The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the Los Angeles area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some L.A. TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. In this edition we discuss Etta James’ Peaches.
But for those not up on their music history, Etta James—born Jamesetta Hawkins in 1938 and died in 2012—was an American singer whose records spanned the genres of blues, gospel, jazz, R&B, rock and soul. Her career spanned decades from 1954 through the late 1980s in spite of numerous personal problems including drug addiction.
Etta James’ Peaches is the most critically-acclaimed of her albums. The four platter release contains 23 tracks from the 1950s through 1971. The album opener is “Lovin’ You More Every Day”. It’s an apt enough introduction but perhaps not the best of her best.
The second selection is “I’d Rather Go Blind”. This is one of the songs that brought her into the spotlight. James even wrote the lyrics. Also included here is “Only Time Will Tell” which is perhaps overshadowed by the classic “At Last”. This is another tune that made her famous and led to her being proclaimed by critics as one of the greatest ballad singers of the century.
The first side also includes the regretful “All I Could Do Was Cry” and ends with the urgent “Stop The Wedding”. The flip side opens on the tuneful “Two Sides (To Every Story)”. It’s followed by “Pushover”, “Losers Weepers” and the safe “Security”. The side closes on a pair of pieces that also are credited for bringing her to the attention of music fans—“Tell Mama (Tell Daddy)” and “Something’s Got A Hold On Me”.
The next platter includes more music that made the six-time Grammy winner a name including the lead-in “Sunday Kind Of Love”. Also on this side are the songs “Next Door To The Blues”, the assuring “Trust In Me”, the inquiring “Would It Make Any Difference To You”, the sincere song “My Dearest Darling” and the closing to this side “842-3089 (Call My Name)”.
The final side opens on the overly obliging “Baby What You Want Me To Do”. The next numbers are “Don’t Pick Me For Your Fool” and “Pay Back”. James winds things down with “You Got It” before closing the compilation with “Tighten Up Your Own Thing”.
The 1971 multi-genre Chess release often exemplifies why James was considered a soul songstress who was intelligent and intense about the genre for longer than anyone other than Ray Charles. Unfortunately, even this five-star release was both praised as being indispensable and yet organizationally-speaking a mess.
The playlist was pieced together without any thorough thought. The label appears to have ignored listenability and historical continuity. Southern soul ballads alternate with revved up neo-Motown music in a somewhat chaotic manner.
Ultimately though, if you play random tracks you just might hear one of the two or three most profound, deepest voices in R&B. Despite multiple run-ins with hack producers, Etta James’ Peaches/Chess 2CH 60004 contains cuts largely responsible for her earning multiple Blues Music Awards and inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Grammy Hall of Fame.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.