Ref! On Baldrick’s Robin Hood costume

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Oh Gawd, gentlemen, I was determined to enjoy my retirement without the stress of making pronouncements on the world stage, but the last knockings of the transfer window have tipped me over the edge. The metaphorical edge, Dave, yes. Some of the lunacy out there is too much for a thinking man to keep quiet about.

Who’s the thinking man, Baz? One is talking about oneself, mate, and I don’t mean you could be included. Your thinking process is like primitive life emerging from the slime – no offence, mate.

So I’ll tell you what’s got me so worked up, since you ask. People buying multiple players for one position. Take Spurs. They sell Kyle Walker to Man City, and I didn’t use to like him but he’s come along well the last couple of years and sometimes for England he’s the one player you can see causing some danger.

And they’ve got a readymade replacement, Kieran Tripper, who has also had a go with the national team. And then who emerges but Kyle Walker-Peters. Now that’s just bloody silly, isn’t it, a guy with almost exactly the same name coming through for the same position at the same club.

Anyway, they’ve got those two readymade replacements, and what do they do? They buy Serge Aurier from PSG. Did they need him, Baz? What’s going to happen to the other two if he plays? That’s English talent being blocked again.

In case of injuries, Baz? I’m glad you brought that up, because what it reminds me of is that episode of Blackadder Goes Forth where he’s in prison, about to be shot but planning to escape and Baldrick brings him a Robin Hood costume. And Baldrick’s thinking is: what if the Captain finds himself in a French village in the middle of a fancy dress party? And Blackadder says, “What if I find myself in a French village and there isn’t a fancy dress party?”

So when you only need one right back and you’ve got three, what’s the rationale? The reasoning, Baz – what’s the thinking behind it?

Yes, I suppose there could be two fancy dress parties.

And there was this late flurry about Fernando Llorente. Chelsea had just bought Morata and they already had Michy Batshuayi, not to mention Loic Remy peeling potatoes in the canteen to pass the time. So why would they need Llorente? Because they can, lads. Money.

Cheers Gary I’ll have a white wine spritzer. Titter ye not, gentlemen. You’ve seen my young lady. You don’t hang onto that sort of thing drinking pints and eating pork scratchings.

Who else is stockpiling, Dave? Yes, Liverpool are buying up all the dross as usual. Unkind but true, mate. No, I don’t know what they see in Oxlade-Chamberlain either. But it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, and we may just have seen the richest tapestry we’re ever going to get, because it can’t carry on like this, can it? Insanity. They’d pay 25 million for you, Baz. Arsenal, I mean.

 

 

 

 

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The Songwriters – Smokey Robinson

With his high voice, slight build and innocent smile, Smokey Robinson couldn’t be further from the macho image cultivated by many of his contemporaries in the late 60s and early 70s. No Shaft-style bushy moustache and threatening manner for him. He was a vegetarian before it was fashionable (he gave up meat in 1972) and practices transcendental meditation.

The Smokey persona comes through in his songs, too: light, relatively sophisticated  and they suit female singers  as much as men. He often co-wrote songs, sometimes with other members of the Miracles, but there is never any doubt who is at the helm.

Shop Around was a Motown hit in 1960 and although as the title suggests it is about playing the field rather than settling for the first girl who comes along, we are invited to believe the advice came from the singer’s mother.

Of course, you can’t get a perfect picture of a man through the songs he writes, and Smokey was  no angel – he married fellow Miracle Claudette Rogers and they had two children together, but he had extramarital affairs and a son by another woman. But fidelity in the entertainment industry is a difficult thing to achieve. How many men could go through decades of girls throwing themselves at them without weakening? I would suggest it’s more a case of who gets caught and who remains undetected.

Mary Wells was an early recipient of Robinson songs. One of Motown’s first stars, Wells soon left the label, making the mistake of thinking she could do it on her own after a while. But before she went, she found success with Robinson’s You Beat Me To The Punch and the timeless My Guy, smooth and seductive as a milkshake, even when the seduction was already booked by the object of her affections.

My Girl, a major success for The Temptations, did for men what My Guy had done for women and instantly Smokey was a genuine songwriting star.

