Friday, June 24, 2011

Marlboro Soul

Today's song needs no introduction. It's one of the very hymns of Soul music and a staple standard of contemporary Soul Revival Shows. But there is more to the song than meets the ear, starting with the fact that most people nowadays won't be able to name the original singer ...

Atco LP # 33-215 (April 1967)
It was Atlanta-born Arthur Conley ... not a household name today except among those who are living in the R&B-universe anyway. His name didn't acquire eternal fame as did his song »Sweet Soul Music«. In January 1967, when the tune was recorded, Arthur had just turned 21. Judging from the pictures of the time he was a pretty guy and certainly nice to look at twice. However, he didn't make it on the cover of his own first LP. Instead, on the cover we see a dark skinned beauty posing on a plushy sofa. We behold her as if looking through a keyhole, a visual effect which was certainly meant to enhance the overall seductive feel. Sex sells. And not only in this case: There are myriads of LPs from the '60s and early '70s, above all in the instrumental and jazz realms, graced with unknown beauties or cuddling couples who had no relation whatsoever to the musicians or the songs. Like to see some examples? Google for the 1963 LP »Got That Feeling« by the Johnny Lytle Trio (Riverside), Dave Pike's 1964 LP »Manhattan Latin« (Decca) or Brother Jack McDuff's 1968 LP »The Natural Thing« (Cadet)!

Arthur Conley
Arthur Conley was made by Otis Redding: Otis discov- ered him 1965 in Baltimore and then took him under his wings. Arthur's first recordings were released in the same year on the Jotis label which was financed and produced by Otis Redding. It is unknown, or often underestimated, of how astute a businessman Otis was. And Arthur was a valuable asset in Otis's business plans because apart from being a singer Otis pleased to see himself as a producer and songwriter. For this he obviously needed a gifted singer who sounded like Big O but wasn't Big O. In fact, Otis discovered, it could be Arthur. In the authoritative words of producer Tom Dowd, therefore, »Arthur Conley was the invention of Otis Redding« (quoted in Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music. Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Free- dom, New York 1999, page 318).
     But clever Otis wasn't satisfied for long with having Arthur on the insignificant Jotis label. Aiming higher, Otis got Arthur onto the Atlantic roster for his first LP, Atco LP 33-215 (»Sweet Soul Music«). This LP not only features five songs by Otis but he also wrote the notes on the back cover and presented himself as »producer« and »A&R man«. And the song »Sweet Soul Music« was penned by Otis as well. Rumor has it that Otis wished to record that song himself, for his house label Stax, but Jim Stewart (of Stax) found the tune not inspiring enough and vetoed to have it recorded. Otis was little amused and gave the song to his protégé Conley.

Indeed, the song is anything but original: Parts of the melody are taken from an obscure Sam Cooke-song, »Yeah Man«, and the intro comes right out of the Marlboro ad song »The Magnificent Seven«. The popular Marlboro tune was composed in 1960 for the known Western of the same title and only from 1963 used to sell cigarettes. It was then used by Otis to sell »Sweet Soul Music«: »He [=Otis Redding] believed in that song and Stax refused to put it out (...). Listen to that song. The introduction and the harmony in the middle come from a classical song. But nobody relates to the fact they heard it every single day on the radio and TV, a thousand times a day. It was the Marlboro theme song.« (Wayne Cochran as quoted in Scott Freeman: Otis! The Otis Redding Story, New York 2001, page 190).

If you listen to the lyrics of »Sweet Soul Music«, which are familiar enough, you will realize that the song puts Otis on a pedestal and makes him into sort of a Soul Monument, accompanied by Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. It's a little embarrassing, really. The unsympathetic interpretation of this fact would be that this did flatter Otis's well-developed self esteem. A kinder legend has it that it was actually Arthur's idea to mention Otis in the song, earning him a co-writer's credit. Whatever. In any case, Arthur honors his mentor again at the end of the song and calls him up with the fading words »Otis Redding got the feelin' ...«

But there is more: By 1967, Otis's relations with Stax had become strained. Although he was contracted to Stax for another three years (having prolonged his contract for another five years in 1965), many suspected that Otis was double-crossing Jim Stewart by putting out feelers to the rival Atlantic Records and their A&R man Jerry Wexler. When Otis brought Arthur Conley to record in Rick Hall's Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the rumors grew louder: The Fame Studios were in 1967 mainly used by Wexler's Atlantic stars to reproduce the famed »Memphis Sound« of Stax. And it certainly didn't quiet the rumors when Arthur's first LP was then released on a subsidiary of Atlantic, Atco Records ... On the contrary, it put the cherry on the pie for those who thought that Otis was having his cake and ate it, too.

BILLBOARD April 29, 1967
Thus, »Sweet Soul Music« is a song with an interesting story behind it. It was recorded on January 20, 1967, in Muscle Shoals and rushed out in March. It immediately shot up in the charts, reaching # 02 r&b and # 02 pop in spring '67. And it had to compete with Aretha Franklin's »I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)« and »Jimmy Mack« by Martha & The Vandellas, among others! You can listen here to the mono album version:

Arthur Conley: »Sweet Soul Music« from the Atco LP # 33-215 (mono, 1967):

Do you like good music, ha, that sweet soul music
Just long as it's swingin', oh yeah, oh-oh yeah
We are here on the floor y'all, are goin' to a go go
Dancin' with the music, oh yeah, oh yeah

Spotlight on Lou Rawls y'all, ah don't he look tall y'all
Singin' »Love's A Hurtin' Thing« y'all, oh yeah, oh-oh yeah
Spotlight on Sam and Dave y'all, ah don't they look great y'all
Singin' »Hold On I'm Comin'«, oh yeah, oh-oh yeah

Spotlight on Wilson Pickett now, that wicked picket Pickett
Singin' »Mustang Sally«, oh yeah, oh-oh yeah
Spotlight on Otis Redding now, singing »Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa«
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa, oh yeah, oh-oh yeah

Get in on this! (??)

Spotlight on James Brown y'all, he's the king of them all y'all
He's the king of them all y'all, oh yeah, oh-oh yeah
Do you like good music, that sweet soul music
Just 'long with it swingin', oh yeah, oh-oh yeah

I got to get the feelin', I got to get the feelin'
Do you like good music, that sweet soul music
Help me get the feelin', I want to get the feelin'
Otis Redding got the feelin', James Brown, he got the feelin'
 Oh I love good music ...

From BILLBOARD, April 29, 1967, page 1

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