Lover Please: The Complete MGM & Mercury Singles

by: Clyde McPhatter

Clyde McPhatter jumped ship from Atlantic Records in 1959, persuaded by a hefty advance to sign with MGM Records. MGM was pouring time and money into reaching a rock & roll audience and McPhatter, riding high on solo hits like “A Lover’s Question” and his dynamite leads for the Drifters, seemed like a sure bet but things didn’t quite work out that way, as the light, string-laden numbers Clyde sung for MGM didn’t storm the charts. The label let him go and he went to Mercury where he recorded consistently, finally scoring a genuine Top 10 hit in 1962 with Billy Swan’s “Lover Please” before once again finding himself on the outside looking in. Hip-O Select’s excellent double-disc set Lover Please: The Complete MGM & Mercury Singles is the first extensive chronicle of these post-Atlantic recordings containing every side of every single he recorded for the two labels between 1959 and 1965. If the quality of these 44 songs are certainly more inconsistent than McPhatter’s classic Atlantic sides, blame it partially on MGM pushing him toward lightweight pop numbers that couldn’t quite be saved by Clyde’s vocals. He had a few songs at MGM that provided him a proper showcase -- the lively “Twice as Nice,” his slow bluesy original “When the Right Time Comes Along” is very good and he soars on “The Glory of Love” -- but generally the arrangements were too syrupy and the songs too sweet for them to stick. Often, his Mercury singles were also recorded with a pop audience in mind but producers Clyde Odis and Shelby Singleton keep things light, which helps quite a bit on the frivolous numbers. And that’s what McPhatter was often given to sing at Mercury -- sprightly pop songs, slow dance tunes and supperclub soul, all produced and performed impeccably but often not memorable outside of McPhatter’s vocals which remain wonderous even on the generic. Fortunately, he didn’t just sing the generic on Mercury, he was given some cracking tunes like “Lover Please,” a jumping rocker he didn’t want to record but provided him with one of his best singles. The singles he cut after “Lover Please” tended to have a greater variety of styles and sounds with the sleek uptown sound paying the greatest dividends commercially and artistically: he had a minor hit with the “Spanish Harlem” rewrite “Deep in the Heart of Harlem” and had his last R&B hit with the terrific “Crying Won’t Help You Now.” The latter suggests that McPhatter may have had greater luck in the latter half of the ‘60s, after Motown illustrated how pop crossover could be done without losing a soulful groove, but the cards didn’t break that way for Clyde: once he left Atlantic, he was stuck in a time where an R&B star of his magnitude had hopes of crossing over and while that might not have always made for compelling music, it’s hard not to listen to the singles on Lover Please and not marvel at McPhatter’s pure talent, even if you do wonder what might have been. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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