Being a music collector is a never-ending embarrassment of riches. I’m constantly amazed and delighted whenever I stumble across a gem buried in the seemingly infinite amount of music that exists out there in this wild and crazy world. It’s particularly interesting when I hear the earlier works by an artist who had a few releases before he or she broke through with that first big hit. The reaction is usually curiosity, but if the music isn’t too inspiring, the result is similar to showing your dog a new card trick. There’s a moment when you have their attention, but it quickly dissipates and you tend to wonder if they were really paying attention or not.
Oh, but man alive, when you hear something that’s actually really good, it’s super satisfying. You have to fight off the smug feeling that you stumbled across a nifty little secret that nobody else around you has a clue even exists; then you have to suppress the urge to call up anybody you know that has even the slightest similar interests in your musical taste and opinion and yell over the phone, “Have you ever heard this? Why isn’t it on the radio?” It’s easy to forget that, mere moments earlier, you were just as ignorant about it as the poor soul you’re now “enlightening.”
Such is my recent experience with Freda Payne’s 1966 album How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore.
Ms. Payne is best known for her huge 1970 hit — and oldies staple — “Band of Gold.” It’s a great song, but all these years later, it’s the only thing anybody ever hears unless they dig a little deeper — or in my case, stumble across something else of hers on YouTube.
I was familiar with “Band of Gold” and her other recordings on the Invictus label from 1969 through 1973, all of which are compiled on the double-disc set Band of Gold + Contact + the Best of + Reaching Out from Edsel Records and well-worth picking up. I knew she had released an occasional single or album before she broke through with the hit but never really bothered to research her earlier material because, well, I’m dumb. Sometimes you have to be taken by the hand and led to greener pastures, which is what happened to me.
Do you ever bother looking at the recommendations YouTube makes whenever you’re watching something? Lots of times I don’t, but once in a while, I’ll let them tell me what to do in their passive/aggressive way when they say, “Hey, um, you probably won’t bother clicking on any of these, which is fine by us, but we really think this is something else you would like to watch, but who are we to tell you what to do? Go ahead and ignore us. Why should you feel guilty?”
Maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, a little while back, I was listening to some sort of R&B song on YouTube and saw a link to Ms. Payne’s song “How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore.” Realizing that clicking the link would get YouTube off the back of my conscience for a while, I took the plunge. What I heard knocked me out and made me begrudgingly admit that — for once — YouTube was right.
I don’t think that literally a day went by without me listening to that song at least once. It’s a great example of what I call “Supper Club Soul,” kind of like Lou Rawls or Nancy Wilson. It’s soulful, but not in the Wilson Pickett or Sam & Dave kind of way. The vocals are more mature — solid but not yelling at you — and the music itself has a huge string section instead of just a combo with a horn section. This was geared more towards the grown-ups, but the kids would probably dig it as well.
The Internet was kind enough to inform me that this was the title track to an album Ms. Payne recorded for MGM Records in 1966. I immediately began what I assumed would be a long arduous journey to find a copy of this record so I could hear if the rest of the album was as good as this song.
I quickly realized that I was being a bit overdramatic and pessimistic, because the Cherry Red subsidiary Poker Records reissued the album in 2009, and it was still readily available and inexpensive. Sheepishly, I ordered the CD and then went back to listening to that song again every day until it arrived. Granted, I could have listened to other tracks on YouTube as well, but I wanted to introduce myself to the album the pseudo-old-fashioned way: with headphones and a CD player.
When I heard the rest of the album, I was relieved to find that all 12 tracks had the same vibe. The music itself is masterfully arranged by Benny Golson, a well-renowned jazz saxophonist and writer and would make for a pleasant listening experience just as an instrumental release. Seeing that this is a Freda Payne album, however, I should point out that her vocals are terrific from start to finish. You can hear traces of the “Band of Gold” Freda that would appear a mere four years later, yet the two sounds are as different as night and day.
Three of the songs are covers of then-recent top 40 hits. The Beatles’ “Yesterday” has been covered by everybody and their mother, so it’s easy to roll your eyes when you see it appear on an album, but Payne does the song justice. She also provides a lovely version of the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” as well, but it was her version of the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” that was picked by MGM for a single release. It didn’t make much of an impact on the charts, but like so many other classic songs, it really should have.
The title track and “Lovin’ Feelin’” provide a good overview of the album. If you dig what you’ve heard, chances are you’ll love the rest of the album as well. Fans of Dusty Springfield’s orchestrated 1960s material will find plenty of gems here. If nothing else, it’s worth having just so you can stare at the lovely cover photo for hours on end, but to me, that’s just an added bonus.
It doesn’t seem like Ms. Payne really refers to this album very much whenever she talks about her career; she didn’t mention it at all during a 2014 REBEAT interview. Maybe she didn’t really enjoy the experience of recording it, or possibly, she mistakenly thinks it’s not worth mentioning. I can truthfully say that it’s a magnificent album. I don’t always go for the pop/soul sound, but this one grabbed me by the scruff of the neck before I knew what was going on, and it won’t let go.
As mentioned before, Poker Records has reissued the album. It was originally released in mono and stereo, but for some reason, this particular reissue is in mono. No worries there, because it still sounds terrific. Mick Patrick’s liner notes provide a nice overview of Ms. Payne’s career before, during, and after she recorded How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore. If you dig what you’ve heard by reading this article, you need to get this album, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Just don’t tell YouTube about it, okay? I don’t want to hear them gloat about being right.