Single Stories: LaVern Baker, “I Cried A Tear”
60 years ago today, the late LaVern Baker recorded the song that would become the biggest chart hit of her career.
Written by Fred Jacobsen and Al Julia, “I Cried a Tear” was a song unlike just about anything Baker had recorded up to that point in her career, and if that sounds as if we’re throwing some hyperbole your way, then consider just how different a song it was from her previous hits, “Jim Dandy” and “Humpty Dumpty Heart.” Producer Jerry Wexler provided Baker with big-band backing. added a choir behind her, and even threw in a sax solo by King Curtis, transforming “I Cried a Tear” into a torch song for the ages, one which – as noted – set the charts on fire, climbing to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and going all the way to #6 on the R&B Singles chart.
“The stately arrangement owes a lot to Chuck Willis,” wrote Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock & Soul. “The sax line, in particular, recapitulates the melody of ‘What Am I Living For,’ which preceded Baker’s record to the chart by eight months, and the beat is a legato version of the stroll tunes Willis popularized. Baker’s parched melisma gives the performance such a distinctly personal stamp that even if this isn’t the record she’ll be remembered by, it’s the one she should be.”
No, we don’t know what “melisma” means, either…and neither does Microsoft Word, apparently, since it couldn’t identify the word when we typed it. But from the available context clues, we do know that Marsh loves the song, and that’s good enough for us.
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