Sam Cooke brings it on home! (Hors Categorie)

This week is School Half-Term in our part of the world. So there will be little time for blogging! Instead, there will be lots of cycling, lots of swimming, trips to see favourite aunts and visits from my extended family.

We are also going to be touring England’s West Country; gazing at the eternally mysterious ancient standing stone circle at Stonehenge, sampling the delights of the grandeur of Bath and idling through charming sleepy small towns and villages.

Following tradition my son Tom will be in charge of in car entertainment. So, lots of Louis Prima, Julie Andrews, Bobby Darin, Ruth Brown and now, top of his charts with a bullet – Meghan Trainor!

While I’m away I’ve cued up on The Immortal Jukebox an artist very dear to my heart – Sam Cooke (about whom I will write much more later!)


Sam was (is – greatness is always current) an artist of immense talent and cultural impact; a musical exemplar, a guiding spirit able to illuminate life’s arc of sorrows, joys and struggles with power, wit and grace. Sam Cooke resists all easy categorisation. Artists of this stature can’t be neatly filed in genre racks!

When I think about how to describe him I’m drawn to a term taken from the greatest of all cycling races – Le Tour de France. Anyone hoping to complete the race, let alone win it, has to be able to complete a series of lung wracking, muscle burning, mountain ascents seemingly designed to test the absolute limits of human endurance. Mountain stages receive, ‘Categorie’ ratings exquisitely calibrating the brutality of the challenge presented.

Categories of difficulty are assigned taking into account how far the riders have cycled before they begin to climb and the subsequent length and steepness of the ordeal to the summit. The, ‘easiest’ climbs are rated Categorie 4 and the most arduous Categorie 1. And then, then, there are some climbs, climbs like Alpe d’Huez with it’s terrifying 21 hair pin bends on the route to the summit at over 6000 feet involving gradients up to a near impossible 13% that merit the extraordinary term, ‘Hors Categorie’ – beyond category.

When I contemplate the stature of Sam Cooke I now use the term, ‘Hors Categorie’ as my own shorthand for those rare artists who rule imperiously over their own artistic realm. When you hear a characteristic performance by Sam Cooke the use of classifications like, ‘Soul’, ‘Gospel’, ‘Rhythm and Blues’, ‘Jazz’ and, ‘Pop’ becomes insignificant. Sam was a musical explorer; never intimidated by any map that might proscribe the limits of the world he might journey to and claim for himself and his audience. Artists of this stamp have the wherewithal and ambition to redraw all our maps.

Let’s start off with his electrifying, ‘Any Day Now’ when he was still a member of The Soul Stirrers.

This is singing that invites you to share in a transcendent experience. An experience that can’t really be described in prose but which might be just glimpsed through the medium of a poem or here via a song taking us to a place we’ve never known yet still somehow recognise.

Sam’s vocal here glides through the song like a raptor effortlessly riding the air currents – now ascending, now swooping down, now wheeling for the sheer life-affirming thrill of it! Sam Cooke sang, at all emotional temperatures, with an ease and elegant poise that is genuinely awe-some, in it’s proper sense. I’m listening to this performance on the feast of Pentecost – who can doubt that tongues of fire can descend on human heads when you listen to Sam Cooke sing, ‘Any Day Now’!

Now let’s hear Sam taking the church-wrecking skills displayed above into another dimension as he ignites the Harlem Square Club in 1963 with an out of the ball park grand slam performance of his own, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’.

This is a man entirely at home on stage, entirely at home with the audience surrounding him; the audience he can seduce, thrill and command with regal authority. He’s not exaggerating when he sings, ‘Everybody’s with me tonight!’

Sam Cooke seems to live inside rhythm; pushing or lagging the beat in time with the demands of his and our own beating hearts. Crescendo after crescendo rains down on us until we are intoxicated, elated, finally enraptured. Very few singers have genuinely had the gift of opening up the gates to rapture and bringing it on home as Sam could.

When I hear Sam Cooke sing time after time I hear myself saying, ‘Now, That’s How You Sing!’

Blood On The Tracks – Bryan Ferry’s ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’

‘Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row’

(Bob Dylan)

‘He had made his choice, chosen Ophelia, chosen the sweet poison and drunk it. Wanting above all to be brave and kind, he had wanted, even more than that, to be loved. So it had been. So it would ever be … ‘

(Scott Fitzgerald, ‘Tender Is The Night’)

‘Can’t let go, There’s a madness in my soul tonight, Can’t let go…’

(Bryan Ferry, ‘Can’t Let Go’)

In 1978 Bryan Ferry experienced something new in his, until then, wholly successful and glittering career – failure.

