Saturday, 24 July 2021

Well do you like good music....Bite-sized classic Atlantic Soul

Here are a selection of classic Atlantic soul albums. The artists featured are, in order that I have covered them - Ray Charles; Booker T & the MGs; The Bar-Kays, Percy Sledge, The Drifters, Don Covay, Solomon Burke; Ben E. King; Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, Sam & Dave, William Bell, Rufus Thomas; Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers, Sam Dees, Howard Tate and Donny Hathaway....

Ray Charles - The Ultimate Collection

This is a wonderful collection of seventy-five Ray Charles tracks, covering his superb Atlantic soul material, blues stuff, jazz, country standards given his unique treatment, easy-listening crooners and even some rock'n'roll-ish numbers. Yes, there are a few cheesy ones here and there, but by and large you can dip into this compilation at any point and enjoy it, or better still, put it on random. The sound quality is absolutely stunning - excellent stereo in many cases and a big, booming mono as well. Either sound great. Initially I worried that the sound on here might not be so good. I was wrong, it is most impressive.

The highlights are pretty much the obvious ones - Hit The Road Jack; Georgia On My Mind; What'd I Say; I Got A Woman; I Can't Stop Loving You; C.C. Rider and Unchain My Heart. There are many gems to found all over the album, though, Charles is just so good. Check out something like Leave My Woman Alone. It is rocking, soulful and bluesy all at once. Then there is the big, brassy jazz of Let The Good Times RollThe blues of At The Club carries one huge bassy thump making your speakers shake. On Hallelujah I Love Her So you get a rock 'n' roll jazzy groove that instantly lifts your spirits. There are too many tracks to list them, or comment on each of them, as I do on my usual individual album reviews but I can heartily recommend this collection, as, I am sure, would Van Morrison.

Ray Charles - What'd I Say (1959)

I also own this 1959 Ray Charles album (shown here) and a fair few of the tracks from which are contained in the above compilation. Albums weren't really the thing in those days - it was all about singles, but this album is packed full of them, so it makes no difference really - it is like listening to an early greatest hits. A lot of the best tracks from The Ultimate Collection are on there and I also have to say that the sound on the album, for 1959, is absolutely stunning. In many respects, soul music started around here, didn't it? Yes, there had been stuff from the early-mid fifties as well, but this was when it really started to take off.

Booker T & The MGs: Stax Classics

Booker T & The MGs were a hugely influential instrumental funk/r'n'b group, originating in Memphis in 1962. The original line up gave us a sound that was built around the organ of Booker T. Jones and the funky guitar of Steve Cropper. Lewie Steinberg delivered a rumbling, solid bass and the whole thing was driven reliably along by the drums of Al Jackson Jr. In 1965, David "Duck" Dunn replaced Steinberg on bass.

They became the "house band" for the legendary Stax Records label and played some memorable backing sounds on hits that are too many to mention - by the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor and Rufus Thomas. Also notable was the fact that they were multi-racial, Cropper and Steinberg being white. This was highly unusual for Southern States USA in 1962.

This collection is made up not of the hits for other artists that they played on, but of their own instrumental hits. The most well-known is the instantly recognisable organ riffy-dominated Green Onions, which was their first big hit. The equally catchy Time Is Tight was used for many years as the backing music while the chart rundown was read out on Sundays on Radio One. Anyone over fifty will be transported back to those days upon hearing its tune. Similarly, any cricket fans will love the calypso/soca rhythms of Soul Limbo, which was the theme tune for many years of BBC TV's cricket coverage, and is now used by Test Match Special on the radio. Mo' Onions is a re-make of Green OnionsHip Hug-Her features some killer organ and guitar over that metronomic but funky rhythm. Jelly Bread has some infectious bluesy riffs to it. Yes, there are similarities to Green Onions but this is high quality instrumental backing track music and with all the tracks, they can be played in their own right. Tic-Tac-Toe features seriously impressive organ, while Boot-Leg gives us some heavy guitar and some guest brass. The rhythm on Soul Dressing is captivating. Look, there really isn't a duff track on here, you can pick out great bits from all of them. Not only soul musicians will have been influenced by this, rock organists like Deep Purple's Jon Lord will have undoubtedly benefited from listening to this. The adjective cookin' seems to have been made for this material. It is dripping with rudimentary funk that bands like The Meters would follow.

Booker T. & The MGs -Green Onions (1962)

I also own this excellent album from Booker T. & The MG's, although the best tracks from it, Green Onions and the sound-alike follow-up, Mo' Onions appear on the above compilation, along with several other good cuts, like Rinky DinkBehave YourselfLonely Avenue and a groovy, vivacious cover of Ray Charles's I Got A Woman (for a 1962 album, the stereo sound is absolutely superb, by the way). Once more, it is a pleasure to listen to.

The Bar-Kays - Soul Finger (1967)
The Bar-Kays were an instrumental Stax-Atlantic group similar to Booker T & The MGs, being a backing combo for a lot of the vocalists on the Memphis-based Stax and Volt labels, as well as a self-contained unit, releasing their own singles and this, their debut album, in 1967The group unfortunately had a tragic story and this became the only album featuring the original line-up. Four of their six members lost their lives in the plane crash that also took 
Otis Redding's life. Later replacements carried the group through into the seventies, however, appearing at Wattstax.

