Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Various Artists - Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974 (1991)


BOX SET MONTH (MAY, 2015)

8 CDs, 203 tracks documenting the evolution of R&B as evidenced on the seminal Atlantic label.  Fantastic booklet included with biographies of every artist and documentation of every recording session represented here.  When originally released back in the mid '80s on vinyl and cassette, I had a copy of the most excellent Volume 6 on cassette. I waffled for many years about buying this full set, but I'm glad I finally pulled the trigger.  Essential.

I like the early volumes good enough, but for me, things really start cooking in the later volumes.

VOLUME ONE
26 tracks, 76 minutes


To be honest, I was unfamiliar with many of the artists on this volume until purchasing this set. Mostly instrumental, these tracks are almost all based on the typical blues chord progression (not that there's anything wrong with that), but you can see the jazz and gospel influences beginning to take root and a standard instrumentation developing. Some of the lyrics are very suggestive; my parents were most likely forbidden to listen to this music when they were in jr. high and high school.

My favorite tracks are from Tiny Grimes, Stick McGhee, and The Clovers.


VOLUME TWO
26 tracks, 74 minutes


These tracks, from the early '50s, include more interesting chord progressions and the switch in emphasis from big band arrangements to sophisticated background vocal harmonies.  Lots of stride piano and sax solos - I love both.  There's also a subtle move from swing style to more of a backbeat.  Atlantic was beginning to see some chart success and, as a result, I had heard of many of these songs on oldies stations or other compilations before purchasing these discs.  Some are simply classics: Mess Around, Shake Rattle And Roll, Sh-Boom, I Got A Woman, to name a few.  While all the artists are worthy of mention, I'm going to single out The Drifters and Ray Charles simply because their music was popular yet kept the genre moving forward.


VOLUME THREE
28 tracks, 75 minutes


With this disc, we're given a healthy dose of love songs, Ray Charles, Leiber & Stoller, Joe Turner, and sax solos.  And that's fine with me.  There's also more electric guitar than previously heard in this set.  Also, songwriter Doc Pomus makes an appearance as well as the Cookies, which marks the first appearance of a female vocal group in the series. 

My favorite tracks are Flip Flop And Fly, Ruby Baby, Devil Or Angel, Hallelujah I Love Her So, Jim Dandy, and Lonely Avenue.


VOLUME FOUR
27 tracks, 73 minutes


Most of these tracks come from Atlantic's biggest artists of the time, The Coasters, The Drifters, Ben E. King, and, of course, Ray Charles. We also are treated to the first appearances of Carla Thomas and the "King of Rock 'n' Soul" Solomon Burke.  Not as many sax solos and chord progressions are slowly leaving the blues based I-IV-I-V-IV-I to the classic RnR progression I-vi-IV-V-I. 

Favorites include The Night Time Is The Right Time, Charlie Brown, What'd I Say, This Magic Moment, Spanish Harlem, and Gee Whiz.

And I sing the opening lines of Yakety Yak every Monday morning as I roll my trash to the curb.


VOLUME FIVE
27 tracks, 74 minutes


And as we move into the latter half of this set, we reach the STAX stuff and I'm in heaven. So much good stuff here. Now we get to hear Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MG's, The Mar-Keys, Joe Tex, and Rufus Thomas.  All this plus a Beatles cover!


VOLUME SIX
27 tracks, 75 minutes


The last three discs of this set make it one of the best box sets available.  All of this good southern soul music in one spot.  Not enough superlatives to go around.  With the exception of the underrated Cool Jerk by The Capitols and Solomon Burke's epic shuffle Got To Get You Off My Mind, every track on this disc was recorded in the American South, mostly in Memphis and Muscle Shoals.  Near the end of the disc, The Queen Of Soul makes her first appearance before rightfully dominating the remainder of the box.  Let the singalong/dance-off commence.  I'll consider this the best disc in the set, but that designation might only last until I put in the next disc.

