The Independents – 1973 – Chuck, Helen, Eric, Maurice
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The Independents’ sophomore album 1973’s “Chuck, Helen, Eric, Maurice” featured a personnel change – original member Marvin Yancy replaced by Eric Thomas. While Yancy dropped out of active performing, he continued his working relationship with the group, but this time around in the role of songwriter and producer. Co-produced by Jackson and Yancy, the album seemingly sought to find a balance between past successes and some new directions. While the heavy reliance on ballads certainly served the group well on the debut album (wracking up a series of radio hits), Jackson and Yancy were smart enough to avoid falling into an aural trap with this album. There were still plenty of old school ballads showcasing Chuck Jackson’s lead vocals (though Curry was notably absent throughout the set). ‘The First Time We Met‘ and the breezy ‘Lucky Fellow‘ were first rate ballads, easily as good as anything on the debut. Less impressive were the single ‘It’s All Over‘ and the closer ‘Sara Lee‘. That said, this time around the highlights came in the form of the group’s atypical offerings; among them the bluesy “The Same Old Way” and the up tempo numbers ‘No Wind, No Rain‘ and ‘Show Me How‘.
A1 It’s All Over3.37
A2 No Wind, No Rain 2.57
A3 The Same Old Way 3.30
A4 I Found Love on a Rainy Day 4.14
A5 The First Time We Met 2.38
B1 In the Valley of My World 4.31
B2 One Woman Do Right Man 3.20
B3 Show Me How 3.09
B4 Lucky Fellow 3.40
B5 Sara Lee 3.26
Tapped as the album’s only single, ‘It’s All Over‘ has always struck me as one of the set’s weakest numbers. A hyper-sensitive, heavily orchestrated, Gospel-tinged ballad, to my ears this one almost sounded like a parody of mid-1970s soul groups with Jackson screeching in pain, begging forgiveness for a multitude of sins … One of their rare up-tempo numbers, ‘No Wind, No Rain‘ was easily one of the album’s standout performance. I’m not sure who handled the lead on this one, but sporting one of those melodies that climbed into your head and wouldn’t leave, this one has always reminded me of one of those fantastic Gladys Knight and the Pips hits. Classic backing vocals to boot !
Another one of the album’s standout performances, ‘The Same Old Way‘ deserved attention simply for the fact it was so different from their normal work. Kicked along by a barebones bass pattern and some of Yancy’s churchy keyboards, the song offered up a tough, pounding, blues-tinged performance. If you thought Jackson could only handle light ballads, then this was a revelation. One of two non-originals, ‘I Found Love On a Rainy Day‘ was probably the album’s most blatantly commercial offering. Showcasing a nice melody and some beautiful backing harmony vocals, it’s always reminded me of something Thom Bell might have penned for The Spinners. This was the track Wand should have tapped as a single.
A pretty and precious ballad, ‘The First Time We Met‘ was a much more typical Jackson-Yancy offering. It was the perfect example of what the pair did well (showcasing another gorgeous melody and Jackson’s heart wrenching lead vocals) and their artistic shortcomings (there wasn’t a single original note over the three minutes). Opening up with some nice Yancy keyboards, ‘In the Valley of My World‘ took awhile to get into gear, but was ultimately another winning ballad with Jackson and Thomas (?) sharing the lead vocals. Actually Curry stole the show when her vocal came in at the end of the track. Another personal favorite, ‘One Woman Do Right Man‘ had another catchy melody, more first-rate bass, some punchy horn charts, and some great call-and-response harmonies that served to showcase the group’s sterling backing vocals. The pounding bass opening on ‘Show Me How‘ recalled something Norman Whitefield might have written for The Temptations. Anyone who thought these guys could only handle light ballads needs to check this one out. Simply a killer tune. The album’s best ballad, ‘Lucky Fellow‘ managed to avoid their usual hyper-sensitivity in favor of a charming melody and a breezy, carefree vocal. Boy they sure knew how to churn out some wonderful harmony vocals …On the heels of their best ballad, came their worst performance – the sappy and forgettable ‘Sara Lee‘.
Among the more interesting male/female vocal groups, the Independents made some outstanding singles in the early ’70s. Chuck Jackson, Maurice Jackson, Helen Curry, and Eric Thomas specialized in almost melodramatic, overwrought, but perfectly performed love songs. Their first single for Wand, “Just as Long as You Need Me,” set the stage in 1972, reaching number eight on the R&B charts. They topped those charts in 1973 with “Leaving Me,” while “Baby I’ve Been Missing You” made it to number four. They never had any song attract much pop support, but soul fans loved the lyrical scenarios and group interplay. Their last hit was “Let This Be a Lesson to You” in 1974, another R&B Top Ten hit. Jackson and Yancy went on to attain success as a production/songwriting team, scoring hits with Ronnie Dyson and Natalie Cole.