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Monday, November 4, 2013

Brenda Lee: Bye Bye Blues


1) A Taste Of Honey; 2) Good Life; 3) Flowers On The Wall; 4) Shadow Of Your Smile; 5) Remember Me When; 6) Softly As I Leave You; 7) Bye Bye Blues; 8) Make The World Go Away; 9) September In The Rain; 10) Rusty Bells; 11) What A Difference A Day Made; 12) Yesterday.

The funniest part about observing this stage of Brenda's career is the emergence of this «alternate music universe», reflected in her (or, rather, her producers') selection of contemporary material. In this alternate universe, the Beatles were masters of torch balladeering, competing with San­remo Festival pros over the amount of tears they could wring out of the eyes of the audience (so who's the winner, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: ʽYesterdayʼ or ʽSoftly As I Leave Youʼ?); the «teen pop» singles market was most effectively represented by The Statler Brothers (ʽFlowers On The Wallʼ — who needs Bob Dylan when you can just as effectively cover all the serious prob­lems of the world by "smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo"?); and the latest, trendiest, most cutting-edge achievement in the world of Western music was recognized as the Love Theme from The Sandpiper (ʽThe Shadow Of Your Smileʼ).

As much as we'd like to snicker on the issue, though, the era is not so remote yet as to become completely shrouded in myth — and yes, it is important to remember that there were many people in early 1966 who did live in that alternate universe; in fact, most people over 30, and plenty of those under, probably did. The problem with Brenda Lee was that most of those people, if they really needed the love theme from The Sandpiper, could just stick with the original, and usually did; there was little that Ms. Lee or her faceless, string-dependent backing band could add.

Amusingly, the only single from the album (which, formally, preceded it in late '65) was ʽRusty Bellsʼ, a lush ballad with a «message»: "Rusty bells, rusty bells, pity those who've gone astray, ring again and help them find the way" — nothing less than a socially conscious statement, so the people behind the lady must have felt some sort of tinkle, that, perhaps, in the era of ʽLike A Rolling Stoneʼ and ʽA Change Is Gonna Comeʼ, something is required from time to time even from the high priests of the schmaltz variety. It didn't work; the single stalled at No. 33 and mar­ked the next-to-last time any of Brenda's singles would get in the Top 40.

Other than that, the only salvageable tracks are: (a) an interesting jazzy take on ʽA Taste Of Honeyʼ, with powerful brass backing overriding the strings for once, and (b) a few decent takes on oldies — the title track and ʽWhat A Difference A Day Madeʼ show a bit of pensive depth that the saccharine-riddled «contemporary material» covers replace with shallow romantic glitz. In other words, this is where the superiority of the pre-war Songbook over the post-war Songbook is established quite transparently. Well, there must be some meaning to the process of relistening to these records more than fifty years on.


  1. "Well, there must be some meaning to the process of relistening to these records more than fifty years on."
    We do hope you find the Lost Chord, as you do have 47 more years of Brenda Lee to slog through. Good luck!

  2. So, what, is this going to be 47 more years of bad albums? 3 years of passable/good albums and 50 of bad albums? I think George could be forgiven if he bent the rules for this particular occasion.

  3. Join me to the chorus of "Probably best to cut your losses here," George. Why continue to throw good prose after bad music, when it's clear that "bad" is all that's coming from Brenda Lee from this point forward? (Although at least listening to her sing "Yesterday" should give anyone an appreciation for McCartney's restraint singing it and George Martin's tasteful production.)

    One sidenote: I recently bought a used copy of a Hollies record and got one of those sleeves advertising the record label's other releases. The only records that have had any staying power were in the "Teen Beat" column (The Rolling Stones, in particular.) Lots of Mantovani for the alternate musical universe crowd.

    1. Oh, those old picture sleeves are the best! I particularly love the Decca/London ones that mix in albums by Procol Harum, Moody Blues, Ten Years After, etc. with ones by Tom Jones, Julie London, and Engelbert Humperdinck! Then you flip the sleeve over to the other side and it's all Mantovani and "Series 4 Stereo" releases full of bizarre Latin music!

    2. So much for the hipster theory that one thing that went away with vinyl were the "liner notes". If anything, liner notes fully came of age with CDs. When they had anything it was publicity blurbs (think those old Dylan and Beatles albums). And, just the reverse of CDs, reissues usually had *less* information than first releases!

    3. As someone who's spent too much time thinking about such things, let me expand on this!

      The "sleeve" I was talking about is the INNER sleeve, not the record jacket (where any "liner notes" would be located). Inner sleeves, when they had printing on them, were virtually always ads for the record company's other releases. They're an interesting window into a particular company's list at a given time, and reveal which category the company thought each artist belonged in.

      Liner notes on the backs of record jackets tended toward the publicity blurb because they were supposed to serve the same function as book jacket copy: they were what you looked at while browsing, and were intended to make you want to buy. (Liner notes inside a gatefold cover might be less purely publicity-driven.)

    4. The most bizarre example I have seen is the Spanish edition (I don't know if other countries had it) of "Yellow Submarine", which had a publicity blurb for... the White Album.

  4. I'd agree, The pattern has been cast in stone ( or at least strings and sacchine) She's going to be like the white female Bobby Bland at his last label but for far far longer. I asked my mother in law (because she's of that vintage and a huge Elvis fan) if she liked Brenda Lee's music. She couldn't remember any of it "apart from that damned Christmas tree song".

  5. Come on people, George needs to write on uninteresting albums as well. Helps him keep on schedule. It probably took him longer to review Beck's 'Sea Change' than Brenda's last five albums, but he clearly doesn't have the time to review masterpieces every day.

  6. I agree with Alexis. Besides, it's good to have take an ocassional peek into this strange alternate universe, just to see what they're up to over there.

  7. Not that I have actually heard the song, but on which album is "Coming on Strong" which is mentioned in the classic "Radar Love?"