Music Video Weekend: “I’d Rather Go Blind”

“Something told me it was over
When I saw you and her talkin'”
— Ellington Jordan & Billy Foster

I was happy to discover this new cover of the classic tune, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” by pop-noir songstress, Gemma Ray. In terms of vocal performance, I don’t think Ray’s plaintive version touches the original by Etta James, but Ray’s take cooly updates the song for contemporary audiences. It also served to remind me of why it’s one of the greatest songs ever written.

For my money, those first two lines are as perfect as you can get. I’ve been working on a (still untitled!) Young Adult novel, and there’s a scene where I can hear this song, and Ray’s specific version, playing in the background (again, we’re in the land of “book-as-movie-in-the-head”).

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According to the account in her biography, Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story, Etta James first heard the melody for “I’d Rather Go Blind” when she visited Ellington Jordan in prison. Reportedly she helped finish the song with Jordan, but for tax purposes gave the co-writing credit to Billy Foster, her partner at the time.

I’D RATHER GO BLIND

Something told me it was over
When I saw you and her talkin’
Something deep down in my soul said, ‘Cry, girl’
When I saw you and that girl walkin’ around

Whoo, I would rather, I would rather go blind, boy
Then to see you walk away from me, child, no

Whoo, so you see, I love you so much
That I don’t wanna watch you leave me, baby
Most of all, I just don’t, I just don’t wanna be free, no

Whoo, whoo, I was just, I was just, I was just
Sittin here thinkin’, of your kiss and your warm embrace, yeah
When the reflection in the glass that I held to my lips now, baby
Revealed the tears that was on my face, yeah

Whoo and baby, baby, I’d rather, I’d rather be blind, boy
Then to see you walk away, see you walk away from me, yeah
Whoo, baby, baby, baby, I’d rather be blind…
currently There’s a scene in my new book

Here’s Etta’s original and still definitive version:

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As a huge fan of The Faces, and early Rod Stewart (emphasis on “early”), I first came to the tune as a young teenager through his version, which I still love:

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Beyonce played Etta James in the film, “Cadillac Records.” I really enjoyed the movie, which recounts the story of Chess Records and, in doing so, the history of Chicago Blues (Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Milton, Willie Dixon, etc). The movie plays loose with some facts, but I recommend it to music lovers. Here’s Beyonce’s version of the song:

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Lastly, while researching the tune, I came across an old band named Chicken Shack. You might recognize the lead singer for this 60’s British blues band. Her name is Christine Perfect. Later she married a bass guitarist named McVie and joined his band, Fleetwood Mac. Chicken Shack scored a #14 hit with their 1969 performance of the song:

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