Sometimes, an artist or group records one single, and forevermore, they become known for that song. It doesn’t matter how many great singles or albums they’ve recorded before, or after, that’s the song they’re always known for. This is the case with many of the artists I’ve previously written about. Recently, I wrote about Chaka Khan, who recorded the huge hit I’m Every Woman, which became a feminist anthem. Since then, that’s the song she’s best known for. People forget the material she recorded with legendary funk band Rufus before that, or the many other memorable tracks she recorded as a solo artist. The same can be said of the artist this article is about, Candi Staton. In 1976, Candi released one of the greatest tracks of the disco era, Young Hearts Run Free, and since then, that has become the track that’s synonymous with Candi. People forget that long before that track was released, Candi released several hugely successful and critically acclaimed R&B singles and albums, quickly becoming known as the First Lady of Southern Soul. Her recording career started in 1953, and since then, has released over twenty albums, ranging from R&B, country soul, Southern Soul to her later gospel albums. However, this article is about her 1969 debut album, I’m Just A Prisoner. Before that, I’ll tell you about Candi’s long and successful musical career.

Candi Staton was born Canzetta Maria Staton, in Hanceville, Alabama in March 1940. When she was eleven or twelve, she and her sister Maggie were sent to the Jewell Christian Academy, in Nashville, Tennessee, where her talent as a vocalist was soon spotted. She was a far superior singer to the majority of other students, and Candi and Maggie, plus a third student became the Jewell Gospel Trio, at the suggestion of the school’s pastor. While the trio were still teenagers, they toured the gospel circuit, with some of gospel music’s biggest names. This included Mahalia Jackson, The Soul Stirrers and C.L. Franklin. Between 1953 and 1963, they recorded a number of tracks for Apollo, Nashro and Savoy Records. Little did Candi know it, but this would just be the start of a long and successful career.

By 1968, Candi Staton had now launched her solo career, and recorded sixteen R&B hit singles for Rick Hall’s Fame Studios. This was when Candi gained the title the First Lady of Southern Soul. She released her debut album I’m Just A Prisoner in 1969, the album this article is about. Two years later, in 1971, her second album, Stand By Your Man was released, and Candi’s version of the title track, saw her nominated for a Grammy Award. When her eponymous album Candi Staton was released in 1972, it featured In the Ghetto, a track also recorded by Elvis Presley, and her version was nominated for a Grammy Award. The three albums Candi released between 1969 and 1972, contain some wonderful music and are among the best album she has ever released. 

Candi’s next album was entitled Candi Staton, and was the last album she released before her music moved in a very different direction. By 1975, Candi had started working with producer David Crawford on a number of disco tracks. One of these tracks, Young Hearts Run Free, would become the track that Candi is best known for, by most people. When the track was released, it was a huge hit in the UK and elsewhere. In the UK, the song reached number two in the singles charts. This was just the first in a series of hit singles for Candi.

1977 saw her version of Nights On Broadway, reach the top ten in the UK singles charts. The previous year, it had been a hit Bee Gees. During the next few years, Candi had further hit singles in the UK. Honest I Do I Love You and Suspicious Minds were two of her biggest singles. Her music was successful within the UK club scene, tracks like Victim and When You Wake Up Tomorrow proving hugely successful among DJs’ and club goers. 

By 1982, Candi decided to return to gospel music. She founded her own ministry and since then, has recorded eight gospel albums, two of which, were nominated for Grammy Awards. 

In 1991, Candi made a return to mainstream music, singing the vocal on You Got the Love, by The Source. This club track, went on to sell over two million copies, and since then, is now seen as a classic club track. Such is its popularity that it has been remixed numerous times, with various artists releasing cover versions. After that, Candi signed a new recording contract with Intersound Records, and in 2000, released a new album entitled Here’s A Blessing. Since then, she’s recorded a number of albums both secular and gospel. This includes her 2006 secular album His Hands, which was produced by Mark Nevers of Lambshop. The title track was written by Will Oldham and the album released on Honest Jon’s record label. It was followed up in 2009 by Who’s Hurting Now? That was the last album that Candi released, and aged seventy-one, she’s still busy with her church and music. Who knows, maybe another album will be released by the woman once known as the First Lady of Southern Soul? 

