The O’Jays, The Three Degrees and a “Year Of Decision”

Well, this is odd. As regulars to this place know I left work last week after around 30 years with the same organisation – Not going to rush headlong into the next project yet, which could be all too easy, so until I start something new I find myself with plenty of spare time to sit down and partake in a little light blogging. Just as I do that however, it seems that inspiration has deserted me! Strange, as when I was a busy bee I had no shortage of inspiration and could often be seen bashing away on the laptop into the early hours of the morning.

But no, the problem this time is perhaps not a lack of inspiration but rather indecision as to what to write about next. I have a couple of series in progress and I have my trusty “blogging notebook” of ideas to refer to, but somehow neither of these routes work for me today so it’s time to search my digital database of tunes, to find something that relates to decision-making – Didn’t have to look far as immediately up popped Year Of Decision from 1974, by The Three Degrees. I haven’t featured anything from that stable of artists who went on to create the Philadelphia Sound before, so high time really. Also, my recent personal “big decision”, makes the lyrics very pertinent.

Year Of Decision by The Three Degrees:

Ok, so if you watched the clip, you had to endure that faux banter that used to happen as a prelude to introducing the acts on light entertainment shows such as this one (plus Cliff’s edge to edge embroidered tunic) but the three girls, Sheila Ferguson, Fayette Pinkney and Valerie Holiday certainly knew how to ply their trade back in the mid ’70s and those glamourous matching outfits, usually chiffon with strategically placed sequins, were their trademark.

Philadelphia International Records was founded in 1971 by the very talented writer-producer duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, along with collaborator Thom Bell.  It very much showcased a new genre of music based on the gospel, doo-wop, and soul music of the time. Throughout the 1970s the label released a string of worldwide hits which featured lavish orchestral instrumentation, heavy bass, and driving percussion. Other than The Three Degrees some of their most popular and best selling acts included The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls. Between 1971 and the early 1980s, the label sold over 170 gold and platinum records.

Watching shows like ToTP in the mid ’70s, rarely a week went by without an appearance by one of the aforementioned acts. The Three Degrees even become known for having our future king as a fan and after reaching No.1 in the UK Singles Chart with When Will I See You Again, they were well and truly propelled into the mainstream.

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Charlie’s Darlings!

We’ve now seen a fine example of what the Philly Sound served up in the mid ’70s when it came to the ladies – What were the immaculately dressed men doing around that time? If you did watch the earlier clip, you will know that Gamble & Huff’s first big success was this 1972 song, Back Stabbers, performed by the O’Jays. A fine tune indeed and one I have always liked although apparently a warning to men that although their male friends might be all friendly to their faces, they secretly plan to steal their wives or girlfriends. A far fetched premise indeed although after watching the current hit television drama Dr Foster, where the reviewers are lauding it for being so realistic, I am starting to realise that I must live in an alternate universe where relationships are concerned.

Back Stabbers by The O’Jays:

So, “What’s It All About?” – The move to a new, more home-based life has obviously robbed me of my decision-making abilities. As hobbies go, blogging is a relatively inexpensive one (as long as the technology holds out) so having not done much else over the last 20 months except work and blog, I have bought myself a few months of time before I have to make any more big decisions. Just as well as even deciding on a subject for this post was hard enough.

When I started this blog, I used to link each post to the previous one in some way but it might be more fun if I am set a challenge. I have put out a request like this once before and it worked well for me, so again, which song would logically follow on from either Year Of Decision or Back Stabbers for you? You know where the comments boxes are but please try and make it something I might have heard of!

Until next time….

Year Of Decision Lyrics
(Song by Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff)

Yes
This is the year
To make your decision.
Yes
This is the year
To open up your mind.

If you’ve been holding back kind of slack

Now’s the time to get the things you need.
There ain’t no reason why you should be shy

People have died to set you free.
Oh we need ev’ry one to succeed

Everybody to succeed everybody
Soul isn’t enough hey come on and join us

Please (come on come on and join us please

Yes this is the year . . .

If you’re strong out on a Jones
Better make sure that you leave the bad stuff
What ever you want to do think it over good
Cause the change is up to you

Imbolc, Love Unlimited and “It May Be Winter Outside (But in My Heart It’s Spring)”

Well, all winter I’ve been trying to work out how to fit this song into the blog as although there are loads (and loads) of Christmassy songs, there aren’t that many about winter per se. But today seems to be the day as it’s the 1st of February and on nature’s “wheel of the year”, it is Imbolc. Ever since last year’s autumnal equinox, or Mabon as it is also called on the pagan calendar, I have been taking a key interest in these landmark dates, creating a little display, and hopefully finding an appropriate song to post that day.

