Van Morrison : Brand New Day

Mid October.

The Sun rises at about 7 O’clock in this part of the South Downs.

It is my habit, ingrained from youth, to start my day at about 5 O’ Clock.

So, I have two hours of the mourning veil of night for reflection and contemplation before Day stirs the sleeping world.

Safely settled in our new Home (many thanks for all your good wishes) I lace up my boots, zip up my flying jacket, reach for my staff and head out in the dark to climb to the top of the ridge to await the Dawn.

Climbing steadily upward, aware that a new chapter in Life has begun, I recall roads taken and roads not taken in the past.

I recall friends and relations who have vanished like the melting snow.

I am grateful for the twists and turns in the road that have led me to this place now.

Reaching the summit I stand silently embracing the dark all around.

Tuning in I hear the wind blow where it listeth and the skitterings of nocturnal nature.

Slowly, slowly, as the world turns, the light returns.

There is always one moment when it seems as if all of nature is holding its breath, rapt, and all is silent with the light alone in motion.

And then a prophetic bird announces in song, ‘It’s day! It’s Day!’

Yes, yes, it seems like (seems like) feels like (feels like) A Brand New Day.

A Brand New Day.

This is the song I hear in my Soul each time I greet A Brand New day.

Van Morrison from his 1970 masterwork, ‘Moondance’.

Brand New Day is a song of steadfast Hope.

A song that admits no Life escapes trial and tribulation.

A song that takes us on a journey, at contemplative pace, through those dark valleys to the sunlit uplands of A Brand New Day.

A Brand New day filed with mystery and possibilities.

Van’s prayerful vocal inspires the musicians accompanying him to transcendent heights.

Jeff Labes’ piano shines like streams of daylight stars.

John Platania’s guitar has a tear-glistening tender beauty.

Jack Schrorer’s saxophone blows a corona of balm all around.

Gary Mallaber’s drums drive us forward on a pilgrimage to the Light.

John Klingberg’s bass holds us all in Faith. Faith in the journey to the Light.

Judy Clay, Cissy Houston and Jackie Verdell on backing vocals lift us up in celestial acclamation.

A Brand New Day.

A Brand New Day has dawned and the world will never be the same again.

Never the same.

I’ll leave you with a Miracle.

A demo of Brand New Day featuring a vocal by Van that takes us way, way, way, out beyond the Stars.

Into flooded fields of light beyond all measurement.

In memory of Jack Schrorer and John Klingberg.

Happy Birthday Helen Shapiro! Walking Back To Happiness!

Some songs stay with you all of your life.

Some conjunction of their innate merit and the circumstances of your life when first heard sears that song into your memory for evermore.

Helen Shapiro’s ‘Walking Back to Happiness’ is such a song for me.

Every time I hear the song I get the same euphoric rush of delight.

Few things have proved so reliable for more than half a Century!

So, in honour of Helen’s 71st Birthday this week I am reblogging my tribute to her and taking the opportunity to wish her health and happiness for many years ahead.

Sometimes cultural earthquakes and revolutions, like their political equivalents, can turn the world upside down with staggering rapidity.

Looking around after the initial shock new figures, previously hidden, become prominent and established seemingly impregnable careers and reputations may lie buried or broken in the settling dust.

The emergence of The Beatles, in 1963 in Britain and the following year in America, as joyous rock ‘n’ roll revolutionaries, signalled that the times really were a changin’ and that all our maps would need to be hastily and radically redrawn to reflect a new reality (if you want to be fancy a new paradigm).

Today’s tale on The Immortal Jukebox concerns a British early 1960s pop phenomenon, Helen Shapiro, now largely forgotten- except by faithful greybeards like me.

Yet, this is an artist with a thrilling and wholly distinctive voice who began recording at the age of 14 and whose first four records included two British number 1 smashes and two further top 3 hits (as well as once grazing the Billboard Hot 100 following two Ed Sullivan Show appearances).

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Additionally Helen’s first pre-teenage group included the future glam rock star Marc Bolan (T Rex) and she headlined The Beatles first British nationwide tour in January/February 1963 (they were fourth on the bill!).

Lennon and MacCartney were inspired to write, ‘Misery’ for her and she recorded, ‘It’s My Party’ in Nashville before Leslie Gore had ever heard the song.

Despite all this Helen Shapiro was overtaken by a cultural tsunami and was effectively spent as a pop star before she was old enough to drive a car or vote!

