THE COMPLETE FAME SINGLES VOLUME 1-1964-1967.

 THE COMPLETE FAME SINGLES VOLUME 1-1964-1967.

Mention Southern Soul, and certain labels spring to mind. Among them are Stax, Hi Records and Fame Records. These three labels are synonymous with Southern Soul. Together, they released some of the greatest music in the history of Southern Soul. Indeed, the artists who walked through the doors of Stax, Hi and Fame Records reads like a who’s who of Southern Soul. However, for far too long, Southern Soul has been overlooked. Instead, record labels have focused on labels like Philadelphia International Records and Motown. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Now reissue labels like Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records, are releasing a series of lovingly compiled compilations of music released by Fame Records. The most recent compilation is The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967. 

The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 is the first in a three disc series featuring every single released by Fame Records. It’s a double album featuring twenty-six tracks on each disc. With a mammoth fifty-two tracks, this is one of the most comprehensive retrospectives of music released by Fame Records.

On The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 there’s contributions from some of the most influential artists in Fame Records’ history. This includes twenty-two tracks from Jimmy Hughes, six from Clarence Carter and a quartet of tracks from Dan Penn, Terry Woodford, Arthur Conley and Art Freeman. Then June Conquest, Spooner and The Spoons, James Barnett and The Villagers contribute two tracks each. That makes fifty-two tracks. For a newcomer to Fame Records, it’s the perfect introduction to one of Southern Southern’s greatest labels, which was founded in the late fifties.

The story starts during late fifties when Rick Hall, Tom Stafford and Billy Sherill founded a record label, and built their first studio above the City Drug Store in Florence, Alabama. However, by the early sixties, this nascent partnership would split-up, resulting in Tom Stafford and Rick Hall needing a new studio. They decided to move to what had been a tobacco warehouse in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As if by magic, Rick Hall soon recorded what would be his first hit single, Arthur Alexander’s You Better Move On. Wisely, he decided to invest the profit in a better studio, and moved to their current location Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The first hit single Rick Hall recorded in his new studio was Jimmy Hughes’ Steal Away. Little did Rick Hall know it back then, but soon his new studio would see artists coming from far and wide to record at Fame.

After Rick’s success with Jimmy Hughes, word got out that Fame was the place to go to record a new single or album. Quickly, everyone from Tommy Roe to The Tams, and from Joe Tex, Joe Simon, George Jackson and Clyde McPhatter right through to Irma Thomas, Etta James and Mitty Collier. Even Aretha Franklin recorded at Muscle Shoals. Indeed, it was at Muscle Shoals that Jerry Wexler brought Aretha Franklin, to record her 1967 album I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You. However, why did all these artists choose to head to Muscle Shoals to Fame?

Part of the reason was the session musicians that worked with Rick Hall. This included the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Muscle Shoals Horns. They were some of the hottest and tightest musicians of that era. This included drummer Rodger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and keyboardist Barry Beckett. When they recorded together, they were one of the finest backing bands ever. Between 1961 and 1969, when they departed from Fame to found the rival studio Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. However, for eight years, they graced numerous hit singles and album. This includes on the tracks on The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967, which I’ll pick some of the highlights of.

DISC ONE.

Jimmy Hughes is the artist who features most often on The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967. He features twenty-two times. No wonder. It was Jimmy who transformed Rick Hall and Fame Records’ fortunes. His recording career at Fame Records began in 1964. The song that launched Jimmy Hughes’ career was the stonewall classic Steal Away, which gave Jimmy a top twenty US R&B single. Penned by Jimmy, it features Lollypops, Lace And Lipstick on the B-side. After this, an album entitled Steal Away was released. This was a mixture of new material and songs Rick Hall had previously recorded with Jimmy.  It featured Jimmy’s sophomore single. 

This was the James Brown penned Try Me, which was released in 1964. It was produced by Rick Hall and features the hugely underrated Lovely Ladies on the B-Side. Reaching just sixty-five in the US R&B Charts Try Me didn’t replicate the success of Steal Away. Neither did Jimmy’s third single. 

The William Bruce penned I’m Getting Better was Jimmy’s third single. A dramatic, needy ballad, it failed commercially. Hidden on the B-side was the catchy dance track I Want Justice.

In 1964, Dan Penn released Close To Me, one of his own compositions. This was his first single on Fame. Previously, he’d been signed to United Artists. He was backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Previously, Close To Me had been released as a single by The Tams. Dan’s version is slow and heartfelt his needy vocal full of emotion. Hidden away on the B-side was Let Them Talk was written by Rick Hall and Tom Stafford. It’s a real hidden gem, where Dan delivers a vocal where power, passion and emotion collide head on. 

Dan’s other contribution is (Take Me) Just As I Am. Released in 1965,  as Lonnie Ray, it wasn’t a commercial success. That’s despite its obvious quality. Penned by Dan and Spooner Oldham, the song was later recorded by Spencer Wiggins and Solomon Burke. Diamonds which was the B-side was written by Dan and David Briggs. This is a fusion of pop and soul that’s a reminder of the music of the early sixties.

Despite a recording career that lasted between 1963 and 1972, June Conquest only ever recorded about six singles. Her debut single was 1963s Almost Persuaded, which was released on Fame Records. It wasn’t a commercial success and she was dropped by Fame Records. She left behind the dramatic piano driven Don’t Let It Be Said. Written by Earl Montgomery, it features a vocal powerhouse from June. Mixing power, pride and emotion, June’s vocal is defiant and dramatic. Describing this track as a real hidden gem, is almost an understatement. It’s much better than that. It’s essential listening for fans of Southern Soul.

James Barnett was signed to Fame in 1965 on a two-year contract. Keep On Talking like the B-side Take A Good Look was written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. Sadly, Keep On Talking failed commercially and James’ career at Fame was over. Since then, Keep On Talking has become a favourite among Northern Soul fans. Take A Good Look is one of the hidden gems in Fame’s back-catalogue.  Featuring a heart-wrenching vocal from James, it also marks a coming of age of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham as songwriters.

DISC TWO.

Terry Woodford featured on disc one. He has another two tracks on disc two. They’re Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s It’s His Town. Produced by Rick Hall it’s quite different from Gonna Make You Say Yeah. This is a much more soulful song, featuring a tender, wistful vocal from Terry. She Wants What She Can’t Have was the B-side penned by Terry and Larry Hamby. It’s a poppy slice of heartfelt soul that reminds me of The Everly Brothers.

When The Villagers released Laugh It Off, which was penned by Ray Whitley in 1965, they were the last pop or rock band to release a single on Fame until 1970. The Villagers were essentially a covers band. Their version of Laugh It Off, is a  fusion of pop, rock and soul. On the B-side is a cover of Lennon and McCartney’s You’re Gonna Lose That Girl. They stick closely to The Beatles’ original version and don’t try and reinvent a classic. The only difference is the tempo is slightly quicker. Apart from that, this is one of the best covers of You’re Gonna Lose That Girl I’ve heard.

Just like disc one, Jimmy Hughes contributes the most tracks. One of his finest moments is I Worship The Ground You Walk On. He breathes life, meaning and emotion into the song. His vocal is full of hurt and heartache. Written by  Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, it’s a heartbreaking ballad that reached number twenty-five in the US R&B charts in 1966. Terry Thompson’s A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues, a much covered track features on the B-side, and allows us to hear another side of Jimmy Hughes. 

For many people, Arthur Conley’s name is synonymous with Sweet Soul Music. There’s much more to Arthur than that. This includes I Can’t Stop (No, No, No) which was a double-A side. Its inclusion is a welcome one. Written by Dan Penn and Roger Hawkins, and produced by Rick Hall, this track was recorded in 1966 this is a track that literally oozes emotion. Arthur breathes life into the lyrics. On the other side the Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn composition In The Same Old Way. 

Just like I Can’t Stop (No, No, No), it’s a track where emotion and quality are ever-present. I’m Gonna Forget About You is another of Arthur Conley’s singles. It was penned by Arthur. This is vintage Arthur Conley. No wonder. Otis Redding was in the studio when Arthur cut this track. He seemed to inspire Arthur. Ironically, Arthur sounds as if he’s been influenced by Sam Cooke. On the flip-side Take Me (Just As I Am), which was penned by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s Take Me (Just As I Am) features a totally impassioned vocal from Arthur.

Clarence Carter’s delivery of I Stayed Away Too Long literally oozes emotion. Penned by Clarence Carter, it had been chosen as Clarence’s 1966 single. Then, when it was released, Fame decided to flip the single over. Tell Daddy which was written by Clarence, Marcus Daniel and Wilbur Terrell climbed all the way to number thirty-five in the US R&B charts. This was the start of Clarence Carter’s rise to becoming one of the biggest Southern Soul stars of the sixties. 

Then in 1967, Clarence released Thread The Needle as a single. Just like the B-side Don’t Make My Baby Cry it was penned by Clarence. The groove-delicious Thread The Needle reached number eight in the US R&B charts.  However, proving that fame is a cruel mistress was the commercial failure of She Ain’t Gonna Do Right. 

She Ain’t Gonna Do Right is a Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham composition. It’s a glorious slice of Southern Soul that allows Clarence to showcase his considerable talents. The Road Of Love has a moody, bluesy sound. Accompanied by the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Clarence demonstrates why he was one of Fame Records’ biggest success stories.

So, that’s the story of The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967. It features an incredible fifty-two tracks. That’s both the singles and sometimes, B-sides. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s another two volumes in this series due for release. Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records, are doing justice to Fame Records illustrious back-catalogue and have been for some time. They’ve released a string of lovingly complied compilations. The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 is just the latest in this series. It’s a combination of classics, hit singles, familiar faces and hidden gems .

Some of the most talented Southern Soul singers make an appearance. This includes old friends like Clarence Carter, Jimmy Hughes, Dan Penn, Terry Woodford, Arthur Conley, Art Freeman, June Conquest, Spooner and The Spoons, James Barnett and The Villagers. Some of these artists may not be familiar to you. That’s because they only played a walk on part in the Fame Records’ story. 

This includes James Barnett. He didn’t enjoy the commercial success his music and talent deserved. However, nearly forty years later, James Barnett is being heard by a new generation of music lovers. They’ll have heard of  Clarence Carter, Jimmy Hughes, Dan Penn, Terry Woodford and Arthur Conley, but not Art Freeman, June Conquest, Spooner and The Spoons, James Barnett and The Villagers. Thankfully, that’s been rectified. Kent Soul have righted a musical wrong by introducing music lovers to these artists. Although they weren’t Fame Records most successful artists, they released some deliciously soulful music.

Compiler Tony Rounce has dug deep into Fame Records vaults and released some of the best Southern Soul released between 1964 and 1967. This is vintage Southern Soul. Other tracks are a fusion of soul and pop, while others have a bluesy sound. Together, the fifty-two tracks on The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 are the perfect introduction to Fame Records, one of the legendary Southern Soul labels. For anyone with an interested in either Fame Records, Southern Soul, soul music or just good music, then The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 is an essential purchase. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to Kent Soul’s Hall Of Fame series and The Fame Records Story 1961-1973 box set. Together, they’re the perfect introduction to Fame Records, one of Southern Soul’s greatest labels.

THE COMPLETE FAME SINGLES VOLUME 1-1964-1967.

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