Singles (06/25/70)

From now on, or at least until I get tired of doing it, all singles I review will be rated, on an ascending scale from zero to one hundred. Many will complain that the rating system is unfair. This is not true.

There are certain singles—cosmic singles—that cannot be rated. “In the Midnight Hour can’t be rated. “Like a Rolling Stone” can’t be rated. Follow-ups to cosmic singles, though, can almost always be rated (“Positively Fourth Street” hits somewhere in the 90s; while “Be-Bop-A-LuLa” can’t be rated, something like “Blue Jean Bop” is an easy 72).

A disc gets points for being a natural single, as opposed to a natural album cut; an album cut that is later released as a single will most likely fail to get a decent rating unless it has some sort of extraordinary effect on Top 40 radio (“Lay Lady Lay” is a magnificent performance but rates about zero as a 45, but if “The Blimp” from Trout Mask Replica was released as a single it’d hit 100 simply by being Captain Beefheart’s chance at a hit). Anything over 60 deserves airplay; anything over 80 deserves to be bought: anything rated under 20 is usually a matter of the reviewer’s vindictiveness. “The system is its own justification.”

The best new single I’ve heard is “I Know You Know” by Louie and the Lovers, a Chicano group from Salinas, California, headed by Louie Ortega and produced by dusty Doug Sahm. Their first record sounds clear and sharp and still manages to convince the listener that it was recorded in Louie’s garage. Their music on this disc has the same gritty feel of Sir Doug’s own stuff on the recent Together After Fire LP—professional skill taken for granted and then put aside so it can slip a bit. No Nashville perfection here. The drums might be the best part—slapping punkily for the fun of it while the rest of the band tends to a melody that the old Moby Grape surely would have used if they’d kept their sense of humor long enough.

The music is relaxed without being fashionably lethargic: the vocals have feeling without pain. Mostly, it sounds like a single the old Great Society might have cut back in 1966 and never released. It’s a confident record. There are no strings, no female choruses, no organ, horns, piano. Louie and the Lovers, seemingly without trying very hard—that’s the feeling here—have done what Southwind has worked so hard at: they’re making perfect music to wake up to. A solid 85.

Pacific Gas and Electric recently released their third album, which is boring, save for one cut which has been edited down and put out as a stereo single. “Are You Ready?” started out at 5:49 and was trimmed to 2:40 for the airwaves. The promo/radio copies have the short version on both sides of the 45, which is extremely dumb; the longer version is far better and Columbia at least might have taken a chance on FM stations choosing to play it.At any rate, the track is dynamite—a fast, vital gospel theme set on a solid rock foundation, working largely because the band constitutes itself almost totally as a rhythm section, with harsh chording from the guitar and astounding drumming, especially in the use of the bass drum to punctuate the most dramatic moments of the song. PG&E, like just about everyone these days, uses a female chorus (with Merry Clayton, naturally), but unlike the rest of the crowd uses the girls not as back-up singers but as vocalists who are fully integrated into the music. Charlie Allen (who co-authored this excellent song and who sings it ferociously) is sharing the lead by the end of the cut, and not simply in terms of volume.

As on “Gimmie Shelter,” Merry Clayton takes off from the pure support of the rhythm of the music and moves out front and challenges Allen. This woman sounds upset, on the verge of holy-roller visions that seem to be nearing reality as the long side finally reaches an end. “Are you ready?” yells Allen for about the hundredth time. “Yes! Yes! I’m ready!” rings back Merry. “Are you…” “AhhhhhhhhhhYes! Yes! I’m…” This is a mighty piece of music. Unfortunately, it has been roundly thinned by the singles editor. I’d like to recommend the album, if only for this cut and its delightful cover—sort of a Forties Coke in full color, with Rita Hayworth in a swim suit—but it simply doesn’t make it; except for the title cut and a wild take of “When a Man Loves A Woman,” it’s fairly ordinary new blues mixed with the spirit of Taj Mahal’s last offering.

Hopefully “Are You Ready” will get some airplay and PG&E will win all the prizes next time around. An unfortunate 70 to Columbia; an idealized 90 to PG&E.

Even more unfortunate is “Gimme Shelter” (proper American spelling this time) by Merry Clayton, clumsily produced and most likely clumsily conceived by fad-master Lou Adler. Strange thing about Merry Clayton: she sounds different on every record. The voice here doesn’t remind me of the titanic performance on “Gimmie Shelter”; it doesn’t even remind me of the girl on “Are You Ready?” She sounds slow, thick, missing even conventional highs and certainly never approaching the prehistoric wail of the Stones’ version. She’s backed by a crummy group that simply attempts to imitate the original rhythm patterns with the worst rock and roll sound since “Winchester Cathedral.”

Most disappointing of all, nothing really happens with the vocal. It’s an extremely flat record, reminiscent of Aretha’s “white” covers, but not as good. Perhaps the truth is that Merry Clayton is one of the finest and most creative second vocalists there is and incapable, or unready, to take the lead herself (just as in my opinion Nicky Hopkins is a session man and not a wonderfully inventive lead pianist). Rated 25, as a curiosity.

Rolling Stone, June 25, 1970

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