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 whole damn lot…
Released September 2009 in Germany, "Sweet Soul Music - 29 Scorching Classics From 1968" is on Bear Family BCD 16973 AS and is part of a 10-volume series stretching from 1961 to 1970 (I've reviewed 1969 and 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 (1968 has "Funky Street" by Arthur Conley on Atco – lyrics above), 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 1968 issue has 96 pages in its booklet (yes 96!), Wilson Pickett is on the front sleeve with Charlie & Inez Foxx pictured inside and runs to a whopping 79:58 minutes.
I raved about Dave "Daddy Cool" Booth's sequencing on the 1969 and 1970 editions - it's the same here. Proceedings open with an amazingly warm remaster of Smokey Robinson’s "I Second That Emotion” which quickly slides into the sublime “I’m In Love” by Wilson Pickett (written by Bobby Womack, later recorded by him). Genius inclusions include “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited – an instrumental few people recognize by title, but know instantly on hearing the brassy line that runs through its upbeat shimmy-shaking length (it’s been used in countless movies). Then there’s the truly lovely “Love Makes A Woman” by Barbara Acklin, which jumps out of your speakers like summer itself (she lived with Eugene Record of The Chi-Lites and co-wrote “Have You Seen Her” with him). Then there’s the slinky “Take me in…” song “The Snake” by Al Wilson and a Chess/Cadet rarity - collectors should note that “Stay In My Corner” by The Dells is the lesser seen 7” edit at 3:05 minutes and not the more commonly featured full-album version.
As with the other years, Booth took his time with this compilation - actually playing the set through - mixing the famous with the obscure and the result is a truly satisfying listen rather than a patchy one. One clever coupling is the lesser known pair of “Girl Watcher” by The O’Kaysions which follows the brilliant “Lover’s Holiday” by Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson. 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 "(Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay" by Otis Redding and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye are sorted out by the next big plus...the beautifully clear sound...
Ace Records of the UK and Rhino of the USA issued the Stax and Atlantic stuff respectively throughout most of the Nineties, but I find that their remasters (good as they were at the time) are now sounding decidedly dated – especially given what is being presented to us on these 2009 sets. 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 – clarity, warmth, details popping out at you at every turn. The drums and vocals in “We’re A Winner” by The Impressions is just incredible, the strings and brass of “Cowboys To Girls” by The Intruders is beautiful and the churchy organ of Percy Sledge’s “Take Time To Know Her” makes you sit up and take notice – and also realise just how underrated his contribution to Sixties Soul is. And on it goes – it truly is a sonic embarrassment of riches.
Like the other issues, the booklet is astonishing. The text for the songs begins on Page 4 and ends on Page 91, 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 (sources are listed) - it's a fabulously entertaining and informative read.
Niggles - except that the cost would put off prospective buyers (which would be a shame) - I don't have any!
To sum up - I know as imports, they're expensive, but I think once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one of these beautifully prepared sets - they'll be hooked. For the casual buyer just looking for a one-stop account of Soul Music for a given year – "1968" is damned near perfect - and 'the' place to start.
Bear Family does it again folks. Fabulous stuff - and wholeheartedly recommended.
Track List for 1968
(Label & Catalogue Number For The US 7" Single Follow The Title)
1. I Second That Emotion - SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES (Tamla T-54159)
2. I'm In Love – WILSON PICKETT (Atlantic 2448)
3. (1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count The Days – CHARLIE & INEZ FOXX (Dynamo D-112)
4. (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay – OTIS REDDING (Volt 157)
5. We're A Winner – THE IMPRESSIONS (ABC 11042)
[Written by and featuring Curtis Mayfield]
6. Dance To The Music - SLY & THE FAMILY STONE (Epic 10256)
7. The End Of Our Road - GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS (Soul S-35042)
8. Cowboys To Girls – THE INTRUDERS (Gamble G-214)
9. I Thank You – SAM & DAVE (Stax 242)
10. Tighten Up Part 1 - ARCHIE BELL & THE DRELLS (Atlantic 2478)
11. Take Time To Know Her – PERCY SLEDGE (Atlantic 2490)
12. Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing – MARVIN GAYE & TAMMI TERRELL (Tamla T-54163)
13. Lover's Holiday – PEGGY SCOTT & JO JO BENSON (SSS International SSS 736)
14. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone – ARETHA FRANKLIN (Atlantic 2486)
15. Funky Street – ARTHUR CONLEY (Atco 6563)
16. Stay In My Corner (7” Single Edit – See Review) – THE DELLS (Cadet 5612)
17. I've Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do) – EDDIE FLOYD (Stax STA-0002)
18. Grazing In The Grass – HUGH MASEKELA (Uni 55066)
19. Slip Away – CLARENCE CARTER (Atlantic 2508)
20. Love Makes A Woman – BARBARA ACKLIN (Brunswick 55379)
21. Say It Loud - I'm Black & I'm Proud (Part 1) – JAMES BROWN (King 6187)
22. Girls Can't Do What The Guys Do – BETTY WRIGHT (Alston 4569)
23. Girl Watcher – THE O'KAYSIONS (North State 1001)
[Re-issued and charted on ABC 11094]
24. The Snake – AL WILSON (Soul City 767)
25. Hey, Western Union Man – JERRY BUTLER (Mercury 72850)
26. Soulful Strut – YOUNG-HOLT UNLIMITED (Brunswick 55391)
27. Who's Making Love – JOHNNIE TAYLOR (Stax STA-0009)
28. Cloud Nine – THE TEMPTATIONS (Gordy G-7081)
29. I Heard It Through The Grapevine – MARVIN GAYE (Tamla T-54176)