Having released a trio of albums of Southern Soul for Rick Hall’s Fame Records, Candi Staton signed to Warner Bros,where she released a song that’s become synonymous with her, Young Hearts Run Free. Released in 1976, Young Hearts Run Free saw Candi Staton transformed into a disco diva. This was very different to the Southern Soul Candi had recorded at Fame. This saw her establish a reputation as one of the finest Southern Soul singers. This had been the case since her 1969 debut album, I’m Just A Prisoner.

It epitomised what Southern Soul was all about. Its hybrid of blues, country and R&B struck a chord, reaching number thirty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Two years later, Candi would enjoy the most successful album of her career, Stand By Your Man. Released  in 1971, Stand By Your Man reached number 188 in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. The partnership of producer Rick Hall and Candi Staton was proving a successful one. Her third album Candi Staton reached number seventy in the US R&B Charts. Following the release of Candi Staton, Candi signed to Warner Bros, where she was reinvented.

Having signed to Warner Bros. Candi released her Warner Bros. debut in 1974. This was Candi, which was another album of Southern Soul which reached number fifty-four in the US R&B Charts. Candi also featured the biggest single of Candi Staton’s career. A Little Taste Of Love reached number fifty-one in the US Billboard 100 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. However, commercial success and critical acclaim wasn’t far away for Candi Staton.

Two years later, in 1976, Candi Staton was transformed. That’s when she released her fifth album Young Hearts Run Free, which will be rereleased by WEA Japan on 4th February 2014. The title-track, Young Hearts Run Free, transformed Candi int a disco diva and is a a song that’s become synonymous with her. However, there’s more to Young Hearts Run Free than just one song. You’ll realise that when I tell you about Young Hearts Run Free.

For Young Hearts Run Free, which was Candi’s fith album, some of the best songwriters of the day were brought onboard. This included Dave Crawford who penned five tracks, Run To Me, Destiny, What A Feeling, Young Hearts Run Free and I Know. Kenny O’Dell contributed You Bet Your Sweet Sweet Love and Ollie E. Brown wrote Summer Time With You. The other track was a cover of Al Green’s Living For You. These eight tracks became Young Hearts Run Free, which was recorded at Sound City Studios, Los Angeles.

When recording of Young Hearts Run Free began at  Sound City Studios, Los Angeles there was no sign of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. However, the band still contained some top class session players. This included a rhythm section of drummer Ollie E. Brown, basist Scott Edwards and guitarists Jay Graydon and Ray Parker Jr. Congas came courtesy of Eddie Bongo, Jack Ashford added percussion, Monty Clark played synths, Victor Feldman vibes and Michael Boddicker, Sonny Burke and Sylvester Rivers keyboards. Backing vocalists included Jim Gilstrap, Angie Johnson, June D. Williams, Fleming Williams, Lonnie Groves and Rochelle Runnells. Producing Young Hearts Run Free was Dave Crawford. This was the first time a Candi Staton album hadn’t been produced by Rick Hall? Would this affect the success of Young Hearts Run Free?

Before the release of the title-track was released as a single. It reached number twenty in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Over the Atlantic, the single reached number two. The only other single was Run To Me, which reached twenty-six in the US R&B Charts. On the release of the album, it failed to chart. However, did Young Hearts Run Free deserve to fare better? Is Young Hearts Run Free something of a hidden gem in Candi Staton’s back-catalogue? That’s what I’ll tell you.

Run To Me which opens Young Hearts Run Free sounds not unlike the title-track. That’s no surprise, given it was written by Dave Crawford. Having said that, it’s an hook-laden track. Dave Crawford doesn’t spare the hooks. His all-star band provide the heartbeat, while disco strings dance and horns rasp. Next comes Candi’s vocal. It veers between feisty, sassy and needy. Meanwhile, harmonies sweep in, guitars chime, horns blaze and a myriad of percussion punctuates the arrangement. What holds your attention is Candi’s vocal, especially when she sings call and response with her backing vocals. Her Southern Soul roots shine through on this 

Again, Destiny sounds similar to Young Hearts Run Free. Four of the songs written by Dave Crawford, it’s written in the key of F. They all sound generic. This was also the case with George Mcrae’s album Rock Your Baby. The songs are a variation on a theme. That’s one reason why disco had so many critics. Despite the similarities to other tracks, Destiny is almost anthemic. Dave it seems, realises the importance of a hook. Literally, the track bursts into life, the rhythm section, braying horns and disco strings sweeping Candi Staton disco diva along. She delivers a vocal powerhouse, whilst harmonies, percussion and synths accompany her as she struts her way through the song. Clever chord changes add to the impact and drama. So do the stabs of horns. Although slightly generic in sound, it’s hard to resist the song’s charms.

What A Feeling sees a change in style and key. As the tempo drops, the key changes to C. Candi makes a return to her soulful roots. Accompanied by Ray Parker Jr’s wah-wah guitar, lush strings and drums Candi delivers a tender, heartfelt vocal. It becomes sultry and seductive, while swathes of strings prove a perfect accompaniment to her vocal. They seem more suitable than the guitar. Later, as guitars chime, strings sweep and guitars wah-wah Candi unleashes a vocal powerhouse. Her signal to do so, is a sudden chord change. It’s a poignant reminder of Candi’s Southern Soul roots.

As You Bet Your Sweet Sweet Love opens, bursts of horns signal the arrival of Candi’s heartfelt vocal. Behind her, drums crack, horns rasp and harmonies sweep in. As the rhythm section drive the arrangement along, Candi, delivers a vocal masterclass. She breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Backing vocalists provide a perfect foil for Candi during this beautiful paean. 

