Single of the week

Elusive Butterfly (Bob Lind)

Some song writers have a knack of painting a beautiful picture in their songs which many can recognise. Bob Dylan did it particularly well with My Back Pages which The Byrds showcased beautifully. Bobby Goldsboro and Adele were two more who could do that effectively and this week’s suggestion is all about the Elusive Butterfly painted so beautifully by Bob Lind but is it anything to do with entomology? Read on.

Robert Neale Lind was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1942 and got break at the age of 23 when he signed a record deal with World Pacific records, a subsidiary of Liberty. He was originally working alongside staff songwriter Sonny Bono but due to Bono’s commitments he passed Lind over to a colleague and one of Phil Spector’s team Jack Nitzsche. One of the first songs they recorded together was Elusive Butterfly and it was Nitzsche’s idea to add the string arrangement. They also recorded a song called Cheryl’s Going Home – which Adam Faith later had a minor UK hit with, but Lind’s version was released as the A side with Elusive Butterfly on the flip. It was only when a radio DJ on station WQAM in Florida flipped it over and played the B side the people began to take notice.

“I didn’t invent it with ‘Butterfly’, Bob revealed, “there’s a poem by Yeats called Song of the Wandering Angus that said it about 100 years ago, but that’s the sea I was sailing – the sea of longing.” Lind wrote it as the sun was coming up after staying up all night and said, “The song is about The magic of the quest, the thrill of searching, even when that which is sought is hard to see. Elusive Butterfly is a story of pursuit though most commonly it could fit a man in pursuit of a woman, or a woman of a man, the pursuit could be about anything. That is what makes it great art.” One notable, but not unique things about the song, is that none of the lines rhyme.

On his website, Bob gives two examples, “I have two dear friends who have touchingly lived Elusive Butterfly. One is Doug who fell in love with Kate in high school, never kissed her or even dated her, yet he has not been able to get her out of his mind for 46 years and dreams of meeting her just one more time in his life…he doesn’t know why, it is the Elusive Butterfly. Then I have the saddest friend of all, Katarina, who feels she is a woman in a man’s body and has lost her family, friends, job and even her health in pursuit of trying to catch the Elusive Butterfly that is her spirit. Tragically in pursuit of the butterfly she had kidney failure as a result of her surgery to be the butterfly and is now disabled and on life support for life.”

The musicians on the track, apart from Lind, are session people including Leon Russell on piano and Carol Kaye on bass. Carol remembers it well because a minor error she made turned into a signature sound. She explained in an interview with Song Facts, “It was at Sunset Sound, it was kind of a boring tune, I think it was D-flat or something, and it stays a long time in that chord and then it moves in a funny way to the next chord, it’s like a sidebar phrase or something like that. I missed it and I went to go up to the G-flat or whatever and I missed it and I came right back down. I did a slide up and down. And they stopped and I thought, ‘uh oh, he caught me.’ He said, ‘do more of those!’ so the slide was born, then. I’d stick that slide in here and there on the records I cut.”

It transpired a number of years later that Bob had also recorded a much longer version of the song and fans have searched high and low to find it’s proved a bit elusive, like the butterfly. Bob explained, “I wrote it when I was 20 and it was full of sap and blarney. I fought Jack (Nitzsche) tooth and nail to record the long version for the record, but he refused to indulge me and he was right. Looking at it now, it feels fat at that length. I think the edit served it. If someone else wants to record the marathon version, he/she is welcome to it. I don’t have any dictatorial mandates about it.

In the UK the song entered the chart at number 48 and the following week it went up to number 21. That same week a cover version by the Irish singer Val Doonican entered the chart at 35 and both versions climbed the chart and both versions peaked at number five. If only one version had been available it could have gone all the way to the top.

Lind’s debut album took its title from a line in Elusive Butterfly – Don’t Be Concerned and features 12 songs including Mister Zero which the late Keith Relf, former lead singer with the Yardbirds, had a solo minor hit with. Lind only charted one other song, Remember the Rain which missed the top 40 completely.

