Trying To Get To You

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Most Beautiful Love Song Ever?

Last week, I was listening to the live Stevie Wonder tracks that I posted for this past week’s installment of “Bootleg Friday.” When “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” came on, I wondered to myself, “Has anyone written a more beautiful love song?” So I started wracking my brain, trying to come up with what I could reasonable say might be the most “beautiful love song ever,” and I think I’ve got it.

Sam and Dave’s “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” (written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter) wins my vote for most beautiful love song because it acknowledges that the measure of love isn’t taken when things are going great – it’s taken when life is dealing it’s harshest blows. It also wins my vote because of the overwhelming beauty of the arrangement (played by Booker T and the MG’s) and Sam and Dave’s vocals, which complement each other so perfectly that it’s beyond words.

I’m giving you three different versions of the song. The first is the original, released in 1966 on Atlantic. The second is a live version from Stockholm, Sweden in 1967. Notice on that version how slowly the song is played and how it gives Sam and Dave so much room for their gospel inspired vocal improvisations. Listening to Al Jackson Jr.’s drumming on the track is a revelation; it seems almost impossible to play that slowly and still maintain a groove, but he does it, and does it incredibly. Finally, there is a version from 2003, from Bruce Springsteen’s holiday show with the Max Weinberg 7, where Sam Moore performed and pretty much stole the show. This is from the third night of a three night stand – all I can say is that I was at the first night, and hearing it that first night was probably one of my top five moments in seeing live music out of hundreds and hundreds of shows. Utterly sublime - so good I cried.

Download: "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" (studio version)
Download: "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" (5/2/67, Stockholm, Sweden)
Download: "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" (12/8/03, Asbury Park, NJ w/Bruce Springsteen)


Anonymous said...

Charlie Rich's version is a bit more mellow but just as good. He actually recorded it before Sam & Dave, during a brief stint on Hi! Records in the mid-60s. If people only know him from his Nashville Sound years they should try it out - on his day he had as much soul as anyone out there

Ben Lazar said...

I've heard the Charlie Rich version and like it, although for me it doesn't hold a candle to Sam and Dave. And I'm a big Charlie Rich fan - I don't have his Hi Records stuff, just the Sun stuff, which I love.

What the version does show is how similar country and soul music really is. Direct lyrics, simple song structure, but when done well...there ain't much better.

Anonymous said...

Yup, a hard one to argue against. Another highly recommended cover of it (if you can find it - good luck) is the one done by John Hiatt & Robert Cray on the late, lamented "Night Music" TV show from the late '80s-early '90s, hosted by David Sanborn & Jools Holland. Hiatt & Cray are an unlikely but way-talented pair, which is probably why their rendition is so jaw-dropping.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall reading (and I could be wrong about this, because it's early in the morning here) that "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" uses the same chords as "Respect," only slowed down. Talk about two different sides of the same coin . . .

Ben Lazar said...

The story is that when Aretha was doing her version of Otis Redding's "Respect," she took the chords of "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," reversed them, and made it her bridge.

Private Beach said...

You're right, soul and country are just twins who grew up with different parents. A lot of the great soul songs are basically funked-up country - all those Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham compositions, for a start. If Percy Sledge and James Carr and William Bell were white, they would have been country singers.

Some years ago there was an enjoyable album called "Rhythm Country and Blues" that paired country singers in duets with R&B singers. It's worth seeking out a copy.

Anonymous said...

The Private is right, and going back to where I came in you could put together a top notch album just of soul singers doing songs written or previously recorded by Charlie: Set me free (Arthur Alexander), Who will the next fool be? (Bobby Bland), I take it on home (Bobby Womack), San Francisco is a lonely town (Joe Simon), Life's little ups and downs (Latimore) etc etc

Anonymous said...

Talk about serendipity: Back in the early 90's, I had ordered an album by Johnny Gill but was accidentally sent an album (same self-title) recorded 7 years earlier and it had a version of "When Something is Wrong With My Baby". I immediately fell in love with the song but never knew the history of it.

Thanks for the history lesson (including the Aretha bit). I would like to hear the versions included on this page but the links aren't working - any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

the best version i have heard of this song was released easy 10 years ago now, by 2 australian rock icons Jimmy Barnes (cold chisil) and John Farnham (did a stint as the front man of the little river band)
i recommend having a listen, tell me what you think!

FYI, the guitar is Diesel, AKA Johnny Deisel (&the injectors) real name is Mark Lizotte... check out his acoustic stuff, especially "one more time" live

Melbourne, Australia