27 December 2008

Dusty Springfield (Part Three)

Dusty In Nashville
In The Winter

Dusty Springfield's Lesser Albums
by Donny Jacobs
Dusty Springfield was one of the finest album artists of the 20th century. After her debut LP, A Girl Called Dusty, introduced a generation of European record buyers to American Soul sounds in 1964, she released a succession of highly anticipated, self-produced long-players, each one more eclectic and impressive than the last. Ev'rythng's Coming Up Dusty. Where Am I Going? Dusty . . . Definitely. Critics judged her 1969 set Dusty In Memphis a high watermark of artistry, but that album set the stage for changes that would negatively impact both her critical and commercial appeal. Memphis was the first LP where she relinquished the production reins to someone else. Significantly, it was also the first Dusty Springfield LP not to chart in Great Britain. The 1970 follow-up, From Dusty . . . With Love, did chart but it was in many ways inferior to her previous releases. 


From a commercial perspective, releasing inferior product is often worse than releasing nothing at all. Nearly eight years passed before a Dusty Springfield studio album (1978's It Begins Again) sold enough copies to chart again in the UK, and then over a decade passed before her 1990 Reputation CD captured the public's interest. Several albums of varying quality were issued in these interim periods. One, 1982's White Heat, was a return to artistic greatness, with Dusty reclaiming the producer's role; that pivotal LP has been discussed in a previous essay. This essay focuses on the albums that weren't so great, including her last, 1995's A Very Fine Love. What do these releases have to offer Dusty Springfield fans other than the disappointment of hearing her marvelous voice in less-than-appropriate settings?
Cameo

CAMEO

ABC-Dunhill DSX 50128
released February 1973

1973's Cameo is actually one of Dusty's more acclaimed albums, but she herself hated it. She carried bad memories away from the recording sessions. In 1978, she told Music Week magazine: "I wasn't happy with (Cameo) . . . I wasn't used to working with producers who didn't ask what key I wanted to sing a number in. They had a conveyor-belt attitude toward singers. (I was) called in at the last moment, when the track was virtually done." Still indignant at her treatment, she added: "I like to be involved with people who care about what I am doing." Thankfully, her behind-the-scenes dissatisfaction isn't reflected in any of the album selections. That said, the production often displays an unpleasant, spit-shined slickness. This problem would only increase as Dusty continued recording in Hollywood; it would reach its nadir with the last album she'd cut there, Living Without Your Love. More on that subject later. For now, let's take a closer look at what Cameo had to offer. The album's centerpiece were five songs written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who co-produced the project with Steve Barri of Grass Roots fame.

What distinguishes "Who Gets Your Love?" most is the exquisite tension it achieves in its aural execution. With its taut-as-a-tightrope string line, ominous electric piano figures, nervous guitar accents and hushed background vocals, it sounds like something that might've been composed for the soundtrack of the 1944 film Gaslight. Dusty steps into Ingrid Bergman's lead role of a woman slowly being driven insane by paranoia. Her performance is so damn convincing, a belated Oscar nomination might be in order! There really ought to be something to compensate for the commercial cold shoulder "Who Gets Your Love?" got when released as a single in March of 1973. "Comin' And Goin'" is an example of what happens when you play an excellent song at the wrong tempo. Superb lyrics capture the frustration of an off-and-on relationship. The melody is almost as good as the lyrics, and Dusty's singing is typically fine, but Lambert and Potter blow it by shoehorning their tune into a Soft Rock groove. As a ballad, "Comin' And Goin'" just seems to drag. Not to imply that it should've been a Disco song, but there's an R & B sensibility there that wasn't fully exploited. The studio musicians surely needed to swing a little harder.

"Of All The Things" sounds like an attempt to recreate the ethereal mood of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Land Of Make-Believe" from the Dusty In Memphis album. If that was indeed Lambert and Potter's intention, it was successfully realized. One of Dusty's fragile-as-crystal performances graces this tender song of devotion, which had been previously released by Dennis Lambert himself. While it clearly wasn't a single candidate, it's a joy to hear. "Breakin' Up A Happy Home" still sounds like a hit single, thirty-seven years after it was cut. ABC-Dunhill Records didn't fold until 1979, but for overlooking potential smashes like this, it deserved to die as a company long before then. The best song Lambert and Potter wrote for Dusty subtly tips its hat to both Diana Ross and The Supremes' "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and Jackie DeShannon's "Needles And Pins". Take a booting Jazz/Rock band, add some of the tension from "Who Gets Your Love", then top it off with wailing vocals, and you've got an aural snapshot of Dusty Springfield at the very top of her game.

The lilting "Mama's Little Girl" can be seen as a feminist statement, perhaps Dusty's answer to Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman". It's certainly not as militant, but militancy wasn't her style. She preferred the imagery of a butterfly bursting forth from its cocoon to that of an Amazon warrior marching off to battle. Even though Dusty didn't write "Mama's Little Girl", you can't help but note how autobiographical the lyrics are. Just like the song's narrator, she effected her own transformation years before from drab convent school girl to exciting Pop chanteuse. Her exuberant vocal over the track's insistent habanera shuffle earned the single version an all-too-brief showing on the Adult-Contemporary charts .

Let's turn our attention now to contributions from other writers. Al Wilson and other Soul singers cut Willie Hutch's "Who Could Be Loving You" before Dusty did, but none of them got a chart record out of it. Dusty would likely have scored the hit had ABC-Dunhill executives been savvy enough to press up her recording on 45. Guess what? They weren't! Jimmie Haskell's dreamy sitar-laced arrangement moves her back and forth between dreamscape and nightmare tableau as she stumbles in anguish through a faltering love affair. Dusty never sang this number live, but it fairly cries out for embellishment with her signature arm and hand gestures.

With its satiny vocals and slow-percolating woodblock and electric piano arrangement, Dusty's cover of Alan O'Day's "Easy Evil" calls to mind her 1970 rendition of the Classics IV's "Spooky". She performs this sexy snippet of a tune with a wicked leer in her voice; for sure, she's not mama's little girl anymore! Then we have Dusty's brilliant version of Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey". Surely one of her greatest performances on wax, this song fits her Soul diva persona like a glove. It's bluesy, but she wisely places the emphasis on its Gospel elements. Her deceptively straightforward interpretation is anything but; it's many-faceted, simultaneously communicating languor and passion, sweetness and spice. Steve Barri was probably tempted to put a full choir behind her, but he was smart to resist temptation; the backing voices are appropriately understated. Really, Dusty's voice and that fabulous saxophone accompaniment could've carried the tune all by themselves.

David Gates' "The Other Side Of Life" is a fragile soap bubble of a song that nearly shatters from overproduction. No orchestration was necessary; all it needed was acoustic guitar accompaniment. Dusty knew it called for delicate handling even if her production team didn't, and her feather-light touch salvages the track. After the tension of "Who Gets Your Love?" and "Breakin' Up A Happy Home", Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson's "I Just Wanna Be There" is the joyful release we've been waiting for. Steve Barri touches off a musical jubilee around the song with tambourines and soaring brass. La Springfield and her sanctified background singers (including Hollywood session stalwarts Clydie King and Sherlie Matthews) bask in the glow of a superb Gospel/Pop number, the kind Ashford and Simpson specialize in. What a pity Dusty never cut a whole album of their songs.

Recorded for and used in the ABC Movie Of The Week "Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole", Hugo Montenegro and Bradford Craig's "Learn To Say Goodbye" sounds like a blast from the past. It fits right into Dusty's Italian ballad repertoire alongside "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" and "Give Me Time". Steve Barri's production just hints at the majesty it would've had if she and Johnny Franz had produced it in her '60s heyday. As a single, it did crack the American Adult-Contemporary charts, but the era of power ballads had come and gone. It would return in the 1980s, of course, but that didn't help Dusty in 1973. She'd enjoy one last ballad hit in 1987, when she contributed a guest vocal to Richard Carpenter's solo single "Something In Your Eyes".

LONGING

ABC-Dunhill DSD-50186
recorded 1974, unreleased

There was supposed to be a second ABC-Dunhill album. A catalog number was assigned, and album art was produced. Dusty hired former Jeff Barry associate Brooks Arthur to helm the project, and she traveled to suburban New York to record it. The proposed song list included contributions by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Carole Bayer-Sager, Janis Ian and Barry Manilow. Manilow played keyboards, top arrangers Gary Sherman and Ron Frangipane were engaged to write charts, and Melissa Manchester led the backing vocal group. It looked like a promising collaboration, but nobody realized that Dusty was on the verge of a nervous collapse. When the breakdown came, her new album was abandoned midway; Dusty fled back to her California refuge where superficiality, dubious friendships and drug binges awaited her.

