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The Originals – Soul Vol. 1

The theme of this month’s instalment of The Originals is soul classics. The alert reader will notice, with possible alarm, that none of the tracks featured were Motown hits. But that reveals that I’m planning to do a special of lesser-known originals of Motown hits at some point.



Sweet Soul Music (Yeah Man)
Before Arthur Conley wrote Sweet Soul Music, his tribute to the living soul legends, he just wanted to cover Sam Cooke’s posthumously released Yeah Man. Otis Redding rewrote the lyrics, and got himself a namecheck — but excluded the man who was being plagiarised. It was a strange omission, since Sam Cooke influenced pretty much every soul singer of the 1960s, including and especially Otis Redding.

Try A Little Tenderness
Indeed, it was Cooke’s interpretation of the old standard Try A Little Tenderness which inspired Otis Redding’s reworking of the song. Once Otis was through with the song, with the help of Booker T & the MGs and a production team that included Isaac Hayes, it bore only the vaguest semblance to the smooth and safe standard it once was. Redding in fact didn’t even want to record it, ostensibly because he did not want to compete with his hero Cooke’s brief interpretation of the song on the Live At The Copa set. His now iconic delivery was actually intended to screw the song up so much that it could not be released.

It isn’t quite clear who recorded the original version: the versions by the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra and the Ray Noble Orchestra are both cited as having been recorded on December 8, 1932.

At Last
When Beyoncé Knowles was invited to sing At Last — Barack and Michelle’s special song — at Obama’s inauguration events in January 2009, Etta James was not best pleased. The veteran soul singer stated her dislike for the younger singer, who had portrayed Etta in the film about the Chess label, Cadillac Records. “That woman; singing my song, she gonna get her ass whupped,” James declared (she later relegated her outburst to the status of a “joke”).

It is her song, of course, certainly in the form covered so competently by Beyoncé. But many people recorded it before her, and it was a hit at least twice. The first incarnation came in the 1941 movie Orchestra Wives, in which it was performed by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, who also recorded the first version to be released on record on 20 May 1942. It was a #9 hit for Miller. At Last became a hit again ten years later, for Ray Anthony with Tom Mercer on vocals. This version is typical 1950s easy listening fare, done much better in 1957 by Nat ‘King’ Cole (who tended to do music much better than most people).

In 1960 Etta James recorded the song, with Phil and Leonard Chess producing with a view to accomplishing crossover success. Her version, released on Chess subsidiary Argo, was a #2 R&B hit in 1961, but crossover success was limited, reaching only #47 in the pop charts. Over the years it did manage to cross over, being especially popular at weddings. As a result, it has been covered prodigiously, by soul singers (such as the wonderful Laura Lee and, in a gloriously upbeat version, Stevie Wonder), folk legends (Joni Mitchell) and difficult listening merchants (Céline Dion, Michael F. Bolton and Kenny G) alike.

I Got You (I Feel Good)
For one of his most iconic songs, James Brown covered his own composition, with a few adaptations. But first it was recorded, under Brown’s supervision, by his back-up singer (and lover) Yvonne Fair in 1962 as I Found You. Released on single by King Records, it went nowhere.

Two years later, Brown dug out the old song and recorded it, having to withdraw it at first because of a legal conflict with King Records. It became famous when Brown lip-synched it in the 1965 movie Ski Party.

Yvonne Fair went on to record on Motown, scoring a UK #5 in 1976 with It Should Have Been Me, originally a Kim Weston song from 1963.


It May Be Winter OutsideUnder The Influence Of LoveLove Theme
Before becoming an icon of baby-making music, Barry White was something of an impresario. He discovered and produced the girl band Love Unlimited, whose success in 1972 set him off on his successful solo career. Just a decade or so earlier, White had been in jail for stealing the tyres of a Cadillac. After leaving jail, he started to work in record production, mostly as an arranger. Among his early arrangement credits was Bob & Earl’s 1963 song Harlem Shuffle. By 1967, White worked for the Mustang label. In that job, White wrote for Bobby Fuller, Viola Wills and a young soul singer named Felice Taylor.

Felice Taylor, born in 1948 in Richmond, California, had previously released a single as part of a trio with her sisters, The Sweets, and a solo single under the name Florian Taylor. White’s It May Be Winter Outside provided Taylor with her only US hit, reaching #42 in the pop charts. It is a rather lovely version that sounds a lot like a Supremes song (with a break stolen from the Four Tops’ Reach Out I’ll Be There). White also wrote and arranged Taylor’s I’m Under The Influence Of Love. The arrangement and Taylor’s vocals are inferior, and the single failed to make an impact. The flip side was the original recording of the Love Unlimited Orchestra’s Love Theme, performed by the Bob Keene Orchestra. This and Under The Influence are included as bonus tracks.

Taylor’s biggest success was with another White song, I Feel Love Comin’ On, a bubblegum pop number that reached #11 in the UK charts in late 1967. By the early 1970s Taylor had ceased to record. In 1973 Love Unlimited recorded totally reworked, luscious versions of It May Be Winter Outside and (title shortened) Under The Influence Of Love for the sophomore album. Both were released as singles, with Winter reaching #11 in the UK charts.

On Broadway
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were among the giants of the Brill Building songwriting collective. According to Weil, her future husband Mann had wanted to write a “Gershwinesque” pop song, and she, being a Broadway fan, was delighted to put appropriate lyrics to the melody. They first had the song recorded by The Cookies (whose Chains the Beatles had covered), who ordinarily recorded songs, mostly demos, by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Their demo was not released, but that by fellow girl-group The Crystals recorded soon after was, opening side 2 of their 1962 Twist Uptown album. It’s their version that features here; The Cookies’ demo is included as a bonus track.

In February 1963, Brill bosses Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber were in need of a song for The Drifters. At their request, Mann & Weil offered their On Broadway. Leiber & Stoller didn’t quite like their arrangement, and revised it overnight with the original composers. Next day The Drifters recorded the song, with Leiber & Stoller protégé Phil Spector on guitar and Rudy Lewis (successor of Ben E. King as the group’s lead singer) making one of his final appearances as a Drifter before his sudden death of a heart attack in 1964. Released in March ’63, the Drifters’ version became a hit, reaching #9 in the Billboard charts.

George Benson’s jazzed-up 1978 live recording did even better, reaching #7 in the US. Recorded in LA, the crowd clearly agrees with the statement that Benson “can play this here guitar”.

Mustang Sally
Mustang Sally is the karaoke number of blues and soul, thanks in large part to The Commitments’ spirited performance in the eponymous 1991 film. But it was in overuse before that: John Lee Hooker’s San Francisco blues club sported a sign on its stage warning: “No Mustang Sally”.

The song was written by the songwriter Bonnie “Sir Mack” Rice (who also wrote the soul classic Respect Yourself) as a bit of a gag on somebody’s desire for a Ford Mustang, calling it first “Mustang Mama”. Reportedly it was Aretha Franklin who suggested the renaming to Sally. Mack had a minor (and his only) hit with it in 1965; in late 1966 Wilson Pickett recorded his now legendary version — which almost died the moment it was finished. Apparently the tape snapped off the reel, fragmenting on the floor of the Muscle Shoals studio. The engineer, Tom Dowd, gathered the pieces and spliced them back together again. With that, he saved one of the great soul performances. Of course the great story of the broken tape ignores that Pickett could have simply recorded the thing again.


Midnight Train To Georgia
In 1972 former All-American quarterback Jim Weatherly released a country song that told of a girl whose fading dream of stardom in Los Angeles led not to a life of waitressing or pornography, but ended on a plane back to her home in Texas. In fact, Weatherley initially wanted his protagonist’s dreams shattered in Nashville, for his genre was country music.

The choice of Houston as the failed star’s home was inspired, according to Weatherley, by the actress Farrah Fawcett, who at the time was more famous for dating Lee Majors than her thespian accomplishments. “One day I called Lee and Farrah answered the phone,” Weatherly later told songfacts.com. “We were just talking and she said she was packing. She was gonna take the midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. So, it just stayed with me. After I got off the phone, I sat down and wrote the song probably in about 30 to 45 minutes.”

Some months later, the Janus label sought permission to record the song with Cissy Houston, but asked whether they could adapt the lyrics to make the destination Georgia (seeing as Ms Houston going to Houston might seem a bit awkward). Weatherly accepted that, as well as a change in the mode of transport.

Whitney’s mom’s lovely performance became a minor hit in 1973. Gladys Knight heard it and decided to record it with her Pips. Houston’s endearing version, included here among the bonus tracks, might have been the template, but Knights’ cover demonstrates the genius of the sometimes unjustly ridiculed Pips. What would Gladys Knight’s interpretation be without the interplay with and interjections by her backing singers: “A superstar, well he didn’t get far”, “I know you will”, “Gotta go, gonna board the midnight train…” and, of course, the choo-choo “Hoo hoo”s?

