Evie Sands :: Any Way That You Want Me

Imagine this. May, 1971. A&M Recording Studios in Hollywood. While Carole King is laying down Tapestry in Studio B, the Carpenters are simultaneously cutting their eponymous album in the larger Studio A (Joni Mitchell, meanwhile is putting the finishing touches on an album called Blue over in Studio C). Now, try to imagine King and the Carpenters saying, all right, what if we pooled our resources and cut a super group album together? Let’s trade songs and production values and see what we come up with. Imagine James Taylor showing up with his acoustic guitar. Imagine the arrangements, imagine the upfront vocals that go from aching Soft Rock vibrato to the soulful heights of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”. Songs that draw from the Brill Building and Girl Groups as much as Bacharach and David, but all laid down with an intimate, living-room style. This is pop that may be orchestrated but also seems to channel thoroughly West Coast vibes, as if these were tunes meant to soundtrack barefoot afternoons in Laurel Canyon, incense, and the jangle of beaded curtains.

Although the two studio-neighbors never did get together, the sound you are imagining is not purely make-believe. In many ways, it’s the sound of a much lesser known, but in no way lesser LP, recorded (in part) at A&M Recording Studios the year before.

Evie Sands :: Any Way That You Want Me

That Evie Sands’ Any Way That You Want Me   (1970) did not become an era-defining album is, perhaps, one of the crueler jokes in pop history. Indeed, this lone early-Seventies outing by Sands barely managed a fraction of the astronomical sales accrued by either King or the Carpenters. That said, Any Way That You Want Me   is, simply put, one of the most sublime and strikingly gorgeous albums of the period. I do not say this lightly or with any urge to mythologize. This album is good: a post-Dusty in Memphis, post-Bobbie Gentry work of art, brimming with all the Sing-Songwriter Soul that Laura Nyro could strive for.   Which, I suppose, begs the question: why are you imagining this little pop masterpiece rather than remembering it as something you heard every time your parents cued up the turntable?

Some context. Born in Brooklyn in 1946, Sands was scooped up as a teenager by Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird subsidiary, Blue Cat Records. Home to acts like the Ad-Libs, Bessie Banks, and the Shangri Las, Red Bird/Blue Cat formed the lynchpin of the New York Girl Group scene of the 1960s, featuring in-house producers like Shadow Morton and Leiber/Stoller as well as the songwriting chops of the Brill Building’s Ellie Greenwich and John Barry. Evie Sands, however, was undeniably a wild card in the Blue Cat pack. Part of this is of course due to her voice, which is an earthy, deep-throated, and creaturely thing, always primed like a spring to leap from wounded vulnerability to soulful muscularity. Credit is also due, however, to both Chip Taylor (he of “Wild Thing” fame) and Al Gorgoni who together were the principal composers and producers behind Sands’ early output. Listen, for instance, to the way the Taylor/Gorgoni-produced single “Take Me for a Little While” lets Sands’ vocal quaver, half-spent through the opening verses, before laying down a big chorus that reasserts all the powerhouse pining of Ronnie Spector and Dusty Springfield. Just listen to the way Sands wrings the heart out of the lyric: “If you don’t want me forever/And if you don’t need me forever/And if you can’t love me forever/Take me for a little while.”

As with the best songs of the Girl Group era, what may seem naî¯ve on the surface is redeemed by melodrama, an operatic whirlwind of reverb and earnest melancholy (indeed, one that re-appropriates the chamber-pop sound first minted by Leiber and Stoller, Doc Pomus, and acts like Ben E. King and the Drifters, some years before.) In other words, the bubblegum gets eighty-sixed, because all you get with bubblegum is cute. By contrast, the Girl Group era is defined by songs (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Tell Him,” “Be My Baby,” “(Remember) Walking in the Sand”) that take the stock spectrum of emotions associated with teenagers (teenage girls, mainly) and deliberately spills them out onto huge expressionist canvases. Like Stephen Daedalus these were artists trying to fly by the nets that their culture had thrown over them. There is, after all, a reason that their songs–covered by the Beatles and integral to everything from Pet Sounds to Amy Winehouse–were also quoted freely by the New York Dolls, the Damned, and the Smiths.

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