Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Playlist: Badass falsettos!

The 1970s was a Golden Age for black falsettos. Guys like Russell Thompkins, Jr., William Hart and Philip Bailey took soul music to some amazing places.

(Has anybody come along since Prince to carry on that tradition of the mannish falsetto?)

After putting this list together, I want to see if we can get a little listening party happening in the comments section. If you can stream music (or email me an MP3 attachment so I can stream it), or if you just want to request a particular song, let me hear from you. Let’s groove on some great falsetto singing for a while.

Click the song titles below to hear the music on my Vox blog.

1. “Heavy Fallin’ Out” – The Stylistics

After giving it some thought, I’ll proclaim Russell Thompkins my all-time favorite falsetto singer. His voice was so rich and strong.

Until a week ago, I wouldn’t have recognized Mr. Thompkins if we were riding the same elevator. (It can be like that with vocal groups.) Well, here’s what the man looks like. And he’s still singing.

“Heavy Fallin’ Out” was one of the Stylistics’ few up-tempo hits; I always liked it.

2. “Ms.” – David Oliver

David Oliver was a one-hit wonder... but it was a real nice hit. This one takes me back to high school.

3. “Ain’t No Need Of Crying” – The Rance Allen Group

Rance Allen never had a big hit single. But among musicians he has a huge rep. Legend says he possesses a four-octave range.

This single came out in ’75, but I only found it a few years ago.

4. “Shoe Shoe Shine” – The Dynamic Superiors

A nice Ashford & Simpson tune. And a tasty lead vocal by Tony Washington, who was openly gay.

(How openly gay? Well, Jena6 pointed to this faaabulous “Soul Train” clip on YouTube. Thanks, Jena6!)

This song was remade by a Minneapolis group in the ’80s, back when every Negro in Minneapolis had a major-label record deal. (It was the law.) But to me, “Shoe Shoe Shine” is totally 1974.

5. “I Gave To You” – The Delfonics

William Hart was monstrously good. Wrote his own hits, too. But when producer Thom Bell moved on to the Stylistics and the Spinners, the Delfonics couldn’t keep the hits coming.

This song – like damn-near every track on the 1970 “Delfonics” LP – will be remembered for as long as human beings dig soul music.

43 comments:

cjb said...

How about Eddie Kendricks gettin' up there on "Just My Imagination"..

jena6 said...

Great topic, UBM! Perhaps I'll come up with a name or two once I pick myself up off the floor. I was knocked off my feet by an atomic Dymanic Superiors flashback!

I clearly remember their performance on Soul Train. Two group members joined hands creating a swing upon which the gay member sat as they swung him back and forth! Wheeeeee!

That was like, what? 30-years ago? Some visuals are hard to erase, I guess.

btw, I actually downloaded "Shoe Shoe Shine" a couple of months ago. :-)

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Two group members joined hands creating a swing upon which the gay member sat as they swung him back and forth! Wheeeeee!

Oh my damn! I can see why you never forgot that, Jena6. My boy Tony was out there before Sylvester, I guess.

Speaking of Sylvester and badass falsettos, let me spin his version of “Ooo Baby Baby.”

justjudith said...

i think maxwell has a manly falsetto...
but nobody beats phillip bailey.

jena6 said...

UBM, I got it wrong. It's not the gay guy, um...Tony Washington, who gets swung, but another member. But still.... :-)

Anyway, your playlist had me in search of "Badass falsettos" on my mp3 player. First song that came to mind was "There'll Never Be" by Switch. Love that track!

btw, would Jackie Jackson's (J5/Jacksons) singing voice be considered falsetto?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ But still, indeed. ;^)

Did Jackie ever sing lead? What songs?

I was never into Switch/DeBarge/El DeBarge, so I'm downloading that track now to see what I've been missing...

Undercover Black Man said...

Jena6: "There'll Never Be"... he keeps going higher and higher, doesn't he? Is that Eldra?

I don't know what always turned me off to Switch/DeBarge... Was it mostly women who were into them? (D-uh...)

DeAngelo Starnes said...

I agree with Philip Bailey and Maxwell. But where's Prince at on dis joint?

I love the Stylistics.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ How about this here, DeAngelo? Prince damn-near sang that whole second album falsetto.

Undercover Black Man said...

I didn’t forget you, cjb. Here’s “Just My Imagination.” I wonder if Kendricks single-handedly – maybe even this track single-handedly – inspired the soul-falsetto explosion of the early ’70s?

bill said...

Does Aaron Neville count?

There's Jimmy Somerville of the 80s bands Bronksi Beat and the Communards. He's still performing, though I haven't heard anything of his in 20 years.

Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals could hit the high notes.

And wiki has a list of falsettos. The accuracy and badassedness of said list to be determined.

jena6 said...

Does Aaron Neville count?

That dude yodels. :P

I love me some Eddie Kendricks. *swoon*

jena6 said...

"There'll Never Be"... he keeps going higher and higher, doesn't he? Is that Eldra?

I don't know what always turned me off to Switch/DeBarge... Was it mostly women who were into them? (D-uh...)


I think that Bobby signing the high notes.

I've NEVER been a big Debarge/El Debarge fan...AND I'm a (straight) woman!

Off the top of my head, I can't recall any songs where Jackie sang lead. But, I'm sure he's done solo stuff.

neptune said...

Curtis Mayfield. Have a little Pusherman
for old time's sake.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks, Neptune. How could I have forgotten Curtis?

Here's one of my favorites of his: "Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here," off the "Short Eyes" soundtrack.

Bryan Wilhite said...

Let's not forget about the solo projects of Smokey's back up singers: “Do It Baby” by The Miracles.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Dave, that was the album that came to mind when I saw the topic.

No shit about the Curtis Mayfield oversight.

