NANCY WILSON-CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF YOU AND NOW I’M A WOMAN.

NANCY WILSON-CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF YOU AND NOW I’M A WOMAN.

The two albums Nancy Wilson albums that feature on Soul Music Records’ latest release Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Now I’m A Woman, feature two different approaches to production. 1970s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, which was Nancy’s twenty-eight album since her 1959 debut, was produced by her longtime producer David Cavanaugh. The partnership of Nancy Wilson and David Cavanaugh had been a long-established partnership. David had produced her 1959 debut album Something Wonderful. Since then, they’d worked together. By 1971, music had been transformed since Nancy’s debut album. So it was time for a change in producer.

What was needed to revitalize Nancy Wilson’s career, were two men, who’d already established themselves as one of the hottest songwriting and production partnerships…Gamble and Huff. They were chosen by David Cavanaugh to produce Nancy Wilson’s 1971s Now I’m A Woman. This was either a stroke of genius or sheer luck. After all, Gamble and Huff were about to become two of the most innovative and influential songwriters and producers of the seventies. Having founded their own label Philadelphia International Records in 1971, Gamble and Huff would enjoy critical acclaim and commercial success aplenty. Gamble and Huff were one of the architects of Philly Soul. Their approach to production on Now I’m A Woman, would differ from David Cavanaugh’s on Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Before I tell you how the two approaches differ, i’ll tell you about Nancy Wilson’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Now I’m A Woman, which will be rereleased by SoulMusic Records on one CD on 25th March 2013.

CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF YOU.

Back in the late sixties, and into the early seventies, many popular artists including Dusty Springfield, Jerry Butler and Nancy Wilson, rather than record new songs, covered songs that had been hits for other artists. In many ways, covering already popular songs made sense, as an artist’s audience to some extent, knew what to expect. That had been fine for many years, but as a new decade dawned, seventies audiences demanded more. However, for some artists and record companies, the tried and tested formula had worked well. They decided to stick with what had previously worked. In many ways, Nancy Wilson’s 1970 album Can’t Take My Eyes Off You is a case in point.

For Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Nancy Wilson’s longtime-producer David Cavanaugh decided to stick with the formula that had worked for Nancy over the past twenty-seven albums. That formula was to cover already songs, including tracks made popular by other artists. This included Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, Jimmy Webb’s Mixed Up Girl, Leiber and Stoller’s Trip With Me, Bob Guadio and Bob Crewe’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Bacharach and David’s Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. Burt Bacharach also cowrote Waitin’ For Charlie To Come Home with Bob Hilliard. You Make Me Feel So Very Happy had given Brenda Holloway and  Blood, Sweat and Tears hit singles. It was penned by Brenda and Patrice with Berry Gordy and Frank Wilson. Along with covers of Alan Bernstein and Victor Melrose’s This Girl Is A Woman Now and Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal’s Words and Music there were many familiar tracks on Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. The other track was A Brand New Me, written by Teresa Bel, Jerry Butler and Kenny Gamble had given Dusty Springfield a hit. Its inclusion proved to be prophetic, because a year later Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff would produce Nancy’s next album. That was all to come. Before that, Nancy had to record and release Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. When recording of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You began, Nancy headed into the studio with her band and producer David Cavanaugh. Arranging nine of the tracks and conducting the orchestra, was Phil Wright. Nancy recorded the ten tracks which became Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, which was released in 1970.

Before the release of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You in 1970, the title-track Can’t Take My Eyes Off You was released as a single in 1969. It reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts. When Can’t Take My Eyes Off You was released in 1970, it stalled at number 155 in the US Billboard 200 and thirty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Then worse was to come when Waitin’ For Charlie To Come Home and This Girl Is A Woman failed to chart. The seventies hadn’t started well for Nancy Wilson. Why wasn’t Can’t Take My Eyes Off You a bigger commercial success.

When Waitin’ For Charlie To Come Home opens, Nancy’s powerful, heartfelt delivery is accompanied by an arrangement that has a late-sixties sound. You can’t fault the quality, but music had changed. David Cavanaugh’s production style was more suited to the previous decade. Regardless of that, Nancy’s delivery and phrasing is perfect, and this is highlighted on the jazz-tinged A Brand New Me. With its washes of Hammond organ, it’s very different to Dusty Springfield’s version. Indeed, it’s much better, and swings deliciously.

Jimmy Webb’s Mixed Up Girl has an understated arrangement that allows Nancy’s impassioned pleas to take centre-stage. Horns blaze, adding to the drama and emotion. Similarly understated is Raindrops Keep Dropping On My Head. As the song begins, it’s hardly recognizable. When it unfolds, lush horns and gently rasping horns accompany Nancy’s tender, beautiful delivery. Although very different to other version, it’s a captivating cover version. This Girl Is A Woman Now is something of a slow burner. It takes time to share its secrets, but it’s well worth the wait. Nancy’s vocal grows in power and passion, while the arrangement grows in power and drama.