His fifth, and to my mind by far his best solo record, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ an adult work drenched in passion, paranoia and desperate desire emerged at the height of the punk era in the UK and was (apart from a few critics and Ferry fanatics like me) roundly ignored. I guess you just can’t fight the Zeitgeist.

Up until that point Bryan Ferry, particularly as the principal songwriter and focal point of Roxy Music, had been a virtual ringmaster of the Zeitgeist.

Roxy Music had materialised in public consciousness in 1972 with their staggeringly accomplished debut single, ‘Virginia Plain’. They didn’t look or sound like anyone else – an extraordinary feat in the modern pop era.

It seemed as if they had arrived as uber-glamorous spacemen, at warp factor 8, from an exoplanet in a distant galaxy where a particularly brilliant museum curator had created a group which would simultaneously celebrate and guy the whole postmodern project in music, fashion and the fine arts and do so with thrilling musical and intellectual confidence.

And, they made records which were undeniably brilliant works of pop ephemera, huge hits!, as well as being carefully crafted art projects.

Bryan Ferry was after all a fine arts graduate who had been a star pupil of Pop Art maestro Richard Hamilton as well as someone who loved the suave look of Cary Grant alongside his reverence for the deep soul sounds of Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.

The first three Roxy Music albums, ‘Roxy Music’, ‘For Your Pleasure’ and, ‘Stranded’ remain peaks of artistic creativity in popular music – endlessly replayable as they give up layer after layer of meaning and pleasure.

Roxy Music, initially a dizzyingly collaborative entity drawing on the disparate talents and influences of Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson became very much Bryan Ferry’s band after the departure of Eno before, ‘Stranded’ was recorded.

The next two records, ‘Country Life’ and ‘Siren’ though excellent by anyone else’s standards represented a falling off in ambition and intensity of vision for Roxy Music.

Bryan Ferry had also commenced a solo career with a series of records which showcased his distinctive take on pop history as he intriguingly covered artists as varied as Lesley Gore and Bob Dylan.

These records acknowledging the treasures in the Great American Songbook as well as the products of the Brill Building were highly enjoyable exercises in style with a capital S.

But, from the evidence of, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ sometime in 1976/1977, events in Bryan Ferry’s personal and artistic life (which I choose not to speculate on) pushed him to to write a series of songs , frequently self-lacerating, which displayed, once recorded, a ferocious, hitherto unknown (and never to be repeated) emotional and vocal intensity.

He also chose to cover songs from Lou Reed, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Al Green and J J Cale which along with his lovely, infinitely weary and regretful version of the Irish ballad, ‘Carrickfergus’ (see below) constitute what can only be described as the biography of a heart and soul in torment.

The whole record can feel like the last SOS of someone who has hit bottom and can’t yet see a way out.

There is something like terminal despair in the unanswered question posed at the end of, ‘What Goes On’ – how does it feel to be loved?

How could that be the situation of someone who in, ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ knows no depths to the love he is prepared to give, ‘Any kind of love you want, I would get for you.’

Of course, sadly the truth sometimes dawns that love no matter how strong is sometimes denied, abused and rejected. Being loved does not always flow from loving.

A martial, crack of doom, drumbeat kicks off ‘Sign of the Times’ the opening track on, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ and immediately we are cast into a maelstrom of sound with Bryan Ferry raging like some urban Lear as he contemplates the bloody signs of the times with the leathered and lipsticked struggling chained and bound as they wait (welcoming?) for the hard lines to come down.

In the midst of the madness, in a world where we don’t know why we laugh or cry, why we live and die, he still wants to wreathe a rainbow in someone’s hair as a contrasting, perhaps countervailing, sign of the times.

The song may have been written as ironic commentary on the times but the performance is anything but ironic or distanced.

Throughout this song and the whole record the studio veteran musicians, often derided as session mercenaries, seem to these ears to play, in response to their leader’s example, as if their lives depended on leaving no realm of emotion unvisited (not excluding emotional enervation and paralysis: the song, ‘When She Walks in the Room’ seems to drift in the ether like some weightless narcotic smoke ring of loss.)

The centrepiece of the album for me is, ‘Cant Let Go’ which I consider the greatest performance of Bryan Ferry’s career and one of the greatest performances by anybody in the rock era.

