Millie Jackson – A very bold soul sister

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Millie Jackson turned 68 years old last week, and for the last 43 of those 68 years, she has been one of the most outspoken of her generation of soul singers. Where the others merely hinted, Millie aimed straight for the target. Never beating around the bush, she was a no-nonsense kind of singer from the start, and some of her earliest records also deals with social matters – she’s not all about sex and relationships gone wrong! Never polished but always honest, she was hard to ignore even from the very beginning. While Dionne Warwick was swathed in Burt Bacharach’s arrangements and coyingly asking for the way to San Jose, Millie was roaming the streets and the alleyways, looking for her lost man to come home. Betty Wright wanted some of her man’s “Ooo La La” (figure it out!), while Millie just wanted food for her kids and was desperately searching for a way to keep off welfare! Her man was up to no good, so she decided to “try it one time” also, even if it meant stealing another woman’s guy. Millie did whatever it took to make any situation better for herself. And on record it all turned into a lot of great music!

A young Millie Jackson in the early 1970’s

Her first time in a recording studio produced two single sides on MGM that were released in 1969; “A little bit of something” and “My heart took a licking (But kept on ticking)” – none of which was successful. Another 2 years passed before she was offered a contract with Spring records, and then started the truly golden decade of Millie Jackson, as all of her best albums were made for this label into the early 1980’s.

Her first three albums 1972-74 projects Millie as a deepvoiced soul singer, singing a lot about love, but also sees her in the role of social commentator. Hit songs like “My man, a sweet man” and “Ask me what you want” are both good pop/soul tracks, but it’s on songs like “A child of God (It’s hard to believe)” and “I cry” from her first and second albums respectively, that she really shines! Singing about two-faced hypocrites and socio-ecological problems, Millie placed herself in a new position; the urban, black woman seeing the need for a change, desperate with her own situation and wanting equality and better circumstances for herself and those around her. No other black singer had even remotely approached this theme in the way Millie did, and she makes it all believable with her soulful, sometimes hoarse vocals. Millie might look glamorous on the record covers, but the music was anything but!

The title track from her second album “It Hurts So Good” reached number 3 on the charts, and was featured in the movie “Cleopatra Jones”. Here, for the first time, Millie gets into the sexual stuff that she’s so famous for. Only this time around, she seems to put up with absolutely anything, whatever “he” does is fine by her – she loves the way “it hurts so good”. Later on, Millie would take the complete opposite role, she wouldn’t take no gruff from no man, being utterly in control in any situation involving a man, and calling the cards at all times. She’d take her man by the collar and shake him, and if he had a wife or girlfriend, Millie would deal with her along the way as well – to make sure she’d get him to do whatever needed to be done!

Tama Dobson looks awesome as Cleopatra J, but so was Millie’s 2 songs on the 1974 soundtrack, “It Hurts So Good” and “Love Doctor”!

1975 was the year that Millie really came into her own, and made the first of her truly classic albums, “Caught Up”. Topped by the hit single “If loving you is wrong”, this album marks the first time Millie did one of her famous raps. A rap in Millie’s world is a long spoken passage, that weaves the songs together, and fills out whatever story the song might be telling. So Millie is not a rapper, as we know them today, but no doubt Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Shawnna and Trina were all influenced by Millie’s way with words! Other notable tracks from “Caught Up”: the stunning “It’s all over but the shouting” and her version of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Summer (The First Time)”. This last song was also done quite raucously by Bette Midler some years later – and both versions are far removed from Bobby’s way of doing the song! She quickly followed with a sequel to the album, called “Still Caught Up”. It includes her fabulous take on Tom Jans’ “Loving Arms” and basically deals with love problems and love triangles much in the same way.

Stuck in the cobweb; Millie’s 1975 albums “Caught Up” & “Still Caught Up” was also released as a 2on1 CD…

After these two albums, she tried out different things on her next 2 albums; “Free & In Love” (1976) contains “A house for sale”, one of her best songs ever, as well as a very good cover of Bad Company’s “Bad risk” and her take on “Feel like makin’ love”. Next year’s “Feelin’ Bitchy” found Millie doing a country-influenced “If you’re not back in love by Monday”, an extended 10-minute “All the way lover” and a cover of the recent hit song by long forgotten girl group Hot’s “Angel in your arms”.

The studio recordings of some of her eternal concert favourites appeared on 1978’s “Get It Outcha System”: “Keep the home fires burning”, “Logs & Thangs”, “Put something down on it” (often performed as a long medley in concerts), as well as another cover, Dolly Parton’s recent hit “Here you come again” (also covered by Patti LaBelle three years later).

The proper attire for getting things outcha system!

1979 was a very productive year for Millie; the studio album “A Moment’s Pleasure” came out, quickly followed by the double disc “Live & Uncensored”. The studio album contain a great version of Exile’s recent no. 1 hit “Kiss you all over”, and another cover in Boney M’s “Never change lovers in the middle of the night”. The live album finds Miss J doing a lot her hits, while also putting her personal stamp on other people’s hit of the day like “Hold the line”, “Just when I needed you most”, “Da ya think I’m sexy”. Added to all this the quite infamous “classical” piece “Phuck U Symphony” which is just hilarious! On top of this she made a duet album with Isaac Hayes, “Royal Rappin’s”. Teaming them might seem like a natural thing, but unfortunately the album doesn’t show the best of neither one of them….

