Song Of The Day 8/22/2014: Jill Read - "Maybe"



If It Ain't Stiff...: Jill Read came in and emphatically nailed one of early R&B's greatest torch songs, and then promptly vanished forever. But who was she? More appropriately, was she even there to begin with?

And that, writers, is how you don't bury the lede! Here's what we know: This cover of the gold standard by the Chantels was issued on Stiff Records in 1977. It's a pretty definitive version, if you ask me. Dave Edmunds, the classicist rocker, is credited as both producer and "backing band." All the record sleeve informs us, as you can see below, is that Read is a "Welsh song bird." The picture that accompanies the sleeve below is, supposedly, reportedly, Jill Read with a big "X" on "her" face. Stiff's art department did not spent more than half a lunch break on that one. And that's it -- "Maybe" is Read's only known recording. No Top Of The Pops appearances, no radio promo tour, not even a flippant quote to the media.

That's because it may have been -- maybe -- a practical joke of princely execution. The still very unconfirmed rumor (well, Wikipedia states it as fact but, you know, Wikipedia) declares that the part of Jill Read on "Maybe" was actually played by... Dave Edmunds himself.

Edmunds is revered as a performer, but even more so behind the scenes as a very meticulous producer who could effectively recreate any sound he wanted. So the legend goes that Edmunds took his own vocal track and somehow reshaped it with EQ and pitch-shifting (via variable speed oscillation) to make him sound like a woman. That portrait down there, the one with the "X" on it, looks like it could conceivably be Edmunds with his famous chin dimple airbrushed out.

There are interesting sidebars in this story. Both "Jill" and Edmunds are Welsh. Edmunds had already recorded "Maybe" on his 1975 solo album Subtle As A Flying Mallet, the title of which basically says it all: It was a very faithful pastiche of many early rock songs and production techniques, especially Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound. Edmunds' version of "Maybe" is in a significantly lower key than Read's, so he had no problem hitting the high notes in his recognizably throaty range.

For me the question is whether the technology to warp Edmunds' voice so thoroughly was accessible in the late '70s. "Jill" sounds like her very own singer; there are timbre and transitions that Edmunds just didn't have on his own. Could he, or anyone at the time, really manipulate his own recording to sound so holistically different? It's a piece of cake now, but back then one had to be an absolute mastermind in the ways of audio engineering to alter his voice from inside. I wouldn't put being the Dumbledore of faders past Edmunds, but if the story's true, then Edmunds' talents have been seriously undervalued all this time.

Also, if the story's true, then this record is creepy as hell. Disembodiment never sounded so good.

Edmunds: Is he, or isn't she?

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