Joy, pure R&B joy, Natalie Cole’s first single, This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) was a No.1 R&B hit and No.6 on the US charts in 1976. Watching her live performance on Midnite Special in 1975, with a live band, Afros galore, brown trouser suit bookended by seventies green backing singers, clapping, impro shrieks, hips swinging – how could all this lead to heroin addiction, crack cocaine, a kidney transplant and dying of congestive heart disease at 65 years old?
Perhaps the pressure of being Nat King Cole’s daughter was a factor but it seems that from early on in Natalie Cole’s recording career she was considered so good that she was compared to Aretha Franklin. Her success continued into the seventies with Grammy awards and her own TV show, all was well until the eighties arrived and she completely lost it. She made an incredible comeback in a rather unusual way – first with a series of successful singles in 1987 including a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Pink Cadillac that led to the platinum album, Everlasting. And then – she recorded a duet with Dad. Nat King Cole one of the great crooners died of lung cancer in 1965 when he was just 45 years old (Natalie was 15) but thanks to interactive video technology they put together a moving video that had Natalie and Nat singing Unforgettable, one of his most famous songs – together. The song came from an album of the same name and sold 7 million copies. (Natalie Cole sold 30 million copies in her career).
Natalie Cole loved Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin but most people reading this although they might dig Aretha and Janis as sixties icons won’t be a fan of Natalie Cole, in fact more people reading this might be a fan of Nat King Cole rather than his daughter. That seventies, Soul, R&B disco tinged commerciality wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea but I always loved The Supremes and that might have introduced me to the best parts of the bands that came after them like The Three Degrees or The Pointer Sisters (who incidentally did a great cover of Springsteen’s, Fire) and more funky bands like Rufus and solo R&B singers that appeared later in the seventies before Disco’s reign. The slicker R&B, the smooth sophisticated sound that happened later never worked for me but when it was raw and soulful I completely got it.
It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the music world and if you are my age you just hope we can hang on to Mick & Keith, Paul & Ringo, Dylan & Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Wanda Jackson a little longer before the insatiable beast that is Time takes them away from us. Rest in peace Natalie Cole, condolences to friends and family.