UK Blog Awards : Nominate The Immortal Jukebox!

I am delighted to have so many dedicated followers of The Immortal Jukebox and derive enormous encouragement from your kind words in the comments section. I believe there is now a genuine Jukebox community!

Obviously I would like to expand this community.

To that end I would be very grateful if you would take a few moments through the link below to nominate The Immortal Jukebox in the Arts and Culture category.

The URL is

My email is

Thanks very much. Thom Hickey

Do You, Do You, Do You, Do You Want to Dance? John Lennon, The Beach Boys, The Ramones & Bobby Freeman do!

The Sages tell us that when you really get down to it there are only seven stories in the world.

And, that these are endlessly retold and recast so that the human race can come to terms with the otherwise incomprehensible complexity of our lives.

So everyone from Homer to Tex Avery (not excluding Dante, Shakespeare and Emily Bronte) has expounded with greater or lesser wisdom on the eternal themes.

My own midnight reflections have led me to identify that what holds good for Story also holds good for Questions. After deep contemplation I have discovered that there are only five Questions underpinning all human enquiry.

For four of them you’ll have to wait for the publication of:

‘The Five Questions every life must answer’ (pre-orders accepted now).

But, exclusively, for readers of The Immortal Jukebox, I can reveal that one of the Questions is:

‘Do You Want To Dance?’

It’s a profound question.

Especially if you regard it not solely as a question you ask another but as a question you should address to your innermost self every day if you want to live a fully engaged life.

So, ‘Do you want to dance?’

Bobby Freeman a 17 year old from San Francisco, thought it was such an important question that he had no hesitation in asking it 19 times during the 164 second course of his classic recording from 1958.

Yowsa! Yowsa! Yowsa!

Now Bobby’s demo with him on piano and vocals and a friend on echoing bongos/congas seems to have been taped in a deep, dark hollow before New York musos like Billy Mure with a glittering guitar break added some semblance of professionalism so that the record could be commercially released

Of course, the circumstances of a record’s genesis don’t matter a hoot if, instantly, as it blooms from your radio or neighbourhood Jukebox you just know that it has uttered a profound truth as you obey its command to shake a tail feather.

It was thus no surprise that, ‘Do You Want To Dance’ was a top 5 hit on the Billboard Chart. There’s a hypnotic charm about the latin beat, ascending melody, false ending and the artless vocal’s increasingly insistent expression of the central question.

Resistance is useless – surrender!

Do You, Do You, Do You, Do you Want to Dance?
Do You, Do You, Do You, Do You Want to Dance?

The song, easy to learn and easy to extend vocally and instrumentally if the audience fell under its spell, became a fixture of many a group repertoire.

In Britain it was a notable success for Cliff Richard (1962) and in the US it attracted the attention of Del Shannon and The Four Seasons (1964) before the startling genius of Brian Wilson took into into realms undreamed of by Bobby Freeman.

The relationship between original and The Beach Boys version might be compared to that of a Lascaux cave painting and a high Renaissance masterpiece by Raphael.

Brian Wilson with his multi dimensional musical intelligence added structure and sophistication to Bobby Freeman’s sketch.

So we have three part harmony, vocal chanting, an instrumental ensemble of saxophones, timpani, massed guitars and organ seamlessly integrated into a sweeping wide screen orchestration which also features subtle key changes. On the top Dennis Wilson, with his first lead vocal for the group, provided glowing warmth and drive.

A singular aspect of Brian Wilson’s talent in his mid 60s pomp was his ability to to create complex arrangements which though capable of endless analysis by musicians and critics flowed with what seemed complete naturalness into the hearts of his listeners.

Under Brian’s baton Pop Music had a cathedral like architectural glory it has rarely ever attained. Success and sophistication went hand in hand as Brian and The Beach Boys had hit after hit.

John Lennon was another who knew a thing or two about marrying art and popularity in song. He would have heard Bobby Freeman’s version in Liverpool as a teenager. The Rocker in John, a defining aspect of his character, must have been taken by its sensual sway and swoon.

For it was this aspect of the song he chose to emphasise when he recorded it for his, ‘homage to leather jacketed youth’ album from 1975, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

It should never be forgotten that John Lennon was a great Rock ‘n’ Roll singer. I’d hazard the view that the true primal therapy for John was singing and that through singing he found balm for his own troubled soul as well as providing it for millions of others all over the globe.

The final version featuring on The Jukebox is a 1977 blitzkrieg New York City take by The Ramones. We will have to call this the spray paint on the subway wall graffiti version!

I must admit that in my college days I did some very enthusiastic ‘pogoing’ to this one propelled by my love of high octane, eyeballs out Rock ‘n’ Roll and large quantities of cheap alcohol.

There’s no messing with The Ramones.

They set out in a cloud of dust like a drag racer and don’t let up – wholly careless as to whether the parachute will deploy!

So, whichever version you prefer the eternal Question remains which we will all have to answer in our own way – ‘Do You Want to Dance?’

For my part the answer is a resounding Yes!


Bobby Freeman could never match, ‘Do You Want to Dance’ though he did have several other hits. He was a winning singer and I’m always pleased when one of his songs comes up under random play on my music player. A comprehensive collection of his 56-61 work can be found on Jasmine Records.

Other versions you might care to investigate:

The Mamas & Papas

Jan & Dean

T Rex

Dave Edmunds

David Lindley

Bob Dylan : The Nobel Prize, One Too Many Mornings, The Albert Hall & Me!

In honour of Bob Dylan being selected as the 2016 Nobel Laureate for Literature I am Reblogging one of the very first Immortal Jukebox posts which combines a tribute to Bob with a review of his 2013 Albert Hall concert in London.

Some may argue that as a songwriter/performer Bob does not qualify for the Literature Award.

Frankly, I regard such views as unforgivably petty and deeply wrong headed.

I can think of no figure in post World War 2 global culture more worthy of a Nobel Prize!

To add to the review below which had no soundtrack here’s my all time favourite Bob Dylan song in a bravura performance from the 1966 tour soon to be immortalised in a 36 CD set!

No one in the field of popular music has ever written as well as Bob Dylan and no one has performed and sung with such inimitable power.

Congratulations Bob!

Sometimes, you just know.  There is literally something in the air. 

A sense of gathering fevered anticipation as the crowd assembles and the air becomes charged with faith and hope that this will be one of those nights.

The ones that you will relive in memory and recount proudly a thousand times to those who didn’t have the foresight, the cash, the sheer luck to be in that town on that night when everything clicked, when the energy built and built arcing from person to person, from stalls to gallery and flashing from the stage until we were all swept up and away into an ecstatic realm for those few hours on that one night that you will never forget and never be quite able to recapture.

All you can do is call for another drink, smile that distant smile and say with a regretful tone  ‘You really should,have been there.’

SW7 Revisited

‘Let us not talk falsely now – the hour is getting late’.   Bob Dylan

‘The thing about Bob is that he is and always will be Bob’. Jeff Lynne

I discovered and fell headlong into obsessive allegiance to the music and persona of Bob Dylan as a callow fourteen year old in 1969.  Up to that night, when I incredulously listened to the epiphany of Desolation Row on a French language radio station I had been largely dismissive of contemporary pop/rock music. 

Much as I liked the vitality of the Beatles and especially the Kinks I was not thrilled and transported by their records in the way that I was when reading the works of D H Lawrence or Chekhov which seemed to open up whole new worlds of sensation and understanding.

The Dylan I discovered that night was like the elder brother I never had – someone cleverer, more assured and knowing than me who yet leaned over to tell me all the secrets he had learned with a nod, a wink and a rueful grin. 

He would continue to fulfill that role throughout the following decades.dylan3

So, when I saw him in concert in November 2013 at London’s Albert Hall I was moved to reflect on all the years and miles we had travelled since he had last been there.

At the Albert Hall In 1966 when the last notes of an  epochal, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ that sounded like nothing less than an electric typhoon faded into the night air Bob Dylan walked off stage a fully realised genius.  In the previous four years he had created a body of work that would have, even if he had never recorded again, made him the single most important artist of the second half of the century.

However, he was also swaying on the precipice of a physical and emotional collapse. This was brought on by an impossible workload of recording and touring only tolerable through the fuel of a teeming headful of ideas and an increasingly dangerous reliance on ever more powerful drug cocktails.

He had once said that, ‘I accept chaos – I’m not sure if chaos accepts me’.  Now he was learning to his cost that chaos was indifferent to his acceptance – chaos swallows and destroys.

He was saved from permanent burn out and death by the happenstance of a motorbike accident that gave him the opportunity to clean up, rest, recuperate and find a new way of working allowing for some form of future and family life in the haven of Woodstock.

