5 Lesser-Known Soul Ballads
1. Chuck & Mac – “Powerful Love” – This track is brought to us by the wonderful folks at the preeminent archivist record label, The Numero Group. This one is from their Eccentric Soul series that looks at the music of late 1960s Chicago soul label, Twinight Records. It was also prominently featured in the film Looper, which brought the song to an entirely new audience. Chuck & Mac were Twinight’s answer to Stax’s more famous soul duo, Sam & Dave. While Chuck & Mac never achieved the level of fame of Sam & Dave, this ballad gives the latter a run for their money. The church organ at the beginning gives way to a stirring vocal from either Chuck or Mac (it isn’t clear who is singing) and is characterized by its soulful phrasing and country influence. The heavy muffled drums and delicate guitar provide the perfect backdrop for great lyrics (i.e. “I love you with a love so powerful it’s a sin.”) The song eventually kicks into a double-time finish and wails of screams as the song fades out.
2. Wendy Rene – “Give You What I Got” – Wendy’s modest hit song, “Bar-B-Q” has recently been featured in Chili’s commercials, but other than this recent attention, she’s remained a peripheral character in late 1960s Memphis soul. Wendy sounds so young on this recording. She works almost exclusively in a high register that displays both a youthful energy and a soulful grit that belies her years. The doo-wop style backing vocals push this song along, but it never moves beyond a relaxed midtempo pace that perfectly showcases Rene’s pleading vocals.
3. Tyrone Ashley’s Funky Music Machine – “Come on Home” – The name of this band suggests a corny late 1970s funk-disco band, but luckily Ashley’s music couldn’t be farther away. This is a fantastic ballad from the soundtrack to IFC’sMaron television program. Similar to Rene’s ballad, Ashley’s song is characterized by doo-wop backing vocals which at times sound like a barbershop quartet, but at other times, they engage Ashley in a unique call-and-response that give the song a wall-of-voices quality that is quite unique to this type of ballad.
4. Penny & the Quarters – “You and Me” – This song, like some of the others on this list, was also an integral part of a film soundtrack. This ballad from the obscure Penny & the Quarters is an important part of the narrative of the filmBlue Valentine. Very little is known about the singers on this song other than cannot be any older than teenagers. The song sounds like a demo recording, but its imperfections are part of its charm. It is an incredibly simple song, with only backing vocals, lead vocals, and guitar. This ballad is unbelievably gorgeous and is sure to bring a tear to the eye. Everyone should play it at their wedding.
5. Joe Tex – “The Love You Save May Be Your Own” – Yet another soundtrack song. This one is featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. Tex is considered one of the greatest country-soul balladeers, and this song demonstrates why. Imagine a smokier Sam Cooke with an ever-so-slight twang. Tex coaxes so much emotion out of this absolutely crushing ballad about racial persecution that you expect he’ll eventually lose his cool exterior. He never does though, displaying an amazing amount of restaint that reinforces the song’s message. The song’s topicality and Tex’s devastating vocal prove it to be one of the greatest of all soul ballads.
Written by Vince Meserko. Tune into the Jookhouse every Saturday night from 6-8pm on 90.7fm KJHK.