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You is a vintage slice of jazz, where Nancy’s thoughtful vocal annunciates every word. Horns that sound as if they belong in a fifties recording accompany Nancy, as she draws upon all her experience and talent, making the song swing as it heads to its dramatic finale. Words and Music is another track with a real sixties sound. There’s a cocktail jazz sound, as the track unfolds. Horns blaze dramatically, as Nancy unleashes a jazzy vocal. Soon, she’s delivering the song with her trademark swing. Good as the song is, and it’s very good, it’s something of a throwback to the sixties.

The most compelling track on Can’t Take My Eyes Off You is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. Staying true to the original, the arrangement is understated, meandering behind Nancy’s half-spoken vocal. Of all the covers of Leonard Cohen’s tracks I’ve heard, this is one of the most compelling and soulful.

Growling horns grab your attention, before Nancy delivers a joyous version of You Make Me Feel So Happy. One minute the arrangement is subtle and understated, the next it’s a mass of blazing horns, accompanying Nancy’s powerful vocal. Nancy’s jazz roots shine through, as she scats, Her vocal tinged with emotion and joy, delivering one of her best vocals on Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You closes with Trip With Me, which demonstrates why a change of producer was crucial. Rather than look to the future, Nancy was looking to the past. This is a track which has a fifties, sixties sound. Good as it is, and Nancy delivers an impassioned vocal, it’s a reminder of another musical era.

While Can’t Take My Eyes Off You was a good album, it wasn’t an album for the seventies. Each of the ten tracks on Can’t Take My Eyes Off You feature Nancy Wilson delivering a series of stunning vocals. However, the choice of material and the arrangements weren’t suited to the changing musical tastes. Pop, vintage jazz, swing and vocal jazz weren’t what people in 1970 were buying. It wasn’t a case of the music was too, or wasn’t sophisticated enough. Instead, it was a case of musical tastes changing. What was popular in 1963, 1966 or 1968, wasn’t popular in 1970. The album’s commercial failure reinforced this. So, producer David Cavanaugh deserves credit for realizing this. He realized that it was time for a new b breed of producer to take over the production duties. This is where Gamble and Huff came in, for Nancy Wilson’s twenty-ninth album Now I’m A Woman.

NOW I’M A WOMAN.

Following the commercial failure of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Nancy’s longtime producer David Cavanaugh decided a new producer was needed. With a new decade having dawned, a new approach was needed. He decided to head to Philly, where Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were establishing themselves as one of the hottest songwriting and production teams. They’d already written and produced some of the biggest names in music, including Jerry Butler, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickettt and Billy Paul. So they wouldn’t be fazed working with Nancy Wilson, although both were fans of her music. For recording of what became Now I’m A Woman, Gamble and Huff wouldn’t just produce the album but write three songs and bring with them arranger Bobby Martin and their soon-to-be legendary house-band M.F.S.B. Could Gamble and Huff rejuvenate Nancy Wilson’s career with Now I’m A Woman?

Although the production team had changed for Now I’m A Woman, Gamble and Huff didn’t dispense with the old. Instead, they found a middle ground. This meant a combination of cover versions and new songs. There were five cover versions on Now I’m A Woman, including Lennon and McCartney’s Long and Winding Road, Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, David Gates’ Make It With You, Bacharach and David’s (They Long To Be) Close To You and Kay and Helen Lewis’ How Many Broken Wings? The other five songs were new songs, penned by Gamble and Huff, with their Philly friends. Gamble and Huff cowrote Now I’m A Woman, Lonely, Lonely and The Real Me. Kenny Gamble, Norman Harris and Alan Felder cowrote Joe, while arranger Bobby Martin wrote Let’s Fall In Love All Over. Now recording of the new-look Nancy Wilson album Now I’m A Woman could begin.

Recording of Now I’m A Woman took place in Los Angeles, with M.F.S.B. accompanying Nancy Wilson. The lineup of M.F.S.B. included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers. Vince Montana Jr. played vibes, Larry Washington congas, Thom Bell and Lenny Pakula organ. Strings and horns came courtesy of Don Renaldo. Arrangers included Bobby Martin, Lenny Pakula and Thom Bell while Gamble and Huff produced Now I’m A Woman. Once Now I’m A Woman was recorded, the album would be released in 1971. Now I’m A Woman would see Gamble and Huff revitalize Nancy’s flagging career.

On the release of Now I’m A Woman in 1971, it reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. This wasn’t just a case of Gamble and Huff revitalizing Nancy’s career, but totally transforming it. When the title-track Now I’m A Woman was released as a single, it only reached number ninety-three in the US Billboard 100 and number forty-one in the US R&B Charts. However, even this surpassed the success of the singles released from Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Nancy Wilson’s comeback was complete and when I tell you about Now I’m A Woman, you’ll realize why.

