Friday, November 5, 2010

Lesley Duncan/Elton John/David Bowie. Love Song (1971).

Whatever you make of the flamboyant Sir Elton John now, there was a time around 1970, starting out as solo artist (after failing his audition for King Crimson!), when he was taken quite seriously as a critically acclaimed, sensitive singer-songwriter. His 1971 album, Tumbleweed Connection is, in fact, a flat-out masterpiece. But there is a track on Tumbleweed that he didn’t write, and it’s one of the very rare instances of Elton covering someone else. That haunting tune, simply titled, "Love Song," has always held a wistful allure for me. It was written by Lesley Duncan, and I always wondered who she was and how that song ended up on Tumbleweed. "Love Song" is singled out as the “the most memorable track on the album,” by David Prakel, in his book, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc (1987).

I had just downloaded a compilation of British pop songs from the mid-60’s that includes a track credited to Lesley Duncan, and wondered if it was the same person. Doing some research on the Interwebs led me to learn more about Duncan and the legacy of "Love Song." I found it has been covered by more than 150 artists over the years, but Duncan was never able to pull off a successful career as a featured artist herself, although she sang backup on numerous records, including Dark Side of the Moon. Before Elton recorded his version of "Love Song," I was amazed to find out David Bowie had recorded it on a demo tape for his folk duo Feathers, with John Hutchinson singing lead. That demo helped Bowie get signed to Philips/Mercury, shortly before making Space Oddity.

Here’s Bowie singing backup and probably playing 12-string guitar on his demo of Love Song:

After years of singing with the stars and releasing a couple of commercially neglected albums, Lesley retired to Mull, in the Inner Hebrides, with her second husband, Tony Cox. She was well known in her town, not as a singer, but as a smiling, cheerful woman who was often seen working in her garden.

After struggling for years with cerebrovascular disease, Lesley succumbed in March of this year at age 66. A recording of "Love Song" was played to her as she lay on her hospital bed. Her husband sensed a tremor of recognition in her body while it played, just before she passed away.