Author Archive for Jon Kutner

Be-Bop-A-Lula (Gene Vincent)

Don’t you just love a song where you sing along to all the words and then realise that those words make no sense whatsoever. This is not songs with meaningless titles, just meaningless lyrics like Zoom by Fat Larry’s Band, White Room by Cream and I Am the Walrus by the Beatles being good examples. This week’s suggestion is another and not only that, there are many different stories behind how this song came about and, to be honest, there isn’t one that is more plausible than the others. Let’s look at Be-Bop-A-Lula.

Firstly, let’s get the artist credit correct, Like Bill Haley whose backing band were credited as His Comets, Gene Vincent’s band were His Blue Caps, not The Blue Caps, that’s with the exception of his 1960 hits Wild Cat and My Heart which was credited just to Gene Vincent and his final top 20 hit, Pistol Packin’ Mama where he was backed by The Beat Boys. The Blue Caps, who were guitarist Cliff Gallop, drummer Dickie Harrell, rhythm guitarist Willie Williams and bass player Jack Neal, were named after the head gear worn by President Eisenhower when he played golf.

Vincent, who took his stage name from a mixture of his birth name Vincent Eugene Craddock, was born in Norfolk, Virginia in February 1935 and is one of the underrated rock ‘n’ roll pioneers of the 1950s where, in his native States, he was generally accepted as a one hit wonder whereas on these shores he managed eight hit singles. Thankfully for him, his ‘one hit’ was one of the most memorable of the rock ‘n’ roll era.

In 1952, he dropped out of school and tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy but he was too young so decided to become a sailor which he enjoyed. Three years later he re-enlisted in the Navy and was given a $900 bonus and used the money to buy a Triumph motorcycle. Unfortunately, neither the Bike nor his Navy career lasted long because he had a motorbike accident which damaged his leg and caused him trouble and pain for the remainder of his life. There are two stories behind the accident, both told, at the time, by Vincent, one which was that a woman ran a red light and smashed into him which is a story he told with great regularity, but the other story, which he told a close friend, and to me, the more believable one, was that he’d gone out drinking and was late getting back to base so he tried to ride under the security barrier which was midway closing and it caught him knocking him off the bike which then landed on his left leg and crushed it. The hospital recommended that it be amputated but he didn’t allow them to do that and had it put in a cast for over a year and eventually into a metal brace which he wore for the rest of his life.

Just like the two stories of the motorbike, there are two stories of how Be-Bop-A-Lula came about. The first is that following his accident and recovering at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, he was unable to move so he began playing guitar and that’s there he wrote the song, but according to Harrell, “The song was written by a guy from Portsmouth named Donald Graves,” he explained in an interview with Mojo. “Vincent and his manager at the time, Bill ‘Sherriff Tex’ Davis, bought the song from Graves for 25 dollars. It happened a lot in those days. Guys would take the sure money,” Another story was that, according to Graves, the title was inspired by the 1920s vaudeville song Don’t Bring Lulu. Davis claimed it was inspired by a little Lulu comic book which he’d shown Vincent who immediately said, “Hey, let’s called it Be-Bop-A-Lulu.” Over the years, it turns out that it was probably inspired by 1945 Helen Humes jazz track Be Baba Leba.

Vincent’s demo tape found its way to Capitol records which had been owned by the song writer Johnny Mercer and was generally home to crooners like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, but they had just been bought out by EMI and were expanding their musical output and looking for someone like Elvis Presley. They signed Vincent and he recorded a song called Woman Love which was written by Jack Rhodes & Dick Reynolds. Ken Nelson was a producer and A&R man for the label and asked to see the lyrics to woman Love as he wasn’t convinced by what he’d heard. No one was quite sure what he thought he’d heard, but the lyric he wanted to clarify was ‘Well I’m lookin’ for a woman with a one track mind, A huggin’ and a kissin’ and a smoochin’ all the time’. Once Nelson saw that he agreed to record it. He initially brought in some top session musicians to play on the track, but once he heard The Blue Caps play he let them and sent his musicians home. Cliff Gallop was an accomplished musician and it was his playing in particular that would have convinced him. Woman Love was their first released with Be-Bop-A-Lula consigned to the B-side.

