As Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” was climbing the R&B and Pop charts in 1971, so was another, less-heralded Willie Mitchell arrangement. Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” epitomizes the sound of Memphis soul just as much as the better-known Al Green record, but it’s just one of the smoldering cuts on Ace Records’ new anthology dedicated to the Mississippi-born songstress. Making a Good Thing Better: The Complete Westbound Singles 1970-1976 collects the A and B-sides of every one of Denise LaSalle’s singles for Detroit-based Westbound Records, adding up to a primer on the career of LaSalle as singer and songwriter.
Honing her big voice in church and soaking up the influences of country, blues and R&B, Denise LaSalle (born Ora Denise Allen) first made a splash with 1967’s “A Love Reputation.” It was first released on the small Tarpon label but soon picked up by Chess – the same label that the young singer had been signed to, and then released from. The re-signing to Chess signified LaSalle’s place in the big leagues, but it didn’t last long. After two more singles, she was let go for the second time, but LaSalle continued to record for smaller labels like Crajon and Parks. Family ties soon led her to the studios of Memphis’ Willie Mitchell – Denise’s brother Nate “Na” Allen was married to singer Vee Allen, sister of deejay Al Perkins, for whom Mitchell had produced a hit single. When LaSalle set to work with Mitchell, the sound out of the studio was so encouraging that Westbound Records signed Denise. “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” was released in July 1971 on Westbound, entering the R&B charts the following month and reaching pole position in October. Perhaps even more impressively, LaSalle’s song nearly made the Top 10 on the pop chart, landing at No. 13. Mitchell’s production of Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” had reached the R&B Top 10 and Pop Top 20 just a couple of weeks earlier. Denise LaSalle was on her way.
Mitchell’s studio was becoming more and more in demand, though, as were the Hi Records rhythm section players heard on “Trapped.” LaSalle cut her sassy, sultry and assertive songs elsewhere in Memphis, including the No. 3 R&B/No. 46 Pop “The Deeper I Go (The Better It Gets)” and No. 4 R&B/No. 55 Pop “Man Sized Job,” both from 1972. She recorded in Memphis through the end of 1973, but with commercial successes becoming more modest, she felt inclined to make a change.
Hit the jump for more, including the full track listing with discography, and order links!
Ace’s new singles collection follows LaSalle from those Memphis hits to her recordings in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with that locale’s renowned players like Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson. The Muscle Shoals sound was a complementary one for the impassioned LaSalle, and resulted in a minor hit via “Get Up Off My Mind” (No. 55 R&B, 1974). But by the beginning of 1975, Westbound was undergoing changes itself. The label switched distribution to 20th Century Records, and the singles released under the Westbound/20th Century imprimatur are also present here. Despite more fine musicianship from Denise and the Muscle Shoals crew, “My Brand on You” b/w “Any Time is the Right Time” also stalled at No. 55 R&B. A further change of scenery back to Detroit yielded some disco-flecked songs created with arranger David Van De Pitte (Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On) as well as a final hit at Westbound. March 1976’s release of “Married, But Not to Each Other” b/w “Who’s the Fool” returned LaSalle to the R&B Top 20 and yielded a No. 3 cover version the following year by Barbara Mandrell, which simply brought to the surface the country influence that had always been present in LaSalle’s music.
Denise LaSalle has continued to record over the years for labels including ABC and Malaco, and she remains an active performer today. But Making a Good Thing Better: The Complete Westbound Singles 1970-1976 reflects on a particularly golden period of her long career. Nick Robbins has remastered all tracks, and as a bonus, radio ads for the Trapped by a Thing Called Love and On the Loose albums have also been included on the CD. Tony Rounce supplies an essay in the full-color booklet recounting LaSalle’s distinguished career.
Making a Good Thing Better: The Complete Westbound Singles 1970-1976 is available now, and can be ordered at the links below!
- Hung Up, Strung Out
- Heartbreaker of the Year
- Trapped by a Thing Called Love
- Keep It Coming
- Now Run and Tell That
- The Deeper I Go (The Better It Gets)
- Man Sized Job
- I’m Over You
- Making a Good Thing Better
- What It Takes To Get a Good Woman (That’s What It’s Gonna Take to Keep Her)
- Do Me Right
- Your Man and Your Best Friend
- What Am I Doing Wrong
- Don’t Nobody Live Here (By the Name of Fool)
- Good Goody Getter
- Get Up Off My Mind
- The Best Thing I Ever Had
- Trying to Forget
- We’ve Got Love (The Good Part About It)
- My Brand on You
- Any Time is the Right Time
- Here I Am Again
- Married, But Not to Each Other
- Who’s the Fool
- Trapped by a Thing Called Love – Radio Ad
- On the Loose – Radio Ad
Tracks 1-2 from Parka 2302/Westbound 162, 1970
Tracks 3-4 from Westbound 182, 1971
Tracks 5-6 from Westbound 201, 1972
Tracks 7-8 from Westbound 206, 1972
Tracks 9-10 from Westbound 215, 1973
Track 11 from Westbound 6146 102 (UK), 1972
Tracks 12-13 from Westbound 219, 1973
Tracks 14-15 from Westbound 221, 1973
Tracks 16-17 from Westbound 223, 1974
Tracks 18-19 from Westbound 229, 1974
Tracks 20-21 from Westbound 5004, 1975
Track 22 from Westbound 5008, 1975
Tracks 23-24 from Westbound 5019, 1976
Tracks 25-26 previously unreleased