The “Monkey Chant” in Pop

[NotePiece updated on February 15, 2019 – see special coda at the tail end]

Zero to 180 is intrigued to discover that today’s featured song is the sole composition attributed to Vic Coppersmith-Heaven [whose impressive audio engineering CV includes Cat Stevens, The Rolling StonesBilly Preston, and even Stanley Kubrick] on Discogs.  This entrancing and otherworldly (near) instrumental can only be found on the 1982 double LP anthology Music and Rhythm that features artists who performed in the first World of Music and Dance (WOMAD) festivals in the UK organized by Peter Gabriel, with help from heavy friends.  For the 1980s college crowd, Music and Rhythm served as a gateway album of sorts into “Worldbeat”  (i.e., music from outside Europe & the US).

The early-to-mid 1980s would find this idealistic, clueless college student in thrall to a cassette mix of The Jam‘s brilliant run of singles (compiled in chronological fashion by Tom Newbold), culminating in their double-A side masterwork “Going Underground” paired with “Dreams of Children.”  The single-sentence summary blurb below from  Wikipedia very much captures the extent of my knowledge at that time about the engineer/producer with the distinctive name:

Vic Coppersmith-Heaven (born Victor Smith in England) is an English sound engineer and record producer best known for his production work with The Jam.

Japan 45 – 1980                                          Italy 45 – 1980

Produced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven

Those of us who were initially surprised to see the producer behind The Jam’s finest 45 included in the track listing of Music and Rhythm wondered, therefore, to what degree his preceding work might have informed his musical sensibilities.  As it turns out — not in the slightest:

“Pensgosekan”     Vic Coppersmith-Heaven     1982

Preston Hayman:  Percussion & Gamelan
Vic Smith:  Guitars & Gamelan
Tony Levin:  Bass
Paddy Bush:  Gengong
Johnny Warman:  Voice
Composed & produced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven.
Recorded at Eel Pie Studios & The Manor – Spring 1982.
Engineered by Richard Manwaring & remixed at Crescent Studios.
Note:  “Pengosekan” fades into a short excerpt from The Ramayana Monkey Chant recorded by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven in Bali — February, 1982

Music and Rhythm‘s liner notes, for one thing, were a tip-off that something more “avant-pop” was afoot on this exclusive recording:

“Vic is best known as a record producer, and over the last five years he has been associated with some of Britain’s most contemporary and successful groups, notably The Jam.

Besides his production work, Vic spends much time pursuing his passion for Bali and its culture.  He visits the country frequently, and has made many field recordings of music traditions in that region.  In ‘Pengosekan’, especially recorded for this LP, he uses Balinese orchestral percussion — gamelan — instruments to embellish the rhythm track, and overlays this further with vocal improvisations derived from the Balinese Ketjak [or Kecak] or Monkey chant.

We would like to thank Vic for his enthusiasm and faith in this album project as a whole, and we are also indebted to the Indonesian Embassy, Mr. Suparmin and Mr. Abidin in particular, for their kind co-operation and loan of the gamelan instruments used on this track.

We would like to thank [Pete Townshend-owned] Eel Pie Studios for their kind co-operation in the recording of this track.  We would also like to thank the Virgin Manor Studio, and Richard Branson in particular, for their kind donation of free time in completing this track; and for their first-class attention and co-operation on this project.”

UbuWeb helpfully elaborates on the history behind this ancient tradition, with this explanatory text that accompanies their streaming audio of a 20-minute field recording from Bali:

“Performed by more than 200 men seated in tight concentric circles around a small central space reserved for the chief protagonists,” the ketjak (loosely called “Monkey Chant”) was first recorded in Bali by David Lewiston and released by Nonesuch Records in 1969.  As a spectacular and alternative performance mode, it has had a germinal influence on western performance and poetics since then.

David Lewiston’s original comments follow:

‘While the ketjak is a creation of this century, it is descended from something much more ancient — the trance dance, the dance of exorcism called sanghjang; its ancestry is clear. Ostensibly, the ketjak is a reenactment of the battle described in the Ramayana epic — in which the monkey hordes came to the aid of Prince Rama in his battle with the evil King Ravana — complete with a chorus imitating monkeys, as they chant the syllable tjak.

But as perceptive observers have noted, the ketjak is primarily a dance of exorcism.  Its connection with the sanghjang remains unbroken.  As pointed out by Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete in Dance and Drama in Bali, “Most of the movements are exorcistic in origin and contribute together to produce a tremendous unity of mood … to drive out evil as by an incantation.  The cries, the crowding, lifted hands, the devouring of single figures, the broken lines of melody bewildering to butas [demons], who can only move straight ahead, all enhance the exorcistic effect.”‘

Glenn Kotche at University of Maryland — sans crickets

Photo courtesy of Brandon Wu Photography

 

Imagine Zero to 180’s surprise 20+ years later during 2009’s Bang on a Can Festival at University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center when [Wilco drummer] Glenn Kotche performed his own interpretation of the Balinese “Monkey Chant,” a composition that not only was included on 2006 solo album, Mobile. but also served as the subject of a 15-minute film by Brendan Canty of DC’s legendary Fugazi [and currently The Messthetics, with bassist Joe Lally and guitarist Anthony Pirog {also of Janel and Anthony}]:

Glenn Kotche – “Monkey Chant”:  A Movie by Brendan Canty

In an exclusive exchange facilitated by the filmmaker himself (thank you, Brendan!), Glenn Kotche had this to say in response to Zero to 180’s basic query:

Q:  Had you been aware of “Pengosekan” by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven prior to composing “Monkey Chant”?

A:  I’m surprised, but I’ve never heard that song before – just heard it for the first time after getting this email The crickets don’t surprise me though.  I included those since all of the recordings that I based my version of the Monkey Chant (Ketjak) on, were recorded outdoors in Bali – so the insect sounds are prevalent and add a really nice atmosphere.  Most of those recordings were from the Nonesuch Explorer Series btw.  I assume Coppersmith-Heaven noticed that while experiencing it live or was inspired by similar recordings.

1975’s Music of BaliNonesuch Explorers Series

2006’s Mobile released on Nonesuch – is that ironic?

Coda:  Who Is Walter Spies and Why Are We Talking About Him?

Zero to 180’s eyebrows went up upon receiving this email from Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records — Silver Spring-based independent label [last celebrated here] that released Janel and Anthony’s Where Is Home in 2012:

I own that Music and Rhythm album and it was a great revelation to me when I first got it when it was released in 1981 or so?

Really like it and really like Vic’s track.

The monkey chant was invented as a tourist kinda thing from ancient, borrowed elements of traditional culture by a German!

Steve’s Wikipedia link immediately brought me to a “Russian-born German primitivist painter” named Walter Spies, who is a “person of interest” in Michael B. Bakan‘s article published in the June, 2009 edition of Ethnomusicology Forum entitled “The Abduction of the Signifying Monkey Chant:  Schizophrenic Transmogrifications of Balinese Kecak in Fellini’s Satyricon and the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple,” a scholarly piece that “begins with a historical overview that situates kecak’s own history as a Balinese cultural phenomenon within broader frameworks of hybridity, schizophonic and appropriative processes, and international filmmaking, devoting special attention to the contributions of Walter Spies.”

Walter Spies with Ketut the Cockatoo and Ida Bagus, the Monkey c. 1935

photo courtesy of Sotheby’s (© Tropical Museum)

Further sleuthing would reveal that — “according to the standard English leaflet text used by many groups all over Bali” (so says Kendra Stepputat in her research piece entitled, “The Genesis of a Dance-Genre:  Walter Spies and the Kecak“) —

“Contrary to popular belief the Kecak dance is not particularly old.  It was probably first performed in 1930, although the chorus had its origins in a very ancient ritual of the Sanghyang (trance) Dance, which is still performed sometimes in the village.”

