Liner Note Author: Tony Rounce.
Recording information: Chicago, IL (05/08/1963-11/22/1965); New York, NY (05/08/1963-11/22/1965).
Photographer: Peter Burns.
Arrangers: Teacho Wiltshire; Johnny Pate; Riley Hampton.
Not to be confused with the prior, similarly titled Edsel compilation titled The Right Track, this compiles virtually all of the material Billy Butler recorded for OKeh from 1963-1966. The officially released singles he cut for the label during this period comprise about half of this 29-track collection, and are essential for lovers of '60s Chicago soul for several reasons. First and foremost, Butler, though far less celebrated than his older brother Jerry Butler, was a fine singer and songwriter in his own right, producing consistently good pop-soul discs that were rather reminiscent of the Impressions (and, at times, Major Lance, another Chicago soul artist with strong connections to Curtis Mayfield). In addition, if you are a fan of Mayfield's mid-'60s work with the Impressions and as a songwriter/producer, this has some of his best overlooked work in the latter capacity. "Found True Love," "I Can't Work No Longer," "Can't Live Without Her," "Nevertheless," and "(You Make Me Think) You Ain't Ready" are some of the standouts here, but everything's worth hearing, whether they're pleading ballads or up-tempo dance tunes. All that noted, the rare and previously unissued cuts that make up about half the CD are a mixed blessing and mostly far below the level of the officially released 45s, though those singles are outstanding enough to make the disc worth purchasing even if you rarely listen to the other half. Some of these extras are alternate versions that aren't better, or too different, from the ones that found release; others are backing tracks and instrumentals. "Fighting a Losing Battle," in fact, is the only one that's comparable in quality to the 1963-1966 singles. Also note that despite the title "The Complete OKeh Recordings 1963-1966," this doesn't seem 100-percent complete; there's a vocal version of "You Won't Let Me Forget It" on the Edsel comp The Right Track that doesn't appear on this CD, though this disc does have an instrumental backing track of the song. As for further nitpicking, though the liner notes claim that the cool doo wop-influenced "Does It Matter" (included here in two versions) has never been released before, a version does in fact appear on the same aforementioned The Right Track anthology. These are small blemishes on what's otherwise a good, well-annotated compilation of one of the best overlooked '60s soul singers. ~ Richie Unterberger