Soul Finger was their best known cut and is one that often appears on Stax-Atlantic compilations. It is a catchy instrumental that broke through into the main pop charts as well as the black-r'n'b ones. The whole album is made up of similarly infectious instrumentals that followed the Booker T style of including killer hooks and blending uptempo numbers with slower, more atmospheric numbers. The front cover is suitable freaky too, man. 
Soul Finger has an added on backing of party noises helping to cement its reputation as a party anthem. It stomps from beginning to end and it a very danceable piece of fun. Knucklehead has some great bass and lead guitar on it. There is a brief, groovy drum solo too. With A Child's Heart is one of those afore-mentioned slow numbers that has a touch of The Shadows about its guitar soloing. Bar-Kays Boogaloo is an organ-driven stomper, you can't go wrong with any of this stuff, really, all good time fare. Theme From Hell's Angels is odd as it does not seem to relate to any film of the same name. It, unsurprisingly, has a foreboding, pounding drum rhythm to it. It is probably the heaviest cut on the album. That doesn't stop it featuring some subtle guitar breaks too, however. 

You Can't Sit Down returns to the party vibe on a lively romp. House Shoes features a stonker of a bass line and some superb guitar. Pearl High is another one with an absolutely captivating melody. The way the band feed off each other is so cohesive and the sound so attractive. Incidentally, the sound quality is outstanding on this album. I Want Someone was a vocal hit for The Mad Lads. The instrumental version here is beautifully and mournfully evocative. Indeed I prefer the instrumental version to the vocal one. Hole In The Wall is beguiling in its seductive, bleeping organ notes. Check out those drums too. Don't Do That is similarly impressive. There isn't a sub-standard track on this magnificent album. One of the best instrumental albums around.

Percy Sledge - When A Man Loves A Woman (1966)   
This was Percy Sledge's 1966 debut album. It is full to overflowing with gospel-influenced soul of the highest order. If you just know the title track, listen on further. When A Man Loves A Woman is an all-time classic, from that churchy organ through Percy's heartfelt vocal it is just wonderful. It is simply one of the finest love songs of all time. It is the only Percy Sledge song many people know, and if that is all they know, they can't go far wrong with it. It was the only one I knew for many years, before I explored deeper into the soul vaults.

My Adorable One is an uplifting slow piece of gospelly soul, with Percy's vocal helping to take the organ-driven song higher. 
Put A Little Lovin' On Me is a rocking, sax-powered Little Richard-esque stomper. It showed that Percy could rock as well as deliver ballads. I love the sheer energy and sheer joie de vivre of this one. Love Me All The Way is back to balladry on a sumptuous serving of soulful romance, with a very late fifties slow piano backing. You will know what I mean when you hear it. When She Touches Me features more of that gospel organ similar to that which appeared on the title track. It is like that song, understated but hugely passionate at the same time, fervent yet respectful. You're Pouring Water On A Drowning Man is a more uptempo groover, but still a very soulful one, with excellent organ and a rumbling bass line. It was convincingly covered by Elvis Costello on his 1995 Kojak Variety album. 

Man, I just love Thief In The Night. It has a rhythmic but seductive Northern Soul vibe to it, full of bass, organ and Percy's heavenly vocal. Great stuff. A real hidden gem of a track. You Fooled Me is delivered once more in that slow, dignified, moving style. Percy Sledge did this sort of thing better than most around. Loves Makes The World Go Round is another with a Northern Soul feel to it, in its lively beat and female backing vocals. It has a great bass/vocal bit near the end. Success is a slow, brass and organ-powered soul ballad. Typical mid-sixties Atlantic-Stax fare. Love Me Like You Mean It is an upbeat, Otis Redding-esque thumper to end on. I love this too. In fact I love the whole album. Its sound is pretty good, the tracks are actually all superior to the title track, sound-wise, for some reason. Good album.

The Drifters -Under The Boardwalk (1964)

The Drifters didn't release too many proper 'albums', concentrating more on compilations. This one, from 1964, contains some of their best early material, a real little-mentioned gem and also has an impressive sound quality.

I can never get too much of the wonderful Under The Boardwalk, a song that carries an added poignancy to it, being recorded after the group heard that one of their former members had died. As opposed to being a joyous song of being in love in the summertime, it has a sadness to its melody and vocal delivery. It is a copper-bottomed Drifters classic, featuring those sweeping strings and heartbreaking, yearning vocals.

One Way Love is a serving of slowish doo-wop brassy soul with some notable horn breaks before we get another classic in the atmospheric On Broadway. Again, the song has a pathos to it as it compares the contrasting lives of the haves and have nots on the famous New York thoroughfare. It is a dark, brooding song, certainly no celebration. But the song's protagonist can "play this here guitar" so maybe he'll make it in the end, like Bruce Springsteen who "got this guitar and learnt how to make it talk". Bruce was a Drifters fan, so I'm sure that line inspired him. Didn't It is a rousing piece of organ-driven rocking soul with another soaring vocal while I Feel Good All Over is a typical early sixties ballad given The Drifters treatment. It has a lovely bassy warmth to it. 

