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 #101 : Tired Of Being Alone – Al Green

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This painting is called ‘Lichtenstein in the Sky With Diamonds’

and it is by Andrew McAttee

with kind permission

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Tired Of Being Alone   –   Al Green

…tired of on my own…

1971.  The year of sentience.  The year of awakening.  When every sweet note, every bass line, every guitar lick, every vocal harmony, every crunchy cymbal and every sweeping organ chord-change melted into my ear for all eternity.   Burned, forged onto my very soul.  Every time I would hear these songs as I grew older, they would leap out of the speakers and caress my heart.   Sometimes I would remember the moment, the feeling, the teenage yearning, but often I would just be inside the music.   I know every small hesitation of these songs because I was fully available to them as they appeared in 1971.  They are magic incarnate and will always be so.  They are inside me.

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I was at middle school, Lewes Priory.   Mountfield Road.   I distinctly remember the Chapel  – it was actually a church in between Middle and Upper School.  With an organ, pews, altar, the works.   It was used for music and worship.   I didn’t like “music” at school because Mr Richards had metaphorically pissed all over the record I brought into his lesson one day – and that’s for another post I think.   It was also 1971 though.   I liked pop radio and Top Of The Pops.   It’s difficult to overstate the huge impression TOTP made on all of our lives, accompanied by the possibly more important Pick Of The Pops chart rundown from 5 to 7pm every Sunday evening, a non-religious gathering of the family around the radio to hear Alan Freeman tell us whether our favourites had gone up or down the charts.   Critical, basic, essential moments.

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The first time I saw Al Green on Top Of The Pops he was singing Tired Of Being Alone.  Just him, no band.  It was completely astonishing.  He was wearing some stretch top and had a small afro haircut.   And he sang this song as if his entire life depended upon it.   I didn’t know it at the time, but I would now mark this moment as my introduction to soul music.   Yes I’d seen The Temptations,  Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, Diana Ross & The Supremes on the TV, but I can’t remember Otis Redding at all, or Jackie Wilson, or Sam Cooke, or James Brown.   I remember them on the radio – but not TV.  Having seen them since then I’m pretty sure I would have remembered them ?

Why did it have this effect on me ?  Well, I think the vast percentage of the reason must reside inside Al Green himself.   As a performer he really is second to none, and always has been.  This cannot and will not be the only Al Green post I write because I simply have too many stories spread over almost all of my life in relation to Al Green – The Reverend Al Green as he became known.  I have seen him live at least ten times, visited his church in Memphis and own all of his LPs.   I followed him through the gospel phase and then back to pop again.  He is technically a supreme singer. But the technique is the least of it.   His voice is powerful and delicate, male and female, hugely expressive, a thing of rare beauty and subtlety.   A gift.   All of which is present on this first single.  Watching him sing it – (live ?) – on TOTP was like a revelation, like a vision of something.

After one minute 44 seconds we’ve had the song, two choruses with their syncopated horn stabs, and then he starts to break it down, the music starts to vamp, Al starts to improvise, to express himself, to wonder…   I don’t think I’d ever seen that in a pop performance before, that whole section where he folds his arms and goes mmmmmm, it was simply remarkable.    It was an education.   It was soul music.

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The other thing that struck me from that seminal TOTP moment was how delicate he looked – small, wiry, dynamic, he reminded me of Desmond Dekker both physically and how he moved his mouth around the words as if they were alive.   Which they were.

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And maybe the song just expresses a huge simple human truth.  Aren’t we all tired of being alone ?  Maybe parents surrounded by children dream of being alone, but what for ?  Peace and quiet is over-rated.  I’ve been sitting here in Prague now for two months working on Legends, and it is simply the most unsocial group of people I have ever worked with, all for different reasons, some have their families here, Sean Bean stays in mainly, the others have their own runnings.   It’s just how it goes sometimes in the wacky world of showbiz.   I cherish time alone, and read a lot, write this, and so on and so forth, but underneath all that, yes, I am tired of being alone.   Luckily Jenny is coming out in two weeks.   And Paul after that sometime.    I’m quite a social animal au fin du jour.   Which is why I have ended up hanging out with The Musketeers – here for seven months on series three for the BBC – and we all meet in the James Joyce pub, two blocks away from the InterContinental, if we want some social time.  Guinness on tap.   Food.   Convivial.   Bit of Al Green on the jukebox.

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When this song was released in August 1971 I already knew what loneliness was all about.  As I wrote in My Pop Life 84 All Along The Watchtower and My Pop Life #56Morning Has Broken, we had been split up, separated as a family for nine long months while we waited for someone, somewhere to house us.   Eventually a council house on a new-build estate in Hailsham was offered and we moved in together in the late spring of 1971.   Our lives together in Hailsham were, in my memory, almost utter turmoil, with frequent visits from doctors, a cupboard full of pills for depression and Paul and I becoming more ungovernable as we hit puberty and grew physically larger, causing the weapons used to beat us with to get larger in response.  But of course there were moments of repose, of laughter, of peace, of conviviality too.  I’ve blotted most of this section of my life out.  My memories are very very selective.  But I clearly remember seeing Al Green on Top Of The Pops one Thursday evening.  And that is a good thing.

Check out his microphone technique on this wonderful archive footage from 1972:

the original single, with backing vocals :