Jukebox Top 10 for 2019 : Van, Ry, Tom Waits, Emmylou, The Kinks, Don Everly ++

The Jukebox covered a lot of territory this year.

I hope you enjoyed the journey – discovering new artists and reacquainting with old favourites.

Here’s the 10 most popular Posts of 2019 – make sure you’ve read every one!

At 10 : David Bowie and Nina Simone demonstrating why their legendary status will never dim with contrastingly brilliant takes on Wild is The Wind

https://wp.me/p4pE0N-27c

At 9 : Guy Clark with Texas 1947 brings a lost world to vivid life.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/11/23/guy-clark-texas-1947/

At 8 : More premium Texas Texture courtesy of Butch Hancock, Joe Ely & Emmylou Harris

Remember – only 2 things are better than milkshakes and malts and one’s dancing like the dickens to The West Texas Waltz!

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/06/29/butch-hancock-joe-ely-and-emmylou-harris-west-texas-waltz/

At 7 : A Birthday tribute to the one and only Don Everly.

There was a quality in Don’s voice, a seeming deep acquaintance with the heartaches that assail us all, that never fails to move me deeply.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/02/01/happy-birthday-don-everly-singing-beyond-singing/

At 6 : Bobby Darrin – Dream Lover. A tale of triumph, tragedy and Trauma.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/06/08/bobby-darin-tragedy-trauma-triumph-dream-lover/

At 5 : The Kinks with yet another Ray Davies masterpiece, Days (Thank You For)

Don’t forget a single Day. Bless The Light

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/01/26/the-kinks-days-thank-you-for/

At 4 : The great Tom Waits with a characteristically evocation of the everyday melding with the mythic – (Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/05/27/tom-waits-looking-for-the-heart-of-saturday-night/

At 3 : Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, The Drifters & Aaron Neville know a great song and how to present it. Here they are with Money Honey.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/07/27/ry-cooder-jerry-garcia-the-drifters-aaron-neville-money-honey/

At 2 : Linda Ronstadt & Mike Nesmith with a heady 60s classic, Different Drum

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/09/12/linda-ronstadt-mike-nesmith-p-p-arnold-different-drum/

And ..  Top of The Charts .. by far the most popular Post in the history of The Jukebox :

Van Morrison & Mark Knopfler setting down eternity shale with ‘Last Laugh’.

https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/08/27/van-morrison-mark-knopfler-last-laugh-happy-birthday-van/

A massive vote of thanks from me to all the wise and witty Jukebox Readers.

There are some 150 Posts in draft ready for 2020 – so stay tuned!

Happy New Year!

Christmas Alphabet 2019 : T for T Bone Burnett, Tommy Dorsey & Dylan Thomas

Sooner or later we all go astray.

Everyone of us needs to be saved.

And, no one alive can survive without tidings of comfort and joy.

Comfort and Joy.

Too easy to default to dismay.

Hark! Hark! Hark!

Trust in the tidings.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

I have been an admirer of T Bone Burnett since his days in The Alpha band and his sojourn with Bob Dylan.

The thread connecting all his output as an Artist and Producer is an acute sense of how to establish mood spotlighting the virtues of a song through the adept balance of instrumentation and vocals.

Now for some more vintage Yuletide Jazz.

Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra cutting quite a rug on Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.

Whether you’re on the naughty or the nice list this one will get your Foxtrottin’ feet gliding for the next three minutes or so.

Tommy, of course, on the Trombone.

Vocals by Cliff Weston and Edyth Wright.

Paul Weston provided the fluid arrangement.

Mac Cheikes on Guitar and Sid Stoneburn on Clarinet add the filigree.

Dylan Thomas was never going to make old bones.

When the following recording of ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ was made in 1952 he had less than two years to live.

He never saw his 40th birthday yet he had already, though he spent his gifts profligately, laid down a legacy of immortal incantatory poetry which will always call out to be spoken and sung.

Whatever his excesses he was a true Poet well acquainted with close and holy darkness.

Pull up your most comfortable chair and follow Dylan’s sonorous voice as he leads you spiralling through the years to the heart of a child’s Christmas.

Always on Christmas night there was music.

An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.”

It was very warm in the little house.

Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed.

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed.

I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.           

Next Alphabet Post on the 17th. M for …. Stay tuned!

