Recently, I’ve been writing a number of articles on soul and funk music, with several of these articles featuring Southern Soul, The Sound of Philadelphia and Memphis soul. These recent articles have featured some of my favorite artists, including The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Terry Callier, Jon Lucien Candi Staton and Bettye Swann. One artist however, that I’ve been meaning to feature for some time now, is Millie Jackson, whose recording career began in 1972, when she released her debut album Millie Jackson, which reached number 166 in the US Billboard 200. Her second album It Hurts So Good, released in 1973, reached number thirteen in the US R&B Charts, and 175 in the US Billboard 200. When she released her third album, I Got To Try It One More Time, in 1974, it failed to chart, and Millie must have wondered if, and when, she would make the breakthrough that her talent deserved. Little did she know that later in 1974, she would release an album that was critically acclaimed, and so commercially successful, that she’d receive a gold disc for it.

That album was Caught Up, released later in 1974. When it was released, it was critically acclaimed, with critics loving what was a mini soap opera, with Millie playing the “other woman” on side one of the album, and the wife whose been cheated upon, on side two. Millie plays both rolls brilliantly, bringing them soulfully, emotionally and passionately to life. It wasn’t just the critics that loved the album, so did the record buying public. They helped the album to reach twenty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. This lead to Millie receiving a gold disc for sales of Caught Up. The album spawned three hit singles, If (Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right, The Rap and I’m Through Trying To Prove I Love You. Since the release of Caught Up, Millie has released over twenty further studio albums, but none has matched the huge critical and commercial success of Caught Up, which I’ll now tell you about.

Caught Up opens with If (Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right. Millie was nominated for two Grammy Awards for her version of a classic song written by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Raymond Jackson, one of Stax Records songwriting teams. When the track opens a hugely atmospheric combination of chiming guitars, sweeping strings, gentle horns and rhythm section, before Millie’s vocal enters. After a crescendo of horns, drums and strings, an atmospheric, deeply sad vocal from Millie enters, singing about the adulterous love affair she’s involved in. The sadness of the lyrics is highlighted when the strings drenched in sadness sweep in, combining with blazing horns and a steady rhythm section. Later, in the track, Millie’s voice grows in power and passion, as she roars and screams, really throwing herself into the lyrics, combining a mixture of sadness, anger and frustration brilliantly. Although I’ve heard many versions of this song, this is one of the best versions, made all the better by an equally brilliant, emotional and powerful performance from her band.

The Rap sees Millie rap lyrics about the frustration and problems about having an affair with a married man against a subtle and moody backdrop provided by the band. Mainly, it’s just a combination of moody bass, cymbals and chiming, almost wah-wah guitars. Later, strings and a piano enter, but still, the arrangement meanders along, with horns braying, as Millie vents her frustrations. When her vocal enters, it’s full of frustration and passion, with a full arrangement containing, wailing organ, blazing horns, soaring, screaming guitars and rhythm section. Together, they provide the perfect backdrop for Millie’s vocal, full of energy and drama, which matches her frustration, passion and concerns. Like the opening track, Millie’s vocal is outstanding, bringing to life what it’s like to be the “other woman,” and again, made all the better by the hugely talented rhythm section The Muscle Shoal Swampers.

Another hugely energetic an emotional vocal opens a short reprise of If (Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right. An equally energetic and powerful arrangement containing power laden drums, blazing horns, screaming guitars and moody, Hammond organ combine masterfully with grand, sweeping strings, matching Millie’s emotional, energetic delivery of the lyrics. 

Quickly, All I Want Is A Fighting Chance features an equally powerful driving arrangement that sees Millie confront her love rival, telling her all she wants is a fighting chance to win and wow him. Behind her, the tempo is fast, the arrangement full of braying, blazing horns, sweeping strings, screaming, screeching guitars and driving rhythm section. They combine elements of soul, funk and even rock, and somehow, manage to match Millie’s anger, frustration and passion quite brilliantly.

I’m Tired of Hiding sees Millie talk to her lover, telling him she’s tired of sneaking around, hiding and longing for him, when he’s not around. Her delivery is still laden with emotion, but this time, she tired, fed up and unsure of their future. Her voice lacks the power and strength, but makes up for it with her heartfelt delivery of the lyrics. Behind her, an arrangement that’s both subtle and at times dramatic unfolds. Strings lushly sweep, matching the sadness of the situation, while horns blaze dramatically, sometimes combining with drums, piano and strings to produce further drama. Meanwhile, Millie seems resigned that the affair might be over, risking everything with the ultimatum, it’s her or me. Like the rest of the track, her vocal is much more subdued, but emotional, with sadness and regret not far away, as side one ends. Although very different in style and sound, Millie’s much gentler vocal is just as effective as her hugely powerful style on other tracks. To me, this demonstrates a very different side of Millie Jackson, and is one of the best tracks on the album.

