Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Take a look at this picture and ask yourself: was there ever a prettier man than Luther Ingram? This snap adorns the back of Ingram's 1971 Koko LP I've Been Here All the Time, which, for those more accustomed to the singer's 'slow jam' hits of the 1980s will come as a most pleasant surprise. Though the album does include some slower numbers (which are very good, by the way), the highlight is definitely the closing number Ghetto Train, a chugging dance floor number that tells the story of a working class man's daily commute.

Within a year of cutting this album, Luther Ingram would be on his way to stardom via the number one R and B hit, If Loving You Is Wrong ( I Don't Want to be Right), and the hits kept coming--to lesser and lesser effect--into the late 1980s.

Luther died in 2007 at the age of 69. He probably didn't look as good then as he did here, but this is how I'll always think of him.

Postscript: Apparently Luther was also responsible for the Northern Soul stomper Exus Trek, a track I've loved for years. Somehow I never realized that 'The Luther Ingram Orchestra' was, well, Luther Ingram. More fool me, but it's further proof that there was more to Luther than smouldering ballads.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I love a morose Christmas song (two weeks late and $600 short)

Go on, admit it...there's nothing quite like a Yuletide song written in a minor key to get you blubbing into your egg nog. Whether it's Wham!'s Last Christmas (' Last Christmas/I gave you my heart/but the very next day you gave it away') or The Skyliner's achingly beautiful You're My Christmas Present (which features relatively upbeat lyrics soaking in the most melancholic minor key arrangement you could imagine), these heart-tuggers are my holiday listening A-Team. Nothing against Run DMC's Christmas in Hollis, mind ('It's Christmas time in Hollis, Queens/Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens'), but I prefer to get all soppy during the holidays.

So here I am in January 2009, and I just discovered my new favourite Christmas song.

It's by a group called Change of Pace, who released their one and only LP on Stone Lady Records in 1971. The four guys in COP were apparently Vietnam vets (the album's called Bring My Buddies Back; the title track is a blatant re-write of Freda Payne's classic Bring the Boys Home), so they presumably knew heartbreak first hand. The album consists primarily of soft soul ballads ala The Spinners, but it's none the worse for that and is well worth your time of day should you stumble upon a copy. The highlight for me, however, is Side 2, track 2, Yule Tide Love, an old-fashioned, deeply heartfelt doo-wop number that had me running for the Kleenex as soon as it started. It's replete with the best elements of the style: a spare arrangement built upon a simple four note piano riff, beautiful, cleanly delivered lead vocals by front man Doug Green, and straightforward lyrics clearly written from the heart:

'Well Christmas is here, New Year's is near
Shine down Oh! star above.
For this year I'll see on my Christmas tree
Your heart right there all wrapped up for me
It's all that I know we're close this year
God bless you I love you so

Merry Christmas my dear
Happy New Year I found my love

My dear, Christmas comes but once a year
A present for you and a present for me.
My New Year's resolution comes straight from
My heart, my fondest prayer is that we'll never part.

These children of the '40s and '50s, many of whom grew up singing on the street corner, found themselves poured into the crucible of Vietnam and then excreted back onto the mean streets from whence they came by an uncaring Uncle Sam. Yule Tide Love is an attempt to regain lost innocence; the yearning for simpler and better days is palpable. It's a moving paean to true love set during the time of year when 'peace on Earth/good will t'ward man' is supposed to be the order of the day. It's a tissue of lies, of course, but no matter how many times the cruel truth is revealed--whether by 1972's Christmas bombings of North Vietnam or the 2008 post-Christmas assault on the Gaza Ghetto--we still hope (and perhaps pray) that this year, things will be different. Perhaps that's why I always get a bit maudlin in late December.

At any rate, the album has recently had a CD reissue, or you can pop over to GEMM and pick up a vinyl original for $600. It's a good album overall, but there'll be one reason I'll be pulling it out for another spin come December 2009. I'd love to know where the Change of Pace fellas are today--guys, get in touch if you read this--and remember: Happy Christmas, War Is Over, If You Want It.

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I am a semi-aquatic marine mammal who enjoys eating fish and krill, as well as taking long underwater swims