Songs that should go die #3: Take A Letter Maria

Gawd this song is sooo…awful…


I read this argument in celebration of the song years ago:

The 1969 smash “Take A Letter, Maria” was R.B. Greaves’ one hit, and a fine one it is. Soulful enough for the Stax/Volt purists (Greaves sounds more like the late Otis Redding than his uncle Sam Cooke), but with an uptown pop gloss that made it sound equally at home next to the middle-of-the-road likes of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny,” “Take A Letter Maria” is a pinnacle of what used to be known somewhat derisively as supper-club soul, with a semi-funky rhythm section duking it out with a high-register horn section that wouldn’t be out of place on a Herb Alpert record. The lyrics are particularly interesting in this context, the story of a businessman instructing his secretary to contact his unfaithful wife and his lawyer, and ending — as such a story must in those days of three-martini lunches and tales of extracurricular secretary-boss hijinks — with the businessman asking his secretary out on a date. As Robert Christgau astutely pointed out in an essay reprinted in his anthology Any Old Way You Use It, it could be taken as something of a civil rights victory that this John Updike-like story of upper-middle-class suburban angst could be sung so convincingly by a black man.

Civil Rights Victory my ass. The dude is a lecherous boss of the late 1960s, whether his hair was in an afro or a pompadour. How is he any better than fictional middle class white men like Larry Tate oogling secretaries on Bewitched or Pete Campbell on Mad Men. Like, are we supposed to be proud of dude waiting to at least initiate divorce proceedings before boning his secretary.

This isn’t super club soul, it’s very much low budget sleaze porn soul starring whatever black guy woulda been the equivalent of Ron Jeremy or John Holmes in 1970s porn.


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