Atlantic (Cotillion) Soul Sisters (and Soul Brothers…)

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Greetings all.I hope you all had a great holiday weekend. I apologize if you tuned in on Monday to discover that the blog had not been updated. I should have posted some kind of notice that I’d be slacking at the beach, instead of posting, but I figured the intersection of my disappearance and the holiday would cause the reader to reach the obvious conclusion.

I return to the figurative asteroid belt of the blogosphere with a couple of very tasty tracks for your perusal.

Despite the fact that I’ve been at this (i.e. filling the interwebs with writing about soul and funk) for around five years, my mailbox isn’t exactly overflowing with promotional swag. When things of that nature do find their way through yon mail slot, they are rarely worth writing about. In the face of my somewhat monolithic focus on vintage funk and soul, I often get CDs that wouldn’t qualify for consideration under even the most flexible definition of “funk and/or soul”.

However, recently I got a couple of excellent CDs that not only made sense stylistically, but were actually worth listening to. I’d even go as far as to say that were I flipping through the racks at the local dispensarie du disques, and encountered these CDs I may even have gone as far as to open my wallet in order to obtain them (but of course, having gotten them for free, I no longer have to do so. Essentially a very tiny perk in a relatively perk-free universe…).

The collections I speak of are ‘Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters’ and ‘Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers’. The folks involved have mined the vaults of Atlantic and associated labels (Stax, Volt, Cotillion, Atco etc.) for rare and unreleased material, and if you’re familiar with the labels involved you know that the potential for material of an exceptionally high quality is great.

While today’s post will focus on the ‘Soul Sisters’ collection, I can tell you that the ‘Soul Brothers’ disc has a grip of quality selections, including stuff by Bobby Womack, Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley and a couple of outstanding tracks by Otis Redding (“I Love You More Than Words Can Say”) and Mighty Sam (“Lovebones”) that were both new to me.

The ‘Soul Sisters’ collection, as would be expected from the labels involved is jam packed with deep soul. There are tracks by artists that are better known for their work with other labels who passed through the Atlantic family of labels briefly, like Irma Thomas and Mary Wells, as well as by singers long identified with Atlantic, like Aretha Franklin. There are also outstanding numbers by Patti Labelle and the Bluebells, Judy Clay, the Sweet Inspirations and Esther Phillips.

Though lots of the material was new to me, there were a couple of numbers that I happened to have resting nicely in my crates, and I thought I’d share them with you today.

All three selections today are/were covered by other artists, though who did some of the songs first is in dispute. They also – coincidentally – both hail from 1969, are produced by Dave Crawford, and have sequential catalog numbers.

Though only Baby Washington’s ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ appears on the comp, I’ve decided to include its flipside, ‘Breakfast in Bed’ as well. Baby Washington recorded for a number of R&B/soul labels through the 50’s and 60’s (including ABC, Sue and Veep) before landing at Cotillion in 1969. Her cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s 1966 ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ (mistaken listed on the label as a tune called ‘What Becomes of a Broken Heart’, written by Ernest Tubb) manages to take Ruffin’s signature number and build upon it with a layer of deep, Southern soul. It’s one of those rare instances where an artist covers a song so firmly identified with another artists and does them one better.

The flip side has as solid a ‘Southern soul” pedigree as you can come by. Co-written by Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts, and recorded – as so many Atlantic sides of the day – at Muscle Shoals, ‘Breakfast in Bed’ is an absolute masterpiece. I mentioned before that the original recording of this tune was in dispute. Known to most via the version by Dusty Springfield on her legendary ‘Dusty in Memphis’ LP, I have seen conflicting references as to whether Springfield or Washington recorded the tune first. Whether or not Baby Washington originated ‘Breakfast in Bed’, in my opinion there can be no disputing that her version is by far the superior of the two. The song itself is a work of great subtlety, with a fantastic lyric and some truly original chord changes. Washington’s powerful voice works wonders in the quieter sections of the verse, building – and exploding – during the chorus. It’s really one of the greatest recordings to come out of Muscle Shoals, and that is truly saying a lot. Sadly, if you’re looking for ‘Breakfast in Bed’, you’ll have to settle for this MP3, as it doesn’t appear to be available in reissue*.

The next track is a song that will probably sound awfully familiar. Though the original version of ‘What a Man’ was recorded earlier in 1969 by Linda Lyndell on Volt – and subsequently sampled by En Vogue. Though Lyndell’s original is better known amongst collectors, beat diggers et al, and is subsequently rarer and more costly, I am of the belief that the version we present today, by the mighty Miss Laura Lee is better. Lee (with the guidance of Dave Crawford, who also wrote the tune) takes things at a slightly funkier, gritty pace. Though both versions have something to recommend them (Lee’s take omits the famous guitar riff) Lee was a more interesting singer than Lyndell. Either way I think you’ll dig it. You just can’t go wrong with Laura Lee.