Sixties soul albums often contained covers of contemporary easy-listening ballads to appeal to non-teenagers and we get such a song here in Vaya Con Dios. No matter, we are soon transported back to Drifters nirvana with the glorious strains of Up On The Roof. The vocals are heavenly as indeed they are on the little-known but superb bassy groove of Rat Race, a song that again brings attention to social inequality. It is a great song and the sound quality on it is boomingly impressive. In The Land Of Make Believe is an archetypal, string-powered ballad as also are If You Don't Come Back and Let The Music Play. The all follow a similar format that is difficult to describe but you know it is The Drifters when you hear it. The album ends with the upbeat I'll Take You Home, a song that reminds me a little of Save The Last Dance For Me. This is a nice dose of nostalgia for more innocent times.

Don Covay - Mercy! (1964)
This was recorded with
 The Goodtimers and has resurfaced as part of the Atlantic Soul Legends Box Set, nicely remastered. There is an authentic, gritty, earthiness to the recordings on this album that make it, although a little dated, a really good soul album.

Mercy Mercy will be familiar with Rolling Stones aficionados from its appearance on their Out Of Their Heads album. Covay’s original is as muscularly soulful as you would expect. I’ll Be Satisfied sounds like it was something The Stones did as well, but it wasn’t, it just has that vibe. Come On In is a bit more rock ‘n’ roll than the bluesy r’n’b of the previous two numbers. Can’t Stay Away sees the blues return, together with some high-pitched vocals. This is pretty solid blues fare of the sort that The StonesThe KinksJohn MayallThe AnimalsThem and Fleetwood Mac among others were so inspired by. 

Can’t Fight It Baby has a shuffling beat and some Booker T-style organ backing. There is a great drum sound on here too. You're Good For Me is a slow-pace, saxophone and piano-backed blues ballad. Covay's vocal is a classic blues rock one. Take This Hurt Off Me is a catchy song with definite Sam Cooke echoes in it and these continue on the slightly dodgily-titled Daddy Loves BabyCome See About Me is not the Diana Ross & The Supremes/Jr. Walker number, but another winning Cooke-esque mid-pace groove. You Must Believe Me has a nice, deep, bassy rhythm to it, once again is a really high quality soul for the period. Please Don't Let Me Know has a chugging beat a bit like the afore-mentioned 70s hit plus some great guitar and drums. This quality soul album ends with the slow strains of much-covered fifties number Just Because, also done by John Lennon on his 1975 Rock 'n' Roll sessions. A nice album and highly influential, not only on The Rolling Stones but also on artists like Southside Johnny too.

Solomon Burke - If You Need Me (1963)

This was Solomon Burke's third album, released in 1963 on the Atlantic label and is an appealing collection of chunky, brassy soul and early sixties Elvis-influenced ballads. The thing that impresses me on the latest release of it is the superbly remastered sound, which is deep, warm and beautifully bassy, giving a real punch to the songs. Burke's voice is soulfully gritty throughout, whatever type of song he is dealing with, sort of like the sweetness of Sam Cooke mixed with the earthiness of Wilson Pickett.

If You Need Me was a Wilson Pickett song made famous by being covered by The Rolling Stones. It is slow, dignified, bassy and bluesy and is a wonderful example of early sixties Atlantic soul. The same applies to the churchy Booker T-style organ and cymbals-powered beauty of the lovely Words. The progression from church-inspired singing into soul is clear on tracks like this.

Dr. Feelgood fans will be familiar with the rocking energy of Stupidity, of course. You know, for years I thought it was a Dr. Feelgood original. From its call-and-response vocal beginning the song thumps with soul power. Great stuff. Listen to that big, rumbling bass too. Check out the organ and cymbal work on the supremely soulful Go On Back To Him too. Once more, the sound is outstanding here.

I Said I Was Sorry is lively and infectiously catchy as too is the finger-popping groove of It's All Right, where the relationship between gospelly soul and rock 'n' roll is clear for all to hear. Burke goes full-on Wilson Pickett preacher mode (Burke was a preacher himself) for Home In Your Heart while I Really Don't Want To Know is a rock n' roll-influenced ballad with a Stranger On The Shore-style saxophone break and another nice, bassy vibe. You Can Make It If You Try is classic, organ-driven gospel soul and Send Me Some Loving is simply sumptuous in its bassy, brassy soul power. This is definitely my favourite cut on the album. Fantastic sax on it too. This Little Ring is very Elvis-esque and Tonight My Heart She Is Crying brings to mind Sam Cooke. There was always a lot of cross-pollenation within soul. So many influences and subsequent ones radiating from this album can be detected.

Ben E. King - Don't Play That Song (1962) 

This 1962 album from ex-Drifter Ben E. King sounds somewhat dated in places now, but it is not without its appeal, largely because King's voice is just so damn good. Don't Play That Song virtually replicates, note-for-note, the Stand By Me intro, but don't let that detract from the fact that it it is still a towering soul song. King's vocal is soaring and the overall atmosphere is one of wonderful Drifters-esque soul. It also has a similar orchestrated mid-song break to Stand By Me.

Ecstasy sounds a lot like The Drifters' Save The Last Dance For Me in its instrumentation but once again it is redeemed by King's expressive voice and the irresistible melody. On The Horizon is one of those dated-sounding numbers but it has a character and dignity to it that shines through. Show Me The Way is a doo-wop rock 'n' roll-influenced lively number that is very much of its time. There is a bit of variance in the sound quality and, compared to the previous number, Here Comes The Night has a superb stereo sound to it. It reminds me of the Northern Soul classic, Jimmy Ratcliffe's Long After This Night Is Over.  First Taste Of Love is a delightful Elvis meets The Drifters before getting together with the early Beatles number, full of sweeping strings, infectious rhythms and a sweet vocal. 

Then, lest we forget, there is the eternally wonderful Stand By Me, beloved of myself for years and many others, including Willy De Ville, who covered it live memorably many times. It simply drips with soul and atmosphere. John Lennon also covered it too, lest I forget. The Sam Cooke-ish Yes is very much of its time, as opposed to its timeless predecessor, while Young Boy Blues is blues with strings. The Hermit Of Misty Mountain is an odd, very early 60s song with a fine sound quality to it. Similar can be found on the fairground soul of I Promise Love. This very much of its time album ends with the pleasant Brace Yourself. Albums by Rufus Thomas and Solomon Burke from the following year are far grittier and brassier but there is an attraction to some of the tracks on here.

Ben E. King - Supernatural (1975) 

Ben E. went disco on this enjoyably funky outing from 1975. His trademark Drifters voice is nowhere to be found on here as he goes grittily funky. If you didn't know, you would never guess it was him, you would think it was Joe Tex or someone like that. It reminds me of the Benny And Us album he cut with The Average White Band in 1977. Supernatural Thing's two parts (both parts merge together seamlessly) are wonderfully funky disco cuts - deep and infectiously funky, while Your Lovin' Ain't Good Enough is  insistent and grinding, full of energetic call and response backing vocals. After such a funky start it is time for a soft soul ballad in Drop My HeartExtra-Extra gets things lively once more with a piece of frothy pop soul with more irresistible funky tinges. Do It In The Name Of Love is muscular, thumping soul funk.

Happiness Is Where You Find It is a really enjoyable Detroit Spinners-style catchy soul number. Do You Wanna Do A Thing is brassy funker and Imagination is a sweet, lush and slick come to bed ballad. What Do You Want Me To Do is a vibrant serving of appealing funk pop with some Isley Brothers-style fuzzy guitar to finish with. Not a huge amount of analysis can be done on this other than to stress its funky, poppy appeal. That's what I came to say.

Wilson Pickett - In The Midnight Hour (1965)


While the iconic 
The Midnight Hour speaks and sounds for itself, the rest of this, Wilson Pickett's first proper album, is a bit of a mismatched mess. It is a selection of singles either released while with The Falcons several years earlier, or else from earlier in his post 1963 solo career. It means that there is no cohesion to either the flow of the music, or indeed the quality of the sound, which is highly variable. The Midnight Hour had excellent sound, whereas many of the other tracks are just not comparable. It is a shame to have to say that about such a great singer, but unfortunately it is the case.

Teardrops Will Fall is one of those mid-sixties soul numbers that has some echoes of the late fifties-early sixties about it. 
Take A Little Love has a bit more of a contemporary to 1965 sound. For Better Or Worse is a passionate number but it suffers from a dodgy sound, but not as much as I Found A Love, an old 1962 song that dated back to Pickett's time as lead singer of The Falcons. This has truly dreadful sound. The brassy soul of That's A Man's Way is an improvement, obviously from a later date. It was written with Booker T & The MGsSteve CropperI'm Gonna Cry is a 1964 single written with Don Covay. It is a vibrant, enjoyable number, but alongside The Midnight Hour it already sounds dated. 

Don't Fight It was a 1965 hit and is the first one thus far to match The Midnight Hour's sound quality and sonic  punch. It is another collaboration with Steve CropperTake This Love I've Got sounds horribly dated in its sound and style, although Pickett's glorious shriek of a voice shines through. A lot of this stuff sounds very early sixties and the album suffers accordingly. Come Home Baby is, once again, very 1962-ish despite a slightly better sound. I'm Not Tired is an improvement, though, and is the final Steve Cropper/Pickett song. Let's Kiss And Make Up is a rocking, guitar-enhanced early number from The Falcons days that may have sounded great then but doesn't fit in 1965. Basically, this album is four good tracks, the four Steve Cropper co-writes - That's A Man's WayDon't Fight ItI'm Not Tired and The Midnight Hour. Forget the rest, historical importance or not. Overall, I have to say that compared to other Atlantic albums from between 1965 and 1970, this is one of the most disappointing. Pickett is pictured here with Duane Allman, who played on his Hey Jude cover.

