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Beyond ’21’

Essential listening: Fifteen rock and soul classics that set the stage for Adele

Adele, 21

Adele performs during The BRIT Awards 2012 at the O2 Arena on February 21st, 2012 in London, England.

Jon Furniss/WireImage/Getty

The Chantels
The Best of the Chantels
Rhino, 1990
In the late Fifties, the golden age of doo-wop, these five high school fillies from the Bronx were the women who ruled, charging tenement-love op­erettas such as the 1957 sin­gle “He’s Gone” and the 1958 Top 20 classic “Maybe” with a precocious sensuality in their earthy sighs and the piercing tremulous cries of original lead singer Arlene Smith. “Look in My Eyes,” a 1961 hit made after Smith left the group, has less fire but an irresistible waterfall-vocal hook.

Darlene Love
The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love
Phil Spector Records/ Legacy, 2011
Love was Phil Spector’s go-to voice in his Wall of Sound prime, a force of womanly au­thority and physical vocal maj­esty in early-Sixties hits cred­ited to the Crystals (“He’s a Rebel”) and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (“Not Too Young to Get Married”). That early-feminist pride and delight il­luminated her own girl-group-era gems, such as “A Fine Fine Boy.” Love was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 — 22 years after Spector.

Irma Thomas
Time Is on My Side: The Best of Irma Thomas, Vol. 1
EMI, 1992
Songwriter-producer Allen Toussaint was the man behind the quiet Crescent City fire and survivor’s poise of Thomas’ early-Sixties sides for the Minit label, notably “It’s Raining” and “Ruler of My Heart.” Unfortu­nately, this out-of-print collec­tion is still the best way to get those dusky jewels along with her next great work at Imperi­al Records, including her 1964 B side version of “Time Is on My Side,” soon covered by the Roll­ing Stones.

Lorraine Ellison
Sister Love: The Warner Bros. Recordings
Rhino Handmade, 2006
After Frank Sinatra canceled a recording session at the last minute, producer Jerry Ragavoy grabbed the studio time and orchestra for Philadel­phia-born Ellison. The result: the epic pleading of “Stay With Me,” delivered by Ellison with breathtaking vocal and emo­tional range. “My life changed when I heard that,” Lou Reed said of the original 1966 sin­gle, a Top 20 R&B hit. This set gathers Ellison’s overlooked Sixties and early-Seventies re­cordings for Warner Bros., in­cluding her original take on “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” later done by Janis Joplin.

Ike and Tina Turner
River Deep -Mountain High
A&M, 1966
Produced by Phil Spector and featuring a solo Tina wailing against Jack Nietzsche’s alpine arrangement, “River Deep – Mountain High” was a Top Five hit in Britain but a flop in the U.S. A stunned Spector fin­ished only part of this album, which was filled out with earli­er Ike and Tina hits such as “A Fool in Love” and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” — the harder stuff they played every night on the road. But Spector’s half included his Wagnerian treatment of a Motown nug­get, “A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday),” with Tina riding the echo and strings like an R&B Valkyrie.

Aretha Franklin
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
Atlantic, 1967
Soul truly begins here. Frank­lin’s rebirth at Atlantic, after a long, struggling spell at Co­lumbia, was launched by the title hit, a masterful Memphis-cut declaration of exhilarat­ing passion and crippling need, set in the bedroom but sung like church. The album also featured that single’s equally classic flip, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” and Franklin’s conquest of Otis Redding’s “Re­spect” transforming his man-of-the-house challenge into a non-negotiable demand for love and dignity fit for a queen.

Etta James
Tell Mama 
Chess, 1968
Joplin also covered “Tell Mama,” playing it live with her Full Tilt Boogie Band. But James recorded the definitive version — not at the Chess stu­dios in Chicago but in Muscle Shoals, Alabama — changing the original title and gender (it was co-written and first cut by Clar­ence Carter as “Tell Daddy”) into a funky assertion of ma­ternal empowerment. The LP also featured that Top 30 sin­gle’s heartbroken B side, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” along with James taking full charge and revenge in Redding’s “Security” and Don Covay’s “Watch Dog.”

