Common Thread: Albums by Musical Siblings (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column. 

The annals of pop music are full of notable siblings. There are musical siblings of non-musical celebrities: Michael Penn of “No Myth” fame, for instance, is the brother of actor Sean Penn, while Chuck Jackson of the ‘70s R&B group The Independents (who crossed over to the pop Top 40 with “Leaving Me”) is the brother of civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson! Then, of course, you also have an abundance of musical siblings who have played side-by-side for years, be it Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks, Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, or the Everly Brothers; full-family acts like the Jackson 5, the Osmonds, the Cowsills, and the Sylvers; or brother-and-sister duos like Richard and Karen Carpenter or, reaching back even further, Nino Tempo and April Stevens (“Deep Purple”). Even after Spandau Ballet broke up, brothers Gary and Martin Kemp even changed careers together, leaving music for acting and co-starring as the title characters in The Krays. But pop music has an even greater number of hitmakers who you may not even realize are actually the siblings of other hitmakers. These are just a few we’ve highlighted here that you may find quite fascinating …

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The Crests Sing All Biggies, The Crests (1960, Coed)

It’s not a greatest hits disc (much of the disc is, in fact, covers of such late-‘50s classics as “Earth Angel,” “Party Doll,” “and “Silhouettes”), but you can find three of this doo-wop band’s five Top 40 hits on this disc: “The Angels Listened In,” “Six Nights a Week,” and, of course, the song they’re best remembered for, the #2-peaking ballad “Sixteen Candles.” Johnny Maestro would be the biggest star to emerge from the group, going on to score two solo hits in 1961 with “What a Surprise” and “Model Girl” and re-surfacing in the late ‘60s as the lead singer of Brooklyn Bridge, hitting the Top Three in 1969 with the Jimmy Webb-penned “Worst That Could Happen.” But even Maestro’s fame would be eclipsed by the younger brother of one of his former Crests bandmates: Patricia Vandross’ brother Luther would only go on to become one of the biggest male R&B singers of all-time!

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You Were on My Mind, We Five (1965, A&M)

Their time in the spotlight was brief, but this San Francisco folk-pop combo made two lasting marks on pop music: first, by scoring a massive Top Three hit with the title track of this album, and several months later, by covering the obscure Kingston Trio song “Let’s Get Together” and bringing it to greater national prominence, taking it to #31. [The Youngbloods would later shorten the title to simply “Get Together” and take it into the Top Five in 1969.] Coincidentally, We Five drummer Mike Stewart was actually the brother of Kingston Trio member John Stewart, later to find greater fame as the songwriter behind the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” and the solo performer behind such late ‘70s hits as “Gold” and “Lost Her in the Sun.”   

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Sings Top Ten, Jimmy Ruffin (1966, Soul)

Best known as the voice behind the R&B classic “What Become of the Brokenhearted,” Ruffin actually has three additional Top 40 hits to his name: 1967’s “I’ve Passed This Way Before” and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got” (both of which are included on this hard-to-find but very, very underrated disc - one of the better full-lengths issued by Motown during that time period - in addition to the aforementioned Top Ten hit) and the 1980 Top Ten-charting comeback hit “Hold On to My Love” (written and produced by Robin Gibb with Bee Gees keyboardist Blue Weaver). But Jimmy wasn’t even the most famous Ruffin in the Motown family: younger brother David was one of the lead vocalists in the Temptations from 1963 to 1968. (It’s David you hear singing lead on such classics as “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”) David and Jimmy even recorded an album together for Motown in 1970 entitled I Am My Brother’s Keeper that strangely failed to produce any sizable pop hits. 

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Friday on My Mind, The Easybeats (1967, United Artists)

This underrated Australian rock band was sadly resigned to one-hit-wonder status in the U.S., but what a hit!: “Friday on My Mind” (which cleverly combines weekday-themed minor-key verses to a sunny weekend-themed chorus) has gone on to be covered by everyone from David Bowie to Peter Frampton. Band members Harry Vanda and George Young would later re-surface in the late ‘70s as the pop outfit Flash and the Pan and both co-write and produce the major John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air.” They’d also produce the first six albums for AC/DC, which is fitting since George’s younger brothers are Angus and Malcom Young! 

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Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out), The Hombres (1968, Verve Forecast)

Memphis garage-rockers The Hombres may only be one-hit-wonders, but the title track of this disc would go all the way to #12 and would later be covered by John Mellencamp on Big Daddy. Lead vocalist B.B. Cunningham’s brother Bill would fare even better: he scored a string of hits throughout the late ‘60s as the bassist for the Box Tops of “The Letter” and “Cry Like a Baby” fame!

