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).

Embed from Getty Images

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Perhaps, she was also a victim of, ‘Shirley Temple Syndrome’ whereby the public’s fickle support is withdrawn from a child star when they inevitably grow up and are no longer the incarnation of ‘cute’.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

Embed from Getty Images

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.

A Jolly Holiday .. Louis Armstrong .. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo!

It’s that time of the year again.

Time for a Jolly Holiday.

Time to gather the family, rev up the family car (The Roadster safely tucked up in the garage) and set off to the far, far West.

Finisterre as it were.

The Atlantic Ocean thrashing and murmuring through the hours according to the dictates of the distant Moon.

The last rays of the Sun over the land.

Suitcases stowed along with :

Surfboards, Wetsuits, Kites (Kites are skittish things), Quoits, Cricket Bats and Compendium of Games (can I retain my title as supreme draughts/checkers champion?).

Laptops, IPods, IPads, Cameras, Tripods, assorted chargers and batteries.

For me three books guaranteed to please whatever the weather.

To make me laugh out loud P. G. Wodehouse :

‘It’s no use telling me there are good aunts and bad aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.’

To inspire me, ‘Stepping Stones’ – conversations between Seamus Heaney and Dennis O’Driscoll illuminating the great Poet’s dedication to his vocation :

‘If you have the words, there’s always a chance you’ll find the way’.

To utterly sweep me away, ‘Moby Dick’ :

‘Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.’

Obviously, a selection of music to suit all our ages, all times of the day and night and all our humours.

As we drive down we check off the Way stages of our journey laughing as we recount previous adventures.

Old memories celebrated. New memories minted.

And, there’s always one song that elects itself our Summer Song.

A mysterious process but agreement on the chosen song is always by acclamation and lusty choral sing song.

So I am pleased to open the envelope and announce to a breathless world that this years song is the fantastic, frolicsome, ‘Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo!’ by the one, the only, Louis Armstrong!

Take it away Satch!

Well, I have to say I can’t think of another song by another singer more guaranteed to have a family laugh out loud with delirious pleasure!

Louis Armstrong was a certified musical genius.

But, he was also a man who radiated warmth and bonhomie.

I only have to imagine his face or listen to the echo of his unique tones to feel that life is a very fine enterprise.

I wholly agree with Tony Bennett – ‘The bottom line of any country is, What did we contribute to the World. We (the USA) contributed Louis Armstrong.’

Now, I’m aware many of you are not on Holiday.

No, you’re straining at the coal face or the chalk face or the work station counting down the hours.

There are, I am told, many fine books on mindfulness and mediatation that might help you in such circumstances.

Yet, I have never found a better way to lift my mood than to call up Louis Armstrong in my mind and sing, sing, sing,

Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo! Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo!

Happy Holidays.

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox : Save the Last Dance for Me

‘The Jukebox. I lived beside Jukeboxes all through the Fifties … You want to hear a guy’s story, and if the guy’s really seen a few things, the story is quite interesting’ (Leonard Cohen)

‘Oh I know that the music’s fine,
Like sparkling wine go and have your fun,
Laugh and sing, but while we’re apart,
Don’t give your heart to anyone.’

(Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’)

Once in a very Blue Moon you turn on the radio and a song comes on that you know, know, from the first instant you hear it, is a song you will love for the rest of your life – however long that may be.

It’s a song you’ve never heard before yet at once you feel familiar with it.

Somehow, it seems you’ve been waiting for this song.

A song that you know, know, is true.

You know, know, this guy is telling you a story ripped from his heart.

You know, know, that this song really mattered to this guy and now it really matters to you.

This is a song that speaks to you.

A song that speaks to some essential human yearning.

Once in a very Blue Moon you hear a song like, ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’.

The Drifters glorious original recording from 1960, indelibly sung by Ben E King, shimmered then in the New York night skies and now it shimmers all over the globe.

Embed from Getty Images

Shimmers anywhere a lover burns; oh Baby don’t you know I love you so – Can’t you feel it when we touch?

