The Best of the Chantels
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.
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.
Time Is on My Side: The Best of Irma Thomas, Vol. 1
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.
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
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.
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
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.
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 in Memphis
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
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.
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.
I Can’t Stand the Rain
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.
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.
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.
Be Yourself Tonight
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.
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.