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Yellow River, Christie (1970, Epic)

This British rock trio made it to the #23 in the U.S. with the title track of this disc. Though it’d be their only Stateside hit, drummer Mike Blakely’s brother Alan saw slightly more success on these shores as the guitarist for the Tremeloes, who racked up three hits in 1967, including two near-Top-Ten hits in covers of Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” and the Four Seasons’ “Silence Is Golden.” 

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Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed, 100 Proof Aged in Soul (1970, Hot Wax)

One of the earliest successes for the Hot Wax label (founded and owned by former Motown giants Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland), this Detroit trio reached the Top 40 just once, but their lone hit, “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” (co-written by General Johnson, the lead singer for Chairmen of the Board of “Give Me Just a Little More Time” fame), would reach the Top Ten and go gold. Joe Stubbs had spent the ‘60s as part of the Motown family, first as a member of The Contours of “Do You Love Me” fame, then serving as the lead singer of the Originals (later to find success with “Baby I’m for Real” and “The Bells”) for their first single. His brother Levi was Motown royalty, racking up eighteen Top 40 pop hits for the label (and an additional six in subsequent years) as the legendary lead singer of the Four Tops.

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Soulful Tapestry, Honey Cone (1970, Hot Wax)

The aforementioned General Johnson plays an even bigger role on this disc, both co-writing and co-producing all but three tracks here. One of the more underrated R&B albums of its time, this studio disc features all four of the trio’s Top 40 hits: the number one hit “Want Ads,” and the successful follow-up singles “Stick-Up” (a #1 R&B hit), “The Day I Found Myself,” and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.” The trio sadly split up in 1973, but Carolyn Willis would later return to the charts as the featured guest vocalist on Seals & Crofts’ “Get Closer,” while Shelley Clark (a former Ikette) would go on to marry Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire. The group’s remaining member, Edna Wright, can claim to be one of two pop stars in her family: her sister is the legendary Darlene Love!

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Band of Gold, Freda Payne (1970, Invictus)

Payne was another one of Holland/Dozier/Holland’s post-Motown protégés, and she hit it big right out of the chute with the title track from this album, which went all the way to the Top Three and remains a staple of oldies stations everywhere. Freda would go on to have two additional Top 40 hits, “Deeper & Deeper” (which can also be found on this disc) and “Bring the Boys Home,” before turning her attention to acting in the ‘80s. Payne can also be directly tied to two other notable figures in R&B: she was married during the late ‘70s to Gregory Abbott, who’d later become an R&B sensation a decade later and top the pop charts with “Shake You Down,” while her sister Scherrie (who can be heard singing back-up on “Band of Gold” alongside Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent of Tony Orlando & Dawn) would go on to serve as a member of the Supremes in the mid-‘70s shortly before the legendary trio finally called it a day.  

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Malo, Malo (1972, Warner Bros.)

One of the most effervescent singles to grace AM radio in 1972 was the gentle lilt of this Latin-rock band’s ballad “Suavecito,” which would crack the Top Twenty, becoming the band’s lone major pop hit. (Though the song is sadly seldom heard on the radio dial these days, you can hear clear echoes of the song in the backing vocals of the chorus to Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning.”)  Comparisons to Santana were probably inevitable: Malo guitarist/bandleader Jorge Santana is Carlos’ brother!  

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Rock and Roll Survivors, Fanny (1974, Casablanca)

Inexplicably overlooked in the annals of rock history, Fanny was an all-female rock band years before the much more highly-revered The Go-Go’s or even The Runaways. Yet, even in spite of attracting such producers to their cause as Richard Perry (who helmed their first three albums, including the 1971 Top 40 hit “Charity Ball”) and Todd Rundgren (who helmed 1973’s Mother’s Pride) and such notable rabid fans as David Bowie, who was still championing the band’s music decades later in the pages of Rolling Stone, the band still strangely attracts very little print compared to other, later all-female bands (which is all the odder when you consider that Fanny, unlike the Runaways, actually have bona fide Top 40 hits to their name.) A change of labels in 1974 to Casablanca – and a change in personnel that saw the band welcome Patti Quatro (the sister of Suzi Quatro, the U.K. glam-rock darling best known to U.S. audiences as Happy Days’ Leather Tuscadero and Chris Norman’s duet partner on the 1979 Top Five hit “Stumblin’ In”) to the fold – would briefly return them to the charts and give them their biggest hit with the #29-charting “Butter Boy,” which can be found on this album, their very last, but they split up shortly afterwards. [Two of the band members would go on to marry other notable musicians: drummer Brie Brandt (the mother of famed Playboy model Brandi Brandt) would marry longtime Elton John sideman - and future in-demand film composer - James Newton Howard (who also co-wrote George Benson’s hit single “Lady Love Me (One More Time)”, while bassist Jean Millington would marry the highly-regarded session guitarist (and former Silver Condor member) Earl Slick, best known for his extensive work playing with David Bowie and John Lennon.]