In 2001, Hip-O Records, the reissue arm of ABC-Dunhill’s successor Universal Music, did La Springfield a huge dishonor by issuing all the unfinished album tracks on CD. It’s heartbreaking to hear her tortured “scratch” vocals on songs clumsily remixed to sound like finished masters. However, a handful of the selections do feature complete vocal takes, and two of these are absolute stunners. Janis Ian’s “In The Winter” represents an artistic zenith for both composer and interpreter; it’s sublime pathos poetry set to music. In her most emotionally fragile state, Dusty grasps after Ian’s lyric like a drowning woman and hangs on to it for dear life: And in the winter/Extra blankets for the cold/Fix the heater/Gettin' old/ You are with her now, I know/I'll live alone forever/Not together now. She doesn’t just interpret the words, she confesses them! Never before or since has the pain of abandonment been communicated so starkly, so directly, and so masterfully; “In The Winter” is, quite simply, Dusty Springfield’s finest recording.

The second marvel to emerge from her 1974 sessions is “Beautiful Soul”, a woman-to-woman love ballad penned by Lesbian music icon Margie Adam. La Springfield treats this song as if it were a flower and she a honeybee; circling it lazily, she comes to rest on the petals and tenderly extracts the delicious nectar . . . a delicacy she ultimately was too frightened to share with anyone else. The unabashed homosexual theme of “Beautiful Soul”, with its potential to destroy the career Dusty worked so hard to build, may very well be what pushed her over the edge. Nearly four years passed before she found the courage to enter a recording studio again. When she did, Hollywood was her venue once more, but a new label, United Artists Records, had become her musical home.
It Begins Again

IT BEGINS AGAIN

United Artists UA-LA791-H
released February 1978

Her debut LP for United Artists, It Begins Again, ranks as her second best album of the ‘70s. By not forcing her to sample a number of tunes from one songwriting team’s catalog, it honors her eclecticism better than Cameo does. Also, the production values aren’t as glaringly high gloss as they’d been on the previous set. Not to imply that Roy Thomas Baker produced the sessions on a meager budget; there are lots of strings and brass, and even a hint of Phil Spector sensibility in some of the sound mixes (minus the singer-obscuring Spector bombast). Dusty got a solid piece of product out of Queen's former producer, and unlike her ordeal with Lambert, Potter and Barri, she enjoyed working with him. They worked together so closely, in fact, that he gave her an associate producer credit. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop her comeback album from sounding dreadfully uneven; it suffers from inconsistent quality of material. Since she was involved in all the track selections, Dusty has to share blame as well as kudos, but to be sure, there are gold nuggets to be found among the stones.

First attempted during her aborted Brooks Arthur sessions, Chi Coltrane's soaring "Turn Me Around" is an excellent showcase for Miss Beehive's high vocal range. Despite the bright, florid melody, it's a song of regret and atonement, and she sings as if it were a hymn. Her prayerful tone is enhanced with angelic background voices led by future Disco star Pattie Brooks. The circular structure of this ballad makes you think of the waltz, but it's actually a modified tango; the arrangement was written by Barry Fasman, future music director of the "Fame" TV series. Dusty had tried recording Holland, Dozier and Holland's "A Love Like Yours" for her 1974 album, too; the surviving tapes confirm her failure to nail it down. However, she was determined to add the number to her catalog of distinguished Motown covers, and managed to do so under Roy Thomas Baker's supervision. At one time, the song appears to have been Phil Spector's favorite Motown record; he covered it twice, first with Ike and Tina Turner (who scored a Top Twenty British hit with their version) and later as a duet featuring Cher and Harry Nilsson. Dusty was no doubt familiar with the Turners' record, but given her longtime friendship with Martha Reeves, its inclusion here probably reflects her affection for the original Martha and The Vandellas single. Her cover certainly sounds nothing like Spector's ponderous production; she and RTB give it an old-fashioned, swinging, gather-round-the-piano treatment. Unexpected hard Rock guitar licks keep the track from sounding too old-fashioned, though. The fun Miss Beehive has interpreting "A Love Like Yours" is obvious from the way she allows her voice to get all nasty and guttural at the fade.

Lesley Gore has spoken about struggling in the 1970s to make it as a professional songwriter along with her then-writing partner, Ellen Weston. If most of their compositions sounded like "Love Me By Name", it's not hard to understand why she struggled. Dusty was no doubt attracted to the world-weariness of this soapy ballad, but it has little else to recommend it; the song turns out to be an ill-conceived piece of melodramatic fluff, not worth her attention at all. She tries to dress it up in an emotional rendition, as Lesley Gore herself did with her own earlier recording, but neither of them could disguise the truth: "Love Me By Name" would be the ham sandwich at anybody's musical banquet table.

"Hollywood Movie Girls" was Dusty's second feminist song, a sensitive ode to women chasing dreams of stardom in Hollywood penned by Gaille Heidemann. (Heidemann was definitely one of those girls she wrote about; back in 1970, Cheryl Ladd just barely edged her out of a job with Josie and The Pussycats, the cartoon-inspired Rock group.) The malaise that permeates the song's bittersweet lyric probably mirrored the misgivings Dusty herself was having by this time about her move to the glitter capitol. Miss Beehive didn't wait another album to cut her next feminist number. She programmed "Sandra" on It Begins Again, too, and its bottomless well of pathos makes "Hollywood Movie Girls" sound like a fairy tale. Its narrative spins the sad tale of a woman suffering from post-partum depression and coming to terms with a loveless marriage. At the song's climax, she attempts suicide. Lord, I love my husband, and I love my kids, Dusty wails, the urgency in her voice making the protagonist sound simultaneously sincere and uncertain. Another masterful dual interpretation on her part. The Barry Manilow/Enoch Anderson composition emphasizes a woman's need to find fulfilling work, and leaves open the possibility of closeted Lesbianism (albeit in a subtle way that doesn't encourage awkward questions about Dusty's own sexuality). The Alfred Hitchcock-reminiscent string coda that closes this track suggests an uncertain fate for Sandra, and underscores the occasional brilliance of Roy Thomas Baker's production.

A tragic ballad like "Sandra" should've been followed by a steamy love song. From a mood standpoint, an album sequencer would want to gradually bring down the intensity of emotion without jarring the listener with too much emotional contrast. The Dusty Springfield/Steve Dorff production of "Let Me Love You Once Before You Go", her very first recording under United Artists Records auspices, would've been the ideal segue. It finds Dusty revisiting the adulterous relationship territory she staked out on 1969's “Breakfast In Bed”: It’s like looking in the mirror of a fine boutique, she muses, knowing there is nothing I could ever buy. Then we learn what kind of boutique she’s talking about: The kind that sells forbidden love! When she pants sweet baby, please come over here at the song’s, ahem, climax, it’s ten times more erotic than any sexually explicit booty call a Hip Hop artist might feel forced to vocalize. Miss Beehive simply excelled at singing about illicit sex; she proved it again years later when she put her indelible stamp on the Profumo scandal-inspired Disco rocker “In Private.” The production values on “Let Me Love You” aren’t so terribly different from what we hear on It Begins Again, but Roy Thomas Baker probably didn't want people comparing his productions with Dusty's. Knowing she’d supervised recordings like “Goin’ Back” and “I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten”, who could blame him? So her self-produced single (which nearly broke for a regional hit) was omitted, and the new album hit the racks with only nine tracks on it. That was fairly slim pickings for a Pop record, even in 1978.

“I Found Love With You” comes from the pen of Disco producer Bob Esty, who also arranged the track. It’s actually more dance Pop than Disco, the kind of deliriously giddy number you might associate with Bette Midler’s stage show. Besides providing Dusty with a bonafide uptempo track to sing on this ballad-heavy set, there’s no justification for it being in her catalog. The tune is pleasant enough, and she sings it competently, but that’s about all you can say. The only really memorable elements of the track are its rather incongruous cocktail piano licks. “Checkmate”, on the other hand, is completely memorable. It’s an edgy, confrontational song from a songwriter who specialized in that kind of material: Dusty’s friend Nona Hendryx, formerly of the Glam-Rock vocal trio LaBelle. In addition to its appearance on It Begins Again, "Checkmate" sneaked out on the back of a dull movie theme single La Springfield cut later in the year. This tough-as-nails flipside blew the plug side all to smithereens; just play “Checkmate” once, and you won’t even remember what “Give Me The Night” sounds like. In a program of AOR ballads and lite Pop fare, its aggressiveness comes across like a glass of cold water thrown in the face, but the sensation is not unwelcome. It reminds us that, despite her sophisticated veneer, Dusty is still a Rock ‘n’ Roll singer. When Miss Beehive hisses You can fake me/Fake me/But I keep on comin’ at'cha/I ain't movin'!, you can almost picture her in a gangsta girl crouch, pulling a switchblade from her big old bouffant hairdo! Just give it a New Wave makeover, and “Checkmate” would fit snugly into the track listing of Dusty’s 1982 White Heat LP. Incidentally, Bob Esty's charts are on display here, too.

