The gruff yet sweet, deeply soulful voice of Johnnie Taylor adorned scores of great tracks over a long recording career, at Stax Records and then later on Columbia and Malaco. In October 1973, with some seven years of great Stax recordings already to his name, he made the Billboard Hot 100 with another of them, “Cheaper To Keep Her.”
By then, Johnnie had already scored no fewer than 20 R&B chart singles, three of them No.1s and all but one of them for Stax. Two of those 45s, “Who’s Making Love” and “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me),” went gold and crossed over to a big pop audience. He followed the latter song, written and produced by Don Davis, with “Cheaper To Keep Her,” penned by Sir Mack Rice with a cool, finger-snapping style that was as streetwise as its title. So cool, in fact, that the title was borrowed as the name of a comedy movie in 1981.
Crossing to pop
The single entered the R&B chart on October 6 on its way to spend two weeks at No.2, and a week later, showed that it had the potential for pop radio airplay and sales by debuting on the Hot 100, as the highest new entry at No.77.
The song’s rise was rapid. It was No.57 the next week, into the Top 40 at No.38 after that, then 29, 20 and 18. Towards the end of November, it came to a halt at No.15 for two weeks, as first Ringo Starr’s “Photograph” and then the Carpenters’ “Top Of The World” led the chart.
Both “I Believe” and “Cheaper” were on the singer’s Taylored In Silk album, which used the “Johnnie” spelling of his name. That became a top three R&B success itself, and offered up a third soul smash, and Top 40 pop crossover, in “We’re Getting Careless With Our Love.” Taylor, and Stax, were on a roll.
Buy or stream “Cheaper To Keep Her” on the remastered Taylored In Silk.