My Pop Life #237 : Have You Seen Her – The Chi-Lites


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Have You Seen Her – The Chi-Lites

One month ago today
I was happy as a lark
But now I go for walks
To the movies, maybe to the park
And have a seat on the same old bench
To watch the children play, huh
You know, tomorrow is their future
But for me just another day
They all gather around me
They seem to know my name
We laugh, tell a few jokes
But it still doesn’t ease my pain
Well, I know I can’t hide from a memory
‘Though day after day I’ve tried
I keep sayin’ – she’ll be back –
But today again I lied

*

It entered the UK Pop Charts on 15th January 1972.  One of the most original and enduring songs of that era, today it still stands out as timeless superior music.  That Christmas we had enjoyed and endured Benny Hill singing Ernie endlessly smirking at us the grubby little toe-rag, then The New Seekers had cleansed us and tried to help us all to sing in Perfect Harmonover.  1971 had been my year of sentience musically, by which I mean to say that I had started listening to music in a different way.  Being catchy and easy to hum wasn’t enough any more.  Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep they sang.  We had other words for it.  And alongside the dross of Jonathan King and Johnny Reggae there was Rod Stewart and The Faces dropping Maggie May, there was Labi Siffre’s utterly magnificent It Must Be Love and there was Isaac Hayes with the astonishing Theme From Shaft (see My Pop Life # ).  I yearned for more complex music now, and wasn’t too discerning or careful – well I was 14 years old.  It was pot luck really.

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I’d bought Pictures At An Exhibition by Emerson Lake & Palmer, a moog-synthesised Mussorgsky mess which I irritated my family with.  I also had the Van Der Graaf Generator LP H to He (Who Am The Only One) and the title alone should give you a clue to its genesis.  Great band though, they still sound astounding in 2020.  And I had The Moody Blues finest hour In Search Of The Lost Chord which the entire family can still recite word perfectly I’m sure, I certainly can.  One of my LPs that got played downstairs.  Random post-hippie albums. Long Players.  But the singles chart was still the thing for all of us.  Top of the Pops on Thursday and Pick of the Pops on Sunday.  Religious observance of both.  Indeed I am not the only person to hold the music of 1971 so close to my heart – one fella, music journalist David Hepworth, has written a whole book about it.

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My friend Martin Steel tried to acquaint me with this particular book of the old testament a few years ago but some technical issue prevented it.  Thus I haven’t read it, but I sense through the osmosphere that this is a faintly rockist tome, and concentrates on white boys and guitars, which is both a shame and a flipping disgrace.  I wait for the day when Black Lives Matter infiltrates that particular monolithic way of consuming music, which I have struggled with for most of my life.

I’ve already chosen a number of songs for this story from 1971 which burned into my ear and thence my soul as I grew into a teenaged boy : Imagine which I’d just got for Christmas from JD my mum’s 2nd husband, Jig A Jig which I’d mistakenly taken into a music lesson at school, Bad ‘n’ Ruin which became my theme song later on in life, first single purchase The Banner Man, learning how to play the sax with Y Sharp, swooning to Tired Of Being Alone and Morning Has Broken, absolutely loving I Don’t Blame You At All.   All so vivid.  When I look at the Chart rundowns now from that era – you can do it on Official Charts dot com https://www.officialcharts.com/charts/singles-chart/19720109/7501/ – it feels like a blessed time, pre-worry, post-trauma (see My Pop Life #84) just bumbling along in East Sussex without a care in the world.  In theory.

In fact of course I was undergoing my sexual awakening.  Luckily for you dear reader I remember little of this nightmare, and indeed I would not lose my virginity for another two years, but stuff was happening.  In those days sex was almost completely suppressed, despite the hype of the 1960s.  My mum was reading The World Is Full of Married Men by Jackie Collins and there were a few well-thumbed pages in there.  You would find torn pages from a porno mag like Mayfair or Penthouse in a hedge walking along, discarded by some wanker.  The toilets at the train station in Polegate were covered with barely suppressed erections, phone numbers, boasts and pleas.  I shared a bedroom with my brother Paul so wanking in bed was out of the question.  No, this always happened in the bathroom.  Indeed I remember a few years later Simon’s friend Patrick Freyne accusing me of wanking one day as I emerged from the bathroom in St Anne’s Crescent.  Scarring.  But no girl (or boy) had ever touched it in early 1972, even through my trousers.  No, I was an innocent teen, and romantic at that.  Other lads my age – Pete, Conrad, Spark – they were already experimenting with girls in 1972.  Simon too started to go out with the school beauty Kerry Day.  The only girl I liked at school was Sarah Jane.  I did eventually go out with her, but we never had sex.  Sex was rare.

