Monday, July 19, 2010

You Can't Buy My Love (Band of Joy song of the week, No. 4 of 12)

A biography of producer Huey P. Meaux, "The Crazy Cajun," appears in the May 1996 issue of Texas Monthly. The Louisiana-born Meaux worked throughout the Southern United States, where his role in discovering ZZ Top in Texas would have served as a great addition to an impressive career. After starting to produce in 1959, he earned production credits on a string of rhythm 'n' blues hits in the early to mid 1960s and continued to stay at the forefront of the music scene in the decades that followed. In the Texas Monthly piece, author Joe Nick Patoski compiles a list of the people who "made records or worked with Meaux at one time or another" -- folks representing "two generations of Gulf Coast rock and rollers" who viewed him as "the pipeline to the big time."

One of the discoveries Meaux is credited with is that of Barbara Lynn, born in 1942 in Beaumont, Texas. This singer-guitarist topped the national R&B charts when she was 20 with her song called "You'll Lose a Good Thing." Even if she could be deemed in retrospect a one-hit wonder, Lynn surely enjoyed her time at the top. She'd graduated from skirting the law as an underage performer in East Texas juke joints and was now instead playing before a national audience on "American Bandstand" and even overseas. Lynn continued recording her own music with Meaux as producer for years to come but never again experienced the same flash of stardom despite some winning singles.

Losing, or simply having, a "good thing" became a thematic mainstay in her catalog, such as with "Oh! Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin')" and the song that appears on the forthcoming Robert Plant album, Band of Joy. "You Can't Buy My Love" is one exception to the rule that Lynn actually wrote most of the material she performed. As noted in last year's annual music issue of Oxford American, the single may have been a response to the Beatles' hit of the same year, "Can't Buy Me Love." In the Lennon/McCartney song, the Fab Four had offered a diamond ring and complained of the inability of money to guarantee love. The female's response was certain, that indeed no man could buy his way to her heart: no diamonds, no pearls, no money in the world. The theme would rear its head again within a few years on the debut Led Zeppelin album, where in the song "How Many More Times," Plant promises, "I'll give you all I've got to give, rings, pearls, and all." Perhaps he hadn't learned Lynn's lesson!

When Jerry Wexler signed Led Zeppelin to a contract with Atlantic Records label late in 1968, one of the albums released on the label earlier in the past 12 months was called Here is Barbara Lynn, which attempted to pave the way for the singer's comeback to a national R&B audience that had already largely forgotten about the singer-guitarist over the past five years. Unfortunately, the album did little to restore her name in the public. As writer Bill Friskics-Warren notes in Oxford American, "The album's would-be hit, 'This Is the Thanks I Get,' stalled at No. 69 on Billboard's pop singles report. The song's title says it all."

"You Can't Buy My Love" kicks off the two-CD set included with Issue 67 of Oxford American, a compilation that also includes entries from Sonny Burgess, Bukka White, Memphis Slim, and dozens others whose names can generally be discovered only by the venerable act of "crate-digging," sifting through dusty stacks of unknown records and mining for the occasional odd gem. Last week in Clarksdale, Mississippi, I had the pleasure of meeting one of those crate-diggers, editorial assistant Natalie Elliott, who contributed a piece on Kenni Huskey, another female performer whose brush with stardom came early in life. When I told Elliott that I was twice seeing Robert Plant perform in the South that week, and that I'd just purchased a copy of Oxford American to see what the magazine had to say about Barbara Lynn and that particular tune destined for Plant's new album, she wondered whether or not Plant might have picked one of his cover songs from that very magazine. Although I didn't get to sit down with Plant at any point while our paths crossed in the South last week, I'm still hoping I can find out his answer to that question.


  1. In an electronic press kit released on July 28, Robert Plant describes where he first heard this song. He says: "I was again able to hook up my memory banks with a guy named Bongo Joe, who had an album out on Arhoolie in about 1970 [and the first track was] called I Wish I Could Sing. And on this compilation was this fantastic Barbara Lynn track, which was the response to Lennon and McCartney's 'Can't Buy Me Love,' and it was just so cute. It was like a pop song, so I just pushed in a little kind of 'ooh-ooh' bridge. It just comes out of a cupboard that your uncle might have closed up in 1963, really. You open the door and it comes roaring out."

    Funny, I can't find the Barbara Lynn track on that album, Bongo Joe, released under his real name, George Coleman.

    However, "I Wish I Could Sing," the lead track on Bongo Joe, is also included on the same CD compilation from Oxford American magazine's Fall 2009 music issue that kicks off with "You Can't Buy My Love" by Barbara Lynn. Robert uses the word "compilation" in his explanation above, which indicates to me his comments were edited for time and the Oxford American disc is the compilation to which he's referring. That's my interpretation anyway. I'm open to being set straight by somebody more in the know!

  2. Hi Steve, I read a press kit this weekend that said, yes, indeed, Plant stated he took 'You Can't Buy My Love; from an Oxford American compilation CD ~ Best and Thanks again for your magnificent website !


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