Stepputat further elaborates, in “Performing Kecak:  A Balinese Dance Tradition Between Daily Routine and Creative Art,” published in 2012’s Yearbook for Traditional Music (Volume 44, pp. 49-70):

“Kecak is one of the most popular dramatic dance forms performed for tourists on Bali.  It has been developed cooperatively by Balinese artists and Western expatriates, most prominently I Wayan Limbak and Walter Spies, living on Bali in the 1930s, with the explicit purpose of meeting the tastes and expectations of a Western audience.  Driven by economic considerations, in the late 1960s kecak was standardized into the kecak ramayana known today.”

Feigenbaum gets the last word:

That Music and Rhythm record holds up really well, I think.  It never came out fully on CD.  I still have my truncated CD AND the original vinyl.

I liked it because it cast a very wide net from The Specials to Peter Hammill!

“Atomic Telephone”: King 78

King Records Month 2018:  King Turns 75!

Folks who do not have enough dough (or shelf space) for Bear Family’s undoubtedly meticulous and wide-ranging box set of popular music from the original Atomic Age, can nevertheless simulate the experience by (1) keyword searching 78 RPM using the wordatomic” (also “atom“) and then (2) listening to desired tracks via YouTube streaming audio.

Bear Family’s Atomic Platters 5 CD/1 DVD Box Set from 2005atomic-platters-box-set

I especially like that the search results from 78 RPM are in chronological order.  Note that the earliest songs in the first search (“atomic”) are from 1946, however the second search (“atom”) yields a song from 1945 that is not in the Bear Family box set and competes with Slim Gaillard’s “Atomic Cocktail” (not published until 1946, according to this site) for earliest song about atom splitting — “Atom Boogie” by Sammy Franklin (sadly, not yet uploaded onto YouTube).

The box set would also include King Records‘ big contribution to the national conversation: 1947’s “When They Found the Atomic Power” by Hawkshaw Hawkins and, four years later, The Spirit of Memphis Quartet‘s “The Atomic Telephone” – a song credited to Henry Glover, Lois Mann (i.e., Syd Nathan) and Eddie Smith.

“The Atomic Telephone”     The Spirit of Memphis Quartet     1951

The Spirit of Memphis Quartet – Jethro Bledsoe (lead vocals), Silas Steele, Willmer “Little Axe” Broadnax and others (supporting vocals) — recorded the original version of “Atomic Telephone” on August 14, 1951 at the King Studios in Cincinnati.  1951 would also see “The Atomic Telephone” covered by The Harlan County Four –recorded in Cincinnati on October 29, 1951, according to Ruppli’s King Labels sessionography — yet another early example of Syd Nathan putting one of “his” songs (published by Lois Music) to work in more than one “market.”

Johnny Sippel, Billboard‘s man on the “Folk Talent and Tunes” beat, would report in the May 3, 1952 edition that KMA disk jockey Lee Sutton of Shenandoah, Iowa “conducted a contest, asking listeners to guess the names of the Harlan County Four, new King artists” [i.e., Alton and Rabon Delmore, plus Zeke and Ulysses (“Red“) Turner, as affirmed by PragueFrankBillboard‘s record review of The Harlan County Four version in the February 9, 1952 edition would note that this “fast-tempo spiritual shows off the nice blend of the group and their sincere vocalizing.”]

The song would get name-checked in Bob Groom’s essay “Beyond the Mushroom Cloud:  A Decade of Disillusion in Black Blues and Gospel Song” [included in 2008’s Ramblin’ On My Mind:  New Perspectives on the Blues, edited by David Evans]:

Many of [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur’s supporters had favored “nuking” the enemy out of existence, failing to understand the consequences if Russia retaliated on behalf of China.  The lethal power of the nuclear weapon was not readily apparent from recordings like “Atom and Evil,” a humorous parody recorded by the Golden Gate Quartet on June 5, 1946 (Columbia 37236), and the Spirit of Memphis Quartet’s “The Atomic Telephone” (King 4521), recorded August 14, 1951.  It was hard to imagine the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki happening in America, and the government promoted among the population the naive belief that fall-out shelters would protect most people from harm.  The development of the hydrogen bomb offered an even speedier path to annihilation, but even this weapon could become a macho image.  Certainly, singer Bob Ferguson used it to stress his power as a performer when he adopted his nom-de-disque “H-Bomb” Ferguson in 1951.