Eddie Floyd - Knock On Wood (1967)

In the sixties, soul music albums were often merely vehicles for singles, populated with throwaway “filler” along with these copper-bottomed hits. T
his was certainly true, but this album was not one of them. It is overflowing with great Southern soul songs - gritty, earthy but catchy Stax-style soul  at its very best. The sound quality, for 1967, is outstanding - bassy, thumping and featuring nice stereo separation. Amazingly, this was Floyd’s debut album. What a fine one it was too. The musicians were Booker T & The MGs, with Isaac Hayes adding extra keyboards and piano, so that gave it a head start. 

Knock On Wood is, of course, well-known. Covered live by David Bowie in 1974, it is a glorious helping of Memphis horn-powered kick ass soul with a catchy hook of a chorus. Something You Got is slightly slower but has a dignified sound to it. Once again the horns play a big part, as does the bluesy piano. But It’s Alright is just upliftingly wonderful, full of lively pop/funk rhythm, killer horns, fatback drums and a great vocal from Eddie. I Stand Accused, later covered by Isaac Hayes, is a perfect slow soul ballad. If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody is mined from the same seam. The tempo ups again on the lively I Don’t Want To Cry and then Raise Your Hand, memorably covered live by Bruce Springsteen in the mid-eighties. Southside Johnny and Steve Van Zandt will have loved stuff like this as they grew up.

Songwriter-guitarist Steve Cropper, from Booker T & The MGs, contributed to many of these songs, both writing and guitar playing, you can tell. His influence is all over the album. Got To Make A Comeback is a slower but no less appealing number, and Wilson Pickett’s 634 - 5789 is just superb. Just check out those horns breaks - Southside Johnny would use those to great effect from 1976 onwards. 
I’ve Just Been Feeling Bad is a marvellous heartbreaker with another impressive, moving vocal. High Heel Sneakers is a cover, of course, but Floyd enthusiastically does the Tommy Tucker song justice. I guess covering something like this could be accused of being filler, but it is done so well that Floyd and his team get away with it. Warm And Tender Love is a slow-pace, romantic brassy piece of soul to end the album with. A fine half hour this has been, indeed. Quality muscular soul all the way, not a duff track on there.

Arthur Conley - Sweet Soul Music (1967)
This 1967 debut album showed that Arthur Conley wasn’t just the titanic Sweet Soul Music that made his name. He shows himself to be a versatile vocalist on an enjoyable album of Southern brass-driven soul. As with Eddie Floyd’s debut from the same year, this was not an album with “filler” on it. It is full of quality material. Otis Redding produced and contributed songs to it, so that was an endorsement to begin with.

Sweet Soul Music. Where do I begin? I have loved this track for years, from its iconic horn intro, through its name checking of other soul artists it is an absolute delight. Arthur asks “do you like good music?” on the song’s first line. What a start. We sure do, Arthur. I know every note of it, even to the fade out bit of “Otis Redding’s got the feeling...”. For years this song was all I knew Arthur Conley for. This album proved that he had more to offer. It never really worked out, though, which was unfortunate, as this was a really good start. The front cover wasn't great though, was it? There were so many dreadful soul album covers in the sixties. No Sgt. Pepper fannying about to be had in Memphis or Detroit. Just get a pretty girl on the cover in soft focus, or commission some pencil drawings of the group, Four Tops-style.

Take Me (Just As I Am) is a majestic, horn-driven soul ballad showing that Conley could do slow, emotional material too. The pace is back up on the infectious Who’s Foolin’ Who. Conley’s voice is great on this one as are the strident horns and the saxophone - a great track. 
There’s A Place For Us is another superbly-delivered ballad featuring some excellent bass and saxophone. The upbeat, energetic I Can’t Stop (No, No, No) is completely infectious and kicks soulful ass from beginning to end. The same applies to the catchy Otis Redding-penned groove of Wholesale Love.

I’m A Lonely Stranger is classic slow tempo, brassy soul. I’m Gonna Forget About You is very, very Sam Cooke and none the less enjoyable for it. I love this one. I'm sure big Cooke fan Rod Stewart did too. Let Nothing Separate Us is probably Conley’s finest vocal performance on the album. It is a beautiful, heartfelt ballad in the I’ve Been Lovin’ You A Little Too Long vein. Very Otis Redding. He wrote it after all. You can tell. Where You Lead Me is an organ-powered brassy Northern Soul-ish stomper to end on. Just ten tracks, but ten good ones. Arthur Conley didn’t do much more after this, just three more albums, which was a shame, because the guy could sing, no doubt about that. The sound was superb quality as well. Incidentally, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart have done great live covers of Sweet Soul Music and there is a wonderful modern version out, by The Overtones. Ike & Tina Turner also briefly did it as part of a medley on their Get Yer Ya-Yas Out set.

Sam & Dave - Hold On, I'm Comin' (1966)
Sam & Dave specialised in earthy, rootsy soul, sticking to the formula of horns, bass, guitar and powerful drums with a few keyboards thrown in. They eschewed lush strings, pop sensibilities and polished, romantic productions. Down ‘n’ dirty Memphis soul was their thing. Many Motown acts in particular were going more slick and orchestrated by 1966, when this album was released , but not this pair of gruffly soulful Stax/Atlantic vocalists. They kept it real, unpretentious proper Memphis soul. Horns blasting all over the place. What was with that cover, though, lads? The two of you riding on a huge cartoon turtle. That was one of the strangest covers of the era.

