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Soul Masters: BBR Reissues Edwin Starr, Gap Band, Yarbrough and Peoples, Boys Town Gang

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Edwin Starr - Soul MasterFor its latest batch of reissues, Big Break Records travels back in time to the days when The Sound of Young America ruled the airwaves with two vintage titles from the late, great Edwin Starr, and returns to the catalogues of two more label favorites – The Gap Band and Yarbrough and Peoples!

Ultimately, Edwin Starr (1942-2003) will forever be best-known for his incendiary 1970 recording of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s “War,” a scorching protest song that tapped into the growing unrest of the American public in the Vietnam era.  Starr’s intense, no-holds-barred delivery transformed a Temptations album track into one of the most indelible recordings of all time.  “War” went all the way to the top of the pop chart in the U.S. and earned its vocalist a Grammy nomination, and spawned cover versions by everybody from Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Bruce Springsteen.  Starr was a late comer to the Motown family, joining the label roster in 1968 when Berry Gordy purchased local rival Ric-Tic Records.  Big Break has lavishly expanded his first album at Motown, Soul Master, along with the 1971 record featuring “War,” Involved.

Soul Master contained both tracks recycled from Ric-Tic and more recent songs cut at Motown.  From the Ric-Tic catalogue, the album boasted the R&B hits “Agent Double-O Soul” and “Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.).”  Unusually for Motown at the time, Soul Master also included numerous songs written or co-written by Starr, including “Oh How Happy,” first recorded by The Shades of Blue and later covered by The Jackson 5.  Other recognizable Motown songwriters represented on Soul Master include Smokey Robinson, Henry Cosby, James Dean and William Weatherspoon, and Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson.  BBR has added a whopping 17 (!) bonus tracks to the original 12-track album, primarily single releases.

Edwin Starr - Involved1971’s Involved was Starr’s fifth album.  By the time of its release, Motown – like the world – was a very different place.  1971 was the year of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which was released just weeks before Involved.  While Involved lacks the personal vision of that classic, it also very much reflects its time and place with heightened social consciousness.  “War” is joined on the LP by another Whitfield/Strong composition, “Stop the War Now,” and an epic revival of their psychedelic soul masterworks for The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” and “Cloud Nine.”  Sly Stone’s equally fiery call to action “Stand!” was also sharply current, but Involved also found room for less urgent material like George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” and a classic Motown throwback with Smokey Robinson’s 1960 Miracles song “Way Over There.”  One more Whitfield/Strong song on the album, “Funky Music (Sho’ Nuff Turns Me On)” could have been Starr’s mantra.  BBR’s reissue, remastered like Soul Master by Kevin Reeves, packs in 13 bonus tracks.  Both titles have new liner notes from Justin Cober-Lake.

With its new reissues of Gap Band IV and Gap Band V: Jammin’, BBR boasts five titles from The Gap Band in its label discography.  Brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson had quite a run.  In 1967, the Oklahoma boys formed the Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street Band, which in 1973 morphed into The Gap Band.  Under that moniker the brothers Wilson remained together until 2010.  Following a short and ultimately disappointing time at Leon Russell’s Shelter Records, the band found initial success on Mercury before transferring to Lonnie Simmons’ Total Experience label with the release of 1982’s Gap Band IV.  The funk outfit was revitalized on IV, with three of the album’s eight songs scoring mightily on the U.S. R&B chart.  “Early in the Morning” and “Outstanding” both reached pole position, while “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” did almost as well with its No. 2 berth.  Like Mercury swansong Gap Band III, the album achieved platinum sales.  It peaked at No. 1 on the R&B album chart and went Top 20 Pop.

After the jump, more on The Gap Band plus Yarbrough and Peoples, and The Boys Town Gang!

