The Great (Musical) Experiment

Even less seems to be written about Allen Toussaint‘s final A-side for Bell, 1969‘s populist anthem, “We the People“:

“We the People”      Allen Toussaint     1969

Imagine the magnitude of our collective output if we all directed our energies toward constructive ends instead of squabbling amongst ourselves.  Help me understand exactly how squaring off against each other will create a better future.

Unfortunately, it takes grown-ups to keep a democratic-style government from being overrun by career politicians and well-funded special interests, and too many people have bought into the “confrontational approach” to governance and public policy that passes for “civic discourse” in this country (e.g., boxing match sound effects employed by Fox News that allow you to keep score at home).  And thus, as Wall Street Journal reports, while 95% of post-recession gains (2009-2012) have gone to the wealthiest 1%, we the people fight over the crumbs, instead, and demonize each other.  Is this really the best we can do – or expect?

  Released in the US in 1969 on Bell           Released in the UK in 1969 on Soul City

Allen Toussaint 45-bbAllen Toussaint 45-b

On a technical (and much less philosophical) note, AllMusic alerts us to a cogent point about What Is Success – the 2007 CD reissue mentioned in yesterday’s piece:

“Perhaps owing to their very scarcity, the Bell Records singles ‘Get Out of My Life Woman’ b/w ‘Gotta Travel On’; ‘Got That Feelin’ Now’ b/w ‘Hands Christianderson’; and ‘We the People’ b/w ‘Tequila’ have actually been mastered from vinyl (rather than tape) sources.  While surface noise is audible throughout, each of the selections is thoroughly listenable, thanks to Rob Shread’s effective audio restorations.”

Six years prior, Toussaint (as “Al Tousan”) had issued a B-side entitled “Real Churchy,” which is exactly how I’d described the piano chording that Toussaint employs throughout — would it be wrong to tag “We the People” as “gospel“?

Tribute to MLK: Eerily Prescient

Wilson Simonal’s tribute to Martin Luther King, a single that was released – eerily enough – the year before his assassination:

“Tributo a Martin Luther King”     Wilson Simonal de Castro     1967

“Tributo a Martin Luther King” would be the A-side of a single released in 1967 – around the same time Simonal would be given his own television variety show (where he can be seen singing this musical tribute to Dr. King).

Largely unknown outside of South America, Wilson Simonal – according to Jason Ankeny’s biography in AllMusic – is deemed “a seminal force in the development of Brazilian music” and the Brazilian nation’s “first black superstar,” as well as the inventor of the “pilantregem” sound – a “dynamic fusion of soul, jazz, and samba infused with rhythms inspired by the Latin American boogaloo sound.”

Wilson Simonal EP

“Don’t Fake It”: Prophecy of a Black Presidency

As Martha Ross writes in the Contra Costa Times, cartoonist Morris “Morrie” Turner broke racial barriers in the 1960s when he became the first African-American to have a syndicated comic strip – Wee Pals – that still runs daily, despite Turner’s death this past January at the age of 90.  As Ross writes, Turner “admired Charles Schulz’s ‘Peanuts’ and mulled creating a black Charlie Brown after turning to cartooning full-time in 1964.  At one point, Turner asked Schulz, who was then a friend, why he didn’t have any black kids in his comic strip, and Schulz told Turner to create his own.”

Wee PalsRoss adds that “even though the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum in the mid-1960s, few papers would run Wee Pals.  That changed with the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  The tragic event helped Wee Pals gain nationwide acceptance.  The strip began appearing in more than 100 newspapers across the United States.”  Among the characters are “several African-American kids, a neighborhood bigot, some ‘Girls Libbers’ and, of course, Nipper, a boy, modeled on Turner himself, who typically wears a Civil War cap and has a dog named General Lee.” 

As Greg Ehrbar writes on the website, Cartoon Research

Wee Pals had been in newspapers for seven years before Rankin/Bass and ABC adapted it as Kid Power for Saturday morning TV, the same season that Filmation and CBS introduced Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.

Rankin/Bass also cast young voice actors according to the ethnicity of the characters, including Donald Fullilove, who also voiced Michael Jackson for the animated R/B series, Jackson 5ive and played Goldie Wilson onscreen in the Back to the Future films. Jay Silverheels, Jr., son of the actor who played ‘Tonto’ in The Lone Ranger films and TV shows, voiced Rocky, a Native American.  Also in the cast as Connie was a preteen April Winchell, now one of Hollywood’s top voice actors (as well as a writer and satirist) whose oeuvre includes Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Despicable Me 2.

Like Fat Albert, Kid Power featured songs with messages in every episode. With mainstay musical director Maury Laws on other R/B projects, Oscar-nominated composer/arranger Perry Botkin, Jr. handled the Kid Power songs and background music, partnering with Jules Bass on the tunes created for the show.”

Kid Power LPI recently picked up a copy of the original soundtrack album at a local pawnshop, of all places.  How fascinating to hear the following track, “Don’t Fake It,” 42 years after its original release and know that the “radical” premise in the song’s spoken word intro — that of an African-American elected as our nation’s chief executive and top military commander — had, indeed, come to fruition in my lifetime:

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Don’t Fake It” by The Curbstones.]

“This Old Town”: Where Love is the Prevailing Order

In Wilson Pickett’s town, universal respect for the humanity common to us all allows for an enlightened self-governance to rule the day.

This track from Pickett’s 1970 Atlantic album, Right On, was never to appear on a 45, which is a shame, since I think it’s a classic.

Wilson Pickett LP

The people in this town ain’t got no faces – they just got love between the races.

The people in this town don’t do no cryin’ – don’t have to rob and steal for survivin’.

The heart that should be speaking out just won’t stay silent – and everybody knows that no man is an island.

I saw a father and his son walking down the street – they walked hand in hand, what a beautiful sight to see (that makes me know)

The people in this town don’t need no soldiers – they don’t go around looking over their shoulders.

Everyone’s going around shaking hands, loving everybody and their fellow man – ain’t got no room for aggravation, what they love is communication.

Now open up your heart to harmony – give a little love, it will set you free.

You don’t have to go round searching for this town – right in your heart is where it’s found.

Song written by William Stevenson, Don Covay & Wilson Pickett.                Produced by Jerry Wexler & Tom Dowd.

Musicianship provided by The Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section=

Roger Hawkins:   drums

David Hood:          bass

Eddie Hinton:       lead guitar

Jimmy Johnson:    rhythm guitar

Barry Beckett:    keyboards

Backing vocals:   Cissy Houston, Judy Clay, Jackie Vercell & Jerome Gasper