The American born Arnold has an unusual place in the international soul story. While it is not unusual for American soul singers to find greater success in countries other than their own, P.P. Arnold is unique because her career as a solo artist was conceived and launched in England and her success never extended into the United States. Soul Survivor tells the story of this young mother and singer, whose professional life in music began as one of Ike and Tina Turner’s Ikettes, who dared to leave her familiar life in the States behind and create one without a model to follow.
The way that Arnold tells that story is captivating. She draws readers in immediately with a chapter that tells the backstory of her placement with the Ikettes, but offsets each chapter about her tenure with the Ikettes with a step back in time, tracing her family’s lineage back to the 1800s, illustrating the ways her family story shaped her own path and the ways that both the Middle Passage and the ongoing racism in the United States affected her family’s story. Arnold is painfully honest, detailing her family dynamics and the inherent sexism and misogyny of the time that resulted in her becoming a teenage mother and bride.
Beyond the personal, though, music lovers will be thrilled to read all of the details of her days as an Ikette and her decision to stay in London and pursue a solo career. The details of her recordings are pure musical gold, an ode to an era that will never be recaptured. Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Delaney and Bonnie, Rod Stewart, Barry Gibb, Doris Troy, and so many other beloved musical icons are invoked, and Arnold doesn’t just name drop–her reflections of these friends who just happen to be musical stars are thoughtful, funny, and sometimes both jaw-dropping and sad. They will also make you hungry to revisit the music–especially some of the rarer recordings that Arnold has managed to license and re-release (especially the astounding Barry Gibb sessions).
It’s Arnold’s humanity, however, that is front and center. Her love for her children is front and center in the story, but she’s not out to paint herself as the perfect parent or partner. Throughout the book, she gives us the full spectrum of her errors as well as her triumphs. Without giving too much of her story away, Arnold creates an important snapshot of a time in a world before Oprah made certain conversations commonplace: sexual and physical assault were endured with a stiff upper-lip, cognizance of trauma was nil, and women who dared to leave their abusive marriages and (sometimes) their children were vilified in their communities. Her determination to live differently is inspiring, especially given the era in which she dared to carve out her own path.
Soul Survivor ends in the mid-80s and, with an epilogue, catches the reader up on the years since, but leaves room for a second volume. This writer recommends queuing up P.P. ‘s catalog and listening as you read the story of this important contributor to soul and pop music, who certainly has a place in contemporary conversations about women in the music business.
Tim Dillinger, Editorial Content Manager