After last week’s look at some soul hits from 1962, it’s time to focus on some of the key soul albums from 1974. This extract forms a part of the History section of Celebrate Good Times. Again, 100 have been selected – with a Top 25 chosen for special attention and merit. In the UK during the mid 70s, the demand for soul albums was increasing. Of course, in the US there were many independently released records which never gained a UK issue – and were not even imported at the time. However, the records listed below are selected from the few hundred soul albums that were released by the major record companies of the day. Specialist publications such as Blues And Soul and Black Music kept soul fans reliably informed of what was newly available. Because the singles market was so strong, an album containing a few singles was financially more attractive than forking out money for a clutch of 45s. At this time, the popular labels like Tamla Motown, Atlantic and Stax were still going strong. Of course, as with all such lists, the selections provide a very personal handpicked overview of the year – but they do reflect what I was listening to and buying at the time, in addition to those other albums I picked up later along the way on many, many cratedigging hunts. Without a doubt, the Top 5 are the albums I was mad about at the time and still am now.
George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby album was typical of what they called at the time ‘The Miami Sound’ – and produced by Howard Casey and Richard Finch (of KC & The Sunshine Band). The LP was chockablock with hits – including not only the title-track (in a brilliant extended version) but also other chartbusters like You Can Have It All, I Can’t Leave You Alone and the dynamite American hit Look At You. It also contains a proper big ‘break’ in the form of I Get Lifted – sampled in the 80s and 90s for tracks like Do The Right Thing (Redhead Kingpin & The FBI), Gin And Juice (Snoop Dogg), 69 (Father MC) and Only You (112).
Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions album from 1973 was one of those constant-rotation albums in my selection at the time. I loved everything about this album : apart from the music, there was also the luxurious gatefold sleeve, the lyrics of the songs and the amazing artwork. When I got the album (I was 14 at the time) I printed out a Dymo tape with my name on it and stuck it in the top right-hand corner of the sleeve on the front. It’s still there some 40 years later! I obviously needed to make a statement that the album was mine, all mine. At the time I lived in Highbury and developed a habit of popping into my local record shop after school (this sometimes made me late for my tea). It was relatively small but their stock was good. All the albums were in best-quality PVC plastic protective outer sleeves. When I heard Stevie was releasing the follow-up to one of my ‘obsession’ albums, I asked the shop-owner if he could put one by for me as I didn’t want him to sell out once he got it in. I couldn’t remember the title of it – I just recalled it was quite lengthy. On the day of its release I legged it to the record shop after school. I had stashed my money in my school satchel – and forked out £1.75 for a brand new copy of Fulfillingness’ First Finale (so that’s what it was called – what the hell does it mean? I thought). By then I had my own stereo record player in my bedroom, so was able to play it pretty much non-stop for months. If you left the arm back that usually held the records in a stack, it would automatically play the same record again from the beginning. So I would do it with my albums – hearing Side One a few times, then flip it over for Side Two. Of course, it was infuriating when you’d played a few singles just before and forgot to change the speed – then the needle would drop half way through an album and sound like The Chipmunks. Only two singles were lifted from the album – ‘You Haven’t Done Nothin’ and ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’ – and the rest of the tracks just seemed other-worldly to me as they weren’t the ones being played on the radio. The song Creepin’ was the one I was particularly fascinated and mesmerised by.
My fanaticism about Stevie Wonder extended to things he was associated with too. I’d first heard Spinnin’ And Spinnin’ by Syreeta on a copy of Motown Chartbusters Vol.9 which I’d bought as a present for someone. Of course, I had to play the album to ‘test’ it. I was blown away by the track and bought the single very soon afterwards. My love of that ’45 and its flipside then progressed to realising I needed to own the album. So, after saving pocket money for a few weeks, I finally bought the album from my local emporium. I chucked the PVC cover (I always did) as I felt it somehow inhibited the contents and didn’t allow it to breath. To this day, none of my albums have protective sleeves. Perhaps that’s why so many of them are dog-eared and falling apart at the seams – but I digress. What I particularly loved on the Stevie Wonder presents…Syreeta LP was the segued medley of songs on Side Two. Even now, listening to it gives me goosebumps and transports me back to 1974. The duet with G.C. Cameron – I Wanna Be By Your Side – still sounds amazing. In the early 80s when I used to be a vocal coach, the beautiful song ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers was one I would teach my students. In the mid-80s I was introduced to a young singer friends of mine were then managing called Omar. They asked me to write a biography on him for publicity purposes. So I interviewed him and we had dinner and during our conversation we found we had quite similar tastes in music. In particular, he confessed to an obsession with the Syreeta album. I was stunned! I had never met anyone who was as crazy about that album as me. Of course, years later he worked with Stevie Wonder and also duetted with Syreeta.
