The R & B world seems to have a propensity for producing all-star level musical talent who should be legends but instead perform for many years, often decades, in undeserved obscurity. Many never found a large audience even among the genre’s own fans. Such is the case with hard luck Arthur Alexander who died in 1993 before Lonely Just Like Me could make him a star.
Alexander’s resume did contain a few minor hit records in the early 60s but he is mostly known for one song. Beatles fans will recognize him as the composer of "Anna" which they covered on their very first album, Please Please Me, all the way back in 1963, before they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Lesser known are "Soldier Of Love" which appears on The Beatles Live At The BBC double set, an early Rolling Stones cover of Alexander's "You Better Move On," and "Sally Sue Brown" covered by someone born with the name of Robert Zimmerman. When those three rock icons cover your material it guarantees you respect.
Even though many highly regarded artists loved his music, after a few minor chart entries and some bad industry dealings with record companies, Alexander quit the music business completely and earned a living driving a bus for a social services organization. Eventually musician and producer Ben Vaughn coaxed him out of retirement and the revitalized singer recorded Lonely Just Like Me in 1993. Sadly, a heart attack took his life within a few months after the CD was released.
Alexander was not your traditional R&B showman. His records weren’t barn burners. He sang in a pleasant, easy, low-key, style that reminds one of O.C. Smith on his 60s hit "Little Green Apples" or Otis Redding in the mellow mood he demonstrated on his gargantuan 1967 hit, "Dock Of The Bay." Alexander's relationship to rhythm and blues is the same as James Taylor's relationship to rock 'n roll. Taylor could do a fine cover of the disc's opening track "If It's Really Got To Be This Way."
Many of Alexander's compositions were quite sad and titles such as "Go Home Girl," "Every Day I Have To Cry," "Johnny Heartbreak," and the title track are all prime examples. Two tracks, "Sally Sue Brown" and "Genie In The Jug," prove Alexander could get a beat going when he feels like it. All twelve of the songs on the original CD release were written or co-written by Alexander. When asked how he wrote such great songs without being a musician he said, "They really find it surprising. All I can tell them is that it's a gift, it is a gift from God. I hear a melody and lyrics in my head, and once they get in there they just won't go away."
Hacktone Records recently re-issued the CD under the name of Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter with a lot of bonus material. An entire on air performance and interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air is included along with four demos Alexander recorded in a Cleveland hotel room. Finally he sings a live version of "Anna" recorded at The Bottom Line.
This CD is music well worth owning and the view from this pulpit is that that soft rock fans will like Alexander's music as much as R & B lovers.