It was all about romance.  Falling in Love.  Holding Hands. Going Out With Each Other.  It was All Terribly Important.  Who Fancied Who.  All that.  There was a group of girls who I’d walk past on the way home from school – I’d catch the train from Lewes to Polegate, then the bus from there to Hailsham town centre and walk home.  On the edge of the estate – now called Town Farm, but dubbed Sin City when we lived there because it housed all the problem families – was a grassy play area and one day a small female child stopped me with an “excuse me?”.  She pointed to an older girl around my age.  “What’s your name? My friend Sharon fancies you”.  Well I told her and can remember almost nothing else but I’m wondering now whether this would have been almost my first sexual kiss, some weeks later I’m guessing, stretching it out a bit.  There was an underpass so the kids wouldn’t get run over, and the kiss was in there.  Was there also a fondling of tit?  Probably.  Maybe. That didn’t burn into my memory like you thought it would.  But I didn’t really fancy Sharon anyway.  It wasn’t a keeper.

My first girlfriend proper was Pam Wicks.  In the year below me, from Seaford.  Lovely girl.  She didn’t take sugar in her tea and persuaded me to give it up.  She came over to Hailsham a few times and spent the night on the settee downstairs, but I was last to bed and we had a little exploratory romp and rumble in the wee small hours.  No sex though.  Both a bit scared I think.  We liked each other a lot, but again it wasn’t destined to last really.  I didn’t love her.  She was like a mate.  We’d tease and joke around a lot.  Listen to music.  I think this must have been about a year later to be fair when I was 15.  Nothing like that happened when I was 14.

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The Chi-Lites in 1971

The song burned into me like all the great music of that era.  The dirty fuzz guitar with the sugar sweet harmonies blew me away, yes, but when lead singer Eugene Record starts that soulful monologue you have to listen.  And when he says, in a perfect rhythm

I keep sayin’ – she’ll be back – but today again I’ve lied

All people of a certain age will sing Waaahhh I see her face everywhere I go.  Magic.

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There are a couple choruses then an outstanding bridge :

Why, oh why
Did she have to leave and go away ? oh yeah
Oh, I’ve been used to havin’ someone to lean on
And I’m lost
Baby, I’m lost

And after another chorus and another bridge the song starts to wind down – but Eugene is not done, oh no.  He’s been sitting on that bench for some time now – a month perhaps – and he’s been thinking it through.  The soulful monologue returns :

As another day comes to an end
I’m lookin’ for a letter or somethin’
Anything that she would send
With all the people I know
I’m still a lonely man
You know, it’s funny
But I thought I had her in the palm of my hand

And then finally, after five minutes of music, he sings.  A cry, a sorrowful cry of pain, of loss.  Jenny’s favourite part of the song.  The line when he says “with all the people that I know I am still a lonely man” was the one that struck me at the time, and still does.

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The single was re-released in the UK in 1975

So why has this song resonated with me so deeply, when I have never sat on a bench and wept for my lost lady love?  Don’t get me wrong, I had a terrible time when Miriam, my first love,  left me behind in 1975 – but I knew exactly where she was, and I would see her many times a week at school and even lived under the same roof that summer because her brother was my dear friend and her mother didn’t want me to lose everything (I did though – for another time).  Have You Seen Her?  Who?  The song came out about six months after my family got back together after a 9-month homeless period – all scattered around in different places, waiting to be re-housed by East Sussex County Council.  Eventually we were offered a council house on Salternes Drive (Sin City) and we’d been there about six – 9 months when this song appeared.  Maybe deep down in the unacknowledged recesses of my gut I’m missing my mother.  My mother as she was before all the breakdowns, hospitalisations, anti-depressants and suicide attempts.  Before the madness.  Before the fall.  Maybe.

But maybe it’s just a great pop song.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Chi-Lites :

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shekhar Bhatia
    Jun 27, 2020 @ 00:29:02

    Love from Glasgow. Look forward to reading this tomorrow Ralph geezer x

    sbhatia@btinternet.com

    >

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  2. Andrew Brown
    Jun 27, 2020 @ 18:50:25

    Supremey written as always Ralph. …weirdly I do remember this song  at a young age …but really got into it layer as it was on a soul compilation I bought amd listened to around the time I ‘fell in love’ with Maribel and  split up with Debbie so it’s almost excruciating to listen to, it’s a brilliant song though!! This and Me and Mrs Jones are just brilliant….for me 70’s music almost always has the most resonance… I often have very vivid flashbacks of Salterms Drive/ Newton Park…I grew up there really..so much shit went on….but my memory is nowhere near as good as yours though I do remember every word of In Search of the Lost Chord…..😊😊😊😊

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