CULT CLASSIC: SKEETER DAVIS-LET ME GET CLOSE TO YOU.
Cult Classic: Skeeter Davis-Let Me Get Close To You.
Nowadays, Skeeter Davis is remembered and regarded as one of country music’s pioneers. She was one of the first women in country music to enjoy commercial success as a solo artist. This proved to be a game-changer.
Skeeter Davis paved the way for several generations of female country singers to enjoy a successful career as a solo artist. However, not only was Skeeter Davis a successful singer, but a successful songwriter, but a role model for young, up-and-coming female singer-songwriters. She inspired and influenced some of the biggest names in country music, including Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton. They’ve both acknowledged the influence that Skeeter Davis had on their careers. Ironically, though, Skeeter Davis was very nearly lost to country music.
If that had been the case, then Skeeter Davis would never have enjoyed thirteen top thirty US Country hits between 1957 and 1963. This included Skeeter Davis’ 1962 million selling single The End Of The World and was certified gold. It was Skeeter’s first crossover single, and was followed by I Can’t Stay Mad At You in 1963. This rounded off a successful year.
As 1963 gave way to 1964, Skeeter Davis wondered how she would surpass what had been one of the most successful years of her career? She returned with one of the finest albums of her career, Let Me Get Close To You, which was recently rereleased by Playback Records. However, by the time Skeeter Davis released Let Me Get Close To You much had happened to the thirty-three year old star.
The Skeeter Davis story began in Dry Ridge, Kentucky on ‘30th’ December 1931, when Mary Frances Penick was born. Growing up, young Mary was an energetic child, prompting her grandfather to nickname her Skeeter. This stuck, and suddenly Mary became Skeeter. This was the name she would use when her solo career began.
Before that, Skeeter met Betty Jack Davis at the Dixie Heights High School, and the two became firm friends. The pair sang together in high school, and at the Decoursey Baptist Church. Later, the formed a duet The Davis Sister, which launched Skeeter’s career.
In 1951, The Davis Sisters were asked to travel to Detroit, to sing on WJR’s program Barnyard Frolics. This was the break that The Davis Sisters were looking for. Things got even better for The Davis Sisters when they were signed to RCA Victor later in 1951.
Although signed to RCA Victor, The Davis Sisters spent time acting as backing singers for The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. They saw the potential in The Davis Sisters, and in 1953, encouraged them to get in touch with Stephen H. Sholes a producer at RCA Victor.
When Stephen H. Sholes heard The Davis Sisters harmonies, he offered them a recording contract. This they accepted and on May ’23rd’ 1953 The Davis Sisters entered the studio and recorded five songs, including I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know. It was released as The Davis Sisters’ first single the summer of 1953, and reached the top twenty in the US Billboard 100 and spent eight weeks number one on the US Country charts. Many industry insiders thought that this was the start of the rise and rise of The Davis Sisters.
Sadly, tragedy struck on August ‘1st’ 1953, when The Davis Sisters were involved in a terrible automobile accident. Betty Jack Davis died in the accident and Skeeter Davis sustained serious injuries.
Despite still recovering from her injuries, Skeeter was had been traumatized by the accident, was told by Betty Jack Davis’ overbearing mother that The Davis Sisters should continue. This was the last thing on Skeeter’s mind. She had lost her best friend, and suffered from serious injuries. However, Mrs Davis wasn’t going to be dissuaded, and told Skeeter that her other daughter Georgia Jack was now her partner in The Davis Sisters. Skeeter felt she was being manipulated, but had nobody to turn to. Both her parents were then drinking heavily, and reluctantly, Skeeter agreed that The Davis Sisters should continue.
The Davis Sisters continued for three more years, and even spent time touring with a young Elvis Presley. However, The Davis Sisters never came close to replicating the success of I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know.
By 1956, Skeeter who was then twenty-five, made two announcements. Not only was she getting married, but she had decided to retire from music. It looked like Skeeter’s career was over.
Just over a years later, Skeeter decided to make a comeback, and returned to country music in 1957. This time, it wasn’t as one half of The Davis Sisters, but as a solo artist. Skeeter started off touring with Ernest Tubb, and later in 1957, started working with guitarist and producer Chet Atkins.
In September 1957, Skeeter recorded what would become her debut solo single, Lost to a Geisha Girl. When it was released in December 1957, it reached number fifteen on the US Country charts, and launched Skeeter’s solo career. Little did anyone realise that this was the start of the rise and rise of one of the most successful female country singers.
