During the early to mid-seventies, Hi Records were producing some of the best Southern Soul of that time. With Willie Mitchell producing, The Memphis Rhythm Section, Memphis Horns and legendary backing vocalists Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes, one great record after another was recorded at the famous Royal Recording Studios and Allied Recording Studios. Back then, Hi had a roster that included some of the most talented purveyors of Southern Soul. Their best known artist was Al Green, who released some critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums, resulting in four of his albums certified gold, and one platinum. However, there was more to Hi than Al Green, with Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson all producing some stunning albums for Hi. Of these artists, Syl Johnson is often overlooked when people discuss Hi. In doing so, some wonderful Southern Soul goes almost unnoticed, because Syl released four albums for Hi, all of which feature some quality Southern Soul.

Syl’s first album for Hi was Back For A Taste of Your Love, which this article is about. It was released in 1973, reaching number nineteen in the US R&B Charts. This was Syl’s most successful album for Hi. His second album, Diamond In the Rough, which I’ve previously reviewed, was released in 1974, but disappointingly, failed to chart. Total Explosion his third album, fared better, reaching number fifty-six in the US R&B Charts. By the time Syl released his final album for Hi, the music industry was a very different place and Hi was a very different label. Hi had been taken over by Cream, and they decided that what would become Uptown Shakedown should be recorded on the West Coast, with some of the top session players accompanying Syl. With no Memphis Horns or Memphis Rhythm Section, it was a different sounding album, albeit one with some fine music on it. Uptown Shakedown failed to chart, not helped by the massive popularity of disco music. This lead to albums by Southern Soul singers like Syl, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and O.V. Wright not selling in such vast quantities. Even Al Green’s music wasn’t as popular, although his music had changed since becoming ordained as a pastor. However, this was all in the future, and after signing for Hi in 1971, Syl set about recording his debut album for his new label.

Before recording got underway for Back For A Taste of Your Love, ten songs were chosen for the album. Syl cowrote three of them, the title track Back For A Taste of Your Love, I’m Yours and Feelin’ Frisky, which he cowrote with Earl Randle, who wrote or cowrote so many of the great tracks recorded by Hi artists. On Back For A Taste of Your Love Earl wrote four tracks himself, and one with Syl. With The Memphis Rhythm Section, The Memphis Horns and Memphis Strings accompanying him, Syl entered the Royal Recording Studios. Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes contributed backing vocals, while Willie Mitchell engineered and produced the album. Having cut ten tracks, the album was due for release later in 1973.

On Back For A Taste of Your Love’s release towards the end of 1973, the album sold well, reaching number nineteen in the US R&B Charts, the highest chart placing of any of Syl’s Hi albums. In total, three singles were released from the album during 1973. The title track Back For A Taste of Your Love, reached number sixteen in the US R&B Charts, while We Did It reached number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. The only disappointment was I’m Yours, which peaked at number sixty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Overall, the start of Syl’s Hi career had been a success, two hit singles and in Back For A Taste of Your Love an album that was well received and a commercial success. However, what does Back For A Taste of Your Love sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Back For A Taste of Your Love opens with the title track Back For A Taste of Your Love, which gave Syl a number sixteen US R&B hit single. With horns blazing the track swings into life, with a driving rhythm section accompanying Syl’s sultry vocal. A guitar plays the same line repeatedly, while a Hammond organ wails and horns punctuate the arrangement. The arrangement just swings along, hooks aplenty during what’s a really catchy, swinging track. With the horns and rhythm section playing leading roles in the track’s success, your swept along for just under three minutes of this horn laden, driving track. You become caught up in this uptempo and uplifting track, with Syl’s joyful vocal sitting atop Willie Mitchell’s excellent arrangement. 

I’m Yours was another of the three singles released from the album, but only reached a rather disappointing number sixty-eight in the US R&B Charts. This didn’t reflect the quality of the song, which again, sees braying horns, Hammond organ and punchy rhythm section open the track, before an emotive and confident Syl’s vocal enters. With Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes accompanying Syl throughout the track, their sweet, soulful voices help make a good track even better, and provide a contrast to Syl’s more powerful vocal. As the track progresses, horns constantly punctuate the track, while the Hammond organ and rhythm section provide the mainstay of the arrangement, and the perfect backdrop for a besotted Syl, whose smitten by his new love, willing to do anything to please her. Together, they combine to produce a joyous and emotive sounding track, with Syl sassy and confident throughout.

The first of the four tracks written by Earl Randle himself, is I Let A Good Girl Go, a very different sounding track to the two previous tracks. It’s slower and full of sadness and regret. It has a much more understated and lush arrangement with strings sweeping sadly and slowly, while the rhythm section play carefully and thoughtfully and guitars chime. Adding to the emotion and sadness is a heartbroken Syl whose full of regret at the girl he mistreated and let go. When a Hammond organ enters, it’s the perfect addition, helping to bring out the heartache and regret in the lyrics, and a perfect accompaniment for Syl’s desperate vocal. This is easily one of the album’s highlights, a track that you’ll never tire of hearing.

With horns blazing Anyway the Wind Blows, another Earl Randle track opens. The horns are joined, chiming guitars and rhythm section, before Syl’s soliloquy enters. He’s despairing, his girlfriend threatening to leave him, and has come to the conclusion he can’t stop her, he’s done all he can to make her happy, so if she chooses to leave, so be it. Against an atmospheric and emotive backdrop of stabs of Hammond organ, rasping horns, lush sad strings and rhythm section, a despondent, but realistic Syl’s voice rises and falls, pain and frustration in his voice ever-present. Here, the addition of the Hammond organ and strings is a masterstroke, adding to an already sad and despondent sounding arrangement, and by combining horns adds to the frustration and anguish in Syl’s voice. This is a classic Willie Mitchell arrangement, providing an arrangement that suits the lyrics and Syl’s delivery of them. Willie’s arrangement and Syl’s vocal brings Earl Randle’s lyrics brilliantly to life, resulting a deeply moving and sad song, but one that’s quite beautiful and thoughtful.

