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Theron And Darrell: Wichita Linemen

Listening to Theron Gafford and Darrell Buckner push their falsettos on the sweet soul ballad "I Was Made To Love Her," it feels almost too forced, too shrill. But that's the magic of the falsetto: The way it takes the human voice to unnatural limits is also what imbues it with its power.

To be sure, much about "I Was Made to Love Her" shouldn't work — not just Theron & Darrell's voices, but also the single's lo-fi mix, which muddies the backing band's presence. It wouldn't have taken much more to relegate the song to one of the thousands of (justifiably) forgotten R&B singles of the early 1970s. Yet it's the delicate balance of its elements, working in concert, that makes the complete song indelible, even sublime.

For one, the way both men's voices pause and then peak in the chorus ("I was made... to LOVE you!") is so unexpected that, once heard, it sticks in your ear to the point where it's hard not to sing along every time the hook returns. Their falsettos come back full force in the song's bridge, as the two croon, " 'Cause I know / that you were made / to be... mine!" — thrice stretching that "miiiiiiiine" to the point of breathlessness. Musically, despite the mix, the band surrounds the singers with a dense tangle of jangling keys, angular guitar and a fantastic brass section, which crafts the sonorous horn line in the beginning of the song.

Gafford and Buckner were part of a small but thriving Wichita, Kan., soul community that revolved around the city's main R&B venue, Smart's Palace (the duo's backing players would sub for the Palace house band on occasion). To record the single, they stayed local, rolling "I Was Made to Love Her" out on the small Solo imprint. It became a "hit" by neighborhood standards, selling out of Music City — arguably the only record store in the country that actually carried the single. But for those not lucky enough to have grown up in the 316 during the early '70s, "I Was Made to Love Her" was scarcely heard, except among connoisseur soul collectors. The new compilation Smart's Palace finally reissues the track alongside a dozen or so other Wichita rarities, bringing the beautiful fragility of Theron and Darrell's unsung masterpiece to the rest of the world.

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Oliver Wang is an culture writer, scholar, and DJ based in Los Angeles. He's the author of Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews of the San Francisco Bay Area and a professor of sociology at CSU-Long Beach. He's the creator of the audioblog soul-sides.com and co-host of the album appreciation podcast, Heat Rocks.