|Pandemic Panoply: Day Three (Who Is She . . .)
April 29, 2020
Day 3 of the 365 Artists in a Song Series
One of the problems with a music lover getting older is that you tend to lose the places where you would hear "new" music ("new" meaning something you haven't heard before, not necessarily something current). I haven't attended a party where music is featured in 25 years. I wouldn't know a non-NPR radio station if it bit me in the rear end. I read no music publications. I am out of touch, with an accompanying sense of cluelessness.
In the early 1990s, I subscribed to the fantastic Mojo magazine, which frequently offered free cds that aligned with feature articles. Thanks to Mojo, I got compilations featuring movie theme songs, rare tracks from the British invasion, reggae classics and soul obscurities. The last one, Soul Riot, may be one of the best "freebies" I have every received. I was instantly turned onto amazing music by the Chi-Lites, Staple Singers, Camille Yarbrough, Don Julian, Syl Johnson, William Bell, and the Soul Children.
As I write this, I admit to knowing a single song by The Soul Children -- "Who Is She (And What Is She To You)."
My life is all the better for knowing that one song.
The song has a driving beat through the repeated guitar lick, sassy brass session, and synthesizer line. The vocals soar as the song motors along, amping the rhythm and tempo for a solid 3 minutes, highlighted by the sweetly innocent curse "da-gum-it, who is she and what is she to you" as the female lead singer laments the cheater and his paramore -- "you're too much for one girl but not enough for two." For 3 minutes, it is a magnificent song in its own right.
It is only as I researched for this blog that I realize it was originally a Bill Withers' song (may he recently rest in peace) as "Who is He (And What Is He To You)," a slower version that, like Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" versus Linda Rondstadt's cover, might be served better in the original gender assignments: certainly the line "you tell me a man don't have much intuition" works better than The Soul Children's "you tell me a woman don't have much intuition." And if The Soul Children's rendition had ended where Withers' version does, I might have held out that the original is the better version. However, Withers' song (as well as a Gladys Knight and Pips' version I have also found) lacks the glorious cattiness that makes up an additional 2+ minutes on The Soul Children's version.
Just before the 3:00 minute mark, the music drops to sparse instrumentation and the female singers (Anita Louis and Shelbra Bennett, I believe) trade "your man ain't no dog like my man" stories, speaking, not singing, through the swirling melody. One feels like he is eavesdropping on a women's room conversation late at night, two women, armed and ready to high kick the first male they see. You know you should get the hell out of Dodge, but the conversation has wonderful snippets of dialogue buttressed by the guitar and horns and freezes you in place:
"And here comes this bad chick in the door." "Baaaad" drawn out as deliciously as the lipstick in the restroom mirror.
"I don't know who she was but I found out at the end of the party. Oh deep down in her bad rags bad to the bone." Bad to the point of beautiful.
"I mean she was sure enough together. But the killing part about it was that he was missing and she was missing. Everybody was there at the party except the two of them."
"While we were walking, here comes this bad old bra, because that's all she was a bra." I think it is "bra" but it could be "broad." Doesn't change much but I love the imagery, so to speak, of woman as bra.
"I can dig it. You know the best thing to do in a situation like that is to be cool."
"Right on. But there is no way in the world he can look at her like that and then he look at me and there ain't nothing going on because that's the way he looked at me at first." Run-on sentences to the max.
It's a wonderful song that nobody else in my family seems to crave. It has become more than an obvious guilty pleasure.
Ironically, no one has ever accused me of being pretty fly for a white guy, but The Soul Children showed me I can get soul.
Who Is She (And What Is She To You). The Soul Children. Soul Riot. Ace Records. 2001. Song link.
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Day 4: Tanya Donelly "Oh Me Of Little Faith." ->
See full unfinished list here.