28 DAYS OF LOVE SONGS
So many of these love songs I've been writing about are sung by the lovers themselves, who're out to woo or wheedle or settle some score -- they're saturated with Vested Interest. But now here for a change is this neglected treasure from 1966. Warning: This has NOTHING to do with the Jackson Five's thrilled-up joyride of a song with the same title, despite the vaguely similar "Stop!" of the Jacksons' opening. No, this is a slow number, a cautionary tale for those who have loved and lost -- a classic example of The R&B Advice Song. Most advice songs involve the singer counseling a friend (think of “Tell Her You Love Her” or “She Loves You”); vested interests still creep in. Not so Joe Tex. He's acting purely in the public interest, accepting the mantle of street preacher, delivering a sermon on the nature of love to whatever congregation he can find.
Apparently, throughout the 1960s Joe Tex and James Brown were locked in a notorious rivalry, ignited (naturally) over a woman. James Brown prevailed -- as a kid I heard plenty of his stuff and hardly any Joe Tex, except for the late novelty "Ain't Gonna Bump No More With No Fat Woman." (Tex quit show biz after his conversion to Islam and died young, of a heart attack, in 1982.) Thanks however to Elvis Costello, who featured this on his 2005 Starbucks Artist's Choice compilation -- a landmark album in my life, for very personal reasons -- I finally came to the Joe Tex party, and now I'm making up for lost time. This guy was amazing, with a slyness and subtlety and vulnerability you never got from the Godfather of Soul.
I love how he turns the ballad tempo into a world-weary tromp, with heavy-hearted percussion and admonishing trombones. Oh, yes, brothers and sisters, gather round, for I know whereof I speak. He's the Voice of Experience, as he establishes in the first two verses—“People, I've been misled / And I've been afraid / I've been hit in the head / And left for dead” (he also says he’s been “abused,” “accused,” “pushed around,” “brutalized,” “given til sundown to get out of town” -- man oh man). With all that suffering, worn into every tremor and creak of his expressive sweet tenor, he's a certified expert on the pain of love.
It all leads up to the chorus: “But I ain't never / In my life before / Seen so many love affairs / Go wrong as I do today.” Check out his masterful phrasing, how he lags dolefully over the words as if shaking his head. Then he puts his foot down: “I want you to STOP,” an abrupt caesura underlined by a twiddle of horns and vibes; “And find out what's wrong / Get it right / Or just leave love alone.” Those are your choices, folks, and he sounds faintly disgusted by all these screw-ups. With finger-wagging vibrato, he warns, plunging darkly into his lowest voice, “Because the love you save today / May very well-l-l-l be your own.” People, you’ve been schooled.