This Day won’t, can’t come again – though you may remember it for every Day you have left to live.
Bless the Light.
Today is all we have and whatever happens today you have the absolute existential freedom to choose how you act, how your react, to whatever this Day brings.
Bless the light.
And, when you come to the end of this Day you will have much to give thanks for – not least that the lightning bolt of death has stayed sheathed in the heavens.
Give thanks for the day that is done and pray that tomorrow will dawn for you and gift you one more sacred day.
Bless the light.
And, as you walk through the world of your alloted days you will find that the steps of others will from time to time fall in step with yours.
If you are very fortunate you will find that another’s steps will match yours for mile after mile after mile and that if you lose your footing and fall behind they will stay their steps until you catch up.
Thank you for the Days.
I won’t forget a single day believe me.
Bless the light.
There will be guides and spirits along the way who will befriend and show you t e way before going their own way.
On this road of Days you will find that those who once walked so companionably by your side now seem to marched ahead or taken another turn to take them out of sight.
Yet, as you come to give thanks for another Day of your alloted number you can give thanks for the miles you shared and wish them well wherever they are on the highway of their own Days.
The night is dark and sorrow comes to us all so give thanks for the Days you shared.
Thank you for the Days.
Those sacred days.
Bless the light.
Don’t forget a single Day.
A single Day.
Another bitter sweet classic from the pen of Ray Davies brought to vivid, shimmering life by The Kinks.
One of the hallmarks of Ray’s greatness as a songwriter is the ability to tell stories distilling complex emotions we all share into endlessly satisfying three minute vignettes which are faithful both the joy and the sadness in our lives.
Ray has acknowledged that a songwriter is frequently, at the time a song is created, unaware of the effect it will have on its audience :
‘The song has grown in intensity over the years … you don’t think about it, but it’s built up quite a mystique over the years. It certainly left me. It belongs to the world now.’
That’ll do for me as the definition of a great song!
The beauty of the lyric, tenderly evocative but unspecific, is that will be apposite for so many of us in so many times and stations of our lives.
Recollection of those sacred days will always as the days pass have elements of regret.
Loss and sorrow are not to be feared in this world – they come with the territory.
The song starts as an almost busked folk song before building to a tremendous crescendo as the piano, drums and harmony vocals take the song deep into our hearts.
And, as we will see below, it’s a song that can even surprise its author with its keening power.
In 2010 Ray Davies played the Glastonbury Festival just after the death of Pete Quaife, the Bass player in the original Kinks lineup.
Pete Quaife had quit The Kinks just after ‘Days’ was recorded so playing the song must have had particular resonance for Ray as he looked out on the thronged audience (each of whom will have had their own days to remember and bless as they sang along).
Keen readers of The Jukebox will recall that in a previous Post (featuring the song, ‘Do You Want to Dance?) I revealed that my exhaustive researches in; theology,the classics, the canon of great literature, modern psychology and neuroscience had led me to the inescapable conclusion that there were only five essential questions to be asked, and answered, in Life.
I can now tell you, prior to the publication of, ‘The 5 questions every life must answer‘ that one of these is … ‘What’s your Name?’
Who am I? Who are You?
Names are very powerful signifiers.
More powerful and mysterious in their effects on our lives than we generally allow.
At some point in my mid teens I became, ‘Thom’ instead of ‘Thomas’ or, ‘Tom’ (I would never, never, allow, ‘Tommy’) to differentiate myself from all the other Toms – as well as the Dicks and Harrys.
By insisting on a particular spelling of my name I was establishing a particular identity for myself.
An identity to embrace and challenge the world with.
Of course, in the world of the creative arts changes of name are common to signal a move from the private into the public and commercial realms.
There was a particular moment in time when someone asked the young Robert Zimmerman what his name was and after a micro second of hesitation the reply came, ‘Bob Dylan’ and a legend began.
In the realm of romance the question, ‘What’s your Name?’ starts that crazy carousel spinning, spinning, spinning.
As the wonderful Don and Juan, in their Doo-Wop classic from 1962 observed the thought behind the question is frequently : ‘Do I stand a chance with you?’.
Once you’re aboard the carousel you’ll find that the name of your beloved will take on sacred properties and hearing your own name spoken by them will constitute a new christening.
So, here’s a Post about a song that celebrates a particular name with abounding Joy.
Not forgetting to mention the power of familial love and discord, car crashes, comas, the collision of music genres, fate and happenstance, huckstering marketing and genius goofing off.