The first half of the 1980’s saw Millie release no less than 6 albums in three years. She kept up her combination of long rap passages with soulful ballads on both “For Men Only” (1980) and “I Had To Say It” (1981). She did more country tinged material on the obviously titled “Just A Lil’ Bit of Country” (1982), and the same year another live disc came out, this time (appropriately) titled “Live & Outrageous”. “Hard Times” followed in 1983, with Millie doing a not-so-subtle “Mess on your hands/Shit on your fingers” medley! Her last album for Spring was “E.S.P.” which in Millie’s universe has nothing to do with extrasensory perception, but rather Extra Sexual Persuasion! Equipped with a crystal ball on the cover, strategically placed to magnify her ample cleavage! “E.S.P.” does contain great music though, with the ballad “Feel like walkin’ in the rain” being a highlight.

Clairvoyance & cleavage! Beware the fortune teller – this gal ain’t interested in your future!

Signing with the Jive label, Millie’s 1986 album “An Imitation of Love” saw her dressed in a blue and white suit, looking as she came straight from an office job. It produced two big hit singles, “Hot! Wild! Unrestricted! Crazy Love” and “Love’s a dangerous game” in addition to maybe the best song she ever recorded, “Mind over matter”. This song is a dance track with great lyrics, and it perfectly melts together text, voice, singer and image into a masterpiece! With her tongue firmly placed in her cheek, she declares” “You call me dirty, I say I’m not too clean/I’m not a nymphomaniac – just a bad sex machine/It’s mind over matter….”

Also for Jive, she made the rather overlooked “The Tide Is Turning” (1988), and then in 1989 she made an album that certainly wasn’t overlooked – “Back To The Sh*#t!” – an all-time contestant for worst record cover ever! Millie went way out on this one, and I never understood why she allowed the cover to be made. Sitting on the toilet, with her undies around her ankles – and an expression on her face that signals severe pain (maybe she’s gassy?) – it’s just plain bad! The cover got so much attention that nobody paid any mind to the music inside, which contains a great version of “Will you love me tomorrow”… Another not-too-smart career move was done the next year, when she made the duet “Act of War” with Elton John. It’s the most mismatched duet ever, on a noisy over-arranged song that wipes out any trace of their personal styles, and is something that might have been a good idea at the start, but turned out to be best forgotten! (Shezwae Powell also made a record called “Act of War” that same year, but this is not the same song)

The decade 1991-2001 produced albums “Young Man, Older Woman” and a cast album with the same music after Millie had turned it into a show starring herself. Then there was “It’s Over” (1995) and its sequel “The Sequel; It ain’t over” (1997). In between these there was a rather straight album called “Rock ‘N’ Soul” (1994) which is exactly what the title indicates. Her last album, called “Not For Church Folks”, came out 2001 and the title is good advice, as Millie proves once again that she’s not holding back anything.

A fairly recent photo of Millie Jackson

Millie Jackson had her own radio show in Dallas, Texas for thirteen years, up to January 2012. A documentary about this legendary singer, called  “Unsung – The Story of Mildred “Millie” Jackson” was aired on the TV One Network in February 2012.

There isn’t much that’s left unsung by Miss Jackson, she took it all in stride and her records show that she dared where others feared to tread. She might not have collected a lot of Grammies, and never was a regular at the top of the charts. But still she has left behind a legacy of music that stands out above the rest – and that’s what makes Millie Jackson unique!

Coming soon – A Profile on Millie Jackson!

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Tomorrow the saucy Miss Jackson celebrates her birthday, and will find herself 68 years young! I thought it was a great opportunity to write a profile about her music. Millie’s been in the recording business since 1969 when she released her first single.

I will concentrate on Millie Jackson the Soul Singer, and focus on the many great records she’s made since she started out more than 40 years ago…

Millie as a singer seems to have been obscured by a lot of other facts; her dirty raps, her sometimes tasteless record covers and that she’s a “let-it-all-out and tell-it-like-it-is” kind of singer, especially in front of an audience. Check out her live recording of “Phuck U Symphony” for a taste of her sexual bluntness and salty humour.

A lot of Millie’s songs deal with men, and relationships…. She seems to have fun with some of them on this 1980 record cover!

 

All of her close to 30 albums contain proof of the style she’s most famous for; the urban soul woman caught up in some kind of love affair, love triangle or looking at love from another perspective. Her strong, deep – and sometimes gruff – voice is an awesome instrument, and she more than holds her own against other soul singers of the 70’s and 80’s.

Millie made soul records, dance music, comedy albums and even a little bit of country, and adapted each and every style to suit the message she was bringing across.

Stay with me – a deep look into Millie Jackson’s recording career to follow shortly!

Our saucy, sexy Soul Sister pictured ca. 2005

 

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