“Prince” Phillip Mitchell is in some mighty good company. The Kentucky-born singer and songwriter, who rose to prominence composing songs for deeply soulful artists including Millie Jackson and Bobby Womack, is the latest to receive a career retrospective from Ace Records’ Songwriters and Producers series. With the Ace/Kent release of Something New to Do: The Phillip Mitchell Songbook (CDKEND 394), he joins such illustrious talents as Dan Penn, Burt Bacharach, Randy Newman, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The 21-track overview features songs by both Jackson and Womack along with Ben E. King, Joe Simon, Mary Wells, Candi Staton, Bobby Sheen and many more who benefited from Mitchell’s gift of song. As Mitchell’s name isn’t as famous as any of the above-named writers or artists, Kent’s new collection of his underrated catalogue is long overdue and well worth exploring.
Mitchell expertly crafted a bevy of songs of love lost and found that, while frequently wrenching, were still wrapped in up-tempo grooves. His southern soul compositions were recorded by a Who’s Who of artists at most of R&B’s pre-eminent labels: Atlantic, Hi, Stax and Malaco among them. Before he joined The Spinners, Missouri-born John Edwards wrapped his pipes around Mitchell’s “Cold Hearted Woman” for Aware Records. “I can’t believe it, you’re so evil! How you can just walk out on me/Never look back to see me grieving…,” Edwards wails over a slinky track that would make Al Green proud. Though this fine recording sat on a shelf until Kent’s excavation in 1996, Edwards did well for himself as the voice of Michael Zager-produced Spinners hits like “Working My Back to You/Forgive Me Girl” and “Cupid/I’ve Loved You for a Long Time.” Another shelved recording, Garland Green’s “(You Gotta) Come Through Me,” was cut in 1975 but not released until 1990. It’s packed with pop crossover appeal, boasting a catchy melody and tight arrangement. Its sinuous horns could have come from one of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft-era projects, and Green delivers with a typically potent vocal performance.
One of Mitchell’s most important musical associations was with Mel & Tim, the Stax singing-cousins duo. Mel & Tim recorded no fewer than five Mitchell songs on their Stax LP debut, including the selection here, “Free for All (Winner Take All).” Ernie Shelby’s “Carry Me” also has a Stax flavor, and it’s no surprise that it was another Mitchell composition recorded by Mel & Tim. Perhaps the duo’s most famous Mitchell song is “Starting All Over Again,” a 1972 Top 20 Pop/Top 5 R&B hit. Rather than opt for that hit version, the compilers here have chosen a fine cover by Stax labelmate Johnnie Taylor.
Keep reading after the jump, where you'll find more including the track listing with discography and order links!
Both Mel & Tim and John Edwards recorded versions of “Little Things,” but it’s heard here in Mitchell’s own yearning version from a 1972 Hi Records single. It proves Mitchell to be as confident a singer as a songwriter, and he has more than a hint of Al Green in his voice. Another singer-songwriter, Bobby Womack, is represented on Something New to Do with the up-tempo groove of “Something for My Head.” Womack brings his guttural, growling rasp to the song, released in 1976 on Columbia. A couple of years earlier, he produced a Mitchell song for his sister-in-law, former First Lady of Motown Mary Wells, at Reprise. Wells is saucy on “If You Can’t Give Her Love (Give Her Up),” but like most of her post-Motor City efforts, it didn’t make much noise on the charts. As assertive as Wells is on the song, Millie Jackson is even more take-no-prisoners with 1975’s Spring single “Leftovers” on which she makes it clear that she’s not sharing her man with anyone…period.
The title track of Something New to Do was derived from Bobby Sheen’s 1973 Warner Bros. single. It is further proof that Sheen – the former Bob B. Soxx of Philles Records fame and the subject of a stellar Ace anthology – was talented if perennially unlucky. A number of fine tracks here hail from Warner’s sister label Atlantic, including the joyful “Archie’s in Love” from Archie Bell and the Drells. Produced by Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford with a string arrangement from Wade Marcus, it followed the Drells’ string of hits produced at Gamble and Huff’s hit factory. Though Alabama is long way from Philadelphia, it nonetheless captures the same infectious spirit and high energy as “Keep On Dancing” or “Tighten Up” with its soulful group harmony vocals and danceable beat. As lighthearted as “Archie’s in Love” is, “Star of the Ghetto” is dramatic. The funky track teamed onetime Drifter Ben E. King with the Average White Band, and Arif Mardin and Jerry Greenberg’s production proved the pairing to be quite compatible.
