Sometimes there’s a moment when everything falls into place. You’ve been searching high and low for the beautiful lady you danced with yesterday. Hundreds of women have tried on the glass slipper but it fits none of them. Then, just when you think you will never find her, a grubby servant girl in ragged clothes slips her foot into the slipper and it fits perfectly. As she stands and turns around you recognise her delicate face and, under the dirt and the rags, you see before you the princess you fell in love with last night.
I’d Rather Go Blind describes a moment like that. It’s an R&B song originally recorded by Etta James in 1967. But, for Etta, it’s a cruel parody of the Cinderella story; she hasn’t found her Prince Charming, she is about to lose him.
Something told me it was over
When I saw you and her talkin’.
Something deep down in my soul said, ‘Cry, girl’
When I saw you and that girl walkin’.
I’d Rather Go Blind was the B-side of Etta James‘ single Tell Mama, which reached number 10 in the Billboard R&B charts and 23 in the pop charts in 1968. That version didn’t chart here in the UK but a cover by the blues band Chicken Shack peaked at 14 in 1969 and stayed in the top 100 for 13 weeks. There have also been versions by Rod Stewart, Mick Hucknall, Paul Weller, Beyoncé Knowles (playing Etta James in the film Cadillac Records) and about a dozen other artists.
All the artists I’ve listened to have done straightforward renditions of the song so there’s not a lot to choose between them but, for me, the Chicken Shack version is still the definitive one. It has a slow, bluesy feel supplied by a twangy, early sixties guitar over an organ, bass and drums rhythm section. This is a song for a late night in a sleepy bar, a time and a place to ponder our own personal triumphs and tragedies. Here we can escape from the pestering buzz of the real world and let ourselves be soothed by a smooth malt and soft music.
The singer’s words shake you out of your reverie. Christine Perfect (as she then was) delivers the lyrics with such pathos that you can’t help but feel for her. A horn section hidden in the shadows at the back of the stage wail with her. Whatever troubles you may have this girl’s woes are far greater.
I would rather, I would rather go blind, boy
Than to see you walk away from me.
“Yes”, you think to yourself, “I remember a time like that”. And, as the song fades away, you slip back into your memories.
Christine Perfect married John McVie, the bassist with Fleetwood Mac, the same year that I’d Rather Go Blind was released and not long after that she left Chicken Shack to join her husband’s band. As a member of Fleetwood Mac she contributed vocals, keyboards and song writing for some of the band’s most successful albums and as an artist in her own right she received the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Crotchety Man is a fan of Fleetwood Mac from the Peter Green era, before Christine McVie was with them. Although there are some great tracks on Rumours those songs, several written by Ms. McVie, seem just a little bit too easy on the ear. I like them a lot but it’s a slightly guilty pleasure. I can’t help feeling that it was when she recorded I’d Rather Go Blind that Christine was, like Cinderella, just about Perfect.