Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Song A Day: Etta James, "Look Who's Blue"

JULY 5, 2017


RELEASED 1964 ON 7” 45

By 1964, Jamesetta Hawkins—stage name Etta James—had been an R&B star for nearly ten years. She was just 26.

By the late 1960s, however, changing musical tastes and drug problems had largely derailed her career. She never quite regained her late 50’s/early 60’s popularity despite making excellent records in a variety of genres. The rise of the Motown and Stax labels helped push Chicago-based Chess Records (she recorded for their Argo subsidiary) into a smaller corner of the popular consciousness.

This doesn’t mean her records weren’t good, though. Her second single of 1964, “Loving You More Every Day,” did reach #7 on the Billboard R&B charts, doing great business in a swath of the country that included Baltimore, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Norfolk, and Wilmington.

That wasn’t meant to be the a-side of the 45, however. Initially slated for publicity and radio was “Look Who’s Blue,” a version of Don Gibson’s 1958 country hit (!) that Ms. James recorded in Nashville with legendary arranger Cliff Parman. The two had worked together in the past, and Parman had also enjoyed recent success with Brenda Lee and Connie Francis.

The Etta James version of this typically fine Gibson song did retain a sort of country stroll, but opened up the arrangement with a tempo that swung rather than went boom-chaka-boom. The backing vocals, Ms. James’ soaring lead, and the uncluttered sax-led arrangement were glorious throwbacks to an R&B style that was, sadly, already being forgotten.

Despite getting some airplay, including a top 10 placing in Texas, “Look Who’s Blue” was soon flipped over for the more conventional side of the record. And it was successful. Meanwhile, “Look Who’s Blue” was never issued on a contemporary album and faded into the wallpaper of time.

Today, “Look Who’s Blue,” in its original mono mix, gets a bit of the attention it deserved more than 50 years ago. Hope you enjoy. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey, this is great - It doesn't improve on the masterful original (but then, I adore Don Gibson's records from that period), but it offers a nice reworking of the material, as you say, in a somewhat different format. What an interesting choice for the performer, the genre and the time period!