CATALOG CRAWL: RARE EARTH, Part 2 (1971-1972)

This second installment of the Catalog Crawl for Rare Earth finds this definitive rock and soul outfit at the peak of their fame. They had established themselves as a concert draw and had also scored a few chart hits with heavy yet funkified covers of Motown chestnuts “Get Ready” and “I Know I’m Losing You.” Sadly, the seeds of their commercial downfall are represented in the studio material covered because their desire to be a self-contained unit, particularly in terms of songwriting, would put them at odds with Motown’s desire for reliable hit singles.

The trio of albums below include a rock-driven set with their last noteworthy singles chart success, a double live set that shows the band cooking away in their natural habitat and a strong set of originals that represents the band’s last stand at controlling their creative destiny.  Rare Earth was a band that deserved better A&R treatment they got and the three long-players below hint at a direction that could have had greater success with a little more support from Motown.

Members: Peter “Pete Rivera” Hoorelbeke (lead vocals/drums), Gil Bridges (sax/flute/backing vocals), Mark Olson (keyboards), John Persh (bass/backing vocals – albums 1 & 2), Mike Urso (bass/backing vocals – album 3), Ray Monette (lead guitars/backing vocals), Eddie Guzman (percussion)

ONE WORLD (1971): this is notable for producing the band’s other big hit, “I Just Wanna Celebrate.” Though it was penned by Motown staff writers  Dino Fekaris and Nick Zesses, the band makes it their own by dousing it in their signature mix of guitar-heavy rock and funk grooves to create a euphoric party anthem, complete with gang-shout chorus. Aside from an energetic, soul-infused rock cover of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” the remainder of the album was penned by the group and producer Tom Baird and evokes an earnest post-Woodstock rock aesthetic. Songs like “Any Man Can Be A Fool” and “Someone To Love” combine easily accessible melodies with ‘dorm-room philospher’ lyrics. Rivera came up with the best of the originals: “If I Die” is a moody, powerful Vietnam vet lament offset by soaring CSN-style harmonies at chorus time. There’s a ‘period piece’ quality to the end result but consistently strong playing and vocals make it engaging for fans of this rock era: Monette in particular lets loose with several fiery, energetic guitar leads throughout the album.

IN CONCERT (1971): this double album is to Rare Earth what Live Album is to Grand Funk Railroad, both being driving, gritty live sessions that show off the “people’s band” bonafides of each group, right down to the ban-the-man politics. However, Rare Earth take their arena-friendly jams in lengthier, more groove-laden directions: a faithful side-length rendition of “Get Ready” gains an extra 3 minutes, “I Know I’m Losing You” rides its ominous mood out for 14 minutes and an original instrumental called “Thoughts” charmingly meanders through various tempos and atmospheres for over ten minutes without ever letting the groove slip. You also get party-hearty versions of “I Just Want To Celebrate” and “Hey Big Brother” but the real find is “What’d I Say,” where the live energy amps up its seamless blend of soul and arena rock. Recording quality is impressive for this era, rich in instrumental detail, and the band just cooks. You even get a studio original at the close (“Nice To Be With You”) that plays like a soft-rockin’ lullaby as the band bids farewell.

WILLIE REMEMBERS (1972): the one album where Rare Earth ditched the covers and wrote most of the material was a poor seller because Motown essentially abandoned it upon release. That was a self-defeating move for the label because this has a few potential hits they should’ve worked on radio: lone single “Good Time Sally” is the group’s best pure rock and roll tune, “Every Now And Then We Get To Go On Down To Miami” is a good-time groove overflowing with summery charm and “We’re Gonna Have A Good Time” is a fun bit of pop-funk with “I Just Want To Celebrate” group-shout vocals and a surprising jazz vocalese bridge. Also of note: “Think Of The Children” is a lament for future generations that applies their blue eyed soul chops to emotionally resonant effect at chorus time and “I Couldn’t Believe What Happened Last Night”  is a grand jam epic that shows off their oft-forgotten jazzy side to handsome effect. Their most underrated album, one worthy of rediscovery if you already like their hits.

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