Porgy & The Monarchs - If It's For Real Baby [1965]

A real contender for my favorite recording of all time, this soul masterpiece takes a macro lens to the brief moment of uncanny disbelief at the beginning of heartbreak and projects it into an epic that manages to be baroque, funky, and psychedelic all at once. Every aspect of it is a dynamic triumph, from songwriting, to production, to performance, to the mixing and engineering, that never settles for repeating the perfection its already achieved, always preferring to push further.

From the first notes, the song excels, patiently building from a brooding rhythm built of deeply layered bass, piano, and drums, before adding a pensive and fragile lead vocal that fills in the untapped mids and highs accompanied with an atmospheric vibraphone low in the mix. Soon the backing vocals come in to increase the sense of neurosis as the song amps up to its chorus which simply erupts with an orchestral sweep of horns, strings, and timpani drums to reveal the song's sudden vision of a world without the love that was expected. You can practically hear the relationship's future disintegrate through sizzling cymbals.

When we get back to the verse, the orchestra augments the previous verse's instrumentation giving it a distinct feel from the first. The strings repeatedly surge without quite breaking, like the stubborn truth the singer desperately wants to ignore while the backing vocals betray an increasing sense of depression. It's an arrangement where every move is beautiful in isolation but absolutely breathtaking int he context of the whole; every decision purposeful and ascendant.

Yet, somehow, the song still manages to find further inspiration, presenting an excellent bridge that moves the tone temporarily from full-bodied despondence to panicked reckoning before fading out on the repeated chorus; the camera zooming out from someone who may never truly reach acceptance.

That all of this comes from the b-side of a single from a basically unknown group just makes you wonder what else is out there on dust covered vinyl.

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