What does one say about an eight CD, 203 track collection from the most important rhythm and blues label? The first word is `definitive’, the second is `superb.’
The Atlantic label under Ahmet Ertegun assembled one of the richest archives of tracks of any company and this collection serves up an amazing swathe through thirty years of popular music revealing along the way the development of the musical sound we now call R & B. Along with well known artists and tracks there are lesser known tracks by the greats (“Drown In My Own Tears” recorded by Ray Charles an excellent example), tracks you recognise but never knew the artist (“Lucky Lips” by Ruth Brown) and unknown gems (hard to specify since you might have known about Ivory Joe Turner while personally his “Empty Arms” was a surprise to me.)
Personally I found the first CD good for historical reasons; to hear the Chicago based Atlantic sound emerge from the more southern soul sound. The eighth and final CD is a testament to how far down a good label can go when it is immersed in a corporate environment. The words `disco’ and `dreck’ spring to mind. Why Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway felt they needed to cut such a woeful version of “You’ve Got A Friend”, but even at the last there are jewels such as a few good tracks from the “Spinners”
The six in between are perfection. Think of an R & B artist and chances are there are at least two or three tracks of theirs in the collection. Ray Charles, The Drifters (fronted by both Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King), Joe Turner, LaVern Baker, The Coasters, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave – and that’s just hitting the highlights.
This collection goes beyond essential. Anyone who professes a love or understanding of popular music needs this set.