Sam & Dave

The Best Of Sam & Dave (Atlantic ’90) Rating: A
Along with “Wicked” Wilson Pickett the leaders of the second tier of Atlantic/Stax’s mighty ‘60s soul roster (first division: Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding), the team of Sam Moore and Dave Prater produced some of the sweatiest, grittiest soul music ever waxed. Ironically, the two men are inextricably linked together despite never being especially close; in fact, after Dave shot his soon-to-be second wife in 1970 (that's right, she married him after he shot her), Sam told Dave "I'll sing with you, but I shall never speak to you again." Supposedly he basically kept his vow, but Sam & Dave's prime material was cut from 1965-68 and was written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter (not Prater). By and large it was Hayes' musical vision while Porter was the stellar wordsmith, and of course the brilliant house band of the MG’s (usually without Booker T.) and The Memphis Horns made it happen along with Sam & Dave, who comprised quite a vocal team. Sam often handled lead chores or they'd harmonize leads like on "I Take What I Want" and "You Got Me Hummin'," or maybe they'd alternate leads like on their biggest hit, "Soul Man," but they almost always harmonized on the chorus. The duo's best-known tracks are the horn-laced, eminently danceable “Hold On! I'm Comin’” and “Soul Man,” which was revived many years later by the Blues Brothers; both songs are all-time soul/party classics that you're likely familiar with, so I won't discuss them in any more detail. Though more well-known for those types of energetic numbers, they also came up with a transcendent ballad, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” while "Goodnight Baby," "May I Baby," and "Come On In" are other excellent mellower efforts. Elsewhere, "A Place Nobody Can Find," "You Don't Know Like I Know," and "You Don't Know What You Mean To Me" feature tough yet catchy harmonized vocals, while "Small Portion Of Your Love" smoothly recalls their idol, Sam Cooke, whose "Soothe Me" they also cover. "I Thank You" and "Wrap It Up" were later hits for ZZ Top and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, respectively, but Sam & Dave's own hit versions are exemplary as well, particularly "I Thank You" in the way that it hints at the duo's explosive live show, where they would testify as much as sing. They had such a strong live act that even Otis loathed following them on stage, and the energetic drive and spiritual fervor that propelled those shows, though cleaned up and commercialized, could generally be found on their best singles as well. And since Sam & Dave were primarily a singles act who had a fairly brief peak period, this filler-free 21-track package should appease even the most diehard soul fans. Those who want more are recommended to the 2-cd Sweat 'n' Soul Anthology (1965-1971), which features virtually everything worthwhile the duo ever did - and then some. Since their dissolution, Sam is best known for guest appearances with Conway Twitty, Don Henley, and Bruce Springsteen, while Dave went on oldies tours with a fake Sam before getting killed in a car accident in 1988. Both were also serious drug addicts, which had much to do with their lack of post-prime productivity, though Sam has since cleaned up and their prime was spectacular enough to warrant a deserved induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992.

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