Merry Clayton – 1970 – Gimme Shelter
In order to understand the genuine class act you’re dealing with here – a potted-history of Merry Clayton’s past vocal glories will set the scene. She contributed to Neil Young‘s “The Old Laughing Lady” and “I’ve Loved Her So Long” on his self-titled debut album in 1968, sings on Joe Cocker‘s “Feelin’ Alright” from his “With A Little Help From My Friends” debut album from 1969 and is on Allen Toussaint‘s magical “From A Whisper To A Scream” (1970). Just as impressively Merry sings on “Way Over Yonder”, “Where You Lead” and “Smackwater Jack” on Carole King‘s magisterial “Tapestry” album (1971). Then there are sessions for B.B. King, Jesse Davis, Neil Diamond, Charles Wright, Jimmy Witherspoon, Billy Preston, Lee Michaels, Linda Ronstadt, Leon Russell, Ruth Copeland, Chi Coltrane, David T. Walker, Etta James, Rare Earth, The Who and even Ringo Starr.
But her most famous outing has to be her duet vocals with Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter” – one of the standout album tracks from “Let It Bleed” – the Rolling Stones masterpiece from 1969 (it was the first album produced by Jimmy Miller who suggested Merry for the vocals). She even turns up on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” in 1974 and “Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos in 1994… So it’s hardly surprising that she signed to Lou Adler’s Ode Records in the late Sixties and quickly pushed out two solo albums – “Merry Clayton” from 1971 – and this – “Gimme Shelter” – her debut from 1970.
A1 Country Road 3:35
A2 Tell All The People 2:44
A3 Bridge Over Troubled Water 5:50
A4 I’ve Got Life 3:18
A5 Gimme Shelter 3:00
B1 Here Come Those Heartaches Again 3:05
B2 Forget It I Got It 2:44
B3 You’ve Been Acting Strange 3:06
B4 I Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Away 4:06
B5 Good Girls 3:30
B6 Glad Tiding 2:41
Review by Mark Barry
Released on Ode Records SP-77001 in the USA and on A&M Records AMLS 995 in the UK in late 1970 – the original vinyl album featured a world-class session band (Victor Feldman on Vibes, Joe Sample of The Crusaders on keyboards to name but two) and was top-heavy with contemporary cover versions of the time (but in a good way).
Musically this is uplifting Soul with organs, brass, girly backing singers and impassioned lead vocals – a sort of Atlantic Aretha Franklin one moment then United Artists Tina Turner the next. And right from her opening cover of James Taylor’s “Country Road” – the album hits you with one classy tune after another. Number 2 is another upbeat reinterpretation – a great variant of The Doors “Tell All The People“. But both are aced by a slowed-down and deeply soulful version of Simon and Garfunkel’s beautiful anthem “Bridge Over Troubled Waters“. Written by Galt McCormack “I’ve Got Life” started out in the “Hair” musical and was made famous by Nina Simone on her 1968 “Nuff ‘Said” album. Side 1 ends with her own superb guitar-and-brass take on “Gimme Shelter” with its “just a shot away…” lyrics (it was issued as the 1st of 2 singles off the album in the USA on Ode Records ODE-66003 with “Good Girls” as its flipside).
Side Two opens with pure magic – a cover of the James Cleveland song “Here Comes Those Heartaches Again” done originally by Kim Weston on her 1970 album “Big Brass Four Poster” (on James Brown’s People label). It doesn’t say who added the strings but the song suddenly elevates into sublime Jimmy Webb territory – a little like “5:30 Plane” by The Supremes on their 1972 Motown LP “The Supremes Produced And Arranged By Jimmy Webb”. That gorgeous orchestration appears again on the album’s lone original “I Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Away” – a blistering Etta James type torch ballad that Merry co-wrote with Billy Preston.
The other superb Preston contribution here is “You’ve Been Acting Strange” – his own version surfaced on his September 1970 Apple Records album “Encouraging Words”. There’s a Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones Producer) and Gary Wright (of Spooky Tooth) song too called “Forget It, I Got It” which is so slinky and very cool. It was used as the B-side to “Country Road” issued as a 45 in the USA on Ode Records ODE-66007 (the 2nd and last single off the album). Things are brassed-up again with Billy Page’s “Good Girls” and rounded off with a crowd-in-the studio version of “Glad Tidings” – a Van Morrison cover from his 1970 “Moondance” album that doesn’t quite work for me. Others like it though as an upbeat finisher. Concluding – with so few clunkers and so many great song choices – this an absolute gem of an album from back in the day.
Get this gorgeous, uplifting and criminally forgotten goody in your life as soon as you can.