Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Groovin' on some sunshine soul: The Free Movement

Doesn't that sound positively nifty?

That, children, is the sound of The Free Movement, though it's okay if you mistook it for The Fifth Dimension. (Then again, it's not okay; after all, I already wrote the name of the band in the subject line, didn't I? What are you anyway, thick?)

Much like 5D, the FM were aimed squarely at AM... radio, that is. Their well-scrubbed, studio-polished lite soul was an analogue to the kind of chirpy, pristinely-produced pop-rock being offered by bands like The Mamas & The Papas, The Association, Millennium and Spanky & Our Gang--a style that has since been retroactively dubbed "sunshine pop." Hence, I like to think of The Free Movement as "sunshine soul"; this category would also include the likes of The Friends of Distinction and maybe some of Dionne Warwick(e)'s stuff, too.

The Free Movement was composed of six singers--three female and three male--who came together in early 1971 and hit the ground running with the top 10 single "I've Found Someone of My Own" (which would be a top 5 country hit for Cal Smith the following year).

The next single, "The Harder I Try (The Bluer I Get)" performed decently in late 1971 and was quickly followed by the longplayer I've Found Someone Of My Own in 1972. Another single followed, but by the end of 1972, The Free Movement had vanished into the ether. It's not hard to understand why--by the early 1970s, the general tone of American pop music landscape was becoming progressively darker and there was little room for chromatic, optimistic pop ditties. Even soul music, traditionally fueled on the virtue of pure hope, had turned to paranoid, cynical sentiments as expressed in The O'Jay's "Back Stabbers" and "Don't Call Me Brother," Sly & The Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On and Norman Whitfield's productions for The Temptations.

While much has been written in recent years about "psychedelic soul," sunshine soul is mostly ignored, excluded even from the playlists of soul oldies radio stations. That's messed up, man.

Check out their rousing (but polite) version of Stephen Stills' "Love The One You're With":

I wonder if The Free Movement's name was in any way inspired by The Free Design. That would be a gas, eh?


skateboardj said...

You really love pop music don't you? Glad to see old age hasn't turned you into a curmudgeon.

I realized that 5th Dimension were sunshine soul rather than psych soul I had to omit them from the mixcd.

That's why I like Shuggie Otis so much. He was able to mix both sub-genres.

Comb & Razor said...

well, you know that underneath it all, i've always had a tooth for some sugary-sweet pop!

funny you should mention Shuggie Otis, though... after i wrote this entry i thought about adding something about him... how Inspiration Information kinda represented sunshine soul's last stand.

Shuggie's interesting in that he was a bridge between sunshine and psych, and he showed that they were really mirror images of each other.

Inspiration Information was, in a way, a reflection of There's a Riot Goin' On... Shuggie took drew from Sly's sonic innovations, but not from his paranoia and despair. he took the body of psychedelic soul and shot it full of pure sunshine.

and not surprisingly, the album was completely ignored at the time of its release.

anyway, you know i'm really looking forward to that mix!