When Etta James passed away last week at 73, I was surprised to see obituaries (like this one from the New York Times which our local fish wrapper ran) suggest she would be best remembered for her 1960 recording of “At Last”. If you look at the chart performance of her singles it was one of her earliest hits and her second best-selling record (“Tell Mama”, the first of several comeback singles, hit #23 on the US pop charts in 1967 – her biggest hit, believe it or not). “At Last” is a beautiful song, and probably one of the best ballads Chess Records released during its peak years, but it’s not the first Etta James song that comes to mind, if you ask me.
I guess I was surprised “Something’s Got A Hold on Me” wasn’t more revered as pioneering hard-rocking soul. I suppose in the context of her post-Chess career it’s less representative than “At Last”. My favorite Etta James song is certainly not one of her most famous – it’s not even included on compilation discs like The Essential Etta James – although it did pretty well as a single when it came out in 1964. Here it is: