BETTYE SWANN-THE SOUL VIEW NOW.

BETTYE SWANN-THE SOUL VIEW NOW.

It never ceases to amaze me how hugely talented singers never achieve the success their talent deserves, whilst people with only a modicum of talent have long and successful careers. Like life, the music industry isn’t fair, and can be totally unforgiving. Many times, I’ve come across albums from artists from the sixties and seventies, and having listened to them, and then researched the artists history, discovered that for whatever reason, success eluded them. One such artist was Bettye Swann, a sixties soul singer blessed with an incredible voice, who recorded three great albums between 1967 and 1969. 

Her debut album was Make Me Yours, released in 1967, was the title of her breakthrough single, which reached number one in the US R&B Charts and number twenty-one in the US Billboard 100. After splitting with her then manager a Louisiana’ DJ Al Scott in 1968, Bettye moved to Georgia, where she secured a contract with Capitol Records. It was on Capitol that she recorded two great albums, The Soul View Now in 1968 which reached number forty-eight in the US R&B Charts, and 1969s’ Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me.  

After leaving Capitol in 1970, Bettye signed for Atlantic Records. This wasn’t quite the dream move for Bettye with her only only having a couple of minor hits. These were Victim of A Foolish Heart in 1972, which reached number sixteen in the US R&B Charts and sixty-one in the US Billboard 100 and Today I Started Loving You Again in 1973 which reached number forty-six in the US Billboard 100. Bettye continued to record until the mid-seventies, and gave her final concert in 1980, the year her husband and manager George Barton died.

After the death of her husband and manager, she retired from the music industry aged thirty-six. It was then that Bettye decided upon a change of name and career. In a sense Bettye Swann died and Bettye Barton was born. The “newly born” Bettye Swan embarked on a career in education in Las Vegas and became a Jehovah’s Witness. Now aged sixty-seven, Bettye Swan is in poor health, suffering from a degenerative condition of the spine. Having never received royalty cheques for the recordings she made for Money Records, just a $7,000 advance, Bettye is reliant upon disability payments. This sadly is a familiar story, with many people like Bettye, being mistreated by the music industry financially. However, now that i’ve told you a little about Bettye Swann and her career, I’ll now tell you about her 1968 album The Soul View Now.

The Soul View Now opens with Don’t Touch Me which opens dramatically with drums and a blaze of horns before Bettye accompanied by a piano enters. Her voice is considered and hugely emotive as she sings the lyrics about love, accompanied by subtle backing vocalists. Meanwhile horns drench her vocal while the rhythm section and guitars help drive the song along. Regardless of the dramatic soulful arrangement, what makes the track is Bettye’s vocal. It’s considered and thoughtful, laden with emotion as she delivers the lyrics. Straight away, I’m left wondering just why, wasn’t Bettye Swann a much bigger star with a voice like this?

Like the previous track, Cover Me opens with horns bright and proud, combining with the rhythm section to announce the arrival of Bettye’s vocal. Here, her vocal starts of restrained, but full of feeling, accompanied by soulful sounding backing vocalists. They indulge in call and response with Bettye, whose voice rises and falls, full of feeling, as she brings the lyrics to life. They’re a plea for love and protection. All the while Bettye is accompanied by baying, grand horns. The arrangement is fulsome, a combination of horns, rhythm section and gentle, chiming guitars, that never once overpower Bettye’s beautiful, soulful voice. If anything, this song is even better than the previous one, thanks to the fuller, melodic arrangement, soulful backing vocalists and of course, Bettye’s emotive, pleading vocal.

Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye has a very different, much more gentle and subtle sound when the track opens. It’s just a gentle acoustic guitar solo that plays before an understated bass accompanies Bettye’s much quieter, gentle vocal. She’s accompanied by backing vocalists, whose contribution is equally gentle, even thoughtful. Rasping horns, piano and drums enter, with the horns becoming the most prominent instrument in the arrangement. Still, Bettye’s vocal is gentle, verging on serene, which makes you focus even more on it. Thankfully, the baying horns are kept on the leash, and never allowed to overpower either the rest of the arrangement or Bettye’s vocal. Although quite different in style from the two preceding tracks, Bettye’s gentle vocal and the equally subtle arrangement is both hugely powerful and really effective, making this an irresistible slice of soul.

Again the style changes on Words a track that’s been covered by a multitude of artists over the years. Here, Bettye gives the track a new twist when horns interject, guitar chime and shimmer and rhythm section and combine with Bettye. Straight away, two things are noticeable. Firstly, her voice is louder and stronger, and secondly, the song doesn’t suit either her voice or the arrangement. Bettye is a soul singer supreme, Words is a middle of the road track. However, against the odds, Bettye delivers the lyrics really well. The problem with the arrangement is that neither does song doesn’t work as a soul song nor do the rasping horns suit the arrangement. They’re too brief and rounded. By the end of the track, Bettye has done here best, and although not a bad track, it’s one that just doesn’t suit her voice or sung in a soul style.

What was the closing track on the first side of the album, I’m Lonely For You, is a much better track than the previous one. The tempo is quicker, and is best described as a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a Northern Soul compilation. When the track opens it’s drums, horns and percussion that combine with Bettye’s vocal. Her voice is louder, faster and joyous, which perfectly suits the track. She’s accompanied by sweeping, soulful backing vocalists, while a piano reverberates and guitars and the rhythm section complete the driving arrangement. Together they produce an upbeat, uptempo track with feel-good sound. This is a far better song, the perfect one to end side one.

