Saturday, August 13, 2016

Music Reviews: Helen Foster: You Belong To Me

When you think of soul music, rock-n-roll, doo-wop and R&B, Nashville is probably not the first Tennessee city to come to your mind. Memphis would likely be. But mid 20th century Nashville not only had a thriving country scene but also plenty of musicians working in other styles. Most of them didn't become as well known as their Memphis counterparts but they were essential to the development of just about every form of popular music in the 20th century.

As discussed previously many of the distinctions that people make with music are often more marketing descriptions than important or rigid differences. Often a working musician had to be proficient in a wide variety of styles if he wanted to eat. For example, future music legend and jazz saxophone giant John Coltrane could be heard on a few Nashville R&B recordings, most notably Gay Crosse's and the Good Humor Six's No Better for You. Musicians have always listened to each other and been influenced by one another regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. 

Just as Whitney Houston would later have a hit with a song penned by country star Dolly Parton, R&B singer Helen Foster had an early fifties hit with the song You Belong to Me. This song was originally written by country musicians Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart with lyrics adapted from a Lousivile librarian by the name of Chilton Price. The song was a hit in the pop (white) market for singer Jo Stafford. Helen Foster redid it for the R&B (black) market. 

The song became a standard and was redone by many many singers in different genres. I heard Helen Foster's version on the two CD set Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm and Blues (1945-1970), which you really should purchase if you don't have it already. This song has one of the prettiest melodies I've heard in a while. Foster's voice is clear and pleading. 

It's sung straight without excessive melisma. The lyrics are simple, direct and heartfelt. Anyone who has ever missed someone or needed someone can understand these lyrics. Thematically the song was a forerunner to the Doc Pomus written 1960 Drifters hit Save the Last Dance For Me. I'm not sure that a song like You Belong To Me would be a R&B hit today. Someone would have to "improve" it by including drum machines and synth or spend 20 seconds warbling around one note. The hot producer of the moment would be recruited to remix it.

See the pyramids along the Nile/Watch the sunrise on a tropic isle
Just remember darling all the while/You belong to me

See the market place in old Algiers/Send me photographs and souvenirs
Just remember when a dream appears/You belong to me
I'll be so alone without you /Maybe you'll be lonesome too and blue 

Fly the ocean in a silver plane /See the jungle when it's wet with rain
Oh my darling till you're home again/You belong to me
I'll be so alone without you/Maybe you'll be lonesome too and blue 

Fly the ocean in a silver plane/See the jungle when it's wet with rain 

Oh my darling till you're home again/You belong to me

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