From Geno Washington to Muddy Waters, here is part 2 of The Diversity of Classic Rock’s series on black musicians of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. You can find part 1 here.
Geno Washington: R&B singer born William Francis Washington in Indiana who got famous in England with the Ram Jam Band. He got to England because he was stationed there with the Air Force and in his spare time, he would perform gigs in London. After he was discharged from the Air Force, he became frontman of the Ram Jam Band. A famous fan of the band is Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, who wrote the hit “Geno”, named after Geno Washington.
Their debut album, Hand Clappin’, Foot Stompin’, Funky-Butt… Live! was a commercial success, reaching #5 on the UK albums charts. It’s a very energetic and fun album with a lot of great covers. I love how the songs flow together. Overall, a solid live album. You can find a lot of the songs on the compilation available on Spotify.
The band had a few minor hits with “Water” (#39 UK), “Hi Hi Hazel” (#45 UK), “Que Sera Sera” (#43 UK), and “Michael (the Lover)” (#39 UK). The and had a bit of a following among the Mod and Northern Soul scenes. The band broke up in the late 60s. Since 2005, Geno Washington has been performing live again with a new backing band.
Gloria Jones: R&B and soul singer who later dated Marc Bolan and was in his backing band, T. Rex. She was born in Ohio and her family moved to LA when she was 7. As a kid, she formed a gospel group called the COGIC Singers with Frankie Kahri and Billy Preston.
In 1964, she recorded her first hit record “Heartbeat Parts 1 & 2”, written by Ed Cobb. From there, she started touring around the country and even performed at Disneyland.
She most famously recorded “Tainted Love”, a cult favourite in the Northern Soul scene in England. Because of that song, she gained a following across the pond. The song was covered by Soft Cell in 1981.
Besides singing, she worked as a producer and songwriter for Motown: working with The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Eddie Kendricks, Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, The Jackson 5, Martha & The Vandellas, and more. She also did backing vocals for many rock acts like REO Speedwagon, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Little Feat, and Joe Cocker.
In 1974, she joined T. Rex and started dating Marc Bolan. She and Marc had a son together, Rolan Bolan. She contributed backing vocals on Marc’s last album, Dandy in the Underworld.
Ike and Tina Turner: Musical duo made up of (at the time) husband and wife Ike and Tina Turner. Ike Turner moved from Memphis to St Louis to find work for the Kings of Rhythm.
Tina Turner, who was born Anna Mae Bullock, went to a nightclub and saw the Kings of Rhythm there and loved what she heard and became friends with the band. She convinced Ike to let her perform onstage with him and after a successful show, Ike was impressed and she was a regular in the band. Originally, Tina Turner was known as Little Ann. Ike chose the stage name Tina after one of his favourite characters, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
Ike was very controlling and abusive and trademarked the moniker “Ike and Tina Turner” even before they were married in case Tina decided to leave, he could replace her. The first time Ike abused her was after she expressed concerns about going on tour with him and had reservations about changing her name. In 1968, Tina attempted suicide because of how abusive Ike was. She left him for good in 1976 after a final fight in Dallas.They divorced and for a few years, she was struggling financially.
Back to the music, in 1960, “A Fool in Love” was released and it was a local hit. A DJ told Ike to send the tape to Juggy Murray of Sue Records. Murray was impressed and decided to sign them. From there, the single was a nationwide hit, reaching #2 on the R&B charts and #27 on the pop charts.
In 1961, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” was a top 20 hit, even earning them a Grammy nomination. From there, they didn’t have much commercial success until 1966, when River Deep – Mountain High was released.
Their 1966 album, River Deep – Mountain High is considered one of their best. It charted better in the UK than in the US, reaching the top 30 there. The title track, which only had Tina Turner on lead vocals (Ike was paid $20,000 to stay out of the studio due to his controlling nature), peaked at #3 in the UK, but only at #88 in the US. The song was recorded with Phil Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound” technique and cost $22,000 to make. When the song did not do as well as expected in the US, Phil Spector felt disillusioned and took a hiatus from the recording industry.
I like the title track, “I Idolise You”, “A Love Like Yours” (a top 20 hit in the UK), “Hold On Baby”, “I’ll Never Need More Than This”, “Every Day I Have to Cry”, and “Such a Fool For You”.
In the early 70s, Tina Turner’s biggest hits were a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher” and a cover of CCR’s “Proud Mary”.
In 1973, Tina Turner got a hit with “Nutbush City Limits”, #22 in the US, #4 in the UK, #2 n Germany, and #5 in Italy.
In 1975, Tina Turner played the Acid Queen in Tommy. Her scene is memorable and I like her version of “The Acid Queen” better than the original album version.
The 80s were her most commercially successful time, with Private Dancer being her comeback album. The biggest hits from that album were “What’s Love Got to Do With it”, “Better Be Good to Me”, and “Private Dancer”.
In 1985, she starred in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and sang some songs on the soundtrack. “We Don’t Need Another Hero” (#2 US) and “One of the Living” (#15 US) were hits.
In 1986, “Typical Male” hit #2 in the US. Also on the album, Break Every Rule, “What You Get is What You See” reached #13.
Isaac Hayes: One of Stax Records’ most successful musicians and songwriters. He was born in Tennessee to a sharecropper family, growing up working on farms. As a kid, he started singing at church and later taught himself to play piano, organ, flute, and saxophone. He was offered the chance to study music at various universities, but turned those opportunities down to stay at home and get a job to help his family.
He and David Porter worked together writing songs like “Soul Man”, “When Something is Wrong with My Baby”, and “Hold On, I’m Comin’”.
In 1968, Isaac Hayes released his first album, Presenting Isaac Hayes. The album had a more jazz style and was not commercially successful. The reason he and many other songwriters had to release albums was because Stax lost their backlog to Atlantic when they broke away so they needed to make money somehow with new material. The highlight of the album is the 19 minute long “Precious, Precious”.
Isaac Hayes’ sophomore album, Hot Buttered Soul, was a breakthrough and the beginnings of success for him. The album reached #8 on the albums chart and topped the R&B and Jazz charts. Definitely better than the debut, I like the songs “Walk On By” (charted at #13 R&B and #30 on the Hot 100) and “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” (#37 R&B and Hot 100).
In 1970, he released two albums, The Isaac Hayes Movement and …To Be Continued. On the former album I like the songs “One Big Unhappy Family”, “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”, and the cover of The Beatles’ “Something”. From the latter album I like the cover of “The Look of Love”, Both albums were chart successes, reaching #1 on the R&B and Jazz charts.
1971 was a big year for Isaac Hayes. That was the year the Shaft soundtrack was released. The instrumentals were done by the Bar-Kays and the Isaac Hayes Movement. The album reached the top of the charts in America and was in the top 20 on the UK’s albums charts. Hayes released two other soundtracks for Three Tough Guys and Truck Turner, but those were not as successful as Shaft. A pretty hard one to beat. Shaft is one of my favourite movie soundtracks of all time and I list it was one of my perfect albums. I only wish it was on Spotify. Luckily, you can find the entire album on YouTube.
Shaft was so successful, that it would be hard to follow up, but Isaac Hayes successfully followed up with Black Moses. Overall, it’s worth a listen.
