Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Song A Day: Peggy Lee, "Sneakin' Up on You"

JUNE 11, 2017




Peggy Lee working with the guy who wrote “Wild Thing”? Hmm.

Chip Taylor penned a lot of hit songs, including “Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning,” “I Can’t Let Go,” and “Step Out of Your Mind.” At times he collaborated with Ted Daryll, the writer and first performer of “She Cried,” later a hit for Jay and the Americans.

As Taylor told it on the Spectropop website, someone from his publishing company played the duo’s new song, “Sneakin’ Up on You,” to jazz/standards singer Peggy Lee, or to her people, and the song became part of her nightclub act in 1964. That it bore a line from Bill Haley's version of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" seemed to bother no one.

“Sneakin’ Up on You,” a crisp R&B mover with tight instrumentation and a super-cool vocal, was certainly not Peggy Lee’s normal song. Already in her mid 40s, she had been in the business for more than 20 years, both as a singer and a songwriter. She was best known for her outstanding performances on high-class tunes and lowdown blues, the kind of songs that ended up in the Great American Songbook.

She’d enjoyed a moderate hit with the bluesy, iconic “I’m a Woman” in 1963, though, and perhaps Capitol thought that she ought to cut more slinky, sultry material. And Ms. Lee absolutely killed “Sneakin’ Up on You,” using her sass, great pitch, superb timing, and feline growl to invest the song with a smoldering sex that the lyrics only hint at.

In spring 1965, Capitol Records issued a 45 of “Sneakin’ Up on You” (which was the a-side, despite some confusion on discography websites). The single might have been an attempt to court a younger demographic; the album containing it, Pass Me By, also featured material as diverse as “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Corcovado,” and “You Always Hurt the One You Love.”

The music industry publications liked “Sneakin’ Up on You” a lot; Billboard said it was top 60 material, while Record World accurately tabbed it a “sexy, aggressive love song.” Its airplay, however, appears to have been confined to MOR (middle-of-the-road) stations which played “adult pop,” and it never troubled any chart except Cashbox, where it only reached #145 in a two-week stay.

This is a real shame, because it’s one of the best obscure singles of 1965. It’s not pop, not rock, not R&B, not jazz, but a little of all of them and a lot of HOT.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - this is fantastic - thanks! I would not have guessed who it was, either. This certainly deserved to be a hit, and I'm sure her name held it back with some, if not most top 40 programmers.

    My favorite Peggy Lee record is dark horse for sure - this bit of insanity, which I believe she wrote:

    The section from 1:54 to 2:06 is one of my favorite weird moments on a record by a generally "serious" artist, ever.