The music that came out of Stax Records pretty much defined the Memphis Sound throughout the 1960s. As the 70s dawned, the sound came to be redefined by records produced by Willie Mitchell down the road from Stax at Royal Studios. In 1971, two singles emanated from Royal that exemplified Mitchell’s new Memphis Sound and took it to the masses. One was Al Green’s ‘Tired Of Being Alone’. The other was Denise LaSalle’s ‘Trapped By A Thing Called Love’.
A groundbreaking record in its time, ‘Trapped By A Thing Called Love’ remains a defining example of what Southern Soul is all about. It took Denise to the very top of the Billboard R&B chart and made her an overnight success at the age of 30, after half a dozen previous 45s had failed to even nudge that chart. Even if Denise had never scored another hit, the record would have ensured her standing as a great of the genre.
Fortunately, Denise did place many other fine 45s on the R&B and Pop charts over the next few years. Although she hailed from Chicago (via Mississippi) and released her music on a Detroit-based label, Denise was a high-profile standard bearer for female Southern Soul throughout her prime chart time. For over five years, Denise’s hits were recorded for Westbound Records and all of them feature here on “Making A Good Thing Better” – surprisingly, her first-ever greatest hits compilation.
Denise released 12 Westbound singles, nine of which hit the R&B charts. In the wake of ‘Trapped By A Thing Called Love’, she hit the R&B Top 5 twice in succession with ‘Now Run And Tell That’ and ‘Man Sized Job’ and almost all of her other hit singles reached the Top 30 – a measure of how popular she was at that time. Although most of her Westbound sides were cut in Memphis, she also recorded in Muscle Shoals and, towards the end of her tenure, in Detroit, the city that gave Denise her final hit for the label with the sublime ‘Married, But Not to Each Other’, a classic of the cheatin’ songs genre. Wherever she chose to record, the end product always came out as superior Southern Soul.
Denise has long been overdue a singles compilation and we’re delighted to rectify that. All the tracks included here have been freshly mastered from the original Westbound production tapes. For those who want to hear Denise LaSalle at her best, singing hits that were all over the radio in the early 70s, it’s going to be an essential purchase.
By Tony Rounce