Over the next 47 years he would never again attain the heights of inspiration achieved through to 1966 (neither would anyone else!) but he would continue, in an unmatched way, through craft, cunning and sheer bloody mindedness to write, create and perform works that honoured the traditions of American song while being thoroughly modern, post modern and finally timeless expansions of and additions to that tradition.

bobdylan1So, when he returned to the Albert Hall as Thanksgiving approached in November 2013, as he looked around at the grand old venue he might have been excused the quizzical smile that had become his trademark expression. 

Much like Ishmael returning after an age to the Nantucket waterfront he carried with him the knowledge of how hard survival could be and how that knowledge was every bit as much a curse as a blessing.

In 2013 Bob Dylan could be more reasonably compared to an old testament prophet (Jeremiah? Isiah? Micah ?) than to any of his ‘peers’ within the entertainment industry albeit a prophet who doubled as a song and dance man.

A song and dance man, walking and gliding through a blasted landscape, who while not dismissive or disrespectful of his classic creations, primarily chose to mine the new seam of the songs collected as Tempest.

In this he was aided by a road tested band, alert to his hair tigger mercurial nature, who artfully melded blues, rockabilly and sly swing to embody and illuminate the songs.

Upfront, the man himself settled either into a seafarers stance when centre stage or bobbed like a sparring boxer when stationed behind the piano.  His voice, a bare ruined choir of its former glory, though still uniquely distinctive, adapted its tone to the demands of each song – variously knowing, bewildered, threatening, regretful, cajoling and doleful. 

Somehow his totemic harmonica playing still manages to encompass all these qualities and more and audibly thrills the warmly affectionate audience.

Bob Dylan has, not without cost, become what he set out to be all those years ago – a hard travellin’ troubadour, with a lifetimes worth of songs, something for every occasion, in his gunny sack, always on the way to another joint.  Always looking at the road ahead not the road behind. 

I can’t help but feel that up ahead the shades of Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Whitman and Rabbie Burns are waiting to welcome another to their company.

Well they can wait a little longer – this troubadour has more miles to go before he’s ready for the final roadhouse.  May god bless him and keep him always.

Thanks to Karl-Erik at Expecting Rain for posting this article on his wonderful site.


Irma Thomas : Deep Soul – Through trial and tribulation Wishing someone would care

Mama said:-

‘Child, when you’re born a woman you gonna have to get used to the taste of the salt in your tears.’

‘Now I ain’t telling you every man’s a devil but believe me everyone of them has some of the devil in him and you better be ready for that’

‘Of course, some sweet men got a touch of the angel about them – if you find one of those girl you better hang on tight!’

‘But, beware! Some of them are full of love and smiles one day (specially when you young) but the next they can curl their lip and leave you all alone (specially when you older)’

‘Why your own Daddy didn’t stay around long enough to see you crawl before he was chasing some other dream somewhere down the road. And, he never looked back’.

‘Lookin’ the way you do girl you never gonna be short of suitors. Likely, you gonna meet some good and some bad. Get your share of sunshine.

And, Lord knows, you gonna get your share of rain. Sometimes, it’s really gonna come down, really gonna come down.’

‘Sometimes all you can do is wait it out til the sun comes rolling round heaven again.’

‘And, I guarantee it wont be too long before you be prayin’ for someone new to make it right again.’

‘Because, darlin’ girl, aint no woman alive, no matter how bad the last man treated her don’t wish, really wish, that out there in the night, somewhere along the road – there’s someone who will really care.’

‘Don’t ever give up on that’

‘Now girl, sometimes a man you want gonna need some persuading – you think you can do that?’

‘Mama – I know I can, I know I can!’

‘And, I gotta tell you mama any man who leaves me behind gonna rue the day.

He wont be very far down the road before he realises he never gonna find one like me gain.

Oh, then, he’ll be thinkin’ of running all the way back to beg me on his knees to take him back.

He gonna find I need a lot of persuading. A lot.

He gonna find time is on my side. My side.’

Need I say more?


The above dialogue is of course, fiction.

Yet, it can’t hope to come close to the drama of Irma Thomas’ own life.

Born 1941 in rural Ponchatoula, La she was raised in New Orleans and by the age of 19 was twice married and the mother of four children.

Working as a 16 year old cocktail waitress she shared a stage with Tommy Ridgley at the Pimlico Club.

Tommy and anyone with half an ear could tell that this girl could really sing! Joe Ruffino at Ron Records was persuaded too leading to the release in May 1960 of the deliriously fiesty, ‘(You can have my husband, But please) Don’t mess with my man’.

She soon moved to the larger Minit label where she was fortunate to work with the great Alan Toussaint. Her records also benefited from the superb arranging and production skills of H B Barnum.

Together this team produced a series of heart shredding classics which will always burn deep before the dark altar of deep soul.

The four sides featured above showcase a singer who emerges, bruised, from the shadows to share the secrets of a heart that has known joy and pain.

Yet, that battered heart beats on, beats on, beats on – encouraging ours to do the same whatever trials beset us.

Her vocal performance in her own, ‘Wish Someone would Care’ must set some kind of benchmark in soul balladry.

Indeed, before she has sung a word her opening tear choked moans crack the heart wide open.

Then, we can only surrender to the swooning majesty of her superbly paced vocal which is immeasurably assisted by the downriver flow of the organ and the dread and doom insistence of the drums.

Here, by an act of creative faith, Irma Thomas has encapsulated a lifetime of feeling in less than 150 seconds.

This record can never die. There will always be trial and tribulation in this vale of tears.

And, as the night ends and the dawn is about to break all you can say as you ready yourself to face another day is:

Mmmmm, Mmmmmm, Mmmmmm, Mmmmm.

The best compilation of Irma’s magnificent early 60s recordings is, ‘Time is on my side’ on the Kent label.

From her later work I recommend investigation of the excellent series she made for Rounder Records – especially, ‘The New Rules’

Louis Jordan : Jukebox King! Choo, Choo, Ch’boogie!

‘High brow, low brow, they all agree, we’re the best in harmony
We’re the greatest band around, make the cats jump up and down,
We’re the talk of rhythm town’ (Louis Jordan, Five Guys Named Moe’)

‘Louis Jordan was one of my main inspirations … He was a super musician who taught me so much about phrasing’ (B.B. King)

‘He could sing, he could dance, he could play, he could act. He could do it all.’
(James Brown)

‘He really was as close to perfection as it was possible to be. He was the best presenter of a song by movement and action I have ever seen. (Playing with him) was like being dragged along by a wild horse!’ (Chris Barber)

According to the Panjandrums at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Louis Jordan was the Father of Rhythm & Blues, the Grandfather of Rock ‘n’ Roll and probably a pioneer of Rap!

And, I have to say, I am happy to add the immense authority of The Immortal Jukebox to the encomium of those august authorities in Cleveland.

Louis Jordan did indeed have it all.

He was the complete entertainer; astoundingly assured in the roles of Bandleader, saxophonist, songwriter, vocalist and, comedian.

He was an inescapable presence in 1940s America. Every Jukebox in every roadhouse, tavern or Honky-tonk with a black clientele from sea to shining sea would have been stuffed with Louis Jordan records.

He was omnipotent in the Black music charts. In the 1940s he had 18 (!) Number 1 singles on the R&B charts along with 54 top 10 entries.

Being on Decca’s, ‘Sepia’ label, along with his dazzling appearances in person, on the radio and on film, gave him exposure to the wider white audience and this led to hits lodged on the country, folk and pop charts too.

OK, enough pontificating!

Here’s Louis with an all time classic he cut in 1945, ‘Caldonia’.

The song was credited to Louis’ then wife, Fleecie Moore (who ended up stabbing Louis in a marital spat!) though that was surely a matter of hiding income for Louis from publishers rather a true statement of authorship.

If this don’t move ya I have to say, ‘Jack, you’re dead!’

Louis was backed by The Tympany Five which, at all times, included agile musicians who brought big band power and swing to the bandstand. Amazing how so few could produce so full and powerful a sound.

Great players like Carl Hogan on guitar (a clear influence on Chuck Berry), Will Bill Davis and Bill Doggett on piano and organ, Shadow Wilson on drums and Dallas Bartley on bass provided Louis with the launch pad for the effervescent vocals, saxophone smarts and sheer showmanship which slayed audiences everywhere.

Once the band kicked in Louis’ personality and charisma did the rest. I don’t care whether you call it Jump Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Boogie-Woogie, Cabaret Jazz or Rock and Roll!

What counts is that Louis will, most assuredly, make you jump, jive and wail ’til the cows come home!

Louis was born in July 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas. Drawing on the influence of his musical father he soon became proficient on clarinet and piano before settling on his premier instrument – the Alto Sax.

It is clear that Louis was a hardworking musician able to absorb a wide range of influences and musical styles in search of an amalgam which would become known as the Louis Jordan sound.

The experience he gained in the 1930s working with Jazz giants like Clarence Williams and especially with Chick Webb at New York’s Savoy Ballroom stood him in very good stead when he felt ready to launch his own band.

He learned about commanding the stage, about arrangements and how to pace a show. Above all, he learned that his greatest asset was himself. Louis was one of those rare artists that audiences immediately take to – probably because, whatever kind of day, week or year you were having, listening to Louis just made you glad to be alive!

Now, let’s turn to a moody masterpiece from 1944 that sold by the million to every kind of audience, the wonderfully titled, ‘Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby’.

Ain’t that a question most of us have had to hazard a time or two!

The relaxed intimacy of Louis’ vocal and the superb individual and ensemble playing of the band make this this one of the great, ‘after hours’ songs for me. Pour yourself a superior malt whiskey and lose yourself!

One of the many great pleasures when listening to Louis Jordan is his brilliant delivery of a lyric. He can be louche, sly, comic or confiding. He can inhabit the role of the outraged husband, the yearning lover, the regular guy or the guy who has the inside dope.

He’s the guy with all the latest gossip expressed in the latest jive talk. When he talks you lean in and listen!

In a previous post, (‘Elegy for Vincent I wrote about our habit of greeting each other with quotations from our favourite Irish traditional songs.

I had a similar experience when I used to meet my friend, ‘Slim’ (who was, of course, a man of mighty size) at a blues bar in deepest Soho.

We would invariably try to outdo each other with our recall of tasty Louis Jordan lines:

‘What makes your big head so hard?’

‘You take your morning paper from the top of the stack
and read the situations from the front to the back
The only job that’s open needs a man with a knack – so put it right back in the rack, Jack!’

‘Lot took his wife down to the cornerstore for a malted – she wouldn’t mind her business, boy did she get salted!’

‘Why, I’ll go back in that joint and take a short stick
and bust it down to the ground!
Open the door Richard!’

‘Those other chicks leave me cold
You can’t compare brass to 14 carat gold,
After they made her they broke the mold,
Cause she’s reet, petite and gone!’

‘Tomorrow is a busy day,
We got things to do, we got eggs to lay,
We got ground to dig and worms to scratch,
It takes alot of settin’ gettin’ chicks to hatch’

‘Sure had a wonderful time last night,
Come here, feel this lump on my head!’

I have to confess I’ve had my fair share of, ‘Lump on the head’ nights.

I found when I got home, in the wee small hours, as I searched for the ice pack and contemplated a kill or cure, ‘hair of the dog’ solution that Ol’ Uncle Louis had the perfect song that could soothe the addled head and even have me slippin’ and a slidin’ across the parquet floor playing imaginary Cuban percussion!

The original version of, ‘Early in the Mornin’ is from 1947. Look out as well for the, you have to see it to believe it, version featured in a 1949 film, ‘Look Out Sister’ where Louis appears as a cowboy!

I am going to conclude this brief introduction to the majesty of Louis Jordan’s catalogue with one of my all time favourite records, ‘Choo, Choo, Ch’Boogie’, a monster hit from 1946, which sounds wonderful 70 years on and is sure to sound just wonderful in 600 years time.

This is a pure product of America. America at its best.

Generous, democratic, thrillingly alive.

When I hear America singing it is very often Louis Jordan I hear.

And, I rejoice.


The breadth and depth of Louis Jordan’s recorded output is best captured by the 131 track compilation on JSP Records, ‘Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five’.

Believe me, you will find yourself enjoying every last one of the 131 sides!

After his great years in the 1940s Louis continued to perform with brio and when the circumstances were right he could still produce superb recordings.

I love, ‘Somebody Up There Digs Me!’ from 1956 which benefited from Quincy Jones involvement and, ‘Man we’re Wailing’ from 1957.

Louis was extensively featured in, ‘Soundies’ and these have been collected on DVD.

The English eminence grise of Jazz scholarship, John Chilton, has written a typically well researched and sympathetic biography, ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ published by The University of Michigan.

The influence of Louis on succeeding generations of musicians is undoubtedly immense.

Look out for a follow up post featuring artists of the stature of B B King, Van Morrison, Asleep at the Wheel, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson to name but a few!

Donald Fagen : The Nightfly – Walking between raindrops

‘During the final mix down of the album, I started to feel kind of funny and that feeling turned into an even weirder feeling that had to do with work and love and the past and morality and so forth.

I wouldn’t complete another CD until 1993. So I’m glad I made The Nightfly before a lot of the kid-ness was beat the hell out of me, as happens to us all’ (Donald Fagen)

‘You’ll walk between the raindrops, between the raindrops,
Walk between the raindrops back to your door’ (Donald Fagen)

Hip, Hep, Cool.

Qualities that are hard to define. Yet most of us will recognise and admire (grudgingly or otherwise) those who are authentically hip, hep and cool.

Cultural insiders who are ahead of the curve and opening up new territory before the masses come to settle on the old.

In the 1970s, as co-leader of Steely Dan, Donald Fagen was a veritable tenured Professor of Cool.

His partnership with Walter Becker in the peerless Steely Dan had illuminated the 1970s music scene with astonishing lightning bolts of twisted, subversive, hyper intelligence, lyrical misdirection, mystery and musical sophistication.

They had pop smarts, jazzbo chops and rock clout all in one sleek package. Lauded with critical garlands each of their 70s albums also featured solid commercial hits.

But, as the 1980s dawned the golden days were dimming fast for Steely Dan. With Walter Becker hors de combat Donald Fagen set to work on a solo record.

He was then in his early 30s and aware that the tides of time were inescapably moving him into a new phase of life. Of course, like the tides there were powerful attractions both to the push towards the future and the alluring pull of the past.

And, standing on the shore gazing at the inherently mysterious immensity of those seas it was natural for him to reflect with amazement, affection and no little rueful wonder at the times he had lived through and the evolution of the naive young man he had been into the puzzled, grizzled veteran who was kept awake by the questions we all have to face – sooner or later.

Where have I been?

What was all that about?

How did I end up like this?

Who am I

What do I do now?

The Nightfly is his attempt to answer all those questions. It’s a record that shows us an artist brilliantly finding the means to come to terms with the challenges of perspective.

Fagen’s triumph is the way the individual songs and the architecture of the album as a whole honour and celebrate the hopes and dreams of the youth he was while allowing his older self to offer, without spite or scorn, insightful and sometimes painful illuminations of how easily those tender hopes and dreams could be wrecked upon the rocks.

And, the diligent listener to The Nightfly will find themselves glancingly educated (which is often the very best way to be educated) about the moral, social, commercial, political and cultural history of the United States at the hinge of the 1950s and 1960s.

Oh, and you’ll also find this all lovingly wrapped in cannily composed, superlatively played music produced with technical assurance. The lyrics, sung with cool deliberation and swing, have both immediate attraction and depths to be studied.

And, you can listen to it all the way through at any time of the day or night!

That’s what I call a classic!

So let’s kick off as the album does with the glorious, ‘I. G. Y.’

I. G. Y. stands for International Geophysical Year. The reference books tell me this took place between July 1957 to December 1958 when Donald Fagen was not yet a teenager.

Yet, you can be sure a whip smart, newspaper reading, TV watching, cinema going, obsessive radio listener like young Donald would have, by a process of osmosis, been saturated in the optimism of the age.

So we have American technology promising a glittering future where New York to Paris will take a mere ninety minutes and the city will be lit up by solar power. What a glorious time to be free!

Artists will have tons of leisure time to create their masterpieces while fellows with compassion and vision will make wise decisions with the aid of just machines.

What a beautiful world.

What white 10 year old looking around the picket fenced suburbs in Ike’s America wouldn’t have felt this way?

There’s a swelling uplift in the music amplified by the characteristically elegant orchestration of the instrumental palette of sound to signal the dazzle of the road ahead to the future.

There is something deeply touching and poignant with dramatic irony about the boy’s faith in that scientifically led future and in the fellows who will bring this Utopia to shining life.

A theremin shimmer, redolent of so many science fiction movies, part thrilling, part terrifying, permeates the whole song.

It’s the increasingly plangent tone of the vocal and subtle signifiers like, ‘The fix is in’ and, ‘ by Seventy-Six we’ll be A.O.K’ that darken the brilliant blue skies. Maybe that game in the sky won’t be just a game? Maybe spandex jackets won’t be quite as wonderfully satisfying as imagined.

The future sure looks bright but maybe there are storms brewing which will sweep in from near and far to upset this vision. Looking back it is possible to celebrate what was a glorious time and still shiver as you contemplate terrible events just around the bend.

Next we turn to, the swooning, sensually charged, ‘New Frontier’.

The locus for this swooning celebration/recollection of the endless promise of the New Frontier is not the wide open spaces of America but an underground fallout shelter where the young man (who happens to be about Donald Fagen’s height and weight) fortified with provisions and lots of beer imagines that the big blonde with the touch of Tuesday Weld will fall prey to his charm, ‘ I hear you’re mad about Brubeck – I like your eyes, I like him too’.

The real Donald was, of course, more mad about Miles, Monk and Sonny Rollins than Dave. Yet, breathes there a young man who hasn’t, ‘adjusted’ his taste to curry favour with a fragrant beauty with a French twist who loves to limbo?

The young man’s boast that soon he will soon be moving from Squaresville to the city prior studying design overseas is delightfully juvenile. Yet, he genuinely believes it and beyond his priapic ardour does want to climb into the dawn and share secrets as well as passion before the Reds push the button down.

The mature man must shake his head recalling the callowness of the youth he used to be while secretly wishing he could stand in those shoes again, just once.

There are no wingdings quite like the teenage wingdings of yore. It’s quite a trick to make both the youth and the man he grew to be credible.

The musicianship demonstrated here is stellar. Ed Green’s drums beat out the just can’t stand it any more passion while Larry Carlton (consistently magnificent throughout the record) plays ambrosial guitar. Gary Katz’s producton and the engineering of Roger Nichols conspired to gift the record a crystalline clarity that has rarely been matched.

The title track is just wonderful. Like so many us marooned in the stifling suburbs Donald escaped (at least in his imagination) with the aid of late night DJs heard on a much treasured bedroom transistor radio.

In his case it was the highly creative storyteller Jean ‘Shep’ Shepherd and the hep Mort Fega who opened up his own New Frontier. So, if this character was to become a DJ himself what kind of show would he present?

Surely a graveyard shift program, on an independent station, where deep into the night you could spin the music of your jazz idols and converse with like minded souls until the sun came through the skylight.

Yet, once again, never denying the truth and poetry of the ardent dream, a shadow looms.

Some souls out there include callers who warn about the race of men in the trees. And, all the sweet music in the world taken with liberal helpings of Java and Chesterfield Kings can’t mend a broken heart. He muses that he wishes he had a heart like ice. But, he doesn’t.

So, deep into the night he craves balm from the music which though it can’t cure can make the pain less sharp. And, who knows, a flame not doused by ice could yet rekindle.

We know from Donald Fagen’s captivating memoir, ‘Eminent Hipsters’ that whatever else in his life may have soured with age and infirmity that his belief in the power of great music has never dimmed.

This is a man who affirms that the music of Ray Charles rescued a generation by liberating them from emotional suppression which was the fallout from World War 2. You can feel that conviction in the music of The Nightfly even at its most wearied low point.

Finally, the shining carousel in giddy, glittering motion song which provided me with the key to the album, ‘Walk Between Raindrops’.

Some people say they wish that they had known in their youth what they now know.

I agree with Donald Fagen that this is a profoundly wrong headed idea. The glory of youth is all that you do not know, can’t possibly know, as you fix your eyes on your guiding star and the rainbow up above. The rain, hard or soft, will come soon enough. Soon enough.

The song takes its cue from a rabbinical story where, miraculously, the rabbi stays dry in the rain by walking between the raindrops.

It can’t be done. Of course it can’t.

Yet that’s exactly what Donald Fagen has done in The Nightfly.

He’s walked back to his youth and hymned the young man he was with knowing affection despite the rain of bitter knowledge manhood has inevitably brought him.

And, to do that he has indeed walked between the raindrops. I call that a miracle.

Duane Eddy : Drive South (A road movie in 5 Songs)

‘Drive South’ starring Henry Fonda as Charlie

and Jean Arthur as Anna

Music by Duane Eddy

Minnesota 1938

Scene 1 – Introducing Anna

Anna looked out at the Minnesota night sky.

A distant moon illuminated swarms of ghostly moths fluttering by her window.

Snow and ice all around. And, the Cold … the Cold.

No matter how thick the blankets you sheltered under you were always cold in Minnesota in Winter.

A Winter which seemed to reign all through the year.

How many stars were there above Lutsen?

Thousands upon thousands. And, she had wished upon every one.

Every one.

