From head to toe in London
- British fans of Motown – or Tamla Motown, as it was better known there – had good reason to celebrate in 1967, the year that this photograph was taken. They helped the company to score more Top 20 singles in the U.K. than ever before – 13, compared to 8 in 1966 – and regularly went to see its artists on tour, including the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder. The Tops scored a Top 5 album in April following a nationwide concert swing, while the second volume of a various-artists compilation series introduced as British Motown Chartbusters hit the Top 10 in October. “The Sound of Young America” was well and truly appealing to young Britons
- In October, too, Chris Clark crossed the Atlantic. The California-born singer was yet to score a major Motown hit at home, but it did not deter London’s Saville Theatre from booking her to appear in concert that month. It was then that EMI Records, the firm which marketed Tamla Motown releases in the U.K., hosted a “welcome” party for Clark, where its staff photographer took this shot. In addition to the Saville, she played several club dates in the capital. (For more on the singer’s career, read here.)
- Clark’s Saville set included her first U.S. chart entry from the previous year, “Love’s Gone Bad,” which was the work of Motown’s Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting team, as well as her latest 45 release, “From Head To Toe,” penned by Smokey Robinson. Both tracks – and others performed during the show, such as “Do Right Baby Do Right” and “I Want To Go Back There Again” – were contained in Clark’s debut album for Motown, Soul Sounds. This had been released in the U.S. two months earlier; EMI followed suit in February 1968.
- Backing Clark was another up-and-coming act, Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, an American/Canadian sextet signed to the company in ’67. At the time of the Saville date, they had not yet recorded their first Motown single, “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” so their show included versions of contemporary hits by others, including the Parliaments’ “(I Wanna) Testify” and the Temptations’ “All I Need.” The Vancouvers included guitarist Tommy Chong, later to graduate into comedy superstardom as one-half of Cheech & Chong, while Taylor became known as the man who brought the Jackson 5 to Motown. (For more on Taylor and his group, read here.)
- Chris Clark never became a Motown chartbuster on either side of the Atlantic, but later earned recognition and respect – not to mention an Oscar nomination – for co-writing the screenplay of the company’s first venture into movies, Lady Sings The Blues, starring Diana Ross as jazz icon Billie Holiday. In 2005, Clark’s many recording sessions at Hitsville U.S.A. were compiled into a U.K. double-album, The Chris Clark Collection, and that same year, she sang once more for British concert audiences. She got to go back there again.