Monday, 12 March 2018

12 great records by black singers culled from David Stephens' wonderful e-book, "London Rocks"

I'd heard Ray Charles's "Tell the Truth" - from his In Person album (1960), but I'd forgotten how cool, sassy and just altogether groovy it was. I have to thank...

...David Stephens for reacquainting me with it. Mr Stephens is a London-based technologist who has spent most of his life working in the financial services industry for the likes of Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse. Lately he has been displaying his enthusiasm for - and knowledge of - old-time rock'n' roll music in two e-books, RocknRoll and London Rocks, which are available for download on Amazon for, respectively £1.99 and 99p. As I've spent most of the past week blissed out in rock'n'roll nirvana, that's possibly the best £2.98 I've ever spent. The first of those titles is a comprehensive history of rock'n'roll music - in all senses of the term - from the early '50s up to the 1963/1964 British Invasion. London Rocks focusses on American records released in the UK by British Decca on the London American label between 1947 and (roughly) 1964. It started as a chronological series of thousands of tweets containing comments on the individual releases - and, where available, links to the recordings on YouTube. As the London label had deals with almost every independent US label producing rock'n'roll, rhythm and blues, early soul, rockabilly and doowop sides at the time, London Rocks is (cliché alert!) a veritable Aladdin's cave of great music. I've been clicking links like crazy, and will reveal my discoveries and rediscoveries over the next few posts (apologies to non-music fans, but politics is just too depressing to contemplate at the moment).

Because the choice is so wide - and there's a limit to how many YouTube recordings any reader will wish to be presented with in a single post - I've spread my selection across various gem trays: the first contains recordings by black solo singers. Here's the gorgeous "River of Salt"- a song I only knew from a 1970s cover by Brian Ferry - by Ketty "Love Letters" Lester, originally released here in 1962:
Nappy Brown's infectiously bouncy "Don't Be Angry" reached No. 2 in the US R&B charts in 1955:
Barbara George is next up with "I Know You Don't Love Me No More" from 1962:
Here's the ever-reliable blues shouter Big Joe Turner with "Lipstick, Powder and Paint" from 1956:
I'd forgotten just how brilliant Chuck Jackson 1963 recording, "I Keep Forgettin", was:
To be honest, I'm not sure Andre Williams's "Bacon Fat" (1956) was a London American release - but who cares?:
If that tickled your fancy, you might also enjoy "Pass the Biscuits" from 1958, which was later covered by Jimmy "Big Bad John" Dean.

Back to more digestible fare with Gene Allison's "You Can make It If You Try" (1957), which was later memorably covered by The Rolling Stones:
Now, Ruth Brown's happy-clappy "Mambo Baby" (1959):
If you enjoyed Lavern Baker's rockin' "Jim Dandy" (1956), you'll also enjoy "Jim Dandy Got Married" (1957) - because it's the exact same song, only with slightly different words - doesn't matter: they're both terrific. What a sensational voice!:
Little Eva's "Locomotion" (1962) was such a monster hit, we tend to forget that she made some pretty good follow-up singles - including "Turkey Trot":
I'll end with another one from Ketty Lester - the distinctly unrocking but rather lovely "Moscow Nights", which is the instrumental, "Midnight in Moscow", only with lyrics:
The next post focusses on black R&B and Doowop vocal groups...


  1. Shoo Shoo Gobba Gobba Diddley indeed! I hadn't realised that Turkey Trot was another Goffin-King composition. What a great selection. It illustrates the point you made in the earlier post. They all sound so fresh, well recorded and imaginatively arranged in a way that British records couldn't match. I'd not heard River of Salt before but the vocal is perfectly captured as if Kitty was in the room with you, which is exactly the effect intended. I Know had me heading straight for Bo Diddley's I Can Tell, which I am sure Southern Man will appreciate. And what a voice Lavern Baker had! Great stuff.

    1. Thanks, ex-KCS. Apparently, Little Eva was Goffin/King's babysitter!

      I was pleased to discover that David Stephens feels the same way about early sixties American music - i.e. it wasn't a desert of middle-of-the-road mediocrity waiting for the British Invasion to liven it up, there were a huge number of terrific records being released, and gutsy rock'n'roll hadn't died: it just sounded different.