Christmas Alphabet : H for Merle Haggard, Coleman Hawkins & Thomas Hardy

There’s no denying that when times are hard (and someone near you right now is having those hard times) Christmas can be a season of worry rather than wonder.

Sometimes you pray that somehow you will make it through December.

When things aren’t going well the prospect of Christmas can make you shiver more than the coldest Winter winds.

When you’ve got a family to support you’ve somehow got to hang on until the warmer winds appear.

You’ve got to make it through December.

Make it through.

Trust Merle Haggard, the working stiff’s balladeer, to tell it straight.

Let’s change the mood with some more Vintage Jazz.

Don Redman leads an All Star band featuring the imperious Tenor Saxophone of Coleman Hawkins.

I think we can safely say that now we have found those warmer winds!

Throw another log on the fire!

Trumpets : Joe Wilder, Charlie Shavers and Al Mattaliano
Trombones : Sonny Russo, Jimmy Cleveland and Bobby Byrne
Saxophones : Don Redman George Dorsey, Milt Yaner, Al Cohn, Seldon Powell and Coleman Hawkins.
Piano : Hank Jones, Guitar : George Barnes, Bass : Al Hall Drums : Osie Johnson

New York, July 1957

Thomas Hardy as Poet and Novelist proved himself to be a fearless, wintery, anatomist of the human heart.

So, his Poem, ‘The Oxen’ has for me a special poignancy in the heart wrenching desire to believe that there yet may be miracles in the gloom.

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
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We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
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So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
*
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
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Here’s a gorgeous setting by Jonathan Rathbone sung by The Swingle Singers from their 1994 CD, ‘The Story of Christmas’.

If you have enjoyed this Post please share it as widely as you can!

Set your Calendar now for December 9th and the next Christmas Alphabet Post R for …

 

On Bob Dylan’s Jukebox : Billy Lee Riley – Red Hot

Primal 1950s Sun Records Rockabilly and Rock ‘n’ Roll could transform your life with the shocking power felt by Saul on the road to Damascus.

Reborn.

Changed utterly.

No going back now.

A record is made in Memphis Tennessee in 1957, ‘Red Hot’ by Billy Lee Riley from Pocohontas Arkansas.

Embed from Getty Images

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Then it is carried on the airwaves a thousand miles north to Hibbing Minnesota where 16 year old Robert Allen Zimmerman experiences an epiphany for which he would be forever grateful.

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‘[Billy Lee Riley} … was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote.

… Billy became what is known in the industry—a condescending term—as a one-hit wonder.

But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him.

And Billy’s hit song was called “Red Hot,” and it was red hot.

It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life.’ (Bob Dylan)

Well, if that didn’t blast you out of your skull you need a skull transplant!

150 seconds of Bliss.

Pure Bliss.

Billy and his band, the brilliantly named ‘Little Green Men’ explode into your consciousness with the overwhelming impact of a comet crashing to Earth.

Roland Janes and Billy on the searing guitars.

Jimmy Van Eaton on the we will not be denied drums.

Marvin Pepper on the go as fast as you like boys I’ll keep us on the road bass.

Jimmy Wilson on the hold fast here comes the rapids piano.

And Billy’s vocal?

Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen here we have the very essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Now, in any well ordered Universe ‘Red Hot’ would have been a No 1 Hit.

But, as we know, things often don’t work out the way they should.

So, Sam Phillips, the Caesar of Sun Records, decided that he didn’t have the resources to properly promote both ‘Red Hot’ and Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls of Fire’ – well which would you have chosen?

Nevertheless, to achieve some sort of cosmic balance, ‘Red Hot’ is now installed as A80 on The Immortal Jukebox!

Billy’s had one minor hit with the fantastic, ‘Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll’ (sure to feature here later) and he made important contributions as a sideman in Memphis with Sun and in Los Angeles.

His career got a welcome boost in the late 1970s when Robert Gordon and the mighty Link Wray recorded dynamite covers of Red Hot and Flyin’ Saucers.

Billy played irregularly but every time he hit the stage he carried with him and delivered the elemental white-fiery spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Here from 2008, just a year before he died, a performance that is a wonderful testament to a true Rock ‘n Roller.

God Bless you Billy Lee!

Notes :

Below, a joyous shot of an obviously delighted Bob Dylan revelling in the rapturous applause Billy Lee received when he joined Bob on stage in 1992.

