Like Bobby Harris and Ronnie Mitchell (whose career ran on pretty much on parallel lines), Hoagy Lands was amongst the very top New York soul men whose style was influenced by Sam Cooke. He was born Victor Hoagland in New Brunswick, NJ on 4 May 1936 and started singing in doo wop groups in High School, among them the Dynaflows and the New Brunswick Heart Throbs. After a very obscure 45 for Ivory records he joined ace writer/producer Bert Berns and between them they came up with some of early soul's greatest moments.
They started with the Judy release and although "Lighted Windows" is a pleasant piece of doo wop it is completely eclipsed by the next 45. The lovely Latin-tinged doo-wop ballad My Tears Are Dry, which he cut for MGM in 1961, is one of the greatest examples of a blend of doo wop and soul that I know. The bass voice provides a great counterpoint to Lands as he swoops and soars around the melody. His Sam Cooke influence is so pronounced that it could almost be a parody - except for the sincerity of the rendition. I'd go so far as to say that the way he sings the first verse is among soul's greatest moments - if you wanted to show somebody what top quality soul singing is all about just play them the first 30 seconds or so of this track.
The following It Ain't As Easy As That finds Lands again in wonderful voice on a rhythm track that could have been a refugee from a Drifters session - love those latin touches. Both sides of his ABC 45 are right in the same bag - typical Berns hooklines and some careful and beautifully judged phrasing from Lands. A purist might argue that the heavenly choir are a bit too upfront but for singing like this I'll forgive a great deal. Perhaps "I'm Yours" just shades on a slightly better melody.
Hoagy 's next release was a masterpiece. Berns took Baby Come On Home to Atlantic and this is a truly astonishing disc, with Lands demonstrating all the melismatic tricks and use of dynamics to bring the song to life. His occasional use of falsetto is simply electrifying, and the playing of the New York A team featuring Eric Gale on guitar only adds to the side’s quality. Berns cut the song again a year or so later, using the vocal expertise of Solomon Burke – but Lands beats him hands down for emotional impact. And it's not often you can say that!
That 45 ended Lands' relationship with Bert Berns and although he made some very fine records subsequently in his career I don't think he scaled those dizzy heights of excellence consistently ever again - although his stay with Laurie from 1966 - 68 yielded some fine sides. The famous track is the rather undistinguished northern stomper "The next in line" but the dancer far better to my ears as is the Motown influenced "Friends And Lovers Don't Go Together". But as is so often the case, the little known ballads, where Lands has the room to really stretch out, are the ones that have stood the test of time the better. Among the ones to watch out for are "Two years and a thousand tears" and the luscious "Forever in my heart" - that must be Cissy Houston singing those stratospheric background phrases.
He cut a further series of 45s for Laurie subsidiary Spectrum in 1969 - 72 and although there were one or two strong sides like the duet with Lily Fields "Sweet Soul (Brother)" and the intense ballad Reminisce, the one killer cut was A Man Ain't No Stronger Than His Heart. This wonderfully subtle song, featuring outstanding playing from the crack Big Apple crew of Bernard Purdie, Gordon Edwards, Richard Tee et al, is given the wholehearted treatment by Lands. Interesting to compare his version with that cut by his labelmate, another great soulster Ronnie Mitchell - opinion on the better cut is pretty much equally divided between the two so take your pick. One oddity from this period of Hoagy's career is the issue in the UK in 1971 on Jonathan King's UK label of a side - "True Love At Last" - which doesn't seem to have ever appeared in the US. While this is a pleasant ballad it's no killer that's for sure - despite the date both sides were Laurie tracks rather than later Spectrum ones.
Lands' final 45 was an impassioned version of "Pledging My Love" which I like very much. Hoagy as usual gives an impeccable rendition of Johnny Ace's old warhorse with a well judged rap. He had open heart surgery in 1998 but this didn't stop him appearing in England on a mini tour to - shall we say - mixed reviews. But it is quite clear from his conversation that he continued his interest in the more fundamental pleasures and it was a real shock to hear that he passed away on 12 January 2002 at his home in New Jersey.
One day the story of New York soul will be properly set down - not in the piecemeal fashion on this website - and when it is Hoagy Lands' position as one of the greatest of all the city's soul singers is assured.
Oo-Be-Do / You're only young once ~ IVORY ?? (1958?)
Lighted windows / (I'm gonna) cry some tears ~ JUDI 054 / ABC 10171 (1960)
It's gonna be morning / My tears are dry ~ MGM 13041 (1961)
It ain't as easy as that / Goodnight Irene ~ MGM 13062 (1962)
I'm yours / The tender years ~ ABC 10392 (1963)
Baby come on home / Baby let me hold your hand ~ ATLANTIC 2217 (1964)
Theme from the other side / Friends and lovers don't go together ~ LAURIE 3349 (1966)
September / Theme from the other side ~ LAURIE 3361 (1967)
Forever in my heart / Yesterday ~ LAURIE 3372 (1967)
The next in line / Please don't talk about me when I'm gone ~ LAURIE 3381 (1967)
White gardenia / Two years and a thousand tears (since I left Augusta) ~ LAURIE 3463 (1968)
Crying candle / Beautiful music ~ SPECTRUM 116 (1969) (with LILY FIELDS)
Sweet soul brother / A boy in a mans world ~ SPECTRUM 118 (1970) (with LILY FIELDS)
Do you know what life is all about / Why didn't you let me know ~ SPECTRUM 122 (1971)
Beautiful music / When love comes ~ SPECTRUM 126 (1971) (with LILY FIELDS)
Reminisce / Why didn't you let me know ~ SPECTRUM 129 (1971)
True love at last / Friends and lovers don't go together ~ UK 13 (1971) (UK issue)
Do it twice / A man ain't no stronger than his heart ~ SPECTRUM 130 (1972)
The bell ringer / Inst ~ SPECTRUM 140 (1972)
Pledging my love / Mary Ann ~ PARAMOUNT 0232 (1973)
Hoagy Lands sings on the following LPs:-
1. George Hudson Presents Dance Time (Capitol T1697) (1962) - Hoagy sings 1 song "The Roach".
2. George Hudson Presents Give'Em Soul (Capitol T1730)@1963? - Hoagy sings 7 songs which are:-
He Will Break Your Heart / Cry To Me / Georgia On My Mind / It's Driving Me Wild / Stand By Me / Stranger On The Shore / On Top Of Old Smoky
Thanks to my friends Martin Goggin, Joe Sperry and Paul Mooney for initial support. And also to Naoya Yamauchi and Dave Turner for new discographical info. Naoya kindly supplied the album info now in the discography and adds:- "Regarding Hoagy Lands, Suzuki-san picked up him on the Magazine "Soul On" long time ago, in which he wrote that Hoagy is singing in 2 LPs. George Hudson was, as you may know, a New York based DJ. Though there is no credit for artists on the LPs, the singer for the above songs is himself without doubt because names of Teacho Wiltshire, Robert Mellin and Bert Barnes who were related to Hoagy's early singles are also credited and of course his voice." And having listened to the tracks Naoya sent me it is clear that they are indeed sung by Hoagy.
Note ~ Several of Hoagy's recordings can be found on Ace UK CDs. "Happy go lucky" is on "The Laurie Records Story Vol 2"; "Baby come on home" on "Out turn to cry"; "Lighted windows" on "The Bert Berns Story Vol 1"; "Baby let me hold your hand" on "You heard it here first"; "White gardenia" on "Still dead the grim reaper's jukebox".