If you like your songs sad then there are few more desolate than Etta James’ I'd Rather Go Blind. A bluesy soul classic from 1967, it simply oozes abject misery; a doomed relationship, the shock and unbearable pain of seeing a loved one with somebody else and knowing it's all over, the pleading, the self-pity, the broken heart.
That we've all probably been there at one time or another means it's all too easy to relate to and wallow in the anguished depths of emotion stirred up by James’ powerful rendition.
Something told me it was over
When I saw you and her talking
Something deep down in my soul said, 'Cry, girl.'
When I saw you and that girl walkin' out
I would rather, I would rather go blind,
Than to see you walk away from me
The song is a perfect synergy of music and words, the impact of the simple organ, guitar and horn arrangement intensified by heart-wrenching, poetic lyrics – a mesmerising combination that lifts the song into greatness.
I was just, I was just, I was just
Sitting here thinkin' of your kiss and your warm embrace,
When the reflection in the glass that I held to my lips now, baby,
Revealed the tears that was on my face
Written by Ellington Jordan, Billy Foster and (although uncredited for ‘tax reasons’) Etta James herself, this two-and-a-half minute alternating two-chord (A and B minor) classic was recorded at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and, astonishingly, it was originally released as the B side of James’ top-40 hit Tell Mama.
Not surprisingly it has been covered by just about everyone from Beyoncé to Rod Stewart since (videos below). My first exposure to the song was the 1969 Chicken Shack version, sung by Christine Perfect (later Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie). It's a song I've always loved, and the thrill, a few years ago, of discovering Beth Hart – one of the finest voices around today – was magnified no end by the fact it was her version of the song that I first came across.
Back in 1992 I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Etta James at the Town and Country Club in London’s Kentish Town, now the Forum, and was naturally very excited to be about to hear the original version sung by the original artist. However, what should have been a highlight of my gig-going career sadly did not live up to expectations.
James came on stage – eventually – over three hours late, obviously the worse for wear, and only performed for about 30 minutes. Of course she sang I'd Rather Go Blind but to one completely disillusioned fan, on that night at least, I'd Rather Have Been Somewhere Else! Very, very sad. Just like the song.
Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa Live in Amsterdam.
The Beyoncé version (playing Etta James in the film Cadillac Records).
The Christine Perfect version.
The Rod Stewart version.