Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.
I first noticed this disc because of the rhyme in the title. As someone who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, I heard rockers rhyme “tonight” with “feels so right” way, way too often. Very lazy rhyming, like rhyming “love” with “angels up above.” But maybe this was the first time anyone had rhymed the offending words? I didn’t know, and I still don’t.
But that doesn’t matter, because documenting this disc piqued my curiosity about Annie Laurie, and I’m very glad that I did. And no, this is not regarding the Scottish poem about a lass named Annie Laurie that was set to music. James Dunn’s rendition from the film adaptation of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is pretty great, though.
No, this is about Annie Laurie the Jump Blues/R&B singer, a.k.a Dinah Washington’s favorite singer. She was born in Atlanta but moved to New Orleans in the mid-40’s, where she met bandleader/songwriter Paul Gayten, who helped get her early songs off the ground. Her highest-charting song, “Since I Fell For You,” was a Gayten production from 1947. It went to #3 on the R&B charts and #20 on the Pop, and yet an online clip of the tune doesn’t seem to exist. Why? Multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement, most likely from a company that bought the rights to the song decades ago and has no plans of re-releasing it. Thanks a lot, guys.
Fortunately, some of the other songs that she recorded for the Regal label still exist on the internet, including this slow and sultry duet with Paul Gayten from 1950: “I’ll Never Be Free.”
That one made it up to #4 on the R&B charts. Unfortunately, Regal folded in 1951, so Annie moved on to Okeh in 1952. Over the course of three years, they released six of her singles. All of them are good and some of them are great. None of them managed to chart, unfortunately. I’m not sure why, though it could have been a problem in with how the songs were promoted. The A side (the side radio stations were encouraged to play) of the disc in question, for example, is good but not great. Here’s “You Belong to Me.”
The B side, though, is fantastic. The exuberance and raw energy just pops right through the speakers. This is “I Feel So Right Tonight.”
Of course, lyrics like “You don’t have to tell me what you’re gonna do/’ll leave it up to you/Close all the windows, stop all the doors/Take me daddy and make me yours” might have something to do with this song’s relegation to B side status.
And if that man starts closing windows and stopping doors in the homes of other women? 1953’s “Stop Talkin’ and Start Walkin’” is the swinging answer, with a killer saxophone solo halfway through.
1954’s “I’m In the Mood For You” is a sign of things to come. The sound is a little cleaner, Annie’s vocal is less rowdy—more Sarah Vaughn than Big Maybelle—and the saxophone is replaced by electric guitar. Still a lot better than 90% of what was on the radio at the time.
By 1957, Annie had moved on from Okeh to DeLuxe, and scored a #3 on the R&B charts with “It Hurts To Be In Love.” It’s a decent song, but it’s hard not to wonder what it would have sounded like if Annie had recorded it five or six years earlier. The corny backing harmonies wouldn’t have been included, that’s for sure.
Annie’s last hit came in 1960, with “If You’re Lonely,” a lovely slow burn of a number that makes good use of reverb on her vocals. And that high note at 2:06 seems to come out of nowhere, yet it also makes perfect sense. This song, no doubt, reunited many a squabbling teen couple when it was played at the school dance.
A few years later, Annie said goodbye to Rhythm and Blues and devoted herself to Gospel music and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to hear more from her, and that the success she deserved was sporadic at best. But I’m glad to have discovered what there is to be found, even if I still don’t know if she was the first singer to rhyme “tonight” with “feels so right.”