Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made" Book Review

In my online book searches, I found a 1999 release that concisely ranks (someone’s opinion of) "the greatest singles of all time." From what I scanned, I personally wouldn’t consider this an end-all, be-all list, nor would I say that the songs are in any definitive order. But we are reminded that the author, as if due some degree of veneration, was Creem co-founder and Rolling Stone magazine associate/contributing editor Dave Marsh. Deemed a “veteran Rock critic,” he was paid to sit back and dispense his opinion about music. Aren’t critics mostly negative... hence the word “critic?” Hmmm… I’d much rather just enjoy the music – which is what it was meant for.

The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (Author: Dave Marsh – 1999)

The book summary describes it as a “polemic” guide. In my lifetime of writing, I can’t recall having ever bumped into the term “polemic.” I wasn't sure if that meant that I needed to put on gloves or make sure my shots were up-to-date before reading it. But, a quick search tells me it pertains to “an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another.” OK; I’ll accept that. The book is an interesting read (not to be confused with the term “good”) in most cases, barring some key facts that Ol’ Dave botched (or, perhaps he even vitiated). For a “veteran Rock critic” with ties to Creem and Rolling Stone, you’d think he’d have boundless facts at his disposal – and a stable of editors double-checking them.

For instance, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” was recorded at Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios at 603 East Avalon Avenue on January 24, 1967 (with overdubs in New York) – and NOT at Stax as our pal Dave states on page 336. Perhaps he’s never heard about the infamous post-session debacle with Ted White at the hotel later that evening. But what truly matters is what was accomplished at the session – which included Chips Moman, Dan Penn (co-writers of the aforementioned song), Tommy Cogbill, Gene Chrisman, Spooner Oldham and other Muscle Shoals regulars (and some not-so-regulars).

Seems everyone on the planet – except for Dave – has read the many different variations of what actually happened that night at the Downtowner Motor Inn in Florence, which was truly an unfortunate event. But what really matters is the great music that came from that magical session with the “young queen,” as she was described. It is electrifying to read what the players have shared about their angle on the amazing vibe in the studio that day (and how they were in awe of Aretha) – as well as their utter confusion when they returned the following day to find that the session was cancelled. Dan, Chips, Spooner, Tommy and Aretha were still at the studios working on “Do Right Woman” when the fracas went down, one account states.

The other song from Aretha’s all too brief visit to Muscle Shoals was "I Never Loved a Man" – Franklin's first million-seller, which hit #1 on the R&B charts (on Aretha’s 25th birthday on March 25) and #9 on the Pop charts. It’s funny to hear Dan Penn talk about writing the bridge for the hit’s soulful flip side, “Do Right Woman,” in the closet with Jerry Wexler and Aretha sticking their heads in to contribute lines.

I just have to add this observation… At about the 2:02 mark on “Never Loved a Man,” there is a nasty, funky little guitar that comes in and weaves its way through the remainder of the song. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewound the song to that point just to hear it. Hmmm… Who IS that guitar player? Could it be the guitarist Wexler described as the best, most underappreciated guitarist in the South?

The book summary states:

“In The Heart of Rock & Soul, veteran Rock critic Dave Marsh offers a polemical guide to the 1,001 greatest rock and soul singles ever made, encompassing Rock, Metal, R&B, Disco, Folk, Funk, Punk, Reggae, Rap, Soul, Country and any other music that has made a difference over the past 50 years. The illuminating essays – complete with music history, social commentary, and personal evaluations – double as a mini-history of popular music. Here you will find singles by artists as wide-ranging as Aretha Franklin, George Jones, Roy Orbison, the Sex Pistols, Madonna, Run DMC, and Van Halen. Featuring a new preface that covers the hits – and misses – of the '90s, The Heart of Rock & Soul remains as provocative, passionate, and timeless as the music it praises.”

Below are a few synopses culled from Dave’s book about songs that bear the Chips Moman and/or the American Studios team’s touch. Not only did the author get some pretty rudimentary facts garbled, but also perhaps in sensing a need to live up to his title as “critic,” he’s just unnecessarily scathing on some accounts.

Making Love (At the Dark End of the Street) – Clarence Carter – Page 44
Written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn
However, the four-minute spoken intro added to the five-minute song was by Clarence Carter himself (during which he reminds those of us who’ve never sat down to think about it that hosses and cows and mosquitoes like to make love too… And it don’t make no dif’rence where they at when they get ready!). This pontification and philosophizing about making love was definitely a Carter trademark – and so much a part of why we love him.

Soul Deep – Box Tops – Page 236
Produced by Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill; written by Wayne Carson Thompson; horn arrangements by Glenn Spreen and Mike Leech
I thoroughly disagree with Dave’s observations about Alex Chilton. Here, he seems to come off as the self-appointed 'Lord of Rock Critics' with his seething, salty negativity. And contrary to what the author says, I’d bet the producers would give much more credit to the young singer and the musicians who made this song.

Dark End of the Street – James Carr – Page 268
Written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn

Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley – Page 280
Produced by Chips Moman; written by Mark James

Do Right Woman, Do Right Man – Aretha Franklin – Page 336
Written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman

The book essentially gives no credit to the session musicians. But then, isn’t that pretty much par for the course? I like what Garth Brooks said at the inaugural Musicians Hall of Fame induction: "There's very few records an artist makes, but there are a hell of a lot of records MUSICIANS make."

It’s past time for us to broaden our focus when it comes to music – and to properly recognize the talented folks who write the lyrics, do the arrangements and play the instruments. In this American Idol/assembly line/pre-fab garbage age we’re in, people amazingly forget that THESE UNSUNG HEROES ARE THE FOLKS WHO MAKE THE MUSIC!


  1. I made a section on my website about the book.

    Lex Jansen

  2. Life goes on...enjoy!