Van Morrison, John Lee Hooker : I Cover The Waterfont

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Often, when we tell the story of our own life, to ourselves, or to others, the narrative teems with incident. An action movie filled with high drama.

Now, reflecting on my own life I have come to realise that a more apt comparison would be one of the contemplative, steady gaze movies directed by Robert Bresson from France or Yasujiro Ozu from Japan.

The meaning is won, revealed, not through a hectic series of heroic events but powerfully accumulated through close attention to small details and patient meditation on the weathering, sometimes destructive, sometimes ennobling, passage of time.

Life is mainly waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Waiting for what you want or need the most.

Waiting for your mother’s or father’s attention.

Waiting for the fabled excitement of love and romance and high passion to blow into your life like a hurricane.

Waiting for someone to recognise you as the one they have been waiting for.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Waiting on the waterfront for the one, miraculously found, to return.

Waiting, worrying, wondering why she had to go.

Waiting, never understanding why she had to go.

Waiting, rheumy eyed, obsessively scanning the horizon for her to return.

Waiting, waiting, covering the waterfront.

Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker.

Bluesmen. Brothers in The Blues.

Initiates. High priests. Orphean adepts.

Anam Cara – soul friends.

Sounders of the depths. In their music they tap the source. The energy they draw upon seems to come, direct, from the very core of the Earth.

In touch with such power is it any wonder that they are often described as, ‘glowering’ and, ‘moody’.

I Cover The Waterfront looms in our imaginations like a fevered dream. The great Booker T on organ sets up a heat shimmer from which Van and John Lee emerge like royal travellers from some mysterious distant land bringing testimony of great import.

Some say the purpose of art is to stop time. Well, here, Van and John Lee do a wonderful job of making time eddy and meander as they dig deep into the song. They are both able to lead us away from the tyranny of everyday time into new dimensions of being.

Ships leave harbour and the coast vanishes as they voyage into the open sea. Beside the vastness of the sea humans seem small, insignificant. Yet, the sea is bound by the shore while the human imagination knows no such bounds. With their voices, their intense vocal and imaginative presence, Van and John Lee take us far beyond the mere realms of cartography and circumnavigation.

Their music at its best always opens new territory bringing us visions, emotional insights and dare one say it – mystical revelations.

They bring it on home while we are waiting.

Waiting for someone to reply to the message in a bottle thrown in the sea those many years ago.

Waiting for the knock on the door – sometimes in hope, sometimes in dread.

Waiting before you go out with seed for the sowing.

Waiting before you return carrying your sheaves.

Waiting for forgiveness.

Waiting in vain for the Raven’s return.

Waiting for the Dove to return with an Olive leaf.

Waiting for a miracle.

Waiting for Ahab to sail The Pequod, laden with Whale, back into Nantucket.

Waiting for Godot.

Waiting for The Dodgers to come home to Brooklyn.

Waiting for this terrible day to become tomorrow.

Waiting for the slow train coming around the bend.

Waiting for the full moon to rise.

Waiting for two riders to approach.

Waiting for the barkeep to pour one scotch, one bourbon, one beer.

Waiting for the foghorn to blow.

Waiting for the dawn to break.

Waiting for the wind to howl.

Waiting for the circle to be unbroken.

We are all waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Whatever you are waiting for I hope it will have been worth the wait.

And, as each of us waits, for our own reasons, the music of Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker lends us peace and perspective.

Notes:

The version of I Cover The Waterfront featured here comes from the John Lee Hooker record, ‘Mr Lucky’. I’m sure of few things but I am sure you can never have too many John Lee Hooker records.

This post largely written on the decks of the M/S Lily and S/S Ukkopekka as they sailed in blazing sunshine between Turku, the Island of Vepsa and the town of Naantali in Finland.

The Swinging Blue Jeans : Merseybeat Kings – The Hippy Hippy Shake, You’re No Good

British Beat – Some Other Guys 3

As the 1960s dawned winds of change were blowing not just across the colonies of the British Empire but also whistling through the great provincial cities of England.

