Sunday, June 04, 2006


I don't really have any clue how many or how few of you are out there reading this little site, but if you've been here from the start, or read the archives, you may have come across my post about "The Moreland Tapes", connected to the posting of the song "Head Cheese". You can read it here:

Well, since the last time I posted, I've learned a lot about the singer of that song (and of the other song referenced in that post, "Reputation"). Another piece of writing I did about these tapes came to the attention of a relative of the Moreland family, and I eventually heard from two of Merigail (correct spelling) Moreland's relatives.

This quite quickly became the most bittersweet of meetings: I was, on the one hand, able to learn that Merigail, whose voice I'd adored on these tapes for so many years, actually made a handful of records, copies of which I was sent. I even learned that she was(perhaps briefly) a Chicago area celebrity, co-hosting her own "American Bandstand" style show, locally, while still in High School in the late 1950's. On the other hand, I was deeply saddened to learn that her life was cut short by Lupus, at around age 48, in 1991.

She apparently worked as a singer for much of that short life, and I may yet get to here more of her recordings. But for the time being, I have spent the last six or seven months, listening, obsessively at times, to a single she released on a small Chicago label, in 1960. There were actually at least three singles, under then name "Merri Gail", one in 1955, and two in 1960, but this one is the "shoulda been" hit, and the quality of her singing just gives me chills at times. And she was all of 16 or 17 at the time.

I've uploaded both sides of this 45 to the bashleo/gmail site. The version of "Unchained Melody" is first rate, with a great arrangement (love that accordian), and a sexy, longing vocal that seems more knowing than I'd expect from someone so young. Also, the growth in ability and technique from "Reputation", just three years earlier, is astonishing.

But as great as I think "Unchained" is, it was only the B-Side to the completely wonderful (if oddly named) "Oo-Lee, Oo-Lee, Papa, Oo-Lee". There is not a thing about this record that I don't adore right down to my bones, and it's flown right to the top of my favorite records of 1960, along with "Cathy's Clown", "It's Now or Never" and the Olympics' "Dance By the Light of the Moon".

For "Oo-Lee", before even considering the lead vocal, there is the goofy way the song starts in the middle of a musical phrase, that great bass voice, more coloring from accordian, and a swinging late '50's take on doo-wop. The lyrics are a bit ridiculous in places, but Merigial just sings the hell out of it, suggesting a depth of emotion behind the words that makes me believe she meant every word of it. And the dichotomy between the softly longing vocal of the choruses and the demanding, pleading vocal in the bridges is great, too.

It pales next to the tragedy of her short life, of course, but I was truly hoping to someday find Merigail Moreland, meet her, and tell her how much I've loved her recordings, and I've been very saddened to learn that this can never happen. Is it possible to have a crush on a singer who was grown before I was born, and who has been gone for 15 years, based on nothing more than her recordings?

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