One of the most obscure albums Covay cut, Funky Yo Yo slipped out in 1977 on the tiny Versatile label, with such little notice that it's even escaped getting listed in some discographies. It's a strange record, too, with production so sparse (and some dull muffle to the sound fidelity, though it's not a serious impediment) that one suspects these might be demos, or perhaps not even 1977 recordings. Yet in a way that very rootsy, stripped-down feel makes it appealing, particularly as it was appearing at a time when many fellow soul greats of Covay's generation were issuing bloated, hopeless attempts to jump on the disco bandwagon. Far from emulating Barry White, Covay sounds rather like Van Morrison on much of this material, though the similarity's probably coincidental. Particularly on the more bare-bones arrangements, these actually have a cool intimate feel, as if they're songwriter demos intended for pitches to '60s Atlantic recording artists.
In 2000, Koch reissued Don Covay's two classic mid-'60s albums, Mercy and See-Saw, on one tremendous CD. The term "classic" is thrown around haphazardly in pop music, but these are two sublime records that earn the term, even if they're not as roundly celebrated as platters from Otis Redding or even cult favorite James Carr. Though he racked up a number of singles on the R&B charts, he never had a huge crossover hit, but his music stands as some of the most effervescent, infectious soul of the '60s (not to mention that his vocal style was a clear inspiration to Mick Jagger). What makes his music so remarkable is how it's earthy Southern soul, kicking really hard in its rhythms and with plenty of growl in Covay's voice, but is as nimble, tuneful, and sunny as the sounds coming out of Chicago and Detroit during the mid-'60s. Perhaps that's why he never quite got a huge single – he straddled the two popular sounds without fully being part of either. It may have not resulted in big singles, but it resulted in splendid music. If there's not much difference stylistically between Mercy and See-Saw – they're both pretty much cut from the same cloth – there's also little difference in quality. It's all tremendous, enjoyable, sweet Southern soul. Razor & Tie's Mercy Mercy: The Definitive Don Covay provides the definitive overview, but for a pure concentration of Covay at his peak, this is irresistible and essential.
This four-CD, 100-song set is the best representative body of work ever assembled (or ever likely to be assembled) of the R&B and soul releases from Henry "Juggy Murray" Jones' Sue Records. The range of sounds runs the gamut from ex-Drifter Bobby Hendricks' first hit for the company ("Itchy Twitchy Feeling") in 1959, through the string of hits by Ike & Tina Turner, to the company's last hits some seven years later. Not only is every chart single that the label ever had represented, but so are club hits from the mid-'60s and solo sides by uniquely New York-associated figures. The contents of the box are almost ideal, along with their arrangement – in contrast some other box sets, this one follows strict release order, which is a great way to follow the history of the label (though not ideal for anyone, apart from owners of multi-disc players, who simply wants to hear the label's best-known tracks in one sitting).
When Jeff Lynne was growing up, he listened to music on longwave radio, soaking up all the sounds coming through the big radio in the living room. His 2012 tribute to these days, appropriately called Long Wave, is a far-reaching salute to the glory days of pop in the years before the Beatles. It's too easy to peg this as a standards album, a designation that isn't quite accurate. Lynne may cover many show tunes along with '50s favorites of big-band vocalists but he spends nearly as much time with rock & roll, and not just the operatic pop of his fellow Traveling Wilbury Roy Orbison, either. He cranks through Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock," slides into the silken harmonies of the Everly Brothers on "So Sad," and grooves through Don Covay's "Mercy, Mercy." These are the cuts that stick the closest to the original hit recordings.