Think of a typical blues song, and words such as these normally do not leap to mind: "I'm so excited / I'm at peace with the world." Yet the legendary B. B. King kicked off his 1969 album Completely Well with such lyrics, and the song "So Excited" represents a career high point for the bluesman. This album and its single "The Thrill Is Gone" introduced King to a wider audience, sparking a wave of popularity he still enjoys. Boasting blaring horns, tasteful strings, and slicker production, Completely Well showcases King's emotive voice and deft guitar work while incorporating sounds from other genres. "The Thrill Is Gone" may be the most well-known track off the album, but "So Excited" equally thrills with its sophisticated rhythm pattern, King's joyful performance, and his typically masterful guitar solos.
King composed "So Excited" with bassist Gerald "Fingers" Jemmott, and their lyrics express the blues singer's jovial mood. The horns blast, punctuating his enthusiastic delivery. "Oh when you touch me baby, tears of joy I'm crying / Oh when you hold me, chills run up and down my spine / You're so fine, think about you all the time," King roars. Backing musicians Hugh McCracken (guitar), Paul Harris (keyboards), Herbie Lovelle (drums) and Jemmott (bass) jam, with McCracken's rhythm guitar and Lovelle's unusual drum pattern powering the song's motor. Horn arranger Bert "Super Charts" DeCoteaux perfectly arranged the horn section, which features prominently yet never overpowers the tune's star.
Indeed, King easily establishes himself as the featured performer. Listen to how he raises the volume and texture of his voice on words such as "oh," "hey," and the phrase "you're so fine." While these exemplify common blues singing techniques, his method involves doing away with the melancholy and agony pervading many classic blues tracks. Instead, King celebrates newfound love and how it has changed his perspective. Throughout "So Excited" one motif (expressed in the lyric) dominates: "this new love has really messed up my mind." King inverts this common blues lament by stressing that his lover has changed him for the better. Here he cries "tears of joy" rather than heartbreak; he feels like dancing and declares that "I'm so happy baby, don't need nobody else." How many blues tracks contain lines such as "I'm at peace with the world"? King's energetic vocals express bliss, but they also contain a sly quality, a sonic wink at the audience. He manages to upend blues clichés, transforming them into positivity and never-ending optimism.
Another star of "So Excited" is, not surprisingly, King's guitar solos. His clear notes soar above the slight crunchiness of the recording and the wah-wah pedal-powered rhythm guitar. The sounds he coaxes out of "Lucille" distinguish him from other blues guitarists: bending notes, heavy use of vibrato, precision, and economy. In other words, King never inserts too many notes, instead focusing on accenting his voice and emphasizing the lyrics' emotion. He renders the guitar a second voice, crooning and wailing reminiscent of a human vocal. Throughout his career, King has relied less on flamboyance and showmanship, instead executing evocative solos that complement the song's mood. His solos throughout "So Excited" are no exception.
Completely Well served as King's huge breakthrough, peaking at number five on the R&B charts and number 38 on the Billboard 200. "The Thrill Is Gone" became his signature tune, cracking the Billboard Top 20 and the R&B top five. Sealing his coronation as blues "King" was his Grammy for Best Male Vocal R&B Performance for that same track. While "Thrill" stands as one of King's finest performances, "So Excited" remains a hidden treasure, a true highlight of an impressive career.
DeepSoul update: During 2014 this column will publish on an every-other-week schedule rather than weekly. I am slightly lightening my workload to embark on an exciting project that I hope you will all enjoy. More details will be forthcoming later this year.