Monday, May 22, 2006

Arthur Alexander - You Better Move On b/w A Shot of Rhythm & Blues

Arthur Alexander
Greetings all. Let me start off by assuring you that I feel about as good/bad, as anyone starting off the work week does. I had a great weekend, got a lot accomplished and topped it all off with a decent night’s sleep. So, I hunker down with my raw material for the next few weeks and I can’t decide what to write about. I have some excellent stuff lined up, including a few new mixes, and my first reaction was to go for the easiest/hottest side first. However.... Despite all indications to the contrary, somewhere buried deep in my subconscious mind – hanging around like a panhandler at a bus station – there reside vestigial traces of the Protestant work ethic (probably traceable to my once-Protestant great grandfather). When I was a younger man, faced with a choice between the easy way out and the “responsible”, I would – following the laws of physics – go with the flow. You know, the “no pain, no pain” philosophy. However (again).... As I got older, faced with similar situations, I began to realize that facing the difficult tasks first, i.e. refusing to forestall the inevitable, had a certain kind of karmic grace to it, and I almost always ended up feeling better in the end. And what does this have to do with anything? Well, when I gather material for the blog – usually a few weeks worth at a time – I often end up with an unused track or two. Sometimes this is because I have some newer stuff that I’m chomping at the bit to post, but more often than not it’s due to the fact that what was “grabbing” me a few weeks ago, may not be grabbing me today. While the basic quality of said tracks is rarely in dispute, the writing that goes along with each and every blog post requires a certain level of inspiration and excitement, and that is not always there when I need it. Let’s see. I’ve been listening to the songs of Arthur Alexander since I bought my very first LP at the age of 12. Back then (1974) it was possible to purchase records in all kinds of strange places. I know that my Dad still has records somewhere (probably Christmas albums) with grocery store price stickers on them and I’ve come across 45s with all kinds of crazy stickers on them (including one from a Canadian beauty salon). That storied day in ’74 (a Sunday) my father and I had taken a walk after church to the local soda fountain. The area where I grew up, in Central New Jersey was at the time right on the leading edge of suburban encroachment on rural America, and right there, butting up on our 1965 era subdivision was a little slice of small town America: the borough of Englishtown. This was the little “Main Street” that lay at the core of the larger township, where farmland was being converted at an accelerated pace into housing developments. At the time, even though we had the “primitive” version of shopping malls popping up along the highway, you still had to go into Englishtown to go to church, shop for groceries, get your mail (or if your house was burning down, call the fire department). So, after church, we headed over to “Joes” (no kidding...) for a cherry coke, and right there, in the front of the store was a wire rack full of LPs. As I’ve said here before, I grew up with all kinds of music in the house. My Dad is an accomplished piano player (his ivory-tickling providing important supplemental income over the years) and taught me everything I know about really appreciating music. By the time I was 12, I had a more than passing acquaintance with classical music and jazz than most kids my age, but by then there was something else driving my love of music. The Beatles. At the age of 12 I was a certified Beatles nut, so when I walked into Joes and saw a copy of the VeeJay ‘Introducing the Beatles’ LP, my wig – as they used to say – was flipped. I can’t remember exactly how it was I convinced my father to purchase the record (though I may have had some confirmation money burning a hole in my pocket), but the end result was that I walked out of Joes that day with the first record I ever “collected”. I proceeded to play the hell out of that album, to the point where 30 years on I could still probably sing it back to you note for note (not that anyone needs to hear that). One of my favorite numbers on the album was a tune called ‘Anna’. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how many of the songs on that album were actually covers of US soul and R&B numbers by artists like the Shirelles (‘Boys’) the Cookies (‘Chains’) and the writer and performer of ‘Anna’, Arthur Alexander. Alexander didn’t really make a dent in my musical consciousness until the late 1980’s when I first read Peter Guralnick’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’ (one of the finest books ever written on the subject of Soul and R&B). Guralnick described in-depth Alexander’s struggle between his obvious talent and ongoing difficulties bad luck and illness. Alexander recorded ‘You Better Move On’ and ‘A Shot of Rhythm & Blues’ with Rick Hall in 1962. The success of ‘You Better Move On’, which grazed the Top 20 bankrolled the expansion of the Hall’s operation into the famed Muscle Shoals recording studio. Alexander’s songs were a dynamic mix of country and R&B sounds that along with his emotional voice made for some of the best (and best loved) records of the Southern Soul era. Though Alexander didn’t experience a lot of chart success with his songs, others did, notably the Beatles (who covered by ‘Anna’ and ‘Soldier of Love’) and the Rolling Stones who recorded their own version of ‘You Better Move On’. ‘You Better Move On’, like ‘Anna’ is a slow, pleading heartbreaker with a subdued arrangement that provided a showcase for Alexander’s vocals. I’d go as far to say that the Stones gave the tune a grittier reading, filtering out some of Alexander’s country feel. ‘ A Shot of Rhythm & Blues’ is a much livelier record, and was arguably the most popular number with his British admirers, having been performed (but never commercially released) by the Beatles, and recorded by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, Gerry & the Pacemakers and Cilla Black. The tune, written by Fame Studios rhythm section member Terry Thompson, sees Alexander in a rocking mode. Alexander went on to record sporadically through the 60’s and 70’s for Sound Stage 7, Warner Brothers, Buddah and finally Elektra/Asylum before he passed away on 1993. Much of Arthur Alexander’s best work has seen reissue over the years, including some great unreleased material. The best place to start is the Ace records ‘Best of’, and then on to the Monument/SS7 recordings.


Blogger J Epstein said...

Like you, it was the Stones and the Beatles that sent me looking for Arthur's originals.

Like you, I was glad they did!

Personaol fave: "The Girl That Radiates That Charm"



5/22/2006 09:24:00 PM  
Blogger peter said...

Thanks for these two. The early Beatles albums introduced me to a whole lot of good music: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Larry Williams, just for starters. Those four boys had good taste, didn't they?

5/23/2006 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Heh. I got lots of my initial LPs at the Englishtown Auction. I think I got my copy of Introducing The Beatles at the Route 18 International Market, though. That LP, and the double live LP from the Star-Club, were all over the cut-out bins at the time.

5/23/2006 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger The DoorKeeper said...

A friend gave me a C90 of soul originals back in 1980 and I bought the vinyl Ace album when it came out, on the strength of Anna, You Better Move On and Go Home Girl.

It was like entering a different world. He had such heartbreak and such control. Amazing singer.

Thanks for posting

5/24/2006 07:43:00 AM  

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