Merilee Rush & the Turnabouts: Angel of the Morning

By RANDAL C. HILL

By 1967, songwriter Chip Taylor had one hit tune to his credit: the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” from the previous year. Now he was summoning his muse again in hopes of hitting paydirt for a second time.

In the book Behind the Hits,Taylor explains: “The day I wrote ‘Angel’ I was fooling around with some chords for three or four hours. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, came ‘There’ll be no strings to bind your hands, not if my love can’t bind your heart.’ I said, ‘That is beautiful!’…Within ten minutes I’d written the whole song, including the chorus.”

Then there was the matter of what followed those opening lines.

Sex had to be soft-pedaled during rock’s early days. “Angel of the Morning” changed all that.

As its story unfolded, listeners heard such eyebrow-lifting lyrics as I see no need to take me home/I’m old enough to face the dawn, as well as If morning’s echo says we’ve sinned/Well, it was what I wanted now.

Taylor and a partner recorded the song—which featured a simple “Louie Louie” chord progression—with a young singer named Evie Sands.

Released on Cameo Records, “Angel” quickly caught fire and won airplay in several radio markets. But, two weeks after Sands’s 45 was released, Cameo unexpectedly went bankrupt, and Sands’s rising star fizzled out.

Later, Taylor received a phone call from Seattle that another artist, Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts, had cut his song.

“I was looking forward to hearing it. It came out and I had a copy sent to me. But I took one listen and said, ‘Uh-uh, I don’t think so,”  said Taylor.

Taylor spoke too soon. Rush’s disc went Top Five in Seattle then spread rapidly across the country.

Merrilee Rush began her life as Merrilee Gunst in Seattle in 1944. At 16, she became the lead singer of a local rock outfit called the Amazing Aztecs. She eventually married the band’s sax player, Tom Rush, and the two formed Merrilee and Her Men, which later disbanded.

For a while, the Rushes worked in an integrated Seattle rhythm-and-blues collective, called Tiny Tony and the Statics (Tony being a 300-pound soul belter).

In 1965, the Rushes created Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts, a rock/R & B group that soon became a top draw on the local club circuit.

In time, they signed on as the opening act for Paul Revere and the Raiders’ 1967 tour. While in Memphis, Raiders lead singer Mark Lindsay introduced Rush to record producer Chips Moman, who had recorded the Box Tops’ megahit of “The Letter.”

Moman had Rush cut a breathy rendition of “Angel of the Morning,” a haunting future Top Ten winner. Released on Bell Records, Rush’s version became a million-seller and even earned her a Grammy nomination.

In 1981, country singer Juice Newton breathed new life into Rush’s song that some rock historians now cite as being a forerunner of the women’s liberation movement. ISI

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