The album reached the top 40 in the UK albums charts and #10 in the US. The biggest hit from the album is the opening track, a cover of The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” in a jazzy style. What is especially interesting about this album, is the cover folds out into a T shape with a full body picture of Isaac Hayes as Black Moses. Black Moses is a symbol of black pride. He’s free, powerful, and strong. I like the songs “Never Can Say Goodbye”, “Man’s Temptation”, “Part-Time Love”, “A Brand New Me”, “Going in Circles”, “Never Gonna Give You Up”, and “Good Love 6-9-9-6-9”.
After 1975, his popularity in the charts declined. His most successful album after that was Don’t Let Go, released in 1979.
Isley Brothers: The three Isley Brothers: O’Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald got their start as a vocal trio in the 50s in Ohio. They relocated to New York City in the late 50s for better opportunities. What’s really special about them is their ability to reinvent themselves and change with the times. Their discography shows a diversity of sound: funk, R&B, soul, and even a bit of rock and I can’t leave them out.
In 1959, they got a record deal and released their debut, Shout! For the most part, the album was made up of covers, but there were a few originals, the most notable being the title track. Surprisingly, “Shout!” did not chart that high in the US, barely making the top 50, but it was so influential and widely covered. The album’s style was doo-wop, R&B, and gospel influenced. Besides the title track, I like the songs “Yes Indeed”, “How Deep is the Ocean”, and “That Lucky Old Sun”.
They didn’t get another hit single until 1962, when Twist & Shout came out. That song reached the top 20 on the pop charts and #2 on the R&B charts. Besides the title track I like the songs “I Say Love”, “Hold On Baby”, “Rubberleg Twist”, and “Never Leave Me Baby”.
In 1964, The Isley Brothers started their own record label, T-Neck Records. Jimi Hendrix played lead guitar for them for a short period of time. He played lead guitar on “Testify”, “Have You Ever Been Disappointed”, and “Move On Over and Let Me Dance”.
In 1965, they signed to Motown and had another success with the single “This Old Heart of Mine (is Weak For You)”, peaking at #12 in the US and #3 in the UK (their biggest success in the UK). In 1966, the album This Old Heart of Mine was released. Most of the songs on the album were written by Motown powerhouse songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland. Overall, it’s a good listen. I like the songs “This Old Heart of Mine”, “Baby Don’t You Do It”, “I Hear a Symphony”, “Just Ain’t Enough Love”, and “There’s No Love Left”.
Their time with Motown was short and they only released two albums under that label. The second one was Soul on the Rocks, released in 1967. I like the songs “Whispers (Gettin’ Louder)”, “Tell Me It’s Just a Rumour Baby”, “It’s Out of the Question”, “Why When Love is Gone”, “Save Me From This Misery”, and “Behind a Painted Smile”.
In 1969, The Isley Brothers released It’s Our Thing on their own label, T-Neck. This album had a more funk sound than previous albums. All of the songs on the album are originals written by the band. “It’s Your Thing” was the biggest hit on the album, reaching #2 in the US and #3 in Canada.
That same year, they released The Brothers: Isley. My favourite tracks on the album are “The Blacker the Berrie”, “My Little Girl”, and “Holding On”. The biggest hit was “I Turned You On”, which reached the top 30 in the US and #6 on the R&B charts.
In 1970, they released Get Into Something, a funkier album than the last one. The album was a success on the R&B charts with 6 of the tracks making the top 30. I like the title track, “Keep On Doin’”, “If He Can You Can”, “Bless Your Heart” (sounds like a remake of “It’s Your Thing”), and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” (love part 2).
On 1971’s Givin’ It Back, you’ll find some rock covers of Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Stephen Stills. The most successful single on this album was their cover of “Love the One You’re With”. The songs on this album are longer on average. Another song worth listening to from around this time, but not on the original release of the album is “Warpath”. It’s a bonus track on the album and you can find it below.
In 1972, they released Brother, Brother, Brother. The two biggest hits from that album were “Pop That Thang” and “Lay Away”.
In 1973, the Isley Brothers got yet another big crossover hit with “That Lady”, off the album 3+3. Love the guitars in the intro. There’s a cover of The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music”. I also like the song “If You Were There” and their cover of “Summer Breeze”.
In 1974, they released Live it Up. Most of the songs on this album were originals. Only one song, “Hello It’s Me” (Todd Rundgren) was a cover, IMO it’s not as good as the original. “Live it Up” and “Midnight Sky” were top 10 hits on the R&B charts.
In 1975, they released The Heat Is On. All of the songs have two parts. The album was their first #1 on the mainstream albums charts. “Fight The Power” reached #4 on the pop charts and topped the R&B charts.
After that, they didn’t have any major crossover hit singles until 1983 with “Between The Sheets”.
Jack Hammer: Songwriter born Earl Solomon Burroughs. He started his songwriting career in the late 50s, writing songs like “Fujiyama Mama” for Wanda Jackson and “Great Balls of Fire” (with Otis Blackwell) for Jerry Lee Lewis. For a time, he lived in Paris and performed impersonations of Sammy Davis Jr and Chuck Berry.
I like his songs “Swim”, “Ali Ben Ghazi”, and “Colour Combination”. Note: Because there are multiple musicians named Jack Hammer, not all of the songs on this playlist are by him.
James Brown: Godfather of Soul and Funk pioneer, he has to be included in this list because of his influence on these genres and more. He was self made and legendary.
He was born in a shack in South Carolina to a poor family in an impoverished community. He left school at the age of 11 and started performing in talent shows and winning them. As a teenager, he boxed.
In the 50s, he and Bobby Byrd started The Famous Flames. Their debut single, “Please, Please, Please”, which peaked at #6 on the R&B charts, helped put James Brown on the map.
In 1958, James Brown got his first crossover hit, “Try Me”, which made the top 50 on the pop charts and topped the R&B charts. His follow up single, “Try Me” made the top 20 on the R&B charts.
In 1960, he released the album Think! which had a few hit singles, “I’ll Go Crazy”, “Think”, “You’ve Got the Power”, and “This Old Heart”. The title track and “This Old Heart” were crossover hits.
In the early 60s, James Brown gained popularity and more and more of his songs were crossing over into the pop charts. I like the songs “And I Do Just What I Want”, “Hold It”, “Suds”, “Sticky”, “Love Don’t Love Nobody”, “Night Flying”, “Shout and Shimmy”, “Mashed Potatoes USA”, “You Don’t Have to Go”, “(Can You) Feel It”, “Three Hearts in a Tangle”, “I’ve Got Money”, and “Choo Choo (Locomotion)”. In 1964, “Oh Baby Don’t You Weep” peaked at #23 on the pop charts and “Out of Sight” reached #24.
In 1965, he wrote and released two hit singles that helped him skyrocket in popularity: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (#8 Pop, #1 R&B) and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (#3 Pop, #1 R&B). These songs are a couple of the first funk songs, really ahead of the curve stuff – sounding fresh way after they were released. They’re two of his most famous songs for a reason.
In 1966, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” was a top 10 hit. Brown had other minor hits that year like “Ain’t That a Groove”, “Money Won’t Change You”, and “Don’t Be a Drop-Out”.
James Brown’s biggest hit of 1967 was “Cold Sweat”, which was a top 10 hit on the pop charts and topped the R&B charts.