Hold On, I’m Comin’ has become an all-time classic of the genre, with its killer horn riff, pounding drums, funky guitar and singalong chorus. If You Got The Loving is more soulfully laid-back, with lower key horns and a gently rumbling bass backing it as it chugs appealingly along. I Take What I Want is a gloriously upbeat piece of gritty soul with a totally infectious beat. Check out that vocals/drum part. Ease Me grinds real good from beginning to end with the dual vocalists interplaying perfectly. I Got Everything I Need slows the pace down on a classically mournful Stax ballad.

Don’t Make It So Hard continues in the same vein before It’s A Wonder ups the tempo once more on its infectious groove and Don’t Help Me Out has such a perfect bass line to it. Just Me is a yearning, slow ballad. When I hear these vocals I hear the influence they had on Southside Johnny so clearly. You Got It Made is a mid-pace number with those horns blowing beautifully behind more solid, muscular drums. You Don’t Know Like I Know was a hit single and you can hear why in its catchy refrain and beat. Sam & Dave and their producers had an ability to give earthy, authentic soul an attractive edge. 

Blame Me (Don’t Blame My Heart) is a fine soulful tearjerker to end this  impressive album with. This was one of Atlantic-Stax’s best albums of the period, up there with Eddie Floyd and Arthur Conley’s debut albums. Its sound had a huge influence, particularly on artists like Southside Johnny & The Asbury JukesSteven Van ZandtBruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart. The sound quality on the album is good too, nice and full and bassy, especially for 1966.

William Bell - The Soul Of A Bell (1967)
William Bell had been around for ages, seemingly, when this, his debut album, was released in 1967. He had been recording since 1961. Everything was about singles for soul artists in the sixties, and that non-album period for him exemplifies that perfectly, but eventually he released this. The album is a mix of mainly slow, emotional ballads sung by Bell's rich, warm and soulful voice over a typically Stax brassy backing and a second half of toe-tapping, horn-driven, upbeat numbers.

Everybody Loves A Winner is a fine example of Bell's brand of soul balladry. There were other ballad-orientated groups like The Originals and The Dramatics but, for me, Bell delivered his slower numbers with more of a soul feel about them than an "easy listening" one. He always sounded very much like the Stax artist that he was. Would you believe that You Don't Miss Your Water dated from 1961 and had taken six years to finally end up on an album. Aretha Franklin's Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Otis Redding's I've Been Loving You Too Long are covered is solid, convincing fashion, although I do feel that Bell's voice was good enough to have handled more original material. He approached the numbers with the velvety but earthy soulful abundance of gospel-drenched Southern soul, however, therefore they do still have something to offer.

Nothing Takes The Place Of You is an immaculately-played heartbreaker. The same applies to the yearning, emotive Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye. Stax musicians Issac Hayes and David Porter were involved on the instrumentation of this album, I believe. At this point the old "side one" ends, it had been a deliberately slow-paced side. 

Side two is much more uptempo. It opens with the energetic, Four Tops-ish Eloise (Hang On In There) that features a Levi Stubbs-esque gritty vocal from Bell. Any Other Way is a mid-pace piece of gospel meets slowed-down rock 'n' roll backed by some sumptuous, uplifting horn breaks. I love this one - classic smouldering, brassy Stax soul. Sometimes music doesn't get much better than this. It's Happening All Over was an Isaac Hayes-penned song that has a fine groove to it, full of Northern Soul beat, female backing vocals and those punchy horns taking us to heaven. The Stax glory continues on the ebullient, addictive Never Like This Before, which is my favourite cut on the album. It pounds with a big Memphis thump from beginning to end. It even features a killer electric guitar solo - Steve Cropper? Unfortunately I haven't found that out. You're Such A Sweet Thang is also a lively Stax groover to end this album of two different, but equally impressive, halves. It has excellent sound quality too.

Rufus Thomas - Walking the Dog (1963)

Rufus Thomas was already forty-seven years old when this, his debut album, was released on the Stax label in 1963. It is a really good short serving of brass-powered soul that has a wonderful sound quality, considering its age. Thomas's vocals are gruffly uplifting and his musicians are outstanding - horns, saxophones, bass, drums and backing vocalist all giving it everything. This album would have been hugely influential on all those British blues boom bands. It still sounds great today. Thomas, of course, went on to have a big hit with Do The Funky Chicken.

The Dog is a bubbling, brassy groove loaded with funky horns and a surprisingly clear, warm sound for 1964. Some howling dog noises are in there too. Another dance craze-inspired song is up next in the lively "yeah-yeah" sound of Mashed Potatoes. The vocals are only interjectory, it is all about the pumping brass-driven sound. Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo is a grooving, chugging, call-and-response piece of bluesy brassy soul. You Said is an appealing mid-pace ballad with a rock'n'roll influence. It features some superb baritone saxophone too. Thomas covers John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom excellently, with a vibrant upbeat sound and the now obligatory top notch brass. 

