Sunday, 9 May 2010

Aurelian Chimes - not

Chimes by the Pelicans is one of my favourite doo wop recordings. Think I first heard it in the late nineties - certainly in time for me to nominate it as one of five faves on the doo wop shop board in September 2000 in a post archived on this blog here.

I first came across it on a CD reissue (above) of two compilations of rhythm and blues tracks mostly or exclusively on the Imperial label which had been compiled by Canned Heat's Bob Hite, if memory serves. I see from Mike Callahan's Imperial discography on the excellent Both Sides Now website, here, that both albums were originally issued in 1968.

I was introduced, on that same CD, to the Five Keys' Red Sails in the Sunset. Interesting to make a direct comparison with the Spaniels' take on the standard: Rudy West is less controlled, less "cool," to use the term employed by the late Charlie Gillett about Pookie Hudson's voice. Not sure how accurate that description is in general but in this particular instance, placing the Spaniels' recording side by side with that of the Five Keys, it's certainly West who seems to be the more passionate - in fact there are moments where the performance - both West's voice and the piano accompaniment - seems to me a few steps away from chaos. But it never totters over, which is the point. (And listening to it again, it actually seems more controlled than I remember, which I can't account for, as it seems the same track.)

But this is meant to be an entry about Chimes. Why do I like it? Among other things, it doesn't  seem to put a foot wrong. It seems very simple, absolutely nothing extraneous in the arrangment, yet there feels like a life, or a couple of lives, in there.
Remember what you said on that moh-oh-oonless night,
Darling, I was wrong and you-ou-ou were right
Do you remember the things you told me, Darling
I'll a-a-always love you, no matter what you do
So meet me in the chapel and we'll listen to the chiming of the bwelllls ...
I'm not sure how clear it is in the youtube clip, but it sounds like there is only a piano and a double bass there. Which is quite enough: so no Johnny Carter-type falsetto adding flourishes, as the pianist is gently doing just that on his own; all the rest of the group have to do is repeat "ding dong." Not much in the way of melisma, although all the singing, lead and background, does seem to be kind of drawn out, especially when the lead attacks the final two "bellllls" - although there is no effective way to reproduce what he does: he seems to be rolling the word round in his mouth, relishing it, is the nearest I can get - though whether you would interpret that as an ecstacy of pain and longing, or a mere kind of vocal display I couldn't say. It sounds like the sort of thing coming out of a character's mouth when a film or tape has been slowed down. His heart stood still, to reach back to an earlier era?

Even if they are not the Chimes of Chicago's Parrot Records, this recording is nevertheless a bit like a song by another Parrot group, the Orchids, You Have Two (I Have None), which I've already written about here, in that there's quite a build up to the release, in this case the lead echoing the others' "ding dong" and doing it totally straight (no histrionics), as though he is calmly striking each bell in turn. George Harrison, it may be remembered, got a bit of stick for the banality of his song Ding Dong, but here it feels like an epiphany for the singer: the moment he commits to the woman he loves -
So meet me in the chapel and we'll listen to the chiming of the bwellllls ...
- presumably in a marriage ceremony.

Or is it a happy fantasy, a dream of what he wants to happen? The beginning of the song suggests they're apart, and it's this (enforced?) absence which has allowed the singer to mull things over - and the song has a kind of stillness, maybe a calm which fits with the idea that his mind is now made up.

Or maybe - just maybe - we're in the same territory as The Letter, ie a teenage idea of "matrimony", as Vernon Green called it, except that there isn't a similar sense of rhetorical flourishes. Maybe that final "bwelllls" is, indeed, a kind of desperation: the dream may have become substantial in his mind but will she fall in with his plans, especially if he rejected her in the past ("I was wrong and you were right")? Is this another song in letter form ("My darling, I love you and wish that you were here")?

Is it naive? Is it calculating? The same group did a cover of the Moonglows' Real Gone Mama under a different name, also on one of the compilations above, presumably to avoid paying royalties to Harvey Fuqua or whoever composed it (so they were looking towards Chicago one way or the other) - but please, don't bring Chimes into it. By accident or design it feels just right, with nothing to be added or taken away. So often I've heard doo wop records which just miss the mark, or are let down by an overfussy backing.

