Jackie Wilson, The Ultimate Jackie Wilson

Fred Goodman

By Fred Goodman

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Like Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, soul singing colossus Jackie Wilson stood astride two worlds, with one foot in pop music and the other planted firmly in r&b. He was dubbed “Mr. Excitement” for his electrifying shows, but Wilson was hardly a slouch in the studio either, delivering such r&b classics as “Baby Workout,” “Lonely Teardrops,” “To Be Loved” and “That's Why (I Love You So)," all of which appear on this electrifying compilation.

A mesmerizing reminder of a singer whose abilities and soul transcended the boundaries between pop and r&b.

A Detroit native, Wilson made his professional mark at 19 when he replaced Clyde McPhatter in Billy Ward and the Dominoes, scoring a hit with “You Can't Keep a Good Man Down.” Signing a solo deal with Brunswick Records, Wilson was paired with another Detroit music man, songwriter and future Motown mogul Berry Gordy, Jr., who produced and co-wrote such signature Wilson soul hits as “Reet Petite” and “Lonely Teardrops.” Gifted with a tenor as sweet and clear as spring water, Wilson was soon enjoying two-sided hits such as “Night” backed with “Doggin'Around,” with one side aimed at the pop market and the other toward r&b. Though the strategy at first paid off handsomely, making Wilson a star on both the r&b and nightclub circuits, by the mid '60s many of his original r&b fans had all but abandoned him. Teaming with Chicago producer Carl Davis, Wilson regained his crown with such moving hits as “Whispers (Getting Louder)” and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher.”

Cut down in 1975 by an onstage heart attack that left him bedridden until his death in 1984, Wilson remains one of the towering vocal stylists of his era, and this 44-song compilation — covering all of his soul and pop hits and also highlighting such unexpected tidbits as his covers of “Eleanor Rigby,” “For Once in My Life,” “Danny Boy” and “Georgia on My Mind” — is a mesmerizing reminder of a singer whose abilities and soul transcended boundaries.