By the time 1970 rolled around, Peggy Lee had been making records for nearly thirty years, been nominated for an Academy Award, and several Grammy Awards. She took home a Grammy in 1969, for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Female for “Is That All There Is?”
Having accomplished so much and with musical tastes changing so rapidly, Peggy’s fans probably would have understood if the singer had settled for singing hits from her large catalog of recorded music for the rest of her career.
However, Lee seemed eager to embrace the musical style of a new generation of songwriters. She released Make It With You in 1970, an album that includes songs by Lennon and McCartney, Paul Anka, and David Gates of Bread among others. In 1971, Peggy followed that with Where Did They Go featuring songs written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Kris Kristofferson, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Stephen Sondheim, George Harrison, and other top songwriters of the day.
Both of these albums had been out of print for many years, until Collector’s Choice Music recently released newly remastered versions of both albums, available on CD for the first time.
Make It With You begins with the Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield composition, “One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round.” The melancholy lyrics highlight Peggy’s ability to evoke a sad, emotional feeling in her singing style. The Lennon/McCartney song, “The Long and Winding Road” has been covered by countless artists. However, few of them have been able to avoid over the top lyrical readings that sound pained or orchestral arrangements with so many strings the lyrics get lost. Peggy’s reading of the song is controlled, but strong and conductor/arranger Benny Golson lets Peggy’s voice guide the strings, instead of making the strings the primary instrument.
Next, Peggy took on the Paul Anka composition, “That’s What Living’s About.” A song about loosening up and having fun, Miss Lee’s singing has a persuasive quality. After listening to this track a couple of times, I started to think about mundane activities in a whole new light. Make It With You takes a decidedly darker turn with the haunting “The No-Color Time of Day.” At once beautiful and aloof, Peggy’s delivery speaks to everyone’s feelings of loneliness that crop up at some point in life. Like Peggy’s signature song “Fever,” “The No-Color Time of Day” has aged well. The lyrics are as poignant today as they were in 1970.
“Let’s Get Lost In Now” highlights the jazzy style that helped make Peggy Lee a legend. She has a breezy style that makes her sound too cool for the room. For me, this cut is a standout. In some quarters, David Gates is considered a songwriter who was to syrupy for his own good. Peggy’s rendition of “Make It With You” should prove Gates’ worth as a songwriter. Lee’s soft interpretation of the lyrics and Mike Melvoin’s bouncy, but light orchestration combine to create a perfect reading of the song.
“Passenger In the Rain” is a soft and mesmerizing ballad. The first time I heard this one, I thought there was something wrong with my stereo system because Peggy delivers the lyrics so softly — it is quite simply a beautiful song. Things speed up again with, “I’ve Never Been So Happy in My Life.” The next track, “You’ll Remember Me” originally appeared on Peggy’s Bridge Over Troubled Water album. Apparently, Capitol hoped if the song was re-released, it would become a hit. The last track, “Goodbye,” features a circus-sounding arrangement and a very strong vocal from Peggy.
Collector’s Choice has released Make It With You with four bonus tracks. The first, “Pieces of Dreams,” is a rare, 45-only track from Michael Legrand’s score of the 1970 film. “Didn’t We,” is a previously unreleased track that has Peggy showing her skills as a balladeer with sparse accompaniment. Another previously unreleased track, “You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do)?” is a jazzy number with the blues undertones that Peggy does so well. The last bonus track, the previously unreleased “No More” has a jazzy, torch song feel that Peggy Lee fans will be pleased to hear.
Where Did They Go was originally released in July of 1971. Opening the album is the moody title track. The baroque style delivery is yet another style we can add to Miss Lee’s impressive repertoire. “My Rock and Foundation” is a lesser known Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition and one of the few occasions where it sounds like a song isn’t particularly suited to Miss Lee. The tempo is slow and the backup singers are utterly unnecessary.
Peggy returns to form with her simply perfect harpsichord-laden version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” Her tone and tempo perfectly capture the emotion of the song. The Andrisi Brothers “Goodbye Again” is another standout track. Low-key and light, listeners will likely appreciate the song the more they play it. On “I Was Born In Love With You,” — the theme song for the 1970 film Wuthering Heights (based on the novel by Emily Brontë) — Peggy’s voice is simply wonderful. All three of these songs as sung by Peggy Lee should be considered classics.
I have read some criticism of Peggy Lee’s version of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” that appears on Where Did They Go. While I admit that Lee’s version doesn’t hold a candle to Harrison’s, her reading of the song is unique and deserves a place in the music collection of any Peggy Lee fan.
Make It With You/Where Did They Go presents some great work by a legend. At a time when many of her contemporaries were dismissing rock ‘n roll, Peggy jumped in with both feet and added some more classic recordings to her already impressive resume. To me, one of the things that separates a singer from a legend is the willingness and talent to adapt to change. As Make It With You/Where Did They Go proves, Peggy Lee possessed both in abundance.