Thursday, June 09, 2011

They Got It, Don't Forget It

She didn't make it into the All Music Guide to Soul nor into The Blackwell Guide to Soul Recordings. You don't find her listed in the Goldmine Standard Catalog of R&B Records. Mystery a-plenty! Well, not to worry. This is her as she liked herself to be shown on her first album, on the back cover (details):

Her name is what her music makes me: Merry, the family's Clayton.

* * *
Hell of a singer she is alright. From near New Orleans, grown up in a Baptist minister's family. In December 1962, she made her first solo recording (billed as »Marry Clayton«). In 1966 (or maybe in late '65, I couldn't establish that exactly) she joined Ray Charles's female backing group, the Raelettes. Later she said about her experience with Ray Charles:
»To be a 17-year-old, to be going on a national tour, flying in a plane with Ray Charles, ... you couldn't have asked for anything better than that. Your gowns and your clothes had to be perfect, your make-up had to be cool, you had to be cutified. You had to be gorgeous, smell good, it was a privilege to be a Raelette - you had to be a little diva, honey!« (quoted in Mike Evans: Ray Charles: The Birth of Soul, New York - London 2005, p. 225)
Doesn't sound as if she had a bad time. However, when Ray Charles sacked one member of the Raelettes (Gwen Berry), Merry hit the road, too. Together with Odie Coates and two ex-Raelettes, Gwendolyn Berry and Lillian Fort, she formed »The Sisters Love« in 1968, contracted to a Los Angeles-based label. But what she was doing most of the times in the late '60s was recording as a studio backing vocalist with names which (deservedly or not) resounded more with the general public, among them the Rolling Stones (see also here). In around 1970 she appeared on various recordings together with Clydie King (another ex-Raelette) and Venetta Fields (then from the Mirettes and an ex-Ikette). Then, her single »Gimme Shelter« (the Rolling Stones song) was released in May 1970, with an album of the same title following in August 1970 (Ode '70 LP # 77001).

Ode '70 LP # 77001
Her first album was well-received. In a Billboard review from Oct. 17, 1970, we read: »Miss Clayton's dynamic soul-rock styles is the main ingredient in her first solo LP for Ode 70. The album includes her hit reading of the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and her current single, James Taylor's "Country Road." Other outstanding cuts are the Doors' "Tell All the People," Forget It I Got It," and an unpredict- able "Bridge Over Troubled Water."« The album's title song, »Gimme Shelter«, had been out since around May 1970 (on Ode '70 # 66003), and a second single (»Country Road« / »Forget It I Got It«, Ode # 66007) was released in September. Slowly but surely she made her name and art known during the latter months of 1970, and the February 1971-issue of Ebony was graced with the following notice on page 24:
»Perhaps you've never heard of this 22-year-old singer but she's been supplying soul backgrounds for pop artists since she was 14. Former lead singer with Ray Charles' Raelets, she's backed up folks like B. B. King, The Supremes, Bob Dylan, Bobby Darin and "white soul" singer Joe Cocker on his two albums. Now she's on her own with a husky, intensely emotional sound reminiscent of Mavis Staples and Cissy Houston.«
The comparison with Mavis Staples is fitting indeed (Mavis had released her first solo LP just one year before in summer '69). And I fully agree with the above-quoted Billboard reviewer's opinion that »Forget It I Got It« is among her LP's »outstanding« tunes.

So let's come down to the nitty gritty: »Forget It I Got It« was penned by Gary Wright and Jimmy Miller of the UK-outfit »The Spooky Tooth«. Gary Wright, the organist, was the only U.S.-member of the band, and Jimmy Miller produced them. Their original version of »Forget It I Got It« appeared on their first LP »It's All About«, released in 1968 (on Bell in the U.S.-version). Needless to stress that I think that Merry made a better job with this memorable song than the UK-boys could ever hope to achieve. Merry recorded the song in Hollywood in early 1970, together with the other tunes of her LP. Here it is, ripped from the original LP. Unfortunately it's not an absolutely mint copy and there is some surface noise left ... but what the heck! Surely Merry's voice and the forceful song won't make you notice the smallest scratch ...

Merry Clayton: »Forget It I Got It« from the Ode '70 LP # 77001 (1970):

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But it doesn't stop here, and enter the ... Raelettes, or rather »The Raeletts« as Ray Charles billed them in 1972, presumably for copyright reasons. Some months ago I posted a song from their 1972 Tangerine LP # TRC-1515 (Ray Charles presents The Raeletts: yesterday ... today ... tomorrow). And yes, this LP also contains a version of »Forget It I Got It«, although it appears under a different title: Here we find the song as »Come Get It I Got It«. The change might have been made again for copy- right reasons, I can't tell for sure. And it doesn't matter.

Tangerine LP # 1515 (1972)
To tell you the truth: I am in love with this LP of the Raelettes since I heard it for the first time. I think it's superbly produced and superbly executed ... there is no filler here, only strong songs that kick me right off my feet every time I listen to them. And one of these is, you name it,  »Come Get It I Got It«. Basically, it's pretty different from Merry Clayton's version and its strength comes from the group effort: It's a very impressive piece of close-harmony singing in the pop-gospel mould if there ever was one. This is what vocal group-singing was all about in the early '70s, no doubt about it. Well, judge for yourself, here it is:

The Raeletts: »Come Get It I Got It« from the Tangerine LP # 1515 (1972):

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