Dionne, Aretha and “I Say A Little Prayer”

Now that I no longer have to commute to work every day, I seem to be missing out on those wonderful moments when a great song comes on the car radio, and you just have to turn up the volume to full blast.

I did however experience such a thing earlier this week on my way to the supermarket and needless to say it stuck with me for a good few days. The song was this one, I Say a Little Prayer, written by my favourite songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Inevitably the first person to record it back in 1967 was Dionne Warwick, as she was very much Burt’s “go-to” girl when he needed a chanteuse for his great material. What I hadn’t realised until now was that Hal David’s lyrics were meant to convey a woman’s concern for her man, who was serving in the Vietnam War (makes total sense now considering the timing). I have always loved those first few lines where the words wake up and makeup are used to such great effect. The rhyme just works so perfectly and for us girls, anything that happens before the morning ritual of putting on the makeup is early indeed, so doubly emphasizes the urgency of the prayer.

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup
I say a little prayer for you

Although Burt’s recordings with Dionne usually took no more than three takes, I Say a Little Prayer took ten takes and he still disliked the completed track, feeling it rushed. He was nothing if not a perfectionist that Burt Bacharach.

But the version I heard in the car the other day wasn’t by Dionne but instead by the person who had a big hit with it in the UK. Aretha Franklin was in the process of recording her 1968 album entitled “Aretha Now” when her backing vocalists, The Sweet Inspirations, started singing the song just for fun. It suddenly became apparent that I Say a Little Prayer could be a worthy inclusion on the new album which is exactly what happened. The song ended up being released in July 1968 as the B-side to the single The House that Jack Built, but after accruing its own airplay reached No. 10 on the Billboard Chart and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

And here is where the music producers seem to get it horribly wrong at times – It had taken much persuasion for Burt to release the original recording by Dionne Warwick, but with Theme from Valley of the Dolls on the B-side, it became one of the most successful double-sided releases of all time. Aretha’s version was never expected to make any sort of mark in its own right, but in subsequent decades it has been ranked right at the top of lists relating to the “Greatest 150 Singles of All Time”. How bizarre and makes you wonder what other delights have slipped through the net and never been given the air time they indubitably deserved. Then again, is that not the case for every art form? How many great writers and artists (and I include Mr WIAA and some of my blogging buddies in those categories) slip through the net, not seeming to catch that lucky break needed to get to the important next level, where actual money changes hands for exceptional work done.

But before I go, it should also be mentioned that I Say a Little Prayer is one of several Bacharach and David songs to feature prominently in the 1997 rom-com/chick-flick My Best Friend’s Wedding. There was a reggae-style cover by Diana King and a version sung by the film’s cast. Diana’s cover was released as a single which brought the song back to the Top 40 almost thirty years after Dionne Warwick’s original.

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I Say A Little Prayer by Diana King:

So, “What’s It All About?” – Having included all three very different versions in this post, they are ripe for a compare and contrast. Dionne’s does indeed sound a bit too rushed and not typical of Burt Bacharach’s usual orchestral pop style. Diana’s reggae version certainly creates a very different sound where the lyrics are sung Jamaican-style (before mi put on mi makeup). Aretha however, being the Queen of Soul an’ all that, nails it for me and is probably why the car radio had to be turned up to such a volume earlier in the week. Some songs, despite having a very low key start in life, end up becoming the most memorable and that’s why I live in hope that some of my wonderful artsy friends also eventually catch that lucky break which leads to their work being reclassified from being ordinary, to being extra-ordinary.

Until next time….

I Say A Little Prayer Lyrics

(Song by Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup
I say a little prayer for you
While combing my hair, now
And wondering what dress to wear, now
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only be heartbreak for me

I run for the bus, dear
While riding I think of us, dear
I say a little prayer for you
At work I just take time
And all through my coffee break-time
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only mean heartbreak for me

I say a little prayer for you
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only mean heartbreak for me

My darling, believe me
For me there is no one, but you
Please love me, too
I’m in love with you
Answer my prayer
Say you love me, too
Why don’t you answer my prayer?
You know, every day I say a little prayer
I said, I say, I say a little prayer

My 100th Post, Linda Ronstadt and “Different Drum”

Well, didn’t think I’d reach this landmark so soon but after only 10 months of blogging I’ve made it to 100 posts – Averages out at…, well you can do the maths, but probably why I’ve not had much time for other hobbies this year (or seen as much of my friends, or got that promotion, or kept on top of the garden) but hey, I think I’m about to get one of those virtual blue “congratulations” badges from the WordPress people, so all worthwhile!