Lady Marmalade was a song which didn’t take off in the UK until 1975. I loved it. I’d first heard it on Greg Edwards’ essential Soul Spectrum radio show on Capital Radio. On Saturday nights it was a ritual to check out Greg’s show and also listen to Tommy Vance’s TV On Reggae which was also excellent. I bought the Labelle single at one of the record stalls in the Indoor Market in Chapel Street, Islington. I eventually saw the group on Top Of The Pops and was somewhat gobsmacked by their outfits and their attitude. Soon enough, I bought their Nightbirds album and totally fell in love with it. I definitely knew that Patti Labelle was a singer who was very special and quite unique. I recognised the name of Allen Toussaint (the producer) from my old Lee Dorsey singles. The album is crammed with brilliant tracks – including All Girl Band, What Can I Do For You?, It Took A Long Time and my favourite-of-all, the closing Nona Hendryx song You Turn Me On. This album still sounds totally fresh.
The No.1 slot is held by another album I purchased in 1975. I’d loved the single Express by B.T. Express. The monthly magazine Black Music (which a newsagents in Essex Road saved for me) had given the album a 5-star review and so I decided I’d try and track it down. Of course, in those days, it was sometimes difficult to find records – both albums and singles – in shops or on stalls, as not everybody stocked everything. Especially black music. That was why mail-order for records (soul and reggae especially) was hugely popular. By that time I was living in Dalston. I tried various places in vain to try and find a copy of the album – it was proving elusive. But finally, I succeeded and got it from one of the specialist shops in Ridley Road Market. From the moment it hit the decks, I was hooked. Funk on a next level. I loved the songs, the sound, the arrangements, the whole groove of the album. I eventually tracked down all of the singles taken from the LP as well. Once You Get It is just a killer ’45. Do You Like It later became a rare groove on pirate radio in the 80s. And the track If It Don’t Turn You On has a guitar lick that has been sampled to death – most famously on tracks like So Watcha Sayin’ (EPMD), Use Your Heart (SWV) and Judy Had A Boyfriend (Riff).
As with the ’62 listings, original US labels and UK issue catalogue numbers are not listed here as there is limited space. The Top 25 are all pretty much wonderful all the way through, others have a majority of good tracks – but no albums listed are one-track albums. There is a decent cross-section of funk, Philly, disco, jazzy stuff, sweet soul and serious grooves – by bands, musicians, vocal groups and great male and female solo singers.
100 Soul Albums of 1974
1. DO IT (‘TIL YOU’RE SATISFIED) | B.T. Express | Pye Int.
2. NIGHTBIRDS | Labelle | Epic
3. STEVIE WONDER PRESENTS SYREETA | Syreeta | Tamla Motown
4. FULFILLINGNESS’ FIRST FINALE | Stevie Wonder | Tamla Motown
5. ROCK YOUR BABY | George McCrae | Jay Boy
6. PERFECT ANGEL | Minnie Riperton | Epic
7. RUFUSIZED | Rufus | ABC
8. DANGER – HIGH VOLTAGE | Betty Wright | RCA Victor
9. SALT OF THE EARTH | Soul Searchers | Sussex
10. BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU GOT | William DeVaughn | Chelsea
11. CAN’T GET ENOUGH | Barry White | 20th Century
12. BLUE MAGIC | Blue Magic | Atlantic
13. BODY HEAT | Quincy Jones | A & M
14. DAMN RIGHT I AM SOMEBODY | Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s | Polydor
15. ONE | Bob James | CTI
16. MIGHTY LOVE | Detroit Spinners | Atlantic
17. ECSTASY, PASSION & PAIN | Ecstasy, Passion & Pain | Pye Int.
18. FIRE | Ohio Players | Mercury
19. LIGHT OF WORLDS | Kool & The Gang | Polydor
20. SWEET EXORCIST | Curtis Mayfield | Buddah
21. EUPHRATES RIVER | The Main Ingredient | RCA Victor
22. I CAN’T STAND THE RAIN | Ann Peebles | London
23. JAMALCA | Ahmad Jamal | Pye Int.
24. MY WAY | Major Harris | Atlantic
25. DANCING MACHINE | The Jackson Five | Tamla Motown
And the best of the rest…
GOT TO FIND A WAY | Curtis Mayfield | Buddah
AMERICA, WAKE UP | Paul Humphrey | ABC
LIVE IT UP | The Isley Brothers | Epic
CAUGHT UP | Millie Jackson | Polydor
RAGS TO RUFUS | Rufus |ABC
+ ‘JUSTMENTS | Bill Withers | Sussex
RHAPSODY IN WHITE | Love Unlimited Orchestra | Pye Int.
