Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Harvey Fuqua: three songs

Mentioning Alan Warner in the previous post prompted me to look for an image of the doo wop compilation LP he masterminded which included You're So Fine. I didn't immediately find it but did come across a site, here, which is indeed by the same man, as his bio includes the information:
An Englishman who started out working for EMI Records in the UK, Alan was transferred to Los Angeles in the mid-70′s after having had some success producing records of Laurel & Hardy and vintage Hollywood Musicals, plus a multi-artist series called “The Many Sides Of Rock’n'Roll”, and far too many other compilations to mention.

What he modestly doesn't mention (assuming the bio is self-penned) is that his compilations of film soundtrack material were regularly praised by UK critics for the quality of the transfers - yes, even in those vinyl/cassette days it made a difference. And I did eventually find images of the doo wop compilation in the Many Sides ... series -see top and immediately below. Doubleclick on the image below for readable tracklisting and notes, which I presume were written by Mr Warner himself- another building block in my doo wop education, so a belated thank you.

I also note that his website pays tribute to the late Harvey Fuqua (top) by drawing attention to his songwriting credits. I didn't realise that Harvey Fuqua had written That's What Girls Are Made For, a very early (1961) record by the Spinners which I first found on a really obscure doo wop tape around the early eighties. Although - or because - the lead throws in quite a few Sam Cooke mannerisms it's a beautiful record - and as I hear it in my mind, before I scan youtube, I'm assuming Harvey would have been involved in the arrangement too, as the strings bear a close resemblance to the bridge of an obscure Moonglows side I particularly like called She's Alright With Me.

My acquaintance with that recording began in the mid seventies on one of the excellent Chess Golden Decade series, which may have been a UK only issue; it may even have been the first time the side had ever been issued. I have borrowed the above image of the parent album from Mark Barry's blog, here, where you can also find full track listings for the whole Golden Decade series there, along with some interesting information about the compilation of this seventies LP series and the closest CD equivalents today - very useful if you're looking to build a collection. Looking at the tracklistings for the vinyl, I think I only had Volumes 4 and 5 - why didn't I devour the rest, especially if they weren't full price? Just about every track on Volume 4 in particular is forever etched in my memory.

When I put a review on a well-known shopping website praising the stunning sound quality of an official Flamingos Chess CD (also to be found here), Mark Barry left a comment:
The reason this CD sounds so good is ERICK LABSON who has over 900 restoration, mastering, remastering creits to his name - and has almost exclusively handled all of the mighty Chess label catalogue.
I've set up tags for a lot of the CDs he's done which I've reviewed in detail - and added a few more titles in too. If you click on ERICK LABSON REMASTERS in the TAG section, you'll get a list of over 50 of his top works. Well worth investigating - especially if you love Fifties Doo Wop and R'n'B.
If you wish to visit that well-known shopping etc (don't know why I insist on being so coy) you can go directly to those tagged items here. I haven't heard many of the others, but the Chuck Berry: Gold compilation is certainly far better than any other Berry CD I've heard. If all the Flamingos' Parrot masters a) still exist and b) are in the hands of Chess I would dearly love to hear a Labsonised comp.

Anyway, back to She's Alright With Me. It's a slightly odd song, but a good one - and a great performance. You could say the lyric is sentimental:
I get home from work every morning
Just as tired, just as tired as I can be
She brings my pipe and slippers
She snuggles close to me
She kisses me so gentle
While we're watching TV
But this is preceded by a slightly lascivious-sounding spoken bridge, taken by the bass, in which there seem hints of an earthier song: he sounds as though he's boasting to a male friend. And if you're not convinced by the cold print (or its digital equivalent) below, trust me: when you hear the delivery you will find it significantly harder to believe that the following lines are merely a paean to her culinary skills:
Let me tell you one thing, man,
My woman sure knows how to cook
And maaaan, she can really boil coffee ...
But even there, the woman's hold over him seems to get the better of his bragging, so that it becomes a kind of shamefaced confession of uxoriousness when he repeats the words of the lead:
She's not aware
Of just how much I care ...
And by the end lead singer and bass are further entwined when the lead, perhaps adlibbing, reveals the passion beneath the coziness of the pipe-and-slippers scenario:
You drive me, you drive me,
You drive me, you drive me right outta my mind ...

In the first part of my piece about the origins of Stand By Me, here, I quoted Dave Marsh on the Moonglows' Sincerely: a kind of transitiional moment, he suggested, between the Inkspots' style of singing (appropriate, as Harvey was a nephew of Charlie Fuqua) and the gospel-derived doo wop and soul to come. Wonder whether She's Alright ... could also be said to be straining between two genres - and whether that was why it wasn't issued at the time? Too sentimental for R&B as the man is clearly in thrall to the woman - but with a bridge not quite squeaky clean enough to secure a crossover hit? Just a thought. Either way, it sounds even better than I remember.

And thanks to the ever-reliable Unca Marvy, here, I see that a group called the Marquees, including a young Marvin Gaye, were hired as replacement Moonglows in 1959, when the originals were on the verge of breaking up, and they recorded both of the above songs that year. Harvey Fuqua and Marvin Gaye married Berry Gordy's sisters, which might explain why She's Alright With Me is co-credited to Gwen Gordy and rerecorded by the Spinners in 1961 on Tri-Phi, a label jointly owned by the husband and wife and later (1963) purchased by Berry Gordy.

Anyway, let's listen to the songs. You may need to crank the volume up slightly for the first one.

Have just been listening to another track, this time by the original Moonglows, from the same youtube source, akibasundown, (who can be found here, if you want to subscribe or just explore further; there are about seventy doo wop sides and they seem to be good audio quality). This goes right back to the earliest days at Chance, and I'd forgotten just what a great, soulful lead Harvey Fuqua had, and the whole smouldering effect of the backing vocals and musicians.

The image below was found on the Soul Sides website, here, which complements Alan Warner's list of compositions by the great man as it features streamed versions of "personal favorites that Fuqua had his hand in" as writer or producer plus useful notes. What appears to be the most extensive online collection of Harvey Fuqua's credits can be found on Beaudaddy's highly recommended vocal group website here. UK obits: find Richard Williams' Guardian obituary of Harvey Fuqua here; Spencer Leigh's obituary in the Independent is here.

Harvey Fuqua was a major figure in doo wop and soul, and central to my own burgeoning delight in doo wop, via those budget albums of Chance material I was lucky enough to discover early on;  I'm ashamed to say I didn't realise the full range of his achievements before looking at the sources mentioned in this entry - so if no one else ever reads this, at least it has been an education for me, albeit for the saddest of reasons.

Oh, just one more song, eh? Especially as this is the song - the one which leapt out at me from the grooves of one of those ultra-low budget albums. What seems the only clip on youtube isn't great sound, but if you have real player, you can listen to a streamed version of 2.19 train on the official Vee-Jay website. (The link below only takes you to the main page: click on Artists then Doo Wop then on the Flamingos Meet the Moonglows album cover to find a complete tracklisting to click on.) The company no longer sell CDs directly, but if you can find them, those issues from around 1993, complete with notes by Billy Vera, are about the best sound you will ever get on these Chance recordings - and about twenty times better than my so-called "Joy" records issued by the President label in the UK. Yet (puts on hammy actor's voice) joy there was, even so, the bluesy hollering still faintly audible through the tinny, scratchy sound of those UK pressings. What more to be said, except:  "Sing the song, children ..."

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