Marcia Griffiths is best known for her dance-floor rocker, Feel Like Jumping, and as a member of I-Threes. Feel Like Jumping was recorded in 1968 by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. I-Threes found Marcia, partnered with Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley. Throughout the 1970s playing an important part in Bob Marley`s creative circle. Around the same time as recording with I-Threes began – 1974 – Marcia released the solo LP Sweet & Nice on the Kingston, JA, based Wild Flower label.
Serving as a showcase for Marcia’s talents, while listening I was reminded of Shirley Bassey`s seminal set of Johnny Harris productions, Something. Since Sweet & Nice consists of Marcia’s interpretations of contemporary pop, r&b, soul hits, and standards. In Marcia’s case, produced by Lloyd Charmers. With Charmers – previously a member of the Bunny Lee-associated Uniques – also providing most of the musical backing on piano and organ.
Of the ten tracks on the original release four are Reggae ballads. Some like Marcia’s take on Neil Diamond’s Play Me (1) come with Country & Western-esque minor key melancholy. Marcia’s voice sounding classically-trained. Wringing all the perfectly enunciated emotion for a blue remembered love from Ewan MacColl`s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (2). Lighting up the lilt of The Main Ingredient`s Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely (3), and Van McCoy`s Sweet Bitter Love (4).
Curtis Mayfield`s Gypsy Woman (5) has its sex reassigned and gets shaken for a skank. Marcia’s cover of Bread`s Everything I Own contrasts with the more well-known Ken Boothe version. While both cuts were produced by Charmers in 1974, Boothe`s is anguished rocksteady, and Marcia’s is uptempo wah-wahed funk. Greasy and down-home, like Muscle Shoals Fame Studios, or rivals Stax, having a shot at disco. Similarly funky are the bass-heavy groove of Children At Play and the slow, sleazy rendition of Al Green`s Here I Am (Come And Take Me). The former coming on like Marlena Shaw’s Woman Of The Ghetto. The latter – before it reaches its pop hook – a piece of blunted, claustrophobic, dense, downtempo, dread, that Wu-Tang`s RZA might have sampled (6). Or that Adrian Younge might have fashioned. Both are prime candidates for a Tarantino cherry-pick.
The Be With Records reissue adds a second disc and fourteen more songs. Pulling in producers such as Geoffrey Chung, Erol “ET” Thompson, and Marcia’s long-term collaborator Bob Andy. Marcia gracing Bob’s Mark My Word with the kind of bold, confident, uplifting vocal usually found on a Northern Soul stomper. There are contributions by High Note, Sky Note, Gay Feet’s Sonia Pottinger and Harry “J” Johnson. The man behind Ska classic Liquidator, and the timeless Cuss Cuss rhythm. He also produced Bob and Marcia’s 1969 UK chart-topping cover of the Nina Simone / Weldon Irvine-penned Civil Rights anthem, Young Gifted And Black.
The Beatles, Yusuf Islam AKA Cat Stevens (7), Jackie DeShannon (8), Philadelphia International’s Gamble & Huff (9), Carol King (10), and George & Ira Gershwin all get versioned. Plus, there are a few Marcia originals. The selections drawing inspiration from international smashes by PP Arnold, Ella Fitzgerald, Freda Payne, Three Degrees, and Dinah Washington (11). Putting a Caribbean spin on hot imported sides from the 60s and 70s. Creating something for sharp-dressed Rude boys and girls, and Modernists, alike.
You can order a Marcia Griffiths` Sweet & Nice directly from Be With Records.
(1) Neil Diamond released Play Me in 1972.
(2) Marcia and Lloyd undoubtedly picked Ewan MacColl`s song based on Roberta Flack`s 1972 rendition.
(3) Originally recorded by Ronnie Dyson in 73, this was a bigger hit for The Main Ingredient in 74.
(4) Aretha Franklin made Van McCoy`s Sweet Bitter Love famous in 1965.
(5) Gypsy Woman was a hit for the Mayfield-led Impressions in 1961.
(6) Dead Prez and Kool G Rap did actually loop this track. Here I Am (Come And Take Me) had been subject to a previous Jamaican cover, in 1973, by Al Brown.
(7) PP Arnold made Yusuf Islam`s The First Cut Is The Deepest a chart-topper in 1967, on Andrew Loog Oldham`s Immediate imprint. Norma Frazer and KC White both tackled the hit in a Jamdown Stylee. Frazer for Coxsone Dodd in 67. White for Brad Osbourne`s Clocktower in 73. The latter forming the basis of I-Roy`s brilliant DJ cut of the tune.
(8) Jackie DeShannon`s Put A Little Love In Your Heart was a hit in 1969.
(9) Three Degrees scored with the Gamble & Huff-penned When Will I See You Again, on Philadelphia International, in 1973.
(10) Chosen Few`s own cover of Carol King`s It`s Too Late was another Charmers-produced hit, the year before, in 1973.
(11) In the late 50`s, early 60s, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald both covered George & Ira Gershwin`s Love Walked In. The song was written in 1937.