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!

Brenda Holloway – Spotlight on a Soul Goddess

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Brenda Holloway (1946 – ) is proof positive that you can be regarded as a Soul goddess even if you make less than 10 albums in 50 years, you don’t appear on a lot of front pages and your life is not tainted by scandals and drugs. How?? By having a glorious voice, putting it to use on excellent material, recording some classic soul cuts and somewhere along the way making a lot of fans that way. Also, you keep working, keep your voice and be a nice person. Brenda Holloway made her first record in 1962 at the age of 16, and her latest so far was recorded in 2011.

Beautiful Brenda in the mid 1960's

If Brenda is remembered at all, it’s probably for her Motown records made in the mid 1960’s. Like most other girl singers signed to Motown, she was left in the shadows of Diana Ross, and/or she didn’t get the right songs to show off her incredible talent. A fate she shares with Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight, Frances Nero, Mabel John and practically every girl signed to that company.

Brenda started her recording career 1962, releasing her debut single “Hey Fool”, backed with “Echo”. A total of 10 singles appeared on various small labels like Donna, Catch and Brevit. In addition to her solo work, she was also making duets and group recordings that teamed her up with Jess Harris, Hal Davis, The Four J’s, as one-fourth of The Watesians and with her sister Patrice Holloway. Her entire output during 1962-64 was released on CD in 2009; a 22 track collection titled “The Early Years – Rare Recordings 1962-1963”. These songs show a young girl trying to find her own style and voice, and this CD contains everything from slow, sexy ballads to girl-group pop. It also shows that she indeed has the chops to go up against Aretha and Patti, as she really wails and shows off an enormous range for someone so young. Later on, her style became more subdued and sexy, while still being 100% soulful – leading up to one writer giving her the nick name “The deeply soulful mistress of emotion”.

1964 saw Brenda signing up with Motown, and she immediately went to work on her first album “Every Little Bit Hurts”, named after her break-through hit song, a soul classic that has since been covered by many other singers. She also had another hit with a song that she co-wrote with her sister Patrice and Frank Wilson, “You’ve made me so very happy”. That song was later a big hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears – but it is HER composition, she was the first to record it and her version is many times better! In recent years, Brenda has talked about her Motown years and said they were not happy ones for her. She gives a lot of reasons for this (other than Berry Gordy giving all his attention to Miss Ross & co.): she was criticized for dressing too much like Tina Turner and at the same time she felt uncomfortable with the sexy image Motown was trying to put on her. She was not allowed to record any of her own songs, and when she did record what they wanted her to sing, she felt it was not given proper promotion.

A 1965 follow-up album was never released (it was titled “Hurtin’ and Cryin'”). In 1968, Motown released a collection titled “The Artistry of Brenda Holloway”, containing songs she’d recorded for the label, but not released. The cover was just awful, picturing a solemn looking Brenda with a violin pasted across her throat! She had taken violin lessons as a young girl, and actually played very well, but you’d never guess from the album! Universal put out a 2-disc compilation in 2005, “Brenda Holloway – The Motown Anthology”. This is a very good collection, containing both her albums (one released, one not released in the 60’s), all tracks from “The Artistry of…” and 13 other gems found in the vaults! Among these is a live recording of Brenda doing Gershwin’s “Summertime”, on which she actually plays the violin!

Brenda's 1980 album

Brenda was released from her Motown contract in 1969, when she felt her conflicts with the company were too much to take. She left Detroit, settled in Los Angeles, married preacher Albert Davis and had 4 children. She made no solo recordings whatsoever during the 70’s, and seems to have worked very little. She did, however, do session work and back-up singing for the Invictus label, and for British rock singer Joe Cocker. She made a gospel album in 1980, titled “Brand New!”, and it seems to have had a very limited release. Personally, I have never seen a copy! She divorced Albert Davis in the mid-80’s, and then did what soul fans all over the globe had hoped for; she went back to being a recording artist!

In 1987, Brenda was on of the first ex-Motowners to sign with Ian Levine’s British label Motorcity, and later on almost one hundred other acts from Motown also recorded for this label – thus, thankfully, giving us new material from Kim Weston, Mary Wells, G.C. Cameron and others! Brenda made her first single there, “Give me a little inspiration”, a high energy dance track that was immediately popular in Britain’s Northern Soul circles. Teaming up with Jimmy Ruffin, she filled the dance floor once again with their wonderful duet “On the rebound”. Brenda recorded 40 songs for Motorcity, and some of them was put out on an album called “All It Takes” in 1990. A record company called Bestway then released her entire work for Motorcity on a 2 disc/39 song collection called “My Love Is Your Love” in 2003. It proves that Brenda still sounded great, she got to wrap her golden pipes around a lot of good songs, and while most of the Motorcity singers mainly re-recorded their old hits, Brenda got new material to work with! She did also re-record some of her old hits, “Every little bit hurts” and “You’ve made me so very happy”. Other stand outs among them are her version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Make me believe in you” and her cover of Esther Philips’ hit “Home is where the hatred is”. She obviously delighted in the renewed interest in her career, and started actively performing again, being very popular in Great Britain, but also touring a lot during the next decade.

The revived Volt label put out her 1999 album “It’s A Woman’s World”, and it proves she was perfectly able to keep up with the current trends, as the record is a very fine piece of urban contemporary soul. Whether Brenda is very private person who doesn’t like talking to the press, or if it the press isn’t interested – I don’t know, but not much information is to be found about her activities during the last decade. YouTube has some clips of her performing in 2009.

Her latest work was made in 2011; she duets with Cliff Richard on the song “Do you ever”, which is included on his album “Soulicious”, a collection of duets with other soul singers i.e. Candi Staton, Roberta Flack and Freda Payne.

To me, Brenda Holloway is one of the unsung heroines of soul, and I surely hope that she one day will get all the recognition she so rightly deserves. Do yourself a favour and listen to some of her stuff, she truly is one great singer!!

Brenda in the 2000's

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