Saturday, 18 August 2012

More info about You Have Two (I Have None) by the Orchids

Do I need an excuse for another reposting of a piece about the Orchids' sublime You Have Two (I Have None) aka Happiness? Well, as it happens, on this occasion I have one.

Looking on the net for lyrics to the song (couldn't find any) I came across a thread about another song, I See the Moon, on the excellent mudcat site, an invaluable resource for comparing and contrasting folk song variations and the like. If you are British and of a certain vintage - or if you are a Dennis Potter fan - you will know that rather strange recording by 50s vocal group the Stargazers.

It's used to bizarre effect in Potter's Lipstick on Your Collar, the soundtrack of an  end-of-empire hallucination experienced by the disintegrating colonel played by Peter Jeffrey, who foresees the humiliating defeat of Suez. There isn't a youtube clip of the precise scene, which may be just as well, as mere moments after the video capture below the camel's rear end plays a vital part in proceedings.

The full version of the song runs as follows, according to one mudcat correspondent who found sheet music copyrighted 1953 crediting Meredith Willson (the Music Man guy):

I see the moon, the moon sees me,
Down thru the leaves of the old oak tree,
Please let the light that shines on me
Shine on the one I love.
Over the mountain, over the sea
Back where my heart is longing to be
Please let the light that shines on me
Shine on the one I love

I hear the lark, the lark hears me
Singing a song with a memory
Please let the lark that sings to me
Sing to the one I love
Oven the mountain, over the sea,
Back where my heart is longing to be
Please let the lark that sings to me
Sing to the one I love.

I kiss the rose and the rose kisses me,
Fragrant as only a rose can be
Please take the kiss that comforts me
Back to the one I love
Over the mountain, over the sea
Back where my heart is longing to be
Please take the kiss that comforts me
Back to the one I love

I see the moon, the moon sees me,
Down through the leaves of the old oak tree.
Please let the light that shines on me
Shine on the one I love.

This was a hit in America for the Mariners, an early example of a racially mixed vocal group, according to an issue of JC Marion's Doo Wop Nation ezine here.

It's interesting to compare the two recordings. I have to admit that with the Stargazers' recording  I was never quite certain what was being sent up. Was it simply nonsensical? The Billboard review of the Mariners' recording, quoted on youtube, says:

The boys get involved in a barbershop style reading replete with hokey piano and some chatter. It's a cute item which could draw some coin in the right locations.

But there is a voice which sounds like it might be mocking the Ink Spots' bass, thus giving it at least one specific target. And overall it sounds more like parlour singing, although I know the styles are related.

In the UK the all-white Stargazers didn't have a smack at the Ink Spots, and comedy seems to be extracted from the device of mocking the poor singing of individuals within the group and, I think, some mockery of what used to be known as a Mittel-European accent. But the tambourine-bashing suggests the Salvation Army, so I'm not quite sure where we are exactly.

But whatever the specifics of the matter, British audiences reacted positively. It went to Number One - and although this was 1954, pre-rock'n'roll as far as Britain was concerned, it was the time of the Goons (click here and here for posts about the Goons and the young John Lennon and click here for an overview of the 1954 charts).

Actually, I may have been wrong to describe the sequence in Lipstick On Your Collar as the Peter Jeffrey character's hallucination: he has nostalgiac music specifically associated with him on other occasions, but if you get a chance to see the sequence it's more about Ewan McGregor's character taking a kind of wild delight in this tangible evidence of the British establishment, in the form of the colonel, collapsing in front of him: the song provides the same succour for him, McGregor, as the Goon Shows did for the young John Lennon, listening to the radio at Mendips, before rock'n'roll offered something stronger.

And even if the Stargazers' ridicule is less specific, I think what is common to both the Stargazers' and the Mariners' recordings is that it's clear that whatever is being sent up is old hat. In that sense, the Stargazers' recording fits alongside the rock'n'roll which also features in the soundtrack of the Dennis Potter series: it, too, is a rejection of old ways.

By this point some readers may be wondering where the Orchids come into it, and as I've already written at some length about Lennon and the Goons in the posts linked to above, let's go back to the mudcat thread about I See the Moon. Another correspondent says she learnt a song with the following lyrics at Camp Fire Girls' camp "many years ago":

I see the moon, the moon sees me,
the moon sees the one I long to see,
God bless the moon and God bless me
and God bless the one I long to see.

Once I had a heart so true,
but now it's gone from me to you.
Take care of it as I have done
for you have two and I have none.


It seems to me that God above
created you for me to love,
he picked you out from all the rest
because he knew I'd love you best.

