Bettye LaVette – Damn Your Eyes
Damn Your Eyes
Performed by Bettye LaVette on the album Bettye LaVette in Concert: Let Me Down Easy. Written by Steve Bogard and Barbara Wynick. You can listen here and buy the song on iTunes here or buy the album here.
This woman can sing, can grab you by the collar, shake you up and make you tremble. A nine minute song with five verses and a chorus, yet it all comes down to the title line, “Damn your eyes.” With Bettye LaVette, one line is enough. With that single, short line she makes us understand that dilemma when the brain knows better, but the heart, the stomach and the groin can’t help themselves. Damn your eyes. She wails, she growls, she stammers, she whispers and she howls. Damn your eyes. How much meaning, how much life she pushes through those three words. Damn your eyes.
Make her the Queen of Soul. Make her the Queen of Heartache. Give her whatever crown she wants. Bettye LaVette climbs into the song and the two – woman and song – are never the same.
There is this man, this man she can’t resist. Oh, she knows better. She starts slow, reminding herself “I can do what I want/I’m in complete control.” You know she doesn’t believe her own words, you know she’s trying to convince herself to walk away. The verse sung softly, cautiously, as if maybe this time it will be true. “I got a mind of my own/I’ll be alright alone.”
In the background the horns wander aimlessly, the bass hovers and the organ circles her voice, all waiting for the truth to come out. The second verse comes and already we get the change:
I gave myself a good talkin’ to
No more bein’ a fool for you
And when I see you all I remember
Is how you make me wanna surrender
She sees him and she knows: Damn your eyes. The pep talk, the reassurance, the nights staring into the dark imagining what she will say, how it will go, all melts away. Damn your eyes. She hates him, hates herself for wanting him so much. “Damn your eyes/For getting my hopes up high/Makin’ me fall in love again.”
She knows he’s lying. “You say that you’ll change/Somehow you never do/I believe all your eyes.” She can’t resist. She looks in his eyes and “you make it all seem true.” She knows better, but can’t help herself. Damn your eyes.
She tries to understand, asking if she sees what she wants to see “or is my heart just deceiving me.” Damn your eyes. Knowing better doesn’t matter. Thinking through things doesn’t matter. All her reason, all her restraint, all the things she knows she should do fall away. “I fall completely under your spell.”
The music picks up, the bass thumping more, the horns punctuating each cry, the guitar lashing against her voice. Damn your eyes. She can’t stand him. She loves him. She can’t stand herself. She can’t help herself. Damn your eyes. Her voice stretches the words. Three words but she explodes them with her anguish and desire. Damn your eyes.
For the last few minutes of the song, the music steps to the background leaving the voice alone wrestling with the hell of this love. Damn your eyes.
Written by a pair of country songwriters Steve Boyard and Barbara Wynick, Etta James took the first crack at this song (click here to hear her version) and countless others have recorded versions including such disparate artists as Sinead O’Connor and Zap Mama.
Bettye LaVette’s career has followed a winding road that proves the necessity of perseverance. She grew up in Detroit and recorded her first single at age 16 in 1962. She had a chance to be an early Motown star, but several recording contracts fell through and she drifted for nearly three decades, performing on Broadway in the show Bubbling Brown Sugar and performing in Europe.
Her revival as a recording artist began in 2000 with the release of along lost Atlantic album called Child of the Seventies and this German import live album that was recorded in Utrecht, Holland. Some of her better albums include “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise” and “The Scene of the Crime,” which she recorded with the Drive-by-Truckers. She recently released an album of British covers called Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. You can catch her rendition of the Who’s Love Reign Over Me” from the Kennedy Center by clicking here. Neat write up on that song at the Crooks and Liars Late Nite Music Club. You can watch the video for “Let Me Down Easy” here. She remakes the Elton John song, “Talking Old Soldiers” here. Check out a new live version of “No Time to Live” recorded live at the Highline Ballroom and posted by Anti-.