Buried Voices

1. Gayle McCormick

Baby, It’s You. The high point of Gayle McCormick’s career—when the song she recorded with the band Smith reached number five on the charts—is also where her path becomes obscured. You’ve probably never heard of her. But if you were alive during the fall of 1969, some cell in your body retains a sliver of her voice.

McCormick performed “Baby, It’s You” with Smith on the Ed Sullivan Show in October of that year, sharing the night with Joan Rivers doing stand-up; Topo Gigio, the Italian puppet mouse; and Cyd Charisse dancing to an instrumental version of “MacArthur Park.”

Onstage dressed in jeans and a long-fringed vest, McCormick stands close to the camera, foregrounded, while the drummer, guitar players, and organist—also wearing fringed vests and striped bell-bottoms—appear small in deep background, looking more like a straggling fan club than her bandmates.

Tall and willowy in cool bones, a subtle hip switch to the beat, McCormick has broad cheekbones framed by a long fall of white-blond hair. Moving through the first two verses, the band solid beneath her, she lays back honey-voiced, restrained, a thin layer of gravel topping off the notes as she pushes high into her register for the second chorus.

The song is about a woman sitting alone at night and crying while her lover is out with others, about the whispers of cheat in the air when they walk into a room together.

What can she do? In the chorus, each time she builds toward the helpless admission—don’t want nobody, nobody—her voice climbs to the top of its range. Having sung herself to the edge of a cliff, she has no choice but to retreat to the lower octave for the hook, “Baby, it’s you.” Chastened, a prisoner of love.

But after a short instrumental, with the Hammond B-3 shrilling vibrato chords through an oscillating Leslie speaker, McCormick reenters for a third try. Again, she builds through the chorus, but when she reaches the hook this time, around 2:42 on the track, the band hits the break, and she roars the hook into the silence, “Baby, it’s you.” Immediately, the Hammond reenters, casting a single-note stinger line into the wake of the scream, and the drums and chunky syncopated guitars start up again, churning in a businesslike way toward the end of the song.

The outro is a vamp with McCormick returning with bold declarations of love and helplessness, begging, “Don’t leave me alone.” This song—listening to it then, listening to it now—is enough to start goose bumps at the top of my hairline traveling down my face, throat, along my arms, into my heart and stomach.

And that singing scream coming from a woman’s body in 1969 was enough to propel me, a thirteen-year-old farm girl growing up in the forgotten middle of nowhere, out to the Quonset at the base of our hill, the high-ceilinged aluminum storage barn where my father kept our wheat and barley, along with his tools and empty gas cans, the old cars he was restoring, and the broken tractor parts.

That summer the aluminum Quonset and the land around us for miles resonated nightly with the practice sessions of my brother’s band, the Mystic Eyes—the male singer’s shouts, the drumbeat, and the electric guitar jangling. But sometimes in the quiet afternoons if I was lucky, I could sneak to the Quonset, where the band’s gear was left set up, and I could pretend behind the mic stand—my hand grasping the dead microphone, my voice amplified by the Quonset’s flattering aluminum echo chamber, belting out, “Baby, It’s You,” to the mice in the grain bins, the ants in the sandy dirt outside, the rust in the fenders.

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