For his own group, The Miracles, he came up with Ooh Baby Baby, the divine nature of which probably owes as much to his singing as to the song itself. It wouldn’t have amounted to much in the hands of, say, Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, but with Robinson’s vocals weaving patterns like little white clouds in a blue sky, it was a smash in the US in 1964, although for some reason not in the UK. Not to worry: the digital download age makes it available to us now. And what an addition to a Motown collection it is: he’s treated his girl badly and lost her, but he’s not giving up; he’s not exactly begging, but making it clear that it will never happen again, and for once in pop it sounds genuine. Ella Fitzgerald, Todd Rundgren and Linda Ronstadt are among those who have covered it, and British lovers rock pioneer Janet Kay did a typically cute, bouncy version, but the composer’s original is untouchable. Since I discovered Ooh Baby Baby there have been whole weeks when I couldn’t get it out of my head.

The Miracles, now with Smokey’s name upfront, cemented their place in pop history in 1965 with Tracks of My Tears, and the following year The Temptations grasped with both hands the opportunity to record Get Ready.

Then there was The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game, a sublime recording by The Marvelettes and reworked in 1990 by Grace Jones, with some success but losing the wistful charm of the original. The Marvelettes track is one of Robinson’s masterpieces, that evocative title giving a new twist to the age-old question of who-captures-whom when prospective lovers get together.

Shortly afterwards, Robinson was back on classic territory with I Second That Emotion, The Temptations getting first crack at it and unerringly hitting the spot. The Miracles did it too, it almost goes without saying, and probably the most unlikely cover version was by arty rock group Japan in 1980. Their choosing to do it is testament to the enduring power of the Motown catalogue to inject some magic into an album of almost any genre.

In 1970 Tears Of A Clown emerged like a most welcome throwback to the mid 60s, and again it was adapted by a very different act later on: The Beat gave it the hyperactive TwoTone treatment in 1979/80.

In the early 70s The Supremes were in need of a lift, with Diana Ross well established as a solo performer and Holland Dozier Holland no longer available to supply the raw material. Robinson came to the rescue with Floy Joy and Automatically Sunshine, before the bubble burst.

Smokey himself flew back into the charts in 1981 with Being With You, but, as with the rest of the Motown crew, it’s the immortal 60s stuff we remember.

 

 

 

The Songwriters – Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong

Norman Whitfield (left) and Barrett Strong

While Motown had its own very strong musical identity, one thing it couldn’t be accused of is following fashion. Motown was Motown and the rest of the world could do what it liked. The Beatles progressed from She Loves You to Strawberry Fields Forever as the Sixties  moved on, but in Detroit it was still sequined gowns, tight-fitting suits and dance routines. And as the quality remained peerless, who could complain?

One man who did like to move with the times, though, was producer and composer Norman Whitfield, usually working with lyricist Barrett Strong. As the man who directed the career of The Temptations, Whitfield managed to introduce new ideas that reflected the psychedelic sounds that were bathing music in mutating coloured light shapes, with singles such as Cloud Nine, Psychedelic Shack, Ball of Confusion and the masterly Papa Was A Rolling Stone, a tale of a young man’s tough upbringing in a poor family with a feckless father. Strong’s lyrics are delivered over Whitfield’s  loose, rather menacing production, resulting in a unique three minutes 40 seconds that showed the world the label didn’t live in a room full of mirrors after all. (Of the rest of the artists and producers, we should acknowledge Holland-Dozier-Holland for the rather naff The Happening and the utterly cool Reflections.)

Even if you’re not a fan of this strain of Motown, Whitfield is a significant figure in the label’s history. After typical early songs like Ain’t Too Proud to Beg and (I Know) I’m Losing You, later covered by Rod Stewart, he gave us the monumental slow burner I Heard It Through The Grapevine, which, as was the way at the time, had a double life. It was a big hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips in the US, although the UK resisted its charms until the Marvin Gaye version appeared shortly afterwards. It’s hard to imagine The Beatles and The Rolling Stones having hits with the same song within months of each other, but such was the wealth of talent  within Motown – and the appetite of the fans.

