The plan is to run an occasional series on lesser-known records that I like. So here’s a wonderful example to start with. Feel free to suggest other albums, and I’ll try to find them into my Friday show, whenever possible. Here goes:
THE ABYSSINIAN BAPTIST GOSPEL CHOIR
Shakin’ The Rafters (Columbia)
Who’s gonna ride that glory train and where’s it gonna take them? Why, it’s headed straight to heaven and the people who will sing us out there are the Abyssinian Baptist Choir with their jubilant voices, their flowing robes and their unbeatable faith in the hereafter.
That’s the message in this 1960 recording, live in a church in Newark, New Jersey. Tom Waits calls this album “astonishing” and “awesome” in a list of his faves on Amazon. Tony Bennett also calls it the greatest rock and roll record ever recorded. And y’know he’s possibly right.
This is a record that soars and then drops, reprises and rallies for some thunderous moments. The 120 strong choir is clapping, stomping and syncopating while leader Alex Bradford is holding the delerium in shape. We catch little glints of the Promised Land. We hear words of comfort for the darkest times, and hear expressions of resolve and awe.
This experience was kept for posterity by John Hammond, a visionary record man who signed Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and worked with Billie Holiday and many other quality acts of the last century. He had tremendous ears, as they say in the trade, and here’s extra proof if you want it.
I’m listening to the record again and thinking oft Bono’s line about the church and dreary dogma. "Religion, to me, is almost like when God leaves and people devise a set of rules to fill the space." Well this is the sound of pure spirit, unharmed by the petty stuff. Before soul music had even been invented, its formative heart was beating steady.
Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight. See his playlist here.