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Imbolc was one of the cornerstones of the Celtic calendar as for them, the success of the new farming season was of great importance. As winter stores of food were getting low, rituals were performed to ensure a steady supply of food until the harvest six months later. As darling daughter pointed out last September however, we don’t really have to perform such rituals nowadays as we go to the supermarket where you can acquire raspberries in December and Brussels sprouts in June, but I would like to at least acknowledge the old ways before we get just too out of touch with nature in our busy 21st century lives.

So today is the day that we celebrate the passing of Winter, and make way for Spring. The featured song may not really be about the world of nature but I have always loved Barry White and his Love Unlimited Orchestra and so far in the blog, no Barry. As it turns out still no Barry, but this song It May Be Winter Outside (But in My Heart It’s Spring) was written by him and then released in the UK in 1975 by the group Love Unlimited who provided backing vocals for him on his albums and concert tours but who then went on to find success in their own right. (Takes around a full minute to get going, but bear with it.)

It May Be Winter Outside by Love Unlimited:

The symbol of Imbolc is the snowdrop but having had a good recce of the area at the weekend, so far no snowdrops. In the garden today however I was pleasantly surprised to see a little clump popping through in the rockery but just a bit too early for us here in the North of Scotland it seems. I looked back at my folder of pictures taken in 2010 when I manfully tried to take a shot of the natural world every day for a year – Back then this snowdrop shot was taken on the 11th of February so in about 10 days they will no doubt be plentiful.

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The first snowdrops of the year

Coincidentally last weekend I wrote about Johnny Cash and how his deep bass baritone voice was something you don’t often hear in music nowadays. Of course another person who had a very deep bass baritone voice was aforementioned, three-time Grammy Award winner Barry White, also known for his romantic image (but I’ll not mention his nickname here as not very becoming). Barry’s music was of a soul/funk/disco/R&B persuasion and his greatest success came in the ’70s both as a solo singer and with his Love Unlimited Orchestra. Looking at his discography, he was barely out of the UK Singles Chart between 1973 and 1979, his biggest hit being You’re The First, The Last, My Everything.

I am constantly amazed when blogging how everything suddenly comes together by the end of the post and when I started to write about today’s special date in the Celtic calendar I didn’t think I would end up with Barry White, but the symbolism around Imbolc is all of the colour white – snowdrops, ewe’s milk (oi-melc) and St Bride – so very apt in an odd kind of way. Perhaps my subconscious was being cleverer than I was.

Just the Way You Are by Barry White:

I will finish with Barry’s version of the Billy Joel song Just the Way You Are. Again there is a bit of a preamble so bear with it but if anyone knows of a performer with a deeper voice, I’d like to know who? Poor Barry died in 2003 after a few years of health problems but again he has left a massive body of work, much of which is in my music library and I have sadly not been brave enough to admit to that yet. Perhaps appropriate then, on this the first day of Spring (in certain calendars), to come clean – As for me I’m off to light my white candle set amidst the little pot of white crocuses I had to buy as a substitute for snowdrops, and listen to a bit more Barry White!

It May Be Winter Outside (But in My Heart It’s Spring) Lyrics
(Song by Barry White/Paul Politi)

When the temperature dips
I miss my baby’s arms
His tender finger tips
Knows just how to keep me warm

It may be zero degrees
With the snow falling down
But I’ve got warm and tender love
Just as long as he’s around

It may be winter outside
But in my heart it’s spring
How much joy and pleasure, baby
Can one guy bring me

Winter nights can be awful cold
Without someone to hold
But when I have him next to me
Baby, I’m in ecstasy

Throughout my life
I’ve had my share of guys
But he’s been the only one
Who can make my temperature rise

Things are just not the same
When he’s not by my side
But yet, I shouldn’t complain
But be waiting with my arms open wide

Post 101, The Jackson 5 and and “Got To Be There”

Well this is embarrassing. After basking in the achievement of having just reached the momentous target of publishing 100 posts; after being incredibly grateful to my band of blogging buddies for leaving such great comments and finally; after telling everyone I would carry on for another 100 posts – I now have writer’s (or should it be blogger’s) block!

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To be fair it’s not really blogger’s block, it’s just that the list of ideas for “songs and stories” I have jotted down over the months for future posts, now seem a bit dull and boring. I always thought that writing about songs would be easy as I could never, ever run out of material, so could it be that my best stories are behind me? I do hope not. Also as a self-confessed anorak when it comes to listings, cataloguing and alphabetisation, that magical number 100 against “No. of Posts Published” on my WordPress Summary page, is a really tidy one, and when I next press the “publish” tab, it will turn into a bit of an untidy number 101.