Phillip Mitchell was equally adept with ballads. Joe Simon delivered the truly torrid (if grammatically challenged!) blues of “It Be’s That Way Sometimes,” showing another side of a versatile singer equally comfortable with disco or sweeping Philly soul. 1973’s earthy “You Made Me What I Am” by one Erma Coffee is a lush Willie Mitchell production for Hi, and another rare winner here is Tommie Lee’s mellow “That’s the Way I Wanna Live My Life.” The song was also memorably recorded by Mel & Tim and Percy Sledge, but the compilation makes a solid case for Lee’s rendition.
The Muscle Shoals-recorded “It Hurts So Good” by Katie Love and the Four Shades of Black has a strong lead vocal, both sweet and impassioned, plus dynamic backup vocals, but it didn’t score when picked up for wide release by Scepter. Millie Jackson headed to the studio for a much greasier arrangement that ensured the song its place in the R&B pantheon, but like so many of the songs here, it’s a mystery why Love’s single fell on deaf ears. Of the many Muscle Shoals treats here, one of the best is Candi Staton’s sizzling “Here I Am Again.” It was recorded at Fame with producer Rick Hall with the Muscle Shoals band in 1975. If there was any tension between Hall and the very players who had defected from Fame years earlier to found Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, it’s not discernible in this smoking track.
Tony Rounce has produced and annotated Something New to Do, which contains a 20-page booklet with track-by-track notes. Nick Robbins has done his customary fine work remastering each track. The Phillip Mitchell Songbook is an expertly-compiled trawl through the vaults, and a must-have for deep soul connoisseurs and newbies alike. It’s available for order at the link below!
- Cold Hearted Woman – John Edwards (Kent CD CDKEND 127, 1996)
- Free for All (Winner Takes All) – Mel & Tim (Stax LP STS 3007, 1972)
- (You Gotta) Come Through Me – Garland Green (Kent LP KEND 097/6T16, 1990)
- Carry Me – Ernie Shelby (Polydor 14124, 1972)
- I Don’t Do This (To Every Girl I Meet) – Sidney Joe Qualls (Chi-Sound/20th Century LP T 587, 1979)
- It Be’s That Way Sometime – Joe Simon (Posse 5021, 1982)
- Archie’s in Love – Archie Bell and the Drells (Atlantic 2829, 1971)
- Something for My Head – Bobby Womack (Columbia LP PC 34384, 1976)
- You Made Me What I Am – Erma Coffee (Hi 2253, 1973)
- Gonna Have a Murder on Your Hands – J.J. Williams (Capitol 3436, 1972)
- Little Things – Phillip Mitchell (Hi 2221, 1972)
- It Hurts So Good – Katie Love & The Four Shades of Black (Muscle Shoals Sound 100, 1971)
- If You Can’t Give Her Love (Give Her Up) – Mary Wells (Reprise 1308, 1974)
- Starting All Over Again – Johnnie Taylor (Stax LP STS 3014, 1973)
- Trippin’ on Your Love – The Staple Singers (Stax LP MPS 8511, 1981)
- Hitch Hiking to Heartbreak Road – Bobo Mr. Soul (Ovide 258, 1972)
- Here I Am Again – Candi Staton (Warner Bros. 8078, 1975)
- Something New to Do – Bobby Sheen (Warner Bros. 7662, 1973)
- The Only Time You Ever Say You Love Me (Is When We’re Making Love) – Dorothy Moore (Malaco LP MAL 6351, 1976)
- A Star in the Ghetto – Average White Band and Ben E. King (Atlantic 3427, 1977)
- That’s the Way I Wanna Live My Life – Tommie Lee (Capitol 3594, 1973)
- Leftovers – Millie Jackson (Spring 161, 1975)
- How Can I Go On Without You – Corey Blake (Capitol 4057, 1975)