Sunday, May 25, 2008

Little Carl's No Little Stevie But This Detroit Kid's Still OK!

When singer Carl Carlton notched up his one and only career chart hit in Australia in 1983, it belied the fact that he already had a 15 year career established in the U.S. including a top 10 hit almost a decade earlier.

The Detroit native was originally signed at age 14 by talent scouts from Lando Records. He contract was bought out by Texas label Back Beat Records, and in a marketing ploy he changed his name initially to Little Carl Carlton, modelled after the early career of (Little) Stevie Wonder. Little Carl Carlton scored a top 40 R&B hit in the U.S. in 1968 with ‘Competition Ain’t Nuthin’, and over the course of the next two years racked up another three R&B top 40 hits including 1970s ‘Drop By My Place’. Carl Carlton had by then reached an age where the ‘Little’ moniker was no longer tenable and it seemed that his career might have stalled as a result.

Having recorded his version of ‘Everlasting Love’ (a 1967 hit for Robert Knight) in 1972, it was shelved by his recording label until 1974. Upon its eventual release (remixed with a stronger disco feel appropriate for the time) the now all grown up Carl Carlton had his first and only top 10 hit on the mainstream U.S. charts. A minor hit ‘Smokin Room’ (#91 1975) followed then contractual problems once again threatened to prematurely end Carlton’s fledgling career. After several years in the music wilderness, during which time Carlton released only one single, he resurrected his career once more with the 1981 single ’She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked’ (US#22). The harder edged funk sound was accompanied by a raunchier image for Carlton on his accompanying self titled album.

But again the timing wasn’t quite right and Carl Carlton’s career began to wane once more over the course of the 80s but did include that one and only Australian chart hit in early 1983. ‘Baby, I Need Your Loving’ was taken from Carlton’s fifth studio album ‘The Bad C.C.’ (1982). The song itself was originally a smash for the legendary Four Tops in 1964 (also charting in Australia and Britain for Fourmost) and Johnny Rivers (1967). Carl Carlton’s version was more contemporary in sound with heavy synth and electronic drums. Sacrilege you may quip, but I don’t think the 80s dance/funk treatment of this soul classic in any way undermined the songs shining quality, in fact it gave it an interesting new lease on life. ’Baby I Need Your Loving’ reached #12 in Australia and charted for a marathon 27 weeks but failed to attract the same level of attention in the U.S. beyond the R&B charts.

Carlton took an extended break from recording following 1985’s ‘Private Property’, recording just one album during the 90s with ‘Main Event’, but returned to a more productive period between 2001 and 2004 releasing four albums. Though never rising to the career heights of Stevie Wonder, Carl Carlton has managed to maintain a viable presence in the music industry for over 35 years, and by any measure that’s a fine achievement.

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