Another vintage performance by Bobbie Gentry has been shared from the rich archives of The Ed Sullivan Show. The clip is from the edition of the famous, long-running variety show broadcast in Christmas week 1970, on December 27.
Backed by Phoenix, Arizona-based Goose Creek Symphony, her fellow signings to Capitol Records, Gentry performs a medley “But I Can’t Get Back,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Put A Little Love In Your Heart.” The performance came at what can be seen as a pivotal moment in the career of the entertainer, as she was some four months away from releasing what became her seventh and final studio album, Patchwork. Gentry did not, however, announced her retirement from music until 1980.
The excerpt of “But I Can’t Get Back” is a preview of the sixth track (not counting frequent interludes) on Patchwork. Written by the artist with Kelly Gordon – the only track on the record not penned by Gentry on her own – the gentle and atmospheric piano ballad was strongly redolent of the emerging singer-songwriter style of the time, and of Carole King in particular.
The song was released as the first single from Patchwork in March 1971, a month ahead of the LP, but failed to make the charts. Indeed, the album fell short of the 200-position Billboard survey, despite highly enthusiastic reviews from the magazine and the rest of the trade press.
In the Sullivan performance, the song blends gently into “I’ll Fly Away,” the hymn written by Albert Brumley in 1929 that has been repeatedly interpreted and sung at live festivals and gatherings without number. It was recorded by such artists as the Selah Jubilee Singers and the Chuck Wagon Gang, then by George Jones on his 1965 album Old Brush Arbors.
There was even a reggae adaptation by Bob Marley and the Wailers, and the gospel staple was introduced to a modern-day audience by the million in the 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou? The 1956 version by the Kossoy Sisters was used in the film, but Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch recorded it for the multi-platinum soundtrack album.
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” is the familiar song written and first recorded by Jackie DeShannon, who wrote it with with her brother Randy Myers and Jimmy Holiday. That version, on Imperial Records, was a Top 5 US pop hit, and the song was taken back into the American Top 10 in 1989 in a revival by Annie Lennox and Al Green. In all, it’s been covered more than one hundred times, including by David Ruffin, the Dave Clark Five, the Isley Brothers, and Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Watch all the latest archival videos from The Ed Sullivan Show on the program’s official YouTube channel.