Lind suffered a few set-backs with drugs and alcohol and eventually split with his record label in 1969 and distanced himself from the music business two years later. In the seventies he got himself sorted out and has been clean since around 1977. In the eighties he had a change of direction and ended writing five novels. In 1991 he wrote an award-winning screenplay called Refuge.

In 2004, Bob had an idea and that was to persuade Woody Guthrie’s folk singing son, Arlo to make a comeback, he succeeded and it was done so at the Guthrie Center in Becket, Massachusetts. Bob played live for the first time in years and was re-energised. The pair still tour occasionally today.

Bob recorded some new material in 2006 and showcased it on a live CD called Live at the Luna Star Cafe where he also gives some insight into some of his songs. His last album, Magellan Was Wrong, was released in 2016 and, apart from one Tom Paxton cover, they were all original songs.

In November 2013, Lind, alongside Judy Collins, was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

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The Poacher (Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance)

In the music industry he couldn’t’ve have been spoken of highly enough, but in the public’s eyes he really could be classed as an unsung hero. Rod Stewart said of him, “Ronnie was the essence of The Faces: the backbone, the heart of it,” and producer Glyn Johns said, on learning of his death in 1997, “He had a wonderful and lasting effect on a huge number of people through his music and particularly those of us who were fortunate enough to come in contact with him.”

Ronald Frederick Lane was very proud of being born on April Fool’s Day 1946, not that he had much say in the matter, and was actively encouraged by his father to be a musician. He bought his first guitar and before long had formed his first band called The Outcasts with a budding drummer called Kenney Jones whom he’d met in a local pub. Ronnie’s mother, Elsie, suffered with ill health from around the time Ron was born which was later discovered to be Multiple Sclerosis which exacerbated the situation. Ronnie said, years later, that his mother was often cold and distant but he spoke extremely highly of this father Stan once referring to him as a Saint.

The Outcasts evolved into the Small Faces – so named because all members were around five and a half feet tall – and Jones and Lane were joined by Steve Marriott on vocals and guitar and Jimmy Winston on organ. After their debut hit, Whatcha Gonna Do About It? Winston was replaced by Ian McLagan. They amassed a dozen UK hit singles, 10 of them being written by Lane and Marriott. In 1969, Marriott left to form Humble Pie which halted the band immediately but it proved to be a good omen because Lane, McLagan and Jones teamed up with Ron Wood and Rod Stewart, who had both been with the Jeff Beck Group and re-Christened themselves The Faces and went on to have five UK hits, the biggest being the 1973 number two hit Cindy Incidentally. One of Lane’s most well-known songs was Ooh La La, the title track of The Faces’ fourth album and was eventually a solo hit for Rod Stewart in 1998.

In 1973, Lane left The Faces and bought a farm in Wales but in 1977 his health began to suffer. He consulted a doctor who diagnosed him with the same degenerating disease that his mother suffered from, MS and so in the 1977 he moved back to London. He tried a number of different ‘alternative’ treatments to help slow the effects of the disease some of which worked well.

Lane, who was known as Plonk and was a real East-end city boy with a twinkle in his eye, went on to form Slim Chance, a band Ronnie often joked that he found the musicians for in a copy Exchange and Mart. He chose the name because when the Small Faces disbanded, due to poor management they were deeply in debt and Ronnie thought that all the musicians would be regarded as a bunch of nobodies and believed they had little chance of succeeding and decided there was a ‘slim chance’ of making it again. The original line up comprised Kevin Westlake and Benny Gallagher on guitars, Billy Livesey on keyboards, Chris Stewart on bass, Jimmy Jewell on saxophone, Bruce Rowland on drums and Graham Lyle on backing vocals. Before any success Gallagher and Lyle left for a solo career and were replaced by Robin Lucas and Drew McCulloch. Steve Simpson, Charlie Hart and Steve Bingham were also members at various times. The label credit on both of their hits credit Ronnie Lane accompanied by the Band Slim Chance almost implying they were just backing him rather than ‘his’ band.