Most fans of ‘60s Pop/Rock had a hard time transitioning to Disco. Songs like “That’s The Kind Of Love I Got For You” certainly didn’t ease the transition. Its overheated rhythm section and mindless repetition of the title signifies the genre at its worst. Songwriters Don Fletcher and Dean Parks had placed this dubious dance number with Rita Jean Bodine four years earlier. A cover version was entirely uncalled-for! Dusty obviously wanted to stay abreast of contemporary trends, but she really should've held out for a better tune. Because it’s so mediocre, the track seems interminably long; two decent dance Rock numbers could’ve gone in place of this monstrosity. Yet amazingly, it found an audience: Club deejays were serviced with a Tom Moulton remix of this frantic reject from a Brazilian Mardi Gras celebration, and that mix managed to net Dusty her first charting club record. Nine years later, she'd top the Dance charts as a guest vocalist on The Pet Shop Boys' "What Have I Done To Deserve This", but that was the extent of her club appeal. (It’s a crime that deejays would play a forgettable track like "That's The Kind Of Love" and ignore far better dance discs Dusty cut in later years like “Donnez-Moi”, “Reputation” and “In Private”.) Dusty and Roy Thomas Baker must've thought nothing could follow their Disco extravaganza, so they closed the album with it. Big mistake! A chanteuse should never say goodnight to her audience on a sour note. The song they should’ve ended with was “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love”. The title all but screams “album closer”, so how could they have overlooked it? Even though the subject matter (a disintegrating relationship, natch) is melancholy, the breezy melody has a hopeful quality about it. Dusty picks up on that quality, and optimism permeates her delivery. She may be sad now, but she’s anticipating a brighter day tomorrow. Making this the final cut on Side Two would’ve symbolically set the stage for Dusty’s next LP release. Could it be someone had a bad premonition about that subsequent album?

"In The Winter" continues with Part Two.

Dusty Springfield (Part Four)


Dusty In Nashville
In The Winter
Dusty Springfield's Lesser Albums
by Donny Jacobs


Dusty In Hollywood

LIVING WITHOUT YOUR LOVE
United Artists UA-LA936-H 

released January 1979
Dusty chose the relatively inexperienced David Wolfert to helm her second and final United Artists LP. The two reportedly did battle in the studio, and judging from the non-starter of an album they made together, she surely must've regretted the decision. Despite its sophisticated and sleek production style (you can practically see the wine and cheese table set up in the studio lounge), Living Without Your Love is her hands-down worst album of the 1970s. It spends too much time chasing an upscale mood and too little exploiting the abilities of its unique artist. Dusty simply doesn't get enough raw material to work with. Listening to this LP will remind you of a dinner at an expensive restaurant that you leave still feeling hungry. Most of the songs appear to have been written by committee, with three to five writers credited. 

The tune that drew the most attention was the David Foster/Eric Mercury collaboration "Closet Man". The title references camouflaged sexual orientation, and so does the lyric, but not too explicitly. Recording "Beautiful Soul" may have freaked Dusty out, but she seems to enjoy playing with the coy Gay themes of this jazzy number. Gary Coleman's vibes nicely underscore the whimsy in her vocal interpretation. Definitely one of the album's better selections, the track goes down smooth like brandy and calls to mind the future work of R & B icon Luther Vandross. Dusty would come to idolize Vandross, who was himself a "closet man", but it's unlikely that Foster and Mercury had him in mind when writing the song. 

Melissa Manchester was one of the authors of "Be Somebody", a ballad that starts out promisingly enough. However, it's got an albatross around the neck: a repetitive chorus that quickly becomes annoying. Thankfully, the song doesn't last very long, but it runs out of steam long before the (merciful) fade. Carole Bayer-Sager and Franne Gold collaborated on "Dream On", a soulful Adult Contemporary number with a nice little groove. There's a touch of Country music mixed in with the Soul elements, and you suspect it would've made an altogether decent Country song. Dusty sings it like it were a tasty piece of toffee on her tongue. From a lyrical standpoint, though, it's nothing special. 

"I Just Fall In Love Again", another selection from the Steve Dorff songbook, is one of several songs here that weren't fully realized. An excellent composition, late '70s production values don't do it justice. It needs the massive, Wally Stott orchestra treatment heard on Dusty classics from the '60s like "All I See Is You". A bigger sound would surely have drawn a more forceful performance from her. Given her reputation for Motown covers, Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" was a natural choice for Dusty to record, but David Wolfert's subdued sound mix treats her voice like just another instrument in the band. Jai Winding's gospelly piano work ends up being the main attraction of Tom Saviono's slow rolling, New Orleans-flavored arrangement. A good record, but it could've been great. 

A similarly timid mix can't obscure the appeal of Ben Weisman and Evie Sands' "You Can Do It", though. It's the hands-down best song and best performance on the album. Another jazz-tinged track like "Closet Man", it's got a funky, streetwise attitude that prompts a deliciously sullen vocal reading from Dusty. Like "Checkmate", this is a warm-up for the gutsy work she'd deliver on her next LP, White Heat. However, there's nothing gutsy about "Get Yourself To Love". Doug McCormick's Gospel-flavored ballad needed an altogether more Rock 'n' Roll treatment, but of course, that would have killed the cocktail hour mood David Wolfert was cultivating. Better to have left it off the album than do it so terribly wrong; Dusty could've really pulled out the stops on this number if she'd been given a chance, but the middle-of-the-road arrangement didn't give her one. 

Barry Gibb's "Save Me, Save Me" is yet another performance that got away. Dusty sings it with just enough enthusiasm to put it across, but with more driving accompaniment, she undoubtedly would've put more fire into her vocal. Then her second foray into Disco territory might've followed her first into the charts, but Frankie Valli's version got the airplay instead. "Save Me", Save Me" wasn't even released as a single in the United States. You can't help but think Dusty would've done better hiring Barry Gibb to produce the song himself (not to mention the entire LP). 

By fan consensus, "I"m Coming Home Again" was the album's standout ballad. Dusty navigates Carole Bayer-Sager's lyrics like the pro she always was, investing them with either pathos or elation at exactly the right moment. Like "I Just Fall In Love Again", this song belongs in the '60s, powered by a full-throttle Johnny Franz/Dusty Springfield orchestra treatment. Only the quality of the song and the performance can explain the esteem fans hold it in; there's nothing distinguished about the string-laden production at all. The most undistinguished track of all is probably "Living Without Your Love". Worse, the song itself is mediocre, a waste of Dusty's time and talent; the only thing that makes it listenable is the tight Disco rhythm section. Yet David Wolfert must've thought a lot of it, since he made it the title track. Could that have had something to do with the fact that he co-wrote the tune? 

Very Fine Love

A VERY FINE LOVE
Columbia CK 67053 
released June 1995
Fade out from 1979 and fade back into the year 1994, dateline: Nashville, Tennessee. Four years earlier, Dusty realized her second career comeback, this time under the auspices of her new friends, The Pet Shop Boys. Reputation, a collection anchored by their dance-oriented songs and productions, was her most successful studio album since Dusty . . . Definitely back in 1967. Disco diva status beckoned, but La Springfield balked at being pigeonholed. She declined to cut a follow-up dance record, leaving her career to languish again for a few years. "I wasn't raised on (that) kind of music," she protested to interviewer Laura Lee Davies. "I grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald. Maybe (I should sing) Country, they really appreciate someone with a few sad songs to sing and a story to tell." Her words proved prophetic. In the summer of 1993, Sony Music approached her with the idea of recording a Country Pop album in Nashville; surprisingly, Dusty agreed. The Springfields had recorded there in 1962, and she hadn't liked it much then. However, the passage of three decades had seen the town evolve beyond its rural music roots into a major hub of songwriting and session talent. Dusty was aware of the changes in Nashville, and felt she could benefit from them. Ultimately, she didn't benefit much, but unexpected health problems were as much to blame for that as anything else. 

The breast cancer that would eventually claim Dusty's life was diagnosed during sessions for A Very Fine Love. Producers Tom Shapiro and Brian Tankersley worked hard to camouflage the wasting effect it had on her singing voice; you can barely hear much difference in her performances. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain, because they didn't pay enough attention to song selection. They supervised the tracking of some of the blandest material Dusty ever had the bad luck to sing. After the triumph of Reputation in 1990, who would've guessed that she might release another set as unsatisfactory as Living Without Your Love? To be fair, A Very Fine Love wasn't quite as bad as that, but it came much too close for comfort. 

Jim Photoglo and Bobby DiPiero's "Fine, Fine, Very Fine Love" is the first of three wannabe Country Funk tracks that pass for uptempo selections on this album. Its strong hooks and punchy rhythm makes it easily the best of the trio, but prominent synthesizers give it a rather cheesy sound. A full brass section would've framed the vocals better. Budget limitations, maybe? Then the downhill slide starts with Craig Wiseman's "All I Have To Offer You Is Love". This song is painfully contrived, bogged down by cliché lyrics and a bass heavy arrangement that tends toward funk but never quite gets there. At least the solo guitar work by Dan Huff is worth hearing. 

"I Can't Help The Way I Don't Feel" is no improvement. Probably the closest thing to a bonafide Country tune on the album, it's awkwardly titled, wordy, and not compelling in the least musically. Rather frothy production values don't help. Inexplicably, this weak track was chosen for inclusion on UK Mercury's definitive Dusty Springfield collection in the year 2000. A tight habanera rhythm picks up the pace on Graham Lyle and Terry Britten's "Old Habits Die Hard". It could've stood both an edgier arrangement and a more strident lead vocal, but given Dusty's health problems at the time of recording, she no doubt sung it as forcefully as she was able. Lyrically, the song is a trifle, but the catchy music does get your toes tapping. 