‘Can’t Let Go’ is a wide screen journey into a landscape offering no hope of redemption. The song is a postmodern epic (Ferry has always had a filmic imagination) echoing the Hollywood creeping insanity of Hitchcock’s, ‘Vertigo’ and the repellant allure of Wilder’s, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ while prefiguring the desperate hall of mirrors madness of David Lynch’s, ‘Mulholland Drive’.

The song follows and incarnates the nightmare situation of a man, a man who knows there is no waking up from this nightmare. A man who is a self-aware exile from the havens of love and home.

Some disaster expelled him from home; a love gone horribly wrong has propelled him left him West to the land where pain (so they say) might be avoided.

Once there, he finds that a life without pain can only be found in the grave – a grave he finds himself not yet ready to occupy. He goes on as a man who finds that it doesn’t matter where he drives because all directions end up being the same.

The driving is important as the whole song seems to take place inside the tormented mind of someone looking through the rain spattered windscreen of a car speeding nowhere fast in endless loops.

Bryan Ferry’s superlative singing on this song seems dragged from the depths of his being and worthy, in its commitment, of the Stax soul masters he had hitchhiked to see in London when he was a student.

His voice here has wonderful presence, power and a desperate nuanced elegance which survives even as he is about to be overwhelmed by the terrible storm. The terrible storm which remains one car wheel behind, one car wheel away from overtaking him, one car wheel away from destroying him.

Rain streams down as his soul fights a battle between the consolations of finally feeling no pain and the not yet buried desire to live again.

Wasted and cold, exhausted from a hundred sleepless nights, he has to try to hold on, to hang on by his fingertips or else he will be lost forever and the madness in his soul will take full and permanent possession of his life.

Afraid in the dark, there is no relief in celebrity, now he is only a face in the crowd, one more anonymous face, endlessly circling the purgatorial freeways.

The music enveloping Bryan Ferry as he fights his life and death battle has a wonderful sense of the movement between control and loss of control.

The musicians accelerate and decelerate, rising and falling with the increasingly desperate situation of the singer. Waddy Watchtel on lead guitar, urged on by the string arrangement, sends shining sad spirals of sound echoing into the seemingly endless dark of the night.

As the song reaches its resolution you are left wondering whether this represents the car being driven off the road into the canyon or rather a hard stop allowing, after a deep shuddering breath for life, one more chance to begin again.

Perhaps the repeated final anguished cries of, ‘Can’t Let Go’ is a wounded acknowledgement that to be able to feel the need not to let go is proof that some strands of a man who might still find the will to hope, might yet wish to live, survives.

Perhaps that’s the spirit animating the elegiac version of, ‘Carrickfergus’ I leave you with now.

I will close, as I began, with a Bob Dylan quote, which seems particularly apposite to my take on, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’:

‘Pain sure brings out the best in people, doesn’t it?’

Notes:

Though I think that, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ is by far the best record of Bryan Ferry’s career it is heartening that a recent project, ‘The Jazz Age’ featuring 1920s style recreations of songs from the Roxy era was a triumphant success on record – as were the concerts that followed.

I also have enormous affection for his album of Bob Dylan songs, ‘Dylanesque’.

Since this post was written Bryan has joined the distinguished company of rock stars turning 70! Reports from his current tour show him still to be in very fine form. Delighted to add this picture of him celebrating his three score and ten!

Bruce Springsteen & Manfred Mann : Pretty Flamingo!

‘In quella parte del libro de la mia memoria dinanzi a la quale poco is potrebbe leggere, si trova ina rubrica la quale dice: Incipit Vita Nova …….

In that first book which is my memory, on the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you, appear the words, ‘Here begins a new life.’

(Dante from Vita Nuovo)

‘Yonder comes my lady, rainbow ribbons in her hair …. Nobody, no, no, no, nobody stops me from loving you baby … And you were standing there in all your revelation! It’s too late to stop now!’

(Van Morrison, ‘Cyprus Avenue’)

‘Some sweet day I’ll make her mine, pretty flamingo
Then every guy will envy me
‘Cause paradise is where I’ll be
Pretty flamingo, pretty flamingo.’

(Mark Barkan)

There really are moments when the course of your life is irrevocably altered. Moments when your history, your story, becomes divided into Before and After. After such a defining moment you look at and experience the world around you as if it were an entirely fresh landscape glistening with new possibility. Epiphanies are lightning strikes to the dormant consciousness; quickening barely acknowledged dreams into blood pumping, temperature raising life.

