There was a place; a place you can almost remember in your dreams.
A place, let’s call it a garden or an enchanted meadow, where the Sun shone brightly every day and gentle breezes played among the whispering trees.
Everyone knew everyone and everyone was safe and content.
But, but, one day, one fateful day, Humankind thought that being safe and content and warm everyday wasn’t quite enough.
It was the, ‘Everyone’ that was the killer.
For, Humankind craved particular pleasure.
People and places and things that are mine and mine alone.
Personal. personal, personal.
And so it began. And, so it goes on.
For, along with all these particular, personal possessions and holdings came, carrying poisonous venom, Lust and Greed, Envy and Pride, Wrath and Sloth and Gluttony.
But, but, so did Charity and Chastity, Diligence and Temperance, Kindness, Humility and Forgiveness.
There would, in particular be much need of Forgiveness.
In this new world musician and storytellers found that the glory and the folly of their fellows made for endless material for compositions.
Most songs and most stories are, in the end, about the sharp pain and the ecstatic joys of finding love, the loss of love, the theft of love and the betrayal of love.
So, here’s one of those stories.
Lust is here. And Envy. And Pride.
And, so too is, maybe, some humility and some forgiveness.
So, everything you need for a hit song,
And, a mighty Number One hit is exactly what Johnny Rivers and his supporting team of crack musicians and backup vocalists provided in 1966 with, ‘Poor Side of Town’.
Johnny RIvers was an established hit maker marrying the sound of 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll with folky elements on sides like, ‘Memphis’, ‘Mountain of Love’, ‘Midnight Special’ and, ‘Secret Agent Man’.
What distinguished Johnny Rivers records was their sense of easy flow that invites the listener to sing and dance along. It’s why he was such a legendarily popular live draw at the Whisky a Go Go Club.
Johnny Rivers is a guy it’s very easy to like.
Poor Side of Town was a very important record for Johnny because he had written it himself and because it introduced a more reflective balladerring element to his style.
The song wonderfully melds aspects of breezy Californian Pop with tinges of a more troubled Southern Soul ballad.
So, the superb piano of Larry Knechtel, bass of Joe Osborn and drums by the ubiquitous Hal Blane added to Johnny’s subtle guitar make for a tale that offers both sunshine and shadow.
To top it all off Darlene Love, Fanita James and Jean King (The Blossoms) provide a choral element that ravished the ear.
Arranger Marty Paich made sure it all came together as a premium blend.
And the story?
Well Rich Girl, Poor Boy and a spiral from ecstacy to tragedy is a tale that will be told for ever and a day.
I think particularly of the film, ‘A Place in the Sun’ starring the most eye scorchingly beautiful couple in the history of the cinema (now there’s a claim) Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.
Sometimes a young woman can be so bewitchingly, breathtakingly beautiful that a young man, poor as he may be, will, must, cross any line, risk any risk, to be with her, to have her smile that brighter than the Sun smile and say, ‘Do I make you nervous?’
Oh, oh, oh, she sure does make you nervous!
And she sees something gorgeous and vulnerable in him that the Preppy Princes picked out for her by Mom and Dad just can’t compete with.
So, though they know in their bones that this won’t end well they soon find themselves skin to skin in Sugartown.
Until, the fates (always hovering in the wings) intervene and the seconds count down to death in the Chair with the clock on the wall dissolving into her heartbreaking visage.
Welcome back to the Poor Side of Town!
Now over here in Britain Johnny Rivers wasn’t very well known and he didn’t figure in the Chart Shows nor was he hip enough to feature on the ‘Progressive’ end of the spectrum.
So, a confession. I didn’t hear the original of Poor Side of Town for many years after I had become aware of it through the version by Telecaster Master Arlen Roth.
I had noticed his name appearing in the credits on premium recordings and so swooped when his debut solo disc appeared in a bargain bin at HMV Records (and I was a deep diver into those bins!).
There’s a lovely hypnotic sway to this take on the song and the guitar has a dead on certainty that only the very best players ever achieve.
To sign off a version from a tenured Professor of songwriting Mr Nick Lowe! (pictured above).
A further confession.
I own every record Nick has ever made and have seen him play on countless occasions through our joint misspent youths.
Seeing him now – a mature artist fully in command of his talent – is greatly cheering.
It seems that Nick now strives, successfully, to make records that appear effortless; concealing the infinite pains involved in achieving such an effect.
The musical empathy between Nick, Jukebox favourite Geraint Watkins (keyboards), Robert Traherne (drums) and Steve Donnelly (guitar) gives a regretful emotional depth to the story so that you feel like exhaling deeply at the end and wiping a tear from your eye.
