Thursday, 8 April 2010

Pleased, Mr Johnson!

Here's another much-needed CD compilation - and this time it's Ace Records, so no worries about sound quality. Lou Johnson's original version of Always Something There to Remind Me is rarely included on Bacharach compilations (with the exception of a large box set and a recent single disc Various Artists Bacharach collection on Ace) but has haunted me since I first heard it in the early seventies; Johnson's performance reveals it to be a soul song, not a pop song.

No need to say more than that, as it's all on the Ace website, here, including the information that "80% of the songs are provided by Brill building dwellers Billy Giant, Bernie Baum and Florence Kaye or the Bacharach and David team."

Here's that original Always Something There to Remind Me, which has only lately been uploaded to youtube (I know, because I've often searched for it). Sandie Shaw's is not a bad performance but it seems unfair that Lou Johnson's superior original has been sidelined when it sounds like Shaw modelled her vocal very closely on Johnson - unless both were being closely directed in turn by Bacharach.

Is it unfair to call to mind Dave Marsh's comparison of the two Fevers - Peggy Lee's and Little Willie John's - in The Heart of Rock and Soul? Possibly. But I'll do it anyway:
Lee was like an advertisement for sex; Willie John was the thing itself.
Listening to it again, Johnson's take simply feels real. The arrangement is largely the same on both records but in Johnson's case there's an additional hint of foreboding suggested by the strings' plunge downward at the end, suggesting a loss which might just spiral into obsession: These Foolish Things all over again, even if the world of Hal David's sixties lovers seems less rarified - or maybe just less particularised - to reflect a time of greater social mobility: no specific places or objects, only the information that they used to dance in a small cafe.

To give credit where it's due, apparently in the sixties Sandie Shaw was offered a demo of a song recorded by a male singer which suited her style; she could hear, however, that the singer fitted this particular song so perfectly he ought to be given a chance to release it himself. And I know because I was that - well actually, no,  it was Tom Jones. And the song? It's Not Unusual. Composed by Les Reed, but with the bounciness associated with Shaw's pet composer Chris Andrews.

There is marvellous use made of her recording of Always Something ... in Peter Moffat's play Iona Rain. Two men who felt most alive in their schooldays share the memory of the school's Sandie Shaw Appreciation Society which meant that whenever you heard the song, inconveniently floating into the classroom from a workman's radio or whatever, you had to stand to attention (not sure about removing the footwear).

At the end of the play one of them, in effect, elects to die; the other, baffled and angry, only finds release in playing the record and standing to attention; in the context of the play it's a moment of emotional breakthrough.

That is a wholly inadequate summary of an excellent play, which can be found on a well-known shopping website for a mere pittance, in an edition (above) with Moffat's later Nabokov's Gloves, which also features grown men talking in a very adolescent but amusing way about pop music - the old bonding-without-intimacy thing which some males seem to be so good at. So I've heard. In the case of the latter play I think the discussion centres round the distance a person could walk, in theory or in practice, during the act of listening to a certain Dionne Warwick recording, probably a Bacharach and David one too.

Which reminds me (I really wish I hadn't start to revise this entry; too late now) of Dionne Warwick appearing on University Challenge. I don't know - maybe it was a special charity edition or maybe there's a Scepter/Wand College. (Just go with me on this one. Please. I'll stop soon.)

Anyway, Jeremy - or shall we say Bamber? Yes, why not? So - okay - Bamber asks her team: "How did William Golding sum up his novel Lord of the Flies?"


V/O: "Warwick, Scepter/Wand." (Or whatever.)

And Dionne starts to sing the wordless opening of Do You Know the Way to San Jose. (Call that to mind.)

Pause as Bamb-eremy confers with his earpiece.

"It was actually 'Grief, sheer grief', but can we - ? Yes, apparently that's close enough."

You've been great. I'm here all week.

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