Dusty Springfield
Dusty in Memphis
Atlantic, 1969
Springfield’s greatest stu­dio album and first set of all-R&B material nearly didn’t get made. The singer clashed with producer Jerry Wexler, and because of her insecurity around the top-flight session band assembled at the Amer­ican Sound Studios in Mem­phis, Springfield overdubbed her vocals in New York. But the drama yielded magic, in­cluding the Top 10 hit “Son of a Preacher Man” and versions of “The Windmills of Your Mind” and Randy Newman’s “Just One Smile” that grounded the elegant desire of those songs in Southern grit and Springfield’s breathy, gripping sensuality.

Delaney and Bonnie
The Best of Delaney & Bonnie
Rhino, 1990
Bonnie Bramlett was a teenage backup singer for bluesmen Albert King and Little Milton and the first white Ikette before marrying singer-guitarist Delaney Bramlett and co-founding the big band that, by 1969, fea­tured guest stars like Eric Clap­ton and George Harrison. Delaney was the nominal leader; other sidemen included Leon Russell and Duane Allman. But Bonnie’s combination of erotic dynamite and moving confes­sion was the lasting attraction. Her version of “Groupie (Super­star),” which she co-wrote with Russell, was magnificent ache and, weirdly, originally issued only as a single. Fortunately, it’s on this fine roundup of her best work in that rock-god company.

Janis Joplin
Pearl
Columbia, 1971
Joplin died before finishing her best album. “Buried Alive in the Blues” was left as an in­strumental, the title speaking for itself. But the star-crossed singer, who came to overnight celebrity with Big Brother and the Holding Company via raw blues, psychedelic rock and flamboyant sexual challenge, revealed her deep, scarred soul on Pearl, in the heated, stripped-bare spectacle of “Cry Baby” and the prophetic “Get It While You Can.” Her whiskey-lovin’-kitten side came out in her version of Kris Kristoffer-son’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and the a cappella “Mercedes Benz.” You also hear the weight she carried all through her fame in the low, hurting reg­isters of “A Woman Left Lone­ly.” Joplin rarely acted like a refined lady, but she was never less than soul royalty.

Ann Peebles
I Can’t Stand the Rain
Hi, 1974
This St. Louis-born singer never enjoyed the crossover success of her Hi Records labelmate Al Green. But her Sev­enties recordings with that la­bel’s famed rhythm section and producer Willie Mitchell were among the greatest to come out of that Memphis hit-and-groove factory, and this album — with her original version of the title song, practically Xe­roxed by Tina Turner a decade later, and the blunt warning “I’m Gonna Tear Your Play­house Down” — is Peebles’ sul­try, gripping masterpiece.

Labelle
Nightbirds
Epic, 1974
After three fine albums of pro­gressive R&B and an acclaimed detour backing Laura Nyro, this trio (which evolved from the Sixties R&B group Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles) in­vented glitter soul with this Top 10 LP, produced by Allen Toussaint, and its flagship hit about a Creole prostitute, “Lady Marmalade.” Labelle looked like space maidens on their way to Studio 54, but their harmonies and interplay were steeped in the fire and call-response of gospel singing, then rooted by Toussaint in no-nonsense New Orleans funk.

Marianne Faithfull
Broken English
Island, 1979
Great soul comes in many forms. This may be the dark­est. The once-angelic Faithfull emerged from a long tunnel of emotional turmoil and drug addiction with a magnetically ravaged voice and this harrow­ing document, filtered through gothic-New Wave production and fiercely personalized cov­ers of Dr. Hook’s “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan”and John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” “Why’d Ya Do It,” a profane ti­rade against infidelity, was so graphic it was pulled from the original LP in Australia.

Eurythmics
Be Yourself Tonight
RCA, 1985
With her clear tone and pre­cise melodic grip, Scottish-born Annie Lennox was a perfect vocal complement to the sleek, tense futurism of this duo’s early synth-pop phase. But the old soul inside burst through here, with exhilarating effect, in the electro-Stax stomp “Would I Lie to You?” and Lennox’s duet with Aretha Franklin in “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Them­selves” – which, as this playlist shows, they had been all along.

Amy Winehouse
Back to Black
Universal Republic, 2006
“There’s nothing you can teach me/That I can’t learn from Mr. Hathaway,” Winehouse sang, meaning Donny, in “Rehab.” That proved tragically wrong, with her death last year. Winehouse’s second and last stu­dio album was not a revival­ists triumph, but an original twist on soul’s fundamental contradiction — the ecstasy that affirms and counters pain — by a modern, gifted woman for whom the music was not relief enough.

In This Article: Amy Winehouse, Coverwall

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