When Margaret Whiting scored a No. 26 Pop/No. 1 Easy Listening hit with 1966’s “The Wheel of Hurt,” she was surrounded by the aura of a comeback. But the veteran songstress was only in her early forties. Three albums and a clutch of singles recorded for London Records between 1966 and 1970 proved that Whiting was most definitely still a contender. Now, the recordings from Whiting’s London period have finally arrived on CD, filling in a major gap in the Margaret Whiting discography. Real Gone Music has unveiled two discs of prime Maggie: 1966’s The Wheel of Hurt, plus bonus singles (RGM-0136), and a two-fer of Maggie Isn’t Margaret Anymore (1967) and Pop Country (1968) plus outtakes (RGM-0137). Both discs make for exciting discoveries and should please any fan or collector craving more on CD from this often-overlooked voice.
The daughter of songwriter Richard Whiting (“Too Marvelous for Words,” “Hooray for Hollywood”) and a protégée of Johnny Mercer, Margaret Whiting was one of the first artists signed to Mercer’s fledgling Capitol label, where she remained for nearly 15 years before decamping for Dot and later, Verve/MGM. She had been absent from the studio for a few years when Arnold Goland, one of the early architects of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, approached her. Goland, an orchestrator, producer, composer and conductor, felt he had the stuff to bring Whiting’s timeless sound into the present day. Although she made her name on the songs that built The Great American Songbook, Whiting had, in fact, successfully championed country music via her duets with Jimmy Wakely and even a hit recording of Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You).” And so Goland, acting as arranger and conductor, looked to country-pop to garner the versatile vocalist a return to the charts.
Hit the jump for a journey through both releases!
The countrypolitan “The Wheel of Hurt” opened the album of the same name. On the song by the “Strangers in the Night” team of Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, Whiting’s crystalline, resonant voice was swathed in strings, backed by a prominent choir. The entire album more or less adhered to this formula, veering back and forth from pop to country, and sometimes both in the same song. On the country side, the twangy “Where Do I Stand” (“now that you’ve got my heart in the palm of your hand”) is a fine companion to the title track.
On the pop side, “The World Inside Your Arms” and “Somewhere There’s Love” are both catchy, quintessential mid-60s nuggets by the Lor Crane/Beverly Ross team also responsible for Patty Duke’s “Don’t Just Stand There.” “The World” is a fine, orchestrated ballad, but “Somewhere” is even better, a slice of pop that would have sounded quite comfortable alongside any of Petula Clark’s big beat hits. Gary Geld and Peter Udell (“Hurting Each Other,” Shenandoah) supplied Whiting with the groovy “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which like her rendition of Helen Miller and Roger Atkins’ “You Won’t Be Sorry, Baby” (written for Barbara Lewis), should have scored on radio.
On The Wheel of Hurt, Whiting also introduced “It Hurts to Say Goodbye,” written by Goland and the album’s producer Jack Gold. It has a European flavor similar to Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” also recorded by Whiting on this LP. Vera Lynn seized on Goland and Gold’s song for a 1967 recording, but the tune found its most lasting incarnation when Serge Gainsbourg translated it into French (as “Comment te dire adieu?”) for singer Francoise Hardy. Jimmy Somerville then had another hit version in 1989! Whiting’s original deserves to be as well-known as those other recordings. Less successful are the “covers” of popular material. The big, anodyne choir feels intrusive on the otherwise-breezy arrangement of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “Time After Time” and especially on “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” which lacks the raw intensity of Dusty Springfield’s hit version. And Whiting valiantly attempts “Winchester Cathedral,” but the song, of course, wasn’t optimal for her gifts of interpretation.
The Wheel of Hurt has been expanded with eleven A- and B-sides as well as two German versions of “The Wheel of Hurt” and “Nothing Lasts Forever.” The singles are an eclectic lot. “Let’s Pretend,” also recorded by Lulu, is another strong pop ballad. Paul Anka’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind,” a 1968 A-side for Anka, is another terrific find, with Goland’s arrangement taking in a baroque feel on the verses and a big, booming chorus. The five tracks here from 1970, including “Love’s the Only Answer” as previously recorded by Kelly Garrett, are all still very much rooted in sixties style, with plenty of dynamics to showcase Whiting’s natural instrument. Charles Fox’s moody “Love Has a Way,” from the motion picture Goodbye, Columbus and also recorded by Barbara McNair, is a subtle joy with a light Bacharach/bossa nova touch. Whiting also sinks her teeth into a music box-esque chart for Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time for You to Go.”
