I’ve always regretted never having seen the Vibrations live, even though they came over to the UK in the mid-60s. I saw the next best thing, though, when I caught the Steinways, over here as one of the fake Platters groups. They included a dance segment in their act where they paid tribute to other groups – the Olympics’ Philly Dog, doing the Temptation Walk, the Four Tops ‘swaying’ etc but demonstrating that the best of the all were the wild Vibrations, who did somersaults, backdrops and flips. The real thing must have been even greater.
Some groups are known for soulful ballads, some for their cool image, and others for harmonies or novelty comedy material. Whilst the Vibrations have recorded in all these styles, they’re best known for their frantic, up-tempo, rasping ‘take no prisoners’ style. In the early days of the Northern scene at the Torch, Catacombs, Mecca etc, Okeh-released Vibrations sides were ideal for the dancers’ demands, along with other frenetic sounds from label mates Little Richard and Larry Williams and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Dance material wasn’t new to the group: they had done the Pony, Slop, Watusi, Continental et al for Checker and, in previous incarnations like the Jayhawks, provided rockin’ tracks a decade earlier.
This Kent contains all the non ‘standard’ sides that the lads cut for Okeh/Epic between 1964-68. The roll call of producers and arrangers they were involved with through these years is amazing: Carl Davis, Johnny Pate, Curtis Mayfield in Chicago and New York, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in Philly, plus songwriters including Eugene Record, Gerald Sims, Barrett Strong, Curtis again, Bert Berns etc.
‘Cause Your Mine’, released on Epic in 1968, has an irresistible intro that demands you head straight for that dance floor and try to keep up with the compelling beat. It’s also even longer on here – the issued 45 was an edited mono mix! Their 1967 UK Columbia single ‘Pick Me’, is also presented in an unedited stereo mix, together with its great flip, Barrett Strong’s ‘You Better Beware’. The group’s other Northern classics ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’, ‘Soul A Go Go’ and End Up Crying’ are included and show why they are so in-demand. It’s not all up-tempo. There are sweet soul ballads including ‘Remember The Rain’, ‘Hello Happiness’, a personal favourite ‘Finding Out The Hard Way’ and the exquisite ‘Forgive And Forget’.
The high standard of this material doesn’t drop with the unissued tracks. There are five here, all crackers – the Eugene Record-penned driving ‘Always Had Your Way’ from the ‘67 session, an infectious ‘Follow Your Heart’ from their first session, the fantastically titled ‘I Peeped Your Hole Card’ (not the Willie Tee song) plus two beautiful Impressionistic tracks, ‘Searching Is Over’ and ‘Don’t Let It Hide’, penned by Curtis Mayfield.
After Okeh, the Vibrations recorded other dancers in Philly, split up in 1971, reformed and turned a little funky for their “Mandela” album. They broke up finally around ‘76 (longstanding member Ricky Owens died that year) just before the disco era where with their moves they might have been kings. This superbly presented CD, which includes a full Okeh/Epic sessionography and comprehensive sleevenotes from Tony Rounce, is a fitting testimony to this unique group.
By John Marriott
CLICK HERE FOR A COMPLETE OKEH/EPIC SESSIONGRAPHY