Sunday, July 11, 2010

Temptation Is Hard To Fight, George McGregor and the Bronzettes (1967)

I can be very late to a party sometimes, and in the case of AMC's Mad Men, I'm late by exactly three cable television seasons.  In the run-up to the premiere of the fourth on July 25, I am devouring - that's the only word for it - the first three seasons so that I can be current and enjoy the fun in real time. For my trouble, I was treated yesterday to a soundtrack song that made me snap out of my supine position and say, WTF?

The song was the outro to the second episode of the second season, and its ominous, haunted sensibility was scene-perfect. Doing some quick research, I learned that the song was Temptation Is Hard To Fight, by the musical obscurity George McGregor and the Bronzettes. And so it was off to the races for me.

Another one of those situations where the backstory isn't at one's fingertips, in all likelihood the Mad Men people excavated this song from the Eccentric Soul anthology of CDs (cover above), specifically the one called Twinight's Lunar Rotation.  I have a few of these Numero Group treasures but I didn't have this one - up until a few hours ago, when I rectified that by running over to the The Best Damn Independent Record Store in the Land, Akron, Ohio's Square Records!

The Twinight label was Chicago-based. While the label was prolific in scouting and recording local soul acts, the vast majority of its history is bound up in artists who could have been contenders for the public's attentions, but never were.  Whatever the formula for success might have been, it eluded these artists, many of whom got the most airplay in the wee hours.

The preamble of Twinight's Lunar Rotation companion booklet paints the picture: "It's a slot for high school talent show winners, major label cast offs, minor label upgrades, and girlfriends with decent voices. A few hits might squeak through, but for the most part it's the long, dark night of soul. The DJs call it lunar rotation, broadcast lingo for radio limbo, all-night airplay for 45s with no chance of making the charts, a nice time for a disc jockey to make good on that fifty dollar handshake. It's hope, but not much. Between 1967 and 1972, Chicago's lunar landscape was littered with Twinight labeled 45s. Of the 55 singles released ... only eight charted, and only one of those wasn't by Syl Johnson."

That's a damn shame, where Temptation Is Hard To Fight is concerned. The entire production - from instrumental flourishes, to George McGregor's anguished delivery, to the wails of the backing Bronzettes - is gritty and British Northern Soul-esque in its sound (for a minute I thought of dear old Chuck Wood).  What a find.  

Hailing from Alabama, George McGregor and his more famous brother Billy started their secular Chicagoland musical careers in 1960 in the Antennas and later Shirley and her Squires. Originally gospel singers, the need to make some real money led to soul music after Billy returned from the army in 1959. (Billy, as much a songwriter as a performer who worked in the steel mills his entire life, is perhaps best known for Mr. Shy. I myself never heard it, but regionally it achieved fame.)

Believing his brother had the greater singing talent, Billy wrote the song for George, and teamed up with his friend, steel guitarist Jimmy Jones, to craft what could have been - but wasn't - George's breakthrough. On the B-side, as the McGregor Brothers, they served up Every Time I Wake Up. With no promotion or distribution, and barely any airplay, the single went by the wayside.  George McGregor continued to open for other artists, but was murdered in 1979. Thanks to Mad Men, his spirit lives on.


Holly A Hughes said...

Another brilliant job of musical excavation! Thanks so much for this. Almost made me want to get hooked on Mad Men (a fate I've been resisting for months).

Mary said...

Glad you're enjoying Mad Men. Hard to believe I wasn't the last person to discover that show! I love the songs that close out the episodes. Always fits right in with the atmosphere of the show.