1968 and 1969 were big years for James Brown with “I Got the Feelin’” and the famous Black Power anthem “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” reaching the top 10 in the pop charts. More songs made it in the top 20 like “Licking Stick – Licking Stick”, “Give it Up or Turn it a Loose”, and “Mother Popcorn”. Some of these songs featured speaking, a precursor to rap of sorts. During this time, James Brown was called Soul Brother No 1.
His success continued into the early 70s with hits like “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)”, “Super Bad”, “Soul Power”, Hot Pants”, “Make it Funky”, “Get on the Good Foot”, and “The Payback”. During this time, James Brown had a different backing band called The J.B.’s. Bass player Bootsy Collins and his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins were in this band for a time.
Also in the early half of the 70s, James Brown played concerts in Africa. Around 1972, he ran into some controversies, like when he endorsed Richard Nixon for re-election. As you can expect, a lot of black fans were turned off. He also faced some problems with the IRS for failure to pay back taxes.The mid to late 70s were not a commercially successful time for James Brown because disco was taking over the R&B scene. The sound of disco was so different from James Brown’s funk, more produced and slick.
Where there is a rock connection is in his song, “Hot (I Need to be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)”, which used the main riff from David Bowie’s “Fame”, unfortunately, giving no credit to him, John Lennon, or Carlos Alomar (who was once in James Brown’s touring band).
In December 1985, his last top 10 hit, “Living in America” was released. It was on the soundtrack for Rocky IV.
Jimi Hendrix: Does he really need an intro? An absolute guitar god who went from the Chitlin’ Circuit to London. He was born Johnny Allen Hendrix (later changed to James Marshall Hendrix) on 27 November 1942 in Seattle to Lucille and Al Hendrix. Al was born in Vancouver and later moved to Seattle, where he met Lucille.
During the first few years of Jimi’s life, Al was in the army. Once he came back in 1945, he had trouble finding a job. Life at home wasn’t happy because Al and Lucille struggled with addictions to alcohol and fought. At times, he’d stay with his grandparents in Vancouver.
As a kid, he liked to mock playing guitar with a broom. The school social worker urged Jimi’s father to buy him a guitar, but he refused. When he was 14, he and his father cleaned a woman’s home and found a ukulele. which the woman gave to Jimi. He would play single notes and learn to play by ear, listening to Elvis. Finally, at 15, he bought an acoustic guitar and listened to the blues, practising for hours. He ended up dropping out of school. The next year, his father finally got him an electric guitar so he could be heard and he listened to both blues and rock and roll, from both black and white musicians. His first gig was at a synagogue. He was fired because they thought he was a showoff.
At 18, he was caught riding in a stolen car and was given the choice between prison or joining the army, so he picked the army. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Far away from his girlfriend and his guitar, he asked his dad to send him his guitar. He befriended Billy Cox while in the army and they jammed together. In 1962, he was discharged from the army. He and Billy Cox moved to Tennessee and that’s when he started playing guitar with his teeth. Besides playing at various clubs, he was in backing bands for Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, Ike & Tina Turner, and Jackie Wilson.
In 1964, Jimi Hendrix went to New York and won first prize in the Apollo Theatre amateur contest and played some clubs in Harlem. He was introduced to the Isley Brothers and was offered a job as their guitarist. As mentioned above, he played on the song, “Testify”. He left the Isley Brothers for Little Richard’s touring band because he wanted to try something different. While in Los Angeles, he made friends with Arthur Lee of Love. In 1965, as part of Little Richard’s band, he made his first TV appearance. Jimi was fired because he didn’t get along well with Little Richard and because of other issues like tardiness, stage antics, and wardrobe.
In 1966, Linda Keith, Keith Richards’ girlfriend, saw Jimi Hendrix play at a nightclub in New York and they became friends. She recommended him to Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager, who rejected him. Next, The Animals bassist Chas Chandler, who was interested in starting a career as a manager/producer, saw him at Cafe Wha? and was impressed and invited him to go to London to form a band.
When he got to London, Chas Chandler helped him put together a band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. By the end of 1966, the Jimi Hendrix Experience got a record deal, signed to Track Records, started by The Who managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. On October 23, 1966, their first single, “Hey Joe” was released, making the top 10 in the UK. “Purple Haze” was their next single and that reached #3 on the UK charts, but only #65 on the US charts.
In 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their debut, Are You Experienced? That album had a lot of hits like “Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, and “The Wind Cries Mary”. The album was a success, selling over 1 million copies within 7 months of its release. “Red House” is a nice blues song and a change from a lot of the harder, psychedelic tracks like “Fire” and “Foxy Lady”. Jimi Hendrix liked to write slower songs because he could make them more bluesy. This album is considered one of the best rock albums of all time. It’s one of those albums where I love all the tracks so I would recommend you listen to all of it rather than just a few tracks.
Because of their contract, the Experience had to release another album in 1967, so they followed up at the end of the year with Axis: Bold as Love, released after they played the Monterey Pop Festival, where Jimi Hendrix famously set his guitar on fire and smashed it. I don’t like this album as much as Are You Experienced, but I think it’s still a good album. I like the songs “Up From The Skies”, “Wait Until Tomorrow”, “Little Wing”, “If 6 Was 9”, “You Got Me Floatin’”, “Castles Made of Sand”, “One Rainy Wish”, “Little Miss Lover”, and “Bold as Love”.
In 1968, Jimi Hendrix released his last album with The Experience, Electric Ladyland. This album has the band’s biggest hit, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. You can count on The Experience to always deliver an excellent album, so this one is worth listening to. Fun fact: Lots of big names as contributing musicians: Steve WInwood, Al Kooper, Dave Mason, Buddy Miles, Jack Casady, and Brian Jones. The album was Jimi Hendrix’s biggest success in America, topping the charts there. My favourite songs are “Crosstown Traffic”, “Voodoo Chile”, “Little Miss Strange”, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)”, “All Along The Watchtower”, and “Voodoo Child”.
In 1970, he released his last album, this time with the Band of Gypsys. It was a self titled live album recorded at the Fillmore East. The album sounds more funky than the previous ones, but still has hard rock elements to it. Jimi Hendrix wasn’t happy with how the album turned out, but it reached the top 10 in the albums charts in the US and UK. I like the songs “Machine Gun”, “Changes”, “Message to Love”, and “We Gotta Live Together”.
Of all the albums he released while he was alive, this is the weakest, in my opinion, but not a bad album at all. This album leaves me wondering, had Jimi lived, what more could he have accomplished? What direction would his sound have taken?
Jimi’s record label continued to release albums posthumously. Some of my favourite songs released posthumously are: “Valleys of Neptune”, “Ezy Rider”, “My Friend”, “In from the Storm”, “Dolly Dagger”, “Earth Blues”, and “Pali Gap”.
Joan Armatrading: St Kitts-born songwriter who was raised in Birmingham. She first performed at Birmingham University at the age of 16, singing a mix of original songs and covers. In 1970, she met Pam Nestor, a longtime collaborator. She released her debut album in 1972, Whatever’s For Us. The album didn’t chart and neither did her sophomore album, Back to the Night.
In 1976, she got her first top 10 hit in the UK with “Love and Affection”. That song was off her self-titled album, which went gold in the UK.
Her peak fame was in the 80s with the release of gold albums Me Myself I, Walk Under Ladders, and The Key. The single, “Me Myself I” reached #21 on the UK charts.