So, why did I start blogging? For all sorts of reasons probably but I realised that something had to be done last year on New Year’s Eve, when holed up in bed with a nasty cold. Due to miss the Hogmanay celebrations we are so fond of here in Scotland, and with not much to do except feel sorry for myself, I picked up my iPhone to do a bit of stalking, I mean Facebooking. Anyone who uses Facebook will know that there is a little box at the top with the prompt, “Whats on your mind?” – I took them literally. A thousand words later I was done (but not recommended as if you’ve ever done a 1000 word post on your iPhone you’ll know that after 500 words it starts to really slow down, only letting you key in one letter every 5 seconds). Most of my friends either ignored it or put it down to the delirium caused by my malady but one kind soul did submit the comment, “I see you’ve been busy sharing your thoughts. All the best for 2016”. Hmm… what would be the best for 2016 I wondered – Not sharing my thoughts on Facebook that’s for sure!

And so I discovered WordPress – Ideal, I could write away to my heart’s content without bothering any of my friends. A couple of decades ago I would have probably gone down the Carrie Bradshaw route (a bit of an idol of mine despite her expensive taste in shoes) but I no longer live in a city and I don’t think any of my middle-aged friends would appreciate having their sex lives strewn across the world wide web. No, it had to be something else and for some time I had thought it would be a good idea to write about those memories conjured up by a song or piece of music. After a few false starts and changes in format, WIAA? came about, and it has been quite a journey (as they say on those televised, reality-cum-singing shows).

First of all I had expected at least a few of my friends and family to read what I was posting but it turns out they don’t, so that is quite liberating and allows me to regale all sorts of tales from the past without fear of redress. Secondly, I hadn’t expected to make “blogging buddies” which I kind of think I have. Thanks to everyone who has left comments over the months, especially the hard-core music bloggers (their sites on my sidebar) as I know the song choices here at WIAA? are not always to their taste, but I’ve had to stay true to my remit of writing about what is relevant to me at the time, and if it happens to be the worst song in the history of mankind, then sobeit. (Hopefully not gone there yet but when National Treasure Sir Terry Wogan passed away I did include The Floral Dance although no-one would begrudge me that one I’m sure).

An unexpected bonus of writing about songs is that you have to do a fair bit of research beforehand and it has been a joy finding out so much more about the artists and songs than would ever have been possible first time around – It has been an education indeed, especially as I was always more of a “geek” about music, recording chart rundowns, alphabetising record collections and memorising books of hit singles.

What on earth to include in this historic post then? As it turns out that’s an easy call. Over the months it has become apparent that the year I keep coming back to is 1967 which is very bizarre because I was just a little kid then. I have put it down to the fact that songs from back then have not yet become over-familiar; no unpleasant memories are attached; spiritually I think I would have been a flower-child; the radio stations I listen to often play songs from that year and finally the sub-genre (I had no idea there were so many) I find myself warming to most of all, is orchestral/baroque pop.

A few months ago, over at A History of Dubious Taste, Jez featured the song Different Drum by Linda Ronstadt as part of his “Sunday Morning Coming Down” series. (To be fair the song is actually attributed to The Stone Poneys but she was the voice of the aforementioned Poneys.) I was smitten, and immediately had to make a purchase which wasn’t easy as it was one of those “buy the whole album or nothing” deals. It was of course from 1967, and was of the baroque pop/rock persuasion.

