WERE THINGS REALLY THAT MUCH BETTER? James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke,etc: The 1962 R&B Hits Collection

When you hear some old curmudgeon say, “Today’s music stinks compared to when I was a kid,” it’s probably because they grew up listening to music like what you’re hearing on this 103 song, 4 cd collection. This box set focuses on one year, 1962, it rivals the Swing Era one of the rare times when the countries most popular music was also the best. The songs go in chronological order from January’s “Unchain My Heart” from Ray Charles, through the seasons and a Halloween stop at Bobby “Boris” Pickett and “The Monster Mash” and closing out with the soulfully strutting “Walk Right In” by the Rooftop Singers.

It’s a testimony to the eclectic ears of that generation that the usually associated black radio of R&B back in the Kennedy years still was able to appreciate and accept pieces such as Paul & Paula’s “Hey, Paula,” The Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and even Bobby Vinton’s syrupy “Roses Are Red.” Smoking instrumentals abound as well, such as “Soul Twist” with King Curtis wailing on the sax, the gospel swaying “Walk On The Wild Side” by Hammond B3er Jimmy Smith and of course the film noir classic “Green Onions” by the STAX label house band Booker T. and the MGs.

Doo wop and white pop get into play with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as well as Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender” but the real selling point here is how many R&B singers reached an apotheosis during this era. Sam Cooke has a handful of hits like “Twisting the Night Away” and the churchy “Bring it on Home to Me,” James Brown is howling on “Night Train,” Ray Charles is all over the place from “You Are My Sunshine” to “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and future Motown stars Mary Wells and (Smokey Robinson and the) Miracles get their momentum going with “Two Lovers” and “You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me” respectively.

Just to give a hint of the breath and width of popular music, four consecutive hits in the fall of ’62 were Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Yield Not to Temptation, Don Gardner with Dee Dee Ford on “Don’t you Worry,” “Do You Love Me” by The Contours, and finally Nat “King” Cole with “Ramblin’ Rose.” There was something for everyone, and it was all top notch. Young, old, black, white, upscale, downtown…it didn’t matter. This is a time capsule of how popular music can be an artistic inspiration and aspiration. Where did we go wrong?


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