Gap Band VThe Wilsons were Jammin’ with their next release.  Incorporating R&B and pop textures such as a new wave flair, Gap Band V arrived in 1983.  Stevie Wonder (on U.K. Top 20 Pop single “Someday”) and James Brown associate Fred Wesley dropped by, and veteran arranger Gene Page worked his magic on LP cut “Smile.”  Leadoff single “Party Train” almost repeated the success of its predecessors on the U.S. R&B singles chart, hitting No. 3.  “Jam the Motha’” went Top 20. V: Jammin’ (1983) peaked at No. 2 on the R&B albums survey, scoring another success for the Wilsons.  But “sex, drugs, and the devil” – according to a Rolling Stone story from early 1984 – were taking their toll on the Gap Band.  But even as the darkness in their lives took center stage, VI (1984) returned them to the top spot despite failing to sell over 500,000 copies.  It was their first album since 1979 to miss that mark.  BBR’s reissues of these two albums – representing The Gap Band at the top of their game, commercially and artistically – both offer wonderfully comprehensive new notes from J. Matthew Cobb and remastering by Kevin Reeves, plus a host of bonus tracks – five on IV and six on V!

Following the July reissue of their debut album The Two of Us (1980), BBR has revisited the catalogue of Yarbrough and Peoples.   Dallas, Texas natives Cavin Yarbrough and Alisa Peoples came to the attention of Total Experience Records through their friends in The Gap Band, and were paired with producer/songwriters Jonah Ellis (The Dells, Brass Connection) and the label’s founder Lonnie Simmons.  Yarbrough and Peoples hit it off with the team, rewriting the lyrics and reshaping the song Ellis had brought to their attention called “Don’t Stop the Music.”  The tune would climb to No. 1 R&B, No. 19 Pop, No. 26 Disco in the U.S., and No. 7 Pop in the U.K.; ironically, the song it displaced on the U.S. R&B survey was The Gap Band’s own “Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)!”

Yarbrough and Peoples - HeartbeatsYarbrough and Peoples returned in 1983 with HeartbeatsThe Two of Us was a tough act to follow; “Don’t Stop the Music” was Total Experience’s biggest=ever seller, and a sold-out concert tour with The Gap Band only raised the bar even higher for their studio return.  The LP was named after a song penned by Simmons with a dash of new-wave.  The pulsating, energetic “Heartbeats” surprisingly stalled at No. 61 Dance and bubbled under the Hot 100, but reached the Top 10 of the R&B chart.  The uptempo dancer was joined on the LP by evocations of other R&B styles from balladry to funk, with Gene Page supplying horn and string arrangements.  Heartbeats, the LP, reached No. 25 on the R&B Albums Chart.  Two more albums followed through 1986, at which point the couple – who would marry in 1987 – called it a day in the studio.  But J. Mathew Cobb’s liner notes, featuring fresh quotes from both artists, reveal that a new gospel album may be on the way.  BBR’s reissue of Heartbeats, remastered by Kevin Reeves, adds five bonus tracks – three 12-inch mixes and a couple of single releases.

Our final release arrives via Big Break’s Hot Shot Records imprint. Disco Kicks: The Complete Moby Dick Recordings is a definitive 2-CD account of the music of Boys Town Gang, the disco/hi-NRG band hailing from San Francisco, California.  Active in the early part of the 1980s, the group and label were both formed when DJ Bill Motley recognized the opportunity for a proudly gay enterprise to keep the sound and feel of disco alive and well.  Described in Thomas del Pozo’s excellent liner notes as “a cross between the Village People and the Supremes,” The Boys Town Gang was launched on the new Moby Dick label with lead vocalist Cynthia Manley and a revival of the Diana Ross hits “Remember Me” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  The Ashford and Simpson-penned classics were extended into a five-part disco suite and joined on a 12-inch single by Motley’s risqué “Cruising the Streets,” another five-parter with segments entitled “Cruisin’,” “Rejected,” “The Pick-Up” and “Busted.”  The gamble by Motley paid off when the tracks reached No. 5 on the disco chart.

Boys Town GangCynthia Motley soon left the group (a loose term, as the membership wasn’t yet firm) in a financial dispute with the label and was replaced by Jackson Moore as lead singer. Ms. Moore fit right in, and was soon joined by dancers and backup singers Tom Morley and Bruce Carleton.  Word of the group soon spread far from San Francisco, earning the group a following in Europe.  Over Disco Kicks’ two discs and 19 extended tracks originally released between 1981 and 1985, The Boys Town Gang mainly reinvented classic pop songs in their inimitable style: most notably Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (a No. 1 hit in the Netherlands and Belgium, and a No. 4 in the U.K.) but also Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” (Top 10 in the Netherlands and Belgium) and “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday,” Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s B.J. Thomas hit “I Just Can’t Help Believin’,” Gamble and Huff’s Dusty Springfield classic “Brand New Me” and many more.