Different Drum by The Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt:

The song was actually written back in 1965 by Mike Nesmith of The Monkees, before he joined the band, and is penned very much from a male perspective but was tweaked a little for a female songstress. The song tells of a pair of young lovers, one of whom wants to settle down, while the other wants to retain a sense of freedom and independence. The narrator wants to remain free, telling the other that they’ll “both live a lot longer” if they part ways now. I can see a pattern forming here as the 1964 song We’ll Sing In The Sunshine by Gale Garnett (featured last time) told a similar tale but I’ll put it all down to “the times” as not something I could ever have done myself, being an all or nothing kind of girl.

Before discovering this song, my only memories of Linda Ronstadt were from the late ’70s and of her big hit Blue Bayou. She was cute as a button back in 1967 and even in 1977 she was the girl we all wanted to look like. I have written recently about how this was a really confusing time for young people in Britain – Out of the big cities, we still dressed like Amercian kids in wide flared jeans and oufits like the ones Linda Ronstadt wore (I had hair like this in 1977 although my mum made me take the flower out for school), but our boyfriends had adopted the clothes of their punk-rock idols. A right bunch of odd couples we must have looked – The song my new boyfriend (he’s been mentioned before and his ears will be burning wherever he is) and I adopted as “our song” in 1977, was indeed Blue Bayou. What I hadn’t realised then was that Linda had previously been with The Stone Poneys and unbelievably, once she set out on a solo career, her original backing band was The Eagles.

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Lnd Ronstadt circa 1977

In all, Linda produced more than 30 Studio Albums and has won 11 Grammy Awards. It is with great sadness that I have now discovered she has Parkinson’s disease, and “can no longer sing a note”. This nostalgic revisitation of the “tracks of my years” can be somewhat harrowing at times – Where have the years gone?

The orchestral pop genre that emerged in the late ’60s and which I seem to be so fond of, incorporated symphonic strings and horns played by groups of properly arranged studio musicians. Many pop arrangers and producers worked orchestral pop into their artists’ releases, including George Martin with the Beatles, and John Barry for his scores to the James Bond films. Burt Bacharach (who has featured here a lot) and the Beach BoysBrian Wilson were also seen as “gods” of orchestral pop.

As for baroque pop/rock, by early 1966, various groups had began using baroque and classical instrumentation. The Zombies‘ single She’s Not There marked the starting point and would inspire New York musician Michael Brown to form the Left Banke, whose song Walk Away Renée was possibly the first baroque pop single. Other examples include Spanky and Our Gang‘s Sunday Will Never Be the Same, and of course The Stone PoneysDifferent Drum, all of which used harpsichord and strings.

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An extremely long post this so thanks for bearing with me if indeed you have. I wasn’t sure if I would keep going after 100 posts, as blogging does tend to impinge of the rest of your life, but I’ve enjoyed it all so much I think I will, until it no longer works for me.

Again thanks to those followers who have jumped in with comments – Chris, Marie, CC, Jez, Rol, C, The Swede, Rick, Lynchie, Ovidiu and anyone else I might have missed. It is much appreciated and I have in turn learnt so much from your blogs. Thanks also for allowing me to be part of The Chain Gang, despite my lame choices, and finally thanks to Denise Marsa for finding my post about her Lucky Stars duet with Dean Friedman and whom I cannot believe that I have as a follower.

Last but not least there is of course Mr WIAA to consider, who has had to spend long evenings watching television on his own this year whilst I have been beavering away on the computer. Couldn’t have done it without him though and despite the odd raised eyebrow when I am yet again caught blogging when supposed to be doing something else more worthy, on the whole he has been my biggest supporter. Not so much travelling to the beat of a different drum this year therefore, more a case of the same drum being in different rooms of the house. Post a hundred and one, here I come….

Different Drum Lyrics
(Song by Mike Nesmith)

You and I travel to the beat of a diff’rent drum.
Oh, can’t you tell by the way I run
Ev’ry time you make eyes at me. Wo oh.
You cry and you moan and say it will work out.
But honey child I’ve got my doubts.
You can’t see the forest for the trees.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m knockin’.
It’s just that I’m not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me.
Yes, and I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t pretty.
All I’m sayin’s I’m not ready for any person,
Place or thing to try and pull the reins in on me.
So Goodbye, I’ll be leavin’.
I see no sense in the cryin’ and grievin’.
We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m knockin’.
It’s just that I’m not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me.
Yes, and I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t pretty.
All I’m sayin’s I’m not ready for any person,
Place or thing to try and pull the reins in on me.
So Goodbye, I’ll be leavin’.
I see no sense in the cryin’ and grievin’.
We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me.