"Lovin' Proof", previously a Celine Dion album track, is another unsuccessful stab at funky honky tonk music. While the melody is solid, and the embellishment by Dusty and Audrey Wheeler's backing vocal unit is, too, the song lacks sufficient hooks, and the lyrics aren't memorable. Not exactly one of Diane Warren's better writing efforts here. Warren didn't cornered the market on great contemporary tunes, though. "Roll Away" is the kind of song a performer prays to find; this one track is worth the price of the entire album. Will Jennings and Martee Lebow's atmospheric Country/Blues ballad sounds as if it had been tailormade for Dusty, but that isn't the case; it was written for no one in particular, and she learned it from the songwriters' demo. She was, however, first to record this gem, and no one will ever surpass her reading. The way she sings it's only time and the river calls to mind images of Huck Finn and Jim rafting down the Mississippi. The last single to chart during Dusty's lifetime needed to be classic right out of the box, and "Roll Away" definitely was. 

Some songs require their emotional impact to be conveyed by the singer alone. Too much instrumentation spoils them, and even a little is too much. The aforementioned "Other Side Of Life" from Cameo is such a composition. Matraca Berg and Ron Samoset's "You Are The Storm" is another. With bare bones musical accompaniment, it might've worked well for Dusty. Unfortunately, Messieurs Shapiro and Tankersley couldn't resist the temptation to swaddle it in guitars and keyboards. The nuances of her delivery can't save it from boiling over into artificial-sounding melodrama. She has better luck with John Jarvis and Randy Goodrum's "Go Easy On Me". Her gossamer voice is pregnant with soulful feeling as she delicately extracts believability from the shopworn lyric. In the hands of a lesser artiste, this song's overwrought nature would be much more obvious. Sensitive production and vocals has lifted many a throwaway song from mediocrity to greatness; here's an example. 

If there's one tune that demonstrates why Diane Warren is Queen of the Rock Ballad songwriters, it's "Wherever Would I Be?" This is the kind of rousing, barn-burner anthem arena bands like Foreigner build a following on. Dusty doesn't sing it like Foreigner's Lou Gramm (she didn't have the strength to even attempt that), but she still belts the Hell out of it, and her performance bristles with authority. At this advanced point in her career, Dusty can convey quiet dignity even while wailing her heart out. Fronting a sea of overdubbed backing voices, she comes across like the senior soloist in a Gospel choir; she's justified, ancient, experienced, and proud of it! The duet version with Daryl Hall that appears on this album may boast more star power, but the original solo recording (which, oddly enough, has yet to appear on a stateside CD) is the keeper. 

The last diamond to be unearthed in this final Dusty Springfield collection is arguably the rarest and most brilliant. KT Oslin and Jim Gillespie's "Where Is A Woman To Go?" finds La Springfield in sackcloth garments, standing at the Wailing Wall and crying the broken-heart blues of every abandoned woman since time immemorial. Her rasping interpretation sounds timeless; it could just as easily have been recorded in 1924 as 1994. Repetition, underscored by the righteous harmonies of co-writer Oslin and Country/Folk diva Mary Chapin Carpenter, is this song's secret weapon. The chorus, equal parts Blues and Gospel, brands itself into your brain and rocks you so profoundly, you can't be blamed for wiping away tears. Regardless of whether you're male, female or transgender, it's a mix of pleasure and pain that you just don't want to end. Not only does "Where Is A Woman To Go" have the honor of being the last selection on the last Dusty Springfield album, it's also the last song Dusty ever performed on TV. On 10 June 1995, she featured it on the BBC's Jools Holland show, with Alison Moyet and Sinéad O'Connor subbing for Mesdames Oslin and Carpenter. 

Notable albums like Dusty In Memphis, Reputation and the still-unreleased Jeff Barry production Faithful/Dusty Sings The Blues prove that other producers could bring out important facets of Dusty's talent. However, the preponderance of recorded evidence suggests that Miss Beehive gambled and, more often than not, lost whenever she allowed other people to produce her albums. Like Prince, Madonna and George Michael, she was the kind of artist who got the best results when she assumed complete control over her work. Too many times, the woman born Mary Catherine O'Brien failed to challenge herself, cutting lackluster songs that others pushed on her, or songs that she personally liked but neglected to evaluate with a critical ear. As the 1960s morphed into the '70s, she lost the ability to choose consistently excellent material. Yet her diminished artistic instincts still occasionally steered her in the right direction, and as a result, we have splendid waxings like "Sandra", "Tupelo Honey" "Roll Away", "Where Is A Woman To Go?", "Beautiful Soul" and "In The Winter" to treasure. Fans never knew when Dusty was going to come up with another classic, but we always knew she would if we waited long enough. That's why, despite many wasted feet of recording tape, there's no such thing as a Dusty Springfield album that isn't worth listening to. 

Special thanks to Frances from the UK 
for suggesting this essay.

22 October 2008

Petula Clark

Downtown
Petula Does Paris!
A Twistin' Rendez-Vous on Vogue Records
by Donny Jacobs
With releases in recent years by April March, Zoë Avril and the duo of sisters known as Les Nubians, American music lovers are once again being exposed to French-language Pop records. Should such acts manage to gain mainstream popularity, they will open a commercial door that has long been closed to francophone product. Despite persistent attempts over the years by French stars like Mirielle Mathieu, Plastic Bertrand; Vanessa Paradis and Patricia Klass to break through on American radio, the impact of French songs stateside has always been limited to anomalies like the 1963 chart-topper "Dominique" by the late Soeur Sourire, and cult followings for French artists like Edith Piaf (along with her critically-acclaimed background singers, Les Compagnons de La Chanson), Françoise Hardy, Claudine Longet and Jacques Brel.

Most Americans would be surprised to know that some of the finest French Pop they've missed hearing was cut by an artist whose name is not at all unfamiliar to them. That name is Petula Clark. Between the years 1961 and 1964, Petula Clark became one of France's top recording stars. During this time period, she cut eight successful albums for the French market and placed ten French-language singles in the Top Ten; four of those made the number one spot. Her French output was different from her later work in English in that she concentrated on novelty numbers (usually translations of American hits) and songs written especially for her by French composers. Most significantly, Petula began recording Rock 'n' Roll songs for the French market. Aside from some inconsequential stabs she made at the genre during the late 1950s ("Fibbin'", "Ever Been In Love" and a cover of the Shepherd Sisters hit "Alone"), these were her first true Rock records. They set the stage for "Downtown" and the other up tempo smashes she recorded in English after 1964. However, they were a far cry from conventional rockers, as you'll see.

Longtime fans of Petula Clark know that her career spans over 60 years. She was a star in the United Kingdom decades before anyone in America had ever heard of her. During World War II, she first became famous as a child actress in movies such as Vice Versa, London Town, and Here Come The Huggetts, and as a USO-style singer for the British Armed Forces. In 1946, she was the first British celebrity to star in her own TV show. She made her first commercial recordings in 1949 for UK Columbia. In 1950, she signed with the independent Polygon (later called Pye/Nixa) label and by 1958, she had a half-dozen British hit singles under her belt.

In these years prior to "Downtown", she had already established herself as a strong and versatile singer. Her repertoire at this time ranged from frothy orchestra ballads like "Suddenly There's A Valley" to jazzy workouts the caliber of "Slumming On Park Avenue" to lilting children's novelties such as "Christopher Robin At Buckingham Palace". While she was undeniably popular, Petula couldn't really be considered a major singing star during this period. She'd yet to score a #1 hit, and years might pass between one chart record and another. The end of the '50s seemed to signal the end of her recording career; not one of the five singles she issued in 1959 came close to making noise in the UK. With hits drying up at home, Petula crossed the English Channel to court a public who would hopefully be more appreciative of her efforts.

Petula's record company, Pye/Nixa, was sister label to renowned Vogue Records in France. Founded in 1947 by a businessman, a journalist and a Jazz musician, Vogue was originally conceived as a Jazz label. During its first decade, it amassed a catalog of masters by such Jazz legends as Django Reinhardt, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and Erroll Garner. Vogue's first major star was the expatriate American clarinetist Sidney Bechet. By the late '50s, Vogue had expanded into the Pop field, and established branch offices in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Scandinavia, as well as linking up with Pye/Nixa in the UK. Vogue's CEO, Léon Cabat, felt strongly that Petula Clark was a potential hitmaker for the French market. Toward the end of 1957, in the hope of persuading her to record special material for him, Cabat invited Petula to Paris and arranged for her to appear on France's most popular radio show, "Musicorama".

Initially, Petula turned down his invitation. "At that time, I didn't like Paris," she later told biographer Andrea Kon. "I thought it was a dirty, smelly place! I didn't speak a word of French, and if I had to perform abroad, it was about the last place on Earth I would have chosen." The only way he could convince her to come was by promising to take her on a shopping spree! Petula would get much more out of this would-be shopping trip than she could ever imagine.

