This week: Late ’60s R&B; records, that fertile medium where the cross-over popularity of soul music and the voices of female empowerment and social consciousness were all beginning to intersect in a profound way.
1. Jean & The Darlings, How Can You Mistreat the One You Love (Volt)
Jean & The Darlings were a group of Arkansas-based, gospel-raised singers. They included sisters Jeanne and Dee Dolphus, Jeanne’s daughter Paula, and family friend Phefe Harris. In addition to their service as background studio singers at the seminal Memphis soul label Stax, they released six 45s of their own on Stax’s sister label Volt in the late 1960s.
The boundlessly energetic “How Can You Mistreat the One You Love,” from 1967, was the first of Jean & the Darlings’ Volt releases and it must have given the Stax producers some pause, too, after it only barely grazed the charts.
2. Erma Franklin, Change My Thoughts from You (Brunswick)
Being a relation of the famous comes with its own weird sort of curse: your accomplishments and aspirations are invariably judged against a fame which has preceded you.
Erma’s relative obscurity can probably be attributed somewhat to the inevitable comparisons to her sister Aretha. Though perhaps more, simply, to the whims of the music business.
Erma Franklin grew up singing with her younger sisters Aretha and Carolyn (also an overlooked singer). Like Aretha, she recorded a few tentative major label albums in a poppier vein, none of which aroused much notice upon their release in the early ‘60s. Erma began hitting her stride around 1967, though, with strong, soul-oriented fare for the Shout record label and, a year or two later, for the Chicago-based Brunswick.
From its elemental piano and drum introduction, “Change My Thoughts From You” is one of Franklin’s highlights on the Brunswick label. Her voice sexy and unequivocally in control, it works flawlessly with the production of veteran studio whiz Carl Davis. This is a quintessentially big, Chicagoan swirl of Motown-style hooks, sweet harmonies, and snappy drums.
Erma Franklin recorded “Change My Thoughts From You” in 1969, unfortunately the penultimate year of her recording career.
3. Ruby Andrews, You Made a Believer (Out of Me) (Zodiac)
Detroit songwriting team Fred Bridges, Richard Knight, and Robert Eaton appropriated the metaphor of religious rebirth for this selection, swapping the language of the devout for the language of the love.
This is all part of secular soul music’s basic shift from gospel, but it does take the right singer, to keep lyrics to a song like 1969’s “You Made a Believer (Out of Me)” from sounding merely overwrought. And that’s exactly what Ruby Andrews does – her voice soars, cutting through the song’s low center of gravity and its funky, off-kilter rhythms.
Born in Mississippi, Ruby Andrews’ recording career took shape in Chicago in the late 1960s with a series of 45s and two full-length albums for the Zodiac label, hitting her commercial zenith early on with 1967’s “Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over).” Since a brief return in the late ‘70s with more disco-oriented fare, Andrews has only recorded infrequently, alas, her voice in fine form but generally heard in bluesier settings.