Compilations like this live or die based on a few key ingredients - great track choices, properly remastered sound and all of it wrapped up in knowledgeable and (sometimes if you’re lucky) sumptuous presentation. Well "Sweet Soul Music" wins on all counts - it really does. The entire series is gorgeous to look at and especially to listen to.
Released September 2009 in Germany, "Sweet Soul Music - 30 Scorching Classics From 1967" is on Bear Family BCD 16972 AS and is part of a 10-volume series stretching from 1961 to 1970 (I've reviewed 1968, 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 (1967 has "Sweet Soul Music" by Arthur Conley), 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 1967 issue has 96 pages in its booklet (yes 96!), James Brown & The Famous Flames on the front sleeve with Stax Studio Session Players (mostly Booker T. & The M.G.’s) pictured inside and runs to a whopping 81:54 minutes.
I raved about Dave "Daddy Cool" Booth's sequencing on the other editions - it's the same here. Proceedings open with a very clever coupling of two lesser-heard originals – the mid-tempo Freddie Scott gem “Are You Lonely For Me” (later covered by Chuck Jackson) which is quickly followed by a live jazz instrumental with a soulful twist by ‘Cannonball’ Adderley called “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (January 1967). It was written by his pianist Joe Zawinul (who later formed Weather Report) and then made a hit two more times that year – 1st by Larry Williams and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson who wrote lyrics to it in March 1967 and then again in the summer by the pop group The Buckinghams. In fact the theme of ‘better’ originals over the more famous covers permeates throughout the whole year. You get the truly fantastic funk-soul of “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by Soul Brothers Six which was made a huge hit by Grand Funk (Railroad) in December 1974 on Capitol and Rodger Collin’s stunning original of “She’s Looking Good” which Wilson Picket aped almost note for note and scream by scream.
Genius inclusions are the irresistibly upbeat “Girls Are Out To Get You” by The Fascinations (a lovely lead vocal by Bernadine Smith on a Curtis Mayfield penned song) and Bettye Swann’s truly gorgeous “Make Me Yours” – as sweet a soul ballad as you’ve ever heard. There’s a gospel organ backbeat to Toussaint McCall’s beautiful “Nothing Takes The Place Of You” and dancefloor-filler funk vibe to Syl Johnson’s “Come On Sock It To Me” – another cool choice.
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 "Sweet Soul Music” by Arthur Conley and “Jimmy Mack” by Martha & The Vandellas 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 vocals and vibe playing on “Hypnotized” by Linda Jones is incredible and even something as overplayed as Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart” now sounds just huge. In short - 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 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, Martin Koppel & Bill Millar and both published sources & websites named) 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 – there was a penchant for ‘insult’ songs that year – “Tramp”, “Skinny Legs & All” and “Dirty Man” – none of which I like - and then there’s the familiar to the point of being painful - “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough:” and “Higher And Higher” which have been done to death in so many rom-coms that it’s hard to ever listen to them again. I would have preferred “New Year's Resolution” by Otis Redding & Carla Thomas and “Two Can Have A Party” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – but these are purely personal choices – others may welcome the inclusion of the bigger hits instead...
To sum up – as with 1968, this CD comes damn close to Soul perfection. And 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 – “1967” is ‘the’ place to start.
Bear Family does it again folks. Fabulous stuff - and wholeheartedly recommended.
Track List for 1967
(Label & Catalogue Number For The US 7" Single Follow The Title)
1. Are You Lonely For Me – FREDDIE SCOTT (Shout S-207)
2. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy – ‘CANNONBALL’ ADDERLEY (Capitol 5798)
3. Funky Broadway Part 1 - DYKE & THE BLAZERS (Artco 101)
[Re-issued shortly afterwards on Original Sound Records 05-64 which charted)
4. Girls Are Out To Get You – THE FASCINATIONS (Mayfield 7714)
5. Sweet Soul Music – ARTHUR CONLEY (Atco 6463)
6. Nothing Takes The Place Of You – TOUSSAINT McCALL (Ronn Records Ronn 3)
7. Jimmy Mack - MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS ((Gordy G-7058)
8. She's Looking Good – RODGER COLLINS (Galaxy 750)
9. Eight Men, Four Women – O.V. WRIGHT (Back Beat 580)
10. Tramp - OTIS REDDING & CARLA THOMAS (Stax S-216)
11. Ain't No Mountain High Enough – MARVIN GAYE & TAMMI TERRELL (Tamla T-54149)
12. Respect – ARETHA FRANKLIN (Atlantic 2403)
13. Make Me Yours – BETTYE SWANN (Money 126)
14. Baby Please Come Back Home – J. J. BARNES (Groovesville GV 1006)
15. Soul Finger – BAR-KAYS (Volt 148)
16. I Was Made To Love Her – STEVIE WONDER (Tamla T-54151)
17. Some Kind Of Wonderful – SOUL BROTHERS SIX (Atlantic 2406)
[Later covered & charted by Grand Funk (Railroad) on Capitol 4002 in 1974)
18. Hypnotized – LINDA JONES (Loma 2070)
19. Come On Sock It To Me – SYL JOHNSON (Twilight 100)
20. (I Wanna) Testify – THE PARLIAMENTS (Revilot RV 207)
[Features George Clinton of Parliament and Funkadelic/Backing Group is The Holidays]
21. Cold Sweat Part 1 - JAMES BROWN & THE FAMOUS FLAMES (King 6110)
22. Get On Up – THE ESQUIRES (Bunky 7750)
23. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher – JACKIE WILSON (Brunswick 55336)
24. Dirty Man – LAURA LEE (Chess 2013)
25. Expressway To Your Heart – SOUL SURVIVORS (Crimson CR-1010)
26. Soul Man – SAM & DAVE (Stax 231)
[Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter]
27. I Heard It Through The Grapevine – GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS (Soul S-35039)
28. Piece Of My Heart – ERMA FRANKLIN (Shout S-221)
29. Skinny Legs And All – JOE TEX (Dial 4063)
30. Tell Mama – ETTA JAMES (Cadet 5578)