It was fortuitous that Georgia was also Knight’s homestate. The song also sparked a collaboration with Weatherley with whose songs Knight populated the Imagination album on which Midnight Train appears, including Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me, originally recorded by easy listening crooner Steve Lawrence (some sources suggest Ray Price issued his version first). The Lawrence version is among the bonus tracks.

Rainy Night In Georgia
Louisiana-born “swamp rocker” Tony Joe White was only19 when he wrote Rainy Night In Georgia in 1962. He didn’t release the song until seven later, and even then it was his Polk Salad Annie which grabbed all the attention (covered to good effect by Elvis).

At the same time, deep-voiced soul veteran Brook Benton was looking for a hit to launch his comeback on an Atlantic subsidiary, Cottillion Records. The legendary Jerry Wexler alerted Benton to White’s song, and the singer scored a massive 1970 hit with his version, produced by the great Arif Mardin. Ex-Temptations singer David Ruffin put down a version at about the same time as Benton did; it was not released until 2004.

Georgia On My Mind
Georgia On My Mind was a standard long before Ray Charles recorded it, but when he did, he made the song his own. It was written by Hoagy Carmichael and lyricist Stuart Gorrell in 1930. The Georgia of the title was originally intended to refer to Hoagy’s sister, but realising that the words could apply also to the southern US state, Carmichael and Gorrell were happy to keep things ambiguous. The plan worked: the song was a massive hit especially in the South, and since 1979 it has been the state song of Georgia (a better choice than the tourist-unfriendly Rainy Night In Georgia, the loser-comes-home Midnight Train To Georgia, or the infrastructure-deficient The Lights Went Out In Georgia).

Carmichael’s version features jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. He died a few months later at 28, but Carmichael went on to enjoy a long career, and is perhaps even better known for Stardust and Heart And Soul than he is for Georgia (which he nonetheless re-recorded a few times). Frankie Trumbauer scored a hit with the song in 1931, as did Mildred Bailey with her very appealing version.

Ray Charles, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Florida, recorded his version in 1960, reportedly at the advice of his driver who had heard Ray sing it to himself in the car. It was an instant hit, topping the US charts, and became something of a signature tune for Ray.


Strawberry Letter #23
Shuggie Otis, a gifted guitarist, indeed multi-instrumentalist, and son of R&B legend John Otis, released his ode of appreciation for the 22th in an exchange of love letter on strawberry-scented paper in 1971. Remarkably, Otis was all of 18 when he recorded the song.

Six years after Otis recorded the track, Brothers Johnson recorded it in a more upbeat mood, produced by Quincy Jones (who, happily, amplified the opening hook) with Lee Ritenour taking over the guitar solo duties so integral to the song. TYhey came to the sing through George Johnson, who had heard it through his girlfriend who was also Shuggie’s cousin.

Otis is still recording, having released an instrumental album last year.

Who’s That Lady
One act here covered itself: This slice of funky soul from The Isley Brothers’ classic 1973 album 3+3 was a cover of their 1964 recording, which had been inspired by Curtis Mayfield’s band The Impressions. Released just before the Isleys signed for Motown, the original has a vague bossa nova beat with a jazzy brass backing, but is immediately recognisable as the song they recorded nine years later. The 1964 recording was a flop. The latter version, with reworked harmonies and without the brass, added Ernie’s distinctive guitar, Chris Jasper’s new-fangled synthethizer, Santanesque percussions, and the menacing interjection “Look, yeah, but don’t touch”. It became their first Top 10 hit in four years.


Lady Marmalade
Lady Marmalade was written by Bob Crewe (a recurring name in this series for his association with the Four Seasons) and Kenny Nolan (who may be remembered for his 1977 ballad I Like Dreaming). Nolan was a member of the Eleventh Hour, who included the song on their rather grandly titled 1974 LP Eleventh Hour’s Greatest Hits (the number of actual hits were restricted to none, and the title was doubtless ironic).

The same year the legendary Alain Toussaint heard it and decided it would be the perfect song for the act he was producing, Labelle, led by Histrionic Patti. It became a US #1, replacing another Crewe & Nolan composition, Frankie Valli’s My Eyes Adored You. And Valli features on this mix as well.

Native New Yorker
The mystery of who recorded Native New Yorker first may never be resolved because all documents that could point to conclusive dates have been destroyed. Maybe it was Odyssey, who had the big hit with it, or maybe it was Frankie Valli.

The fact that the song’s co-writers, Charlie Calello and Sandy Linzer, also produced the Odyssey recording points to the disco trio. BUT: Calello and Linzer were producers for the Four Seasons already in the 1960s, so that could swing it back to Frankie Valli’s version. It seems that Valli’s version was released first in 1977 on his Lady Put The Light Off album before Odyssey had a hit with it in late 1977.

As always: CD-R length, home-funked covers, PW in comments.


1. Sam Cooke – Yeah Man (1964)
The Usurper: Arthur Conley (as Sweet Soul Music, 1966)

2. Chris Kenner – Land Of A 1000 Dances (1962)
The Usurpers: Cannibal & the Headhunters (1965), Wilson Picket (1966)

3. Yvonne Fair – I Found You (1962)
The Usurper: James Brown (as I Got You (I Feel Good}, 1965)

4. Connie Stevens – Keep Growing Strong (1970)
The Usurper: The Stylistics (as Betcha By Golly Wow, 1971)

5. Felice Taylor – It May Be Winter Outside (1966)
The Usurper: Love Unlimited (1973)

6. Chairmen Of The Board – Patches (1970)
The Usurper: Clarence Carter (1970)

7. Tony Joe White – Rainy Night In Georgia (1969)
The Usurpers: Brook Benton (1970), Randy Crawford (1981)

8. Jim Weatherly – Midnight Plane To Houston (1972)
The Usurper: Gladys Knight & The Pips (as Midnight Train To Georgia, 1973)

9. John Henry Kurtz – Drift Away (1972)
The Usurper: Dobie Gray (1973), Uncle Kracker (2003)

10. Johnny Darrell – The Son Of Hickory Hollers Tramp (1968)
The Usurper: O. C. Smith (1968)

11. Joe Haywood – Warm And Tender Love (1965)
The Usurper: Percy Sledge (1966)

12. Lowell Fulsom – Tramp (1966)
The Usurper: Otis Redding & Carla Thomas (1967)

15. Sir Mack Rice – Mustang Sally (1965)
The Usurper: Wilson Picket (1966), The Commitments (1991)

14. Mel & Tim – Groovy Situation (1969) (1973)
The Usurper: Gene Chandler (1970)

15. Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter #23 (1971)
The Usurper: Brothers Johnson (1977)

16. Eleventh Hour – Lady Marmalade (1974)
The Usurper: LaBelle (1974)

17. Frankie Valli – Native New Yorker (1977)
The Usurper: Odyssey (1977)

18. Marilyn McCoo – Saving All My Love For You (1978)
The Usurper: Whitney Houston (1985)

19. The Isley Brothers – Who’s That Lady? (1964)
The Usurper: The Isley Brothers – Who’s That Lady? (1973)

20. Thelma Jones – The House That Jack Built (1968)
The Usurper: Aretha Franklin (1968)

21. The Crystals – On Broadway (1962)
The Usurpers: The Drifters (1963); George Benson (1978)

22. The Five Keys – Close Your Eyes (1955)
The Usurper: Peaches & Herb (1967)

23. Hoagy Carmichael – Georgia On My Mind (1930)
The Usurper: Ray Charles (1960)

24. Glenn Miller with Ray Eberle and Pat Friday – At Last (1942)
The Usurper: Etta James (1960)

25. New Mayfair Dance Orchestra – Try A Little Tenderness (1933)
The Usurper: Otis Redding (1966)

Bonus Tracks:
Lamont Dozier – Going Back To My Roots (1977)
The Usurper: Odyssey (1981)

Steve Lawrence – The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me (1973)
The Usurper: Gladys Knight & The Pips (1973)

Felice Taylor – I’m Under The Influence Of Love (1967)
The Usurper: Love Unlimited (1973)

Bob Keene Orchestra – Love’s Theme (1967)
The Usurper: Love Unlimited Orchestra (1973)

Plus: The Cookies – On Broadway (1962)
Cissy Houston – Midnight Train To Georgia (1972)


More Originals:
The Originals: The Classics
The Originals: Soul
The Originals: Motown
The Originals: Country
The Originals: The Rock & Roll Years
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 2
The Originals: 1980s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1990s & 2000s
The Originals: : Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 1
The Originals:  Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 2
The Originals: : Carpenters Edition
The Originals: Burt Bacharach Edition
The Originals: Schlager Edition
The Originals: : Christmas Edition

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  1. halfhearteddude
    June 27th, 2019 at 07:22 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. HM
    June 29th, 2019 at 21:06 | #2

    Sounds like the version of “1000 Dances” is Wilson Pickett… or, holy cow, he straight up lifted the original!

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