Single of the week

Runaway (Del Shannon)

Question: Who was the first artist to take a Lennon & McCartney-penned song into the American singles chart some eight months before the Beatles charted their own version of and which song was it? Give up? Well it was Del Shannon who covered From Me to You in a very faithful version, but it’s not that song I’m focusing on this week, but Del’s only transatlantic number one, Runaway.

Del was born Charles Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan in December 1934 and grew up listening to country and western music which prompted him to learn both the guitar and ukulele. He served in the army in Germany in 1954 where he joined a band called the Cool Flames. When he returned to the US he took a job as a carpet salesman by day and played guitar in a band called The Moonlight Ramblers at the Hi-Lo club by night.

The Hi-Lo club was in Battle Creek, Michigan and is affectionately known as the Cereal City USA as Kellogg’s has its headquarters there. In 1959 the workers would unwind at the Hi-Lo club and listen to 25-year-old Charles Westover, as he still was, as part of the resident band. “There was a guy in the club who wanted to be a wrestler called Mark Shannon,” he told spencer Leigh, “and I thought Shannon was a great name and borrowed it. Mark Shannon wasn’t right though as it sounded like a detective. I was selling carpets by day and the guy who owned the store had a Cadillac DeVille, which was beautiful and so I became Del Shannon.”

There was a keyboard player called Max Crook who auditioned for Del’s band and showcased his new gadget called a Musitron, a prototype synthesiser which could copy violins and other instruments. As soon as he heard it, Del said, “Man, you’re hired.” The music publisher, Ollie McLaughlin, was impressed with the group and asked Del and Max for original songs. Max wrote the instrumental, Mr. Lonely, the B-side of Johnny & The Hurricanes’ 1961 hit, Ja-Da.

His first and biggest hit was Runaway and Del recalled how it came about, “We were on stage and Max hit an A minor and a G and I said, ‘Max, play that again, it’s a great change.'” The drummer, Dick Parker, followed them and after 15 minutes, the manager of the club shouted, “Knock it off, play something else.” The next day, in-between serving customers in the carpet store, Del Shannon wrote some lyrics. “That night I went back to the club and I told Max to play an instrumental on his Musitron for the middle part, and when he played that solo, we had Runaway.”

Then it came to the recording and in January 1961 Del and Max, along with their respective wives, Shirley and Joann, went to New York and the two men recorded with session musicians. The record company, Big Top, had sped up Runaway causing Del to remark, ‘That doesn’t sound like me.’ To which the record executive replied, ‘But nobody knows what you sound like, Del.’ While they were recording, Shirley and Joann joined the audience of a TV show and Joann ended up as a winning contestant on Beat The Clock. Almost nine months to the day, Shirley gave birth to their daughter, whom they named Jody, after the B-side of Runaway and itself named after a girl who went to the Hi-Lo.

He once said he wrote the words to Runaway about himself because he was forever running away from relationships as the song told the story of a guy whose girl leaves him, and he is left wondering why it went wrong. He was also a modest man and never claimed he was doing anything original with his vocal, saying that it borrowed from The Ink Spots’ We Three, Jimmy Jones’ Handy Man, Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover and Dion & The Belmonts’ I Wonder Why.

Runaway was a great recording debut and led to Shannon charting 13 more hits in the UK 11 of which were written or co-written by Del. The nearest he came to topping the chart again was with the 1962 hit The Swiss Maid which made number two and was written by the future chart-topping singer Roger Miller. Max’s Musitron can be heard at its note-bending best on Don’t Gild the Lily, Lily which was on the B-side of the follow-up to Runaway, Hats off to Larry.

By the beginning of the 1970s, Del’s career had petered out and he turned to alcohol. In 1974 he recorded the song And the Music Plays On which was produced by Dave Edmunds. Four years later he gave up the booze and signed a deal with RSO records and began working on an album called Drop Down and Get Me which was produced by Tom Petty and recorded with the Heartbreakers, Tom’s backing band. Just prior to album’s release RSO went bust and was handed over to Network records. The album featured mainly original songs but there was a cover of the Everly Brothers’ Maybe Tomorrow and The Rolling Stones’ Out of Time.

In 1986 Del was asked to re-record Runaway with new lyrics and served as the theme for the NBC-TV television program Crime Story. There were rumours in 1989 that he was going to replaced Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys after Orbison died because Del had worked with Jeff Lynne in 1975, but that never happened. That same year Tom Petty, in his hit Runnin’ Down a Dream, makes reference to Del when he sings, ‘It was a beautiful day, me and Del were singing, a little runaway.’

