Lately, I have been getting deep into vintage -- and some relatively obscure -- soul and R 'n B records from the 1960s and 70s. I am finding a wealth of amazing music that I missed along the way. Many original albums from this period can be very hard to find in good condition or at a reasonable price. DJ culture -- sampling vintage grooves and breaks for remixes -- as well as the popularity of the "Northern Soul" movement in England, have no doubt driven up prices.
Fortunately, there are some great reasonably priced reissues out now which you can easily find, affordably. Here are some I've been spinning of late:
The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's Hot Heat and Sweet Groove album came out in 1967 on Warner Brothers Records. It is a fine collection of instrumental grooves and shorter jams which probably helped to influence the sound of emerging horn-rock-jazz groups like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago. Assuming the Wiki is correct, the group -- led by Charles Wright and produced Fred Smith -- gained the attention of Bill Cosby (thus the Warners' label connection) after their first single became a hit. This first album included that single -- "Spreadin' Honey," which to my ear sounds like it was a big influence on the key riff from the 1980s hit by Genesis, "That's All." This first offers up swingin' mid-60s groovy fun, upbeat and with a positive flavor. From what I've read online, I suspect that later albums by the group got funkier as they matured so I'm looking forward to finding them soon. For now, I can enjoy this once rare album in pristine reissue form, replete with original artwork and period-accurate deep olive green Warner Brothers label. The price: $11 brand new, sealed. That is a sweet deal for a pressing that feels quite thick (at least 140 gram) and is well centered and quiet.
The Lost Generation's The Sly, Slick and The Wicked is an album that, in all my years of collecting records, I'd never ever seen before. But there it was the other day in all its radical hippie flower powered glory on the wall of Streetlight Records here in San Francisco. And it was just (again) $11. Win! On the Brunswick label, this album by the first album by this unfortunately named band from Chicago in 1970 offers up a nice range of group vocal stylings, replete with shimmering string sections and multi-part, post-Doo Wop backing harmonies. Frankly, they sound a like some of the sounds emerging out of Philadelphia at that time. It was produced by Eugene Record (who wrote and produced the smash hits "Oh Girl" and "Have You Seen Her" a year later for The Chi Lites, another group from Chicago which I always thought was from Philly). The album includes great versions of tunes like "Love on a Two Way Street" and a cover of The Delfonics' early hit "Didn't I Blow Your Mind" (again, raising the Philly similarity). The title track was a #30 hit on the R 'n B charts. "Love Land" is a fun upbeat groove that could have easily been a hit, with its great horn and drum breakdown in the middle. This reissue LP pressing is thick and well centered but it does have some audible glitches in the form of periodic surface noise. For $11, however, I'm not complaining, especially given that finding an original pressing is not cheap ($40 - 60 on eBay) or easy to locate. "Get it while you can," as Janis Joplin once sang!
Beginning of The End's eponymously titled second album from 1976 is a considerably funkier affair. This is the group which brought the world the hit "Funky Nassau" in 1971. According to the website Dusty Groove this is "one of the rarest funky records of all time... for some strange reason, never really got distributed - which is a damn shame, because it's every bit as funky as their first." Indeed, this is a great slab of slinky stretched grooves and tastefully tropically tinged tunes that fall somewhere between the manic pitch of late 60s James Brown and smooth butter delivery of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. In 1976, disco was happening in a big way (and new wave & punk emerging) so my guess is that these kinds of external timing issues contributed to this fine album being shelved. That said, now you can find it on vinyl for about $11. The vinyl is thick and well centered, and while there is a bit of surface noise, it is nothing terrible that would make me want to return this sweet find.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.