In 1980, she was nominated for two Grammys. “Drop the Pilot” was her biggest hit, released in 1983. It topped the charts in South Africa and was a top 10 hit in Australia, and reached #11 in the UK.
Kenny Lynch: This singer/songwriter was born in London in 1938. He was one of the few black musicians in the British pop scene in the 60s. His biggest hits of the early 60s were “Up on the Roof” and “You Can never Stop Me Loving You”, both of which made the top 10.
He toured with The Beatles on their first British tour. Kenny Lynch was the first musician to release a cover of a Beatles song, “Misery”. His version is a lot more poppy and upbeat. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were hoping for Helen Shapiro to cover it, but her producer rejected the proposal. The connection with The Beatles didn’t end there. A decade later, Kenny Lynch was on the cover of Wings’ Band on the Run.
Not only did Kenny Lynch perform, he also wrote songs for other musicians, like The Small Faces. He wrote “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”, “You’d Better Believe It”, and “Sorry She’s Mine” for The Small Faces.
Labelle: All girl singing group made up of Patti LaBelle, Cindy Birdsong (who left for The Supremes), Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. They were formed in the 60s and got their start singing doo-wop as Pattie Labelle and the Blue Belles.
In 1971, they revamped everything, image and sound, calling themselves simply, Labelle. Their self titled debut didn’t go anywhere in the charts, but they worked as backing vocalists for Laura Nyro, singing on the album, Gonna Take a Miracle. This was a springboard for them into success. Laura Nyro wasn’t the only rock musician they did backing vocals for. They also did backing vocals on Elton John’s album Rock of the Westies.
The year before their success with the smash hit “Lady Marmalade”, they did a medley cover of two protest songs, Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” and Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. I can’t say this is better than the originals, but it’s an interesting approach.
The big year for them was 1974, when they signed to Epic Records and released Nightbirds.
Their follow up albums, Phoenix and Chameleon were critically acclaimed, but the singles from those albums didn’t have the same success as “Lady Marmalade”. Not only that, they had different ideas on their future direction. Nona Hendryx wanted to do more funk rock, Sarah Dash wanted to do disco, and Patti Labelle wanted to do soul music.
Of the three, Patti Labelle was the most successful in her solo career with hits like “New Attitude”, “On My Own”, and “Oh, People”.
Nona Hendryx is the most experimental of the three.
If you like Disco, you might like Sarah Dash’s solo work. She also sang for Keith Richards’ group X-pensive Winos.
Lady Bo: Rhythm guitarist in Bo Diddley’s band from the late 50s to the early 60s. She was one of the first visible female rock guitarists. She was born Peggy Jones in Harlem and studied dance and opera in secondary school. Before she met Bo Diddley, she was in a doo-wop group called the Bop Chords.
Lenny Kravitz: Rock singer who got famous in the 90s. His style combines so many different genres: rock (all kinds), blues, soul, funk, jazz, reggae, and more. I know that I usually don’t cover the 90s on my blog, but his music is a throwback to the 70s. He was born in New York to actress Roxie Roker and NBC television news producer Sy Kravitz. His mum was of Bahamian descent and his father was of Ukrainian Jewish descent.
As a kid, he liked to bang on pots and pans in the kitchen as if they were drums. Drums were his first instrument he learned, before picking up guitar. His parents liked to listen to a wide variety of music, so he got exposed to R&B, jazz, classical, opera, gospel, and blues. His favourite group as a kid were The Jacksons. You can really hear all these influences in his music.
When his family moved to Los Angeles, Lenny Kravitz got into rock music, falling in love with the aesthetic and lifestyle. Fun fact: he went to secondary school with Nicolas Cage and Slash. While in secondary school, he taught himself to play bass and piano.
He went through some difficulties at first trying to get signed to a label, being told his music wasn’t black or white enough. Finally, in 1989, he released his first album, Let Love Rule. I like the title track, “I Build This Garden For Us”, “Does Anybody Out There Even Care”, “Mr Cab Driver”, “Rosemary”, and “Flower Child”. My favourite track is “Flower Child”. None of the singles were that successful on the mainstream charts, but “Let Love Rule” and “I Build This Garden For Us” did well on the Alternative charts.
In 1991, he released his sophomore album, Mama Said. Slash co-wrote “Always on the Run” and Sean Lennon co-wrote “All I Ever Wanted”. “It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over” was Kravitz’s highest charting single, peaking at #2. I also like the songs “Always On The Run”, “What Goes Around Comes Around”, “Stop Draggin’ Around”, and “All I Ever Wanted”. Personally, I liked this album better than the last one.
In 1993, he released Are You Gonna Go My Way. The title track was another success for him, reaching #2 on the alternative rock charts in the US, #1 in Australia, #5 in Canada, #4 in France, #8 in the Netherlands, and #4 in the UK. My favourites on the album are the title track, “Is There Any Love In Your Heart”, “My Love”, “Sugar”, and “Sister”.
In 1995, he released Circus. I like the songs “Rock and Roll is Dead”, “Tunnel Vision”, “Magdalene”, and “Thin Ice”.
In 1998, he released his fifth album, aptly titled 5. The album was reissued the following year with his version of The Guess Who’s “American Woman”, on the soundtrack of the second Austin Powers movie. That single was a hit, but the biggest hit was “Fly Away”, which reached the top spot on the rock charts in the US, #8 in Australia and Brazil, #3 in Canada, and #1 in Iceland and the UK. Other than those songs, I also enjoy “Live”, “I Belong To You”, “Black Velveteen”, “It’s Your Life”, “Straight Cold Player”, and “Little Girl’s Eyes”. Lots of funkier tunes on this album.
Little Richard: Born Richard Penniman in Macon, Georgia on 5 December 1932, he is one of the most influential figures in rock and popular music – a pioneer, in his sound, stage persona, and androgynous image and dress sense. As a child, he went to church and loved the music in the Pentecostal church. Gospel music was a huge influence and people in his neighbourhood would sing gospel to lift up their spirits during a time of being oppressed. His biggest influences were Brother Joe May, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Mahalia Jackson.
In 1947, he got his first break performing with Sister Rosetta Tharpe when he was 14. She paid him and that inspired him to go pro. As a teenager he liked to perform in drag as Princess LaVonne. Side note + fun fact: drag queen Kennedy Davenport portrayed Little Richard in Snatch Game.
Finally, in 1950, he got his stage name Little Richard from Buster Brown, when he was performing with Buster Brown’s Orchestra. He also did vaudeville.
Another breakthrough came through for him when he befriended Billy Wright and he got him in touch with a DJ named Zenas Sears who recorded Little Richard at his station. These recordings got him signed to RCA Victor. He ended up leaving the record label quickly because his songs released through that label didn’t achieve commercial success, He struggled for a bit and worked as a dishwasher, but didn’t give up on his dream. In 1955, he got signed to Specialty Records, and started releasing singles, this time a success.
His first single through that label, ‘Tutti Frutti”, recorded in 3 takes and co-written with Dorothy LaBostrie, became a big hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard R&B charts and #21 on the mainstream charts; that was just the beginning of a meteoric rise to fame. This song is significant in rock history, as one of the earliest rock and roll songs. Listening to this song, you can hear how it shaped the sound.
His next hit, “Long Tall Sally” topped the R&B charts and reached #13 on the pop charts in the US and top 10 in the UK. The Beatles famously covered it in 1964. At concerts, he would encourage people to dance with each other, integrating people. He proved racists wrong. Rock and roll could unite people. Audiences loved how he’d lift his leg on the piano, jump on top of it, all that high energy. The ladies loved him and would throw underwear at him and try to touch him.
1956-1958 were prolific and successful years for Little Richard, with hits like “Slippin’ and Slidin’”, “Rip it Up”, “Ready Teddy”, “The Girl Can’t Help It”, “Lucille”, Send Me Some Lovin’”, “Jenny, Jenny”, Keep A-Knockin’”, “Good Golly, Mss Molly”, “Ooh! My Soul”, and “Baby Face”.
He then turned to gospel music. During his tour in Australia with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, he announced he was joining the ministry. What triggered this move was what he called a “sign from God.” He said these signs were troubles with planes while in Australia, and his original flight back to the States (he returned early) was the further sign for him to live a religious life.
His gospel songs didn’t chart, but he got praise from his idol Mahalia Jackson. He came back to pop music in 1962 after Don Arden persuaded him to do a European tour, because he had a decent following there. He insisted on playing gospel music, but the audience were not expecting that and he was met with booing crowds. The Beatles opened for Little Richard on a few dates, and he even taught Paul McCartney how to properly go “woooo” in his songs. In 1963, he toured with the Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley, and The Rolling Stones. He saved the tour from being a flop.
By 1964, he returned to rock and roll music, but the times changed. British Invasion was in and old school 50s rock and roll was out, so he didn’t have the same chart success again. He released the single “Bama Lama Lama Loo”, which did better in the UK, reaching the top 20, than in the US.
In 1965, “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got, But It’s Got Me” peaked at #12 on the R&B charts.
“Freedom Blues”, released in 1970, was his last chart hit, reaching #47 on the pop charts and #28 on the R&B charts.
Living Colour: Rock band formed in New York in 1984. Their sound combines the sounds of metal, funk, jazz, hip hop, and punk and their lyrics can be political at times, talking about issues like race relations. Founder and guitarist Vernon Reid was born in England to Caribbean parents and moved to the US as a child. The rest of the lineup are Corey Clover, Muzz Skillings, and Will Calhoun. Once that lineup was sorted, they toured and played regularly at the famous CBGB.
In 1988, they released their debut album, Vivid. You’ll hear heavy sounds with a bit of funk. I’m not the biggest metal fan (except early stuff from the 70s, that stuff slaps), but the funk elements are what make it more radio friendly, opening it to crossover appeal. I like the songs “Cult of Personality”, “I Want to Know”, “Open Letter to a Landlord”, “Funny Vibe”, and “Glamour Boys”. Overall, an enjoyable album to listen to. Did you know Mick Jagger produced this album?
In 1990, they released their second album, Time’s Up. There are a few guest contributions from Queen Latifah, Little Richard, and Doug E. Fresh. I like the songs “Pride”, “Someone Like You”, “Type”, “Fight the Fight”, and “Solace of You”. Personally, I prefer their previous album, but this isn’t a bad album.
In 1993, their sound got heavier with the release of the album, Stain. I like how they have a song about bisexuality called “Bi”.
Love (Arthur Lee, Johnny Echols): Band formed in LA in 1965. Arthur Lee was the leader and main songwriter of the band. They are also considered one of the first multiracial American bands. Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols were both born in Memphis and raised in LA and were childhood friends. As teenagers, they would play in clubs and wear fake moustaches to look old enough. The Byrds were a big inspiration to Love because of their folk rock sound. Love are a versatile band who can do folk, psychedelic, R&B, garage rock, and protopunk. Sadly, Love didn’t get the love they deserved. They deserved a lot better on the charts.
In 1966, Love released their self-titled debut. In my opinion, this is a solid debut. If you like The Byrds, you’ll like this album and this band. There’s a little something for everyone, even a little protopunk with the song “My Flash On You”. My favourite tracks on the album are “My Little Red Book” (which was a minor chart hit, peaking at #52), “Can’t Explain”, “My Flash on You”, “Softly To Me”, “Emotions”, and “Hey Joe”.
Love released a second album in 1966, Da Capo. My favourite songs on the album are “Seven and Seven Is” (really protopunk), “The Castle”, and “Revelation”. What’s really unique about this album is that there’s a long song that takes up an entire side of the record, “Revelation”. Love weren’t the first band to do this though. Bob Dylan and The Mothers of Invention did it before them.
In 1967, they released their classic album, Forever Changes. In my opinion, this is an album you can listen to from start to finish and every song on it is beautiful. My favourite songs on it are “Alone Again Or”, “The Daily Planet”, “Maybe the People Would be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale”, and “Bummer in the Summer”. Like The Velvet Underground and Nico, this is one of those albums that the public started to appreciate way after the fact. Perhaps, the world wasn’t ready for those albums yet.
In 1969, they released the album Four Sail. This album is distinct from the last one because the lineup changed a lot, with Arthur Lee being the only remaining member from the 1966-1967 era. This album was released to fulfil a contractual obligation to Elektra Records. During that recording session, Arthur Lee recorded three LPs worth of material. However, that doesn’t always mean that it’s a bad album. There are some good songs on this album like “August”, “I’m With You”, “Good Times”, “Dream”, “Robert Montgomery”, and “Always See Your Face”.
Those other two LPs worth of material recorded during those sessions became the double album, Out Here, released in December 1969. This album was released on Blue Thumb Records. Overall, this isn’t a bad album, but it’s no Forever Changes. It’s worth your time if you really like Arthur Lee.
In 1970, False Start was released. This album mixes together the sounds of soul, psychedelia, and hard rock. Personally, I like this album better than the last one. Jimi Hendrix played guitar on the opening track, “The Everlasting First”. I like the songs “Flying”, “Gimi A Little Break”, “Stand Out”, “Anytime”, “Slick Dick”, and “Ride that Vibration”.
In 1974, Reel to Real was released. It was the first Love album in 4 years and the last one released in the 70s. Another Love album wouldn’t be released until the 90s. Between 1970 and 1974, Arthur Lee released a solo album, Vindicator and recorded some material that wasn’t released. I like the songs “Time is Like a River”, “Who Are You?”, “Good Old Fashion Dream”, “With a Little Energy”, and “Be Thankful For What You Got”. There are some good songs, but I wouldn’t say this comes close to Forever Changes. The album is a lot funkier than 60s Love, so if you like funk, you might like this album. There are a couple country inspired songs like “Singing Cowboy” and “You Said You Would”.
Mahavishnu Orchestra (Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden): Jazz fusion/prog rock band formed in NYC in 1971. As you can expect, as they are a prog rock band, they weren’t a singles band so when I talk about the discography, I can’t talk about charting singles since there were none.
Billy Cobham was a drummer who previously works with Miles Davis before Mahavishnu Orchestra. He was born in Colon, Panama and moved to NYC when he was 3. Narada Michael Walden was born in Michigan and before joining Mahavishnu Orchestra in the mid-70s. He also did production work in his own studio for The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Sister Sledge, Herbie Hancock, Whitney Houston, and more.
