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“?

“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.”

“God Out West”: Link Wray Sings Hallelujah

Between the years 1971-1974, Link Wray entered into a business relationship with Polydor Records that yielded four albums – but no singles (*actually, a small handful).  Link’s debut Polydor album, 1971’s  Link Wray, found him embracing his Shawnee heritage at a time when popular interest in Native American culture and history was at an all-time peak, as reflected in Paul Revere’s #1 hit, “Indian Reservation (Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” and the release of the (second) Billy Jack vigilante film.

Link Wray LPLink Wray back cover

Songs were recorded at Link’s converted chicken coop 3-track recording facility in Accokeek, Maryland, with floorboard stomping and nail can shaking used as rhythmic accompaniment (i.e., no drum kit).  “God Out West,” written by drummer, Steve Verroca, is a song that taps into the “God Pop” feeling that was similarly widespread in the early 1970s:

I can see the morning sunlight
Through a foggy hazy gloom
Mountains reaching in the sky
These flowers in the desert bloom

I can see the silence in the night
I know they might need a rest
I heard a voice in the wind
He said, “Son, come out west”

Cause the Lord found me a place
Where I should be
High in the mountains
Where I can be free

Kenny Smith: From Soul Street to God Pop and Beyond

Thanks to Darren Blase and Shake It Records for assembling an 18-track collection of recordings by singer, songwriter & producer, Kenny Smith, that span a total of eleven labels:  Fraternity, Chess, President, RCA, Flo-Roe, Goldspot, Clearhill, Counterpart, General American, Kogan and Lena.  Intriguing to discover that the one-time host of soul music TV showSoul Street – once released a quirky 45 on famed blues label, Chess (“Keep on Walkin’ Baby“) that would have been a fine and fitting addition to the Nuggets box set of 60s garage band singles.

I was also amused to learn that “Lord, What’s Happening To Your People?” – issued in 1972 on General American – was “written to cash in on a particular trend that Kenny describes as the ‘Jesus-rock era’.”

1973’s “Everybody Knows I Love You,” according to Kay-Dee Records, was a massive northern soul hit in the UK –should have been a much bigger radio hit here in the US:

“Everybody Knows I Love You”     Kenny Smith     1973

Cincinnati Enquirer‘s May 11, 1972 edition included this news item:

“WKRC-TV and General-American Productions will co-operate in an ambitious project to produce an hour-long black music-dance show for youth, Soul Street, beginning with the shooting of a pilot Sunday.  Intentions are to syndicate it.  The host will be Kenny Smith, Kennedy Heights, well-known local composer-singer.  Two Channel 9 staffers, Jim (Oscar) Welch and Ron De-Morales, will serve as producer and director, respectively, on a free-lance basis.  Bob Lanier, GAP vice-president/general manager, will be executive producer.  Pilot guests include the Four Tops, Funkadelic, Bill Doggett and Tommy Sears.  James Brown has agreed to co-host every fifth show, starting with the second, Lanier said.  Guests for succeeding shows include Gladys Knight and the Pips, Eighth Day, Chase, Carla Thomas, Soul Children, Major Lance, Emotions and Chi-Lites.  Kenny Smith’s GAR single, ‘Lord, What’s Happening to Your People?’ is scoring well.  He penned The Platters’ ‘Think Before You Walk Away.'”

Kenny Smith poster

Soul Street in Under 50 Words

According to Historic Films (owner of the show’s only surviving tapes), Soul Street was on the air for two seasons,1969-1971, and featured performances and interviews with such artists as James Brown, Bill Doggett, Carla Thomas, Roberta Flack, The Stylistics, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Millie Jackson.

God Pop on the Charts: Early 70s

The early 1970s I remember to be a particularly fertile time for catchy radio pop that preached the Good Word.  Researchers at Zero to 180 initially pegged Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” – a compelling mash-up of gospel and psychedelic rock that moved 2 million copies in 1969 & 1970 – as a catalyst for much of the “God Pop” that followed.  Further examination, however, revealed popular culture to be reflecting a broader hunger for spiritual and religious guidance in a time of great social tumult.

1969, for instance, saw the release of The 5th Dimension’s worldwide hit, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” which foretold of an imminent age of love, harmony, and understanding.  1969 would also see The Byrds’ country rock version of “Jesus Is Just Alright” – the A-side of a Columbia 45 – barely manage to squeak into the US Top 100.Jesus Is Just Alright picture sleeve

But wait – 1969 would also witness the unexpected commercial success of an 18th-century hymn given a fresh gospel reworking:  Edwin Hawkins Singers’ international smash hit, “Oh Happy Day” (#4 U.S., #2 U.K.).

God Pop in the Early 1970s

In the early 1970s there was no escaping the “rock opera” Jesus Christ Superstar – 1971’s #1 album that also produced two Top 30 radio hits: “Superstar” by Murray Head with the Trinidad Singers, and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” by Yvonne Ellman.  According to the Rhino 70s Box Set, “Superstar” stayed on the charts for 31 weeks, “longer than any other single since Chubby Checker’s early 60s smash, ‘The Twist.'”

Nipping at the heels of Jesus Christ Superstar was Godspell, the musical based on the Gospel of Matthew that yielded an original cast album on Bell, with the single “Day by Day” spending 14 weeks on the charts (peaking at #13 in 1972).

Against the backdrop of Superstar and Godspell a surprising number of religious-themed songs would appear on pop & rock radio in the early 70s:

“Love One Another” (1969 single) and “United We Stand” (#13 1970 hit) by Brotherhood of Man.

– “Let’s Give Adam & Eve Another Chance” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap:  the group’s final charting single (#41) on Billboard’s Top 100 the week of April 4, 1970.

– “If We Ever Needed the Lord Before” by Harpers Bizarre:  a single that appeared to have cracked the Top 100 (based on this regional sample) in October 1970.

– “God, Love and Rock & Roll” by Teegarden & Van Winkle:  a hippy-rock rewrite of “Amen” from fledgling Detroit label, Westbound, that reached #22 on the pop chart in 1970.

– “Valley to Pray” by Arlo Guthrie:  single that “bubbled under” (#102) the pop chart in October 1970.

– “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison:  love letter to the Lord that topped the charts in many countries worldwide in 1971.

– “Put Your Hand in the Hand” by Ocean:  million-selling single that was released March 1971.

– “Magnificent Sanctuary Band“:  Dorsey Burnette’s song, as covered by David Clayton Thomas (of Blood, Sweat & Tears), hit the Top 40 in 1972.

– “Speak to the Sky“:  Rick Springfield’s debut single hit #14 on the Billboard pop charts in 1972.

– “God Gave Rock and Roll to You“:  Argent’s kick-off track to 1973’s In Deep did well as a single in the UK (#18) but much less so here in the States (#114).

– “The Lord’s Prayer” by Sister Janet Mead:  a million-selling hit from 1974.

-+- Honorable Mention -+-

While not strictly God Pop, “Judas to the Love We Knew” by Spiral Starecase nevertheless deserves special attention for its curious use of a charged biblical reference for the song’s lyrical hook:

“Judas to the Love We Knew”     Spiral Starecase     1969

I’d have to agree with the legal team at Mclane & Wong, who observe that “the last Spiral Starecase single, “She’s Ready,” kept the name alive by also reaching the charts (Billboard #72); but sadly, Columbia did not focus on the incredibly hit-worthy Pat Upton original on the flip side – ‘Judas To The Love We Knew’ – which equals or surpasses ‘More Today Than Yesterday’ [their 1969 million-selling hit] in hooks and vocal performance.”

Judas to the Love 45

‘Do It Now’: Ronco’s Licensing Feat of Strength

From what I can tell, this might be Ronco’s first hits compilation – Do It Now – from 1970:

Do It Now

When is the last time you’ve seen Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles on the same album?  Not to mention Buffalo Springfield.  And The Byrds.

Interesting to note that the Buffalo Springfield selection – Neil Young’s dark horse of a tune, “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” – was not even released as a single.  Likewise with The Byrds and their horn-driven, anti-amphetamine cautionary tale, “Artificial Energy,” as opposed to one of their more jangly numbers.  Come to think of it, Jimi Hendrix’s straight-ahead blues original, “Red House,” is also an unexpected choice for a hits mix (as is Eric Burdon’s deeply questioning and frankly bizarre, “When I Was Young“).

