Barbara Lewis, born 1943, had one of the unique voices of the 1960s. Her tone and phrasing made it instantly recognizable at the time.
Her first single, “My Heart Went Do Dat Da” was released on the small Karen label during 1962 and became popular in her native Michigan. The distribution rights were acquired by the large label Atlantic Records and released nationally but had little commercial success. Still, her vocal style and songwriting ability were enough for her to be signed by the label. She would release 17 singles for the label, 1962-1968. All of the A and B-sides of those releases have been reissued by Real Gone Music as The Complete Atlantic Singles.
Today she is remembered primarily for her two signature songs, “Hello Stranger” and “Baby I’m Yours.” Both tread the line between classic rhythm & blues and mainstream pop. “Hello Stranger” was her own composition and featured a subtle bossa nova beat, which was driven by the organ play of John Young and the background vocals of The Dells. “Baby I’m Yours” focused more on her smooth vocals with backing by The Sweet Inspirations.
Despite the brilliance of her two big hits, the quality of her music ran deep as much of her lesser known material, especially the B-sides, had a brilliance all their own. “Make Me your Baby” was a free-flowing performance with full orchestration, which made it a somewhat unique rhythm & blues song at the time. “Don’t Forget about Me” was a bluesy interpretation of a Goffin-King song. Her final release for the label, “You’re A Dream Maker” contained one of her best vocal performances.
She took some chances on the B-sides of her singles and as such they are a more eclectic mix. She reached back into the Great American Songbook for a soulful interpretation of the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song, “It’s Magic.” She brought a female perspective to the Deon Jackson hit, “Love Makes The World Go Round.” Her own compositions, the sassy “Think A Little Sugar,” the passionate “On Bended Knees,” and the strutting “Thankful for What I Got,” deserved better than being buried on the B-sides of singles.
After leaving Atlantic, she signed with Enterprise, which was a subsidiary of Stax. Her attempt at a more funky sound was not commercially successful and her recording became intermittent.
The heart of her career remains her series of singles for Atlantic and it’s nice to have them all in one place and in chronological order as they present the legacy of one of the 1960s superior soul singers. Most of her singles were a little slice of music bliss. My only complaint about the release is the booklet. There could have been more information about each song, such as who played on the tracks, plus a more comprehensive biography would have been nice.
Barbara Lewis is not an artist who should be overlooked. The Complete Atlantic Singles is a fine introduction to the best of her music.
Article first published as Music Review: Barbara Lewis – The Complete Atlantic Singles on Blogcritics.