Ann Peebles – 1974 – I Can’t Stand The Rain
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Easily our favorite album ever by Ann Peebles– not just for the beathead title track, but also because it seems to be the one record where she brings a bit something extra to the studio! The sound is certainly in the classic Hi Records mode here – thanks to production by Willie Mitchell – but there’s also a deeper groove overall, a stronger burning bottom, and an all-soul sound to most tracks that goes way beyond simple cliches of southern soul. Ann’s vocals are tremendous throughout – sometimes sweet, sometimes mean – and titles include the sublime “I Can’t Stand The Rain“, plus “Run Run Run” and “One Way Street“.
A1 I Can’t Stand the Rain 2:29
A2 Do I Need You 2:32
A3 Until You Came Into My Life 3:10
A4 (You Keep Me) Hangin’ On 2:39
A5 Run, Run, Run 2:34
B1 If We Can’t Trust Each Other 2:50
B2 A Love Vibration 2:45
B3 You Got to Feed the Fire 2:20
B4 I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down 2:44
B5 One Way Street 2:51
Ann Peebles early musical career almost sounds like one of those Hallmark movies of the week. She was born into a highly religious family – her father was a minister and her mother a featured singer in his church. As a child she sang in the church choir, as well as being a member of family’s touring gospel ground – The Peebles Choir.
As a teenager, in the early 1960s Peebles decided to try secular music, hitting the St. Louis club circuit. Her initial break came when she caught the attention of Oliver Sain who asked her to join his St. Louis-based blues band. Not yet 20, in 1968 Peebles started her solo recording career. While visiting Memphis, she was asked to sing with trumpet player Gene Miller. Miller brought her to the attention of Hi Records owner Willie Mitchell, who instantly signed her to the label.
While her earlier albums were all good and worth tracking down, Peebles hit her creative stride with the release of 1973’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain”. Produced by Willie Mitchell, the album served as a terrific showcase for Peebles classic soul voice. In fact to this day I’m amazed by her voice – Peebles was only 25 when she recorded the album, but on songs like the title track, ‘ (You Keep Me) Hangin‘ On’ and ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down‘ her voice simply dripped with pain and experience that seemed more appropriate for a fifty year old. How in the world did someone that young and that petite (she couldn’t have weight more than a sack of potatoes) channel that much life experience ? Her performances were simultaneous sexy and dangerous (this was the kind of album Diana Ross could only dream about), making for a dynamite collection. The album also served as a showcase for Peebles songwriting skill – she was responsible for co-writing seven of the ten tracks (all co-written with Hi house songwriter and future husband Don Bryant). As good as Peebles’ performances were, producer/engineer Willie Mitchell deserved considerable credit for his contributions. Coming at a time when he was enjoying massive successes with Al Green, Mitchell brought all of his trademarked production techniques to this one, including backing from The Hodge Brothers and The Memphis Horns. In a roundabout way that also led to some minor criticisms of the album, such as Peebles sounded like a female Al Green. Ignore crap like that. Yeah, Mitchell’s production gave the album a similar sheen, but you won’t mistake either artist for the other …
‘I Can’t Stand the Rain‘ may not be a staple of today’s radio play lists (younger listeners are liable to recognize it as being sampled by Missy Elliott for ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’, but that does absolutely nothing to detract from the fact it’s an amazing song that is instantly beguiling and simply can’t be ignored once you’ve heard it. Co-written by Bryant, Peebles and disc jockey Bernard Miller, the song has a fantastic atmospheric groove that’s actually quite dark and unnerving (similar to James Carr’s ‘Dark End of the Street’, or The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’), Peebles turned in a performance that was simultaneously amazing and heartbreaking. A near perfect song, in fact, the only shortcoming was the fact the song was simply too short. Tapped as a single, it also became Peebles biggest commercial success. (I’ll put in a short plug for one of my favorite singers – Mary Ann Redmond does a stunning cover of the tune on her “Live At Blues Alley” album.) With a classic Willie Mitchell arrangement (including some tasty Memphis Horns charts), ‘Do I Need You‘ was almost as good as the title track (in fact the song even included a tasty nod to the title track).
‘Until You Came Into My Life‘ was a pretty ballad that revealed Peebles softer touch and had quite a bit of commercial potential. A breezy, country-soul ballad, ‘You Keep Me) Hangin’ On‘ (not to be confused with the Motown/Vanilla Fudge song), was another radio-friendly track that showcased Peebles ‘old soul’ persona. This version simply crushed Joe Simon’s version. In addition to including my favorite couplet (‘what am I gonna do – you’re my Waterloo”), ‘ Run, Run, Run‘ was side one’s funkiest performance. Try sitting still to this one … If push came to shove this one might get my nod for best overall performance.
Side two started with the song’s overlooked ‘should’ve-been-a-single’ – ‘If We Can’t Trust Each Other‘. One of two tracks written by Earl Randle, this one had it all; great instantly memorable tune, fantastic hook, and a lyric that stuck in your head. The third single off the album, ‘ A Love Vibration‘ was a decent ballad though the string orchestration detracted from the song’s core strengths. Ah, Peebles gets frisky; ‘You Got To Feed the Fire‘ was another catchy torch song that would have been even stronger had Mitchell toned down the strings and put more faith in The Hodge Brothers to carry the song.
The second Earl Randle song, ‘ I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down‘ was another lost soul classic. With good reason, Peebles sounded pissed off and dangerous – imagine a cold blooded cobra about to pounce on its victim. Hard to pity the poor fool who had this comin’ …Employing her voice at its raspiest, ‘One Way Street‘ has always reminded me a bit of James Carr’s ‘Dark End of the Street’. Like that song, this one was cloaked in bittersweet pain and regret. Again, how could a 25 year old have something like this in her repertoire?
All hyperbole aside, this is easily one of the top-five albums on the Hi label. Well worth tracking down and should probably be in the collection of every true soul fan.