Or, to put it another way as The Regents first sang (and I defy you not to sing along, I’ll hold down the bass, you take the falsetto) :
‘Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann
Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann’
‘Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann (take my hand)
Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann
Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann
Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann
You’ve got me rockin’ and a -rollin’
Rockin’ and a reelin’
Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann’
Yowzah! Yowzah! Yowzah!
That’ll have you dancing ’til a quarter to three and then some.
I think we can agree the brothers Fassert and The Regents did Barbara Ann proud.
How The Regents came to have a top 20 hit with the song is a saga in itself.
Originally in 1957 they were The Monterays and included among their members Ernie Moresca who went on to Rock ‘n Roll immortality through writing, ‘The Wanderer’ for Dion.
Ernie dropped out and they became The Regents (they may also have been briefly known as The Desires).
They then recorded a series of unreleased demos in New York recording studios in 1958 (one of these, significantly for our story, was Regent Studios).
Core members were Guy Villari on lead (whose preferred cigarette brand was Regent), Sal Cuomo (first tenor), Tony Gravanga (baritone and Sax), Donnie Jacobucci (baritone) and Chuck Fassert (second tenor).
During one of their 1 hour demo sessions they spent 50 minutes running down a ballad, written by Guy Villari, called, ‘A Teenager’s Love’ and wondered what to do with their precious remaining 10 minutes of studio time.
What about that song written by Chuck’s kid brother Fred about their kid sister, ‘Barbara Ann’ – it was always a kick to warm up to and who knows maybe people would like it even if it was basically just the repetition of her name over and over again!
So in 10 minutes it was wrapped up and a waiting world … heard not a whisper of it as 50 or more Record Labels said, Barbara Ann – no thanks!
And, that is where the story might have ended.
But, as fate would have it, in 1961 it happened that Donnie Jacobucci’s younger brother, Eddie, joined a group called The Consorts who were looking for material to record.
Eddie remembered, ‘Barbara Ann’ and taught it to his fellow Consorts who then cut their own version.
This was brought to the attention of Lou Cichetti of the Cousins Record Shop and Label. Sharp eared Lou also listened to the Regents demo which had been brought in by the original songwriter,Fred Fassert.
Lou was in no doubt which was the superior version (Fred was a winner either way) and promptly decided to issue The Regents version in March 1961.
This necessitated their urgent resurrection once the tune sped to Number One in the New York region after being heavily played on the radio.
Lou, aware that the record needed national distribution, leased it to Roulette/Gee who pushed it all the way to Number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.
So, the fruit of 10 minutes work paid off handsomely – though it took 3 years to do so!
The Regents would only have one more hit, ‘Runaround’ in September 1961 but, ‘Barbara Ann’ would never die!
Once a song, particularly a Doo Wop song, got wide radio play hordes of young singers thought – we could do that!
Among those tuning in to, ‘Barbara Ann’ were two California High School buddies, Jan Berry and Dean Torrence.
Jan and Dean found that their voices had a pleasing blend and that Dean had a knack for capturing multi part vocal arrangements on tape (which would later bring him to the attention of and to collaborate with another California native more than somewhat obsessed with multi part vocal arrangements – one Brian Wilson).
Their career benefited from the patronage of Herb Alpert and Lou Adler and Dean’s astute insights into song structures and song genres.
He quickly picked up how well their Doo Wop chops would fit with the burgeoning Surf Music scene.
It also didn’t hurt that they had a clean cut tanned handsomeness that looked real swell on record covers and posters ripe for the bedroom walls of teenage girls all over the nation.
Surf City, in 1963 was the first Surf song to ride all the way to the top of the Hot 100 while the succeeding, ‘Drag City’, ‘The Little Old Lady from Pasadena’ and the prophetic, ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ (Jan Berry had a terrible car crash in April 1966 sustaining serous head injuries which left him in a coma for 2 months) carved out a secure place in history for the duo.
In 1962 they had laid down their take on, ‘Barbara Ann’ which they no doubt sang when they shared stages with the Beach Boys – who were of course the High Kings of the Surf Scene.
Altogether more produced and assured than The Regents.
I’m sure this will have gone down a storm on the beach party scene.
The Drums here really drive things along and the assures layering of the vocals with the clinching sax break makes this a cert for the repeat play button.
By the summer of 1965 The Beach Boys had already issued 2 successful Albums as well as holding down a heavy touring schedule.
