Remembering soul legend Solomon Burke’s hit singles and essential deep cuts
Soul-R&B pioneer Solomon Burke never gained the level of fame afforded to contemporaries James Brown, Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, or Sam Cooke. Rather, artists such as the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, and the Blues Brothers introduced him to a wider audience through their cover versions.
The Stones’ early versions of “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” especially stand out. In fact, the former appeared over 20 years later in the 1987 blockbuster Dirty Dancing, garnering renewed interest in the singer.
Born above Philadelphia’s Solomon’s Temple church, Burke was an ordained minister throughout his life as well as a mortician. He certainly led a very colorful life, as evidenced by a revealing Rolling Stone profile.
Always full of life, the singer never actually slowed down even in the face of obvious weight gain and immobility, recording, touring, and often preaching from the pulpit of his Los Angeles church, the House of Prayer for All People and World Wide Center for Life and Truth — the church must have a wide sign.
He passed away suddenly on October 10, 2010, of natural causes after arriving in Switzerland by jet for a live performance with Dutch rock band De Dijk. Hold on Tight, a final, collaborative studio album featuring the decidedly odd couple, was ultimately released one year later.
In his 70 years on Earth, Burke wrote many songs and had his fair share of hits, albeit unfairly relegated to the R&B charts. Critics and soul aficionados have regularly called Burke one of the greatest singers of his generation, dubbing him “The King of Rock & Soul.”
Burke’s vocals always possessed a ‘You’ve got to be born with ‘em’ gospel undertone. Even on soul numbers like “I Feel a Sin Coming On” and “Meet Me in Church,” the listener feels as if they’re hearing a gospel song straight from the Lord’s altar.
Burke wasn’t strictly pigeon-holed as a soul music interpreter. During his early Atlantic years, the singer was usually backed by a full orchestra with a decidedly pop sound, vocally resembling Sam Cooke on his first Atlantic single in 1961, the non-charting, yet very charming “Keep the Magic Working.”
Burke was a masterful interpreter of pop standards, including one of his most neglected performances, a 1969 rendition of “That Lucky Old Sun,” which idiosyncratic Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson revived almost 40 years later.
Though not well-known as a social protest singer, Burke still left his mark with versions of “I Wish I Knew [How It Would Feel to Be Free]” and Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto.”
And as soon as he began recording, Burke set himself apart from his peers by tackling country standards, including “I Really Don’t Want to Know,” “He’ll Have to Go,” “Detroit City,” and “We’re Gonna Hold On,” the latter taken from the appropriately titled Nashville released late in the artist’s career. Burke’s early forays into country triumphantly bridged the gap between segregated audiences months before Ray Charles’ much more successful versions of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “You Don’t Know Me.”
By the early ’70s, Burke was having few and far in-between hits, bouncing from one record label to the next. As the mid-‘80s rolled around, King Solomon found himself attached to Rounder Records, releasing the critically-acclaimed A Change Is Gonna Come. Subsequent years found the singer devoting much of his time to constant touring to make ends meet.
By 2002, a sustaining comeback finally occurred, as Don’t Give Up on Me won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. The long-running CBS television procedural Cold Case showcased one track from that great album in a 2008 episode, the sparse social commentary “None of Us Are Free.”
Artists such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, to producers ranging from Don Was and Willie Mitchell, all contributed songs to Burke’s 21st century discography.
Burke’s penultimate album, Nothing’s Impossible, was the epitaph for producer Willie Mitchell, and it also serves as a fitting almost-finale for Burke. Listen to the opening song, “Oh What a Feeling,” cut in Memphis at Royal Studios with Mitchell’s trademark strings, organ, and rich rhythm section anchoring Burke’s longing vocals.
Sixty-eight years old when that performance was tracked, Burke’s singing had lost nothing with the passage of time. When he moans, almost preaching the lines “One night’s sleep is never enough, it feels so good, I don’t wanna wake up, oh what a feeling, I can’t help myself, I’ve just got, what a feeling I have inside for you,” you know he’s singing from plenty of hard-earned experience.
If you’re new to Burke’s amazing body of work, the two-CD Rhino compilation entitled Solomon Burke: The Definitive Soul Collection is the place to start. The album features 30 songs, nearly all from his hit-making years at Atlantic Records from 1962–1968.
Read on below for Burke’s complete Billboard Chart Singles. Thirty-nine landed on the pop and R&B charts. Other essential deep cuts that weren’t hits round out the playlist with YouTube streaming links included. Without a doubt, there are countless imitators, but there will be only one King Solomon Burke.
Solomon Burke: The Complete Billboard Charting Singles
- “Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)” [No. 24 POP, No. 7 R&B, No. 6 Adult Contemporary August 1961]
- “Cry to Me” [No. 44 POP, No. 5 R&B January 1962]
- “Down in the Valley” [No. 71 POP, No. 20 R&B, No. 19 AC May 1962]
- “I’m Hanging Up My Heart for You” [No. 85 POP, No. 15 R&B, B-side of “Down in the Valley,” May 1962
- “I Really Don’t Want to Know” [No. 93 POP August 1962]
- “Words” [No. 121 POP February 1963]
- “If You Need Me” [No. 37 POP, No. 2 R&B March 1963]
- “Can’t Nobody Love You” [No. 66 POP July 1963]
- “You’re Good for Me” [No. 49 POP, No. 3 R&B October 1963]
- “He’ll Have to Go” [No. 51 POP, No. 17 R&B, No. 16 AC January 1964]
- “Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)” [No. 33 POP, No. 8 R&B April 1964]
- “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” [No. 58 POP, No. 4 R&B July 1964]
- “Yes I Do” [No. 92 POP, No. 38 R&B September 1964]
- “The Price” [No. 57 POP, No. 10 R&B October 1964]
- “Got to Get You Off My Mind” [No. 22 POP, No. 1 R&B February 1965]
- “Tonight’s the Night” [No. 28 POP, No. 2 R&B May 1965]
- “Someone Is Watching” [No. 89 POP, No. 24 R&B August 1965]
- “Only Love (Can Save Me Now)” [No. 94 POP November 1965]
- “Baby Come on Home” [No. 96 POP, No. 31 R&B December 1965]
- “I Feel a Sin Coming On” [No. 97 POP March 1966]
- “Keep Looking” [No. 109 POP, No. 38 R&B August 1966]
- “Keep a Light in the Window Till I Come Home” [No. 64 POP, No. 15 R&B January 1967]
- “Take Me (Just As I Am)” [No. 49 POP, No. 11 R&B June 1967]
- “Detroit City” [No. 104 POP, No. 47 R&B November 1967]
- “Party People” [No. 112 POP February 1968]
- “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free)” [No. 68 POP, No. 32 R&B, last charting hit on Atlantic, April 1968]
- “Soul Meeting” [No. 91 POP, No. 34 R&B; billed as “The Soul Clan,” featuring Burke, Arthur Conley, Don Covay, Ben E. King, and Joe Tex, June 1968]
- “Up Tight Good Woman” [No. 116 POP, No. 47 R&B, debut A-side on Bell Records, January 1969]
- “Proud Mary” [No. 45 POP, No. 15 R&B April 1969]
- “That Lucky Old Sun” [No. 129 POP June 1969; Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson recorded “That Lucky Old Sun” to stellar reviews as the title cut of his 2008 LP]
- “Electronic Magnetism (That’s Heavy, Baby)” [No. 96 POP, No. 26 R&B; sole charting single on MGM Records, February 1971]
- “Love’s Street and Fool’s Road” [No. 89 POP, No. 13 R&B February 1972]
- “We’re Almost Home” [No. 42 R&B June 1972]
- “Get Up and Do Something for Yourself” [No. 49 R&B, B-side of “Misty,” August 1972]
- “Shambala” [No. 97 R&B June 1973]
- “Midnight and You” [No. 14 R&B, B-side of “I Have a Dream,” only charting single on ABC Records, April 1974]
- “You and Your Baby Blues” [No. 96 POP, No. 19 R&B, debut charting A-side on Chess Records, November 1974]
- “Let Me Wrap My Arms Around You” [No. 72 R&B May 1975]
- “Please Don’t You Say Goodbye to Me” [No. 91 R&B and sole charting A-side on Amherst Records, August 1978]
Solomon Burke: Essential Deep Cuts
- “Keep the Magic Working” [Debut single on Atlantic, January 1961]
- “Baby (I Wanna be Loved)” [Solomon Burke’s Greatest Hits, 1962]
- “Won’t You Give Him (One More Chance)” [B-side of “Yes I Do,” September 1964]
- “When She Touches Me” [A-side October 1966]
- “It’s Been a Change” [B-side of “Detroit City;” Joe South’s distinctive, swampy electric guitar licks are icing on the cake, November 1967]
- “Save It” [A-side, June 1968]
- “Meet Me in Church” [B-side of “Save It,” June 1968]
- “Get Out of My Life Woman” [A-side and final Atlantic single, October 1968]
- “Sidewalks, Fences and Walls” [A-side on independent Infinity Records, November 1979]
- “Don’t Give Up on Me” [Don’t Give Up On Me, 2002]
- “None of Us Are Free” [Don’t Give Up On Me, 2002]
- “Sit This One Out” [Don’t Give Up On Me, 2002]
- “That’s How I Got to Memphis” [Nashville, produced by Buddy Miller, 2006]
- “Honey Where’s the Money Gone” [Nashville, 2006]
- “Up to the Mountain” [featuring Patty Griffin; Nashville, 2006]
- “‘Til I Get It Right” [Nashville, 2006]
- “Nothing’s Impossible” [Nothing’s Impossible, produced by Willie Mitchell, 2010]
- “Oh What a Feeling” [Nothing’s Impossible, 2010]
- “Dreams” [Nothing’s Impossible, 2010]
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