A generation of young working class men, now that military conscription had been banished to history, no longer had to shudderingly look forward to years of endless spud peeling, square bashing and boot polishing.

Now, if they had the imagination, the will and the courage they could march to the beat of their own drum. And, if along with the drum they added two guitars and a bass they had a beat group!

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If you’re looking for the great provincial city where the new call to arms was most resoundingly answered you have to sail down the River Mersey to Liverpool.

Liverpool was a great port city. And through the port along with the everyday trade goods came more exciting and exotic products that might well have been described as contraband by the colonels of musical good taste at the Palais de Dance and the BBC.

Liverpool sailors on the 1950s transatlantic liners left a Britain still painfully recovering from the financial and physical trauma of World War 2. They left a land where there was still rationing and where the landscape was scarred with bomb-sites.

Arriving in New York their eyes must have been dazzled by the cornucopia of delights advertised in shocking neon colours. Consumer goods that were the subject of near fetishistic lust back home could be picked up off the shelves and carried triumphantly home.

Cameras, sharp clothes and above all records. Records vibrating with power on gleaming vinyl with exotic labels from exotic cities like Memphis, New Orleans and Cincinnati.

Records that nobody else would have. Records that showed you were ahead of the pack. In the know. Records you would let your little brothers listen to but woe betide them if they dared to try and play them when you were out!

Of course these younger brothers, cousins, the kid next door, listened and marvelled and thought to themselves – maybe, just maybe we can form a group and make magic like that encoded in the discs spinning at 45rpm.

And, maybe, just maybe, the girls now studiously ignoring them would find them suddenly very attractive indeed!

So its perhaps not so surprising that by mid 1961 several hundred beat groups in Liverpool, with greater or lesser degrees of skill, were channelling Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and The Everly Brothers.

Sweat ran down the walls of The Cavern, The Mardi Gras and Downbeat clubs as groups and audiences buoyant with youthful energy created a, ‘Happening Scene’ which would outdo their wildest dreams and change the world when it transpired that one of these groups, The Beatles, happened to have the mixture of genius, talent and character that changes not just the cultural weather but the climate.

In February 1961 The Beatles were back from their transformative boot camp experience in Hamburg. They now proceeded to hone those hard earned musical chops on home turf.

Though they had played The Cavern in their days as the skiffle group The Quarrymen their first appearance as The Beatles there was as unannounced guests of a long established Merseyside group, The Swinging Blue Jeans, whose own series of early 60s hits have a charm and power of their own which we celebrate here today on The Jukebox.

We will kick off with their signature hit, ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’ which must be a near perfect distillation of the Merseybeat sound.

Boom! The Bluejeans had picked the song up from a 1959 single cut by 17 year old Chan Romero (finding obscure US 45s to cover was an essential part of the Merseybeat group armoury). Chan’s version was a winning sashay which benefited from the musical prowess of Earl Palmer, Barney Kessel and Rene Hall.

What the Bluejeans brilliantly did was to up the tempo, turn up the volume and defy anyone listening not to find out how ecstatically they could dance for the two minutes or so the song lasted!

Their stunning attack must owe something to their experience in Hamburg when they were booed off stage for daring to imagine an audience of drunken sailors, strippers and would be existentialists would go for a jazz/skiffle combo still sporting a banjo in the rhythm section! Wisely they heeded John Lennon’s advice to drop the banjo and rock out for all they were worth.

For Goodness Sake! You just can’t resist the relentless drive they bring to the song. The blood must have fair sung in their veins as they played this one live. It raced to Number 2 on the UK charts for Christmas 1963 and was later a top 30 hit in the USA.

The Swinging Blue Jeans locked themselves into my fondest memory because I loved, ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’ from the first moment I heard it and because they appeared on the very first, ‘Top Of The Pops’ TV show which became an unmissable part of my childhood and adolescence.

