With hits like “Cool Night,” “I Go Crazy” and “’65 Love Affair,” Paul Davis established himself as one of the most appealing singer-songwriters of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yet the Mississippi native all but walked away from his solo career at the height of his fame, returning to his roots as a behind-the-scenes songwriter and making cameo appearances on others’ hit records. Before his untimely death in 2008 at the age of 60, Davis notched fourteen Hot 100 hits and eight Top 40s. Many of those beloved songs have been collected on a new career-spanning anthology released just last Friday, November 13, from Varese Vintage. The Very Best of Paul Davis has 17 tracks culled from his recordings on the White Whale, Bang, Arista and Capitol labels.
Though he had gained a reputation as a teenager playing in local bands, Davis first made a splash in the music business as a songwriter, signed to Nashville’s venerable Acuff-Rose Publishing and then to the Mississippi-based Malaco Records publishing offshoot. Davis’ demos recorded for Malaco, a southern soul hotbed of activity, attracted the attention of New York’s Bang Records. Ilene Berns, the formidable widow of Bang founder Bert Berns, was more interested in Davis as a singer than as a songwriter, though. Davis worked with numerous top talents in his early days at Bang, including Chips Moman, Jeff Barry, and the team of Bobby Martin and Thom Bell who arranged his first single “Mississippi River.” When that 45 stalled, Ilene Berns paired him with her late husband’s Jarmels hit “A Little Bit of Soap” for his debut Bang single. Davis took the golden oldie to No. 52 on the Hot 100. Its follow-up “I Just Wanna Keep It Together” was produced by Moman at Muscle Shoals, and slightly bested its predecessor with a No. 51 placement. Around this same time, Davis released a single by “The Reivers” for California’s White Whale Records, run by Berns’ then-husband Eddie Biscoe. Both sides of this single, as well as early Bang singles “A Little Bit of Soap” and “I Just Wanna Keep It Together” open this collection, and showcase Davis’ early bubblegum-tinged pop-rock flair.
The Very Best of Paul Davis then chronicles the artist’s ups and downs on the pop chart with other hits like the Moman/Davis co-produced “Boogie Woogie Man” (No. 68, 1972), “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” (No. 23 Pop/No. 47 Country, 1974), “Thinking of You” (No. 45, 1976) and “Superstar” (No. 35, 1976) before his commercial breakthrough with 1977’s Top 10 hit “I Go Crazy.” The ballad, originally penned for Lou Rawls, was perfect for the era. It subtly incorporated modern electronic sounds into a sophisticated and memorable pop arrangement which producer-engineer Ed Seay details in Larry R. Watts’ new liner notes for Varese’s release.
Soon, other hits followed which are represented here. The Beach Boys’ classic “Darlin'” was updated with duet partner Susan Collins in 1978, reaching No. 51 on the chart. The reflective “Sweet Life” (No. 17, 1978) was his last Top 20 hit for Bang, though “Do Right” barely missed that range with its No. 23 showing in 1980. Clive Davis then came courting, and Davis opened at Arista with, well, a bang, thanks to the breezy “Cool Night” (No. 11, 1981) and uptempo “’65 Love Affair” (No. 6, 1982). Yet his first album for Arista, Cool Night, turned out to his be final studio album. The Very Best also includes that LP’s third single, a cover of The Friends of Distinction’s “Love or Let Me Be Lonely,” as well as his two “comeback” duets that burned up the Country chart. (Both “’65 Love Affair” and “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” are presented here in their distinctive single mixes.) Davis joined Marie Osmond for the 1986 No. 1 “You’re Still New to Me” and the very next year teamed with Tanya Tucker for another chart-topper, “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love.” During the period post-Cool Night, Davis also wrote other No. 1 Country hits for Osmond and Dan Seals before segueing into retirement.
Paul Davis suffered a heart attack on April 22, 2008, one day after his 60th birthday. But as this compilation attests, his music lives on. Remastered by Steve Massie and featuring Watts’ liner notes and Bill Pitzonka’s design (featuring a splendid replica Bang label), The Very Best of Paul Davis is the most comprehensive Davis anthology currently in print. You can order below!
- Constantly – The Reivers
- Revolution in My Soul – The Reivers
- A Little Bit of Soap
- I Just Wanna Keep It Together
- Boogie Woogie Man
- Ride ‘Em Cowboy
- Thinking of You
- I Go Crazy
- Darlin’ (featuring Susan Collins)
- Sweet Life
- Do Right
- Cool Night
- ’65 Love Affair (Single Version)
- Love or Let Me Be Lonely (Single Version)
- You’re Still New to Me – Marie Osmond with Paul Davis
- I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love – Tanya Tucker with Paul Davis and Paul Overstreet
Tracks 1-2 from White Whale single 360, 1970
Tracks 3-4 from A Little Bit of Paul Davis, Bang 223, 1970
Track 5 from Paul Davis, Bang 226, 1972
Track 6 from Ride ‘Em Cowboy, Bang 401, 1974
Tracks 7-8 from Southern Tracks and Fantasies, Bang 405, 1976
Tracks 9-11 from Singer of Songs, Teller of Tales, Bang 410, 1978
Track 12 from Paul Davis, Bang JZ 36094, 1980
Track 13 from Cool Night, Arista AL 9578, 1982
Track 14 from Arista single 0661, 1982
Track 15 from Arista single 0697, 1982
Track 16 from Curb/Capitol single 5613, 1986
Track 17 from Capitol single 44100, 1987