A few days later, the 26-year-old singer walked onto the stage of the Olympia Music Hall, from which "Musicorama" was broadcast. The French audience gasped audibly, for they'd never seen anything like her before. Her hair had recently been dyed bright orange for a film role, and she had chosen to wear what she thought was a très chic hot pink dress shaped like two giant lampshades. She was also suffering from a bad head cold, which obscured her vocals. Certain that she had lain a colossal egg that night, Petula was instead stunned by a standing ovation after singing "Alone", "With Your Love", "Memories Are Made Of This" and her latest single, "With All My Heart". She was perceived as a cute and funny novelty act by the French, who were accustomed to morbidly serious singers like Edith Piaf. They were charmed by her ebullient and girlish stage manner, especially when she impulsively hugged her musical conductor for that evening, Raymonde Legrand (father of Michel Legrand, who'd later pen songs for her). In concert reviews the following day, critics heaped praise on her performance; they nicknamed her "the English Bon-Bon", proclaimed her a musical Jerry Lewis, and predicted future success for her in France. That same day, Léon Cabat signed Petula to a Vogue contract and set about making the critics' predictions come true. Within weeks, he had Petula Clark A Musicorama, a ten-inch vinyl compilation of her British hits for sale in Parisian record stores. The best, however, was yet to come.


Musicorama

In December, the first of many Petula Clark French EP singles appeared. All would feature sultry photos of the singer on a shiny cardboard picture sleeve (needless to say, a collector's dream). Four song EP singles were the standard in France until the early 1970s, so Petula spent a lot of time in the studio (specifically, London's IPC Studios) tracking French-language songs for release. She did so with the help of her British producers, Michael Barclay and Alan Freeman, arrangers Peter Knight and Bill Shepherd, and Vogue's top promotion man Claude Wolff, who helped with French pronunciation and song selection. In 1998, Petula explained to interviewer Jim Pierson her technique for recording in French: "I would have a producer or an assistant actually recite the lyrics for me, and then I would write them down the way I heard them. The important thing was that it should come out sounding right . . . as I got more experienced with it, I was actually able to read the (French lyrics) pretty well as is." "Allô Mon Coeur", a romantic duet with Parisian heartthrob Claude Robin, introduced the English Bon-Bon to French record buyers. The other three songs on this maiden vinyl outing were "Papayer", a catchy cha-cha number; a Gallic take on the much-recorded number "Whatever Lola Wants" from the Broadway musical Damn Yankees; and "Histoire D'Un Amour", a song of Spanish origin that fairly reeked of histrionics à la Xavier Cugat. Ironically, this latter cut became her first French hit, charting at #5.

Her second EP, Java Pour Petula, was highlighted by a French translation of her 1958 British hit "Baby Lover", a truly absurd West Indian dance number that's the epitome of camp; "Tango De L'Esquimau" ("Tango With An Eskimo"), a hilarious novelty song originally popularized by UK star Alma Cogan; and the rather unsavory title track, which finds Pet portraying a naive tourist who meets up with a horny French cab driver ("Java" indeed)! This last song stormed French radio's Top Five hit list after she presented it in her first French-language concert at the Alhambra Theater. Petula also struck gold with her third EP, 1959's Prends Mon Coeur. Although it didn't chart as high as "Java Pour Petula", Petula's swingin' version of Elvis Presley's "A Fool Such As I" (first heard in a 1953 Country version by Hank Snow) outsold the Presley version in France. It prompted the marketing of a French-language album of the same title. This ten-inch gem, depicting Petula in sailor stripes on the cover, is one of her rarest releases; it mixes highlights from her French EPs with failed British singles like "Saint-Tropez", "Adonis" and "Dear Daddy". In 2001, this treasure was reissued as part of a limited-edition CD box set, with most tracks presented in dazzling, first-time stereo mixes.


Prends Mon Coeur

While Pet's French product sold well during the late '50s, she was still feeling her way stylistically. She had yet to prove to the French public that she was anything more than an imported novelty act. However, Prends Mon Coeur signaled changes on the horizon, and the material she was cutting at this time lay the foundation for the enormous success she'd enjoy in the early '60s. That success coincided with a pronounced move toward Rhythm and Blues.

By now, songwriter, producer and arranger Tony Hatch had become a member of Petula's production team. In 1963, he would assume total supervision over her recorded output. 1960 was a fairly quiet year for Petula in terms of recording activity, as she concentrated on touring the French provinces with singer/songwriter Alexander "Sacha" Distel. She surely must've had second thoughts about pursuing a Francophone career when she found herself playing such unlikely venues as carnivals and bullfights; while performing, she had to avoid stepping in puddles of fresh blood that unfortunate bulls (and sometimes, bullfighters) had left in the ring! Culture shock notwithstanding, she persevered, and in 1961, the English Bon-Bon leapt from the candy box and began to create waves that were felt on both sides of the English Channel. Early that year, Alan Freeman brought her English translations of two German ballads which he believed would revive her flagging British chart fortunes. "Sailor" and "Romeo" did nothing less than that, bouncing into New Musical Express' Top Ten listings within a matter of weeks. What's more, "Sailor" became her first-ever #1 single in England.

Hearing these recordings prior to release, Léon Cabat eagerly commissioned French versions. He seemed particularly impressed with the yodeling background vocals and goose-stepping rhythms of "Romeo". His instructions to Freeman and Hatch were to "recreate the sound of the English versions exactly." French record buyers responded to the record with even more enthusiasm than their British counterparts had, and "Roméo" (new lyrics by Jean Broussolle) topped the charts that winter. "Marin", the French version of "Sailor" (also sporting a fresh Broussolle lyric) was hardly ignored, though. Not only did it go Top Ten, the imported English version charted in the UK Top Twenty! Although pregnant with her first child, Petula promoted the living daylights out of this record, even filming an early music video called a Scopitone to generate more interest. Amid all the excitement, one of her French waxings from 1960, "La Joie D'Aimer" belatedly reached the Top Twenty. Lampshade fashion sense notwithstanding, Petula Clark was now accepted in France as a legitimate balladeer.


Romeo

Little did the French suspect that she was about to change her style. Cuts from recent EPs hinted at what was coming: Jangly, danceable remakes of Lawrence Welk's "Calcutta", The Drifters' "Save The Last Dance For Me" (a Top Three smash for her), and Neil Sedaka's "Calendar Girl", as well as a decidedly up tempo French original, "Les Gens Diront". In the closing months of 1961, Pet executed a sharp stylistic left turn that caught everyone by surprise.

Taking note of the Chubby Checker-inspired Twist craze that was sweeping Europe, Claude Wolff suggested that Petula's next EP be dance-oriented. Lyricist Georges Aber presented her with a French translation of Lee Dorsey's then-current hit "Ya Ya", which arranger Peter Knight revamped by kicking the laid-back R & B tempo into overdrive. Pet attacked the French lyric with gusto, coming as close as she could manage to laying down a gritty Blues vocal. Rounding out the EP was a dance version of Ricky Nelson's "Hello, Mary Lou" (rechristened "Bye Bye Mon Amour" by Jean Broussolle) and a jazzy finger-popper called "Parce Que C'Est Bon". Petula herself took pen to paper and, in collaboration with lyricist Alain Gaunay, crafted "Je Chante Doucement", a twistable version of, believe it or not, "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic"!!! It isn't clear what the commercial prospects would've been had an artist pushing thirty issued such an odd assortment of tunes in the United States; however, it proved to be just what the doctor ordered as far as French teenagers were concerned. "Ya Ya Twist" took Paris by storm in the Spring of 1962, topping the charts and triggering massive fits of spinal gyration not only in France, but throughout Europe and all the French territories. Pye Records saw fit to issue the untranslated recording in England, where it became a major hit as well. To everyone's surprise, "Je Chante Doucement" garnered almost as much French airplay. On the strength of these tracks, the English Bon-Bon was renamed "La Pétulante" (the Vivacious One) and crowned "Queen Of The Twist". Her first French twelve-inch album, the Alan Freeman-produced Rendez-Vous Avec Petula became one of 1962's fastest selling platters. In addition to "Ya Ya Twist" and "Je Chante Doucement", it included "Roméo", "Calendar Girl" and a soon-to-be new dance favorite, "Si C'Est Oui, C'Est Oui". This latter track was another of Pet's compositions (lyrics by Pierre Delanoé), and a far more inspired effort than the "Battle Hymn" rip-off.


