Thursday, May 24, 2012

As Evil As A Wet Hen

Maybe - The Three Degrees

How often does someone cover a song better than Janis Joplin?  I can think of just once: The Three Degrees' version of "Maybe."  Originally one of the first hits by a girl group when recorded by the Chantels in 1958, "Maybe" peaked at #110 in 1970 for Joplin.  The Three Degrees released their take a couple of months later and it became their first Top 40 hit.

The Three Degrees may be best know for their gorgeous ballad, "When Will I See You Again" and for the vocals on the theme song for Soul Train, "T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia).  They've been touring and recording for more than 40 years -- the longest running female vocal group in history.

Below the fold, a video clip for "Maybe" from 1970 that's a lot of fun.

I love the way the song takes its sweet time with a long spoken intro before launching into the singing.  This slow burn explodes into Valerie Holiday's scorching lead vocal.  So much soul and passion.  The last "maybe" she sings ends the song perfectly.  Valerie was gracious enough to respond to my questions; read on for her insights and memories.  

1 - "Maybe" was a hit in 1970, before the advent of MTV and music videos.  This clip (above) seems ahead of its time.  What do you remember about making it?

Valerie Holiday: Recording "Maybe" was a great experience, and a massive learning curve.  The idea to put a monologue in front of the song was the idea of Richard Barrett, our then manager and music director.  We did not have a lot of the technology then that is used in recording, pitch control, stacking.  If you went off the note RB would stop the "Tape", now we use computers, and you'd sing it again from the top.

To achieve a full backing sound we'd sing the harmonies about three or four time and record each one to get the layered affect.  It was often said that we were before our time... as I look at the video today, I have to laugh as it was all so natural, uncoached, we had no one to say how to do anything,looking back I can see things I'd do differently now.

2 - I didn't realize until recently that the song is a staple for drag queens.  Why do you think this song achieved that unique kind of popularity?

VH: I had no idea.  We girls like sass, I guess, and it gives the artist a chance to express their own thing with the talk and lyrics.

3 - The Three Degrees were (and maybe still are?) Prince Charles' favorite group.  Do you recall if you ever sang "Maybe" for him?

VH: We have performed many times for the Royal family, we can only hope we still hold a place in the heart of Prince Charles.  No, we never performed "Maybe" for his Highness.

4 - You wrote the long, terrific monologue that leads into the song.  What inspired that?

VH: It's been some time since then but I think the monologue for 'Maybe' was a group effort.  We each wrote what our thoughts were and then I took it and picked out the best pieces of each.  Love inspires us to do many things...

5 - How did you determine which of you would sing the lead on various songs, "Maybe" in particular?

VH: Whenever we heard a song, we'd know instantly which voice would suit.  Our recording of the song called for guts and soul, as it was a version of the Joplin recording of the song.

6 - Has the personal meaning of the song remained constant to you over the years, or does it have a different effect on you performing it nowadays?

VH: I guess you could say for me it's the same, I do change up a bit when performing it now, making sure to leave in enough of the original so no one is upset, you know how it is when you've waited to hear your favorite song and then it's not like the record!!!  So I keep the parts I know the audience is wanting.

7 - What's your favorite version of "Maybe" other than your own?

VH: It would be the one by Janis Joplin.

1 comment:

  1. I first heard that song on a Soul Hits of the 70s CD and it became an immediate favorite. The group also was big in Japan and sang some songs in Japanese - here is "When Will I See You Again" in that language: