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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Who Did It Better? We're All Alone

Who Did It Better? 
We’re All Alone 

Today, we're taking a look at a classic ballad from the mid-seventies; a song which got plenty of attention upon it's initial release, but was not released as a single by the artist who wrote it and first recorded it. Instead, it would wind its way through the careers of six other artists before landing in Billboard's Top Ten and becoming an international hit. 

We're All Alone is a song written by Boz Scaggs. It initially appeared on what is considered his breakthrough album, Silk Degrees. Released on February 18, 1976, the album would produce a number of Top 40 hits, however, We're All Alone would not one of them, as it was relegated to the B-Side of his hit, Lido Shuffle. However, in Australia Scaggs issued the song with Lowdown as the flip to become a double A-side chart entry which reached #54 in 1977. This would mark the only time the song charted under Scaggs' moniker.

A bit of trivia: In a 1976 interview with Creem magazine, Scaggs mentioned that Michael Jackson had cut a version of We're All Alone. However, as of this writing, that recording has yet to see the light of day.

Frankie Valli recognized the hit potential of the song, recording it for his 1976 Valli album and releasing it as its lead single. In August of 1976, his version had peaked at #78 on Billboard's Hot 100, while reaching #27 on the Adult Contemporary Chart. It experienced similar success in Canada. In July of 1976, he released it as a single in the U.K.

In October of 1976, The Walker Brothers, a group  Scaggs' has cited as a formative influence, released the song as a single from their Lines album in the U.K., where it failed to chart. However, ten months later, in August 1977, it did manage to reach #22 in the Netherlands.  

The Three Degrees recorded a version for their album Standing Up For Love. They released it as a single in the UK in March of 1977. That same month, stateside, country western singer La Costa (Tanya Tucker's sister) would release We're All Alone, reaching #75 on Billboard's Country chart. It would also be included as the B-Side on her cover of Smoky Robinson's chestnut, I Second That Emotion, which was released as a single in the U.K.

La Costa was not the only sibling of a famous singer to record the song and release it as a single. In Canada, Bruce Murray (Anne Murray's brother) managed to crack the Top 40 with his version of the song. However, it got knocked off the charts the moment Coolidge's version began its ascendency. 

In 1977, it was suggested to Rita Coolidge that she record the song. Coolidge had worked with Scaggs on two of his prior albums, not only providing back-up vocals, but also directing and arranging all the backing vocals for both albums.

According to Coolidge, "When I was with A&M Records, it was like a family. I would visit Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, and it was a very open, communicative group of people. One day I was in Jerry Moss' office and he said that the Boz Scaggs album, Silk Degrees, was in a million homes and there was a song on it that was perfect for a woman to sing. He said, 'It's called We're All Alone and as he's not doing it as a single, I think you ought to record it.'"

It was Coolidge's slow southern charm that did the trick, as hers would prove to be the bestselling version of them all. 

Issued as the second single from her 1977 Anytime,.. Anywhere album, We're All Alone would hit #7 in the U.S. that September. It was the third time the song had been released as an A-Side in the U.S. In addition it managed to out perform La Costa's version on the Country chart, reaching #68, and grabbed the #1 spot on the adult contemporary chart.

In the U.K., where it was released as the lead single from the album, hers would be the fourth time the song had been released as an A-Side in that country. Even so, her version struck pay dirt, snagging the #6 spot in August 1977. It would also reach #6 in Ireland, #15 in the Netherlands, #32 in Australia and #34 in New Zealand. In Canada, it took the #5 spot on their pop chart and #1 on their adult contemporary chart.

And that's the whole story.

Now? On to the competition...

The Song: We're All Alone
The Competitors: Scaggs vs. Valli vs. The Walker Brothers vs. The Three Degrees vs. La Costa vs. Murray vs. Coolidge

We're All Alone - Boz Scaggs

We're All Alone - Frankie Valli

We're All Alone - The Walker Brothers

We're All Alone - The Three Degrees

We're All Alone - LaCosta

We're All Alone - Bruce Murray

We're All Alone - Rita Coolidge

Boz Scaggs

Seven is a lot of versions to slog through. I'll try to keep it brief, but you know me... blah, blah, blah. I mean, if they didn't want me to write a lot then they shouldn't have put so many letters on my damn keyboard.

