by Greg Casseus, "5" Contributor
[This was originally written for the 6/24/02 issue of "5", back in our e-mail newsletter days. Six years later to the day, we've decided to dig it up and share it with the larger readership we've acquired since. So pay attention to what Prof. Casseus has to say: you might learn something. - KJ]
Hello, my lovely fellow "5" addicts. It's been a while since I've done this, but I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would be called upon to once again submit a new installment of Greg C-style geeky insider knowledge and (of course) alarmingly jaundiced opinion. This time around, instead of going on at length about everything that's clearly wrong about the contemporary music scene, I'm going to get into my archaeologist mode and polish off the bones of a dead, buried, huge, glorious beast that is sadly now extinct.
Of course, I'm talking about the glory that was soul/R&B. I won't bore you with the umpteenth reiteration of the various and sundry reasons why you're a total fool if you don't own What's Going On, Innervisions, There's A Riot Going On, Superfly, Hot Buttered Soul, Young Gifted and Black, Extensions Of A Man et. al. I've done all the obscurity-digging so you don't have to, and will present 5 soul albums that may or may not be obscure except to aficionados, but which are all guaranteed to rock your world and impress your friends as to how down you are.
5 LOST SOUL / R&B CLASSICS
(in no particular order):
Besides being a total barrel of irreverent, on-the-one fun, this underground classic earns its spot here as an answer to Mr. Jones' recent "one-man-band" list. Walter "Junie" Morrison was a charter member of the Ohio Players and later became a key player in George Clinton's merry funk circus. In between those two tours of duty, he released three solo albums on the Westbound label, home of both the Players and Funkadelic.
Three years before that little purple guy's debut, it finds Junie playing EVERY SINGLE INSTRUMENT, and WELL. This album is soooo funky and soooo funny that it actually provides a persuasive argument for cloning, as that would be the only way for Mr. Morrison to take this funky-ass show on the road. Sadly unavailable on CD at the present time, however...
For his second post-Impressions solo release (after 1970's brilliant Curtis), the Gentle Genius takes his stripped-down and super-funky band into the Bitter End for an incomparable live recording that truly compares favorably with any live album of the rock era. Two guitars, bass, congas and drums, plus that wise and knowing voice, are all Curtis needs to keep you spellbound and practically applauding in your own living room.
His between-song raps are witty and loose, and songs like "I Plan To Stay A Believer," "Stare And Stare" and "Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)" will never leave your head once lodged there. Plus the deepest version of "We've Only Just Begun" you'll ever hear. Simply a must-have, and now available on CD from Rhino.
I Don't Know What The World Is Coming To
I could have picked any one of a half-dozen killer early ‘70s Womack albums, like Communication, Understanding or Facts Of Life, but lately I find I can't stop playing this one. It rocks, it grooves, BW sings his ass off (as usual), AND it's got "If You Want My Love (Put Something Down On It)" and "Superstar." Nuff Said!
Also, special mention must be given to the cover shot of Bobby, dressed in black, with big dark shades, cigarette in hand, sittin' back with a gangster lean, obviously coked to the gills, looking like the biggest badass EVER. Must have scared off many a potential buyer!
RUFUS & CHAKA KHAN
Another case of "which-one-do-I-pick?" Basically, any mid-‘70s Rufus and Chaka will always be worth the money (especially since they're all budget-priced on CD), but this one has begun to overtake Rags To Rufus as my all-time favorite. Diverse and adventurous, it nevertheless keeps the band's fans satisfied with what they already know and love. The songs attain a new level of sophistication and the arrangements offer fascinating twists and turns.
And despite the rather prosaic title, there have been few songs as genuinely sexy and seductive as "Everlasting Love." Other highlights include "Hollywood," "Earth Song" and (ha,ha) "Slow Screw Against The Wall" featuring Ron Wood. And let me also stress that Chaka's Arif Mardin-produced solo albums for Warner Bros. such as Chaka, Naughty and What'Cha Gonna Do For Me are all completely amazing. Chaka is a total goddess, and she truly has never gotten her full due. Time to change that, folks!
Songs / Hey Love
I justify pulling this 2-for-1 scam by reasoning that the only way to obtain these two magnificent albums on CD is as a twofer anyway. The former features psychedelic soul-rock renditions of the rock hits of the day, by the likes of Hendrix, Cream and the Band, plus the spookiest version of "Respect" you'll ever hear. RC were the Chess/Cadet label's in-house "connect-with-the-kids" rock experiment, and Minnie Riperton's glass-shattering range one of the few constants in an ever-shifting lineup.
Starting off as producer-arranger-complete genius Charles Stepney's sonic playground, they evolved into a redoubtable and utterly unique psych/orchestral/gospel/R&B/pop outfit, complete with Stepney as an actual band member. 1971's beautiful Hey Love album, their swan song, is the real reason to track this CD down. "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun," "Song For Everyman," "If I Sing A Song"--basically, the whole album is like a dream you don't want to wake up from.
DJ ROGERS self-titled [Shelter-1973]
AL GREEN Al Green Gets Next To You [Hi-1971]
KOOL & THE GANG Light Of Worlds [De-Lite-1974]
O'JAYS Ship Ahoy [Philadelphia Int'l Records-1973]
IMPRESSIONS This Is My Country [Curtom-1968]
All of which deserve FAR more than a measly "honorable mention," but this IS "5", so...