If you peg the golden age of Soul Music as roughly between 1957 and 1975, give or take, that takes in a staggering amount of great music: Ray Charles. Aretha Franklin. Otis Redding. James Brown. Sam Cooke. Jackie Wilson. Al Green.
And perhaps saddest of all, James Carr, who rose to prominence in the 1960’s.
Carr was considered by some the greatest soul singer of all, but he had a terrible burden: he was bipolar in an era when that condition was little understood and almost untreatable.
As a result he didn’t really record all that much with only two albums early in his career, one in 1967 and one in 1968.
He didn’t record another until 1991.
He had some amazing songs including Pouring Water On A Drowning Man but his greatest, most unforgettable song, was At The Dark End Of The Street.
It’s the story of star-crossed lovers who have to park at the dark end of the street...well, you get the idea.
It’s been covered by artists like Percy Sledge, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, The Flying Burrito Brothers (with Gram Parsons), Aretha Franklin, Gregg Allman, Elvis Costello, and many, many others. Van Morrison supposedly wrote the classic Bright Side Of The Road as a response to Carr’s masterful song.
It also played a key role in the movie The Commitments, a film about an Irish group that deeply identified with soul music.
Carr, as noted above, had anything but an easy life. He was able to record again in the 1990’s, but by the mid ‘90’s, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in 2001. He was just 58.
Just a couple of examples of the other recordings of this song: Gary Stewart, as a country song, Elvis Costello as a sort of Northern Soul song, and, back to Soul, Percy Sledge.