Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I watched a terrific movie the other night: 20 Feet From Stardom. It’s about the backup singers who effectively stamped the music of the 60s and 70s with that special, soulful sound. Yes, they were usually black, and they were usually women, and that means they were usually screwed when it came to money. Cryin’ shame, because as artists like Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Sting, and, of course, the Rolling Stones knew, you had to have that certain something that only three or four black girls could provide. As Lou Reed put it, “And the colored girls say ‘do-doodoo-doodoo-doodoodoodoo.'”
One of the girl-singer titans of the era was Merry Clayton, and she’s all over the film. In spite of her own solo material, she’s probably best known for her vocal in the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” In this clip you can hear the vocal track — just Merry and Mick — isolated from the rest of the tracks. It’ll blow your mind.You can really hear her vocal cords busting blood vessels when it’s just her, soaking in reverb.
I love these isolated tracks you can find on YouTube. I don’t know how the techies do it, but it’s fascinating to hear the details that get buried by layers and layers of sound. The details, and the mistakes. (It’s true!)
For your listening convenience today, in this clip the singing begins in earnest at 55 seconds. Merry’s solo is around 2:45, and the vocals end around 4:13.