It's Aw'rite is a punchy number that I can imagine Southside Johnny loving. Check out that great guitar break mid-song. Walking The Dog is known to many by now, having been covered by many, including The Rolling Stones on their first album. It is a delicious slice of funky soul and I never tire of it. Ya Ya kicks ass, big time. Once more get an earful of that sax. Again, it reminds me a lot of the material on Southside Johnny's first album. Land Of 1000 Dances has its definitive version in the hands of Wilson Pickett, of course, but here Thomas slows it down thus taking away must of its irresistible, stomping joie de vivre. Sorry, Rufus, your version doesn't quite do it for me. The bass on the Walking The Dog re-write of Can Your Monkey Do The Dog positively shakes my speakers, it is so beautifully deep. This track cooks from beginning to end. 'Cause I Love You is a soulful but upbeat duet with one of Thomas's backing vocalist (I'm not sure who). Once more it positively bristles and crackles with funky soul. I Want To Be Loved has an infectious drum, guitar and bass rhythm to it and another gritty vocal. All copper-bottomed early Stax soul. What an invigorating twenty-nine minutes.

Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers - Doin' What I Wanna (1970)

This was Atlantic’s first foray into jazz funk, with this virtually unheralded debut album. Coming out in 1970, along with Donny Hathaway’s Everything Is Everything, it stands as quite a ground-breaking release for the label, also exemplifying the contemporary changes in soul music at the turn of the decade. Wheeler was the tenor saxophonist. He was joined by George Hughes on drums, Sonny Burke on organ, Sonny Covington on trumpet and, try as I might, I cannot find out who played the magnificent bass that embellishes the album. Never mind, I can still enjoy listening to it.

The album has a superb stereo sound to it, rich in bassiness and nowhere is this better heard than on the group’s impressive and innovative funky cover of Hey Jude. It is wonderfully rhythmic and full of strident organ breaks. Listen to that lovely, rubbery bass line too. Funk meets jazz and the result is ensured when the big brass parts kick in, followed by some delicious trumpet. It takes a well-known song and turns it into an instrumental tour de force. Great stuff indeed. How Atlantic soul has progressed.

It is now time for some kick-ass early seventies funk in the horn, bass and drum-driven instrumental glory of Sham Time
Theme From Electric Surfboard has an infectious bossa nova groove but also launches via its organ breaks into passages of Blaxplotation-esque brassy funk. It also has some very late fifties-style jazz saxophone from Wheeler. I have to reiterate that the sound is truly outstanding.

This was one of the first times that funk met jazz, something that would become very common in black music over the next few years. This was a precursor to the jazz funk of the Blaxploitation era. This vibe is continued on the intoxicating groove of Right On, which includes a few isolated female backing vocals, one of whom was Judy Clay, of William Bell duet fame. 
Dream Bossa Nova is a treat for saxophone and bass fans. It is sumptuously beautiful, lounge jazz of the highest order. A bit retrospective maybe but therein lies its appeal. Doin’ What I Wanna has more virtuoso saxophone, set against a shuffling, funky beat with more excellent organ. C.W. signs off on a track that bears his initials with some more soaring sax. Check out that funky organ break too. This was an unusual, trend-breaking Atlantic album that is well worth checking out.

Sam Dees - The Show Must Go On (1975)

This superb 1975 album from an artist that was better-known as a songwriter (for Gladys KnightAretha FranklinWhitney HoustonGeorge BensonMillie Jackson and KC & The Sunshine Band among many others), is a virtually unknown gem of a rarity, coming a bit late to the message of urban decay-societal decline-drug abuse trend of the late sixties-early seventies in soul music it still carried a fine, funky punch to it, both musically and lyrically. Another fine point about it is the fact that there is not only meaningful, conscious material on here but also some sweet soul too. Is has a nice balance to it. The album has lain dormant, out of print, for many years until it appeared on the 
Atlantic Soul Legends 20 album compilation, delighting soul fans. The sound on it is absolutely stunning too, lovely and bassy.

Child Of The Streets is a marvellously atmospheric, slow burning social message number, with obvious echoes of The TemptationsThe Undisputed Truth and Marvin Gaye"Your father is a pusherman" was the opening line and it set the trend for a hard-hitting, bassy groove that delivers like a preacher dishing out a wise warning. It is packed full of depressing and uncompromising images backed by echoey, haunting vocals. Written by Dees with bassist David Camon, it is very influenced by Norman Whitfield and Curtis Mayfield. As I said earlier, the album is varied as well, though - it is not all trouble and strife as the sweet, lush, romantic soul of The Show Must Go On proves. It is very like something groups like Blue Magic or The Manhattans would do, or The Chi-Lites on Have You Seen HerCome Back Strong is positively Harold Melvin/Teddy Pendergrass-esque, not only in its gruffly soulful vocal, but also in its typically seventies-style Philly soul bass and percussion interplay. Just Out Of Reach continues in classic slow soul ballad fashion. Dees is a pretty competent singer, it has to be said, with a rich, warm but gritty tone, sort of Bobby Womack meets Teddy Pendergrass.