And, so often they occur without warning. One moment you’re a regular fellow shooting the breeze with the guys on the corner of the block and the next, the next, you’re a hopeless, helpless fool prepared to mortgage your entire future for this girl, no , The Girl … If you just could – if she just would, if she just would, if she just would!

And, this can happen at any stage of your life. It might happen, as it did, for the 9 year old Dante Aligheri on first glimpsing the divine vision of the crimson robed 8 year Beatrice Portinari in a Florentine Palazzo. It might happen, as it did, for the teenaged Van Morrison obsessively haunting the tree lined avenue, so close and yet so far from his working class East Belfast home, as a rainbow-ribboned vision of beauty came into view.

It might happen, as it did for me, at 40 plus, in a worthy seminar about third world debt – suddenly realising that the woman I had just met was without any shadow of doubt the woman I must captivate because she was the woman I was going to marry, the woman I HAD to marry .. If I just could, if she just would.

Mark Barkan, a jobbing Brill Building style songwriter, in early 1966 through some divine inspiration came up with a perfect pop song, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ which captures, as few pop songs have ever done, that moment of abandonment to the dream of finding the love of your life. The lovely image of the crimson coloured Flamingo, simultaneously familiar and exotic, brilliantly captures the sensual glamour of the beauty who, simply walking by, turns an ordinary day into a never to be forgotten one.

The original and in some senses definitive version of the song was by the Manfred Mann group who took it all the way to Number 1 in the UK in May 1966. It went on quickly to become an anthemic world wide hit.

This is a very 1960s beat group record brim full with youthful energy and vigour. The brash guitar is loud and upfront as the song starts and remains powerful as it beats on throughout; perhaps portraying the rib pounding rhythm of the protagonist’s heart as he comes to terms with his new, captive, situation. The background wash of keyboards and the lovely woodwinds point to the escalating wonder and desire for one who seems so out of reach and out of sight. You can almost feel the sigh as she walks by with that crimson dress that clings so tight.

Vocalist, Paul Jones, manages to capture the wonder and the longing of the situation as well as the bewilderment. I love the, ‘Huh!’ he inserts as he contemplates whether he really could and whether she really would!

This incarnation of the Manfred Mann group had Manfred providing jazz chops on the Hammond Organ, Mike Hugg on drums, Jack Bruce (only very briefly a member) on bass and Tom McGuiness on guitar. I’m assuming that the gorgeous flute work was provided Mike Vickers who had only recently ceased to be in the band.

The group had become a strong musical outfit through intensive gigging from from the very early 1960s. They combined musicianly multi-instrumental prowess and a love of jazz, R&B and Soul music with a flair for picking top quality songs from the emerging titans of the American songwriting scene (Carol King, Greenwhich/Barry and the peerless Bob Dylan).

I think you can hear their musical togetherness and attack in, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ reflecting their joy in music making and the thousands of road miles they had travelled together. Their version of, ‘Pretty Flamngo’ should always be in any representative collection of the finest 1960s pop.

A song and a record like, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ was certain to light a flame in heart of would be tough but tender songwriters the world over. So it is no surprise that the 16 year old Bruce Springsteen, listening to his radio in Freehold, New Jersey should have been bowled over by the song and kept it bright in his memory in the ensuing decades as he progressed from a tyro writer and performer to a global superstar.

I would hazard a guess that along with the operatic arias of Roy Orbison the echo of the yearning of, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ was somewhere in the creative mix in Bruce’s mind as he wrote ‘Thunder Road’one of his indisputably classic songs.

The magnificent opening of that song with the vision of Mary’s dress waving as she dances across the porch recalls for me the sashay of the Flamingo as she brightened up the neighbourhood and constricted the throats of every guy who wished she would let him be the Guy, not just one of the guys. The Guy who had made her his!

Listen to Bruce’s live version of Flamingo from 2014. He performs the song solo, virtually acapella, and introduces the song with a meditation outlining how the song tells a story, a primal story, that’s always true and current. For men as long as they breathe will fall in love with a girl, the Girl, as she passes by your porch.

He muses, sotto voce, as he begins to play the song that, ‘You’re always…. ‘. I think we can take it that by this he means that we are all always hoping that this time, today, will be the moment when could and would miraculously coincide so that together you take up residence in the longed for paradise.

Bruce, the mature twenty-first century Bruce, performs Flamingo with a wry romanticism that includes real erotic charge as well as an almost elegiac plangecy. It may be that has something to do with Bruce’s inevitable recognition that his days as one of the guys on the corner of the block are long past – no matter how fondly remembered. The consolations of such a realisation are however beautifully captured as Bruce’s own flamed haired beauty, his wife Patti Scialfa, joins him duetting at the microphone.

