Jackie Wilson: Lonely Teardrops

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Rock & Roll Books

Jackie Wilson: Lonely Teardrops

by Tony Douglas

Routledge, 272 pp., $19.95 (paper)

First with Tony Douglas' pulpy Jackie Wilson: Lonely Teardrops, and more recently in Peter Guralnick's epic Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, comes the template for the Boogie Nights of music biopics: The Sam & Jackie Story. Acknowledging Ray Charles' pioneering path out of the church, as well as forgotten angel Clyde McPhatter, soul's twin towers of pop success routinely upstaged each other across interwoven paths and particularly their 1960 tour together. That both stallions of song found time to perform while thigh-high in booze and broads in an era of segregationist peril makes their parallel rises and falls all the more riveting. Cooke remains the champion of contemporary recognition, but Wilson's operatic tenor endures as an instrument unmatched in the annals of voice. His thick, voluptuous, perfectly scaled trill lives forever in "Reet Petite," "Lonely Teardrops," and "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher," yet like Cooke, the spirit soaring through Wilson ultimately transcends all the material. The same might be said for Lonely Teardrops. Rife with typos and speculation (i.e., "stories differ"), Douglas' sensationalistic tone never dims its subject's seminal impact. Formative years dissolve in 34 pages, scores of Wilson's survivors confess to the sins of Babylon over and over ("Jackie was owned outright by the mob," writes the author), and the fact that the ex-boxer from Detroit, who died in 1984 at the age of 49, couldn't dance offstage ink the singer's first biography. Screen dreams are made of this.

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