Gerry & The Pacemakers : Anthems from Liverpool

British Beat – Some Other Guys 4

‘People they rush everywhere

Each with their own secret care’

(Gerry Marsden – Ferry Cross The Mersey)

Liverpool in the 1950s was a city filled with youthful dreamers.

Of course, the quartet of dreamers who would go on to launch millions of dreams across the entire globe were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – The Beatles.

But, dreaming alongside them and in their wake were thousands of other young men from the port city.

Dreamers who had, like The Beatles, been electrified by the records brought home to Liverpool by sailors returning from America (for a more detailed introduction on this topic and the City of Liverpool see the opening paragraphs of : The Swinging Blue Jeans : Merseybeat Kings – The Hippy Hippy Shake, You’re No Good)

Prominent among these dreamers were two brothers from Dingle in Liverpool; Freddie (born 23 October 1940) and Gerry (born 24 September 1942).

Their father, also Fred, played the Ukulele and encouraged his sons to take up music.

Fred chose the drums (initially playing percussion on a chocolate box tin!).

Gerry took up the guitar and encouraged by family reactions to his spirited rendition of, ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe’ elected himself lead singer.

Skiffle sessions at local halls led to performances at larger venues. Les Chadwick joined on bass and later another Les, Les Maguire, joined on keyboards to complete the classic line up of Gerry and the Pacemakers.

From 1960 onwards they built up a devoted following in their home town with many shows at The Cavern – often alternating with The Beatles.

They had the great good fortune to be added at the last minute to a Liverpool show by the great Gene Vincent.

Like The Beatles they honed their playing chops and their stamina by playing extended sets at Hamburg’s Top Ten Club. They became a tight Beat Group able to hold a crowd as they lashed into R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll classics.

Gerry was a natural front man with boundless energy and bonhomie.

He was the epitome of what is known in Britain as a, ‘Cheeky Chappie’ – the kind of man who always sees the glass half-full not half-empty and who anticipates the rainbow following the rain.

These qualities and the unity of the group was spotted by Brian Epstein.

 

He signed them to a management deal (his second after The Beatles) and persuaded Producer George Martin to bring them on to EMI’s Columbia label.

This proved to be a very astute move for all parties.

For, incredibly, the first three Gerry and the Pacemakers singles all went to Number One in the UK Charts!

They began in March and May 1963 with two (to my mind cheesy) Mitch Miller songs ‘How Do You Do It’ and ‘I Like It’.

Then in October 1963 they issued a record which has become a part of the very fabric of life in Liverpool, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

The group had been performing the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein Show Tune for several years and it had always proved a Show Stopper.

George Martin, drawing on his classical training, provided a melting string arrangement to frame Gerry’s fervent vocal.

Listening to Gerry sing here it becomes apparent that while his appearance and manner exuded sunny optimism his greatest gift as a singer was to embody shadow and melancholy.

Indeed, taking the three records featured on The Jukebox today into account I have no hesitation in crowning Gerry as the Monarch of Mersey Melancholy!

Gerry has the musical and emotional intelligence to trust in the craft of the melody and lyric and present them powerfully but not hysterically.

So he is walking on – not running.

There is a mature determination to outface the dark in this performance. Though he may have to button his coat and turn up his collar against a biting wind he has faith that every dark night gives way to the dawn.

Gerry’s vocal makes you believe in the sweet silver song of the lark and the promise of the golden sky.

‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ almost immediately on issue became the anthem of Liverpool Football Club. The players run out to the song and to hear it sung by the massed ranks of The Kop is one of the greatest sports experiences.

It has taken on added depth and poignancy for Liverpool fans following the appalling tragedy at Hillsborough Stadium in April 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.

Every rendition of the song is in a sense a memorial to the 96.

Gerry and the Pacemakers had become big stars in the UK and in April 1964 they issued the record which, aided by appearances on Ed Sullivan and the overwhelming impact of The Beatles, would become their breakthrough in the American market, ‘Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying’ which made the top 5 in Billboard.

This is my favourite of all their records and a gold plated 60s classic.

Again George Martin was a key figure with a lovely arrangement expertly balancing strings, woodwinds and vocals to hugely winning effect.

Gerry’s regal melancholy is in full flow here on a song credited to all four members of the group.

Listening I imagine a shattered heart which has spent a long night without the balm of sleep. Yet, sometimes those white sleepless nights lead to moments of sudden, undeniable, clarity.

It’s Over. Over.

Looking out a window, almost too tired for tears, you can only wait for the Moon to cede to the Sun in the heavens and believe in the latter’s restorative warmth.

‘But don’t forget that love’s a game,

And it can always come again,

Oh don’t let the sun catch you cryin’,

Don’t let the sun catch you cryin’, oh no, 

Oh, oh, oh …. ‘

The last record I’m featuring here today is from late 1964/early 1965. It’s another record deeply redolent of life in the group’s native Liverpool, ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’.

 

 

 

There’s something about the tidal sway of a Ferry trip that encourages reverie and contemplation.