Anyone who has toured with Del Shannon knows he was full of obsessions – one day he was attacking sugar and the next day scooping down ice-cream – and he went from one fad to another. His songs reflect his paranoia because he suffered with depression. On 8th February 1990, Shannon took his own life with 22-caliber rifle.

After his death the Traveling Wilburys paid tribute when they recorded a version of Runaway. The following year Jeff Lynne helped to complete Del’s final album, Rock On and Del was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

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What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) (Information Society)

This week’s choice will be unfamiliar to many readers as the song was never a UK hit, received very little airplay and the artist is not known in this country, but a late 80s release which may well have fared better had it been released about six years earlier.

The Information Society were a synth-pop quartet comprising guitarist Paul Robb, bassist James Cassidy, vocalist Kurt Harland Larson and keyboard player Amanda Kramer who formed in 1982 in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a sound that would have fitted in perfectly with the likes of Yazoo, Depeche Mode and OMD to name just three, but they were fairly ahead of their time when it came to using samples. Sampling, as we know it i.e. using existing recorded material made by other people began properly in the mid-eighties beginning with The Art of Noise’s track Close (To the Edit) which used interpolations of Yes’ Leave It, a track from the 90125 album. The Art of Noise must have been Yes fans as the song’s title was inspired by the title of Yes’ 1972 album Close To the Edge.

It’s also surprising that it wasn’t a hit because it carries a message that many people could relate to; What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) tells the story of a man trying to get his wife/girlfriend to open up and say what’s on her mind. He could see something was wrong but she wouldn’t say. “When we wrote the lyric, we considered it just a collection of emotional impressions,” Paul Robb explained in an interview with Song Facts, “When you look back at it now, it’s a clear narrative about the difficulty that people have communicating with each other. At the time, we weren’t writing it with that in mind, but it’s so clear when you just read through the lyrics, it’s a very simple and clear-cut story. We didn’t really realise what we were writing about. You fall into these grooves – I think it’s just the way the human brain works, even when you try to avoid it, you fall into the next groove over. But it’s still the same narrative structure, because that’s the way the brain works: we like to tell stories.”

Looking at the title, the parenthesis didn’t seem to link to the body of the song, Pure Energy is what Dr Spock (played by Leonard Nimmoy) uttered in Star Trek. It was in the 26th episode called Errand of Mercy in the first series where Dr Spock and Captain Kirk visit the Planet Organia where its inhabitants are so ahead of their time that there is no need for a physical body and Spock utters the words, “Fascinating. Pure energy. Pure thought. Totally incorporeal. Not life as we know it at all.” On the 12″ extended version the track opens with the lines, ‘It’s worked so far, but we’re not out yet,’ which is another Star Trek line this time spoken by Dr McCoy in the eighth episode of the second series called I Mudd.

They planned to release the parent album ahead of the single but they ran into problems because none of the dialogue from Star Trek had been cleared with Paramount Pictures. Their record company made several attempts to contact Paramount but were getting no response so eventually, after six months, the label’s A&R man managed to contact Adam Nimmoy, Leonard’s son, who relayed the message to his father who personally cleared the samples.

The single was released and made number three on the Billboard singles chart where is spend six months. In the UK it fell short of the published top 75 by peaking at number 81. The eponymously titled album made number 25 in America.

Amanda Kramer left the band in 1988 when the song was beginning to happen. She later went on to work with Karl Wallinger and his band World Party and toured as a backing singer for Siouxsie Sioux and Lloyd Cole and then in 2003 joined, and is still with, The Psychedelic Furs.

The band parted company in 1993 when their label, Tommy Boy, dropped them but Harland wanted to continue, so he bought the rights to the name from the other band members and released an album in 1997 called Don’t Be Afraid. In 2006 both James Cassidy and Paul Robb decided on a reunion but Harland declined to be a full-time member, but did contribute vocals to a track called Seeds of Pain. They drafted in Christopher Anton as their new lead singer and they added a female touch by bringing in Sonja Myers. In 2014 Harland returned fully and were back to the original male line up but now included VJ Falcotronik. The same year they released an album called Hello World and two years later came Orders of Magnitude an album of cover versions which featured, among others, Heaven 17’s (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang, Exile’s Kiss You All Over and the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me.

What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) was featured in the 2000 film American Psycho which starred Christian Bale and again, more recently in an episode of the American Medical drama Grey’s Anatomy in 2014.

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You Always Hurt The One You Love (Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry)

This week’s choice is an old standard made famous by a rockabilly singer who earned his nickname from the way he sang. That man is Clarence Frogman Henry.

