Holy Moly! More Lagniappe
photo by Herb Greene
If you read the comments in the “Blinded By Love” post, you’ll recall that DJ Lou Kash offered up another version of that song by Sam & Dave for us to hear. As the thread went on, he mentioned another favorite Toussaint-penned track, the Pointer Sisters’ workout on the nearly eight minute album cut, “Going Down Slowly”. When I said I’d likely never post it due to the bandwidth involved, DJ Lou up and offered to host it himself, if I’d do a piece on it. So, with gratitude and props to the Czech from Switzerland for the link, session info, and enthusiasm, here ‘tis.
"Going Down Slowly" (Allen Toussaint)
The Pointer Sisters, from Steppin', Blue Thumb, 1975
Totally down. Again, thanks to Lou Kash for carrying the audio load on this one. . .
The Pointer Sisters (Anita, Bonnie, Jean and Ruth) got on the charts with Allen Toussaint songs at three different points in their career. But the first time generated the biggest hit, when “Yes We Can Can” (originally done by Lee Dorsey as “Yes We Can” in 1970) rose to #1 on the pop chart in 1973 and helped make their eponymous debut album go gold. Our feature today, “Going Down Slowly” (originally recorded by Toussaint himself on Life, Love and Faith as “Goin’ Down” in 1972), comes from Steppin', their fourth album. The song (substantially edited for the single) made a respectable showing on the R&B chart in 1975. In 1978, Toussaint’s “Happiness”, which he had released on his own Motion LP that year, was another chart success for the group, who were by then a trio.
Produced by David Rubinson, who gave the sisters their first break in the business and oversaw all of their Blue Thumb albums, “Going Down Slowly” takes its time building, but becomes a powerhouse of pre-disco dance-funk energy in its final half. As DJ Lou Kash comments on the arrangement by keyboardist Tom Salisbury, “There's the contrast of the words 'going down slowly' while the band actually keeps on getting faster and LOUDER. And when they sort of realize that they can't get any "higher" and faster, then they FINALLY slow down and bring the song to an end. That's a pure genius!” The dynamics of the song and its variety of instrumental riffs and rhythms certainly make for a memorable production worthy of Toussaint. Particularly notable in the fist half are Eugene Santini’s hip bass lines and Wah Wah Watson’s wahka-wahka guitar. After the song modulates to a higher key about mid-song, the intensity starts kicking in, with Gaylord Birch’s drums becoming more driven and complex, compelling all involved to dig in and burn. Ruth’s lead vocal with her sisters’ back-up rises to meet the challenge, starting strong and soulful, then ramping it to a full tilt rave-up by the climax.
As I’ve said before, I've collected many cover versions of Toussaint tunes; and there are many good ones and some great ones out there. I could almost do a blog based on those. Certainly, the Pointer Sisters’ hit rendition here is monumental in more than just length (I’m sure it seems shorter on the dance floor!). Last June, I also featured Claudia Lennear’s fine version of “Goin’ Down”. Still, I find the writer’s own recording on that first album for Warner Brothers to be the funkiest, most understated take I know; and that makes it, to these old ears, at least, the most effective. I'll have to pull that out one of these days. . . .