MEETING OF THE MINDS | Four Tops | Probe
TRANSITION | Barbara Mason | Buddah
HANG ON IN THERE BABY | Johnny Bristol | MGM
DOWN TO EARTH | Undisputed Truth | Tamla Motown
KEEP ON STEPPIN’ | Fatback Band | Polydor
SKIN I’M IN | Chairmen Of The Board | Invictus
HELL | James Brown | Polydor
MACHINE GUN | Commodores | Tamla Motown
SKIN TIGHT | Ohio Players | Mercury
THE MIGHTY MIGHTY DELLS | The Dells | Chess
THE PLAYER | First Choice | Bell
CITY IN THE SKY | The Staple Singers | Stax
URBAN RENEWAL | Tower Of Power | Warner Bros.
COMING RIGHT AT YOU | 100% Pure Poison | EMI Int.
SOUTH AFRICAN MAN | Hamilton Bohannon | Brunswick
IN HEAT | Love Unlimited | 20th Century
THAT’S A PLENTY | The Pointer Sisters | Blue Thumb
HARD CORE POETRY | Tavares | Capitol
THE MARK OF THE BEAST | Willie Hutch | Tamla Motown
FINALLY GOT MYSELF TOGETHER | The Impressions | Buddah
A TASTE OF… | The Younghearts | 20th Century
LET ME IN YOUR LIFE | Aretha Franklin | Atlantic
I FEEL A SONG | Gladys Knight & The Pips | Buddah
RELEASE YOURSELF | Graham Central Station | Warner Bros.
NEW AND IMPROVED | Detroit Spinners | Atlantic
WITH EVERYTHING I FEEL IN ME | Aretha Franklin | Atlantic
BOOGIE DOWN | Eddie Kendricks | Tamla Motown
MORE, MORE, MORE | Latimore | President
OPEN OUR EYES | Earth, Wind & Fire | CBS
DO IT BABY | The Miracles | Tamla Motown
TOBY | The Chi-Lites | Brunswick
FRICTION | The Soul Children | Stax
HELL UP IN HARLEM | Edwin Starr | Tamla Motown
FROM THE MOUNTAIN | The Stylistics | Avco
MASTERFLEET | Masterfleet | Sussex
THREE | The Temprees | Stax
EXECUTIVE SUITE 1 | Executive Suite | Polydor
THRUST | Herbie Hancock | CBS
DO IT GOOD | KC & The Sunshine Band | Jay Boy
COME ON IN LOVE | Jay Dee | Warner Bros.
GWEN McCRAE | Gwen McCrae | President
US! | Maceo | Polydor
THE MAGIC OF THE BLUE | Blue Magic | Atlantic
I NEED TIME | Bloodstone | Decca
MIGRATION | Creative Source | Sussex
ALIVE AND KICKING | The Delfonics | Bell
IS IT IN | Eddie Harris | Atlantic
CASTON & MAJORS | Caston & Majors | Tamla Motown
REJUVENATION | The Meters | Reprise
VICTIM OF THE JOKE?…AN OPERA | David Porter | Stax
BLACK SMITH | Jimmy Smith | DJM
SOULFUL ROAD | New York City | Chelsea
LET’S PUT IT ALL TOGETHER | The Stylistics | Avco
WHITE GOLD | Love Unlimited Orchestra | 20th Century
PURE SMOKEY | Smokey Robinson | Tamla Motown
HOT CITY | Gene Page | Atlantic
MIDNIGHT BAND: THE FIRST MINUTE OF A NEW DAY | Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson | Arista
AL GREEN EXPLORES YOUR MIND | Al Green | London
PAYNE AND PLEASURE | Freda Payne | ABC
SOUTHERN COMFORT | The Crusaders | ABC
THAT’S HOW LONG I’LL BE LOVING YOU | Bunny Sigler | Philadelphia Int.
YOU’RE THE SONG I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO SING | Timmy Thomas | Polydor
FOXY BROWN | Willie Hutch | Tamla Motown
KEEPIN’ UP WITH THE JONESES | The Joneses | Mercury
ALL IN LOVE IS FAIR | Nancy Wilson | Capitol
HIGH ENERGY | Freddie Hubbard | CBS
POWER OF SOUL | Idris Muhammad | Kudu
TRUSTMAKER | The Tymes | RCA Victor
From the list, what would be your Number One?. Or is there an LP from that year that I haven’t included that is one of your favourites? Please feel free to comment below.