Side one of Back For A Taste of Your Love closes with You Don’t Know Me. This is another slow track, where swathes of strings, rhythm section and Hammond organ combine, before a despondent and thoughtful Syl enters. He’s unhappy, having let his chance of love pass him by, his love unrequited and unnoticed. While a heartbroken Syl sings, Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes add subtle and tender backing vocals, as the song meanders sadly along. The strings add to the sadness, as does the Hammond organ, while a thoughtful rhythm section provide the song’s heartbeat. This is a powerful and thoughtful combination, made all the better by the slow tempo and of course, Syl’s heartbroken vocal.

Feelin’ Frisky opens side two of Back For A Taste of Your Love, and is co-written by Syl and Earl Randle. It’s a faster and much more uptempo track, with a more uplifting sound. Blazing horns, Hammond organ and rhythm section provide a swinging backdrop for another sassy vocal from Syl. As horns bray and rasp, the Hammond wails and punchy drums are occasionally joined by Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes. Together with Syl and the band, they combine to produce a great sounding track, albeit one where the lyrics don’t have the depth of some of the other tracks on the album.

Another of the three singles released from the album was We Did It, which reached number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. Here, the tempo increases, with swirling, sweeping strings joining rasping horns, piano and rhythm section before Syl makes his entrance. It’s a happy, joyful Syl we meet, happy that his relationship has lasted, and that they’ve made it through the bad times. With Rhodes, Chalmers and Chalmers sweetly yet soulfully accompanying him, the arrangement sweeps along, with a Hammond organ accompanying the punchy, growling horns and swirling strings that play a key role in the arrangement. When all this is combined with the quicker tempo and Syl’s joyous vocal, the result is a much better track than the previous one, thanks to much better lyrics that have some depth.

Earl Randle wrote Wind, Blow Her Back My Way which straight away, you realise has a classic Willie Mitchell arrangement. A Hammond organ and rhythm section combine to produce heartbreaking arrangement, even before a despondent Syl or the saddest strings enter. Add to this rasping horns and you’ve one of the saddest and emotive arrangements on the albums. Stabs and flourishes of the Hammond add to the sadness, as Syl sings about who he told his girlfriend to leave, and is now desperate for her return. Willie Mitchell provides one of his stunning, trademark Southern Soul arrangements, perfect for a despondent and inconsolable Syl. Although just two and half minutes long, it’s one of the best and saddest tracks, Syl ever recorded for Hi.

I Hate I Walked Away has similarities with the previous track, with swathes of the lushest strings, a wailing Hammond organ and slow rhythm section combining before Syl’s vocal enters. He’s full of regret and despair, having left his girlfriend, and realizing his mistake wants her back. As the emotion results in his voice rising, Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes enter, their united vocals swoop in, sympathetically accompanying Syl. With the strings sweeping and swirling, sometimes adding drama, the Hammond adds to the atmospheric slightly bluesy sound. Full of remorse and regret, Syl pleads forgiveness, his voices soaring as he apologizes. This is hugely effective and seems so realistic, that you almost start to get caught up in the scenario, hoping that Syl will be forgiven. That’s testament to both Syl’s vocal and Willie Mitchell skills as a production.

Back For A Taste of Your Love closes with The Love You Left Behind, which Syl released as a single in 1971, reaching number forty-three in the US R&B Charts. Bursts of braying horns punctuate the arrangement, while the rhythm section add drama, before Syl’s powerful, roaring vocal enters. WIth Rhodes, Chalmers and Chalmers accompanying him, their subtle backing vocals provide a welcome contrast to the power of Syl’s vocal. Throughout the track, punchy, growling horns, Hammond organ and rhythm section combine, playing quickly, matching the passion displayed by Syl. Although it’s a track laden with drama and passion, it has a slightly different sound to the other nine tracks. Whether this is because it was recorded at a different time, or just because Syl and the band kick loose, it seems somewhat out of place. However, given the passion displayed and a punchy, blazing arrangement, it’s a good way to end the album.

As I said earlier in this review, Syl Johnson’s music is often overlooked when the music of Hi is discussed. During his career, he recorded for a variety of labels, with one of his best albums 1969s Is It Because I’m Black? A close second must come Back For A Taste of Your Love which features Syl at his very best. He was accompanied by some of the best musicians of the time in The Memphis Horns, Memphis Rhythm Section and Memphis Strings, with Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes adding backing vocals. Add Willie Mitchell as producer and some great material, with six songs written or co-written by Earl Randle and you’ve the recipe for a successful album. This was the case, with Back For A Taste of Your Love reaching number nineteen in the US R&B Charts, giving Syl his most successful album of his Hi career. Of the four albums he recorded for Hi, they all featured some fine music, but none of the other three were as complete. Each of the ten songs feature Syl at his best, bringing a song to life, with either heartache and despair or happiness and joy. On each song, he launched himself into it, made it come alive, so much so, that it made you believe in the characters. This is similar to a good book or film. That Syl could do this is testament to his talent and versatility as a singer. If you’ve never heard the music of Syl Johnson, I can thoroughly recommend it. A two-disc set entitled The Complete Syl Johnson On Hi Records was released back in 2000, by Demon Music Group. It features the four albums recorded by Syl for Hi Records, including the stunning Back For A Taste of Your Love. Standout Tracks: I Let A Good Girl Go, Anyway the Wind Blows, Blow Her Back My Way and I Hate I Walked Away.


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