However, Capitol Records wanted more.
Tney didn’t really want to hear that resident genius Brian Wilson, in response to hearing The Beatles rapid development as represented on Rubber Soul, had ambitions to write, sing and produce material of an altogether more sophisticated nature.
To hold off Capitol while Pet Sounds coelesed in his mind and soul a plan was hatched to record a largely acoustic live in the studio party session where they would cut loose on a series of favourite songs – including Barbara Ann on which their old friend Dean Torrence would share lead vocals.
We should also never forget the contribution of percussion potentate Hal Blaine on ashtrays!
You want loose?
You want a party?
Ah … Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann …
Loose but very lovely.
And, before the personalities began to grind against each other to all their detriment an example of family and friends having a whale of a time together.
Classily Capitol’s marketing strategy for, ‘Party!’ included sending dealers a million (!) bags of Potato chips adorned with the album’s cover art for distribution to the ravening fans.
Barbara Ann was the last track on the record as originally issued and was not chosen as the single.
Instead a non album 45,’The Little Girl I Once Knew’ hit the playlists in November and was roundly disliked by DJs and Station managers as it included repeated instances of silence throughout.
So, as fate (ah fate) would have it DJs turned to the track on the Album that seemed likely to get the best response.
You’ve guessed it Barbara Ann.
Thus, it became very hard to turn on your radio and not hear, blasting out at full volume …Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann!
All the way to Number 2 and eternally into the memsory of anyone who ever heard it.
Now, apart from the extremely hardy and commited few, Surfing as a pastime, still less a culture was largely unknown to us Brits.
But, only those with their radios steadfastly tuned to classical stations were unaware of The Beach Boys.
And, musicians and songwriters in particular were in awe of Brian Wilson’s melodic gifts and conceptual imagInation.
No one will be surprised to learn that Paul McCartney was stunned by Brian’s talents and driven to match them in songs and arrangements of his own.
An unexpected Beach Boys devotee was none other than one of the true wild men of the era – the iconic drummer of Tne Who Keith Moon!
It’s fair to say that Keith’s gifts as a singer are dwarfed by his gifts at the drum kit yet there is something immensely touching listening to him assay, ‘Barbara Ann’in his unique falsetto.
Of course, once Daltrey, Townshend and Entwhistle cut loose in support of their sticksman there can be no getting out of the landslide that was The Who at full throttle.
Rockin’ and a rollin’ Rockin’ and a rellin’ indeed!
Slight though Barbara Ann is in the glorious Beach Boys treasure trove it recurred in their live shows simply because everybody can sing along and it’s just flat out FUN.
When they toured on 2012 to celebrate a staggering 50 years as a Group tney invariably encored with Barbara Ann and duly brought the house down.
It seemed that tour was the last time Brian and Mike Love were on speaking terms.
So for the good times ….
To conclude as we started with the power of names : we know how pretty, pretty, Peggy Sue was and we are always happy to hear from BIllie Jean and indeed from Bobby Jean and the party is always guaranteed to go with a swing when Fannie Mae calls round.
The man who had run up an astonishing 24 successive top 30 singles (31 in total) including 3 Number Ones in the UK as well as 2 top 10 hits in America, now, it seemed, couldn’t get a hit to save his life.
Perry Como wasn’t calling up to invite him back on his show (where he had appeared alongside Ronald Reagan!).
The man who had strummed the first immortal chords of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Britain with Rock Island Line in 1956 and who had inspired thousands of teenagers to form a Skiffle group found that the caravan of popularity had moved on.
Moved on to the Beat Groups whose members had almost all been electrified, transformed, by listening to Lonnie from the mid 1950s.
Moved on above all to The Beatles.
But the Beat Group Boys never forgot their debt to Lonnie.
Listen to Roger Daltrey of the Who :
‘I wanted to be Elvis .. I knew that. But the man who really made me feel I could actually go out and do it was Lonnie Donegan’.
Listen to Paul McCartney :
‘He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No 1 in the charts. We studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.’
Lonnie had adopted his first name in homage to the legendary Jazz/Blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson after the Chris Barber Band shared a Royal Festival Hall Concert with the great man in 1952.
Maybe it was thinking back to Lonnie Johnson’s smooth vocal delivery and elegiac tone on songs from the 1930s and his own melancholic situation that set Lonnie’s creative juices flowing when he came to write, ‘(It Looks Like) I’m Never Going To Fall in Love Again’.