The original 1951 King 78 release “Atomic Telephone b/w “He Never Let Go My Hand” sells for two figures at auction.

On a Related Note   

Check out bless-this-soul.com‘s King & Queen Gospel Discography

“Thankful”: Plateful of Grateful

Zero to 180 has a soft spot for populist anthems that promote unity, such as “We the People” by Allan Toussiant, “Time to Get It Together” by Tom Jones, and “This Old Town” by Wilson Pickett.

I’m Thankful” — originally produced by Sam Cooke and recorded for the 1961 album Jesus Be a Fence Around Me by The Soul Stirrers – was once performed live on television, and a tape of that broadcast (thankfully) still exists:

“I’m Thankful”     The Soul Stirrers     c. early 1960s

Billboard, in its July 3, 1961 edition, would describe the flip side of “I Love the Lord” thusly:

“A slow spiritual  with a higher voice taking over the lead.  The feeling of the side is in a quiet groove.  Simple backing assists the lead and the rest of the group”

soul-stirrers-45-aa

The Free Design Have Found Love

My son really wishes I would stop playing this song, although his sister readily agrees The Free Design‘s “I Found Love” is an earworm of epic proportions:

“I Found Love”     The Free Design     1968

What a perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, as there can never be too much love in this fractured world and in these fractious times.  “I Found Love” by The Free Design is such an obvious choice for an A-side release (which it was in June of 1968), although I respectfully disagree with Dave Meritt — Music Director & DJ for Chico, California’s KPAY — who deemed this instant classic a ‘Leftfield Pick’ in the July 13, 1968 edition of Billboard.  Later that year, Billboard would select “I Found Love” as a ‘Special Merit Pick’ in their December 14, 1968 edition, noting that “Chuck Dedrick, a member of the group, has written some compelling material in ‘I Found Love,’ ‘Daniel Dolphin’ and the title tune.”

Hey, I just learned that The Free Design would collaborate with labelmate Tony Mottola on a fun and fresh near-instrumental arrangement of “I Found Love” that was also released in 1968 on Mottola’s Warm, Wild and Wonderful LP:

“I Found Love”      The Free Design & Tony Mottola     1968

Gary James’s interview with The Free Design’s Sandy Dedrick reveals “I Found Love” to have been used on The Gilmore Girls television show.  On a related note, I remember how delighted I was when another television show – Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba! – honored the song with a contemporary cover by Trembling Blue Stars in 2008:

“I Found Love”     Trembling Blue Stars     2008
[Animated by Bran Dougherty-Johnson]

Zero to 180 is puzzled why more hasn’t been written about this beautiful song but pleased, nevertheless, that Yo Gabba Gabba! and The Gilmore Girls soundtrack have drawn new attention to The Free Design, who set the gold standard in “sunshine pop” although they may not have received enough credit as such.

By the way, have you checked out the intriguing catalog of reissue label par excellence, Light in the AtticClick here to buy “I Found Love” – or the You Could Be Born Again album as a whole, if you dare.

Free Design 45Q:  Is it a stretch to categorize this song as “God Pop“?

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“?

“Witchi Tai To”: Pop Chant

How did I only just learn of “Witchi Tai To“?  This morning I heard this song for the first time, and it immediately occupied the empty spaces in my soul and refused to leave:

“Witchi Tai To”     Topo D. Bill     1969

I am hardly the first person to react this way to the song — many voices on the web likewise characterize the song as an “earworm” of major proportions.  Is it possible that Jim Pepper’s adaptation of an ancient (peyote) chant is the first such Native American chant to be played on pop radio?  Brewer & Shipley confirm the hunch:  “To this day ‘Witchi Tai To’ is the only hit in the history of the Billboard pop charts (reaching #69 in 1969) to feature an authentic Native American chant.”  Pepper’s hit version was recorded with the group, Everything is Everything, and issued, unsurprisingly, on Vanguard.

