It’s the time of year for saving money!
There is a fun new 60th anniversary reissue by legendary singer and composer Peggy Lee now streaming from the folks at Universal Music and Capitol Records that is really quite fascinating, a time capsule really. Some of you Dear Readers of AudiophileReview who like to stream high resolution audio might enjoy it.
Some background perspective to consider from the official press release for this album: “Originally released in March 1963, I’m A Woman spent 26 weeks on the Billboard album chart. Now perennially associated with Peggy Lee, the title track and album’s first single, “I’m A Woman,” spent nine weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 and garnered Lee a 1962 GRAMMY nomination for Best Solo Vocal Performance, Female. A second GRAMMY nomination followed in 1963 for Best Vocal Performance, Female”
If you are a relatively new or casual fan of Peggy Lee’s music — as I am — it really helps to get yourself in the mindset of the time and place that this music was made to fully appreciate it. Specifically, mid century America… that is post World War II… post Korean War… in the middle of the Cold War with Russia… and with the Vietnam War sneaking up just as some folks were starting to try to chill out a bit…
It is 1963… Elvis is in the movies after coming out of the army. Be Bop is long over and Jazz in general is starting to smell funny to some (paraphrasing Frank Zappa, if you will). Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Richie Valens and Eddie Cochran are gone. Rock and roll is almost over save for Phil Spector’s productions and The Beatles haven’t really taken off quite yet as an international phenomenon (Capitol’s Meet The Beatles was release in January 1964). President John F. Kennedy was still alive and well when Peggy Lee’s I’m A Woman was initially released.
Picture yourself for a moment in a perfect suburban snapshot of the American dream… like that still stunning opening scene of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, all technicolor and vivid greener-than-green lawns, redder-than-red firetrucks, whiter-than-white picket fences….blissfully happy Wonder Bread Moms and 2.5 kids per household running around the yards. Amidst all the darkness underlying that blissful dream state, there was much need for escapism and softer themes. For the kids who grew up in the 40s by the 1960s many were now young parents and well on their way to becoming the older generation in need of light escapist entertainment that wasn’t Mitch Miller and maybe a little headier than Lawrence Welk.
Peggy Lee’s I’m A Woman filled at least 30 minutes of the joy America needed at that moment in time.
Curiously, the Women’s’ liberation movement hadn’t quite taken off by this point as a mass movement so the title track’s lyrics — written by the legendary male hit songwriting duo Leiber & Stoller (“Hound Dog,” “Kansas City,” “Yakety Yak,” etc.) — are a double edged sword. Here, Peggy details in mock-bluesy splendor all the things a woman could do better and faster than a man could — but only largely citing housework and home chores as examples! So this is not the modern 21st century woman Peggy is championing here — the business owners, engineers and scientists who do much more in addition to just being relegated to the role of happy home-maker put on earth to serve men-kind.
I mean, check out the first verse lyrics:
“I can wash out 44 pairs of socks and have ’em hangin out on the line
I can starch & iron 2 dozens shirts ‘fore you can count from 1 to 9
I can scoop up a great big dipper full of lard from the drippins can
Throw it in the skillet, go out & do my shopping, be back before it melts in the pan
‘Cause I’m a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I’ll say it again”
Nina Simone would have probably cringed if she heard some of these lyrics!
Anyhow, all that aside on I’m A Woman here we find Peggy probably backed by some great Wrecking Crew musicians recorded in Hollywood. One of the things you don’t get with streaming is original liner notes so I had to look online and find a photo of the original back cover (thanks Discogs!). There are some great players on this including drummer Stan Levey, pianist Mike Malvoin, guitarists Al Hendrickson and John Pisano as well as the legendary Max Bennett (who seven years later played on Zappa’s Hot Rats!). The great Benny Carter conducts on several tracks including the title opus.
She tackles Tony Bennett’s signature “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” as a sort of slow-mambo for close dancing. Here Peggy covers Ricky Nelson’s “I’m Walking” in a sort of awkward quasi-rock ’n roll vibe that would allow you so sway your hips without spilling a drop of your perfect Manhattan. There is a wonderfully awkward tongue-in-cheek samba take of Kurt Weill’s “Mack The Knife” which is especially bright and sunny in marked contrast to the lyrics which are about a murderer.
I’m A Woman was made back in the early 60s — probably Capitol Records’ then state-of-the-art studios in Hollywood — so these are no doubt very nice sounding, high fidelity recordings. The reissue’s producers have presened this music in a relatively uncompressed manner, offering streams up to 96 kHz, 24-bits. The high resolution stream sounds excellent, remarkably warm and rich, crisp and quiet.
These are early Stereo mixes, so go into this expecting extreme separation, with at times drums and strings on one channel with vocals and bass on the other. That is part of the mid-century charm of these recordings.
There is also a CD-quality expanded edition of the album which sounds quite good for the first twelve songs but when you get to the bonus tracks the sound gets a bit brighter at times (some tracks are in Mono). There you’ll hear some fun outtakes like the swinging “Close Your Eyes” and the bluesy version of “Try A Little Tenderness” (yes, this is the same song that Otis Redding turned into a rock ’n soul epic some five years later; it was originally written in in the 1930s!)
Its wonderful hearing Ms. Lee’s unreleased duet-of-a-sort, “Jealous,” with Bobby Darin, a hot star of the times who had signed to Capitol Records; I won’t spoil it but their lightly spirited banter before the song is fun.
You can jump to I’m A Woman on Tidal in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz MQA format by clicking here. To hear it in 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity, head over to Qobuz Hi Res (click here) and while there you can also hear the “Expanded Edition” (CD Quality, click here). It is also on Apple Music (click here) if you use that platform.
So what are you waiting for? Pour yourself a martini, sit down on your couch, put your feet up on the coffee table and for a moment take a little journey into another time and place with Peggy Lee’s I’m A Woman.