Chess years: 1960–1978
Dueting with Harvey Fuqua, James recorded for the Chess label Argo (later Cadet) and her first hit singles with Fuqua were “If I Can’t Have You” and “Spoonful”. Her first solo hit was the doo-wop styled rhythm and blues number, “All I Could Do Was Cry”, becoming a number two R&B hit. Leonard Chess had envisioned James as a classic ballad stylist who had potential to cross over to the pop charts and soon surrounded the singer with violins and other string instruments. The first string-laden ballad James recorded was “My Dearest Darling” in May 1960, which peaked in the top five of the R&B chart. James sang background vocals on label mate Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.”
Her debut album, At Last!, was released in late 1960 and was noted for its varied choice in music from jazz standards to blues numbers to doo-wop and rhythm and blues (R&B). The album also included James’ future classic, “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “A Sunday Kind of Love”. In early 1961, James released what was to become her signature song, “At Last”, which reached number two on the R&B chart and number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. Though the song was not as successful as expected, it has become the most remembered version of the song. James followed that up with “Trust in Me”, which also included string instruments. Later that same year, James released a second studio album, The Second Time Around. The album took the same direction as her previous album, covering many jazz and pop standards, and using strings on many of the songs spawning two hit singles, “Fool That I Am” and “Don’t Cry Baby”.
All I Can Do Was Cry
Fool That I Am