This album was once in our family record collection growing up – I have since obtained a cheap copy.  Funny to re-read the notes on the back cover:

“This album is a celebration of life – a feeling of energy and love by the poets, artists and musicians who have joined together to speak up for a purpose – to relay the message against drug abuse.  The DO IT NOW FOUNDATION is dedicated to helping fight this problem.  Never before in the history of the recording industry have so many artists donated their services for a collage album [emphasis mine].  We wish to thank all those caring people, the record companies and music publishers, whose contributions went into making this album a reality.”

Do It Now includes a fairly robust mix of labels for a reissue compilation, although admittedly top heavy on the major label side:

Atco (Buffalo Springfield) – Bell (Crazy Elephant) – Buddah (Melanie; Five Stairsteps) – Capitol (Beatles) – Columbia (Donovan; Janis Joplin) – Mercury (Steam) – MGM (Eric Burdon) – RCA (Jefferson Airplane) – Scepter (BJ Thomas; Mel & Tim) – Stormy Forest (Richie Havens) – Uni (Neil Diamond) – Warner Bros. (The Association; Ides of March; Jimi Hendrix) – Westbound (Teegarden & Van Winkle) – White Whale (The Turtles).

Taking into account that Warner Brothers-Seven Arts purchased Atlantic/Atco in 1967, there are 13 different labels represented on Do It Now, which strikes me as on the high side.  I wonder what the record is?

Anyway, one of the more interesting tracks on this hits compilation is “God, Love & Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Teagarden & Van Winkle from 1970 on the Westbound label:

“God, Love & Rock n’ Roll”     Teegarden & Van Winkle     1970

Ed Ward makes this observation about the significance of Westbound once Motown shifted operations to the West Coast:

“Detroit in the late 1960s was a hotbed of talent, from the rock groups playing the Grande Ballroom to the soul talent vying for a deal with Motown, to numerous jazz groups at lounges all over town.  But when Motown left for California in 1971, that talent was left with nowhere to record.  But another label, Westbound Records, stuck around. In its eccentric way, it did its best to document black music as it changed in Detroit.”

Philanthropy Update:  I am happy to report that the Do It Now Foundation is still going strong – click here to check out this public service announcement.from Frank Zappa about the dangers of amphetamine use on the Foundation’s home page.

In Hindsight, the Lawsuit Was Inevitable

One of my favorite (and affordable) ways of discovering music is trawling for vinyl at local secondhand shops.  Of course, you have to wade through a lot of Andre Kostelanetz and Percy Faith to find something worthwhile, but that’s part of the fun – and adventure.  It’s not uncommon to find boxed sets in excellent condition, such as this 6-LP offering by Columbia that I picked up for 5 bucks:

Country Box Set

At this point I need to stop and ask:  do you remember where you were when you first learned that George Harrison lost a major court battle, having been found to have “unconsciously” plagiarized the melody of the Chiffons’ 1963 hit “He’s So Fine” for his 1970-71 worldwide smash, “My Sweet Lord“?  When I first learned of the charges, I was pretty outraged on George’s behalf and took George at his word when he professed his innocence.  I thought the accusation was a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly, and a naked attempt to shake down an ex-Beatle for a big payday.  I realize now I had been blinded by Beatle love.

Apparently, others noticed the melodic similarity between the two tunes, such as the dobro player who backed Jody Miller on her 1971 country pop cover version of “He’s So Fine” – one of the songs on the 6-LP box set that caught my ear.  Nice intro, great arrangement, crisp guitar lines – and humorous incorporation of George’s distinctive slide guitar part from “My Sweet Lord”:

“He’s So Fine”     Jody Miller     1971

Most fascinatingly – as Chip Madinger & Mark Easter point out in Eight Arms to Hold You:  The Solo Beatles Compendium – Phil Spector, the master of the early 60s “girl group” sound and the producer who spun the dials for “My Sweet Lord,” failed to notice the similiarity.  Which I think qualifies as ironic.

As Rolling Stone points out, the resulting lawsuit – filed in 1971 and litigated until 1998 – makes it “one of the longest legal skirmishes in American history.”