Sunday, October 21, 2007

no mo'

Momentum is not my friend. Or maybe it's the other way around. Yeah, it probably is the other way around—just when momentum gets going, I abandon it. Sorry about that, mo'. When I go out of town for a weekend, I get behind on everything for about two weeks, not just the three days I'm away from home.

I haven't really posted anything new here since September 16. That was over a month ago. And writing about Chris Tucker and his Rush Hour paychecks after mid-August, or writing about summer movies after Labor Day, seems a little pathetic at this point, but I will finish those posts ... at some point. The people who mostly put up YouTube clips and a sentence or two on their blogs are smart
—they get in and get out quickly, and within a few hours everyone knows what they think about Britney Spears's legal troubles. I'm proud of my long-windedness, but it doesn't help when trying to keep this blog updated on a regular basis.

I did see something exciting yesterday afternoon, though. I was watching a Magnum, P.I. rerun on Me TV at 1:00 (more on Magnum later, but I always say "more later," don't I?) when, during a commercial, I flipped around and came across a rerun of Soul Train on WGN. There on the screen was none other than Bunny Sigler, who I wrote about at Jefitoblog back in June. Now, what's interesting here is that I rarely turn to WGN when channel surfing, so it was pure luck that I caught Sigler on Soul Train performing "That's How Long I'll Be Loving You" and, later in the show, "Things Are Gonna Get Better." (Both songs are included on the 1996 compilation The Best of Bunny Sigler: Sweeter Than the Berry, which you can read more about below.)

I'm not going to lie and say that Sigler's performances were not to be missed. Just like on American Bandstand, performers on Soul Train lip-synched their songs, but were the songs always cut off around the two-minute mark? Both of Sigler's numbers were faded out, as were those of the Staple Singers, who were the other guests on Soul Train's June 8, 1974, show. Roebuck "Pops" Staples introduced each of his singing daughters by name and by star sign, in case you wanted to keep score at home.

Host Don Cornelius allowed the Soul Train dancers to ask the Staple Singers some questions; one dancer named Bobby Washington charmingly stumbled his way through a question for Mavis Staples about whether she enjoyed singing lead on so many of the group's songs. Her response was, essentially, "Yes, it feels good." But haven't we all asked a question that ended up being longer than the answer, and wasn't the answer usually coming from a member of the opposite sex? Yes, but for most of us the question wasn't asked on national television and then re-run 33 years later for our children (and possibly grandchildren) to see.

And now, as decreed by Mr. Cornelius, NO MORE QUESTIONS! It's time for the Staple Singers to pretend like they're singing and for the dancers to actually dance, but self-consciously so, since they're on camera. (Hi, mom!)

In the mid- to late '90s, before VH1 became the carnival sideshow that it is today, it aired reruns of The Midnight Special and American Bandstand, because at the time '70s nostalgia was very big. I still have some Midnight Special performances on tape from those days, and John Travolta's performance of his 1976 single "Let Her In" on Bandstand is burned into my memory. (Was it considered attractive in the mid-'70s for men to have potbellies? If not, then no one told Travolta.) But where were the Soul Train reruns? VH1 dropped the ball, so pick it up, BET! But so far, no such luck.

That's where you come in, Me TV. Soul Train started in Chicago in 1970 before moving to Los Angeles the following year, just as American Bandstand moved to L.A. in 1964
after 12 years in Philadelphia. Guess what station Soul Train was on in Chicago before becoming syndicated? WCIU, the same channel that now operates Me TV.

It was meant to be, Me. Besides, you're already showing Sanford and Son, Good Times, and The Cosby Show in your prime-time lineup
. It wouldn't hurt to add another show aimed at black audiences to the mix.

Below is a write-up of Bunny Sigler's 1996 Sony/Legacy compilation, which originally appeared on Jefitoblog as part of its "Cutouts Gone Wild!" series on June 28, 2007.

Bunny Sigler, The Best of Bunny Sigler: Sweeter Than the Berry (1996)

Memphis and Detroit have nothing to be ashamed about, but for me, the most exciting soul music came out of Philadelphia in the 1970s, particularly the strings-laden, socially conscious kind produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records, home to artists like the O'Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, and Bunny Sigler. (Here's where you say, "Bunny who?" Here's where I repeat his name.)

Sigler never scored huge crossover hits like those other artists did, but as Epic/Legacy's retrospective of his years at PIR proves, it wasn't for a lack of trying. He did have a #22 pop hit in 1967 with "Let the Good Times Roll/Feel So Good" on the Cameo Parkway label, but by '68 the label had expired. Unfortunately, Sigler's contract hadn't, and until it did, he wasn't allowed to record for anyone else. Frustrated by this sudden halt in his career, he started hanging out at the offices of Gamble and Huff, who were friends of his, and chose to vent his frustration by practicing karate moves in the hallways, which scared visitors. In order to get Sigler out of the halls and away from clients, Gamble and Huff moved him into a room with a staff writer and put him to work.

As a writer at PIR, Sigler penned O'Jays classics like "When the World's at Peace" (with Gamble and Phil Hurtt) and "You Got Your Hooks in Me," and on
Sweeter Than the Berry he covers the group's big hit "Love Train," emphasizing its gospel foundation over seven minutes of impassioned vocals. (No slouch when it comes to singing, Sigler was nicknamed "Mr. Emotion" in his early years.)

Sweeter Than the Berry also features the tender "Regina"
(download), which must've sounded mighty fine coming out of AM radios in 1972, and the upbeat love songs "Keep Smilin'" (download) and "Things Are Gonna Get Better" (download). But my favorite tracks may be the most lighthearted ones: the 1975 Christmas jam "Jingle Bells [Part I]" (download); "I Lied" (download), in which Sigler makes screeching-tire noises over the sound of screeching tires; and the infectiously fun and funky "Shake Your Booty" (download). I defy you to remain seated starting around the two-minute mark of this song as Sigler begins counting off numbers and his backing band, Instant Funk, matches him with horn blasts for every digit. High-pitched background chatter from Sigler's "nieces and nephews" is also thrown into the mix, and there's a false ending, which is followed by "Uncle Bunny" finally calling it quits, which is then followed by another minute of music. It's hard to keep a great song down.

If it sounds like I'm making Sigler out to be the Ray Stevens of Philly soul, that's not my intention. Instead he's the guy at the party gently telling friends like Gamble and Huff to lighten up, have a drink, dance a little. For every "For the Love of Money" or "Am I Black Enough for You?," Billy Paul's brilliant but commercially disastrous follow-up to the #1 "Me and Mrs. Jones" (Gamble pushed for it to be a single, much to Paul's dismay), Philadelphia International needed a song like "Shake Your Booty" in its catalog to remind everyone that, well, things are gonna get better. And until they do, it can't hurt to laugh.

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