Wishing that one day, soon, she would be looking at those same stars somewhere far away where the days and nights were warm.

With someone who would take good care of her and call her Anna not Anni-Frid.

Like Papa and the boys always did. Papa was already planning a marriage for her to a local farmer, a widower, who came of ‘good Norwegian stock’.

Anna. The name she called herself. The name she would take with her out into the world beyond the fences of the farm.

South. Like the birds to live, to thrive, she would have to head South.


Scene 2 : Introducing Charlie

Charlie came from the South.


Now you could blink your eyes twice and miss all there was to see in Alapaha.

But it was home. The air smelled sweet and the peaches were so fine – straight off the tree.

And, if it wasn’t for that trouble he’d got into with the local Sheriff on account of a misunderstanding about the ownership of a truck he won, fair and square, in a card game with one of the Faulkner boys he would be there still.

Instead, he had to high tail it out of there without a backward glance. Better that than a long spell behind bars or be baked to death on the chain gang.

Sure, he didn’t know how he would pay the next time he needed gas. But, with a grin, he thought somehow he would find a way. He always did.

He knew the dirt roads and trails round here better than anyone. Forty miles of bad road and he would be long gone.

All they would ever catch of him would be the dust he left behind!

Scene 3 : Love and flight

Now, Charlie was thousands of miles away from the Southern sun in Minnesota. Still, there wasn’t a car or a tractor ever made that Charlie couldn’t make run even if everyone else had given up on it.

And, there was always work in farming country for a man who could save the struggling farmer the price of a new machine by resurrecting an old one.

Word got around. And so did Charlie. Farm to farm making those machines last one more harvest.

Charlie thought The Olsens worked harder than Georgia mules. And it seemed they were about as talkative too.

They were head down and close mouthed from sun up to sun down.

Though Charlie liked to talk he’d come to understand that these Norwegian folks spoke only when it was strictly necessary.

Only Anna spoke as if talk was a pleasure. When they got a chance to talk before the shadow of Mr Olsen or one of his five hulking sons intervened.

But, you can say a lot in a very few words. A lot.

Old Mr Olsen near cracked a smile Charlie got his old John Deere running again. Come in boy and wash up and let us share supper with you.

Anna is a fine cook – we will miss her food when she leaves us to become Mrs Nordstam come spring.

And, as he came into the house there was Anna haloed in the half light .

And, that was that. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, let her become another man’s wife.

He knew from the look in Anna’s eyes that she had been waiting for him just as much as he must have been waiting for her.

Some things don’t need words. A look is more than enough.

He told Mr Olsen he’d come back in the morning.

And he did. At three. Before anyone was awake.

Apart from Anna. He knew she would be awake. And waiting.

They had to walk a long ways in the still moonlight to where he had parked the truck.

They didn’t speak but they both knew that they were bound together now and that the road ahead, however bumpy, would be one they traveled together.

So, as the truck pulled away heading South their faces were shining bright as any star and their hearts were on fire.

Charlie said they would find a preacher once they crossed the state line.

And they drove South. South.

Under the canopy of heaven.

Scene 4 – Odyssey of love

Together in the truck and the truck stops they found they were as close as two people can be.

As the ribbon of the road unfurled they told each other the stories of their childhood and their secret dreams.

They would never forget the changing light and the charging of their hearts as they headed South.

The names of the towns they passed through or where they stayed when Charlie was working became hallowed beads on their love’s rosary.

Redwing, Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Aitkin, Brainerd, Little Falls, St Cloud, Elk River, La Crosse, Potosi, Dubuque, Lomax, Kampsville, Granite City, Cairo, Columbus, Tiptonville, Golddust, Locke, Memphis.

Of course, there were times the truck broke down and days when they thought they’d never see another dollar.

Charlie got in a fight a time or two and Anna longed for the days when they would have a home to call their own. A home where they could have a family.

In the meantime they kept moving.

Scene 5 – A home of their own

Kept moving. ‘Til the day they found Bell Buckle or Bell Buckle found them and they claimed each other.

Turned out Bell Buckle was in sore need of a first class mechanic and a woman with a smile as bright as the Southern sun.

Under the Southern sun two become three, then four and finally five.

And, they were never really cold again.

Note :

Duanne Eddy with his trusty Gretsch 6120 made some of the defining instrumentals of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Every home should have his Greatest Hits securely shelved.

I intend to write much more about Duanne when, ‘Peter Gunn’ features on The Jukebox later.