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Bobby Womack: 10 Essential Tracks

A tour of the soul man’s seven-decade career

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UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Bobby WOMACK; Posed studio portrait of Bobby Womack (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Artistically, the late Bobby Womack inhaled rarefied air – coming up as Sam Cooke's protégé; recording as an innovative rhythm-groove guitarist with legendary peers (Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone); exposing complicated, cutting emotions as a profilic, versatile songwriter and interpreting songs (his and others) with a wily, raspy soulfulness beyond compare. As a man, he stepped in it and fearlessly sang about it: lovesickness, betrayal, the heights and depths of partying, the fucking up in public, the family tragedies. His voice contained all of it.

Here are 10 essential songs from the Bobby Womack catalog that help to unwind the story of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who gave himself the tangled-in-meaning distinction of being "'the last soul man."' By Charles Aaron

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7. Bobby Womack, “Across 110th Street,” 1973

The most transcendent Blaxploitation anthem, devoid of headstrong posturing, just wide-screen regret and aspiration and longing and elegantly urgent bass lines, timeless croon, bone-chilling street life, and a message to every stricken city in the world, transmitted from Harlem, "the capital of every ghetto town." Although Womack does yell against drugs (advice he had trouble taking himself), the vision is descriptive not prescriptive. And when he sings, "The family on the other side of town/Would catch hell without a ghetto around," shit gets really real.

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8. Bobby Womack, “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” 1982

From his slow-jam manifesto The Poet, Womack dedicates this one to "all the lovers," and then goes in on an ungrateful partner, revealing once again that our man has historically ginormous balls. Putting aside the fact that the soul legend had likely spent the better part of a decade coked out of his mind, waking up in hotel rooms with total strangers, he makes the case here with typical gut-churning intensity, joining hands with supportive back-up singers. It's the typical touring-musician tale, but delivered with a wounded, delusional bitterness that's, like, scary. 

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9. Bobby Womack, “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much,” 1985

This one really cuts. A Number Two R&B hit, "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me" tells the story of a man's best friend who is having an affair with his friend's wife, pleading that he can't control himself ("I swear it's not my will/But it's something about the way she makes me feel"), then admitting responsibility, then just offering the world's most pathetic non-apology. Again playing the unreliable, unscrupulous narrator with pained conviction, Womack ends up crying out, "We got a problem, baby." Not sure about her, but he should be getting used to it.

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10. Bobby Womack, “Please Forgive My Heart,” 2012

It's fitting that Womack's last single, on his first album of original material since 1994, was a heart-rending request for forgiveness. "I'm a liar, I'm in a dream," he exclaims over fidgety electronic rhythms and minimal piano from producers Damon Albarn and XL Records' head Richard Russell. A sixtysomething genius and rogue whose life had been plagued by addiction, diabetes, pneumonia, colon cancer and dementia, had come full circle. Now, we were the ones crying.

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