My Pop Life #105 : Come Rain Or Come Shine – Ray Charles

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Come Rain Or Come Shine   –   Ray Charles

…days may be cloudy or sunny….

….we’re in or we’re out of the money…

I first heard this song on my wedding day, 23 years ago July 25th 1992.   Dear Ken Cranham (who has graced these pages before) made Jenny and I a ‘wedding tape’ which we played at home after the church ceremony in Holy Joe’s, Highgate Hill (St Joseph’s) and reception afterwards in Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park (next door).   I actually carried Jenny over the threshhold of 153 Archway Road N6  like you’re supposed to, much to the amusement of the two ladies opposite who ran the sweet shop who waved at us, beaming.   I smiled.   I didn’t have a free hand as I recall.    Jenny waved – she was still in her golden frou-frou wedding dress and we were both drunk on champagne and love and words and Chopin and wedding cake and delirious happiness abounded.  There was a huge reception in the evening at the Diorama, and dear gorgeous departed friend Neil Cooper was sorting that side of things, so we had a few hours to change and feed the cats etc.   Ken’s cassette (of course) had a wonderful selection of wedding songs and love songs which will be forever associated with the day, and I’ve done similar tributes on CD, paying that moment forward to other couples about to get hitched.  Nothing more glorious than a wedding playlist, and no better party than a wedding party.  Please, whoever is reading this, invite Jenny and I to your wedding !

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Ray Charles was always there somehow.  I must have heard Hit The Road Jack on the radio in 1961 when I was 4 yrs old, living in Portsmouth, & the Hoagy Carmichael evergreen Georgia seems to be made of earth and stone it feels like it has been around forever.   The other big hit from the early 1960s was I Can’t Stop Loving You off the LP Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, syrupy choir singing backing vocals, smooth like chocolate sauce, it’s almost too sweet.  But not quite.   But it was lounge music to me as I became sentient.   I would have to grow up a bit and grow some ears before I understood the genius of Ray Charles.

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Like Frank Sinatra or Elvis, he is a giant of music and in particular of interpretation and arranging of other people’s songs.   Not to say he didn’t write music – he did – unlike Elvis or Frank,  Ray Charles wrote plenty of music including some stone-cold red-hot classics :  I Got A Woman, Hallelujah I Love Her So, A Fool For You and the monster What’d I Say, which may or may not have been improvised live (as the film Ray would have it).   It’s difficult to encapsulate the full breadth of his work in one blog, so I won’t even try.  But if a martian were to land in my room today and say “One artist will represent pop music” it would have to be Ray Charles.  He’s played every kind of music from blues and jazz to soul (which he invented some say) gospel and country, big band and ballad to funk and pop.  It’s the phrasing in the end which is so astonishing – the phrasing and the arrangements are impeccable rhythmically, melodically, all delivered with taste, groove and soul.  Plenty of imitators, but only one Ray Charles.

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When I was going through my soul education period in 1978-9 (see My Pop Life #98 for example) I bought a large box set called Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974.  It remains “the answers” for anyone seeking to understand American music of the 20th century.   I guess it’s a CD box set now – I have five double LPs squished into a box.  It sounds like a lot – but it’s actually a surface skim of a huge period of artists and tunes, from race-music and blues 78s through R&B, soul, Stax/Volt right up to Roberta Flack.

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Ray turns up on Side Two and Three and Four with classics including I Got A Woman, the mighty Mess Around and the searing genius of Drown In My Own Tears which so many great artists have covered.  I had hit a golden seam of fantastic music and next I bought a triple LP box called The Birth Of Soul  now available on CD :

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which covered the same period as Sides 2,3 & 4 of the Atlantic collection but also had all the other songs they missed out – so many favourites but I’ll briefly mention What Kind Of Man Are You? which features one of the Rae-Lettes miss Mary-Ann Fisher on lead vocals, and which was a highlight of  the film Ray.  The story about the Rae-lettes is that they all had to Let Ray or they’d be out of the band.  The line-up changed frequently.

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 left to right : Gwen Berry, Merry Clayton, Clydie King, Alex Brown

Next I purchased Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music from 1964 – the smooth silky sound which includes the heartbreaker You Don’t Know Me, one of my all-time favourite songs,  Ken then turned me onto Ray Charles & Betty Carter (1961) which is a completely fantastic LP –

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Betty Carter is a wonderful jazz vocalist with sensational phrasing too and together they did the ultimate versions of quite a few songs including Baby It’s Cold Outside and Alone Together.    Then there was What’d I Say (1959) – pure R&B grooves, and Genius + Soul = Jazz (1961 again!) an instrumental big band jazz LP.  And then I probably sat down and patted myself on the back for buying loads of Ray Charles albums whom by now I completely adored.  But you see the thing with Ray is, he keeps on coming.  He was clearly prolific, just looking at what came out of 1961 for example it’s almost impolite how much music was produced.

