AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Sonny Ozuna and his band The Sunliners have been a mainstay in the San Antonio soul scene for a long time - more than 50 years. But the group's prolific catalogue of heartbreak anthems have carried it far beyond Texas. A new anthology, "Mr. Brown Eyed Soul," collects the best of those ballads. Reviewer Oliver Wang says it's great listening for late nights.
OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: Ildefonso Fraga Ozuna was a 15-year-old high school student in the late 1950s with dreams of one day becoming a singing sensation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SUNNY AND THE SUNLINERS SONG "INTRO 1")
WANG: First, though, he needed a catchier stage name.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INTRO 1")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: Here's the man that makes the Sunliner band. This is the brown-eyed soul, Sunny Ozuna.
WANG: Sunny & The Sunliners became key contributors to what R&B fans know as the westside sound.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE IT AWAY")
SUNNY AND THE SUNLINERS: (Singing) What's the sense in giving you love when you're going to give it away, give it away?
WANG: Born in the Mexican-American neighborhoods of San Antonio, the westside sound took the vocal harmonies of doo-wop...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOULD I TAKE YOU HOME")
SUNNY AND THE SUNLINERS: (Singing) Should I take you home? Should, should I take you home? Should I telephone? Or maybe I should telephone.
WANG: ...And added the heavy horns from a Mexican conjunto bands.
(SOUNDBITE OF SUNNY AND THE SUNLINERS SONG "SHOULD I TAKE YOU HOME")
WANG: The Sunliners cut their teeth in local bars, cantinas and lounges, and by necessity, their repertoire included crowd-pleasing classics like this ballad which was a hit for the Flamingos.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU")
SUNNY AND THE SUNLINERS: (Singing) Are the stars out tonight? I don't know if it's cloudy or bright. I only have eyes for you.
WANG: However, Sunny Ozuna's gifts as a songwriter graced many of the group's most enduring singles. He's always excelled at penning tales about youthful love, sometimes won but mostly lost.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMILE NOW, CRY LATER")
SUNNY AND THE SUNLINERS: (Singing) Smile now. Cry later. Smile now. Cry later for you. My friends tell me you could never belong to me. So I'll smile for my friends and cry later. I'll move on and smile for my friends and cry later
WANG: You'd need a mega-box set made up of other box sets to capture the group's entire catalogue. The new "Mr. Brown Eyed Soul" anthology slices off but a sliver - 15 songs drawn from the mid-'60s through early '70s. This was the era that produced the songs you'll still hear today on midnight radio dedication hours. They're timeless tunes for the loved and the lovelorn, promising a kiss of the bitter but swirled within the oh so sweet.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUTSIDE LOOKING IN")
SUNNY AND THE SUNLINERS: (Singing) I'm on the outside looking in...
CHANG: Oliver Wang is a professor at Cal State, Long Beach and co-hosts the music podcast "Heat Rocks."
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