Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Sweet Soul Music" (1967)

54. Arthur Conley, "Sweet Soul Music" (April 1, 1967, #2)

Arthur Conley died in Ruuro, Netherlands, at the age of 57 late in 2003. A Georgia native, he scored this as a talented 21-year-old under the tutelage of Otis Redding, with whom he reworked Sam Cooke's "Yeah Man" into this lively name-checker, launching a career that would eventually take Conley to Europe permanently after 1977. With a pedigree like all that the most surprising thing, perhaps (or perhaps not), is that he stayed abroad for most of the rest of his life. His talent is scattered generously across all epochs of his work, but I don't know any better than this brisk and deftly turned example of a scenester signpost workout (triumphalist cheerleading of regionalized sets of acts, cf., also that spring as it happens, "Creeque Alley" by the Mamas & the Papas, stumping for the folkies in LA). The song puts us in the action, out at the go-go kicking up heels in the discotheque and riffing one after the other on tunes by Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and James Brown ("he's the king of 'em all, y'all"). Even just the sure way that the mimic Conley moves from character to character, staying within each for the space of a verse or even just a line or two, provides remarkable pleasure, particularly when he seems to feint, and so knowingly, at the scream styles of Wilson and Otis and James, each varying in subtle degrees. You would have to say, at the least, that Conley was an apt pupil. (You would also have to note that, recorded at Muscle Shoals, the band and the horns routinely kick ass up and down and across the less than two and a half minutes that this thing lasts.)

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