Nolan Porter - 1972 – Nolan
Nolan Porter had been through a lot in his short recording career. His records were billed as Nolan, Frederick II, and N.F. Porter, and his producer Gabriel Mekler’s record companies (Lizard and Vulture) closed up shop. Mekler licensed Nolan’s previous Lizard/Vulture recordings and new Nolan Porter material to ABC. It is important to note that ABC never signed Nolan Porter as an artist, but his licensed recordings appeared on the label in 1972 and 1973.
Mekler got Nolan Porter back into the studio in the middle of August 1972. The resulting sessions, which would prove to be Nolan’s last for many years, produced the rockin’ soul classics “If I Could Only Be Sure” and “Oh Baby“, as well as Mekler’s “Work It Out In The Morning” and the reggae/pop tune “Singer Man“.
A1 I Like What You Give 2:51
A2 Groovin’ (Out on Life) 3:00
A3 Somebody’s Gone 2:12
A4 Work It Out in the Morning 2:45
A5 Oh Baby 3:07
B1 If I Could Only Be Sure 3:21
B2 Crazy Love 2:54
B3 Singer Man 2:08
B4 Burn Down the Cornfield 2:55
B5 Keep On Keepin’ On 3:07
Review by RDTEN1
With support from long time friend, mentor, and producer Gabriel Mekler, 1971 found Nolan Porter finally getting a shot at big time success via a recording contract with ABC records. Produced by Mekler, “Nolan” offered up a mixture of original material and some interesting cover choices – Van Morrison (‘Crazy Love’) and Randy Newman (‘Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield’). The collection was a little unorthodox in that it featured a mixture of previously recorded tunes and new studio material. ‘I Like What You Give’, ‘Crazy Love’ and ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’ had all been previously released as singles on Mekler’s Lizard label. Similarly, powered by a sizzling slide guitar solo, the cover of Newman’s ‘Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield’ and the reggaefied ‘Groovin’ (Out On Life)’ sounded like leftovers from the 1970 “No Apologies” sessions recorded with Lowell George and other members of The Mothers of Invention. The other four tracks were apparently new studio efforts.
Musically the album had quite a bit going for it. Porter had a remarkable voice that was surprisingly adaptable – almost chameleon like. Tracks like ‘I Like What You Give‘ and ‘If I Could Only Be Sure‘ effectively showcased his soul roots and were easily the album’s creative highlights. ‘Working It Out In the Morning’ underscored his pop ambitions, while ‘Groovin’ (Out On Life)‘ and ‘Singer Man‘ made it clear Johnny Nash wasn’t the only early-’70s American artist to have discovered reggae. That diversity was also the album’s chief shortcoming. With the collection bouncing all over the musical map, it was simply hard to figure out what Porter’s real aims were. Still, by my count the album had four top rate performances and three also-rans. That’s a pretty healthy batting average.
I Like What You Give is sweet, wonderful summer-ready tune with an easy-going melody that lodged in your hear and wouldn’t leave you alone. Nice drum break around 1:25. Pass that Corona and lime over here … Released as a single the tune should have provided Porter with a big hit. Porter’s ‘Groovin’ (Out On Life)‘ was interesting as an early reggae tune … not necessarily a good reggae tune, but still a reggae tune.
If you’ve ever heard really bad early-’70s European pop tunes like The George Baker Section, Brotherhood of Man, David Essex, Mungo Jerry, Mocedados, Chris Rea, etc. then there’s a good chance ‘Working It Out In the Morning‘ will resonate with you. That’s not necessarily a good thing.
Opening up with a sax solo that sounded like it had been copped from a Happy Days episode, ‘Oh Baby‘ was bouncy and extremely derivative … come to think of it, the song sounded like it would have fit on the Happy Day’s jukebox.
I don’t use the term “lost classic” very often, but ‘If I Could Only Be Sure‘ deserves the tag. This song had everything going for it – mesmerizing melody; Porter’s silky smooth delivery; great Hammond B-3 solo (wonder if it was Booker T. Jones); killer guitar solo … One that’s stored in my top-100 listing. Interestingly, in an interview with Michael Greig Thomas (see the link below), Porter indicated Mekler’s co-writing credit came as a surprise to him. The tune was released as the album’s third single:
– 1971’s ‘If I Could Only Be Sure’ b/w ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’ (ABC catalog number ABC 11343) For hardcore fans, Paul Weller did a nice cover of the tune on his first solo album “Studio 150”.
Crazy Love : I certainly criticize Porter for his taste in material – Van Morrison. That said, his rote cover added nothing to the original. In fact, his delivery was a but on the shrill side. That didn’t stop the song from being tapped as a single. Credited to Nolan, the song was released as a mono pressing.
– 1972’s ‘Crazy Love’ b/w ‘What Would You Do If I Did That To You’ (Lizard catalog number X-21003A)
Another reggae tune – the ballad ‘Singer Man‘ has always reminded me of something out of the Johnny Nash catalog. I’ll leave it at that. ABC may have seen the Nash comparison, tapping the song as a single:
– 1971’s ‘Singer Man’ b/w ‘Oh Baby’ (ABC catalog number ABC 11367)
Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield, based on the backing band, I’m guessing this Randy Newman cover was a tune left over from the debut album recording sessions – the sizzling slide guitar sure sounded like Lowell George. Nice cover – Porter’s voice was certainly better than Newman’s.
‘Keep On Keepin’ On‘ closed the album with an unexpected Northern Soul classic. Kicked along by support from guitarists Freddie King and George Walker it may have been recorded in 1972, but the tune just oozed mid-’60s soul. Easily one of the best things in Porter’s catalog.
I won’t even try to guess why, but for some reason the single was released credited to N.F. Nolan.
– 1972’s ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’ b/w ‘Don’t Make Me Color My Black Face Blue’ (Lizard catalog number (45-1010) Funny story, but RCA’s Bernie Binnick wanted a punk band to cover the tune. His efforts never saw fruition, though Joy Division eventually swiped the guitar riff for their song ‘Interzone‘.
None of the singles sold well and the parent album vanished into cutout bins. Similarly Mekler’s Lizard label tanked, leaving Nolan to sue him for damages. By the end of the year Nolan was left without a label, effectively spelling the end of his recording career.
For anyone interested in learning more about Porter, in 2014 Michael Greig Thomas published a lengthy interview with the artist. You can read it at: http://the45sclub.com/interview-with-nolan-porter/