Without doubt, Young Hearts Run Free is the highlight of the album. It sees Candi transformed into a disco diva. Horns blaze, strings sweep and swirl and the rhythm section create a pulsating heartbeat. Add to this a myriad percussion and bongos and the scene is set for Candi Staton disco diva. She struts and swaggers her way through the lyrics. Her vocal enveloped of by punchy rasping horns, percussion, swathes of lush strings and harmonies. Along with Candi’s diva-esque vocal, they’re key to track’s success. Does disco get better than this? 

Living For You was originally a hit for Al Green. Here, Candi Staton decides to reinvent the song. Just the rhythm section, keyboards and melancholy horns set the scene for Candi’s vocal. It veers between husky tender and powerful. Candi’s vocal is variously melancholy, dreamy, hopeful and heartbroken. It’s a cathartic outpouring of emotion, made all the better by gospel-tinged harmonies and horns. All this makes this one of the highlights of Young Hearts Run Free.

Sultry and sensual describes Candi’s half-spoken vocal on Summer Time With You. Then when her vocal becomes coquettish and later, a sultry vamp. Behind her, the band provide a dance-floor friendly backdrop. This includes a pounding rhythm section providing the heartbeat. Crystalline guitar, swathes of sweeping, swirling strings and rasping horns accompany cooing harmonies. They play their part in this attempt to further reinvent Candi Staton.

Closing Young Hearts Run Free is I Know. It’s written by Dave Crawford and has a tough, funky, dance-floor friendly sound. Dancing strings, a funky rhythm section, blazing horns and punchy harmonies accompany Candi. She delivers a sassy, soulful vocal. The combination of Candi’s vocal and an arrangement that’s funky and dance-floor friendly proves a potent partnership and closes the album on something of a high.

Earlier I wondered if Young Hearts Run Free was something of a hidden gem in Candi Staton’s back-catalogue? The answer to that is yes and no. That might seem like I’m avoiding answering the question I posed earlier. I’m not. There are a few hidden gems on Young Hearts Run Free. One of the real hidden gems, is Candi’s interpretation of Al Green’s Living For You. Then there’s You Bet Your Sweet Sweet Love, which is a beautiful love song. What A Feeling is a welcome return to Candi’s Southern Soul roots. Run To Me and Destiny may not be short of hooks, but both sound not unlike Young Hearts Run Free. This is obvious from the opening bars. They’re rather generic sounding. Obviously, the highlight of Young Hearts Run Free is the title-track. However, some tracks are disappoint.

While Run To Me and Destiny may not be short of hooks, but both sound not unlike Young Hearts Run Free. That’s wasn’t unusual during the disco era. An example is George McRae’s Rock Your Baby album.  Writers found a successful formula and stuck to it. Having said these two tracks had a generic sound, neither are short of hooks. That’s their saving grace. Summer Time With You may have been a decent dance track, but it tried to transform Candi into something she wasn’t. Her vocal is restrained and sometimes, isn’t recognisable. The coquettish style doesn’t suit Candi. It’s just another reason why Young Hearts Run Free isn’t a hidden gem in Candi Staton’s back-catalogue. It comes close, but no cigar.

Don’t get me wrong, Young Hearts Run Free isn’t a bad album. No. Far from it. It’s just not a cohesive album.That’s not Candi’s fault. She could only sing what she was told to. Her record company were looking for hits and weren’t going to say no to a hook-laden track, even if it sounds like two other tracks on Young Hearts Run Free. That’s why I’d suggest that Young Hearts Run Free was two tracks away from being a very good album. That could’ve and would’ve made all the difference. Who knows, maybe Young Hearts Run Free would’ve been the most successful album of Candi Staton’s career? Instead, 1971s Stand By Your Man was Candi’s most successful album. Why?

Producing Stand By Your Man was Rick Hall. He was the man with Midas touch. He’d produced Candi’s first four albums and made Candi the Queen of Southern Soul. However, Dave Crawford replaced Rick for Young Hearts Run Free. Maybe Warner Bros. though Rick Hall couldn’t produce an album that was on message. By that, I mean disco. Rick Hall wasn’t a one trick pony though. He proved that time and time again. The absence of Rick Hall meant The Memphis Shoals Rhythm Section and some of the most talented songwriters of the sixties and seventies were absent. They’d proved their worth on Candi’s 1974 album. By 1975, when Young Hearts Run Free was being recorded, they were nowhere to be seen. Young Hearts Run Free was very much the Dave Crawford show. 

Dave had established a career as a successful songwriter and producer. He proved this by writing Young Hearts Run Free. A stonewall disco classic, it gave Candi the biggest hit single of her career. However, the album Young Hearts Run Free failed to chart. This was a first for Candi Staton. It must have come as a huge surprise, given the success of the single Young Hearts Run Free. Since then, that single, Young Hearts Run Free has become synonymous with Candi Staton. However, there’s much more to Candi Staton than Young Hearts Run Free. Much more.

This includes the three album Candi recorded for Fame Records. 1969s I’m Just A Prisoner, 1971s Stand By Your Man and 1972s Candi feature the best music Candi Staton ever recorded. Back then, way before Young Hearts Run Free which will be rereleased by WEA Records on 4th February 2014, transformed Candi Staton into a disco diva, she was Queen of Southern Soul. Proof of this are these three albums. They’re the perfect introduction to the real Candi Staton. After that, Candi and then Young Hearts Run Free are the best of the six albums Candi Staton recorded for Warner Bros. These five albums are all you’ve ever wanted to know about Candi Staton, but were afraid to ask.



1 Comment

  1. willpopmidia

    Great!! Thanks for make me know more about Candi!! Greets from Brazil.

    William Riga

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