For many years, I’ve loved Southern Soul music, and during that time, discovered a number of great artists and labels. Two of my favorite labels are Stax and Hi Records. Previously, I’ve written about some of the great artists who recorded on Hi Records, including the legendary Al Green, O.V. Wright, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson. However, there is one artist who released seven albums on Hi and nearly twenty singles, and is one of the best female vocalists in the history of Southern Soul, that until now, I’ve not written about, and that is Ann Peebles. After I’ve told you about Ann’s career, I’ll review her 1973 album I Can’t Stand the Rain, which reached number twenty-five in the US R&B Charts.

Ann Peebles was born in April 1947 in St Louis, Missouri, and discovered by bandleader, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller, in 1968, when Ann was singing in a Memphis nightclub. Gene had helped other musicians and artists get started in the music business, including many of the famous Hi Records rhythm section. Ann became the latest of Gene’s discoveries, and very soon, Ann began writing songs with Don Bryant, who was the Hi Records staff songwriter, who she eventually married in 1974.

By 1969, Ann had released her debut single and album. Walk Away was her debut single and This Is Ann Peebles, was her debut album. Although her debut album failed to chart, Walk Away reached number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. Her second album Part Time Love, released in 1971 was a commercial success, reaching number forty in the US R&B Charts. Part Time Love was released as a single, reaching number seven in the US R&B Charts and forty-five in the US Billboard 100. Straight From the Heart was Ann’s third album, released in 1972, and it reached number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. However, her next album I Can’t Stand the Rain, released in 1973, provided Ann with her biggest selling album and single. The album reached number twenty-five in the US R&B Charts, while the single reached number six in the R&B Charts and number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100. Tellin’ It, released in 1975, was the last album Ann released that entered the charts, reaching number forty-one in the US R&B Charts. Her next two albums, If This Is Heaven released in 1977, the year Hi was sold, and The Writing’s On the Wall, released in 1978, both failed to chart. It wasn’t that they were poor albums, quite the opposite, the problem was, musical tastes had changed, with disco now hugely popular.  

In 1989, Ann and Willie Mitchell reunited, with Willie producing Ann’s 1989 album Call Me. Like her previous two albums, it too failed to chart. So too, did the other albums she released. Full Time Love was released in 1992, Fill This World With Love   released in 1996 and Brand New Classics in 2006. However, Ann’s music is still hugely popular and the music she recorded while on Hi contains some wonderful music, including the album this article is about I Can’t Stand the Rain, which I’ll now review.

I Can’t Stand the Rain opens with the title track, I Can’t Stand the Rain, which Ann wrote with future husband Don Bryant, and gave her, her biggest hit single. It’s a song that’s been covered by various artists, including Tina Turner on her 1984 album Private Dance album. However, none of the cover versions come close to Ann’s seminal original. It has an atmospheric opening with percussion and drums combining, before an equally atmospheric yet thoughtful, vocal from Ann enters. She’s then accompanied by guitar, rhythm section and the blazing sound of the Memphis Horns. Together, they combine to produce the perfect backdrop for Ann to sing lyrics laden in sadness, about the loss of her lover. Throughout the track, The Memphis Horns dramatically, interject providing the perfect contrast to Ann thoughtful and soulful vocal. Quite simply, it’s one of Ann’s best ever tracks, and a great track to open the album.

Do I Need You opens with a guitar chiming brightly, before the rhythm section enter. When Ann sings, her voice is loud, clear and full of pride, as she sings, trying to decide whether she needs her lover in her life. Behind her the Memphis Horns and rhythm section combine with guitars and organ, producing an arrangement that laden in drama and atmosphere. When the horns and drums punctuate the track they provide the drama, a total contrast to the thoughtful and calm vocal from Ann. Charles Hodges’ organ playing, provides atmosphere and together with the horns and Teenie Hodges’ guitar playing, the other highlights of the arrangement. However, it’s Ann’s vocal that takes centre-stage, and is the highlight of the track. At times it’s calm and thoughtful, sometimes louder, stronger, but constantly questioning whether she needs him in her life.

When Ann starts singing the vocal on Until You Came Into My Life, it’s instantly noticeable that her voice is much softer and tender. Likewise, the arrangement has a much more subdued feel and sound, with backing vocalists accompanying Ann. As the track opens, strings and rhythm section combine with guitars and organ to produce a lovely understated and almost lush arrangement. Ann gives one of her best vocals on the album, as she give thanks for the love of her life. The addition of Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes on backing vocals, really helps, with their voices the perfect accompaniment to Ann’s tender vocal. Later, the horns enter, briefly punctuating the track, their addition the perfect finishing touch, to quite simply, one of the most beautiful and best tracks on the album. What makes this such a good track is Ann’s lovely tender vocal and Willie Mitchell’s fantastic arrangement, which has a beauty and subtlety.

A guitar slowly plays as (You Keep Me) Hanging On begins, before Ann sings, accompanied by the rhythm and string sections. Her vocal although restrained, quiet and tender is full of drama and passion. Again, the backing vocalists accompany her, their voices similarly tender as they unite. An organ plays subtly, as the strings sweep lushly, and drums sit at the front of the mix, providing the track’s heartbeat. The arrangement like Ann’s vocal, is restrained and subtle, and here, horns aren’t used, so as not to overpower Ann’s beautiful vocal. Like the previous track, Ann demonstrates how good she is at singing songs which require a tender and thoughtful vocal. 

Horns loud and blazing open Run Run Run, a track that’s the polar opposite of the previous track. Here, Ann’s vocal is much louder and stronger, but is drenched in emotion and passion. Similarly, the arrangement is much fuller, with the rhythm and brass section combining to produce an arrangement that has Southern Soul written all over it. Horns interject throughout the track, and the drums are loud, sitting at the heart of the mix. In the background, an organ and percussion play, while guitars chime. Matching the fullness and volume of the arrangement isn’t a problem for Ann, as her voice is loud and powerful, but laden with passion and emotion. This allows her to demonstrate that she’s just as good, singing tracks that require a much stronger and louder vocal as she is singing songs that require a quiet and tender vocal. Similarly, the much louder and fuller arrangement suits the song, and features some of Memphis’ best musicians playing brilliantly.

If We Can’t Trust Each Other is a much quicker track, that sees guitars, rhythm, strings and brass section combining as the track begins. The brass section play loud and bright short bursts, as if announcing Ann’s arrival. It’s a vocal that deserves heralded in, as she sings emotionally, and with passion and pain, lyrics about mistrust within a relationship. This great vocal has just as good an arrangement, with the brass section peppering the song with short and bright bursts, as if in tune with Ann’s passion and pain. Meanwhile, the strings sweep along brightly and quickly, as the rhythm section contribute yet more drama to this arrangement that mixes emotion and drama masterfully. Combined with Ann’s emotion laden vocal, this is one of the most evocative and dramatic tracks on the album.

The rhythm and string section combine with Charles Hodges’ organ playing to produce an introduction that’s both atmospheric and dramatic as A Love Vibration unfolds. When Ann’s vocal enters, it matches the arrangement that’s unfolding. It’s a mixture of sadness and regret, as she sings about missing the opportunity for love and happiness. Here, the organ and later the horns, are responsible for helping to create such an emotional, dramatic and sad backdrop for Ann’s vocal. Sensing that this is one of the best arrangements on the album, Ann rises to the occasion, producing a fantastic performance, one that’s drenched in emotion, regret and sadness. Quite simply, it’s both a fantastic arrangement and vocal, and one of the album’s best tracks.

A guitar and organ combine to produce a quick, bright and emotional sounding introduction to You Got To Feed the Fire, another song about love lost. When Ann sings, her voice is loud yet bright and evocative, as she remembers the past. Behind her, the arrangement says “Made In Memphis,” and is a stunning slice of emotion ridden, Southern Soul. Horns interject, brightly and theatrically, drums provide drama and a Hammond organ provides atmosphere, while lushly, strings sweep in and out. Completing the sound are the backing vocalists, who sing emotionally, but sweetly, complimenting Ann’s vocal perfectly. Together the arrangement and vocal combine to produce a brilliant track, which demonstrates what Southern Soul is about.

Another of Ann’s best known singles was I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, which reached number thirty-one in the US R&B Charts. Like I Can’t Stand the Rain, it has been covered by many artists, including British singer Paul Young in 1984. However, the definitive version is Ann Peebles’, nothing else comes even close. Strings and an evocative Hammond organ open the track before Ann sings, accompanied by horns. When her vocal enters, it starts of gentle, almost thoughtful, but later is a combination of emotion, power and passion. As she sings, the horns punctuate the track, while strings beautifully lush sounding, sweep, percussion plays and the rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. At the heart of the track, is Ann’s vocal, by now a combination of power and passion, as she forecasts the downfall of an unfaithful playboy. Like, I Can’t Stand the Rain, this was one of Ann’s finest songs, and easily, one of the album’s highlights. What makes this such a great track is the arrangement, especially the Hammond organ, horns and string sections’ contributions and Ann’s fantastic vocal. 

I Can’t Stand the Rain closes with One Way Street that opens with strings and rhythm section combining with piano and percussion, before Ann sings. When she sings, there is a gospel feel to the song and her delivery. Backing vocalists provide gospel drenched backing vocals as Ann sings in a way that reminds me of Aretha Franklin and Candi Staton. It’s almost call and response that Ann and backing vocalists sings, as the arrangement of piano, strings and rhythm section combine beautifully. Although very different from the other songs on the album, in that it’s a track that has its roots in the church, I find it incredibly moving and beautiful. Personally, this style of song suits Ann’s voice, and the arrangement is perfect for the song. Willie Mitchell’s use of the strings, piano and backing vocalists was a masterstroke, and combined with Ann’s vocal, is a song Aretha would be proud of.

The seven albums Ann Peebles recorded with Willie Mitchell for Hi Records contain some wonderful music, I Can’t Stand the Rain my favorite of these albums. By 1974, she was co-writing some great songs with Don Bryant and Bernard Miller. Of the ten songs on the album, she cowrote eight of them, with (You Keep Me) Hanging On and I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, the only two cover versions on the album. What surprises me, is that with the ability to write such great songs, and such a stunning voice, Ann wasn’t a much bigger star. That to me, seems strange, as she’d everything going for her. Whether if she’d been on a major label, she’d have been a much bigger success, we’ll never know. However, if that had been the case, she’d neither have had Willie Mitchell nor all the brilliant musicians at Hi to accompany her on her seven albums. Ann won’t be the first artist whose work hasn’t found a much wider audience, sadly this is a familiar story. Talent doesn’t equate to success is just as true now as it was then. Today, people with little talent seem to find huge commercial success, while hugely talented artists struggle to get their music heard.  Hype and marketing seem to be the order of the day, and this sadly, has will only get worse. This means that hugely talented artists like Ann Peebles, will remain loved by people who are familiar with her music, but largely unknown to most people, who may only have heard her two best known tracks I Can’t Stand the Rain and I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, or cover versions of these songs. If you’re one of those people, and want to discover Ann’s music, then her first four albums are available on The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records Volume 1 1969-1973. Her other three albums for Hi can be found on The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records Volume 2 1974-1981. Both albums contain some wonderful music, from one of Southern Soul’s best female vocalists. Standout Tracks: I Can’t Stand the Rain, A Love Vibration, I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down and One Way Street.



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