Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Merry Clayton (Music to My Ears)

I first read about Merry Clayton a few months back after hearing The Rolling Stone's Gimme Shelter for the 1,372nd time. I don't know what it was about this particular run-through but it hit me like a tidal wave of emotion. I'd always liked the song but man did it do a number on me that day. One of the things that got me was a background singer whose name I've mentioned. Waves of goosebumps overtook me starting behind my ears and traveling down my neck into my shoulders as her notes belted out against the apocalyptic forefront of the song...

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin'
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way

and Merry comes in...

War, children, it's just a shot away

The true beauty in the structure of this classic song is in the progression of the chorus. In the next portion of the song, it turns even more macabre with Merry taking over (before she's just backing up Jagger, now she's in control and sings...)

Rape, murder!

It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Three times she belts these lines out, and each time the emotion grows. On the third murder, her voice cracks and my body explodes with pins and needles. This might be the all-encompassing thunder of an entire generation in one note that can never be replicated. (I found later, that if you turn it up loud enough, you can hear Jagger in the background yell, "yeah!" when her voice cracks like that.

It turns out that you and I have heard this amazing voice many many times before and in places you'd never expect. Aside from The Stones, she sang for Lynyrd Skynyrd (Sweet Home Alabama), Neil Young, Carol King, Tom Jones, and Joe Cocker on one of my all-time favorite songs, Feelin' Alright! She also played The Acid Queen in The Who's Tommy. The most interesting song I found her on that I'd heard a million times is Tori Amos's Cornflake Girl...

And the man with the golden gun

Thinks he knows so much
Thinks he knows so much

Yeh, her again... and a new take on another song. (And a new portrait for your fresh eyes.)


  1. Think she also played a maid in a movie about 10-20 years ago...a major role in the film.

  2. Maid to Order (1987) maybe? I'll check it out and thanks!

  3. Nicole DavisSeptember 16, 2013

    Merry Clayton is gorgeous singer, she is extremely talented and her voice is magnificent. She introduced me to gospel music which I enjoy listening to right now. Thanks a lot for such a great post about her, it was nice to read it!


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