The Immortal Jukebox : Where It All Began

Recently I have had some readers ask me where the title for my blog comes from and what the theme or mission of The Immortal Jukebox is. The simple answer is that the Jukebox is a hopefully entertaining vehicle for my musical enthusiasms across all the genres of popular music and popular culture that have obsessed me for the past half century or so.

I want to celebrate the great, discover and promote the neglected and tip my hat to the artists who have given me so much pleasure and enlightenment. When I started I started I had no idea if anyone beyond my family and faithful friends would be interested in reading my musings.

I am delighted to have found such a significant community of intelligent, lively minded readers!

Below is the original post on the Jukebox which might set my later ramblings in context!

Red and green and yellow – buzzing and glowing with the neon primary colour promise of dangerous thrills and illicit pleasures.

A sensual blow to the solar plexus when in wonderfully mechanical operation.  The chosen 45 is lifted from the racks and placed with a hugely satisfying clunk onto the turntable and then the arm housing the magic needle descends and …..   Two or three minutes of temporal and eternal bliss.  Play that one again!

Maybe the jukebox is in a roadhouse just outside of Memphis where a truck driver who loves ‘all kinds’ of music gets to hear the singers who can wrap up heartache and joy and project them through the vinyl into the hearts and souls of the dancers and drinkers and the quiet girls in the corner.

Maybe it’s in a dancehall in Hibbing where the iron ground vibrates with magnetic energy and the bitterly cold wind hits heavy on the borderline.  Here a tousle headed kid with a teeming head full of ideas and an unassailable sense of destiny has an epiphany when the lonesome whistle blows and he has no need to ask for a translation of Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom!

Maybe it’s in a coffee bar in Liverpool where two teenagers levitating with energy and talent and the desire to make the world anew can go when they are sagging off school and dreaming impossible dreams of songs with their names in brackets after the title.

Maybe it’s in Detroit where an ex boxer and jazz buff with enough entrepreneurial ambition to found an empire has figured out that the empire could be built on the talents of the hometown teenagers of his own race – once he had organised them.  He understood that the white world was waiting, unknowingly, for a vision of a young America that he could manufacture and supply in the form of a production line of vibrant, electrifying   45’s … Are you ready for a brand new beat?

More likely it’s in a thousand towns all over the globe where men and women meet to drink and laugh and cry.  Where they go to find love, laughter and sex and temporary forgetting.

On the jukebox there’s always that song … The one that makes the hairs rise on the back of your neck … The one that makes your heart pump faster and faster … The one that makes you ask the first time you hear it ‘Who’s that!’ … The one you’ll never forget as long as you live, the one that will always embody youth and hope and the promise of a better, bigger life.  The one to play again and again, learning every word , every riff and lick, the one you saved up to buy to play at home as loud as your neighbours would allow.

The Immortal Jukebox will celebrate 100 of those records.  Not the 100 best records of all time or my hundred favourite records.  These will be a 100 records that would turn your head when you hear them come blasting out of those jukebox speakers.  A 100 records that sound great whether you are drunk or sober.  A 100 records that pull you in whether you are in the giddy throes of new love or bemoaning the love you have just lost.  A 100 records to give you hope or consolation.  A 100 records that would have you reaching in your pocket for the money to play that song again.

Immortal Jukebox A4 Bernard Cribbins “Right Said Fred”

‘In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will … It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.’

(Karl Marx)

‘Those who best know human nature will acknowledge what strength light hearted nonsense gives to a hard working man.’

(Coleridge)

‘So Fred said, ‘Let’s have a cuppa tea
And we said, ‘Right – oh’

(Myles Rudge/Ted Dicks)

There have been innumerable ethnographic, sociological, psychological, political, historical and even psycho-geographic studies describing the nature and peculiarities of the English working man.

Some of these have even been readable by people not chained and bound in the salt mines of academia. I plead guilty to having a few feet of shelf space dedicated to the subject myself.

However, I would advise anyone looking to gain an acute insight into the character and mores of said working man to look no further than Bernard Cribbins classic, forensically brilliant examination of the subject in his 1962 recording, ‘Right Said Fred’.

‘Right Said Fred’ belongs to that now rare and frequently derided genre – the comedy record. Fair enough – most comedy records are only funny in the deluded imaginations of their creators and even those that are mildly amusing barely warrant a single repetition let alone an honoured place on the Immortal Jukebox.

Right Said Fred is the exception that proves the rule.

This song, written by Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks and performed with perfect comic panache by Bernard Cribbins is laugh out loud hilarious and has me smiling and laughing every time even though I must have heard it a hundred times or more over the last 50 years.

It is also the kind of song that makes you feel good about your fellow man – who turns out to be just as clueless as you. It is a song that makes you glad to be alive.

Context: English life and working practices in the pre Beatles era were openly structured around universally recognised, if not universally accepted, class and status divisions. Everyone knew their place even if they detested the whole system and were actively planning to subvert it.

Most people, especially blue collar workers, didn’t think too much about how the system came into being – instead they wanted to play the system for their own advantage, to win small battles every day and put one over the bastards who would grind you down if you gave them half a chance.

Here’s the situation out of which the chaos and comedy of good intentions gone awry proceeds. Three workmen; Fred (the Foreman), Charlie (the Charge Hand) and our unnamed narrator arrive at a house to move a large piece of furniture, which though never formally identified, is probably a piano.

This is an awkward, beligerantly heavy thing that will test the limits of their strength, their willpower, their know – how, their patience and their camaraderie. And, the structural integrity of the house itself.

Ted Dicks provides an easy to whistle, all-together now, nudge-nudge, springy music hall melody set to an ironically bouyant rhythm. Sound effects – heaving labour, creaking stairs, boinging springs and collapsing walls and ceilings were furnished by the record’s producer: George Martin in his pre – Beatles incarnation as the boss of Parlophone Records and a comedy specialist already having logged hits with Peter Ustinov, Peter Sellers, Rolf Harris and Charlie Drake.

Myles Rudge, the lyricist, provides a narrative that is economical and full of clever, acute comic details using a propulsive, instantly memorable rhyme scheme which in concert with his partner’s musical hooks virtually guarantees the song will lodge deep in your brain.

The song is then delivered by Bernard Cribbins, a wonderfully droll comic actor rather than a singer, as a shaggy – dog story using alternate tones of baffled irritation and relaxed nonchalance.

As each verse progresses Cribbins in virtuoso style subtly ups the tempo and rhythmic attack to mirror the enfolding disaster. Let the mayhem begin!

Obviously, they begin by trying to lift it but, despite Fred and our narrator, one on each end, striving might and main together they, ‘couldn’t even lift it’. Oh dear, they could be in for a long day here!

So, planning, strategy, and tactics will be required – and you can’t begin to address such weighty matters without the essential fortification of English life, the elixir that punctuates all activity and transforms the perception of all situations – a cup of tea!

One of the first things you learn when joining any group of working men is that the tea-break is a sacred rite and not to be trifled with on any account.

In an increasingly atomised society drinking tea remains one of the only pursuits shared by virtually the whole population. Something like 100 million cups of tea are downed by the English every single day of the year!

Fred, restored by his first cup of tea, decides that reinforcements are required – so Charge Hand Charlie is called up from,’the floor below’ and noisily ascends to join his fellow workers.

However, Charlie’s presence and further straining, heaving and of course complaining prove of no avail. They were getting nowhere. Only one thing for it – another cup of tea!

Charlie, refreshed, has a think (always a dangerous thing) and suggests that all the handles need to be removed and moreover, in an inspired phrase, ‘the things what held the candles’. Sadly it did no good.

Our narrator sagely reflects that, ‘he never thought it would’. The English working man has always expected that the best laid plans of his supposed superiors will inevitably end in dismal failure even as he carries out these plans with shrugged shoulders.

The ‘I told you so’ or, ‘There’s a surprise’ is generally uttered only under the breath or mimed to their mates via a barely raised eyebrow.

They proceed to take the feet and even the seat off. That should have got them somewhere but no it did not! Time for another cup of tea. Energised, Fred realises that if they are going to shift the, ‘so – and – so’ they will have to take a door off.

They succeed with this despite the bad twinges they experience taking off the hinges (having a bad back is virtually a badge of honour for the English working man). Sadly, this too got them nowhere and so they down another cup of tea.

Fred is now begining to get exasperated and declares with warlike intent, ‘that there wall is gonna have to go’! But, even with it all down they were no further forward. They retreat and have another cup of tea.

At this point Charlie has another think and in a seemingly inspired brainwave opines that he has got a sort of feeling that if only they could remove the ceiling it would only be a matter of using a rope or two and they could solve all their problems and, ‘drop the blighter through!’.

Fred, and he will come to bitterly regret this, agrees to Charlie’s madcap plan with electric enthusiasm. Before you can draw breath Fred equipped with a crowbar is climbing up a ladder and laying into the ceiling with many a mighty blow!

Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh dear. Inevitably, a half of ton of rubble falls on top of Charlie’s unprotected dome. What state Fred is then in and what his hopes for recovery are we never learn.

Charlie and our narrator decide the piano will remain unmoved and, pausing only for another cup of tea, they go home.

As they saunter homeward our narrator wryly notes that Fred has a tendency to be hasty and that you, ‘never get nowhere if you are too hasty’. The piano will just have to be left amidst the dust and rubble on the landing.

No doubt the whole saga will make for a lengthy anecdote down the pub where mugs of tea will be replaced by pints of beer. Cheers!

(Warning and Disclaimer: Fred and his crew flagrantly breach many health and safety regulations during the course of the song. DO NOT try to follow their example at home!).

Scorecard:

Pianos moved: 0

Doors removed: 1

Walls removed: 1

Ceilings destroyed: 1

Serious injuries: 1

Houses trashed: 1

Cups of tea drunk: 6

Notes and Comments:

‘Right Said Fred’ reached No 10 in the UK charts in July 1962. It followed a previous hit, ‘Hole In The Ground’ also written by Rudge and Dicks which had gone one place higher in February of the same year.

The latter song again mined the seam of chippy working class humour: detailing the confrontation between a hole-digging workman and a snooty bowler-hatted official who observed that, ‘you are digging it round and it ought to be square’.

The workman after taking a drag on his cigarette replied that his hole was fine and he just couldn’t bear to dig it elsewhere. The song concludes with the workman noting with quiet satisfaction that the hole is now gone; the ground is smooth and beneath it is the bloke in the bowler hat!

The whole story is brilliantly told by Bernard Cribbins in well under two minutes.

Noel Coward, a connoisseur if there ever was one of the comic song, chose,’Hole In The Ground’ as one of his ‘Desert Island Discs’. It has also been suggested that the Count Basie Band heard the song when touring the UK and became great fans.

Rudge and Dicks:

Myles Rudge (1926 – 2007) was an all purpose post-war entertainment professional having worked as an actor and scriptwriter for radio and TV. He had a particularly productive working relationship with Kenneth Williams.

His only other hit song with Dicks was the children’s song, ‘A Windmill In Old Amsterdam’ which is not recommended for listening by anyone over the age of 5.

Ted Dicks (1928 – 2012) had an art school and theatre background. In addition to his work with Rudge he wrote film and TV theme songs. The most notable of these was for the cult children’s TV series, ‘Catweazle’ – another beloved baby boomer classic!

Bernard Cribbins has now attained the BAFTA clutching status of,’national treasure’ in British life. On TV he has appeared in everything from, ‘Dr Who’ to, ‘The Wombles’ and, ‘Jackanory’.

On film apart from three of the Carry On series he has appeared in two classic comedies with Peter Sellers, ‘Two Way Stretch’ and, ‘The Wrong Arm Of The Law’.

He also had a key role as Perks the railway station assistant in Lionel Jeffries’ family film masterpiece, ‘The Railway Children’. His name in any list of credits is a very welcome sign and a virtual guarantee of pleasure.

The Immortal Jukebox

Red and green and yellow – buzzing and glowing with the neon primary colour promise of dangerous thrills and illicit pleasures.

A sensual blow to the solar plexus when in wonderfully mechanical operation.  The chosen 45 is lifted from the racks and placed with a hugely satisfying clunk onto the turntable and then the arm housing the magic needle descends and …..   Two or three minutes of temporal and eternal bliss.  Play that one again!

Maybe the jukebox is in a roadhouse just outside of Memphis where a truck driver who loves ‘all kinds’ of music gets to hear the singers who can wrap up heartache and joy and project them through the vinyl into the hearts and souls of the dancers and drinkers and the quiet girls in the corner.

Embed from Getty Images

Maybe it’s in a dancehall in Hibbing where the iron ground vibrates with magnetic energy and the bitterly cold wind hits heavy on the borderline.  Here a tousle headed kid with a teeming head full of ideas and an unassailable sense of destiny has an epiphany when the lonesome whistle blows and he has no need to ask for a translation of Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom!

Embed from Getty Images

Maybe it’s in a coffee bar in Liverpool where two teenagers levitating with energy and talent and the desire to make the world anew can go when they are sagging off school and dreaming impossible dreams of songs with their names in brackets after the title.

Embed from Getty Images

Maybe it’s in Detroit where an ex boxer and jazz buff with enough entrepreneurial ambition to found an empire has figured out that the empire could be built on the talents of the hometown teenagers of his own race – once he had organised them.  He understood that the white world was waiting, unknowingly, for a vision of a young America that he could manufacture and supply in the form of a production line of vibrant, electrifying   45’s … Are you ready for a brand new beat?