Lonnie Donegan had developed since boyhood a deep love and understanding of the heritage of American roots music – Folk, Blues, Jazz and Country.
Songs from that treasury swirled about in his memory.
One of those songs was a wistful ballad, ‘Wanderin” or ”I’m Never Going To Cease My Wandering’ which recurred from the 1920s on in versions by Vernon Dalhart, Eddie Arnold and Milt Okun among many others.
Using that template and collaborating with Jimmy Currie he took ‘Wanderin” to the piano and crafted a timeless classic.
Lonnie didn’t have the vocal prowess to sell the song in the bravura manner that it would later receive.
No, his own version is distinguished for me by its hesitant charm.
This is a man, a man wounded by love, singing the song softly, tenderly, to himself in regret after the storm of emotion has largely subsided.
There can be great beauty and sometimes unexpected peace in the stillness after the storm.
The song wasn’t much played on the radio and it wasn’t a hit.
Lonnie carried on playing clubs and cabaret always singing his heart out.
Singing his heart out.
But, like I’ve said here before and will surely say again – a true message always gets through.
Sometimes, it just takes a while.
So, scroll forward four of five years and Lonnie runs into an old friend, Tom Jones, and he thinks – now here was a man who can sell a ballad!
In Lonnie’s home the two troubadours sat down, no doubt fortified by strong liquor, and talked about songs they had loved growing up.
Lonnie took out, ‘It Looks Like …’ and said.:
‘ Tom, I have this song – you’d sing the pants off it. I recorded it but I can’t really sing it (like you could)’
Tom remembered that, ‘Wanderin” had gone down a storm as a singalong in the pubs of his native Wales.
Listening to Lonnie’s song he knew that the chorus was just made for his own Alpha male full throated style.
And, so it proved.
Tom’s version hit Number 2 in the UK Charts in 1967 and appeared twice on the US Charts – top 50 in ’67 and Number 6 when re released in 1969.
When Tom Jones takes on a ballad you know there will be no half measures.
Tom has vocal power and range aplenty and is capable of bringing shade and nuance to a lyric.
Here, he takes us on a passionate journey through a man’s bewilderment at his current situation.
Though he thought he knew the score and cast aside his pride now, now, he can’t take anymore.
There is time for tears in the wake of lost love.
And, then, it will feel like you’ll never fall in love again.
Yet, Tom’s version has such force, such strength, even in defeat, that you are sure this is a champion who will, though he has to take a count, get up off the canvas and get back in the game again.
The eternal Game of Love.
A true message always gets through.
For there are always those for whom the message seems personal, heaven sent.
So scroll forward to the mid 1970s when Tom Jones appears regularly in Las Vegas.
And, of course, no Tom Jones show is complete without his scintillating take on, ‘It Looks Like ..’.
Frequently in the audience for Tom’s shows is another Vegas Star – in fact the greatest Vegas Star, Elvis Presley.
And, Elvis knows a storming ballad when he hears one.
When Elvis comes to record the song it’s sadly near the end of his storied career.
Now, though he’s still a Lion he’s a Lion in Winter.
So, Elvis brings a depth of melancholy to the song that’s beyond either Tom or Lonnie.
Though his royal robes may have seemed threadbare in those days he was and always would be The King.
And, when a King sings we should all pay full attention for there are many pretenders but only one King.
Only One King.
So, Lonnie’s little regarded song from 1962 had proved a true wonder and before his death in 2002 Lonnie must have reaped some handsome royalty cheques to add to the pride he had in his song writing.
And, that is where I had planned to end this Post.
But, what do I know of the strange forces of synchronicity and serendipity?
For, as I began to write it happened that Lonnie Donegan’s son, Peter, a fine singer and musician in his own right, appeared on the UK talent show, ‘The Voice’ and that also on the show as Judge/Mentor was none other than Tom Jones!
The format of the show involves the Judges listening to the contestants with their chairs turned away from the stage so that they assess purely on the basis of the voice rather than looks and age.
Listening to Peter Tom’s interest was immediately piqued and he was the judge whose chair turned around.
Then, in story book fashion, Tom learned that Peter was the son of his old friend and writer of one of his signature songs – Lonnie Donegan.
And then to make the movie complete Tom and Peter put on a tear inducing impromptu performance of, ‘It Looks Like ..’ that brought the house down.
Somewhere, the shade of Lonnie must have smiled and thought, ‘I told you so …’
It is impossible to overestimate the influence of Lonnie Donegan on Rock ‘n’ Roll In Britian.
