Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Rare Earth
There’s nothing like early 1970s rock – at the time it was classified as “hard rock” and its membership included Grand Funk Railroad, Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and on. Today we want to fondly remember the group Rare Earth, a hit-making bunch that recorded for Motown Records. Let’s spin a couple of their albums, Ecology, from 1970, and One World, from 1971.
The main personnel in the group included Gil Bridges on sax, flute and vocals; Pete Rivera on lead vocals and drums; John Parrish on bass, trombone and vocals; Rod Richards on guitar; and Kenny James on keyboards. Rare Earth came out of Detroit in 1968 and were signed by Motown to be on a label imprint dedicated to white rock acts. Members of the band jokingly suggested they call the label “Rare Earth” and much to their surprise Berry Gordy OK’d that idea. The group’s first recording for Motown was a rocked-up cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Get Ready,” sprawling over 21 minutes as each band members takes a solo turn. “Get Ready” became Rare Earth’s first Top 10 hit in 1971 after Motown trimmed it down to three minutes and issued it as a single.
Ecology was born in 1969 when Rare Earth cut some songs for a movie, Generation, which starred David Janssen. They had a bunch of songs in hand ready for a soundtrack LP, but that was cancelled when the movie bombed. So Rare Earth took their songs and created Ecology. Leading off is “Born To Wander,” which I wore out as a 45 back in the day. While a flute lilts above the heavy rock foundation, the song is one of those gotta-keep-movin’ kissoffs with lyrics like “The wind is my mother/The highway is my brother/I was born to wander.” Written by producer Tom Baird, “Born To Wander” was also a hit, one of two from Ecology.
Baird penned four of the seven songs on the album, including the Chicago-like “Long Time Leavin’,” which also gave the Earth a chance to show off their instrumental chops. Next up was “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” an 11-minute cover of the Temptations’ 1965 hit. And guess what – Motown chopped down this one too and it also became a hit, peaking at No. 7 on the pop charts, one slot higher than the Temps’ original. I like the keyboard and guitar solos in this long cut – little did I know of the extended delights back then as I played the single so much that the grooves wore out.
Side Two of Ecology has two more Baird originals and “Nice Place To Visit,” written by Parrish, which is one of the heavier tracks on the album. “No. 1 Man,” with its frequent guitar breaks and keyboard interplay, is a coulda-been single. From that peak, however, Ecology bumps to a close with a somewhat ill-advised cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” that mimics the Moody Blues – poorly.
Nevertheless, Rare Earth became a hot touring item after Ecology. The next album, One World, would find the band writing more of its own songs. However, this one picks up with a cover, a heavy version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” Nice – this is one my favorite cuts on the album, because it has a guitar underpinning that doesn’t quit. I remember this one got some FM radio play back in the day.
After that auspicious beginning, drummer/lead singer Rivera contributes the next two, “If I Die” and “Seed.” “If I Die” has nice vocal harmonies and a lilting sax solo which belie its bummer lyrics and “Seed” sounds like it could have been covered by the Temptations. Then, with its dramatic countoff, “I Just Want To Celebrate” detonates the next Rare Earth hit. This one also entered the Top 10, peaking at No. 7 – it was one of the most popular hits of the decade and is justifiably Rare Earth’s most famous song.
Side Two of the album offers first “Someone To Love,” written and sung by Gil Bridges, the flute player. “Any Man Can Be A Fool” is written by the bassist John Parrish (a.k.a. John Persh) and is another throwaway. “The Road,” written by producer Baird, is probably the best on this side of the album and the whole affair closes with the rocker “Under God’s Light,” which is written by two new members, Ray Monette and Mark Olson. One World would go on to become a platinum album (one million units sold).
Before the next Rare Earth album (1972’s multi-platinum Rare Earth In Concert) the band would slip in another single, “Hey Big Brother,” written by the same team who penned “I Just Want To Celebrate.” Rare Earth would have one more album triumph – Ma, which came out in 1973 and produced by Motown legend Norman Whitfield, is usually considered the group’s best. Rare Earth would then have a revolving door of personnel changes through the rest of the 1970s. You can still catch Rare Earth on the oldies circuit today – it’s a great show and a fine way to remember 1970s hard rock.