Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Golden Teardrops ... avec la guitare!

If you have read earlier entries on this blog about the Flamingos' 1953 doo wop classic Golden Teardrops then you may be interested in this youtube clip of the 1961 Vee-Jay reissue with overdubbed guitar. Presumably this was done to lessen the gap between the group's Chcago recordings and their recently successful sides for End, most notably I Only Have Eyes For You.

Be warned it ends a second or two prematurely, so you miss the guitar rounding things off at the end. The sound isn't great on this particular clip, but you can hear enough to decide whether you like this reworked version. I've written about it on many occasions in this blog, such as here (about the overdubbed version versus the original) and here (an essay about the recording and notes about the oldies album where I heard it first) and even now I'm not sure how I feel - it was, after all, the form in which I first heard (and loved) it. How can you erase that completely?

Anyway, here is the youtube clip of the overdubbed Golden Teardrops, followed by a clip of the original, undoctored recording (sans guitars, as Clarke put it), if you fancy making a comparison. It's not really a fair competition, however, as the sound of the second youtube clip happens to be superior - and doesn't stop before the end. But it's a handy excuse to remind yourself of what a great record (or two) it is.

Listening to the two versions again, what I can hear is that the addition of the guitar masks or replaces what I presume is a very, very softly played (very softly indeed) sax. The original musicians were careful not to impose themselves on the beautiful vocal arrangement - something which I presume must have been obvious the first time the group sang it to them, so the redubbed version is not about the need to conceal something ungainly - like Uncle Phil camouflaging what is said to be Lennon's lousy bass playing on The Long and Winding Road, according to Ian Macdonald's Revolution in the Head.

Nevertheless, maybe a guitar is simply a more natural accompaniment for voices. But I dunno. I think you can say, however, that it's underlining something already there, or implicit, in the existing accompaniment - maybe a bit like Ringo adding some simple drumming in earlier Beatle days when a track had been bounced down several times. The only difference is that presumably Golden Teardrops was live, so the self-effacement of the musicians was presumably a conscious decision on their or the engineer's part - or whatever the technical term was in those days. So could it be said that the guitar is too on-the-nose, musically? I can't decide - but maybe you can.

A final note about the late Johnny Carter. I have already referred to his death but hadn't realised, or had forgotten, that he had been the last survivor of the group who sang Golden Teardrops (see image below, annotated by Marv Goldberg). I've already quoted from this interview with Sollie McElroy on Unca Marvy's site (now located here) but key details bear repetition:
If you listen to the background, there is very little music. It was almost a cappella. You could hear the notes, the blending of the voices. We rehearsed a long time on that song. In fact we were almost ready to give it up. We couldn't get it like we wanted to. And Johnny started bringing in that tenor and it started fitting in. And so when we felt like we were comfortable with it, we recorded it.
Rereading Unca Marvy's article, I see that when the group were starting to perform, they did an Ink Spots number, and Sollie says that he based his stage style on that of Bill Kenny:
You sang. You used your hands to express [waving around a zircon ring his mother had given him - in the same way Bill Kenny waved around his diamonds].
With that model, who knows - maybe the guitar just seemed an omission which had to be rectified to whoever was respnsible at Vee-Jay, as opposed to an attempt to cash in on the Flamingos' later success or sweeten the product for a crossover audience? I have read that someone at Vee-Jay (I think Calvin Carter) was almost like a mechanic - ie he would add a vocal if a group's sound wasn't quite right on a recording - and even filled in for a few months when the Spaniels were touring. Was it his decision to add the guitar? And which version is better? There's only one way to decide ...

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