This is beautifully captured in this Gerry Marsden song.

The record begins with the quiet assurance of a Ferry slipping away from the shore. Gerry’s plangent tones take us on a journey reminding us all of the consolations of the familiar:

‘We don’t care what your name is boy – we’ll never turn you away’.

We all need such a place for life does go on day after day and beating hearts can’t help but be torn in so many ways.

Gerry and the Pacemakers broke up a group in late 1966 but the above trio of records will surely always earn them a secure place in the affections of those who need a reminder to not be afraid of the dark and to hold their head up high.

Dedicated to the memory of Freddie Marsden (died December 9 2006)

Wishing Gerry Marsden a speedy recovery from his recent ill health.

Make sure you check out the three other Posts in the ‘Some Other Guys’ series featuring The Merseybeats, The Swinging Blue Jeans & Billy Fury.

Christmas Cornucopia 2016 : Seventh Day

Seventh Day :

A Painting by Tintoretto (1518 to 1594)

A Poem by Richard Middleton (1882 to 1911)

Music by Gluck sung by Janet Baker, Chris Isaak and John Prine

 

tinteretto-nativity

Tintoretto’s wondrous Nativity shows how, ‘The Light Of The World’ once confined to a manger within a rude stable began to bestow grace on all the surrounding world.

This a dynamic painting which foreshadows the mission of redemption the tiny babe was born to accomplish.

 

 

Janet Baker is an artist of the highest order.

Her utter technical command and her ability to unerringly find emotional truth resulted in a legendary career garlanded with landmark recordings and never to be forgotten stage performances.

Her performance of, ‘Che faro senza Euridice’ will live with me always as I make my journey through the dark wood.

Onward!

Well our Sleigh has travelled more than halfway now on our journey to celebrate ChristmasTide.

Yesterday’s choices put me in something of a wistful contemplative mood and led to today’s selections by Chris Isaak and John Prine.

Christmas is a time when we often turn our minds to reflection on the health of our relationships. Relationships with our parents, our siblings, our children and our spouses or partners.

And, we remember bitterly or with rueful affection the relationships of old which are now part of our history – part of the person staring back at us in the mirror.

Christmas can be a healing and nurturing time for relationships it can also be the occasion for exhausting, tearful sunderings which will sully the season for years or decades to come.

As in all things some will say you get the Christmas your life through the preceding year has mapped out for you.

I now present a ballad of loss and longing from the golden boy out of Stockton, California – Chris Isaak. It’s not his fault that he looks like a matinee idol and that the microphone loves him almost as much as the camera.

‘Christmas On TV’ tells the sorry tale which Isaak sings without over emoting of a bereft husband with his nose pressed to the window glass watching the Christmas celebrations of his ex-wife and her well heeled new beau.

Though he’s only across the street from the happy pair (or so they seem to him) he might as well be a million miles away. It’s so easy to be all alone in the midst of the crowd as the carols play and the lights twinkle.

Sometimes only fortitude, a good whiskey and a ballad in blue will get you through.

Merry Christmas to the lost and the lonely, the abandoned, the abused and the outcasts.

 

Next John Prine who sits at the top table of American songwriters leaning back in his chair with either a rueful smile or a goofy grin depending on the circumstances of the day.

Prine has a glorious gift for examining the human heart and it’s myriad joys and travails with a the precision of a tender surgeon. It seems as if he has watched carefully and listened closely as he has moved through life – building up a store of experiences he can hone into humorous shaggy dog stories, touching love songs or heartbreaking tales of misspent or misshapen lives.

 

 

John Prine has wisdom which he wears lightly – we can all learn a lot from leaning in when he speaks.

Very few songwriters could match the songwriting carpentry Prine demonstrates in, Christmas In Prison’. I remember my intake of appreciative breath when I first heard the lines:

‘I dream of her always even when I don’t dream – her name’s on my tongue and her blood’s in my stream’.

The Big House searchlight spotlights the snowflakes like dust in the sun and the prisoners aching for those they love outside the walls make do with Turkey and pistols carved out of wood.

They’re all homesick waiting for eternity to release them. In the meantime nothing to do but sing up and hope the homesick blues fade away for one night at least.

John Prine has a heart as big as any goddamn jail and if I’m ever in Prison it’s his songs I would sing as the doors clanged shut each night.

Today’s poem, ‘The Carol Of The Poor Children’ is by Richard Middleton.

‘Are we naked, mother, and are we starving-poor
Oh, see what gifts the kings have brought outside the stable door
Are we cold, mother, the ass will give his hay
To make the manger warm and keep the cruel winds away
We are the poor children, but not so poor who sing Our Carols with our voiceless hearts to greet the new-born king
On this night of all nights, when in the frosty sky A new star, a kind star is shining on high!’.

 

On the cover of Sergeant Pepper: Dion – Runaround Sue!

You may recall that in the recent post about Captain Beefheart I mentioned selecting The Beatles, ‘Sergeant Pepper’ LP from my vinyl shelves.