Perhaps, she was also a victim of, ‘Shirley Temple Syndrome’ whereby the public’s fickle support is withdrawn from a child star when they inevitably grow up and are no longer the incarnation of ‘cute’.

On a personal note I should add that her, never to be forgotten once heard, 1961 signature hit, ‘Walking Back To Happiness’ (below) is among the first songs I ever remember begging my parents to buy for me and probably the first pop song I could enthusiastically sing, word perfect, as the vinyl spun around at 45 revolutions per minute on our treasured Dansette record player (Helen Shapiro’s parents didn’t even own a record player when her first single was issued!)

If you can screen out the dated backup chipmunky ‘Yeh Yeh Yeh’ background singers you will hear an astonishingly confident and powerful singer singing her heart out and generating emotion at power station levels.

‘Walking Back To Happiness’ is pure pop champagne – bubbling over with fizzing life every time it is played.

Listening to it since invariably rekindles the ecstasy I felt as a 6 year old hearing it for the first time.

That’s quite a gift and one I will always be grateful to Helen Shapiro for.

The material and production on many of Helen’s records too often reflected the safety first, by the music business play book, of old school pre rock ‘n’ roll professional Norrie Paramor.

It was probably deemed not sensible for Helen to risk her moment(s) of fame by recording songs by, ‘unproven’ writers and in styles not yet fully appreciated (or heard) in Britain.

So this fine voice rarely flew unfettered.

Astonishingly, Helen’s management did not take up the offer to record The Beatles, ‘Misery’ and become the first artist to cover a Lennon/MacCartney original composition.

This was compounded by the later failure to issue her take on, ‘It’s My Party’ as soon as she had recorded it!

Still, as you can hear in her number 1 hit, ‘You Don’t Know’ there was always a quality of poignancy and direct emotional heft in Helen’s voice which still reaches out across the decades.

In all her records, from every era of her career, you can detect an artist who simply loves to sing, to make songs come alive for the audience as she becomes more alive singing them.

It is important to remember that the Britain that Helen toured with The Beatles in 1963 during one of the coldest winters for many centuries was emphatically not the, ‘Swinging Sixties’ Britain that would bloom later in the decade.

Though the nation was finally, after more than a decade of post war austerity beginning to enjoy economic uplift it would be a country unrecognisable to my own children: as alien in many ways as a distant planet.

In common with many working class families of the time I lived in a monochrome world of Without! Without a telephone, without a car, without central heating, without a bathroom (I bathed in a tin bath), without a refrigerator.

Crucially we did have a radio and a tiny black and white TV with a 12 inch screen that seemed to work best when firmly disciplined by means of heavy slaps to the frame.

Through the TV and the radio I became dimly aware there was a wind of change stirring and that it was likely I was young enough to be a lucky recipient of its transformative power.

The TV and radio also introduced me to records that sketched out new vistas of emotion and identification for me. I then bought my records (more accurately had them bought for me) from a stall in the street market that literally stood outside our front door.

The riot of colour and glamour that would characterise the,’Swinging Sixties’ was still securely stoppered in the genie’s bottle as Helen, The Beatles and 9 other acts boarded the coach in early February 1963 to visit Bradford, Doncaster, Wakefield, Carlisle and Sunderland on the first leg of the fourteen date tour they shared.

The Beatles had just issued, ‘Please Please Me’ and they were yet to record first LP. That would happen on 11 February during a break on the tour.

The impact of that LP would change everything and turn a raw bunch of provincial rockers into world wreckers.

You can see something of the joshing elder brother/adoring kid sister relationship The Beatles and Helen Shapiro developed on the bus in a clip (sometimes available on Youtube) from the TV show, ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ from October 1963 when Beatlemania was an established reality.

By 1964 Helen Shapiro was effectively an ex pop star.

For many that would have been a devastating and embittering fate.

Not for Helen Shapiro.

Helen Shapiro’s truest ambition was never to be a pop star. She had a vocation as a singer so when the caravan of fame passed on she was not emotionally defeated. Rather, she carried on singing – carrying out what she came to regard as her god given vocation.

A careful comb through her record catalogue yields a number of, ‘how that did that one get away’ gems and displays her passion and versatility as a singer.

Among those the one that holds my heart is, ‘I Walked Right In’.

It makes you wonder what would have happened if Helen had been born in Brooklyn rather than Bethnal Green!

Helen Shapiro was always a lot more than the cute teenager with the Beehive hairdo, the gingham, the lace and the train-stopping voice.

In the half century since her 60s supernova moment Helen has continued to honour her gifts.

