Friday, March 25, 2011

One, Two, Three

»I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good« (1952 – 1960 – 1968)

One song, two Washingtons, three recordings.
The song by Duke Ellington (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyrics) »I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good« from 1941 was recorded by dozens of singers over the years. To name but a few: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Nina Simone, further Peggy Lee, Georgia Gibbs, Della Reese, Timi Yuro, Donna Summer and Cher ... and also, what seems to be less known, by Dinah Washington and Baby Washington.

Dinah Washington, »the Queen«, appeared on June 27, 1952, with the Wynton-Kelly Trio in New York's »Birdland« Jazz club. The »Birdland« – officially the »Birdland Café« – had been opened in 1949 by Morris »Moische« Levy whose name is indelibly linked, for better or worse, to the history of black music, especially in New York. In the early 1950s, the club was also known for being a place for live radio transmissions because Levy co-operated with the New York WJZ station. From after midnight to the wee hours WJZ transmitted a »record show«, and this included one hour of live music from the Birdland. And there, on June 27, it was Dinah Washington with her trio on the bandstand, not for the first time. They performed several songs, among others »I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good«. These so-called »Birdland broadcasts« of Dinah Washington from the years 1951-52 were for decades never made public until they were released on CD in 2007 (Giant Step CD GSCR 024). You can hear in the following the first part of Dinah's live performance of »I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good« from that CD:

Dinah Washington: »I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good« (New York, Birdland broadcast, June 27, 1952):

Never treats me sweet and gentle, the way he should
      I've got it bad and that ain't good
My poor heart is sentimental, hmmm, it's not made of wood
      I've got it bad and that ain't good
But when the weekend's over and Monday rolls around
My man and me, we gin some, we pray some and sin some
He don't love me like I love him, nobody could
      Say: I've got it bad and that ain't good

In February 1960, almost eight years after the Birdland date, Dinah recorded the song for one of her studio LPs. Much had happened in the meantime: In June 1952 she had been known mainly to the black public, her last hit having been »Trouble in Mind« (r&b # 04). But in 1960 she was a generally known, nationwide acclaimed jazz-pop-bigband-singer who just had released her arguably most famous album, »What A Diff'rence A Day Makes!« She could, and indeed coveted, to sing everything and every style, no matter whether blues, jazz or »pop«. Her repertoire thus inclu- ded many different songs, and she defied categorization. Rather, she was her own category:
»She had headlined a jazz bill with Dave Brubeck, and now [in 1960] she was on the pop charts with Brook Benton–but not so pop that she didn't draw her faithful rhythm and blues fans, too. Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan may have been bigger stars, but neither ... commanded such sustained attention across the musical spectrum. With strings or with horns, upbeat or ballad, Dinah continued to put her stamp on anything she sang.« (Nadine Cohodas, Queen. The Life and Music of Dinah Washington, New York 2006, p. 335)

Mercury LP # MG-20604
As I said before, in 1959 and in early 1960 her most famous and memorable hits were released: »Unforgettable«, »What A Diff'rence A Day Makes« and her duet with Brook Benton, »Baby You've Got What It Takes« (r&b # 01). Undoubtedly she was at the top of her career in these months, and in summer 1960 another of her several signature songs was released, »This Bitter Earth«. And in the midst of this great and lasting success she recorded, in New York on February 16, 1960, a song which she had often and since many years performed live on stage: »I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good« ... although Dinah, who never paid much attention to lyrics, tended to »I've Got It Bad«.

On this recording Dinah was accompanied by the Nat Goodman Orchestra, with Joe Zawinul on piano. The song was released in December 1960 on the Mercury LP # MG-20604 »I Con- centrate On You«. Being an old standard, as were a number of tunes on this album, it was lavishly orchestrated, yet Dinah's voice still reigns supreme and she made this song hers, as she always did: »Dinah was now such an established presence that she could record what she wanted, and Mercury could market the music however it wanted. Down Beat listed I Concentrate On You in a December [1960] list of "recent jazz releases." Cash Box declared that Dinah now had "permanent pop stature" that enabled her to "return more and more to the blues"« (Cohodas, Queen, p. 355).