Once the song had reached the radio stations, they weren’t keen on Woman Love also citing it as offensive so decided to flip it over and promote Be-Bop-A-Lula and then became the official A-side. If you listen carefully to the song, 37 seconds in you’ll hear a slightly distant scream, this was made by the drummer Dickie Harrell who later admitted the reason he did it was so that his mother would know that he was on the recording. Guitarist Gallop was unamused and was insistent that they redo the take but it was that first take that was committed to vinyl. Vincent, however, did approve of it and gave a scream whenever he played the song live.

The lines, ‘Well she’s the girl in the red blue jeans’ and ‘Well now she’s the one that’s got that beat, she’s the woman with the flyin’ feet’ are not cutting edge so it was undoubtedly the sound that sold the song not the lyrics. The way Vincent sings was very reminiscent of Elvis and some listeners rang in to ask if it was really Elvis. It’s not only the listeners who were convinced, there were stories at the time that Scotty Moore and Bill Black, Elvis’ guitarist and bass player respectively, were annoyed that Elvis had recorded the song without them. Even Gladys Presley (Elvis’ mum), when she first heard it on the radio, told her son that she like his new record. According to Andrew Hickey on his 500 Songs blog claimed that even Elvis, when he first heard it, got confused and wondered if he’d forgotten that he had recorded it. Most of these stories are unlikely to be true, but they made for a nice story.

On 17th April 1960, whilst on a tour of the UK with fellow rock ‘n’ roller Eddie Cochran another car accident happened this time in Chippenham, Wiltshire. They were travelling back to London from a show in a Ford Consul taxi. It was claimed that the driver was doing in excess of 60mph through the streets of Chippenham when he hit a lamppost after his tyre blew out and Cochran was thrown from the vehicle. Cochran’s fiancée, the songwriter Sharon Sheeley, was also with them suffered a broken pelvis and Vincent broke his collarbone. It didn’t do his leg any favours either. Cochran died the following day. The driver, George Martin, was fined £50 and banned from driving for 15 years. Because the tour, up to that point, had proved successful, the promoter Don Arden brought Vincent back to the UK the following year to do an extensive tour in various theatres and ballrooms.

Vincent was a hard task master and was unable to keep a permanent line up of his Blue Caps so that line up changed a number of times. Vincent died in October 1971 at the age of 36, his causes were a ruptured leg ulcer causing internal haemorrhaging and heart failure. Dickie Harrell is 81 years old and still living in Virginia, Willie Williams died in September 1999. Gallup and Neal both left the Blue Caps at the same time and briefly backed Perry Como before Neal went back to being a plumber. He died on 22 Sep 2011. As for Gallup he was originally offered a job by Ken Nelson as a session guitarist but he turned it down and quit the music business completely and became a school janitor. Even more bizarrely, he never liked to talk about his brief time in the music world and would often get embarrassed when people wanted to ask him questions. He also never signed a single autograph and when he died in October 1988, his widow made sure that all the obituaries never mentioned his musical history.

Gene Vincent’s memory and music have been kept alive by musicians who were inspired by them, none more so than Ian Dury who paid tribute with the 1976 song Sweet Gene Vincent and Paul McCartney whose first ever record he bought was Be-Bop-a-Lula which he performed on his MTV Unplugged appearance in 1991.

Most weeks at number one in Germany

Since its inception, the German singles chart has seen 57 songs spend 10 or more weeks at the top of their chart, here is the list.