Scaggs vocals are hooded and odd sounding, not the stuff hit ballads, at the time, were made of. I love the piano that opens it; very simple, sweet. The moment he moves into his head voice, it ceases to work for me. It's like Kermit The Frog singing. I say that, and I love Boz Scaggs... adore his whole catalog. This is a lovely song, but this is not the best version. The arrangement, on the other hand? Rather stellar. I like that it doesn't become leaden, that he sustains momentum by working the rhythmic qualities found in the lyrics and the piano - there's a quiet syncopation which propels this one forward. 

By the time he gets to that chorus, he's in his element. I also love that they keep that piano up in the mix. Yes, his vocals are on top of everything, but the piano is given enough of an emphasis so that a definite interplay exists between the two. I do wish the strings were a bit more subtle. By the second chorus they are competing too much. And that heavy back beat emphasis gets old quickly, too. Some messy percussion there. And I really dislike it when the strings take over completely. That is schlock with a capitol 'S', for sure. He sure tops out his range... not helping things at all. I like the piano at the end. 

Frankie Valli

Interesting piano intro. Not the sort of thing that worked on AM radio, though, so I can see why this didn't get more airplay. Valli sounds great. A bit nasal, but that's part of his charm. I like the first verse, some nice interpretation happening there on "forever more, forever more." 

And he has me until "waves." What in the world? No one speaks like that unless you're doing Jerry Lewis as the Nutty Professor.  So, why would you sing it like that? The piano gets a little 'schticky,' but his vocals immediately return to their former quality. What was he doing with "wave" and "cave?" Boggles the mind. 

I think he has a lovely voice. The chorus feels rushed. I wish he'd taken more care with it. I dislike what they're doing with the back beat. Very lounge singer, to have your guitarist hit it like that. Blech. Very lazy arranging. Oh, I like that piano lick they get in there as we move to the second chorus. Is that a French horn? Odd, but in the mix enough that it isn't competing with Valli, so it works. 

Oh, badly timed key change. Ridiculous string arrangement. Then he goes Cinemascope on us... interesting move. I was liking this up until the key change. I was so hoping he would come back soft and small after the break. Instead... full orchestra, like a curtain call. Though, I must say, I actually like his vocals when he returns. He's great, but this arrangement? 

The Walker Brothers

The vocals are very schizophrenic. And odd. Creepy odd. I like the piano, I like the arrangement on the first two verses. That cymbal tap is annoying. Their vocals are very 'Vegas.' The piano playing reminds me of Tim Moore. 

I think the arrangement and production work are fine, except for that annoying cymbal tapping during the choruses. Their vocals are an acquired taste. A bit old school and very quirky. 

So the boys are done at the 3:11 mark. Why then are we subjected to over 80 seconds of instrumental? Naw.

The Three Degrees

Murky synths. Interesting choice. Moving like Jaws through the water. Her voice is an absolute pearl. The delivery is a little cloying, but there is no mistaking - she is a vocalist in control of her instrument. Second verse is very Shirley Bassey. Terrible, terrible harp transition. And terrible, terrible arrangement. Period. As we go into verse three I was thinking they were going to go all Barry White funky, but nope... schlock. Total schlock. 

Awww... second chorus, when all three sing together... that's nice. Not the arrangement. But the ladies sound great. But it doesn't last. They fall apart quickly. And then... a saxophone. Because...??? Why not.

So, I wish they had settled on a style before they began constructing this. It's like a house with a few too many rooms tacked on the outside of the original structure, paying no heed to scale or aesthetics.

La Costa

That chime like keyboard is such a classic sound. She's one of those singers who pulls her notes back - something Crystal Gayle is the queen of and uses to great effect. Yes, Crystal Gayle, whose sister is Loretta Lynn, just like Tanya Tucker's is La Costa's. 

Huh, in the second verse she comes into her own... she has a lovely voice. It was rather tentative there, at the beginning. I do wish that slide guitar would shut the 'F' up. I dislike anything that competes with a singer. What was that? A whale? I wish she wasn't getting buried by this mucky arrangement and mix. 

I really like her voice. It's full of sunshine, naturally. Very refreshing. Weird bass bubbling up out of nowhere. The bass is too busy and that electric rhythm guitar is annoying. Then they don't give her a chance to come back? Bah. I think she's lovely. This arrangement and production work? Crap. Utter garbage. Lazy, lazy, lazy. It's like the session players are on autopilot and nobody bothered to match the arrangement to the singer's style. And yes, she's a bit green, but that's part of her charm. They should have worked with that. 