In 1971, the band released The Inner Mounting Flame. This album reached #11 on the Jazz charts and #89 on the mainstream charts. If you like prog rock with a lot of jazz, you’ll love this album. I can’t skip a track on it, but if I had to pick some favourites, I’d pick “Dawn”, “The Noonward Race”, and “Vital Transformation”.
In 1973, Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin released a collaboration album with Carlos Santana called Love Devotion Surrender. Their backing bands played on this album. I like “The Life Divine” and “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord”.
In 1973, Birds of Fire was released. It reached #15 on the albums charts in the US, top 20 in the UK and Norway, and top 30 in Germany. I like the songs “Miles Beyond”, “Celestial Terrestrial Commuters”, “One Word”, and “Open Country Joy”.
In 1974, the original group dissolved and there was a second incarnation of the group. That same year, Mahavishnu Orchestra worked with London Symphony Orchestra and released Apocalypse. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this album as much as the previous two. However, Beatles producer George Martin, who produced this album considered this album one of the best he’s ever made.
In 1975, they released Visions of the Emerald Beyond. This album is more prog than the last one and I prefer that. I like the songs “Lila’s Dance”, “Can’t Stand Your Funk”, “Faith”, and “Cosmic Strut”.
In 1976, Inner Worlds was released. Personally, I’d skip this album. I find the synthesisers on it cheesy and I usually like synthesisers. I liked “The Way of the Pilgrim” and the funky “Planetary Citizen”, but not really any of the other songs.
Mahavishnu Orchestra didn’t release another album for 8 years. In 1984, they released Mahavishnu with a new lineup. What makes tis album stand out from earlier ones is the use of Synclavier synthesisers. It’s better than the last two, but not my favourite album from them.
Mandrill (Claude Cave, Ric Wilson, Louis WIlson, and Carlos Wilson): Latin/funk/soul rock band formed by Panamanian born brothers Ric, Louis, and Carlos Wilson. They released their debut album in 1970 (unfortunately, I can’t find it on Spotify). Some of their songs were sampled by hip hop musicians.
In 1972, they released their sophomore album, Mandrill Is. Overall, I really like this album. Only wish I knew about this band sooner. My favourite tracks on the album are “Ape is High”, “Git it All”, “Children of the Sun”, “I Refuse to Smile”, “Lord of the Golden Baboon”, and “Here Today Gone Tomorrow”.
Their next album was Composite Truth, released in 1972. I think it’s another solid album. I like the songs “Hang Loose”, “Fencewalk”, “Hagalo” (very Latin influenced), and “Polk Street Carnival” (very Caribbean influenced). The album reached #8 on the soul charts.
In 1973 they released Just Outside of Town. I think this was a decent album. I like the songs “Never Die”, “Fat City Strut”, “Two Sisters of Mystery”, and “Afrikus Retrospectus”.
I couldn’t find any of their albums from the mid 70s on Spotify, so we’re skipping to their 1978 album We Are One. This album sounds more disco. I like the songs “Mean Streets”, “Having a Love Attack”, “Don’t Stop”, “Stay Tonite”, and “It’s So Easy Lovin’ You”.
Mandrill continued to release albums in the 80s. In 1980, they released Getting in the Mood. I like the songs “When You Shake”, “My Kind of Girl”, “Dance of Love”, and “Love Made Me Over”.
In 1982, they released Energize. If you love funk and Mandrill, you might like this album. I wouldn’t call it essential, but it’s not bad. If you like their more Latin sound, you might like the song “Believe in You”.
Marvin Gaye: Motown singer-songwriter born Marvin Pentz Gay in Washington DC. His family lived in a poor area of DC where the buildings were in disrepair and often had no electricity or running water. As a kid, he went to church in his family, where he started singing. In secondary school, he sang in doo-wop groups. During this time he did not have a good relationship with his father and he dropped out of school and joined the Air Force. The Air Force wasn’t for him and he faked mental illness to get out.
Before Motown, he joined a vocal quartet called the Marquees and they worked as session singers for Chuck Berry. He moved to Detroit in 1960 and performed for Berry Gordy. Gordy was impressed and gave him a record deal.
Marvin Gaye’s first album with Motown, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, was a slower jazz album and those who know his hits will find this completely different from his classics. He added the e to his last name because of people making fun of him and his wish to distance himself from his abusive father. One single was released, “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide”. It wasn’t successful. If you’re not into jazz, this is probably not be the album for you. “Never Let You Go” is a faster song though. In the meantime, he was doing session work as a drummer and writing songs.
In 1963, he released That Stubborn Kind of Fellow. A few songs on this album were hits: “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” (#46 pop, #8 R&B), “Hitch Hike” (#30 pop, #12 R&B), and “Pride and Joy” (#10 pop, #2 R&B). This is much more worth listening to than his first album, way more exciting and you can see how this was the beginning of his journey to fame.
1964 was a busy year, with three studio albums released: One being a duet album with Mary Wells, and the other two being When I’m Alone I Cry and Hello Broadway. His biggest hits that year were the duets “Once Upon a Time” and “What’s the Matter with You Baby”, “Try It Baby”, and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”.
In 1965 he released How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You. Besides the title track, I like “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “No Good Without You”.
In 1966, he released Moods of Marvin Gaye. In my opinion, this is one of his best studio albums. I think it’s one of those “perfect albums” that I can listen to without skipping a track.
In the late 60s, a lot of his biggest hits were duets with Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell. Songs such as “It Takes Two”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Your Precious Love”, “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, and “You’re All I Need To Get By”.
In 1968, Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” topped the charts.
In 1971, he release the classic album, What’s Going On. This album is political and explores issues like the Vietnam War, drug abuse, poverty, the environment, and race relations. It is widely considered to be Marvin Gaye’s best work. Very complex, beautifully produced, the way everything flows together, it’s a masterpiece and what I consider a perfect album. The success of this album convinced Motown to allow him to have more creative control over his music.
Before releasing this album, he was in a deep depression after his close friend, Tammi Terrell died at only 24. I highly recommend you listen to the album in its entirety. There are also some bonus tracks worth a listen like “Chained”, “Help The People”, “Running From Love”, “Daybreak” (the most rock sounding one), “Doing My Thing”, and “Infinity”.
In 1972, the soundtrack of the Blaxploitation film Trouble Man was released. This album was the first Marvin Gaye album where he was the sole writer and producer. What makes this album different from contemporaries, Superfly and Shaft was that there was no social commentary, but rather a focus on the main character. It’s no What’s Going On, but I like the tracks “T Plays it Cool”, “T Stands For Trouble”, and “Don’t Mess With Mister T”.
In 1973, Marvin Gaye released Let’s Get It On, another commercial success. The sound of this album is an example of how Motown’s sound evolved and changed during this time and his songs were more funk and romance themed. Everyone knows the title track, but I also recommend the songs “Please Stay (Once You Go Away)”, “Keep Gettin’ It On”, “Come Get To This”, and “You Sure Love to Ball”.
That same year, Marvin Gaye collaborated with Diana Ross and released the album, Diana & Marvin. I like the songs “Don’t Knock My Love”, “You’re A Special Part of Me”, “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)”, and “My Mistake (Was To Love You)”.
In 1976, Marvin Gaye released a more disco sounding album, I Want You. I wouldn’t call this an essential album, but if you like jazzy/disco fusion sounding kind of stuff, you’ll like this album.
In 1977, he got a major hit with “Got To Give It Up”.
