Jerry Butler

The Best of the Vee-Jay Years

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There have been several best-of compilations for Jerry Butler's Vee-Jay recordings, and this is neither the first nor the most comprehensive. The 2001 U.K. anthology The Sweetest Soul, for instance, has 27 tracks, while this 2007 Shout Factory release has 16. Still, it does encompass the biggest and best discs from Butler's early career, from his 1958 smash with the Impressions ("For Your Precious Love") and "He Will Break Your Heart" through "Moon River," "Make It Easy on Yourself," "Giving Up on Love," "I Stand Accused," and his 1964 hit duet with Betty Everett, "Let It Be Me." There's also room for some nifty Latin-flavored songwriting collaborations with the young Curtis Mayfield and a few quality non-hits that don't make it onto some other compilations (such as The Sweetest Soul, as it happens), like "Message to Martha" (later reworked by Dionne Warwick for the hit "Message to Michael") and the early Randy Newman cover "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore." It's true that for a truly comprehensive Butler best-of, you'd also need to cover his numerous late-'60s hits for Mercury. But this overview of the earlier phase of his career has superb music that's still not quite given its full due for its pioneering blends of R&B, gospel, doo wop, pop, and orchestration, which formed a crucial building block of what came to be known as soul music.

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