The line up that recorded The Bluejeans greatest sides was Ray Ennis on Rhythm Guitar and vocals, Les Braid on bass and keyboards, Ralph Ellis on lead guitar and Norman Kuhlke on drums.

They would ollow up the classic Hippy Hippy Shake with a frantic cover of, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ which lodged just outside the UK top 10 and the US top 40.

Their next hit, featured below, was a cannily chosen cover of a song written by Clint Ballard Jnr and most beautifully sung by Betty Everett, ‘You’re No Good’ This one was top 5 in the UK and just grazed the US top 100. The video clip stars one of my favourite actresses from the 1960s era – Rita Tushinghmam who was also emblematic of the arrival of working class talent in the arts (10 points to all who can tell me which film the clip is taken from)

You want moody? Now that’s moody! Even the most hardened Gauloise puffing Existentialists must have dropped the blank stare for a few minutes as they tuned their bruised souls into this one!

And,for many the lyric of bitter experience telling of a misplayed hand in the game of love must have struck a deep chord.

The Bluejeans last hurrah, as far as the charts were concerned, was a lovely take on the Bacharach/David Dionne Warwick classic, ‘Don’t make Me Over’ which almost made the UK top 30 in January 1966. There’s a tough guys show their tender side feel about this one that always makes me swoon.

I’m sure that many couples swooned together as they slow danced under the mirror ball as Don’t Make Me Over resounded over the dance floor.

The Swinging Blue Jeans have never retired though they have had a revolving door cast of members since their 60s heydays.

They lacked the potency of image and songwriting skills necessary for an extended career at the top. They were thus unable to build on their excellence as a Merseybeat group.

But, a fine Merseybeat group, as the tracks above surely demonstrate, was most assuredly something to be!

Notes:

There are a plethora of Swinging Blue Jeans compilations. My own, which has served me well, is, ‘The Swinging Blue Jeans at Abbey Road 1963-1967’ on EMI.

There is a possibly apocryphal story which I enjoy telling that at that first Top Of The Pops show a fight broke out between the Bluejeans and a scruffy London R&B Band called The Rolling Stones about ownership of a pen used to sign autographs!

The Bluejeans being an iconic Merseybeat band also made an appearance in a breakthrough for realism TV show about the Liverpool Police called, ‘Z Cars’ which was another staple of my youth.

Walk Away Renee : The lost love that haunts the heart

‘One fairer than my love! The all-seeing sun Nee’r saw her
match since first the world begun.’ (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet)

‘Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me though they’re so small’ (Michael Brown)

Some guys have all the luck. You know the type. They don’t shuffle and stumble. They stride, stroll and swagger through life. Golden apples and golden girls fall unbidden at their feet.

Most of us alternate between times when the tides of life seems to sweep us happily along and times when they treacherously turns against us. We carry on looking on in wonder at the guys who seem oblivious to those tides. Serenely they surf away from us into a golden sun.

And, some other guys just don’t seem made for these times. Fragile souls who retreat from the clashing, clangourous cacophony all around to the shelter of their rooms.

There in solitude and stillness they tune into tender melodies and celestial harmonies that heal their wounded hearts and near break our own when we are privileged to hear them.

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From a veiled place deep inside the lonely tears and deep inside the hidden pain they spin glistening threads of gossamer music which surprisingly turn out to have a lasting tensile strength able to comfort and support us through the emotional crises that inevitably waylay us on our journey through the years.

The ultimate example here is the awesome genius of Brian Wilson. There will be much to say about the blessed Brian here later.

Today, we turn to a songwriter of striking originality, and singular achievement, the late Michael Brown, who in, ‘Walk Away Renee’ wrote a song whose incandescent beauty will never fade.

A song of haunting depth which, as we will see, calls out to be illuminated, imagined time after time by singers who find themselves gripped by the need to find within themselves the way to the heart of a masterpiece.