Whitfield also wrote Edwin Starr’s War, I Can’t Get Next To You, a hit for The Temptations, Too Busy Thinking About My Baby (Marvin Gaye) and a late bloomer in It Should Have Been Me for Yvonne Fair in 1975. Previously recorded by Gladys Knight and the Pips, this is a murderously intense tale of unrequited love, the singer dangerously close to the emotional edge as she sees her man marrying someone else.

Even later, and on his own Whitfield label, came his composition Car Wash, which launched the career of Rose Royce.

Again, this demonstrates growth on the part of the writer, as we see if we go back to Whitfield’s early 60s days and The Velvelettes’ Really Saying Something and the wonderfully blank-faced Needle In A Haystack.

 

The Songwriters – Ashford and Simpson

Prolific but with a career as uncelebrated as some of their songs, Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson were a husband-and-wife duo, unsuccessful as performers at first and then enjoying a renaissance after their Motown writing heyday had passed.

They had a few early hits with songs for stars such as Aretha Franklin (Cry Like A Baby) and Ray Charles (Let’s Go Get Stoned, I Don’t Need No Doctor), which is an achievement most writers would be happy with, but it is a measure of the exalted standards we’re dealing with in this series that this part of their career doesn’t invite real celebration in its own right.

Eventually their work with Charles attracted the attention of Berry Gordy, and Ashford & Simpson were enlisted on the Motown roster, with a special brief to provide material for Marvin Gaye in his second partnership, Kim Weston having been replaced by Tammi Terrell.

There is a heartwarming quality about the team’s big hits, The Onion Song, You Ain’t Livin’ Until You’re Lovin’ and You’re All I Need To Get By that owes much to Terrell’s vulnerable delivery of an Ashford and Simpson trademark. While the Motown catalogue is full of love songs, something about this writing duo gave an extra mellow feel to the recordings.

There was also the original version of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough with Gaye and Terrell which would later be eclipsed by Diana Ross’s more dramatic version, and the drama element continued in the early 70s with Ross’s Ashford & Simpson collaborations on Remember Me and Surrender. It was a more grown-up style for Ross as she moved on from the teen angst (high class though it was) of the Supremes, and Ashford and Simpson knew exactly how to do it.

A splendid combination of the mellow and the dramatic sides of Ashford and Simpson is the surprisingly low-profile I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You, which they co-wrote with Eddie Holland and which shifted a few units for Syreeta Wright (billed as Rita on that occasion). Dusty Springfield and Diana Ross both covered it, as have a host of others over the years, including Vikki Carr, but in my opinion nothing rivals the Syreeta version. Meanwhile, British guitar hero Jeff Beck thought enough of it to do an instrumental version, blustering (vainly, I’m sorry to say) to wring out every drop of emotion without the help of words. Nice try – it just doesn’t quite work.

The Seventies knocked the stuffing out of many Motown writers, who managed only sporadic hits, and Ashford and Simpson were no exception, their sporadic one being Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman.

And they had their belated singing career too, building slowly before culminating with Solid in 1984.

After that they got out and about, opened a restaurant/music bar, worked with the poet Maya Angelou and adapted Solid for Barack Obama (Solid as Barack). Nik Ashford died at the age of 70 of throat cancer in 2011 just days before Simpson’s 65th birthday. Is it ever less than insensitive to observe that someone “had a good innings”? Ashford and Simpson didn’t do too badly for themselves.

The Songwriters – Rod Temperton

Songwriters could be  considered among the back-room boys of the hit single. They don’t have to have an image, they don’t have to be cool, they just need to have the gift of plucking words and tunes out of the air, or putting on paper and recording musical ideas that come into their brain from who knows where. Which is a long-winded way of saying Rod Temperton was an unlikely-looking figure in the glamorous world of pop music.

Temperton’s songs, though, were as cool and funky as a summer’s day in a sharp suit.

The first fruits of Temperton’s talent came with Heatwave, the UK-based multinational funk band that spread quality pop over the 70s and early 80s, and they announced themselves with a solid gold Temperton composition, Boogie Nights, which should be put in one of those time capsules for future generations or aliens to discover. From the second it bursts out of the swirly introduction it sums up the world of disco with an irresistible dance groove and the vocals singing the title in imitation of the guitarist’s riff. It’s not just hip, it’s happy, and it set the mood for much of the writer’s work, which brims with the enjoyment of life.

Although Temperton didn’t write  all of Heatwave’s material, he did contribute two more of their best, in the tear-inducing love song Always and Forever and a sort of Boogie Nights mark II: The Groove Line.

The sheer quality caught the attention of producer Quincy Jones, and soon enough Temperton was writing songs for Michael Jackson. And not just album tracks, but some of the wayward entertainer’s biggest hits, like Rock With You, Off The Wall and Thriller. Again, the sheer exuberance of the songs provides the energy, with singer and producer just needing to do their bit.

The Jackson connection brought the name of Rod Temperton well and truly into the limelight, and commissions rolled in: Stomp for The Brothers Johnson, Give Me The Night and Love x Love for George Benson, Baby Come To Me for Patti Austin and James Ingram and Love Is In Control for Donna Summer.

James Ingram and Michael McDonald had a big hit with Yah Mo Be There, in which Temperton had a hand along with Ingram, McDonald and Quincy Jones.

Songwriting royalty, then: that’s Rod Temperton, who died in 2016 after what seems like a whirlwind 40 years as a conduit of beautiful, life-affirming songs.

 

The Songwriters – Berry Gordy and (separately) Mickey Stevenson

 

And so back to Motown, that cornucopian family of singers, musicians and writers. Few labels have had such a volume of great acts on the books at the same time, and that meant they needed not just a steady stream of material but a fast-flowing river, and fortunately the writers were there just like the singers, many being performers themselves.

Berry Gordy is world famous as the founder of Motown, but why did he want to start a record company anyway? Was he just a businessman?

The answer is he was a songwriter, so while his business skills were vitally important in the company’s success, he knew  a good singer and a great songwriter when he heard them, because he had aspirations in that direction himself.

Not just aspirations, in fact, but hits in the late 50s and early 60s. Gordy often wrote with his sister Gwen and her then-boyfriend Tyran Carlo (real name Roquel Davis), a jingles writer, beginning with the catchy if uncool Reet Petite for Jackie Wilson. He followed that with Lonely Teardrops, also for Wilson, and You Got What It Takes for early Motowneer Marv Johnson, who somehow missed the boat of megastardom. Here is a cover of Lonely Teardrops by Michael McDonald from the 1995 Nicolas Cage film Leaving Las Vegas.

Then there was  a raucous piece of tosh entitled Money, originally recorded by Barrett Strong, which appealed to the Beatles and has spawned a host of cover versions including a truly nauseating take in 1979 by The Flying Lizards, complete with snobby English-accented vocals by a girl who sounded as though she meant it.

Another one adopted by the British beat groups was Do You Love Me, which the Dave Clark Five, The Hollies and Brian Poole & The Tremeloes all recorded. David Hasselhoff sang it on Baywatch and Bruce Springsteen used to use it as a late-set stormer. So it may not bewidely regarded as one of the great Motown songs, but it certainly had something.

After Gordy had assembled his startling roster of singers and writers, he took a back seat on thatside of things until the late 60s when The Jackson Five appeared. Gordy’s name appears on the credits for I Want You Back, ABC and, as part of The Corporation (with Freddie Perren, Deke Richards and Fonce Mizell), The Love You Save and I’ll Be There.

Not a bad track record for someone who had  serious responsibilities when not messing around with tunes.

And Mickey Stevenson

Another man with a proper job who found the time to write a few Motown hits was William “Mickey” Stevenson, Motown’s first A&R man. That means his principal occupation was “artistes and repertoire”: finding and looking after stars in both the performing and writing fields.

While Holland Dozier Holland and the others “just” had to write hits all day long, Stevenson had to squeeze that in as and when he could, and he succeeded to the extent of co-writing Dancing in the Street (many versions including Martha and the Vandellas), It Takes Two (for Marvin Gaye and Stevenson’s girlfriend Kim Weston) and What Becomes of the Brokenhearted (David Ruffin).