Their first success was with the song How Come which charted in January 1974 and reached number 11, but due to bad timing the follow up had problems because as Westlake remembered, “It would have been a hit had it not been for the BBC technicians strike at the time. We turned up to do Top of the Pops only to be told there would be any show for a few weeks by which time the record was dead,” and so it never got the television exposure it needed and the song stalled at number 36.

Ronnie’s music was very London and The Poacher was the epitome of his rural dreaming. “The idea for The Poacher came to me when I was living in a fortune teller’s caravan by the side of the River Thames at Pete Townshend’s back garden,” Lane said, Townsend added, “He was homeless at the time and they lived like gypsies and they used to cook in the open air.” The Poacher is a very unassuming song which tells the story of a lonely man wandering down to the river with his mind upon his (fishing) tackle. He seemingly tells it from his own point of view saying ‘I went towards the river’. He sets the scene of a bright and clear day with peace all around  and maybe a bit fed up with the world as his words say ‘And I’ve no use for power And I’ve no use for a broken heart I’ll let this world go by’. He clearly is rejecting the world. Former Small Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan one said of Lane, “He was often prone to gazing off into the middle distance,” and this becomes evident in The Poacher.

The track appeared on the 1974 album Anymore for Anymore which barely troubled the UK album chart, but Ronnie loved making the music. His wife Kate always said, “Ronnie wanted to bring music back to the people, he thought doing it for money and fame was wrong.” The album was recorded in Ronnie’s mobile studio on his Farm in Hyssington, Wales where he moved in 1973. He loved to play on the hillside as well as record there, if you listen carefully you can hear various band members’ children shouting in the background.

Ronnie and Slim Chance recorded two further albums; Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance (1975) and One for the Road (1976) then in 1977 began working with The Who’s Pete Townshend on a project they called Rough Mix, but things didn’t work out too well, Eric Clapton said, “He wasn’t actually hitting the strings, he was sort of just hovering above them,” and Townshend said, “He couldn’t balance, he couldn’t stand up, and I just thought he was drunk,” sadly it was his multiple sclerosis.

This disease was bringing Lane’s career to a halt. He was desperate to carry on making music and even tried various treatments including injections of snake venom and in hyperbaric oxygen therapy which did give him some physical relief. He was impressed with the latter and even looked to opening a London hyperbaric oxygen chamber and so his long-time producer and friend Glyn Johns organised a benefit concert to be held at the Royal Albert Hall in 1983. Ronnie recalled at the time, “It was my lady who came up with the idea but I didn’t think it would get such a response and not from the people we got,” the names on list included, Jeff Beck, Kenney Jones, Bill Wyman, Andy Fairweather Lowe, Charlie Watts, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Steve Winwood. “My imagination is pretty potent but I didn’t imagine anything like this, the response to Glyn Johns’ project on my behalf was amazing and they all seemed so happy to be doing it, it was almost like they were all waiting in the woodwork for an excuse to come out and do such a thing.”

In 1984, Lane emigrated to Texas where the weather was more beneficial to his health, 10 years later he and his wife moved again, this time to Trinidad, Colorado initially with Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Jimmy Page covering his medical bills because Lane couldn’t earn and the royalties for songs he had written were not forthcoming. In June 1997 he caught pneumonia and died on 4th June that year aged just 51.

Lane never lost his love of playing and writing good-time music and always remained upbeat. When people asked how his treatment was going, he often joked, “Well a mosquito bit me this morning – and it died.”

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Never Can Say Goodbye (Gloria Gaynor)

        

Disco queen Gloria Gaynor had a knack of recording sad songs but making them upbeat and happy so you wouldn’t really know the sadness behind it. Her transatlantic number one I will Survive, was not about a broken down relationship between a man and a woman, it’s actually about the song’s lyricist, Dino Fekaris getting fired from his job as a staff writer at Motown. Gloria’s debut UK hit was Never Can Say Goodbye which reached number two in early 1975 and is a happy disco anthem but the story behind it is not so uplifting.

The song was written by Clifton Davis who turned up at the Motown offices one day and began playing the tune he’d written on a piano. In the next office was the producer Hal Davis (no relation) who has having a conversation with another producer called Jerry Marcellino, “I heard this melody and it kept interrupting my ear,” said Davis in the Complete Motown Singles book, “I told Jerry ‘that’s a hit, whatever it is.'”

