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