*I have been notified by several folks (including all three posters so far) that ‘Breakfast In Bed’ has in fact been reissued on Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures: Taken From Our Vaults Vol 3

Buy Atlantic Unearthed – Soul Sisters on Amazon

Buy Atlantic Unearthed – Soul Brothers on Amazon

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6 Responses to “Atlantic (Cotillion) Soul Sisters (and Soul Brothers…)”

  1. Scottso Says:

    Hi,
    I’ve just recently found your page. I really dig your taste in soul. I just wanted to make a quick mention that I absolutely agree with you about Baby Washington’s Breakfast In Bed. I first heard it around a year ago on a great Kent compilation cd by Dave Godin. I also agree with your comment about What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted. Baby’s version has a really cool arrangement and a beautiful vocal delivery. I just love this woman’s vocal style. I did just pick up the two Atlantic comps you mentioned. I need more time to get to actually listen, but oh man…What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted sounds so much better than my 7″ on Cotillion. The Soul Sisters CD is worth the very low price for just that song. At first listen I also got into the Irma Thomas track. I wish they put boths sides of that one on there. Anyway, thanks for sharing your take on some great music.

  2. Lyle Says:

    The two new Atlantic CDs are both excellent, although I give the nod to the Women as the better one. What great songs!

    As Scottso pointed out, Breakfast in Bed is available on Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures Volume 3. All his Deep Soul CDs are outstanding.

    Speaking of Laura Lee, her fabulous “The Chess Collection” was just issued with about 20 great songs, although not What A Man.

    Thanks for the great post, and thanks for your years of service to us soul fans.
    Lyle

  3. Mark Says:

    Great post, Larry. I never could understand why Breakfast In Bed isn’t one of those great soul hits that everyone knows so well
    Like most folk I guess I knew and loved Breakfast in Bed from the Dusty version, but 6 or 7 years ago I heard Baby Washington’s and it had just that little bit extra something to make it magnificent. I heard it on a Kent various artists compilation, then got it again on the Dave Godin Deep Soul Treasures, and bought it again on a new Baby Washington compilation out here in the UK on Stateside called I’ve Got A Feeling, which is well worth the paltry cost.

  4. Shiney Mike Says:

    Howdy.
    I’m Mike.
    I like fun – key music.
    nice work goin on around here…
    You may be able to shed some light on a matter which I have regarding a couple songs. Would it be OK to submit such questions to you?

  5. Daniel Awender Says:

    I guess I’m showing my ignorance, but what the h*ll. I’m a guy who’s worked in radio here in southern Canada for many years (I’m over 50), and I’ve loved soul all the time. “What Becomes” just blows me away! I thought Jimmy Ruffin did it as no one could, until I heard this version. Thanks for the education!

  6. Shiney Mike Says:

    I will kind of assume that you have limitations about how much time to take for such inquiries, genarally, so rather than wait for a personal response…

    Matter No. 1 is one that I have puzzled since about 1996 or 97; Some years prior, I had aquired a collection of tapes (of the common home open reel type) upon which were collected pristine album sides in a wide range of popular styles. A numbered set of Jazz sides exitst alongside the pop, and sevaral tapes outside the either set, incuding the one in question, a 10″ reel labled only, Disco.

    Of course, as I had come to expect from this work, the music was expertly mastered from primo vinyl, splice free, stereo. Tracks on the unlabled tape include the 1978, Rolling Stones do disco: Miss You, big hits by EW&F Bee Gees and of course Gloria Gaynor…However, also among these titles is one I have been unable to find or identify.

    “Bringin’ It” is what I would think you’d call the song, its a rap over a beat set at a disco party. The chorus modulates to a key above the conversational part with singers repeating the “Bringin’ It” line.

    I have never been able to determine the origin – I checked out stores, asked other funkateers I know, and played for complete strangers – nobody has a line on it…

    The 2nd matter regards a Maxwell “promotional only”, 45 rpm single, produced by Donny Hathaway called, “So Much Better”, sung by Emmitt Garner Jr.

    Do you know it?

    I have just always liked the side, and it’s so unique. I thought you’d like too. I want to hear a cleaner copy – mine sucked – and find out if any more good sides or albums were done….

    Thanks for reading…good luck!

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