Oh what tangled webs we weave.
Rich girls and Poor Boys.
Hoping against hope that, this time, the story will have a happy ending.
And don’t think that the dramatic leads in this story will ever listen to your sage advice to think and think again.
No. Some stories have to be played out again and again and again.
Towns and hearts will always be divided and few ever move, for good, willingly to The Poor Side of Town.
Yet, yet, there will always be those who believe that they can defy fate and the odds and strange as it may seem sometimes miracles do happen.
Let’s remind ourselves what’s A1 on The Immortal Jukebox and why!
Some songs have a brutally simple primal perfection.
Usually these songs are recorded at the very beginning of an artists career before they start to look into the rear view mirror and become conscious that they do indeed have a career, a legacy and a reputation to protect.
These are records that come at you full bore and demand you listen now!
Think of the primitive perfection of the last song recorded on the day the Beatles recorded their first LP.
You want to know what The Beatles sounded like in Hamburg? Listen to the raw bleeding magnificence of John Lennon’s vocal on, ‘Twist and Shout’ and the eyeballs out commitment of Paul, George and Ringo.
There was no way a second take could top that!
Think of the stupid beauty of the Undertones debut single, ‘Teenage Kicks’ – a record that captured as few others have the thrilling intoxication of young love and lust.
Feargal Sharkey’s impassioned vocal (All right!) and the unrepeatable delirium of Damian O’ Neill’s guitar solo combine to create a miracle that comes up fresh every time and is endlessly replayable – which seems a pretty good definition of what I want from a jukebox single.
And then there’s the Daddy of all primal utterances on 45 – Gloria by Van Morrison during his days with Them.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that throughout the 1960s that wherever and whenever a group of would be rock and roll stars gathered – in the family garage, in the basement or at a flea bitten church or municipal hall – very soon after they had plugged in they would launch, with wildly varying degrees of competence, into their own version of, ‘Gloria’.
Puzzled passers-by must have wondered why such a simple name needed to be spelled out with such repetitive intensity.
‘And her name is G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’.
They must also have shuddered at the threat:
‘ I’m gonna shout it out night and day .. G – L – O – R – I – A! G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’.
It is likely that many of the groups who attacked the song made a fair fist of the instrumental ground of the song – three chords don’t take long to master.
A few of the lead guitar players will have matched Jimmy Pages fluency and prowess as demonstrated on the recording.
However, No-one, No-one, will have come anywhere near reproducing the frenzied intensity of Van Morrison’s pyrotechnic vocal.
This Van Morrison was not the superlative song stylist or the Celtic soul and blues master he would later become.
This was a snarling, desperate, bewildered teenager who was reluctantly coming to terms with life and lust. The whole painful mess of it all.
A youth who looked down more than he looked up but who was nevertheless able to surprise himself with the ability to express vocally the gamut of emotions and frustrations he faced every day and every night.
But, from the very get-go in his career there was no doubt about who was leading and commanding the band.
Van Morrison on the bandstand or in the studio acts as an emperor, a ruler by right of his eminent majesty as a singer and as a band leader. In this, as so much else, he took his cue from the high priest of soul – Ray Charles.
Gloria is a work of explosive youth, of wanting and yearning, of overwhelming mind and body dominating lust.
Gloria may be the most purely male, testosterone fueled record ever made.
Gloria, five feet four from her head to the ground, is the eternal lust object. Van Morrison might say that she knocks upon his door and even more thrillingly comes to his room but the thrust of the song seems to me to be the solitary, devoutly told repetition of an oft returned to fantasy.
There may well have been a real Gloria but it is the dream of Gloria who knocks on Van’s door with such insistent force. Surely, if he could only chant her name with enough power she would indeed knock upon his door and make all his fevered dreams come true:
G – L – O – R – I A !! G- L- O- R – I – A
The musical drive of Gloria is the relentless beat, beat, beat of male desire in all it’s sullen and obsessive purity. Gloria is the incarnation on vinyl of the desperate teenage male imperative to be adultly carnal – its a boy desperately wanting, needing, to be a man.
Gloria has more tension than release – much like all young lives. This is no doubt why it appealed so powerfully to beat group boys all over the world.
Van snarls his way through the lyric with his uniquely salty Belfast tones alternately pressing and holding back – he already had a grasp of dynamics within song arrangement born of years of listening to Ray, John Lee and Leadbelly on the street where he was born.
Gloria is also as every listener who’s ever heard it knows one hell of a rush!
It comes roaring out of the speakers and before you have time to catch your breath you are carried along on its tidal wave of rhythmic power.
Two minutes and thirty-eight seconds later you will be nearly as elatedly exhausted as Van Morrison himself.
