Johnny Nash & Kim Weston – LP
Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon. Total nonsense of course. There was music too. But the suggestion was that I was missing out. Total nonsense too. Products have so much to teach us. So many stories to tell …
I just have to tell you about my dream last night. It was so good I didn’t want it to end.
I’d been dreaming that I was working in some bank or certainly a financial organisation of some kind, and I was involved in a PR or Comms related role, in a fairly senior position. And I’d had to go on one of those dreaded team building or brainstorming sessions. You know, get away from the workplace. The top team spending quality time together. Being open and honest with one another. Which basically means being completely insincere, and saying all the right things in all the places without rocking the boat.
Anyway, one of the sessions was on cost efficiency, and we’d suddenly got controversial, talking about the money we spend on consultants and outside agencies, when we’re not tapping into resources within the company, which I made a bad thing about. And the MD asks: “Like?” So stupid here pipes up: “Like the advertising campaigns and marketing activity. We spend fortunes on engaging people to come up with stupid ideas. What about ideas of our own?” Talk about dropping yourself in it! I was handpicked to go away and come up with some ideas.
So we had another brainstorm, and came up with a plan that miraculously got approved. And the plan was for me a piece of pure indulgence. I based the whole ad campaign around Johnny Nash & Kim Weston singing We Try Harder, with real staff shaking and shimmying in their local branches. It was such a simple idea that it worked. And it was totally the right song.
It was a bit hypocritical I guess. I’d always been critical of people like KFC or whoever. These multinationals appropriating old soul stuff to sell whatever. But hey ho. It’s such a fantastic song, and criminally unsung, I felt justified suggesting and using it. After all it was either that or Jonathan Richman singing about being in love with the new bank teller.
Moving along, things gathered speed, as the ads came out, and the song caught on, and became available initially as a download then properly released and played to death on Radio Two, leading to the LP itself of Johnny Nash and Kim Weston being reissued at last, and the juggernaut was up and rolling.
And I was part of it. PR Week or someone did a piece on me, and how the ad campaign came about, with a big editorial about whether this was a new threat to the agencies. Then Record Collector did an interview with me. I felt a bit of a fraud actually not being a real collector, but there the dream blended with reality as they reported the story of how I had picked this wonderful Johnny Nash & Kim Weston LP way back in the halcyon days of boot fairs, and there was a photo of me surrounded by these records I’d bought for next to nothing like all the old Music for Pleasure LPs like Bobbie Gentry, Lee Hazlewood, Kiki Dee’s Motown set, the Strawbs with Sandy Denny, Pink Floyd’s Relics, and all that. Life before ebay eh?
I’m quoted describing how I’d bought the Johnny Nash and Kim Weston LP for 50p round a local school whose PTA was having a regular boot fair around that time. I’d just that record on spec simply because it had such a beautiful cover. Kim has this brilliant afro, and wonderfully enigmatic expression, and just looks so amazingly gorgeous with soulful eyes downcast, and a beautiful suede jacket, standing next to Johnny who’s in leather and holding an acoustic guitar. I make a big thing about this LP being one of my all time favourites, and that it’s been so terribly overlooked even with Kim’s Motown recordings carefully collated.
I argue everywhere that while hitherto Kim is best known for her duets with the master Marvin, It Takes Two and all that, and while it may be tantamount to heresy, the record with Johnny Nash is so much better. Their voices blending perfectly, and there being some lovely country touches, and so on. I am very pompous sounding, describing how my copy of the LP was from 1969 on the Major Minor label, who’d had a hit with Je T’Aime (Moi Non Plus) by Jane and Serge, and how they’d also put out some singles by Kim, including a fantastic rendition of the Marvelettes’ Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead.
The next thing was that there was a great feature on Kim Weston which Lois Wilson wrote for MOJO, and I was quoted in that too, talking about Kim’s holy Amercan trilogy of post-Motown records, starting with This Is America, which I pitch as a crazy concept creation which was so late-‘60s and a mad mix of protest and celebration, being very much a document of its time. And I’m pictured holding the sleeve of This Is America with that fantastic John Sposato collage and Kim and those eyes of hers on the front hands together like she’s praying, and I’ve got the gatefold sleeve opened right out. They’ve got me jabbering on about this fantastically ambitious record which on one level is a set of standards reinterpreted for the time and rendered in a dramatic way that was part sophisticated Streisand and part grrritty gospel. I make a big thing out of the symbolism of the quotes used on the inner sleeve, including Walt Whitman and Archibald MacLeish, particularly to us now in the age where everything is so dumbed down, and most importantly the Nat Hentoff sleeve notes, and I’d persuaded Lois to quote the final paragraph.
Lois herself made a great case for the Stax/Volt set from 1971, which followed the LP with Johnny Nash, and saw her heading south and really letting her church and dramatic roots show. The whole feature makes the argument for how Kim was one of the greatest of Motown vocalists, with Brenda Holloway, and yet seemed somehow to part of a conspiracy designed to hold her back, despite the brilliance of recordings like A Thrill A Moment, Helpless, Take Me For A Little While. It’s incredible how even a record for a label like Stax seems buried when it’s got tracks on as amazing as the two she wrote with husband Mickey Stevenson, Soul On Fire and Brothers and Sisters (Get Together), and anyway it’s got Patrice Holloway on backing vocals so what more do you need to know.
The best part of the dream though, and I’m still smiling about this and my part in it, was Kim performing at the Royal Festival Hall, as part of a Meltdown season curated by Robert Wyatt, where she is treated like royalty outside of the Northern Soul scene for once, and arrangements have been made for her to perform This Is America in its entirety, which is one of those once in a lifetime religious experiences, and for an encore she sings some of her old songs, with Robert himself appearing to join her on We Try Harder, and I’m sure she’s about to dedicate to me, thanking me for revitalising her career accidentally, and the next thing I know the alarm is going off. Grrr ….
© 2007 John Carney