Thursday, February 26, 2015

Track of the Week: Al Wilson "Show and Tell"

Working crummy jobs in my younger days inadvertently exposed me to a lot of good music I might not have otherwise heard.  The best example is a job I had shelving books at a library in Chicago.  While doing my daily rounds I would listen to my walkman, which was so old that it ate tapes.  For that reason I tuned to the radio while I worked.  This was the late 1990s, so I would have listened to the "alternative" station, except that they had a horrific morning show anchored by a right wing asshole who called himself "Mancow."  (So much for "alternative.")  I started going up the dial a little, and hit on an R&B and soul oldies station that played music from the 60s and 70s.

This was music I'd always liked when I heard it, but now I became obsessed.  I sought out Sly and the Family Stone discs and practically burned holes in them.  I learned that disco had its highpoints, and savored Donna Summer and Sylvester.  Thelma Houston's "Baby Don't Leave Me This Way" secretly became one of my favorite songs of all time.  I also learned one hit wonders of 70s soul I never knew before, and of these songs I think I loved "Show and Tell" by Al Wilson the most.

He had been a veteran of the music scene without having a hit to his credit when, in 1973, he took a song sloughed off by Johnny Mathis to the top of the charts.  "Show and Tell" benefits in the first place from the exquisite 70s soul backing, intricate and slightly mannered a la The Spinners, but with just enough of a dose of funk thrown into it.  Of course, Wilson deserves a lot of credit for his emotive performance.  He starts so subtly and restrained, then sublimely takes the "oh oh ooooohhh" into the chorus and hits the higher register with an effortless beauty.

It's a true love song, in that Wilson sings of someone who has completed his life almost beyond the capacity of words to say.  "Here is the soul/ of which you're taken control" is such a simple yet meaningful way of stating that feeling.  This is a love song for adults, not the swooning to the moon in June stuff of teen pop music.  It expresses more the adult knowledge of life's unfairness and harshness, and how lucky and important it is to have the right person in your life to help you get through it.  I'm not sure songs like this even exist anymore.

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