"I'll a-a-always love you, no matter what you do" - is that what she told him, or is that the declaration he makes, remembering whatever it is that she told him? Either way, the realisation has come a trifle late ("I was wrong") so he may indeed be building paper castles of the sort constructed by a plaintive Frankie Lymon - so maybe that explains the tone towards the end: is there a sense of urgency mixed in with the sense of peace - ie that he now knows what to do and what he wants but will she fit in with those plans? How much assurance is there in his "Meet me at the Chapel"?

This also makes me think of another Frankie Lymon song, Creation of Love.

It's an odd recording, because I bought a 78 of it at a record fair in the eighties and - in memory, anyway - the backing vocals, not by the Teenagers, seemed really soulful, although subsequent listens to CD versions have revealed they are actually rather staid. I think I've read that it was the Raelettes, which makes it surprising. Was it the extra sonic veil on a 78 which made me think that or my comparative lack of musical knowledge? Was there additional reverb which (so I've read in the case of some Rhino Lymon transfers) were not retained for CD issue?

Be that whichever way it is, without, I think, having the same grace as Chimes, the song is also an extremely simple one - indeed, it sounds like a twelve year old wrote it:
We met at a dance,walked hand and hand,
Into the night in this wonderland
I know, now I know, that's the creation of love

We kissed once o-or twice
That's when our hearts danced into to the night
I know, now I know, that's the creation of love

Someday we'll walk down the aisle
And we'll be wearing a smile
Some people will sing and your mother will cry
As we say I do until the day we die [oh, that key change!]

I love you and you love me
Think how happy we will be
I know, now I know, that's the creation of love
I know, now I know, that's the creation of love
It wasn't until very recently that I read it had actually been an early compostion of Richard Barrett. The production seems to leave nothing to chance, as though to divert the ear from the song's limitations.

Listening to the recording just now, I'm not terribly moved if I divorce it from what I know of Lymon, but overlaid with a sense of what was to come then this child's eye view of love does have an effect. The production is so well-crafted you can't fool yourself into believing it's spontaneous, whereas I'm prepared to believe Chimes was a happy accident.

Unfair? Certainly Lymon acquits himself well. I think I read, either in Phil Groia's book They All Sang on the Corner or in Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks article on the Teenagers, that Barrett really schooled Lymon, so that the phrasing came from Barrett - ie that in a sense Lymon was Barrett's own creation. But against that is the argument that Barrett needed Lymon, undiscplined as he may have been at times, as the instrument which would allow the world to hear Richard Barrett.

But I haven't yet got on to what impelled me to start this entry, namely that the sound of the Pelicans' Chimes transports me back to a time before I'd actually heard the record - probably the autumn of 1987.

One Friday evening I was in a restaurant in the town of Bridgenorth in Shropshire (the above may or may not be an image of the actual restaurant - not that it really matters). I couldn't, even if I wanted to, tell you what we talked about - only that whatever it was was more than enough: a kind of filling up with happiness and peace - especially in contrast to the stress of a job which had, like my companion, come lately into my life, and from which I would escape to a haven in the West Midlands every Friday evening.

The songs which were a deliberately chosen soundtrack for that time were by Billie Holiday and, especially, Hutch, who crooned softly to us on many a night. But now it's Chimes which conjures up the essence of those earliest, lost days most vividly, and that one evening in particular. Quite definitely "lost" because the woman now is elsewhere, as that laugh-a-minute rhymer Thomas Hardy would say. Which only leaves this crude, perfect recording.

Bathetic postcript: 

Rereading this in 2016 I saw that at the start I momentarily forgot that "Chimes" was only the name of the song, not the name of the group. So I deleted a line about the Chimes on Imperial not being the same group as the Chimes who recorded Aurelia on Parrot Records. Which means that the title for the post, intended as a humorous allusion to a critic's famous "Aeolian cadences" remark about a Beatles song, makes no sense now.

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