Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar”

These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.

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Samuel David Moore and David Prater, Jr. knew of each other from their respective tenures gigging on the gospel music circuit in the nineteen-fifties, but they didn’t sing together until they were both living in Miami, in 1961. The two took the stage as a duo at the King of Hearts nightclub, and that was that. Within a year, they were signed to Marlin Records and then went on to record for Roulette and Alston. Then, in 1964, they were introduced to Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records. He knew what to do with an potent R&B act. Sam & Dave were given a recording contract and sent straight to Stax Studios, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Every songwriter in the Stax stable was given the task of penning numbers for Sam & Dave, but nothing totally clicked until the duo collaborated with the relatively green team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Hayes and Porter wrote “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” which became the first R&B top 10 song for Sam & Dave, and its follow up, “Hold On, I’m Coming,” which topped the same chart and crossed over to the pop Top 10. Sam & Dave hit the Billboard Top 40 two other times, both songs penned by Hayes and Porter.

“Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” was the last brush with hitmaker status for Sam & Dave, though it stalled just outside of the Top 40. Again written and produced by Hayes and Porter, the song was classic R&B peppered with some of the hippie sentiments and language of the day (“Somebody said, ‘What’s in the dark/ Will surely come to the light/ Now your days are brighter/ And your burden’s lighter/ And the whole world knows you’re out of sight”). Although that seems fully in line with what was getting radio play in 1969 (in the rough time frame of the single’s time on the charts, Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and the 5th Dimension’s cover of songs from the musical Hair both went to the top of the chart), the cut didn’t quite capture the attention of listeners. By the end of the following year, Sam & Dave had split.

Neither performer was able to make much headway in solo careers, so they regularly reunited over the years, despite a fierce animosity for one another. According to Moore, they once went thirteen years without speaking, except when they were on stage. In the nineteen-eighties, the rift was so bad that Prater partnered with singer Sam Daniels so he could still technically bill the act as Sam & Dave while touring. Prater died in a car crash in 1988, and Moore continued to perform, including, somewhat notoriously, at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.