100 Essential CDs – Number 72 –Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me –Gloria Estefan

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Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me –Gloria Estefan (Epic 1994)

 UK Chart Position – 5

US Chart Position – 9

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My Essential 100 CDs needs to reflect the talent of this great performer who has sold well over 100 million records worldwide- a truly international artist.  With an album chart career of over 25 years I could have opted for a greatest hits compilation but I’m actually favouring an album which appeared in 1994 and is my favourite by Gloria Estefan   It is a selection of covers of songs which were important to her in her youth and the reason why this stands up above many similar covers albums by a whole fleet of artists is song choice.  These are great songs, not overexposed yet a number of them have been hits for more than one artist.  Gloria herself did well with this album hit-wise.  It contains three Top 40 UK and two US Top 40 singles. There’s a cohesive feel to this album, despite the variety of musical styles .  I’m not saying that Gloria betters all the originals (although she does on a few tracks) but she always gives a great performance which provides a respectful nod towards the quality of the material she has chosen.

Gloria is a versatile performer and the songs reflect this – ranging from 60’s ballads, to doowop, to 70’s Soul tracks, pop and rock tracks and disco.  It became her 6th UK Top 40 album. It sold well but not as well as her biggest albums in the early part of her career (she had two UK chart-topping albums in 1988 and 1989 where we really took to her blend of classy ballads and Latin American dancers).

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First up is the biggest UK and title track “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” a dramatic ballad which got to #11.  The original had been a 1965 #8 hit in the US for Mel Carter and this is an occasion where I prefer Gloria’s rendition.  The song is cheesy but Gloria seems aware of this and goes for broke by upping the drama. On the sleevenotes Gloria claims it is one of her all-time favourite songs  All of the tracks are produced by husband Emilio Estefan Jnr in collaboration with Jorge Casas, Clay Oswald and Lawrence Dermer in various combinations.

My favourite track on the album is probably a song which has charted for a number of artists, including Gloria (UK#19, US#27).  “Everlasting Love” was written for soul singer Robert Knight (US#13 in 1967 and a UK#19 seven years later).  The reason Robert had to wait those seven years was because a cover version by UK group Love Affair topped the charts early in 1968. It was re-released when another version began to ascend the charts in the US by Carl Carlton (the biggest American version of the song#6 in 1974). In the UK it was Knight’s original version that got the chart honours.  It has also been successful for the cast of “Casualty” (UK#5 in 1998), boyband Worlds Apart (UK#20 in 1993) jazz singer Jamie Cullum (#20 in 2004)German act Sandra (UK#45 in 1988)and former Stiff Records recording act Rachel Sweet in a duet  with Rex Smith (UK#35 , US#32in 1981).  Its sheer positivity has inspired in many different versions.  It is the only song to become a UK Top 40 hit in each of the five decades from the 60s to the 00’s.  The proof that it is a great song is because it doesn’t feel over-recorded, in fact Gloria reactivates the track into a Disco classic and it is so uplifting that I think her version is the best of all of them.  When it came to film the video to accompany the single Gloria was heavily pregnant with her second child and didn’t feel up to the dancing that such a track would require.  The decision was made to use five drag queens to strut their stuff, each one showing Gloria at a different stage in her career, from the corkscrew-haired vocalist of the Miami Sound Machine to the Spanish standard-singing diva.  This was a great fun video, helped promote and sell the track and won the Music Video of the Year at the Billboard Awards.

“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” is another of those gloriously positive songs and a song that exists in many cover versions.  The original was a Motown track penned by the great Brenda Holloway who wrote the song with her sister Patrice alongside Motown boss Berry Gordy Jnr and producer Frank Wilson.  Brenda’s version scraped into the US Top 40 in 1967, but it became a much bigger hit two years later when Blood, Sweat and Tears took it to number 2.  In the UK, despite it becoming a standard with many versions recorded only Blood Sweat and Tears have charted with it and that was a lowly #35.   A good version from Gloria and a dramatic instrumental section mid-way, but it doesn’t eclipse Brenda’s.

