Levon Helm singing You Better Move On was the first thing I heard coming out of the satellite radio on my drive to the office this morning. A welcome sound on a Monday morning cruising down the bay front. It is a cut from the recently released Imus Ranch Record. Levon does an excellent job on his version of this classic song. What do you expect from a founding member of The Band, who reportedly now looks like a hippie bird watcher from outer space?
Hearing this tune reminded me that I wanted to write a post on Arthur Alexander, who wrote that great song. Like two other singers that I have covered in previous posts: James Carr (June 2) and Chuck Willis (August 11), Alexander is all but forgotten today. His country soul sound was as good as anything recorded at the time, but he has now fallen into obscurity.
Born in Florence, AL in 1942, Alexander began singing in church as a child, He was working as a bellhop when he recorded his 1962 hit You Better Move On. It was the first hit recorded at the Muscle Shoals studio and it went to #24 on the pop charts. He followed it with Anna (Go To Him), which was covered by The Beatles on their album Please Please Me in 1963.
In a familiar story, the English groups were more aware of this American talent then anyone in his own country. The Rolling Stones covered You Better Move On and The Beatles recorded Anna and Soldier of Love, another great Alexander composition. It is has been reported that John Lennon was influenced at the time by Alexander's songwriting.
Those English lads recorded some nice covers of Alexander's best songs, but his own versions are much better. His sweet soul voice over the Muscle Shoals backing makes for some memorable music. I particularly like his work on Soldier of Love.
Unfortunately, these first songs were the extent of Alexander's commercial success. After that, he had a few minor hits for a number of labels, but soon drifted out of the business. He was driving a bus before his minor comeback in 1993 with the album Lonely Like Me. On tour in support of that album, Alexander fell ill and later died in June 0f 1993.
Regrettably, none of Alexander's back catalogue is available on iTunes. The Ultimate Arthur Alexander is the best way to own the music of this forgotten star. This collection of his best work on the fine Razor and Tie label is available from Amazon. Check it out.