I’m Just A Prisoner which was Candi’s debut album, released in 1969, and opens with Someone You Use. It’s a track that begins slowly with backing singers, piano and brass section playing before Candi sings, accompanied by a Hammond organ. Straight away, Candi’s voice is laden with emotion, as she gives a heartfelt rendition of the track, complete with backing singers accompanying her. Behind her a dramatic, soulful and melodic arrangement unfolds. During the track, the brass section punctuate the track with a sound drenched in sadness and emotion, a piano adds character to the sound and guitars and Hammond organ help complete what’s a dramatic and soulful arrangement. Mind you, on this album, she’d some of the best session musicians accompanying her. Overall, it’s a raw, emotional and deeply soulful track, one that demonstrates just why she was known as the First Lady of Southern Soul.

After a slow and thoughtful opening track, Candi ups the tempo with I’d Rather Be An Old Man Sweetheart (Rather Than A Young Man’s Fool). It’s a very different sounding track that bursts into life with organ, brass section and then Candi’s energetic, powerful and quick vocal. Here, her voice is hugely powerful as she sings lyrics that are both tinged with unintentional humor, realism and cynicism. As she sings, the band match Candi’s energy and power, playing brilliantly creating the perfect backdrop for her vocal. Both rhythm and brass sections provide the mainstay of the arrangement, infecting the energy required to drive the track along. The brass section especially, fill out the sound, dramatically and melodically interjecting at just the right time. Candi, however, is the star of the track. It’s her vocal that makes this such a great track. She combines passion, energy and power singing some great lyrics quickly, using her full vocal range brilliantly.

It’s a hugely dramatic and sad sound that opens You Don’t Love Me No More. Straight away, it’s apparent this is going to be a song drenched in sadness and emotion, that starts with drums and brass section playing, setting the scene and atmosphere. When Candi sings, there’s a rawness to her voice, that’s full of emotion and sadness. As she sings, the lyrics about someone no longer loving her, it’s as if they’re personal, as if she’s experienced the emotions and sadness involved. Behind her, the band are surpassing themselves, producing the perfect arrangement. The brass section play a huge part in the track’s success. They play slowly and thoughtfully, drums steadily set the tempo, a piano plays slowly and sadly and a guitar drifts in and out of the track. Combined with Candi’s emotion laden vocal, You Don’t Love Me No More is one of the album’s best tracks.

Drums, organ and brass section combine as Evidence begins. Like the previous track, it’s much slower, but full of drama and atmosphere, created by the brass and rhythm sections. Candi’s voice is loud and strong, full of power, as she vents her frustration and anger singing lyrics about a cheating man, who has betrayed her. Backing singers accompany her, their voices, like Candi’s, full of emotion. Meanwhile, the arrangement grows. A Hammond organ plays, as drums and the brass section punctuate the track, accompanying and complimenting Candi’s vocal perfectly. What makes this such a great track, is Candi’s vocal, made all the better by the interaction between her and the backing singers, and an arrangement that’s laden with emotion and atmosphere.

Sweet Feeling begins with just organ and drums playing slowly, spaciously and thoughtfully before Candi’s strong and passionate vocal enters. Although the arrangement starts subtly, it eventually opens out to include guitars, rhythm and brass sections, piano and organ playing. However, this arrangement doesn’t sound crowded, quite the opposite. Plenty space exists within the arrangement which meanders along, with Candi singing above it powerfully.  She gives an emotional and heartfelt vocal, and really lets go towards the end of the track, her vocal power personified, as it soars heavenwards. Here, she combines power, passion and emotion to give a heartfelt rendition of some great lyrics.

Piano, rhythm and brass section combine at the start of Do Your Duty. The tempo is quicker than previous tracks, with Candi’s vocal a bit more restrained here. She doesn’t let loose like she did on the previous track, but it’s just as good, full of emotion, as the track swings along. Throughout the track, she’s accompanied by backing vocalists, with whom she sings call and response with. They unite sweetly, yet dramatically, the perfect accompaniment for Candi’s vocal. Behind Candi, the arrangement drives along. The brass section punctuate the track, while piano, guitars and rhythm section all combine to help Candi produce a dramatic, emotional and deeply soulful track. 

That’s How Strong My Love Is has a lovely, sad sounding introduction where backing vocalists combine with the brass and rhythm sections, piano and organ to produce a heart achingly beautiful arrangement. It gets even better, as Candi sings, her voice is emotional, thoughtful and sometimes, hugely powerful, as it soars high. During the track the backing vocalists accompany her, their voices soft and soulful, playing a huge part in the track’s success. Likewise, the band’s contribution is huge, as they play slowly, carefully and thoughtfully. The brass section drenches Candi’s vocal with their beautiful sound, as drums slowly keep the beat, and an organ, piano and guitars all drift into, and out of, the track. A combination of outstanding vocal from Candi, ably assisted by her backing vocalists and a great arrangement, make this one of the best tracks on the album.

Drums hesitantly and slowly play, as I’m Just A Prisoner (of Your Good Lovin’) begins. Candi’s voice is a mixture of emotion and strength as she slowly sings the vocal, joined by rhythm section and guitars. Later, the brass section, percussion and backing vocalists join Candi. By now, her voice is laden with character, drama and even more emotion. There’s a rawness to her vocal, as she really gives one of her strongest vocals on the album. Like the previous track, the addition of the backing vocalists really compliment her vocal. Here, the tempo of the arrangement is quick, quicker than Candi’s vocal. It’s a full sounding arrangement that has Southern Soul written all over it, and is very similar to the arrangements Willie Mitchell used on albums on Hi Records. Overall, you can’t help but admire the rawness, passion and emotion in Candi’s vocal, which is made all the better by the addition of the backing vocalists and an arrangement that’s fuller, mixing soul with funk perfectly.

Another Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man begins with drums, flute and piano playing, and a slow, heartfelt and emotional vocal from Candi. Like previous tracks, she’s accompanied by backing vocalists, who add to the hugely dramatic and sad arrangement that’s unfolding. As Candi sings about being the “other woman,” she puts everything she has into her delivery. It’s almost an understatement to say that her delivery is heartfelt and laden with emotion and drama, because it’s so much more than that. Here, she surpasses herself, giving an outstanding vocal performance. Maybe this is because of the backing singers, who like Candi, sing emotionally and dramatically, or because the arrangement which is subtle yet dramatic. A piano plays a huge part in the dramatic arrangement, as do the drums and brass section. Personally, the tracks success, is down to a combination the three things I’ve mentioned, Candi, her backing singers and the arrangement.

 I’m Just A Prisoner closes with Get While I Want It, which begins with guitars, piano rhythm and brass section and is a much quicker track. Here, Candi’s vocal is loud, strong and full of emotion and sits above the arrangement. Likewise, the arrangement is quicker and fuller, and there’s even a hint of the Motown sound in the arrangement. As usual, the brass section punctuate the track, with drums, bass and guitars driving the track along. Together with the backing vocalists, they produce has a melodic, joyous sound. Although it’s a very different kind of track to the others on the album, because of the style of song and the much quicker tempo, it’s a great track to end the album. It has a feel-good factor, joyous sound and as usual, a great performance from Candi Staton, her band and backing vocalists. 

When Candi recorded I’m Just A Prisoner, she’s been a recording artist since 1953, and this experience is apparent throughout the album. She delivers each track with feeling and passion, giving performances that range from a much slower, heartfelt delivery laden in emotion, to powerful and uptempo deliveries where she uses her full vocal range. Regardless of the type of song, she gives everything she has each time she sings. Behind her, were a fantastic band, made up of some of the greatest session musicians of the time, played their part in the album’s success. Another thing that really helped make this such a good album, was the addition of the backing vocalists. They compliment Candi’s voice perfectly, sometimes lifting a track to the next level. Whilst I’ve researched this article, I’ve immersed myself in the music of Candi Staton, and to me, this is one of her best albums. Since then, she’s recorded over twenty further albums ranging from soul, disco and gospel. Candi has one of the best voices in the history of soul music, and I hope that this article proves that there’s much more to her music than the wonderful, Young Hearts Run Free. Personally, Candi Staton to me will forever be the First Lady of Southern Soul. Standout Tracks: You Don’t Love Me No More, Sweet Feeling, That’s How Strong My Love Is and Another Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: