Novelty track? You decide. This was Arthur Conley's only real hit, but man, it swings. And sure, the whole point of it is to name-check other, greater, more durable talents on the soul scene in 1967 -- but let's give Arthur his due, okay?
It certainly helped that Arthur had recently come under the tutelage of the late great Otis Redding, who co-wrote this song with him and supervised its recording in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. (Check out the Muscle Shoals regulars, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn behind Conley on that tiny bandstand.) Technically, he also co-wrote it with Sam Cooke, since it was based on Cooke's minor hit "Yeah Man" ("do you like all the dances? Yeah, man...") But Conley and Redding transformed that track completely, stealing an arresting horn fanfare from The Magnificent Seven intro and cranking the funk level up to eleven.
This song deserved its brief reign at #2 (oh, so close!) on BOTH the R&B and pop charts. I remember how it cleared the sidelines at eighth grade dances that summer, everyone jumping up to join in on the dance floor. "Do you like good music," we'd raucously sing along with Arthur . . . because indeed we did.
I'll even so so far as to say that Conley's charmer holds its own against the six songs he refers to in the course of the song. Why don't you listen and judge for yourself?
Arthur doesn't mention Smokey Robinson and the Miracles by name -- but come on, EVERYBODY back then would have picked up on the first verse's reference to this December 1965 Motown classic.
And how about this soul-drenched 1966 hit from Lou Rawls, mentioned in verse 2 ("oh don't he look tall, y'all?")
And the incomparable Stax soul duo Sam & Dave, of "Soul Man" fame -- this March 1966 hit was their first major breakthrough record.
By the time "wicked" Wilson Pickett released this hot hot hot single "Mustang Sally," we already knew him from "In the Midnight Hour," not to mention "Land of 1000 Dances" -- which sorta paved the way for Conley's song by name-checking current dance crazes.
Okay, here's one that I would rank above "Sweet Soul Music" -- a 1966 hit by Conley's mentor Otis Redding, who tragically would only survive Conley's tribute by a few months.
And last but certainly not least -- the Godfather of Soul and the hardest working man in show business, Mr. James Brown. It wasn't for nothing that Conley refers to him as "the king of them all -- since 1964's "Out of Sight," James Brown had pushed soul music to new funky frontiers. Conley doesn't single out any particular Brown tracks, but going with Conley's general 1966 time frame, I'm throwing in Brown's big-production diva number, "It's a Man's World." Why not?
Next to all these monumental singles, Arthur Conley's uptempo dance number comes off as a refreshing alternative. Was he trying to put himself in their league? No way. (It's interesting to note that in later years Conley moved to Europe and changed his name, not so much to escape this hit but to give himself space to do other kinds of music.) But the effervescent joy of this song is hard to resist. I'm out of my chair and dancing already.