Arthur Alexander was born on May 10, 1940, in Florence, Alabama. Alexander, a talented “country-soul” and rhythm & blues singer and songwriter, influenced numerous artists and played a significant role in the development of north Alabama’s Muscle Shoals music recording scene. Many of Alexander’s songs were covered by some of the music industry’s legends, including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Ike and Tina Turner, Percy Sledge, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, and Elvis Presley. According to Ringo Starr, one of the advantages of being in Liverpool, a port city, was that “All these records were coming from America, so you could find out about Arthur Alexander and people like that.” Lennon idolized him in particular, and McCartney summed up his influence in 1987: “We wanted to sound like Arthur Alexander.”
In 1961, Alexander recorded You Better Move On produced by Rick Hall. The song reached number 24 on the pop charts in 1962 and became the first chart hit for Hall’s startup company. The song earned Hall enough money to begin work on a new Muscle Shoals Studio, the Florence Alabama Musical Enterprises (FAME) Studios, still located in Florence today. Another Alexander song that reached the top 100 in 1962 was Anna (Go to Him), which became an album track for the Beatles’ Please, Please Me debut album in 1963.
While his songs made many people rich, Alexander never profited greatly from his music. Throughout the 1960’s he released several singles but his second album, Arthur Alexander, didn’t come together until 1972. Alexander’s self-titled album included a song called Burning Love, which became a hit by another music legend. A few months after Alexander’s album was released, Elvis Presley recorded his own version of Burning Love, which became Presley’s last top-10 single, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard charts. Alexander eventually did have a top 100 R&B hit with Sharing the Night Together in 1976.
By the 1980s, Alexander had abandoned the music business entirely and worked in Cleveland, Ohio driving a social services bus for a living. During this period, his recording legacy grew in reputation, especially in Great Britain, where his catalogue was constantly available through reissues. Alexander recorded a comeback album in 1992 entitled Lonely Just Like Me. The album, Alexander’s last, featured If It’s Really Got To Be This Way, covered later by Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. The album included remakes of Every Day I Have to Cry, In the Middle of It All, Genie in the Jug, and several Alexander originals, including a searing rendition of Mr. John. Alexander would not live to enjoy this resurgence in popularity. He died on June 9, 1993, in Nashville from a heart attack, and was buried in Florence City Cemetery.
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame created the Arthur Alexander Songwriter’s Award, which celebrates songwriters who have achieved a high level of success. This award, originally open to all music achievers, is now dedicated to the scribes behind some of the most popular songs of the last century.
As the musical innovator who gave FAME Studios its first hit record, Alexander and his legacy are intertwined with that of Muscle Shoals music. Because many American music fans discovered Alexander through the “British Invasion,” a relationship between Muscle Shoals and British musicians was born, which remains strong to this day.