 

 

 

 

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – The Graduate

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

 

Funny thing I only remembered this one when I mentioned something last week and its one of my favourites funny what slips through your brain cells when your not looking. You no the one from 1967  it was Dustin Hoffman’s big break and now he’s a veteran who don’t seem to do much at all. Suits me actually because it’s not nice seeing your heroes getting really old and watery-eyed like Clint Eastwood. Paul Newman got out while the going was good and speared us the agony. Not that Dustin was ever a heartthrob he was kind of born middle aged.

And that’s what makes this one so successful I reckon he shows there is hope for all of us. If it was Robert Redford being seduced by Anne Bancroft you wouldn’t be surprised and he couldn’t of done the “who, me?” routine because you know Mrs Robinson would  be dying to get her hands on him.

For the benefit of those who have never seen it the film is about Ben a student with pushy parents and he’s just graduated and is home for the summer to decide what glittering career to do. We are asked to believe he was a great athlete too, but when you see him running he’s got all the arm and leg movements but you can tell he ain’t really fast.

His parents have organised a party to celebrate his graduation but its full of their friends not his and they still treat him like a little boy they’ve bought him scuba diving gear and he’s supposed to demonstrate it in the swimming pool they happen to have in the garden but he’s shy or depressed or something and he don’t want to play the game.

The Robinsons are family friends and there is a daughter Elaine played by Katherine Ross who people seem to assume is going to be Ben’s wife or something. She’s all pure and gentle and quite nice really. Again, if it had been some sexy guy in the role you’d have expected him to at least doink her once but what happens here is that her mother seduces him and his attitude to Elaine gets confused and he’s horrible to her.

He knows its wrong and he should be with Elaine but he’s such a drip he can’t handle it. I sound like a right bitch don’t I? I suppose that’s what I thought when I was young and gorgeous (if only) and now I’ve mellowed a bit you get more understanding ain’t it? Actually looking at it now, if a 20-year-old guy is being seduced by a sexy older woman, most of them are not going to complain. Its not like he’s underage or nothing.

“Mrs Robinson are you trying to seduce me?” “No, Benjamin, I want you to cut my toenails.”

There are some good lines, like when Mr Robinson finds out about the affair and Ben says shagging his wife was just like shaking hands. And when Mr Robinson leaves he goes “You’ll forgive me if I don’t shake hands with you, Benjamin.”

So there you go, all set up and  will the young couple get together or will Ben and Mrs R carry on until she gets tired of him? It gets quite emotional is all I will tell you and you do feel good in the end which is what a lot of movies are all about.

 

 

 

 

The Songwriters – John Lennon and Paul McCartney

When The Beatles  exploded onto the music scene in the early 1960s they were so full of new songs and fresh ideas they could feed their own recording career and still have plenty left over for other people.

That’s not to say they recorded exclusively their own songs at first. Although there were precedents – Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly were largely self-sufficient – there was still a feeling that it was best left to the specialists, so the four who were to become fab borrowed Roll Over Beethoven, Money, Please Mr Postman, Twist and Shout and Long Tall Sally, to name but a few.

Whether that was because John Lennon and Paul McCartney found it hard to believe how good they were, or because their management and record company didn’t believe it, they continued to  use existing material even while farmingout their own to their peers.

While George Harrison would come into his own later on, the early Beatles composers were Lennon/McCartney, and they generated songs like hens laying eggs.

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, fellow Liverpudlians and not a bad band and singer, earned a hit with Do You Want To Know A Secret, David and Jonathan (future writing kings Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway) did Michelle, as did The Overlanders, and Peter and Gordon gave A World Without Love a nicely-spoken clean-cut treatment (The Supremes and Del Shannon covered it too).

The female Merseybeater, Cilla Black, was given It’s For You and later asked Paul McCartney for a theme song for her new TV show and was rewarded with Step Inside Love.

Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers produced a thoroughly convincing take on Got To Get You Into My Life without straying from the path of the original.