21 Ganz Paris träumt von der Liebe Caterina Valente and Kurt Edelhagen 1955
Heimweh Freddy Quinn 1956
Cindy, Oh Cindy Margot Eskens 1957
17 Die Gitarre und das Meer Freddy Quinn 1959
Rivers of Babylon Boney M 1978
Despacito Luis Fonsi feat Daddy Yankee 2017
16 Verdammt, ich lieb’ dich Matthias Reim 1990
A Song of Joy Miguel Ríos 1970/71
15 Butterfly Danyel Gérard 1971
Shape of You Ed Sheeran 2017
Wheels Billy Vaughn 1961
14 Junge, komm bald wieder Freddy Quinn 1963
I’d Love You to Want Me Lobo 1973/74
Dragostea din tei O-Zone 2004
Banana Boat Song Harry Belafonte 1957
River Kwai March Mitch Miller 1958
Paloma Blanca George Baker Selection 1975
13 Das Boot U96 1992
Time to Say Goodbye Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman 1996/97
My Heart Will Go On Celine Dion 1998
Poker Face Lady Gaga 2009
12 Il Silenzio Nini Rosso 1965
Daddy Cool Boney M. 1976
Sweat (A La La La La Long) Inner Circle 1992
Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World (medley) Israel Kamakawiwoʻole 2010
Human Rag’n’Bone Man 2016
11 Der lachende Vagabund Fred Bertelmann 1958
Ramona Blue Diamonds 1961
Words F. R. David 1982
Nothing Compares 2 U Sinéad O’Connor 1990
Sadeness Part I Enigma 1990/91
Wind of Change Scorpions 1991
Conquest of Paradise Vangelis 1995
I’ll Be Missing You Puff Daddy and Faith Evans feat 112 1997
Mambo N° 5 Lou Bega 1999
Whenever, Wherever Shakira 2002
Ein Stern (…der deinen Namen trägt)” DJ Ötzi and Nik P. 2007
Hello Adele 2015/16
In My Mind Dynoro and Gigi D’Agostino 2018
10 Am Tag, als der Regen kam Dalida 1959
Rock Your Baby George McCrae 1974
Mull of Kintyre Wings 1978
Funkytown Lipps Inc. 1980
Polonäse Blankenese Gottlieb Wendehals 1981/82
Lambada Kaoma 1989
Another Day in Paradise Phil Collins 1989/90
Let’s Talk About Sex Salt-N-Pepa 1991/92
Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil Schnappi 2005
Ai Se Eu Te Pego! Michel Teló 2012
Diamonds Rihanna 2012/13
Wake Me Up! Avicii 2013
Faded Alan Walker 2016
Don’t Be So Shy (Filatov & Karas Remix) Imany 2016
Perfect Ed Sheeran 2017/18
Dance Monkey Tones and I 2019/20
Blinding Lights The Weeknd 2020
Wellerman Nathan Evans 2021

The Killing of Georgie (Parts I & II) (Rod Stewart)

This week’s song came out of a conversation with Group Jam, one of my regular teams at my Thursday night quiz in Welwyn Garden City. A couple of weeks before the conversation, Rod Stewart had been my featured artist and Eoin said he was a fan and we got talking about The Killing of Georgie and he didn’t realise it was a true story, so I said, I’ll write the story then you can read it. So, I hope you do read this Eoin.

Forty-three weeks ago, I wrote the story of the Rubettes’ long-forgotten hit Under One Roof which told the story of homophobia and in it I referenced The Killing of Georgie because they came out a month apart and dealt with the same subject. There had already been songs about gay relationships in songs like Lola and Walk on the Wild side, but none had really confronted the hardship gay people faced back then and the fact they still have feelings and need love like everyone else. It still goes on today but much less so.

Of Rod Stewart’s 62 UK hit singles to date, there are only four that he solely wrote – Tonight’s The Night, The Killing Of Georgie, You’re In My Heart and Hot Legs but what is it that prompted him to write a song about a subject that was still fairly taboo back in the 70s? He has explained in many interviews over the years, “It’s probably because I was surrounded by gay people at that stage. I had a gay PR man, a gay manager, everyone around me was gay. Long John Baldry, who discovered me, was also gay.” he said. “I don’t know whether that prompted me into it or not. I think it was a brave step, but it wasn’t a risk. You can’t write a song like that unless you’ve experienced it. But it was a subject that no one had approached before.” He did say at the time that he didn’t intend to write a song about a gay man adding, “If someone said to me, ‘Sit down and write a song about a gay man,’ it would have frightened the daylights out of me. It would have seemed an almighty challenge.”

In a 1995 interview with Mojo magazine he revealed more, “I can’t remember the surname of the real Georgie. He was a far closer friend to Mac [Small Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan] than me, I only knew him fleetingly. I can’t remember if he was shot or knifed but it was a song I wrote totally on me own over the chord of open E. Georgie would play songs for us and say ‘Have you heard this?’ I remember him turning us on to Sam and Dave singing Night Time Is the Right Time. I can tell you, he was a hell of a good-looking guy.” Stewart also added, “I wasn’t on the scene when it happened, so I embellished a bit.”

The label credit is The Killing of Georgie Parts I & II, normally a part two would indicate a follow up or a conclusion, but this is all included on one side of the record with part II providing a postscript to the song using a melody very reminiscent of The Beatles’ song Don’t Let Me Down. In a 1980 interview, John Lennon said, “The lawyers never noticed” whilst Stewart admitted, “It does sound like it” but I’m sure if you look back to the 60s, you’d find other songs with those three chords and that melody line.” He’s got a point. The song, which had six verses, times in at six and a half minutes and, quite rightly, there was no radio edit, it would have completely ruined the story. Part 1 is the first four minutes and 50 seconds whilst part II gets about 90 seconds.

