By Oliver Wang
The “Black Label” collection (BLC) is nearly 250 MP3s that my old editor Tommy Tompkins hit me with back in 2004 or so. I forget where he got them from but whoever originally compiled the collection did a bang-up job: superb taste in R&B that range from the early 1960s through early ’70s. My original plan was to create a series of posts based on songs in the collection – I even created a custom image to go with such posts – but in the end, the momentum of writing on other songs ended up leaving the Black Label series ideas by the wayside.
Yet, I would be reminded of the BLC every so often because I’d learn about a new single, cop it, and when I’d go to digitize it, realize: oh wait, this was already in the collection. I’m slightly embarrassed how often this happens to me if only because I should really just sit down with the damn thing and go through it, song-by-song. But really, it speaks to the quality of the collection that over the last 8 years, I still am discovering the gems it holds, even if inadvertently. Here’s three 7″ singles that appear in the Black Label collection.
1) The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band: A Dance, a Kiss, and a Song (Warner Bros. 1968)
My original interests in Watts 103rd St. (pictured above) off of the Together album tended to gravitate more to the straight up funk instrumentals, especially “Giggin’ Down 103rd St.” (straight fiyah!) but I didn’t really catch wind to how incredibly great ” A Dance, a Kiss, and a Song” was until I started combing through the BLC. The songs features drummer James Gadson on vocals rather than Charles Wright and as I discovered the other month, not only is it on the flip side of “Do Your Thing” (one of their biggest hits before “Express Yourself”) but it has a cool European pic sleeve version which I was only too happy to drop a few bucks for.
2) Mike & The Censations: Victim of Circumstance (Highland, 1966)
This is one of those cases where I really appreciated how deep the BLC went, despite also having clearly slept on going through it to have discovered this single earlier than I did (which was 1-2 years ago). Mike & The Censations were lead by L.A.’s Mike James Kirkland who’d go onto bigger fame in the early 1970s with “Hang On In There” but this is back during his early career. Mike was actually a contemporary of a lot of the guys in the Watts 103rd, several of whom worked studio gigs for the Censations (and Wright went to the same high school as Mike’s brother). “Victim of Circumstance” is one of several superior singles the group recorded (and licensed through the Highland label). The horns are awesome here – what an opening! – and the song itself is on some classic, late night dedication, firm rola tip.
3) Jackie Ross: Selfish One (Chess, 1963)
While Jackie Ross didn’t have a massive career, this was her biggest hit and should have been a single I was up on years ago. Instead, I only copped it a few weeks back, only to learn – once again – that it had been in the BLC all along. Great Northern tune (that borrows heavily, arguably shamelessly, from the Motown sound). Am I crazy in thinking it also briefly borrows from the jazz standard, “Tenderly,” before Ross swings in? Either way, hand-clapping soul at its finest.