Rendez-Vous

In the winter of 1962-63, Petula surprised the public again by abruptly switching back to ballads. "Chariot", a Paul Mauriat tune sung with operatic fervor against a sea of strings, brought Petula her third French chart-topper. Later popularized by Little Peggy March as "I Will Follow Him", it was an even bigger continental smash than "Ya Ya Twist" had been, selling over a million copies. The Chariot album, thought by some to be Petula's finest French collection, included two more chartbusting ballads, "Coeur Blessé" (a cover of Kris Jensen's torch classic "Torture") and "Les Beaux Jours" (a Gallic revamping of Nat King Cole's "Ramblin' Rose"). Twist fans weren't left wanting, however, as it also contained "Claquez Vos Doigts" (known stateside as Joe Henderson's Pop/R & B smash "Snap Your Fingers") and a rockin' redux of Leadbelly's "Cottonfields" ("L'Enfant Do). Novelty lovers couldn't get enough of "Les Colimaçons", a song that waxed poetic over the delectability of frogs and snails. Also popular was a new pair of Petula Clark originals: The frenzied floor-shaker "Dans Le Train De Nuit" and "Darling Chéri", a sensuous slow Twist number co-written with Tony Hatch. Pet's increasing number of musical compositions boasted lyrics by noted French wordsmiths like Jacques Plante, Pierre Delanoé, Georges Aber, Maurice Vidalin, and Hubert Ballay.


Chariot

Champagne corks popped when she was awarded one of 1962's Grand Prix du Disque, a French Grammy award, but that triumph only symbolized one aspect of her European success. Now that she was a regular fixture in French Billboard's Top Ten listings, she turned her attention to recordings customized for Germany, Italy and Spain. The German and Italian-language versions of "Chariot" were smashes in their respective countries, and despite its French title, Pet's polka-styled recording of "Monsieur" was Germany's Top Disc for the year 1962.

While Pet spent a good deal of time touring outside of France in 1963 and '64, she didn't neglect releasing more best-selling French EPs. She scored a major double-sided dance hit "Je Me Sens Bien Auprès De Toi" (first heard as "Dance On", an instrumental by British group The Shadows) backed with "Elle Est Finie, La Belle Histoire" ("This Is Goodbye", yet another self-penned tune). Tony Hatch's discovery of Jackie DeShannon's failed 1963 single "Needles And Pins" resulted in Pet's covering the song as "La Nuit N'En Finit Plus"; she cut the number several months before The Searchers got hold of it, and it remains one of her finest Rock recordings. She also cut into a certain Ms. Warwick's international record sales by tracking French vocals to Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Anyone Who Had A Heart" ("Ceux Qui Ont Un Coeur"), covered Lesley Gore's "She's A Fool" ("Entre Nous, Il Est Fou") and pulled off a not-inconsiderable feat by successfully interpreting "Hello, Dolly" as a Dixieland Rock record! Petula adored Louis Armstrong's original hit rendition, and she was thrilled at Léon Cabat's suggestion that she cover it. In 2002, she boasted that her version appeared "well before the film with Barbra Streisand, in which she interpreted ("Dolly") . . . it's a gay, charming song in a traditional Jazz style, and I had a lot of fun with it at the recording session." Pet's 1964 waxing of the title song from Jerry Herman's Broadway smash became her Tenth consecutive Top Ten single in France.

Another radio favorite from 1964 was "O! O! Shériff", a quite salacious Wild West novelty penned especially for her by Serge Gainsbourg. France's musical "bad boy" wrote several hits for La Pétulante. "I loved his work before it was fashionable to do so," she said in 2001. "The first time I met him, it was in (my) Paris apartment. We drank some tea, and he timidly played me some songs on the piano. I was completely enchanted!" Enchanted also describes the French public's feeling for Petula Clark at this time. By now, Pet was being voted France's favorite female vocalist in polls sponsored by popular magazines like Le Parisien, Jeunesse-Cinema, Puis en Octubre and L'Est Republican. The country had embraced her so completely, "I was actually beginning to feel French," she'd later recall. "I had shed my flouncy English clothes, and had begun to dress the simpler, more sophisticated French way . . . I was starting to speak the language, and enjoy the food. (I was) imbibing, in fact, the whole atmosphere of the place."

By alternating novelty-oriented up tempo songs with melodramatic ballads, Petula and her handlers hit upon a formula that dominated French popular music for nearly four years. In December 1964, she hosted her first music special on French television, "Show-Petula". It was the year's highest-rated variety telecast. Her popularity in France was matched in French-speaking Canada, where she enjoyed additional hits like "Pardon Pour Notre Amour", her own "Prends Garde A Toi" and "Plaza De Toros" (a vocal version of Herb Alpert's "The Lonely Bull"). Even The Beatles' arrival on the international scene couldn't break her stride; Pet's charmingly coy rendition of "Please Please Me" ("Tu Perds Ton Temps") fit right in with the R & B-oriented material she'd already become known for.

By January of 1965, French fans had their pick of two-dozen EP releases, including a collection of Christmas songs (Petula Clark Chante Noël) and an all-instrumental EP of motion picture soundtrack music from the film A Couteaux Tirés, composed in its entirety by Petula. Seven French-language Petula Clark LPs were also available for purchase. The latest was a double album, conducted by Peter Knight and personally produced by Léon Cabat in collaboration with Tony Hatch; it featured La Pétulante's interpretations of standards popularized by Piaf, Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet and other French superstars. Clark's earnest versions of "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup", "Clopin-Clopant", "Vous Qui Passez" and "Petite Fleur" were culled for EP release. The album was wistfully titled Hello, Paris! but in reality, Petula was about to say "Hello, America".


Vilaine Fille Petula

French chart placings for her EPs remained high through 1967, but inevitably dropped off as Petula again began to concentrate on English-language recordings. Of course, this was due to the tremendous success of "Downtown" in the United States and other English-speaking territories (the song was also a #6 French hit in its Georges Aber translation, "Dans Le Temps"). From this point on, Pet's French-language chart records tended to be Gallic versions of her American and British hits. There were notable exceptions, though, like "La Dernière Valse", a 1968 remake of Englebert Humperdinck's "The Last Waltz"; "Un Jeune Homme Bien", her sassy 1966 take on The Kinks' hit "Well-Respected Man"; and a 1965 live recording of a ballad composed by Jacques Brel ("Un Enfant") to celebrate the birth of her second child. However, Petula's second biggest French single after "Chariot" proved to be 1967's "C'Est Ma Chanson", the French version of her worldwide blockbuster "This Is My Song".

Pet's Vogue contract expired in 1972. Among her final recordings for the label was a stunning French reading of "I Don't Know How To Love Him" from the Broadway-bound musical Jesus Christ Superstar (her English rendition was a minor hit in the United Kingdom). Her last hit on Vogue was 1970's autobiographical "C'Est Le Refrain De Ma Vie"("The Song Of My Life"), an old-fashioned waltz featuring a truly Wagnerian orchestra arrangement by Johnny Arthey. She continued to sporadically release new French singles and studio albums well into the 1980s (and returned to France's Top Twenty with "Sauve-Moi" in 1977), but was never able to equal her early '60s success in France. Not that she really needed to, having sold over 60 million records worldwide by then!

Personally and professionally, Petula Clark's years in Paris were arguably the most important of her entire career. During that time, she proved herself a singer/songwriter with consistent commercial appeal (by 1964, she was writing fully half the songs on her album releases), and was effectively teamed with Tony Hatch, whose arranging and production skills became a key factor in spreading her fame around the world. It's also worth noting that Paris was the place where Petula first began sporting the mod miniskirts that made her an over-thirty sex symbol in the mid-60s! Perhaps most important of all, she found her husband in Paris: None other than Claude Wolff, Vogue's promotion chief. Forty-five years, three children, two grandchildren and many dozens of hits later, The Wolffs are still together; mixing business with pleasure seems to be the secret of their longevity, as Claude has served as Pet's manager since shortly after her début in France.

French language releases by Petula Clark are among the most coveted items in her vast catalogue. Original copies can be pricey, but all of her Vogue singles and albums are now available in an attractively packaged and affordable import CD series on the BMG/Anthology's label. For a good career overview, the Pop Culture Cantina recommends a pair of superlative import double CD sets: Sequel Records' Petula Clark En Vogue and Lion-Soleil's Mes Plus Grands Succès. Pet's complete German, French and Italian recordings are also back in circulation, courtesy Bear Family Records and their fine International Collection box set. These (stereo!!!) compilations are a good investment, and not just for nostalgia buffs. Once you've heard La Pétulante camping it up on The French version of "Baby Lover", rapping en français midway through "Parce Que C'Est Bon", rocking out to "La Nuit N'En Finit Plus" or delivering "Coeur Blessé" with trembling voice, you'll agree that there's even more to recommend her talents than classic English-language Pop singles like "Downtown".


Petula 1

A longer version of this article appeared in the 

November 2000 issue of Discoveries Magazine.
French translations by Don Charles Hampton.

Merci beaucoup à Richard Harries.

03 May 2008

Lesley Gore (Part One)

Classic Lesley

Queen Of The Rock 'n' Roll Tango!
How Lesley Gore, Quincy Jones and Klaus Ogermann
Created Habanera Rock Royalty
by Donny Jacobs
The tree of Rock'n'Roll has three roots: Country and Western, Rhythm and Blues, and Latin music. That third root is often forgotten about. Judging by the deracinated product churned out by most of today's Rock groups, it's all but disappeared from the genre. Turn on a Rock radio station in 2008, and you can go hours without hearing anything remotely Latin! In the 1950s and '60s, though, rockers routinely served up their product with a side of salsa picante.