Take a breath or two and maybe down a shot of Bushmills – then press A1 again – you know you want to.
Notes & Comments:
Gloria was recorded on April 5 1964 at Decca’s Studio in West Hampstead, London and released as the B side of Baby Please Don’t Go on July 6th.
Them members Billy Harrison (guitar), Alan Henderson RIP (bass), Ronnie MIllings (drums) and Patrick McCauley (keyboards) were present in the studio when Gloria was recorded and all probably contributed to the single.
Also present were key members of London’s top session musicians of the time. Jimmy Page surely played the lead guitar and Bobby Graham (who would later play the on the equally epochal ‘You really got me’, must have played the drums).
Arthur Greenslade probably played the organ.
There have been numerous cover versions. The most commercially successful being that by The Shadows of Knight which made No 10 in the US charts at the end of 1966.
The most artistically successful is Patti Smith’s reinvention of the song on her amazing debut LP ‘Horses’ in 1975.
‘The Jukebox. I lived beside Jukeboxes all through the Fifties … You want to hear a guy’s story, and if the guy’s really seen a few things, the story is quite interesting’ (Leonard Cohen)
‘Oh I know that the music’s fine,
Like sparkling wine go and have your fun,
Laugh and sing, but while we’re apart,
Don’t give your heart to anyone.’
(Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’)
Once in a very Blue Moon you turn on the radio and a song comes on that you know, know, from the first instant you hear it, is a song you will love for the rest of your life – however long that may be.
It’s a song you’ve never heard before yet at once you feel familiar with it.
Somehow, it seems you’ve been waiting for this song.
A song that you know, know, is true.
You know, know, this guy is telling you a story ripped from his heart.
You know, know, that this song really mattered to this guy and now it really matters to you.
This is a song that speaks to you.
A song that speaks to some essential human yearning.
Once in a very Blue Moon you hear a song like, ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’.
The Drifters glorious original recording from 1960, indelibly sung by Ben E King, shimmered then in the New York night skies and now it shimmers all over the globe.
Shimmers anywhere a lover burns; oh Baby don’t you know I love you so – Can’t you feel it when we touch?
With every baion beat of your heart you vow I will never never let you go.
But, what if she lets you go?
For the one who caught your eye will surely be given the eye by other guys.
What if she is so intoxicated by the pale moonlight and the sparkling wine that she forgets who’s taking her home and in whose arms she should be when the night ends?
What if when he asks if she’s all alone and can he take her home she says Yes instead of No!
Ah, ah, there’s the rub!
For, however agonising it may be, Love only thrives in freedom.
You make a prisoner of Love and it sickens and dies.
So, sometimes, you have to paste on a smile as your Love enjoys the pale moonlight and the sparkling wine with another right before your very eyes.
You have to have Faith.
You have to have Trust.
The Drifters, led by Ben E King, with Dock Green (baritone), Elsbeary Hobbs (bass) and Charlie Thomas (tenor) soar as they bring all these emotional tensions to quick, quivering life scoring a permanent mark on your heart.
Ben E King had a wonderful gift for balancing strength and vulnerability in his vocals.
Now, if there was ever a guy who had really seen a few things and knew how to tell a story that guy was Jerome Solon Felder, known to the world as Doc Pomus.
Doc Pomus, born in 1925, grew up in Brooklyn, a fiercely intelligent bookish boy who became obsessed by the sounds of Jazz, Blues and Rhythm and Blues you could listen to 24 hours a day on New York radio stations.
Doc was not the kind of guy who had casual interests.
No, when Doc took something up he dove in – head, neck and feet.
So it was with Doc and the Blues.
And, certainly his intimate understanding of the Blues grew in depth when in his youth he was stricken by Polio.
It didn’t stop him writing and singing the Blues.
It didn’t stop him heaving himself on crutches up on to the stages of Jazz and Blues clubs throughout the 1940s.
But, but, it did stop him from triumphantly sweeping his new bride round the dance floor at his wedding.
Instead, he had to smile as other men held her tight waiting for the night to end when, finally, they would share a last dance of their own.
Doc remembered those conflicting emotions when he wrote, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ on the back of one of the invitations to their wedding.
Doc’s lyric throbs with love and longing. With yearning and anxiety.
It’s a mixture that cuts deep into the listeners soul.
Doc’s writing partner, the urbane Mort Shuman, read the lyric and, inspired, devised a melody that has the glittering sheen of tears in the eyes.
So, now you have an emotionally complex and true lyric and a ‘you’ll never forget this once you’ve heard it the first time’ melody and a vocal group with a dynamite lead singer.
You’ve got the song. You’ve got the singers.
What more do you need?
