At one time, soul singing or r&b singing was an excercise in restraint. It let the material do the work for you. There was no need to force it, because the emotion, the beating heart of it, would come out thanks to the strength of the writing, and not the number of notes the singer was able to string together. The poster girl for this approach is Ann Peebles, who made this song a soul classic to be covered by many including singer-songwriter Graham Parker, as well as blue-eyed soul 80s pin up Paul Young. She made delivering a classic seem effortless.
Peebles is a lesser-known soul artist by the general populace, but this song and her signature hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain” of the previous year are accepted classics. She had a winning stint at Hi Records at the end of the 1960s and into the mid 70s, which is a prime purple patch for southern soul. Along with labelmates Al Green and O.V Wright, Peebles cut a number of respected LPs and hits on the R&B charts although he missed out on crossover success when compared to others. Yet her winningly laid back, sensual vocal quality would have it’s effects on singers of generations to come like Erykah Badu, who employs similar control and delivery, and hip hop artist Missy Elliot who sampled Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” on her song “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” in 1997.
The thing I love about “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” is that Peebles’ voice is quietly menacing – you really believe that one day pretty soon, she’s going to do some tearing like it’s an accepted fact. There are no histrionics required. And of course I love that humid, sweaty soul sound – the horns, the funky rhythm guitar that shows brief flashes of George Benson-like jazz licks, and the contrast of the breezy strings, all of which make for a potent soul stew.
Peebles’ career would be short circuited by the sale of Hi Records and the rise of disco, which eclipsed the southern soul influence on R&B by the end of the 1970s. After taking time off to spend with her family for a good portion of the 80s, she would record and tour sporadically into the 90s. Her hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain” would be featured in the 1991 film The Commitments by director Alan Parker, along with many other hits from the classic soul era.
For more about Ann Peebles and her newest release Brand New Classics, check out the Ann Peebles MySpace Page.