That storied record is famous not only for its treasury of superb songs but also for its endlessly intriguing cover which features a gallery of contemporary and historical cultural icons.

The Beatles, typically eclectic, choices included Carl Jung, Oliver Hardy, Sonny Liston, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Karl Marx, Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein and Albert Stubbins (look him up!)

Surprisingly, only two contemporary American musicians made the hallowed cover.

Inevitably, one was Bob Dylan, who was an enormously influential figure in the development of The Beatles songwriting.

The other American legend they selected, proof of their unending devotion to the primal spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was none other than Dion Francis DiMucci – the King of The Bronx and one of the very greatest artists in the history of the music.

Dion for an astonishing seven decades has shown himself to be a superlative singer with the ability to make songs come thrillingly alive.

Tracing his career you will find magnificent records displaying his empathy and mastery of virtually the entire spectrum of American roots music.

So, with The Belmonts we have the exuberant Doo-Wop of, ‘I Wonder Why’ and the delirious Pop angst of, ‘ A Teenager in Love’.

As a solo act he produced electrifying Rock ‘n’ Roll in, ‘The Wanderer’  and deep insights into the Blues with, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and the scarifying, ‘Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms’).

As a singer-songwriter he was capable of a bone chilling confessional threnody like, ‘Your Own Backyard’ and the utterly charming, ‘New York City Song’.

He was quick to spot the distinctive talents of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as his must hear covers of, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and, ‘Heart of Saturday Night’ demonstrate in spades.

For insight into life on the gritty New York Streets only Lou Reed comes near Dion’s epic, ‘Midtown American Street Gang’.

You want Gospel balm? Listen up to the exquisite entreaty of Dion’s, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’.

Taken all in all Dion’s catalogue stands as the autobiography of an always questing pilgrim soul and the blazing testament of a true American Master.

And he did all this battling heroin addiction.

Notwithstanding the excellence of all the above tracks when it came to selecting a record to take its place on The Immortal Jukebox I didn’t hesitate for a micro-second.

No, it has to be, has to be, just has to be, ‘Runaround Sue’ a record I love to the point of near insanity.

Take it from Thom – no one has ever sung a Rock ‘n’ Roll song with such enthralling energy and sheer swagger as Dion does here!

Listen, people let me out you wise …

Great Gosh A Mighty!

Dion’s singing here leaves me exultant and breathless with joy filled admiration.

As he sings you are swept along on a magic carpet of delight almost sure there’s no mountain or skyscraper you couldn’t nonchalantly soar over as you follow Dion’s imperious vocal.

Listen, people what I’m telling you.

When it comes to Rock ‘n’ Roll singing Dion ain’t just the King of The Bronx!

No, he’s The Guy. The Guy who knows. The Guy who knows!

Where did all this mastery come from?

Why from Prospect Avenue, Belmont, The Bronx, New York City – that’s where.

As a  young boy growing up he was surrounded by a vibrant Italian/American community where the streets were alive with song – operatic arias, Tin Pan Alley crooning.

And from the stoops and the subways groups of young kids with hope in their hearts sending harmonies soaring high into the New York night sky.

As he sat on the fire escape shooting the breeze he was glued to the radio. Through the sacred ether came the transporting, life changing, life defining, sounds of Doo- Wop, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Unforgettable, emotion charged voices, voices like those of Hank Williams and Sam Cooke seemed to summon his own voice.

So, as a young man, seeking to find his own identity, he found that he had been blessed with a gift. A gift which would win him the admiration of the local bloods and the local belles.

And soon, when that sensational voice was captured on tape, the admiration of the whole wide world!

Dion brings all his heritage and all gifts to Runaround Sue.

There is love and laughter and life in abundance in every syllable that Dion sings.

So, he can invest deep emotion into wordless swoops and delicately evoke the romance of the touch of her hair and the (still felt and much missed) warmth of her lost embrace.

As Dion sings the story is sad but true. Everyone has had their heart broken by someone who ran around.

You don’t want to cry. But you do. You do.

He sings, ‘Runaround Sue’ like a man creating a moral and a story to console himself as he walks home. And as he walks he finds that his downcast grimace turns into a wry smile before becoming a broad grin.

Then he begins to laugh.

Laugh, with love in his heart as he admits to himself just how how much of a fool he has been.

Perhaps the beginning of wisdom is the admission we are all fools.

Fools for Love. Fools for Love.

And long may it remain so.

Notes:

The superb backing vocals on Runaround Sue are provided by The Del-Satins.

Runaround Sue was co-written by Ernie Maresca.

It was, of course, a multi million selling Number One on the 1961 Billboard Charts.

I have made it a point of honour to own every Record Dion has ever made.

For those of you yet to share my obsession as well as all the tracks referred to above I recommend:

‘The Very Best Of Dion & The Belmonts’ on One Day Music

‘Yo Frankie’ on Arista

‘New Masters’ on Collectables

‘Bronx in Blue’ and ‘Son of Skip James’ on SPV

‘New York Is My Home’ on Blue Horizon

‘Bronx Blues’ and ‘The Road I’m On’ on Columbia.

