If you asked me who was the best singer out of the 1960s Great Britain, I could say Lennon & McCartney. I could make a great case for Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark, too. But the other vocalist who deserves consideration is Lulu, and her first LP for Atco, New Routes (SD 33-310, stereo, 1969).
Even the front and back cover of the LP say something. Unlike her young role in the Sidney Poitier movie To Sir With Love, these photos show off a more mature woman. Sitting on the side of the road (front cover) or standing knee deep in water (back cover), this isn’t the high schooler we saw on the silver screen.
Yes, Lulu. Best known for singing the theme song in the aforementioned movie, I don’t think she charted much in the states after the film. But a listen to her LPs from the late 60s and 70s and you’ll find a helluva singer who easily, or oddly, could sing American soul. That’s where New Routes fits in. If it sounds like it was recorded in the American South, it’s because it was…at Muscle Shoals. With a great rhythm & horn section that includes Duane Allman on guitar. And it works!
There’s a rasp, a snarl that comes out of the diminutive pop singer with the cherry pie good looks. She just doesn’t look like she can bring it, and then she does. If you’re a fan of Dusty Springfield’s definitive record, Dusty In Memphis, New Routes is in a similar, if rougher edged vein. Routes is less produced, however. It’s more about Lulu and the band, rather than the orchestration and production values. It’s simpler than Dusty In Memphis. Grittier. You can almost hear Otis Redding singing the same songs. He recorded for Atco, too. So did Ben E. King and King Curtis. You get the picture.
Lulu has the same ability to sing behind the beat, just like the best of the American soul singers. Mr. Bojangles is a good example of that. She’s more laid back on the beat, compared to the version I first heard on AM radio by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970.
My fave tune is a cover of Jim Doris’ Oh Me Oh My. There’s something soothing about the way she sings the opening lines and the strings in the background work well. But when she gets to the chorus and sings the title line, well, you just believe her. Then there’s a cool Duane Allman guitar lick that brings you back to verse number two. A great song, it’s been covered by Aretha Franklin and there’s a great version by B.J. Thomas, too.
I first heard Feelin’ Alright when Three Dog Night covered it. Lulu’s version is more soulful, with plenty of that raspiness that creates a real edge to her voice, like sandpaper. But not so much that her voices sounds like it’s going to fall apart. It’s a pleasant sound, really. She pulls you in with it.
The recording quality of this LP is pretty good for the era. It does have a bit of that early multitracking feeling to it…meaning it’s somewhat compressed. It’s as if the mic preamp and tape couldn’t quite contain the power in her voice. The instruments don’t quite jump outta the groove with power and the mix has the drums panned hard left, rather than in the center. I don’t mind, but some people hate this type of mix. Don’t get me wrong, it’s better than some rock LPs recorded at the same time in America.
Lulu does a fine job with the slower tunes. She doesn’t take it easy, however. There’s still plenty of soul pouring out of her on Is That You Love. I can imagine less talented singers barely getting through a song like this, lazily loping through the lyrics. Not Lulu. The girl lets you have it, every song. If you don’t like the song, it’s probably not her fault.
Lennon & McCartney. Springfield and Clark. Fine company all, and you can include Lulu in the mix. If you must, both Rhino and Atco have released the LP on CD…except they are both out of print and a quick look on Amazon found the CDs are super pricey. Instead, go to Real Gone Music and pick up the Atco Sessions two CD set for $17. Or do as I do and scour the vinyl bins and hope you get lucky. I paid $5.99, I don’t doubt you could find it for a similar price.
Got a minute? Check out my medley of tunes, direct from the LP’s vinyl grooves!