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"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Deep..... Deeper..... Deepest! Counting Down to the Greatest Soul Ballad...Ever! (Part 3)

I'm counting down the top 10 songs in my quest to find
The Greatest Soul Ballad...Ever! Let's get serious, Jermaine. You've heard the rest. Now you're gonna hear the best. Presenting the deepest three!

#3 "Stay With Me" - Lorraine Ellison (October 1966)

The story surrounding the making of this record reads like
a Hollywood movie script. Let's call it A Deep Soul Classic
is Born.
In the fall of 1966, Frank Sinatra was scheduled
for a studio recording session but canceled the gig. Since
a 46 piece orchestra had already been booked, Warner Bros. Records asked East Coast production wizard Jerry Ragovoy to fill the studio time slot. With only two days advance notice Rags put together an orchestral arrangement for
a song that he had co-written entitled "Stay With Me."

Ragovoy whisked soul thrush Lorraine Ellison into the studio to record the song and it was laid down quick and dirty. Lorraine sang live to tape with the orchestra accompanying her in real time. Lorraine didn't have a chance to rehearse. She reached deep inside her soul and just went for it.

The result? Magic. Mastery. Lorraine nailed it to the wall. As the story goes, even the seasoned veterans in the orchestra were left shaken and awe struck by Lorraine's stunning vocal performance.

Similar in style to "Your Precious Love," the Linda Jones tear-jerker, "Stay With Me" starts out calm like a controlled burn. In an instant it explodes into a towering inferno of agony as Lorraine frantically pleads with her man not to abandon her.
This song shatters me every time I hear it. When I listen
to "Stay With Me" and "Your Precious Love" back to back
(like I did just now), I keep a box of tissues handy!

#2 "Bless Our Love" - Gene Chandler (October 1964)

He will always be known as the "Duke of Earl," but soul legend Gene Chandler made many other excellent recordings. I am proud to introduce Gene's greatest soul ballad, one that barely missed the top spot on my list.

Released during the fall of 1964 and finishing its two month chart run at a modest #39 on the Billboard chart, "Bless Our Love" is a devastating Chitown soul classic that would give any self-respecting Dell rat goose bumps.

Like "Human" by Tommy Hunt, "(God) Bless Our Love" is a prayer within a song, just inches across the line that separates secular from gospel. With powerful lyrics that tell the honest truth about man's temptation, Chandler's sweet, sincere, humble vocal treatment, a church bell and a heavenly chorus of background vocalists, "Bless Our Love" has all the right stuff to make a grown man cry.

#1 "Strange Feeling" - Billy Stewart (October 1963)

At the illustrious #1 position is another masterpiece of Chicago soul, this one waxed by the late great Billy Stewart, affectionately nicknamed the fat boy and motormouth. Billy achieved his biggest hit in the summer of 1966 with "Summertime." I loved "Summertime" and several other songs that Billy recorded. You can find them all in a special blog tribute to Billy that I published last year. There is one song, however, that commands my deepest respect. When Billy Stewart recorded "Strange Feeling" in 1963 he knocked one out of the park in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded. This is it. This, in my opinion, is the greatest soul ballad ever made!

I chose "Strange Feeling" as The Greatest Soul Ballad...Ever! because it speaks to a human being's basic need to give love and get love in return. With sincerity and humility, Billy paints a portrait of a man living in what he terms a sad world. This decent yet lonely man has a reversal of fortune when he finds the right girl.

Featuring an angelic choir that evokes an other worldly domain, "Strange Feeling" transcends ordinary soul ballads. Whereas many pop songs worship physical beauty, "Strange Feeling" wisely avoids that chestnut. This man and this woman have their heads on straight and their priorities in order. Theirs is a higher love, a love so rare and pure that
it is hardly recognized in modern pop culture. In the bizarro universe created by "Strange Feeling," gentleness, kindness and respect are the most important qualities to look for in a life partner.

"Strange Feeling" offers a model of perfect, exalted, ideal love...the kind that seems impossible to find, especially in our modern version of a sad world. Yet, there is always hope. After all, if people can win the lottery...if a 50 to 1 longshot can win the Kentucky Derby, then the right guy and the right girl can find each other, fall in love, make a commitment, get married, and live happily ever after.

Billy Stewart's "Strange Feeling" is a noble, majestic triumph of goodness and decency over sleaze and schlock. It is a beautiful fairy tale, one that we must never allow ourselves to stop believing.

* It is interesting to note that 3 of the top 5 artists on my list died young. Billy Stewart died in an auto crash at age 32. Lorraine Ellison was only 51 when she succumbed to ovarian cancer. After years of suffering with diabetes, Linda Jones died at the tender age of 27.

* Another interesting piece of trivia is the fact that the top 3 songs and 4 out of the top 5 were all hitting their peak of popularity during the month of October. I'm trying to figure out what, if anything, that means. Got any ideas?

Clearly, my impression of a great soul ballad is a deep soul ballad, the deeper the better. I need to feel the love, joy, pain, suffering, sadness and heartache expressed in the vocals as well as the inner strength and determination to overcome all obstacles and survive a world of trouble one day at a time.

Do you have your own list of Greatest Soul Ballads...Ever?
I would love to see it! Just submit it in the form of a comment and I'll get it published.

Have a Shady day!


  1. I have to say that I did not know "Stay With Me", but liked allon your list. (Maybe not the order). I will give you a quick, without tons of thought, list in no order after #1 Human - T. Hunt
    I'm not sure they all will fit your criteria.
    One Million Years - Heartbeats
    The Plea - Jesters or Chantels
    Last Night I Dreamed - Fiestas
    Whisper - Avons
    What Can I Do - Donnie Elbert
    For Sentimental Reasons - Devotions (A Killer B)
    Lets Start Over Again - Paragons
    The Closer You Are - Channels
    Just To Be With You - Passions

    Ask me tomorrow and you would get a different list with the same # 1.


  2. Thanks, Jerre! That looks like a great track list for Jerry Blavat's next volume of For Yon Dell Rats Only! Lots of dreamy ballads on your list, brother rat, but I'm a bit surprised you didn't include Lonnie Donegan's deep soul tearjerker "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor on the Bed Post Overnight?"

  3. I like all of your top three. I don't know much about soul ballads, but you are right about Lorraine Ellison's voice. Wonderful.

    I find the history behind the songs very interesting.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Belle. I get misty when I listen to any of the ten songs on the list!


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