This has included playing the role of Nancy in the musical, ‘Oliver’ and a dozen years or so proving her jazz chops live and in recordings with the wonderfully swinging Humphrey Lyttleton Band (Humphrey, a true gentleman maintained no prejudices except one in favour of real talent for which he had an unerring eye and ear).

These days Helen’s gifts are directed through gospel outreach evenings in the service of her faith which became central to her life from 1987.

Even in this context she still sings, ‘Walking Back To Happiness’ though now as a mature reflection rather than youthful impulse.

She has certainly earned that right.

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The Contours : Do You Love Me (Motown – The Empire lifts off!)

You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!’ (Berry Gordy)

Roma uno die non est condita.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

It takes time to found a mighty Empire that will conquer all the known world.

So, from the founding of Rome (let’s say 753BC) to the final defeat of Carthage it was all of 600 years.

It is therefore somewhat remarkable it took Berry Gordy less than a decade from the founding of Motown in 1959 to establish an Empire that colonised the hearts and souls of music fans from Addis Abbaba to Zanzibar and Zagreb!

An $800 loan from his family became a multi, multi million dollar record company which would record songs that will last as long as we have Spirits that need lifting, hearts that need stirring (or consolation) and hips that just gotta move.

First, get yourself a base that you own.

Let’s show our ambition and call this base, ‘Hitsville USA’.

A Studio come Clubhouse where your singers and musicians can find competition and camaraderie 24 hours a day (acording to legend the local beat cop thought 2648 West Grand Drive Boulevard must be an all hours drinking den given the numbers of shady looking characters turning up at all hours of the day and night).

Next get yourself a live and play in the Basement group of musicians with Jazz chops who can fashion a wholly new sound – which is not jazz, not old school R&B, Blues or Rock n’ Roll.

Let’s call them The Funk Brothers and let’s have one of them, James Jamerson on Bass, be a fully fledged genius who will add grace and depth to every recording he ever plays on.

Let’s have a slogan calling that sound, ‘The Sound of Young America’ and let’s make so many great records that the slogan will became an every day reality on the airwaves and the charts.

And, we don’t mean, in still highly segregated America, the Black Music Charts .

No, no, no.

We mean the Pop Music charts.

Where the real money is to be made.

Open for Business and cast a cool appraising eye on all the would be stars who beat a path to your door.

This kid Smokey Robinson’s a Keeper – he’s got a notebook with hundreds of songs and he can sing ’em like a bird and work the Recording Desk too!

Not that I can’t write and produce myself.

You ever heard, ‘Reet Petite’ or, ‘Lonely Teardrops’?

Big Hits but Berry didn’t get the money!

Not going to happen again!

So, in 1960, New Frontier!, we get our first hit.

Barrett Strong with, ‘Money’ (bunch of English guys in Hamburg called The Beatles will learn a lot playing that one!).

Then Smokey comes up with, ‘Shop Around’ and by the end of the year we got a Million Seller!

Here comes 1961 and we get ourselves our first Pop Number One!

The Marvellettes, ‘Please Mr Postman’.

I got my eyes and ears on that Brian Holland – there’s a lot more hits where that came from!

Early ’62 I figure we need to find a song like, ‘Twist and Shout’ that will have all the White Kids, all the Black Kids and everybody who ain’t tied to a chair out on the floor and running down to the record store to lay down their cash.

Let’s call it, ‘Do You Love Me’.

I thought it might suit The Temptations but maybe they just sing too well for this one (I got big plans for them later).

So, what about The Contours?

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Probably the best dancers of anyone who ever came through these doors!

Come to think of it Billy Gordon got a, ‘Wake the Dead and get ’em up Dancin” Voice if I ever heard one!

Next time they come through I’m gonna sit down at the piano and teach them the song one evening and record it the next day.

Gonna tell James to drive this one like a runaway train.

None of his fancy jazz licks – nail that backbeat to the Basement floor!

Of course, when Benny Benjamin is behind the Drums, the record is going to sound immense.

Immense.

Maybe I’ll start with a spoken intro and then let The Funk Brothers explode and tell Billy I don’t want him to be able to sing this song a second time ’cause I want him to tear his throats to shreds the first time!

Ok – let’s go!

Now, if that ain’t shaking ’em down I don’t know what is!

The Funk Brothers never let up and Billy Gordon’s lead vocal comes at you like a tidal wave.

Hubert Johnson, Billy Higgs, Joe Billingslea and Sylvester Potts make up a chorus that has an irresitble goofball charm. The trilling guitar comes from Huey Davis.

