Rev. Ike."

The flamboyant, money-loving and wavy-haired Rev. Ike was heard by more than 2.5 million people on radio and television. He preached the gospel of prosperity, encouraging his faithful to envision themselves rich. In the Big Apple, subway billboards for his NYC based church would read: "Don't wait for pie-in-the-sky, by and by. Get yours now, with ice cream on top!"

Then he'd put the call out for donations and he himself got rich. But credit where credit is due: he didn't hide his riches or apologize for them. "My garages runneth over," he once said.

The New York Times, Fortunate Magazine--even the London Times--wrote about him. Ike was famous enough that his name became a punchline on shows like "Sanford & Son" and "Good Times." And Richard Pryor's cameo in the 1976 movie "Car Wash" as a flamboyant preacher surrounded by riches and honeys was clearly a jab at Rev. Ike. And if it wasn't, Pryor's work here, on his short lived NBC show a year later, was:

Ike's popularity waned in the 1980 and 1990s--and no wonder with so many other prosperity preachers getting in the game. He had a stroke in 2007, according to the New York Times, and had been laid low since.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"JD's Revenge"

A guilty pleasure: "JD's Revenge," a 1976 film about a slain 1940s New Orleans gangster who possesses the body of a bookwormish law student--played by Glynn Turman--in order to get his, well, revenge.

"JD" is one of the more unusual films of the blaxploitation genre. It has the customary low budget, but rises above it with sharper-than-normal writing, use of the supernatural--and the casting of the Turman who has the acting chops to convincingly play a law school student and a reincarnated, swaggering, switchblade-carrying hoodlum.

The dialogue is at times hilarious. The movie is worth renting if only to see the scene when Turman tells his woman: "Whatsa matter baby? Don't you like yo Daddy's conk?" And if you can't wait to rent it, check out the entire movie here.

The cast includes Lou Gossett, Joan Pringle (who is lovely as all get-out), the dependable Carl Crudup as Turman's best friend.

"JD" is something of a cult film now. I would say a remake would be in order, but in some ways, the very entertaining 2001 Snoop Dogg/Pam Grier film "Bones" kind of accomplishes that:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Old School Detroit TV: The Scene

It's Friday afternoon and I just got back from lunch with two friends. One of them is Peter Cook, an architect from D.C. whom I've known for years. He praised The Soul Closet (as is customary, of course), but mentioned a tv show from his youth in Detroit called "The Scene."

"It was kind of a, well, low-budget 'Soul Train'," he said. Indeed it is. And it is fun to watch. There were dozens of these local dance shows across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. Anyway, here's more of "The Scene."

(I'm likin' the dance in white spandex and red cowboy hat in this one:)

My buddy, the esteemed Professor Lester Spence of Johns Hopkins University--a native Detroiter--puts a little perspective on this when I put a link to this post on my Facebook Page: "There was a moment there, when folks are straight banging to house and electro."

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Time

The Soul Closet ends the week with the title track from The Time's 1984 album, "Ice Cream Castles."

Monday, July 20, 2009

When Hip Hop Came to Madison Avenue

Two clips from the early days of the marriage between rap/hip-hop and advertising. Above is Young MC's groundbreaking 1990 commercial for Pepsi Cola. Next is one of the late 1980s spots the Fat Boys did for Swatch watches:

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ce Ce Peniston

The Soul Closet closes for the week with this jam from dance music diva CeCe Peniston. Her biggest hits included 1992's "Finally" and "We Got a Love Thang." But for my money, I'm liking "Keep on Walkin'," which is today's featured clip.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Soldier's Story

I saw "A Soldier's Story" in a packed theater in 1984 a few days after its premiere. It was kind of an event: a serious film with a black cast--adapted from black Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Fuller's play--that dealt with racism and identity in the context of a southern army base in World War II. And it was a murder mystery on top of that.

The movie starred Howard Rollins Jr., as an Army captain sent to the base to investigate that murder. Rollins (who died in 1996) was an A-list actor, then, having been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "Ragtime" a couple of years earlier. But the film really belongs to the supporting cast, which included Denzel Washington, David Alan Grier, William Alan Young (the cat who would later play the daddy in "Moesha"), and Robert Townsend--when they were all young and on the come-up.