Tragically, the ravages of AIDS struck The Boys Town Gang including producer/founder Motley and performer Morley. But the group didn’t come to an end before it made a substantial difference.  The liner notes quote an interview with Stan Morriss, Motley’s partner in Moby Dick Records: “There are probably a lot of people who don’t know that we are [a gay label], yet in a way I wish they did…so that people who fell in love with [worldwide 3-million seller] ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ might say, ‘oh, that’s a gay label,’ or ‘that’s a gay group,’ or ‘it started in the gay scene’ which may lead them to think differently about gay people: ‘oh, they’re just like us.’”

Disco Kicks, a joyous reminder of the group’s legacy, features full discographical annotation for each track, and the two discs have been remastered by Nick Robbins. It’s available, along with all of the other aforementioned BBR releases, at the links below!

Edwin Starr, Soul Master: Expanded Edition (Gordy LP GS-931, 1968 – reissued Big Break CDBBRX0300, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Agent Double-O Soul
  2. I Am the Man for You Baby
  3. Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)
  4. Oh How Happy
  5. Way Over There
  6. My Weakness is You
  7. Headline News
  8. Soul Master
  9. I Want My Baby Back
  10. Love is My Destination
  11. I Am Your Man
  12. Time is Passin’ By
  13. Agent Double-O Soul (Alternative Mix) (TBD)
  14. Back Street (Single Version) (Ric-Tic RT-107, 1965)
  15. Stop Her on Sight (S.O.S.) (Single Version) (Ric-Tic RT-109, 1966)
  16. I Have Faith in You (Single Version) (Ric-Tic RT-109, 1966)
  17. Headline News (Single Version) (Ric-Tic RT-114, 1966)
  18. Harlem (Single Version) (Ric-Tic RT-114. 1966)
  19. It’s My Turn Now (Ric-Tic RT-118, 1966)
  20. Girls Are Getting Prettier (Single Version) (Ric-Tic RT-118, 1966)
  21. You’re My Mellow (Single Version) (Ric-Tic RT-120, 1967)
  22. My Kind of Woman (Single Version) (Ric-Tic RT-120, 1967)
  23. I Want My Baby Back (Single Version) (Gordy G-7066, 1967)
  24. Gonna Keep on Tryin ‘Til I Win Your Love (Single Version) (Gordy G-7066, 1967)
  25. I Am the Man for You Baby (Single Version) (Gordy G-7071, 1968)
  26. My Weakness is You (Single Version) (Gordy G-7071, 1968)
  27. Way Over There (Single Version) (Gordy G-7078, 1968)
  28. Back Street (Instrumental) (Ric-Tic RT-107, 1965)
  29. Agent Double-O Soul (Instrumental) (Ric-Tic RT-103, 1965)

Edwin Starr, Involved: Expanded Edition (Gordy LP G-956L, 1971 – reissued Big Break CDBBRX0305, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. War
  2. Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)
  3. Funky Music (Sho’ Nuff Turn Me On)
  4. Stop the War Now
  5. Cloud Nine
  6. Stand!
  7. Way Over There
  8. My Sweet Lord
  9. Stop the War Now (Single Version) (Gordy G-7104, 1970)
  10. Funky Music (Sho’ Nuff Turn Me On) (Single Version) (Gordy G-7107, 1971)
  11. Cloud Nine (Single Version) (Gordy G-7107, 1971)
  12. Take Me Clear from Here (Soul 35096, 1972)
  13. Who is the Leader of the People (Soul 35100, 1972)
  14. Don’t Tell Me I’m Crazy (Soul 35100, 1972)
  15. There You Go (Soul 35103, 1973)
  16. You’ve Got My Soul on Fire (Motown 1276, 1973)
  17. Love (The Lonely Lord’s Prayer) (Motown 1276, 1973)
  18. Ain’t It Hell Up in Harlem (Motown 1284, 1973)
  19. Big Papa (Motown 1300, 1974)
  20. Who’s Right or Wrong (Motown 1326, 1974)
  21. Lonely Rainy Days in San Diego (Motown 1326, 1974)