Just two years after her comeback, Skeeter cowrote Set Him Free, which was released as a single in February 1959. It reached number five in US Country charts, and was later nominated for a Grammy Award. Five months later, in July 1959, Skeeter released Homebreaker as a single, which reached fifteen in the US Country charts. Skeeter then released her debut album I’ll Sing You A Song and Harmonize Too in November 1959. This rounded off one of the most successful years of Skeeter’s career. She enjoyed two singles, released her debut album and joined the Grand Ole Opry. Skeeter’s star was in the ascendancy.
Skeeter’s success continued in 1960, when she enjoyed a trio of hit singles. Her poignant reading of Am I That Easy To Forget reached number eleven in the US Country charts. Then when (I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too was released in July 1960, it reached number two in the US Country charts and thirty-nine on the US Billboard 100. This was Skeeter’s first crossover hit and the fourth hit single of her career. Soon, four became five when My Last Date (With You) was released in December 1960, and reached number four in the US Country charts, but twenty-six on the US Billboard 100. This was the perfect way to close the most successful year of Skeeter’s career.
As 1961 dawned, Skeeter released her sophomore album Here’s The Answer in January. It featured cover versions of hit singles by country artists, with Skeeter singing the answer songs. She breathed life, meaning and emotion into the songs, which showcased her ability to interpret a song. So did the two hit singles she released during 1961. When The Hands You’re Holding Now was released in March 1961, it reached number eleven in the US Country charts. The followup was Optimistic, which was released in September 1961, and reached number ten in the US Country charts. Skeeter’s partnership with Chet Atkins was proving fruitful.
The Chet Atkins and Skeeter Davis partnership were responsible for another trio of hits during 1962. Where I Ought To Be was released in January 1962, and reached number nine in the US Country charts. The followup The Little Music Box stalled at just twenty-two, before Skeeter returned with the biggest and most important hit of her solo career.
This was The End Of The World, which would introduce Skeeter Davis to a much wider audience. The End Of The World was a maudlin song that dealt with loss. Many people who weren’t fans of country music normally wouldn’t have listened to a heartbreaking song about loss that was delivered with honesty and emotion. However, the way Chet Atkins and Skeeter recorded the song was a game-changer. They added swathes of lush strings which defused the maudlin nature of the song, and complemented Skeeter’s soul-baring vocal. The result was a country song that would find a much wider audience. It also features on Let Me Get Close To You and is a reminder of one of Skeeter’s classic songs.
The End Of The World was an example of the new countrypolitan sound, which combined country with pop stylings. It introduced Skeeter to a much wider audience. Not only did The End Of The World reach number two in the US Country charts and US Billboard 100, it topped the Adult Contemporary charts and reached number four in the US R&B charts. Skeeter had crossed over and found a new audience within pop and R&B audiences. However, this resulted in cries of sellout from some of her loyal country fans. Despite this, this was it seemed that Skeeter Davis could do wrong.
Buoyed by the success of The End Of The World, Skeeter released her third album in March 1963, Skeeter Davis Sings The End Of The World. It was followed by I’m Saving My Love, which was released in April 1963, and is one of the bonus tracks on Let Me Get Close To You. When it was released I’m Saving My Love was released it reached number nine on the US Country charts and forty-one in the US Billboard 100. This was followed by a cover of Goffin and King’s I Can’t Stay Mad at You, which gave Skeeter a crossover hit when it was released in August 1963. It reached fourteen on the US Country charts, seven on the US Billboard 100 and two in the Adult Contemporary charts. Just two months later, Skeeter released her fourth album Cloudy, With Occasional Tears which reached eleven in the US Country charts. Skeeter Davis’ success continued apace.
In January 1964, Skeeter released a cover of Peter Udell’s wistful country ballad He Says The Same Things To Me. It reached seventeen in the US Country charts and forty-seven in the US Billboard. Tucked away on the B-Side was How Much Can A Lonely Heart Stand which is one of the Gonna Get Along Without You Now. It’s a real hidden gem, marries the countrypolitan sound with the girl group sound that was popular in 1964. This was something that Skeeter would return to.
Two months later, in March 1964, Skeeter released carefree poppy cover of Milton Kellum’s Gonna Get Along Without You Now. It reached number eight on the US Country charts, and surprisingly, given its radio friendly sound reached just forty-eight on the US Billboard 100. On the B-Side was the tender, hurt-filled cover of Now You’re Gone, which is another of the bonus tracks on Let Me Get Close To You.
After the success of Gonna Get Along Without You Now, Skeeter decided to cover Goffin and King’s Let Me Get Close To You for her next single. It was another commercial sounding single with crossover appeal. Hidden away on the B-Side was a hurt-filled version of The Face Of A Clown which is another of the bonus tracks on Let Me Get Close To You. When Let Me Get Close To You was released, many industry insiders thought that it would follow in the footsteps of Gonna Get Along Without You Now. Alas, the single stalled at forty-five on the US Country charts when it was released in July 1964. For Skeeter this was a disappointment.
