Sunday, August 7, 2011

Carla Thomas

“You are near the end of your life!” So said my 24 year old co-worker, in all innocence. Thanks.

Well I hope he’s wrong. But to him I guess I’m old. And the thing about getting older is that there are parts of our personality that change, that mature, that get wiser. But the trick is to balance that with a perpetual sense of youthfulness where such is needed; we don’t want to become old fogies. We want to retain a sense of adventure, a sense of delight, a sense of humour, those characteristics that some of us lose as we get older, and others of us work very hard to maintain.

Carla Thomas was a soul singer who had 15 hits on the pop charts (20 if you count duets) between 1961 and 1969. She recorded for Stax and had an incredibly powerful voice the tone of which sat in a kind of odd place between the adolescent fantasy of Cathy Jean (of the Roommates) or Kathy Young (of the Innocents) and, say, Aretha or Etta James – not quite adolescent, not quite adult. It’s that odd emotional tone of hers that may have prevented her from being a bigger star; only four of the aforesaid 20 hits made the top 40, and 2 of those were with Otis Redding.

This collection consists of all the Carla Thomas tracks, and all the Carla & Rufus tracks, from The Complete Singles 1959 - 1968, a collection of recordings released on Stax – Volt, which is odd because not all her hits are here. Some of the tracks included were actually released on Atlantic. I can’t make head or tail of it.

Rufus, by the way, was her father, Rufus Thomas, who was a Memphis DJ and recording artist, best known perhaps for Walking The Dog and Do The Funky Chicken.

“How old are you?” he asked after considering the matter. “54” I told him and he, well, he conceded. “That’s not too old.” Thanks. I’ll just go listen to some Carla Thomas now…

Carla Thomas:

‘Cause I Love You – Rufus & Carla. Just some sporting give and take to get her career off the ground. This is more Rufus than Carla and it’s all she can do to keep up with her rough sounding father.
Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes) – Her consummate performance. She puts on that adolescent fantasy voice and runs with it, and this is the perfect vehicle. Nobody, of course, could stand on the pedestal she creates here (“he has everything a girl could want;” now what would that be exactly?) but so what? We are entitled to this type of thing once in a while, so long as we don’t make a lifetime habit of it. Her first and biggest record, from the spring of 1961.
A Love Of My Own – Gee Whiz redux, but there’s no guy. Trying to put yourself in the context of the world, mountains and streams and that kind of thing. It’s a bit of a stretch; maybe that’s why it wasn’t a hit.
(Mama, Mama) Wish Me Good Luck – “Remember the boy back home?” she asks, “All he ever did was make me moan.” Well, that could mean all sorts of things. But it’s not good in Carla’s world. Put this in that list of Mother-daughter songs (Mama Said etc.) where the bond is a healthy one.
I Kinda Think He Does – Carla’s ballad style applied to a something that’s somewhere between infatuation and wishful thinking, with just a pinch of denial.
I’ll Bring It On Home To You – An answer song to Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me, in which our heroine dismisses his declarations of self-sacrifice as being entirely unnecessary. From the fall of 1962.
What A Fool I’ve Been – She wants her man back and she’s willing to eat dust. Not clear here exactly what makes her a “fool;” we suspect nothing. From the summer of 1963.
Gee Whiz It’s Christmas – Stax’s contribution to the season. Carla writes a letter to her loved one. All in the spirit.
That’s Really Some Good – Rufus & Carla. More of that sniping. She really came into her own when she went head to head with Otis Redding. From the summer of 1964.
Night Time Is The Right Time – Rufus & Carla. Up to now I’ve held my peace, but the father and daughter team getting down and dirty, well, there’s something not right. A cover of the Ray Charles song. From the summer of 1964, the flip of That’s Really Some Good.
How Do You Quit (Someone You Love) – It looks easy from the outside. But walking away isn’t just about the person from whom you are walking away. It’s about leaving your life, your routine, your place of comfort (emotional if not physical), your future, your dreams. The whole shape of your life changes radically. And here she is into that zone where reality is too hard to deal with, even though his infidelity is staring her in the face. There is too much truth in this for 3 minute R&B song that didn’t even make the pop charts…
Stop! Look What You’re Doin’ – It was The Supremes that took this concept to number 1. Carla’s version didn’t get past 92, but it was the more real of the two. From the summer of 1965.
When You Move You Lose – Rufus & Carla. Finally Carla gets the upper hand. And we finally here that Stax funk kickin’ in…
Comfort Me – So many songs about thrills, and excitement, and the rush of new love, but here we have another side of the equation.
Birds And Bees – Rufus & Carla. A cover a The Birds And The Bees by Jewel Akens.
Let Me Be Good To You – It’s not about what you can do for me, it’s about what I can do for you. From the spring of 1966.
B-A-B-Y – This wasn’t among Carla’s most powerful performances, but for some reason this was her mid-60s hit. From the fall of 1966.
The Complete SinglesAll I Want For Christmas Is You – An old theme, and the style his lets up on the Stax sound that’s come to dominate her records, but it doesn’t quite scale back as far as her early 60s ballads. And I don’t know how the guy could resist… http
Something Good (Is Going To Happen To You) – This song about good karma was a hit in the winter of 1967.
When Tomorrow Comes – An update of Will You Love Me Tomorrow. I think that the protagonists are a bit older. A minor hit in the spring of 1967.
I’ll Always Have Faith In You – The secularization of pure gospel. From the summer of 1967.
Pick Up The Pieces – How much damage can you do before the relationship becomes unsalvageable? From the summer of 1967. Not the AWB song.
A Dime A Dozen – “Don’t hold my love cheap.” A song about self-esteem.

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