Being a voracious collector of Soul and Funk music on CD for over 20 years now, I'd initially resisted buying this series of themed compilations because glancing at the track lists, I realised that I'd at least 60 to 70% of the songs on each CD already - so why buy them again? Well - this is Bear Family to start with - uncompromising in their quest for quality presented in the very best way. But the truth is simpler - you buy just one of these peaches and you're screwed - they're so good, you'll need the lot!
Compilations like this live or die based on a few ingredients - great track choices, properly remastered sound and all of it wrapped up in knowledgeable and (sometimes) sumptuous presentation. Well "Sweet Soul Music" wins on all counts - it really does.
Released September 2009 in Germany, "Sweet Soul Music - 28 Scorching Classics From 1969" is on Bear Family BCD 16974 AS and is part of a 10-volume series stretching from 1961 to 1970 (I’ve reviewed 1970). Each US-based yearly compilation comes in a 3-way foldout card digipak sleeve. The left flap pictures a 7" single in its label bag relevant to the year (1969 has “What Does It Take…” by Jr. Walker & The All Stars), the centre flap holds a 60 to 90 page oversized booklet that slips out so you can read it separately and the right flap a colour-themed CD that matches the outer packaging. As with the 16 titles in their award-winning "Blowing The Fuse" CDs from 1945 to 1960, each spine in the "Sweet Soul Music" series also makes up a whole photo when placed alongside each other (a live shot of a singer leaning into an audience to make a handshake – I think it’s Otis Redding). This 1969 issue has 92 pages in its booklet (yes 92!), Jerry Butler on the front sleeve with Johnny Adams and Shelby Singleton pictured inside and runs to a whopping 80:32 minutes.
1. Everyday People - SLY & THE FAMILY STONE (Epic 10407)
2. I Forgot To Be Your Lover – WILLIAM BELL (Stax 0015)
3. Build Me Up Buttercup – THE FOUNDATIONS (Uni 55101)
4. Can I Change My Mind – TYRONE DAVIS (Dakar 602)
5. There'll Come A Time – BETTY EVERETT (Uni 55100)
[Written by Eugene Record of THE CHI-LITES – see also 13]
6. Take Care Of Your Homework – JOHNNIE TAYLOR (Stax 0023)
7. Twenty-Five Miles – EDWIN STARR (Gordy 7083)
8. Foolish Fool – DEE DEE WARWICK (Mercury 72880)
9. Soul Shake - PEGGY SCOTT & JO JO BENSON (SSS International 761)
10. Only The Strong Survive – JERRY BUTLER (Mercury 72898)
11. Snatching It Back – CLARENCE CARTER (Atlantic 2605)
12. It's Your Thing – THE ISLEY BROTHERS (T-Neck 901)
13. Give It Away – THE CHI-LITES (Brunswick 55398)
14. The Chokin' Kind – JOE SIMON (Sound Stage 7 2628)
15. T.C.B. Or T.Y.A. – BOBBY PATTERSON (Jetstar 114)
(Take Care Of Business Or Turn Yourself Around)
16. Color Him Father – THE WINSTONS (Metromedia 117)
[B-side “Amen Brother” is a huge sample in Hip Hop records]
17. Cissy Strut – THE METERS (Josie 1005)
18. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) – JR. WALKER & THE ALL STARS (Soul 35062)
19. I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool) – CANDI STATON (Fame 1456)
20. Mother Popcorn (You Got To Have A Mother For Me) – JAMES BROWN (King 6245)
21. Choice Of Colors – THE IMPRESSIONS (Curtom 1943)
[The Impressions featured Curtis Mayfield at this time]
22. Reconsider Me – JOHNNY ADAMS (SSS International 770)
23. Nobody But You Babe – CLARENCE REID (Alston 4574)
[Note: also issued on Alston 4576]
24. In A Moment – THE INTRIGUES (Yew 1001)
25. Baby, I'm For Real – THE ORIGINALS (Soul 35066)
26. Someday We'll Be Together - DIANA ROSS & THE SUPREMES (Motown 1156)
27. Backfield In Motion – MEL & TIM (Bamboo 107)
28. I Want You Back – THE JACKSON 5 (Motown 1157)
I raved about Dave “Daddy Cool” Booth’s sequencing on the 1970 edition – it’s the same here. Proceedings open nicely with Sly Stone’s “different strokes for different folks” social-awakening song “Everyday People” (lyrics above) and are followed by an unexpectedly slow Johnny Taylor tune on Stax – but it works. Genius inclusions are Betty Everett’s “There Comes A Time” – an unbelievably strong torch ballad sounding not unlike Aretha Franklin at her Atlantic Records best, the lesser heard but equally impressive “Foolish Fool” by Dee Dee Warwick and the original of “Soul Shake” by Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson which was later covered by Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett in a more rock vein.
Booth took his time with this - actually playing the set through – mixing in the famous with the obscure but in a new order - and the result is a truly satisfying listen rather than a patchy one. Also, because of the extended playing time, there's usually only a one second space between each track, so it feels like you're listening to a jukebox of the time - or a good DJ cueing up song after song - seamlessly segueing one cool tune after another. And even the way-too-familiar tracks on here like “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 and “”Cissy Strut” by The Meters are sorted out by the next big plus...the beautifully clear sound…
Bear Family have gotten all the ORIGINAL master tapes from each record company (good Stereo preferred over Mono) and their resident expert JURGEN CRASSER has mastered them with care - the sound is GLORIOUS. I often found that Rhino sets (good as they were) trebled up everything - here it's a much warmer feel and the clarity is fab.
The clarity of the guitar and vocals on Jerry Butler’s “Only The Strong Survive” is astonishing as is the beefed-up funkiness of Clarence Carter’s floor-filler “Snatching It Back”. In fact ALL the Atlantic stuff sounds far better on here than the Rhino remasters of the mid Nineties. The same applies to “It’s Your Thing” by The Isley Brothers and “Color Me Father” by The Winstons (shame its famous hip-hop sampled B-side “Amen Brother” isn’t on here). Track after track just blows you away…
The booklet is to die for. The text for the songs begins on Page 4 and ends on Page 86, so there's very little wasted space. Each artist is pictured, the 7" single beside it and even the album it came off (most of it in colour). The titles are centred in each review like a paper nametag inside a jukebox - a nice touch. Noted writer and soul lover BILL DAHL handles the liner notes (with contributions from good names like Colin Escott and Martin Koppel) and because the booklet allows him to spread out on each song, the details come thick and fast - it's a fabulously entertaining and informative read.
Niggles – I wouldn’t have included “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations or “Give It Away” by The Chi-Lites – the first is more pop than soul and the second is just too lightweight. But these are minor points in a sea of brilliance…
To sum up - I know as imports, they're expensive, but I think once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one - they'll be hooked. For the casual buyer just looking for a great one-stop account of Soul Music for a given year - this is the place to start.
Bear Family does it again folks. Fabulous stuff - and wholeheartedly recommended.