The Second Disc

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Archive for March 25th, 2011

Happy Birthday, Lady Soul: Aretha Franklin Turns 69 Today!

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Today, March 25, is Aretha Franklin’s birthday, and she’s celebrating in high style. After being treated in November for an undisclosed ailment, the newly-trim Queen of Soul has announced a May 19 return to performing at the Chicago Theatre. This announcement came on the heels of Tuesday’s release of Legacy’s lavish 12-disc box set, Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia, collecting all of her pre-Atlantic recordings for the storied label.

We couldn’t allow Franklin’s birthday to go unnoticed here at Second Disc HQ. Watch this space for three upcoming posts. First up, we’ll have a review of Take a Look. We’ll follow that with a special Reissue Theory we’d like to call Aretha at Atlantic: The Lost Years. This post will explore the five titles with which Aretha closed her electrifying tenure at Atlantic, none of which has ever been issued on CD. Why? It’s a mystery. These albums – With Everything I Feel in Me (1974), You (1975), Sweet Passion (1977), Almighty Fire (1978) and La Diva (1979) – feature songs and productions by some rather famous names. Try these on: Lamont Dozier, Jerry Wexler, Curtis Mayfield, Barry Mann, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Van McCoy, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, and Aretha’s sister Carolyn Franklin. While none of these five LPs were pop smashes, all were successful on the R&B charts (the first three going Top Ten) and needless to say, have something to offer.

Finally, Mike’s going to take us on another Reissue Theory journey inspired by Aretha’s comeback in the ’80s. After leaving Atlantic for Clive Davis’ Arista, the Queen slowly rebuilt her reputation on record that culminated in a wave of success during the MTV era with tracks like “Freeway of Love,” “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” with the Eurythmics and “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” with George Michael. Mike’s post will imagine if Legacy did a sequel to Take a Look by anthologizing the Arista-era material they have the rights to in a similar manner.

Let’s all take this opportunity to wish Aretha Franklin health and happiness on her 69th birthday, and we’ll be back next week to continue the celebration with these posts!

Written by Joe Marchese

March 25, 2011 at 12:42

Review: Various Artists, “Manhattan Soul: Scepter, Wand and Musicor”

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Tomorrow evening, New York’s Broadhurst Theatre will be filled with the sounds of soul. The new Broadway musical Baby, It’s You! will begin previews on March 26, bringing to the stage the story of New Jersey housewife Florence Greenberg (portrayed by Tony Award winner Beth Leavel) and her mighty musical empire founded in 1959. Greenberg, a pioneering woman in a field then dominated by men, nurtured the careers of The Shirelles and Dionne Warwick, among others, shepherding the songs of Carole King, Van McCoy, Burt Bacharach and Luther Dixon to worldwide recognition. Somewhat overlooked today in the shadow of the Motown girls that followed, The Shirelles were the first American girl group to top the Billboard Hot 100. Their music had a direct effect on not only Motown’s “Sound of Young America” but the British Invasion acts that followed. Baby, It’s You! tells their story, as well as that of Greenberg’s taboo romance with Luther Dixon and Warwick’s meteoric rise to fame at Scepter.

While The Shirelles’ “Dedicated to the One I Love” and the Bacharach/Mack David/Barney Williams “Baby, It’s You” will be heard every evening, the hits were just the tip of the iceberg. There were many other, lesser-known performers signed to Scepter and its sister label Wand, both initially based out of that famous Broadway address, No. 1650: the “second Brill Building.” The U.K. label Kent remembers these artists and the music they’ve left behind with the new release of Manhattan Soul: Scepter, Wand and Musicor (Ace/Kent CD KEND 347), exploring the vaults of Greenberg’s labels as well as Aaron Schroeder’s Musicor, the home of Gene Pitney and also based at 1650. Opening a Kent anthology is often like discovering a long-hidden treasure chest, and this compilation is no exception. Kent has previously issued many Scepter, Wand and Musicor masters, but only one of the 24 tracks here has ever appeared on the label before, and there are previously unreleased cuts, too.

Of the hitmaking composers and producers mentioned above, Van McCoy makes an appearance on Manhattan Soul, as of course does Luther Dixon, arguably Scepter’s most prominent writer and arranger until Bacharach (and his protégé Dionne Warwick) came along. Dixon is represented three times, while Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson appear twice. The songs of Curtis Mayfield, Inez Foxx (of “Mockingbird” fame) and even a young Daryl Hall also are featured. Compilation producer and annotator Ady Croasdell has selected the crème of the crop; although not every track is an instant classic, none are less than interesting, most are worthy of re-examination, and some are positively electric. Hit the jump to travel back to 1650 Broadway, circa the swinging ’60s! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 25, 2011 at 10:14