Claim Jumpin' returns to social problems, and is a cookin', thumpin' brassy funker that should have gained more than just cult success. 
The atmosphere is continued on the Curtis Mayfield-influenced Troubled Child. It is delivered at walking pace and carries a sombre message to it. The tempo and ambience rises up again on the jaunty Bobby Womack-style soul of What's It Gonna BePolished, slick soul is the order of the day for the very Chi-Lites-esque Worn Out Broken HeartGood Guys has a positively Detroit Spinners vibe and vocal sound to it. The final track, So Tied Up, is a slow, late night smoocher of a song, in sort of Love TKO mode. So, only three of the ten songs are message ones, but they certainly are notable, the rest are sumptuous, romantic soul. It makes for a nice combination. There is no doubt that this was a soul album of the highest order and deserves attention.

Howard Tate - Howard Tate (1972)
This was Howard Tate’s only album for Atlantic Records and it is a bit of a hidden treasure. I had certainly not heard of it, or indeed Tate himself, until recently. That is possibly down to my own ignorance, however. Either way, this is an ebullient album of grinding seventies soul with a nice balance between funky soul and passionate, heartfelt ballads. 
She’s A Burglar, although lyrically a bit clumsy, is a solid, punchy serving of funky, brassy early seventies soul. 8 Days On The Road has a great vocal over its muscular, shuffling beat. You Don’t Know Nothing ‘Bout Love is an emotional, slow ballad. When I Was A Young Man is funky grinder of a track. Funk was finding its way into soul far more now, in 1972, than in Atlantic-Stax’s sixties output. These early seventies years were the ones that saw the real emergence of funk.

An interesting curio here is a slowed-down, full-on soul rendition of Bob Dylan’s Girl Of The North Country, titled here as “of” instead of “from”, oddly. Anyway, Tate does a great job on the vocal. 
Where Did My Baby Go once again smoulders with funk-rock-soul power. Keep Cool has a bit of a Temptations vibe about it, especially on the chorus. 

The lyrically bemusing Jemima Surrender is backed by a swirling saxophone and is another that knocks you sideways with its power. Strugglin’ slows the pace down but it still has that classic Memphis guitar sound to it. All the tracks on here are quality, really, it is one of those albums where you can’t find too much fault with it, if you like earthy Stax soul, that is. It’s Heavy grooves chunkily along, with more great guitar, it sort of reminds me of some of Elton John’s early seventies horn-driven stuff. It’s Your Move is similarly muscular as also is the final track, The Bitter End. This was a pleasing find, and, together with its fine sound quality, makes for a good listen.

Donny Hathaway - Everything Is Everything (1970) 
This was where, in 1970, Atlantic Records got the funk - it was Donny Hathaway's debut album and a fine, cookin' offering it was too. It mixes soul with gospel, funk, brassy soul and even bits of jazz as the seventies began with an expression of social conscience. This was something The Temptations had kick-started in 1968-69 and was now starting to reach bubbling point. This was also a very spiritual, religious album alongside some of its messages of concern. Love, faith and a caring for one's fellow man are the touchstones here.

Voice Inside (Everything Is Everything) is Blaxploitation-ish piece of hard-hitting, urban soul-funk-gospel, delivered over bassist Phil Upchurch's truly sublime bass line. It expresses a social message of the sort that Marvin Gaye, The Undisputed Truth, The Temptations and Curtis Mayfield would continue in the same period. For some reason, though, this excellent album slipped under the radar of all but the cognoscenti. Je Vous Aime (I Love You) is a solid piece of funky romancing. Hathaway's strong, warm voice enhances the song no end. Rich and emotive, it dominates every song on the album, to be honest, with a preacher-ish, church passion. 

Ray Charles' I Believe To My Soul is a brassy, muscular number with blaring horns and a bit of jazzy influence. It also has a Can I Get A Witness vibe to it, lyrically. Misty is a laid-back, bluesy ballad with more great bass and brooding horns. Sugar Lee is a handclaps, bass and percussion-backed slice of irresistible instrumental groove. Once more. check out Upchurch's beautifully rubbery bass. Tryin' Times is an upbeat protest song about " a whole lot of things wrong goin' down". It is a vibrant sermon of a song, driven along by a rocking piano and an infectious rhythm. 

Thank You Master (For My Soul) is a devotional, jazz, blues and brass piece of praise. Listen to that addictive drum, bass and piano interplay half way through. The Ghetto is well-known to all Blaxploitation fans, as it appears on many compilations of the early seventies, urban funk genre. It is nearly seven minutes of insistent, rhythmic polemic. It smoulders from beginning to end, from Hathaway's vocal introduction, through its intoxicating drums and keyboard-driven backing. Classic stuff. Nina Simone's To Be Young Gifted & Black, known to all reggae fans, of course, is given a slowed-down jazzy blues makeover. It is performed at walking pace, nothing like the lively Bob & Marcia reggae hit version. This was a ground-breaking album for Atlantic in many ways, travelling down different roads to the largely upbeat soul of the sixties. It is a relatively underrated piece of work, surprisingly.

Check out the King and Queen of Atlantic Soul too :-
Otis Redding
Aretha Franklin
Archie Bell

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