Image result for bob dylan with billy lee riley images"

My go to CD for Billy Lee is ‘Billy Lee Rocks’ on the estimable Bear Family Label.

Red Hot was written and first recorded by Billy ‘The Kid Emerson’ in 1955.

Image result for billy the kid emerson images"

Billy also wrote ‘When It Rains, It Really Pours’ covered by Elvis himself and ‘Every Woman I Know (Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile) which was recorded by Ry Cooder.

As far as I know Billy is still alive at the age of 93!

Thanks for the songs Billy!

SET YOUR CALENDARS!

The 2019 Immortal Jukebox ‘Christmas Alphabet’ will begin on Thursday December 5th and continue on the 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 19th and 21st.

Don’t miss out and spread the word!

Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint & Willy Deville : On The Waterfront, Spanish Stroll – Immortal Moments

Another post from the first year of The Jukebox.

Of all the hundreds of Posts I have written for The Jukebox this may be my own favourite.

Sometimes it might take just a single beat of your heart.

A lightning strike seared into your memory: something really crucial has happened and whatever happens from now on it will be in the shadow of this!

Maybe it’s the first time alone together when she called you by your name and it felt like a new christening.

Or the time your toddling son folded his hand into yours without thinking as he looked for stability and security on the road ahead.

Sometimes it might take years; the slowly dawning realisation, (like a photograph emerging from the darkroom) that it was that moment, that event, which seemed so trivial at the time, where a new course was set that’s led you to your current harbour.

Moments, Moments, Moments.

Immortal Moments.

Our lives in our imaginations and memories are never a complete coherent narrative but rather a silvery chain of moments: some cherished and celebrated some sharply etched with pain and sorrow.

Some in which we have the starring role and others where we are strictly extras in the shadows at the edge of the stage.

The older we get the more we learn that some of those moments have become our own immortal moments: the moments we will return to again and again, voluntarily or necessarily as we try to make some sense of our lives.

And, when we shuffle through these moments we will find many have been supplied by our encounters with the music, films and books that have become part of the imaginative and emotional furniture of our lives.

Snatches of lyrics and melodies from favourite songs that you find yourself unexpectedly singing; scenes from films that seem to be always spooling somewhere deep in the consciousness now spotlit in front the mind’s eye, lines of poetry read decades ago that suddenly swoosh to the surface, seemingly unbidden, in response to some secret trigger.

I remember the exact moment, as a teenager, when I idly picked up a dusty book in a rundown junk shop and read these lines:

‘ Thou mastering me God!
Giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.’

The opening lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘The Wreck Of The Deutschland’.

Rooted to the spot I read the further twenty or so stanzas with my head and heart ablaze.

I was aware of taking in only a fraction of the meaning and technique of the poem but I was absolutely sure that this was poetry of the highest order and that sounding its depths would be the work of a lifetime.

I had made an emotional and spiritual connection that could never be undone and Poetry with that capital P was now a territory open for me, necessary for me, to explore.

Strangely enough this was also the moment when I also glimpsed a future in which I might write poetry myself.

Similar thrilling encounters with literature, music and film now form a personal rosary of treasure in my life.

I want to share just two more with you here.

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint as Terry and Edie in a duet scene from, ‘On The Waterfront’ from 1954 in pristine monochrome with wonderful cinematography by Boris Kaufman.

This scene played with such truthfulness, tenderness and delicacy by both actors struck me very forcefully at the moment when first viewed and it has continued to bloom in my memory and imagination.

If asked to give testimony for Marlon Brando as the greatest film actor of his time I would, of course, cite his thrilling physical presence and ability to dominate and take possession of the screen with special reference to, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.

But, it is this scene that would win the argument for me.

Brando here hits a peak of American naturalistic acting using the method techniques he had learned but without being imprisoned by them.

In this scene with humour, pathos and dignity and without a shred of affectation or disrespect he incarnates Terry as a living, breathing man who wins our sympathy, as fellow human strugglers, trying stumblingly to articulate our feelings both to ourselves and to those we love and those we yearn to love us.

Watch the way his body language evolves through the scene as he realises Edie is intrigued by him and interested in him for himself.

The way he picks up, plays with and finally wears her dropped glove (seemingly improvised) should be required viewing in every drama school.

Astonishingly, this was Eva Marie Saint’s film debut.

The camera obviously loved her at first sight.

