Friday, 2 September 2011

Thomas Hardy goes doo wop

The Kool Gents featuring Dee Clark. Pic from Unca Marvy's highly recommended site - view page about the Kool Gents here. Superb, painstakingly assembled accounts of the tangled histories of many doo wop groups.

And you know how people always go on about how, ooh, if Charles Dickens was around today he'd be writing Eastenders - what, so Emmerdale or Corrie aren't good enough for him, then? As Don, or possibly Baby Boy Phil (and I don't mean Mitchell) would say:
You know the sort - always putting on ... airs.

Anyway, don't mind me. What I intended to say was please click below if you wish to hear a song which sounds, to these ears, anyway, like something Thomas Hardy would have written had he been born in rather different circumstances - always provided his first marriage had followed roughly the same trajectory, of course. If the youtube clip is not visible, click below.

Have just realised Clark remade it in his solo years - spotify link here - an interesting and not unpleasant arrangement, but lacking the spareness of the original, as though trying to recast it as a conventional romantic ballad, which it ain't. And the backing singers sound like the kind of people who would have incensed Art Rupe (- yes, I know he wasn't on Speciality, I KNOW that. Why must you always be so ready with your criticisms?).

This is not the first time Thomas Hardy has been mentioned in connection with doo wop - at least by me. In fact, looking them up, I see that I actually mentioned When I Call On You earlier, in the dialogue with Clarke Davis here.The prompt was a remark Clarke made when recalling high school dances in an earlier post:
it was only in retrospect that one could recognize that it was indeed a fleeting moment in time.
which for me called to mind Hardy's poem The Self-Unseeing. There are lots of sites which reproduce it but if you go to the poetry foundation site here, there are useful links to some of his other poems.

And it appears to be based in Chicago, where Dee Clark was brought up and where the Kool Gents recorded for a Vee-Jay subsidiary, so doo wop and Hardy can't get much more intertwangled than that.
Thus I; faltering forward,
      Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
      And the woman calling.
In fact, with the above lines from Hardy as a prompt, let's remind ourselves of Vernon Green, the man who coined the word I borrowed for this blog: 

And turning down the hysteria a notch (sorry Vern), the Five Satins with an acapella version of a song which bears the same name as Hardy's poem, although in this case I think they're singing about a theoretically attainable.woman. So not quite so Hardyesque then, but who cares - you need to hear it anyway. Followed by one of my all-time faves, also acapella:

Yes, I love this next one. Used it in one of my many unproduced plays to suggest the sort of unspecific yearning of the protagonist. If you don't like it, further investigation of this blog is not recommended:

I've listened to a fair amount of Dee Clark's stuff in recent years. It's odd: he's a kind of chameleon, doesn't seem settled or definite or maybe just predictable enough to have attracted a huge audience, but I remember he was still plugging away in the seventies, which is where I first came to know of him, via Ride a Wild Horse. Shall we have that too? Why not.

But the one I like, which is toecurlingly sentimental, but maybe redeemed because it sounds like a demo, is a number not well known enough to be on youtube, Little Boy Blue (no, not the nursery rhyme).Spotify link here. Listening to it just now - and I've known the recording for almost thirty years - it occurs to me for the first time that it could have been written by Curtis Mayfield. Didn't occur to me before because the demo quality - just voice and guitar with the merest hint of percussion - suggested the singer was the composer. And listening to it again, that's not demo, that's just good taste.

Having a quick look on the net, yes, it does seem to be by Curtis Mayfield, as there is a recording by the Impressions, not to mention one by Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. But I think I prefer the intimacy of Dee Clark's beautiful as the Impressions' recording inevitably is. And Jimmy James is differently good too.

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