Opening Now I’m A Woman, is the first of the Gamble and Huff penned tracks Now I’m A Woman. Straight away, you notice Nancy’s vocal sounds similar to Dusty Springfield. Gamble and Huff add their trademark lush strings and rasping horns, while Baker, Harris, Young provide the heartbeat. The addition of The Sweethearts of Sigma respond to Nancy’s call, adding the impassioned, soulful sound. There’s a much more contemporary sound to this track, bringing Nancy into the seventies, in style. 

Nancy’s reinvention continues on Joe was penned by Kenny Gamble, Alan Felder and Norman Harris. Again, it’s a much more soulful side of Nancy we hear. Emotion, heartache and hurt fill her voice, which grows in power and pain. Quivering strings, melancholy horns and piano provide a backdrop for Nancy’s soul-baring vocal.

(They Long To Be) Close To You is the first of three cover versions. Nancy, with Gamble and Huff’s help, delivers a tender, emotive reading of Bacharach and David’s classic. Strings and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes add a beautiful backdrop, while horns add wistful sound and Earl Young’s drums add drama. As the song progresses, Nancy unleashes power and passion, which when mixed with her emotion and tenderness, brings new life and meaning to a classic track. Lennon and McCartney’s The Long And Winding Road might seem a strange choice for Nancy.   With swathes of strings, piano, pensive horns and bursts of drama from Baker, Harris, Young, Nancy makes it work. Her heartfelt, impassioned reading is powerful and moving. Equally moving and quite beautiful is her take on Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. Just a lone piano accompanies Nancy’s thoughtful vocal. Soon, she injects a meaning and beauty into the song, with an understated arrangement accompanying her. Playing key roles in the arrangement are ethereal harmonies and a Hammond organ, with give a soulful twist to a familiar song.

Let’s Fall In Love All Over was written by Bobby Martin, who could’ve written this jazz-tinged track especially for Nancy. The arrangement has a vintage jazz sound. Lush strings, rasping horns, standup bass and Norman Harris’ jazz guitar accompany one of Nancy’s best vocals. Laden with emotion and tinged with sadness, Nancy, with Bobby Martin’s help, does what she does so well, sing jazz.

Lonely, Lonely is the second Gamble and Huff penned track. It too has a jazzy sound. With its melancholy horns, harmonies and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes joining sweeping strings, soon, Nancy’s vocal is filled with hurt and heartbreak. Sometimes, you think she’s about to unleash a powerful vocal. She teases you, but never quite kicks loose. She doesn’t need to, because her mixture of emotion, subtlety and power is truly irresistible.

How Many Broken Wings has an understated string-drenched arrangement that accompanies Nancy’ pleading, emotive vocal. As harmonies sweep in, joining the strings, the arrangement grows in power, drama and beauty. Nancy’s vocal grows in emotion and power, as she delivers a vocal that’s heartfelt and impassioned.

Gamble and Huff wrote The Real Me, which has an apt-title, given its vintage jazz sound. It allows Nancy to enter her comfort zone, deliver a vocal that’s variously tender, powerful, vulnerable and sassy. With high kicking, blazing horns, pounding drums and piano, Nancy returns to what is the real Nancy, delivering a swinging slice of vintage jazz.

Closing Now I’m A Woman is a a jaunty cover of David Gates’ Make It With You. It’s transformed from a throwaway soft pop into something much more memorable and meaty. Nancy’s vocal is tender and impassioned, growing in power and passion, closing her comeback album on a soulful and jazzy high.

David Cavanaugh’s brave decision to relinquish the producer’s chair resulted in a transformation of Nancy Wilson’s career. Now I’m A Woman was Nancy Wilson’s most successful album in many years. After Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, it looked as if Nancy Wilson’s career was about to hit the rocks. Then when David Cavanaugh brought in Gamble and Huff a remarkable transformation took place. Gamble and Huff penned three tracks and their Philly friends, contributed two more. They also brought in arrangers Bobby Martin, Lenny Pakula and Thom Bell. Key to Now I’m A Woman was M.F.S.B. Given that M.F.S.B. featured some of the best musicians of the late-sixties and seventies, it’s no surprise that Nancy Wilson’s Philly Soul makeover gave her one of her most successful albums. Sadly, Gamble and Huff wouldn’t produce Nancy’s next album. They were too busy turning Philadelphia International Records into one of the most successful record labels of the seventies. That they never produced any further Nancy Wilson albums is a great shame. One can only wonder what might have been. After all, Now I’m A Woman was one of Nancy Wilson’s finest albums. That makes Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Now I’m A Woman, which will be rereleased by SoulMusic Records on one CD on 25th March 2013 an essential purchase for anyone who loves either Nancy Wilson’s music, or likes their music soulful or jazzy. Standout Tracks: Raindrops Keep Dropping On My Head, Suzanne, Joe and Let’s Fall In Love All Over.

NANCY WILSON-CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF YOU AND NOW I’M A WOMAN. 

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