Let’s begin at the beginning. In 1965 Sixteen (16!) year old Michael Brown fell mythologically in love (as sensitive 16 year old’s will) with Renee Fladen who was unobtainable by virtue of her beauty which struck Michael dumb and the fact that she was the girlfriend of Tim Finn, the bass player in the group they both belonged to, ‘The Left Banke’.

Agonised and tormented Michael retreated to his room and communing with the Muses came up with a song which devastatingly yokes a lyric of heart sore adolescent angst to an endlessly enchanting melody set in a sophisticated and elegant arrangement.

An arrangement that features Brown’s spectral harpsichord, a string quartet helmed by his father, Harry Lookofsky, a distinguished classical and jazz violinist, and a melancholic, autumnal alto flute solo.

All of this underpinning a tender, introspective, emotionally truthful vocal from Steve Martin. This is a record of riveting gentleness which insinuates itself into the deepest chamber of your memory like the perfect sunset of your youth.

It’s not hard to hear the influences of the sun dappled Mamas and Papas and the pastoral, Choristers on a spree, sound of England’s The Zombies whose, ‘She’s Not There’ must surely have been on heavy rotation on Michael’s turntable.

Of course, like many, he will have spent untold hours beguiled by the melodic and harmonic genius of Brian Wilson though he will have been one of the very few able to turn admiration into true emulation.

Now when I was seventeen going on eighteen I would have told you that sixteen year olds could know nothing of love. And, when I was over the crest of 20, 30 and 40 I would have said the same.

Now that I have crested further summits I’m not so sure. Not so sure. Perhaps sixteen year olds know every bit as much about love as their seniors. Love is love is love and who dares to think they can truly sound the depths of another’s heart?

Michael Brown writing, ‘Walk Away Renee’ at 16 perfectly captured the sweet ache of young love and lost love. We are all eternally in his debt.

The Left Banke original was issued on the Smash label in July 1966 and ascended to Number 5 on the Billboard Chart. It became a touchstone of its times and and came to serve as the very definition of, ‘Baroque Pop’.

The special quality of the song was recognised at Motown and assigned to the ever reliable, Four Tops who recorded it for their 1967, ‘Reach Out’ album. Issued as a 45 in January 1968 it was top 20 in the US and top 5 in Canada, Ireland and the UK.

Here’s a wonderful example of how the collaborative power of the galaxy of talent at Motown could produce records that simply take your breathe away! So many elements of musical brilliance seamlessly integrated. Much of the credit must go to one of the greatest songwriting/production teams of the era – brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier.

They were able to draw on the resources of the stellar team of musicians at Motown to create a record which has subtle detail and immense emotional punch.

From the opening brass flourish we are aware that this is not a record you can turn away from. Benny Benjamin on the drums near matches Levi Stubbs vocal for dramatic effect (near matches for Levi at full throttle is surely unmatchable!).

There’s a delightful rhythm guitar part from Eddie Willis and little remarked upon but beautifully articulated backing vocals from one of Motown’s secret weapons, The Andantes.

In the instrumental break there’s a wonderful confection of softened brass and Woodwinds that shows the refined palette of the storied production team.

And then there’s the always in the pocket vocals of Lawrence Payton, Duke Fakir and Renaldo Benson supporting and encouraging lead singer Levi Stubbs.

Levi Stubbs! Levi Stubbs!

When it comes to describing the singing of Levi Stubbs even the word heroic is inadequate. Perhaps only by overhearing mighty Thor singing the warriors home to Valhalla could we find an apposite correlative for the majesty and power Levi brings to, ‘Walk Away Renee’.

This, in contrast to the swooningly affecting adolescent Left Banke original is a 100% proof adult version with Levi adding layers of inured pain and bruised authority to the song. It’s a wind down the windows and put the pedal to the floor performance that never fails to quicken the pulse.

The next take on Renee I’d like to feature comes from the mercurial RIckie Lee Jones. It’s a track from her arresting EP from 1983, ‘Girl at Her Volcano’ where you can also find alluring versions of, ‘My Funny Valentine’ and, ‘Under the Boardwalk’.

When she’s on form RIckie can take any song – one of her own or one from the classic repertoire – and through a combination of the bohemian off kilter charm of her vocals and piano entirely seduce us.

RIckie doesn’t come at the song head on. Rather, she shines a woozy light on its facets illuminating further beauties within. She takes us by the hand and leads us into a dream world where time is bent and stretched. Where past and present merge. A land where we would not be surprised to see the ghosts of past loves floating, just out of reach, before us.

There’s a touch of shamanistic ritual in Rickie’s version or searching for a literary reference you might call it magic realism. Either way it’s wholly Rickie Lee. The boldness of her imaginative invention is testament to her artistic prowess and a lovely tribute to Michael Brown’s great song.

Now for some blue collar New Jersey soul. No, not The Boss. Here’s a characteristically impassioned version by an artist you can always rely on to give his all to a song – Southside Johnny. I must admit to having punched the air many times when I’ve been to see Johnny in concert.

He has always had the gift of communing with his audience to engage them as conspirators in the enterprise of making a song yield up it’s emotional heart.

This version is the heartfelt confession of a man who’s been around the romantic block more than a few times and has the scars to prove it. But not a man who has given up on love or life.

Finally a lovely, lyrical lullaby version courtesy of Linda Ronstadt and Cajun Queen Ann Savoy. It can be found on their fine album, ‘Adieu False Heart’.

There is something of the polished parlour about this performance which glows in the mind the more you hear it (and I’m sure you’ll want to hear it often).

Walk Away Renee is a song you can’t forget. It speaks to you wherever you may find yourself in the deep woods of life.

You may recall it as you emerge, wet eyed and blinking after struggle, into sunny uplands or you may find yourself singing it softly, softly, as the rain beats down again on your weary eyes.

Few songs can make such a claim. God bless you Michael Brown.

Notes:

Michael Brown after Renee: The recorded legacy of The Left Banke was best captured on the 1982 compilation, ‘There’s Gonna Be a Storm: The Complete Recordings 1966-1969’ on the Mercury label. It includes their 2 albums, ‘Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina’ and,’Left Banke Too’ with an added handful of tracks. Sixteen of the 26 tracks were written by Michael Brown. It is a marvellous record.

On the strength of Renee and the wonderful, ‘Pretty Ballerina’ alone Michael Brown deserves entry into the top echelon of pop songwriters.

Two albums was all Michael managed with Left Banke before he fell out with his bandmates. His later work was with Montage (look out for, ‘She’s Alone’), Stories and The Beckies.

Michael died of heart disease in March 2015.

And Renee?

Renee Fladen-Kamm is now a distinguished singer and vocal coach often working with choirs specialising in medieval music.

More versions of Renee to listen to:

Billy Bragg

Cyndi Lauper

Marshall Crenshaw

Terry Reid

Jimmy Lafave

Elliot Smith

Buddy Miller

Bill Withers : American Hero – born on the 4th of July!

The great Bill Withers was born on July 4th in 1938.

He is a great master of American Song who has added significantly to that treasure trove.

As a tribute I am pleased to reblog a post from the very early days of The Jukebox which many of you will have missed.

 

‘A good man out of the treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things’ (Matthew)

‘Lean on me when you’re not strong and I’ll help you to carry on’ (BIll Withers)

Bill Withers stuttered painfully as a boy and young man which meant he didn’t say much.  What he did do was listen carefully and thoughtfully to the people around him in his family and his community. 

Bill was  born and brought up in poor blue collar West Virginia mining communities where every day was a struggle with the constant background threat of injury and disaster.

In such communities loyalty, mutual reliance  and co-operation were not painted storybook virtues but living realities.   People worked with and for each other so that everyones burden would be a little lighter and thus more bearable. 

Bill was and is a proud working man who knows the labourer is worthy of his hire and worth listening to.

After leaving home at 17 Bill spent 9 years in the US Navy where once again you learned that if you wanted your back covered you had to perform the same service for your comrade – buddy or not.  Your life literally was often in your brother’s hands.

He also listened with intent and attention to the songs he heard in church and on the radio. His imagination became infused with the enduring resorative grace of gospel, the energising pulse of rhythm and blues and the sweet balm of soul music. 

Bill was storing wisdom and treasure in his heart and when the stuttering stopped his voice came through loud and clear. 

Bill Withers would draw from a deep well of resources to write and perform songs that would always be fresh and relevant because they addressed fundamental questions about how our lives were and should be lived.

Which is to say that in many senses Bill Wither’s vocation combined that of a songwriter and singer with that of a preacher ministering to his community through the uplifting medium of music. 

The prolific country songwriter Harlan Howard defined the essence of a great song as three chords and the truth and that’s exactly what Bill Withers offers us in his wonderfully vivid songbook.

Lean on Me is a simple song that tells an eternal truth.   We all have pain, we all have sorrow: we all need someone to lean on.  It opens with plain repeated piano stabs calling the listener to attention – listen up I got something to say! 

The melody and rhythm echo the tradition of a gospel service: state your theme, tell your story through examples we can all recognise from our daily lives then call on the audience to respond. 

Invite your listeners to testify that the seemingly unbearable can be borne if you call out to your brother or if your sister calls out to you – ‘I’ll help you carry on’.

Show that we can all be the leaning post for our brother or sister in need .. ‘I’m just right up the road, I’ll share your load if you just call me.’ 

For, as long as the moon lasts we are  all bound to stumble and fall in this life – it’s just a question of who falls when and how far and whether a helping hand and load bearing shoulder will be at hand to help you up and lead you on. 

The foolishly proud always think they can stand up alone while the wise now that with help we can all make it through today’s troubles to tomorrow.

Lean on me acknowledges, indeed celebrates our weakness and vulnerability but also our strength.  We are supplicants but we are also enablers, uplifters and  restorers. 

Yes, life will batter us and nobody walks in the sunshine all through their life but if we are honest, admit to our difficulties and failings and call for help we can be amazed that others are ready to come to our aid. Family, fraternity and faith in each other will get us through.

Of course, where a song is concerned having good intentions and a good moral to impart does not mean that the song will live. And, if a song does not live, get up and walk by itself on its own merits, then you won’t capture your audience, won’t get them to listen once – let alone sing along and punch that number on the jukebox. 

Lean on Me passes this test easily: it’s a wonderful up and walking living song!

First and foremost Bill Wither’s warm, supple and alluring voice commands your attention and wins your allegiance – you want to listen to what this man has to say.  This is the voice of a strong, mature man with hard miles over rough ground on the clock. 

Yet, it’s the voice of an optimistic man ready to roll up his sleeves and face unafraid whatever challenges the next day will bring.  So, when Bill Withers sings you listen and when he calls out for you to respond you find that before you’ve realised it you’re singing :

‘We all need someone to lean on’

The song proceeds at a stately pace like a great powerful train allowing lolly gagging passengers plenty of time to get on board – confident they are in safe hands and will arrive at the right destination at the appointed time – the driver clearly knows what he’s doing.

As,’Lean on Me’ develops in come the most primal musical accompaniment of all – handclaps.  These are organically perfect in context: a song addressing our common humanity using the, ‘instrument’ even the most musically illiterate can at least assay when enthused. 

On record Bill uses the handclap as a propulsive encourager of the spirit of the song, ‘Come on! This way’.  In concert it is unimaginable that the bands handclaps aren’t swelled by all of those in the audience.  By now everybody is on board the train and seeing themselves as one body – whatever seat they happen to be in.

As the song moves forward the strings come in to emphasise the swelling strength that acknowledged common vulnerability can unlock – ‘Call on me brother’ and we will get through, we will get through – together. 

This is a song, without doubt as time has proven, an anthem, that proclaims our individuality and our community membership should not be warring forces but aspects of a natural, nurturing whole.  That’s what Bill and, ‘Lean on Me’ are – nurture for our humanity.

The greatest ever political leader once put it this way a century or so before Bill, ‘We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies.’. That is how we will find the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln said that. Or to put it another way:

‘You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand

We all need someone to lean on.’

Bill Withers said that.  I doubt that popular music has ever had a truer or more passionate guide to our better angels than Bill Withers.

 

Notes, Comments and further listening:

Lean on Me was written and produced by Bill Withers and recorded in 1972.

The musicians featured were James Gadson on drums, Ray Jackson on keyboards, Benorce Blackman on guitar and Melvin Dunlap on bass.

Lean on Me was a Number One record on both the R&B chart and the Hot 100 Billboard US charts.

Bill Wither’s catalogue is filled with powerful melodic songs and taut performances.  His first two albums, ‘Just as I Am’ and ‘Still Bill’ are essential components of any record collection. Songs like the warm, witty and wise ‘Grandma’s Hands’ and the gloriously evocative and consoling, ‘Aint No Sunshine’ are undeniable classics.

‘Bill Withers at Carnegie Hall’ is among the very greatest live records with superlative singing and musicianship responding to an audience that is thrilled to celebrate in his company.

Sony have recently reissued the complete Bill Withers catalogue which is widely available at a ridiculously cheap price given the eternity shale it contains.

On the bus with The Beatles Chris Montez – Let’s Dance!

‘Dance when you are broken open. Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re absolutely free.’ (Rumi)

‘We should consider everyday lost when we have not danced at least once’ (Neitzsche)

‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul’ (Martha Graham)

‘Hey baby won’t you take a chance! Say that you’ll let me have this dance,
Well let’s dance! Let’s dance!’ (Sung by Chris Montez, written by Jim Lee)

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Names are wonderful things. I find few subjects so fascinating as Nomenclature and Taxonomy.

I know, I know; not something you often hear as an opening gambit at a party but as Leslie Gore might have said, ‘It’s my party and I’ll be obscure if I want to!

And, wouldn’t you know – the names of dances offer a rich seam of delight for an errant academic like myself. And, that’s before they yield up their myriad physical, social, emotional and spiritual delights.

There are undoubtedly impressive theses to be written and many, many, golden memories to be stirred recalling nights spent in glorious company lost in:-

The Jitterbug. The Charleston, The Tango, The Merengue, The Mambo (something for all you Mamboniks on The Jukebox later in the year), The Rumba and The Cha-Cha-Cha.

Many lives and lovers altered forever by blessed hours lost in:-

The Hully Gully, The Hustle, The Jerk, The Macarena, The Pony, The Stroll, The Madison, The Frug and The Shake. Not forgetting The Bump, The Funky Chicken, The Locomotion, The Hitchhike and (my favourite) The Watusi!

You want to get happy? Dance! Dance! Dance!

Let’s Dance! The Twist, The Stomp or The Mashed Potato, any old dance that you want to do. But, Baby, Baby, Baby don’t leave me all alone on the floor – Let’s Dance! Let’s Dance!

Now if that don’t just THRILL your very soul I can only conclude that you must have done a deal with Ol’ Mephistopheles years and years ago (and I have to tell you he never cuts a square deal).

Chris Montez’s 1962 Let’s Dance is another killer cut from LA’s Gold Star Studio. And, yet another debut single that was an immediate classic.

From the opening count off- 1. 2, .. 1, 2, 3! and the materialisation of the thunderous up and at ’em boys, don’t you dare get in our way drums (courtesy of Jesse Sailes) we’re plunged head, heart and hot feet into a liberating, stimulating, heart lifting, heartbeat accelerating musical journey to pop paradise.

