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Nashville Scene Soldiering On

Nashville-bred tune resurfaces on a hit single

By Jim Ridley

AUGUST 2, 1999:  How does a 1962 R&B song get passed down through three generations of recording artists, only to wind up on one of the fastest-selling singles in history--without ever becoming a hit? Not even its coauthor knows. "It seems to have a life of its own," says songwriter Tony Moon, taking a break during the afternoon lull at his Franklin restaurant Jack Russell's. Yet his ballad "Soldier of Love," written 37 years ago with Nashville tunesmith Buzz Cason ("Everlasting Love"), has been pressed into active service once more--this time by a cat named Eddie Vedder.

"Soldier of Love" was recorded in 1962 by the great soul singer Arthur Alexander, who died tragically in Nashville in the midst of a career resurgence in 1993. It was originally issued as the B-side of his single "Where Have You Been," but several British bands picked up on the tune--among them The Beatles, whose version appeared belatedly on the 1994 Live at the BBC LP. It then passed to pop singer Marshall Crenshaw, as one of the standout tracks on his now-classic 1982 debut. Now a live version of "Soldier of Love" is the B-side of Pearl Jam's new single "Last Kiss," which rests at No. 4 on the July 31 Billboard Top 100.

Pearl Jam first issued the two songs last December as a Christmas fanclub single. But when radio stations pounced on them, the tracks were added to the lineup of No Boundaries, a just-released Sony/Epic compilation album benefiting Kosovar refugees. "Last Kiss" and "Soldier of Love" were issued as the compilation's first single 10 weeks ago, and in its first week alone the record sold a staggering 144,000 copies, jumping from No. 49 on the Hot 100 to No. 2. It has already gone gold, indicating sales of more than 500,000.

Moon says he didn't know about the cut until five weeks ago. (Nothing new there: He'd never heard of British group Thee Headcoats' version, which Vedder cites on the sleeve as his inspiration, until a server at the restaurant told him about it.) But he stood his ground when the label asked him for free licensing of the tune.

"Yes, I'm going to give a portion [of any royalties] to charity," Moon explains. "But I've got a problem with a multibillion-dollar corporation telling me I have to give [the licensing] away and they'll handle the money. I'm not Scrooge McDuck; I'm not doing a backstroke in $100 bills."

That doesn't mean he isn't pleased with the cut, or its purpose. "Having it on there is cool, 'cause it's a pacifist song," says Moon, who also produced the Vogues' brilliant 1966 single "Five O'Clock World." Both No Boundaries and the "Last Kiss"/"Soldier of Love" single are available at local record stores. Meanwhile, you can find Moon, who calls himself "The Rock 'n' Roll Chef," in the kitchen at Jack Russell's. Ask for the bread pudding.

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