Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Mood Food

Rhino's big ol' box of the '60s.

By Tristram Lozaw

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  Some of the most electrifying -- and most important -- "popular" music on 1997 release schedules was made before the CD age was even a glimmer in record executives' eyes. Nearly all modern pop music pales in comparison with a series like Rounders' 13-volume Southern Journey, or the classic roots sets from Capitol and Chess, or Smithsonian Folkways' Anthology of American Folk Music, or the remastered Miles Davis material, or Archive's rock reissues. But none of those superb projects is even half as much fun as Rhino's six-CD set Beg, Scream & Shout: The Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul. Housed in a limited edition '60s-era singles carrying case, the CD all snap into plastic holders resembling a vinyl 45 (they slip into paper sleeves to complete the illusion). For each of the 144 acts and their 144 songs, there's a soul-star trading card with a photo and write-up. A booklet provides details and essays on the essence of soul. Sounds like a cute $99 gift that gets displayed but rarely played, the sonic equivalent of a coffee-table book, right? Guess again. This emulation of the 1960s singles experience is an ingenious soul primer and a connoisseurs' anthology.

The set is divided into pleading ballads (Beg), mid-tempo slinks (Scream), and dance-floor stomps (Shout), with two discs apiece. The singles' master tapes were used when possible, drawn from the vaults of several dozen labels: Mercury, Bunky, Checker, Brunswick, Chess, Atco, Motown, Stax, Revilot, Sue, T-Neck, and Ric-Ti. Like any self-respecting soul set, Beg, Scream & Shout features the elite. Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Etta James, Ray Charles, the Isley Brothers, the Meters, Wilson Pickett, Fontella Bass, and the Temptations weigh in with classic grooves that are part of the collective pop consciousness. (The two major omissions, Sam Cooke and Sly & the Family Stone, were the result of licensing snafus, and both still get a BS&S soul card.) Considerably fewer ears have heard the equally wonderful tracks by the Velvelettes, King Curtis, Esquires, Alvin Cash & the Crawlers, Darrell Banks, and Rodger Collins. Ditto for Eddie Floyd's snaking "Big Bird," Rufus Thomas's Steve Cropper-produced "The Memphis Train," and real low-down covers like Sir Mack Rice's "Mustang Sally" and the Five Du-Tones' "Shake a Tail Feather."

BS&S retains the stark crackle and punch of the vinyl versions' dirty, lo-fi, and mostly monaural magnificence, like a 45 without the scratches and pops. It also serves up original versions of songs that many will recognize as others' signature tunes, including Gloria Jones's "Tainted Love" (Soft Cell), Erma Franklin's "Piece of My Heart" and Garnet Mimms's "Cry Baby" (both Janis Joplin), Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle" (Rolling Stones), and Robert Parker's "Barefootin' " (Spic & Span). There's a fair amount of in-house theft too: the Young Holt Trio's "Wack Wack" is a jazzy vamp of the Capitols' hit of six months earlier, "Cool Jerk." But soul was about emotional and rhythmic verve that splashed onto the dance floor, not unprecedented chord patterns. And even the retreads make vibrant statements. Maybe that's why Brenton Wood transforms the goofy "Oogum Boogum" into the most perfect of mating calls, and why extra irony slides off the hard soul grit of Ike & Tina Turner's "A Fool in Love."

By spotlighting buried treasures -- the gems not found on oldies stations' narrow playlists -- BS&S avoids becoming just another greatest-hits jukebox. The first Beg disc leads off with a rare B-side, "That's How I Feel," by the Soul Clan, an all-star meeting on the soul mount of Solomon Burke, Arthur Conley, Don Covay, Ben E. King, and Joe Tex. Next up is the Delfonics' slow dance, "La-La Means I Love You." At this point, I'll wager most listeners will be grabbing for the Scream and Shout CDs; we need to work up a sweat before taking a breather. And since the Beg tunes were often reserved for end-of-party makeout sessions, I vowed to follow the box's time-capsule spirit and return later, with a date.

On the return trip, after the sweatathons of Scream and Shout, the mood music of the Beg discs makes more sense, reprising such ice melters as Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" and Barbara Mason's "Yes I'm Ready." Another standout is pre-metamorphosis Michael's vocal on the Jackson Five's "Who's Lovin' You." Again, the set dusts off neglected odes, including O.V. Wright's heart-piercing "Eight Men, Four Women" and Otis Clay's bristling "That's How It Is." Offering lesser-known and less obvious tracks doesn't always yield great finds; sometimes they're just less. "Back Up Train" is run-of-the-mill Al Green. Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" is as classic as Otis Redding's contribution, "I've Been Loving You Too Long," but Sledge's inferior "It Tears Me Up" appears instead. But even as I scribble these complaints, I'm hitting the repeat button for the first Scream disc.

Weekly Wire Suggested Links

Page Back Last Issue Current Issue Next Issue Page Forward

Music: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Weekly Wire    © 1995-99 DesertNet, LLC . The Boston Phoenix . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch