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Jerry "Iceman" Butler: Love's on the Menu

The Cook County Board's been on our minds lately, so I considered it great fortune when I found a bargain-bin record the other day by my favorite soul-singing commissioner, Jerry "Iceman" Butler. Since Butler has now had a long career as a Regular Democratic Party loyalist, it's easy to forget that, as a founding member of the Impressions and through his solo work, he's one of the most influential soul artists in history.

If you ever find copies of his late '60s and early '70s records, especially The Iceman Cometh and Ice on Ice, grab them immediately. They're full of two- and three-minute sagas of passion and heartbreak, soaring and crumbling on pure melody, and sold by the Iceman with much, much more than a politician's conviction.

Butler hit his artistic peak by about 1971, so I was a little skeptical when I found that dirty $1.99 copy of Love's on the Menu. The cover said it all: The Iceman, in a wide-collared, open-necked shirt, stares coolly out at us as a seductive woman moves to whisper in his ear. The fact that it was on Motown - the Iceman had been on Vee-Jay and Mercury in his heyday - didn't bode well, either, since this was the label's period of Diana Ross and Commodores excess. So when the record started with a popping bass and clubby beat, my hunch was confirmed: Even the Iceman had tried to stay relevant - like the Dead, the Stones and so many others - by going disco.

This was no Trammps record. But I should have known not to give up on the Iceman so quickly. To really get Jerry Butler, you have to play his records all the way through - especially the '70s sides, because some of the good stuff is buried and sometimes, like the first G&Ts at the lounge, it just takes the Iceman a little longer to get it going.

But he always does. Halfway through the first side, he pulled me in with these soul-baring lyrics delivered over a catchy chorus: "Don't let this smile fool you/Gonna send my heart out to you." This comes with just the right touch of wah-wah pedal, girls in the background singing, "Come back, baby, come back," and a danceable beat that, even if derivative of far better funk bands, is made fresh even now by the Iceman's power of persuasion.

After that, a ballad then makes perfect sense. "Love's on the Menu Tonight" is about as syrupy as you'd expect, but the Iceman sounds like he means it. Later on side two he sings, "The Devil and Mrs. Jones/Makes me want to raise a little hell in my home," and by the time he finishes with "This is Your Life," I found it impossible not to agree - this is indeed my life, and I'm going to spend a few more hours of it letting the Iceman melt my soul.

Visit the Bin Dive archive.


Posted on July 23, 2006

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