(originally written for Side Dishes)
Don’t say I’m not romantic or anything but as we’re about to get buried underneath an avalanche of saccharin lovey-dovey-ness because of Valentine’s Day, I thought it was fair to point out that, really, the best love songs are about falling out of love, not into it. New love is great and blah blah blah but nothing says passion and desperation like heartache does. That’s why, for V-Day, I threw together a special Tears On Your Pillow set of songs for those who know that no love is so sweet as that which you no longer have.
William Bell: I Forgot To Be Your Lover
From Bound to Happen (Stax, 1968).
I don’t know if you can properly call this single “unsung” considering that it appeared on two different William Bell albums and was covered by Jaheim a few years back but to me, it’s always a bit of a sleeper song, certainly nowhere near as well-known as Bell’s early hit, “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Regardless, it has one of the most memorable opening guitar lines I’ve ever heard, ringing with a melancholy that suffuses the entire song as Bell bemoans his lack of attention and affection.
Darondo: Didn’t I
From Let My People Go (Ubiquity, 2006)
An erstwhile singer turned pimp turned talk show host, the Bay Area’s Darondo was an enigma until recently, when aficionados of his early ’70s sweet soul and funk singles rediscovered him living in Sacramento and helped to resurrect his career. “Didn’t I” is the crown jewel of the handful of singles he recorded back in the day, a super-stripped down yet incredibly powerful ballad of wistfulness with just a hint of desperation. Makes you wonder how anyone could have left someone who could sing with that kind of intimacy and intensity.
Lezli Valentine: Love on a Two Way Street
From 7″ single (All Platinum, 1968).
Long before Sylvia Robinson put together “Rapper’s Delight” in the late 1970s, she was a successful singer and songwriter in the ’60s, creating a massive R&B empire in New Jersey. She helped pen “Love on a Two Way Street,” a memorable ballad which makes good use of its transportation metaphors (how often does one get to say that?). It was a decent hit for the Moments but originally recorded by Lezli Valentine, a little-known singer signed to Robinson’s All Platinum imprint. The two versions are very similar, musically, but while the Moments’ falsetto approach works well enough, it’s different hearing an actual woman’s voice tackle it, especially one as rich and nuanced as Valentine’s.
Binky Griptite: You’re Gonna Cry
From 7″ single (Daptone, 2008)
Just to show you that soul artists today can still knock out a good tearjerker in the tradition of the classic R&B troubadours, the Dap-Kings’ guitarist, announcer and emerging vocalist Binky Griptite turns in a beautiful, slow burner of a break-up tune. Make sure to listen to the end as Griptite delivers a coup de grace of a line. Brrrr…it’s chilly!
The Kaldirons: To Love Someone (That Don’t Love You)
From Twinight’s Lunar Rotation (Numero Group, 2007)
One of the rarest singles ever released on Chicago’s incredible R&B label Twinight, “To Love Someone” is one of those songs that deserved to have gotten much more shine that it did in its day. It’s a masterful, midtempo arrangement of strings and hints of piano, meshing perfectly with the soaring, falsetto voices of the Kaldirons who lament the impossibility of unrequited love. I have to admit – the song feels surprisingly uplifting despite its dour subject matter and it’s one of the few “love lost” songs that I can honestly describe as “feel good.”
Nancy Holloway: Hurts So Bad
From Hello Dolly (Concert Hall, 1967)
To close out, I went with the hammer blow that French singer Nancy Holloway delivers on her cover of Little Anthony and the Imperials’ 1965 hit, “Hurts So Bad.” Producer Daniel Janin gives the tune a slight funk makeover with those dramatic basslines and brass section but it’s Holloway who is the undeniable force of nature here, pouring what feels like a lifetime of desperation into a little less than four minutes.