The Exciters: Soul Motion (CD)
Some of the most distinctive female voices of the 1960s were captured on tape in New York studios: Arlene Smith of the Chantels, Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston, Ronnie Spector – you know instantly when you're hearing these women. Add to that list Brenda Reid, whose great soul shout fronted the Exciters.
To be a singer was the girlhood dream of Lillian Walker. In her teens she started several groups with her friend Sylvia Wilbur, but the other girls involved just didn't last the course. Then Brenda came along. With the addition of Carol Johnson and Herb Rooney the group was complete. After a 45 as the Masterettes in early 1962, Sylvia left and the group came to the attention of Leiber & Stoller, who renamed the group the Exciters. Their first single – the Bert Berns-written ‘Tell Him’, released on United Artists – became a huge hit, but their follow-ups didn't achieve the same success, not even their fabulous original version of ‘Do-Wah-Diddy’. Their Exciters great live reputation led to them touring with the Beatles. There are wonderful stories of that period from Brenda and Lillian in Dennis Garvey’s superlative notes, along with recollections of a “potty mouthed” Little Richard in Times Square and Brenda's later visits to the UK, where she played the legendary Northern soul venue the Wigan Casino.
Signing with Roulette Records in 1964, the group again failed to hit despite being reunited with Bert Berns. They were then signed directly by him, which is where this collection begins, with the eight fabulous sides they recorded for his Bang and Shout labels – including ‘You Better Come Home’, ‘Weddings Make Me Cry’, ‘Number One’ and (in un-faded form) ‘Soul Motion’ – all beloved by both girl group and soul fans and all making their CD debut here. In fact only two of the tracks on this collection have ever been issued on CD before. Bert Berns’ sudden death in 1967 affected the Exciters as it did many of his musical beneficiaries, but they hooked up with producer Larry Banks at RCA the next year. The sides they recorded there are all also here, including the entire “Caviar & Chitlins” album, which has long been held in high regard by soul fans, containing as it does the huge northern soul anthem ‘Blowing Up My Mind’ and the lesser-known and equally great dancer ‘Movin’ Too Slow’.
Post-RCA, the Exciters released one more LP and a 45, following which Lillian and Carol retired. Brenda and Herb kept the group name alive for a handful of singles and a further album. The Exciters are one of the defining groups of the 60s. Their career spanned the Brill Building girl group era through the soul sounds of the late 60s to 70s disco, Brenda's voice transcending it all. (Her son Cory is better known as the successful producer and music biz executive Mark C. Rooney. I suspect he's as proud of her as she is of him.) This CD shows just how talented they were. Treat yourself to some exciting soul motion and get it. (Simon White)
Article properties: The Exciters: Soul Motion (CD)
|Exciters, The - Soul Motion (CD) CD 1|
|01||A Little Bit Of Soap|
|02||I'm Gonna Get Him Someday|
|03||You Better Come Home|
|04||Weddings Make Me Cry|
|06||You Got Love|
|07||Soul Motion (prev.unissued uned.version)|
|08||You Know It Ain't Right|
|09||Take One Step (I'll Take Two)|
|10||If You Want My Love|
|11||Blowing Up My Mind|
|12||You Don't Know What Your're Missing|
|13||Give It All|
|14||Fight That Feelin'|
|16||I Don't Have To Worry (No More)|
|17||You Got Me|
|18||Movin' Too Slow|
|19||If I Could See Into Tomorrow|
|20||A Year Ago|
|21||Turn Me On|
Three or four guys and a gal in a hitmaking vocal group was nothing new by 1962, thanks to The Platters and Sensations. Three girls and a guy? That was different. The Exciters started out all-female, but that changed just before they hit.
The group began in the Jamaica section of New York's Queens borough as The Masterettes, sister group to The Masters. Lead singer Brenda Reid, soprano Lillian Walker, alto Carol Johnson, and Sylvia Wilbur made a '61 single for LeSage, Follow The Leader, that got them on a show at the Hillside Theater in Queens. Rennie Roker saw them there and became their manager along with his brother Wally (formerly one of The Heartbeats) and tenor saxman Big Al Sears. Sylvia opted out, replaced by Penny Carter. They snared an audition with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, by then affiliated with United Artists. The Masters' Herb Rooney helped the girls arrange their background vocals and came to the audition as their pianist.
Leiber and Stoller loved the group, changing their name to The Exciters and handing them an uptown soul ditty already out on Vee-Jay by Gil Hamilton (aka Johnny Thunder), Tell Her (Bert Berns wrote it under his Bert Russell pseudonym; a lyrical gender switch was clearly in order). Penny dropped out before their debut session; tenor Herb was a perfect replacement. The newly reconfigured Exciters cut Tell Him in October of '62 at Bell Sound with Teacho Wiltshire arranging and Leiber and Stoller in the booth. Brenda Reid's electrifying lead vocal, the jaunty beat, and darting strings were exhilarating; issued near month's end on UA, Tell Him became a #4 pop/#5 R&B smash. Van McCoy penned the flip, Hard Way To Go, which became a popular part of the group's live act. It's said that Dusty Springfield was convinced to go solo upon hearing the exhilarating Tell Him.
Despite suffering from the flu, Reid placed a blistering lead on The Exciters' bombastic He's Got The Power, penned by Ellie Greenwich and Tony Powers. Cut in January of '63, it made a #57 pop showing that March. Berns was in on the composition of Get Him, the quartet's next UA outing (it creased the lower end of the pop charts). Jeff Barry and Greenwich's irresistible Do-Wah-Diddy did a little pop business for The Exciters in early '64, but it was gargantuan for British Invasion band Manfred Mann later in the year, pacing the pop hit parade.
The Exciters gravitated to Roulette, gender-switching Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers' '56 hit I Want You To Be My Girl and having a minor chart entry in January of 1965. Another move to Berns' Bang logo gave them another hit with a revival of The Jarmels' '61 hit A Little Bit Of Soap in early 1966. They found their way to RCA for a last trip to the R&B charts with You Don't Know What You're Missing (Till It's Gone) in 1969. Along the way, Herb and Brenda wed (he had the power). Rooney died in the early '90s; Johnson passed May 7, 2007.
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