From his beginnings singing with the Womack Brothers and The Valentinos in the 1950s, through his magnificent solo records in the 70s and beyond, Bobby Womack had an incredibly successful and varied career as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Womack grew up with a firm foundation in gospel but made a name for himself singing R&B. Often the core dynamics of these two genres – divine love and secular desire – are thought of as opposites, but Womack’s songbook reminds us that they come from the same source. With his rough, powerful voice and descriptive, narrative-based songwriting, Bobby Womack had a mastery of the blues, gospel, and R&B.
Below, we take a look at just a few of Bobby Womack’s best songs, spanning nearly four decades.
Check out the recent reissue of Bobby Womack’s The Poet and The Poet II here.
Love and Desire
(If You Think You’re Lonely Now, Love Has Finally Come At Last, Where Do We Go From Here, California Dreamin’, Woman’s Gotta Have It, I’m Looking For A Love)
As one of the great soul singers that has ever walked the Earth, Bobby Womack’s catalog is packed with songs about love and desire. “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” is a standard that has been covered countless times over the years. Womack’s performance is brash and transcendent. He screams, shouts, and pleads for understanding from his lover, his voice single-handedly displaying the shared genetic makeup of R&B, gospel, and the blues.
“California Dreamin’” is another testament to Womack’s genius as an interpreter in this fiery cover of the song first made famous by The Mamas & The Papas. Womack riffs powerfully, adding a whole new dimension to this familiar tune about longing.
One of Bobby Womack’s many songs with Philly soul legend Patti LaBelle, “Love Has Finally Come At Last” is the standout cut from Poet II. In between the duet’s smooth, sentimental chorus, Womack and Patti put on a vocal clinic. Trading lines and riffs brilliantly, the perfect contrast of Womack’s gruff tone and Labelle’s virtuosic runs shows why the two were such prolific collaborators.
Gospel And The Blues
(That’s The Way I Feel About Cha, [No Matter How High I Get] I’ll Still Be Looking Up To You, Jesus Be A Fence Around Me, Close To You, Fire And Rain)
Gospel music has always been a core influence of R&B, and Bobby Womack’s songs specifically. “[No Matter How High I Get] I’ll Still Be Looking Up To You” finds Womack displaying his comfort with gospel’s musical conventions. His father, Friendly Womack was a Gospel singer and guitarist. His mother, Naomi, played organ in the church. Like many great soul singers, he’s able to approach the subjects of love and temptation with the same fervor as the best gospel singers approach the subject of divinity.
A slow-burning, blues tour de force, “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha” is one of Womack’s most recognizable tunes. From the sweeping string section to the groovy backing from the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Bobby’s inspired vocals, the song is an inspired ode to love and desire.
The Poet Tells A Story
(I Can Understand It, Across 110th Street, Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out, Daylight)
Bobby Womack wasn’t referred to as “The Poet” for nothing. His emotionally rich songs would often unfold in the form of a detailed story. An uptempo ode to a story-book love gone wrong, “I Can Understand It” is one of Bobby Womack’s most recognizable and enduring compositions. Womack’s delivery grows more and more desperate as he takes us through the tale of a relationship souring.
The theme song for the classic 1972 film, “Across 110th Street” showcases the cinematic character of Womack’s songwriting. Backed by a driving rhythm and a dramatic orchestral arrangement, Womack paints a vivid portrait of life, pain, and survival in the ghetto.
The Later Years
(The Bravest Man In The Universe, Stand Up, Good Ole Days, Please Forgive My Heart, Dayglo Reflection)
As Bobby Womack got older, he never ceased to experiment. His later records like Resurrection and The Bravest Man In The Universe found the singer trying out new musical approaches. A funky, post-disco cut from 1982, “Stand Up” is a testament to Womack’s adaptability. The Bravest Man In The Universe has three absolute standouts in “Please Forgive My Heart,” “Dayglo Reflection,” and the title track. Each tune paired Womack’s signature vocal style with evocative, modern production. The album is an ambitious undertaking and a fitting end to such a long and varied career.
Think we missed one of Bobby Womack’s best songs? Let us know in the comments below.