With every baion beat of your heart you vow I will never never let you go.

But, what if she lets you go?

For the one who caught your eye will surely be given the eye by other guys.

What if she is so intoxicated by the pale moonlight and the sparkling wine that she forgets who’s taking her home and in whose arms she should be when the night ends?

What if when he asks if she’s all alone and can he take her home she says Yes instead of No!

Ah, ah, there’s the rub!

For, however agonising it may be, Love only thrives in freedom.

You make a prisoner of Love and it sickens and dies.

So, sometimes, you have to paste on a smile as your Love enjoys the pale moonlight and the sparkling wine with another right before your very eyes.

You have to have Faith.

You have to have Trust.

The Drifters, led by Ben E King, with Dock Green (baritone), Elsbeary Hobbs (bass) and Charlie Thomas (tenor) soar as they bring all these emotional tensions to quick, quivering life scoring a permanent mark on your heart.

Ben E King had a wonderful gift for balancing strength and vulnerability in his vocals.

Embed from Getty Images

There’s a special poignancy in a strong man confiding the intimate terrors and the torments hidden under the confident, life and soul of the party, smile.

It’s one of the reasons ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ is immortal.

Before you have a record you need the song.

And, for the song you need songwriters.

Save the Last Dance for Me was written by one of the greatest songwriting teams of the 20th Century – Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

Think of, ‘A Teenager in Love’, ‘This Magic Moment’, ‘Little Sister’, ‘(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame’, and, ‘Sweets for My Sweet’ just for starters!

Embed from Getty Images

Now, if there was ever a guy who had really seen a few things and knew how to tell a story that guy was Jerome Solon Felder, known to the world as Doc Pomus.

Doc Pomus, born in 1925, grew up in Brooklyn, a fiercely intelligent bookish boy who became obsessed by the sounds of Jazz, Blues and Rhythm and Blues you could listen to 24 hours a day on New York radio stations.

Doc was not the kind of guy who had casual interests.

No, when Doc took something up he dove in – head, neck and feet.

So it was with Doc and the Blues.

And, certainly his intimate understanding of the Blues grew in depth when in his youth he was stricken by Polio.

It didn’t stop him writing and singing the Blues.

It didn’t stop him heaving himself on crutches up on to the stages of Jazz and Blues clubs throughout the 1940s.

But, but, it did stop him from triumphantly sweeping his new bride round the dance floor at his wedding.

Instead, he had to smile as other men held her tight waiting for the night to end when, finally, they would share a last dance of their own.

Doc remembered those conflicting emotions when he wrote, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ on the back of one of the invitations to their wedding.

Doc’s lyric throbs with love and longing. With yearning and anxiety.

It’s a mixture that cuts deep into the listeners soul.

Doc’s writing partner, the urbane Mort Shuman, read the lyric and, inspired, devised a melody that has the glittering sheen of tears in the eyes.

So, now you have an emotionally complex and true lyric and a ‘you’ll never forget this once you’ve heard it the first time’ melody and a vocal group with a dynamite lead singer.

You’ve got the song. You’ve got the singers.

What more do you need?

Well, what you need is savvy Record Producers, songwriters themselves, who know from bitter experience, that a great song does not guarantee a great record.

What you need in New York in 1960 is Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

Embed from Getty Images

They will bring in superb musicians like Bucky Pizzarelli, Allen Hanlon, Gary Chester and Lloyd Trotman and frame their expertise in an arrangement that will ensure the great song and the great singers make a great Record.

They’ll make the record start like a beating heart.

They’ll have subtle latin rhythms seducing the ear throughout.

They’ll not shy away from bringing in the sweeping strings when they’re demanded.

They’ll balance the urgent lead vocal with tender echoes from the rest of the vocal group.

They’ll listen and listen again and polish and polish and polish until they’ve made a Record that nothing less than a masterpiece of American Popular Music.

Together, Songwriters, Singers and Producers will make a Record which will never fade for true stories are always true and always recognised as such by open hearts.

An open heart like that of Leonard Cohen.

Embed from Getty Images

Leonard will likely have heard, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ on a Jukebox in a cafe in Montreal habituated by fellow Poets and Writers searching for inspiration, recognition and the redemptive fires of love.

Leonard, a Ladies Man if there ever was one, confided that in those days he was no student of music – though he was certainly a student of cafes and waitresses.

But, once he heard a song that really told a guy’s story in a way that he could believe he remembered the number of that song on The Jukebox and punched it in again and again.

And, when he came to have a Jukebox of his own he filled it with Records that told interesting stories.

Records like, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.

Leonard was a Gentleman and a Scholar of the dance of Love and the dance of Life and knew as a Poet how emotionally powerful precisely chosen words, of the right weight and rhythm, were once set to music.

So, embarking on a career as a Songwriter and performer in the late 1960s he brought all his considerable gifts to his new vocation.

Over the next half century he created a body of work that stands with any in the history of Popular Music.

Deep currents run through Leonard Cohen songs.

Songs about every aspect of the love between men and women and between human kind and God.

Beautiful Songs that illuminate our search for Love without disguising the frequent ugly betrayals we are heir to all our lives.

Leonard knew that Life was so serious that often the only proper response was laughter – sometimes ironic sometimes wholehearted.

Leonard understood the steps and missteps in the Dance of Life.

He knew that we all want someone to dance with very tenderly and long.

He knew that we all want someone to dance with through the panic till we’re safely gathered in.

We all want someone to dance with to the end of love.

As the end of his life approached Leonard reached back to those Jukebox days and began to sing, ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ in concert.

It was, in fact, the last song he ever sang in public (though the version featured here is from Ghent some years earlier).

Leonard knew, as Doc Pomus knew, that in dance we stretch out our hands and our bodies and make a connection which can sustain us through the panics and perils of life.

Leonard Cohen and Doc Pomus, each in their own way, danced, danced, danced to the end of love.

Listen to The Drifters and canny old Leonard and make a promise that you’ll save the last dance for the one you love.

For there is one Dance we all do alone as we journey through life to death.

Until that day stretch out your hand.

Take your partner in your arms and dance!

Have Faith.

Trust.

Save the last dance.

The very last dance.

Notes:

There’s a fine biography of Doc Pomus by Alex Halberstadt ‘Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus’

The film documentary ‘AKA Doc Pomus’ by Peter Miller and William Hechter is a must watch.

I highly recommend Allan Showalter’s Blog cohencentric.com for all things related to Leonard Cohen.

The Kinks : Waterloo Sunset – The Finest English Song of the entire 1960s!

‘The most beautiful song in the English language’ (Robert Christgau)

‘Divine … a masterpiece’ (Pete Townsend)

‘As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset I am in paradise’ (Ray Davies)

A song about : London, The River, A Lonely Man and Two Lovers by A Great Songwriter leading a great Group.

The Voice of London:

It is, of course, a song about London.

Londinium. The Capital. The Big Smoke.

Now, there are other fine cities on other great rivers in this nation.

But, but, there is only one London.

And, if you want to find out who you are, not who you’ve been told you are, and how far you can go – well then, London, London, is the place to be.

Nowhere else. Nowhere else.

Kings and Conquerors. Poets and Peasants. Saints, Sinners and Scholars.

Those looking for the limelight and others looking to hide out – they’re all drawn to London.

Thinkers and Tinkers. Songwriters and Singers.

Look around! They’re all here.

All here telling stories. Making dramas.

Tired of London, tired of life.

Come for joy, jasper of jocunditie.

Come for a mighty mass of brick and smoke and shipping.

Treasures in its depths.

Confront your counterparts – hero or villain, mountebank or mystic.

Find yourself. Get lost.

Work, work, work or lounge and idle away your days.

All around you beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics and the one, the one, just waiting for you.

For you.

