‘Solomon Burke – The Atlantic Recordings (1962-1968)’

❉ This 3-CD retrospective maps out ‘King Solomon’s rise and fall with Atlantic.

“Everybody Needs Somebody To Love is likely to have been the gateway drug to Solomon Burke for a lot of people whose first exposure to many soul and R’n’B songs came via the performances in the 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers and the accompanying soundtrack”

Solomon Burke was as complex a character in the world of Rock and Soul as any of the names that have seemingly outshone him in terms of legacy and fame. Covering his tenure at Atlantic Records, this new 3-CD retrospective curated by Bob Fisher and founder of SoulMusic.com David Nathan, seeks to turn the spotlight back onto Burke, a man ‘officially’ declared the King Of Rock ‘n’ Soul in 1963.

Burke has never enjoyed quite as high a profile as many of his contemporaries but as this collection of 78 tracks from the 1960s shows, he was more than a match for most of them in terms of vocal technique, character, back-story and sheer soul power. Raised in the church and constantly seeking to reconcile his faith with his love of secular music, Burke could easily have been a footnote in music history having spent some time on the roster of Apollo Records (home to the phenomenal Mahalia Jackson), marketed as a pop/gospel singer. His relationship with the label ended acrimoniously in the late Fifties and Burke drifted off to acquire a qualification as a Doctor of Mortuary Science. The funeral business couldn’t hold him for long though and after a fling with Singular Records, where he honed a new rockier R’n’B style – sadly to no more success than before – he found himself in the office of Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun and, with a quick handshake, he was part of that label’s roster. 

Early recording sessions for Atlantic struggled to find the right sort of song to suit Burke’s vocal style and his single, Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms) even needing propping up by the reuse of one of his Singular Record songs on its b-sides – the Little Richard/Chuck Berry style novelty rocker Be-Bop Grandma. Just Out Of Reach is massively unrepresentative of Burke’s style, as a Country song rather than soul or R’n’B, but it reached #7 in the R’n’B charts and #24 in the Pop chart. Thus began King Solomon’s run of singles and albums with Atlantic. Wexler described ‘King Solomon’ as a “salesman of epic proportions” and a good indicator can be seen in the supremely self-confident naming of his first album with Atlantic as Solomon Burke’s Greatest Hits

Whilst his success in the R’n’B charts wasn’t always reflected in the Pop charts, he racked up a good selection of charting singles during his time at Atlantic. His brilliant cover of Wilson Pickett’s If You Need Me reached #2 in the R’n’B charts but only made 37 in the pop charts whilst perhaps his most famous legacy song, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love only made #58 in the pop charts, but topped out at #4 in the R’n’B charts. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Everybody Needs Somebody To Love is likely to have been the gateway drug to Solomon Burke for a lot of people whose first exposure to many soul and R’n’B songs came via the performances in the 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers and the accompanying soundtrack and other L.P.s.

Whilst Aykroyd and Belushi’s version is a great bit of fun (especially considering the pedigree of their Stax-esque backing band), Solomon Burke’s original is a fascinating article. Everybody… stomps along to a single groove for nearly two minutes before it changes. As a child Burke was known in the church as the Boy Wonder Preacher and this clearly has an influence here with his spoken word opening given all the trappings of a gospel performance, with the audience response noises and choir call-and-answer vocals. For Burke it became the source of another royalty dispute with the co-credited writers; another example of a tendency towards falling-out with his business associates. 

This compilation maps out his rise and fall of success with Atlantic. There’s a few special stereo mixes and alternate takes scattered across the three discs and brilliantly detailed sleeve-notes and information about the recordings – the when and who of the record-making process – and the songs themselves have been remastered sensitively to retain their brilliant period soul feel. The set includes several of Burke’s cover versions including his take on Bob Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm, making Burke probably the first black artist to cover a Dylan song. Other covers including a supremely groovy version of Lloyd Price’s Lawdy Miss Clawdy, a laid-back take on By The Time I Get To Phoenix and a party-feel version of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say. Of particular interest outside of the solo King Solomon tunes are two tracks credited to the Soul Clan – a group of singers from the Atlantic stable ostensibly led by Burke as a collective for both creative and social endeavours. The songs here feature Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Don Covay and Arthur Conley, who stepped in to take Otis Redding’s place after his death. 

After his departure from the label in 1968 he continued recording into the twenty-first century before his death in 2010. It was perhaps partly his longevity that caused his legacy to suffer – he never achieved any global smash-hits or had the legendary status of so many of his contemporaries and even his larger-than-life persona (in his later years he reached 30 stone and always performed from a throne) meant he perhaps lacked the dynamism of the likes of James Brown as a performer, but as this set of songs shows, he was a phenomenal vocalist whose recordings deserve to be re-listened to and his voice appreciated again.

❉ ‘Solomon Burke: The King Of Rock ‘N’ Soul – The Atlantic Recordings (1962-1968)’ (QSMCR5193T) released September 25, 2020 by SoulMusic Records/Cherry Red Records, RRP £17.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

❉ Paul Abbott runs Hark! The 87th Precinct Podcast, which takes a look at each of the books in series in turn, but usually turns quite silly, and The Head Ballet Podcast which celebrates the novelty record in all its forms.. He also makes noises with his band in Liverpool, Good Grief, and spends the rest of the time thinking about Transformers, The Beatles, Doctor Who and Monty Python.

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