Saturday, August 16, 2008

1973: I Can't Stand the Rain

Ann Peebles: I Can't Stand The Rain


Though we're solid on the wide segment of the musical spectrum that calls itself rock and roll, and plenty strong on the country/folk/blues, we trend light on the true soul music here at Star Maker Machine. But I suspect we've each got a few horn-heavy favorites in the streaming slipstream, a couple of hidden (or not-so-hidden) sultry pleasures on the CD rack. After all, as the plethora of grammy nominees and chart toppers cracking multiple categories shows, like so many other genres, soul is a big tent, which runs from pop to jazz and back again. And in the end, it doesn't matter what you call it: good soul is good soul.

1973 was a dire year for Memphis Soul. Otis Redding was long gone; Wilson Pickett's career was slipping; Sam and Dave were playing smaller clubs; Isaac Hayes was moving towards a funk sensibility; Al Green would chart twice that year, but his sales -- and his chart presence -- would begin to fade by year's end. Disco was on the rise, and as it did, it's candy-coated poppiness ate away at the authenticity of the heavy horns and melodic organ and bass which typified the "shimmery, sultry" Memphis sound. The virtual collapse of standard-bearing label Stax was still a year away, but the the writing was on the wall, and the books were already falling deep into the red.

Still, there were a few great songs to be wrung from the proverbial stone. Exhibit A: I Can't Stand The Rain, written and performed by rising star Anne Peebles, released on Memphis-based soul and rockabilly label Hi Records. The song, which John Lennon reportedly cited as his favorite record of all time, had crossover appeal from its release as a 1973 single, charting as both Pop (#38) and R&B (#6); its popularity went a long way towards the subsequent success of Peebles' 1974 album of the same name, which planted the title track right up front in the hopes that folks would keep the record spinning.

But the Stax/Hi Records sound was waning in popularity, and in the end, I Can't Stand The Rain -- both single and album -- would represent the pinnacle of a career. Though Peebles continues to perform today, her greatest hit is best known among the rising generations for its cover versions, its commercial placement, and other recycled use in culture. It is telling, in fact, that in 1997, 24 years after the original topped out at #6 on the charts, Missy Elliot's very first single, an "interpolation" of I Can't Stand The Rain entitled The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly), peaked even higher than Peebles' original, hitting number 3 on Billboard's Hot Dance Singles chart.

Here's some bonus covers, a few favorites among a very large series: below-featured Little Feat frontman Lowell George at his slow, funky R&B best, and Cassandra Wilson with a sparse, jagged, bluesy jazz interpretation. Just to show how far soul goes.

Lowell George: I Can't Stand The Rain [purchase]

Cassandra Wilson: I Can't Stand The Rain [purchase]

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