Sunday, February 23, 2014

Uni Records: Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show

It’s our fourth week of the month and we take another trip down memory lane with selections from the now defunct Uni Records label. Formed in 1966 by MCA Records as Universal City Records, the label was popularly known simply as Uni Records. Outside the fine print on the labels and album covers, no one would have ever known of its full name.

Uni was distinct for its mustard yellow label with swirls of blue, magenta, and lime green. At the end of 1972, MCA consolidated all of its labels (Decca, Uni, Kapp, Coral, Congress, Vocalion, MCA Special Products, and others) into MCA Records. MCA’s first release was by a former Uni artist Elton John.

In 1988, MCA Records reintroduced Uni as a subsidiary to serve as an alternative music label. Much publicity was given to the label and a friend of mine was hired as their national promotions director. Uni was in the midst of building their regional team when I was in talks with the label about taking a promotional job. Unfortunately (or fortunately given the circumstances), MCA pulled the plug on the reconstituted Uni before I was ever hired. So I continued in radio for another six years prior to moving to higher education full-time.

You may not see some of your favorite Uni releases this week, as many have already been featured in the past and I do not repeat recordings. For our first Uni selection, I’ve drawn from their archives of hits to feature long-time Uni artist Neil Diamond with his 1969 hit “Brother’s Love Travelling Salvation Show.” The song peaked at #22.

Part of the reason that it failed to chart higher is that there was movement to ban the song in the American South. Some evangelical ministers felt that the song denigrated the tent revival type of experience, which is still prevalent south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Unfortunately, they missed the point. Although Diamond is Jewish, this was far from his intentions, as the song actually elevates the style of gospel singing and revival preaching – and perhaps introduced it to an entire new audience. It was a tribute and not a mockery of this form of religious experience.

The song inspired two album titles: “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” (obviously) and “Hot August Night.” Taken from the first line of the song, “Hot August Night” was Diamond’s popular 1973 live album. The title uses the British spelling of “Travelling” as opposed to the American spelling of “Traveling.”  “Hallelujah – I say brothers.”

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