Week 25: Soul Giants
This week we have two soul giants who came together in 1971 to record a great (and greatly ignored) soul record. Gene Chandler and Jerry Butler’s “One & One”.
Chicagoan Gene Chandler is known for different hits depending on who you talk to. Rock fans know him almost solely for his 1962 doo-wop classic “Duke of Earl.” Soul fans remember him for his R&B hits such as “Groovy Situation” and “Daddy’s Home”. Northern Soul audiences love him for classics like “Don’t Have To Be Lying Babe” and “After The Laughter.” And finally, disco fans will cite their favorite Chandler tracks “Get Down” and the funky “When You’re #1.” All of these songs can be checked out on Youtube. Let it never be said that Gene Chandler was lazy. Yet, even with such a varied body of work and success with Mel & Tim on his own Bamboo label, Gene never reached the level of solo success that his peers Curtis Mayfield (who penned many of his tunes) and Jerry Butler achieved. It’s really a shame because he has a terrific catalog and I strongly suggest that all of you seek out his soulful output.
Although Jerry Butler was born in Sunflower, Mississippi, he moved to Chicago at the age of three. So I think it would be fairer to call him a Chicagoan. Butler’s career spans four decades(!), from the 50′s to the 90′s. Not many musical acts can make that claim. Recording more than 50 albums, he was given the title “The Iceman,” having one of the most distinguishable soul voices in all of music (much like Billy Ekstine). He and Curtis Mayfield met in church choir and formed a musical partnership and friendship that would last until Mayfield’s death in 1999. Jerry was the original leader of The Impressions ( he was Curtis’ senior by 3 years) before amicably splitting from them in 1958, the year his timeless classic “Your Precious Love” became a hit. By the way, he wrote that song at the tender age of 16. Just a few of Butler’s hits include the classic “Only The Strong Survive”, “Ain’t Understanding Mellow” (duet with Brenda Lee Eager), “Let It Be Me” “Make It Easy On Yourself” and one of my favorites, the breezy “I’m Just Thinking About Coolin’ Out.”
So with two soul giants such as these, you would think that that alone would guarantee a hit record. Alas it was not to be. As AMG’s Andrew Hamilton explains it:
Gene Chandler achieved a million in sales with Mel & Tim (“Backfield In Motion”) on his Bamboo label and some minor R&B hits with Simtec & Wylie on his Mr. Chand setup. Both acts were unknown until Chandler’s discovery, yet they made the charts. What would two-name artists do?
That prospect energized this project, which at first glance appeared to be an LP of Simtec & Wylie and Mel & Tim leftovers. (“Mail Call Time” and “I Found That I Was Wrong” appeared on Mel & Tim’s Good Guys Only Win in the Movies album.) But actually, they all pooled their talent to come up with material and production ideas to make Gene & Jerry: One and One a success.
However, other than “Ten and Two (Take This Woman off the Corner),” a minor R&B hit about prostitution and johns, nothing else scored; its subject matter was out of character for Butler anyway. Another single, “You Just Can’t Win (By Making the Same Mistakes),” didn’t bust a grape. Ironically, both Simtec & Wylie and Mel & Tim had bigger hits on smaller labels – go figure. Despite its dismal sales, this is a good album of uptown male duets by two of soul’s greatest.
Now the odd thing about this assessment by AMG, is that I remember hearing “You Just Can’t Win” on New York Black radio stations fairly regularly for awhile at least. So maybe certain songs hit regionally but not nationally, where it counts to be considered a “hit.” It’s a shame because this is some great music that deserved a better fate than it got.
“You Just Can’t Win” is tied with “10 & 2″ as my favorite track on this album. I play it once and I have to play it “over and over again” as the song goes. I love Jerry’s punctuating of the chorus with “hallelujah!” Another fave is the second track “The World Keeps Changing,” a smooth track that would have been a great track for radio to play after Obama’s victory. This track made me realize how important Jerry Butler’s voice is. His sound is so engaging and distinct that it draws me in and makes me pay attention to the words. I see why he is so loved by true soul music fans. “The Iceman” indeed.
I’m surprised no one has sampled the intro of “Sho Is Groovin.” Great bassline. “One Hand Washes The Other” is a great ballad. The drum rolls and horns are terrific. Gene’s vocals ring out clear and strong on this track, with great emotion. Too bad the song is so short. “I Found That I was Wrong” and “Mail Call Time” are nice but totally unnecessary, as they do not improve upon Mel & Tim’s much better versions. They’d have done better to give them two more original tunes.
The Motown influence comes out strong with the last two tracks. “Everybody’s Waitin” made me simultaneously think of “Cloud Nine”, “Get Ready”, and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”. And then there’s “10 & 2 (Take This Woman Off The Corner)”. The Temptations had just struck gold the year before with “Ball of Confusion”. With it’s fuzzy guitar intro, tambourine, funky bassline, urgent phrasing and social message about prostitutes, they might as well have called this “Ball of Confusion II.” Even with the similarities though, it is still a funky ass track.
There has been no reissue of this album, but you can find several copies of the original vinyl and some of the singles off the album right here!
Now, before you head for the music – check out “You Just Can’t Win” (sampled by Dilla for “Glazed” on his “Donuts” album from 2006)!
(Ps. Almost forgot…after listening to the “One & One” album, why not check out Vincent The Soul Chef’s great contrib over at My Favourite Sound – “Jerry Butler introducing The Ice Man’s Band”!)