Great song lines from R&B

Rhythm and Blues (or R&B) has made a huge contribution to our musical richness, here in America and around the world. The sounds came out of Motown in Detroit, Staxx Records out of Memphis and Chess Records out of Chicago. The music was different, even though all classified as R&B.

The Motown sound had rhythm up front right out of the gate. Memphis was more soulful, driven by very evocative singers and a tremendous house band that would even release later instrumentals (think the band behind the Blues Brothers). Chess had bona fide stars like Etta James and Muddy Waters that led the way.

They built off of great jazz and blues out of places like New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago and New York, to name only a few. It should not be lost that The Rolling Stones recorded a terrific album in Memphis and knew the folks at Chess.

What is discounted is the terrific song lyrics. These songs are remembered for more than terrific music. Some lyrics were merely catchy, but many had a resonance that left a indeliable foot print. The following are all from memory, so it is very likely I misstated a few.

“You make me feel brand new,” sang The Stylistics.
“When a man loves a woman…can’t keep his mind on nothing else,” sang Percy Sledge.
“Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home. And, when he died, all he left us was alone,” sang The Temptations.
“Neither one of us…neither one of us…wants to be the first to say goodbye,” sang Gladys Knight and the Pips.
“At last….,” sang Etta James, which lingers in the air.
“Baby, baby…where did I love go?” sang Diana Ross and The Supremes.
“War…what is it good for? Absolutely, nothing. Say it again,” sang Edwin Starr.
“Mother, mother…why are so many of you dying?” sang Marvin Gaye.
“Sugarpie, honeybunch. You know that I love you. I can’t help myself, I love you and nobody else,” sang The Four Tops.
“Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. Sitting on the dock of the bay… wasting time,” sang Otis Redding.
“Don’t be fooled by my glad expression, if it’s giving you the wrong impression,” sang Smokey Robinson.
“I heard it through the grapevine, that no longer would you be mine,” sang Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye in separate versions of the same song.

These songs are like little time capsules. Please add to the list with some of your favorites. I just stuck my toe in the water above. I would love to hear from you.

Edwin Starr’s plea for peace

Almost fifty years ago, Edwin Starr belted out an anthem simply called “War.” Written by Barret Strong and Norman Whitfield, Starr’s disdain for war and its aftermath comes through in his powerful rendition.

As I thought of this song, I mentally included it with two others – John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” he sang with CCR and Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the Flowers gone,” sung so well by Peter, Paul and Mary. These three songs come at this topic with sadness, skepticism and disdain.

But, for now, here are the lyrics to “War.”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all
War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
Oh, war, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives
I said, war, huh good god, why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
War, whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Oh, war it’s an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die, ah, war-huh, good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) it’s got one friend that’s the undertaker
Oh, war, has shattered many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life
It can only take it away
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But lord knows there’s got to be a better way
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for you tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it
huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it nothing

Truly, what is it good for? Starr asks an excellent question, one we must ask before we send our young men and women into harm’s way.