Clifton was 25 years old and had brought the song to Motown looking for a publisher and Hal promised he would cut the song with the Jackson 5. “This was an emotional song that meant a lot to me when I wrote it,” he stated in J. Randy Taraborelli’s book Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness. “I wanted to sing it myself really but how could I resist letting Michael have it, but I was worried that he might not understand the lyrics of pain and heartbreak. I recall him asking about one of the lines, ‘there’s that same unhappy feeling, there’s that anguish, there’s that doubt’ and he asked me what anguish meant, I explained and he shrugged his shoulders and sang the line.” Suzee Ikeda was Hal’s assistant and recalled, “When he sang that line he surprised us all with the feeling he put into it.”

Once the track was recorded in June 1970, there was concern among the powers that be in Motown about releasing it believing it to be too adult for the teen group. This annoyed Hal so the next day he played the song in his office at a much louder volume than he ordinarily would have and the label’s founder, Berry Gordy, whose office was next door, came running in saying to Hal, “Hey, that song’s a smash.” Hal replied, “I know but they won’t release it,” to which Gordy replied, “They will now.” It reached number two on the Billboard single chart but number one on the R&B chart and thus earned the group a Grammy nomination for Best R&B song but lost out to Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, a song which Michael covered the following year and reached the UK top 10.

It was that song that prompted the Jackson 5 to take their show on the road as Michael recalled in his autobiography, Moonwalk, “The crazy days of the big Jackson 5 tours began right after the success we had with our records. After Never Can Say Goodbye was a hit in 1971 we played 45 cities that summer followed by 50 more cities later that summer.”

Never Can Say Goodbye has been covered numerous time, notably by Isaac Hayes in 1971 on his album Black Moses who did it in a deep-voiced mature adult way, the same year Motown acts The Supremes and Junior Walker gave it a go. There have been respectable versions cut by Andy Williams, Sheena Easton, Sonny & Cher, Vanessa Williams and Westlife, but it was back in the UK top 10 in 1987 when The Communards took the song to number four. The track also featured in the 2006 animated film Happy Feet where Nicole Kidman renders a few lines and, naturally, Glee got in on the act when it was performed by Dianna Agron during the third season in 2012.

Clifton Davis, who went on to star in the American television shows That’s My Mama and Amen in which he played a Pastor, also wrote the Jackson 5’s follow up hit Lookin’ Through The Windows which reached number nine in the UK. In the late eighties Davis became a real-life Pastor and since 1993 has been active part of children’s services organization called Youthville in North Carolina.

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Proper Moist (Dapper Laughs)

This week’s choice is an odd one with no real story. When I was asked for this I didn’t actually remember it being a hit. Well, I say hit, on 22nd February 2014 it entered the chart at number 15 and the following week it was gone. Do you remember Proper Moist by Dapper Laughs? I thought not!

If you Google Dapper Laughs you’ll notice immediately words like ‘offensive’ ‘vulgar’ and ‘controversial’ and that’s exactly what David Daniel O’Reilly is. He was born in Kingston in Surrey but grew up in Clapham, south London. He made his name as a participant on social media sites Facebook and Vine. Once he’d got around two million followers on the former he then continued on Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube. One of his first gimmicks was filming himself putting ‘wet floor’ signs in the sea which earned him the nickname ‘Moisturiser’.

Once upon a time, singers and comedians etc had to work the clubs to earn respect and a following. Singers had to impress record companies to get deals which, in turn, led to radio airplay in the hope chart success would follow, but with the advent of social media people don’t need all that now which was lucky for Dapper Laughs. With the astronomical number of followers he amassed he managed to undertake a series of one-man shows which completely by-passed the club circuit. Most of his act was centred around talking about the size of his anatomy and how sexually advanced he was. His patter was often ill-mannered, he once told a female member of the audience that she was lucky she had big tits because she was as thick as pig shit.

His one and only single was in a similar vein which only has one offensive word in it where the F-word crops up a couple of times, but it’s more the directness of how he ‘raps’ to the listener of how the girl is loving the sexual act and of how good he is at adding in that she’ll be walking like Robocop the next day. Then he proceeds to explain that when he’s finished with the girl he’ll check out her mother and how he’ll f*** her mom so much so that at the end of the night she’ll need a wheelchair. Fully aware of the controversy, he even adds into the lyrics, ‘They’ll be hatin’ on me for just havin’ a bit of fun’. It’s not exactly Matt Monro is it?!

The internet has done all the work for the track because virtually all radio stations completely ignored it. If it’s cleverly marketed, it can get onto ITunes’ own chart which this song did and the week leading up to its chart entry it hovered around the top 10 thus sparking interest and people downloading it out of curiosity. Much of the press he received at the time were likening him to eighties comic Roy Chubby Brown but more annoying than offensive. One of his own promotional tricks was a Tweet which said, “It’s gonna piss a lot of people off. Download and bang a bird to it. Hard!”

His television career was halted fairly quickly. He had his own ITV2 show called On The Pull but he was axed siting that his comedy routines were degrading to women. On one of his tours there was a report that he made a terrible rape joke which he later claimed was taken out of context but nonetheless he cancelled the rest of the tour. He was invited onto the BBC’s Newsnight programme and interviewed by Emily Maitlis where he revealed he was killing off the Dapper Moist character. But, just a couple of weeks later he’d resurrected it and released a DVD of one of his south London shows. In an interview with the Radio Times, he patronisingly said to the interviewer, “people like yourself need to have a lot more respect for the intelligence of my audience, they understand that Dapper Laughs is an exaggerated character.” Do they?

In 2016, he and his long-term model girlfriend, Shelley Rae had a baby who they called Neve, originally he had planned to Snapchat the birth to his followers, but in the statement he said that the event became “too emotional and private” for him to share. He also said in an interview with The Sun, that he had no intention of sharing pictures of his new arrival online – for fear of repercussions after he became notorious for his ‘lad culture’ character on Snapchat.

In January 2018 he was invited to appear on Celebrity Big Brother but he was soon in hot water after making a number of shocking sexual remarks about his housemate Jess Impiazzi. He was voted off much earlier than he expected and was called a hypocrite by fans after he reacted furiously to the decision, but he did leave in style by proposing to his girlfriend as he went down on one knee during his exit.

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Happiness (Ken Dodd)

Bill Anderson version

 

Ken Dodd Version

 

Eight weeks before we heard of the sad death of the comedy legend, Ken Dodd, I had a request from Des Roberts who said, “I’d like to nominate a Single of the Week – Happiness by Ken Dodd. My young lady Marika heard it on the radio today and asked me about it. I have not been able to find out much like who composed the song or if, as Marika thinks, there are other covers. Can you delve into the vaults and find out these facts, plus no doubt, a lot more, and rest this curious mind.” Well here I am at the rescue.

The best place to get the information is to go to the source and so I addressed an email to the song’s writer who promptly replied to advise me he was about to start a two-week working cruise and would be happy to be interviewed upon his return and true to his word, he contacted me when he got back and we had a chat about Happiness.

His name is Bill Anderson, a country singer/songwriter known as Whisperin’ Bill who was born in South Carolina in 1937. He studied music and journalism at the University of Georgia and earned a degree in the latter. After graduating he worked as a part-time newspaper correspondent by day and as a DJ and sang country music at night. Whilst in Georgia, the lights of the city inspired him to write the song City Lights which he recorded and was released in the small TNT label. His big break came in 1958 when Ray Price covered the song and turned it into one of the biggest hits of the year when it spent 13 weeks atop the Country single chart. He signed a deal with Decca records and had his first top 10 country hit with The Tip of My Fingers, a song that would be covered and make the UK top 20 by Des O’Connor in 1970. His first of seven country number ones came in 1962 when Mama Sang A Song spent seven weeks at the top and his next hit, Still, did likewise with another seven week stint at the summit. He followed that with 8 x 10 which peaked at number two. Ken Dodd was a fan of Bill’s songs and covered the latter two and made the UK chart with both. Variety hall comics liked to end their act with a song and some of them (Charlie Drake, Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper) have had hit records. Ken Dodd was better placed than most as he had a trained voice and had sung in his church choir. “Well, I did ’til they found where the noise was coming from,” he joked, “My father had a musical ear – it was shaped like a French horn.” Ken’s favourite was Happiness which became his signature tune and ended almost every show he did with it.

