THE EMOTIONS / “The Emotions Mixtape”
Other than the excellent Sweet Honey In The Rock, I can’t think of even one popular, all female ensemble/“girl group” that I really, really like, as in listen regularly to their recordings. My favorite singers are predominately women but there is something gender-regressive in the way the music industry presents female ensembles. Two or more women get together and almost from the jump, or soon thereafter, they are going to be presented as eye-candy—men-pleasing or desperately men-seeking (which is reductively the same thing). Of course, there are exceptions and outliers but as the cliché goes, the few on the margins prove that the majority are smack dab in the middle of male orchestrated, gender restrictions. Is estrogen really so musically potent that bands comprised of three or more females are automatically verboten except as some kind of “male fantasy,” which inherently means rather than self-determining women they are male-obsessed sycophants? Is there no real-world alternative for women in the music industry? Are Barbie-doll, video vixen, hopeless romantic and the like the only options open to most women in the entertainment industry? All of which is to contextualize The Emotions, the Chicago-based, Hutchinson family trio of two sisters (Wanda and Shelia) and a cousin (Theresa Davis) who both exemplify and contradict my characterization of female ensembles. Theresa replaced original member Jeanette Hutchinson, who left the group in 1970 when she got married and started a family. Although they were formally founded circa 1967, they had previously sang together as a church group called the Hutchinson Sunbeams. The musical director and inspiration of both the Sunbeams and later The Emotions is father and guitarist Joseph Hutchinson. During the formative years Purvis Staples (of the Chicago-based Staples Singers) served as the manager of The Emotions. With one striking exception, their early recordings on Stax (beginning in 1969) all fit comfortably in the femme stylistic straitjacket. That exception is the nearly ten-minute long recording of “Peace Be Still” from the Wattstax project. The obvious passion and power of “Peace Be Still” almost de facto demands a full concert recording but to do so would move the trio outside of the traditional musical orbit of women circling around men. Yeah, they could go gospel but they couldn’t go gospel and flourish in the popular context at the same time without genuflecting to male dominance. Think about all the girl groups who have recorded on mainstream labels. What elements do they have in common? Do any of the leading, popular groups go beyond the boundaries? The repressive political context acknowledged, The Emotions caught a second wind when they made the move to Columbia records after the 1975 demise of Stax Records. At Columbia they were produced by Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, and later they recorded on White’s ARC label, which was distributed by Columbia. After a string of wonderful recordings and popular success throughout the seventies, The Emotions did one album on Motown, which unfortunately was deep in the grips of disco fever. Following their one-off Motown foray, The Emotions produced on their own Sunbeam label and continued to perform as mainstays on the oldies circuit. When checking out their stellar Columbia era recordings, they sound to me like arranger Charles Stepney had a major hand in shaping the rhythms and harmonies surrounding and supporting the Hutchinson sisters who collectively came on strong as a stellar trumpet section. Cohesive, hitting all the high notes pitch perfect, and emotionally extrovert, they produced one of the most entrancing group sounds then or now. The blend of their voices is ethereal. The main lead is Shelia with Wanda stepping forward from time to time. You don’t even have to listen closely to notice a double lead on a number of selections. It’s almost as if they were having a duel with Shelia and Wanda improvising and the third Emotion (which at various times is Jeanette Hutchinson, Pamela Hutchinson or Theresa Davis) holding a steady background riff. It’s an exciting approach. If you want to check out the full range of their vocal expertise, listen to “Walking The Line,” which is a marvel in terms of harmony, especially all those perfectly hit, unison high notes full of dynamic swoops and syncopation. Their Stax years were heavy into R&B and a funky, down-home flavor. Indeed, “Blind Alley,” the opening selection of this Mixtape, is a mainstay sample used over and over in rap music—and that too is a noteworthy accomplishment for a female group. Their Columbia era material is ultra-sophisticated and infused with jazz influences that made for some of the most interesting vocal arrangements ever heard in pop music. There neither was, nor is, any female trio that can match The Emotions when it comes to popular music. It’s easy to overlook them because so much great music came out in the seventies but on a comparative basis, once one stops and really listens, stops and looks around to see what the other female groups of the seventies were up to, the superlative vocal accomplishments of The Emotions as a group are unparalleled. While Shelia’s warm lead vocals are scintillating, it’s the harmonic blend of the three voices that is their distinctive trademark. Joe Hutchinson required the young sisters to study music for an hour or so every day. You can hear the results in not only the tightness and rightness of their ensemble soundings but also in their wide ranging harmonic treatments that feature fiendishly clever intervals and soaring melodic lines that often step off into the stratosphere. But more than solely technical marvels, the content of their songs became more expansive during the Columbia years. On the compilation album Love Songs (which incidentally is my favorite Emotions album) the trio incorporated gospel snippets and philosophical explorations into their repertoire, thereby going beyond the general guidelines laid down for girl groups. Unfortunately, a healthy selection of recordings by The Emotions are out of print. This recording omission is particularly egregious in the case of their Flowers album, which legend has it was recorded in a matter of a handful of days in Chicago. And speaking about what’s missing. After you get knocked out by “Peace Be Still” and then utterly entranced by the acapella snippets of “We Go Through Changes” and “God Will Take Care Of You,” it’s obvious a gospel, or gospel-oriented, album was crying to be made—or am I the only one anxious to hear more from sacred music from The Emotions? I want to be clear, although I seek and applaud when they address social themes and deeply admire their technical skill, it’s the overall strong soulfulness of their sound that ultimately attracts me to The Emotions. I suppose in the final analysis, just as their group name denotes, their identity is an appeal to our feelings. Listening to The Emotions makes us feel good. —Kalamu ya Salaam The Emotions Mixtape Playlist So I Can Love You/Untouched 01 “Blind Alley” 02 “Show Me How” Sunshine 03 “Shouting Out Love” 04 “Gee Whiz” 05 “Ain't No Sunshine” 06 “What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas” Chronicle: Greatest Hits 07 “So I Can Love You” 08 “I Could Never Be Happy” 09 “The Best Part of a Love Affair” – unreleased 10 “Peace Be Still” - Wattstax: The Living Word Super Hits 11 “Walking The Line” 12 “Rejoice” 13 “Boogie Wonderland (with Earth, Wind and Fire)" 14 “Best Of My Love” Flowers 15 “Don't Wanna Lose Your Love” 16 “Me for You” 17 “How Can You Stop Loving Someone” Love Songs 18 “We Go Through Changes” 19 “Blessed” 20 “Flowers” 21 “Key To My Heart” 22 “Don't Ask My Neighbors” 23 “God Will Take Care Of You”
This entry was posted on Monday, June 28th, 2010 at 2:42 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
One Response to “THE EMOTIONS / “The Emotions Mixtape””
Leave a Reply
| top |