An unjustly overlooked R&B and rock pioneer, Arthur Alexander played a major part in shaping groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Compositions such as "Anna (Go to Him)," "Solider of Love," and "You Better Move On" exemplify his unique songwriting skills and expressive voice. Yet he received little recognition in America, his career ending all too abruptly with little money and a baffling lack of critical acclaim. Thankfully members of the 1960s British Invasion loved Alexander's material, covering his songs and reintroducing them to the American public. "You Better Move On," his 1962 single, is one of the rock era's should-have-been big hits.
Born in Alabama in 1940, Alexander learned his craft from his blues guitarist father. In sixth grade, the singer joined the gospel group the Heartstrings. According to AllMusic, Alexander began his career while working as a bellhop at a local hotel; through the job he met a group of local aspiring songwriters and musicians. Partnering with writer Henry Lee Bennett, Alexander cowrote the 1958 song "She Wanna Rock," which was sold to Decca Records. Now proving his talent as a songwriter, Alexander finally received the opportunity to record his own material, starting with his 1960 track "Sally Sue Brown."
The next year writer Rick Hall and Alexander built a recording studio in Alabama, which would become the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (just a sampling of artists who have recorded tracks there: the Rolling Stones, the Staple Singers, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Seger). Alexander's "You Better Move On" became the first single ever recorded in the studio, peaking at number 24 on the pop charts in 1962. The money earned from the single enabled Hall to erect an improved Muscle Shoals studio; unfortunately the song also ended Alexander's relationship with his collaborator. Despite the top ten R&B hit "Anna (Go to Him"), Alexander was dropped by the Dot label in 1965 due to lagging sales. He tried resurrecting his career numerous times, moving to Nashville in the early 1970s and briefly recording for Warner Brothers.
A remarkable string of bad luck continued when he gave up on the music business, moving back to his hometown of Florence, Alabama and landing a job driving a social services bus. The Elektra label approached him, persuading him to record the comeback album Lonely Just Like Me in 1993. Sadly, he passed away while on tour promoting the LP, never quite achieving the recognition he richly deserved. His music lives on, waiting for younger generations to discover. A wonderful place to start delving into his rich material is his first hit, "You Better Move On."
"You Better Move On" contains an intriguing combination of soul, country, and Latin flavors. The bass line and cymbals introduce the track, setting a somber mood. Alexander's crystal clear voice enters the picture, as he addresses the competitor for his woman's love. "You tell me I'm not the man she's worthy of," he calmly asserts. "But who are you to tell her who to love? / That's up to her, yes, and the Lord above." One can picture him staring down his adversary as he confidently vocalizes the title phrase. Wisely the arrangement is kept simple, with only a few backup singers accompanying Alexander. His soulful vocals remain the focus of the track, enunciating every word to make sure his enemy understands that he's "never gonna let her go / 'Cause I love her so." It remains a hypnotic performance by a skilled interpretative vocalist.
Thanks to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Americans were reintroduced to this remarkable talent. The Rolling Stones released a faithful cover of "You Better Move On," which appeared on the group's 1964 self-titled British EP as well as the American release December's Children (And Everybody's). It is not surprising that Alexander's records appealed to British Invasion artists--they are timeless recordings that still sound fresh today, with direct but heartfelt lyrics telling universal stories of love and heartbreak. Starting with this standout ballad, dive into Alexander's back catalog for a very moving listening experience.