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Remembering Solomon Burke: The genius and effect of 'Cry to Me'

The song “Cry to Me” begins with the sweet soul singer Solomon Burke, who died Sunday in Amsterdam at the age of 70, asking a couple of simple questions about love, in a voice that sounds  genuinely,  desperately curious about whether the feeling is the same for everyone. Beneath a steady piano, bass, drums and maracas, Solomon Burke, the “king of rock 'n' soul,” wonders about his obsession: “When your baby leaves you all alone/And nobody calls you on the phone/Don’t you feel like crying/Don’t you feel like crying?”

The hit song, written by Bert Russell and made famous by longtime L.A. resident Burke in 1962, progresses as instrumental elements try to fill the void of his lonely room: There's a ringing counter melody on the xylophone, and then a male vocal group chimes in. Though in the song Burke’s thoughts are purely secular, the voices behind echo his longing for a different kind of salvation with a spiritual dose of “doo wahs."

As the song moves forward, tension rises in Burke’s voice. Whereas at first he is plaintive, his singing becomes more urgent, rising and with just enough sandpaper grit to make it real, as he brings the listener into the room. He sings of her scent lingering in the air, which has taken on existential proportions. “There’s nothing but the smell of her perfume,” Burke moans.

“Don’t you feel like crying?” Yes, and he screams it again, letting loose all the fury and desperation that’s been building inside him, and within the song.  “Come on, come on, cry to me,” he pleads, letting on that he’s drinking wine: "Loneliness, loneliness, such a waste of time.”

“Cry to Me” is arguably the song Burke will be best known for – due in part to its use during a key, and very sexy, moment in the film “Dirty Dancing.” In the scene, a shirtless Patrick Swayze seduces a very willing Jennifer Grey (or vice versa) while the song plays in the background. That it's used as a sexual prelude in the film is almost an affront to the song; what the two characters  are doing is exactly what Burke desires, but can't have.

But unlike in "Dirty Dancing," in the song there is no romance, just a longing for it. All Burke has is her voice in his head, and so desperate is he that even crying is preferable to nothing at all. He's not even looking for laughter at this point. Just her presence, and her scent, and her tears.

For more information, read The Times' obituary on Solomon Burke.

-- Randall Roberts

Comments () | Archives (4)

I was very fortunate to see Mr. Burke perform at the Long Beach Blues Festival years ago. What a talented performer. Mr. Burke and the Long Beach Blues Festival both died within a few weeks of each other. It is very sad to see them go. I hope that Mr. Burke's legacy is managed better than the horrific job that the KKJZ management has done with its crown jewel.

All Praise to the greatest unsung hero of R&B! He never got the acclaim of Sam Cooke, Otis, or James Brown, but his talent was just as great. I first heard Solomon Burke on his comeback album "Don't Give Up on Me, " and later I became a completist. But the first side of that LP still gives me chills. Everyone should listen to "Fast Train" and the title track. I was lucky enough to see Mr. Burke in concert at Jazz Fest, and even seated at his (rightful) throne he exuded so much energy and passion and charisma and love. He performed with his family on stage, singing with a daughter and a grandchild, while everyone else stood and watched. May his music and legacy live forever!

Thanks for this. Solomon Burke was a great performer and had some excellent hits, including this one.

Long before "Dirty Dancing," "Cry to Me" was one of Burke's best known songs because the Rolling Stones covered it on "Out of Our Heads," the album that in the U.S. at least also contained "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.

My introduction to Solomon Burke was his unforgettable portrayal of Daddy Mention in the 1986 film "The Big Easy" and even though I didn't know who he was at that time, his persona was just fascinating. In just one or two short scenes he was just so full of life and personality that I never forgot him. The fact that he turned out to be a famous and talented soul singer was a bonus on top of that.

He also appears in in a documentary (the title of which I forget) about Little Richard. Interviewed about one of Little Richard's sporadic religious epiphanies, he says (I hope I quote him accurately), "Richard told us he took all his gold rings and jewelry and threw them all in the river -- and we were all very upset...because he didn't tell us where he threw them..."

There aren't that many fascinating people who are just simply pure enjoyment to watch and listen to. I'm very sad he's gone.


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