This is the 47th post in a weekly, yearlong series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
In addition to fostering a strong faith, his grandmother also encouraged him to embrace music. He absorbed songs on the radio and began performing his own songs at his church. Burke wrote songs specifically for the church services, including a song he would play during the offering. “We would play it with tubas, trombones and the big bass drum, and it sounded really joyful,” Burke later told The Independent.
Jerry Wexler signed Burke to Atlantic Records in the early ’60s. Together, with producer Bert Berns, they turned that song for the offering into Burke’s most famous song: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” But what role each man played has been up for debate ever since the song’s release in 1964.
According to Burke, he played his offering song for Wexler and Berns, “who thought that it was too fast, and had the wrong tempo. However, they said they would record it if I gave them a piece of the song!”
The song credits listed Burke, Wexler, and Berns, but Burke maintained until his death that he was the sole writer. “When I’m gone, I want the money from that song to go to my children, not to Jerry Wexler or to the estate of Bert Berns,” Burke told The Los Angeles Times in 2002.
In that same Times profile of Burke, Wexler expressed regret over the misunderstanding, chalking it up to agreeing to disagree:
I know Solomon is upset about that, and I wrote him a long letter explaining how we wrote the song together and that he has always gotten his share of the royalties. I know that because I get royalty checks for the song… The whole process of making a record is a collaborative affair and the issue of who does just what on a song sometimes gets confusing, but not on that song. We wrote it in Bert’s apartment. Bert had a guitar and we wrote it together.
Years of fighting to get the royalties and publishing rights for that song, Burke died in 2010. Wexler died two years earlier.
The dispute over that song not only soured their relationship, but colored Burke’s view of the song itself. But the song, which peaked in the US at Number 58, became a signature for Burke. Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time listed Burke’s version of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” at Number 436. (We mentioned a few weeks ago that this same list included Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” at Number 5.)
Part of what made the song so memorable was Burke’s spoken words at the beginning, delivered like he was preaching from the pulpit. That part of the song was just as integral to its identity as the riff that had originated as Burke’s offering march. Most of the covers kept the riff, but not all of them included the spoken word portion.
The Rolling Stones released two versions of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” both in 1965. The first version was a five minute version on the January 1965 album, “The Rolling Stones No. 2.”
The next version was a shorter variation of that one, appearing on “The Rolling Stones, Now!” in February 1965. The shorter version had a little more variety to its sound, as the version on “The Rolling Stones No. 2” had a lot of Mick Jagger just repeating the title of the song. Both versions were guitar-centric, stripped of the horns that had given Burke’s version such a full sound.
Wilson Pickett covered “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” for his 1966 album, “The Wicked Pickett.” That same album included his covers of “Mustang Sally,” “Knock On Wood,” and “Time Is On My Side.” Pickett brought back the horns that The Rolling Stones had removed. Burke had sung the song like he was at church, and Mick Jagger had sung the song like he was casually jamming in a friend’s basement, but Pickett sang like he was performing a rock song in a rock club. He brought the same spirit to it that he brought to his cover of “Land of a Thousand Dances.”
California band Knights of Day released a cover in 1966. It was, at least that point, the poppiest and most polished version of the song. Unlike the other versions of the song, it did not include a spoken word part addressing the audience.
Thee Midniters, of East Los Angeles, has been credited with helping develop the Chicano music scene. When singer Ray Jimenez left the band in 1964, Willie Garcia took over lead vocals. On Thee Midniters’ “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” Garcia delivered the introduction to the song with the same style as Burke, sounding like a preacher speaking to his congregation.
Psychedelic/garage rock band The 13th Floor Elevators covered “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” on the 1968 album, “Live.” Despite the album’s title, it was actually a studio recording, with the cheering sounds being fake sounds added to the track. Those fake audience sounds added a gritty charm to the 13th Floor Elevators’ already unpolished sound.
Harvester was a psychedelic rock band that incorporated the sounds of traditional Nordic folk music. If that sounds weird to you, then you have the right idea. The band’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” from its 1969 album “Hemåt,” was seven-plus minutes of a repeating riff that built up but didn’t resemble Burke’s original.
In the late ’70s, comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi created The Blues Brothers, a blues/soul revival band. Initially, the band was part of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, but in 1978, The Blues Brothers released a full album, “Briefcase Full of Blues.” Two years later, Aykroyd and Belushi starred as the title characters in the movie, “The Blues Brothers.” In the movie, the two brothers and their band performed “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” onstage in Chicago while being chased by, well, almost everyone.
