Soul Serenade: Jimmy Soul, “If You Wanna Be Happy”

Jimmy SoulI chose this week’s song with some trepidation. It has been on my list of prospective features for a long time. The obvious reason is that on its surface, this song is a long way from politically correct and in the current climate that can generate more controversy than I’m interested in dealing with. But wait a minute. Let’s look a little below the surface. What is Jimmy Soul really saying in “If You Wanna Be Happy”?

First a little about the singer himself. Jimmy Soul was born in North Carolina and as you may have guessed, Soul was not his family name. James Louis McCleese was preaching by the time he was seven and singing gospel in his teenage years. It was his church congregation that gave him the “Soul” moniker.

Soul toured the south a variety of gospel groups and acquired some popularity in the Norfolk, Virginia area. It was there that he encountered Frank Guida who was a songwriter and producer ass well as being the manager of Gary U.S. Bonds among other artists. Guida thought that Soul would be a good substitute for Bonds on songs that Bonds had declined to record and when you listen to “If You Wanna Be Happy” you will notice a decided similarity to the sound of the Bonds hits. It’s a sound that has had a noticeable impact on producers and artists who came later.

Jimmy Soul“If You Wanna Be Happy” was written by Guida along with his wife Carmella and Joseph Royster. It was based on a song called “Ugly Woman” that had been recorded by the Trinidadian calypso singer Roaring Lion in 1934. The record was released on Guida’s own S.P.Q.R. label and distributed by London Records in the United States. Despite the fact that the “ugly woman” lyrics got the song banned by many radio stations “If You Wanna Be Happy” shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1963. The single sold over a million copies and earned a gold record. It was the second hit for Soul who had scored with “Twistin’ Matilda” the previous year.

Jimmy Soul kept trying but he could never match the success of the two singles. He finally gave up his career as a musician and joined the Army. Sadly, drugs became a problem for Soul and landed him in prison in the 1980s. He died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 45.

Now about those lyrics. Yes, they’re hard to defend and yet the point of the lyrics is clearly that looks aren’t everything. It’s a positive message which is unfortunately delivered in a rather offensive way. And yet, in 1963, “If You Wanna Be Happy” captured hearts around the world with the unrestrained joy that leaped from the grooves of the record.

Soul Serenade: Nancy Wilson, “Face It Girl, It’s Over”

Nancy WilsonHappy New Year!

During the holidays I decided to determine once and for all how long I’ve been writing this column. I searched the Popdose archives for that first column which I knew featured the King Curtis song that gave the column its name. And there it was, published on April 15, 2010. Soul Serenade is approaching its ninth birthday. In that whole time I’ve only taken a few weeks off (alright, one of them was last week) so simple math tells me that there have been well over 400 entries in this series. Phew! I must admit that occasionally it’s challenging to come up with something I haven’t covered previously but I’m going to press on into the New Year.

Aretha Franklin’s death was one of biggest, and saddest stories of 2019. And rightly so. She was the one and only Queen of Soul after all and her life and career were the stuff of legend. But in December we lost another great singer who was iconic in her own right, Nancy Wilson.

Wilson was born in Ohio in 1937. Her father was a foundry worker who loved music and Wilson grew up listening to his records by artists like Billy Eckstein, Dinah Washington, and Ruth Brown. From the time she began singing in church choirs as a child, it was clear that Wilson would become a professional singer. Her first break came when she was 15. Wilson won a talent show sponsored by a local television station and the prize was two appearances on Skyline Melodies, a local television show. Around this time Wilson was also working in the clubs around town.

Given the vagaries on show business, Wilson decided to go to college to pursue a teaching degree. But after a year she knew that she had to return to her true calling. Soon after that, she landed a gig singing with Rusty Bryant’s Carolyn Club Big Band. Wilson stayed with the band for two years, touring throughout the Midwest and Canada during that time. It was also with Bryant’s band that she did her first recording.

Somewhere along the way, Wilson encountered Cannonball Adderley who was taken with her talent and suggested to Wilson that she move to New York to jumpstart her career. Wilson made the move in 1969. She sang four nights a week at a club called Blue Morocco and by day she worked as a secretary at the New York Institute of Technology. With the help of Adderly’s manager, John Levy, she got a deal with Capitol Records in 1960.