Dion’s autobiography, ‘The Wanderer’ is a fascinating read.

However, to my mind the most revealing insight into his life can be found on an article he wrote about his return to Catholicism. See Link below

http://www.chnetwork.org/story/dion-dimucci-the-wanderer/

And Finally!

Please don’t forget to vote for The Immortal Jukebox in The UK Blog Awards!

Voting remains open till 18 December.

Follow the link below and select Art & Culture from the drop down menu:

http://blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2017/entries/immortal-jukebox

 

Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs : Wooly Bully! Wooly Bully!

You gotta warm up. You gotta warm up.

Before you hit the stage and face your public.

Before you pace out those morning miles on your run.

So, before you walk out onto the stage you’ll need to prepare back stage and get those vocal chords ready for those tongue twisting soliloquies.

Kick off with breath relaxation then release that tense jaw!

Next move on to a brisk series of tongue and lip trills.

Then it’s time for the two octave scales followed by the kazoo buzz and some serious humming.

A final cool down and you’re ready to face your audience.

Similarly, before you set off to on your daily run you need to do some dynamic stretches.

Come on now! Hip Flexor stretch, Leg Flexor stretch, Leg Extensor stretch followed by a Plantar Flexor stretch before we finish up with a Hip Extensor stretch.

Now you’re good to go and ready to chase down Mo Farah.

And, before I write a new post here on The Jukebox I have my own warm up routine.

Twenty minutes of calming meditation.

Then I read Chekhov’s incomparable short story, ‘The Lady with the Dog’ followed by a favourite passage from Russell Hoban’s masterpiece novel, ‘Riddley Walker’:

‘O yes youwl want to think on that you don’t want your mouf to walk you where your feet dont want to go.’

And then, then, I launch into my final warm up exercise – what I term, ‘The Head Clearer’ when I sing and chant excerpts from some of the finest songs ever recorded.

It often goes something like this:

‘Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do’

‘Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie’

‘Nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah, nah, nah nah …’

‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay’

Then picking up speed there are 3 exultant exclamations before I take up my seat at the keyboard.

The order is always the same:

‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang Ba ba ding a dong ding’

‘Awop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom!’

Always last and crucial to invoking my Writing Mojo is:

‘Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro,
Wooly bully, wooly bully,
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully!’

‘Watch it now!’

Wow! Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully!

I should have warned you; before you listen to Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs’ slice of Tex-Mex ambrosia it is always advisable to clear an extensive dance space in your home.

Otherwise, like me, on many an occasion, you may end up with broken lamps and twisted ankles!

Wooly Bully is simply irresistible.

No wonder it sold more than three million copies and was only denied the summit of The Billboard Hot 100 by the combined might of The Beach Boys (Help me, Rhonda) and The Supremes ( Back in My Arms Again).

Still it stayed on the chart for 18 weeks and wound up being Billboard’s record of the year and permanently lodged in the brain of anyone who ever heard it!

The hypnotic, just gotta dance now, sound born in, ‘Gun and Knife’ clubs like The Congo in Leesville and The Diplomat in Memphis was brilliantly captured by Producer/Engineer Stan Kessler at the Sam C Phillips Recordings Studio at 639 Madison Avenue Memphis in late 1964 for his own, tiny, XL label. It became an enormous hit once taken up by major label MGM.

Stan was a veteran of the Sun Records scene. He played bass on many a session for Jerry Lee, The Big O and Carl Perkins as well as writing the wonderful, ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’ for Elvis himself.

Working with Sam’s pavlovian organ and The Pharoahs (David A Martin on bass, Jerry Patterson on drums, Ray Stinnett on guitar and Butch Gibson on sax) Stan produced a sound that was guaranteed to get dancers to their feet all over the globe whether it was a Honkytonk in Texas, a Bierkeller in Hamburg or The Cavern in Liverpool.

If you don’t cut a rug to this one you’ll have to get the T Shirt that says, ‘ Me – I’m L7, L7’. And, you don’t want that do ya!

Domingo ‘Sam’ Samudio, born in 1937, is a native Texan with Mexican heritage.

 

After high school, where he was in a band with Trini Lopez, he had six years in the US Navy, a spell on the road with a Circus and several semesters at Arlington State College.

Whatever else Sam did music was always there.

Sam was much taken with the 1956 Hollywood Biblical Epic, ‘The Ten Commandments’ which led to him naming his band, ‘The Pharoahs’. The Band was to go through several line ups with Sam the only constant.

The ubiquity of Wooly Bully on the radio and its immense sales gained Sam and the boys opening act status for Big Leaguers like The Beach Boys and James Brown.

On such tours they probably traveled on a regular bus rather than their own 1952 Packard Hearse!

Sam was a fine in person performer and he must have got those crowds really warmed up before the headliners came on.

