The Five Stairsteps – 1967 – The Five Stairsteps

16 Aug The Five Stairsteps – 1967 – The Five Stairsteps

A landmark album of sweet soul, recorded by this youthful group that included a 13 year old Kenny Burke! The kids were brought together by their parents Clarence and Betty Burke, but it was Curtis Mayfield who really gave them a push – as he discovered them, produced them, and wrote some excellent songs for them during their best early years.

Mayfield’s sweet soul style forged with The Impressions runs through most of these tracks – and although the group is young, they really do a fantastic job with the material, and infuse it with a soulfulness way past their years. 

Tracks
A1 Danger! She’s a Stranger 2:45
A2 The Girl I Love 2:13
A3 Come Back 2:52
A4 The Touch of You 2:35
A5 You Waited Too Long 2:49
A6 Playgirl’s Love 2:10
B1 World of Fantasy 3:01
B2 Oooh, Baby, Baby 2:30
B3 Don’t Waste Your Time 2:25
B4 You Don’t Love Me 2:25
B5 Behind Curtains 2:49

A sparkling debut by the offspring of Clarence Burke and Mama Stairstep. The Stairsteps are four brothers and one sister, all between the ages of 13 and 17: Clarence Jr., Aloha, James, Dennis, and Kenneth Burke. Curtis Mayfield produced the set and highlighted their unique and arresting bloodline harmonies. Clarence was only 16 when he cut “Come Back“, abut he sings (or cries) it like he has experienced the agonizing pain of losing someone dear first-hand. “World of Fantasy” (written by Clarence Jr.) finds the teenager crooning about a world where he’s never alone, a world of true make-believe — some pretty surreal lyrics for a high schooler.

Only on “Playgirls Love” is their whimsical kid side evident. Clarence Jr. wrote most of the material; Curtis Mayfield contributed “Behind Curtains” and “Don’t Waste Your Time“, an enjoyable, energetic romp about romance. The flip side, “You Waited Too Long“, was a far more serious tale of love that was applicable to all ages; the crying ballad, along with others, should have established the group as heavy hitters, but it was only a modest hit for the Burke children. Brother James cries as good as Clarence on the group’s rendition of “Ooh Baby Baby.” In all, ten slices of magic from the First Family of Soul.

Before Cubie joined the group and nearly singlehandedly ruined it (“New Dance Craze” has to be on TWO albums?), the Five Stairsteps put out this breezy, beautiful full-length slice of Chicago soul. Their remarkably mature sound is, not surprisingly, Impressions-influenced, but there is also much more of a Miracles influence here than would be present on future releases. Curtis Mayfield’s arrangement and production are faultless, his skills having been honed during his apprenticeship at Okeh. In stark contrast to the concurrent Mayfield label (and, of course, early Curtom), Curtis did not write many songs featured on Windy C releases. Curtis only wrote 3 of the 11 songs featured here: the exquisite co-write “Danger! She’s a Stranger“, the Impressions-y “Don’t Waste Your Time“, and the mini-masterpiece “Behind Curtains“. Aside a Smokey cover, all other songs are group originals (with Papa Burke). Most of the tracks are ballads, though special mention goes to the uptempo “The Girl I Love“, a song so incomparably joyous it’s surprising it’s not from Curtis’ pen. 

While the Burke family would go on to record a couple more excellent albums, thanks to Cubie and his excruciatingly unintelligible mutterings (“mumblemumbleSHING-A-LING!!”) they would never record an album as consistently strong as this ever again.

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