How Do You Know They Women?
The Miracles - City of Angels (Motown, 1975)
The Miracles - Love Machine
The Miracles - My Name Is Michael
The Miracles - Night Life
The Miracles - Ain't Nobody Straight in LA
One song about Michael Jackson before he lost his nose, a disco stomper with the most uses of the word "chick" you're ever likely to hear, the greatest outro of all time, and a classic in every sense of the word. Yes, it's the Miracles post-Smokey 1974 concept album, 'City of Angels', which can be found in its entirety on Spectrum's best of, 'Collection' (great name, eh?).
For starters, you should all know 'Love Machine'. A massive hit when it first came out the song has slap bass, Sam Clayton "ooh yeahs", hot and heavy gasps, and superb modern doo-wop harmonies. It's a flawless disco gem that can even be spoilt by Billy Griffin, the Miracles' replacement lead singer's awkward use of the metaphor of "lover as robot" nor his androgynous vocals. The requisite horns aren't even the best part of the song and that doesn't happen very often.
I adore the song but you've all probably heard it before. It's only hear for perspective and those poor fools that haven't sampled its oral delights in full. 'Love Machine (Part One)' just isn't enough! 'Ain't Nobody Straight in LA' its follow-up single, as you can probably tell from the title, was both controversial and a bit of a commercial flop. However, before I'm pelted with metaphorical rotten tomatoes for uploading it I have to make clear that in no way is the song homophobic. At least not on purpose. 'City of Angels' was a concept album on LA society and its newfound liberal culture. It covers the resurgence of Hollywood and the superstar ("My Name is Michael"), the environmental pollution ("SMOG"), freedom of expression ("Free Press"), and the emerging gay culture. It really tries to cover all the bases in terms of scope as all concept albums have a tendecy to do. If you ever doubt my assertion that the group isn't donning their intolerance hats just skip to the hilarious outro where the group begin to plan a night out only to discover that all the good clubs are gay bars. This leads to the exclamation of "You know, some of the finest women are in a gay bar... Gay people are nice people too". As long as the boys have a chance of schtupping a lady or three then they're happy bunnies. Also, to hate a song that flutters along so nicely with its Felicano Spanish guitar, gurgling synth, twittering flutes and clicking percussion just for being of its time would be a bit of a shame. The repetition of the lyrics in Spanish by the the harmony vocalists, especially considering the subject matter, makes this even more of a must hear if only for the sheer hilarity of it. It carries the torch, lit by The Coasters and carried on by the likes of Kid Creole and Prince, of creating music that is both danceable and nowhere near as po faced as any of the competition.
"Night Life" is the uptempo stomper that really should have equalled "Love Machine" in popularity. However, its doesn't quite work out. It has the horns, the exultant "doo doo bahs", and propulsive beat of its predecessor but is spoilt by Griffin's overenunciation of the song's lyric which is frankly craptacular. "Swinging cabarets" is a term that should never ever again be used in any form of pop song unless there is a large spoonful of sugar to help the bile stay down. At around 50 seconds in, we get to the prechorus and it starts rather well with Billy singin "Nightlife in the big city..." as the arrangment reaches its minicrescendo. Sadly, he decides to add "...is my cup of tea". Last time I checked The Miracles weren't The Kinks and it just doesn't come off well. I think they only used it because it rhymes with "me" but that's still no bloody excuse for it. However, the worst line has to be "If your intentions are to get a chick to share a lovely evening spell/There are several shops that carry a variety of incense." The song has been completely pussy whipped by the demands of radio. It can't even bring itself to hint at anything vulgar or when it does so it carries it off in such a horribly camp/English manner. I want to hear about trannies again! The arrangement swings like a cat though and would have caused the kids on Dexys to tear up the floorboards as they spun like whirling dervishes in sunny Wigan.
I know that I've been highly critical of the songs that I've put up but they all have a special place in my heart. "Ain't Nobody Straight..." always makes me cackle like a youthful crone, "Love Machine" makes me want to strip my undies and slide across the floor like Tom Cruise does in 'Risky Business', and "Night Life" is just too goofy to not enjoy immensely. They weren't as good after Smokey left but they could still belt out a tune if they wanted to. So I raise my glass to Warren, Clarence, Donald, James and Billy. May they boogie on down forever more.
Buy - The Miracles - Collection (so that you can blast "Night Life" out your car stereo whilst crusing through the slumberin streets of suburbia. There's much fun to be had in such pursuits!)