When I’ve managed to master some skill which has previously eluded me (and there’s a lot of them!) I just can’t stop myself singing, ‘I’ m back and I can really shake ’em down – Watch me now!’.

I love the corny spoken introduction, the false ending, the references to the Mashed Potato and The Twist and the bullfrog, ‘Um, Bom, Bom, Bom, brrrmm’ backing vocals.

Of course Berry got his hit!

Top 5 in every Chart and well over a Million copies sold.

They say it was the fastest selling single in the history of Motown.

Malheureusement, it was the pinnacle of The Contours career though they did make a handful of other excellent recordings.

They were simply too low down in the pecking order of Motown Vocal Groups.

And, when you consider they were up against the likes of The Four Tops and The Tempatations that is hardly to be wondered at.

There’s almost always been a version of the group out there driving a crowd crazy with, ‘Do You Love Me’.

And, by some mysterious alignment of the heavens, in 1987 the song gained a wholly unexpected new lease of life through being featured in the world wide hit film. ‘Dirty Dancing’ (even if they did, disgracefully, chop off the ending!).

One of the versions of The Contours got to go on a world tour and enjoy the big time once again.

Not so, for poor Billy Gordon.

For Billy died in poverty after spending time in prison (bizarrely with one time colleague Joe Billingslea being a Corrections Officer in the Prison!).

So it goes. So it goes.

Yet, every day someone, somewhere, has their life lit up by hearing Billy intone:

You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!

And then, if they’ve got any blood in their veins they’ll go stone crazy for the next two and a half minutes.

Watch me Now!

Dedicated to :

Billy Gordon (RIP)

Sylvester Potts (RIP)

Hubert Johnson (RIP)

Huey Davis (RIP)

James Jamerson (RIP)

Benny Benjamin (RIP)

Joe Billingslea

Billy Hoggs

Notes:

Britain’s Ace Records has two excellent complications documenting The Contours recorded legacy.

Tracks to look out for –

‘First I Look at the Purse’

‘Whole Lotta Woman’

‘Shake Sherry’

‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’

Rod Stewart, Bryan Ferry, Dobie Gray : The In Crowd, Drift Away

We all like to think we are in the know.

We know important things.

Things that those not in the know don’t even know they don’t know.

A few code words and we know from their reaction, or lack of it, if others are in the know or not.

We soon know if they know.

We know whether or not they merit entry into the In Crowd.

If it’s square, brother we ain’t there!

In music, especially, there are communities of In Crowds.

I know some of these communities very well.

The Bluegrass buffs who can list, alphabetically, chronologically or by instrument every member of every incarnation of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys.

The Jazzbos who can do the same for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

The walkin’ talkin’, don’t interrupt me, Beatles completists who tell you solemnly that if you weren’t at their Port Sunlight show on 18 August 1962 (Ringo’s debut of course) then you really don’t know much about The Beatles.

The matrix number alchemists.

The, yes but have you got the Swedish pressing with the alternate take of track 3 on the EP, show offs.

The, of course, I’ve got The Complete Basement Tapes including the song where Bob …

OK, OK, OK.

I know those communities because in many respects I’m a paid up, card carrying, got the T Shirt and the embossed programme, member of those communities.

And, of course, if you’re reading The Immortal Jukebox then you are most definitely in with The In Crowd.

Dobie Gray is an In Crowd artist par excellence.

Covered by everyone from Ray Charles to Bruce Springsteen and revered by fans of Country, Soul, R & B and Pop Music (not to mention the fanatical devotees of Northern Soul) he recorded a series of classic songs in the 60s and 70s that will always launch the argument as to whether the original is really still the greatest.

Written by Barry Page and arranged by the brilliant Gene Page, ‘In Crowd’ was top 20 in the USA and top 30 in Britain in 1965.

I’m sure it was Gene who so artfully blended the brass flourishes and The just so backing vocals.

The tempo is just right for dancers – uptempo but not frantic with crescendos allowing for those so inclined to demonstrate their athleticism by spinning and pirouetting all the way to the fade out.

Dobie’s vocal has an Olympian, above it all, quality ideally suited to the song’s theme.

The thing about great Dance songs like this is that when you’re living inside one you dance with heightened senses and you really do make every minute and second count.

Dobie, born in 1940, came from a Texas sharecropping family with a Father who was a Baptist Minister. So, as for so many, the first songs he sang were Gospel standards.

But, of course, the radio beamed in R&B, Country and Pop and Dobie liked them all and found his warm vocal tones could easily cope with the demands of the different genres.

