Our top 10 William Bell songs introduce us to a Grammy Award-winning American R&B and soul singer-songwriter famed for his moving performances. Born in 1939, William Bell would have his passion for music emanate from singing in the church. He considered himself a student of Sam Cooke-led gospel group The Soul Stirrers. It didn’t take long that he began penning down his songs, writing songs like “Alone On A Rainy Night.” Aged only fourteen years, William Bell won a talent contest that helped him start making a name for himself. His toddler steps in a professional music career started were backing rhythm-and-blues artist Rufus Thomas.
After recording with Del Rios, William Bell would attract the attention of Stax Records, which is known to have supported artists like Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, and Sam and Dave. Signing with Stax Records had William Bell become the label’s first male solo act. Here he would record his debut album, The Soul of a Bell (1967), after finishing his stint in the military. The world would have robbed us of a true icon in R&B and soul music were it not for a canceled show. However, on a snowy day, William Bell and Stax Records lost legendary musician Otis Redding in a plane crash. Following this, William Bell collaborated with Booker T. Jones in releasing a moving song, “A Tribute to a King,” in honor of Otis Redding.
With Stax Records having a few issues to handle, William Bell would later move to Atlanta in 1969, where he started his short-lived soul label, Peachtree Record Company. Atlanta exposed William Bell to bigger possibilities having him try out success in the movie industry having him featured in the film A Streetcar Named Desire. His love for music would have him sign with Mercury Records, where he released several hit songs, including “Trying to Love Two.”
Later in 1985, William Bell tried his luck in establishing a record label, Wilbe, where he would issue the album Passion. His impact in R&B and soul scene saw him inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, receiving the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s R&B Pioneer Award. However, a hiatus from recording would follow, having William Bell bounce back at the beginning of a new millennium. Three years later, William Bell was honored with the W.C. Handy Heritage Award. In 2016, William Bell would revive the Stax Record Label, where he released This is Where I Live, which featured reputable ballads.
William Bell’s career was taken to greater heights when the album This is Where I Live was nominated and awarded a Grammy for the Best Americana Album. Tons of awards would follow after William Bell bagged a Grammy award, making him among the few artists to celebrate such a massive win after more than five decades of music release. William Bell’s music has influenced many artists, including Jaheim, Kanye West, and Ludacris, while many others have covered his songs. Here are the top 10 William Bell songs that show us the artist’s magnificent journey in the R&B and soul music scene.
#10 – Every Man Oughta Have a Woman
Ushering us to the top 10 William Bell songs is the ballad “Every Man Oughta Have a Woman.” Released in 1968, the song was an original composition by the trio William Bell, Al Bell, and Booker T. Jones. It doesn’t get better than having William Bell relating a woman for a man to prayers to a clergyman and a game to a child. Without a doubt, a woman is a pillar to a man, especially when in a serious relationship leading to marriage. I would play this on my honeymoon night to remind my single boys that they still need someone by their side.
#9 – Easy Comin’ Out (Hard Goin’ In)
William Bell’s soul vibes are way greater than what some soul musicians of this age can deliver. Only a few artists like Isaac Hayes would top William Bell’s performances in the soul music scene. William Bell replicated the performance of Band of Oz, who were the original singers to this song. Its lyrics allude to a man who has been forgiven way too many times for messing around too much. In this context, he wakes up on another bed and realizes he is not home and can’t piece the perfect words to tell his woman. Cheating is easy, but staying loyal is a hard task that not many can keep up with, especially when they have already been up to mischief.
#8- Born Under a Bad Sign
“Born Under a Bad Sign” has been branded by many as a timeless staple of the blues. The song had its lyrics written by William Bell for Albert King. William Bell said that the song’s lyrics describe hard luck and trouble annealed by women and wine. The song “Bad Luck Blues” by Lightnin’ Slim features some similar lyrics to “Born Under a Bad Sign.” William Bell would later release the song in one of his albums, having Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Etta James cover the song.
