Various Artists

The Sweetest Feeling: Van McCoy Songbook 1962-1973

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Van McCoy is not often thought of by mainstream pop history as one of the most interesting behind-the-scenes soul-pop songwriters; he's far more well-known for topping the charts with the 1975 disco hit "The Hustle." But for about a decade prior to that, he'd written a great deal of quality material for a wide assortment of artists, though only a relative few of these had significant commercial success. Sweetest Feeling: Van McCoy Songbook has a couple-dozen tracks he wrote or co-wrote between the mid-'60s and the mid-'70s, most of them cut prior to 1972. Barbara Lewis' "Baby I'm Yours" is the only big pop hit, and even some of the other songs are presented in versions other than the most famous or best-selling one. So it's not a thorough overview of McCoy's work as a songwriter -- that would take a box set -- but it's a very good starting point. At his peak, there were few better than McCoy at combining soul with Brill Building/girl group-shaded pop. Tunes in that mold tend to be this CD's highlights, including "Baby I'm Yours," Betty Everett's "Getting Mighty Crowded," Gladys Knight & the Pips' rousing "Stop and Get a Hold of Myself," Ruby & the Romantics' enchanting ballad "When You're Young and in Love," Irma Thomas' "It's Starting to Get to Me Now," Little Esther Phillips' "Some Things You Never Get Used To," Chuck Jackson's Latin-flavored "Who's Gonna Pick Up the Pieces," Nancy Wilson's "Where Does That Leave Me," and Nina Simone's "Either Way I Lose." Those with a taste for more uptempo and typical '60s soul might prefer Erma Franklin's "I Get the Sweetest Feeling" and Aretha Franklin's unreleased-at-the-time 1968 effort "So Soon," while his way with a lush ballad is well represented by Teri Thornton's "Why Don't You Love Me" and Jerry Butler's "I Can't Stand to See You Cry." True, a few of these tracks are of rather average quality, and some other artists (especially Gladys Knight) did some of these songs better; on the other hand, it's good to hear the rarer renditions as well. But like other volumes of Ace's extensive series covering songwriters who came to prominence in the '60s, it's a good mix of the well-known and the obscure, thoroughly annotated, and leaves room for additional volumes investigating more of McCoy's compositions.

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