Once Chris starts to sing with straight off the street Chicano cool and Ray Johnson hits his immortal groove on the Organ all resistance is useless!

Unless you’re in a coma you’ll spend the next two minutes or so in abandoned bliss. As Chris says, (and I second that emotion) …. Ooh, oh, Yeh!

Of course it was a top 5 smash in the US and in Britain selling over a million copies and earning a Gold Disc. Indeed it hit the top 5 for a second time in Britain when rereleased in 1973 sending my own teenage endorphins into overdrive.

It was the delirious drive of the organ that did it for me. Wave after wave of delight washing over me until I felt all my senses were drenched and part of me wished that I would never come up for air.

Dancing to the song it felt like you were being granted access to some secret realm of weightless joy – soaring into a sensual stratosphere.

In the US Chris got to tour with greats like Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson. In 1963 he toured Britain with Tommy ‘Dizzy’ Roe and found, on the bottom of the bill, a promising beat combo with the odd name of, ‘The Beatles’ that had a lot of energy, an encyclopaedic knowledge of Rock ‘n’ Roll and an ability to stir the girls in the audience to something near frenzy. They seemed like good guys and he wondered if they might ever make it big in America!

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Chris, like his early idol Ritchie Valens was Chicano – born Ezekiel Christopher Montanez on January 17 1943 in Hawthorne California (also the home of the blessed Brain Wilson of The Beach Boys).

In his youth Chris absorbed the ranchera singing style as well as the powerfully affecting sounds of Doo-Wop, R&B and the uptown ballads of The Drifters.

Given his chance at recording by Monogram Chris delivered two major hits with, ‘Let’s Dance’ and the follow up, ‘Some Kind of Fun’. Everything should have been hunky dory except that, as so often in those times, he got a lot of fame but this did not translate into a fat bank balance!

Disillusioned, Chris resolved to go to college and study music rather than record for glory alone. His next appearance on record came through Herb Alpert, co-founder of A&M records.

Herb was no Rock ‘n’ Roller but he was a very savvy music business figure who heard a caressing, whispy tone to Chris’ voice which he believed would suit a different type of song – dreamy ballads which would appeal across the generations.

Herb picked up, ‘Call Me’ a winning ballad from Petula Clark (penned by Tony Hatch who also wrote Downtown) and sensed that it would suit Chris and reestablish his career while adding a new stylistic dimension.

The seasoned professionals behind Chris created a come hither, menthol mood, underpinning Chris’ airy vocal. The record buying public got on board and by the end of 1965 Chris was back in the higher echelons of the Billboard charts.

The title track of Chris’ debut LP for A&M was a song that had been around for more than two decades, ‘The More I See You’ by the classic American Songbook team of Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.

There had already been fine versions by Chet Baker, Nat Cole and Bobby Darrin before Chris layer down his take on the song.

What he produced was an unexpected easy listening classic. A warm summer breeze sound that charmingly swirled around your mind and set the body aglow. Many couples locked eyes and limbs as they danced to, ‘The More I See You’.

It’s the kind of song that people fall in love to. The kind of song that couples adopt as, ‘Their Song’.

A top 20 hit ensued and the song, despite the stature of many of the artists who had previously recorded it, is now indelibly associated with Chris Montez.

This was the high water mark of Chris’ career which continues to this day. Anytime you get a chance to see him perform you can be sure of a fine show which features Chicano rock, Spanish balladeering and easy listening charm.

They say that no one on their death bed says, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’. Don’t let yourself end up thinking, ‘I really wished I’d danced more’.

Dance liberates and heals. It is the hidden language of the soul.

Start today by taking the floor wherever you are with your nearest and dearest. Crank up, ‘Let’s Dance’ and, ‘The More I See You’ and let your body go!

You won’t regret it and you’ll want to say thanks to Chris Montez.