Sam had a few more hits, including the top 5, ‘L’il Red Riding Hood’ before his career dipped in the era of psychedelia and ‘progressive’music.

But, canny listeners like Ry Cooder knew that Sam really had something – which led to a role in the creation of the soundtrack for the movie, ‘The Border’.

When he’s in the mood Sam can show that, without a doubt, he’s still got it!

In conclusion my considered opinion is that you should, right now, clear a space, and get you someone really to pull the wool with you.

Then press play on the live version below and go crazy!

‘Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro,
Wooly bully, wooly bully,
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully!’

‘Watch it now!’

 

 

Notes:

My favoured Sam compilation is, ‘Pharoahization’ on the Rhino label.

In 1971 Sam made a very worthwhile solo record, ‘Sam, Hard and Heavy’ for Atlantic which featured a stellar band including Duane Allman and Jim Dickinson.

A tribute record on Norton charmingly called, ‘Turban Renewal’  has had more than a few spins here at Jukebox Central – especially the tracks by Ben Vaughan and Roy Loney.

Wooly Bully regularly crops up in movies wanting to establish a mid 60s atmosphere. I saw it feature just the other day in one of those Baseball movies made to make you cry, ‘The Rookie’.

 

 

Blue Moon (Revisited) : Elvis, Cowboy Junkies & The Marcels

‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.’

(Shakespeare from The Merchant of Venice)

While The Akkadians slept the Moon shone down.

While The Hittites dreamed of an eternal empire the Moon set the tides a flowing.

While The Assyrians and The Phoenicians marched the Moon shone down.

While The Babylonians, The Persians and The Etruscans dreamed of eternal empires the Moon set the tides a flowing.

While The Greeks and The Romans rose and fell the Moon shone down.

While the empires of great Alexander and that of Chandragupta Mauraya rose and fell the Moon set the tides a flowing.

Look up! Look up!

It’s the same moon! The same moon!

And, looking up, we can’t help but feel the Moon looks down on us knowing all the secrets of our hearts.

Sometimes we shiver as we realise we know so little of what the Moon has known and seen and is yet to see.

Yet, somewhere within us we feel that the Moon is a mother and a mentor.

So we address the Moon in worship, in stone, in ritual, in story and poetry and song.

Somehow we feel the Moon understands.

So night after night, for century after century, for millennia after millennia we look up.

We look up as the Moon looks down. We look up as the Moon looks down.

And, looking up we see the Wolf Moon. Or the Snow Moon. Or perhaps the Pink Moon or the Milk Moon.

Sometimes above us we see a Strawberry Moon or a Mourning Moon. Sometimes the Thunder Moon or the Harvest Moon.

Sometimes as we look up and ponder our fates we are blessed by a Blue Moon.

The song Blue Moon came from the fabled Broadway Golden Age partnership of Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. It was written in 1933/34 and went through several iterations before becoming the song we all know and love.

Initially Rodgers’ limpid melody so redolent of the moonlight was called, ‘Prayer’ and intended for Jean Harlow. Unused, it became, ‘Manhattan Melodrama’ then, ‘The Bad in Every Man’ before by the power of commerce (MGM demanded a hit!) and the alchemy of the tortured genius of Lorenz Hart it became the eternal yearning prayer of the heart that is, ‘Blue Moon’.

All Lorenz Hart’s great romantic songs are distinguished by their lyrical felicity and sophistication. But, with Hart, there is also always a melancholic core, a subliminal shadow of foreboding, a sense that isolation and the curse of loneliness can only be eluded momentarily – if at all.

Without a love of his own he sensed that his dream, his prayer for someone to care for, would almost certainly go unanswered and that the blue moon above would cruelly stay blue and never, ever, glow gold.

In his version from 1949 Billy Eckstine’s burnished tones evoke a man walking down the moonlight city streets at four o’ clock in the morning.

Amid the rapt surrounding stillness he offers up his prayer in a stately voice that suggests the rarely glimpsed gold moon is a passing dream or chimera not the harbinger of a bright future.

Still, he walks on. For, whatever else befalls, he knows he can rely on the Moon to light the world tomorrow night and every night that he can look up to see it. And, there is comfort in that.

Elvis recorded his ghostly take on Blue Moon in the summer of 1954 for Sun Records with the wind whispering percussion probably played by Buddy Cunningham. Elvis takes the song far, far, away from The Great White Way.

Elvis’ Blue Moon shines over Southern soil. I have always heard his eerie crooning here as a keen for the lost thousands of Southern men and boys who perished in the Civil War.

Elvis, normally a singer of enormous physicality, here, miraculously achieves a wraithlike weightlessness that evokes the silent smoke drifting over the battlefield after the living and the wounded have withdrawn leaving the charred earth to the care of the unnumbered dead and their departing spirits.

Lately, when the sky is clear and the moon is high, I’ve taken to heading off into the dark woods in search of clarity of mind and peace of the spirit. It’s my habit to read a passage from a beloved book to inspire and sustain my thoughts before I set off.