Ray Davies. A watchful London boy who became a watchful London man and artist.

Alive to all the sights and sounds and atmospheres on the breeze, in the fog, in the streets and alleyways of his home town.

Watching the people. Watching the taxi lights shine so bright.

Aware of the lovers meeting on Friday night and the lonely friendless souls in the chilly, chilly, evening time.

Aware of the dirty old river flowing, flowing into the night.

Aware that the same world can be frightening and a paradise at the same time – it all depends where you are standing and what you see.

Lovers finding each other and finding themselves.

Making plans to stay. Making plans to leave.

Somewhere they’ll be safe and sound. Together.

Millions swarming round Waterloo Underground.

Every one with a story.

Every one dizzy with the possibilities of London Town.

Every one looking to be found and to be safe and sound as the chilly, chilly, evening descends.

Every one feeling London, London, all around them.

Day flows into night. Spring flows into Summer. Summer flows into Autumn and on and on, always, into Winter.

Chilly, chilly, is evening time.

But, but, look up, look around!

Gaze out on the Sunset.

The Waterloo Sunset.

Bathing London in balm.

Flooding the heart and soul with feeling.

A Feeling more powerful than all your fears.

As long as Londoners can gaze out on Waterloo Sunset they are in paradise.

Paradise. Paradise.

It is, of course, a Song about London.

Embed from Getty Images

The Voice of The River:

It is, of course, a Song about The River.

The Thames. Father Thames.

Rivers make Cities. Before the City there’s always The River.

Flowing through the ages. Flowing, flowing through time.

Carving out the landscape.

Liquid History. Liquid History.

Long before London, millennia before London, the River flowed.

The dark waters of River flow by the bridges and the burial grounds.

Past the wharfs and the jetties.

Past the piers and the palaces.

The River flows on when the roads are blocked.

The River flows on as the houses crumble into dust when the bombs fall.

The River flows on as the Romans arrrve and leave.

As the Vikings arrive and leave.

As Kings build palaces to rule for evermore.

As parliaments of men and women overthrow the divine right of monarchs.

They build walls round cities.

The River flows on. Free.

When the fires burn and the earth buckles and splits turn to The River.

The River will always flow on as long as the world turns.

Come to the River. Come to the River.

Mystics and Mudllarks.

Poets and Pirates.

Novelists and Ne’er do Wells.

Songwriters and Singers.

I will flow through your heart and soul.

I will fill your imagination to the brim.

Turner and Canaletto. Monet and Whistler. Stanley Spencer.

River Painters. Haunted by waters.

Humans are haunted by waters.

Haunted.

Dickens and Kenneth Grahame. Pepys and Conrad.

Wordsworth and Eliot.

River Writers. River Writers.

The River glideth at its own sweet will.

The River sweats oil and tar.

Stand by the River.

As the chilly, chilly, evening descends.

Look around. Look at your life.

Wipe your eyes. Wipe your eyes.

Try not to notice you’ve fallen in love (or out of love).

Breathe. Breathe.

Ray Davies. Looking out on the River from the terraces of St Thomas’ Hospital when he was just 13.

Watching the River flow. Flowing on through the day into the night.

Watching the yellow fog settle over the River’s dark waters.

The River.

Always the same. Always different. Like his life.

A River he walked by waiting to become the artist he knew he was.

The River he walked by with melodies and words dancing in his head.

The River he walked by making plans for a future for himself, his wife and his family.

Walking, dreaming, by those dark waters.

Watching the River flowing, flowing, flowing.

Watching the lights reflected in the River’s dark waters.

Watching Lovers crossing over the River.

Looking for somewhere to be safe and sound.

Watching the Lovers looking deep into the dark waters looking for a glimpse of their future together.

Watching Lovers seeking the River’s blessing.

Watching the friendless lonely souls gazing out over the River.

Watching the millions of souls emerging from Waterloo Underground waiting to cross The River.

Watching them turn up their collars against the chilly, chilly, evening time as the wind blows in off the River.

Watching them look deep into the dark waters looking for an answer to questions too secret to ask out loud.

Watching them watching the River flow on. Flow on.

Watching the Sunset, the Waterloo Sunset, sink over the River.

Flooding the heart and soul with golden light.

The River flows on through Spring and Summer into Autumn and on and on, always into Winter.

Chilly, Chilly, is evening time.

But, but, stand by The River.

As the dark waters flow look into the sunset.

The Waterloo Sunset.

Bathing The River in balm.

Flooding, flooding, the heart and soul with feeling.

A feeling more powerful than all your fears.

As long as you can stand by the River and those dark waters and gaze out on Waterloo Sunset you are in paradise.

Paradise. Paradise.

It is, of course, a Song about The River.

Embed from Getty Images

The Voice of a Lonely Man:

It is, of course, a Song of a Lonely Man.

I’m a Londoner all my life. I’ve lived by The River all my life.

Seventy five years.

1967 now.

I was born in the 1800’s!

London and The River. Always the same. Always different.

London, The River and me. We’ve been through a lot.

We’ve seen two World Wars. I fought in the First one.

They call that The Great War. I lost a lot of pals, London pals.

Men who worked on the River with me.

It can make you lonely thinking of them.

Sometimes, as the chilly evening descends and I look into the dark waters of the River I think I can see them still, as they were, young men with bright smiles, bright smiles, making plans for after the War.

War teaches you that God laughs at your plans.

War teaches you fear and teaches you friends can lose their heartbeat in one of yours.

London was a hard old place in the 1930s.

Depression. They called it the Great Depression.

No work. For year after year after year.

Amazing we didn’t have a Revolution.

Still, somehow we got through.

I met Daisy, my wife, walking across Waterloo Bridge.

We were both looking down into the dark waters.

Watching the River flow on into the night.

Watching the taxi lights shining as the chilly evening descended.

I suppose we were both lost until we found each other.

Then, suddenly, we were safe and sound.

When we were courting (no one uses that word anymore!) we used to meet every Friday night at Waterloo Station.

There must be millions, millions, passing through there every day.

Funny though, as soon as I saw Daisy it always seemed as if they was just the two of us.

Safe and sound together.

Together, we didn’t need no friends and no matter how dark the times or chilly the evening we didn’t feel afraid.

We had each other.

Until the Second War.

A bomb can fall out of the sky and in a heartbeat your heart is broken and never the same again.

Never the same.

I did my best with the Nipper. But a girl, especially, needs a Mother.

She went out to Australia on one of those Assisted Passages.

A Tenner taking you tens of thousands of miles!

I get a card at Christmas and she says she’ll visit in a year or so.

Maybe, she’ll get married and I’ll be a Grandfather. I’d like that.

They say I’m lucky to have a flat in this block.

I preferred it when you had a garden and streets on the ground not in the sky.

Especially when the lifts break down.

One thing I will say. You get fantastic views out the window from the tenth floor.

I like listening to the radio and watching the football on the TV.

But mainly I like to look at the world from my window. From my window.

There’s a lot going on if you take the time to look.

The River keeps on flowing.

Always the same always different.

Something to do with the way it reflects to the light.

It’s a dirty old River. Oil and tar. But, it’s my River.

They say this Clean Air Act will have it sparkling again – alive with Fish.

Not sure I will be around for that day.

People are so busy these days.

They must make themselves dizzy rushing about.

Never time to stop and stare or to say hello to an old man looking into the dark waters of the River.

I like it when the chilly evening descends.

The taxi lights shine bright and somehow people look well in the dark.

I’ve noticed a couple meeting every Friday night just like me and Daisy did.

I call them Terry and Julie after that song on the radio about the Sunset.

Waterloo Sunset.

I don’t know much about this beat music but the chap who wrote that song knows a lot about London and The River and Love and Loneliness.

It’s a song that has happiness and sadness running right through it like a river.

You can tell they love each other and that they feel safe and sound when they’re together.