Billy Bragg’s book, ‘Roots, Radicals and Rockers’ is a fine primer on Lonnie’s role in the Skiffle movement.
Chas McDevitt’s book, ‘Skiffle – The Definitive Inside Story’ is filed with wonderful anecdotes from those who were there.
There are many fine single CD collections of Lonnie’s hits.
I listen with great pleasure to the 5CD, ‘Lonnie Donegan Collection’ on the Spectrum label which amply demonstrates the breadth of his talents.
We want to stretch out our hand to someone who says, with feeling, ‘I know, I know, I know exactly what you mean’.
Yet, so often, we feel, far from being truly understood, we are instead misunderstood.
Living day to day can be so hard.
We make mistakes.
We let ourselves down.
No one alive can always be an angel.
Sometimes it seems all we have to do is worry, worry, worry.
We regret those foolish words so carelessly spoken.
Oh, but at heart, in our soul, to get through another day, to live companionably, we must believe our intentions are good.
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.
An artist of the first degree.
A musician, singer and performer sharing the stature of Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday and Aretha Franklin.
Not that you can compare her artistry to anyone else.
There has never been anyone like Nina Simone.
A naturally gifted pianist and a singer who made every song she ever sang her own.
She grew up in in pre War South Carolina where strict limits were imposed on the ambitions of young black girls – however talented.
Her originality, her sensitivity and her intuition which were integral to her greatness as an artist made her acutely, painfully, aware of the savage injustice she was heir to as a proud Black Woman and artist in the land of her birth.
So, when Nina Simone sang there was always wounded pain informing the beauty she created.
She brought fierce attention to a song melding the personal and the political with irresistible force.
‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is in her reading a plea for personal and political justice and respect from a casualty of wilful misunderstanding – including her misunderstanding of herself.
Listening, you feel suspended in time, swaying in tempo, as Nina Simone with her poised piano and bruised vocal excavates layer after layer of meaning and emotion.
Listening, you hear a blues, you hear a spiritual, you hear echoes of No More Auction Block, you hear echoes of All My Trials, you hear a cry from the heart.
Listening to the way she bites into and stretches the words misunderstood, good and joy for maximum effect.
There is a gravity in her performance of this song which I find emotionally overwhelming.
Nina Simone cuts deep and listening to her is both immensely rewarding and profoundly disturbing for there can be no ignoring the dark truths about humanity and society she so often revealed.
Nina Simone paid a high price in personal terms for the truths she told.
We are all in her debt for the courage and fortitude with which she pursued her vocation and for the many treasures she bequeathed through her records.
I estimate that there are over 400 versions of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ in the catalogue.
I have listened to twenty or so before writing this Post.
I found merit in the versions by Joe Cocker, Julie Tippets & Brian Auger, Mary J Blige and especially in that of Meshell Ndegeocello.
But, it seemed to me there was only one version that I could, in all conscience, present in the same Post as that of Nina Simone.
The pride of Newcastle.
They were specialists in sourcing songs from the blues tradition and turbo charging them through the lacerating power of Eric Burdon’s vocals and intensity of the arrangements led by Alan Price’s entrancing Organ and Hilton Valentine’s down these mean streets Noir Guitar.
I have read that Bob Dylan jumped out of his car and shouted with amazed delight when he first heard The Animals take on, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ which they had found on his debut LP.
I would not venture to guess what Nina Simone made of their version of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ yet we can say that it is an intensely driven, masculine, version that can never be forgotten once heard.
Certainly, Bruce Springsteen, a major Animals devotee, must have had this version in his head as he wrote, ‘Badlands’.
While no one could attempt to match the Nina Simone original The Animals version, a classic in its own right, became the essential template for almost all versions that followed.
We will always be in search of understanding.
We will always be edgy, have regrets and be filled with worry.
While wanting desperately to be understood we will misunderstand others and ourselves.
That’s what it is to be human rather than an angel.
Ah but, if we could, if we just would pay proper attention to each other and the world around us we might in our journey come to understand that every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.
We might come to live in the land of spices.
We might hear church bells beyond the stars.
We might find something understood.
Sing it Nina.
Nina Simone’s original version can be found on her 1964 Album, ‘Broadway, Blues, Ballads’.
The Animals version was released in January 1965 – it was a substantial world wide hit.
The writers of the song were Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott (who arranged and conducted the Nina Simone version) and Sol Marcus.