The Choice Four – 1974 – The Finger Pointers
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The Choice Four were a very classy all male quartet that I imagine RCA had high hopes for. The now legendary Van McCoy was beginning to hone his sound that proved so devastating in the more sophisticated 70s discos, and The Choice Four were one of his earliest projects to benefit from this flourishing talent. Ironically, their debut “The Finger Pointers” was predominantly ballad driven, but perhaps demonstrated the more mature aspects of Van McCoy’s repertoire. They went on to score with another two wonderful albums without ever really catching fire with the masses. Hear their debut and contribute to the belated rapturous applause that it deserves.
A1 The Finger Pointers (part 1) 3.06
A2 Can’t Get Used To Sleeping Alone 3.24
A3 The Woman I’m Being True To 3.27
A4 I Need Your Love To Keep Me Warm 3.30
A5 I Can’t Make you Love Me 3.27
B1 Ready, Willing and Able 2.52
B2 You’re So Right For Me 3.59
B3 If I Don’t Love You 3.06
B4 The Finger Pointers (part 2) 3.16
Review by Trakbuv
Only the choicest cuts are selected for your delectation – and this week we include The Choice Four. A quartet of the finest, succulent soul tenderised in a lush gravy courtesy of Cordon Bleu chef extraordinaire, Van McCoy. Mr McCoy had come fresh from success as arranger and producer with The Stylistics (“Heavy” and “Let’s put it all together” LPs, under the close supervision of Hugo and Luigi) and working with Faith, Hope & Charity (with whom The Choice Four would later record “A time for celebration”). Armed with a slew of McCoy originals, he seems to be much more liberal with the soul sauce and less inclined with those familiar heavy drums and vibraphone laced melodies that scored so heavily in the mid to late seventies. And with one the earliest collaborations with long-term writing/arranger partner, Charles Kipps, this LP is as much an important statement in the career of Van McCoy as it is for the Choice Four.
The Choice Four were Bobby Hamilton (lead tenor), Ted Maduro (second tenor), Pete Marshall (first tenor) and Charles Blagmore (tenor baritone and bass). All were very adept at taking centre stage providing a lovely breadth to their quality. Maduro and Marshall had been part of a doo-wop act called The Love Tones, while Blagmore had come from The Stridells. I managed to locate a couple of very competent doo-wop numbers by The Love Tones (‘United’ and ‘Talk to an angel’) that may be attributed to the same act. The Stridells were a more progressive ensemble and had a couple of seriously soulful releases in ‘Mix it up’ and the gorgeous ‘Power to dream’. An interesting interview with Osiris Marsh, a one-time member of The Stridells who later went on to form the famed funk outfit, Osiris, showcases the rivalry between The Love Tones and Stridells : “The Stridells could out-sing just about any other group in school. To prove it, they battled against their rivals, The Love Tones, at a talent show. ‘We blew ’em away’, Osiris laughed. ‘They were good guys, though. I know ’em all. We all went to the same high-school, Eastern High-school, here in Washington. The Love Tones had been there, doing their thing, a year ahead of me. They could dance real good.'” I’m not so clear about the roots of Bobby Hamilton, although a gentleman with a striking tenor of the same name had had a moderate hit with ‘Crazy eyes for you’ (Billboard Top 40).
“The Finger Pointers” was the debut long player for The Choice Four, released in 1974 on the powerful RCA imprint during the heyday of Sweet Soul. And what a spectacular way to open the curtain on these gifted singers with a tried and tested formula of catchy hipshakers and dreamy cuddlers all hallmarked with a Van McCoy symbol of supreme quality. We open with one of the singles, “The Finger Pointers”, a kind of homage to ‘The Backstabbers‘, and it is the perfect introduction to the exceptionally catchy uptempo style that Van was developing, although I was very surprised to find it only managed to hit #85 on the R&B Charts. This is followed by the cream track of the LP, the extraordinarily divine “Can’t get used to” – a track that never fails to make my forearms bristle. “Woman I’m being true to” is a slightly more funky stepper, and is the sole contribution of Charles Kipps. Side One closes with two downtempo goodies, “I need your love” being the better and a throwback to the warm sound of The Chi-Lites at their best.
Side Two kicks off similarly to Side One, with a skip-a-long tuneful dittie in the form of “Ready, Willing & Able” (and like “The Finger Pointers”, it would be re-recorded by David Ruffin). Another single released from the LP was the adorable ballad “You’re so right for me”, a direct link with Van’s time with the Stylistics, and surprisingly it only attained #63 R&B considering how popular The Stylistics were, and how lovely the track is. Then one of my very favourite Van McCoy compositions (with Joe Cobb), the utterly brilliant “If I don’t love you”. And while this does not quite match the deft beauty of Bobby Reed‘s version from 1970, it is still undeniably stunning. An album that may have been hindered by the lack of thump to the butt with being more perfectly attuned to the lump to the throat, it is still a very honourable reminder that many outfits, like Blue Magic and The Chi-Lites, were not overly concerned with having a ballad heavy 33. And for me, that was always a welcome pleasure.
Another exceptional LP from an exceptional outfit, this time capturing Van McCoy at his most exquisite.