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From Motown to the Bay Area! The Apollas’ “Absolutely Right!” and Eddie Holland’s “It Moves Me: The Complete Recordings 1958-1964” Available Now

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Are you thinking you should take a chance on Ace Records’ supremely soulful duo of releases from The Apollas and Eddie Holland?  If so…you’re absolutely right!  For The Apollas’ Absolutely Right: The Complete Tiger, Loma and Warner Bros. Recordings (Kent CDKEND 365, 2012) and Holland’s It Moves Me: The Complete Recordings 1958-1964 (Ace CDTOP2 1331, 2012) both belong on the shelf of any serious fan of classic soul and R&B.

If you haven’t heard of The Apollas, you’re forgiven.  This Bay Area girl trio didn’t see much chart action, but the 25 mid-sixties tracks compiled here by Alec Palao (including five unreleased titles) prove that their output was first class.  Top tier talents like Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Artie Butler, Barry White, Jimmy Wisner, Billy Vera, Dick Glasser and H.B. Barnum were behind these recordings.  With a pedigree like that, it’s hard to believe that these sides have languished for so long.  The music on Absolutely Right! sounds better than ever, and should raise more than a few eyebrows.

Like so many African-American artists of the era, and indeed, still today, the members of The Apollas began their vocal careers in church.  The Apollas then honed their sound working nightclub engagements and teen nights at Disneyland, and even added a soulful touch to the recordings of their early patron, Frankie “Jezebel” Laine!  The gospel background of lead singer Leola Jiles always shines through, adding an extra layer of passion to unlikely material like Don Everly’s “Who Would Want Me Now.”  Just as delicious is the Ellie Greenwich/Jeff Barry composition “He Ain’t No Angel” and the smoldering “You’ll Always Have Me” from the pen of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.  Nearly one-third of the collection’s cuts were written by that famed duo, sometimes with their frequent collaborator Josephine Armstead.  The songs of the trio were previously celebrated by Ace with The Real Thing: The Songs of Ashford, Simpson and Armstead (CDKEND 318) on which The Apollas’ “Mr. Creator” (“Won’t you hear my prayer?”) appears.  Every color of the Ashford and Simpson palette is employed, from the storming “You’re Absolutely Right” to the eminently danceable “I Just Can’t Get Enough of You.”  Hit the jump for more on The Apollas, plus Eddie Holland, too!

Leola Jiles and Ella Jamerson were the backbone of The Apollas; the group was in a state of flux with Ronnie Brown, Joann Forks, Dorothy Ramsey and Billie Barnum (sister to arranger H.B. Barnum) also among its members at one point or another.  But despite Leola’s leads, each vocalist made an integral contribution to the sassy sound.  Warner Bros. (parent of Loma Records) had designs on Leola for solo stardom; “I’ve Got So Used to Loving You” is a big, brassy ballad in the Burt Bacharach or Tony Hatch mode, with a suitably majestic vocal; “Keep it Coming” is another solo song with an ethereal chorus, slinky, shifting melody and brass accents.  The odd couple of Clint Ballard (“You’re No Good,” “The Game of Love”) and Walter Marks (Broadway’s Bajour and Golden Rainbow) supply two songs in the form of the clattering “Payin’ (For the Wrong I’ve Done)” and the smoky blues of “Wait ‘Round the Corner.”  Gene Page arranged most of the tracks on Absolutely Right! with his typical sophistication and style.

Though there are not track-by-track notes, San Francisco music scholar Alec Palao contributes a lengthy essay filling most of the lavish booklet’s 26 pages.  Palao draws on interviews with Leola, Ella and Billie, and the booklet also features a number of gorgeous, full-color photos of the girls with an array of celebrities: Glen Campbell, Lou Rawls, even Barbra Streisand!  The vivid stereo practically jump from the speakers thanks to the fine mastering job by Nick Robbins.

Though he was a premier exponent of the Sound of Young America, the musical career of Eddie Holland actually predated Berry Gordy’s Motown empire.  Ace’s authoritatively comprehensive 2-CD set, It Moves Me: The Complete Recordings 1958-1961, offers a staggering array of sounds recorded by one third of Holland-Dozier-Holland on his way to “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Baby, I Need Your Loving.”  It also lets a wider audience in on a secret that Motown connoisseurs have known for ages: that Eddie Holland was one splendid vocalist, himself.  Divided into two discs, The Singles and Rare and Unissued, It Moves Me may be the most significant set yet to come out of the incredibly fruitful partnership between Universal Music Group/Motown and Ace.  (Past titles have been dedicated to The Satintones, The Contours, The Monitors, Marv Johnson and Patrice Holloway.)

It Moves Me encompasses recordings not only on Motown, but on Mercury, Kudo and United Artists.  All told, you’ll find 56 songs, including a full LP, 15 singles and a boatload of unreleased material.  Producer Keith Hughes and mastering engineer Robbins have worked sonic wonders on most of these tracks, and where such magic was impossible (i.e. the Kudo recordings), the liner notes are forthcoming.

