Tales Told Between Records

Originally posted March 3, 2008

Sometimes, especially when you’re listening to the radio, records seem speak to one another. Now, I’m not talking about the phenomenon of what might be called “answer records,” the purposeful release by a company of a single that replies to a previous single. Top 40 history provides a rich treasury of such pairings. Some of those, as collected at Rewind The Fifties, are:

“Dawn Of Correction” by the Spokesmen as the response to Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction” in 1965.

Carla Thomas’ “I’ll Bring It Home To You” responding in 1962 to Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me.” (Cooke wrote both songs.)

The website also lists the pairing of “A Thousand Miles Away “ by the Heartbeats in 1956 with 1961’s “Daddy’s Home” by Shep & the Limelites, but I’m not sure. The time lag is longer than one would expect, and James “Shep” Sheppard was the lead singer on both songs. Those facts diminish the pair’s credentials, I think. Still, of the three pairs I mention here, this is the best.

Sometimes the best connections between records is unplanned but nevertheless obvious, with one record leaving an answer as you listen, replying to a record played not all that many minutes before. There was just such a connection on the Cash Box chart – and no doubt at times on the radio – in the late winter and early spring of 1977. On February 26 of that year, the No. 1 song – finishing a three-week stay at the top – was Mary MacGregor’s mellow ballad about infidelity, “Torn Between Two Lovers.” At the same time, “William Bell’s “Tryin’ To Love Two” was in its second week on the chart, having moved from its entry position at No. 80 up to No. 65. It would eventually reach No. 10, giving Bell the only Top Ten pop hit of his career. (He had more success on the R&B chart, especially with the 1961 hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water.”)

Of the two records, I’ve never really liked MacGregor’s all that much, I guess; she kind of weasels her way through her confession, as if the guy she’s talking to should be grateful that she’s getting a lot of what she needs – much of it between the sheets, one reads between the lines – from someone else. Nevertheless, MacGregor’s record – being a No. 1 hit – was so inescapable that winter and spring that its introduction alone takes me back to the cold house on the North Side, where I spent my first winter living more or less on my own.

I like Bell’s record, and his clear-headed acceptance of his dilemma, much more:

“Tryin’ to love two ain’t easy to do.
“Tryin’ to love two, it sure ain’t easy to do.
“I’ve got a woman at home, as sweet as could be.
“A woman on the outside, crazy about me.
“I’m caught in the middle of a three-way love affair,
“Caught up in this triangle, can’t go nowhere.”

I’m not sure I ever heard Bell’s record that late winter and early spring as it rose on the charts, but I don’t think I did. If I had, I’m pretty sure I would have connected it with MacGregor’s confessional and found it to be a much better record and a much more realistic look at a similar set of circumstances.

“Tryin’ To Love Two” was the leadoff track for Bell’s 1977 album, Coming Back For More. According to All-Music Guide, the album was released on the Razor & Tie label, but my copy is on Mercury. Regardless, the album was the first for Bell on any label other than Stax, where he’d been a staff writer and occasional recording artist since 1961. (Along the way, he co-wrote, with Booker T. Jones, the classic “Born Under A Bad Sign.)

Coming Back For More is a good album, not quite as gritty as a Bell album would have been – and some of them were – during his mid-Sixties days at Stax. But Bell is in good voice, and the backing moves along nicely in a late-Seventies, pre-disco style, not all that dissimilar from what was coming out of the Gamble-Huff workshop in Philadelphia at the time. (Bell’s album was recorded in studios in Atlanta, New Orleans and Detroit.)

Along with “Tryin’ To Love Two,” the standouts on the album are the smooth title track, the slightly spooky “Just Another Way To Feel,” and the propulsive “Relax,” which should have had folks heading for the dance floor when the record came out. Bell also reprises his 1961 hit, “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” to pretty good effect.

Tracks:
Tryin’ To Love Two
If Sex Was All We Had
Relax
You Don’t Miss Your Water
Malnutrition
Coming Back For More
Just Another Way To Feel
I Absotively, Posolutely Love You
I Wake Up Cryin’
You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me

William Bell – “Coming Back For More” [1977]

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One Response to “Tales Told Between Records”

  1. Just Like A Baseball Bat . . . « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] Repost: Here’s an album that several people have been anxious for me to offer again, Coming Back For More by William Bell. The original post is here. […]

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