Clarence was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in March 1937 and when he was 11 his family moved west to the Algiers area of the city when they were unable to afford the rent. He was one of six children and he recalled when he was growing up, “My daddy played all kinds of string instruments, as well as the harmonica and piano – I don’t care what, my daddy played it. My mamma kept us in the church, so we had to go to Sunday School.” He listened to a lot of Fats Domino and Professor Longhair – so much so that he used to imitate them at school – and came to love the piano. “When I was 8 years old I asked my mama to send me to piano lessons because she’s sent my sister and she didn’t like it. So I started going and learned the fundamentals. My style I taught myself.” His mamma was keen for him to learn the blues, so to please her he did, but when she left the house for work he then played the boogie-woogie that he loved.

His school teacher put a band together with a local r&b singer called Bobby Mitchell, they were called The Toppers and Clarence was with them for about three years. He also learned the trombone and alternated between that and the piano. He graduated in 1955 and the following year got a job in the Fatman club working four hours a night for $5. He was making a name for himself because he then went to work at Bill’s Chicken Shack for a little more money and moved onto the Old Joy piano lounge where he earned over $50 a week. Next he got a job in a club called the Brass Rail where Paul Gayten, the A&R man for Leonard Chess (of Chess records) was also playing. “I started singing a song called Ain’t Got No Home and I played it for Paul who sent it up to Leonard Chess. Leonard then came down to hear it,” Henry said, the song was a novelty song and was the first occasion that he showcased his frog-croaking voice which thus earned him his nickname. He also sang part of it in a high voice which sounded female. Henry explained why, “Shirley and Lee were from New Orleans and were hot during that time. I didn’t have a female singer in the band, so I had to switch my voice like a girl.” And why the frog sound? “How I do the frog sound I don’t know. On the West Bank, Algiers, you had the alligators and frogs which I used to imitate in school, to scare the girls!” He had written a song called Lonely Tramp before Ain’t Got No Home and used to perform frog and female parts on that too. “When Leonard heard it he told Paul to break it up into different parts with the girl and the frog. Henry spent 1957 touring the US, especially New York, Washington DC and Baltimore where he shared a stage with the likes of former Drifters lead singer Clyde McPhatter and Roy Hamilton.

Gayten, along with Bobby Charles, the man who wrote and recorded the original version of See You Later Alligator, wrote But I Do, or sometimes credited as (I Don’t Know Why I Love) But I Do for Henry and he rewarded them with a top five hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Then came the follow-up; “Back in those days you had to get a follow-up to your hit,” Henry recalled, “they sent me a dub and I was supposed to record I’m A Fool to Care but some kinda way, Joe Barry came out with it before I did. So we went to Chicago and Allen Toussaint, who was the arranger for my session, and I were going through a lot of songs and we came up with this Ink Spots song called You Always Hurt the One You Love and cut it.” The song was written by both Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher in 1944 and originally recorded by the Mills Brothers the same year. Many people covered it including a parody version by Spike Jones in 1946 and then Connie Francis, who had the first UK hit in December 1958, Maureen Evens in 1959 and Fats Domino in 1960. The Ink Spots version, that Henry heard, was from 1957. Ringo Starr had a go at it in 1970, Willie Nelson in 1994 and Michael Buble in 2002.

Allan Roberts was a New York-born musician and songwriter who had originally trained as an accountant. He then started playing piano in clubs around Broadway and began writing songs for the likes of Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday. In 1944 he met an aspiring songwriter called Doris Fisher, whose father was the Tin Pan Alley songwriter and music publisher Fred Fisher, and began working on songs together and You Always Hurt the One You Love their first big success. Together they wrote many songs that were recorded by Perry Como, The Andrew Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Their most successful UK hit was That Ole Devil Called Love which was first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1944 and a number two hit in 1985 for Alison Moyet.

Henry’s follow-up was the double A-sided hit Lonely Street and Why Can’t You – the latter being written by Bobby Charles. “He (Charles) was from Abbeville and he was doing most of the writing for me,” Henry reiterated, “I loved his style. Bobby wrote songs that appealed to me, I could feel them. I liked Country & Western the way Bobby wrote it. Allen Toussaint changed it into a pop music feel but Bobby was a great, great writer. I’ll never forget him for what he did for my career. I admire him.” The song just missed the top 40 and was Henry’s last hit.

So what happened next? “When the bookings went down, I worked on Bourbon St and then a disc jockey on a radio talk show called me saying he would use Ain’t Got No Home for his homeless show and everything started happening for me again.  There was over 29 years of royalties I didn’t get, so I got a lawyer who contacted MCA and they gave me five years of back royalties and from then on I started getting the royalties.” In 2005 Henry was inducted in the Delta Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame and two years later inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

As for the songwriters; Roberts died in Los Angeles in 1966, at the age of 60 and Fisher married a real estate developer in 1947 and then retired from the entertainment world. After raising two children she became an interior designer as well as an antique furniture collector. The couple divorced in the late sixties and she moved back to California to set up a kitchenware retail business. She died in January 2003 aged 87.

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The Ballad of Bonnie And Clyde (Georgie Fame)

Many songs have been inspired by a film, for example, John Hartford wrote Gentle on my Mind after seeing the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was written after Deep Blue Something singer and songwriter, Todd Pipes, saw Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, but decided that Breakfast at Tiffany’s would make a better song title and this week’s choice, The Ballad of Bonnie And Clyde was another.

The songwriters, Mitch Murray and Peter Callender, went to see the film, Bonnie and Clyde, about two 1930s gangsters, Bonnie Parker played by Faye Dunaway and Clyde Barrow portrayed by Warren Beatty. “We both decided that they had blown the music,” says Mitch, “They should have had a hit song and so we thought we would write one. At first we considered giving it to Joe Brown or Lonnie Donegan, but they didn’t seem quite right for the song. Then the managing director of CBS told Peter that they had signed Georgie Fame and were looking for a big hit. We added a special jazzy bit for Georgie – ‘Bonnie and Clyde got to be Public Enemy Number One’ – as we thought that would sell it to him, but he wasn’t very keen on the song. We did a demo with machine guns and skidding cars and we were asked to go to the session with our sound effects.”

The film’s music interludes included Deep Night by Rudy Vallee and Foggy Mountain Breakdown by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, to name a couple, but no actual theme. It tells the story of how Clyde, who had recently been released from prison, returns to crime as a bank robber. He meets a waitress, Bonnie, who is bored of her job and life, and together the two form the basis of a gang of bank robbers who terrorise the American southwest in the 1920s.

Georgie Fame said, “I was working up north and I had to fly down to London, do the track, and go back up north for that night’s show. I was working pretty hard at the time and I hadn’t even seen the film when I recorded the song.” Once the track was recorded, the producer, Mike Smith, took it to a studio at Marble Arch to spend the night mixing it. But then came a problem; “The sound effects were wonderful,” Smith explained, “but we discovered an electrical fault and we had clicks all through the drum track. I had to call up (session drummer) Clem Cattini to help.” Clem told me, “I received this call from Mike late one night to go to the studio as he need my help. He told me to get a taxi and he would pay for it, so I went up to London, listened to the track that needed to be re-recorded, did it in two takes and then got a taxi home.” Smith continued, “It was not easy, but I managed to use Georgie’s vocal and the front line from the brass and eventually got it together. To this day, Georgie doesn’t quite believe they did it, but we ended up with an outstanding record.” Mitch Murray, the song’s co-writer, remembered, “We didn’t feel that we get Georgie to do it again because he hadn’t wanted to sing it in the first place! Clem Cattini came in and put the drums back on the track and that is not easy as he was doing it the wrong way round. He did a brilliant job.”

The song went to number one in January 1968 and although the Blue Flames backed Georgie on most of the early singles, they weren’t always credited. Sunny, Sitting in the Park, Because I Love You, Try My World and The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde all failed to credit the Blue Flames on the label. It was Georgie’s third and final UK number one following Yeh Yeh in 1965 and Get Away in 1966. The song did manage to upset some movies goers because they claim it gave away the ending of the film.

Fame, whose real name is Clive Powell, continues to record and tour both on his own and as a member of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. He was also been an on and off member of Van Morrison’s group too. He has two sons, Tristan and James, who are both musicians and in 2010 they all performed together at Twickenham Stadium to celebrate the 10th-birthday celebrations of The Eel Pie Club.

With their husky voices, and fellow Geordies, Georgie Fame and Alan Price are often confused and they increased the confusion by making the album, Fame and Price Together, which included their hit Rosetta. Georgie told Spencer Leigh, “We both play the piano and sing, but I don’t see a lot of similarity. Still, people genuinely come up to me and ask for Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear and Alan gets requests for The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.”

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We’re Gonna Change The World (Matt Monro)

The true definition of a ‘turntable hit’ is a song that received substantial radio airplay but failed to make the chart. Two good examples of this would be Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl and The Eagles’ Life in the Fast Lane. This week’s subject was heavily championed by Capital Radio in the seventies – particularly Kenny Everett, and now receives a fair amount of play on Radio Two and one of two classic Matt Monro songs that never had a chart life. Who could believe that Born Free never graced the chart? And likewise for this week’s track, We’re Gonna Change the World.