Adolph Caesar (who died in 1986) turned in an Oscar-nominated performance as the bitter and conflicted Sgt. Waters, spitting lines with the fury of a machine gun (as the clip above can attest. (Warning: if you haven't seen the film, there are spoilers in the above clip.) There is even a musical performance by Patti Labelle:

Despite all this, "A Soldier's Story" is kind of a forgotten movie. Looking at it now, the film is plagued by its low $5 million budget ("The Color Purple," which was released the next year was made for $15 million). And Rollins, the star of the film and a compelling actor, seems to have little to do under Jewison's direction. As a result, the heaviest lifting, actingwise, is done by Washington and Ceasar, who played the same roles in Fuller's play. (Warning: course language in this clip below)

Still "A Soldier's Story" is worth checking out. So check it out.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Sylvers

A reader suggested I post some clips of The Sylvers. I think she was suggesting this as penance for putting up that clip of Celine Dion singing "Bad" while dressed as MJ. So I'll post two Sylvers, a Debarge and a Five Stairsteps and hope for absolution.

And the Five Stairsteps (singing live!)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

LaToya & Rebbie

Ok, I promise this will be the last Jackson-related item. But while doing the previous posts, I ran across these two videos. Above is sister Rebbie Jackson singing that stone jam "Centipede" on the old "Solid Gold" TV show in 1984.

But my favorite is this 1980 clip of LaToya singing "If You Feel The Funk."

Bonus Track, y'all. Jermaine Jackson performing "Let's Get Serious."

Monday, June 29, 2009

The King of Pop Culture, Too (part 2)

We posted a few examples last week of Michael Jackson's influence/stamp on pop culture. Scroll down a bit if you missed it. There is everything there from a clip of the "Jamie Foxx Show" to the forgotten soul singer Alfonso's eerily MJ-like cut, "Girl, You Are the One" from 1982.

So today, we continue the theme a bit. The above cut is 1973's "Misdemeanor" by Foster Sylvers--who sang lead for another family band, The Sylvers--sounding for all the world like Michael Jackson.

The cloying Celine Dion--I swear--performing "Bad", while dressed and "sounding" like MJ. She has a straight face. But you won't:

From India, y'all. Inspired by the "Thriller" video:

Denise Pearson, lead singer of British Bubblegum Soul group Five Star is kinda MJish--in their 1985 song "All Fall Down":

And to say nothing of The Osmonds--a group that is all but forgotten now--but were running neck-and-neck with the J5 for a while there. In this 1971 clip from the "Flip Wilson Show," Donny Osmond is clearly--clearly--ripping the hell..ur, I mean, "paying homage", to Michael Jackson's vocals:

[the above clip reminds me of what Carver said to Kima in an episode in Season Two of "The Wire" while watching white corner boys acting/talking black: "Thieving [motherlovers] take everything, don't they?"]

A take on the "Smooth Criminal" video. From China:

And we close out the day with Kim Fields' cute "Dear Michael" from 1983:

Friday, June 26, 2009

The King of Pop Culture, Too

The security guard at the Aon Building--she of bright brown eyes and a pretty smile--sat behind the guard's desk yesterday, bummed. The light was gone.

"Michael, man," she told me. "That hurt my heart to hear that." She said she was a kid when "Thriller" came out in late 1982. She pestered her mother to get her a Michael Jackson jacket and a "Thriller" T-shirt to wear with it. And when she got it, she was the envy of her school.

You can't overstate the pop culture force Michael Jackson was during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He reshaped music, yes. But also fashion, dance, hair styles and--with the then-ground breaking 1984 Pepsi commercial above--advertising. No musical artist since has been able to that. In fact, the nearest example I can think of is not an entertainer, but an athlete: Michael Jordan

Listen to "You Are The One," a pretty decent, but now-forgotten 1982 Old School track from Alfonzo:

Weird Al's demented parody of MJ's "Beat It" video (and song):

MJ turned this otherwise mediocre song into a pop classic (and, now, an insurance company jingle) by simply singing the seven-word hook:

Alfonso Ribeiro makes fun of his "Pepsi Kid" origins in this episode of the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air":

We close the Closet with this inspired bit from the late 1990s "Jaime Foxx Show." Look what happens at 1:35. I include this because by then, in the public eye, the Wacko Jacko persona had almost eclipsed the pop superstar Jackson. But Jamie and the terribly underrated Christopher B. Duncan--and the reaction from the audience--give MJ his due: