Double Take: 'I Go to Sleep' - Peggy Lee/The Pretenders

Robert Webb's guide to pop's most intriguing cover versions

Friday 20 December 2013 06:16

As the Kinks prepared for a major US tour in May 1965, Ray Davies's wife, Rasa, was in hospital awaiting delivery of their baby. Excluded for being a bloke, Davies paced the lino at home and tinkled on the piano for distraction. The next day, Rasa gave birth to their daughter and Davies had written a lullaby for her, "I Go to Sleep". Within days the band took off for America. "Before the tour, I had gone to a small studio in Denmark Street and made a very rough demo of the song, which I had sent to Peggy Lee," he says. On the sleeve of the first Kinks album, Ray cites the veteran jazz singer as one of his favourite performers.

Lee liked the song and returned the compliment. Backed by a studio orchestra under the conductor Sid Feller, she cut "I Go to Sleep" for her 1965 album Then Was Then – Now Is Now!. Despite the great lady's vocal talents, it's a lacklustre affair: Peggy's delivery is as brusque as a reprimand. It was, however, a feather in the cap for Ray. "I Go to Sleep" might have snoozed off the radar had it not been for Sonny and Cher, who, probably thanks to Davies's manager, came by the song and included it on their first album. It later enjoyed a mid-Sixties Beat makeover from outfits such as the Truth and the Applejacks, but with little chart success.

The Pretenders' 1981 reading, recorded while Chrissie Hynde and Ray Davies were mixing music with pleasure, is, by contrast, terrific. The plaintive horn riff and distant guitar get to the heart of the song. Hynde claimed she had heard neither Peggy Lee's original nor Cher's copy before recording her version. "The song publishers for about the first three Kinks albums sent me a cassette of a demo made by Ray Davies in 1965, with him playing piano. The Kinks never recorded it," Hynde says. "It's a perfect song and I was delighted to have access to it. I was just hoping they wouldn't be offended." And did Ray approve? "I don't know. He's never actually said."

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