Monday, December 27, 2010

"Rainy Night in Georgia" (1970)

13. Brook Benton, "Rainy Night in Georgia" (Jan. 31, 1970, #4)

Until Brook Benton applied his baritone to this, some few years since he had had a hit of any significance, he tended to present as more a purveyor of a certain type of jaunty fare that played well in lounges, often in duets with Dinah Washington. More than anything he appeared to be a student of Jackie Wilson. And that stuff's pretty good, not trying to denigrate it—"Baby (You've Got What it Takes)," "Kiddio," "A Rockin' Good Way," "The Boll Weevil Song," so on and so forth, all from the early '60s. Upbeat and swingin'. But it provided little preparation for what could well be the single saddest, lonesomest song ever recorded by anyone anywhere. Tony Joe White ("Polk Salad Annie") wrote it. Arif Mardin (fellow traveler with Ahmet Ertegun) produced it. And the times called for it, or so its success would seem to indicate. Thus Brook Benton, virtually out of nowhere, stepped up and put it down, and after that it was all over except for the crying. The smoky organ and especially the lush, lovingly hand-picked electric guitar sound straight out of Memphis, and the imagery is all Deep South, at least the sensibility: "Neon signs a-flashin', taxi cabs and buses passin' through the night, / A distant moanin' of a train, seem to play a sad refrain to the night." About then the strings come up. Later the singer may be spied hopping a boxcar for places unknown, guitar and picture of woman in hand, hanging his head and muttering the words that tear at the heart of anyone listening: "I feel it's rainin' all over the world." I don't know about you, but even the opening seconds of this just knock me sideways.

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