Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Odd Songs #003: Gonna Get Along Without You Now

The whole of the last post about Patience and Prudence was just a preamble to this, the link being that this song was their other UK "hit" single, "Gonna Get Along Without You Now":

It reached no. 22 in the UK in 1957 (no. 11 in the USA, their second-biggest hit there).  As a not very interesting aside, this makes Patience and Prudence quite unusual in that both their UK singles made the charts but failed to hit the top 20 in the days when there only was a top 30.  That takes some doing (i.e. I can't think of any other examples).

Of course, that wasn't the first version of the song that I heard (being born 14 years after it was a hit probably did for that). The first version I heard is the one that most people know, the Viola Wills disco version:

It was a big hit (number 8 in the UK charts) in 1979 and I think it's testament to the strength of the song that it actually sounds as though it was written as a disco song in the first place.

It wasn't, of course, but nor was it written for Patience and Prudence.  It comes originally from 1951; written by Milton Kellem and apparently the earliest recording is this one from Teresa Brewer, recorded the following year:

So to begin with (assuming this was the original arrangement) it seems like it was written as a swing number and had this been the first version that I heard, I think I'd consider it the definitive one.  It's lyrically quite hard-edged and Ms. Brewer delivers the lines with the appropriate amount of sass.

But this is (again apparently, as it was recorded after the fact) the original arrangement:

Either way, these earlier arrangements that just make the Patience and Prudence version seem even weirder.  Then add this into the mix, a version from 1956 by the Bell Sisters:

But before getting into just quite how weird the Patience and Prudence version is, let's hear some other versions (there's been, to use a technical term, loads of them).  So, in roughly chronological order following P and P's version:

Chet Atkins does a purely instrumental (guitar) version (date unknown I'm afraid):

Skeeter Davis (1964), in a a distinctly more countrified style:

Tracey Dey (1964) giving it the old Wall of Sound treatment:

The Caravelles (around 1964), much closer to Patience & Prudence's arrangement:

The "other" UK hit version, a Latin-influenced version from Trini Lopez (1967):

And then - also in 1967 - came a rocksteady version by Brent Dowe & The Melodians:

And here's a quite splendid Northern Soul version from The Vibrations (I'd guess late 1960s):

Bad Manners, undoubtedly influenced by the Melodians' version, did a ska take on it in the early 1980s:

And finally a couple of contemporary versions; the Lemonheads do a good one (extremely faithful to the original, bizarrely):

Even Zooey Deschanel has had a go, recording a version with M. Ward under their "She & Him" moniker:

And there's a whole load more - it must be one of the most covered songs ever, which is not something I was expecting when I started out on this - Tina Charles, UB40, Soraya Arnelas, Kati Kovacs and a load of others that I can't be bothered to track down right now.  You get the idea.

But back to Patience and Prudence's version.  As with everything else they did, it seems to have this weird production; the words "ethereal", "eerie" and "otherworldly" come up a lot when describing their stuff and I'd not argue with that.  It describes their sound well and never better than on "Gonna Get Along Without You Now".  Everything just comes together to make it one of the weirdest pop records ever.

Perhaps it's not wise to investigate exactly why; something to do with the undoubted weirdness of having two sisters (10 and 11 years old at the time, remember) singing a fuck-you-I-don't-need-you-sneaky-lying-fucker-I-don't-need-no-man lyric, all over what was - for the time - a quite sophisticated orchestral backing.

Is it cognitive dissonance?  Something like that.

Anyway, it's a fucking brilliant song, whoever's singing it.

Patience and Prudence

Popular music in the mid-1950s must have been a curious scene in the UK; the old guard (Frankie Laine, Vera Lynn, Perry Como, Guy Mitchell and their ilk) were still extremely popular, but were gradually being usurped by practitioners of the exciting new rock 'n' roll sound.  Certainly if you look back at a typical sales chart from the period, the mixture seems downright weird (for instance, if you look at a typical UK singles chart from 1956 it broadly appears that there's something of a power-struggle going on between two factions).  On the one hand there's plenty of what was considered "proper music" at the time (i.e. "classic songs" performed in a style pretty much unchanged since the turn of the century):  Doris Day, Slim Whitman, Mel Torme, et al) but also plenty of music from the new noisy rock 'n'  roll breed:  Bill Haley & His Comets, Little Richard, Elvis himself, Carl Perkins, that whole axis.

So one moment it's:

And the next it's:

But then there's loads of other stuff in there.  Orchestras were still popular (Perez Prado, Ronnie Hilton, Mantovani, Billy Vaughn, Mitch Miller etc.).  Winifred Atwell (who I'm planning on writing a whole "thing" on) was unbelievably popular with her various pianos.  Doo-wop groups (Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Dion & the Belmonts, The Platters and so on) were gaining in popularity (while it might not have been considered quite so "dangerous" as rock 'n' roll at the time, it was probably deemed "degenerate" in some way or other, the 1950s were a very judgmental time when it came down to that sort of thing, after all).  Country singers from the USA were dabbling with the new sounds, incorporating elements of rock 'n' roll and doo-wop into their existing songs. Listening to a chart from the mid-1950s is a very confusing experience for anyone under the age of about 70, I would imagine.

AND while all that was going on, some recording acts got into the charts with records that didn't really fit into any category at all and those ones, of course, are the ones I'm interested in.  But where to begin?

Patience and Prudence (for me) are the obvious place to start, for loads of reasons.  I'm a bit obsessed with them because I think they occupy a unique place in the history of popular music; I was born in 1971, I've been fascinated with music and the music charts since about 1982, but I had never heard of Patience and Prudence until last year.  And that was a complete fluke.  It's like they've been airbrushed from the history of British pop, despite recording (and having the - albeit minor - hits with two very well-known songs.

Patience Ann McIntyre (born 1944) and Prudence Ann McIntyre (born 1945) were sisters who - as far as the UK is concerned - had two minor hits in 1956/1957 and then seemingly disappeared completely.  They have a Wikipedia page here that gives some interesting detail on how it all came about (short version:  their dad (Billy McIntyre) was a bandleader who took them to a recording session, they recorded some stuff, it was quite successful but then he decided he didn't want them in the public eye, so turned down subsequent work on their behalf, they went off and did something else instead).

Anyway, this is the song they're probably best known for.  Back in 1956, it reached no. 4 in the USA (and a comparatively lowly no. 26 in the UK):

It wasn't a new song even then (it was a Billy Rose number from 1926) and had been previously recorded by Irving Kaufman, Gene Austin, Frankie Laine and numerous others.  And it's been covered plenty of times since (by The Honeys, Fiona Apple, the Trash Can Sinatras, Alvin & the Chipmunks, the list goes on).  But this version must have struck a chord somewhere as it's the only version that ever got anywhere near being a hit single.

Patience and Prudence certainly had a unique selling point.  They were teenage sisters, as pure and wholesome as mom's apple pie.  They had lovely voices that blended perfectly.  But I don't think that makes them a novelty band.  They had...something else.  I've listened to about twelve other versions and none of them capture the song quite so well as the McIntyre sisters manage (brilliantly, the version that Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters do in "The Jerk" probably gets closest).  It's something to do with the voices and the production ("ethereal"?, "ghostly"? - it's has an atmosphere all of its own, whatever).

BUT all of this is just preamble to the song I really wanted to write about - Patience and Prudence's other "hit" - which is coming up next.

In the meantime, here's a few of the dynamic duo's other songs:

A Smile And A Ribbon:

Dreamers Bay:

Heavenly Angel:

I think they're all lovely songs and the sisters do them all perfectly.  But none of them can hold a candle to their other "hit", which I'm now about to write about in forensic detail.  Don't say you weren't warned.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Odd Songs #002: Shoes (Johnny & Louise)

I'm trying to find where this post has disappeared to... the meantime I can only link back to this page in a self-recursive loop.

I think I accidentally deleted the original, can't think of anything else.  I know it was there to begin with, but it's not there now...anyway, it was pretty much just about how much I love this song:

And then I had another version from Love Generation:

Actually, I think I'll just leave it that way now; you can get the other Youtube links (plus some more I missed at the time) from the Wikipedia page anyway, so all that's gone is my unique top-of-the-head can't-be-bothered-looking-things-up style and let's face it - that's no loss!