Nancy Wilson“Guess Who I Saw Today” was Wilson’s first single for the label and it was so successful that Capitol released five Nancy Wilson albums over the next two years. Adderley advised Wilson to move from her pop music stylings to more of a jazz and R&B thing and the two collaborated on Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley in 1962. The album included the R&B smash “Save Your Love For Me.” Between 1964 and 1965, Wilson put four albums into the Top 10 on the Billboard albums chart. She also had her biggest single with “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” which reached #11 in 1964. Wilson charted ten other singles from 1963-1971, but “Face It Girl, It’s Over” was her only other non-Christmas single to crack the Top 40. “Face It Girl” reached the #29 spot in 1968.

Wilson was a fixture on a variety of television shows in the ’60s and ’70s. In 1967, she finally got her own shown on NBC. The Nancy Wilson Show only lasted for two years but it won an Emmy during that time. Aside from her own show, Wilson appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Tonight Show, and numerous other variety shows along with dramas series like Room 222, Hawaii Five-0, and The F.B.I.

The 1980s brought more recording and touring for Wilson. She recorded with jazz greats like Hank Jones, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Ramsey Lewis, and Stanley Clarke. Appearances included prestigious venues like the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the Tokyo Songs Festival. By the ’90s, Wilson had 60 albums under her belt. From 1995-2006, Wilson hosted NPR’s Jazz Profiles and won a Peabody Award for her efforts in 2001. She continued to perform until 2011 when she made her final public appearance on a stage in, appropriately, Ohio.

“I’m not going to be doing it anymore, and what better place to end it than where I started – in Ohio,” Wilson told at the time.

Nancy Wilson won many awards and over the year. She was the recipient of three Grammy Awards, the Whitney Young Jr. Award from the Urban League, and the NAACP Image Award – Hall of Fame Award among many other honors. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and honorary degrees from Berklee College of Music and Central State University. Wilson was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2005. The list of honors goes on and on, but you get the idea. Wilson was not only a great singer but a great citizen as well.

Nancy Wilson died in California on December 13, 2018, after a long battle with kidney cancer.

Soul Serenade: Aretha Franklin, “Silent Night” (Solo Piano Version)

Aretha Franklin - "Silent Night"Let’s face it, 2018 was not a very good year. The nation seemed to become even more divided and at times it felt like the whole world was about to come apart at the seams. In the midst of this darkness came the devastating news that we had lost the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. On August 13, the great lady died from pancreatic cancer. Her life was celebrated in a majestic memorial service that was held at Greater Grace Temple in her hometown of Detroit on August 31. Aretha’s prominence was such that the service was streamed by several major news networks.

One of the last albums that Aretha ever recorded was a Christmas album. This Christmas was released as a Borders Bookstore (remember them?) exclusive on October 14, 2008, and reissued by DMI the following year. Sadly, the album, which was a blend of holiday classics like “Ave Maria,” and more modern fare like the Gamble and Huff-penned “Christmas Ain’t Christmas (Without the One You Love),” failed to crack the Top 100.

In November of this year, Rhino Records released This Christmas on vinyl for the first time ever. The company also released for digital consumption an extraordinary, newly-mixed solo piano version of Aretha singing “Silent Night.” It’s as if the great diva has left us one last holiday gift.

We’re all caught up in the rush of the season so I’ll keep it short this week. I wanted to give you something beautiful to listen to this Christmas. If hearing Aretha sing this classic accompanied only by herself on the piano doesn’t give you goosebumps, you’re stronger than I am. Most of all, I want to wish all of the readers of this column a very Merry Christmas wrapped in the warm embrace of family and friends.

Soul Serenade: Harold Melvin And The Bluenotes, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”

Harold Melvin and the BluenotesAlright, I admit it. There’s more Philly Soul covered in this column than music from any other soul capitol. There are a few reasons for that, the primary one being that when I was a kid in Atlantic City it was the music that the Philadelphia kids brought with them to the Jersey shore that made me love soul music in the first place. To this day, across all the years, it remains my favorite music. So this week I’m back with a Philly Soul record that was not only a huge hit but also represents all of the best aspects of the sound.

Great Philly Soul begins with the song and so many of them were the creations of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is one of them. The record was a smash for Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes but it wasn’t intended for them in the first place. Gamble and Huff had another Philadelphia group, Labelle, in mind when they wrote the song. For one reason or another, Labelle passed on the song and that’s when the writer/producers turned to Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.

