THE BIRTH OF SOUL
Ray Charles (Atlantic 82310)
Even though everybody knows that Ray Charles is one of the giants of American music, his utter ubiquity -- as cultural icon and Pepsi pitchman -- can make it easy to forget what a great soul singer he is. Fortunately, there's "The Birth of Soul" to remind us. This 53-song, three-disc (or three-cassette) box set bills itself as his "Complete Atlantic Rhythm & Blues Recordings, 1952-1959," but what it really documents isn't Charles' career in R&B but the process by which he created soul singing as we know it. Not only does the set show his roots in jump blues and gospel, but also how songs like "Don't You Know" and "I Wonder Who" presaged the sound of hits like "I Got a Woman." Definitely the right one, uh huh.
WAKING UP THE NEIGHBOURS
Bryan Adams (A&M 75021 5367)
What Bryan Adams plays isn't rock and roll, but an incredible simulation. Parts of "Waking Up the Neighbours" may recall rock and roll, from the "Honky Tonk Women" groove of "Is Your Mama Gonna Miss Ya?" to the Rod Stewart howl he affects for "House Arrest." But real rock and roll engages the emotions, whereas the best Adams can manage is to trigger a bit of memory, as his secondhand hooks remind us of recordings that once stirred our passions. As such, his songs seem empty, manipulative, and miles from what rock and roll ought to be.
DECADE OF DECADENCE
Motley Crue (Elektra 61204)
Best-of collections are generally intended to make a band look better in hindsight, but Motley Crue's "Decade of Decadence" actually manages to make the band sound better than it did the first time around. In addition to remastering most of the band's early hits -- a process which puts some much-needed muscle into "Live Wire" and "Looks That Kill" -- the band actually re-recorded bits of "Home Sweet Home," so that even the older songs pack the same sonic punch as recent hits. But the best reasons to buy this are those tracks which weren't on previous Crue albums, particularly "Rock 'N' Roll Junkie" (from the misbegotten "Ford Fairlane" soundtrack), the snarling "Primal Scream," and the band's enthusiastic remake of "Anarchy In the U.K."
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCA 10286)
If great acting is a matter of making people believe that you're something you aren't, then the cast of Alan Parker's "The Commitments" deserve to be called great actors, for on screen, they actually seem like a soul band. On the original cast album, "The Commitments," it's a different story, though. As a soul singer, Andrew Strong makes you yearn for the relative subtlety of Blues Brother John Belushi, while the band -- even when augmented by studio ringers -- is flat-footed and unswinging. Read the book, see the movie, but avoid the album.