William Bell – 1967 – The Soul of a Bell
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William Bell‘s history illustrates just how singles-oriented soul was in the 1960s. Though he’d enjoyed a hit in 1961 with “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” it wasn’t until 1967 that Stax finally released his first album, the magnificent The Soul of a Bell. From that classic and Bell‘s moderate hits “Never Like This Before” and “Everybody Loves A Winner” to heartfelt versions of “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” everything on this album (reissued on CD in 1991) illustrates the gospel-drenched richness of Southern soul.
Meanwhile, the influence of Motown and the Four Tops is hard to miss on the riveting single “Eloise (Hang On In There),” which should have been a major hit, but surprisingly, never even charted. The 2002 CD reissue adds alternate versions of “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and “Any Other Way”.
A1 Everybody Loves a Winner 2:52
A2 You Don’t Miss Your Water 2:44
A3 Do Right Woman, Do Right Man 3:13
A4 I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now) 3:28
A5 Nothing Takes the Place of You 3:30
A6 Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye 3:41
B1 Eloise (Hang On in There) 2:47
B2 Any Other Way 2:48
B3 It’s Happening All Over 2:35
B4 Never Like This Before 2:49
B5 You’re Such a Sweet Thing 2:27
William Bell, probably the most underrated of all Stax artists, was actually one of the label’s very first hitmakers, scoring a pop hit in ’62 with the quintessential Country Soul ballad “You Don’t Miss Your Water“. He’d also prove to become one of Stax’ most reliable and qualified song writers.
After a hitch in the army, Bell returned to the music scene in 1966 and set out to record his first full-fledged album for the label he had helped mature. Re-cutting his “You Don’t Miss Your Water” specifically for that project, he in fact outdid himself by churning out a moderately faster, stereo recorded version that may well be the definitive version.
Casting himself more as a balladeer than a ‘strutter’, Bell had a penchant for lovely, melancholic, bittersweet soul waxings that perfectly showcased the man’s fabulous tenor. He makes Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Man, Do Right Woman” totally his own, as he does with Toussaint McCall’s haunting “Nothing Takes the Place of You” and The King of Soul’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)“. All are firmly rooted in country and gospel, with Booker T. Jones – Bell’s steady writing partner – writing up gorgeous arrangements.
Jones also helped turn Bell’s peerless original “Everybody Loves a Winner” into a little masterpiece of Southern Soul; aside a breathtaking vocal by William, Jones’ beautiful string arrangement really tops this track off. Also check out Marvell Thomas (son of the legendary Rufus Thomas) chiming in those delicate country-soul piano chords.
In my opinion, no one put out a more beautiful version of “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” than Bettye Swann did it 1968, but it’s a tough call when hearing Bell’s rendition of this song popularized by pop group The Casinos. There’s a rustic, pensive, aching quality to William’s vocal here that perfectly blends with the brooding, low key musical backing. I’m pretty sure Booker T. is manning the xylophone here.
Despite so many stellar ballads, Bell was just as apt in interpreting more uptempo material. “Any Other Way” – another re-recording of an early ’60s waxing – is drastically retooled. Shedding off all the pop-appeal of its predecessor, it’s turned into a harder, gutbucket floorshaker here.
Isaac Hayes co-wrote the dynamic “It’s Happening All Over“, a catchy mid tempo groove sporting an infectious descending riff on the verses and Sweet Inspirations-like backing vocals on the chorus. Booker T. hooked up with Hayes and David Porter for “Never Like This Before“, a tremendous slab of uptempo Soul featuring Bell in a more atypical, rough ‘n’ raw vocal bag.
But it’s Bell’s own “Eloise (Hang on in There)” – co-written, once more, with Booker T. – that steals the show; a barn burning, frantic fingersnapper kept in the pocket by Al Jackson drums, Steve Cropper’s chanking guitar and Duck Dunn’s meaty bass. A powerful, horn heavy jam that should have charted.
The LP concludes with the Jones/Bell vehicle “You’re Such a Sweet Thang“, that somehow manages to combine the softer approach William seemed to prefer, with the Memphis soaked grit of Southern Soul.
A masterful album by one of greats who was there when ‘the little label that could’ took off.
Don’t miss 3 more William Bell’s albums in our back pages here