Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Angel of the Morning" - Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts (1968)

Until just now I couldn’t tell you the name of the singer, or the group, who sang this song back in 1968. I only remembered that it was on Bell Records. It had a blue label with a Liberty Bell on it if I remember correctly. I just know that I have never forgotten the song. Obviously, by the picture above, I was mistaken about the Liberty Bell.

In the 1980’s it was covered by another artist, Juice Newton, who had a huge hit with it, but the arrangement was identical. The only difference was that the horns; which are one of the best parts of the record; were more downplayed. I have heard this song in several movies over the years; most notably “Girl Interrupted” with Angelina Jolie. And there’s a funny little connection between Ms. Jolie and the song, which was written before she was born.

The song was written and composed by Chip Taylor, born James Wesley Voight, who is the younger brother of actor Jon Voight, and who are both her Uncles. Chip Taylor also wrote "Wild Thing," which was a huge hit for The Troggs in 1966, as well as "I Can't Let Go," which was a hit for The Hollies.

Merrilee Gunst; later Rush; was born on January 26, 1944 in Seattle, Washington. She was nominated for a Grammy in 1968 for the recording of “Angel of the Morning.” It was also a top 10 hit for what seemed to be several months when it was first released in early 1968. It should be noted that the group does not play on the recorded version of this song.  The recording was actually made with the same musicians who played on Elvis Presley's famous Memphis recordings.

Ms. Rush studied classical piano at a young age. By 16 she was auditioning for the part of lead singer in the Seattle based band Amazing Aztecs, which was founded by the saxophone player in the band, Neil Rush. The two would later marry. The Aztecs became Merrilee and Her Men, mostly playing cover versions of other people’s hits.

It was through the connection of one of the bands road crew that they became the opening act for Paul Revere and the Raiders during a tour down south in 1967. It was actually Mark Lindsay, the lead singer for the Raiders, who introduced Ms. Rush to producer Chips Moman. They recorded the record in Memphis early in 1968 and it was released on Bell in June of the same year.

It was my favorite song that summer. And there was a lot of competition that year. Cream was out, the Beatles were still recording, the Stones were still riding the wave they had created with “Jumping Jack Flash”, and their newest hit “Street Fighting Man” was to be heard everywhere. But this little record by Ms. Rush hung in there and when it came on the radio it was always well received.

I think that is what I miss the most about radio back in the 1960’s; the diversity of music on the dial. AM was still king; FM was just starting to become the viable market that would set AM back a bit on its heels. So, the AM stations had this huge task; playing something which everyone enjoyed. It wasn’t unusual to be listening to the Supremes and then Jose Feliciano before hearing the Stones or even a Broadway hit song like “Hello Dolly” by Louis Armstrong. “Oh Happy Days” was a gospel song which was always in the lineup that year as well.

Ms. Rush didn’t win the Grammy that year. She was up against some stiff competition for “Best Contemporary Pop Female Vocalist of the Year”. She was nominated along with Barbra Streisand for "Funny Girl"; Dionne Warwick for "Do You Know the Way to San Jose"; Aretha Franklin for "I Say a Little Prayer", and Mary Hopkin for "Those Were the Days".  (Dionne Warwick was the actual winner.)

While watching a new film the other night I heard this song in the background. Which is pretty much standard now a days. It seems like all of the movies have some of the older music in them. TV shows seem to use more of the newer music in their soundtracks. And some of it is pretty good. But I find that when the show is over and I go to listen to the music again it lacks something. 

It’s almost as if the music has no life of its own beyond the film with which it was presented. Or maybe it’s just me, lacking an old memory to go along with the new music…

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