One check of a an excellent song is the it can be sung by almost anyone. “The man I Love,” “Embraceable You,” and other classics of believe Pan Alley have retained their quintessence despite plenty of spins and also interpretations—always, miscellaneous truthful in the lyrics and also melody has shone through. In a comparable way, “The Dark end of the Street”—one that the most recorded spirit ballads of every time, and also one the the greatest—possesses an virtually magical ability to hold itself together, to deliver a fresh affect with each new listen.

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Songwriter Dan Penn could be defined as the Gershwin of soul music, a standard-bearer because that a good epoch in American renowned music. His many classics include “Do best Woman, perform Right Man,” “I’m your Puppet,” “You Left the Water Running,” and also “It Tears Me Up.” In “The Dark finish of the Street,” first recorded by James Carr in 1966, pen achieves a exceptional synthesis of imagery and also emotion: “At the dark end of the street/That’s where we always meet/Hiding in shadows whereby we nothing belong/Living in darkness to hide our wrongs.”

“We were constantly wanting come come up through the ideal cheatin’ song,” Penn defined to writer Robert Gordon in the 1995 book, It came from Memphis, “ever.” Significantly, pen didn’t go it alone: he created “Dark End” through producer and also studio owner Chips Moman. With each other the pair creates a heightened mood native the outset, as evidenced by the opening lyrics quoted above. In the original version, this feeling of anxiety and danger climaxes throughout the bridge section, in i m sorry horns and an atmospheric guitar vibrato unify to produce an impassioned backdrop for the anguish in Carr’s voice. Finally, in resolution, the tune modulates into a brighter key, attach by a lyrical change that move the narrative right into the “safe” realm of day: “And as soon as the daylight hours roll around… if we need to meet, just walk ~ above by.” In this way, lyrics and music occupational together, balancing one another within the confines of a tightly built unit (the exact same standard song pattern established by the believe Pan Alley greats, in whose steps Penn follows). In ~ its surface appeal, “Dark End” qualifies as a masterpiece due to the fact that its various contents engage in a shifting yet steady conversation, advertise the tune toward a release and also resolution that space palpable because that listeners.

“Other than Spooner Oldham,” penn told Gordon (in a recommendation to his second good writing partner, the well known session musician), “I guess Moman would be the closest human I ever pertained to breathing together with.” maybe it is this air of naturalness which has actually made “The Dark finish of the Street” for this reason enduring. V the food of numerous incarnations, in execution by Aretha Franklin, the Flying burrito Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Roy Hamilton, Clarence Carter, and also others, it has actually never sounded much less than compelling (Carter’s rendition even contains an inexplicable spoken-word discourse ~ above the mating behavior of cows and also mosquitoes). Still, that is Carr’s initial that penn believes to it is in the greatest: “Nobody did the as great as James Carr,” he says in one interview top top his website (, “not even me.” because that Carr, “Dark End” came to be the sterling moment in a job that never ever quite fulfilled its early on promise, in spite of producing extr bursts of glory in songs like “Love Attack” and also “Pouring Water ~ above a drowned Man” (after number of attempted comebacks and years of struggling with mental challenges, he died in 2001).

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Penn, meanwhile, has continued to write lovely and also often memorable songs—even if tiny he has produced since the 1970s has actually matched the iconic top quality of his earlier output. Still, the remains among soul music’s many impassioned bards. In “The Dark end of the Street,” penn offers good art and a an excellent lesson. Young writers occasionally express resistance come working with others, however Penn reveals how sympathetic collaboration can just strengthen the job-related process, developing a dialogue as smooth and natural as human breath.