The second side of the album open with Tell It Like It Is another track many people will be familiar with, with many artists covering the song previously.  It has an atmospheric, somewhat dramatic opening with a piano playing slowly, before the rhythm section enter accompanying Bettye’s vocal. Straight away, it’s apparent this is one of the best vocals and arrangements on the album. Bettye’s voice is laden with emotion and feeling, as she warns her man not to mess her around. Meanwhile, the arrangement is lush and melodic, horns blazing, while the piano adds atmosphere and the backing singers melodically sweep in and out the track. Overall, Bettye delivers George Davis and Lee Diamond’s song brilliantly, rivaling Aaron Neville’s version. This version is soulful with a capital S and easily, one of the album’s highlights. 

Sweet Dreams is another track that’s laden in soul thanks to another stunning vocal from Bettye. The track opens slowly with a combination of chiming guitars, piano and rhythm section accompanying a slow gut-wrenchingly sad vocal from Bettye. She’s accompanied by joyful backing vocalists who’ve taken gospel music as their reference point. Horns joyously drench the arrangement in their glorious sound, with an excellent saxophone solo lifting the track further. Together, a slow fulsome horn laden arrangement, spiritual sounding backing vocalists and a heart achingly beautiful vocal make this a stunning track.

New York songwriter Chip Taylor wrote Angel of the Morning, a track that has been covered by many artists including Dusty Springfield and Nina Simone. Bettye released the track as a single in 1969 and her version is easily one of the best versions ever recorded. Drums slowly play before a piano played quickly and brightly accompanies Bettye who seems to give everything she has during this track, bringing the song to life. Her vocal veers from gentle and restrained to a loud and passionate delivery. During the track, blazing horns punctuate the arrangement, and together with Bettye’s vocal, make this a hugely dramatic song. This is easily my favorite version of the track, thanks to a hugely soulful and dramatic vocal from Bettye.

These Arms of Mine is a track that Otis Redding made famous by Otis Redding in 1962. Many people believe that version to be the definitive version of the song, but Bettye’s version must run Otis’ version a close second, at least. Here, she really demonstrates her huge talent as a vocalists, delivering the song emotionally and with boundless passion. The arrangement opens with chiming, shimmery guitars and rhythm section before Bettye accompanied by backing vocalists throws herself headlong into an emotive and passionate delivery of Steve Cropper’s lyrics. Both the cooing, soulful backing vocalists and bright, blazing horns transform the track, injecting life and feeling into the lyrics. Quite simply, it’s an outstanding version of a  track made famous by Otis.

The Soul View Now closes with No Faith No Love which fittingly, bursts brightly into life, with horns, guitars and rhythm section combining to accompany a loud and passion laden vocal from Bettye. As her voice soars beautifully, her trusty backing vocalists accompany her. Horns and drums punctuate the track with drama, filling in when Bettye’s vocal drops out. Matching the bright, upbeat sound, is a quicker tempo. Here, it’s as if the band realized that this was the final track on the album and decide to really lift their game even higher. This they do brilliantly, as does Bettye who delivers the lyrics with enthusiastically and passionately, using her vocal range to its full. Together with her band, they’ve produced the perfect track to close the album. After all, if you’ve as good a vocal and arrangement as is on this track, what more do you want?

I’ve wanted to write about Bettye Swann for some time now, as I’ve always believed that she’s one of the most underrated soul singers ever. Her career was quite short, lasting just fifteen years. She released her debut single Don’t Wait Too Long in 1965, and retired in1980, aged just thirty-six. It seems that apart from some enthusiastic and passionate soul fans, most people have forgotten about Bettye. To me, that’s a huge shame, because during that fifteen year period, the music she recorded is outstanding. The two albums she recorded for Capitol are great albums, and if you ever get the chance to buy them, my advice is do so. They feature Bettye Swann at her very best. Nowadays it’s almost impossible to find the original albums, but there are two really good compilations of Bettye’s work available. These are a compilation released by Kent Records in 2001 which features the music she recorded for Money Records, and a 2004 compilation by Honest Jons entitled Bettye Swann which features the music she recorded for Capitol. Both are excellent compilations, which I can thoroughly recommend. Maybe if everyone who loves either Bettye’s music or soul music was to buy a copy, Bettye Swann could live a more comfortable life in Las Vegas. Standout Tracks: Don’t Touch Me, Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, Tell It Like It Is and These Arms of Mine.

BETTYE SWANN-THE SOUL VIEW NOW.

3 Comments

  1. Mr. B

    If I understand you correctly, even though Ms. Swann did not receive proper payments from Money Records, she does received payments for the new CD compilations. Thanks for clarifying this if you can. Incidentally, George Pelecanos gets the credit for my discovery of Bettye Swann — I looked up all the singers on You Tube that the author mentions in his story “The Night Gardener,” and Bettye Swann was my favorite so I want to get the CD’s. Being a Merle Haggard fan, I especially like her versions of his songs.

    • Hi Mr B,

      Thanks for your comments. It’s good to meet another Bettye Swann and George Pelecanos fan. I’ve long been a fan of his books. Back when Bettye was recording, things were very different from now. The two record companies who released the two compilations The Soul View Now and The Money Recordings ensure Bettye receives royalties. You’ll enjoy both compilations. They’re available on Amazon. Hope you enjoy them.

      Best Wishes,
      Derek.

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  1. Bettye Swann : The Soul View Now! (1968) | Mr. Moo's What Da Funk

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