Dusty, “The Look of Love” and Late ’60s Movies

I’ve decided that I might as well rename this blog A Nostalgic Journey Through the Works of Burt Bacharach, January to December 1967, as yet again I have found myself troubled by a pesky earworm from that year. All day yesterday I had the first few lines of The Look of Love by Dusty Springfield going round and round in my head but wasn’t sure where it had come from. I was pretty sure I hadn’t heard it on the radio or on television but here I was yet again revisiting my seemingly favourite year and favourite composer.

dustyspringfield_thelookofloveThe Look of Love, by Burt Bacharach and Hal David featured in the 1967 spoof James Bond film Casino Royale. Here is the scene in the movie where it appears and between Dusty’s husky vocals, the slow motion filming and the saxophone playing, Peter Sellers looks as if he is in for quite a time with Ursula Andress (the original Bond girl – Honey Ryder).

The Look of Love by Dusty Springfield:

Of all the songs featured in this blog, 1967 is the year I seem to keep coming back to and after thinking about it a bit more I have come up with a few reasons as to why that might be happening.

First of all I was only six at the start of ’67, so most of my personal musical memories are from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s (post turn-of-the-millennium is still classed as “new” music for me). My point is, there are many songs from the ’60s that are still fresh for me, as I haven’t yet reached the tipping point of having heard them just once too often. (Sadly the exception to that rule is now the song Alfie – After undertaking this project I hope I never, ever, have to listen to it again.)

Secondly, when you are six (just like in the world of A.A. Milne) you have no exam, work, money or relationship worries, so none of the songs from that era conjure up any unpleasant memories. If you were lucky like me and came from a stable family where you were loved and taken care of, life was sweet – The days of teenage angst were far off in the future.

Thirdly (is that even a word), the radio stations I now listen to (briefly in the morning when I get up, and when in the car) generally play older music so I am much more likely to hear something by Burt Bacharach than by Tame Impala in the course of the day, setting off one of those pesky earworms (although to be fair not pesky in the case of this song, more pleasurable).

Fourth, I am truly amazed at the sheer number of musical sub-genres, and in the last couple of weeks alone I have covered songs from the sunshine pop, baroque pop and champagne soul camps. Burt’s music was apparently from the orchestral pop camp and of the many sub-genres out there, I think this is the one I warm to most. In the late ’60s plenty of other arrangers and producers were championing this style of music such as George Martin, Brian Wilson and John Barry (of Bond theme fame) so lots of great stuff to listen to.

And finally, the big one, in my youth I absolutely loved old ’60s movies like Casino Royale shown in the clip. There is a delay of a few years before films made for the big screen can be shown on television and I am guessing that this one, and the non-spoof Cubby Broccoli Bond movie You Only Live Twice, first made an appearance on British television in the early ’70s. Perhaps all was hunky dory where you lived but my memory of early ’70s Britain is that things were a bit grim and depressing. We had economic and political unrest, three-day weeks and power cuts. The clothes were all droopy (midi/maxi skirts and flared trousers) and came in a variety of shades of brown and beige. Compare all that to the brilliant colours and exotic locations shown in those comedic, technicolor movies from the ’60s and I know which era I wanted to live in, albeit vicariously.

It is no coincidence that Peter Sellers popped up in the clip for The Look of Love – His output was prolific around that time and he had already starred in What’s New Pussycat? in 1965 and After The Fox in 1966, both films having title songs written by Bacharach and David. There can’t be many people who wouldn’t recognise Tom Jones’ version of What’s New Pussycat? but despite the fact that After The Fox by The Hollies (featuring Peter Sellers) is lesser known, it has now become one of my favourite Burt songs from that period. Again, when you listen to it, you just remember all those great films that usually had very funny cartoonised opening sequences and colourful movie posters designed by Frank Frazetta.