Embed from Getty Images

More likely it’s in a thousand towns all over the globe where men and women meet to,drink and laugh and cry.  Where they go to find love, laughter and sex and temporary forgetting.

On the jukebox there’s always that song … The one that makes the hairs rise on the back of your neck … The one that makes your heart pump faster and faster … The one that makes you ask the first time you hear it ‘Who’s that!’ … The one you’ll never forget as long as you live, the one that will always embody youth and hope and the promise of a better, bigger life.  The one to play again and again, learning every word , every riff and lick, the one you saved up to buy to play at home as loud as your neighbours would allow.

The Immortal Jukebox will celebrate 100 of those records.  Not the 100 best records of all time or my hundred favourite records.  These will be a 100 records that would turn your head when you hear them come blasting out of those jukebox speakers.  A 100 records that sound great whether you are drunk or sober.  A 100 records that pull you in whether you are in the giddy throes of new love or bemoaning the love you have just lost.  A 100 records to give you hope or consolation.  A 100 records that would have you reaching in your pocket for the money to play that song again.

A1: Them (featuring Van Morrison) ‘Gloria’ A1: Them (featuring Van Morrison) ‘Gloria’
 Some songs have a brutally simple primal perfection. Usually these songs are recorded at the very beginning of an artists career before they start to look into the rear view mirror and become conscious that they do indeed have a career, a legacy and a reputation to protect.

These are records that come at you full bore and demand that you listen now! Think of the primitive perfection of the last song recorded on the day the Beatles recorded their first LP. You want to know what The Beatles sounded like in Hamburg? Listen to the raw bleeding magnificence of John Lennon’s vocal on, ‘Twist and Shout’ and the eyeballs out commitment of Paul, George and Ringo. There was no way a second take could top that!

Think of the stupid beauty of the Undertones debut single, ‘Teenage Kicks’ – a record that captured as few others have the thrilling intoxication of young love and lust. Feargal Sharkey’s impassioned vocal (All right!) and the unrepeatable delirium of Damian O’ Neill’s guitar solo combine to create a miracle that comes up fresh every time and is endlessly replayable – which seems a pretty good definition of what I want from a jukebox single.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that throughout the 1960s that wherever and whenever a group of would be rock and roll stars gathered – in the family garage, in the basement or at a flea bitten church or municipal hall – very soon after they had plugged in they would launch, with wildly varying degrees of competence, into the daddy of all the primitive perfection songs, ‘Gloria’.

Puzzled passers-by must have wondered why such a simple name needed to be spelled out with such repetitive intensity, ‘ … And her name is G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’. They must also have shuddered at the threat, ‘ I’m gonna shout it out night and day .. G – L – O – R – I – A! G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’. They must also have shuddered at the threat, ‘ I’m gonna shout it out night and day .. G – L – O – R – I – A!

It is likely that many of the groups who attacked the song made a fair fist of the instrumental ground of the song – three chords don’t take long to master. A few of the lead guitar players will have matched Jimmy Pages fluency and prowess as demonstrated on the recording. However, No-one, No-one, will have come anywhere near reproducing the frenzied intensity of Van Morrison’s pyrotechnic vocal.

This Van Morrison was not the superlative song stylist or the Celtic soul and blues master he would later become. This was a snarling, desperate, bewildered teenager who was reluctantly coming to terms with life and lust, the whole painful mess of it all. A youth who looked down more than he looked up but who was nevertheless able to surprise himself with the ability to express vocally the gamut of emotions and frustrations he faced every day and every night.

But, from the very get-go in his career it was clear that there was no doubt who was leading and commanding the band. Van Morrison on the bandstand or in the studio acts as an emperor, a ruler by right of his eminent majesty as a singer and as a band leader. In this, as so much else, he took his cue from the high priest of soul – Ray Charles.

Gloria is the work of explosive youth, of wanting and yearning, of overwhelming mind and body dominating lust. Gloria may be the most purely male, testosterone fueled record ever made. Gloria, five feet four from her head to the ground, is the eternal lust object. Van Morrison might say that she knocks upon his door and even more thrillingly comes to his room but the thrust of the song seems to me to be the solitary, devoutly told repetition of an oft returned to fantasy.

