A Lou Rawls Playlist
01 “(They Call It) Stormy Monday” Preview/Buy at iTunes
From Rawls’s debut album on Capitol, Stormy Monday. The Les McCann trio backs him up, which “legitimized” pop-singer Rawls for teenage, jazz-only me–misguided cred-mongering for sure, and some might say Rawls made Les legit, no actually, more is more, etc.. But “he did some time with jazz” was the refrain whenever “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” popped up on Philly radio and I needed a conversation point.
02 Sam Cooke: “Bring It On Home To Me” Preview/Buy at iTunes
They were good friends, Cooke and Rawls, worked together in a bunch in shortlived Chicago doowop and gospel groups. People are quick to mention SC’s influence on LR’s vocal affectations, more obedient to the story than the truth but OK. Either way Cooke had Rawls do backup on this track, same year Rawls did “Stormy Monday.”
03 “See You When I Git There” Preview/Buy at iTunes
Rawls jumped onto Philadelphia International in the late 70s, the label behind Gamble/Huff’s “Philadelphia Sound,” which my mom always explained to me as “disco with strings.” “Git There” (’77) went r&b top ten but never reached “Another Love” status, too bad because this may be a better song. (Since this always fascinated me: The “other” Philadelphia Sound was connected to the Philly Orchestra’s string players who, in making due at the city’s symphony-unfriendly Academy of Music, would dig into their violins etc for resonance. They overcompensated though, and got this really lush, really warm tone that maybe didn’t thrill been-there done-that critics but the Orchestra’s gestures had populist appeal at least, easier for the laymen to follow and appreciate.)
04 “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing” Preview/Buy at iTunes
Rawls’s first Billboard hit; I never liked the melody or the melodrama but maybe you do?
05 “Tobacco Road” Preview/Buy at iTunes
The version linked here includes the Rawls preamble or Rawls rap-over-vamp, what have you, which became a thing of sorts for him, whether to moralize or wax black or fill out a set so he didn’t have to sing as much (this seems the most logical to me, or he just wanted to give his voice a break, merely practical). To say nothing of his “Tobacco Road”: those handclaps lost in heavy reverb, and Rawls’s delivery–anger out of steam, resigned to the situation, melody-rekindled.
An Axelrod collabo, “Dead End Street” won Rawls his first Grammy, in 1967. Then in 2001 Axelrod brought Rawls back to close his David Axelrod LP with this song.
08 “Owl and the Pussycat” Preview/Buy at iTunes
Rawls took on this for an old Sesame Street comp called In Harmony 2. This isn’t that version, just some weird lady singing it, but you can imagine how awesome it must have been to be three years old and see Rawls on your TV screen singing, “Oh lovely pussy, oh pussy my love, what a beautiful pussy you are.”
09 “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Preview/Buy at iTunes
I know this couple who think Lou Rawls is the shit. You can look in the books on soul music and find little reference to Rawls and maybe less respect. And my friends could care less. Their devotion isn't built on his place in the Hall of Fame, isn't established by his skills. It isn't even about his hits: they like the Christmas album best. What they like about Rawls--if I may tender a guess--is that while he isn't necessarily the best, he brilliantly evokes the experience of being up really, really close to the best. He does a hell of a job selling a majesty he doesn't quite own, summing up what a man in his niche is called upon to do, and acting it out with goblets of gusto. You suddenly realize, hey, he's a fan too.
10 “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” Preview/Buy at iTunes