Saturday, March 22, 2008

Let's Spend The Night Together

Sometimes you come across a Soul record that makes you frown. Much like R&R, Soul music often delivers best on the very edge of good taste. Some of Soul's greatest records are very dubious in that respect indeed. Are the records of Barry White still good taste, despite their candle lit pornographic aura, sure enough they are! But its a fine line. And sometimes the finest talents in Soul trip over that line. One of those rather embarrassing yet strangely entertaining examples is Joe Simon's cover of "Let's Spend The Night Together". The track is buried on Joe Simon's 1976 album "Today". The record that would definitely take Joe Simon into the Disco age. Before that Joe Simon had been one of the great Southern Soul singers. His version of "Chocking Kind" is still the definitive rendition of that song, no matter how many Joss Stones you throw at that sucker. His Gamble & Huff produced albums are bonified Soul classics out of period where Disco still meant putting a bow tie on the Funk. But shortly after those Philly productions things started to go downhill for the like of Joe Simon, maybe even Soul in general. Philly Soul evolved into Disco, a lawyer designed genre that according to George Clinton of Funkadelic fame was trying to fax it in. Countrified Soul shouters like Simon simply couldn't adapt.

Popular myth has it that Punk destroyed Rock. I think that premises is false. Punk revived some of R&R's core values. If there's anything that "destroyed" Rock, as far as it was ever really tore down, it was Disco, F.M. Radio and mega multi million sales. F.M. Radio, which was at first a vessel for R&R, soon became predictable and overly formatted. As multi million dollar enterprises they seem to have one objective, not to offend and push as much meaningless drivel as they could. Disco suited the job just perfectly. It had none of the grits and gravy either R&R or Southern Soul had. Hell even Motown would soon prove to be too raw for the new radio formats. For the longest while F.M. wouldn't get more risky than the Eagles or Bony M. Acts like the Stones and Joe Simon suffered. But where the Stones cleverly adapted with discofied Rock as "Miss You", Simon was left stumbling through the studio with Bob Clearmountain at the production wheel. Though Clearmountain has a good reputation for producing and mixing good and solid R&R albums in a period when they were a dying breed, even he couldn't help a Soul shouter like Simon find his groove. "Today" is marred by the same problems may of the Soul albums seem to have in that era, a sense of detachment. Not quite Soul, not quite Disco and not quite the Quiet Storm that would soon come yet. On "Stay" we hear an artists clinging on to Country Soul while trying to make Disco, trying to remain true to himself while trying to blend into a crowd where he suddenly looks like the ugly duckling.

The result of that strain is unfortunately an uncomfortable piece of cheese. Maybe if F.M. radio and the record business would have had the guts to invest in tail end sales as well artists like Joe Simon would have survived into the next decade. The backlash at Disco might not have been so great and might not have taken down Soul in its demise. Maybe it would have given Joe Simon enough breathing space to produce truly great records. In theory his version of "Let's Spend The Night Together" should have kicked David Bowie's ass. Unfortunately the practice of the second half of the seventies was different. Over the course of just a few years the music industry, Soul and R&R turned into an embarrassing mess. Sometimes it seems Soul never truly recovered.

"Let's Spend The Night Together" - Joe Simon

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