Thursday, 7 January 2010

Crying My Heart Out For You

Staying in Brill mode (see previous post), thanks to the magic of the internet I have just been listening to a recording I haven't heard in about twenty five years: Crying My Heart Out For You by Neil Sedaka. Here's the best-sounding version I could find on youtube:

Not one which seems to feature on compilations and I don't want to splash out on the Bear Family box set - I like his pop confections but I don't want heartburn. Was it intended, like The Diary, for Little Anthony and the Imperials? The keening falsetto with which the lament begins and ends suggests it might be.

But why, with so much Sedaka material otherwise available, have I hungered for - well, not hungered, exactly, but certainly thought about and scanned many an identikit Sedaka CD compilation in many a record shop over the years for - this recording?
After all, I know it's exploitative - or perhaps I simply mean crafted, rather than exhuding that sense of spontaneous creation we associate, however misguidedly, with doo wop classics. And this earlyish recording (1959) is very much in the doo wop vein: there are backing singers, possibly male and female, though far less prominent than Little Neil, in the stereo mix I'm listening to just now; there's even an "I remember" chant lifted from In the Still of the Night, possibly in homage to Fred Parris, and/or in the hope that Sedaka's recording will exhude a sort of classic-by-association vibe. I like it a lot, maybe too much, but I wouldn't claim it as a classic.

Though maybe that "crafted" tag is wrong. Going back to the net, I see that one fairly detailed biog says that Crying My Heart Out ... was actually the flop, following on from a disappointing second single (I Go Ape) which finally got Sedaka the craftsman into gear. I Go Ape did better in the UK, possibly because, as a coy Sedaka told an NME interviewer in the seventies, we may not have been aware of the associated suffix (which he then whispered). Possibly it should have been retitled Darwin, Listen to the Words of This Song for the US market ... or, equally possibly, not.

But as a public service (and to atone, in part, for that last remark) can I advise all readers to beware of this Neil Sedaka songbook in IMP's budget series? A page is missing from I Go Ape, thus cruelly curtailing such Howard Greenfield gems as: "Rama lama ding ding dong, / I'm related to old King Kong." Unfortunately the alernative American-published songbooks don't include this song because of its non-hit nature - which brings us neatly back to Neil's epiphany, as related in his autobiography, quoted in the biog above:

"I knew I had to have a hit. I would get no more chances." To come up with that hit, he consulted the international charts in Billboard, then went out and bought the three most successful records he saw listed and listened to them repeatedly, "analyzing what they had in common. I discovered," he writes, "they had many similar elements: harmonic rhythm, placement of the chord changes, choice of harmonic progressions, similar instrumentation, vocals phrases, drum fills, content, even the timbre of the lead solo voice. I decided to write a song that incorporated all these elements in one record."

The result? Oh Carol. So could Crying My Heart Out For You be claimed as a sort of last gasp of doo wop spontaneity before the selfconscious, classically trained side of Sedaka takes over and seizes the charts? Hardly. Although even there I have to hesitate. I remembered the lyric as horribly pat:

I see a boy and girl smiling as they meet,
They walk hand in hand to the church across the street

Acccording to this fan site for Sedaka - or rather Greenfield - lyrics it's "the park across the street", so maybe that does take it down to a more everyday level, which is always a good thing. And I like the simplicity of the bridge:

I remember you, the love we used to know,
Walking hand in hand in the street below.

If I had any kind of musical knowledge I could talk about how well it then turns back to the main body of the song, but I can't. Anyway, the point is that it's well assembled, by both composer and lyricist. But I've now listened to it afresh about four or five times, and I think that might be enough - for another few years, at least.

Why? Maybe it does come down to comparing whatever it is we get from In the Still of the Night and this recording. And what it boils down, for me, is that apart from the falsetto, I don't really buy the vocal here. That bookending wailing seems separate from the rest of Sedaka's performance, rather than being the most heightened moment of it (as in In the Still of the Night or, say, the Dells' Sweet Dreams of Contentment), that you can't be entirely sure it's him.

Unfair? Perhaps, but a crafted song can benefit from someone less in control at the delivering end. As touched on briefly in the review of Always Magic in the Air, Burt Bacharach combining his writing and arranging skills with all that Chuck Jackson has to offer from his gospel/doo wop background at Scepter/Wand results in something which neither could have produced with other collaborators; singing his own song, however, and despite that wordless hook, Sedaka seems, to my ears anyway, to be giving an impression of a tearful teen rather than being the thing itself. So maybe the song does need a Little Anthony, or someone, at any rate, who'll take the song and run with it, who won't turn away from that self-torturing vigil by the window, whoever may be looking up to see who's causing all that commotion - someone who, in a final frame inked by Steve Ditko rather than John Romita, might conceivably be hearing a wedding march echoing around his otherwise empty head as he spies the innocent pair strolling through the park gates. (Maybe he misread the lyric too.)

But Neil's floperoonie experience was all for the best, wasnt't it? Had Crying My Heart Out For You been a huge hit (#111 in the US charts, according to wikipedia) perhaps he'd have had to churn out more in that not-quite-impassioned doo wop vein, with diminishing returns, and then been condemned to the oldies circuit.

Alright, unlikely, I know, given that he had already had success as a writer for others and would no doubt have continued to do so. But certainly in terms of his future as a performer, that wake-up call for the young Sedaka was a blessing in disguise: his voice simply fits the lovely artifice of pure pop, which all means nothing at all and yet at the moment of listening, provided you don't go back for seconds too often, it appears to offer everything you could possibly ever want. Of the lesser-known songs, my guilty Sedaka pleasures include:

Wait Till You See My Baby
All the Words in the World
The Dreamer
Bad Girl
The World Through a Tear

Not to mention ... ahh, one more listen to Crying My Heart Out For You can't hurt, can it? I've got the Rennies handy.

Or Tums, if you don't have them in the States.

See a review of a recent Sedaka UK concert, and a summing up of Sedaka's strengths, in this highly recommended blog entry from 4 July 09 by W. Stephen Gilbert.

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