As Edie she is a luminous quiet presence whose watchful stillness, intelligence and sensitivity makes it inevitable that Terry will fall for her and fall hard.

She understatedly lets Edie’s dawning love for Terry emerge as something as natural as drawing breath.

She believably illuminates Edie as a young woman with steel in her character as well as beauty and charm.

Acting with Brando, even for someone with her accomplished background on stage, must have been an intimidating challenge but there can be no doubt that Eva Marie Saint matched and balanced him through every frame of celluloid on show here.

At some heartbreaking level we understand that these fleeting moments of intimacy shared in this scene by characters afflicted by doubt and bruised souls will be moments they will both need to recall in the painfully tempestuous times ahead.

Maybe it’s an eternal truth as Dylan wrote that, ‘Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain’.

Few scenes in cinema history bring out the truth of this statement with more clarity.

Mink Deville were led by Willy Deville a pompadoured and preening singer (finger on the eyebrow and left hand on the hip!) who showed himself throughout a roller coaster personal and professional life to be a supreme rhythm and blues and soul song stylist.

He had rasp and romance, swagger and sensitivity as well as presence and power in his vocal arsenal.

I recall the moment of seeing him for the first time on the British flagship chart music programme, ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1977 and jumping out of my chair to applaud this performance of the signature tune of his early career, ‘Spanish Stroll’.

 

Willy added sass, instrumental colour and wasted seventies urban elegance to the magic and mystery of doo-wop and Brill Building vocal group harmonies to create a wonderful record that creates its own bright shining world every time you hear it.

His wonderfully liquid self regarding, shooting cuffs vocal is all strutting Latin braggadocio anchored in his assured rhythmic poise.

Special praise is due to the mellifluous backing vocalists who wonderfully evoke the steam heat of a New York night on a tenement stoop as they support Willy’s imperious lead role.

I love the ringing tones of the guitars, the Spanish flourishes, the proto rap intervention by bassist Ruben Siguenza, the tempo changes and the dreamlike woozy character of the whole song. Most of all, most of all, I love and keep returning to the moment when Willy sings the line:

‘Make a paper boat, light it and send it, send it out now.’

Especially those last three words.

Anyone who can make the heart leap with three simple words is an artist to cherish and revere.

I’ll write a full tribute to this great late lamented talent in due course but in the meantime trawl Youtube for a series of magnificent vocal performances and load up your shopping cart with his albums. You won’t regret it.

Adios Amigo, adios.

Moments, moments, Immortal moments.

Little Richard : Tutti Frutti (‘Awop Bop Aloo Bop Alop Bam Boom!’)

I see with no little surprise that after 5 years of The Jukebox the number of Views is fast approaching 500,000.

Half a Million!

Reflecting on this I thought it would be appropriate for the next few weeks to feature some Posts from the early years that many of you who have become followers more recently may never have seen.

The choice of which Posts to feature follows no scientific principle.

I have simply chosen those for which I have a particular fondness.

So, here’s a post from 2014 celebrating one of the greatest figures in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll – Little Richard!

No novelist would dare to invent a character like Richard ; suffice to say there never was anyone like him before  and there will never be anyone like him again.

Turn all your dials into the Red Zone now and prepare for unbridled joy!

‘My heart nearly burst with excitement – I had heard God’. (David Bowie on first hearing Tutti Frutti)

‘Ambition: To Join Little Richard!’ (Entry in Bob Dylan’s High School Yearbook’)

‘It was as if, in a single instant, the world changed from monochrome to technicolour’ (Keith Richards)

Before any truly catyclismic event in world history there are usually foreshadowings and auguries: precursor events that indicate something immense is on its way.

I have identified one such sequence in history and set it out below:

In the summer of 1883 in the Sunday Strait between Java and Sumatra the Island of Krakatoa was the location for a volcanic eruption of staggering power.

The explosion which destroyed the island was heard in Perth, Australia some 2000 miles away.

It was probably the loudest sound ever heard by humankind as the sky grew dark with rock, ash and pumice.

Tsunamis were generated as the shock wave reverberated seven times around the planet.

Weather patterns and temperatures were disrupted for years on a global scale. The explosion was the equivalent of 200 megatonnes of TNT. In comparison the Atom Bomb explosion over Hiroshima was a mere firecracker.

If you were looking for the epicentre of the world’s scientific ferment in 1904 it is unlikely anyone would have settled on the Patent Office in sleepy Bern, Switzerland.