I asked Bill what inspired it and where he was when he wrote it, “It’s been a lot of years ago, but if I remember correctly I wrote the last verse first. I had recently had a conversation with my grandfather who was a minister. He had said something to me about the way people should measure their success in this life and, I think, was cautioning me against placing my values on the wrong things.”

Dodd often said that he measured his success by the number of laughs he got a minute and there’s a line in the song that refers to counting success by happiness not money, I asked Bill if he felt the same way (audience reaction rather than money)? “My perspective changed in that regard after my grandfather and I had that talk,” he revealed, “I realised that all the money in the world can’t buy happiness, and that’s the point I was trying to get across.”

In the UK Karl Denver, Jim Reeves and Frankie McBride all charted covers of Bill Anderson-penned songs and I asked Bill how he felt when someone else covers his song, “Anytime an artist stakes part of his or her career by recording one of my songs I consider it to be a great compliment.”

I told Bill that I had seen Ken Dodd live as well as numerous times on television and pointed out that when he sang, the whole audience smiled and were lifted and asked him if he got the same reaction? “On my last trip to the UK I was part of a songwriters’ showcase, and got to sing the song in intimate settings rather than in a large auditorium or arena. It was SO much fun asking the fans to sing along with me (which they did) and to watch them clapping their hands in time with the music and smiling all the way. Since the song was never a big hit in the US, most of my reaction has been from the UK, and, thanks to Ken Dodd, it has been amazing.

I found out recently that Bill had been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame but I also knew that he gained membership in the 1970s, so was this something different? “My recent election has been to the National Songwriters Hall of Fame which honours writers from all genres of music. I’ll be in there alongside Irving Berlin, Rogers & Hammerstein, Bob Dylan, and writers of all types. I was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, which primarily salutes country and gospel music, in 1975.” That is some elite company for the man who had 80 country hits between 1958 and 1991 as well being the host of Fandango – Nashville network’s TV game show.

Ken is legendary for his lengthy shows because he always wanted to “give value for money”. In the 1960s he gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest session of non-stop joke-telling. He told 1,500 jokes in three and a half hours. His 1965 chart-topping single, Tears, was the biggest selling single of the 60s by a solo artist and the third highest seller of the decade behind The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You at two and one respectively. Ken said, “The disc-jockeys hated it, they couldn’t find the words that were bad enough to say about it, but it didn’t matter. The public was ready for a tuneful, singalong song and you can’t keep a good song down. You can be the squarest of squares, but if you make a good record, you can still get there.”

Ken, who loved his home city of Liverpool and spent his entire life in the same house, was awarded an OBE in 1982 and in 2017 the comic was made a Knight by Prince William in honour of his decades-long showbiz career and charity work. His final live performance was at the Echo Arena Auditorium in Liverpool on 28 December 2017. In January 2018 Ken was hospitalised for six weeks with a chest infection and was discharged at the beginning of March. He asked his partner of 40 years, Anne Jones, to marry him and she agreed, they got the registrar and were married in their house on Friday 9th March, but Ken died two days later on Mother’s Day at the age of 90. Lady Anne Dodd said, “I’ve lost the most wonderful husband and it’s been a privilege to work and live with him for the past 40 years. The world has lost a life-enhancing and brilliant comedian with an operatically trained voice who just wanted to make people happy.”

Bill, who is 80 and still active told me, “I perform on tour about 30-days a year and try to appear at the Grand Ole Opry five or six times a month. I’m currently in the studio recording a new album, and I set aside a couple of days each month for co-writing songs. After well over a half-century in the business, I still get excited about it all. I feel so blessed to be able to do this for a living.”

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