Got waylaid last week, but thanks to antibiotics I’m back on track. So here I am, awake at 12:48 AM on a Sunday morning waiting for the clocks to change to Daylight Savings Time (I’m pro) and sifting through YouTube for something “serene.” Then I began reminiscing about my parents’ voluminous record collection and the ones I enjoyed.
For Once in My Life, as a song, isn’t technically in my top 10 list of best songs even though it’s been covered by many artists. Even when Stevie Wonder popularized it in 1967, I never cared for the upbeat rendition. Why? Because Jean DuShon’s version had captivated me first.
According to our pal Wiki, the demo of the song was recorded as a ballad by Barbara McNair but first released by DuShon in 1966. Then through DuShon lost the right to sing it.
“Jean DuShon was one of the singers who was originally tapped by Ron Miller to demo the song as he was fine-tuning the composition. Miller was impressed by DuShon’s rendition, and her version, produced by Esmond Edwards, was issued as a single on Chess Records’ Cadet label in October 1966. It was chosen “Pick Hit of the Week” by Detroit’s WXYZ radio. Although the record label gave the sole songwriting credit to Murden, Motown CEO Berry Gordy discovered that Miller – who was contracted to Motown – had co-written the song, and reportedly asked Chess not to promote the single. DuShon dropped “For Once in My Life” from her nightclub act and later said: “It was a very big disappointment in my life. I stopped singing it ‘cause I didn’t have the song. I didn’t have anything. It wasn’t mine anymore.””
DuShon’s version was overshadowed and forgotten which is unfortunate. It was DuShon’s powerhouse singing and the soaring orchestral arrangement that gave the lyrics the deep soulfulness it required. Some people may prefer a simpler version but I’m a sucker for power ballads. As the joke goes, “back in my day, singers could sing, and we liked it.”
By the way, my record was broken during the move. Thank goodness for YouTube.