Side two of the original album sees Millie play the role of the “wronged woman,” whose husband has been cheating on her. Bad news awaits Millie on It’s All Over But the Shouting, with her husband cheating on her, and her marriage all but over. This is played out against a backdrop of rasping horns, driving rhythm section, percussion and chiming guitars. When Millie’s vocal full of anger and frustration enters, she tells him their marriage is over, and she won’t be staying with him for the sake of the kids. Not when as she puts it “he’s been practicing baby-making” with someone else. Her powerful, angry vocal is supplemented by soulful backing vocals and a fast, furious and hugely stirring, hook laden arrangement which is an excellent song to open the second part of this soul soap opera.

So Easy Going, So Hard Coming Back sees dialogue between Millie and her husband, with him trying to win Millie back, but she’s not easily won back, determined to keep her pride. The arrangement is atmospheric, with a floaty sound, a flute soaring high above, the saddest of strings, slow rhythm section, gently braying horns and guitars. This matches, Millie’s vocal which is full of sadness and regret, that she’s deceived herself, having turned a blind eye at his unfaithfulness. Philip Mitchell’s lyrics are some of the best on the album, bringing to life the drama, sadness and mistrust of the situation. Millie delivers them emotionally and passionately, against an arrangement that’s slow, moody and laden in sadness. Together, this is a potent combination, resulting in a hugely moving, emotional, sad song.

Having realized that their marriage is over, I’m Through Trying To Prove My Love To You, written by Bobby Womack. It sees Millie moving on, having met someone else, someone better, more reliable. During the song, she sings about how she has to move on, how she has to end the marriage, because she’s through with his cheating and deceiving, unwilling to keep proving she loves him. Ultimately, she wants them to remember the good times, and move on on life. The arrangement has a lovely understated sound, with strings slowly sweeping, guitars chiming, horns gently rasping and a slow, thoughtful performance from the rhythm section. Throughout the track, this is is the case, with the arrangement gently meandering and its beauty to unfold. This allows Millie’s slow, considered vocal to take pride of place at the front of the arrangement, where such a moving, mature performance deserves to be. 

Caught Up closes with Summer The First Time is a song originally written and recorded by Bobby Goldsboro. Here, Millie decides to transform the song, injecting a soulfulness and drama into what was previously a sugary sweet middle of the road track. Against a backdrop of children playing, a spoken word introduction from Millie, an acoustic guitar and dramatic piano open the track. When Millie sings, her voice is strong, full of feeling as lush strings sweep in, while the rhythm section inject power and drama, and guitars play. As the song progresses, Millie injects drama and a soulfulness to the lyrics, as the arrangement sees a buzzing bass and percussion enter. This adds to an already full and drama laden arrangement, which matches Millie’s vocal. She sings the lyrics about a young woman of seventeen being seduced by an older man of thirty-one, and being transformed into a woman. Assisting her, are some subtle, sweet backing vocalists, whose voices are a complete contrast to Millie’s voice. Here, Millie recreates both the drama, passion and emotion of If (Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right, transforming Bobby Goldsboro’s song into something very different from the original, something much better, and full of drama, feeing and soul.

Caught Up is a mini soul soap opera that sees Millie transformed from the “other woman” on side one, to wronged woman of side two. The album traces the two relationships and the various stages they go through. From the opening bars of If (Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right, to the final notes of Summer The First Time, she recreates a range of emotions, ranging from the defiance, frustration and passion of side one, to the anger, betrayal and forgiveness of side two. Regardless of the emotion, Millie recreates it brilliantly, making each song her own, transforming the lyrics and bringing the song to life. This is like the slickest of soul concept albums, one that segues seamlessly from one track to another, the next drama about to play out in front of you. It’s an album that you feel unable to tear yourself away from, you just can’t bare to drag yourself away from it, so as not to miss the next drama that will unfold. One thing that helped make this such a brilliant album, were the musicians who played on the album. The Muscle Shoal Swampers helped bring each song to life, either playing dramatically or with a subtle, understated style. Recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, and produced by Brad Shapiro and Millie Jackson, Caught Up proved to be Millie’s most successful and in my opinion, best album. If you’ve never heard the album, Caught Up and it’s follow-up album Still Caught Up are available on one disc on Hip-O Records. This allows you to hear two great albums from Millie Jackson, including the brilliant Caught Up. Standout Tracks: If (Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right, I’m Tired of Hiding, It’s All Over But the Shouting and I’m Through Trying To Prove My Love To You.


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