Matt Monro was born Terence Parsons in Shoreditch, London in December 1930 and had a tough upbringing because his father, Fred, died from tuberculosis when Terence was just three. His mother, Alice, struggled to cope with Terence and his five older brothers and in 1935 suffered a mental breakdown and went to a sanatorium. Terence was taken to a foster home where his behaviour let him down and eventually his mother came back to look after him. When he was 17 he volunteered for early enrolment and a couple of years later was posted to Hong Kong as a mechanic with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

He got a taste for singing and entered himself into a radio talent show called Radio Rediffusion’s Talent Time show. He kept on winning and hence became a regular guest. The show’s host invited him to perform in a one-off show of his own on the condition he stepped down from the show to make room for other contestants, he agreed. Soon after, he returned to the UK to get a proper job, but his taste for singing had got the better of him. He met a girl and she became pregnant so Matt needed a job to support her and got a job as a lorry driver before switching to buses. He also began singing in various clubs in the evening.

One guest who saw him perform was the Trinidadian-born chart-topping pianist Winifred Atwell who took Terence under her wing and persuaded her record company, Decca, to give Terence an audition. They were impressed and signed him. Terence changed his name taking the name Matt from Matt Black the first journalist who wrote a review about him and Monro from Winifred Atwell’s father Monro Atwell.

Matt’s life changed when he was asked by George Martin to sing for a Peter Sellers album called Songs for Swinging Sellers. The first track was supposed to be Peter Sellers singing in the style of Frank Sinatra and because George had heard Matt he invited him in to singing the song so Peter Sellers had someone to imitate. The version was so good that George kept it on the album and in-turn gave Matt a contract with Parlophone. Matt signed a similar contract with Capitol records in America and they threw a party for him. As his then-manager, Don Black said, “What a party it was, Matt and I met two of our heroes that day, Gordon McCrae and Bobby Darin – both were in awe of Matt’s voice and that was one of the proudest moments in Matt’s career.”

The hits came thick and fast, Portrait of my Love reached number three in 1960, followed by My Kind of Girl in 1961 and Softly as I Leave You the year after. In 1963 he was asked to record the James Bond theme song From Russia with Love and, one of his finest songs, Walk Away, got to number four in 1964. Frank Sinatra once cited Matt Monro as irreplaceable and listed him as one of his favourite singers. Matt’s last UK hit was a vocal version of the chart-topping instrumental, Eye-Level which was re-titled And You Smiled in 1973.

We’re Gonna Change the World was the follow-up which didn’t chart. It’s popularly believed that it was featured in a Kellogg’s corn flakes commercial but it wasn’t although you can see how the sentiment fits. The story tells of Annie Harris living in a London street in the sixties, but was it fact or fiction? The songwriter credits are Tim Harris and David Matthews and I had the pleasure of an email interview with David who told me, “The verse part of the lyric was written by my friend Tim Harris who had never written lyrics before. He used the names of two ex-fiancés and his wife as the three characters in the song.  The idea was to take a whimsical look at what was happening in the streets in the mid-sixties in the way of protest marches. The storyline was fictitious. So the names are real, but the story isn’t. “I received the lyric in the post from him one morning and went straight to the piano,” David continued, “the music was composed in about 20 minutes but it took the rest of the day for me to write the lyrical ‘hook’ i.e. Come with us, run with us etc.”

One of Matt’s last performances was in 1984 at the Barbican theatre in London, a sell-out night and one that was enjoyed and highly praised by all who attended and concluded with a seven minute standing ovation. It was later revealed by Matt’s daughter, Michele Monro that Matt was overcome with emotion and was one of his proudest moments. Later that year Matt became ill and died shortly after at the age of 54 from liver cancer.

David, who learned piano at the age of five, is a professional pianist. He said in an interview with Economia in 2016, “As I developed I became aware of the great songwriters and thought I’d have a go. I took my songs to Denmark Street (London’s equivalent of Tin Pan Alley) and people liked them.” His songs have been recorded by The Troggs, Alan Price and the New Seekers. In 1976 he set up his own accountancy business. For many years he’s entertained guests at weddings and parties with his piano playing. Last year he said, “I’m 78 now and it’s a nice pension, it’s still on the radio at least once a day somewhere, so it’s worth having.”

He said to me, “The song has been exceptionally good to me and has opened many doors. We were fortunate to be nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in the category Best Song musically and lyrically in 1970 but were beaten to the statuette by George Harrison with Something.

So far as I’m aware I’m the only chartered accountant ever to be nominated for an Ivor!

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