In the dawn of the 60s in Los Angles, in pursuit of a career in acting or singing, he hooked up with Sonny Bono (always an In Crowd Hombre) who got him his first recording contract.

By 1963 he had his first minor hit ‘Look at Me’.

The name Dobie came from the popular TV show, ‘The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis’ (there is much debate about Dobie’s original name but I’m going with Lawrence Darrow Brown).

Dobie wasn’t able to find a hit follow up despite some excellent recordings. Showing his versatility he switched to acting and was a cast member in, ‘Look Homeward, Angel’, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ and had a two year run in the definitive 60s Musical, ‘Hair’.

Meanwhile, over in Britain, the son of a Northumbrian Coal Miner who looked after the Pit Ponies, Bryan Ferry, became an art student and connoisseur of black dance music.

I think it’s fair to say that Bryan most definitely set out to be in with The In Crowd and that few have had such a complete sucess in achieving their goal.

Flushed with the artistic, critical and commercial success of Roxy Music in his early solo records he revisited the records that had electrified his youth.

It’s not hard to see the attraction, ‘In Crowd’ had for Bryan.

His version had a crepuscular 1970s urgency signalled by the growling aggressive guitar with Bryan’s vocal walking the razors edge between witty reflection and self satisfaction.

Bryan, by now, knew all about those other guys striving to imitate him!

The final version I’m showcasing today comes courtesy of The Ramsey Lewis Trio and Nettie Gray. Nettie Grey? Well, as In Crowders know Nettie was the Washington DC waitress who played, ‘In Crowd’ for Ramsey on her coffee shop Jukebox suggesting that it might make a rousing set closer.

Sensibly, Ramsey took her advice and the live version cut at Bohemian Caverns became his biggest ever hit (top 5 Billboard).

I’m not going to say anything about this version beyond the fact that it always has me throwing a whole series of shapes that are most definitely not recommended by any osteopath or chiropractor but which afford me an enormous sense of well being

When his time in, ‘Hair’ concluded Dobie met the songwriting Brothers Paul and Mentor Williams.

It was Mentor who wrote and produced Dobie’s greatest record, ‘Drift Away’. I’m loath to call any record perfect but I’m making an exception here to prove the rule.

The incandescent warmth of Dobie’s vocal and the shimmering production really does sweep you away into an ambrosial reverie.

A song that is played on Pop, Soul and Country Stations every day and will do so as long as humans need to get that beat and drift away (which is to say until the day we turn into Replicants).

Drift Away was recorded in Nashville at Quadrafonic Studios in early 1973.

No praise can be too high for the team of musicans who lift Drift Away into the stratosphere.

David Briggs on Keyboards, Mike Leach on Bass, Kenny Malone on Drums and Reggie Young on Guitar were very much a Nashville A Team with extraordinary musical alertness and empathy.

I must mention the lovely, pellucid guitar figures played by Reggie Young for the intro and doubled up throughout the song. Now that’s a hook!

And, what about the wonderfully right and resonant sound Kenny Malone produces on a field marching drum!

Engineer Gene Eichelberger managed to balance all the elements so perfectly that you imagine all present exhaling a sigh of complete satisfaction when the track was played back in the studio.

Perfect, perfect, perfect!

The song, of course, sold more than a million copies as it became a top 5 hit and eternal radio staple.

Now, you can say all kinds of laudatory and derogatory things about Rod Stewart’s career but one thing everyone should agree on is that Rod is one hell of a judge of a good song.

So, it was almost inevitable that Rod would pick up on Drift Away and give it the full tartan scarves waving on the terraces treatment. And that’s
meant as a compliment – its rare that someone can be simultaneously part of the crowd and step out from it to lead it as Rod did so brilliantly in the 1970s).

After Drift Away Dobie continued to record quality material without troubling the charts. He earned favour in the music business through a productive songwriting partnership with Troy Seals.

George Jones, Ray Charles and Don Williams among others queued up to record their material .

Dobie died just before Christmas in 2011.

His songs will always last because rhythm and rhyme and harmony never go out of fashion.

Because, confused though we often are we will always seek solace in melodies that move us.

No one understands all the things they do.

But, one thing we do know.

One thing we do know.

Music can carry us through.

Carry us through.

Notes :

Dobie’s ‘Greatest Hits’ should be in every collection. I would draw your attention in particular to the dance classic, ‘Out on the Floor’ and his gorgeous version of, ‘Loving Arms’.

I have a special fondness for his album, ‘Soul Days’ produced by Norbert Putnam for its wonderfully relaxed and glowing treatment of soul standards like, ‘People Get Ready’.

There are a staggering number of versions of ‘Drift Away’.

My favourites are by The Neville Brothers and Tom Rush.

Happy Birthday Van Morrison! Checkin’ it Out (An Immortal Jukebox Van Fest)

There are guides and spirits all along the way who will befriend us’

Guides and Spirits. We all need them.

Pilgrims all, we need Way Markers reassuring us that there is indeed a Way and that we are not the first to have set off in this direction.

Guides and Spirits are all around.

You find those with whom you feel a certain sympathetic kinship.

You think, ‘Here’s someone who speaks to me.

Here’s someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Someone worth attending to’.

So, for me; Thomas Merton, Erich Fromm, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seamus Heaney, Emily Dickinson, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Beckett, Russell Hoban and Buster Keaton.

In music Hank Williams, Howling Wolf, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and .. Van Morrison.

One of Van’s ‘lesser songs’ but one which has always spoken to me.

Get into it like a meditation.

Taking it further.

Taking it further.

Further.

Van is tuned into the ‘Undersong’ all around us if we would but listen.

The Song of the Earth.

For Van this is first the undersong of his home place.

Belfast. East Belfast.

With the bewitching sounds of the Sea and the River.

The morning fog and the trees wet with Summer rain.

The bustle of the streets and the hushed quiet of The Avenue.

The salty tang of Belfast speech and the Mystery of voices coming through the ether.

At the same time he is tuned into the Music of the Spheres.

Music that’s always, always, all around us.

Van invites this music in and channels it for us.

On record and especially in performance he surrenders to this blessing.

Only a very rare artist can do this.

He’s a musical and spiritual voyageur opening up the territory for us to journey wherever we are brave enough to go.

I once met Russell Hoban at a book signing and said that I thought his words took us as far as words could go and then left us to explore the white space beyond.

He laughed and said, ‘Bon Voyage’.

It’s the same with Van.

His songs and his singing, incorporating the Undersong and the Music of the Spheres, act to flamingly make present the unnameable, the unsayable and the unknowable.

There’s a lot more Van to come on The Jukebox (while I toil over the, one day I’ll finish it, Book, Van Morrison : Dweller on the Threshold’).

So, on his Birthday, I offer my thanks for these gifts and wish him well in his further journeys.

I take this opportunity to present all The Jukebox posts featuring Van.

The Immortal Jukebox’s very own VanFest!

Catch up with those you may have missed and revisit those you read in the past.

It’s Too Late To Stop Now!

Brown Eyed Girl’.

An introduction telling the tale of my headlong plunge into obsession following my first hearing of Van’s best known song.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-2L

Don’t Look Back’.

A meditation on Time featuring 2 astounding versions of John Lee Hooker’s tender Blues Ballad. One a reaching for the stars take of a teenager the second the work of a fully realised master musician.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-3k

Carrickfergus‘.

A meditation on family, friendship and loss. How the shadows lengthen! Sung with infinite tenderness and bardic authority.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-7J

In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

A miraculous meditation on the persistence of memory, the power of the radio and the post war world as seen by a young Irish mystic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-bi

Tupelo Honey’.

A rhapsodic meditation on the nurturing, redemptive power of Love. A Hallelujah!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-fr

All in the Game‘.

A meditation on the carousel we all ride. It’s been sung by many singers but never like this!

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-jY

Domino’ .

A Founding Father joyously celebrated by a Master from the next generation.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-pH

Sometimes We Cry‘.

Bringing it all back home to singing on the street corner Days. The sweetness of Doo-Wop seasoned with wry maturity.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-sf

I Cover the Waterfront’.

Van and John Lee Hooker, Blues Brothers and Soul Friends, conjure up ancient tides.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-tq

Buona Sera Signorina‘.

Van puts his party hat on and romps through the Louis Prima classic.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-Xg

Hey Girl’.

Van takes a stroll along the strand and suspends Time.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1cA

Gloria! Gloria!’

Once, Now and Ever.

http://wp.me/p4pE0N-1dh

Happy Birthday Van!

Nick Lowe, Johnny Rivers, Arlen Roth : Poor Side of Town

Once upon a time.

Long, long ago.

Far, far away.

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.

Particular knowledge.

People and places and things that are mine and mine alone.

Individual consciousness.

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.

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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.

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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.

Welcome back Baby to The Poor Side of Town.