#7 – A Tribute to a King
Among kings in the book of William Bell, there’s Otis Redding, a friend and a fellow singer under the label Stax Records. Otis Redding died in a tragic plane crash that would have seen us lose William Bell were it not for his canceled shows. Soon after his death William Bell collaborated with Booker T. Jones in honor of Otis Redding. The song would quickly become a hit helping William Bell’s releases that followed sell even bigger. “A Tribute to a King” peaked at number eighty-six on the Billboard Hot 100 and thirty-one on the UK Singles Chart.
#6 – Everyday Will Be a Holiday
What happens when your lover returns home after quite a long time without meeting? Well, William Bell has a better answer! Days suddenly change to holidays owing to the thrill of having your lover home. Infinite love will only be the only reason that will make a man sing along to “Everyday Will Be a Holiday.” The song was covered by Carole King, Hall & Oates, and Warren Haynes. While William Bell might have felt like it will be a holiday when his girlfriend gets home, Dirty Heads have a different thought about holidays and vacations. In the song “Vacation,” Dirty Heads view every day as a vacation when one gets to do work they love.
#5- Everybody Loves a Winner
Winning is the greatest thing every soul in pursuit of a goal dream to achieve. However, two things are almost definite! One is that when the going gets tough, you will probably be alone in the struggle. And second is that when you lose, no one will like to associate with you (rarely will there be support). The latter is the most depressing, having everyone love and celebrate your winning, something they would not do if your efforts ended in a loss. Don’t be moved by the applauds and only be moved by the fact that your efforts bore fruits. William Bell tells this better in his song “Everybody Loves a Winner,” featured on The Soul of a Bell. Linda Ronstadt covered this song on her album Don’t Cry Now.
#4- Private Number
Remember Judy Clay? She is famously known to have linked up with Billy Vera, with whom she recorded “Country Girl-City Man.” Being the first racially integrated duo Judy Clay and Billy Vera received much racist criticism. However, this didn’t deter her from making good music. Number four on our top 10 William Bell songs list is the duet “Private Number” by William Bell and Judy Clay. The song was originally penned down by William Bell and Booker T. Jones for Otis Redding only to have William perform it with Judy. “Private Number” was covered by 911 in their album There It Is (1999).
#3 – You Don’t Miss Your Water
“You Don’t Miss Your Water” is one of the best William Bell songs from The Soul of a Bell. Released in 1961, the song serves as William Bell’s signature song having it acknowledged as a Southern soul classic. The song has its lyrics, which were penned by William Bell, alluding to lost love. “You Don’t Miss Your Water” is one of the most covered William Bell songs having it done by artists/acts such as The Byrds, Brian Eno, and Otis Redding.
#2 – I Forgot to Be Your Lover
William Bell collaborated with Booker T. Jones in penning the song “I Forgot to Be Your Lover.” The song is one of the most William Bell’s covered songs having it covered by artists such as Robert Cray, Melissa Etheridge, The Revelations, and Tre Williams. Billy Idol and George Faith covered the song but reworked the song’s title. On the other edge, the song was sampled by Ludacris for his song “Growing Pains,” Dilated Peoples on “Worst Comes to Worst,” and Jaheim in “Put That Woman First.” William Bell’s version peaked at the number at forty-five on the Billboard Hot 100.
#1- Tryin’ to Love Two
Number one on our top 10 William Bell songs list is the song “Tryin’ to Love Two.” The song was penned down by William Bell, having it released on his album Coming Back for More. “Tryin’ to Love Two” became his biggest release having it top the R&B charts and reaching number ten on the Billboard Hot 100. William Bell enjoyed sales of over a million copies for this single. Thanks to its magnificent lyrical content and awe-inspiring vocals that blend with the song’s arrangement, “Tryin’ to Love Two” became such a hit!
Feature Photo: Stax Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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