There may well have been a real Gloria but it is the dream of Gloria who knocks on Van’s door with such insistent force. Surely, if he could only chant her name with enough power she would indeed knock upon his door and make all his fevered dreams come true:

G – L – O – R – I A !! G- L- O- R – I – A !! G – L – O – R – I – A!!

The musical drive of Gloria is the relentless beat, beat, beat of male desire in all it’s sullen and obsessive purity. Gloria is the incarnation on vinyl of the desperate male imperative to be adultly carnal – its a boy desperately wanting, needing, to be a man. Gloria has more tension than release – much like all young lives. This is no doubt why it appealed so powerfully to beat group boys all over the world.

Van snarls his way through the lyric with his uniquely salty Belfast tones alternately pressing and holding back – he already had a grasp of dynamics within song arrangement born of years of listening to Ray and John Lee and Leadbelly on the street where he was born.

Gloria is also as every listener who’s ever heard it knows one hell of a rush! It comes roaring out of the speakers and before you have time to catch your breath you are carried along on its tidal wave of rhythmic power. Two minutes and thirty-eight seconds later you will be nearly as elatedly exhausted as Van Morrison himself.

Take a breath or two and maybe down a shot of Bushmills – then press A1 again – you know you want to.

Notes & Comments:

Gloria was recorded on April 5 1964 at Decca’s Studio in West Hampstead, London and released as the B side of Baby Please Don’t Go on July 6th. Gloria was recorded on April 5 1964 at Decca’s Studio in West Hampstead, London and released as the B side of Baby Please Don’t Go on July 6th.

Them members Billy Harrison (guitar), Alan Henderson (bass), Ronnie MIllings (drums) and Patrick McCauley (keyboards) were present in the studio when Gloria was recorded and all probably contributed to the single. Also present were key members of London’s top session musicians of the time. Jimmy Page surely played the lead guitar and Bobby Graham (who would later play the on the equally epochal ‘You really got me’, must have played the drums). Arthur Greenslade probably played the organ.

There have been numerous cover versions. The most commercially successful being that by The Shadows of Knight which made No 10 in the US charts at the end of 1966. The most artistically successful is Patti Smith’s reinvention of the song on her amazing debut LP ‘Horses’ in 1975.

Van Morrison’s solo career post Them is too extensive and contains too many Himalayan peaks of achievment for me to outline here. However, his career as the leader of Them has too frequently been overlooked and/or under regarded. This is a pity as Them’s canon contains some wonderful songs and performances as well as tantalising auguries and intimations of his mature triumphs. Here are 5 wonders you should seek out urgently!

1. Mystic Eyes – A supernaturally intense harmonica driven howl past the graveyard. Can a white man sing the blues? Damn right he can when he’s a visionary Ulsterman who doesn’t view the blues as adolescent rebellion. Instead its virtually his first language. This track has the visceral power of a nightmare and would surely have raised a knowing smile of recognition from Sonny Boy Williamson or Little Walter.

2. My Lonely Sad Eyes – In which Van seems almost overwhelmed by love and longing as he surfs atop a gorgeous rolling melody. Almost, for Van has the rare gift of being simultaneously in and out of control – an artist and shaman who can be articulate even as he opens up the otherwhere beyond our everyday gaze.

3. Could You Would You – A wounded and yearning romantic ballad with Van seductively pleading his case to his love object. An early example of the tenderness and world weary longing he could evoke. In ballads Van can with a devotees fervour infuse a prayerful gospel hush into a song and still the heart. Its clear that Van has been listening appreciatively to the wonderful Arthur Alexander’s reveries in song ( Dream Girl, You Better Move On). The track was memorably covered by the late Willy De Ville who also knew all about heartbreak in song.

4. Hey Girl – An eerily beautiful prefigurement of Astral Weeks dreamlike mood. Van takes a walk and watches the boats go by in the early morning light. A spectral flute welcomes the wind and sun as Van’s vocal caresses each word of the lyric in which once again he encounters the young girl, his Beatrice figure, who will almost make him lose his mind. The track is only three minutes and ten seconds long yet seems to last much longer – indeed seems to have stopped time.

5. All Over Now Baby Blue – Excepting Jimi Hendrix’s immortal take on All Along The Watchtower the greatest ever cover of a Bob Dylan song. Van has always respected Dylan’s songwriting genius and yet as a comparably gifted artist is not afraid of recasting the song as a rhythm and blues ballad drawing out the wistful regret and emotional depth of the song.

Van has always been able to make each song a voyage where he invokes, reveals and rides the dynamism of the waves of emotion within lyric and melody. The strikingly beautiful chiming guitar riff was later sampled by Beck.