No lofty cultural themes or sub-sub-sub-genre exhumations this week on Office Naps, just a survey of 1969, that transitional year when funky drums collided with a vestigial girl-group aesthetic. Heartache, sequined jumpsuits to ensue.
1. Betty Everett, 1900 Yesterday (Uni)
“Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)” remains both Betty Everett’s greatest-selling record and the greatest disservice to the memory of her talents. Blessed as she was with a wistful, tart voice, Betty Everett was far more capable than what the bright girl-group pop of “Shoop Shoop” might have suggested.
Betty Everett, born in 1939, grew up singing gospel in Mississippi. Barely out of her teens, she relocated to Chicago, there working her way from one small independent blues label (Cobra) to the next (CJ) without much chart success. A move from gritty R&B; material into more sophisticated territory accorded Everett some attention, and the regional chart success of the slow-burning soulful blues “Your Love Is Important to Me” brought her to Vee-Jay Records, one of Chicago’s best-known indie labels. Everett would again dent the charts with a fine version of Dee Dee Warwick’s “You’re No Good,” but it was 1964’s “Shoop Shoop Song” (which Everett recorded with great reluctance) that incontrovertibly landed her in the spotlight and, later, oldies radio rotation hell.
Other hits followed for Everett at Vee-Jay (including duets with Chicago soul legend Jerry Butler), but nothing, alas, on the scale of “Shoop Shoop.” Following Vee-Jay’s collapse in 1966, Everett recorded for other Chicago record labels with mixed success. An on-and-off relationship with Leo Austell – Chicago businessman, producer, and Everett’s long-time manager – lead Everett finally to the Los Angeles-based Uni Records in the late ’60s.
Which brings us to this selection. On Uni Records, Everett enjoyed probably the most successful of her comeback hits, “There’ll Come A Time,” the title track from an excellent album of big, sophisticated soul. “1900 Yesterday,” written by Chicago producer and songwriter Johnny Cameron, would be the third single released from that album in 1969.
For every Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin there will always be a hundred Betty Everetts, genuine talents who, like so many soul and R&B; singers in the history of the vocation, struggled to sustain – if not simply attain – their transitory moment of fame. The pop spirit was there on “1900 Yesterday.” So too were the strings, the sweeping production, the melodic grandeur and the emotional pathos. Everett had the presence, talent, and depth to transition smoothly into soul/pop diva territory at the dawn of the ‘70s, but for better or for worse it just never came to pass. Everett notched a few more minor R&B; hits in the early ‘70s, but her Uni recordings would be her swan song.
Hawaiian lounge-pop group Liz Damon’s Orient Express would release a very popular version of “1900 Yesterday” in 1971.
2. Inell Young, The Next Ball Game (Big-9)
No one seems to recall much detail of Inell Young, a New Orleans vocalist whose legacy rests on a handful of late ‘60s 45s and the undying obsession of soul collectors. Even the irrepressible Edwin Bocage (aka Eddie Bo), the New Orleans institution who arranged and composed two of Young’s three records, seems to have been somewhat nonplussed by Young, remembering her in Wax Poetics (2004, issue no. eight) as a troubled creature, and suggesting she succumbed to a drug overdose.
The chaos of Inell Young’s lifestyle was belied, though, by the exceptionally finessed vocal on 1969’s “The Next Ball Game,” the one and only release on the Big-9 record label. Like all of this week’s selections, there’s also a bit of Motown-style emotional pathos around the edges of Young’s voice, even when you can’t quite understand her. Was this Eddie Bo’s bid for a pop record? The sensibility is there, sure, but whatever Bo’s aspirations, there’s no getting around where this record was made: the sun rises in the east, the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and so, too, for every New Orleans record will there be syncopated horns and colossal rhythm.
These particular colossal rhythms were in fact the handiwork of James Black, a versatile drummer who played on many of Eddie Bo’s house releases. “Next Ball Game” exemplifies the way Black could dominate a song; he took the blank spaces normally found between other drummer’s beats and filled them with skittering wallop and his own boundless enthusiasm.
No surfeit of praise is too much for Eddie Bo, either, the composer and creative soul behind “The Next Ball Game” and countless New Orleans gems. Eddie Bo is a true hero of the city’s recorded music, his groundbreaking recordings, production and arranging credits, and compositions (not to mention his talents on the keyboard) read like a condensed version of several decades (1950s-‘70s) of post-War New Orleans R&B;, soul and funk.
3. Eula Cooper, Heavenly Father (Atlantic)
This was one of only a handful of 45 releases from Georgia’s Eula Cooper, a soul singer whose scant body of work lies in inverse proportion to its exceptional quality. 1969’s “Heavenly Father” was originally released on the Atlanta-based Tragar, and picked up for wider distribution by soul heavyweight Atlantic Records. This would be Cooper’s only release to see proper distribution.
“Heavenly Father” is an odd one. Musically speaking, Cooper’s hypnotic vocals and her backing group – which may or may not be the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm and horn section – seem to be going in slightly different directions at times. Still, though, they seem to wind up in the same place. Lyrically speaking, “Heavenly Father” is an appeal to a higher power, leading me to wonder: why waste such an appeal on your reprobate boyfriend? I save my appeals for more important things, like getting out of speeding tickets.
“Tragar Production,” seen here on the label, refers again to Tragar Records. As a label, it was one of Georgia’s finest R&B and soul indies, its roster of long-forgotten names today reading like a who’s who of disillusionment and abandoned musical dreams.
Credit for the information on Eula Cooper must go entirely to Brian Poust, creator of the Georgia Soul Blog and the Georgia Soul website, one of the internet’s best regional soul surveys. Here you can listen to another Cooper 45, the sublime “Try.”