HELEN REDDY – 1971-1981

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Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) (L Laurie)- Helen Reddy 1973.

In the period 1971 – 1977 Helen Reddy hit the US Billboard charts no less than 14 times with three #1 hits – I Am Woman , Delta Dawn, and Angie Baby, and three other top ten songs – Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress #3 US in’73, #1 in Aust, and #5 Canada), You And Me Against The World ( #9 US in ’74), and Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady (#8 US in ’75)

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Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) was the second single lifted off her million-selling album Long Hard Climb to follow up Reddy’s #1 hit Delta Dawn, this was the first time that a Helen Reddy album had produced two songs that made the US top ten.The songwriter Linda Laurie had released her own version of the song in mid-1973 but it had not charted at the time she offered it to Helen. Reddy was doubtful about following up with another song about a woman from the American Deep South who was alliteratively-named (Delta Dawn/Ruby Red dress), clearly deluded, and suffering from some mental illness or depressed from the fallout of a failed relationship. Ruby Red Dress certainly summons up images of faded southern belles who have endured life’s misfortunes and disappointments, and it was Tennessee Williams who created two of the most memorable – Blanche DuBois from a Streetcar Named Desire and Amanda Whitfield from The Glass Menagerie, memorably depicted in film by Vivienne Leigh (below), and Gertrude Lawrence/Joanne Woodward (further below), respectively.

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Ruby had apparently been used and dumped by “some farm boy up from Tennessee”, she was distraught, “broke down to a fool”, and aimlessly wandered the streets of her small town. Unhinged, delusional and a suitable case for treatment, Laurie described a woman who was laughed at by her neighbors “Talking to herself now, sometimes sitting down/Don’t get too close now, Ruby runs away…” 

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The repetitive use of the expression “leave me alone” (repeated 43 times) was also a concern for the singer, but despite her misgivings, producer Tom Catalano convinced her of the hit potential of the song, and arranger/conductor Al Capps provided an engaging orchestral arrangement that added a professional sheen and lustre to the finished product, the record was released in October 1973, and provided Helen with another hit song for Christmas that year.

Helen Reddy performs Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) on the Johnny Carson Show 1973

Helen’s easy-listening style of singing had proven to be popular, she had become proficient at singing words and melody without overly-dramatizing them, she cleverly used jazz intonation and timing rather than trying to sound too pristine, or melodramatic, she never really rocked out, but relied more on forceful, uncluttered arrangements to underscore her vocal attack. With Ruby Red Dress she needed to doggedly deploy all her vocal tricks and chutzpah to find the emotional core of the song, and imbue the rather banal lyrics with some grittiness and credibility.

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It was a huge international hit for Helen, but this song was not one of her favorites, as she admitted in 2013 when she came out of retirement to play US club dates and was focused on songs that were not released as singles, she cited Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) as “one song I will never sing again”, disparaging its lyrical repetitiveness: “that sort of song doesn’t do much for me, it was a hit, however I don’t sing it anymore, I don’t want to, and I don’t have to.” The album Long Hard Climb was also a hit climbing to #8 in the USA, #14 IN Canada and #16 in Australia.

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