Music, it’s a goddamned powerful transformative thing. Take this next one of mine, it’s got me through good times, bad times; love, a certain amount of horizontal disco dancing (if you know what I mean); some high highs and some real lows. It has just been there as part of the soundtrack of my life as long as I’ve owned it; whether I’m crying, or laughing along in the background. Yup, this LP and I have sure been through a whole load since I first unwrapped it last Friday.
Behold the awesome genius of Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto!
I heard the DJ Trevor Nelson play this track on the radio the Sunday before (the 26th March?) and it grabbed me like I’d not been grabbed by a tune in years. I knew nothing about Philly soul except the name and I’ll take his word that TSOP are always brilliant. But what a tune! Close to 9 minutes of hard grooving, bass and horn led wondrousness allied to a rabble rousing/consciousness raising track about taking charge of where you live and getting off your behind to defeat the sordidness and squalor. AND IT ALL STARTS WITH A TALKIE BIT!!** The beauty of it being that it’s a great, joyous thing and not some worthy whine.
Genuinely I can’t think of a better soul track. Made in 1977 it captures the sound just mutating into disco, there is a slightly Latinised sound to the drums and the whole thing just rolls on repeating the same 6 notes throughout – you don’t need any more notes than that if they’re the right ones. Other instruments cut into the mix and do their thing over and above, around and about that groove but the beat goes on, relentless, right and tight.
The Philadelphia International All-Stars were a combination of some of the best acts on the Philadelphia International Records roster at the time, Billy Paul, The O’Jays, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass and, the awesomely named, Dee Dee Sharp Gamble^. Needless to say everyone involved sings it like they mean it – Let’s clean it up folks!
The LP Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto featured ten tracks, seven of which had never been released before, all wrapped up in an inspiringly well-written back cover exhortation to everyone to clean up their act and a great front cover picture. All net profits* were to go into community development programmes. If all you got for your dime was the title track then who could argue? now, unfortunately I’m not a big soul fan and I have a strict aversion to saccharine, so I’ll pick out the best for you and leave the rest.
I have a bit of a soft spot for Lou Rawls ‘Trade Winds’, which sounds half like a Burt Bacharach easy listening number and half like a Flight of the Conchords skit, both of which are things I rather like. Teddy Pendergrass ‘Now Is the Time To Do It’, is full-on disco with great adroit backing vocals and is just a thumping good listen, sadly what Teddy has in mind for you seems to be more political than carnal. Shame.
The best of the rest, by far, is Billy Paul ‘New Day, New World Comin”. Seriously folks, did this man ever sing a bad note? an ordinary note, even? not only is he responsible for two 1537 fave-up rave-ups in ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ and ‘Am I Black Enough For You?’, this is a seriously good tune too – rather understated, which is not a quality found in abundance either on Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto, or this era of music in general.
But let’s get back to the title track here:
You know I was in New York City a few months ago
And the garbage and the trash men were on strike
I’m tellin’, the maintenance people of the city
What they were tryin’ to do was
They were tryin’ to get a little more money
You know, get a little raise in pay
But at that particular time the city was broke
They were about ready to declare default
I tell you, the garbage in some places
Was stacked up two, three stories high
At night, ha ha, boy, at night it weren’t even safe to walk the street
‘Cause they caught the rats, the roaches and the water bugs
I mean they were hustlin’, baby, tryin’ to get somethin’ to eat, see?
And let met tell you somethin’ it was stinkin’
And it was all kind of diseases in there, you know?
But it only brought to mind the fact that
You can no longer depend on the man downtown
To take your business like he’s supposed to
When he’s supposed to
1537 says ‘Shame on you man downtown’. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some more personal history to make with this album.
*Well worded, accountants.
**By Crom! I love talkie bits on records!!
^I can’t help thinking, unworthily, that her name sounds like a boob-based wager, that could have serious repercussions for the loser.