CISSY HOUSTON-PRESENTING CISSY HOUSTON.
CISSY HOUSTON-PRESENTING CISSY HOUSTON.
During Cissy Houston’s long musical career, she’s worked with some of the biggest artists in music, singing backing vocals on some of the biggest most successful albums. This includes Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul, Van Morrison’s Moondance, Donny Hathaway’s Donny Hathaway and David Bowie’s Young Americans. That’s not forgetting albums by Roberta Flack, Dee Dee Warwick, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan and her daughter Whitney Houston. However, there’s much more to her career than that. She has recorded nine solo albums, that’s seen Cissy sing soul and gospel, before Cissy being temporarily, transformed into a disco diva. Her solo career started back in 1969, when she left The Sweet Inspirations, releasing Presenting Cissy Houston in 1970. Presenting Cissy Houston will be rereleased on 21st May 2012, on SoulMusic Records. Before I tell you about the music on Presenting Cissy Houston, I’ll tell you Cissy’s career up until then.
Cissy Houston was Emily “Cissy Houston in September 1933. Her career started when she was just aged five, in 1938, as a member of The Drinkard Four, a family gospel group that included her sister Anne, plus brothers Larry and Nicky. Later, the group would become The Drinkard Singers. In 1955, the year Cissy married Freddie Garland, The Drinkard Singers recorded a live album for RCA, A Joyful Noise at Webster Hall. This would become a landmark gospel album, because it was the first gospel album released on a major label.
In 1959, Cissy had the opportunity to make her debut as a backing singer. This was on a session for Faye Adams, whose best known for her single Shake A Hand. However, during this period, Cissy was working full-time in the offices of RCA and didn’t want to risk losing her job, so didn’t go. Then in 1961, Cissy’s niece was booked to sing backing vocals for Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks. She couldn’t make the session, so Cissy filled in and after that, her career started to gather momentum. Two years later, in 1963, Cissy would form a legendary group, The Sweet Inspirations.
By 1963, Cissy had given birth to daughter Whitney and formed what would become The Sweet Inspirations, with her niece Dee Dee Warwick and Doris Troy. Soon, they were accompanying Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters and Dusty Springield. Many of the artists they were accompanying, were recording for Atlantic Records and Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records’ was keen to sign the group to his label. This was when The Sweet Inspirations name was born. They released Why (Am I Treated So Bad?) which reached number fifty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-six in the US R&B Charts. Meanwhile, in 1967 Cissy also released a single on Kapp Records Don’t Come Running Back To Me. To round of what was an important year for The Sweet Inspirations, they sang backing vocals for The Jimi Hendrix Experience on Burning of the Midnight Lamp, a track from his seminal 1968 album Electric Ladyland. The year after Electric Ladyland was released, 1969, would prove be an important year for Cissy Houston.
Two important things happened in 1969 for Cissy Houston. In July and August 1969, The Sweet Inspiration accompanied Elvis Presley during his return to performing live. Elvis’ comeback took place in Las Vegas, and for two months, he was accompanied by The Sweet Inspirations. These concerts would prove to be Cissy’s last performances with The Sweet Inspirations. After this, she decided to concentrate on he career as a recording artist, which would allow her to spend time with her children. Her final duties with the group were recording the single Gotta Find Me A Brand New Lover. The next time Cissy stepped into a recording studio would be as a solo artist.
Cissy signed to New York based Commonwealth United Records, which had been founded in 1969 by Charles Koppelman and Donald Rubin, who ran the company. On the label were Maxine Brown and Lenny Welch. Straight away, Cissy started preparing to record what would become her debut solo album, Presenting Cissy Houston, released in June 1970.
Producing the album were Charles Koppelman and Donald Rubin, while Bert DeCoteaux later a successful producer, would arrange the nine tracks. These nine tracks were cover versions of tracks by some of the biggest songwriters. This included two by Bacharach and David, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and This Empty Place. Jimmy Webb wrote Didn’t We, Bobby Darin wrote I’ll Be There and Isaac Hayes and David Porter contributed When Something Is Wrong With My Baby. Cissy even covers Be My Baby, which Phil Spector cowrote. Overall, Presenting Cissy Houston sees Cissy cover songs by the great and good of songwriting. However, would Presenting Cissy Houston be a commercial success?
On the release of Presenting Cissy Houston in June 1970, the album failed to make any impression on the charts. I’ll Be There, which was released as a single fared better. It reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number twenty in the US R&B Charts. Then disaster struck. Commonwealth United folded in September 1970. This saw Cissy’s contract was sold to Janus Records. Janus then repackaged Presenting Cissy Houston, licensing it to Pye Records, a UK company, who rereleased the album as The Long and Winding Road in the UK. They also released two more singles from Presenting Cissy Houston. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself failed to chart, while Be My Baby reached number ninety-two in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-one in the US R&B Charts. Sadly, Cissy’s debut solo album Presenting Cissy Houston had been a victim of fate, with her record company Commonwealth United folding. Two hit singles were a small crumb of comfort, with Presenting Cissy Houston a missed opportunity, given the quality of music on the album, which I’ll now tell you about.
Opening Presenting Cissy Houston is Bacharach and David’s I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. Straight away, you get the opportunity to hear the power and passion in Cissy’s vocal. The arrangement is much quicker than other versions of this track. Cissy’s accompanied by a driving rhythm section, while punchy, blazing horns and backing vocalists punctuate the arrangement. Strings sweep and swirl, while Cissy’s vocal is impassioned, emotive, getting across the desperation and hopelessness in the lyrics. It’s a hugely impressive opening track, where Cissy brings to life Bacharach and David’s lyrics perfectly.
