Monday, 4 February 2013

Such have I dreamed

Granted, the internet is full of a number of things, but here's something I really didn't expect to find. Someone has sampled the opening chords of one of my favourite (but little known) doo wop records, Chimes by the Pelicans. Not saying that I particularly like the result but it is - interesting.

If you haven't heard the original, here it is:

I tried to do my own experiments on audacity, trying to incorporate more of the singing, but the results weren't very good. Maybe because the original is more or less perfect as it is. Here's a revised extract from something I wrote about it earlier:

It doesn't  seem to put a foot wrong: very simple, nothing extraneous in the arrangement, 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 ...

Sounds like there's only a piano and a double bass: 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 either, although the singing does seem to be kind of drawn out, especially when the lead attacks the final two "bellllls." There's no effective way of reproducing what he does - 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 merely a kind of vocal display I couldn't say. Sounds like the sort of thing coming out of someone's mouth when a film or tape has been slowed down. His Heart Stood Still, to reach back to an earlier era?

Like the Orchids' You Have Two (I Have None) 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 takes the decision to commit to the woman he loves -

    So meet me in the chapel and we'll listen to the chiming of the bwellllls ...

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, an unreal teenage idea of "matrimony", as Vernon Green called it. 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? All I can say is that whether 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") which may explain what I hear as an element of urgency in his tone towards the end. He now knows what he wants, but how certain is he that she will fit in with those plans? How assured is his "Meet me at the Chapel"?

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 Bridgnorth in Shropshire. 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.

When I went back to the original post to find the above text, where once the youtube clip sang there was only a stark announcement: "This video does not exist." That seemed sort of right, and made me think again of Hardy. Does there even a place like Bridgnorth exist?

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