Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Brook Benton

The Brook Benton collection that I had my eye on for so long (and yes, eventually bought) was sitting in the “50s and 60s” section of Records On Wheels. It was an import, like so many others, and it had a respectable 16 of his 49 hits. It wasn’t that much, probably less than $20, but it cost considerably more than your typical top 40 album of the day would have, and I couldn’t justify the purchase for a long time. When I did buy there must have been an occasion, maybe my birthday, maybe one my kid’s birth days, maybe my mother’s birthday. Who knows.

Benton is a great example of the forgotten hitmaker. He had, as I say, 49 records in the top 100 between 1958 and 1971, most between 1959 and 1963, and altogether 24 of his records were in the top 40, 8 in the top 10. And how many people remember Brook Benton? And of those who do, how many remember anything but Rainy Night In Georgia? Growing up in the 60s, I did not hear Brook Benton, not as a flashback, not as current, not as anything – until, that is, Rainy Night became a sleeper hit in 1970, and when that song appeared, it felt like it came from an artist with no history.

Beyond that collection I was talking about, I pulled out 6 more songs from here and there, singles mostly, and the aforesaid Rainy Night which is available on umpteen Atlantic anthologies.

Brook Benton:

Fools Rush In – “Wise men never fall in love” declares lyricists Johnny Mercer in 1940 pop standard, a statement not likely borne out by history, but perhaps it’s the definition. Love makes fools of all of us. A hit for Benton in the winter of 1960 / 1961. Rick Nelson revived it yet again in 1963.
Kiddio – A come-on, plain and simple. Well I guess we could read it as a simple declaration of pure love. Sure. From the fall of 1960.
Hotel Happiness – Well we had Heartbreak Hotel of course, and Brook here assures us that he is checking out of Hotel Loneliness. What’s with all these hotels? Ok. It’s quite a metaphor he develops here. From the winter of 1963.
Still Waters Run Deep – Not The Four Tops song. This is actually the B side of Hotel Happiness, and it was a minor hit in its own right, just before the A side (that would be late 1962). It’s a song about communication, and the non-necessity thereof. There’s a sweetness in this that puts it just above the pack.
Shadrack – A top 40 Bible lesson. I’ve never understood the point of these things, but what do I know. From the winter of 1962.
Think Twice – The same subject matter as Kiddio, but coming from a far more reverent place. It’s not clear at all while the hesitation is necessary; is he afraid she will say no, or his he afraid that she will say yes? From the spring of 1961.
Frankie And Johnny – And old old song of an old old story. A hit for Sam Cooke and for Elvis as well. It’s a routine rendition. From the fall of 1961.
A Rockin Good Way – Ol’ Brook lets loose a bit here, in a duet with Dinah Washington, who shows off her R & B side to advantage. From the summer of 1960.
Hit Record – A recipe. I prefer King Curtis doing Memphis Soul Stew. This has a bit of tongue-in-cheek that actually reminds me a bit of Disco’s In The Garbage by Brother Jake & The Incinerators, which nobody who wasn’t from Winnipeg would remember. Hit Record wasn’t much of a hit record; it only reached Billboard at # 45 in the spring of 1962.
The Boll Weevil Song – I have a version of this by Eddie Cochran. Cotton growing was close to the heart of many southerners, black and white, and this infestation seems to have been the worst threat. How many songs, after all, are about insects, and about crop failure? This was actually Benton’s highest placing single; it reached #2. That was in the summer of 1961.
Revenge – It is what love is about sometimes, isn’t it? From the winter of 1961 / 1962.
Endlessly – The idea that love goes on forever is a popular one. From the summer of 1959.
Lie To Me – Why, asks my daughter who is sitting nearby, would someone want someone else to lie to him. The truth is too difficult to hear I suggest. Well, she says, he ought to be stronger. Perhaps he ought. From the fall of 1962.
It’s Just A Matter Of Time – Always is, eh? Not his first hit exactly, but the one that kicked off his career in the spring of 1959.
Walk On The Wild Side – A hit in the winter of 1962 and a hit again for Jimmy Smith a few months later. Not the Lou Reed song. Very preachy, this, judgmental, one may say, not given to respecting the life choices of others. But hey, it’s only a pop song after all.
Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes) – Another track with Dinah Washington, and another swinger. She should have sang with him more often. Not to be confused with You’ve Got What It Takes by Marv Johnson. From the winter of 1960.
So Close – So out of reach, sang Solomon Burke and a million others, in a similar kind of thing. Close to my arms, sang Brook, and far from my heart. Close to my arms, that’s not bad already. From the summer of 1959, the B side of Endlessly.
The Same One – I’m the same one, he sings, that you kicked out. I’m coming back. Doesn’t sound good to me. She’ll just kick him out again. From the fall of 1960, the B side of Kiddio.
For My Baby – The B side of Think Twice, from the winter of 1961.
My True Confession – It takes guts to face up to less-than-ideal conduct, but our hero seems just a bit too eager to tell us of his misdeeds. He did not, it seems, comport himself with the appropriate degree of integrity. So he tells his story, using the magazine metaphor to hang it on. From the summer of 1963.
Two Tickets To Paradise – Didn’t Eddie Rabbit do something like this? Meanwhile something’s going on here, Brook actually gets excited. From the fall of 1963.
Rainy Night In Georgia – Easily his best known song when all the smoke clears, and the odd thing is that his sound is totally updated but it’s still not all that different. The song, written by Tony Joe White (Polk Salad Annie) perfectly captures the ambience of loneliness, Benton singing with his usual straight style, proclaiming “I feel fine” with that tone that tells you that he feels anything but. From the winter of 1970.

No comments:

Locations of visitors to this page