Thursday, November 24, 2011

20. Leon Russell, "Me and Baby Jane" (1972)

(listen)

Sometimes it feels like Leon Russell has been lost to history since even before the '70s ended, dwelling forever there with his makeup and top hat and hair as one of the clownish features of the times, with maybe Leo Sayer, Minnie Riperton, and Carl Douglas. But I have never been able to get a handful of his songs out of my head, most of them circa 1972 and the album Carney—"Magic Mirror," "Tight Rope," a few others, but more than any this woeful hymn to a love affair ruined forever by heroin and death. At the time I was hearing it on the radio (how it got there I don't know) it never failed to leap out and get me by the throat, though I had no concrete connection with any of its themes or scenarios. I just had some idea how it felt, and the feelings were overwhelming, love arrived and gone forever. The croak of Russell's voice, now and then missing its intended notes, the softly marching tempo at the chorus, and the signature rich tones of his piano playing throughout serve him well. It uses the drug lifestyle just right—though no doubt the reason it never made the hit parade—never glorifying but never judging or condemning or blaming either, and hardly shrinking from it. Just a brief memory of "the needle in her vein" to etch the image in. I'm not sure exactly how Leon Russell does what he does—sometimes I'm not even sure what it is he's doing exactly—but "Me and Baby Jane" may be the best single example of him doing it: swooningly sad, ripe to the point of bursting, dramatized within an inch of its life, yet somehow softly understated, always tender, and above all completely beautiful.

11 comments:

  1. Leon has a way with a sad song.

    Note this performance of A Song For You by Leon, Willie and Ray Charles. This was only days before Ray's death. Willie looks like he is attending a funeral.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgZTvLFRYrE

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  2. That's a nice Ray Charles solo piece. Here's the one with the three I think you were thinking of, http://youtu.be/2UW4ELmVD9M

    You're right, it's great, thanks for letting me know about it, had not known it before.

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  3. Just discovered this sad but great song. Really hit me in the face when I first listened to the record, this one.

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  4. haunting. who was jane?

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    1. imo it's maryjane (pot). he's left her for something stronger (heroin).

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    2. it's maryjane

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  5. I agree, a haunting and beautiful song I've loved for years. As far as I know, he's never performed it live. Does anyone know of a live version of it available anywhere?

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  6. I know this is a pretty old entry and I wonder how you feel now about how you started this piece? This here: Sometimes it feels like Leon Russell has been lost to history since even before the '70s ended, dwelling forever there with his makeup and top hat and hair as one of the clownish features of the times, with maybe Leo Sayer, Minnie Riperton, and Carl Douglas How you could lump an artist who has contributed so much to music and is far beyond those mentioned is beyond me. I agree about the song and what you had to say but come on, you hopefully have learned more about Leon by now. If so, be careful how you start out something you want people to read.

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  7. Yes Leon Russell was brilliant and original in his songwriting and musicianship. I never related too much to him when I was young tho I heard alot of his records.However now I feel so much pleasure listening to him on my vinyl . Quality standing the test of time. Love him.I wrote this in reply to comment of Chlynn

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