While Solomon Burke never made a major impact upon the pop audience, he never, in fact, had a Top Twenty hit, he was an important early soul pioneer. On his 1960s singles for Atlantic, he brought a country influence into R&B with emotional phrasing and intricately constructed, melodic ballads and mid-tempo songs. Burke was at the same time surrounded with sophisticated arrangements. Bert Berns, his producer, provided much of his material, thus Burke was able to combine gospel, pop, country, and production polish that formed a recipe of early soul. While Burke wasn’t the only one pursuing this path, not many others did so as successfully. And he, like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, was an important influence upon the Rolling Stones, who covered Burke’s “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” on their early albums.
Burke came by his gospel roots even more deeply than most soul stars. He was preaching at his family’s Philadelphia church, and hosting his own gospel radio show, even before he’d reached his teens. He began recording gospel and R&B sides for Apollo in the mid-to-late ’50s. Like several former gospel singers, he was molded into a more secular direction when he signed with Atlantic in the 1960s.
Burke had a wealth of R&B hits in the early half of the ’60s, which crossed over to the pop listings in a mild fashion as well. “Just out of Reach,” “Cry to Me,” “If You Need Me,” “Got to Get You off My Mind,” “Tonight’s the Night,” and “Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)” were the most successful of these.
However, he wasn’t able to expand his R&B base into a huge pop following as well. He left Atlantic in the late ’60s, and spent the next decade hopping between various labels, getting his biggest hit with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Proud Mary” in 1969, and recording an album in the late ’70s with cult soulster Swamp Dogg as producer.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Burke became one of the most visible living exponents of classic soul music, continuing to tour and record albums in a rootsy, country and at times gospelish style. Although these were critically well received, their stylistic purity also ensured that their market was primarily confined to roots music enthusiasts, rather than a pop audience.
2001 marked Solomon Burke’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and with it, a last gasp at commercial success, with the release of King of Blues ‘N’ Soul. Compilations from Burke are not unknown with releases such as The Best of Solomon Burke, and the Very Best of Solomon Burke. However, considering his recent introduction into the Hall of Fame and simply the selection of tracks in this compendium, Varese Records have produced something special.
King of Blues ‘N’ Soul consist of Burke’s classics like “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Someone to Love” but also consists of Joe Turner‘s “Crawdad Hole“, and the infamous “Good Rockin’ Tonite“. This album is more than just a greatest hits compendium or typical compilation but is in fact a history of Rock ‘n’ Soul. Acting as a tribute to one of the genre’s forgotten fathers, Solomon Burke.