Friday, February 08, 2008


Maxine Brown, All In My Mind.
Aretha Franklin, Today I Sing the Blues.

Two debut singles, two blueprints of soul.

Maxine Brown, born in South Carolina in 1939, grew up in the Pentecostal Church and moved to New York as a teenager. Then, as she recalled in an interview with William Gooch, she got a job singing with the Charles Taylor Singers, a hot gospel group of the late '50s. Some of the Singers decided to form an R&B group, and asked Brown to come along--she agreed as long as they would let her record some of her own material. "Anyway, we got some studio time to record and the group took up so much time attempting to record their music that there was very little time left over for me to record my own songs. That was supposed to be a part of the bargain we had made with the recording studio. Anyway, I only got to record one demo and that song turned out to be “All In My Mind."

"All in My Mind" is standard slow-tempo R&B, performed competently if not excitingly (it was supposed to just be a demo, mind), but Brown's vocal is a true performance, where she confronts a possibly wayward lover, but only in her imagination. She goes from suspicion to desperation to disbelief in a single phrase, with a vocal of such subtlety that you can never quite tell what the singer is thinking--sometimes she sounds as though she knows her relationship is dead and is just denying it out loud, other times she seems to just want reassurance, even the comfort of lies.

"All in My Mind" hit #2 R&B and even cracked the pop Top 20 (despite the fact that, as Brown says, a rival record company had rushed out a copycat single sung by "a little white girl in Chicago"). Brown was poised to make it--she moved to ABC Paramount, then Wand, but despite having a few more charting singles, she never found the audience her talent merited. Some blamed Wand for putting all their efforts behind Dionne Warwick, though much of it was simply hard luck and bad timing.

Released as Nomar 103 c/w "Harry Let's Marry" (it inspired an answer record the next year, the Harptones' "All in Your Mind"); on Something You Got.

And "Today I Sing the Blues" is the 18-year-old Aretha Franklin's first Columbia single. The piece was best known as a Helen Humes song, first recorded in 1948, but Aretha in two minutes erases any other performance from memory (not the last time she would do that). Unfortunately, Aretha soon would become a project of Columbia head Mitch Miller, who thought she was meant for grander things than R&B--some years in the wilderness followed.

Released as Columbia 41793 c/w "Love Is the Only Thing"; on Queen in Waiting.

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