70s Soul Spinners - Part 1

70s Soul Spinners - Part 1


Photo: The Spinners - The Rubberband Man single cover, Atlantic Records.

The US charts in the ‘70s were full of R&B and Soul hits. There was a Billboard R&B chart, and many of the higher ranking entries on that also crossed over to the mainstream chart. Given our cultural differences, the Australian charts were much more white bread, with some of the biggest names, like Teddy Pendergrass, the Chi-Lites, Sly & The Family Stone, Donny Hathaway and even icons like James Brown,  the Temptations, the Isley Brothers, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye barely making a dint here at the time. Of course, others, like Michael and the Jacksons and Earth Wind & Fire, were massive in Australia, and numerous lesser lights had one or two hits too, often thanks to the patronage of Countdown, before disappearing from our radars.

In the first of two parts, ILYOS looks back at some of the great soul tracks that hit the Australian charts back in the day (including, at the end, a couple of local classics).

The Spinners – The Rubberband Man

When the Spinners first hit in Australia in ’73 with “I’ll Be Around” they’d already been around – for a long 19 years! Having formed in Detroit in the early R&B vocal group days of 1954,  the group recorded for Motown in the ‘60s before signing to Atlantic where they achieved their greatest success under influential Philadelphia soul producer Thom Bell. They were nominated for the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

The track has been featured heavily in the new Avengers: Infinity War movie, which is a wonderful way to expose classic music to the youth of today, as we've witnessed in the rise of young people streaming Led Zeppelin and AC/DC during peak screenings of films using their hits. More on that here.

The Stylistics – You Make Me Feel Brand New

Also produced by Thom Bell, the Stylistics were themselves also from Philly. They formed in 1968 and had a string of twelve consecutive R&B Top Ten hits, only two of which translated here – “You Are Everything” in 1971, and “You Make Me Feel Brand New”, which reached #2 here in 1974. The groups silky smooth and easy listening sound was perfect for conservative Australian radio programmers of the time.

Raydio – You Can’t Change That

The group that introduced the world to Ray Parker Jr, Raydio were a shorted lived group from Detroit who hit straight off their bat with Top Ten singles in both Australia and the US for “Jack and Jill” and “You Can't Change That” in ’78 and ’79 respectively. Of course, it was only a couple of years later that Ray was topping the charts himself with “Ghostbusters”.

Minnie Riperton – Loving You

Known for her super-high voice – technically a “five-octave coloratura soprano” which ventured into the “whistle register”, Chicago singer Minnie Riperton sung backing vocals on records by Chess Records artists like Etta James, Fontella Bass and Ramsey Lewis and also fronted the experimental rock/soul group Rotary Connection before beginning a solo career. Sadly, at the very peak of her career, following her #1 US single “Loving You”, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She passed away in 1979, leaving the song as her only Australian hit.

Earth Wind & Fire – Fantasy

The first of their run of Australian hit-singles, “Fantasy” was the second single off their breakthrough eighth album All ‘N All. The multi-faceted group was formed in 1970 by frontman Maurice White, who passed away at the age of 74 in 2016. They were yet another preeminent soul act formed in Chicago, although White himself was born and raised in Memphis, where he had an early band with Booker T. White, later of Booker T & The MG’s.

Joe Tex - Ain't Gonna Bump No More

As the name suggests, Joe Tex was born in Texas but he achieved his greatest early successes recording for FAME at Muscle Shoals in Alabama, although he’d first recorded rocking Little Richard-style R&B as early as 1955. A soul mainstay by the ‘70s, Joe’s final US hit was the disco novelty "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)", which reached #1 here in 1977 and was his only charting single.

LaBelle – Lady Marmalade

Back to Philadelphia, and another artist who began many years before they recorded the song in question,  LaBelle began life as ‘60s soul hitmakers Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles. Under that name they had their first hit in 1963, and they remained a big deal throughout the decade. Changing their name in 1971, they finally charlted again in ’74 with the unforgettable “Lady Marmalade”, their only Australian hit. The song would famously be revived by Christina Aguilera in 2001 for the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge!

Peaches & Herb – Reunited

Not quite a duo – although Herb remained constant, there were seven different “Peaches” over the years – Peaches & Herb also had success in the ‘60s before dropping out of sight early in the ‘70s. They returned with their biggest hit – “they” meaning Herb and the third “Peaches” Linda Greene – in 1977 with the funky “Shake Your Grave Thang”  and then the decidedly middle of the road “Reunited”, their only two Australian hits. Given his revolving door policy ith singing partners, one has to wonder if Herb was having a bit of a laugh with this track…

Rose Royce – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

From LA, Rose Royce were a group rather than a female singer named Rose. They started in 1973, and three of their US hits were also substantial hits in Australia in the late ‘70s - "Car Wash," "I Wanna Get Next to You," and the sublime “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”.  Younger readers might remember this one from Kate Ceberano’s cover of the song with I'm Talking, or Madonna’s version. The group found its greatest successes working under legendary former Motown producer Norman Whitfield.

Hues Corporation - Rock The Boat

Another Californian outfit, the Hues Corporation started out in 1969 and their 1974 hit “Rock the Boat” is considered one of the first disco singles. Although the group had a number of subsequent hits in the States, including the follow-up “Rockin’ Soul”, they weren’t heard from again down here, although their one hit will not be forgotten by anyone who heard it first time round.

And a couple of in-no-way-token Aussies –

Renee Geyer - Heading In the Right Direction

Although Australian audiences weren’t as exposed to soul music in the ‘70s as their US counterparts, we had some great soul talent here, none more impressive, or loved, than the great Renee Geyer. IYLOS will have a more detailed look at Ms. Geyer’s early career shortly; in the meantime check out the bone fide #1 Australian soul classic “Heading In the Right Direction”.

Stylus – Summer Breeze

Although largely forgotten today, Stylus remain legendary in the local fraternity as the only Australia act to sign to Motown, who released their Best Kept Secret album internationally in 1978. The band is probably best remembered for the early near-hit “Summer Breeze”. Singer/guitarist Peter Cupples would maintain a solid presence on the local scene over ensuing decades, and, unknown to most locals, the band reformed to record a new album in 2009 for the Japanese market following a revival of interest in their catalogue there.

NEXT TIME – Hits from the Three Degrees, the Commodores, Chaka Khan, Wild Cherry, Candi Staton, Sister Sledge, Van McCoy, Chic and more!

And check out our great soul playlist on Spotify here….

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