Another song cruelly under-valued in its original form is the Disco gem “Turn The Beat Around” which reached #10 in the US in 1976  for Vicki Sue Robinson, which also failed to chart in the UK.  This is an excellent choice for Gloria whose voice is similar to Vicki Sue’s, it has the same Latin vibe as the best of Miami Sound Machine  and all it needed was a bit of tweaking for the nineties market.  It became the biggest international hit on the album reaching #13 in the US and taking the song, retaining  its dynamite percussive break at long last into the UK charts when it reached #21.  The video features scenes from the Sharon Stone/Sylvester Stallone movie “The Specialist” and it recently got a new lease of life when it was featured in teen hit-comedy “Pitch Perfect”.

Whoever decided to use Erik Satie’s classical piece “Trois Gymnopedies” as a counterpoint to Gerry & The Pacemakers “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” was certainly onto something as this is a match made in heaven.  It allows the song to be slowed down for additional poignancy and it is all very classy and quite lovely.  This for me is another of the tracks which surpasses the original version.

Another track which delights me, not because it is better than the original, because it plays it too close for that, but because it introduced one of my all-time favourite songs to a wider audience.  It was a brave move to cover the Disco classic track from my #2 Essential CD list album – “Cherchez La Femme” originally by Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band .  Gloria’ s vocal lacks the playful coquettishness of Cory Daye’s but it is great to hear it again amongst her selections of songs.

Gloria chooses to sing the slowed down version of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”.  This is one of the few songs to exist in two versions by the original artist and making the charts in both formats.  In 1962 it was a pacy teen ballad for Sedaka and topped the US Top 40.  Thirteen years later it was completely re-arranged and transformed into a sedate ballad which reached #8.  In the UK only the original version charted (#7) so there may have been many who were not familiar with the slower version that Gloria covers.  In the interim period between the Sedakas there was the UK Top 3 and US#28 from The Partridge Family in 1972.

“Love On A Two Way Street” was the first US hit for Sweet Soul group The Moments (#3 in 1970).  This was a group who had a different set of records charting in the US from the UK.  Over here we preferred their more pop-soul novelty songs like “Girls”, “Dolly My Love” and “Jack In The Box” but this is a much cooler track in which Gloria, with her warm contralto, rather than the original falsetto, does the song justice, despite the strange metaphorical lyrics.

Also on the album we have the song Gloria feels has “one of the best and unique arrangements in pop music” “How Can I Be Sure”, originally a 1967 #4 hit for the Rascals, but there have also been hit versions for David Cassidy and Dusty Springfield.  There’s a real European feel to this song, accordion (played by Emilio), pizzicato strings and that lovely swaying instrumental break which provides one of the song’s highlights.

Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” from the game-changing “Tapestry” album is included as Gloria claims it influenced her singing style and she wore out two copies of it.  King’s voice does possess the same warmth as Estefan’s.  This has a Santana-esque electric guitar sound courtesy of Tim Mitchell .There’s also the gentle percussive feel of  “Traces” #2 track in the US for Classics IV in 1969; the Doowop standard “Goodnight My Love” and for the closer a take on Elton John’s chart-topping “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” This was initially only present on the European version of this CD and it does have a slightly different feel to the rest of the tracks on display.

This for me is the most essential of Gloria’s albums, but if you like what is here then her “Greatest Hits” is a five star release and gives the highlights of a seven Grammy winning career. If you enjoy the Disco orientated tracks Gloria effectively recreates the whole era in a very good set of original songs on her “Gloria!” album from 1998 which provided her with another three UK Top 40 hits and one US Top 40 track and reached #16 in the UK, #23 in US and was another Spanish chart-topper.

On the subject of Spain, Gloria has recorded four Spanish language albums which are all of high quality, as well as a number of Spanish tracks on other albums and songs that were released in both languages.  Her latest album from 2013 is another covers version featuring, as the title suggests, “Standards”, including “What A Difference A Day Makes” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face” from My Fair Lady as well as Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar” and a lovely Spanish language version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” (Sonrie).  Given that the video for my last Essential CD was Erasure fooling around dressed as the girls from Abba you might think I have a thing for men in women’s clothes as I have selected the five drag queen Gloria’s in “Everlasting Love”.  I haven’t, it’s pure coincidence (honest!) but to show the award winning video of probably the best track of the album is too much of an opportunity to miss.

At time of writing this CD can be purchased new from Amazon.co.uk used for £3.12 and used from £0.01 and download for £1.99.  American listeners can buy new from $4.00 and used from $0.01.  In the UK it is available to stream from Spotify.

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