The Four Larks - Keep Climbing Brother b/w It's Unbelievable
Happy Wednesday all. Those of you who know record collectors, and those of us who collect records (at least those of us who are nominally self-aware) know that it has, like most collecting hobbies, and element of obsession to it (some might say sickness). This is manifested especially harshly in the actions of those – and I count myself among this group – that will hunt down certain records for years, even though they have a perfectly good copy of it on a reissue CD/LP somewhere. These records, which elude us over and over again, whether by virtue of their rarity or their expense (sometimes the same thing) are the elements that compose the storied “want list”. The want list is compiled, physically and mentally for sharing with those similarly afflicted as well as the facilitators, aka the folks sitting on stacks of rare records just waiting for folks like me to roll into their sights with a swollen wallet and a hungry look in my eyes. These are the record dealers. Anyway, the want list has, at least for me, evolved from a casual list of artists and labels that I hadn’t yet encountered in the field, into a carved-in-stone listing of records that I know I’ll probably never lay my hands on unless I’m willing to divert the odd mortgage payment (which I’ve sworn to my wife, under penalty of death that I would never, EVER do....really). These are the records that started out rare, got popular amongst collectors and as a result had their limited supply depleted to the point where – like a rent controlled apartment in New York City – someone has to die in order for one to change hands. Certainly, many of the records on my personal list aren’t THAT rare. I can assure that no matter how swollen my record collection is – and it is swollen – there are people out there that traffic in records that I’ve never heard of and will never be able to afford. Most of the stuff I’m still looking for are things that sit outside my price range, or are things that are so obscure, no one else knows/cares enough about them to offer them for sale. Some of my personal “white whales” have ended up in my crates for surprisingly low prices. Among the records in the first category (i.e. too costly) is ‘Groovin’ At The Go Go’ by the Four Larks on Tower. It is one of the all-time great Northern Soul records to come out of Philadelphia in the 1960’s and a big fave with our talcum spreading pals across the pond. It has also been heavily comped, so while owning a copy of the record may be tough, hearing it is extremely easy (which is why it’s so popular, etc etc.). The Four Larks were a Philly-based group initially composed of Jackie Marshall, Calvin Nicholls, Bill Oxedine and Weldon McDougal, though McDougal’s wife Irma would end up singing lead on most of their 45’s. Weldon McDougal is also the man that co-founded one of the greatest Philly soul labels of the 60’s, Harthon records. Starting in the early 60’s, they would release a string of 45s on the Sheryl, Arock, Priority, Fairmount, Wand, Tower and Uptown labels under the names the Larks, the Four Larks, Irma & The Larks and Irma & the Fascinators, in addition to singing backup on a wide variety of Harthon-related productions. Among their recordings is the stunning – though initially unreleased – ‘You Need Love’ by Irma & The Facinators which recycled the backing track from the Cooperettes ‘Shingaling’ to great effect. Over the years, I’ve managed to track down a number of their Tower and Uptown 45s – except of course ‘Groovin’ at the Go Go’ – and have enjoyed them all. A few months ago a friend sent along a sale list with a Four Larks record I’d never heard of. It was selling at a reasonable price, so I grabbed it. I’m glad I did. ‘Keep Climbing Brothers’ b/w ‘It’s Unbelievable’ was (as far as I can tell) the very last record the Four Larks ever released, sometime in 1969. The a-side ‘Keep Climbing Brothers’ is a funky instrumental, seemingly out of character with some of the group’s other sides. This can no doubt be attributed to changing times – things being funkier in 68/69. The cut features some rolling piano and funky drums, with a wailing sax soloing over most of the tune with the group chanting “Climbing! Climbing Brother!” in the background. The flip side is (what I believe to be) a remake of one of their first singles ‘It’s Unbelievable’. The tune – a not too distant cousin to the Flamingo’s ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ has some beautiful harmonies. Stylistically it can stand right alongside their other sweet soul classic ‘Rain’ (covered here earlier) . It’s so nice, I’m posting both sides of the record.
It would be nice if someone in Philly would get all of the Four Larks and related material together on a compilation. Weldon McDougal went on to work extensively with the Motown label in public relations/promotion.