Eddie Holland was at the ground level of virtually every aspect of the Motown operation.  The previously-unissued “I’m So Glad to Do the Cha-Cha-Cha” is heard in a Holland home demo likely circa 1958, the same year it was recorded by Herman Griffin for the House of Beauty label.  Griffin’s record was the very first to bear the Jobete Publishing imprint established by Berry Gordy; the transformation of Gordy from songwriter to mogul is yet another journey documented here.  Gordy produced the doo-wop-influenced “You (You You You You)” and rocking-and-rolling “Little Miss Ruby,” and co-wrote the latter; he’s finding his own sound even as Holland is.  The latter betrays an Elvis Presley influence; the song was introduced by Presley’s backing group, The Jordanaires, in the film Country Music Holiday, and a bit of Elvis style can be detected in Holland’s hiccupping vocal.  The collection’s title comes from “It Moves Me,” the flip of Holland’s “Merry-Go-Round,” the second ever Tamla/Motown single.  (Marv Johnson was first with “Come to Me” b/w “Whisper” on Tamla 101.)  Both sides appeared on Tamla as well as United Artists.

Berry Gordy originally enlisted Eddie Holland to demo songs for Jackie Wilson, and some of Wilson’s vocal style was evidently picked up by the younger man, too, as heard on tracks like the Riley Hampton-arranged “You Deserve What You Got.”  Some songs intended for Wilson never received another recording (the previously unreleased “Bashful Kind”) and others weren’t picked up by Wilson but were recorded by other artists (“Action Speaks Louder Than Words,” sung by Bobby Darin on his first album).  Although Eddie Holland’s career as a singer was curtailed (by his choice) before he developed a distinct vocal persona, it’s fascinating to track the evolution of the Motown Sound on these recordings; the breakneck “If It’s Love (It’s Alright)” is one of the tracks with a subtle Drifters influence, particularly in the use of strings and a lightly Latin feel.  The young sound of Young America was a diverse one; “The Last Laugh” is a maudlin teen romance ballad while “Baby Shake” is an an altogether atypical, jazzy dance number.

Holland himself plays tour guide for this journey through his musical past on the excellent track-by-track liner notes.  He recalls the arduous process of teaching himself the craft of songwriting, which he feels he mastered with Martha and the Vandellas’ “Come and Get These Memories,” the fifth song he wrote with Lamont Dozier and brother Brian.  (With Eddie acting primarily as lyricist, the team went on to write “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Baby, I Need Your Loving” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” just to name the tip of the iceberg!)  There are few H-D-H tracks on It Moves Me, but you’ll hear a number of tracks written by Eddie with either Brian or Lamont.   The breezy “A Little Bit of Lovin’” (1962) was a Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier composition, the first of their collaborations to be recorded by Eddie.  The first-ever H-D-H song, “Dearest One,” was released by Lamont just one month before “A Little Bit of Lovin’.”  The notes reveal that “Little” Stevie Wonder recorded “Lovin’,” too, although his version is unreleased to this day.  And other tantalizing tidbits abound, too.  The gently up-tempo R&B of “Why Do You Want to Let Me Go” (“When I do everything that you want me to do?”) was also covered by Gino Parks and Mary Wells, though their versions likewise remain unreleased!  Berry Gordy’s “Because I Love Her” was subsequently recorded by the Valadiers on the Gordy label (their version did see release!) and it’s one of the more interestingly-arranged tracks with its haunting strings, flute, and ethereal female backing vocals accompanying Holland’s pleading lead.

The Motown practice of trying songs out on a number of artists led to some of the label’s finest releases; here, you’ll hear the H-D-H “Darling, I Hum Our Song,” introduced by Eddie but also tackled by Martha and the Vandellas and The Four Tops.  Smokey Robinson’s unmistakable rhythms appear on “Love is What You Make It,” which was remade by one of Robinson’s favorite groups, The Temptations.  Smokey also is also represented with two versions of “Twin Brother,” co-written by Robinson with Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier (H-D-R?).  Eddie’s first version is up-tempo while the recut song sounds like a blueprint for a smooth, sultry Smokey solo rendition.  Eddie candidly comments in the liner notes that they tried “to get it right…We never did.”  Norman Whitfield, producer and overseer of the Temps’ most stunningly psychedelic period, co-wrote “I Couldn’t Cry If I Wanted To” with Eddie, a sort of up-tempo riff on Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now.”  There’s a long tradition among composers of retaining “trunk songs,” i.e. songs that didn’t land for one reason or another, and are recycled into a new form at some later date.  Eddie was no different, and his languid “You’re Sweeter as the Days Goes By” was an early solo composition with lyrics that were later re-used for Marvin Gaye’s “You’re a Wonderful One.”  Its title was borrowed by Frank Wilson for a wholly different song!

Eddie Holland’s only major hit as a vocalist, the 1961 “Jamie” (No. 6 R&B, No. 30 Pop), is of course, included, as is his second charting title, 1964’s “Leaving Here” (No. 76 Pop).  Good as “Jamie” is, with its prominent strings and beat, “Leaving Here” is an absolute jolt of zing!  In addition to their mono single versions, both songs also appear in stereo on this otherwise all-mono set.  “Pretty Little Angel Face,” intended for Marvin Gaye, is one of the collection’s most potent discoveries, with a stomping urgency that recalls “Can I Get a Witness?”.  You’ll likely also marvel at the fantastic, fully-produced demo of “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” energetically sung by Eddie.

The beautifully-designed 26-page booklet offers plenty of label scans, including singles by one “Briant Holland.”  Holland confirmed that he didn’t want his name on the songs, so his brother’s name was instead used, though where the extra “t” originated is a mystery!  The booklet also contains fun reviews from magazines such as Billboard and Cash Box.  The Second Disc’s friend Harry Weinger is credited with the initial idea for this compilation, and what a great idea it was; if you’re a fan of the Motor City sound, it’s likely that you’ll be moved by It Moves Me.

Both Absolutely Right! and It Moves Me are now available and can be ordered by clicking the album titles!

Written by Joe Marchese

February 23, 2012 at 09:39

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