Well, what you need is savvy Record Producers, songwriters themselves, who know from bitter experience, that a great song does not guarantee a great record.
What you need in New York in 1960 is Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
They will bring in superb musicians like Bucky Pizzarelli, Allen Hanlon, Gary Chester and Lloyd Trotman and frame their expertise in an arrangement that will ensure the great song and the great singers make a great Record.
They’ll make the record start like a beating heart.
They’ll have subtle latin rhythms seducing the ear throughout.
They’ll not shy away from bringing in the sweeping strings when they’re demanded.
They’ll balance the urgent lead vocal with tender echoes from the rest of the vocal group.
They’ll listen and listen again and polish and polish and polish until they’ve made a Record that nothing less than a masterpiece of American Popular Music.
Together, Songwriters, Singers and Producers will make a Record which will never fade for true stories are always true and always recognised as such by open hearts.
An open heart like that of Leonard Cohen.
Leonard will likely have heard, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ on a Jukebox in a cafe in Montreal habituated by fellow Poets and Writers searching for inspiration, recognition and the redemptive fires of love.
Leonard, a Ladies Man if there ever was one, confided that in those days he was no student of music – though he was certainly a student of cafes and waitresses.
But, once he heard a song that really told a guy’s story in a way that he could believe he remembered the number of that song on The Jukebox and punched it in again and again.
And, when he came to have a Jukebox of his own he filled it with Records that told interesting stories.
Records like, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.
Leonard was a Gentleman and a Scholar of the dance of Love and the dance of Life and knew as a Poet how emotionally powerful precisely chosen words, of the right weight and rhythm, were once set to music.
So, embarking on a career as a Songwriter and performer in the late 1960s he brought all his considerable gifts to his new vocation.
Over the next half century he created a body of work that stands with any in the history of Popular Music.
Deep currents run through Leonard Cohen songs.
Songs about every aspect of the love between men and women and between human kind and God.
Beautiful Songs that illuminate our search for Love without disguising the frequent ugly betrayals we are heir to all our lives.
Leonard knew that Life was so serious that often the only proper response was laughter – sometimes ironic sometimes wholehearted.
Leonard understood the steps and missteps in the Dance of Life.
He knew that we all want someone to dance with very tenderly and long.
He knew that we all want someone to dance with through the panic till we’re safely gathered in.
We all want someone to dance with to the end of love.
As the end of his life approached Leonard reached back to those Jukebox days and began to sing, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ in concert.
It was, in fact, the last song he ever sang in public (though the version featured here is from Ghent some years earlier).
Leonard knew, as Doc Pomus knew, that in dance we stretch out our hands and our bodies and make a connection which can sustain us through the panics and perils of life.
Leonard Cohen and Doc Pomus, each in their own way, danced, danced, danced to the end of love.
Listen to The Drifters and canny old Leonard and make a promise that you’ll save the last dance for the one you love.
For there is one Dance we all do alone as we journey through life to death.
Until that day stretch out your hand.
Take your partner in your arms and dance!
Save the last dance.
The very last dance.
There’s a fine biography of Doc Pomus by Alex Halberstadt ‘Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus’
The film documentary ‘AKA Doc Pomus’ by Peter Miller and William Hechter is a must watch.
I highly recommend Allan Showalter’s Blog cohencentric.com for all things related to Leonard Cohen.
When I launched The Immortal Jukebox in March 2014 I had, as they say, no expectations.
I just knew that it was time to find out if I could think on the page with the same fluency I could talk about the music I loved.
My readers are of course the judge and jury as to whether I have managed in my writing to convey the depth of my passion for the music and musicians from the golden age of recording – by which I mean the late 1920s to the late 1970s.
It seems I have now written some 200 Posts here on The Jukebox – each one a letter from the heart.
Starting out with just my family and a handful of loyal friends I now see, with some amazement, that my combined WordPress, Twitter and Email followers are now approaching the 10,000 mark!
I determined from the beginning of this adventure that all my posts would read as if no one else could possibly have written them and that no matter how well known the record or artist featured I would illuminate their particular merits from my own unique angle.
I also decided, as time went on, to risk inserting fictional elements and personal anecdotes and reflections into the mix.
It’s my Blog and I’ll rant, rave, laugh and cry if I want to!
Heartfelt thanks to my readers who have produced so many intelligent and inspiring comments and so much warm encouragement.
Remember a handful of Nickels and The Jukebox is a cure for all your ills.
In reflective mode, I’ve been reviewing my Stats and thought I would share some of my discoveries with you.
Top 5 Posts :
1. ‘Ordinary (Extraordinary Stories) featuring Mary Gauthier & Iris Dement