Monday, October 5, 2009

Jackie Wilson

This is the story of The Jackie Wilson Story.

The Jackie Wilson Story was originally a double album, 25 of Jackie Wilson’s “greatest hits,” spanning the years 1957 – 1972. Wilson had 54 songs, though, in the top 100, so there were obviously many missing songs, and some of the 25 were not taken from his top 54 100 hits, so that left even more missing songs. (You following this?)

The Jackie Wilson Story volume 2 partly corrected this, by adding 8 more songs to the mix (one was a long medley recorded live at the Copa). Out of those 8, 3 had been hits. So we are left with quite a few missing songs, the most serious of which is My Empty Arms, which was a top 10 hit in the winter of 1961.

None of this means much to me, really, because the only Jackie Wilson song I ever heard growing up was (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher. And out of the entire morass of what was Jackie Wilson’s career, that’s the song that seems to have survived. I guess you just never know when you’re gonna nail it…

Jackie Wilson:

Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You Ever Want To Meet) – Jackie Wilson’s first hit was not only Jackie Wilson’s first hit, but it was also Berry Gordy’s debut, which happened to be in the role of songwriter. The lyrics on paper are silly. And a straight reading of this would be inane. But Wilson, on his first solo release, so profoundly transcends the actual words and tune that he creates his own language. The only other performer that comes to mind who even did anything close is Van Morrison, who fittingly sang his own tribute to Wilson in 1974. And for the record, I disagree with the pundits who say the arrangement is overblown; it isn’t, the horns swing; they’re the perfect counterpoint, challenging Wilson and bringing the whole experience to a rousing climax. From the fall of 1957.
To Be Loved – Strings replace the horns on this, an overwrought, ridiculous, melodramatic ballad that Wilson brings off with perfection that makes it all make perfect sense. From the spring of 1958.
Lonely Teardrops – More melodrama. Wilson’s voice is nothing short of amazing. It’s the vocal chorus here that will garner the most complaints, but not from me. From the winter of 1959.
That’s Why (I Love You So) – From the fall of 1959.
I’ll Be Satisfied – The anti-Mick Jagger song. From the summer of 1959.
Talk That Talk – A little bit of female worship never hurt anyone. From the winter of 1960.
Baby Workout – A dance song. There isn’t much of a melody to this, but it works somehow. From the spring of 1963.
Please Tell Me Why – Not the Dave Clark Five song, and not to be confused with You Tell Me Why by The Beau Brummels, or with about 100 songs called Tell Me Why. A bit of sobbing going on here. From the spring of 1961.
Doggin’ Around – About a relationship that’s not quite what it should be. From the spring of 1960. The B side of Night.
Passin’ Through – Jackie sings a blues, a parable for the transience of life and all that’s in it…
A Woman, A Lover, A Friend – Not to be confused with Friend, Lover, Woman, Wife by O. C. Smith, or My Woman My Woman My Wife by Marty Robbins. A song of longing. From the summer of 1960.
You Don’t Know What It Means – From the fall of 1961. The A side of this was Years From Now, which was a bigger hit, but I don’t have it. Extraodinary vocals on this.
Night – Wilson’s highest placing single, on which he does his operatic best, but loses some soul in the process. From the spring of 1960.
The Tear Of The Year – This sad tale of losing a loved one to someone else was a hit in the winter of 1961; its A side was My Empty Arms, a much bigger hit that Brunswick decided was not worth including on The Jackie Wilson Story.
You Better Know It – He does his best but all the life he puts into this doesn’t quite reach the heights of his best work; ultimately it’s the female chorus that defeats him here. The implosion of Reet Petite. From the fall of 1959.
I Just Can’t Help It – There’s a male chorus on this, and it works better. That chorus of “can’t help it, just can’t help it” sounds very familiar. From the summer of 1962.
I’m Coming On Back To You – From the summer of 1961.
Danny Boy – Danny Boy with blue notes. From the winter of 1965.
I Get The Sweetest Feeling – From the fall of 1968, this was part of Jackie Wilson’s latter career, his second wind, so to speak. The sound is definitely updated, the production is toned down, and the result is very appealing.
Tears Will Tell All – An album track from 1966.
Nothin’ But The Blues – Another LP track, this one from 1960.
Shake! Shake! Shake! – A jazzy dance song, not to be confused with Shake by Sam Cooke. From the summer of 1963.
Georgia On My Mind – Written by Hoagy Carmichael and given new life by Ray Charles. And so here is Jackie Wilson taking on the great brother Ray. An LP track from 1965.
Alone At Last – Such drama on this romantic ballad, similar to Night. His voice is great, but this is out of his comfort zone; he sound like a musical tourist. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Love Them All (Medley) Part 2 – (a) Danny Boy (b) Doggin’ Around (c) To Be Loved (d) Lonely Teardrops – A showstopper medley from his live album (at the Copa, no less), on which he traverses his range of styles: guitar, blues, violin.
I’ve Gotta Get Back – An LP track from 1965.
Am I The Man – The B Side of Alone At Last, more typical of his style. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Whispers (Gettin’ Louder) – Another latter day hit, this one from the winter of 1966 / 1967, the precursor to Higher And Higher.
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher – This record was the one-two punch that put Jackie Wilson back in the top 10 for the first time since 1963. Everything falls into place in the way that it hadn’t for Wilson for a long time, if ever. The arrangement swings, Wilson is confident, the pieces fit. The vindication of Jackie Wilson. From the fall of 1967, catching the tail end of the summer of love. Chicago used this as aan encore on their live album in 1999.
No Pity (In The Naked City) – A strange song for Wilson. This takes him out of his usual territory. Musically though, it’s fairly typical of what he was up to in his fallow period between the 1963 and 1966. From the summer of 1965.
She’s Alright
You Got Me Walking – This was his last hit, coming as it did in the winter of 1972. This kind of picks up where Higher And Higher left off, and slower rhythm, but similar musical integrity.

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