Last week it was James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses.

Over the course of five days I recited over and over again the following passage until I knew it by heart and could chant it out to the Moon above as it bathed me in the balm of its light:

‘Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations; her nocturnal predominance; her satellite dependence; her luminary reflection; her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect; her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation, her potency over effluent and refluent waters; her power to to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite and aid delinquency; the tranquil inscrutability of her visage, the terribility of her isolated dominant propinquity; her omens of tempest and of calm; the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence; the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence, her splendour, when visible; her attractions when invisible.’

Perhaps after such an exhalation of genius there is no more to be said about The Moon.

Yet, our imaginations cannot exist on a diet of the sublime alone. We also need more than once in a while to throw our heads back, laugh out loud, and ask the silent moon to share in our good humour.

So, on other nights, as the moon shines through crowded trees I dare to sing with all the force at my command to the distant satellite the joyful Esperanto which kick starts The Marcels 1961 worldwide No 1 hit version of Blue Moon (All together now!)

‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang
Ba ba ding a dong ding Blue Moon moon blue moon dip di dip di dip
Moo Moo Moo Blue Moon dip di dip di dip Moo Moo Blue Moon dip di dip di dip
Bom ba ba boom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang
Ba ba ding a dong ding …’

Now, don’t that make you feel mighty, mighty, fine!

The Marcels (named after the hairstyle) were five high school (multi-racial) friends from Pittsburgh who in 1959 bonded over their love of Doo-Wop and Rhythm & Blues music.

Richard Knauss was the baritone, Fred Johnson hit those low, low notes on bass, Ron ‘Bingo’ Mundy was first tenor with Gene Bricker second. Out front was the happily named Cornelius Harp.

A demo tape of theirs found its way to sharp eared Stu Phillips at Colpix Records. He was particularly taken by their arrangement of The Cadillacs, ‘Zoom’ with its ‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang’ intro.

When he had a little time free in Colpix studio on 15 February 1961 Stu asked them to sing, ‘Heart and Soul’ but found they didn’t have it worked up.

So instead, in a glorious example of serendipity he said let’s do, ‘Blue Moon’ using that intro to, ‘Zoom’ – and thus a classic was cut in two takes!

I recommend you listen first to the song for the sheer thrill of it then listen again to all the wonderful ensemble vocal work going on behind Cornelius Harp’s stellar lead.

I have to say that my heart is always uplifted by the hosanna in excelcis passage that starts at 1.53 and lasts for ten ecstatic seconds – providing enough joy to blast you all the way to the moon and back!

Sometimes I look up at the Moon and wonder if she ( the Moon is surely a she?) is sad and lonely in all that immensity of space – perhaps recalling her traumatic birth some 4.5 billion years ago when cruel Theia hit the Earth broadsde and brought her into independent being.

Does her ache carry across the lonely miles to Earth. Is that the ache you feel in the pit of your stomach, for no discernible reason, on certain moonlit nights?

Does her ache call forth the howling of the wolves?

Sometimes, as Shelley wrote the Moon does seem to be a dying lady lean and pale wrapped in a gauzy veil.

Now, if its ache you want I defy you to find any group to match The Cowboy Junkies.

Listen to them here taking Blue Moon with riveting gentleness into the cold dark realms of inter stellar space. The Timmins siblings assisted by Jeff Bird and Jaro Czewinec will slow down the beating of your heart and let it find a contemplative rhythm that may just open up interior worlds normally barred and shut in the hurly-burly of our everyday lives.

It seems to me that this version is an exquisite hymn to and lament for two of the greatest American artists; Lorenz Hart and Elvis Presley whose tenure on this Earth was so brief yet whose music will echo on through the centuries.

We humans have been looking up at the Moon in wonderment throughout all of our existence as a species. Contemplating the Moon has stirred us to puzzle about the meaning of becoming, birth, death and resurrection.

We come to understand that life is a series of cycles.

How many cycles and how they continue we know not.

We know not.

So we look to the Moon. And the Moon looks down on us.

We must hope that the Moon will bless us with her silver will and turn her perfect face towards us always.

And, with the Psalmist trust the righteous will flourish and peace will abound so long as the moon endures.

The Mafia, The Music Mogul, Island Records and Millie – My Boy Lollipop!

To everything there is a season. Turn, turn, turn.

Here in the woods Summer has now definitively turned into Autumn.
U
The last blaze of heat but an ember in the memory.

Now, as the birds perform miraculous harmonies in song I wake at break of dawn to walk among mist wreathed trees.

Chill winds urge me onward.

As I broke into my running stride yesterday the Jukebox in my head selected an irresistible childhood favourite from 1964 which, for two minutes or so, persuaded me that perhaps it was a time to laugh and a time to dance.

Further, as I settled into the pace of the song I realised that, for one day only, the great David Rudisha, twice Olympic 800 metres champion, would not be so far ahead of me as he crossed the finishing line!

What song could produce such a miraculous effect? Well, a song that is guaranteed, guaranteed, to make your heart go GiddyUp!

I refer, of course, to the deliriously wonderful multi million selling, ‘My Boy Lollipop’ by Millie Small.

An innocent pop confection behind which lies, improbably; a Mafia Don, a forgotten original, an aristocratic music mogul and and the record label which would host Bob Marley and U2.

Oh, and an urban myth that the urgent harmonica on the record is played by none other than Rod Stewart! For the record all the evidence strongly suggests that it was actually played by Pete Hogman.

GiddyUp! GiddyUp!

Lollipop is the sound of careless youth. Of bottled Caribbean sunshine. Of gravity defying jumping Joy.

You want to feel the purity of emotion you had before you worried about grades, guys, girls, guns and geopolitics?

Drop the needle on My Boy Lollipop!

No wonder it was a top 5 hit in Britain and the USA and a smash all around the world. One of the chief functions of pop music is to put a smile on your face – to make you remember what a sheer blessing it is to be alive.

Millie’s artless gleeful vocal and guitarist Ernest Ranglin’s perfectly judged arrangement which morphed the original’s shuffle into a lovely lurching Ska/Bluebeat rhythm fulfils the life affirming and smile inducing functions effortlessly.

And, it could make your Uncle, who Never dances (we all have one) turn into a veritable Dervish.

Millie, or in full – Millicent Dolly May Small is now 70! She was born in Clarendon Jamaica in 1946 and first attracted attention as a 12 year old when she won the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour contest.

Moving to big city Kingston in 1962 she made her initial, thoroughly charming, recordings in duet format with Owen Gray (‘Sugar Plum’) and Roy Panton (‘We’ll Meet’).

These, substantial hits in Jamaica, brought her to the attention of the urbane, uber canny, music buff and would be music mogul, Chris Blackwell.

Blackwell, then in his mid 20s, sensed the commercial potential in Millie. Few in the music business have ever had a better nose for commercial potential.

He judged that her elfin looks and effervescent personality coupled with a proper pop song (one that appeals to six year olds, sixteen year olds and 66 year olds) might just provide him with the fabled, ‘breakthrough record’.

One that would turn his fledgling Island Records from a niche, ‘out of the boot of a car’ operation into a label that could quickly amass cash and be able to compete with the established major outfits like EMI and Decca in battles to sign and promote the hottest new acts.

So, he brought Millie over to London in 1963 and became her manager, chaperone and indeed Legal Guardian. Millie was then, in Motown grooming style, put through an intensive programme of stage education to prepare her for the UK and American markets.

Thus when Lollipop lit up radios and Jukeboxes in 1964 she was ready. So ready that she won the hearts of what seemed the entire nation through her appearances on key TV shows like, ‘Juke Box Jury’ and,’Ready, Steady, Go’.

She even managed to share screen time with The Beatles and matched them for charm and likability if not musical sophistication.

Similar triumphs followed in America where she was taken up by Murray The K. On her return home was greeted as virtual Royalty by everyone from the Prime Minister to her own family!

In Jamaica, one of Chris Blackwell’s many roles (which also included acting as ADC to the Governor General and local fixer for the James Bond film Dr No) was managing a Jukebox empire.

It may well have been this that alerted him to ‘My Boy Lollypop’ a 1956 regional hit in the New York area by Barbie Gaye.

The Gaye original has a lolloping shuffle rhythm, a doowop style vocal and a very 1950s burlesque sax solo instead of harmonica. Though it features first class musicians like Leroy Kirkland, Al Sears and Panama Francis it has very low pop wattage in comparison to the dazzling brilliance of Millie’s version.

The song was written by Robert Spencer a member of one of the incarnations of The Cadillacs (of, ‘Speedo’ fame). However, poor Robert didn’t get to bank much of the royalties as notorious record boss Morris Levy managed to get himself and another dubious connection on the songwriting credits.

Talking of, ‘Connections’ Barbie Gaye was managed by Gaetano ‘Corky’ Vastola who was later to share a cell with famed Mafia capo John Gotti.

Barbie was paid the princely sum of 200 dollars for Lollypop. Corky’s income from the record remains unknown (not least to the IRS!).

Millie had a few minor hits after Lollipop but was unfortunately classed as a novelty act rather than the pop princess she was.

Still, she made one of the most memorable records of the entire 1960s which will never fade from true pop pickers affections. She is now, quite rightly, garlanded with Jamaica’s Order of Distinction.

It is estimated that My Boy Lollipop has now sold over 7 million copies. It’s playing somewhere on the radio right now.

A proper pop record for all time.

P.S. Many, many thanks to all the Jukebox aficionados who have taken the time to nominate The Immortal Jukebox for the UK Blog Awards. And, for the very kind words used to describe the virtues of The Jukebox.

Nominations remain open so … If you haven’t already please do follow the link below!

