Charlie Rich, The Complete Sun Singles

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

If you know Charlie Rich only as the countrypolitan crooner of the '70s ("Behind Closed Doors," "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World"), you're in for a big surprise. With his jazz background, Charlie was a sophisticated pianist who didn't let that keep him from rocking, and his country-soul voice was one of a kind; he was also a peerless arranger and a knowing songwriter. Even Sam Phillips himself said that Rich was the most complete musician he had at Sun, and though Charlie only scored one hit single (the teen-swing cry "Lonely Weekends"), there's nothing here to suggest Sam's evaluation was off-base. Originally a session musician and staff writer, Charlie was at best a reluctant performer. But in many ways, he was perhaps the first adult rocker, for efforts like "Midnight Blues" and "Who Will the Next Fool Be" convey unusual maturity. The latter is the sort of country-flavored soul-blues hybrid that Bobby Blue Bland later popularized; Bland eventually cut that particular song, but his vocal couldn't match the desperation and agony of Charlie's own, and that's high praise. It's hard to believe that a brooding barroom ballad like "Sittin 'and Thinkin'" came from the same man who wrote and sang teen fodder like "Philadelphia Baby" or "School Days," but it's a measure of Rich's gifts that he reconciled such extremes. He was just too talented — and too complicated — to squeeze into a marketable niche.