‘Ain’t No Big Thing’: In praise of Uptown Soul

17 Jul

Increasingly we live in a world in which authenticity is valued above all, even where that authenticity is (or at least feels) ersatz (witness the faintly ridiculous British festival obsession for posh boys with beards and banjos – I take this as a kind of rosy-hued romanticism of being a horny-handed son of toil, which would quickly be shed as as soon as anyone had to pick up anything and start working).

Where this means we get the lovely surprise late re-birth of Bobby Womack’s career, and the wonderful Kent southern soul comps (see recent volumes on George Jackson, Darrow Fletcher and Dan Greer) it’s obviously a good thing.

However, I’m still drawn to the music of America’s great cities (New York, Chicago and Detroit) and that point at which soul and emotion were brought together with the songwriter’s art and arranger’s talent to develop the sound of Saturday night: a time when men and women dress up, drinks are softly clinked, and lovers mover closer together on the dancefloor when that song comes on.

I was reminded of how much I love this type of music reading Richard William’s wonderful post on Burth Bacharach (http://thebluemoment.com/2013/06/24/the-art-of-the-songwriter/) and picked these four (in reality it could have forty, or four hundred – consider yourself lucky!):

1) Lou Johnson ‘Reach Out To Me’ – as Richard points out in his post, the closest male equivalent to Dionne Warwick:

2) The Radients ‘Ain’t No Big Thing’ – so many versions of this song, but this is my favourite:

3) The Dells ‘All Over My Face’ – where Uptown goes Northern:

4) Brenda Holloway ‘When I’m Gone’ – from Motown’s great forgotten female singer:

And as a postscript: there’s a thread (almost certainly silken in this context) that links this style of music to the joyous (but very adult) music made made by Gamble and Huff in the 70s through the dub inflected soul of Sade and Matt Bianco in the 80s and 90s, and onto the stylish re-vamps of this music made by the like of Swing Out Sister now (for whom the term ‘Uptown Soul’ seems completely fitting):

Lou Rawls – I’ll See You When I Get There

Swing Out Sister – Incomplete Without You

 

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