The Unifics – 1968 – Sittin’ In At The Court Of Love
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Rip and research by Mr.Moo
The one and only album by The Unifics – and a beautiful precursor to the solid group sounds of the east coast early 70s. The group’s got some wonderful harmonies – still raw, but showing the strength of smooth production to hit some very strong moments. Arrangements are by Richard Rome, Bert De Coteaux, and a very young Donny Hathaway – and the lead singer of the group is AI Johnson who went on to release a couple of highly acclaimed albums, including ‘Peaceful’ (in 1978), ‘Back For More’ (in 1980) and ‘My Heart Is An Open Book’ (in 1998).
A1 Court of Love 2:49
A2 Which One Should I Choose 2:03
A3 Tables Turned 3:10
A4 Harper Valley PTA 4:11
A5 This Guy’s In Love With You 4:30
B1 Toshi Sumasu 3:13
B2 It’s All Over 3:16
B3 People Got to Be Free 3:46
B4 Little Green Apples 4:46
B5 A Hard Day’s Night 3:17
Review by RDTEN1
Marvin Brown, Tom Fauntleroy, Bob Hayes, Al Johnson, and George Roland met and started their musical partnership in 1966 while attending Washington, D.C.’s Howard University. Originally known as Al & the Vikings, the group morphed into The Unique Five, quickly followed by a decision to adopt The Unifics nameplate. Playing at dances and local clubs won the band a local audience, but within a year they underwent a series of personnel changes. Fauntlleroy was drafted and Hayes and Roland also left the group, replaced by Greg Cook and Michael Ward. A second personnel spasm saw Brown replaced by Harold Worthington.
In spite of the shifting line up the group managed to attract a mentor in the form of manager Guy Draper who quickly signed the group with Kapp as well as starting to write and produce material for the group.
Written and produced by Draper, group made their debut with 1968’s ‘Court of Love‘ b/w ‘Which One Should I Choose‘ (Kapp catalog number K-935). Even though it was a cheesy, gimmicky ballad, the 45 provided the group with a top-40 pop and top-10 R&B hit. As was standard marketing procedure Kapp management wasted no time trying to capitalize on their unexpected success, rushing the group into the studio to record a supporting album. Produced by Draper, “Sittin’ In At the Court of Love” offered up a mixture of Draper-penned numbers and popular covers. As you’d expect the results were rather uneven. Drapped penned tracks like ‘Which One Should I Chose‘, the sweet ballad ‘Tables Turned‘ and ‘It’s All Over‘ were top-notch soul that showcased the group’s first-rate vocal harmonies on some of the year’s most commercial material. Unfortunately Draper and company apparently did have much time to come up with an album’s worth of original material, forcing them to fill in the gaps with top-40 pop and soul covers. Exemplified by ‘Harper Valley PTA‘ and ‘This Guy’s In Love with You‘ (the latter sounding like the 5th Dimension on sleeping pills) the cover tunes were pretty horrible.
‘Court of Law‘ was their commercial breakthrough and depending on what mood you happened to be in, was either a classic slice of late-1960s soul, or one of the lamest gimmick tunes you’d ever heard. While the track certainly had a cheese factor, in my book you couldn’t help but smile at the concept and the performance. Dropping the gimmicks, ‘Which One Should I Chose‘ was a straightforward soul number that showcased all of the group’s strengths including Al Johnson’s fantastic tenor, their world class harmony vocals and a simply killer hook. This should have been a massive hit for the group.
‘Tables Turned’‘ was a breezy ballad that would have been better had the register been dropped a couple of notes – these guys simply didn’t sound all that comfortable hitting those high notes. Their cover of ‘ Harper Valley PTA‘ was probably something that looked better on paper than in implementation. Almost comically inept, it sounded like Flip Wilson stoned out of his mind. Bad as in not good. Any time a soul group covers a Burt Bacharach song you know their record label is trying to ensure their album includes at least one MOR track that had at least some top-40 pop potential. That was the case with this horrible track. As I said above, very 5th Dimension and that wasn’t meant as a compliment.
‘Toshi Sumasi‘ found the group dipping their collective toes back into gimmicks; in this case a ’50s-styled ballad built on a Japanese theme. Cute, but probably too old-fashioned for most folks. Co-written by Johnson, ‘It’s All Over‘ found the group returning to conventional soul which was after all their collective strength. Johnson turned in another great performance that had commercial potential all over the performance. Don’t know who handled bass, but they turned in an amazing performance. While their cover of The Rascals’ ‘People Got To Be Free‘ was serviceable, they failed to add anything to the original. Once again, whoever provided the hyperactive bass line was pretty impressive.
So you can read what I said about their Burt Bacharach cover and apply if to their cover of ‘Little Green Apples‘. Wow, hard to get much more MOR than this one was.
I’ll give them credit for having the courage to take on a Beatles tune. That wasn’t to say their cover of ‘A Hard Day’s Night‘ was any good. Trying to toughen it up for a soul audience simply didn’t add anything to what was already a classic pop song.
Given their talent it’s a shame they weren’t allowed additional time to record more Draper-penned material … the results would have be simply killer. As is, call it a 50% success. Actually not bad when you think about it.
Over the next year the group continued to chart with a series of singles:
– 1968’s ‘The Beginning of the End’ b/w ‘Sentimental Man’ (Kapp catalog number K-957) # 36 pop; # 9 R&B
– 1969’s ‘It’s a Groovy World’ b/w ‘Memories’ (Kapp catalog number K-985) # 97 pop; # 27 R&B
– 1969’s ‘Memories’ b/w ‘Got To Get You’ (Kapp catalog number K-2058)
– 1969’s ‘Toshisumasi’ b/w ‘It’s All Over’ (Kapp catalog number) K-2026 # 36 R&B
Unfortunately success brought a major falling out with manager Draper and the a lawsuit between the parties. Adding to the groups’ problems, in 1970 Ward and Worthington left, though they were quickly replaced by former members Brown and Fauntleroy. 1970 also saw the group dropped by Kapp, though they were quickly picked up by Jerry Butler’s Fountain Records resulting in the release of their final single:
– 1970’s ‘Dawn of a New Day’ b/w ‘Funky Thing’ (Fountain catalog number F-100).
The group struggled on for another two years before calling it quits. Only 42, Brown was shot to death in February 1990.
Johnson went into production working with a variety of soul acts including Norman Connors, The Dells, and The Whispers.