Despite this disappointment, Skeeter returned with a cover of a rueful and melancholy cover of What Am I Gonna Do With You. An upbeat and breezy cover of Don’t Let Me Stand In Your Way was chosen for the B-Side. Despite the quality of both sides, (which feature on Let Me Get Close To You) What Am I Gonna Do With You reached just thirty-eight in autumn 1964. This was especially disappointing for Skeeter who was about to release her fifth album Let Me Get Close To You in December 1964.
For Let Me Get Close To You, twelve tracks that had been recorded been June 1962 and June 1964 were chosen. Some of these songs were familiar, and already had been releases as singles including Gonna Get Along Without You Now, I Can’t Stay Mad at You, Let Me Get Close to You and He Says The Same Things To Me. They were joined by eight other songs that had been recorded during sessions that took place between June 1962 and June 1964.
Of the eight ‘new’ songs, this included the beautiful, orchestrated, hurt-filled ballad Now I Lay Me Down To Weep which Skeeter wrote with Carolyn Penick. It’s followed by a cover of Dottie and Bill West’s Didn’t I, where Skeeter delivers a melancholy and rueful vocal where sadness and despair shine through. Skeeter’s cover of J O Duncan’s My Sweet Loving Man is upbeat, poppy and irresistibly catchy, and more than hints at the girl group sound that was popular when the song was recorded. Then Borney Bergantine and Better Patterson’s My Happiness sounds as if was tailor-made for Skeeter. Especially with lush strings accompanying her hurt-filled vocal. However, this is just part of the story.
The tempo drops on a cover of Johnny Tillotson and Lucille Cosenza’s Another You. It’s another tale of love lost, where flourishes of strings augment Skeeter’s vocal as elements of the countrypolitan and girl group sound combined successfully to create a beautiful ballad. Skeeter’s cover of Nancie Mantz and Keith Colley’s Ladder Of Success is another song that has been inspired by the girl group sound. Although very different to Skeeter’s early recordings, it shows a different side to a versatile and talented singer. When Skeeter covers Betty Sue Perry’s ballad Ask Me it’s understated and nuanced, with just a Spanish guitar, strings and harmonies accompanying her. Closing the album is another Goffin and King number Easy To Love, So Hard To Get, which has a slick, commercial and radio friendly sound. Skeeter it seemed had kept one of her finest moments until last on Let Me Get Close To You.
Before the release of Let Me Get Close To You, critics had their say on the album. It received plaudits and praise as Skeeter Davis switched between and combined elements of different musical genres on the twelve songs. Elements of country, countrypolitan, the girl group sound and pop can be heard on Let Me Get Close To You, where Skeeter moves seamlessly from ballads to uptempo songs. This augured well for the release of Let Me Get Close To You.
When Let Me Get Close To You was released in December 1964, the album sold reasonably well, and to some extent, introduced Skeeter Davis’ to a new audience. The success that she had been enjoying since her comeback looked as if it was going to continue. Especially after the success of the last five years, which cumulated with the release of Let Me Get Close To You.
It’s one of the finest albums Skeeter Davis released during the sixties. By 1964, the countrypolitan sound was growing in popularity, and Skeeter was one of its finest purveyors. This introduced her music to a much wider audience, and suddenly, her music had been discovered by pop and R&B fans. Right up until late 1964, Skeeter Davis was one of the most successful country singers. She had enjoyed fifteen top thirty US Country singles, fourteen of which reached the top twenty and eight reached the top ten. There was also the small matter of her million selling single The End Of The World. However, nothing lasts forever.
Even by the second half of 1964, Skeeter’s singles were no longer reaching the upper reaches of the charts. Although Skeeter was just thirty-three, her singles would never reach the same heights. However, her recording career continued until the late-eighties. However, her last album to chart was 1973s I Can’t Believe That It’s All Over. Sadly, it was all over for Skeeter Davis as far as chart success was concerned.
She continued to play live right up until her death on September ’19th’ 2004, aged just seventy-three. That day, country music lost not just a legend, but a musical pioneer, who had played her part in changing country music history. Not only did Skeeter Davis pioneering the countrypolitan sound, but paved the way for several generations of female country singers to embark on solo career. They owe a debt of gratitude to the late, great Skeeter Davis whose 1964 critically acclaimed fifth album The End Of The World is a reminder of a country music pioneer at the peak of her powers.
Cult Classic: Skeeter Davis-Let Me Get Close To You.