[23 June 2008]
This year marks 50 years of “Fever!” In celebration, Collector’s Choice Music has released four albums commemorating the catalog of Peggy Lee, from the most popular to previously unreleased songs. Among these is the stunning album of 1950s Peggy Lee singles (many of which have never been released on CD), All Aglow Again!. The album plays a pristine recording of “Fever” with beatnik finger-snapping supporting the smoldering songstress’ moans and croons. The album keeps the listener interested with the songs that follow, too.
Miss Lee is no one-hit wonder. Sandwiching introspective, misty ballads (“I’m Looking Out the Window”) between hustle-bustle Spanish sounds (“Manana”), tribal nuances (“My Man”) and sexually-charged lounge songs, the album showcases the best of Peggy Lee’s late-‘50s era. As the era’s bad girl in music, Lee utilized her sex appeal to its potential. She also unabashedly spouted taboo behavior, some of which still shocks today. For instance, in “My Man” she openly admits her going back to the man who “beats her too”. This sort of raw candor made bad girls everywhere (and every girl is a bad girl sometimes) feel like they could have vices and still be alright. Troubles with men are everywhere, but Lee delved into open subjects that made feminists everywhere queasy. It was the feminist emo of her time.
Although the aforementioned “Manana” feels a bit uncomfortable and racist at times, the album easily wins the listener over with its festive, upbeat rhythm and the enthusiastic Spanish gentlemen singing the chorus. Lee co-wrote the 1947 million-seller with her then-husband Dave Barbour, and is the only Lee-composed piece on the album. There are a few Lee-penned numbers extracted from the vaults and featured on the double disc The Lost ‘40s and ‘50s Capitol Masters, however.
“The producer of the project, Jim Pearson, kept finding more and more tracks in the vaults,” explains Collector’s Choice Senior VP Gordon Anderson. While some of these tracks may only appeal to die-hard fans, many songs are upbeat treasures of the era. Sweeping string sections on lazy, drifty ballads (“Something to Remember You By”) are juxtaposed with salsa-rhythm dance numbers (“Ay Ay Chug A Chug”). These singles tend to consist of a mixture of jazz, blues, and ballads, as the first song, “Ain’t Goin’ No Place”, on the first disc shows. “Ain’t Goin’ No Place” was also the first song Lee recorded with Capitol Records at the age of only 23.
“Don’t Be So Mean to Baby”, another Lee-Barbour composition, utilizes the rich and creamy alto voice that made Lee famous. She purrs along with a quiet jazz band accompaniment, which complements her buttery sound with a perfect soft touch. The song was recorded by Duke Ellington’s orchestra a year after Lee recorded it. Lee and Barbour also take on the traditional spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”. The popping walking bass-line makes this upbeat interpretation particularly stand out. The succession of brief solos by guitar, saxophone, piano, and clarinet keep the tune moving fast. Lee’s silky vocals jazzily drip overtop the swing number. Throughout these 39 unreleased songs, Lee combines forces with the likes of Benny Goodman, Louis Prima, and Mel Torme.
The re-release of her ‘60s and ‘70s albums, respectively titled That Was Then, Now Is Now and Bridge Over Troubled Water, offers an updated look at Lee and the popular music of those days. In the former album, jazzy and funky electric organs interject a psychedelic vibe into Lee’s sultry ruminations, as in “Trapped (In the Web of Love)”. Swinging ‘60s sounds spread a go-go sound with a rockabilly guitar and incessant tambourine rhythms in “Free Spirits”. And making a mistake never felt so good with “Ev’rybody Has the Right to Be Wrong”. Each song is as memorable as it is valuable, as Lee places her signature stamp on songs by Burt Bacharach, Randy Newman, and Willie Dixon, among others. Three bonus tracks, mid-‘60s singles appear for the first time in stereo.
The latter album, although placed on the same disc as the former, was originally recorded in just two days. The fast studio time contradicted the then-norm of a single track taking months to record. Featuring cover songs by Burt Bacharach (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”, “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me”, Paul Simon (the title song, obviously), Randy Newman (“Have You Seen My Baby”) and B.B. King (“The Thrill Is Gone”), the album nails every attempt at recreating legendary pieces. Lee doesn’t fall into the trap of emulating the original artists; she channels her inner alto sex kitten persona with the classy touch only a legend can invoke. These albums offer the perfect fashion of recognizing such a valuable music icon.