As she was in her seventies when the entry was posted in 2006, that would place the communal singsong in the late thirties or early forties, predating the copyright of Willson's song. So was Willson's I See the Moon passed off as one of those "trad. arr" songs, or was it simply that the phrases which also feature in the doo wop song come from the common stock of blues and folk phrases?

It doesn't really matter, I suppose, as the Orchids were short-lived as a group, despite recording some great early doo wop, and the recording in question wasn't released in its time. There are unlikely to be squabblings over royalties and emerging tales of complicated ripoffs. Morris Levy never put his name to it, as far as I know. Had it been issued at the time it might have been credited to lead singer Gilbert Warren, who  wrote most of the group's material, according to JC Marion, who probably got the info from the extensive site here, although on an official Vee Jay reissue in 1993 on the Taste of Doo Wop compilation it isn't credited to anyone at all - and in fact there are only two Orchids songs which credit individuals and two which credit the group as a whole:

But whatever the truth of its origins, as Robert Pruter said in his book Chicago Doo Wop, You Have Two (I Have None) "represents the highest level of doo wop creativity." And the words are - well,  I'm tempted to say the least of it, beautiful and simple as they seem.

It's an entirely different song, but I recall the venerable Brian Matthew, in the days when he was allowed to do an arts programme on Radio 2, expressing his suprise when he examined the lyrics of the song Country Girl, as sung by Tony Bennett: Bennett's performance had fooled him into thinking they were poetry. Without the enhancement, or transformation, of the Bennettian tonsils, it was a different matter.

And if that campfire song was sung or chanted like Mockingbird or I See the Moon, then even if the phrases in You Have Two (I Have None) were a straight steal, it doesn't matter. With the new tune and tempo, and Gilbert Warren's (if it is his) delivery make the song something impassioned and pained. The childlike certainty of that similar lyric when allied to one of the earlier tunes has gone.

So if the discovery of a fragment of information about the song's origins gives me the excuse for the repost which starts below - and maybe means that some people reading this might get to hear the Orchids's record for the first time - I call that a result.

Cue the repost:

Stately is, I think, the word to describe this 1955 recording by the Orchids on Parrot Records: the tempo feels unrushed, processional.

I was wrong to describe their more famous Newly Wed as "lumbering" earlier, as that implies clumsiness; what can, perhaps, be said is that the change in Newly Wed's tempo between the wordless opening and the entry of the lead vocal (Gilbert Warren?) is unusual - to these ears, anyway. (I did say I wasn't an expert. Unlike Billy Vera, who describes it properly in the sleevenotes to the A Taste of Doo Wop compilation:

No less a personage than Frank Zappa has cited "Newly Wed" as one of his favorite records. I would have to concur. It is an awesome recording from start to finish. Rhythmically, a shuttle is juxtaposed against a 4/4 beat, which is then laid against a pushed “loom-loop" from the group. This kind of thing is unheard of outside of New Orleans second line rhythms.

Then, that lyric: An exercise in the surreal if there ever was one! It seems to be the telling of a honeymoon night, leaving out certain embarrassing details. All we know is that SOMETHING happened and he's desperately afraid that she's going to leave.

You Have Two (I Have None) seems marginally faster, but the disjointed feel of Newly Wed, which fits perfectly with what little we can glean of the couple's story ("Hearts broken - broken in two, / Don't leave me here ..."), is replaced by what sounds like calm assurance or resignation, though at the point of highest emotion ("Tell me you love me, Show me that you care") it becomes clear that the song is a plea for union rather than a celebration of a union already achieved; we aren't given any indication of her feelings either way.

But maybe the singer's air of calm comes about simply because there is nothing left to hide: this is his ultimate declaration that he's totally in this woman's power - he has, indeed, given his heart to her - and if the response should be a cold one, then at least he knows he has done all he possibly can to plead his case.

Unlike the Orchids' raunchier I Can't Refuse, it's not a song, or a performance, with undercurrents of raw sexuality. The tempo may be stately but the tone is courtly, as in the courtly love associated with Elizabethan poetry. I'm sure there are lots of other examples, but the one I'm familiar with is My True Love Hath My Heart - though that, perhaps, ought to ring warning bells for the singer, as that poem celebrates an equal, agreed exchange: "... and I have his", the first line concludes.

What I'd tentatively describe as the throwaway style of the lead vocal is also interesting. In British dee jay Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City, one of the first full length accounts of the rise of rock'n'roll, he cites the late Pookie Hudson's vocal in Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight as an example of the rise of what he calls the "cool" voice in rock'n'roll, meaning that you can't actually tell for sure what the singer is feeling.

