MILLE JACKSON / “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right”
Way back in 1972, soul singer Luther Ingram scored a huge hit with “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right.” The song went all the way to #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart and stayed there for four weeks. Unusually for a hardcore soul ballad, it also achieved considerable crossover success, peaking at #3 on the Pop chart. Despite all of this, I can’t say I ever really associated the song with Luther Ingram. I’d heard his version many times, but before I picked up a compilation of classic soul that happened to include the song, I probably couldn’t have told you his name. According to his website [lutheringrammusic.net], Ingram got his break in the music business in the late sixties after leaving his hometown of Jackson, Tennessee and arriving in New York City:
“I was working on the McDonnell space program at the time and I decided I wanted to be in music," he recalls. "I arrived in Manhattan and went straight to a building where ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ was taped on Broadway...and some background singers were coming out of the deli next door. They asked if I was a singer...and next thing I know, they were telling me that Decca Records was looking for new artists. I went up to the office and sang one of my songs, ‘You Never Miss Your Water,’ accapella for Milt Gabler at Decca and he signed me up.”After the success of “I Don’t Want To Be Right,” Ingram went on to score a number of R&B hits. He also co-wrote the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself.” Ingram died last year (2007) at the age of 70. One of the reasons I didn’t immediately associate Ingram with the hit record that bears his name is that so many other people have had success with the same song. Plus, Ingram didn’t write the song (the Stax songwriting team of Homer Banks, Raymond Jackson and Carl Hampton did), his version wasn’t the first (The Emotions cut it before Ingram did) and it’s even been successful in other genres (country singer Barbara Mandrell had a #1 hit with it in 1979). Still, Ingram’s version (available on a greatest hits predictably entitled If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right:The Best Of Luther Ingram) is the one that carries an 100% authentic vibe of seventies soul. All the trademarks are there: the gritty, passionate vocals, the Hammond B3, the wha-wha guitar, the throbbing electric bass and steady-pounding kick drums. In short, it’s a classic. Speaking of bass, jazz bassist Cleveland Eaton is the main reason I love Ramsey Lewis’ 1973 cover of “I Don’t Want To Be Right.” As the second cut on one of Ramsey’s ‘soul jazz’ LPs Funky Serenity, Ramsey’s keyboard playing is enjoyable but strictly by-the-book. He doesn’t really solo; it’s more like he just plays and re-plays the main melody. It’s Eaton’s work on the closely-miked stand-up bass (I’m assuming – although it does sound sort of electric) that carries the tune. Throughout the five minute running time, Eaton and drummer Morris Jennings combine to create a very funky, and yet, very mellow vibe. When we’re talking covers of seventies soul here at BoL, you know you’re going to get at least one sweet reggae version. This time, it’s the duo of Vernon Buckley and Gladstone Grant, better known as the The Maytones. My copy of the Matyones’ cover is from the Reggae Pulse 2, a 24-song compilation packed full with uniformly great roots covers of sixties and seventies soul. Unfortunately, the CD jacket is almost completely devoid of background information on the artists or their music. All I know about this one is that it was recorded in the early seventies and it sounds damned good. The first hit version of “I Don’t Want To Be Right” was performed by a man and the song was originally written from the point of view of the cheating husband. In my opinion though, it sounds best and the lyrics are most poignant when it’s performed from the point of view of the mistress, the so-called other woman. Our first remake from a female is by one of the better cover artists of the past couple of decades – Cassandra Wilson. Cassandra’s version, from her 2003 release Glamoured, is a melancholy almost deferential version. It sounds like the sort of thing she’s singing only after the ill-fated love affair is already over and she’s filled with regret not just because she’s alone again but also because she knows she never should’ve gotten involved in the messy affair in the first place. The singer of our feature version has no such qualms. Millie Jackson’s take on “I Don’t Want To Be Right” is a strident and wholly unapologetic exploration of the illicit love affair. Not only does Millie not feel bad about what she’s doing, she also says she’s going to keep on doing it as long as she can, even going so far as to set an alarm to make sure ‘her’ man gets back home to his wife on time so that they don’t get caught. Over the course of the main song, the extended ‘rap’ and the brief reprise (on the original LP, the song was broken into three parts), we learn everything there is to know about cheating with a married man. At times, Millie’s record is funny. At other times, it’s sad. Sometimes it’s both in the same moment. For example, near the end of Millie’s rap she suddenly backs off of the yelling and carrying on and says, quite calmly, “You know, I