Thursday, March 18, 2021

"Yes" by Merry Clayton

Song#:  3436
Date:  03/05/1988
Debut:  91
Peak:  45
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Synthpop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  This soul/gospel singer became one of the most prolific background vocalists in music. Although she attempted to break through as a solo artist, it never seemed to work in her favor. Her career, along with other famous background singers, was documented in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. Clayton got her first break in 1962 when she was just fourteen. She was hired on to sing a duet with Bobby Darin for one of his albums and that led to her first recording contract. She then became the first person to record "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)," but when released as a single it went nowhere. A year later, Betty Everett took the song to #6. After the single failed, Clayton mainly stayed in the background singing with other artists such as Ray Charles (for a couple of years she was one of the Raelettes). Then in 1969, she famously sang with Mick Jagger on The Rolling Stones' classic "Gimme Shelter." That led to another recording contract, this time with Ode Records. She released a debut album in 1970 titled Gimme Shelter and her solo remake of the song got to #72 on the Pop chart. Three more albums would follow, but besides a few minor chart entries nothing much happened with her solo career. Still she remained an in-demand background vocalist and in 1987 she was doing that work on tracks for an upcoming film titled Dirty Dancing. One of the songs, "Yes," was to be recorded by Mary Wells (of "My Guy" fame, #1, 1964). Wells showed up to the studio, but was so sick that she just left the session. Stuck with no vocalist, the producer, Michael Lloyd, asked Clayton if she would do the lead vocal. She agreed and the track became part of the enormously successful Dirty Dancing soundtrack. It would also be released as the fourth single from the album. Yet once again, Clayton was unable to score a major hit with the tune only getting near the Pop Top 40 while stalling at #49 AC and #79 R&B. It would be Clayton's final charting single. In 1994, she recorded a gospel album titled Miracles, which was produced by her "Yes" collaborator Michael Lloyd. Clayton would still continue to support many artists over the years including indie/rock artists like Tori Amos and Coldplay.

ReduxReview:  This track is right out of the Pointer Sisters' playbook. It wouldn't shock me if this had been pitched to the trio. It would have been a good fit for them and might have supplied them with a much needed hit. It could have been a selection for Patti LaBelle as well. However, it ended up over on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and Clayton got the opportunity to record it. This was a bouncy, upbeat, joyous tune expertly sung by Clayton that should have done better. I'm not sure why it didn't. The week after this song debuted on the Pop chart the soundtrack returned to #1 for an additional nine-week run after already spending nine weeks previously at the top. It seems like that would have helped boost this single, yet it stalled early. The perky synthpop track wasn't necessarily like the previous three Top 10s from the album, so maybe it wasn't the track fans of the movie wanted to hear on the radio. Or maybe the style of the song was just slightly dated and would have done better a few years earlier. I've always liked the song and thought it should have done better.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The story of how Clayton ended up on the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" is pretty famous and was recounted in the 20 Feet from Stardom doc. While the bulk of the song had been recorded in London, the band recorded the vocals in Los Angeles. During the mixing phase, the band and their producer, Jimmy Miller, thought a female vocal would be great on the chorus and set a task for arranger/producer Jack Nitzsche to secure someone asap. According to some accounts, Nitzsche tried to get Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney & Bonnie fame) to come in, but her husband wouldn't allow it. Nitzsche then called on an old friend of his, Merry Clayton. It was around midnight when she got the call. Clayton was very pregnant at the time, in bed, and wasn't keen on leaving the house. But when her husband found out the job was for the Stones, he told her that she probably should go. Clayton apparently arrived at the studio in a robe and curlers. She asked what they wanted and set out to do the vocal. They encouraged her to really push the vocal and it seems the third take did the trick. At one point in the song, Clayton pushed her vocal so much that her voice cracked. It was exactly what the Stones were looking for and on the recording right after it, you can hear Mick Jagger's approval with him going "Whooo!" The session was a blessing and a curse for Clayton. While the song became an instant classic and her vocal lauded, after returning home from the session, Clayton suffered a miscarriage. While it can't be singularly tied to the session, it was thought that the stress from the intense vocal work and the late night hour may have contributed to the miscarriage. "Gimme Shelter" is not the only classic rock song Clayton has performed on. She (along with Clyde King) also did background vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1974 #8 "Sweet Home Alabama."


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