Yet it was there that the 25 year old Albert Einstein had an intellectual epiphany.

He realised that mass and energy were not two separate realms but expressions of each other.

He expressed this relationship in a beautiful world changing equation (you know, E = MC squared).

This was an epochal, paradigm shifting breakthrough that has resounded through science and culture ever since.

Asteroids are rare visitors to this earth but when they do pay us a home visit the effects can be profound.

As June ended in 1908 in Tunguska in remote Siberia it seemed that the sky was split in two and covered with fire as an asteroid travelling at more than 33,000 miles per hour exploded trigerring a shock wave that devestated 800 square miles of forest.

Eighty million trees lay on their sides levelled like so much matchwood.

For days afterward the skies above Asia and Europe were eerily aglow.

In the 1940s as the Second World War proceeded the significance of Einstein’s work for military purposes was sharply appreciated in Washington, Berlin, London and Moscow as teams of dragooned scientists raced to produce a war winning weapon.

The race was won in the deserts of the American South West by an international team ironically including many refugees from Hitler’s Reich. Mankind now had the capacity to destroy itself and the Atomic Age was born.

Energy, Energy, Energy.

Energy contained and the power of energy released is the linking factor in all these events.

There is something awesome in the contemplation of the overwhelming impact such displays of energy can have upon us.

Immense outpourings of energy expressed in music, film and literature can lead to revolutions in human consciousness that can profoundly alter the landscape of our thoughts and our very dreams.

Following such events the cultural climate is forever changed and aftershocks continue to ripple on through the succeeding ages.

One such moment took place at Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio at Rampart Street New Orleans on September 14th 1955 when Little Richard exploded into a version of an outrageously sexy, raucous and filthy song that had long been a staple of his live performances.

The savvy producer of the session, Bumps Blackwell, had heard the song during a time out break the musicians had taken in a local bar, the Dew Drop Inn, and instantly realised that, furnished with cleaned up lyrics suitable for listening to on the radio, this was an unstoppable hit with a drive, attack and energy that was something new under the sun and moon in the Crescent City and for all he knew the whole world.

Richard played the frenzied piano himself with the masterful drummer Earl Palmer for once taken aback and struggling to keep up. Lee Allen plays a scintillating sax solo after being given his cue by the vocalist’s trademark screams and hollers.

Little Richard, the Little Richard who occupies a permanent treasured chair at the top table of Rock n Roll pioneers and innovators was born as an artist at the very moment he began to play Tutti Frutti.

His vocals are a delirious fusion of the gospel pulpit, the back alley dive and the tent show after hours party.

They lift the song beyond jump blues, beyond rhythm and blues into a new territory that incredulous contemporary listeners and musicians and the generations who followed them would light out for in their millions whooping all the way!

But very few of them would be able to combine, like Little Richard could, the rapturous, glossolalial soar and swoop with the low down and dirty guttural rasp.

For that you maybe needed to be the twelfth child of a family that included both preachers and bootleggers and grow up listening to testifying choirs in the morning and gut bucket blues men late at night.

It would also help if you had lived by the train tracks and woken up repeatedly to the sound of the whistle screaming through your town.

Primary among those attempting to reproduce the Little Richard scream was the teenage Paul McCartney who used it extensively when covering Richard’s songs (his vocal party piece was Long Tall Sally, which was one of the two songs he played atop a desk on his last day at school in Liverpool) and he also incorporated it into his own rockers to give them a wildness that would drive the girls crazy.

I’m sure you know that I’m no physicist or mathematician but according to my calculations the energy released in the first thirty seconds of Tutti Frutti as Little Richard leaves Earth’s orbit for the celestial beyond is exactly equal to and more lasting in impact and influence than the Krakatoa explosion!

Perhaps the incantation, ‘Awop Bop Aloo Bop Alop Bam Boom!’ was the unlocking alchemical phrase the Universe had been waiting to hear for many millennia.

Who would have thought that such mystic power would have emerged from an omnisexual, mascara wearing son of Macon Georgia!

You can christen Little Richard the Meteor, the Comet, the Quasar or the Architect of Rock n Roll – he deserves all those accolades and all the honours heaped upon him in his mature years.

But it is the dionysiac outpouring of energy in Tutti Frutti that will prove his lasting legacy.

The universe shook the day he recorded it and it’s still shaking now.

Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans : Smile

Exploring the genius of Charlie Chaplin featuring :

Chaplin himself, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans.

Genius is an extremely overworked term when applied to popular artists of the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, without any hesitation I can assert that Charlie Chaplin was a genius.

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He was a master of every aspect of film making – writing, acting, producing and directing.

And, he did something only the very rarest artists do – he created an iconic character (the Tramp) who has become part of the very fabric of popular consciousness.

He was a Poet of  the Cinema with a deep tragi-comic vision.

A vision whose beauty and truth was recognised and welcomed whatever the age, language and culture of those who encountered his films.

The best definition of genius I know comes from Arthur Schopenhauer :

‘The genius … lights on his age like a comet into the paths of the planets, to whose well-regulated and comprehensible arrangement its wholly eccentric course is foreign.

Accordingly, he cannot go hand in hand with the regular course of the culture of the times as found; on the contrary, he casts his works far out on to the path in front …

Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see.’

Charlie Chaplin fully meets that definition.

Oh, and in addition to the honour board of talents listed above he was also a talented composer who wrote the music for one of the most affecting songs of his and any other era – ‘Smile’.

Chaplin, of course, thought in cinematic terms so let’s kick off this tribute to his genius with ‘Smile’ in its first incarnation as part of his score to his masterpiece from 1936, ‘Modern Times’.

Every element of this scene reflects the enormous pains Chaplin took to achieve the exact effects he was seeking.

Chaplin knew all about the Fear and Sorrow that beset so many lives.

He knew that a smile was often your best disguise and perhaps your only defence against the sadness that might otherwise overwhelm you.

The Tramp always keeps alive a spark of Hope, of determination to survive – to be present for what, who knows, may, just may, turn out to be a better tomorrow.

Chaplin’s whole cinematic persona – in the delicacy of his facial gestures and the gamut of his physical pantomime amounts in a sense to an alertness to the promise of Life – no matter how dire the circumstances.

With his mastery of mime and the balletic grace of his movement he was able to convey more nuances of emotion than a hundred lines of dialogue could convey.

His genius was both to acknowledge the Fear and Sorrow but not to surrender to it – to grandly and magnificently literally laugh in the face of it.

And, if Charlie can survive so might we.

As cinema goers, a spring anew in their step, left a Chaplin film they were reassured that light and laughter could outshine the darkness.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you ….

The lyric and a title for Chaplin’s melody came from John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons in 1954.

The Premier recording was by a peerless balladeer of Golden Age American Song – Nat King Cole.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile.

There is no grandiloquence in Nat’s performance.

Knowing that he had a rare treasure here he simply presents the song allowing the beauty of the melody and the poignancy of the words to travel into the hearts and minds of the audience.

‘Simple’ for Nat King Cole because of the burnished gold of his voice which makes us all gladly share any emotion he is evoking.

If I imagine an exhausted couple slow dancing to Nat’s version in the sanctuary of their home I can only imagine the next take as a solo dance underneath a waning Moon.

Judy Garland.

If ever an artist was born to sing a song it was Judy to sing, ‘Smile’.

Fear and Sorrow and Heartbreak surrounded her all her days.

And, those circumstances were fully incarnated in her voice when she sang – especially when she sang, ‘Smile’.

Her Version is filled with tears and sadness – the gladness and the smile is in the going on, the going on.

I am going to repeat something I wrote about Garland before because I don’t think I can say what I mean to say any better.

Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

There are hundreds and hundreds of versions of Smile but not a single one sounds anything like the depths that Judy Garland does.

And now for something completely different!

Jimmy Durante brought his own very real magic to Smile.

A straight from the shoulder, Hey Bud, have one on me, growl that’s surprisingly affecting.

Lyle Lovett knows songs having written many fine ones himself.

There is always consideration and deliberation involved in the way he approaches a song.

So, his Smile is ruminative, baffled and melancholic.

 

To conclude here’s something really special.

The great Jazz Harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielmans, at 90, bringing a lifetime of craft and experience to bear on Chaplin’s insights into the changeable weather of the human heart.

In a previous feature on, ‘The Third Man’ I noted that it had one of the great endings in the Film Canon.

Well, Charlie Chaplin was a supreme master of ending a Film in a highly memorable and emotionally satisfying way.

The melody plays, the camera rolls and our hearts are uplifted.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile

If you just Smile.