So far, so reverent, with singers and producers doffing their cap to the masters, but as the compositions became more adventurous, so did the covers. Joe Cocker took the singalong With A Little Help From My Friends and set fire to it to the extent that it became his nightly showstopper. Raucous and uplifting, the song took on a life of its own and, with Cocker always prepared to give his all, triumphed at Woodstock in 1969 and more than 30 years later in 2002’s Party at the Palace, both performances being available on YouTube. I’m putting the studio version here because, as incendiary as the live onesare, this ship was launched fully laden.

Less well known but even heavier is Spooky Tooth’s treatment of I Am The Walrus, which takes an already  slightly unsettling song and drapes it in the colours of doom, with thunderous guitar chords, swirling Hammond organ and Mike Harrison’s croaky, wailing vocals. Just the sort of thing for 1970s neo-hippies like me to listen to lying on the floor, one speaker either side of their head.

Once the psychedelia had passed, we were back to short, singable songs, and one that has attracted an inordinate number of suitors is Come Together, Lennon’s Lewis Carroll-like self examination.

For the benefit of the less obsessive I should point out that although the pair’s Beatles songs were always credited to both of them, generally speaking whoever did the bulk of the singing is presumed to be the originator, and the way McCartney tells it, they used to “fix” each other’s half-formed efforts if one got stuck or felt the need for some help. So Come Together was Lennon while Yesterday, one of the most-covered songs ever, was McCartney. You can hear that form of collaboration very clearly on A Day In The Life, where Lennon’s addictively downbeat song gets a McCartney lift in the middle – woke up, got out of bed etc.

The psychedelic stuff proved surprisingly tempting (who would dare have a go at Strawberry Fields Forever? But people have.) Even Elton John must have had his doubts about tackling the global treasure that is Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds, although his effort was not just commercially successful but acceptable to many purists.

In the same way, punk rock prefects Siouxsie and the Banshees did a creditable job on Dear Prudence.

The list goes on forever. If you consider that Count Basie, James Galway and Shirley Bassey have all recorded Lennon/McCartney songs, and Sammy Davis Jr even did a bit of A Day In The Life as part of an excruciating Beatles medley, we can certainly claim that, “everybody’s done one”.

Oddly, though, that doesn’t apply to their solo output after the band broke up and the 70s saw them going their separate ways. Although the great songs continued to appear, they did not attract cover versions to anything like the same extent.

 

 

The Songwriters – Randy Newman

Randy Newman may not have contributed a huge  amount to the panoply of pop hits in terms of numbers, but has certainly done his bit in terms of quality. Newman is the songwriter’s songwriter, a master craftsman of the lyric and much more than the usual purveyor of fast-food tunes and words.

He first made his mark in the UK with Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear, a hit for Alan Price and quite an oddity in the 1967 world of psychedelia, when everyone was vying to be the coolest cat. Randy Newman was never concerned with being cool. He’s the musical equivalent of the nerd, writing about whatever he feels like in whatever style suits the lyrics. He looks more like a school chemistry teacher than a supplier of superior songs to the stars and he certainly doesn’t look like a star himself. He never did. But Price was so impressed with the nascent songwriting talent that he put no fewer than five Newman songs on the album A Price on his Head. Even the B side of Simon Smith was a Newman song: Tickle Me.

American  megastars Three Dog Night brought Newman back into the UK charts with 1969’s Mama Told Me Not To Come, a nerd’s eye view of a party where everyone else is drunk and smoking dope and the narrator doesn’t know what the hell is going on.

The Newman CV includes a long solo career with limited commercial success but a core of devoted admirers, and sporadic outbreaks of hits for other people.

He’s Got The Blues, sung in part by Paul Simon, is typical, or typically different, with Newman’s character raising a cynical eyebrow at the way a smooth singer tugs on the heartstrings, while Simon’s bits demonstrate just how that is done in his sweet, effortless voice. It’s like a practical seminar at a college of popular music.

This song bends this series’ rules in not being a cover version, but Paul Simon is so perfect for his part that it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t written for him, and it’s also hard to imagine a Simon completist not considering this a bona fide part of the collection.