Dinah Washington: »I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good« from the Mercury LP »I Concentrate On You« (1960):

Well, he never treats me sweet and gentle, the way he should
      I've got it bad and that's no good
My poor heart is sentimental and it's not made of wood
      Believe me, baby, I got it bad and that's no good
But when the week end's over and Monday rolls around
I end up like I start out, just cryin' my poor heart out
Well, he don't love me like I love him, I guess nobody could
      That's why I got It bad and that ain't good
Though folks with good intentions tell me to save my tears
I'm glad I'm mad about him and I just can't live without him
Well, Lord above me, make my man love me the way he should
      'Cause it's a drag to have it bad, believe me, it's no good
      You heard me the first time: I've got it bad and that ain't good

And again eight years later ... another singer recorded that song, and she was, coincidentally, also called »Washington«: Justine »Baby« Washington, to be exact. Baby Washington who was often billed as »Jeanette Baby Washington« hailed from Bamberg in South Carolina, but grew up in Harlem. In 1963 and 1965, she had two hits in the top ten of the r&b charts, »That’s How Heartaches Are Made« and »Only Those In Love«, respectively. in 1967 she went from the New York-based Sue Records to Veep Records (likewise in New York). For the Sue label, which for some time had the likes of Ike & Tina Turner under contract, she actually recorded more Top-100 songs than any other Sue artist, Ike & Tina included. You can find the most complete and correct discography of Baby Washington on the Pete Hoppula's webpage.

Veep was a subsidiary of United Artists, and Baby Washington's first single on Veep (# 1274), released in November 1967, contained the songs »White Christmas« and »Silent Night« ... and both songs had, in November of the previous year, already been released as a
Sue-Single! This smacks, even to the least suspicious, of desperate money-grabbing: not only that a much-talented soul singer gets the Santa Claus treatment, but her X-mas vocal gift is released for two years in a row by two different labels ... However, Veep Records did then try to put Baby Washington back on the soul scene by releasing in 1968 a new album entitled »With You In Mind« (Veep LP # VPS-16528). (Curiously, on the labels we read »Veep Gospel« ... I can't explain this fact.)

Visually, the album makes much of the presence of Baby Justine, and a very pretty presence indeed it is. On the front cover, she poses as a supper-club vamp in a silvery-white sequined dress, while on the back cover there are several shots showing her in a striped pantsuit and posing in a park, viz. standing in a tree fork, feeding doves and ... playing around, shyly smiling, with a baseball bat.
(You can see these photos here.)
Musically, the album offers little original material and rather comes along as a collection of seasoned chart toppers. Thus we find the Etta James-hit »At Last« beside other standards such as »People Sure Act Funny«, »I'm On The Outside (Looking In)«, »All Around The World« and »Take Me Like I Am«. Classy stuff it may well be, but given the choice of songs it was hard for Baby Washington to escape the danger of sounding conventional, after all. Still, her vocal performance is always remarkable and not seldom beautiful, the arrangements are never less than thouroughly professional. In the All Music Guide to Soul (San Francisco 2003) this LP was deemed worthy to be mentioned and awarded the mediocre number of three stars.

In any case, Baby Washington's Version of »I Got It Bad« is particularly interesting if one compares it with Dinah Washington's 1960 version. In listening first to the older, then to the younger version you can hear the development of 1960s' music in a nutshell (and I apologize for this awkward metaphor): Dinah's moody swinging version, underpinned by the string section, aims directly at the limbic center of emotions. Baby's much speedier Soul-version, dominated by the rhythm and horn sections, aims at the entire body ... and not to mention the background singers who now contribute with the refrain »no good, it ain't no good«.

And isn't it a strange coincidence – if coincidence it is! – that the albums of both Dinah and Baby Washington bear such similar titles: »I Concentrate On You« / »With You in Mind«?

Baby Washington: »I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good« from the Veep LP »With You In Mind« (1968):

Never treats me sweet and gentle, oh the way, the way he should, no
      I've got it bad and that ain't good
           (no good, it ain't no good)
My poor heart is sentimental, not made, not made of wood, no
      I said: I've got it bad and that ain't good
           (no good, it ain't no good)
When the weekend is over and Monday rolls around
Well I, I end up just like I start out, just cryin' my poor heart out
           (cryin' my poor heart out)
He don't love me, not like I love him, and no no, nobody could, no
      I've got it bad and that ain't good
           (no good, it ain't no good)

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