Sometimes all your dreams of the sweet day when you make the Girl, the fabled Flamingo, your very own turns out to be more than a daydream. It turns out to be what you were living for before you knew what you were living for.

Notes:

As the ornithologists among you will know the name Flamingo derives from the Iberian, ‘Flamengo’ (with the colour of flame) is a highly distinctive wading bird prone, eccentrically, to standing on one leg. The Flamingo, which can vary in colour from light pink to Dantesque Crimson, is in the genus Phoenicopterus from the family Phoenicopteridae. Don’t you just love the Greek language and Taxonomy!

Manfred Mann:


Their 60s output is a cornucopia of delights and you will be amazed at how many of their songs are already in your own mental jukebox (take just, ‘The Mighty Quinn’, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ and,’ 5-4-3-2-1′ for starters!)

The succeeding Chapter 3 and Earth Band have intriguing catalogues with regular forays into the Dylan and Springsteen catalogues as well as radio classics such as, ‘Joybringer’ and, ‘Davy’s on the road again’.

More Flamingos!

As a pop classic Flamingo has been covered innumerable times. The versions I recommend are:

The Everly Brothers – an ineffably tender rendition from their 1966, ‘Two Yanks in England’ record.

Elvis Costello – a rave-up version (powered by excellent drumming) where Elvis turns spa like Montreux into a sweaty simulacrum of 60s beat dives like Liverpool’s The Cavern or London’s The Marquee. He is joined by the brilliant songwriting team from Squeeze Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook along with his own mentor Nick Lowe. Their obvious collective pleasure, as hardened songwriting professionals, in playing such a glorious pop confection is a joy to behold.

Paul Weller – has recorded Flamingo acoustically and also performed a tremendously rousing live version where he shows how acute his ear for the merits of the 60s pop song has been since his emergence from the punk pack.

John Lennon lauded it, Willie Mitchell produced it, Ann Peebles sang it: ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’

‘When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day’.

(Feste’s song from Shakespeare’s, ‘Twelfth NIght’)

‘Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with liquid silver drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain’

(Langston Hughes – ‘April Rain Song’)

‘Hey rain – Get off my window … ‘

(Ann Peebles, Don Bryant, Bernie Miller – ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’)

‘And when the Sun comes out,
After this Rain shall stop,
A wondrous Light will fill,
Each dark, round drop;
‘Twil be a lovely sight.’

(W H Davies – ‘The Rain’)

Shakespeare was right (of course!)

Somewhere, each and every day, the rain rains down.

Sometimes to bend and batter, sometimes to nurture and replenish. Of course, somewhere, each and every day, the sun shines brightly, bathing us in its balm or sending us scurrying from its awesome burning power.

Though we might pray and dance to win the favour of the weather gods in the end we find that the sun shines when it wants to shine and that when it’s time for rain – it rains.

As with so many aspects of our lives we are not in control so we must learn to adapt or spend a lifetime in fruitless frustration.

Naturally, being a storytelling, metaphor manufacturing species, we look to the skies and begin to discern patterns and meaning in every drop of rain and every ray of sun that visits itself upon us.

The rain can seem a rebuke for our failures; a physical manifestation of despair or the blessed agent of change and growth. Perspective is all.

Poets, songwriters and proverb makers have always known that rain, a small four letter word like love and hate, always attracts the ear and can be freighted with multiple emotional meanings to suit almost any human situation.

Bearing all the above in mind it’s no surprise that a sharp songwriter like Don Bryant should have had his imagination quickened when his girlfriend (later his wife) Ann Peebles looked up at the skies above Memphis one summer night in 1973 and exclaimed, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’. Some phrases simply beg to be song titles and this was surely one thought Don.

(Bernie Miller below gives his own account of the genesis of the song!).

Moving to the piano he began, with help from Ann and DJ Bernie Miller, to fashion a steamy soul ballad themed around a spurned woman being tormented by the sound of the rain against the windows of the house she used to share with her departed lover.

Each drop tolling upon the panes seems to bring back memories – she calls them sweet but in the context of the song there is surely a substantial bitter-sweet element to her recollections.

Let’s listen and decide where the bitter/sweet balance lies.

Now that’s a serious record!

Loaded to the gunnels with love, longing and loneliness and blazing with the banked heat of searing emotion.

