Illustrators: Malcolm Baumgart; Alec Palao; Peter Gibbon; Roger Armstrong; Mick Patrick.
As influential as he was as a performer -- and he was, with Mick Jagger owing him a hefty debt -- Don Covay also had a considerable legacy as a songwriter, penning such legendary hits as Wilson Pickett's "Three Time Loser" and Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools," along with the soul standards "Mercy Mercy," "Long Tall Shorty," "See Saw," and "Sookie Sookie." Have Mercy! The Songs of Don Covay -- a 2012 release from Ace that belongs in their ongoing series of songs and productions from legendary artists -- rounds up 26 of these Covay compositions and, in their standard practice, they anchor the compilation with a couple of big hits (namely the Pickett and Franklin numbers, plus Chubby Checker's "Pony Time"), selecting some lesser-known versions of the aforementioned staples and digging up gems that rarely see circulation. Most of this lies firmly in southern soul territory, but there are enough oddities to keep this surprising: Connie Francis snaps her bubblegum on "Mr. Twister," Lena Horne brings some showbiz flair to "Love Bug," Arlene Smith gets bogged down in syrupy strings and corn on "Mon Cherie Au Revoir," Billy Fury is suitably melodramatic on "Letter Full of Tears," and Wanda Jackson takes her sandpaper to "There's a Party Goin' On," a blatant rewrite of "Let's Have a Party." These are the curiosities. The rest of the compilation offers a pretty perfect pairing of artist and song, whether it's the Wailers stomping on "Mercy Mercy" or Joe Tex easing through "She Said Yeah," and the diversity of the material here means all of Have Mercy! is a lasting testament to Covay's behind-the-stage strengths. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine