John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Solomon Burke Was the King of Soul

And maybe the godfather of Punk Rock, as this song proves.

By - Mar 6th, 2017 03:10 pm
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Solomon Burke

Solomon Burke

Recently I wrote about Question Mark And The Mysterians’ monster smash, “96 Tears.” I was steering this big, unwieldy thought I had about it toward some kind of a grand unifying theory, hoping to pinpoint the Big Bang of Punk Rock. Punk reveled in it’s sloppy home-made quality and fervid passion. So who would think the trail would lead back beyond ‘60s Garage Rock and The British Invasion to Solomon Burke and his seminal song, “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love?”

Yes, I would argue this song is the seed from which a universe of ideas, attitudes and approaches influenced Punk Rock and other music and resonate to this day. Ladies, gentlemen and trolls, let me make my case — then you can laugh me right off the internet if you’re so inclined.

Let’s start with King Solomon.

Ranked #89 in Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest singers, which had some amazingly annoying singers like Don Henley, Steve Perry and Axl Rose before him. Piffle, I say! In that same authoritative document, Karen Carpenter cuts in line before B.B. King, so draw your own conclusions. We know that history is written by the winners, often about other winners, and sales figures mightily in that accounting. Burke never had the following or hits other singers of his stature had, but he did just fine and finished his career singing from a gilded throne. He deserved it.

Burke’s style mixed secular with earthly concerns, as you can probably tell from the first half of this song. That beautiful gray area, where preaching simmers, heats up and finally comes to a boil, exploding into song, was his specialty. When he finally made it to the actual song, the power and control were spectacular. Jerry Wexler, the legendary Atlantic producer, called him the greatest Soul Singer of all time, and he worked with Aretha Franklin.

Wexler, along with Bert Berns, one of the great songwriter/producers of that era, are credited with writing this song with Burke. That was disputed by him. Burke said it was all his and he gave them publishing so they’d promote it. Given the times they lived in and the common practice of white producers and record company execs adding their names where they shouldn’t have appeared, it’s hard not to side with him. Both Wexler and Berns had mob guys who would eventually negotiate Van Morrison’s move from Bang to Atlantic. That’s another amazing story we’ll save for another time. But since I have neither a mob guy nor lawyer, all three get the credit (below).

Let’s read the sermon… I mean lyrics, and then talk about how this song became a template for so many others:

I’m so happy to be here tonight
So glad to be here in your wonderful city
And I have a little message for you
And I want to tell every woman and every man tonight
That’s ever needed someone to love
That’s ever had somebody to love them
That ever had somebody’s understanding
That’s ever had someone to need your love all the time
Someone that’s with them when they’re up
Somebody that’s with them when they’re down
If you had yourself somebody like this you better hold onto ’em
Let me tell you something
Sometimes you get what you want
And you lose what you have
There’s a song I sing
And I believe that if everybody would sing this song you can save the whole world
Listen to me

Everybody needs somebody
Everybody wants somebody to love
Honey to hug, yeah
Sugar to kiss
Baby to miss now, yeah
Baby to tease
Sometimes to please, yeah
And I need you you you
And I need you you you
In the morning baby you you you
When the sun goes down you you you
Ain’t no nobody around you you you

Whoa listen to me, sometimes I feel like
I feel a little sad inside
When my baby mistreats me
And I can’t get a little little mad
But I need you you you
Just to see me through children
Somebody to hold my hand
When I feel a little lonely, oh but I want to hear you say yeah
Oh baby say yeah, I want to hear you say yeah

I say yeah yeah
I just want my woman to stand up and say I love you
I want someone to be a witness tonight
I just want to say I love you, I wanna hear you say I love you ohhh
I just want somebody to squeeze tonight yeah

© Solomon Burke, Bert Berns, Jerry Wexler

Great lyrics are deceptive. The are meant to be sung, not read, so flow is important. They don’t look good on paper, the way great poetry does, some may even seem a little lame… until you hear someone great deliver them. Someone like Burke, who was a child preacher, the pastor of his church by age twelve and making records by age fifteen. He was a polished professional when he signed with Atlantic Records at twenty-one. His performance here is incendiary, as it was on everything he sang.

When a young Mick Jagger heard it he must have flipped, because he recorded it less than a year after it was released. Jagger’s tribute had more swagger than skill, but the aggression in his voice was an important moment. A lot of young American white boys were soon doing their imitation of the imitator. Among them, last week’s band, Question Mark and The Mysterians, were unmistakably Rolling Stones wannabes. The line from Punk to Garage is clear, the one back to Burke and other Blues and Soul giants, less so.

One other thing, and it’s very important, is the introduction of what my friend, D. Clinton Thompson, calls “the money chords.” This song is one of the first instances I can think of where these three particular chords are played in this sequence. Numerically (Which will mean little if you aren’t a Nashville session player) they’re 1 — 4— b7 — 4. You’ve heard them everywhere on all kinds of songs like The Standel’s song, “Muddy Water,” and Beck’s terrifyingly cool, “Devil’s Haircut”. Shuffle these chords to get classics like “Last Time,” Can’t Explain,” and “Gloria.” They’re very dependable and the ways to combine and recombine them never seem to run out. The urge to use them on every song is hard to resist.

The battering simplicity of Burke’s song was one last lesson for future rockers. Almost all repetition, it builds an excruciating tension. Like James Brown, he works that vein just a little longer than you can stand it and then releases about a megaton of energy at the bridge, where the chords finally change. (Incidentally, it’s the same chord The Mysterians finally go to in “96 Tears”) Songs were not like this in the 1950’s, but they were after this rave up. Was Burke the first to do this? I’m not a licensed musicologist, so I won’t stick my neck out. If he wasn’t, he was among the first, and it was bound to happen. The scenario would probably have been similar, just a different artist with roots in Gospel and R&B. This kind of cool would never have come from the Pat Boone end of the spectrum.

Note: The 1 — 4— b7 — 4 chords are explained a little here.

3 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: Solomon Burke Was the King of Soul”

  1. Charli Dee says:

    And he was incredible in person. Smoldering. The only solo performers in his league were Jackie Wilson and James Brown.

  2. Christnia Zawadiwsky says:

    Yes, it’s all about having a witness to your life (as these lyrics told us), isn’t it? Who doesn’t want one?

  3. James Pollock says:

    The song you discuss doesn’t prove that Burke was the King of Soul. Now, ‘Cry to Me’, ‘If You Need Me’, and this one, THE PRICE, do point in that direction.

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