Regarding Switch, even though I like the song "There'll Never Be" (which is probably because it reminds me of grinding on a slow drag during a house party), I always found them to be a little soft.

Undercover Black Man said...

Bryan, nice pick! I'll stream that one... BAM!

Undercover Black Man said...

Jena6: I answered you above without watching the Dynamic Superiors video you pointed us to. Now I can't stop watching that thing!

1) The choreography is jaw-droppingly bad. Unless they mean for it to be comical. But I don't think they do.

The shoe-shining hand motion with the lyrics "Shoe shoe shine"... the literal finger counts with "dime" and "nickel"... and, yes, that astounding rocking-chair move...

Can't. Stop. Watching.

2) I love that Tony Washington is so flamboyant. Like you said, this was more than 30 years ago. Imagine what Motown executives must've thought. What must the "Soul Train" producers have thought? Nobody was this gay onstage.

Yet Tony was himself, and whoever couldn't deal with it... that was their problem. You go, Tony.

jena6 said...

1) The choreography is jaw-droppingly bad.

Word. But I ain't mad at 'em. In fact. I'm going to try to bring that rockin' chair move back! :-D

And I get a toothache just watchingt Tony; but, it's the sweetest pain. He is awesome! I listen to the song at least once a day now. (That and the 15-minute version of "Knee Deep".) I was searching around online for a Dynamic Superiors compilation. I'll have to try again. Oh, and I need to read the article you linked to.

James said...

Don't forget (one-hit wonder) Chris Bartley with "The Sweetest Thing This Side of Heaven" and the oldest falsetto I can think of belongs to The Dells!

And then there's "Hey There Lonely Girl" from Eddie Holman.

James said...

Two words: Smokey Robinson

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks, James... I feel like spinning “Hey There Lonely Girl.” Here it is.

Jeff said...

One of my all-time favorite lines from a rock critic came from Robert Christgau: "James Taylor is merely a wimp. Russell Thompkins, Jr. is a wimp God."

The work that Thom Bell did with The Stylistics in the early 1970s is sublime - and I think it still sounds fresh today.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Absolutely right, Jeff. The ran off a string of about 8 hit singles in a row that I would put up against Holland-Dozier-Holland's string of hits for the Supremes.

And, unlike the Supremes, those Stylistics hits do sound utterly contemporary today.

Undercover Black Man said...

I'd like to add one more song to this thing: Frederick Knight's "I've Been Lonely For So Long."

Undercover Black Man said...

One last log to throw on the fading embers of this thread. This one takes me back to college days: "So Good, So Right" by Imagination.

Dr. F. said...

I always dug the falsettos. As a baritone, I couldn't sing along with all those tenor leads but I could hang with the falsettos. My favorites, aside from Russell Thompkins and William Hart, were Eddie Kendrick, Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, along with whoever sang lead for Enchantment ("Gloria"), the Moments, the Jones, and the Van Dykes. The Van Dykes were especially popular down Texas way where I went to High School ("You Need Confidence," 'No Man Is An Island"). They're still not available on CD but a friend of mine digitized her Van Dykes vinyl for me using iMic and a turntable.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks for commenting, Dr. F.

I owe you an email. I'll get right on that...

Genejack said...

Phillip Bailey, Eddie Kendrick, and Smokey Robinson would take my top spots. Although, we should not forget prince who does falsetto with some bite to it!

Gene Jack said...

ooooppps!.... I forgot Blue Magic. If you can find it, give a listen to "Stop to Start".

Anonymous said...

smokey robinson is not a falsetto singer but a high tenor...read his autobiography where he mentioned this!!

other nice falsetto acts:

the moments
the whatnauts

although threre aren't cats nowadays singin' like the stylistics or the delfonics there are plenty soul/r&b singers trying to sing falsetto styles from curtis, marvin, ron isley and al green...Sleepy Brown from Outkast, Bilal, Pharell even RaphaelSaadiq and sometimes Babyface...The style of singing that I think is really obscure nowadays is the low baritone soul style from singers like walter jackson, jon lucien, terry callier and leon thomas

Anonymous said...

Jackie Jackson has a solo in "Dancing Machine."

Anonymous said...

I read that somewhere else too that David Olive was a one hit wonder. Maybe Ms was high on the charts but to me "I wanna write you a love song" was the real cut

CityGirl said...

I am so mad that you can't even see the video on YouTube now after Soul Train pulled it.

visuals said...

I guess I'm terribly late on this, But I didn't see the name "Harry Williams" from "Bloodstone" on the list of falsetto's. I agree wholeheartedly regarding Tony Williams from The Dynamic Superiors. He is most definately one of my favorites but Harry Williams is also up there with the best of them as well.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ It's never too late. Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

Hey, what about Donnie Elbert's remake of Smokey's Ooh Baby Baby?
Not bad. Any info on Tony Washington of Dynamic Superiors?

Coco said...

Falsettos' Bobby Debarge,from Switch " They'll Never Be," I call Your name, "love over and over again- "
His brother El Debarge - love me in a special way-all this love,time will reveal ,i like it,etc. Prince...

COCO said...

oh and ..Arron neville
Cedric Myton of the Congos
Eddie Kendrick, Glenn Carl Leonard and Ron Tyson.
Kenny Lattimore

Unique74 said...

Bila & D'angelol. Also cant forget the man who started it all..Claude Jeter (RIP). Al Green and Eddie Kendricks give him honorable mention in a lot of interviews.

Anonymous said...

Little Anthony!!! Little Anthony!!!

Anonymous said...

I will also agree with those who say Bobby Debarge had an amazing falsetto, one song, You and I. Not only that but in A Taste of your love he shows that he could belt as well. I kinda wish he wasnt a Debarge maybe he'd get more respect.