As a long time music collector in my thirties, I've always had an appreciation for what I like to call "pure vocalists" — singers who seem to be able to belt out any song and make it their own. This talented group tends to cross musical genres: standards, jazz, pop — their tremendous vocal range gives them a vast catalog of songs to chose from. While many people will automatically think of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland as being great vocalists in modern time, Peggy Lee deserves a mention on that list as well.
Peggy Lee is considered one of the most important musical influences of the 20th century. Artists including Madonna, Paul McCartney, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Costello and others have cited Lee as a mentor. To influence such a diverse group of well known entertainers Peggy Lee was obviously a special performer. Duke Ellington once said, "If I'm the Duke, then Peggy's the Queen."
For those of you who may only remember Peggy for her 1958 recording of "Fever," this month will be a great time to dig deeper into her discography. On May 27, 2007, Collectors' Choice Music will release The Lost '40s & '50s Capitol Masters. The 2-CD set features 39 tracks, none of which have ever been on CD and 13 of which have never been released. The unreleased tracks are some of the best gems on The '40s & '50s Capitol Masters. Peggy recorded "A Cottage for Sale" in December 1944 at only 23 years old. Her voice sounds so fresh and unaffected. The talent is clearly there, it's almost like she's just coming into her voice. Also featured is a wonderful alternate version of "Don't Be So Mean to Baby," Lee's first recording of a song she co-wrote with her first husband, Dave Barbour. The version released here was the first recording, and seems flawless, yet Capitol actually released a version of the song that was recorded three months later.
There are a couple of previously unreleased tracks from this CD that have been in constant rotation on my playlist since I received it. The first, "A Hundred Years from Today" is a wonderful song about living every day to the fullest. Lee's voice is full of such emotional tenderness, it almost brought me to tears the first time I heard it. Like Judy Garland, Peggy seemed to have an ability to pull the listener right into the emotion of the song, no matter the subject.
The second song on my playlist is "That 'Ol Devil (Won't Get Me). Written by Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour, this is a fun song recorded with Louis Prima and his Orchestra in 1951. Prima's unrestrained style and Lee's wonderful vocals mix well. I could help but feel like this song was a bit of a clue as to the fun Miss Lee would have with 1958's "Fever."