After The Fox by The Hollies (featuring Peter Sellers):

So, “What’s It All About?” – After writing this post, I worked out how the song The Look Of Love became an earworm yesterday. It turns out that it is being used in a new advert for tinned soup! That’s another song ruined then, as from now on it won’t be associated with the husky sounds of Dusty Springfield, it will be associated with tinned tomato.

I wrote a while back about how advertising companies have worked out that if they use music from the era their target market turned 16, they will be putty in their hands and mindlessly buy anything on offer. In the case of this song, it looks as if all those recent retirees aged around 65 who eschew spending a fortune on designer soup in cartons, are about to have a purchasing frenzy, buying up all their favourite tinned soups from their youth. (Oxtail anyone? No me neither.)

Very clever marketing The Heinz Corporation, but for me, they have just ruined another classic song from the ’60s…… for all of us.

The Look of Love Lyrics
(Song by Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

The look of love
Is in your eyes
The look your smile can’t disguise
The look of love
Is saying so much more
Than just words could ever say
And what my heart has heard
Well it takes my breath away

I can hardly wait to hold you
Feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you

You’ve got the look of love
It’s on your face
A look that time can’t erase
Be mine tonight
Let this be just the start
Of so many nights like this
Let’s take a lover’s vow
And then seal it with a kiss

I can hardly wait to hold you
Feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you
Don’t ever go

I can hardly wait to hold you
Feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you
Don’t ever go
Don’t ever go
I love you so

Warm Winds, Burt Bacharach and “A House Is Not A Home”

Ahead of the onset of autumn, my plan for the weekend was, (perhaps foolishly, this being the north of Scotland) to organise an outdoors get-together for some good friends. Ever since writing about the England Dan & John Ford Coley song I’d Really Love To See You Tonight earlier in the year, I’ve been a tad obsessed with trying to recreate the ambiance it conjures up (there’s a warm wind blowing the stars around). This being Scotland it was never going to be easy as to see the stars it has to be dark, and earlier in the summer it barely gets dark at all. So, it really had to be right at the end of the season which meant there would be no warm winds, but if a fire was present at least there would be warmth. Other than a short shower of rain, when we conveniently decanted inside to eat, we were able to sit outside until midnight and although not many stars visible last night there was a lovely half-moon, so really pleased with my efforts.

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Late summer in Scotland – waiting for the guests to arrive!

Another real treat was that I took my new portable turntable outside which meant rifling through the old vinyl from back in the day. Rediscovered a lot of records I had forgotten about that have not been replaced in digital format, so a real added bonus to the evening. After writing about Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head recently, and how the scene where it appears in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid contains most of the ingredients I consider important for creating “the perfect day”, last night’s get-together contained most of the ingredients for the “perfect evening”.

You would think that would have been enough for one evening but no, after the guests left and some tidying up had been done, we discovered a wonderful show on BBC4 called Burt Bacharach, A Life In Song. Anyone familiar with this blog will know that I’m a great fan of Burt’s music and especially the songs he wrote with Hal David. This show had been filmed three years ago when Burt was 85 and although it was sad to see him looking so frail and aged, he still rose to the challenge of leading his orchestra and guest singers in a celebration of his music.

It was one of those shows where between the songs, Burt was interviewed by Michael Grade, who quizzed him on all aspects of his very lengthy career. What I found really interesting was that near the end, Michael asked Burt what his favourite song was and it turned out to be Alfie – This was obviously a pleasant surprise. Sadly, because I think I’ve listened to the song once too often this year, I have now become a bit tired of it but it was interesting to note that Burt chose it because he considered Hal’s lyrics to be “important”. A few months back I came to this conclusion also. There are earlier important lyrics in the song but near the end there are the lines:

I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed
You’re nothing, Alfie

Early on in this process of looking back nostalgically via song, it became apparent that “What’s it all about?” was indeed love – First for our family as children, then for our best friends as teenagers and finally for the people we form relationships with on the way to finding that special person. If you are lucky enough to have children, that is perhaps the greatest love of all and one from which you have no escape, although your patience may be tested at times. There is the old adage that nobody on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”- It is all about the people you meet on the way. In music and song, the subject of love is never far away, and what a wonderful thing to have in the world (I’m in tears here).

Of course there are many versions of the song Alfie (and it ended up being the Cher version used for the film) but when pressed, Burt very carefully sidestepped the issue of which one he preferred. He did however refer to the now infamous footage of Cilla Black being harangued into recording 41 versions, which suggests it wasn’t her one!

Alfie by Cilla Black:

But back to the show – When Burt was then asked what his second favourite song was, it turned out to be A House Is Not A Home. This show just kept getting better and better because earlier that evening, when getting ready for the party, I had thanked my lucky stars that due to circumstance we very much reside in a lived-in home as opposed to a show-house. I know that is not really the point of the song, but it had come to mind. By the time you reach your “middle-years” a lot of friends have invested heavily in their expensive, possibly cream-coloured furniture, fittings and floor coverings (the three Fs). All very nice but they are then terrified of ever hosting a social event in case anything gets spoilt or damaged. Having given up a good job when our daughter was born to be a stay-at-home mum, we’ve not had the luxury of constantly upgrading every few years – The upside of this however is that your house becomes a home, where the people in it are the most important thing and not the expensive furnishings. Our daughter’s friends were always welcome, pets were encouraged and social gatherings are a regular occurrence. I feel sorry in a way for those people trapped in the cycle of working so hard to buy all those lovely things that then can’t be enjoyed and shared, but hey, maybe that’s just me.

Yet again I have run out of words but I will end with a version of A House Is Not A Home from my collection which comes from the television show Glee, where it was sung very sweetly by the actor/singer Chris Colfer. I hadn’t really taken too much heed of the song until that point (previously recorded by Dionne Warwick, Brook Benton and many others) but it perfectly fitted the storyline and led me straight to iTunes after the show ended.

A House Is Not A Home by Chris Colfer:

So yet again I’m up far too late, just as happened last night when I was drawn to watching a late night show featuring Burt Bacharach. And of course this has been a very serious post, so apologies for that – I promise that a much more light-hearted one is to follow and it involves trousers. Watch this space.

A House Is Not A Home Lyrics
(Song by Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

A chair is still a chair
Even when there’s no one sitting there
But a chair is not a house
And a house is not a home
When there’s no one there to hold you tight,
And no one there you can kiss good night.

A room is still a room
Even when there’s nothing there but gloom;
But a room is not a house,
And a house is not a home
When the two of us are far apart
And one of us has a broken heart.

Now and then I call your name
And suddenly your face appears
But it’s just a crazy game
When it ends it ends in tears.

Darling, have a heart,
Don’t let one mistake keep us apart.
I’m not meant to live alone. turn this house into a home.
When I climb the stair and turn the key,
Oh, please be there still in love with me.

Butch Cassidy, Burt Bacharach and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”

When is a song not a song? Why of course when it’s one of those pad a dap a dapadda, doob be doobee doop, pum… pum… pum… padadappada “a cappella-type” numbers performed by vocal harmony groups. I read a review this week for the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and immediately had those scenes in my head where Butch and Sundance are being chased down by the posse, led by white-hatted Lefors (“Who are those guys?”). It becomes clear they have to flee, and so they head to Bolivia with Sundance’s schoolteacher lover, in search of a more successful criminal career. Throughout the movie we are treated to Burt Bacharach’s amazing soundtrack, and when they hit Bolivia, it is the perfect cue for South American Getaway.

South American Getaway by Burt Bacharach:

Now I had always thought that this part of the soundtrack was by The Swingle Singers, that a cappella group that seemed to pop up with great regularity on Saturday night telly in the ’70s but no, South American Getaway was by the Ron Hicklin Singers, a group of Los Angeles-based studio singers. They are most famously known as being the real backing singers behind The Partridge Family recordings but also worked on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme, MacArthur Park and Suicide Is Painless (the theme to the film M*A*S*H). They were the vocal equivalent of (and often worked with) The Wrecking Crew, that bunch of top session musicians who played on many ’60s and ’70s records. They were the house band for Phil Spector but also worked with Sonny & Cher, The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, Frank Sinatra and even Elvis. Getting back to the Ron Hicklin Singers, Ron himself was lead tenor but there was also an alto, a soprano, a bass and a couple of brothers called Bahler, who performed tenor harmonies on South American Getaway.