I stay home at night. But I don’t feel feel afraid.

I don’t need no friends anymore.

I got my memories.

And, no matter how chilly the evening there’s warmth in the Sunset.

So I am safe and sound.

And, I know that today will flow on into tomorrow and that Spring will flow into Summer and on into Autumn and always, always into Winter.

Of course the evening is chilly.

But, looking out my window I can gaze on the Sunset.

Friends or no friends.

I gaze on the Sunset.

The Waterloo Sunset.

And, somehow, that Sunset is more powerful than any fear.

As long as I can gaze out on Waterloo Sunset I am in paradise.

Paradise. Paradise.

That song. Well, of course, it’s about a Lonely Man.

Embed from Getty Images

The Voice of Two Lovers:

Well, of course, it’s a Song about two Lovers. Us.

What else could it be about?

Embed from Getty Images

When you’re in love the River flows and the chilly evening and dark waters are your friends.

Terry and Julie. Our names just sound right together.

We meet every Friday night at Waterloo Underground.

Sometimes we just walk across the bridge.

Have a drink by the River and watch the Sunset.

The Waterloo Sunset.

And, it seems we are in paradise.

Paradise.

We’re glad there’s a song about us.

Embed from Getty Images

A Song by a great Songwriter leading a great Group:

Ray Davies is a Londoner.

A Londoner who grew up in a house filled with music and the laughter and warmth generated by loving parents and six older sisters.

Yet, a boy and a man, who needed solitude to give birth to the dreams, the melodies and words in his head.

A young man who found that he had a peculiarly English gift for expressing the bitter sweet aspects of life.

A writer who had been taken by his father to see the Festival of Britain on the South Bank of the River in 1951 where visions of a brave new world offered unlimited promise for the decades ahead.

A writer who seeing these new worlds being born could feel and express the loss as well as the gain in the new glittering times.

A writer who could evoke dreams in black and white as well as colour.

A writer who could evoke the flow of the River, the warmth of the Sunset and the chill of the evening.

A writer who could craft a song that had love and loneliness running through it like a river.

A writer who had as much in common with John Betjeman as he did with Chuck Berry.

The Laureate of English Pop Music.

A writer who could capture the light and the shadows of the world around him.

A world he watched with deep attention.

He took in the dirty old River, it’s dark waters and the glitter of the taxi lights.

The song of The River and the view from the windows above.

He gave voice to the young lovers and the lonely old man holding them in the embrace of his voice, his words and his aching melody.

A writer and performer who could make dark waters and the chilly, chilly, evening alive before us.

A writer who could tell the story of two lovers out of the millions of people emerging from Waterloo Underground.

Ray Davies was also a bandleader and producer who could capture all those elements in a record that will live as long as the dark waters flow and the sun sets over the River.

Embed from Getty Images

To do this he needed the skill and commitment of his brother Dave Davies and brothers in arms Pete Quaife and Mick Avory.

He needed The Kinks.

Embed from Getty Images

Together they created in the studio a great record from a great song.

The lovely bass line moves through the song like a stately barge ploughing through the tide of the River.

Dave Davies’ guitar using tape delay echo has a melancholy grace holding us in thrall throughout.

Mick Avory’s drums flow on like the River and alert us to the crescendos of feeling as the song moves to its climax.

Together The Kinks with Rsy’s first wife, Rasa, give us perhaps the most heart rending harmony vocals of the era.

So, it’s a song about London.

About The River.

About a Lonely Man.

About Two Lovers.

A song that flows on through the decades.

A song that will always flow on because Rivers always flow and evenings always get chilly.

Because, as long as we can listen to Waterloo Sunset we can, for those few minutes, be in
paradise.

In Paradise.

Embed from Getty Images

Time to hear it again:

Ray Davies is reported to have said that he was sure he had written the best song of the year in 1967.

I’ll go further.

I think in Waterloo Sunset he wrote the finest English song of the entire 1960s.

Embed from Getty Images