Yarbrough and Peoples, Heartbeats: Expanded Edition (Total Experience LP TE-1-3003, 1983 – reissued Big Break CDBBRX0307, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Heartbeats
  2. Innermost Feelings
  3. Feels So Good
  4. You Love Me, You Love Me Not
  5. As One
  6. What’s That You’ve Slipped Into My Wine
  7. Party Night
  8. What About Me
  9. Heartbeats (12-Inch Version)
  10. Feels So Good (12-Inch Version)
  11. Heartbeats (12-Inch Version)
  12. Feels So Good (Instrumental Version)
  13. Heartbeats (Single Version) (Total Experience TE-8204, 1982)

Gap Band, Gap Band IV: Expanded Edition  (Total Experience LP TE-1-3001, 1982 – reissued Big Break CDBBRX0306, 2014)  (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Early in the Morning
  2. Season’s No Reason to Change
  3. Lonely Like Me
  4. Outstanding
  5. Stay with Me
  6. You Dropped a Bomb on Me
  7. I Can’t Get Over You
  8. Talkin’ Back
  9. Early in the Morning (12-Inch Version)
  10. You Dropped a Bomb on Me (12-Inch Version)
  11. Outstanding (12-Inch Version)
  12. Early in the Morning (Single Version) (Total Experience TE-8201, 1982)
  13. Outstanding (12-Inch Instrumental Version)

Gap Band, Gap Band V: Jammin’: Expanded Edition  (Total Experience LP TE-1-3004, 1983 – reissued Big Break CDBBRX0308, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Introduction – Where Are We Going
  2. Shake a Leg
  3. I’m Ready (If You’re Ready)
  4. You’re My Everything
  5. Jammin’ in America
  6. Smile
  7. Party Train
  8. Jam the Motha’
  9. I Expect More
  10. You’re Something Special
  11. Someday
  12. Party Train (12-Inch Special Dance Mix)
  13. Jam the Motha’ (12-Inch Special Party Mix)
  14. I’m Ready (If You’re Ready) (12-Inch Version)
  15. Shake a Leg (Dub Version)
  16. Party Train (Single Version) (Total Experience TE-8209, 1983)
  17. Jam’ the Motha’ (Munchkin People Mix)

Boys Town Gang, Disco Kicks: The Complete Moby Dick Recordings (Hot Shot HSRXD006, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

CD 1

  1. Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough Suite (Moby Dick BTG-232, 1981)
  2. Cruisin’ the Streets (Moby Dick BTG-232(B), 1981)
  3. You’re the One (Moby Dick BTG-242, 1981)
  4. Disco Kicks (Moby Dick BTG-242(B), 1981)
  5. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Rams Horn RAMSH 12-3090, 1982)
  6. Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) (Long Version) (edit issued as Rams Horn RAMSH 12-3105, 1982)
  7. Come and Get Your Love (Rams Horn RAMSH 12-3129, 1982)
  8. I Just Can’t Help Believin’ (Rams Horn RAMSH 12-3185, 1983)
  9. Here I Am (Waiting for You) (Early Version) (previously unreleased)

CD 2

  1. Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (Fantasy LP F-9634, 1984/Rams Horn RHR 3375, 1984)
  2. Brand New Me/In and Out of Love (Fantasy LP F-9634, 1984/Rams Horn RHR 3400, 1984)
  3. Here I Am (Waiting for You) (Fantasy LP F-9634, 1984)
  4. A Good Man (Is Hard to Find) (Fantasy LP F-9634, 1984/Fantasy D-232(B), 1984)
  5. When Will I See You Again (Fantasy LP F-9634, 1984/Rams Horn 3417, 1985)
  6. Dance Trance Medley (from Fantasy LP F-9634, 1984)
  7. Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (12-Inch Disco Remix) (Moby Dick BTG-234(B), 1981)
  8. Disco Kicks (12-Inch Disco Remix) (Moby Dick BTG-242-BB, 1981)
  9. Cruisin’ the Streets (Instrumental Disco Remix) (extended edit of remix issued as Moby Dick BTG-234, 1981)
  10. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Jazz Version) (Rams Horn RAMSH 12-3090(B), 1982

Written by Joe Marchese

October 24, 2014 at 10:28

One Response

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  1. I was going through my old album collection to do some recording. I have a Jethro Tull album (Benefit) that is missing side 1. Side 2 is recorded on both sides of the album. Worth anything?

    Steve Obert

    October 27, 2014 at 01:11

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