What historian John Storm Roberts calls The Latin Tinge reverberates strongly through any number of seminal Rock records. You can hear it in Johnny Otis's "Willie And The Hand Jive", The Diamonds' "Little Darlin'", The Jarmels' "Little Bit Of Soap", The Impalas' "I Ran All The Way Home", Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog", "Big Hunk O'Love", "His Latest Flame" and others far too numerous to mention. The rhythm foundation for most of these sides was the Cuban habanera, which Latin and Jazz musicians recognize as the Tango Beat. Imported via México City around 1870, North Americans first heard it in a hypnotic tune called "La Paloma". By the early 1910s, it was throbbing beneath the melodies of Dixieland favorites like WC Handy's "St. Louis Blues." A North-American tango craze lasting into the 1920s spread its influence even farther. Once the habanera had lodged itself inside American Pop music consciousness, it made a permanent home there; the rhythm persevered through the Big Band era and took part in the musical miscegenation that spawned Rock'n'Roll.

Baby Habanera Rock was probably born in the Gulf Coast region where Black, White and Mexican musicians have interacted for well over a century. However, she appears to have been incubated in the New York studios of Atlantic Records. That's where producers Ahmet Ertegun, Jesse Stone and Jerry Wexler got into the habit of Latinizing backing tracks for Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Clyde McPhatter's Drifters and other acts from their '50s roster. A few years later, mambo loving A & R men like Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, George Goldner, Bob Crewe, Al Nevins and Bert Berns kicked off a bonafide Latin Rock craze. Their exotic beat concerto productions for such artists as the post-McPhatter Drifters, Ben E. King, Neil Sedaka, Ral Donner, Jay and The Americans, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and Solomon Burke were wildly popular. These hits not only fused Argentinean tango with Rock, but also variations of Cuban bolero, rhumba and cha-cha-chá, Brazilian baião, bossa nova and samba, Spanish flamenco and Dominican merengue. By 1965, boogaloo rhythms from Spanish Harlem had found their way into the mix.

Judging by the evidence of best-sellers like La Vern Baker's "Tweedle Dee" (1955), The Bobbettes' "Mr. Lee" (1957) and Sarah Vaughn's "Broken-Hearted Melody"(1959), female artists picked up on the salsa kick early on. Even so, men dominated the trend until 1960, when Girl Groups started crashing the charts. The sound seemed tailormade for femme ensembles, and their producers (Phil Spector in particular) exploited it mercilessly on such platters as "He's A Rebel", "Be My Baby", "Then He Kissed Me", "I Adore Him", "I Have A Boyfriend" and "Sally, Go 'Round The Roses". If the habanera stylings of the early '60s triggered a musical battle of the sexes, then one side was handicapped; when it came to racking up hits with Rock'n'Roll tangos, it seemed to take a group of Shirelles or Crystals or Ronettes to do what a Bobby Rydell or Gene Pitney or Tony Orlando could do solo.

Women soloists like Doris Troy ("Just One Look") or Jan Bradley ("Mama Didn't Lie") did occasionally break through with one-off Latinized chart records, but there was only one female solo act who repeatedly met male hitmakers mano a mano on Habanera Rock turf. That act came in the form of a petite, seventeen-year-old, strawberry blonde Jersey girl who sported an adorable flip hairdo. This girl became the American counterpart of Libertad Lamarque, Latin America's Queen of Tango. Lesley Gore was Queen of Rock 'n' Roll Tango, and the proof can be found in the records she made.

Discovered by Louis Armstrong's longtime manager Joe Glaser, Lesley was personally signed to Mercury Records by the label's president, Irving Green. In short order, she was paired with an up-and-coming arranger/producer named Quincy Jones. That's right, the mastermind behind Michael Jackson's Thriller album cut his A & R teeth on '60s Girlpop! Mutual love of Jazz singers forged a bond between the Black bandleader and the Russian Jewish teenager; they developed a lifelong mentor/protegée relationship. She took to calling him "Q", as his Jazz musician friends did, and he christened her "Li'l Bits". The pet name conveyed his affection for her, but affectionate regard didn't stop Jones from driving her hard in the recording studio. She'd later comment that " if Quincy didn’t see the veins popping in my neck(when I sang), he wouldn’t be happy!”

Jones discovered that his new protegée sounded best with an edge in her singing voice, and he endeavored to bring out that edge as often as possible. Those annoyed, double-tracked vocal readings gave Lesley Gore hits like "She's A Fool", "I Don't Wanna Be A Loser", "Hey! Now" and the superb "You Don't Know Me" an extra kick in the pants that helped them scale the charts. Also helpful were the trendy, tango-tinged arrangements of Klaus Ogermann, a veteran of Drifters and Ben E. King record dates; the German-born conductor numbered among the top Habanera Rock arrangers working in New York City. (By the time he began arranging for Quincy Jones, Ogermann had Anglicized the spelling of his name to "Claus Ogerman", but the original spelling is used in this essay.) Lesley had little trouble adapting to his tricky Latin time signatures, having grown up in a house filled with Latin Jazz records. Her parents were mambo maniacs!

Today, Lesley Gore is counted among the handful of women stars who contributed significantly to Rock'n'Roll during its infancy. At the peak of her career from the early to mid-1960s, she was arguably the most visible female performer on the Rock scene. She won numerous Best Female Vocalist awards and teen popularity polls. By popular demand, she appeared on stage, on TV and in the movies. Her very first hit, "It's My Party", scored a Grammy Nomination for Best Rock'n'Roll Record, and her later musical achievements were honored by Cashbox and Record World magazines. In recent years, she's been designated one of Rock's Legendary Ladies. Yet the legendary Latin orientation of her music has never been acknowledged by Rock historians. It's time to take a fresh look at what they've overlooked.

30 March 1963
Bell Sound Studios, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Eddie Smith
5584 Hello, Young Lover (Paul Anka)
5585 Something Wonderful (Oscar Hammerstein II-Richard Rodgers)
5586 It's My Party (Wally Gold-John Gluck, Jr.-Herb Weiner)
5587 Danny (Paul Anka)

The very first Rock'n'Roll tango Lesley Gore is listed as having sung is also one of her finest. "Hello, Young Lover" is Paul Anka's sassy rebuke to a teenage Romeo; Klaus Ogermann loads it with sneering brass accents and stumbling drum beats. The hesistating tempo would be tough for most novice recording artists, but Lesley handles it like a pro. As for the lyrics, she seems to relish their aggressive tone and rattles them off like machine gun bullets.

As good as "Young Lover" is, the centerpiece of this maiden recording session is, naturally, the song everyone's hopes are riding on: "It's My Party". Lesley's controlled hysterics sell this tale of a débutante betrayed by her boyfriend at her own coming-out party; of the four selections recorded at this date, this one shouts "teen angst 1963" the loudest. Young America will respond to the cry by launching the single mix on a rocket ride to the top of the charts. First, though, Quincy Jones must have the disc rush-released in order to beat an impending cover version by The Crystals. "It's My Party" isn't Lesley's best rock-a-tango performance, but it will become her most famous one.

Also recorded at this session is a rather lightweight Anka ditty called "Danny" (destined for the flipside "It's My Party") and a rather tentative take on "Something Wonderful", a love theme from Rodgers and Hammerstein's smash hit 1951 musical The King And I. Both songs will feature on Lesley's third Mercury album.

14 May 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
5693 The Party's Over (Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Jule Styne)
5694 Judy's Turn To Cry (Edna Lewis-Beverly Ross)
5695 Just Let Me Cry (Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh)
5696 Misty (Johnny Burke-Erroll Garner)

Seldom can an artist score a follow-up hit with an answer song to her previous single. When she does, she risks getting stereotyped as a novelty act, with subsequent singles being met with diminished interest from the public. Lesley Gore avoided this career pitfall only because millions of teenage girls longed to hear her take revenge on Judy, the boyfriend-stealing rival of "It's My Party." That doesn't change the fact that "Judy's Turn To Cry" was, and is, a highly derivative record.

Had the sequel strategy not panned out, Mercury had an ace in the hole ready to exploit on the single's flipside: Ben Raleigh and Mark Barkan's "Just Let Me Cry". La Milonguita (that's Ms. Gore to you) will mine the catalog of this team consistently during the first year of her recording career; for her trouble, she'll be rewarded with a trio of best-selling 45s. Raleigh/Barkan songs, all demo'd for Lesley by Girl Group empress Ellie Greenwich, will also feature on her flipsides and albums.

"Just Let Me Cry" is her first foray into their song treasury, and a winning one; with a glossy blend of Pop orchestration, Blues-tinged vocals and jerky Latin rhythms, it's the quintessential Rock'n'Roll tango. All it would've needed was a pronoun change to fit snugly into the repertoire of The Drifters or Ben E. King. If you don't quite know what the Tango Beat is, you can hear it clapped out starkly on the bridge of this song. This tasty number won't chart, but its high quality will nevertheless warrant inclusion on Lesley's 1965 Golden Hits collection. For now, it holds forth as a cut on her debut album.

