It’s remarkable how a rather tacky, home-produced magazine could provoke so many memories, most of them happy ones I’m glad to report. Following our re-visit last month to Motown Ad Astra and its TCB magazine-cum-booklet, I’m encouraged to remain within the pages of the late sixties/early seventies to share more.
Let’s start with the closing paragraphs of Otis Williams’ interview, when he spoke of “Puzzle People,” the Temptations’ LP then-just released in February 1970, starting with his comment about the track “Message From A Black Man”, considered to be rather controversial for the time: “It was something new, something different, and we just wanted to try it. It was more an experiment that turned out good. We cut another track called ‘War’ which is even more controversial (but) we don’t know if or when it’ll be released. It’s just something different again. We changed our style shortly after Dennis (Edwards) joined us. We didn’t want any David Ruffin Part Two, so we knew we had to change. So, the ‘Cloud Nine’ era began. We’d like to do a couple more singles in this same bag, and then move on to something different again (because) we don’t like to stay in a rut for too long.”
Another track Otis mentioned was the group’s interpretation of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” (which today is my go-to version next to Wilson Pickett’s stunning gravelly take: “I remember the first time I heard The Beatles’ version of that song. We were driving along a turnpike in the States and it came on the radio. Man, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was so knocked out. I knew we just had to record it. I was a little mad at first, because the end part of it was exactly the same tune as we used to sing as kids when we were standing on street corners. Then The Beatles come along and make a fortune out of it! That’s what I call good business.” Other album tracks that grabbed attention included “I Can’t Get Next To You”*, “Don’t Let The Jones Get You Down”*, “Slave” and “That’s The Way Love Is”. (* singles)
And finally, the Temptation made reference to David Ruffin, insisting they remained on a friendly basis: “I admire him very much; he’s an excellent singer. The only thing was, when we really made it big, David developed this ‘head thing’ and we knew something had to give. He would be great on stage, and then he’d go off in his ‘head thing’. We still see him sometimes. In fact, he’s sat in on a couple of our performances since he left the group. Dennis spotted him in the audience and asked him to come up on stage and join us.”
To celebrate Motown’s 10th anniversary, Jackie Lee and I went rather crazy by producing an extended TCB (which must have taken mega-hours to print off on the Roneo stencil machine that took pride of place in our kitchen at 48 Chepstow Road, W1.) which was devoted to as many artists as we could think of, ranging from Marvin Gaye, Debbie Dean, Little Lisa, Shorty Long, David Ruffin, and moving right through the alphabet to Blinky Williams and Richard Wylie. A short biography accompanied each arist, alongside label, US/UK release details and group line-up. It must have taken days to type it all out on those floppy stencils, labour of love? I reckon so.
The founder of the UK Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, Dave Godin also contributed with an article under the heading “Tamla Motown Has Come To Stay“. It went something like this: “It hardly seems five years ago that I was writing an article about Tamla Motown’s first five great years, and at that time it hardly seemed possible that Barrett Strong’s great classic ‘Money’ was already that old. To think it was ten years ago that I hotfooted it down to the local record store to buy it, shows that if you dig soul music you’ll always stay young! In those days we called it rhythm & blues, soul being a term reserved for the type of record that we would now call heavy soul (like the way-out wailing flip of “Please Mr Postman,” [which was] “So Long Baby”) but gradually a distinct brand of soul which was to become known as the Tamla Motown sound evolved, and I remember with pleasure the great days when I ran the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, and hope that in my own small way, I perhaps helped this Sound gain a foothold over here. When at last Mary Wells crashed the charts with ‘My Guy,’ it was the beginning of a new era – and we knew it.
“Since then, the imitators and plagiarists have been put in their proper place by the record buying public, and Tamla Motown is still a dynamic force in the cultural scene of Black America. That it should change over the years is to its credit, and although it has now shed some of its more ‘ethnic’ overtones it is nevertheless still the Sound of Young America – and the Sound Of Young Britain too! Though Tamla brought soul to white America, more importantly it brought it to Britain too – and since then there has been no looking back. Tamla Motown has come to stay but in doing so it has brought soul music to stay, and for that alone, it has earned the undying gratitude of every soul brother and sister in the land. May the next ten years be as great and swinging.”