The story tells us that George’s parents could not accept their son was homosexual, his mother just cried and his father said, ‘There must be a mistake how can my son not be straight, after all I’ve said and done for him?’ In the end he runs away from home, takes a Greyhound bus and heads to New York. There he is completely accepted and soon became, ‘the toast of the great white way’ which is what Broadway was nicknamed in the 1880s because of all the lights that lined the thoroughfare. George was so well liked that he was invited to every party and show. According to the story teller, George found love in the summer of ’75 and one night attended a show with his new partner. Not wanting to hang around, he left before the final curtain and was walking down Fifth Avenue when a New Jersey gang, with no aim other than to roll some innocent passer-by, attacked them with a knife but went a little too far and when they saw blood they fled. The police and the ambulance arrived, but Georgie died right there. The outro repeats the line, ‘Oh Georgie stay, don’t go away, Georgie, please stay you take our breath away.’

As for the murderers, we never got to hear any more about them, when Rod was asked about his fairly sympathetic portrayal of them he said, “That was poetic license, I thought maybe they didn’t mean to take his life. Maybe they just meant to do him over.” Typically, the BBC initially refused to play the song because of its content just like the previous single, Tonight’s the Night which, because of the line, ‘Spread your wings and let me come inside’ they deemed it disgusting. Rod added, “They thought that was shocking, it’s certainly not nowadays. But it was as subtle as a Sherman tank.”

When Rod performed the song in concert he said, “I used to camp it up something terrible. We used to have a lamp post come down onto the stage. I’d lean on it and sing. I used to wear a lot of make-up in those days and all the guys around me used to say: ‘Ding-dong! Avon calling!'”

The song has had an effect on different people in different ways, most with a positive affection, “I’ve had gay people thank me for the song many, many times,” Stewart remembered, “Recently, the boyfriend of a big-time British Olympic champion came up to me and said he heard it when he was 17 and he said it gave him some identity and independence, which is wonderful.”

Once the BBC had mellowed and the song made it into the chart, it’s got an airing on Top of the Pops and in an episode once introduced by David Hamilton, he kept getting the introduction wrong. He recalled in his book, Top Of The Pops: Mishaps, Miming and Music, saying, “Now here’s Rod Stewart with The Killing Of Georgie Fame.” When he got pulled aside by the producer and apologised but kept getting it wrong. It turned out that a pre-show lunch with some record pluggers was the cause when they had spiked his drink with LSD. He went on to say that he was never asked to present the show again.

Most weeks at number one in South Africa

The South African chart compilation has not been consistent. It ran from 1965 – 1989 and then again from 2013. In between times there were various compilations by various companies. Only 12 songs have spent 10 or more weeks at the top.

Year Artist Title Weeks
2014 DJ Clock featuring Beatenberg Pluto (Remember You) 19
1972 Johnny Nash I Can See Clearly Now 13
2013 Mi Casa Jika 13
2014 Beatenberg Rafael 13
1971 Charisma Mammy Blue 12
1984 UB40 Red Red Wine 12
1985 Billy Ocean Loverboy 11
1988 Kylie Minogue The Locomotion 11
1972 Daniel Boone Beautiful Sunday 10
1983 Men Without Hats The Safety Dance 10
1985 Jennifer Rush Power Of Love 10
1988 Fairground Attraction Perfect 10

Leave Right Now (Will Young)

In the early 2000s when the reality TV shows hit us en masse, a lot of the older, experienced singer/songwriters were moaning about how all these people are ‘instant stars’ and not effectively coming up through the ranks like they did years before, and they have a point, but, many forget they the reality shows started long before the likes of Pop Idol, Pop Stars and X-Factor. There was Opportunity Knocks, New Faces and Search for a Star and many of those winners had a long and fruitful career.

Pop Idol was created in 2001 by Simon Fuller and ran for two years. It was presented by the ubiquitous Ant and Dec and the judges were Nicki Chapman, Neil Fox, Pete Waterman and Simon Cowell. Series one featured the now-long forgotten chart acts Rik Waller, Jessica Garlick, Rosie Ribbons and Zoe Birkett, then the slightly more memorable Darius and the even better remembered winner, Gareth Gates and runner up Will Young who has sustained a successful singing and film career.