Lots of significance however to the number 101 – There is of course the torture room in the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four which has in turn been the inspiration for the Radio then TV show Room 101 where celebrity guests are invited to discuss their pet hates and persuade the host to consign them to that fictional room. Works well and hosted by the affable Frank Skinner whom I am warming to more and more as both he and I get older. His Saturday morning show on Absolute Radio is one of my favourites.

Although there have been many albums inspired by the aforementioned novel, the only one I remember personally is The Eurythmics’ soundtrack album for the film Nineteen Eighty-Four which contains the song Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four), but not something I have in my collection nor would I want to (too intense for my liking). Having lived in Aberdeen for the best part of the ’80s I do feel disloyal to Annie Lennox for having said that, especially as about half the locals I worked with claimed they’d been to school with her (must have been a very big school), but not one of my favourites from that era. Nonetheless Ms Lennox always gave 110 percent as they tend to say on those reality/singing/karaoke shows (although a numerical impossibility) and also gave us some very striking and androgynous looks over the years.

But back to the number 101 – It does of course also look very much like a “binary number” and if I remember correctly (ok I cheated and looked it up), it equates in decimal to the number 5. There have indeed been many bands and songs with the number 5 in their name – The Jackson 5, Maroon 5, The Dave Clark 5, Five and of course those personable Pearsons from Reading, 5 Star! As for songs, I recently featured that upbeat ditty from McFly called 5 Colours in Her Hair (although not sure if my readership appreciated that one too much).

I have kind of avoided mentioning Michael Jackson too much in this blog so far, and haven’t really come to terms yet with what became of him. It saddens me so much that the gorgeous little boy who first stepped out on stage with his brothers (the place he obviously found to be the most comfortable on earth), morphed into someone totally different and died in such a nonsensical manner. If like me, you were a pre-teen back in the early ’70s, The Jackson 5 were omnipresent and even had their own cartoon series (The Jackson 5ive). It was a must-watch show after coming home from school and they recorded just so many great songs during that era, this one being I Want You Back from 1970.

Final thoughts on the number 101 – Since starting this blog I have found myself in the company of some serious music buffs whose knowledge way surpasses my own and the first time I joined in with The Chain Gang, the link was to a song by the 101ers whom I hadn’t heard of until that point. They were the band that a young Joe Strummer (whose name has cropped up on these pages) left to join The Clash. The band’s name apparently came from the number of the squat they lived in at 101 Walterton Road, Maida Vale. I saw it as a “palindrome number” so came up with the suggestion Pacific State, the 1989 electronic chill-out track by that other palindromic outfit 808 State. Looking back, this choice was probably met with raised eyebrows as not the kind of thing you often see appearing over on The Chain. It was a favourite of an ex-colleague of mine, or rather I kept thinking it was whereas the one he actually did like was called Pacific Highway by someone else. It has become a great source of mirth however that I always got the two mixed up but ended up getting to like the wrong one better anyway. Oh yes, we know how to keep ourselves amused up here in Scotland during the long, dark, winter nights. (And, I only mentioned that because he is one of my very few real-life friends who know about this place.)

So, “What’s It All About?” – I think it’s just about having a bit of a crisis of confidence when sometimes you feel it’s best to quit whilst you’re ahead, but don’t really want to. Having revisited my list of “song and story” ideas however, there are definitely still quite a few in the tank, so you’re stuck with me for a while yet. I will quickly therefore get this post out of the way, as once onto number 102 it won’t seem quite so daunting and will simply be back to business as usual.

But wait a minute, before I go this post is all wrong (in more ways than one you might say) – I haven’t included a music clip or the lyrics yet! Fear not, in light of the fact that I have inadvertently revisited the Jackson 5‘s back catalogue by associating the binary number 101 with the decimal number 5, I am going to think back to 1972 when I was aged just 11 and loved watching the very young Michael Jackson sing lyrically inappropriate ballads, just for me. Got To Be There is a beautiful Motown track and is still one of my favourites from those much more innocent times. RIP Michael.

Got To Be There by Michael Jackson:

Got To Be There Lyrics
(Song By Elliott Willensky)

Got to be there, got to be there in the morning
When she says hello to the world.
Got to be there, got to be there,
Bring her good times and show her that she’s my girl.
Oh, what a feeling there’ll be
The moment I know she loves me.
‘Cause when I look in her eyes.
I realize I need her sharing the world beside me.
So I’ve got to be there, got to be there in the morning,
And welcome her into my world,
And show her that she’s my girl.
When she says hello world!
Got to be there.
I need her sharing the world beside me.

That’s why I’ve got to be there, got to be there
Where love begins and that’s everywhere she goes,
I’ve got to be there so she knows
That when she’s with me she’s home, yeah

Got to be there, got to be there, got to be there.
Got to be there, got to be there, got to be there.