They were the Charlemagnes when they got together but by 1954 they were the Blue Notes and they had a long hard road ahead. They had some hits, albeit minor ones, with “My Hero” in 1960, and “Get Out (and Let Me Cry)” in 1965. The tide began to turn for the group when they recruited a drummer named Teddy Pendergrass to play in their backing band in 1970. The Bluenotes lead singer at the time was John Atkins but he left the group the same year the Pendergrass came on board. This led to Pendergrass, who had previously been a member of The Cadillacs (not the well-known Cadillacs from New York) being elevated to the lead singer role. That group, with Melvin, Pendergrass, Bernard Wilson, Lawrence Brown, and Lloyd Parks, was signed to Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label in 1972. It was the same year that they released their breakout smash “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”

The record, which featured an unforgettable Pendergrass vocal, was released on September 11, 1972. It quickly moved up the charts until it was on top of the R&B chart and at #3 on the pop chart. As big a hit as it was for the Bluenotes, 17 years later the English band Simply Red took it even higher. Their version made it all the way to the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The RIAA named “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” one of the Songs of the Century.

Harold Melvin and the BluenotesThe Bluenotes had been together in one form or another for 20 years when they first had major success and it didn’t end there. They dropped one hit after another including “The Love I Lost,” “Wake Up Everybody,” “Bad Luck,” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Despite their success, the lineup continued to change and that situation went critical when Pendergrass, at the height of the Bluenotes success, left for a solo career. Melvin led them forward but the departure of Pendergrass was a blow from which they never really recovered. Still, Melvin led an ever-changing lineup until his death in 1997. Pendergrass had a. massively successful solo career until he was paralyzed in a car accident in 1982. Although he recovered enough to return to recording and performance, it was never really the same. Teddy Pendergrass died from respiratory failure in 2010.

No discussion of Philly Soul or the glory years of Philadelphia International Records will ever be complete without recognition of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.

Soul Serenade: Dee Dee Sharp, “Ride!”

Dee Dee SharpWhen we think of Philly Soul, we tend to think of Gamble & Huff and their work with the Intruders, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, the O’Jays, and many more. We also think of Thom Bell and his work with the Delfonics, the Stylistics, and the Spinners. And while those producers, songwriters, and artists certainly represent the peak of Philly Soul, the fact remains that there was great music coming out of Philadelphia before any of them arrived on the scene. Case in point, Dee Dee Sharp.

Dione LaRue was born in Philadelphia and when she was 16 years old she began her career as a background singer. It wasn’t long before the newly christened Dee Dee Sharp was stepping out on her own. Her first hit was a duet with Chubby Checker called “Slow Twistin’,” although Parkway Records failed to credit her on the record label. Her first hit on her own came with the smash “Mashed Potato Time” in 1962. The Cameo Records single ran all the way up the Billboard Hot 100 to #2.

“Mashed Potato Time” was followed by “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes),” and “Ride!,” both of which also reached the Top 10 that same year. Sharp’s final Top 10 hit was “Do the Bird” in 1963. She also released “Rock Me I the Cradle of Love” and “Wild!” that year and both singles made the charts but neither had the kind of success that the earlier hits did. Subsequent Cameo singles like “Where Did I Go Wrong,” “Willyam, Willyam,” “Never Pick a Pretty Boy,” “I Really Love You,” and “It’s a Funny Situation” also found only minor chart success.

A marriage made in Philly Soul heaven took place when Sharp married Kenny Gamble in 1967 and began recording as Dee Dee Sharp-Gamble. The disco era brought a bit of a career renewal for Sharp-Gamble as she released a moderately successful cover of the 10cc hit “I’m Not In Love” on her husband’s Philadelphia International label in 1976. Sharp and Gamble were divorced in 1980 and Sharp subsequently remarried. Her last chart single was “I Love You Anyway” which reached #62 on the R&B chart in 1981.

Soul Serenade: The Clovers “Love Potion No. 9”

The Clovers







It has been said that when the British Invasion bands appeared on these shores and on our radios they were bringing American music back to America. The British musicians were steeped in the knowledge of American blues, R&B, and soul in ways that most Americans just weren’t. Today’s record is a case in point; an American R&B hit that was brought back to these shores a few years later by a British Invasion band that turned the song into an even bigger hit.