Although I'm not sure I'll ever get to use the phrase "Teutonic Pop Gods" in a sentence again.

Ah well, onward and upward!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Odd Songs #002: Shoes (Johnny & Louise) - Slight Return

In an unexpected move, after my (frankly ill-researched, off-the-top-of-my head) bit on Reparata's Shoes last post, Reparata herself got in touch on Twitter!  The actual real proper Mary O'Brien Reparata!!

She very kindly gave me the Wikipedia link which is much more thorough than the version I gave:

Thanks again, Reparata!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Odd Songs #001: Captain Of Your Ship

[Edit @ 22/09/2016:  This wasn't meant to be a series to begin with, but it's turned into one, so I've slightly altered the title to reflect that.  And by "Odd Songs" I don't really mean that they are odd - although many of them are - it's just a catch-all title for any fabulous songs that I want to write about]

For well over thirty years, I've sort of been obsessed with this song.  I blame those fucking Mullerice adverts from the late 80s (but that's another story).

The first time I was properly aware of it (and its long history) was from Betty Boo's Doin' the Do:

At first listen it seems that the divine Alison Clarkson (Betty Boo was, unsurprisingly, a stage name) just took the "you're going to lose a good thing" bit and interpolated into her song, but the more you hear it, you can pick out other bits of melody from "Captain Of Your Ship"; they don't seem sampled from a particular source, but are definitely in there.

Anyway, Betty was just one of a long line of pop stars directly covering the song, or taking elements from it.  It's a song that - whilst hardly being in "Yesterday" territory - has a lot of cover versions, all the way from 1968 to the present day.  But the interesting thing is that these cover versions vary enormously in how they approach the song.

OK, back to the original, written by Kenny Jones and Ben Yardley, recorded in 1968 by Reparata and the Delrons:

It's an amazing thing, all made up of seemingly unrelated bits of other songs stuck together (this seems to be something of a Kenny Jones trademark, but more on that later) with weird sound effects (foghorns, radar blips, etc.), rapid changes in tempo, almost anything, and yet it all seems to hold together as a song.  Certainly it's a product of its time.  The Reparata version was a top 20 hit in the UK but didn't do much business elsewhere.

However, since then it seems to have taken on a life of its own.  The number of cover versions is bewildering.  Some are relatively straight covers (e.g. the version by Bette Bright & The Illuminations), some totally rework the arrangement (e.g. the Ratpack version) and the rest fall somewhere in between.  If you listened to all the cover versions of this song, the songs based on it and the songs that sample it, it, take quite a long time.  I know of about fifty but I'd be willing to put my life on there being at least that many again.

Maybe one day I'll try to make sense of the whole thing, particularly regarding the role of Kenny Young, who has been involved in so much pop stuff from the last fifty years (and remains active), but that'll have to be another time, because at the moment...

..the version that interests me is this one, by the 1970s band Fox, although assembled at some point in the 1980s (1986 is the best guess that I can find):

The reason I'm interested in this version is because Kenny Jones (the co-writer of the original song) was in the band Fox and I say "assembled" because I'm convinced most of the vocals and instrumentation were recorded when Fox were active (probably sometime in the mid-1970s).  But the Fox version of the song, as released, has such an obvious 1980s influence with all its synth stabs and stuff that it can only have been put together in that decade.

The latest possible point at which this version could have been released is 1986, as it featured on a Fox "greatest hits" album released that year.

Now I can't possibly be the only person that noticed that at 1:12 (and repeatedly elsewhere - the example at 2:31 is probably the most obvious) there's a stabby synth riff that was never in the original song, but still fits.  Thing is, it's the identical riff that forms the entire basis of 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready For This", released in 1991:

It's slowed down a little bit and has a slightly different cadence, but essentially it's the exact same riff.

And it set me to wondering, in today's climate of high-profile music plagiarism lawsuits (think Marvin Gaye vs. Robin Thicke/Pharrell etc.) I wonder if Kenny Jones (and any associates involved in the Fox version) could make anything of this?

FUN FACT:  Noosha Fox is Ben Goldacre's mother.