The stories behind the top 10 songs from the Chambers Brothers start with a family that originally hailed from Carthage, Mississippi. As young lads, they sang for the choir of their local Baptist church. This changed after their oldest brother, George, was drafted into the army in 1952. After he was discharged a couple of years later, he moved to Los Angeles, California. His brothers, Joe, Lester, and Willie joined him there. Now together again, the boys picked up their love of singing gospel music. Instead of isolating their collective talent to a single church, the Chambers Brothers took their musical act throughout Southern California. This included performing folk music at coffeehouses throughout the region. At the time, the brothers were popular enough locally but had yet to gain nationwide fame.
Hello, New York
When the Chambers Brothers began to perform in New York City in 1965, the quartet’s overall popularity grew. At the time, the lineup featured George on bass, Les with the harmonica, and Joe and Willie on guitars. While there, they met Barbara Dane. Fans of Dane will recognize her as a singer that shared much in common as a talent with another jazz legend, Bessie Smith. For Dane, she was more than simply a singer in the circuit. She was also a political activist who saw potential in the four brothers. Together, they performed and recorded music on a roster that included Brian Keenan as their drummer. As a group, they met with Pete Seeger. In turn, he added them to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival roster of scheduled performers. This marked the beginning of the Chambers Brothers enjoying the embrace of folk music fans locally, as well as nationwide.
However, the taste of folk music for the Chambers Brothers wasn’t enough. There was a desire shared by the group to jump into rock and roll music. They didn’t know it at the time, but their performance at Newport inadvertently fused a rock and roll sound into their music. During the post-concert party shared among fellow festival performers, the Chambers Brothers engaged in a recording session with Bob Dylan. Together, their incorporated an electric sound into his music as they performed together. After this, the Chambers Brothers recorded and released their debut album, People Get Ready. This was also their first live album. It was followed by Now! in 1967, Shout in 1968, and Love, Peace and Happiness/Live At Bill Graham’s Fillmore East in 1969. There were all live recordings performed by the Chambers Brothers while under the Columbia label.
Ready or Not
Near the end of 1966, the Chambers Brothers had their first single released by their record label, Columbia. “All Strung Out Over You” was hastily sent after rejecting the group’s first recording of “Time Has Come Today.” The success of the released single enabled the brothers to go back to the recording studio and perform another version of a song Columbia rejected. It would be this version that would put the Chambers Brothers in the history books as rock music legends. However, they were not able to achieve the same level of success as they did with a hit song that would serve as a major influencer for existing and upcoming musical artists. Along the way, there were lineup changes that were made, including a temporary disbandment in 1972. This occurred after the Chambers Brothers recorded another album, Oh! My God while still with the Columbia label. However, it was never released to the public until fifty years later.
After ending their contract with Columbia, the Chambers Brothers teamed up again and signed up with Avco Records. While there, they recorded and released 1974’s Unbonded and 1975’s Right Move. In 1976, the brothers signed with Roxbury before releasing their fifth live album, Recorded Live In Concert on Mars. After this, the members of the Chambers Brothers began to focus more on personal projects and other endeavors. They still continued to tour from time to time. They did continue to record music as a group, most notably for Maria Muldaur’s 1980 album, Gospel Nights, but each man opted to follow his own path.
The Chambers Legacy
Born in 1931, George Chambers was the oldest of the four brothers. After experiencing a taste of national fame as a recording and touring artist, he went back to his first true love, which was singing gospel music. On October 12, 2019, he passed away at eighty-eight years of age. The next oldest was Willie, who was born in 1938. After him, it was Lester in 1940. Joe was the youngest, born in 1942. These three brothers continued to pursue their own musical interests, each of them making a career out of doing something they love most. As for Brian Keenan, his career pursuit led him to the ownership of his own recording studio in Connecticut. In the meantime, he continued his relations with the Chambers Brothers until the day of his death on October 5, 1985. He was only forty-two years old when he died.
The first of the Chambers Brothers’ studio albums was 1967’s The Time Has Come. This was the recording that catapulted the careers of these talented men to nationwide stardom, thanks to “Time Has Come Today” and “All Strung Out Over You.” After this, six additional albums were recorded and released but they failed to achieve the level of recognition The Time Has Come did. There were also ten compilation albums that were released to the public, along with three collaborated albums. The legacy the Chambers Brothers laid out for themselves features a brand of music that demonstrated they were indeed at the right place at the right time for people to get ready and boogie.
Top 10 Chamber Brothers Songs
#10 – Wake Up
Released in 1969, “Wake Up” was a single that peaked as high as number ninety-two on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 1970, this song was featured in the movie, The April Fools. The performance of this song by the Chambers Brothers was as fun to listen to as it seemed for them to perform it. If there was the perfect jingle for a jazzed-up coffee commercial, this would be it.
#9 – Wade in the Water
Originally, the lyrics to “Wade in the Water” was published in 1901 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. This African-American jubilee song made reference to the infamous Underground Railroad and the impact it made on the history of the United States. As horrific as the timeline which included the American Civil War during the 1860s, it also laid out many positives that shaped the United States of America into a powerful nation that stood for freedom, rights, and liberties.
As a song, “Wade in the Water’ was first commercially recorded in 1925 before it was covered by the Chambers Brothers in 1969. The live version of this song was in the tracklist to the live album, Peace, Love and Happiness. This somewhat funked-up version of this wonderful song had the Chambers Brothers at their best. Whenever performing live, the Chambers Brothers had no trouble captivating the audience. Although classified as psychedelic rock musicians, the element of blues and gospel always made its way into their material.