Whereas the aforementioned Darius co-wrote five of his six UK hits, Will Young co-wrote just four of his 16 hits. His first three hits were covers of Evergreen first recorded by Westlife followed by The Doors song Light My Fire and The Beatles’ Long and Winding Road although Evergreen was coupled with an original song Anything Is Possible which was jointly written by Chris Braide and Cathy Dennis. He did work with some good song writers and none better than Eg White who solely wrote Will’s last number one.

White was no stranger to the music business as he already tried a pop career of his own beginning in 1983 as a member of the band Yip Yip Coyote who fell into the short-lived cowpunk sub-genre. His next move was to form Brother Beyond with his real brother David White before moving on to be one half of the duo Eg and Alice. The album 24 Years Of Hunger, has achieved a cult status.

It was his song writing that shone through and he explained in an interview with Songwriting how he got into it and, in turn, how Leave Right Now came about, “I’d been signed to Warner with Alice Temple as Eg And Alice. When the Warner deal went wrong and Alice left, I thankfully got dropped. Then I made three records on the trot, with Emilíana Torrini, Nicole Russo and a girl called Jade Anderson. Jade’s record got snapped up for £1million and my publishing deal came up, so I got signed for £200,000 and for two years I was on Universal. Then Jade’s record failed and the very few things I got out did well. ”

“During this time Jo, the wife of my publisher Mike McCormack, was working at 19 Entertainment and said that she needed a Christmas song for Gareth Gates and asked if I would write it. So, I tried for five days to write a Christmas song for Gareth and got one bad line! I didn’t get anywhere and in abject depression, at 2pm on the Friday, I switched horses and wrote a song. By 8pm, that song was Leave Right Now.”

He then explained why he thinks the song worked, “The verse bears strong reference to I Will Always Love You – the Dolly Parton version not the Whitney Houston version – and the bridge has links to Always On My Mind. It was obviously good because I remember my wife came and said ‘I really like this one, it’s coming through the floorboards'”

The song was almost cut by Ronan Keating, but that deal fell through. Simon Fuller was Will’s manager and the producer Steve Lipson heard Leave Right Now and played it to Fuller. When he heard it, he stood up and said, ‘It’s a f***ing smash, let’s give it to Will.’

White recalled what happened when Will sung it, “He didn’t sing it so well the first time. So, Simon told him to sing it again as Will’s career depended on it. Then Will went back and sung it again and sung it really well. Will then came and saw me in despair. We sat at the table and played it and I realised, ‘It’s awful.’ I said we needed to call Steve Lipson and say that it needs more compression, we need the bottom end from the orchestra not the top end, the drums sound like they’re being hit by fleas and the orchestra is not getting you in the gut. So, we called up Steve Lipson and I outlined the 12 or so issues that we had. The next time I heard it was on the radio. We’d only pressed 80,000 copies, because the press had been saying ‘On the way down Will Young, on the way up everyone else’. But Will did an amazing thing. He went on Parkinson and was so personable, so charming, so warm that everybody who saw it thought, ‘This guy’s the best’. Then he sung it and sung it really well. Then bam, they sold the 80,000 copies in two days! And then they couldn’t get them into the shops in time! On Saturday morning at about 11am they were trying to get copies out for sale and the hand of death comes down at 6pm. So, there was a charity record that overtook it for a while and then it rallied and just about overtook the charity record to number one.”

That charity record was the 2003 Children in Need cover of Wham!’s I’m Your Man performed by Shane Richie and there was another reason Will beat it to the top. Not only was it a stronger performance but certainly the record’s pricing was a factor in its success. Will’s CD single was £1.99 for its first week while Richie’s was the standard £3.99 (charity records are understandably never discounted). If you are a 10-year-old with £5 pocket money and you are torn between the two artists, wouldn’t you buy Will because you will still have £3 to spend on sweets?

Will, in an interview with MTV News, gave his thoughts on the song, “The song is more about taking yourself out of a situation, so in a way, I’m telling myself to leave, which is almost the harder thing to do. So many people have experienced that. You’re coming back, and you think, ‘I really shouldn’t be in the situation, but here I am again.’ You know, that awful feeling where your heart has been broken once and you don’t know if you can do it again. That’s what that song is about. And that’s why I always love performing it.”

The song won a 2004 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically and Will’s second album, Friday’s Child sold 1.8 million copies. That same song was featured in another reality TV show – in 2010 in was appropriately used as the exit music in the ninth season of American Idol.