Friday, October 17, 2014

THE FIVE STAIRSTEPS: Our Family Portrait/Stairsteps (Expanded Twofer Edition)

Formed in Chicago in 1965 and known initially as “The First Family Of Soul,” The Five Stairsteps consisted of Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr., James, Dennis and Kenneth (‘Keni’) Burke, and were managed by their father Clarence Sr., who also played bass behind them and co-wrote some of their material.   After winning a talent contest at the famed Regal Theater, the group was introduced to the legendary Curtis Mayfield by Fred Cash of The Impressions, which led to their first recording contract with Mayfield’s Windy C label.  Between 1966 and 1968, The Five Stairsteps had six pop and R&B charted singles, the most successful of which was “World of Fantasy.” 

After Windy C folded, the group continued their association with Curtom Records, distributed at the time by Buddah Records; in total, The Five Stairsteps cut two albums under Mayfield’s wing before switching to Buddah in 1968 for their first LP for the label, Our Family Portrait, with lead singer/primary composer Clarence Jr. and his father as co-producers.  The album included two charted singles, “Something’s Missing” (R&B #17, Pop #88) and a cover of the doo-wop classic, “A Million to One” (R&B #28, Pop #68), a song written by Righteous Brother Bill Medley.  Each member of the group took turns singing lead on various tunes, including the Burkes’ youngest son, Cubie (then just five years old).  Released as “The 5 Stairsteps & Cubie,” the LP reached No. 20 on the R&B Albums chart and No. 195 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart.

In 1970, the group (minus Cubie) began working with producer/arranger Stan Vincent on the album Stairsteps. In addition to further Burke originals, there were two Beatles covers, “It’s Getting Better” and “Dear Prudence,” but it was the song originally issued as the flipside of the latter’s release as a single that would ensure the group’s place in music history.  The bright and upbeat anthem “O-o-h Child” sold over a million copies, was certified gold and reached No. 8 on the Hot 100 and No. 14 on the R&B charts.  The LP became a best-seller, No. 12 on the R&B Albums chart and No. 83 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart

Now reissued for the first time in their original form, these two classic soul albums appear together on this great release from Real Gone Music in association with SoulMusic Records along with three non-album singles: “Madame Mary” (a 1968 track produced and written by Curtis Mayfield and arranged by Donny Hathaway), “The Shadow of Your Love” from the Family Portrait sessions, and “America/Standing,” a Hot 100 charting single (#83) in 1970.  Liner notes by renowned writer and soul music expert Kevin Goins include quotes from Keni Burke, producer Vincent and music industry veterans Cecil Holmes of Buddah Records and Curtom label co-founder Eddie Thomas. Remastered at Sony’s own Battery Studios in NYC.

Our Family Portrait
1. A Million to One
2. You Make Me So Mad
3. Something’s Missing
4. The Look of Love
5. New Dance Craze
6. Windows of the World
7. Bad News
8. Tell Me Who
9. Under the Spell
10. Find Me
11. I Remember You

12. Getting Better
13. Dear Prudence
14. Sweet as a Peach
15. Vice the Lights
16. O-o-h Child
17. Because I Love You
18. What About Your Wife
19. Up & Down
20. Who Do You Belong To

Bonus Tracks
21. Madame Mary
22. The Shadow of Your Love
23. America Standing

~ Real Gone Music

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