Saturday, February 10, 2007

I Am, Therefore I Be...

"Let It Be Me"---The Sweet Inspirations

The Sweet Inspirations were the brainchild of Emily "Cissy" Houston, mother of Whitney Houston, and aunt of Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick. The original line-up included Cissy, the Warwick sisters, and Doris Troy. Dionne and Doris left shortly after the group's inception, and Sylvia Shemwell stepped in to replace them. The group didn't even have a name at that point, but they served as back-up singers for quite a few soul artists in the early '60s---Garnett Mimms, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin to name just a few. Dee Dee parted ways with the group in 1965, at which point Estelle Brown and Myrna Smith came on board, forming the line-up that would be most familiar to their fans.

Although they enjoyed a great deal of success as session singers, it wasn't long before Atlantic signed the group to record some of their own material. Their amazing version of "Let It Be Me" (1967) was one of their first offerings, and it remains one of the most beloved songs in their catalogue.

"Let It Be Me" is a reworking of a French song by Gilbert Becaud called "Je T'Appartiens" (1955). The first English version of the song was recorded in 1957 by an actress named Jill Corey, but a myriad of other artists would eventually follow suit. The Everly Brothers recorded the most famous version in 1959, but covers by Betty Everett & Jerry Butler (1964), Glenn Campbell & Bobbie Gentry (1969), and Willie Nelson (1982) all managed to crack the Top 40. Nina Simone released three recordings of the track, Elvis performed a live version, and artists such as Nancy Sinatra, The Righteous Brothers, Bob Dylan, and Tom Jones also offered renditions of the song.

I've actually heard most of the versions I just mentioned, but there's something magical about the unique touch that The Sweet Inspirations put on the track. That said, I wanted to post another rendition of the song that I truly love:

"Let It Be Me"---Roberta Flack

There was a point in my music listening "career" when I was highly skeptical of Roberts Flack's contribution to soul and R&B. I got it in my head at some point that she was little more than the queen of the midnight slow jam, and as a result, her artistic merits were highly suspect in my opinion. It wasn't until later that I bothered to discover the beauty of her first two LPs (First Take and Chapter Two), as well as the legendary duets she recorded with Donny Hathaway.

This version of "Let It Be Me" appears on Chapter Two, an album Flack released in 1970. It's a bit of a slow burner in the sense that the intensity builds over the course of the track, and it breaks your heart in a completely different way than the Sweet Inspirations version. The musical arrangement may have been somewhat of a travesty if it had been coupled with any other vocalist, but Roberta's incredible pipes lift this track into heaven and beyond. After listening to this record, it's easy to understand why Les McCann once said: "Her voice touched, tapped, trapped, and kicked every emotion I've ever known."

By way of a soul challenge, I'd be interested to know which of these two versions of "Let It Be Me" you prefer. It may be an apples and oranges dilemma for some of you, but I'm sure that others will have a strong opinion one way or another. Drop some knowledge if you have any thoughts...

"Be My Beach"---Funkadelic

Since I was already on my "be" game, I decided to throw this groovy little track into the mix. This song was written by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Bernie Worrell, and is one of many fabulous joints that blessed their Let's Take It To The Stage LP (1975). Bootsy's vocals are just as tripped out and sleazy as you might expect, as evidenced by this classic lyric: "Think that she's the only freak been born/ As a matter of fact, she's not the only sand at the beach/ Or to be exact, there's a whole lot of beaches." Amen...

"I Am I Be"---De La Soul ft. Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis

If you're a hip-hop fanatic who's unafraid to sling a pack on your back every once in a while, then there's really no good reason why you shouldn't love De La Soul.

"I Am I Be" is from the group's third LP, Buhloone Mind State. The rapping on the joint is mellow and smooth, while the beat is laidback and jazzy (with some invaluable assistance from The JBs, of course). This record may not be the one to change your mind if you haven't been officially converted yet, but if you have even a passing interest in the group, checkin' this out is mandatory.

"Damn If N Let It Be (Guttamix)"---Bushwick Bill

I can predict with some accuracy that this track will be downloaded less frequently than any of the other mp3s included in this post, but should cop this. Mentally unstable, one-eyed rapping dwarves are an endangered species in the hip-hop game, you know...

Bill is perhaps best known for the fact that he makes up (almost) 1/3 of The Geto Boys. However, he's also released quite a bit of solo material, including the LP that this track was taken from, Gutta Mix.

Bushwick has a great voice, and when he isn't talkin' all sorts of crazy shit, he can be downright lyrical at times. His greatest drawback is the fact that he's certifiably insane, but that's also a part of his appeal. If you don't know the whole story about how dude got drunk, lost an eye, and helped to create an album cover based on the fiasco, you'd better start googling.

Anyone who's listened to Bill's records can tell you that he's a violent little misogynist. His distorted perception of sistas/women obviously comes straight from his wounded eye, making some of his rhymes a little difficult to digest at times. This joint shows Bill in a more contemplative and reflective mood than he usually illustrates on wax. Take a walk through the back alley of a very interesting mind...

Word From Your Moms:

"Insist upon yourself. Be original."

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."

**both quotes courtesy of Ralph Waldo Emerson


travis said...

I'm definately feeling that Sweet Inspirations version more. That is a pretty dope song. Has that been sampled that you know of? It sounds familiar but I can't place it.

That De La is one of my favorite songs from them. They are truly one of the great groups in Hip Hop. There are some great lines in that song and even a little jab at the "Tongues" to boot.

Bill is one deranged little man. Never listened to much of his stuff except his first album, although "Ever So Clear" is an excellent track.

Richard said...

Re: "Let It Be Me"

It really is apples vs. oranges. The Sweet Inspirations version just kills with that harmony! Damn I just wanna slap Cissy! (in a good way)

Roberta's version however is something altogether different. That woman took that song and turned it into a personal heart-crushing plea/testimony/confession.
It made me think of "Killing Me Softly" because with "Let It Be Me" she sings in the same "strumming my pain" way, that anyone who has ever longed deeply for someone would instantly connect with.

Scholar said...

Travis---With as much hip-hop as you've listened to, I'm sure you've heard this song sampled somewhere. I can't think of anything off the top of my head to help you out, unfortunately. As much as I appreciate running across original songs, I sometimes have a hard time matching them with the appropriate sampling artist. Music overload I suppose.

It's funny you brought up the dig at Native Tongues. There were so many diss songs on internet this week it was crazy---just made me reflect on how beef has transformed over time.

"Ever So Clear" is THE quintessential Bill joint. I can't really understand why I'm so down with Bushwick to tell you the truth. He's sort of on the outskirts of my musical taste, but sometimes there's no explanation for these things, I guess.

Richard---Thanks for giving up such a thoughtful response. I'm like you---I see the merit in both versions, and think that they each have distinct strengths. If forced to choose, I'd pick The Sweet Inspirations version, but it's more the music that gives Flack's version the disadvantage. I don't know if Burt Bacharach did that arrangement or not, but it smacks of one of his more dramatic and overblown efforts. Too bad, because Roberta's voice was at the peak of perfection.

t-squared said...

I vote for Roberta Flack every time. She's one of my favorite singers. Ive never heard that song, so thanx.