In 1978, Marvin Gaye was going through a divorce, so this album, Here My Dear, was originally planned to be a half assed album because Anna was going to end up with half the money from the album’s royalties. In the end he decided to make it a real effort and make it one long diss track concept album to Anna. At the time it was released, critics panned it and Anna considered suing Marvin Gaye. But later on people considered it one of this best albums. Truth is, Marvin Gaye couldn’t make a bad album if he tried. I recommend listening to this album in its entirety.
The album opens with these lyrics:
“I guess I’d have to say this album is dedicated to you. Although perhaps I may not be happy, this is what you want. So I conceded, I hope it makes you happy. There’s a lot of truth in it, babe. I don’t think I’ll have many regrets, baby. Things didn’t have to be the way they was, baby”.
In 1981, he released his last album with Motown, In Our Lifetime. On the song “Ego Tripping Out” he raps at the beginning and sings about ego, some think it’s a warning to not fall into egotism and materialism. The song was supposed to be for a disco album called Love Man, but that never ended up happening. He wasn’t in a good place. He owed millions of dollars to the IRS and his cocaine addiction was crippling. He couldn’t return to the US because there was a warrant out for his arrest for avoiding paying taxes, so he lived in Europe. Wikipedia says that this album is a departure from his disco style. I would still say some songs have some disco elements. I like the songs “Praise”, “Love Party”, “Funk Me”, and “Heavy Love Affair”.
The last album Marvin Gaye released while he was alive was Midnight Love in 1982. This album had one of his best known songs, “Sexual Healing”, which was re-popularised thanks to a remix by electronic producer, Kygo. This album isn’t my favourite.
Since his death, four albums were posthumously released to alleviate left over debts. The most successful one was Dream of a Lifetime. The later era of Marvin Gaye isn’t my favourite, but one of these albums was posthumously released in 2019 – the year he would have turned 80, You’re The Man. This one was a “lost” album that was supposed to be released in 1972. The title track was released as a single, but because of poor reception, he cancelled the release of the album.
Merry Clayton: Soul and gospel singer who famously sang on The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”.
She performed with Ray Charles, Pearl Bailey, Burt Bacharach, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, and Neil Young.
In 1969, her most famous recording was with Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter”. It was Mick Jagger’s idea to have a female singer sing a duet on the song. She was called in the middle of the night and showed up pregnant, with curlers in her hair in the recording studio. Sadly, she lost the baby after the session. The following year, she released her own version of the song, which reached #73 on the Billboard charts. Four other songs, “After All This Time”, “Oh No Not My Baby”, “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow”, and “Yes” broke the top 100.
My favourite solo songs of hers are “Tell All The People”, “I’ve Got Life”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Here Come Those Heartaches Again”, “You’ve Been Acting Strange”, “I Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Away”, “Walk On In”, and “Love Or Let Me Be Lonely”.
Along with Clydie King, she sang backing vocals on “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Michael Jackson: King of Pop, obviously. Does he really need an introduction? In short, he got his start with The Jackson 5, formed in the mid 60s. He was the standout in the group and got a solo career starting in the early 70s and continuing through the 80s and 90s where he was even bigger.
The Jackson 5 started off performing in Gary, Indiana and they did R&B and soul covers. After winning some talent shows, their father, Joe (who was really abusive), got them gigs at the Regal Theater in Chicago and the Apollo in Harlem. Opening for Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers was how they got to Motown. At first, they were rejected because Stevie Wonder was the young talent, but he later changed his mind and they were signed to the label. They opened for The Supremes and Diana Ross, who left for a solo career, was used in the marketing for The Jackson 5’s debut album, Diana Ross presents the Jackson 5.
1970 was a year of hit after hit: “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, and “I’ll Be There”. This was historic because they were the first group to have their first four singles reach the top the Hot 100. “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Mama’s Pearl” reached #2. In 1973, they released disco songs like “Get it Together” and “Dancing Machine”, which did very well on the R&B charts.
In 1971, Michael Jackson released his first solo singles in the early 70s, “Got to Be There” in 1971 (#4 US) and “Rockin’ Robin” (#2 US). “Ben” went to #1 in 1972, but it wasn’t until the end of the decade that he’d be on top with his solo work.
In 1976, the Jackson 5 became The Jacksons, with a new face. Jermaine stayed with Motown, while the rest along with replacement, Randy, went to Motown’s rival, Philadelphia International and released their first album as The Jacksons. That album has Michael Jackson’s first ever songwriting credit with the song “Blues Away”. Most of the songs were written by Philadelphia International Records founders Gamble & Huff.
Some songs from the Jacksons I find worth listening to are “Think Happy”, “Keep On Dancing”, “Show You The Way To Go”, “Living Together”, “Goin’ Places”, “Different Kind of Lady”, “Blame it on the Boogie”, and “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”.
In 1979, Michael Jackson released Off The Wall, which was a significant release, his first successful album since 1972’s Ben. This is the album that sparked a streak of successes. You can’t go wrong with this album, Thriller, or Bad. In 1981, Off The Wall became the best selling album by a black artist. Personally, this is one of my favourite Michael Jackson albums and this is one I can listen to from start to finish.
Three years later, he released the best selling album ever, Thriller. Do I really need to give it an introduction? You loved Off the Wall, just wait for Thriller. It’s WOW. Anyway, between the two albums, Michael Jackson was becoming more independent, but also it was a time of sadness and loneliness. He said he had a difficult time making friends, which makes sense given that he was in the spotlight for over a decade, not having a normal childhood. He was upset that Off the Wall didn’t win the Grammy for Record of the Year and he was overlooked by the music industry because of his race. After Rolling Stone snubbed him for a cover story he said:
“I’ve been told over and over that black people on the cover of magazines doesn’t sell copies… Just wait. Some day those magazines are going to be begging me for an interview. Maybe I’ll give them one, and maybe I won’t.”
That frustration with the industry motivated him to make the best album possible and so we have Thriller, an album where almost every track on it was released as a single. It’s that good.
Let’s talk music videos. Michael Jackson didn’t make music videos. He made memorable movies that fans would always associate with the songs.
It wasn’t until the Thriller success that MTV started showing more music videos from black musicians. The president of CBS Records pressured MTV to be more diverse. Prince and Michael Jackson helped pave the way for black musicians on MTV.
Two classic rockers made appearances on the album, Paul McCartney on the duet, “The Girl is Mine” and Eddie Van Halen with his guitar solo on “Beat It”.
In 1987, Bad was released. Another successful album with almost every song on it released as a single. However, the time between that album and Thriller was a turbulent time. His behaviour became more eccentric. Fun fact: Michael Jackson originally intended “Bad” to be a duet with Prince. What a collab that could have been. This album was the first to have five consecutive singles peak at #1 on the Billboard Charts.
In 1991, he released Dangerous. This album incorporates the new jack swing genre started by producer Teddy Riley, that started in the 80s. The genre is a mix of R&B, soul, pop, funk, hip hop, dance music, jazz, disco, and swing. This sound could be found on Janet Jackson’s 1986 album, Control. Often heard in new jack swing is sampled beats and tunes. The biggest hits on Dangerous are “Black or White”, “Remember the Time”, “In the Closet”, and “Will You Be There”.
