Billie (Original Soundtrack)
A Tragic Life That Glitters and Glows Through Song.
When I was first approached about the review for this soundtrack it was accompanied with the words from Rocking Magpie himself; ‘this might be your first review of someone you haven’t ever seen live!’
– clearly an ageist remark suggesting I was really, really old (I am, but ……)!
Actually I could have seen her live, as I was 13 when she sadly died back in 1969 but taking into account her life and very sad story that would have been extremely unlikely!
There is a tendency to think that tragic stories in the music industry like the life/death of Amy Whitehouse have only ever been relatively recent; but the stories of black artists such as Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday were almost commonplace 100 or more years ago; back in the period before WWI and even after WW2.
Billie Holiday was still performing in the mid 1950’s, with one track here being a live performance from NYC’s Carnegie Hall in 1956, recorded as the likes of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and a certain Mr Presley we’re tearing up the hit parades with their Sun Records recordings.
It is a sign of Ms. Holiday’s position in Big Band music etc. that she was still headlining the bill against the newer, racier competition.
Sadly, three years later she had succumbed to illness.
Without seeing the film it is impossible to imagine where these tracks will appear, and in what context
Naturally the one song of hers that everyone knows, Strange Fruit is included; and here it really does make you think about the furore it must have caused when it was first released, as it’s a song about a lynching and sung by a major black artist. This was so sensitive that her label would not release it, only for another label to do so and it has became her best selling track of all time.
The bands (and the band leaders) she sung with, roll off the tongue like a Who’s Who of musical legends and the soundtrack includes a true mixture of bluesy and traditional tracks, with ‘ I Only Have Eyes For You’ being a highlight. Just listening to it has you in a smoke filled Jazz Cafe in Harlem pre-WWII.
As this is a Soundtrack; you shouldn’t be too surprised that of the 13 tracks it includes a couple of instrumentals, in addition to a diverse range of songs that show off Billie Holliday’s amazing vocal ability and nuances at their best; including the standards, “God Bless The Child,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “I Loves You, Porgy.”
It’s amazing to see and hear the standards she both achieved and maintained across her long career; considering the problems she encountered in her life with drink, drugs and a not very good choice of male companions.
If you have seen the Amy Winehouse documentary, the similarities between the two are noticeable – great voice/ability, but offset by a very bad choice of (male) managers etc. Two tortured souls unable to ultimately survive despite having a voice of an exceptionally special standard.
For Holiday lovers under normal times the Film and this soundtrack would almost certainly be ‘one not to miss,’ but with the current lockdown concerns it will be more a case of ‘trying to find a cinema’ in which to see the film.
With so many tracks to select from there will almost certainly be plenty upset at the absence of some of her other famous recordings; but as a Companion Soundtrack to try and attract viewers to the film this is a pretty good effort – picking 13 tracks to ‘package’ her career was definitely a tough ask, easily achieves what it was set out to.
Hopefully, the film will do Billie Holiday’s story justice …. warts and all.
If only we are able to see it!
BILLIE: THE OFFICIAL SOUNDTRACK TRACKLISTING
1.Now or Never
2. God Bless the Child
3. Hoppin’ Around
4. Blues are Brewin’
5. Funeral in New Orleans
6. Fine and Mellow
7. Strange Fruit
8. Just One More Chance
9. My Man
10. I Only Have Eyes For You
11. I’ll Never Smile Again
12. Don’t Explain
13. I Loves You, Porgy
Released 13th November 2020
Courtesy Bill Redhead.
BUY DON’T SPOTIFY