Bruce Murray

To begin a song with a sustained string like that - a single note? Risky. The format of the 45 is notoriously unstable and subject to wavering. Is there really an icicle effect on top of the vocal at the beginning? Oh, dear. He has a pleasant enough voice. Great tone. Could use more personality. I like what they were doing with the strings on the first verse. He gets swamped by the arrangement on the second verse. Very strange pronunciation of "long" - it sounds like he's singing "lung." 

He has a nice variety show voice. Those drums sound like cardboard boxes. The arrangement is by the book. Mucky, cheap sounding production work. I could do without the heavenly choir. I have no idea what he's doing with that ending. Odd. And then terrible. Just terrible. 

Rita Coolidge

That intro is straight out of Dan Fogelberg 101. Did... they... multi-track her lead vocals? There is so much percolating beneath her. That is one busy arrangement. Still, the over all tones compliment her vocals, so it works. It's a synth mimicking a French horn?

Her delivery is very relaxed. Comforting. Notice, she doesn't get hung up on "wave" and "cave." Hers is a very straightforward reading, and surprisingly bright sounding. 

I still can't decide if her vocals have been treated with an aural exciter (yes - there is such a thing and it was all the rage at the time - see Olivia Newton John) or if they multi-tracked her lead. It's a very assured reading buttressed by the full, warm fuzziness of her voice. 

Oh, dear. Catch the tiny Hammond organ chord that that comes underneath as we transition into verse three. Eek. A mellotron synth lead. Eek. Oh, good, it goes away.

Listen to how they're bringing in that organ - very subtly, as we move into something more organic sounding, more southern in flavor.  

Those aren't drums, those are fingernails tapping glass. Odd sound choice.

Yep, they go total southern comfort... the acoustic piano on top of that bed of organ... the rhythm section clicking along. A very smart move. It serves the song well, and it serves the singer's style, too. And that guitar solo... a perfect match. 

This just soars and soars until it fades away.. 

Weird sounding drums, though.


Yeah, Coolidge ended up with the hit because her producers recognized that this was not a Barry Manilow song. They stuck with the southern flair that Boz Scaggs brought to his early work. Some of the synths haven't aged well, but they go out with a classic combination, (Hammond organ and acoustic piano) so it's all good. And Coolidge sounds great. So assured. Interpretation doesn't really enter into it, because it's such a straightforward reading. Whatever... it works. 

The rest? I mean, I see what Scaggs was going for with his version, but he didn't have the vocal chops to accomplish it. 

It's too bad that La Costa didn't get a more empathetic arrangement... I rather like her voice.

And Frankie Valli does well, with a few minor exceptions. Too bad about that key change and that big screen Hollywood ending. 

The reason Coolidge's version works so well? It's a perfect match... singer, song, and arrangement. Bringing in that Hammond organ while the acoustic piano provides a bit of syncopation... brilliant move. I still have trouble with the production, but it all ends well, and that's what counts.

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Okay, that's more than enough of me. Your turn. You know what to do. Let me know what you think; leave your thoughts in the comments section.

That's it for now. Until next time...

Thanks for reading... and listening!
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Bruce Murray sang back up for his famous sister, Anne and would  go on to become a college professor. I'm including this video of him on The Mike Douglas Show because... he was rather dreamy looking, in that blond, curly-haired 1970's way, wasn't he? Not my type, but I understand the appeal.

We're All Alone - Bruce Murray
on The Mike Douglas Show


whkattk said...

Oh, there are so many artists I'd like to hear tackle this. The Walker Bros brought the best intro, but the vocals aren't much. I thought I would like Valli's, but he doesn't cut it for me either. Coolidge takes it for me.

Mistress Maddie said...

I wasn't aware of the song, but I agree too I like the Rita Coolidge version the best.

Jimmy said...

Ok, I'm a romantic. I loved this song when it first appeared. I prefer a male voice, but Rita Cooledge, who could not love that version. But I'm stiking with Boz. His sound was true to the era.

This was a fun one, Upton.

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Never heard the song before, TBH.
It sounds very 80's in most versions and I actually liked the Walker Brothers' version? That tells you I know nothing about music.
Rita's version is cool, though.


justlikedads said...

I was always sure this was Ann Murray. I’m terrible at this name game. I have warm memories of this song but I guess it’s been Rita this whole time. Explains why I could never find it. Had the song title wrong as well. Ive got to stop worshiping the Goddess of Chaos. Great blog, enjoy you every day.