No wonder John Lennon a man of firm conviction and a lifetime aficianado of superior R&B/Soul balladry, called it, ‘The best song ever’.

I make it a point of my critical practice to rarely take issue with John. So, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ will take its rightful place on the Immortal Jukebox as A11 joining 99 other records in rotation as, ‘the best song ever’ just waiting to be selected by you (isn’t that what Jukeboxes are all about).

Ann Peebles sings the song with mature womanly authority investing the lyric with immense drama and emotional punch without once straying into diva like hysteria.

Her vocal uses judicious variation of vocal volume, tone, register, leaps and slides to convey the migraine inducing situation the protagonist finds herself in as the rain insistently beats on and on against her window assaulting her mind with memories of days and nights when watching the rain was a shared experience.

Now the rain only emptily echoes the sweet times.

Ann brings gospel training to her performance seeming to draw herself up, straight backed, to lament her loss, a loss she cannot deny but which will not defeat her.

There is old testament glower and grit along with new testament sweetness and mercy in her vocal. In the end, exhausted she can still muster the strength to hurl a curse at the rain – Get off my window!

The drama and palpably humid heat of the song owes everything to the enormously gifted musical team that assembled at Hi studios Memphis HQ located at 1320 South Lauderdale in the old Royal Movie Theater.

This is one of those addresses like 3 Abbey Road and 706 Union Avenue which should have preservation orders protecting them in perpetuity in view of the cultural impact of the works created there.

The moving mind and musical intelligence behind a wondrous series of superb soul records emanating from Hi in the 1970s (Al Green’s epochal run of hits being the most artistically and commercially successful of these) was bandleader/trumpeter/producer and arranger, Willie Mitchell.

Willie Mitchell is one of those rare figures who through production alchemy could turn a fine song into a living, breathing great record which would burn up the radio airwaves and sound like it had always been part of your life the first time you heard it.

It was Willie who thought of the attention arresting intro featuring electric timbale to mimic the sound and spooky impact of the rain.

Willie knew that any arrangement he came up with for a song could be given a golden lustre because at his command he had a peerless rhythm section comprised of the Hodges brothers: Leroy (bass), Mabon ‘Teenie’ (guitar) and Charles (organ) with Howard Grimes on drums.

Together, this quartet, supplemented when needed by Archie Turner on piano and the Memphis Horns were able to sustain a distinctively supple and slinky groove that became the signature sound of the Hi label.

It’s a ravishing sound that seduces the ear while providing a singer with the room to strut their stuff.

‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ has the musicians supporting and swirling around the vocal providing an emotional surround sound accompaniment.

Though the sound is full it is never clogged. Maybe that’s something to do with the cooperative trust and intimacy shared by brothers – always aware of the other, always adjusting, so that each has the space they need to build the whole.

The interplay between Teenie’s liquid subtle guitar fills, Charles’ emotion quickening organ and Leroy’s propulsive anchoring baseline is a wonder to behold.

Howard Grimes drums always seem to me to be saying, ‘Listen up! This is some serious stuff we are laying down here!’ Together, their style is at least as tender as it is strong and powerful as if each tune was as precious to them as a child or a woman they loved.

It’s a rare life that doesn’t include some long nights staring out of a dark window as the rain falls prompting memories of lost love, lost time and lost hope.

A song like, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ can be a true companion getting you through those nights until the world turns again and the rain becomes one more memory while you wait for the sun.

Notes:

Ann Peebles 5 albums from the 1970s for Hi have now been reissued and have my unreserved recommendation. Just listen to the imperious, ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’, the incandescent, ‘Love Vibration’ or the stupendous, ’99 lbs’ and I guarantee you’ll be getting your credit card out!

5 Classic Rain Songs (Send in your suggestions):

Bob Dylan: ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ – a cloudburst of songwriting and performing genius.

Brook Benton: ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ – Tony Joe White who wrote it and Brook Benton singing it will surely convince you, while you listen, that Lord, it’s raining all over the world.

Creedence Clearwater Revival: ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ – John Fogarty is a heroic pessimist with the drive of a 50s rocker combined with an acute eye for history and social dislocation. And, he’s one hell of a singer and guitar player. There are no answers to his question.

Randy Newman: ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ – A typically clear eyed and heartbreaking meditation on the crooked timber of humanity.

Buddy Holly: Raining In My Heart’ – Perhaps there is an artist who can cut more directly and deeper to the heart than Buddy Holly. If there is I’m not sure my heart would be up to listening to them.