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Weekends are for vinyl: Willie Hutch, Fully Exposed

Willie Hutch Fully Exposed album cover

Weekends are for vinyl: Willie Hutch, Fully Exposed (Motown 1973)

Weekends Are for Vinyl is a weekly music column by Andrew Livingstone, a full-time reporter with Metroland Media, part-time freelance writer, music lover, aspiring DJ and lover of all things vinyl – except siding.

– by Andrew Livingstone

For any record collector, sifting through stacks of dusty, unkempt albums is hit or miss. While actual record shops keep their collection in order for customers, it’s the musty, disorganized stacks at the wherever thrift shop, Salvation Army or Value Village where a good record – a vinyl in the rough among Kenny Rodgers, Englebert Humperdink and Barbara Streisand’s discography – can be found.

It’s a game of musical chance – one worth a shot.

A trip to Ajax, Ont, a town east of Toronto, late last week produced a successful record rummaging adventure. With no real “shops” with rows of plastic-wrapped classics like The Rolling Stones and Otis Redding to sift through, I went with the dusty, less than pristine collection at the Ajax Value Village. As per any thrift shop, no real effort was put into organizing their junk – but that’s the fun part. The off-chance you find something good is always exciting, so flipping through copies of Beethoven’s whatever symphony and Culture Club, while frustrating, is worth it.

I didn’t know Willie Hutch when I purchased Fully Exposed for a toonie, and I’m ashamed to admit it. If the cover didn’t sell me, the little note written on the back did. “Before Superstition,” it said, referring to the Stevie Wonder song off the 1972 album Talking Book that did, in fact, come out the year before. But it’s the thought that counts. And the comparison is spot on.

Willie Hutch

Hutch made his mark on the music industry well before recording this, his first album. The Jackson 5 single”I’ll Be there?” The one that sold more than six million copies? Yep, he wrote the lyrics. He also collaborated with the likes of Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.

Kind of a big deal. Seems I missed the part on great Motown songwriters in my soul-funk experience. Which, admittedly, consisted of watching Red Hot Chili Peppers videos in the ‘90s.

When the needle on the record player in my late-fifties Grundig cabinet system hit Fully Exposed I was just that – exposed. To what you ask? Well, it was like listening to Al Green, Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone all mashed into one album. The album drips with complex horn and string arrangements, interwoven with rolling slaps on bass and wah-heavy guitar riffs.

The musical arrangements – done completely by Hutch – mold together with his smooth, yet equally as raspy vocals. A strong set of backing vocals from what sounds like a Mississippi Delta church choir gives the album an appeal to anyone looking for a a bona fide, well-rounded soul/R&B/funk record. Tracks like “I Wanna Be Where You Are” and “I Just Wanted To Make Her Happy” showcase Hutch’s heartfelt lyrics, sung with prowess and downright sex appeal.

A true pioneer of funk and soul, Hutch made a name for himself writing the music to soundtracks for Foxy Brown and The Mack, two popular ’70s blaxploitation films. He wrote, produced and arranged songs for popular vocal group The 5th Dimension, known for the track “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In”. After that he was off to RCA for a brief stint before being scooped up by Motown.

Cover of Foxy Brown album recorded by Willie Hutch

Fully Exposed was released at the peak of soul and funk music. Artists like Sly Stone, Parliament, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, among many others, were the pinnacle faces of the genre. Flying under the radar of mainstream fame, Hutch was to the genre – and the flim industry –  what J.J. Cale was to blues; a talented singer, songwriter and guitarist who honed the energy of funk and fused it with the sensuality and heartbreak of soul. He crafted music like a stonemason chiseling an artful masterpiece. He pushed boundaries, was an innovator, risk taker and hit maker – a true master of his craft.

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