Goland and Gold returned for Maggie Isn’t Margaret Anymore (1967) and Pop Country (1968), combined on the second of Real Gone’s two releases. The former mostly leaned in the pure pop direction, with an emphasis on covers of songs both old and new. The latter returned to the same territory as on The Wheel of Hurt, even explicitly identifying its genre(s) in its title but drawing its material primarily from the country side of town.
On the pop-flavored Maggie Isn’t Margaret Anymore, Whiting – whatever you call her – does a commendable job with a straightforward reading of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s wistful “Only Love Can Break a Heart.” Whiting also addresses the British Invasion with lighthearted takes on Herman’s Hermits’ “There’s a Kind of Hush” and The Dave Clark Five’s “Because.” A few standards and future standards factor into the mix, such as Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s lovely “My Cup Runneth Over” from their Broadway musical I Do! I Do!, Charlie Chaplin’s “This is My Song” and Johnny Mercer and Victor Scherzinger’s “I Remember You.” Mercer’s song gets one of the more “modern” charts, though its guitars and beat are offset by the square choir. “This is My Song” has an Ernie Freeman-esque sound, and Whiting’s take on Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s hit “Something Stupid” is a virtual duet with a very prominent guitar. George Wright and Chet Forrest (Kismet) fashioned “If This is Goodbye” for their ill-fated musical Anya, deriving it from a theme by Rachmaninoff. It’s suitably dramatic in Whiting’s hands. Les Reed and Barry Mason’s “Just Like a Man” is far less interesting than Goland and Gold’s “By Now,” a stylistic successor to their “It Hurts to Say Goodbye.” With its alto saxophone accompaniment, it conjures up a smoky, late-night cabaret date.
On Pop Country, Whiting brings her natural affinity for the C&W songbook to familiar tracks by Don Gibson (“I Can’t Stop Loving You”), Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold (“You Don’t Know Me”), John Hartford (“Gentle on My Mind”) and Hank Williams (a new recording of “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You).”) Although it’s hard to agree with producer/arranger Goland’s recollection in the new liner notes that “country music was the only place in the 1970s where there was any good music,” he nonetheless had a keen sense of which songs would work for the sophisticated, urbane Whiting sound. Indeed, she doesn’t condescend to any of the compositions, concentrating on the lyrics in a relaxed manner and letting the orchestra and background vocalists bring the “Nashville sound.” The album’s closing track, “Am I Losing You” from English songwriters John Carter and Ken Lewis, is the only track that seems like it wandered in from another session!
Four previously unissued outtakes round out this disc including another Goland/Gold track, “Boys Fall in Love.” (“Boys fall in love,” the song asserts, “but girls want to get married!”) The names of the songwriters behind the remaining three tracks – one of which, “The Heart of a Sailor,” was inspired by the U.S.S. Pueblo incident of 1968 – have been lost to time. The brassy “Believe in Me” is certainly strong enough to have warranted a place on an album or a single. There’s also a fun hidden track in which Whiting extols the praises of a “fire-brewed” libation in song!
As remastered by Mike Milchner at Sonic Vision, sound quality is generally good on both discs although a couple of tracks on The Wheel of Hurt appear to be mastered from inferior sources (1970 single “At the Edge of an Ocean” b/w “Love Has a Way”). Will Friedwald has supplied a typically-smart essay for both releases, although much of the content is duplicated across both booklets.
Like so many of her classic-pop contemporaries, Margaret Whiting had to face the dramatic changes in music in the mid-1960s. Real Gone’s welcome reissues of her London catalogue show that she made the right decision in embracing the “new” music. She returned to American standards in later years, spicing up albums with new songs by Rupert Holmes and Peter Allen. Whiting continued to receive rightful acclaim until her passing in 2011, and although these albums might be atypical of her repertoire, they’re still prime examples of why she remains one of the classiest singer’s singers.
You can order both albums by clicking on each image, above! And we welcome you to read more on Margaret Whiting in this installment of our Back Tracks series!