BRENDA LEE: COMING ON STRONG (1966)
1) Coming On Strong; 2) You Don't Have To Say You Love Me; 3) Summer Wind; 4) Kiss Away; 5) Call Me; 6) What Now My Love; 7) Uptight; 8) Crying Time; 9) Strangers In The Night; 10) Sweet Dreams; 11) You Got Your Troubles; 12) Somewhere.
I count a grand total of three impressively produced, Motown-aping tracks on this album, released just in time for the opening of the Christmas market of 1966. The best known of the lot is, of course, the title track — which, despite its brash, brass-'n'-harmony-stuffed production, was actually written by «Little David Wilkins» of Nashville, launching his own career in the process. In an age where people hungered for more and more red-hot Supremes and Marvelettes material, ʽComing On Strongʼ nailed that vibe, and miraculously skyrocketed Brenda all the way to No. 11 on the charts — it is only the utmost stupidity of the music industry people that they did not manage to capitalize on this success, and reinvent Ms. Lee as a fun, groovy, but strong-willed dance-pop personality. A little grooming, a little coaching, a little extra makeup, and she could have been fashioned as a white Diana Ross; they were even born in the same year.
Or maybe a white Stevie Wonder, because another bona fide Motown simulation captured here is ʽUptightʼ, where she gets caught up in the fun so much, there is even a brief remembrance of her old school «pirate» voice — nothing to make you forget the original hit, but, again, the flame is successfully carried over. Then it gets a little less invigorating on the third «upbeat» number of the album, a cover of ʽYou Got Your Troublesʼ, which was a hit for The Fortunes the year before, but they try out the same combination with the brass fanfares, and even if it is a little slower and feels a little less suited for Brenda's singing style than ʽComing On Strongʼ, it's still a winner.
Unfortunately, what we have lodged in between is the same old shit — ʽYou Don't Have To Say You Love Meʼ (she was covering Dusty Springfield, but the bitter irony is that once again, Brenda's version would be soon competing with Elvis, and guess who'd win), ʽStrangers In The Nightʼ (yeah right), ʽSomewhereʼ... well, you get the drift. Still, having even three songs here that constitute an attempt to remold the image was a grand achievement for Brenda, in the context of pretty much everything she did before — and this tiny Motownish step was, at the very least, more convincing and much less forced than the «sings teen hits» embarrassment.