I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today, which Newman originally recorded in 1968, has been covered by dozens of artists, from Judy Collins to Leonard Nimoy, Barbara Dickson to Barbra Streisand and Chris Farlowe to Peter Gabriel.

One that has become a standard of sorts, nor least in karaoke, is You Can Leave Your Hat On, an amusingly suggestive little number ruined, in my opinion, by such leering fools as dirty old uncle Tom Jones, who leaves no nudge unnudged and no wink unwinked. Millions of people disagree, and I hope I don’t sound prudish, but really, it’s the kind of performance that merits a slap in the face. Good for the Newman pension fund, though, and he needs it, because he signed away the rights to his early songs and doesn’t receive a penny in royalties for them.

 

The Songwriters – Leiber and Stoller

So far in this series we’ve seen some pretty impressive catalogues in terms of numbers, but Leiber and Stoller make everyone else look like slackers. To mention every hit they have written would amount to a list, rather than an article, so you will find some notable ones missing and the ones I mention might be included because I like them, not because they’re more important.

They got their big break through Elvis Presley with Hound Dog, followed by Jailhouse Rock, Treat Me Nice, King Creole, Trouble and more.

For other people there was Poison Ivy (The Paramounts, including future Procol Harum members), Yakety Yak, Kansas City, Along Came Jones, Love Potion No. 9 and Charlie Brown – and that was all before the end of the 1950s. At that point many of us might have  pushed off to the Bahamas to live off the royalties for the rest of our lives, but whatever was driving Leiber and Stoller just kept them turning up at the coalface every day. And so to the 60s and Stand By Me (Ben E. King and everyone from Cassius Clay in 1964 to John Lennon in 1975). On Broadway by The Drifters, Some Other Guy (Beatles album track) and I Who Have Nothing (Ben E. King again, and in the UK Shirley Bassey).

The sheer coverability of these songs was illustrated to me in 2013 in a bar on the Caribbean island of Tobago, when a 20-something local guy did a karaoke reggae version of I Who Have Nothing. We were the only two singers – the only two customers – and I was trying to choose material that didn’t age me too much, but he blithely came up with that wizened old thing.

In 1968 a Leiber and Stoller song called Is That All There Is was a US hit for Leslie Uggams, a one-hit wonder whose  existence has eluded me until now. The song was also recorded by singing sex bomb Peggy Lee and crooner Tony Bennett, and it is interesting lyrically, being the bored, seen-it-all reminiscences of someone too cool for school. In the light of that, it’s hard to understand what Bennett saw in it, but there was a much more satisfying take on it in 1980 by a sneering American rich kid called Cristina, who added a masochistic verse about being beaten up by a man. Leiber and Stoller were not amused, sued her and had her version banned for several years. I like it.

On a completely different note there is Pearl’s a Singer, a 1977 hit for Elkie Brooks (Dino and Sembello in the US) and then the divine I Keep Forgetting, sung by the exceedingly earnest-sounding Michael McDonald.

The tune cropped up again in 1994 when rappers Warren G and Nate Dogg used it to tell a sordid tale of gangs and sex. For those who maintain that in rap the c is silent, it’s melodic refrains such as this that make the motherf***ing things bearable, and indeed Regulate is quite nice as long as you don’t listen too closely.

Now, what Leiber and Stoller gems have we missed? They wrote Spanish Harlem, a fabulous tune that makes the setting sound more romantic than it perhaps is, and Jackson, the stomping, riotously funny argument between a frustrated man and his cynically realistic wife. Johnny Cash and June Carter did it, but in my opinion Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood did it better.

And Leiber had a hand in Past Present and Future, a heartbreakingly wistful song based on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The singer seems to be carrying some terrible secret, possibly more than the emotional distress of a broken relationship and even having been sexually assaulted. It’s hardly conventional pop  material, and the lyrics don’t make it clear, but it’s haunting and thought-provoking.

The song was originally recorded by the Shangri-Las and there was a version in the late 80s but I’m damned if I can find it. It was  just about note-for-note like the original, but sung less theatrically, I seem to recall. Not Agnetha Faltskog of Abba – that was 2004. If you happen to know it, please let me know. In the meantime, here’s the Shangri-las.