Dusty Springfield, with her big voice, big bouffant, and hits like “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” “The Look of Love,” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” may have been the queen of ‘60s blue-eyed soul. She wasn’t the only ‘60s white soul girl, though.
To a certain extent, much of commercial pop music is black music retooled for white audiences. Such interests may have played into the record contracts and promotional support accorded to this week’s singers, but there’s far more to Evie, Chris, and Sharon than just financial bottom lines and marketability. They’re three supremely talented individuals at the end of all, with their own idiosyncratic ways of rendering heartbreak and delivering the emotional gravitas.
1. Evie Sands, I Can’t Let Go (Blue Cat)
Even during the 45 rpm record’s halcyon years as the medium for attaining pop success, you needed more than the blessing of innate ability, dark good looks and a stunning, husky voice. You needed more than top-notch production and the brilliant pop songwriting talents of Al Gorgoni and Chip Taylor. The music-obsessed, Brooklyn-raised Evie Sands, perched several times throughout her career on the brink of bigger success, was blessed with all of these qualities except, it seems, for that most slippery ingredient of broader pop fortune: luck.
Sands’ first single, “Take Me for a Little While” – also on songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Blue Cat label – was characteristic of her mournful, soulful style. While terrific, it was beaten to the charts by a competing version from Chicago singer Jackie Ross. If “Take Me for a Little While” was worthy, then “I Can’t Let Go” – which followed a few months later – was thumping 1965 girl-soul perfected, with one of the catchiest choruses in ‘60s pop. Sands was expert at conveying vulnerability with her voice – it verily coursed with the hormone surges of the young, lovelorn America. But “I Can’t Let Go,” too, only grazed the charts. In 1969 Sands would enjoy her greatest success with “Any Way That You Want Me” and an excellent full-length album on A&M. It would mostly be her songwriting talents that carried Evie Sands financially through the ‘70s, however. Sands retreated from the music business not long thereafter, her career perpetually remaining one of continued undervaluation – a fact which, if nothing else, guaranteed Sands an existence in the purgatory of diehard soul fans’ adoration.
Sands would eventually reunite with songwriter Chip Taylor in 1999 for her album Women in Prison.
Incidentally, England’s Hollies would cover this song in 1966. Their version is well worth seeking out, too.
2. Chris Clark, Love’s Gone Bad (V.I.P.)
Like this week’s other artists, Chris Clark’s releases eventually found their way to a niche of soul fanatics, but broader musical fame eluded her. Which isn’t to say that Clark didn’t manage success – she did. That success came in the same place where she’d started: behind the scenes at Motown Records. Clark started work at Motown as a receptionist in 1963, eventually working her way up to a position as Vice-President of the label’s Television and Movies division in the ‘70s.
The irony, of course, is that Clark, who’d always wanted to be a singer, truly belonged out there in front of the scene the whole time. Perhaps there was only room in the American mind for one statuesque blonde with a skyward bouffant, though, and we already had that in Dusty Springfield. Either way, Clark would release a few other fine soul 45s for V.I.P. (a subsidiary label of Motown Records) and album or two for Motown itself, but the self-penned “Love’s Gone Bad,” from 1966, would remain her biggest hit, which, sadly, isn’t saying too much. “Love’s Gone Bad,” raw Detroit soul at its heart, may have confused a record-buying public – whether they were even aware that Clark was white – looking to Motown for its perfected formula of polished pop-soul.
There’s an excellent anthology of Clark’s work available here (and Clark is looking fabulous in her huge, round sunglasses). It’s worth every music fan’s while.
3. Sharon Tandy, Stay With Me (Atlantic)
A fascinating vocalist whose life story warrants some sort of Lifetime channel biopic, Sharon Tandy grew up singing in Johannesburg, South Africa. At the behest of the young music impresario and manager Frank Fenter, Tandy made her way to the England of the mid-‘60s – there, in the swirling pop art milieu of London, she was a sensation.
Though her time in the spotlight would be lamentably brief-lived, Tandy managed not only to cut some amazing pop, soul, and psychedelic records, but found herself featured as an opening act of the 1967 Stax-Volt European tour as well – an improbable slot which probably had something to do with the persevering promotion of Fenter – by then both Tandy’s husband and a rising star in the executive ranks of Atlantic Records. Throughout, though, there was Tandy’s spectacular voice. Her 1968 version of Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me” is one of several releases she made with her backing band, the Fleur de Lys (English contemporaries of the Who), and, characteristically, it smoulders with sexuality and her formidable presence. This record must have sparked mod riots every time it was spun – there seems no other good explanation for why this 45 is so hard to find nowadays.
Tandy, grown increasingly disillusioned with the music business, eventually separated from Fenter, and returned to South Africa in 1970 to continue recording. Fenter would go on to co-found Atlantic’s subsidiary refuge of ‘70s southern rock, Capricorn Records; Tandy, though, would never find the international success that she deserved.
The flipside of “Stay With Me” is, incidentally, “Hold On,” a thundering slab of mod psychedelia that I hope to showcase on Office Naps at some future point. You can hear it on the meantime – along with all of Tandy’s recorded output (including unissued recordings made in Memphis for Stax records) on Ace Records’ justifiably lauded You Gotta Believe It’s… Sharon Tandy anthology.