Friday, 12 June 2015
Oliver: Sam Dees' Beauty and the Beat - The Homecomings [Peel Session] (14 December 1991)
Sam Dees's second session track selection (I didn't hear the third, One In a Million on the recording, but I didn't like it when I played it) has none of the political subtext of Child of the Streets. Instead, it's a straightforward love song in which the protagonist looks forward to the end of the working day so that he can get back to the loving arms of his woman. It's slick, glossy, exquisitely arranged and performed, and to paraphrase Danny Kelly, sounds every inch like a record made in California in 1974, though it was actually made in 1991. You could picture this being played in upscale penthouses in New York and London, or at the end of romantic yuppie dinner parties. It's a potential Smooth FM standard and the last few seconds of the track sound like they should be soundtracking a luxury bubble bath commercial. In other words, it doesn't sound like typical John Peel fare, which makes it an automatic inclusion on a mixtape.
Peel's relationship with soul, funk, and disco was a cautious one. Soul music didn't do too badly, and his late 90s/early 00s shows threw up some wonderful discoveries, but by his own admission, funk and disco didn't receive much attention from him in the 70s. As production got smoother into the 80s and "blue eyed soul" started to dominate the market (you know the kind of stuff I mean - pin drop synthesisers, gated drums, tenor sax solos, guitar way down in the mix, two female backing singers and a pony-tailed bassist with his instrument slung under his chin), the divide became even greater. I actually quite like some of that stuff - Its critics attacked it as a white take on soul, sucked dry of any oomph and I can agree with that up to a point, but sometimes, simple melody as practiced by say, Black in Wonderful Life or Paradise, carried the day. I also feel uneasy about music which gets attacked for being what white gas fitters in Essex listen to. Sod the audience, does the music move you? And if it doesn't, can you see yourself singing along to it, when you least expect it?
When black artists who had released records which had some genuine aural heft to them in the 60s and 70s, started to use the same blue eyed techniques in the 80s, the sneering was at least accompanied by sorrowful disappointment. With such a fabulous heritage, black soul artists were offering up this? Stevie Wonder's I Just Called To Say I Love You, being perhaps the most famous example, but there were plenty of others too. The genre defaulted to ballad status, with everyone aspiring to be Lionel Ritchie. Which would have been fine if they'd tried to be All Night Long, Lionel instead of Hello, Lionel. Marvin Gaye might have saved us all because what is Sexual Healing if not a synthed up version of Let's Get It On, but it would have asked a lot of him to pull that off consistently.
By the 90s, the genre appeared to be dying out until R'n'B revived interest, sales and credibility from the mid 90s onwards. After this, it became de rigeur to have a "proper" singer guesting on your track.
The Peel session version of this track, which is not available for sharing, was furnished with some fine horn work which doesn't feature on the recorded version. The Homecomings EP was a rare release from Alabama born Dees, whose recording career had been sporadic since The Show Must Go On album, though he had made a good living as a songwriter through the aforementioned One In A Million You giving former Sly and the Family Stone bassist, Larry Graham a U.S. Top 10 hit, as well as writing for the likes of Whitney Houston.
Beauty and the Beat refers to Dees' all female backing band.
Colin Vearncombe aka Black - just for the gas fitters?
Videos courtesy of Bren106 (Dees) and Steve Chase (Black).