Something a little more obscure here and a CD I discovered relatively recently. Madeline Bell is best known in the UK as lead singer of Blue Mink who scored four Top 10 chart singles in the early 70’s. She was regularly used for advertising jingles and forged a career as a top session singer. She had strong associations with Dusty Springfield. She began recording over here in the mid 60’s when she relocated to London from New Jersey. Periodically there were solo releases and she scored her only Top 40 US chart position when her 1968 version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” got to number 26 in 1968. This track is included on this CD. The album “Bells A Poppin” was originally released on Philips (same label as Dusty) in 1967 and this RPM 2004 CD release has the tracks from the album together with tracks from singles from around the same period. It is an excellent mix of tracks which should have seen Bell become a household name. Produced by Johnny Franz, who had huge success with his work with Dusty and The Walker Brothers and had big hits for Shirley Bassey, Frankie Vaughan and many other British acts under his belt by the time he saw star potential in Bell. The late 60’s was an excellent time for songwriting and the song selection on this is first class. As on many UK albums of this era, it is mainly cover versions, but here most of the songs would be not very well known which gave Madeline the chance to really make them her own.
Kicking things of is “Picture Me Gone”. This is a track which cemented Madeline’s reputation on the UK Northern Soul scene. Kev Roberts’ 2000 tome “Northern Soul Top 500” has this listed as number 467 of all time. The backing singers are there from the get-go with the taunting refrain – “picture me in someone else’s arms, picture me making love to him”, then Madeline eases into what is a very good song. It manages to be both very smooth and very jangly, creating an air of tension which works so well. It is inexplicable that this did not make the charts when released as a single. You can’t help feeling that a version by Sandie Shaw, Cilla, Lulu or Dusty would have scored big. That feeling does not go away throughout this CD. It really is a showcase of Madeline’s talents, you do get more in the way of Northern Soul Stompers (her version of Shirley Ellis’ numbers driven “Soul Time” and “Don’t Come Running To Me”). There’s songs written by equally under-rated talents, a couple of early Ashford and Simpson compositions and one written by Doris Troy, who like Bell and other American girls like PP Arnold were regular visitors to the UK where they had higher visibility than in their homeland. There’s a couple of Bacharach/David songs which can’t help but make comparisons to Dionne Warwick and Bell’s American hit was originally recorded by Dionne’s sister, Dee Dee, another greatly under-rated sixties singer. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is best known as a Top 3 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1969 by the pairing of supergroups Supremes and The Temptations. Madeline’s version is more subtle and less sugary than this and works very nicely. There’s a Lennon/McCartney track “You Won’t See Me” given a delicious girl-group feel; a rewritten Italian song (this was big business for girl singers in the sixties, there was considerable trawling for songs which would work well translated, think Dusty’s “You Don’t Have To See You Love Me” and Cilla’s “You’re My World”). Big productions, emotive lyrics, Madeline’s take on “It Makes No Difference Now” fits the bill exactly. Of the songs that would be familiar to the record-buyers of the time “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” is given a delightful Spanish Mariachi feel and “Climb Every Mountain” was put out as a single in 1967 probably to capitalise on the continuing success of the film version of “Sound Of Music”. There’s a real warmth to this version (I’ve always thought it to be a rather cold song). An effortless vocal performance over soaring violins make this a cover of a “Sound Of Music” song which has perhaps not been bettered since Mary J Blige recently tackled “My Favourite Things”. In “Mercy Mercy Mercy” there’s a Southern Soul feel with a gospel edge to Madeline’s voice which is surprisingly effective for an orchestral recording session in London in the mid 60’s. And of course there is the Dusty connection. Sleeve notes do not tell us whether Dusty was vocally present on these tracks (although it is highly likely she appears uncredited in background) but “I’m Gonna Leave You” was co-written by the two girls and they both recorded it and Dusty and Johnny Franz redid Jerry Butler’s “Mr Dream Merchant” for her 1968 “Definitely..Dusty” album. I prefer the arrangement of this haunting, plaintive melody on Bell’s earlier version.
All in all this is a top class British production by a top class Black American singer. Maybe the mid 60’s was not ready for such a combination but it’s a sheer delight that these recordings have survived to show what should have been.
At time of writing this CD can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk for £12.86 new, from £10.73 used or American listeners can buy new for $15.23, used for $14.98. It is not currently available as a download in the UK or on Spotify.