Featured imageSo then came the wedding tape in 1992 and there was Come Rain Or Come Shine.   What a beautiful song.  The muted trumpets at the beginning are so romantic and late-night New York nightclub.   Lyrically it reminds me loosely of the wedding vows themselves which I guess is why it works as a wedding song.  And then there’s that middle eight :

I guess, when you met me
It was just one of those things
But don’t ever bet me
‘Cause I’m gonna be true, girl if you let me…

Pictured : composer Harold Arlen

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Johnny Mercer, lyricist extraordinaire

Written by the wonderful Johnny Mercer with music by ‘Over The Rainbow‘ composer Harold Arlen in 1946, it became a jazz standard almost immediately and has been covered by many artists both vocal and instrumental including Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, James Brown, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.   I can’t imagine any of them being better than this version though.   Although I can be wrong tha’ knows.Featured image

Come Rain or Come Shine appeared on an LP from 1959 called The Genius Of Ray Charles where he takes a stroll through the Great American Songbook and sings Sammy Kahn, Irving Berlin, Hank Snow (!) and others, stretching out from his R&B and gospel roots.  He would continue to stretch until he passed away.  There is still so much to discover – I recently heard his take on The Beach Boys’ Sail On Sailor and it was – like his Eleanor Rigby – a revelation.  Yes he was a musical genius.   Once you’ve heard him sing a song, his phrasing feels like The Way to Sing It.   Elvis and Frank also have this gift, yes it’s true.   As do others.  Ray Charles always felt to me like one of those bedrock people in music, you know when people talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, he is one of those giants. He may be the giantest giant.

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One of the Brighton Beach Boys felt the same way as me about Ray – notably Rory Cameron, now moved away from Brighton (as have I) – he would enthuse regularly on his timing and impeccable choices.

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I chose this song today because last night I was sitting alone in the local pub here in Prague, The James Joyce, nursing my third vodka and tonic, and thinking about my wedding anniversary, which was yesterday, and all the lovely Facebook family and others who took time to send Jenny and I love on our day of love.  And then this song came on.

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My Pop Life #23 : Somethin’ Else – Eddie Cochran

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Somethin’ Else   –   Eddie Cochran

..lookee here, what’s all this ?

After a few weeks in LSE Halls Of Residence in Fitzroy St, walking down to the LSE across Bloomsbury most days, I discovered my local cinema – The Other Cinema on Tottenham St, a few hundred yards from my front door.  I worked there tearing tickets for about 2 years, and payment was in free tickets.  The Other Cinema was a collective and included Steven Woolley and Dominique Green amongst its illuminati.  That year I saw Pontecorvo’s Battle Of Algiers, Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, and most of Fred Wiseman’s incredible output among other delights – but it folded after about 2 years, only for The Scala Cinema to open in its place, run by Steve, with Paul Webster and I think Don McPherson too.  I remember Lee in the projectionists box because he wore black cowboy boots and, like me, played the saxophone.   I ended up working in the coffee bar downstairs on Saturday for the all-nighters, 11pm – 7 am.   For money probably this time.   I served coffee, cake and amphetamines to the hollow-eyed delinquent regulars.  While the Other Cinema was worthy and political, intellectual and left-leaning, The Scala was transgressional and lurid, cheesy and often banned.  They showed films all night that no one else would.   Thundercrack, Pink Flamingos, Salo, Eraserhead, The Wild Ones, The Girl Can’t Help It, Performance were favourites and often shown;  spaghetti westerns, biker films, blaxploitation, arthouse, grindhouse, Russ Meyer, Borowczyk, Laurel & Hardy, Visconti and Fritz Lang reeled out til dawn when the legions of the undead had to face, blinking and reluctant, the cold hard reality of a Sunday morning and a Tottenham Court Road fry-up.

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Monthly poster is from after the Scala moved to King’s Cross in 1982

The audience would be at least as interesting as the film programme.  Saturday nights would be the tribal gathering – film nerds, actors, auteurs, popstars, insomniacs, psycho-billies, anarchists, Chilean refugees, skinheads, the dirty-mac brigade, new romantics, the properly psychotic. …All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets…. sorry got carried away there…. but we had punks, queers, bikers and junkies, and Barry who never told me his last name, lived in a squat on Warren Street and shaved his face within an inch of it’s seven layers of skin.  He’d arrive looking sharkesque with his permanently slicked black hair and über-shaved sharpened face and would drop off a large 1000-pill bag of blues back in the kitchen where no-one was looking four a quid, and I’d sell them from behind the bar.   3 for a quid.    I ate the profits.  I mean everyone was speeding.   Everyone.   I certainly was.  You couldn’t smoke in the cinema, but you could in the all-night cafe.  Everything was underground appropriately enough, a pit of cheerful drunken tribal youth popping in and out of the cinema, to the cafe, hanging on the Space Invaders machine or the jukebox.

Ah the jukebox.  Yes. 

Best one in London.   Everyone knew it.   I’m sure John at the Hope & Anchor would disagree but The Scala jukebox had the most eclectic mix of singles on there from cajun rock to the post-punk Pop Group, Loretta Lynn to James Brown, and – my pop life number 22 – Eddie Cochran all the way from California 1959 and sounding fresher than anything else on the damn jukebox with Somethin’ Else, like a teen reb cross between Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

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What I’d call a bangin’ tune.   A rockabilly punk shuffle.   A slice of utter youth attitude, never been done better since.  Proof of course is in the Sid Vicious cover, recorded for The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle in 1978 which doesn’t approach the excitement of the Cochran record, but nevertheless has a certain nihilistic swagger.   Vicious was dead by Feb ’79 of heroin.   Eddie Cochran died in a car crash in Wiltshire on April 16th 1960.    Gene Vincent and girlfriend Sharon Sheely who’d co-written Somethin’ Else survived.   Like his friend Buddy Holly, his recorded output, though slight, casts a huge shadow over all recorded music since.  All you have to do to understand why his influence is so large is to listen to the song.