Bill Medley’s first forays into a solo career upon leaving the Righteous Brothers have been lost to the digital age, until now. The newly created Real Gone Records are reissuing both 1968′s 100 Percent and 1969′s Soft and Soulful today, marking their initial pressings as a compact disc.
In some ways, it’s easy to see why it took so long — since both albums tend to move well beyond the towering, Phil Spector-produced blue-eyed soul that propelled Medley’s duo work with Bobby Hatfield to the top of the charts. In dabbling with over-produced orchestral pop, early rock sounds, even gospel-tinged balladry, he must have mightily confused his core fanbase. Moreover, some of these experiments have not aged very well.
That said, the pairing of 100 Percent (featuring the Goffin-King hit “I Can’t Make It Alone” and the Mann-Weil tune “Brown-Eyed Woman”) and Soft and Soulful still makes for enough moments of essential listening — so powerful, so expressive is Medley’s vocal instrument — that they keep this repackaging effort from becoming a museum piece. Particularly intriguing, for instance, was a side trip into a jump-blues favorite like Louis Jordan’s “Let The Good Times Roll,” where Medley — with a yelp of “Sock it to me, band!” — couldn’t be more loose and rangy. He also wrings real emotion out of “That’s Life” and “Softly, As I Leave You,” despite both being so indelibly linked with Frank Sinatra.
But Medley’s simply too talented for stings-laden, overly posh numbers like the easy-listening warhorse “Goin’ Out of My Head” and Burt Bacharach’s “Any Day now” — the kind of shag-carpeted snoozers that have been rightly left in the dustbin of the 1970s. Later, he works hard at creating an era-appropriate anti-war statement with “Peace Brother Peace,” and Medley gives it his very best vocally, but the track itself is almost unbearably trite — both in sentiment and construction.
Just when it seems as if this two-fer has completely lost its way, though, Medley will rouse himself for a thrilling success like “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.” He owns the moment on that old Sam and Dave tune, performing with a trembling, aching authority. “Something So Wrong,” one of four Medley originals from Soft and Soulful, is built on the same foundation as those mythically anthematic sides with the Righteous Brothers (from its surging chorus to its wall-of-sound backing band), but Medley, again seizing the spotlight, sings with a gritty power unheard before.
It’s tempting, in this reissue’s best moments, to consider these albums a noble attempt to broaden his horizons — if we didn’t already know what was ahead. Actually, what they provide is something of a career road map for Medley, who by 1987 had completely jettisoned his R&B roots for pop superstardom in the form of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” a slicked-back chart-topping duet with Jennifer Warnes from the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack album.
In many ways, unfortunately, the seeds of that turn toward mainstream ordinariness can be found right here.