Everybody Needs Somebody To Love is one of the most uplifting soul songs ever written. Whether you’re watching Elwood and Jake Blues performing it in The Blues Brothers, or listening to countless cover versions (preferably by the Rolling Stones!), it’s impossible not to get swept up in the gospel spirit as the singer implores “I need you! You! You!” It’s a soul standard that everyone knows, like “When a Man Loves a Woman” or “In the Midnight Hour” or anything from the relatively white-bread hit factory at Motown.
“Everybody … ” was written and first recorded by larger-than-life soul legend Solomon Burke, an entrepreneur who made Gene Simmons look like a slacker. Burke ran the concession stands at his own shows, was a bishop in his own church, and operated funeral and limousine businesses. When you have 21 children with two wives, you have to hustle.
A quick perusal of the songwriting credits indicates one area where the Rev. Dr. Burke (yes, he earned a doctorate—a real one, not an honorary title like the one abused by “Dr. Ralph Stanley”) may have failed to take care of business.
Burke’s name on “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” is sandwiched between those of Bert Berns and Jerry Wexler. Berns and Wexler were powerful hitmakers. No one doubts their contributions to the music industry. Wexler was a top executive/producer at Atlantic Records, and helped turn Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and many others into stars. Berns owned his own label, Bang Records, which signed Neil Diamond, and he is perhaps best known for writing “Twist and Shout.” But the involvement of Wexler and Berns with the writing of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” is debatable.
Burke claimed he wrote it all by himself. Wexler countered in later years that Burke was confused about the songwriting process, and that the song was a collaborative effort. (Wexler, the classic record-industry thug, died in 2008, aged 91. Berns, who had a terminal heart condition, died in 1967, aged 38.)
The alleged “confusion” wasn’t Burke’s fault. It’s just the way things were done back in the day. If you wanted your record to get attention from the record company or played by DJs, you had to pay them on the side. It was called “payola,” and usually came in the form of cash in brown paper bags. Media maven Dick Clark was an infamous recipient of millions in payola. In other cases, songwriting credits were sprinkled liberally to favored recipients, ensuring a steady stream of royalty income even after their deaths.
One of the most egregious examples is Chuck Berry’s first song “Maybellene,” which he allegedly wrote with influential radio DJ Alan Freed and Chess Records creditor Russ Fratto. Chuck reclaimed sole credit decades later, but not after losing out on millions of dollars of royalties.
Here’s Solomon talking about “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” during an interview with me in 1997, when he was promoting a new album, The Definition Of Soul, which featured an apparently joyous reunion with Wexler.
I wrote it in the studio. We needed a fourth tune. And I didn’t like the tune that Bert Berns had given me called A Little Bit Of Soap. I didn’t want to do it. And he says, “Why don’t you want to do this song? It’s going to be a big song.”
He says, “I’ve got another song for you. You don’t like Hang On Sloopy? I says, “No, I don’t want to sing a song about a dog, and I don’t want to sing a song about some soap. I’m dealing with the public. I’m going to go to my public and say, ‘A little bit of soap will wash away your funkiness?’ I can’t do that, man. Take your song and get out of here!”
Solomon laughed uproariously, and then he serenaded me with a few lines of “Hang on Sloopy.”
Jerry Wexier said, “You’re a fool.” I said, “Mr. Wexler, I may be a fool, but I know my personality. I would never be able to face myself.”
And of course both of these songs became big records. But let me tell you something, I’m still happy I didn’t do ’em. I would have been laughed out of this business. Can you see me, 60 years old [singing], “A little bit of soap will wash away your queasiness…”?
So I wrote a song called “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” which is really the theme in my church for the money march. It was just the money march, when we’re gonna raise the offering. Everybody marches, which is only trombones and tubas and a bass drum.
So I says, “You know what? I’m going to the bathroom and put some words to this…”
Jerry Wexler said, “This is a terrible song!” Bert Berns said, “This is a disastrous song. You’ll never make it with this song. This song will never happen!”
He (Wexler) says, “The only way this song can happen, man, is if we have a piece of it.”
I said, “Well if you want a piece, you get a piece. What can I tell you?”
So that’s how they got a piece of the song. They didn’t write a word. In those days it didn’t make any difference. You wanted to get your product out. That’s what happened to so many of our artists, they gave away their song rights.
We didn’t know what publishing was. We thought we had to give our publishing to the record company so the record could get out.
As you can see, the song was published by Keetch, Caesar & Dino – a Berns company named after his pets. This means Berns owned the valuable copyright, something that automatically goes to the creator, unless the creator – knowingly or otherwise – assigns it to someone else. This has tripped up many stars, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and David Bowie.
Solomon’s version was a minor hit in 1964, reaching No. 58 on the U.S. pop chart. The Rolling Stones and then Wilson Pickett covered it in quick succession.
Then came The Blues Brothers in 1980, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.
When they did the “Blues Brothers” movie, they didn’t even credit me. They credited Wilson Pickett. They knew better! They knew Wilson didn’t write the song, although he performed it, he did record it. Later on, they credited me. It was no big deal, I didn’t care. My children got the check.
Jerry is a phenomenal person. He’s an amazing man, and he’s been through so much in life. I sent him a letter once, and said to him, “Mr. Wexler, by now, you should really think about turning the publishing back over to my family. I know you’ve made a couple of million off the song by now.”
Wexler did not reply to the letter, maybe because he did not have the publishing to turn back?
A smart man would not reply to that! And I sent him the letter in a state of mind at that point where I thought maybe he should really send me the money or send me something. I really didn’t need to do that. It wasn’t necessary for me to do that at that time.
When I became 50 years old, I became a man, and I put away all these foolish things of hate and resentment and realized that for me to continue to survive I had to learn to love and to forgive. I started calling him as a friend and saying, “Mr Wexler, I love you … Happy Father’s Day … Happy New Year’s … Have a nice Hannukah.”
I guess he must have thought, “Is this guy crazy? What does he want?”
Maybe in his will, he might say, “I give back the song and all of the publishing.’ Whatever. If he does, he does; if he doesn’t, no big deal.
My first encounter with “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” was through the Rolling Stones. It was the opening track on their second (U.K.) album, Rolling Stones No. 2, which has annoyingly yet to be reissued on CD by rights-owner ABKCO. The Stones also opened their shows with it.
The Stones dusted off the song during their 2002 tour, and I was thrilled to see them perform it with Solomon when they played the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.
NOTE: Read the rest in the second volume of my rock ‘n’ roll memoir, due in 2015 (or 2016). Until then, the first volume Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 1997, 2014 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING