26 September 2012

From Angel To Working Girl

Even if you're not my age, you've heard the song at least 500 times on the radio.  You might have even heard it that many times if you don't listen to the radio anymore.  So, you might be sick of it.  I'm not:  I guess if I'm not by now, I never will be.

I'm talking about Angel of the Morning, a megahit (and just about the only hit) for Merrillee Rush and The Turnabouts.  I've always liked her voice, which was classically trained, and the classical instrumentation.  If Sheryl Crow had been born about fifteen years earlier than she was, she might have been Merrilee, though I'm glad things didn't turn out that way!

You've also probably heard (or read) that some people regard Angel a kind of proto-feminist anthem.  It certainly is a song about a woman who can stand on her own two feet. ("I won't beg you to stay," she says to the guy with whom she has an apparent one-nighter.)  In that sense, it was certainly different from just about any other pop song of that time, and arguably more enlightened than much of what is being sung today.

I'm mentioning all of this because, for the first time in a long time, I listened to the eponymous album on which the song is found.  Some of the other songs are forgettable pop "filler", no better or worse than other things you've heard from that time.  But a couple of other songs are good, or at least interesting.

One of them is called Working Girl.  If you listen to it, remember that the album was released in 1968.  To my knowledge, nobody was using the term "sexual harassment."  But that's exactly what the song's lyrics describe.  ("Mr. Jones--is that a ring on your hand?  A new job?  No, I like it here.  Yes, I read your intentions clear.")  As with Angel, there is nothing else like it from that time, and hardly anything like it since.  

From what I've mentioned so far, it probably isn't surprising that Merrilee would have recorded such a song.  But, the song actually turns into the polar opposite of Angel.  The protagonist of the song doesn't stand up for herself (Then again, how could she have done so in 1968?); instead she wishes that some man would "find this working girl, and give her heart a home".  

What makes those lines all the more jarring is that on the album, only one other track separates Angel of the Morning from Working Girl.  The song in between, That Kind of Woman, is about a woman in an affair with a married man.  It's not bad, but it isn't as beautiful as Angel or as tense and lugubrious as Working.

After Angel, Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts released, if I'm not mistaken, two more albums, neither of which had the impact of Angel. (How could they, really?)  Now she and her husband, singer/songwriter Billy Mac, live in a farmhouse her grandfather built in the countryside near Seattle, her birthplace.  There, they do a thriving business in raising English sheepdogs.

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