Chairmen Of The Board—
Skin I'm In

Released 1974 on Invictus
The Seth Man, October 2023ce
Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland, Jr. set up Invictus Records in 1969 after having helped establish Motown Records as a major force in the American music recording industry. Those three men were responsible for five years of astonishing creative and financial success for Motown through their writing, composition, and production skills for over two dozen US American #1 singles by the likes of Martha & The Vandellas, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and The Four Tops. While Dozier and the two Hollands were disputing royalties with their former label, Invictus was already yielding early successes in the form of Freda Payne's US #1 “Band of Gold” as well as the million-selling single, “Give Me Just A Little More Time” by Chairmen Of The Board.

This latter-named group was assembled by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team centered around the pleading strength of lead vocalist General Johnson with backing harmonisations from Eddie Custis, Harrison Kennedy, and Danny Woods. However, by the time of SKIN I’M IN, The Chairmen’s fourth and final album for Invictus Records, the foursome was now a trio, all three had released solo albums and General Johnson’s voice was prominently on display -- despite the portrait of the three-man Chairmen on the back cover. With half the album already recorded back in 1972, further tracks and additional overdubs were directed by Jeffrey Bowen with arrangements by Donald Baldwin. In fact, all but two songs had already seen release as singles between 1973 and 19741 and with SKIN I’M IN released just in time for the ‘74 Christmas season, it would appear to be a final cash-in on a group who had long ago called for an adjournment.

With all that said, SKIN I’M IN is a schizo affair. Not least of all because it’s staked within the parameters of funk as much as it is squarely inside those of R&B, but at the behest of producer Bowen, several members of Funkadelic were on board and obviously present and doing their thing all over side one. The evidence? For a start, that fuzz bass. The Sly cover! The Moog??! The mellotron?!!! Yes, is it party time, time to get down or just lose your mind and/or both as you board this audio train to oblivion? Yes, yes, yes, and hell, yes as the 4-part “Morning Glory,” “Life & Death Pt. I,” “White Rose (Freedom Flower),” “Life & Death Pt. II” run roughshod hard and psychedelic in an expresswy to yr skull courtesy of Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, drummer Tiki Fulwood, and Billy Bass Nelson on himself.

The proceedings kick off with the Isley Brothers-style party opener “Everybody Party All Night” with its “Theme From Shaft” meets “Dolly Dagger” wah-wah guitar parting for what seems like a played sample of the chorus of Sly & The Family Stone’s funk granularity that is “Sing A Simple Song.” Horns stab throughout the chorus with precise counterpointing as the whole thing is set against whistling galore and an uproarious atmosphere of get-it-up-and-get-down proportions of “Par-tay!” The mood shifts into nighttime bubblin’ brown sugar with “Skin I’m In,” where a spidery guitar introduction flows into a slow tempo that then spills out into a Sly groove, weirdly punctuated by a Martin Hannett lift dropping five floors to the basement with a crashing thud.

The rest of side one is a run-on, four-part funkathon with progressive trimmings. The instrumental “Morning Glory” starts up with the overamplified fuzz bass of Billy Bass Nelson, assisted on falling snowflake keyboards by Bernie Worrell as that unlikeliest of instruments on a funk album, mellotron, enters. Running directly into a cover of the Sly Stone-penned “Life & Death Part I,” “White Rose (Freedom Flower)” (co-written by Donald Baldwin and Billy Bass), and back into “Life & Death Part II,” it’s as much of an anomaly that works just as much as the four soul covers on Todd Rundgren’s A WIZARD/A TRUE STAR or Henry Fonda cast against type in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968). The “White Rose (Freedom Flower)” instrumental is a progressive rock exposition spanning the two-part “Life & Death” and when one least expects it, fragments of Julian Cope’s Dope project comes to mind with great lashings of mellotron, hugely recorded bass and an on the one attitude.

With General Johnson chairing the majority of side two, little wonder the proceedings simmer down into more orthodox R&B dance and/or seduction material. In all probability, these were the earliest finished tracks, ranging from fairly memorable ballads to romantic odes, it does finish on a high with the Chairmen’s final hit single, “Finder’s Keepers,” one of the earliest tracks recorded on the album, with General Johnson on five-star vocals fronting a near-THERE’S A RIOT GOIN' ON funk pulsation perforated by quick horn sectioneering.

SKIN I’M IN is a schizo affair, and a lopsided one at that. But there’s something for everyone even though the good General himself was not particularly happy with the resultant album, calling it a ‘trampled flower.’ But then again, who said a funk band can’t play progressive rock? Oh, yeah? Tell that to the Brothers Johnson!

  1. Between 1973 and 1974, Invictus would issue five singles by Chairmen Of The Board. Excepting one B-side, “Love At First Sight,” all material was taken from SKIN I’M IN, suggesting that Invictus’ approach was a fire sale clear of the shelves in the effort something would hit the market. (Conversely, only two tracks from the LP were spared release on 45: “White Rose (Freedom Flower)” by Billy Bass Nelson and arranger Donald Baldwin and the cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Only Love Can Break A Heart.”) Over the next two years, Invictus eked out a further half a dozen singles before folding, one of which was credited to ‘Chairmen Of The Board featuring Prince Harold’: “You've Got Extra Added Power In Your Love” / “Someone Just Like You."