Even though Dave had moved on to other things, he was always at the end of the phone for us, guiding, supporting and encouraging. One act of kindness was giving us a box of “Hitsville Greetings to the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society” singles to sell to members to help boost our paltry funds. They were a precious commodity and we sold out almost instantly. I’m thinking the money raised probably paid for the next edition of TCB! I’ve just noticed a comment from Ronnie Bell, product manager for the Oriole catalogue over here: “In Oriole days, Motown were turning out some fantastic sounds, but we just couldn’t get radio exposure and everyone at the BBC told me that ‘Negro‘ music could never make it in this country.” Well, there’s a surprise.
Moving on to March/April 1970 where Motown’s other mega male group, The Four Tops – Levi Stubbs, Duke Fakir, Obie Benson, Lawrence Payton – were headline news wherever they went. We traipsed to Heathrow to meet them on 6th March, waited all morning. They failed to show. However, they did eventually touch down on British soil, whereupon a reception was hastily arranged. The following day, we followed them around television studios as they recorded guest spots for The Julie Felix Show, The Young Generation and the obligatory Top Of The Pops, where they promoted their ‘current’ single, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”. With “Baby I Need Your Loving” on the flipside, the disc was apparently released by public demand. While at the TV studio, they also recorded an in-house film for their next single “It’s All In The Game”.
The Four Tops had flown in from Holland following a sensational performance at The Grand Gala du Disque and our write-up went something like this: “Prolonged and loud applause from an elegant and diamond-studded audience of nearly two thousand members of the business community and the Dutch record company industry, crammed into Amsterdam’s RAI auditorium, voted The Four Tops the top act in Holland’s four-hour television show The Grand Gala du Disque. Time after time bursts of unrestrained applause broke into the group’s singing, showing the Dutch have taken them into their hearts. Also taking part in the show were other top recording artists such as Jose Feliciano, Bobbie Gentry, The Edwin Hawkins Singers and others.
“As the Tops exploded onto the television stage at nearly midnight, an expectant sigh ran through the audience, which after three hours of non-stop pop must have qualified as one of the toughest audiences in the world. One Dutch DJ said, “The warmth and enthusiasm of those boys, coupled with their sheer professionalism, has made them the Kings of the Gala’. Dressed in smart check jackets, butterfly ties and evening dress trousers, they started with ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’ and continued with ‘Little Green Apples’. Then in a swirl of microphone cable, [the group] broke into their new record ‘Barbara’s Boy’. Guest of honour, [famed French singer] Maurice Chevalier led the applause giving his seal of approval to their latest disc which is expected to be a smash hit in Europe. They then finished with their show stopper, ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’ during which Levi led the others out into the audience, and had all the diamonds and white shirt fronts bobbing and glistening in the harsh TV lights, by making everybody clap to the music. As the song finished, the audience refused to let them go and for the first time during the whole evening, repeatedly called for an encore. While the show was on the air, the streets of Amsterdam were empty. It was even impossible to get a taxi. ‘How will you spend this evening?’ one driver was asked earlier in the day. ‘In front of the television of course’, he replied. ‘I don’t want to miss the Four Tops!'”
Following this item in TCB, there was another under the heading “The Four Tops Special” which had nothing to do with television, but rather a cocktail. “In Amsterdam’s Hilton Hotel, the group sat wearily in the bar after a twelve hour flight, each drinking his own favourite drink. Suddenly Obie had an idea. ‘If all these are our favourite drinks,’ he said. ‘Why don’t we try mixing them? The result may be a real swinging concoction.’ So, they asked the head barman to mix equal quantities of cognac, vodka, Cointreau and Florida orange juice, with a dash of lemon. Shaken with crushed ice it became the Amsterdam Hilton’s most requested cocktail. Named ‘The Four Tops Special’ in their honour, the drink was apparently adopted by Hilton Hotels all over the world. Levi described it as ‘the drink with the real cool sound.'” Excuse me! I can feel a hangover coming on just typing the ingredients!