I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to recommend Peter Guralnick's book, Sweet Soul Music, a fantastic history of '60s soul music.


VOLUME SEVEN
22 tracks, 74 minutes


See above. 

If you wanted a primer on '60 R&B, you could do worse that volumes 6 & 7 of this set.  It certainly worked for me 30 years ago.


VOLUME EIGHT
20 tracks, 74 minutes


And the set finishes strong as it slowly moves from funky R&B to smoother, slower soul music.  So this volume differs a bit from the previous seven, but there's plenty to like about it.

Favorites include Groove Me, Rock Steady, Where Is The Love, Feel Like Makin' Love, all The Spinners' tunes, and one of the all-time great slow jams, Love Won't Let Me Wait.

From the liner notes.  Click to enlarge.



3 comments:

  1. My own glorious, on-going love affair with the classic R&B of Atlantic Records began in the backseat of my Dad's Chevelle where I was riding one sunny Texas day in 1973 or 1974. He switched from the radio to the eight track deck and I gave him a barely audible sigh of disapproval. He pushed a tape into the deck and I listened, curiously. As I watched him slap time on the steering wheel from my backseat vantage point, I continued to listen hoping a song I knew would come on so I could slap time on the seat or my sister sitting beside me, making little sister noises. Five or six songs in, the easy rhythm of "Shake Rattle & Roll" came on and I was slapping the seat like crazy.

    That tape was Atlantic's The Soul Years 1948-1973, part of the label's 25th Anniversary celebration. The label was pink and silver and unlike any label I had ever seen on one of his many eight track tapes.

    By Atlantic's 35th Anniversary, I had my own copy of the vinyl double album, with it's elaborate fold-out gatefold. The Blues Brothers, for better or worse, had only increased my appreciation for the source material.

    Then in 1985, Atlantic issued a series of double albums as part of the Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 box set. As soon as they were available through Columbia House sometime in 1986, I ordered them all at once, my most expensive order ever. They arrived in seven different boxes on seven different days which was kind of weird I thought at the time. I treasured those albums and in addition to to dubbing a cassette copy of each, I made my own two cassette Billy's Picks version. When I had to liquidate my music collection to pay for medical bills, those seven albums were among the first to go but fortunately i had pulled back The Soul Years album and still have it to this day.

    Bought the CD box set in 1993 or 1994 and noticed a few changes (more songs, different takes) from the vinyl. Still think it is one of the top three boxed sets of all-time along with The Complete Stax Volt Singles 1959-1968 and The Complete Motown Singles 1959-1972.

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    1. Though technically not boxed sets, I would be remiss If I did not mention Rhino's Soul Hits Of The 70s Didn't It Blow Your Mind This Time twenty disc series and two series from Bear Family: Blowin' The Fuse 1945-1960 and Sweet Soul Music 1961-1975. Both series used a single disc to cover each year for a total of thirty-one discs, many of which run over the usual 80 minute standard. There is a downside though - In addition to a rather narrow dynamic range, a lot of the mastering is too bright in lossless quality for my tastes but a high quality bit rate compression actually dulls the sound just enough to make it more palatable.

      Other legit boxed sets worth a soul music fan's time and money are:
      Beg, Scream & Shout! The Big Ol' Box of 60's Soul;
      Soul Spectacular! The Greatest Soul Hits Of All Time and
      Can You Dig It? The 70's Soul Experience.
      All are on Rhino label, natch.

      Lastly, Time-Life's Rhythm & Blues collection covered 1954-1976, and was later reissued as Solid Gold Soul and covered up through the Eighties. All in all, Time-Life has offered nearly a dozen soul music collections, most recently a nine disc Soul of the '60s collection and a ten disc Soul of the '70s collection.

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  2. Discs Six, Seven and Eight can stand on their own merits but taken together, they provide over five hours of some of the greatest music ever committed to tape bar none. It is some crazy cosmic coincidence and sweet serendipity that my own personal favorite decade in music (1974-1983) begins just as this incredible boxed set ends in 1974.

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