Not sure if I agree - Pookie emotionless? - but there's certainly a restraint in many of his performances which can also be found in the Orchids' lead here. Maybe, in You Have Two..., there's an implied sense of weariness in the delivery, the message being something like: "I'm putting myself on the line, spelling it out the depth of my abject love for you, and then I'm just going to have to wait and hope, though there's probably no point. But here goes. (sighs)"

Well, that's what I hear, anyway. Or think I do. And if it's a wooing, then it's certainly not a very active or aggressive one: if you don't believe he's throwing away the words, I'm not sure you could counterclaim that he's hammering them home. But I love the sound either way, and I love that voice, slightly slurred, but simply so right, and whatever I succeed or fail in conveying here won't alter the beyond-words perfection of this performance.

And it's a beautiful composition as well, which unfurls like a flag. Technically it's odd, as you get a little verse at the beginning ("I love you baby...") then several choruses strung together (from "Don't you know God above ...") before the briefest of bridges ("Tell me you love me ...") before turning back to the chorus ("Yes, I had a heart ...").

That's why I think of it as stately: a kind of deliberate tread, with minimal interruption, all the way through the song, as though the singer's objective is to deliver himself of this longing in front of his mistress without let or hindrance: the doo wop equivalent, as it were, of Brando's painful walk at the end of On the Waterfront. (I also hear, as I reread these words, a possible echo of the Soul Stirrers' The Last Mile of the Way.) And the rest of the group sound like supportive friends in this venture - or, less charitably, possibly imaginary voices in the lovestruck fool's head, urging him on to this final, wretched act of humiliation.

And what about the simplicity and deliberateness of that saxophone solo, almost like the drumming of fingers or a ticking clock before the rest of the group break out in the momentary release of the bridge, the most directly emotional moment in the recording ("Tell me you love me, / Show me that you care,") before the singer, as it were, quietens them, and returns to his theme: "Yes, I had a heart ..."

And finally, though it's not really rational, when I hear this I see lush pastoral images, rich woodland. I presume this is because of my having had to study Elizabethan poetry at an impressionable age, leading to my association of the song with the imagery of courtly love mentioned earlier. But maybe it's also about the power of doo wop to take all of us to some kind of Nirvana. I don't have the original book to hand, and I've just found out that the Dave Marsh site mentioned earlier only reproduces his entries for the first 100 of his choices, but in Marsh's entry for Lover's Island by the Blue Jays (Number 434) he has a moment of wonder about just how the group, growing up in urban squalor, were able to imagine the leafy paradise in the song. Need is universal, I suppose. Billy Vera says that "two of the Magnificents ... recalled that the Orchids were 'hoodlums' and the kind of guys who might have stuck up a gas station on the way to the studio."

And just so that I don't leave anyone thinking that Elizabethan poetry is all about passionless contentment, here is a poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt which relates to the song even more directly than the Sir Philip Sidney verses quoted above - except that the speaker in this case, having already given his heart away, has realised his mistake and wants out of the deal.

The very best place to find out about the Orchids (and many other groups on Parrot, Chance and Vee Jay) is in Robert Pruter's excellent and highly readable Doo Wop: the Chicago Scene. I don't know whether it's still in print but it still seems generally available. In JC Marion's online magazine Doo Wop Nation you can find brief reviews of Robert Pruter and some others.

Pruter (along with Armin Buttner and Robert Campbell) has created an extensive (and I mean extensive) online discography for the Parrot/Blue Lake labels. This complements, rather than duplicates, the information in Doo Wop: the Chicago Scene as the focus is who played what on which session; buy or borrow the book anyway if you love this music. There are related sites, easy enough to find, which seem to focus on the contribution of individual musicians who backed the vocal groups. This massive and ongoing task (updated as recently as December 10th) is clearly a labour of love and an invaluable resource. Donn Fileti of Relic Records (who issued two excellent but now deleted Parrot and Parrot/Blue Lake comps) revised the discography. Using the reproductions of record labels as your signposts, croll about three quarters of the way down what is a very long page to find info about two Orchids sessions, both backed by a group led by Al Smith. Coincidentally, the September 1955 date which yielded You Have Two (I Have None) was the last vocal group session at Parrot; I'd like to think the general consensus was you couldn't improve on perfection.

According to Pruter's book the Orchids split up when Parrot Records collapsed in 1956 and none of the members joined other groups. Amazingly, You Have Two ... wasn't even issued until its discovery in 1993 in the Vee Jay vaults, possibly having been sent to Vee Jay as an audition for the group (the image at the top of this piece is a none-too-subtle mockup on youtube).

Talk about a missed opportunity: You Have Two (I Have None) is, as Robert Pruter says, "a minor masterpiece and represents the highest level of doo wop creativity."

No comments:

Post a Comment