With crying firmly established as her main theme, Gore, Jones and Ogermann conceive a thematic LP called I'll Cry If I Want To. Accordingly, tearjerkers like "The Party's Over" and "Misty" are shortlisted for the track line-up. Lesley responds warmly to the jazzy flavor of this material; Jazz is the music she feels the most affinity for, and Klaus Ogermann's sophisticated arrangements immerse her in her favorite idiom.


18 May 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
5697 Cry Me A River (Arthur Hamilton)
5698 I Would (Kurt Felz-Edna Lewis-Werner Scharfenberger)
5699 No More Tears Left To Cry (Mark Barkan-Sandy Baron)
5700 Cry And You Cry Alone (Hilda Earnhart)

With a song penned by one-half of her most favored songwriting team, Lesley Gore waxes her first great tango performance. The dramatic "No More Tears Left To Cry" pits the Teen Tango Queen's wailing double-tracked voice against solemn military band-style drum rolls, harpsichord trills and the delicate triangle percussion that will become a Klaus Ogermann trademark. Once you've heard this cut, you know that this singer has found her stylistic niche.

The other standout from this session is an infectious bossa nova reading of Julie London's 1955 hit "Cry Me A River". Lesley's version is just as sexy as London's, but in a different way; where the flame-haired actress's voice smouldered, La Milonguita's dulcet tones float flirtatiously around the melody like a sliver of diaphanous fabric. This Grade A make-out song will be one of the highlights of her début album.

Her cool and detached take on "Cry And You Cry Alone" is pleasant, but memorable only for the touch of vocal melisma she layers over a stylish organ coda. The climate changes from frosty to humid when she vocalizes to "I Would", a German song that lyricist Edna Lewis translates as an Arabian nights musical fantasy. Herr Ogermann consolidates the desert motif with keening Middle Eastern cymbals, evocative sitar accents and a gently loping tempo suitable for camel trains. Session notes don't reveal whether or not Lesley donned harem slippers before singing this number, but it certainly would've been appropriate!

23 May 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
5701 I Understand (Kim Gannon-Mabel Wayne)
5702 Cry (Churchill Kohlmann)
5703 Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows

(Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Liebling)
5704 What Kind Of Fool Am I? (Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley)

At this session, the remainder of material for I'll Cry If I Want To is captured. The standout track is Klaus Ogermann's slow tango interpretation of "I Understand," a Sweet Swing number originally waxed by Jimmy Dorsey's Orchestra in 1941. The background music is unobstrusive, but the subtle blend of slip-note piano, Jazz guitar, triangle and castanets still leaves a strong impression on the listener. For her part, L'il Bits imbues Kim Gannon's lyric with as much sex appeal as a seventeen-year-old high school coed could possibly muster. It's a marvelously sensual performance, and very much geared toward an adult audience.

A completely different mood is achieved on "Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows", a joyous meditation on new love that's unmistakably youth-oriented. Ogermann sets the song to a breakneck conga rhythm that's so fast, you wonder when Lesley had time to breathe! This giddy number contrasts too much with the forthcoming album's cocktail lounge ambiance, and it's definitely not in sync with the melancholy theme; for those reasons, "Sunshine" is held back from immediate release. However, a little over two years from now, it will score the first major chart hit for future Chorus Line composer Marvin Hamlisch.

10 July 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
29116 If That's The Way You Want It (Edna Lewis-Gloria Shayne)
29117 She's A Fool (Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh)
29118 I'll Make It Up To You (Edna Lewis-Gloria Shayne)
29119 The Old Crowd (Gerry Goffin-Carole King)
29120 I Struck A Match (Artie Resnick-Bobby Scott)
29121 Consolation Prize (Edna Lewis-Gloria Shayne)

"She's A Fool", the breakout hit from this session, is so hot, it immediately lights a fire under Mercury Records' promotion staff. Their eagerness to sell this rumbling rock-a-merengue track to radio results in an unmixed master being pressed on vinyl. A recall of several thousand copies will ensue, but nothing can stop this juggernaut of a Raleigh/Barkan song from taking its rightful place in Billboard's Top Five.

Goffin and King's "Old Crowd", which will appear the following year in a bouncy version by The Cookies, claims the flipside and is notable in retrospect for its rocksteady rhythm. It's actually a variation of the habanera with emphasis placed on the last three beats. Klaus Ogermann probably didn't have Caribbean music in mind when he wrote the arrangement, but these kinds of records (other examples include Lou Christie's "The Gypsy Cried" and "Two Faces Have I") likely formed part of the North American music mix that penetrated Jamaica during the early '60s. Some musicologists believe they had a direct influence on the development of Reggae; if so, then the Tango Beat facilitated Bob Marley's rise to international fame.

That reliable Cuban lick rocks the other four selections waxed at this date, and of those, "I Struck A Match", "If That's The Way You Want It" and "Consolation Prize" are all strong single candidates. "Prize" is an especially formidable tango rocker, and a unique one, too; where most Girlpop of this era made girls the victims of male duplicity, this tune turns the tables. It presents its female protagonist as a brazen manipulator of men. Lesley felt that Edna Lewis's lyrics portrayed girls in an unflattering light, and may have insisted that her recording of "Consolation Prize" not be released. What a shame, if she did! Her distaste for the song's premise notwithstanding, she plays the "b*tch" with palpable zeal; her voice sounds deliciously mocking on the chorus. Not only would this song have broken for a hit, it also would've obliterated the sweet débutante image she had at the time and re-cast her as the Bette Davis of Teen Pop!

21 September 1963
A & R Recording, New York City

Lesley Gore
A Quincy Jones Production
Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Engineered by Phil Ramone
29360 Run, Bobby, Run (Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh)
29361 Young And Foolish (Albert Hague-Arnold Horwitt)
29362 Fools Rush In (Rube Bloom-Johnny Mercer)
29363 My Foolish Heart (Victor Young-Ned Washington)
break in naster numbers
29371
That's The Way The Ball Bounces

(Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Liebling)
29372 After He Takes Me Home (Edna Lewis-Gloria Shayne)
29373 You Don't Own Me (Johnny Madara-David White)
29374 Time To Go (Mark Barkan-Ben Raleigh)
29375 You Name It, He's Got It! (Norman Blagman-Edna Lewis)

The Jazz bent of Lesley's debut album was unique; for the remainder of the 1960s, her voyages into the world of long-playing records will be decidedly youth-oriented. This is especially true of Lesley Gore Sings Of Mixed-Up Hearts, her second LP. It features 95% new material, culled from some of the hottest songwriting teams of the day: Goffin and King, Shayne and Lewis, Madara and White, and of course, Raleigh and Barkan. This productive album date yields a bumper crop of gorgeously-produced sides.

Jones and Ogermann charter a Latin-American cruise for La Milonguita that takes her to the lands of cha-cha-chá(""Fools Rush In"), pasodoble("Time To Go") and bossa nova (the sublime "That's The Way The Ball Bounces") before landing her back in tango territory(the exciting "Run, Bobby, Run"). Everything recorded today is suitable for inclusion on the new LP, but Mercury's A & R executives evidently hear one cha-cha too many in the proposed track line-up. Edna Lewis's swaggering "You Name It, He's Got It!" will be saved for the next album, while her wistful "After He Takes Me Home" will remain unissued for the next 31 years.

One song they didn't dare consign to obscurity was the session's sole waltz-time number, "You Don't Own Me." Legend has it that its composers, Johnny Madara and David White, briefly became Lesley Gore stalkers! Convinced that she was the best artist to record their latest collaboration, they resolved to play it for her by any means necessary. The pair eventually cornered Lesley at Grossinger's Hotel, and reportedly had to chase her into a poolside cabaña before she'd consent to listen to their tune.

Little did they know how ready the Teen Tango Queen was for what they had to offer. She saw in "You Don't Own Me" a vehicle for distancing herself from superficial fare like "It's My Party"; its strident message was anything but disposable. Explaining her decision to record it decades later, she'd be given to understatement: "This was a song that allowed me a little bit more freedom, vocally", she said. The vocal she cut was about freedom, all right! The freedom of a young woman to control her own image and behavior. La Milonguita's voice bears down on the lyric like a flaming missile: Don't tell me what to do!/Don't tell me what to say!/And please, when I go out with you/Don't put me on display! Her bravura performance encapsulates the anger of every girl who's ever been objectified, patronized and/or bossed around by her boyfriend.

When this revolutionary track was paired on a single with Raleigh and Barkan's "Run, Bobby, Run", everyone involved knew they had a chart-topping record. "You Don't Own Me" actually fell one position short of #1 on Billboard's Hot 100, but for all intents and purposes, it did hit the top spot. It also became her signature tune in concert, and in subsequent years, the song would be recognized as an early feminist anthem. Its inclusion on Mixed-Up Hearts didn't translate into particularly brisk album sales, but it did contribute toward making that platter the best Lesley Gore album Mercury Records would ever release.

(Here's an interesting side note about "Young And Foolish", another great song off that album: Albert Hague, its co-writer, will become an actor and star in the 1980s TV series "Fame". That series, of course, was inspired by the successful movie of the same title, which lists Lesley's cousin Christopher as screenwriter, her brother Michael as music director, and Lesley herself as lyricist for two of the film's production numbers.)