#8 – I Got It
While at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, the Chambers Brothers performed “I Got It” before a live audience. It later became one of the tracks featured on the Newport Folk Festival 1965 album. This song, plus the performance laid out by the Chambers Brothers, marked the beginning of nationwide recognition as a folk music artist. This song was performed at the festival before Brian Keenan joined the lineup. “I Got It,” as it was performed by the Chambers Brothers, was revved up so much that it came as no surprise fans wanted to flood the stage to watch these amazing musicians in action. When it came to talent and showmanship, these musicians certainly had it.
#7 – Let’s Do It (Do It Together)
Although “Let’s Do It (Do It Together)” failed to crack into the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a major favorite among the fans of the Chambers Brothers. This funky number was released as a single in 1970 and was one of the staple favorites performed in concert. While the single version featured the horns, the live version that was part of the Love, Peace and Happiness tracklist didn’t. Either way, Lester Chambers once again delivered an incredible vocal performance, along with his brothers as a backup.
#6 – I Can’t Turn You Loose
“I Can’t Turn You Loose” was an Otis Redding original that was recorded and released in 1965. This unintended hit became one of Otis Redding’s signature tunes that have since remained a major fan favorite. The Chambers Brothers covered this song in 1968 with a performance that also became a hit for them. Otis Redding’s version peaked at number eleven upon its release on the US Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. As for the version recorded and released by the Chambers Brothers, theirs peaked as high as number thirty-seven on the US Billboard Hot 100. This speedy number has always been entertaining to listen to, regardless if it came from Otis Redding or the Chambers Brothers. However, if you want a hint of rock fused into this cult classic, the Chambers Brothers are hard to beat.
#5 – What the World Needs Now is Love
From the album, The Time Has Come, “What the World Needs Now is Love” was one of many songs the Chambers Brothers covered that met with critical acclaim and fan approval. During an era where political and social activism often took center stage, these four brothers, along with Brian Keenan, were able to wow the crowd with their brand of rock music. With the gospel background the brothers came from, their performance of “What the World Needs Now is Love” was nothing short of spectacular. What made the Chambers Brothers so entertaining was the love they seemed to pour into their music. As vocalists, they never held anything back. One of the greatest Burt Bacharach songs ever written.
#4 – In the Midnight Hour
Originally performed by Wilson Pickett in 1965, “In the Midnight Hour” was covered in 1966 by the Chambers Brothers for their debut studio album, The Time Has Come. While their version may not match the legendary status Pickett earned for this cult classic, it’s still impressive enough for fans of R&B-style music to thoroughly enjoy. What the Chambers Brothers brought as musical talent was a mesh of different music cultures that worked as one. Right at the beginning of their version of “In the Midnight Hour,” the intense build-up was enough for a listener to get into the groove before the lyrics began.
#3 – All Strung Out Over You
Composed by Rudy Clark, “All Strung Out Over You” became the first single recorded by the Chambers Brothers that would be released for radio airplay in 1967. It was a rush release as Columbia Records rejected a version of “Time Has Come Today.” It became a big enough hit for the brothers to prompt them to head back to the recording studio. Whenever the brothers sang together, they really knew how to belt out a soulful, yet psychedelic performance. As the lead vocalist, Lester Chambers really knew how to deliver. The Chambers Brothers, along with Brian Keenan, had special chemistry as a group that was evident in their music.
#2 – People Get Ready
“People Get Ready’ was a 1965 hit single performed by The Impressions for their album, also titled People Get Ready. It was a gospel-style song that pushed the boundaries of social and political viewpoints during an era when activists were becoming more vocal with their opinions. While this version is hard to beat, the Chambers Brothers also hammered an impressive performance in 1968. This became part of the tracklist to their album, The Time Has Come. Although it wasn’t a hit for them like “Time Has Come Today,” it still won over scores of fans who enjoyed their version of one of the world’s most popular cult classics.
#1 – Time Has Come Today
At first, “Time Has Come Today” was rejected by Columbia Records after the Chambers Brothers recorded an earlier version of this song. After the success of their debut single, “All Strung Out Over You,” the brothers returned to the recording studio to perform another version of a song that would become the group’s biggest hit. This eleven-minute hit was performed as a fusion of blues and gospel music that also tapped into the realm of psychedelic rock. Released as a single in 1967, “Time Has Come Today’ climbed as high as number eleven on the US Billboard Hot 100.
In Canada, it peaked as high as number nine. As a song, it played a key role in the foundation of psychedelic rock that would dominate the music scene throughout the remainder of the 1960s. It also laid out a course of psychedelic-era music to start off the 1970s. “Time Has Come Today” has since become a timeless classic that often finds itself in movies, television, and on soundtracks. It has been covered many times over by a long list of recording artists, including The Smashing Pumpkins in 1988, and Pearl Jam in 2016.
What made “Time Has Come Today’ so special was the electrified sound effects that went into it. Between the guitar performances, the cowbells, and a variety of other sounds, this is one of those rare songs that truly stand out as a cult classic. The full-length version of this song also includes sampled music from another timeless classic, “The Little Drummer Boy.” This version was considerably different than the original recording that was done in 1966. If Columbia hadn’t rejected the first version, the fans would have been denied the hit version that continues to win over new fans today.
Top 10 Songs From The Chambers Brothers article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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