I was too young to have seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the cinema in 1969 so would only have seen it a few years later on television, but what an impact it made. The two lead actors, Paul Newman and Robert Redford had amazing on-screen chemistry and for me, it marked the start of a major crush on both of them. In 1974 Paul Newman starred in The Towering Inferno, one of the many disaster movies around at that time and fortunately I was now old enough to see it at the cinema. The blue-eyed Mr Newman was actually five years older than my dad by that time which seems kind of creepy now but with film stars the whole age thing never seems to matter and even today stars like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, who are positively middle-aged, are adored by legions of young female fans around the world.

Around this time it was deemed that my childhood bedroom was in need of redecoration and I was given carte blanche on what the new scheme should be. (Bear with me here, there is a reason for this bit of sidestepping.) Down came the ’60s style wallpaper and the posters of Donny Osmond, David Cassidy and Bjorn Borg and up went woodchip wallpaper, which could be painted any colour I wanted. After pouring over paint charts for some time I went for an attractive mustard colour which would, I thought, look good with my new brown and orange curtains – Of course paint charts can be notoriously misleading and once my dad had finished the room it was most definitely a khaki green colour as opposed to mustard but hey, I was happy, it being so modern with the woodchip an’ all.

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One of the house rules for this newly decorated bedroom was that there were to be fewer posters and certainly none attached with drawing pins – Instead I could use that new-fangled stuff called blu-tack. And so it came to pass that a giant poster of Paul Newman was purchased and a slightly smaller one of Robert Redford to feature on the newly painted khaki green walls – I honestly think they remained there until I left home about four years later so I obviously stayed true to this pair for a sizeable chunk of my teenage years.

Because I usually end a post with lyrics, which is not really possible with South American Getaway, I will also include a clip of the most familiar piece of music from that film’s soundtrack, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head. Again this was a Bacharach composition and I always knew that the person singing it in the film was BJ Thomas but of course in the UK at the start of 1970, it was that dashing Frenchman Sacha Distel who got to No. 10 in the singles chart with the song.

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head by BJ Thomas:

It’s a bizarre kind of song to have inserted into a film about “The Wild West” but somehow it just works. This was a film all about the relationship between Butch, Sundance and Katharine Ross’s character Etta Place. Despite the desperately sad ending, there were just so many comedic moments and this scene on the bicycle kind of sums it up for me. Over the years I have tried to put together the recipe for a “perfect day” and a lot of the ingedients are contained within the video for this song:

  • It’s got to be a sunny day and if dappled sunlight is present (like here) even better.
  • Got to be with good friends you can truly relax with and be yourself.
  • Got to be wearing possibly quirky, but definitely comfy, casual clothes.
  • Important that there is no timetable or agenda for the day so that you can just go with the flow.
  • Not got to be a costly day but to be full of simple pleasures.
  • Get to go home to your own bed at night!

Not for everyone I know but works for me and watching this scene from the film again, I just love how Butch and Etta have that easy relaxed friendship, riding around in dappled sunlight, picking apples from the tree. Very late ’60s indeed and oh to have been Miss Ross on that very special day – Stepford was still many years in the future so for the time-being, until the going got a bit tough down Bolivia-way, she could enjoy being part of one of the most famous trios in film history.

