Music

'Angel of the Morning': The Story Behind Juice Newton's Country-Rock Power Ballad

 

"Angel of the Morning" is one of those songs that has lived multiple lives in its 50+ years. Written by Chip Taylor, the song has been recorded by Merrilee Rush, country singer Melba Montgomery, Olivia Newton-John, Juice Newton and more. But the soaring power ballad, which centers on a forbidden love affair, sounds just as fresh with every recording. But what's the story behind this timeless song?

The Story Behind 'Angel of the Morning'

Chip Taylor, the younger brother of Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight (and uncle of Angelina Jolie), wrote the song after hearing The Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday." (Taylor already had a huge hit on his hands with The Troggs' 1966 song "Wild Thing.")

The song was originally offered to Connie Francis, who turned it down. It was originally recorded by Evie Sands, but, due to her label's financial problems, Sands' recording failed to make an impact on the charts.

Shortly after, the song was recorded by UK recording artist Billie Davis, but it was Merrilee Rush who first made "Angel of the Morning" a hit.

Rush came across the song while on tour with Paul Revere & the Raiders.

"I was put on a tour as an opening act for Paul Revere & the Raiders in the deep south. At the end of that tour we went to Memphis because they were finishing up their Goin' to Memphis album," Rush told KEXP in 2019. "I was tagging along and I just happened to be asked to do an audition tape for the producer [of "Angel"] and he liked my voice. But leading up to that, there was a fellow named Jerry Williams who was tour managing for the Raiders and he came up to see me perform because an ex-roadie of ours was the roadie for Paul Revere and he suggested I be on this tour. So, they both came up and saw me work and that put me on the tour. At the end, I did this audition tape for the producer and I went back a month later and Jerry Williams had a demo of 'Angel of the Morning' in his brief case and they played it for me. It was the writer, Chip Taylor, who also wrote 'Wild Thing,' and he was the one doing the demo - just a voice and guitar. And he was terrible but the song was there and the lyrics were phenomenal."

Rush's version was a top 10 hit in 1968 and helped earn Rush a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Pop Female Vocalist. (She lost to Dionne Warwick.)

Though several recording artists put their own spin on the tune in the following years (Connie Eaton, Mary Mason, British band Guys 'n' Dolls and Melba Montgomery, who peaked at No. 22 on the country charts with the song in 1978), the song got a true second life when "Queen of Hearts" country-rocker Juice Newton recorded the song for her 1981 album Juice.

Newton's version was a top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard country charts in 1981. The same year, it topped the Billboard adult contemporary chart. The video was also first country music video to air on MTV, airing on the day the network launched.

The Legacy of 'Angel of the Morning'

The song has continued to be featured in films and television in the decades since its release. Rocker and the Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde performed the song in an episode of Friends, while the Merrilee Rush version is featured in the 1999 film Girl, Interrupted (starring songwriter Chip Taylor's niece, Angelina Jolie).

The Juice Newton version is (fittingly) featured in the 2000 film Charlie's Angels as well as in the opening credits of Deadpool and, most recently, in the powerful final moments of the Oscar-nominated film Promising Young Woman.

"It needed to be poignant and loving and serious and funny," Promising Young Woman director Emerald Fennell told Vanity Fair of her choice to use "Angel of the Morning" to end the film.

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'Angel of the Morning' Lyrics:

There'll be no strings to bind your hands
Not if my love can't bind your heart
There's no need to take a stand
For it was I who chose to start
I see no need to take me home
I'm old enough to face the dawn
Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby
Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Then slowly turn away from me
Maybe the sun's light will be dim
And it won't matter anyhow
If morning's echo says we've sinned
Well, it was what I wanted now
And if we're victims of the night
I won't be blinded by the light
Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby
Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Then slowly turn away
I won't beg you to stay with me
Through the tears
Of the day
Of the years
Baby
Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby
Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, darling
Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, darling

Now Watch: Tina Turner Began Her Solo Career as a Country Singer

 

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'Angel of the Morning': The Story Behind Juice Newton's Country-Rock Power Ballad