(Above: Hidden in this album is a great song.)
Sometimes, what may be the best version of a song is the one that finishes in third place.
1n 1968 session musicians at Brunswick Records went into the studio and laid down a jam. That track was released by Brunswick and first hit the Billboard Hot 100 on November 30th of that year. “Soulful Strut” went all the way up to #3 in early 1969. The track was credited to Eldee Young and Isaac Holt’s act, Young-Holt Unlimited, though it’s believed that neither played on the track. (And no – further to our discussion earlier this week – they are not a one-hit wonder. “Wack Wack,” a catchy track with a fairly simple lyric (“Wack. Wack wack.”) did make it to #40 in 1967.) You’ve undoubtedly heard “Soulful Strut” before, perhaps as a background to a promo for the Movie of the Week on television or something. (That would be only if your TV station was cool. I grew up with WGN in the pre-Superstation days, when they were a local station with a fairly low level of production value on promos and such. The Sunday matinee movie theme they used was Quincy Jones’ “Happy Feet,” which isn’t quite as cool as this one.)
But there’s words to “Soulful Strut.” Barbara Acklin, who started as a backup singer at Chess Records before finding her own success with “Love Makes a Woman” in 1968, recorded them. In fact, she recorded them at the same time the original tracks were laid down. Producer Carl Davis decided to strip off the vocals, add a piano solo by Floyd Morris, and see what happened. Once “Strut” went big, they went back to the vault and dug out the original version with Acklin’s lyrics intact, called “Am I The Same Girl?” Record buyers opted not to buy two of the same thing, and Acklin’s lyric version effectively stiffed, landing at just #79 on the pop chart and only making it to #33 on the R&B chart. (Even Dusty Springfield’s cover version didn’t dent the Hot 100.)
That was it for “Am I The Same Girl” until September of 1992. British group Swing Out Sister resurrected the track in an attempt to get their career back in business. The single missed the Top 40, stalling at #45, but it was a solid #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Soccer-mom radio embraced the track. Martha Stewart used as the theme song for her 2005 TV show and in all the promo materials, bringing it back around again. If you’ve heard a version of this song with words, this one is the one that you’ve likely heard.
“Originals are still the greatest,” we like to say around here. In most cases this is true. Here. it’s a toss-up. “Soulful Strut” is a damned fine record, but I think we got deprived of something fantastic through the timing of the release of Acklin’s version. Had Brunswick put it out even a year later, I suspect it would have done a lot better on the charts. (I can’t guarantee that we’d have been spared the Martha Stewart TV show.)
See what you think. You can hear Barbara Acklin’s version of “Am I The Same Girl” by clicking here.