The Vinyl Say 021: Chris Clark

In every collection there are records that get played all the time, many of them for years, decades even. Then there are those that, while no less treasured, somehow fall by the wayside to lie in wait, ripe for rediscovery. This series chronicles some of those nuggets as they resurface from my own back pages. So, put the needle on the record, put the needle on the record, put the needle on the record and it sounds like this…

Chris Clark – From Head To Toe b/w The Beginning of the End (Tamla Motown, 1967)

A six-foot tall, platinum blonde RAF brat from Northern California – it’s fair to say Chris Clark was something of a rarity on the Motown roster when she arrived at the label in 1963. After being kept waiting for hours to audition for Gordy she played Etta James’s All I Could Do Was Cryand rejected the label boss’s offer to play piano for her as some of the chords were a bit complicated. He listened then made her play it again to the Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team and again to Smokey Robinson, each time insisting on accompanying herself, before she found out Gordy had in fact written the song.

Although he wasn’t keen on signing a white singer, she never left and spent two years as a secretary before in late 1965 her first 45 Do Right Baby Do Rightwas released on the VIP imprint. That was followed by her version of Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do), which like the original, was also cancelled only to find fame later as a bootleg. Her only hit, Love’s Gone Bad, came out in 1966 and found its way onto her only album for Motown, 1967’s Soul Sounds, from which From Head To Toe– a cover of a 1965 album track by the Miracles – was released as her first single for Motown.

In some corners of the internet this UK first release will sent you back a tidy three-figure sum, but the track is widely available in many formats.

It’s classic Smokey Robinson, a simple bluesy piano pulse and finger snapping beat belie a whip-smart lyric and a delicious tension in the arrangement that may well have attracted Elvis Costello who released it as a single in 1982. In any case it was a big tune in the soul clubs of northern England in mid-67 and dancers at the famed Twisted Wheel in Manchester invented their own moves to go with it – the handclaps towards the end the second minute are a thrill as are the gospel-blues piano trills just before the outro. On the b-side was Margaret (Gordy) Johnson’s thrillingly blues-flavoured The Beginning of the Endthat’s probably better known from the inferior version by the Supremes on Diana Ross’s final album with the group 1969’s Cream of the Crop.

All of which goes some way to explaining why for many soul fans Chris Clark continues to cut a fascinating, if peripheral, figure from the golden age of Motown.

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