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Daily Record 1/7/11: Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974–Vol. 4, 1958-1962 (1985)

In 1950s, 1960s, Atlantic Records, compilations, Great Record Stores, Ray Charles, record collecting, records, rhythm and blues, Rich's House of Vinyl, soul on January 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm

A snowy winter morning is the “right time” (as Ray Charles noted) to re-experience a bit of the rhythm and blues history of Atlantic Records. But, really, is there ever really a wrong time to listen to classic songs by LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, the Coasters, the Drifters and others? That would clearly be a rhetorical question.

My musical experiences in the 1980s were many and varied and often about my discovery of the new. R.E.M. The Replacements. The Minutemen. Hoodoo Gurus. Prefab Sprout, and so  many others. If current artists were releasing interesting music, I wanted to hear it.

At the same time though, the old was often “new” to me as well, and I was busy learning about it. A great example of this is the seven-volume Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974 series of double albums released in 1985. This collection, which I picked up one or two volumes at a time down at the classic Sound of Market record store in Center City Philadelphia. The entire collection, which  I subsequently reviewed for the college newspaper, served as my formal education in the history of R&B during the classic period at Atlantic Records. 

I’m not sure why Atlantic chose 1985 to anthologize this stuff, but it worked for me. I was, of course, familiar with individual songs that are highlighted on Volume 4: for example, the legendary “What I’d Say,” by Ray Charles; Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me;” and, of course, “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the MG’s. However, hearing all these songs in context with each other–and in the broader context of the entire seven-volume collection, which spanned from the end of the big band era to the height of Roberta Flack’s popularity, was a revelation to me.

Volume 4 opens with LaVern Baker’s “I Cried a Tear,” and ends, 28 chronologically-arranged tracks later, with “Green Onions.” The chronology is one of the great assets of the overall Atlantic collection, in that it provides a nice trajectory for both the careers of artists at Atlantic, as well as the ways that the music known at the time as “rhythm and blues” changed over the years. After all, “I Cried a Tear” sounds nothing like “Green Onions,” but both are considered R&B classics.

While the single best musical moment on Volume 4 probably belongs to Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say (Parts 1 &2),” (and, as “single best musical moments” on an album go, “What I’d Say” would be hard to beat, on any album)  the Drifters and the Coasters each deliver several classic songs (mental note to self: make sure the kids hear “Charlie Brown” and “Along Came Jones”). Ending the volume with 1962’s “Green Onions” provides a tantalizing hint of where Stax was going to take Atlantic through much of the rest of the ’60s.

The Atlantic Rhythm and Blues series was crucial to my musical education, and Volume 4 is a brilliant example of why I learned so much from the series. It gave me leads to follow up on (I’ve since delved much deeper into the musical genius that is Ray Charles, for example, as well as the music made at Stax). In fact, I’m still following up: the recently departed Solomon Burke is represented by two songs here (“Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)” and “Cry to Me”), but it’s only since Burke’s late career revival of the last decade that I began to explore  his work a little bit more.

So if you’re in need of a little education, Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974–Vol. 4, 1958-1962 is a fine place to start. I’m warning you now though, it’s going to whet your appetite for the volumes that both precede and follow it.

[P.S. I am now participating in the WordPress “Post-A-Day2011” program! The goal is simply to post an entry a day all year. This blog sort of lends itself to that…]

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