If the Beatles ever wanted a sound, it was R & B… We wanted to be like Arthur Alexander.” ~ Paul McCartney
“When the Beatles and the Stones got their first chances to record, one did ‘Anna,’ and the other did ‘You Better Move On.’ That should tell you enough.” Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones
You probably know the music of Arthur Alexander, though the chances are the name has never quite registered with you. Arthur is perhaps the most obscure and under-appreciated genius in all of popular music. He spent his early years writing, recording and performing to small audiences, yet his tunes were recorded by the likes of The Beatles, The Stones, Elvis, Dylan, Dusty Springfield and countless others. His first five singles were masterpieces of R & B. And his voice? – well, there has been none better to this day. Listen to the originals even once and you’re hooked on Arthur Alexander for life. The best collection of his material is the Ace release entitled The Greatest. It’s available on CD and via streaming on Apple Music and Spotify. Seek it out, add it to your library and listen daily for some real inspiration. Overstatement? – not at all, folks: Arthur is the genuine article and you’ll know it in the first thirty seconds of your audition.
“You ask me to give up the hand of the girl I love
You tell me I’m not the man she’s worthy of
But who are you to tell her who to love
That’s up to her, yes, and the Lord above
You better move on.”
Arthur was a master at writing songs about troubled relationships. “You Better Move On” was based on a real-life situation in which he advised a rich guy to stay from his wife Anna. The song resonates with conviction, desperation and sincerity. It’s been covered countless times, notably by the very young Rolling Stones, who delivered a credible version, though one not nearly so imbued with soul as that of Arthur himself.
The same goes for “Go Home Girl”, a song covered by Ry Cooder on his 1979 classic Bop Till You Drop; it’s a number I have personally revered, enamoured as I was with both the song and the inimitable Cooder guitar work, but little did I know at the time of the Alexander original, which is a tour de force. The situation is a familiar one: a guy is in love with his best friend’s girl, and he pleads with her to go home and forget about him, all the while knowing two things: he will never forget her and he “could never hold the love I stole from a man I call my best friend.”
Arthur lived a short life – born in 1940, he died in 1993 at the age of 53, a heart-attack victim on the verge of a comeback. He had spent years in reduced circumstances, primarily as a bus driver in Cleveland. Keep in mind he had recorded his early works at the FAME studio in Muscle Shoals and provided them their first hit. He also gave Elvis his last hit, that of “Burning Love” in 1972. He gave the Bee Gees the great song “Every Day I Have to Cry Some”, and he enriched Dr. Hook with a smash hit called “Sharing The Night Together.” Everyone, it seemed to Arthur, had hits with his tunes but him, and he simply walked away from the music business in the late ’70s. To this day he has been covered by the Hollies, Pearl Jam, the Moody Blues, Johnny Rivers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Van Morrison, the Bee Gees, Dusty Springfield, the McCoys, Ike and Tina Turner, and many others.
Discover Arthur for yourself in the stunning Ace collection The Greatest, for he is an original, one who was often imitated but never equalled. Ask McCartney. Ask Mick Jagger, who eagerly copied Arthur’s style. In the current crop of auto-tuned, bland soul singers, it’s good to hear the real thing.