Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Queen of the Neighborhood
Company: RCA Victor
Country/State: Brooklyn, New York
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Catalog ID: 6338
There's a South African band that goes by the name Flame, but one quick look at the cover on this one and I figured these folks weren't that same band ... In fact, without knowing anything about this outfit, I remember thinkin' bet they're from New York. Turns out I was close. Their stomping grounds were Brooklyn.
Depending on what references you believe, Flame was actually the brainchild of producer Jimmy Iovine who was looking for a platform to showcase singer Marge Raymond. Raymond had been pursuing a musical career since the early 1960s. Raymond's career as a professional musician started when she was a teenager. Signed to Coed Records, she fronted Margie and the Formations who enjoyed a couple of minor early-1960s successes. Working as a demo and background singer, in the 1970s she was a member of the group Sumagna. The trio (Raymond, Susan Collins and Nnancy O'Neill) never enjoyed success on their own, but became in-demand backing singers, supporting a wide variety of acts including Ritchie Havens and The New Riders of the Purple Sage. Raymond also did background vocals on her own, eventually catching the attention of Iovine.
RCA Victor promo shot
left to right: Frank Ruby - Eddie Barbato - Marge Raymond - John Paul Fetta - Bob Leone - Jimmy Crespo
With Iovine's support Raymond began working with drummer Eddie Barbato, lead guitarist Jimmy Crespo, bassist John Paul Fetta, keyboardist Bob Leone, and rhythm guitarist Frank Ruby. As Flame the were subsequently signed to RCA Victor, releasing 1977's Iovine-produced "Queen of the Neighborhood" . Flame's always been a band that I've found difficult to accurately describe. They were far too talented to be lumped in with mid-1970s punks and way too street savy to be lumped in with air-headed glam acts. Imagine a cross between Patti Smith's droll, urban insight and Bruce Springsteen's blue-collar credentials and you'd be in the right aural neighborhood. (By coincidence, The E Street band's Steve Van Zandt provided the arrangements.) While the band were quite an accomplished unit (particularly guitarist Crespo), from a marketing standpoint the spotlight was clearly on Raymond and her dark, sultry, slightly dangerous pout (check out the album cover). Vocally imagine a cross between a more commercial version of Patti Smith street smarts and Janis Joplin's bluesy holler. Raymond certainly had the vocal chops to attract your attention, though, like Joplin, it occasionally wasted on misguided boogie ('Everybody Loves a Winner'), or equally vapid AOR ballads ('You Sit In Darkness') that misinterpreted loud and shrill for good.
- 'Beg Me' started out sounding like a mid-1970s Southern rocker and to be honest, Raymond's gutsy voice wouldn't have sounded bad had she been working with an outfit like 38 Special, or The Outlaws. A decent bar band rocker, the song had three things going for it: 1.) the catchy title refrain, 2.) the drunken background chorus, and 3.) Crespo's blazing solo. Nice way to open an album. rating: *** stars
- With Raymond seemingly trying to channel a mixture of her Brill Building roots and some Joplin-styled moves, 'Long Time Gone' was a decent blues-rocker. The female backing vocals were a bit disconcerting, but the song got better as it went along. Not meant as a criticism, but the song actually reminded me a bit of a good Heart song. rating: *** stars
- Why is it so many mid-1970s New Jersey/New York bands seemed to fieel the need to write songs about the quirky and frequently down-on-their-luck folks they encountered ? Misery loves company ? There for the grade of God go I ? Who knows. Anyhow, this one started out sounding like something Springsteen might have penned and towards the end turned into a more ominous number with Raymond making lots of noise about "going down to the river" ... Personally I wasn't sure if it was meant to be seductive, or threatening, but it certainly rocked out. rating: **** stars
- Propelled by Raymond's gritty voice. 'Angry Times' found the band adding a slightly funky edge to their sound. For what it was worth, I'd volunteer the best thing in the arrangement was Crespo's squealing solo. rating: **** stars
- 'Everybody Loves a Winner' started side two out with a largely faceless slice of boogie rock, though buried in the muck, the title refrain jumped out at you with one of the album's best hooks. Unfortunately that segment of the song came and went in a flash, though Crespo distinguished himself with another nice solo. rating: ** stars
- Opening up with some pretty Bob Leone keyboards, 'You Sit In Darkness' was one of those big, heavily orchestrated AOR ballads that sounded like it had been written specifically for top-40 radio. Raymond distinguished herself with one of her more subdued performances which was actually a nice change of pace, even if it made for another song that sounded like it had been purloined from Ann and Nancy Wilson's catalog. rating: ** stars
- Another ballad, 'Laugh My Tears Away' started out with more pretty Leone keyboards and gradually built up some steam with Raymond shifting from crooner to rocker as the song progressed. rating: *** stars
- A bluesy soul-tinged number, 'All My Love To You' wasn't particularly original, but featured one of Raymond's most impressive vocals and a nice sax solo. rating: *** stars
- The thing that saved 'Grown-Up Man' from obscurity was another rugged Raymond vocal and the catchy chorus. I suspect this one sounded even better in a live setting. rating: *** stars
The album was tapped for a single, though stock copies are hard to come by:
Song for song, the album isn't bad with two efforts that are top notch and about a half dozen that are worth hearing. Certainly not a bad average.
RCA made some attempts to market the band, sending them on the road opening for a host of national bands including BTO, and Foreigner. It didn't do much for sales, though the band did hang together long enough to record a sophomore LP.
"Queen of the Neighborhood" track listing:
1.) Beg Me (Jackson) - 2:47
2.) Long Time Gone (Marge Raymond - Jimmy Crespo - John Paul Fetta - Frank Ruby) - 4:34
3.) Queen of the Neighborhood (Musacchia - Bob Leone - Jimmy Iovine) - 5:43
4.) Angry Times (Marge raymond - Jimmy Iovine - Jimmy Crespo - Bob Leone) - 5:16
1.) Everybody Loves a Winner (Frank Ruby - Marge Raymond) - 3:54
2.) You Sit In Darkness (Jimmy Crespo - Jimmy Iovine) - 4:25
3.) Laugh My Tears Away (Bob Leone - Jimmy Crespo) - 4:18
4.) All My Love To You (Miller) - 4:19
5.) Grown-Up Man (John Paul Fetta - Jimmy Crespo) - 3:24