Happy 50th: Carmen McRae, FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE
50 years ago this month, Carmen McRae released one of the strongest albums of her lengthy career, turning in a title track which would soon become a Stevie Wonder standard even though – and this may surprise some of you – he didn’t actually write it!
Although McRae’s stock and trade was as a jazz vocalist, she’d never been afraid to dip into the pop songbook and tackle some numbers that the kids were grooving to at the time, including a 1964 gender-switched version of The Beatles’ “And I Love Her.” On FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE, however, McRae showed the height of her hipness by hitting the studio and covering two songs from The Beach Boys’ PET SOUNDS: “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder).” In addition, she did a version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “The Look of Love” and revisited the Lennon/McCartney songbook to deliver her take on “Got to Get You into My Life.”
As for that title track, for those who were surprised to learn that it wasn’t a Wonder composition, it was actually penned by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden. In fact, the lyrics were the first ones composed by Miller after he was invited by Berry Gordy to write songs for his then-new record company, Motown. McRae wasn’t the first to record “For Once in My Life” – that honor went to Barbara McNair, although her version was actually beaten to release by Jean DuShon’s version – but McRae certainly put her own stamp on the song.
While it’s probable that producer Joel Dorn had as much to do with the song selections on FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE as anyone, the results were remarkable: as Tim Sendra wrote on AllMusic.com, it’s “one of the better albums [McRae] recorded in the second half of her career.