Friday, December 15, 2006

Five for Ahmet

Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun passed away yesterday at the age of 83. Ertegun and Herb Abramson set up shop in 1947 and had their first major hit with the blues novelty "Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" by "Sticks" McGhee (Brownie's brother) in 1949. Over the next seven decades the label, its subsidiaries and affiliated companies (such as Stax Records, which Atlantic distributed from 1959 to 1968) would play a big role in the story of R&B, rock and roll, soul, jazz and pop, both as an independent and as part of Warner Communications. The fantastic website Both Sides Now has a great history of the label as well as an album discography (1947-82) that is worth checking out, and I will defer to it and the news link above for details about Ertegun's life and the label. For today's post I'll borrow a page from J.A. Bartlett and his "The Hits Just Keep On' Comin'" site (see links section; check out his great blog, if you don't already) and do some reminiscing.

I am occasionally asked why a 32-year-old like me is so passionate about older music, and I always trace it back to the old record player (with the automatic changer!) at my parents' house and my mom's records. I spent a lot of time as a child playing her old 45s and LPs and enjoying what I heard from there. By the time I was ten years old I knew what music I liked. To be fair, I was also tuned into what was popular at the time, but there was something about that music that captivated me. I quickly came to recognize the red and black "big A" Atlantic 45s and, although I didn't realize the significance of the label, or the fact that "Distributed by Atlantic Recording Corp." appeared on a lot of the Stax, Dial, Karen, Flaming Arrow and other 45s that my mother owned, I loved the music that came from those records. The songs discussed below are by no means rare or obscure, but they were an important part of my musical education and they paved the way for a country boy from Sparksville, Kentucky to become The Stepfather of Soul.

1. Aretha Franklin - Do Right Woman - Do Right Man - This was one of the first Aretha Franklin songs I ever heard. My mother gave the flip, "Dr. Feelgood," slightly more spins, but the slightly-countrified, whisper-to-a-scream "Do Right Woman - Do Right Man" was always my favorite and, 25 or so years later, it still is.

2. Wilson Pickett - For Better or Worse - When you're a kid, you don't fully understand the craft of soul singing, but you know there's something you feel when you hear it. My brother and I thought Wilson Pickett's screaming choruses at the end of "for Better or Worse" were the mark of a madman, but listening to it as an adult I can understand the intensity of the song's words, and the effectiveness of the song's coda. You have to have some life experience with being in and out of love to understand "A small voice inside my head keeps telling me to leave you, baby. But what can I do? Lord, what would I say? But again I think I'll stay, and maybe your love will be true."

3. Clarence Carter - Too Weak to Fight - This was my personal #1 song when I was in third grade. For some reason my mom had more Clarence Carter 45s than any other artist's, and I loved them. I loved the groove of "Too Weak the Fight" and the way Clarence would stretch the word "I'm" in the chorus on this one, as well as his ad-libs in the coda. Again, I was too young to appreciate the words for what they were, although my brother and I gave the song new words to describe my Aunt Opal, who liked to go out to eat a lot. Fortunately, the words to "Too Weak to Eat" are no longer fresh in my memory.

4. The Spinners - Could It Be I'm Falling In Love - When I first heard this one I was old enough to understand the words. I was in eighth grade, I think, and I had a crush on this high school girl who rode the same bus as me. Her name was Sonya Tweedy and she was always very nice to me, so I would play this record and think about her. Although the song no longer holds such meaning to me, I love it now because it shows how awesomely juxtaposed Phillippe Wynne's countrified vocals were in relation to the group's smooth Philly soul sound (note particularly how Wynne spits out the word "witcha" in the choruses). The version posted here appeared on the One of a Kind Love Affair boxed set. At the end of the track are additional ad libs that Wynne had done for the song that were left out of the final recording; did Wynne have soul, or what?

5. Ray Charles - (Night Time Is) The Right Time - I started collecting records when I was a teenager, hitting thrift stores and yard sales in search of 45s and LPs of all types (and I mean all types - I was probably the only teenager within 100 miles that had everything from soul 45s to a Machito mambo LP to Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass' Whipped Cream and Other Delights LP, the latter of which got a lot of album cover art study from me). I bought a reissue 45 of this song after seeing the famous episode of "The Cosby Show" where the Huxtables hilariously lip-sync the classic Ray Charles record. From those days onward, I have maintained my love of vinyl, even after CDs and MP3s came along.

Wow - that was a pretty long-winded post, but what I'm trying to say in the long run is that it was those Atlantic records that played an important role in my life, both as a person and as a soul fan, and I have to thank and honor Ahmet Ertegun for them, as well as for sharing Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, The Coasters, Solomon Burke, Don Covay, the Stax artists, Aretha Franklin, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Percy Sledge, Bobby Darin, The Coasters, The Spinners, Sonny & Cher, Cream, CSNY, the Rolling Stones and so many others with me via his successful company. Rest in peace, Ahmet.


jabartlett said...

Ahmet Ertegun and Arif Mardin gone in the same year. Those guys gave us a lot of great music. Thanks for the reminiscence (and for the blog-love, too).

Unknown said...

he was an absolute musical genius. my personal atlantic favorite is the diamond's "beggar for your kisses".

Private Beach said...

I just followed your link to the website giving Atlantic's history. Some interesting stuff there, but the statement "They did not cheat performers" hardly matches the recollections of Ruth Brown (one of their biggest early stars). A large part of her autobiography is concerned with how she had to fight Atlantic for years to get all she was owed.