The Clovers have had a long and distinguished career that began when they got together in Washington, D.C. in 1946 and goes on to this day in some fashion. The original lineup included Harold Lucas, Billy Shelton, and Thomas Woods. They were joined shortly after that by lead singer Buddy Bailey. There have been many lineup changes over the years and I won’t detail them all, but by 1948, Shelton and Woods were gone, replaced by Matthew McQuater and Harold Winsley.

The quartet released their first single, “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” for Rainbow Records in 1950 and soon after that became a quintet with the addition of guitarist Bill Harris. By 1951, the Clovers were signed to the fledgling Atlantic Records label. The first single for the label was “Don’t You Know I Love You,” a song written by Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, b/w the standard “Skylark.” It was the Clovers first Top 10 R&B hit and remained on the chart for five months.

The second Clovers release for Atlantic was “Fool, Fool, Fool,” and that one went all the way to the top of the R&B chart. Bailey was drafted and replaced by John Phillip but the hits kept coming. The Clovers hits the charts with songs like “One Mint Julep,” “Middle of the Night” (another Ertegun composition), “Ting-A-Ling,” “Hey Miss Fannie,” “Good Lovin’,” “Lovey Dovey,” “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash,” and several other singles.

The Clovers

Bailey eventually returned from the Army, rejoined the group, and shared vocal duties with Billy Mitchell who had replaced Charlie White, who had replaced Phillip. Whew! The thing is, the hits never stopped, no matter who the Clovers were. “Blue Velvet,” “Nip Sip,” “Devil or Angel,” “So Young” and “I I I Love You” (the latter two songs arranged by Quincy Jones) were all hits.

In 1957, the Clovers Atlantic contract expired and their manager, Lou Krefetz, got them signed to Poplar Records the following year. Poplar was subsumed by United Artists the following year and in June 1959, the Clovers entered the recording studio to record their signature hit “Love Potion No. 9.”

The song was written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. It was released in July and this time it not only raced up the R&B chart to #23 but found equivalent success on the pop chart. It was by far the biggest hit of the Clovers long career. It was also the last time that the Clovers ever hit the R&B or pop chart but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They kept recording up until 1968 with an ever-shifting lineup and a variety of record labels. At times there was more than one band using the Clovers name, there were breakups and reunions, and the deaths of various members over the years.

A British band, the Searchers, covered “Love Potion No. 9” in 1964. Their version reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Remember what I said about bringing our music back to us?

As of 2013, a legal agreement has allowed two different groups to perform under the Clovers name.

Soul Serenade: The Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Ooh Child”

Edwin Hawkins SingersOne of my favorite things about my adopted home state of Rhode Island is the state motto. It’s not really a motto at all in the expected sense of a phrase or a sentence. It is simply one word … Hope. The motto is thought to have been derived from the biblical verse that states that “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul.” This is borne out by the fact that Rhode Island’s symbol is an anchor.

It seems to me that hope is something that is in short supply these days, not only here in Rhode Island but throughout our divided country and the entire world for that matter. We arrive at Thanksgiving today at a dark time in our history when no one is really sure whether our democracy can survive. And that’s where that single word, hope, comes in.

So I set about to find a way to mark this holiday with a song about hope. There are many of course but the one that has always moved me the most is “Ooh Child.” The song was written by Stan Vincent and originally recorded by the Five Stairsteps in 1970. At the time, the A-side of the record was the Stairsteps cover of the Beatles “Dear Prudence” with “Ooh Child” on the flip side. But it was the B-side that broke out in several markets and by the summer of 1970, the record’s message of hope had reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Released by Buddha Records, “Ooh Child” was the only Top 40 pop record the Five Stairsteps ever had.

I’ve written about the Five Stairsteps version of the song previously in the column but the song has had many cover versions over the years. Among the other artists who have recorded “Ooh Child” are The Spinners, Nina Simone, New Birth, Richie Havens, Valerie Carter, Hall & Oates, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers. I chose the Hawkins Singers version for today because out of all the fine covers of the song, the group’s gospel roots help to instill in an even greater sense of hope in me.

Ooh-oo child
Things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child
Things’ll get brighter
Ooh-oo child
Things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child
Things’ll get brighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll get it together and we’ll get it all done
Some day
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
Some day
When the world is much brighter

And there it is … hope.

My hope is that this Thanksgiving Day finds you in the warm embrace of family and friends. It is my strong belief that despite the darkness that sometimes seems to surround us, we have much to be thankful for.