don’t want to leave you with a one-sided conception…. I want you to know that there’s two sides to this thing.” At which point, it’s reasonable to assume that we’re about to get the wife’s side of the story. But what Millie actually gives us is a synopsis of all the reasons she actually prefers a married man to a single one. Talk about two sides. As you listen to all eleven minutes of Millie’s record, in addition to the humor and sadness, you’ll also hear sarcasm, elation, spite and tenderness. This isn’t really a song. It’s a suite, an exploration, an emotional rollercoaster and a tour-de-force. Also, you should know that the album it comes from, 1973’s Caught Up, actually does give you the wife’s point of view. It’s a concept album of sorts with Side A containing all the cheating songs (told from the mistress’ point of view) and Side B containing the breakup and reconciliation songs (told from the wife’s point of view.) If you like this week’s feature song, the entire Caught Up album is well worth checking out. —Mtume ya Salaam the other woman… Ok, Mtume, you asked for it! I just hung up with my son. We were going over this week and inquiring about ideas for next week. Mtume wants to do the Contemporary, some African stuff, not sure at the moment what specifically. I have a Covers lined up. No, I’m not going to even hint what it is. So Classic was open. After reading Mtume’s write-up for “If Loving You Is Wrong,” I can’t help myself. Actually, I could, but I don’t want to. I feel like being messy. Hell, all kinds of shit is going wrong down here in New Orleans at the moment, Including a triple shooting/double murder on the opening day of Jazzfest. The so-called authorities say they are going to close a high school at which I teach, one of only two open in the Ninth Ward (note: for those from New Orleans or who know New Orleans geography, I’m not counting The East even though technically The East is in the Ninth Ward). Douglass on St. Claude Avenue is in a facility that did not flood, so the brilliant plan is to close Douglass as is and start over with a class of ninth graders only. The remaining Douglass students would be sent to (Gerorge Washington) Carver High School, which functions out of portable trailers. The new ninth graders, presumably that group would carry the Douglass moniker but nobody really knows for sure, anyhow, the new ninth graders would be housed in trailers on the campus of the former Holy Cross High School, which is located in the now infamous Lower Nine. The current Douglass is located in the Upper Nine (sort of like Upper and Lower Egypt without the Great Pyramid and the Nile but we do got the Superdome and the Mighty Mississippi, so I guess there is a parallel, both locations were historically mainly black and now non-blacks are going to great lengths to take control. In case you missed the final import of all these bizarre moves, the plan would split the Douglass population into two groups. The remaining old Douglass students would be sent to school in trailers on a site about four miles away. The new Douglass students would be sent to school in trailers on a site about two miles away—and, oh yeah, I forgot the kicker, the new Douglass would be turned into a career academy for emergency personnel, fire-fighters and police—Kalamu, did you say Police Academy, as in New Orleans “open corruption” Police Department (these guys stole Cadillac cars and looted Walmarts during Katrina; fact, it’s documented!)????? Just had to give you a little context so you understand my fucked-up mood and my sudden urge to do a classic collection of “other woman” songs. Tune in next week. They’ll be some gems in the bunch, indeed, they may all be gems!!!! —Kalamu ya Salaam P.S. Periodically, due to some particular genetic predisposition whose provinance and relevance has yet to be discovered, I am prone to do some dumb shit. Millie Jackson, case in point. I once got banned from DJing on my radio program at WWOZ because I just up and decided to do a MJ show one night. So for the first glorious hour I played nothing but Mahalia Jackson and for the second hour I played nothing but Millie Jackson. Within 24-hours I was informed that my services would not be required for the next two months and a tribunal would meet to determine if my services would ever be required again. You see, I fully understand the song. I felt like doing it. I did it. And I suffered the consequences. Would I do it again. Well, even though I am a confirmed Millie J. fan, I’m not into being a broken record. While I don’t have no whole bunch of bad habits, every time I mess up, it’s usually in a brand new way, so therefore, it's not really a habit because I'm usually doing something I haven't done before. For example, another time I pushed the “don’t give a fuck” envelope, I played Archie Shepp all night interspersed with excerpts from Malcolm X speeches. They didn’t have to call me to inform me, I pretty much figured out based on the rabid call-in responses both pro and con I wasn’t going to get out of that one without doing some down time. I don’t have a defense for what I did. My only saving grace is I never try to hide my offenses. My life is an open book, crazy-ass moves and all. See you next week.
This entry was posted on Sunday, April 27th, 2008 at 11:58 pm and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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