JERRY BUTLER / “For Your Precious Love”
Good singers come and go, but a good song is like real estate, it just appreciates. —Jerry ButlerThat must have been one hellava church choir: Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield, Chicago, the early fifties. Jerry claims he wrote the lyrics to “For Your Precious Love” when he was 16 years old. In 1958, their group, The Impressions, released “For Your Precious Love.” It was a mega-hit, albeit also their undoing. VeeJay records decided to release the single as “Jerry Butler And The Impressions.” Predictably, some of the fellas didn’t dig that too tuff—how many split-ups of groups happen because of record company manipulations? Jerry went on to have a long and strong singing career, and though he continues to sing he has also gone into politics. He is an elected official in Chicago. It’s almost fifty years since the song’s release—he’s still singing it. But for every up, there is a down; success can morph into a trap. A hit song sung too often becomes boring and ultimately repulsive, yet, somehow, Jerry Butler continues to find ways to mine diamonds from the ore of this particular piece of well-worked aural real estate. We’ve also got the original release here in addition to his definitive performance at an awards program in 2002. The newer version not only sounds better (partly due to better audio fidelity), but more importantly Jerry Butler sings better, with more passion, more subtlety, and more artistry in how he phrases the lyric—in particular, dig that held note at the end, which instead of falling off, actually rises up with a high-holy finesse that is awesome. Perhaps it’s the patina of experience—black male weathering vicious 20th century American racism—with all the vicissitudes, twists, and frustrations inherent in such a marching through the slaughter. Or maybe what colors Butler’s baritone is the daily ups and downs, the momentary exhilarations inevitably followed by abysmal disappointments. Whatever. For certain, we are listening to the gigantic magnificence of one of the strong ones sounding out the cadence of survival. All of that is in that veteran’s voice. No way could Jerry the teenager have offered us what the mature Mr. Butler does. Sure his voice was clearer back then—none of the gravel, just the clarity of sweet water, but as Billie Holiday definitively proved with Lady In Satin, with but a wisp of what one’s voice used to be, if you put your heart and soul into the song, it will shine resplendently, more lasting than bronze, more beautiful than gold. Plus, you know, this is the age of instant gratification, instant on (and instant off) commercial careers—can you imagine any rapper, even L.L. Cool J, being able to enthrall an audience doing the same song he did FORTY-SOME years earlier, only doing it better!??!! And to be clear, I don’t mean that assessment as a knock on rap. It’s equally true of every contemporary music form (classical, jazz, blues, folk, rock or whatever). Nowadays, the life cycle of an artist is mayfly short, as opposed to an elephant’s age of yesteryear. What we have here and now is a totally different aesthetic, and fortunately for us, what we also have are artists such as Jerry Butler who not only understand the difference in approaches to what having a career means, but who actually embody artistic longevity. They are icons of a higher order compared to the fifteen-minutes-of-fame celebs. They are long distance turtles in an era that celebrates jackrabbits. And to completely mix the metaphor, Jerry Butler is the battery bunny, still going. Still Going! Still. GOING. STRONG! Go head on, brother Butler, with your bad self. Vive la difference! —Kalamu ya Salaam Why bring rap into it? Re: “Can you imagine any rapper, even L.L. Cool J, being able to enthrall an audience doing the same song he did FORTY-SOME years earlier, only doing it better!??!!” Why bring rap into it? What’s that got to do with anything? I got a story for y’all. In 1989, I was 15 years old. I used to hang out a lot at my Uncle Eric’s house where, in his den, he had a monster amp and a set of speakers with giant woofers. I specifically remember my uncle Eric coming home one day while I was blasting some rap music. He asked me if I really thought people would “still be listening to that stuff twenty years from now.” Then he pulled records from his collection—Earth, Wind & Fire, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Santana, Prince—to show me examples of ‘real’ music. The obvious implication was that the rap I was listening to wasn’t music. Want to know what that record it was I happened to be listening to? It was Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Now remember: a couple of weeks ago, we featured Public Enemy as a Classic track. In four years, it will be 20 years since Nation was released. Will people still be listening to it in four years? You’d better believe it. Will there be a hip-hop artist who is still around, still performing and still receiving the same type of love that Jerry Butler is receiving here in another twenty years? You’d better believe it. —Mtume ya Salaam
I stand correctedyou are absolutely correct, there was no need to single out rap on this tip—in fact, as i think about it, i'm sure some of the rap recordings will hold up better than most of the rhythm&blues, soul, neo-soul or whatever you want to call non-rap, contemporary black popular music. my point actually should have been about the passing of an era and what that passing means rather any comparison or veiled put-down of contemporary Black music. i know better and, in this case, failed to do better. mtume, you were right to call me on it. i did have a point i was driving toward but i'll make it in the weeks ahead when the merits of the point are not distorted or muffled by my foot being in my mouth. ;->) —Kalamu ya Salaam
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