Album of the Week, December 13: We Must Believe In Magic by Crystal Gayle

GayleMagicBrenda Gail Webb was born a coal miner’s daughter outside of Paintsville, KY in 1951, the youngest of eight children. The family moved to Indiana when she was four, by which time her oldest sister, Loretta, had left home to pursue a music career. The whole family was talented, and Brenda sang for household visitors, eventually joining her brothers’ local country band. As soon as she graduated from high school, she decided to follow in her sister’s footsteps. Loretta Lynn helped her get a deal with Decca; when the label insisted on a name change — to avoid confusion with their star, Brenda Lee — Loretta suggested a name inspired by the Krystal fast food chain. Together with a respelling of her middle name, she became Crystal Gayle. The singer was shoved into a Loretta Jr. box by the label, and quickly grew frustrated. With her sister’s encouragement, she switched labels, connected with veteran producer Allen Reynolds, and began pursuing her own musical vision. The switch to a smoother, more pop-flavored country sound was a success, and within two years she had her first Country #1, I’ll Get Over You, written by Richard Leigh. They Gayle/Reynolds team turned out three solid albums, then hit platinum.

Title We Must Believe In Magic
Act Crystal Gayle
Label United Artists Release Date 1977
Producer Allen Reynolds
U.S. Chart  #12 [#2 Country] U.K. Chart  #15
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue [#2]
  2. I Wanna Come Back to You
  3. River Road
  4. It’s All Right With Me
  5. Going Down Slow
  6. All I Wanna Do In Life
  7. Make A Dream Come True
  8. Green Door
  9. Funny
  10. We Must Believe In Magic

Allen Reynolds heard Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue when visiting Richard Leigh, who was despondent over his lack of songwriting hits after his first success with Gayle. The composer intended the track for Shirley Bassey, but Reynolds insisted that it was perfect for Gayle. He was right. It’s one of the biggest Country crossover hits ever, a smart blend of jazzy pop and western sounds. Gayle’s voice is finer than ever, and the inspiration offered by the song provided the key to her finest album.

I Wanna Come Back to You is a beautiful follow-up, an enchanting lost love song that builds on Gayle’s vocal confidence. It’s a smart second track, showing off the sequencing that helps give the disc its magic. Canadian folk singer Sylvia Tyson provided River Road, a wistful tale of wanderlust with an undercurrent of female liberation. It’s a nice story song with a solid country setting, taking Gayle’s early sound and adapting it to her new strengths.

Nothing prepared listeners for the brilliant cover that followed. Reynolds adapted Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me (originally from Can Can) into a boisterous honky tonk number. Taking vocal cues from Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, Gayle makes the song her own, delivering an unexpected take that is one of the finest Porter interpretations of the Rock Era. Moving to a slower pace, Going Down Slow is a gorgeous song of loss, another flawless vocal delivery. Either song could be overwrought or corny, but Reynolds’ skill, Gayle’s delivery, and the ace session players’ smart support make them standouts.

The next two tracks are solid Country-Pop fun. Reynolds co-wrote All I Wanna Do In Life with his friend Sandy Mason Theoret. It’s a wonderful meditation on wanting a better romance with an uplifting groove. Make A Dream Come True follows seamlessly, a more positive but no less thoughtful track. Then comes the classic cover, a rollicking take on The Green Door,  another clever nod to Gayle’s roots. The change of pace is perfectly timed, and Gayle shows off the depth of her talents while having a lot of fun. Funny is a sweet little song written by Liz Anderson, a sort of Tin Pan Alley charmer that flows perfectly from the room behind that famous door.

The album ends with its title track, a truly odd number (penned by Reynolds) that somehow works perfectly. A mystical song about space travel — complete with eerie sound effects — sung by a Country star? Yes, and it’s brilliant. Gayle delivers the vocal without irony or apology, turning an unexpected departure into an inspiration. This team had bigger hits and more famous songs, but We Must Believe In Magic is one of the strongest testaments to their musical genius.

FURTHER LISTENING: We Must Believe In Magic was a tough act to follow. It quickly became the first album by a female Country singer to be certified platinum. Its lead single was one of the Top 20 Country hits of the decade and was declared one of the ten most-performed songs of the 20th Century by ASCAP. Crystal Gayle proved durable, however; along with Dolly Parton, Eddie Rabbitt, and Kenny Rogers, Gayle helped usher in a flurry of Country/Pop crossovers throughout the early 80s. She was a hit powerhouse, racking up a total of 20 Country #1s and another 15 Top 10s, a handful of which were Hot 100 hits as well. Fans of Gayle’s beautiful voice and smart delivery will enjoy most of her early albums, although none match the consistency and charm of her masterpiece. For a solid career overview, the 2007 Greatest Hits package on Capitol is the best, an excellent selection of her best singles.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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