Saturday, 2 February 2013

Etta James 'I Just Want To Make Love To You'

Chart Peak: 5


Los Angeles born Etta James Hawkins scored her first British hit single in 1996 at the age of 57 (approx.)... Her version of Willie Dixon's classic 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' shot into our Top 5 in February 1996 after its use on the "Diet Coke" Ad.

And indeed her only other credited Top 40 hit came with the revival of the perennial 'At Last' (of which this was the original US B-side in 1961) after her death just over a year ago; though by an odd coincidence her voice was also on two of the Top 10 singles that week - she was sampled on Avicii's 'Levels' which was in turn sampled for 'Good Feeling' by Flo Rida. As the note explains, this one-off success was the product of a commercial, which is a fact that perhaps doesn't reflect too positively on the UK record-buying public. But the song (originally written by blues great and Led Zep plagiarism victim Willie Dixon) was not unfamiliar beforehand and whilst it's not my favourite item in Etta's catalogue it's a powerful record in its own right, thanks largely to her extraordinary vocal: when she tears into that first verse, her singing is almost too good for the early 1960s microphone.

Despite the number of times it's been covered, it's a difficult song to sing because it's so hard to stay the right side of sounding like a sex offender. It requires a very special perfomance to make the sexuality sound heartfelt and directed - about attraction to a particular person at a particular time - without camping it up or just sounding ridiculously priapic. Even though this song was written by a man (and originally made famous by another man, Muddy Waters) this version is one of the most powerful expressions of female sexuality I've ever heard on a record, because it's not just playing up to a male fantasy. I almost feel sorry for Eternal, because knowing this track was coming up next can't have improved my opinion of their attempt at soul music. But I'm sure they'd agree that her catalogue is worth investigating and you could do far worse than pick up the Chess singles collection; especially if, like my wife, you were smart enough to do so while she was still alive. In the light of recent events, it's seeming increasingly possible that her final album might also prove to have been the last thing I ever bought in HMV, though it's hardly in the same league as this and the rest of the work she did at her peak.

Available on: The Very Best Of Etta James: The Chess Singles

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