Between 1968 and 1987, Detroit singer Carl Carlton racked up an impressive 19 hits on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. Initially recording under the moniker ‘Little Carl Carlton’ – in an attempt to invite comparisons with Motown prodigy Little Stevie Wonder – the precociously talented vocalist scored his first hit, ‘Competition Ain’t Nothin,” when he was just 16 years old. It was released by Back Beat, a Houston-based label owned by music mogul Don Robey. More hits followed for the juvenile Carlton at Back Beat before the company was sold to ABC in the early ’70s. After a spell at ABC, Carlton moved on to Mercury – a brief stint that only yielded one single – before joining 20th Century Records and then later RCA and Casablanca. Although Carlton’s biggest hit – 1981’s Leon Haywood-penned ‘She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)’ – is something of an evergreen and turns up periodically on movie soundtracks, much of his other work, despite its merits, has been ignored by compilers and reissue companies. Now, however, Carlton’s work has got an anthology it deserves, though the absence of liner notes will prove disappointing to collectors. Comprising 22 tracks, ‘Everlasting – The Best Of’ spans the years 1968-1985 and draws on key material from the singer’s tenure at Back Beat, ABC, 20th Century and Casablanca (basically repertoire that’s now Universal-owned). The early material – especially the Top 20 R&B hit ‘Drop By My Place’ – reveals the influence of Stevie Wonder but as Carlton grew older his own style evolved. His biggest hit for Back Beat was his soulful reconfiguration of Robert Knight’s 1967 smash, ‘Everlasting Love,’ which was a Top 10 US pop hit for silky-voiced Carlton. Less successful is ‘Wild Child,’ an awful, misguided attempt at rock. Much better is the lovely, rolling groove of ‘I Wanna Be Your Main Squeeze,’ with its sweet, gospel feel and sanctified harmony vocals. ‘You Can’t Stop A Man In Love’ is strong, too, as is
‘Smokin’ Room’ with its sleek, Al Green/Willie Mitchell-style rhythm track. In fact, all of Carlton’s mid-’70s tracks are worth revisiting. ‘This Feeling’s Rated X-tra,’ a 20th Century side from 1980, is also excellent – it’s a mid-tempo Philly-style tune penned and produced by the great Leon Haywood. Carlton’s fame, though, rests on another Haywood produced number – the much-sampled disco-inflected ‘She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked),’ which still sounds good. All in all, then, a sterling retrospective of a largely overlooked soul talent.