Long As You Love Me
Original release 1974 Enterprise / Stax
Reissue 2013 Ace Records
Remastered by Duncan Cowell at Sound Mastering
01 – As Long As You Love Me
02 – When We’re Together
03 – Passion
04 – A Little Bit More Won’t Hurt
05 – Sunday Morning’s Gonna Find Us In Love
06 – Sugar Daddy
07 – Call Me When All Else Fails
08 – Up For A Let Down
09 – So Lonely Without You
10 – Sleepy People
11 – So Glad To Have You
12 – Don’t You Think It’s About Time?
13 – Make A Joyful Noise
14 – We’ve Got Love On Our Side
15 – Walk On To Your New Love
16 – I Forgive You
Rhythm by Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Horns and strings by The Memphis Symphony Orchestra
Produced by Bettye Crutcher and Mack Rice
Arranged by Johnny Allen
Engineers – Pete Bishop, Jerry Masters, Steve Melton
Cover design and creative direction – The Stax Organization
Mastering – Larry Nix
A Very Special Thanks to: Bobby Womack
Photography – Frederic Torna
Unless you are the type who habitually reads the credits on album jackets, you’ve probably never heard of Bettye Crutcher. A victim of both a chauvinistic industry and a mismanaged label at the end of its lifespan, as a recording artist her one and only album fell between the cracks of Stax and has been relegated to a cult object for the last few decades. It was finally issued on CD last year, together with a smattering of bonus tracks that include a few demos – this is, as far as we know at present, the entire recorded legacy of Bettye as a performer.
As a writer, however, she left a much larger body of work. She penned a ton of hits for the likes of Johnny Taylor, Carla Thomas, Soul Children, William Bell, The Staple Singers and others. She formed part of a triad of writing partners, We Three, that was a bit like the Stax version of The Corporation, cranking out great tunes for their roster of artists. For this album she worked with Mack Rice as a writing and producing partner, and the material is more low key, with even the funkier tunes coming out mellow.
Fabulous production and arrangements, filled with just enough patches of strings and horns and Isaac Hazey flute riffs, would make this a joy to listen to even if the songs were mediocre. But the songs are excellent and Bettye has an alluring personality as a singer. Like a sort of southern soul Carole King, her voice isn’t quite ideal for the funkier tunes on the album but she approaches them with enough charm to make them work. You might notice that a lot of her vocals are double-tracked to give her voice a thicker sound (this is a studio technique that I like quite a bit, so mind you I am not bashing it). The opening track is probably the strongest thing here and sets the bar really high, meaning that what follows may take a few listens for its goodness to fully reach you. There are no throw-away tunes on it, and a lot going on to keep your ears busy and happy. Swinging effortlessly between deep southern funk, delicate ballads, and AM-radio pop-soul bliss, it is baffling that this album received no attention at the time. It may not qualify for breathless declarations of “lost genius soul classic” but it is easily as good as dozens of other albums released in 1974 that received critical and financial compensation, and a lot of it really is brilliant.
Unlike Carole King, there are no re-recordings of her famous compositions recorded by other artists, and the liner notes shed no light as to why not (artistic choice of Bettye’s, or contractual stuff with other Stax artists?). In fact Stax shamefully did not even release a single off this album in the US (they did release “Sugar Daddy,” a track I do not feel is representative of Bettye as a performer, a year later in the UK). Just as puzzling is the existence of four completed recordings of very high quality that never saw the light of day until this reissue, where they are included as bonus tracks. “So Glad To Have You” and “Don’t You Think It’s About Time” are exhilarating songs that would have been ideal singles. Four tracks, two A and B sides – these aren’t even rough mixes, but rather polished, finished product. Liner note author Tony Rounce muses that it might have been Bettye’s life situation as a single mother, unable or unwilling to go out on the road, that made Stax reluctant to promote her. But Stax was so close to bankruptcy at this point that it is almost a pointless exercise to try and guess the logic behind anything going on in their disorganized offices. Two demos tacked on to the end of the disc are solid, but we know nothing about them – when and where and with who they were recorded. But as I said at the outset, this disc represents the entire legacy of Bettye as a recording artist unless someone finds some tape reels hidden away under their bed, so you’d better enjoy every last second of it.
Bettye sitting in between We Three partners Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson and a stack of what look like Universal Audio compressors.