It Tears Me Up

There is a pompadour that towers over all the other pompadours in the rock and pop section. Percy Sledge had the looks, the moves, the voice, everything. Occasionally I'll break out some Percy, or put it on in the car, and I never fail to come away loving it a bit more.

There's often an Atlantic/Stax vs. Motown debate, but it's kind of pointless. They're different sounds. Percy Sledge has, for me at least, become some sort of archetype of the Memphis sound and if you only know him from 'When A Man Loves A Woman' then you're missing out. It's a great song obviously, but has become slightly tainted from rom-com ubiquity to truly hold a place in my heart. If this is the extent of your Sledge, then you should look further afield.

Percy Sledge - The Dark End Of The Street
James Carr - The Dark End Of The Street
Gram Parsons - The Dark End Of The Street
Frank Black - The Dark End Of The Street
Aretha Franklin - The Dark End Of The Street
Ryan Adams & Courtney Love - The Dark End Of The Street
Eels - The Dark End Of The Street (live)
To these ears, Sledge's version of the Moman/Penn staple is easily on a par with what's generally recognised to the be the 'definitive' version, James Carr's. Frank Black's version features a number of the same musicians: Spooner Oldham and David Hood were on both his and Sledge's, I think, and the newer song also has Steve Cropper and Reggie Young, so no mean line-up. And while it's a decent attempt, there's just something lacking: whether it's Jon Tiven's fairly flat production, or Black's falsetto almost, but not quite, hitting the spot, I don't know. It takes some serious vocal talent to pull off such a deep and emotional song, and I don't think either Gram or Frank have this. Frank Black especially is just recently attempting to come to grips with a new, more emotive singing style, and it seems he overshot himself a little at this go.
Aretha's is a little too heavy soul for my taste, and the Eels' is as you would expect. Courtney Love can just give up now, please.

Percy Sledge - Out Of Left Field
This is one of number of Penn and Oldham compositions that Percy Sledge made his own. Obviously, as in-house songwriters at Atlantic, that isn't really surprising. It has the quintessentially Southern gospel overtones, the romance, the elegiac organ, everything. It's what you would really call soul to it's very core, it's heart-rending and you can identify with it, like all the best songs, and the sound, the sound is just as classic as it gets.

Percy Sledge - Rainbow Road
Rainbow Road is one of those cautionary murder ballads that are so common in music of this era. It's got those gospel-y backing vocals, the biting country guitar and the horns don't fanfare, they burn. the trumpet even turns a bit mariachi at one stage, which is strangely fitting for the deep south prison setting.

Percy Sledge - Stop The World Tonight
There are so many songs I could post: I was going to put True Love Travels On A Gravel Road, then I thought I'd put his Try A Little Tenderness, or maybe Sudden Stop. But I've plumped for this slow, electric piano-led number with the same accusing horn section and reverby acoustic guitar. It gets me everytime, or as your boy Caulfield would say, it kills me. It really does.

Buy some Sledge, sucka/I recommend this/Atlantic/Rhino

Buy: James Carr/Gram Parsons/Frank Black/Aretha/Eels/Ryan Adams/Hole (if you must)


Robin said...

I LOVE Percy Sledge!! Thank you for the great post! I would love to hear more of his music!

Oh Simone said...

Thanks Robin; as per the Unwritten Law of blogging, I must recommend buying a CD. It's actually a very good idea, do so presently.