Ed Ward drew my attention to this song when he reviewed a non-LP version of this mesmerizing tune by “Topo D. Bill” (get it?), a pseudonym for “Legs” Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and special friends, although there is fervent speculation as to whom — possibly Keith Moon on drums and members of Yes lending support.  “This song,” wrote Ward, “is on its way to becoming a ‘standard’ in the rock field, and no wonder, since it lends itself to myriad interpretations so readily.”

This 1979 Trouser Press tribute to the Charisma record label states that (1) a pseudonym was used for this single since the Bonzos were still under contract to United Artists at the time of the song’s release and (2) “Witchi Tai To” was the label’s inaugural 45.  David Fricke gets the amusing back story from Charisma’s founder, Tony Stratton Smith:

“For this masterpiece of a single, Larry insisted on either ‘Witchi-Tai-To’ or ‘Springtime for Hitler.’  We were just closing a deal with a German distributor, so we didn’t think ‘Springtime for Hitler’ would be all that good and went with ‘Witchi-Tai-To.’  I also remember that single because we were counting every penny in those days.  I said to Larry, ‘Well, you’ve got your studio and musicians.  What else do you want?’  He said, ‘I’ll tell you, old boy, if you could arrange for 44 drumsticks of chicken and a dozen bottles of champagne…’  I told him he had to be joking. ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘we’ve got to have a supper break.’  And like an idiot, I fell for it.”

            UK 7″                                    German 45                                French 7″

Witchi Tai ToWitchi Tai To-aWitchi Tai To-b

Is “Witchi Tai To” the ‘standard’ Ed Ward predicted it would be?  Perhaps not yet – but it could and should be the “native” part of our American pop canon.

Larry Coryell, Billy Cobham & Chuck Rainey (et al) backed Jim Pepper on his debut LP

Jim Pepper LP

Barbara Keith’s Liberation Gospel

Ed Ward wrote a special section devoted to 45s (non-album releases) in the original Rolling Stone Record Review from 1971, with particular praise for Barbara Keith‘s A-side, “Free the People“:

“You may remember Delanie & Bonnie’s version of this song, and how good it was.  Well, Barbara’s the one who wrote the thing, and she does it up just as well as you might expect.  It lacks the Salvation Army feel of the D&B rendition, substituting instead a deeply-felt intensity that shocks the listener into realizing that this is, after all, a religious song.  ‘Rainmaker’ [B-side] fares nowheres near as well, but it isn’t quite as good a song to start with.  But I feel that Barbara Keith is a talent to be reckoned with, and we’ll be hearing more from her.”

Barbara Keith would would initially sign with Verve for one album (1969’s Barbara Keith) but then switch to A&M Records in August/September,1970.   On A&M Records informs us that her first single “Free the People” was “soon covered by Barbra Streisand and Delaney and BonnieMs. Keith also worked on an album for A&M that was never released.”

Barbara Keith PromoBillboard, in its October 3, 1970 edition, would include the 45 in its “Special Merit Spotlight” noting:  “infectious original rhythm ballad with heavy lyric line has all the earmarks of bringing Miss Keith to the charts in short order.”

Barbara Keith would leave A&M for Reprise, who would issue a new 7-inch version of “Free the People” – a song that was also included on 1973 Reprise LP, Barbara Keith.

“Free the People”     Barbara Keith     1972?

Bass:  Lee Sklar
Drums:  Jim Keltner
Percussion:  Milt Holland
Electric Piano:  Spooner Oldham
Piano:  Craig Doerge
Pedal Steel Guitar:  Richard Bennett

Barbara Keith UK 45

Winston Groovy recorded a lovely “strings reggae” version for the UK market in 1971.

“Free the People”     Winston Groovy     1971

“Free the People,” fortunately, would be deemed worthy of inclusion in Rock Song Index:  The 7500 Most Important Songs for the Rock and Roll Era.