Mickey & Sylvia: Short lived R&B duo made up of music instructor Mickey Baker and Sylvia Vanterpool (later Robinson), a student of Mickey’s, inspired by Les Paul & Mary Ford.
Mickey Baker was born MacHouston Baker in Louisville, Kentucky and was believed to be half black half white. He was put into an orphanage when he was 11 and ran away frequently, working various odd jobs before getting into music when he was 19. He quit the mainstream American music industry in 1965 and left for France. No one really knows why and he was a private person who didn’t share much about his personal life.
Sylvia Robinson was 10 years younger than Mickey and her fame with “Love is Strange” was just the beginning for her. After the duo split, she went back to recording music as a solo artist. They had a brief reunion in the early 60s and started their own label called Willow Records. What she was best known for though was founding influential hip hop label Sugar Hill Records. Because of that she was dubbed the Mother of Hip Hop.
In 1957, their single “Love is Strange” peaked at #11 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B charts. It wasn’t Groove Records’ first hit, but it helped the duo become the label’s first big seller. The song was inspired by Jody Williams playing a guitar riff from Billy Stewart’s “Billy’s Blues”.
Before Mickey & Sylvia made the song a hit, co-writer Bo Diddley recorded his version in 1956.
Their follow up single, “There Ought To Be A Law” reached #8 on the R&B charts.
Sylvia Robinson reached #3 on the Billboard Charts in 1973 with her song “Pillow Talk”. She wrote that song for Al Green, but because of his religious views, he turned it down.
Millie Small: Jamaican born singer-songwriter who was most famous for her versos of “My Boy Lollipop”. In Jamaica, she won the Verb Johns Opportunity Hour talent contest when she was 12. She recorded some songs in Jamaica and got the attention of Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. He became her manager and legal guardian and took her to London. “My Boy Lollipop” was released in March 1964, reached #2 in the UK and US, #3 in Canada, and #1 in Australia.
She claims that Rod Stewart played harmonica on the song and remembers the recording of the song well, but Rod Stewart denies this happened. This song made history as the first internationally commercially successful ska song and helped boost the popularity of ska.
Her other songs didn’t do as well on the charts, so she was a one hit wonder and novelty act because of her distinct high pitched vocals. “Sweet William” and “Bloodshot Eyes” both made the top 40 in the UK and the former made the top 40 in the US.
This compilation album on Spotify has some really good songs and if you like 60s ska, you might like this album.
She didn’t record any music since the end of the 60s.
Mother’s Finest: Funk rock band formed in Atlanta, Georgia in 1972. The classic lineup were vocalist Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy, vocalist/percussionist Glenn “Doc” Murdock, bassist Jerry “Wyzard” Seay, guitarist Gary “Moses Mo” Moore (not to be confused with the Irish guitarist), keyboard player Mike Keck, and drummer Barry “BB Queen” Borden.
In 1972, they released their self-titled debut on RCA Records. Overall it’s worth a listen. My favourite songs are “Love is All I Need”, “Dear Sir and Brother Man”, “Sweeten the Air You Breathe”, and “You Make Me Feel So Good”. There are two covers, “Love the One You’re With” and “Feelin’ Alright”.
In 1976, Mother’s Finest released another self titled album, but this time on Epic Records. It’s a lot more rock and roll than the last one. My favourite songs on the album are “Fire”, “N*****z Can’t Sing Rock & Roll”, “My Baby”, “Fly With Me (Feel the Love)”, and “Dontcha Wanna Love Me”.
In 1977, they followed up with Another Mother Further. Love the title of the album. It’s funkier than the last one. My favourite songs on it are “Truth’ll Set You Free”, “Burning Love, and “Dis Go Dis Way Dis Go Dat Way.”
In 1978, they released Mother Factor. My favourite tracks on the album are “Tell Me”, “Watch My Stylin”, “Give it Up”, “I Can’t Believe”, and “More and More”.
In 1981, they released Iron Age. This album is heavier than the previous ones, classified as funk metal. I like the songs “Rock N Roll 2 Nite”, “Gone With Th’ Rain”, and “Earthling”.
There are two other albums released in the 80s, One Mother to Another (1983) and Looks Could Kill (1989). I can’t find these on Spotify, therefore I can’t link them.
In 1990, they released Subluxation. On this album, you’ll find a couple classic rock covers, “Strawberry Fields” by The Beatles and “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane.
Muddy Waters: Born McKinley Morganfield in Mississippi in 1913 (although he claimed 1915). Considered the Father of Modern Chicago Blues. He first got into music at church, He started playing guitar and harmonica as a teenager and liked listening to Son House and Robert Johnson. He bought his first guitar at 17, selling the last horse he had. His nickname, Muddy came from his grandmother, who noticed he loved play in the muddy waters of the creek nearby.
In 1941, Alan Lomax recorded him for the Library of Congress. He got two copies of the pressing and $20 for participating. He listened to the recording and gained confidence and felt that he could make it big. He moved to Chicago in 1943 to become a full time musician, a very life changing event indeed. He worked some day jobs at first, truck driving and factory work, but he’d play blues music at night. He started off opening for Big Bill Broonzy, playing for large audiences. After a year, he bought his first electric guitar out of necessity, so he could be heard.
Finally, in 1946, he got a deal with Aristocrat Records, which later changed its name to Chess Records.
In 1948, Muddy Waters got his first R&B chart hit with “(I Feel Like) Going Home”, which reached #11.
Along with Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Little Walter Jacobs, they were on top of the local blues scene in the 50s. In this decade, he started amassing a lot of R&B hit singles: “Louisiana Blues” (#10, 1950), “Long Distance Call” (#8, 1951), “Honey Bee” (#10, 1951), “Still A Fool” (#9, 1951), “She Moves Me” (#10, 1952), “Mad Love” (#6, 1953), “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” (#3, 1954), “Just Make Love to Me” (#4, 1954), “I’m Ready” (#4, 1954), “Mannish Boy” (#5, 1955), “Sugar Sweet” (#11, 1955), “Trouble No More” (#7, 1955), “Forty Days and Forty Nights” (#7, 1955), “Don’t Go No Farther” (#9, 1955), and “Close to You” (#9, 1958).
Muddy Waters was influential to classic rock musicians whose music was blues based. The Rolling Stones got their name from one of his songs. He inspired musicians like Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies, Peter Green, Cream, and Led Zeppelin.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed “Rollin’ Stone”, “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Mannish Boy”, and “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” as part of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Part 3 coming later in 2019 (link will be available here when it’s published). Did I miss a musician? Have any thoughts? Share them in the comments section!
Loved this post and want to see more great posts like this and show your appreciation for The Diversity of Classic Rock? Chip in some money on Patreon (monthly donation) or PayPal (one-time donation). Or buy my merch or my photography prints on RedBubble. Or donate your writing or art talents to my blog, contact me here if you’re interested in collaborating. All of this is totally optional, but extremely helpful.
All Diversity of Classic Rock content will remain free, but Patrons get some nice perks, like early access to blog posts, birthday cards, Skype calls with me, and exclusive behind the scenes posts. Every dollar helps.
If you cannot afford to donate to The Diversity of Classic Rock, there are many free ways to support the blog: clicking that follow button on my website, turning off your AdBlock, following me on Facebook or Twitter, liking posts, sharing posts, leaving nice comments, or sending your music for review. Thank you!