Continental Drifters/Dusty Springfield: “I Can’t Make It Alone”
When the Continental Drifters arrived as a band in 1994 with their debut album, Continental Drifters, they were loaded with a surfeit of talent: 5 of their 6 members at the time wrote songs for the album and sang, and all of them were excellent musicians with years of experience behind them. Their ranks included Peter Holsapple of the dBs, Vicki Peterson of the Bangles, Susan Cowsill of the Cowsills (yes, the band that the Partridge Family were supposedly based on, but don’t hold that against her, she was just a kid then — and she’s an incredibly good singer). The album was a huge success — with music critics. It received rave reviews in all the major music publications, but didn’t get heard widely enough to be a commercial success. Thankfully, that didn’t stop the Continental Drifters from pushing onward and releasing a great followup, Vermilion, in 1999.
Scattered amongst the group’s great originals on the album were also a few excellent covers. Among those was “I Can’t Make It Alone,” a song very worthy of recognition on this latest Cover Friday. It was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin for the Righteous Brothers (who recorded it but didn’t release it) and first recorded in 1966 by P.J. Proby, but the song was truly brought to the light of day by Dusty Springfield on her classic 1969 album, Dusty in Memphis. Her great version features her fantastic vocals over a big, dramatic backing that starts quietly with piano and builds to strings; it sounds like it could have been the blueprint for Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water.” As performed by the Continental Drifters, the song is pared down to a basic 4-piece accompaniment, but that simpler backing sets up the perfect framework for Susan Cowsill’s powerful, empassioned vocals. I saw the Continental Drifters perform back in 1995 at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, and this song was a show stopper and possibly the high point of an all-around excellent set. The only element I wish they’d reconsidered in the recording is the use of synthesized strings about 3/4 of the way in — they last only a few seconds and are never brought back and could certainly have been replaced by something less artificial. Thankfully, it’s not enough to mar this otherwise great performance of a song sure to bring a tear to the eye of the lovelorn.