Didn’t We, written by Jimmy Webb is very different, with the tempo much slower. Similarly, the arrangement is much more subtle, with the rhythm section providing the song’s gentle heartbeat, while piano, rasping horns and sad strings combine. One thing stays the same, Cissy’s powerful, heartfelt delivery. There’s an intensity in her deliver, while sometimes, when Cissy’s voice sings the lower notes, you hear similarities with Whitney. However, here, Cissy’s vocal steals the show, with its intensity, fervor and passion.
Bobby Darin wrote I’ll Be There another of the trio of singles released from Presenting Cissy Houston. It’s another slower, ballad, which sees gospel-tinged backing vocalists Cissy. Guitars with a sound that’s straight out of Nashville, combine with cascading strings and the rhythm section, to back Cissy. However, key to the track are Cissy’s impassioned pleas and those gospel-tinged backing vocalists. Together, they combine to create an irresistible track, that’s one of the real highlights of the album.
Singer-songwriter Melanie Safka wrote Any Guy, a track where Cissy delivers one of her most impassioned vocals on the album. Her vocal is part anger, frustration and defiance as she barks out the lyrics to her former lover. She’s accompanied by strings and piano which add to the sadness of the track, while the rhythm section and angry, braying horns reflect the anger, frustration and defiance in Cissy’s vocal. The finishing touch to the track is the addition of soaring, soulful and questioning backing vocalists. Their addition is a masterstroke, adding to the drama and emotion of the track.
Cissy’s version of Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s When Something Is Wrong With My Baby is steeped in drama and intensity, quite unlike Sam and Dave’s version. The fuller arrangement sees piano, rhythm section and strings combine with Cissy, replicating the fervor and enthusiasm in her vocal. Waves of drama unfold, with Cissy unleashing her powerful, impassioned vocal. It’s protective, full of feeling and adoration even. Horns and backing vocalists enter, combining with the drums to dramatically punctuate the track, adding to, and reflecting Cissy’s impassioned and protective defense of the man she loves. Truly, this is an outstanding cover version of a classic track.
When Be My Baby opens, it’s almost unrecognizable from The Ronettes version. Here, Cissy slows the track way down, transforming the track into something soulful and beautiful. Gone is Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, replaced by an understated, slow arrangement, where horns and backing vocalists play an important roll. Cissy’s delivery is soulful in the extreme, bringing new meaning to the song, with an intensity and fervor in her interpretation. Of the trio of singles released from Presenting Cissy Houston, this is by far, the best. For anyone who loves and regards The Ronettes version as the best, you must hear this version. It comes close to rivaling it.
This Empty Place is the second Bacharach and David song on Presenting Cissy Houston. Together with an arrangement that’s powerful and drama drenched, Cissy delivers one of her most impassioned and powerful vocals. When the track opens, you realize what’s about to unfold. Quickly, she unleashes her vocal, which has an intensity and fervor. That’s replicated by the arrangement, where drums, strings and blazing horns play important parts, matching Cissy stride for stride. By the end of the track, you can’t help but be impressed, not just by Cissy’s power, but her control and ability to breath new life and meaning into a familiar track.
Now I must admit, that I’ve never been a fan of The Beatles version of Long and Winding Road. I’ve always found it a depressing song. However, Cissy transforms the track and my opinion of the song. Cissy delivers the song in a style that’s reminiscent of Aretha Franklin. Her version is uplifting, delivered with a swing, against a jaunty arrangement, where lush strings cascade, horns blaze as the orchestral style arrangement reveals its beauty.
Closing Presenting Cissy Houston is He -I Believe, a medley of two tracks that allows Cissy to demonstrate her gospel roots. Her vocal is delivered beautifully against a subtle organ, slow strings and meandering bass line. Beautiful backing vocalists enter, delivering their gospel tinged roots soaring, spiritually on I Believe. Together with Cissy, they encourage each other to even greater feats of soulfulness. This isn’t just intense and beautiful, but deeply uplifting, spiritual even and for me, is the perfect way to close Cissy’s debut album Presenting Cissy Houston.
Presenting Cissy Houston should’ve been a much bigger commercial success seems. Sadly, the fickle finger of fate intervened. Her record company folded four months after the release of Presenting Cissy Houston. Although two singles from the albums gave Cissy hit singles, this must have been a small crumb of comfort. Fate was to intervene in Cissy’s career again, for her next recording session. She was working with producer Sonny Limbo, when Jim Weatherly sent a new song, entitled Midnight Plane To Houston. This was changed by Cissy to Midnight Train To Georgia, which scans and sounds much better. The track was released as a single, but failed to make an impression on the charts. If Janus Records had promoted the single, maybe it would’ve become synonymous with Cissy, not Gladys Knight and The Pips. A year later, Gladys released her version, which since then, has been synonymous with her. Cissy’s original version, is just one of twelve bonus tracks on SoulMusic Records rereleased version of Presenting Cissy Houston, which will be released on 21st May 2012. These twelve bonus tracks, plus the nine tracks on Presenting Cissy Houston, make this an album that anyone who either loves Cissy Houston, The Sweet Inspirations music or just fans of soul and R&B music will adore. For me, Presenting Cissy Houston is a real hidden gem of an album, where Cissy breathes new life and meaning into nine cover versions, making these songs her own, with a combination of passion, fervor, emotion and enthusiasm. Standout Tracks: Didn’t We, I’ll Be There, Be My Baby and He-I Believe.
CISSY HOUSTON-PRESENTING CISSY HOUSTON.