Dubbed the first family of soul in the pre-Jackson 5 era, The Five Stairsteps released seven studio albums between 1967 and 1976. The group was comprised of siblings Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr, James, Kenneth, and Dennis Burke. Every once in a while Cubie would appear on the credits or in a picture but never really performed with the group. Real Gone Music has now reissued their arguably two best albums as a two for one package under the title Our Family Portrait/Stairsteps, originally released on the Buddah label in 1968 and 1970.
The Stairsteps were modeled on the traditional soul and rhythm & blues vocal groups of the day with Clarence as the primary lead singer and the other members providing the backing and harmonies. Eighteen of their singles made the Pop Charts and 16 the Rhythm & Blues Chart but they really only had one big and memorable hit. “Oh-o-child” was named one of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine. It had a silky vocal and feel and remains one of the defining soul songs of its era.
Stairsteps is the better of the two albums. In addition to their signature hit, it contains two Beatles covers, “Getting Better” and Dear Prudence,” which are taken in a creative soul direction. Clarence wrote six of the nine tracks and “Sweet As A Peach,” “Because I Love You,” “Up & Down,” and “Who Do I Belong To” fit together into a cohesive whole.
Our Family Portrait has a more cobbled together feel. Clarence again wrote five of the 11 tracks but the six cover tunes are not as successful. The old Jimmy Charles hit “A Million To One” is fine but when they move toward such songs as the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune “The Look Of Love” and Terry Knight’s “Find Me,” they leave their comfort zone.
As with most Real Gone releases, the enclosed booklet provides a fine history of the band and music.
The Five Stairsteps were a group that probably promised more than they delivered but at times their music was equal to just about any soul releases of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. When there were at their best, there is an eternal quality to their sound that still shines bright today.