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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 Heart. Extra-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)
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 MGs' Steve Cropper. I'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Be. Polished, slick soul is the order of the day for the very Chi-Lites-esque Worn Out Broken Heart. Good 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.
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.
|Otis Redding||Aretha Franklin||Archie Bell|