The URL is http://www.theimmortaljukebox.com

My email is thomhickey55@yahoo.co.uk

http://ow.ly/9hHJ304McG4

Do You, Do You, Do You, Do You Want to Dance? John Lennon, The Beach Boys, The Ramones & Bobby Freeman do!

The Sages tell us that when you really get down to it there are only seven stories in the world.

And, that these are endlessly retold and recast so that the human race can come to terms with the otherwise incomprehensible complexity of our lives.

So everyone from Homer to Tex Avery (not excluding Dante, Shakespeare and Emily Bronte) has expounded with greater or lesser wisdom on the eternal themes.

My own midnight reflections have led me to identify that what holds good for Story also holds good for Questions. After deep contemplation I have discovered that there are only five Questions underpinning all human enquiry.

For four of them you’ll have to wait for the publication of:

‘The Five Questions every life must answer’ (pre-orders accepted now).

But, exclusively, for readers of The Immortal Jukebox, I can reveal that one of the Questions is:

‘Do You Want To Dance?’

It’s a profound question.

Especially if you regard it not solely as a question you ask another but as a question you should address to your innermost self every day if you want to live a fully engaged life.

So, ‘Do you want to dance?’

Bobby Freeman a 17 year old from San Francisco, thought it was such an important question that he had no hesitation in asking it 19 times during the 164 second course of his classic recording from 1958.

Yowsa! Yowsa! Yowsa!

Now Bobby’s demo with him on piano and vocals and a friend on echoing bongos/congas seems to have been taped in a deep, dark hollow before New York musos like Billy Mure with a glittering guitar break added some semblance of professionalism so that the record could be commercially released

Of course, the circumstances of a record’s genesis don’t matter a hoot if, instantly, as it blooms from your radio or neighbourhood Jukebox you just know that it has uttered a profound truth as you obey its command to shake a tail feather.

It was thus no surprise that, ‘Do You Want To Dance’ was a top 5 hit on the Billboard Chart. There’s a hypnotic charm about the latin beat, ascending melody, false ending and the artless vocal’s increasingly insistent expression of the central question.

Resistance is useless – surrender!

Do You, Do You, Do You, Do you Want to Dance?
Do You, Do You, Do You, Do You Want to Dance?

The song, easy to learn and easy to extend vocally and instrumentally if the audience fell under its spell, became a fixture of many a group repertoire.

In Britain it was a notable success for Cliff Richard (1962) and in the US it attracted the attention of Del Shannon and The Four Seasons (1964) before the startling genius of Brian Wilson took into into realms undreamed of by Bobby Freeman.

The relationship between original and The Beach Boys version might be compared to that of a Lascaux cave painting and a high Renaissance masterpiece by Raphael.

Brian Wilson with his multi dimensional musical intelligence added structure and sophistication to Bobby Freeman’s sketch.

So we have three part harmony, vocal chanting, an instrumental ensemble of saxophones, timpani, massed guitars and organ seamlessly integrated into a sweeping wide screen orchestration which also features subtle key changes. On the top Dennis Wilson, with his first lead vocal for the group, provided glowing warmth and drive.

A singular aspect of Brian Wilson’s talent in his mid 60s pomp was his ability to to create complex arrangements which though capable of endless analysis by musicians and critics flowed with what seemed complete naturalness into the hearts of his listeners.

Under Brian’s baton Pop Music had a cathedral like architectural glory it has rarely ever attained. Success and sophistication went hand in hand as Brian and The Beach Boys had hit after hit.

John Lennon was another who knew a thing or two about marrying art and popularity in song. He would have heard Bobby Freeman’s version in Liverpool as a teenager. The Rocker in John, a defining aspect of his character, must have been taken by its sensual sway and swoon.

For it was this aspect of the song he chose to emphasise when he recorded it for his, ‘homage to leather jacketed youth’ album from 1975, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

It should never be forgotten that John Lennon was a great Rock ‘n’ Roll singer. I’d hazard the view that the true primal therapy for John was singing and that through singing he found balm for his own troubled soul as well as providing it for millions of others all over the globe.

The final version featuring on The Jukebox is a 1977 blitzkrieg New York City take by The Ramones. We will have to call this the spray paint on the subway wall graffiti version!

I must admit that in my college days I did some very enthusiastic ‘pogoing’ to this one propelled by my love of high octane, eyeballs out Rock ‘n’ Roll and large quantities of cheap alcohol.

There’s no messing with The Ramones.

They set out in a cloud of dust like a drag racer and don’t let up – wholly careless as to whether the parachute will deploy!

So, whichever version you prefer the eternal Question remains which we will all have to answer in our own way – ‘Do You Want to Dance?’

For my part the answer is a resounding Yes!

Notes:

Bobby Freeman could never match, ‘Do You Want to Dance’ though he did have several other hits. He was a winning singer and I’m always pleased when one of his songs comes up under random play on my music player. A comprehensive collection of his 56-61 work can be found on Jasmine Records.

Other versions you might care to investigate:

The Mamas & Papas

Jan & Dean

T Rex

Dave Edmunds

David Lindley