Solomon Burke - If You Need Me
Sep 9, 2020
The History of the Albums – n° 220

It's no secret that the beginning of the 60's was marked by the strong domination of soul in the charts, becoming one of the main inspirations for the Pop-rock artists/groups of this decade. When we finally analyze the number of brilliant artists and the huge amount of cult singles from this period, we quickly understand why. In previous episodes, I have often cited Ray Charles, Clyde McPhatters, James Brown, Sam Cookes, Aretha Franklin and Etta James as the pioneers of soul. In reality, although this is totally the case, in the end they were the logical choices given their legacy and their great popularity. Yet there are several schools and opinions that oppose this, including those who think that true "Soul" only appeared in the 1960s. It's debatable, especially when you listen to Ray Charles' eponymous debut album for example. But there's one thing that almost everyone agrees on, and that is that "Soul" took its full form in the sixties, when the musical drifts and sub-styles appeared.

In the early sixties, therefore, several mutations can be observed according to the regions of America, even if sometimes they are close and similar. We often think systematically of the Motown trend (normally known as Detroit Soul), but it was still a little early at the time, we were beginning to see the beginnings of Marvin Gaye's Career, and the first classics of bands like Martha and The Vandellas, The Supremes or The Miracles, but I'm going too far. Not too far away, Chicago Soul was beginning to emerge. However, in reality it was mostly in the south of the United States that the hard core was really present. We find Southern Soul, including its sub-derivatives Memphis Soul or New Orleans Soul. Believe me it is far from being a real puzzle. Of course each one has its own particularities, although it is all connected on several aspects. According to many historians, Soul would have started to exist as such thanks to 2 important factors: the first one is the marketing of the Atlantic Records label which played a major role and especially when listeners and professionals used the word "Soul" as a qualifying adjective. And this very first time was for Solomon Burke, a very underestimated singer/songwriter with an absolutely incredible voice, when he released Cry To Me in 1961.

Born in Philadelphia, Solomon Burke is therefore a major player in the development and recognition of "Soul", despite being very criminally underestimated. Unlike many Soul pioneers, Solomon Burke focused on a much more cultural soul rather than the pop aspect. This didn't stop him from being commercially successful, but it certainly cost him the reputation of being "underestimated". Growing up in a religious family, which he adapted to before becoming a pastor at the age of 12. Influenced by gospel and blues, he hosted a religious and musical radio show. Solomon Burke quickly built his character on the almighty, yet he was not the ego-driven type. On the contrary, coming from a rather poor and numerous family, he took on a series of odd jobs to support himself. It was in high school that he formed his first gospel group. At that time it was common to organize contests as it exists today in other forms, especially on TV to propel the career of an artist who came out the winner. Freshly separated from his group because of divergence, he won as a soloist. Until you were about to tell me, it's a beautiful story, however it's even crazier if I tell you that he was still a teenager, but it remains an unsolved mystery because there is a debate about his date of birth between 1936 and 1940, which would make him 15 or 19 years old at that time.

The reason why I'm going into his life and career is because I find it so fascinating how his artists, who have become references today, have made their mark on music history. If I only told you that he was a gospel fan and that he managed to sign in 1955 with his first label Appollo Records, you probably wouldn't have paid attention to these details. But the fact that he was a father when he was under the age of majority, and that he managed to get his deal through a gospel contest he won in a church wearing a superhero cape, that's a little more exciting. In short, as you can see, he really started his career when he signed with Appollo. Although he released some very interesting and rather avant-garde singles for the time, he was not really successful. After several problems, especially with his manager, he left the label. It must be said that Solomon Burke had a difficult character and an impressive charisma. After a few years of galleys, it is finally these 2 qualities/defects which allowed him to obtain a deal with Atlantic Records in 1960, which sought to fill the departure of Ray Charles. His style will then move towards something more raw and more identity, it is at this moment that musically his style will move towards Southern Soul and sometimes Country Soul. He finally finds success thanks to Just Out of Reach in 1961, then the consecration in 1962 with Cry To Me.

After several successes, in 1963 Solomon Burke was not a big star like some of his peers, but he was well established. When he and his label decided to work on the album If You Need Me, it wasn't actually his first, because Apollo Records had beaten them to it the year before with an eponymous album. Believe me, you're not missing anything. Unfortunately deprived of Cry To Me, the album If You Need Me gathers a handful of absolutely delicious singles and B-sides like Words, I'm Hanging Up My Heart, If You Need Me or Cant' Nobody Love You on a very usual 12 tracks format. Although the next album will cover missing singles from before and after, which is often cited as a logical reference to have in his discography, the 1963 album If You Need Me represents for me the most coherent project but also the one that shows how strong he was at this period of 1962-1963. As a proof it is also an album that can be listened to very well in one go despite some mono/stereo production problems and some forgettable tracks. What is fascinating about Solomon Burke, apart from his completely divine voice, is the incredibly lively and seductive atmosphere that comes out of it. It's as if you have the power and soul of gospel, which mixes with the melancholy and consciousness of the Blues, with a few rock touches from the pure and hard rhythm and blues. One thing is for sure, Solomon Burke had a considerable influence on his peers, including James Brown and much later with legends like Al Green, making him an inevitable reference of the musical genre.
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