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head Lyrics
(Song by Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

Raindrops are falling on my head
And just like the guy whose feet
Are too big for his bed
Nothing seems to fit
Those raindrops
Are falling on my head
They keep falling

So I just did me some
Talking to the sun
And I said I didn’t like the way
He got things done
Sleeping on the job
Those raindrops
Are falling on my head
They keep fallin’

But there’s one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me
Won’t defeat me, it won’t be long
Till happiness
Steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes
Will soon be turning red
Crying’s not for me ’cause,
I’m never gonna stop the rain
By complaining,
Because I’m free
Nothing’s worrying me

It won’t be long
Till happiness
Steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes
Will soon be turning red
Crying’s not for me cause,
I’m never gonna stop the rain
By complaining,
Because I’m free, ’cause nothing’s worrying me

George Martin, The Beatles and “Alfie”

I did say recently that I didn’t want the blog to become an obituary column which seemed to what was happening throughout January and February but I don’t want to omit mentioning the passing this week of one of the music world’s most well-known and influential record producers – George Martin, the 5th Beatle.

Looking back now at photos of George working with The Beatles, he could be their dad, always dressed in his shirt and tie, his brylcreemed hair immaculately combed back. As it turns out he could have been an older brother in age terms but it goes to show how that small age difference in the ’60s meant that you were either part of that pre-war generation who had suffered the hardships and direct involvement, or you were the new post-war “never had it so good” generation who were bringing such innovation to music, film, fashion and ideas.

george martin

George however, although he may not have looked like his protégés, certainly had the ideas that contributed to their incredible success. In fact during their short career (considering their impact on the music world even to this day), they spent half of it in the recording studio with George, choosing that medium for their musical output rather than returning to live shows in front of screaming fans, who wouldn’t have been able to hear the songs anyway. There can’t be many people who haven’t heard of, or listened to, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which truly was a landmark album in the history of pop music. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968 and often tops polls of “The Greatest Album Ever Made”. None of this would have come about without George.

Again, I am probably going to horrify people by admitting that I was never a great fan of Sgt. Pepper and preferred The Beatles earlier pure pop output. It is simply that I was too young in 1967 to appreciate its sophistication. As a child, the films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! appealed to me much more and were shown regularly on television. As happened with David Bowie, I was just born too late to appreciate them at their creative height, but have kind of come round since.

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

George Martin’s relationship with The Beatles came about because of his link to Brian Epstein, the band’s manager. During the early ’60s, Brian Epstein and George Martin between them, were pretty much responsible for creating the Mersey Sound or Merseybeat as it came to be called. Brian had tried all the major labels to sign his Liverpudlian stable of artists, but it was not until an initially reluctant George Martin at Parlophone saw something there he could work with, that the magic began. As well as The Beatles, other artists such as Cilla Black, Gerry & the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas all made the regular trip south to visit George and the team at Parlophone. Cilla Black may have referred to the orchestra he used as “a bunch of auld fellas” but they certainly all contributed to making those artists the massive recording stars of the day.

cilla

There are just so many songs I could have picked to write about in relation to George Martin but the most obvious for me is of course Alfie, the song I used as inspiration for the title to the blog. Cilla Black was initially reluctant to take on this Bacharach and David classic but after Burt came across to London from the US to play and conduct on this oddly titled song, she could hardly refuse, despite her reservations that it was the name you would give a dog! George Martin was at the mixing desk performing his magic and after many takes of the song, they produced something truly remarkable.

Alfie by Cilla Black:

It’s now over 50 years since Cilla was asked to record Alfie in order to promote the Michael Caine film of the same name. Right at the end, our eponymous hero poses the question, “What’s it all about?” and I have come to realise that after 50 years of listening to popular music and now writing about the memories it inevitably conjures up, the answer is very much love, just as the song lyrics say. It is the love for our family as children, the love for our best friends as teenagers, for the various boyfriends/girlfriends on the way to finding that special someone, and now for me, the love I feel for my husband, daughter and special friends. Since starting this blog, I have never once reminisced about that important work deadline, that crucial exam result or the completion of that lengthy report, it is always about the people along the way. There is the old adage that you never go to your deathbed wishing you had spent more time at the office and after writing this, my 30th post, I am more convinced than ever that this is the case. As The Beatles sang – “All You Need Is Love”!

RIP George Martin.

Alfie Lyrics
(Song By Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

What’s it all about Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live
What’s it all about
When you sort it out, Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if, if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above
Alfie, I know there’s something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed
You’re nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day Alfie, oh Alfie.