Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers: I Can’t Stop Loving You
tylus Magazine’s Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
These last dead months have seen me put on soul music like a dress shirt. In the Texas heat, both’ll get you a little sticky, but they’re quick ways to feel alive. I’m not here to be maudlin, I swear; at this moment, I couldn’t if I tried: ABBA’s music video set The Definitive Collection is lighting up the living room as I type.
Pucho’s here for the battle. My great theory for 2006 is that soul music is our highest musical form. Much respect to my dear alabaster-clad Swedes (I’m up to “Mamma Mia”), but soul is pop music with stakes. I bleated as much to a Stylus writer via e-mail the other day when he tipped me to Johnny Adams’ 1969 single “Reconsider Me.” Adams’ cut makes none of pop’s concessions to immediacy: its barrelhouse penitence ambles up to the chorus, where he then tears off a couple startling falsettos. “Oh, please, reconsider me,” he wails, holding the please for a full five seconds.
This is the heart of soul’s primacy, the combination of idiosyncrasy and full-gut feeling. It’s in one of the finest lyrics of all time, from Sam and Dave’s “May I Baby,” when Dave Prater lilts, “I’m just a little boy / Live behind the grocery store / I’ve been watching you come and go now…” This isn’t an issue of authenticity, either. All I can say is that the best pop songs I know fall on me like a joyful weight, but the best soul cuts fill me up and flesh me out. Part of the credit is to singers like Pucho’s Jackie Soul. He treads all over “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” turning a country/western standard (originally cut by Don Gibson, and popularized by Ray Charles, both times as a ballad) into a complex, conga-heavy beast.
At first blush, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” seems as perverse as the lopsided snowman presiding over the “Chiquitita” video. Jackie’s positively crowing—even before Verse One, he lets loose with a hoot and an “I said it’s all right”—and William Bivens Jr. sprinkles funky vibraphone over the proceedings. “I can’t stop loving you,” Jackie sings, each phrase punctuated by horns, “I’ve made up my mind / I want to live with the memory / Of a lonesome time…” Pop music’s full of parties, but this is a celebration, the grief of one person reclaimed and transformed by a community.
That’s where I am this year. Don’t particularly care to hear what’s clever, or what’s next. I’m between jobs, catsitting at the neighbors’ place, waiting for the dryer to click off. I can see the white-lit power plant a mile down Willow Creek Drive; over our apartment the night sky’s a gauzy orange. I’ve got 24 cans of the country’s worst beer, and I want soul.
The best part comes towards the end, with Jackie Soul vamping in a full-throated rasp. “I keep remembering / Things we used to say and do / We did the shing-a-ling / We did the boogaloo,” he wails, and I have no idea if he’s lamenting the good times gone or leading some Pickett-like incitement. It’s pretty funny, and it’s heartfelt, and it grooves (a feat that ABBA only really pulled off on “On and On and On”). I have to check on my shirts now.