Along with the slickly produced releases from Motown and the in-the-pocket grooves produced at Stax and Atlantic Records, there were other labels issuing pop music featuring black performers in the early ’60s. For example, Chicago-based labels that specialized in R&B and doo-wop or companies headquartered in other cities that had success with Chicago artists included Vee-Jay, Constellation, Chess, Mercury, OKeh, and Brunswick. One such label was George and Ernie Leaner’s Chicago-based One-derful! Records.
Now, One-derful! is being remembered with a collection of six volumes on 12 LPs and 6 CDs with 147 tracks, 57 of which were never previously issued. In addition, the packaging includes 144 pages of 12” x 12” liner notes, along with rare and never before seen photos and memorabilia. The chosen tracks were recorded between 1962 and 1971, culled from the label’s catalogue of over 180 45s of early soul, doo-wop, funk, and gospel. The first installment of the One-derful! collection focuses on the namesake imprint of the group, to be followed by compilations of the Mar-V-Lus, M-Pac!, Halo, Midas, and Toddlin’ Town sub-labels.
The first release, One-Derful Collection: One-Derful Records, includes 25 of these rare tracks from a variety of singers and groups, 12 of which have never been previously released. Judging from the first volume, the collection is, in the main, an archive for music historians and completists of the “soft soul” genre, as few of the tracks got much airplay on mainstream radio or were never heard outside of the Chicago area.
For example, McKinley Mitchell is represented by three tracks including a reworking of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Boom Boom” with new lyrics and lead melody called “What Love Will Make You Do.” There’s also his 1962 hit “The Town I Live In” showcasing the singer’s quivering, crying vocals. One wonders if The Sharpees’ 1966 B-side “The Sock” was the first use of the phrase, “sock it to me.” From that same group, we get their debut, “Do the 45″.” It’s in the same mold as Lucky Laws’ “Who Is She,” both songs simple teenage dance-pop.
On the other side of the spectrum, we get the soulful belting of Motown vet Liz Lands doing “Seventh Hour” and Betty Everett’s “Your Love Is Important to Me.” (Everett is best known for her work on other labels, including her hit, “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).” From Beverly Shaffer, we get “Meet Me Halfway,” a standout mix of a smooth singer supported by a typical One-derful! arrangement of harmonizing background singers with brass. I’m surprised to not see Shaffer’s most famous song, “Where Will You Be Boy” which was released in 1966 on One-derful! Perhaps it’s on the next compilation?
Of the three songs by The Five Du-Tones, only one is really memorable. Their 1963 version of “Shake a Tail Feather” is a bashing, boisterous, good-humored workout, especially for the non-stop drummer. The song later appeared in the soundtrack for the 1988 film Hairspray, and was most famously covered by James and Bobby Purify in 1967 as well as by Ray Charles in 1980 (The Blues Brothers).
In the main, it’s easy to hear why some performers have been lost in the mist of time including Jay Jordan, The Admirations, Joe & Mack, Mary Silvers – would it be too much of a pun to call her a One-hit One-der for “Power of Love”? – and The Rockmasters (no, not the hard rock band). The one singer that I’m aware of who’s maintained a solid post-One-derful! career is Otis Clay, who has been involved in three impressive projects just these past two years. Appropriately, he opens and closes the compilation with the very Otis Redding-like “Got to Find a Way (Alt Version),” the Motown-ish “Thank You Love,” and finally the sweet soul of “A Lasting Love.”
All of this comes together as a compilation that might appeal to very different audiences. For one, One-Derful Collection: One-Derful Records will interest students of this period of African-American music. For another, collectors who already like this breed of urban, orchestrated soul and already have some of these recordings in previous compilations might like to expand their libraries. But for others, these songs can be seen as musical footnotes that didn’t become classics for any number of reasons. In other words, this will be a gem for some, a one-time spin for others.
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