1001 Albums: Lady in Satin



Artist: Billie Holiday

Album: Lady in Satin

Year: 1958

Length: 44:36

Genre: Vocal Jazz


“But I should never think of Spring
For that would surely break my heart in two”

I spoke too soon in my last post… this album wasn’t danceable, it wasn’t danceable at all. If anything it was sad, very, very, so very sad… I can’t dance to that, at least not in a fun, happy way. Oh no… well, I guess it was bound to happen… I guess after an album called DANCE MANIA, there isn’t really any way to go than the polar opposite, completely Undance mania sad time (ignore that).

That’s really what this album was, it was kinda sad the whole way through and I couldn’t figure out why exactly. The content was kind of sad, but nothing I hadn’t heard before and it had been sadder (remember Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours?). Some of the lyrical content was actually quite joyous, in a sort of bitter sweet way, but it’s really the sombre feel of the music that carried the album that really gave it that vibe as well. But even then it wasn’t that, sure it sounded sad… but there was something more to it I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Before I continue I want to share something a little embarrassing. I didn’t know Billie Holiday was a woman. Yeah… I know, how could I not? She was pretty big in the 30s and 40s AND 50s as a Vocalist, how the hell did I not know who she was? Simple, I didn’t… I just simply didn’t. I never really paid attention to artists of the fifties, let alone 30s and 40s and really only knew the iconic ones like Sinatra and Elvis and even Little Richard and Miles Davis and… well you get the picture… I just was never exposed to Billie or her name or anything surrounding her… ever. Sorry about that. But hey that’s why I’m doing this, to expose myself to more and more music.

But it’s not crazy that I thought it was a guy, the name is Billie, which often accompanied by a dude attached to it. I’ve never met a woman called Billie. And I know, there’s a woman on the cover of the album, so what? The last album had a sexy ass woman on it and the artist was Tito Puente, who is very much a dude. Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers had a woman on it, and he’s a dude, it’s not crazy to think it was just an album cover and not the actual artist on it…. right? Well, Imagine my surprise when the music started (already surprised at the non-danceability it offered) and it was a woman singing instead. Not a “God what the fuck, nooo” surprise but a “Oh… ok” surprise. Just to be clear… hmmm.

This is officially the first female artist on the list to appear and it’s a black one too! YOU GO GIRL! Technically there have been female vocals on some of the other albums, but this is the first female artist with her own actual album and not just a guest singer on it. This is hers and you can’t take it away from her. And damn is she one hell of a good singer, and not in the traditional way. She sings with actual emotion in her voice and she seems to have set the standard of females who sing with raspy voices. So step aside Kim Carnes and Bonnie Tyler, you gals ain’t have a stepping stone to this lady (what?). It’s strange how the raspiness adds so much to the performance, one would think it wouldn’t sound good to any singer, yet her and plenty others have proven that the rasp is actually quite amazing. Can’t explain why, but every time I hear it it’s like a sound that throws you off completely but then you want to keep going back to hearing it again and again and again and again.

There was something that felt very familiar about the mood of this album. Kept making me think of the first album on the list, Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours. It had the exact same vibe and musically almost sounded exactly the same, with the arrangements sounding way too similar… maybe that’s why it felt sadder than I could figure out… Ok I need to know, I’m doing some research, give me a minute here.

GOD DAMMIT! It explains everything, EVERYTHING! That’s why I kept thinking of Sinatra’s album because she was heavily inspired by it, she even tried to get the same composer for her album. No wonder, she even has roughly three songs that come straight out of Sinatra’s album, which was cool hearing it sung by a lady, really shows how universal the emotions really are.

But wait, there’s more!!!! There’s a reason why this album feels so sad. It’s not the music or the content, it’s her. Her voice, the way she sings and the soul she’s putting into it feels like it’s coming from such a sad place. She channelled all that energy into this album and you can hear it in her voice. I couldn’t pin-point it initially, but now it all makes sense. Did you know that this was near the end of her career and her voice became raspy due to alcohol and drug abuse? I didn’t… this changes everything. Jesus, context is so important, unfortunately you don’t always get context with albums, but I did this time… sort of and it really makes the difference. This is a woman who had a career with one hell of a voice, that had deteriorated over time and now she’s putting in one of her final efforts, creating the album she wants to create with the heart and soul that only she can feel. Did you know she cried after listening to the first song? If you listen to it it sort of sounds like she’s shedding tears as she sings. Dear lord this woman is amazing, we don’t get many vocalists who sing like this and that’s what truly sets apart good music to me, emotions in the vocals. There’s nothing more bland than a singer whose just a pretty voice hitting notes very well, you take away any sense of emotion and it becomes dull and empty. This is a perfect example, if she was any singer of today, this album could have easily fallen flat, but with her history and raw emotion added to it, it lifted it up so much because even if this isn’t your sort of music (It’s not for me) at least you can feel that emotion coming through and it’ll make you engage with it, it really will, I guarantee it… that’s a bold statement on my part.

Song of Choice: I Get Along Without You Very Well


Photoshop Credit: Julian Branco




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