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Today’s track “Girl, You Have My Heart Singing” is the B-side to Ollie and The Nightingales highest charting single of their career, “I Got A Sure Thing.” While the A-side is deserving of its recognition- it’s a fantastic slice of mid-tempo soft soul with a great arrangements- including strings which were a bit of a rarity at Stax pre-68, it’s the B-side that really caught my ear when I first picked this record up a few months ago.
Before they were known as Ollie & The Nightingales, Ollie Hoskins and co. we’re know as The Dixie Nightingales (not to be confused with about a hundred other dixie, nightingale and bird name combinations). The Nightingales were a very popular gospel group from Memphis who put out a number of records before ending up on Stax subsidiary Chalice in the mid-60s.
This particular record actually sits at a very interesting crossroads in the history of the Stax label. Released in 68 it was at the very end of the deal that helped to grow the Stax label from Memphis power house to a national and international bastion of soul. A deal struck between label co-founder Jim Stewart and Atlantic had in technical terms signed over all the masters to Atlantic and put Stax in a terrible position financially. All of a sudden they were without their massive (and massively popular) back catalog. On top of this massive blow they were still reeling from the loss of their most popular artists Otis Redding (and many members of the Bar-Kays) who died in a Dec. 67 plane crash.
Along with a number of other major changes, control of the company was handed over to Al Bell who, in trying to replenish the labels back catalog, began producing albums at a number of studios other than the famous McLemore location, bringing in string arrangements (often recorded in Detroit with Motown veteran Don Davis), new song writers and leaving behind the core of Hayes & Porter and the house band that had defined Stax for so long.
We could go on and on about the wild and amazing history of Stax (I again highly recommend Rob Bowman’s book!) in the interest of being thorough but I bring it up here because this record in particular is illustrative of a lot of the challenges and changes that Stax was facing in 1968.
Ollie and The Nightingales were previously a gospel group under the name the Dixie Nightingales who were persuaded to make secular music (at the expense of member Willie Neal who was replaced by former Mad Lad Quincy Billups Jr.) presumably in the panic to replace almost 10 years of material being eaten up by Atlantic. The side featured here is an upbeat organ driven number penned by Booker T and William Bell (who the Nightingales also did some back up work for) and feels like Sam & Dave could have been singing this song 5 years before. The arrangements feature some horn vamping and a slightly fuzzy guitar solo. All quintessential elements you’d associate with the baby blue label graced with the ‘stax of wax.’
Yet the flip side is the lead single and features a prominent string section instead of horns, piano only as flourishes, heavy back ground vocal work, glockenspiel and an overall ‘cleaner’ sound to the recording. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent side and still has a really captivating ‘feel’ to it. As the saying goes ‘all journeys start with one step’ this record is in the last few steps in the first part of the Stax story- that of Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Booker T and The MG’s, and the first few steps of the latter direction of Stax, The Emotions, Johnny Taylor and Isaac Hayes.
I hope you enjoy today’s record!
-George / Snack Attack