Sheet MusicBarbara Keith's Sheet Music

Sister Rosetta – Rock & Roll Architect

Such a mighty presence, a powerful singer and electrifying guitarist, with her triple-pickup solid body Gibson – so why isn’t Sister Rosetta Tharpe mentioned as a rock & roll pioneer in the same breath as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley?  Elvis, in fact, would be directly influenced by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as Gayle Wald points out in the PBS documentary, Sister Rosetta Tharpe:  The Godmother of Rock & Roll.   Ray Charles dared to fuse gospel music with secular content – and yet Sister Rosetta would beat him to the punch (although many seem to be unaware).  Firing off notes on her modernist polar white Gibson Les Paul Custom with gold hardware, she was Bo Diddley before there was Bo Diddley.  Jim Dickinson hit it right on the head in Gibson Guitars’ profile of Sister Rosetta Tharpe when he observed, “A female gospel singer playing electric guitar in a spangled evening dress was pretty unique in 1955.”

Rosetta Tharpe - bRosetta Tharpe - cRosetta Tharpe - fRosetta Tharpe - eRosetta Tharpe - dRosetta Tharpe - g

Years ago I threw Al Hirt’s breezy interpretation of “Up Above My Head” on a compilation, completely oblivious to the fact the song had originally been written by Sister Rosetta.  How fascinating, and amusing, to discover that Tharpe’s rocking guitar lines would inspire Nick Didkovsky — founding member of grindcore band, Vomit Fist — to play a note-perfect rendition of Tharpe’s gospel standard, “Up Above My Head,” and then break it down note-by-note for the rest of the world to learn (and hopefully one day master themselves):

Nick Didkovsky Duets with Sister Rosetta Tharpe on “Up Above My Head”

“Up Above My Head” would be also covered by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Laurie London, The Blue Diamonds, Long John Baldry, Mickie Most, Elvis Presley, The Wood Brothers, Rance Allen, Randy Travis, and Johnny Ray & Frankie Laine, among many others.

Inspiration for Sly Stone’s 1974 wedding at Madison Square Garden?

Rosetta Tharpe - wedding album

“Mighty Time”: New Riders + Sly Stone & Jerry Garcia

Oh, what a mighty find at the local thrift shop last week — the title track from this 1975 album by New Riders of the Purple Sage – with special guests, Sly Stone and Jerry Garcia:

“Mighty Time”     New Riders of the Purple Sage with Sly & Jerry     1975

Skip Battin:  Bass, Vocals & Percussion
Buddy Cage:  Pedal Steel & Vocal
John Dawson:  Guitar, Vocals, Autoharp & Mouth Harp, et al.
Spencer Dryden:  Drums, Percussion & Vocal
David Nelson:  Guitar, Vocal & Percussion
Sly Stone:  Organ, Piano & Vocal
Jerry Garcia:  Guitar

Behind the mixing console is none other than Bob Johnston, who famously produced Dylan and Cash in the 1960s.  Oh, What a Mighty Time would be the band’s last album for almighty Columbia, who would not issue any 45s from this LP.

“Mighty Time” written by Don Nix, who is probably best known for having written blues standard, “Goin’ Down” and whose session work as a saxophonist – as exemplified on sax & organ instrumental, “Last Night” – helped define the Stax sound.

George Harrison & Don Nix off Catalina Island, 1971

George Harrison & Don Nix

“Heaven Help Us All”: God Pop’s Soulful Side

“Heaven Help Us All” – a soulful spiritual Ray Charles recorded for his 1972 album,            Message from the People – is actually a Ron Miller composition that was first performed by Stevie Wonder as both a single release and album track on Signed, Sealed & Delivered LP from 1970.

Ray Charles LP

From Mike Evans’ 2009 biography, Ray Charles:  Birth of Soul, we learn that “Heaven Help Us All” was Ray’s favorite track on A Message From the People.  Charles would receive a Grammy in 2004 for his performance of the song with Gladys Knight from his Genius Loves Company album of duets.

A Message from the People would be among the last few albums released on ABC imprint, Tangerine, the label owned by Ray Charles.  As History of Rock website notes,   “In 1973 Charles left ABC Records, retaining the rights to his ABC material and transferring his Tangerine operation to the new label Crossover.”