Having mentioned “Barbara’s Boy” earlier, there’s a little tale about its release in Europe. During a performance in Los Angeles, the Tops met one of Europe’s top models, Barbara Huf from Holland. She was touring the world as Miss Amsterdam Hilton, struck up a friendship with the guys, which apparently led to the release of the single. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but what I do know is that “Barbara’s Boy” is a dynamic, hard hitting, solid Motown track written by Joe Hinton and Pam Sawyer, from the otherwise rather dull “Soul Spin” album. While here, another mouth-watering title comes to mind (so much so, that I’ve just played it on my mobile) namely “Lost In A Pool Of Red”, another from the pen of Pam with the equally-talented Bea Verdi. It’s a swirling whirlpool of sound that sweeps triumphantly through the background, with Levi’s strong, masterful voice dominating the song. Absolutely fabulous.
Ooops, I digressed a little, but here’s a handful of other items from The Four Tops’ historical visit to Holland, which like the others I’ve slightly amended for easier reading. During this spell of promotional activity, they became the champions of the five-seated bicycle, by embarking upon some hair-raising trials, cycling through the city’s narrow streets, almost avoiding falling into a dike. The bike (which had a top speed of fifty miles an hour) was the only one in existence, thus explaining the $2 million insurance policy which its manufacturer took out before the group put foot to peddle. I do recall seeing a picture of this at the time but sadly didn’t keep a copy.
From cycling to climbing the Euromast! I’m not kidding. Our report went something like this: “The Four Tops introduced ‘topping out’ to Europe when they smashed a bottle of ‘Pomerey et Greno’ champagne over the last stage of the four-hundred foot high Euromast in Rotterdam, Holland’s tallest building just being completed and already an important tourist attraction. The ceremony was performed at the top of the tower in a fierce wind. The group had to climb workmen’s ladders to reach the topping area. Likewise the accompanying photographers and journalists who were forced to cling on to whatever they could find, while ducking from the flying glass as the bottle smashed into the side of the building. Before specially invited guests of city dignitaries and press, Mr Adrianus Van Raalte, Director of the Euromast, said, ‘It is entirely appropriate that America’s top singing group, The Four Tops, should dedicate Holland’s newest and greatest building.’ It seems the group had travelled to Rotterdam from Amsterdam in two luxurious chauffeur-driven Cadillacs, courtesy of General Motors.”
Back to ground level, the Mayor of Haarlem (the old Dutch city from which New York’s Harlem takes its name) invited the Tops to receive a special key to the town of Haarlem in recognition of the work they were doing in the US to encourage under-privileged children to succeed at school or in sport. “Burgomeister Gouw received Levi, Obie, Larry and Duke in the three hundred-year-old town hall, which is hung with ancient two-handed swords and priceless paintings. Before the crowd of photographers and reporters the Mayor said, ‘We greatly appreciate the interest of our distinguished visitors to our town. We ask them to convey our brotherly greetings to our friends in Harlem, New York.’ After telling them about the concerts he stages during the summer months in the little town square to raise money for youth movements, the Mayor ushered The Four Tops on to a balcony overlooking the square where he presented them to a crowd of several hundred people, who had gathered after seeing the group arrive. The two foot-long key was put into safe keeping until they left for their hotel. ‘I was overwhelmed with the response,’ said Lawrence, after signing dozens of autographs. ‘We shall treasure the key in memory of a truly memorable occasion.'”
Then finally, there was a quick stop-off at Broukelen, the sleepy Dutch village from which an area of New York [Brooklyn] takes its name. “When I saw Broukelen’s bridge, I just wanted to take it home with me for my kids to play with,” said Duke. It was called a “swinger” bridge due to its design, was the length of a Cadillac and crossed the River Vecht. In the end, they contented themselves with personal photo shoots.
I’m sure there’ll be more visits to the TCB magazines over the coming months, but as I plan to see Ain’t Too Proud To Beg in a couple of weeks time, I suspect there’ll be a review of sorts to share with you. Meantime, as always thank you for your support and love. Oh, and don’t forget you can always catch me on www.radio-illumini.com on Sundays.