The Blues Brothers’ version of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” not only included Burke’s introductory spoken words, it modified those words to adapt to the plot. It was the climactic performance of the movie, and as such, it became one of the more memorable renditions of the song. In 1989, The Blues Brothers’ “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” was released as a single in the UK, peaking at Number 12.
Precious Wilson was a singer fit the R&B/disco group Eruption, which landed a supporting role for Boney M.’s tour in 1977 after catching the attention of producer Frank Farian.
Farian then signed Eruption to Hansa Records, where the group had a hit with a disco cover version of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” Wilson went solo in 1979, covering “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” in 1981. Titled “I Need You,” Wilson’s dance-driven remake changed enough of the words that it felt like more of a sample of some of the lyrics rather than a cover. It peaked at Number 6 in Switzerland and Number 39 in Germany.
In 1992, Chicago garage band The Shadows of Knight released a live album from a concert early in the band’s career. In a review for AllMusic, Richie Unterberger remarked that “Raw ‘n’ Alive at the Cellar, Chicago 1966!” was “one of the very few live garage band tapes from the mid-’60s of relatively decent sound quality (considering the standards of the era).” The band’s take on “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” has such a crisp and clear sound that it sounds more intimate than most recordings of live shows.
In 2001, a collection of Dusty Springfield’s TV performances were released on a double album called, “Good Times: The Best of Dusty Springfield’s BBC TV Performances 1966-1979.” Her breathy delivery, beginning with her spoken introduction, gave the performance a charming, down-to-earth feel. She was arguably one of the better singers of her time, and definitely one of the best her country has ever produced. Her talent was impressive and intimidating, but her TV appearances — particularly this one — made her seem like she was just another music fan having fun singing a song she liked. Another music fan who was really, really, really good.
The Jerry Garcia Band was one Jerry Garcia’s side projects that he toured and recorded with when he wasn’t performing with The Grateful Dead. The 2001 album “Shining Star” was similar to Springfield’s “Good Times” in that it was a double album released after the namesake’s death. “Shining Star” comprised live versions recorded at various concerts from 1989 to 1993, including “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” The band turned what had been a fast-paced soul song into a meandering jam song lasting more than 11 minutes. It’s not a version I’d recommend to the casual fan, but if you’re a Dead fan, you’ll probably like it. Otherwise, I’d recommend it only as background music.
“Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” like many of the other songs we’ve reviewed from the ’60s and ’70s, had several versions of it recorded within a short time after its release. Other examples from our past songs include “Respect,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” and “The Loco-Motion.” It’s hard to us imagine Beyonce releasing “Formation” this year and having Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Sia all recording their own versions, but back then, that was the norm.
As such, one would hear multiple versions of the same song in a rather short period. And many of them would sound similar, as we hear in the numerous garage versions of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” Those covers are fun, as many of those unpolished rock songs from the late ’60s tend to be. But it’s hard to distinguish them from each other. And if you can’t differentiate one gritty rock cover from the other, is it really that great of a cover?
The cover of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” that stands out the most is easily The Blues Brothers’ version. As we’ve said in the previous posts, songs in movies have a way of sticking with you. And because the song was performed in one of the climactic scenes of the movie, it’s hard not to associate the song with the movie (or the movie with the song). The same could be said for the version of “I Say A Little Prayer” in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”
But The Blues Brothers’ version of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” beats the “My Best Friend’s Wedding” version of “I Say A Little Prayer” in the category of “Best Cover Of A Non-Showtune, Not-From-A-Musical Song, As Performed By The Cast Of A Movie.” That’s not an Academy Award category, but it should be. Both songs are enjoyable, even if you hadn’t heard the original songs. One could probably listen to Rupert Everett belting out “I Say A Little Prayer” and like it, I suppose, but it’s way richer when you’re watching it as part of the movie.
But The Blues Brothers’ version of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” is enjoyable on its own, outside the context of the movie. It could be listened to like a song from a band’s live album. That’s been one of the characteristics that unites all the best covers we’ve reviewed: if you can parachute into the song with little to no context and still enjoy it, whether you know it’s a cover or not, then it’s a worthy cover song. Of course, it’s hard to listen to The Blues Brothers’ version and not want to immediately watch the entire movie, whether you’re 106 miles from Chicago or a little farther away.
The film featuring the Blues Brothers introduced the song to a new audience in the same way “My Best Friend’s Wedding” introduced “I Say A Little Prayer” to a younger generation that might not know the song. Those movies are certainly how I learned of those songs, and many people around my age will probably say the same thing. But there’s a poetic sadness to the fact that The Blues Brothers’ version is so iconic: Solomon Burke spent so many years trying to get the sole credit for that song, and yet his is not even necessarily the most widely recognized version.