233: Laura Nyro, ‘And When I Die’

Posted by jeff on Mar 6, 2016 in Rock, Song Of the week

Laura Nyro, ‘And When I Die’ (furious – June 20, 1970)

Laura Nyro, ‘And When I Die’ (jolly – March 13, 1976)

Laura Nyro, ‘And When I Die’ (resigned – July 12, 1978 Early)

Laura Nyro, ‘And When I Die’ (minor – December 25, 1993)

Laura+Nyro++with+Gil+BianchiniThis week we’re going to talk about the meaning of life.
But don’t worry, there’s some great music in there, too.

Two events have been spinning my mind these past few weeks: my friend A. became a father (of twins) at 57; and a big pile of previous unknown Laura Nyro live recordings surfaced.

My relationship with A. is rather formal. We know each other through work, and though we have a lot of respect for each other and not a little affection, he’s (unlike me) not a gushy guy.

12744565_1333673769992046_2378058619088773401_nWhen we first got to know each other, a couple of years ago, he said to me, “I’ve never been married, don’t expect to be. I’ve come to terms with the fact that some people aren’t cut out to be part of a family. I’m an individual, and I’m cool with that. I do have this friend who’s 42 and is saying she might decide to have a kid, so maybe I’ll help her out with that. We’ll see.”

Fast forward two years: twins, cohabitation (in the meantime) and shared responsibility. And lots and lots of smiles. And behind closed doors, some tears.

A. confided in me that after almost a month (there were lots of really complex logistics surrounding the birth and the new group’s arrival home) he suddenly found himself alone, at home, surrounded by quiet for the first time in weeks. And he broke down crying, out of happiness, out of a release of tension I guess, out of recognition of the momentousness of everything he’s been going through.

mqdefault“It’s great,” he says. “If I’d known how wonderful fatherhood was, I would have done it at 55.”

Well, joke away, A. But I’m guessing that you’re struggling to grasp that your whole being has been rocked by the quantum change in your status in this here universe.

What does having children mean, on an existential level? Well, procreation. Fulfilling that biological imperative. Just think of how much energy God and Darwin and all those guys instilled in us to make sure it happens. Think of Romeo and Juliet. Think of the intensity with which you stared at Arlene Kaplan’s pink cashmere sweater in the ninth grade. Think of the Helen, the Trojan War, Marlowe’s “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,/And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?”.  Think of Phil Spector’s production of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’.

fuller-geoghegan-newborn_51431I’m 21st century enough to realize that a lot more people are choosing not to procreate, both by choice and due to circumstance, and yet lead happy and productive and full lives. For example I was recently moved by Oliver Sacks’ deathbed essays, collected in “Gratitude”. A fuller and more meaningful life than his is hard to fathom.

But when I think on the people I’ve known who do not have children, there’s a pinch in my heart. A discord. An arrhythmia. A missing link. Sorry, I’m a child of OzzieandHarrietLand. If we don’t contribute a link to the chain of life, what was it all for? What is it all about?

maxresdefaultYou’ve written a poem or built a building or just gotten through your fourscore years relatively unscathed and without wreaking too much havoc on others—standing before the pearly gate, it’s hard for me to conceive of someone holding more dear any mark he’s made on the world than the progeny he’s left behind.

A wise old lady in a play I once saw tells a 16-year old girl, “Why do you think a person has children? Because he knows that in his life, he did some things right, and some things wrong. And he wants just one more chance to correct all the mistakes he made the first time. Because now he knows better. But he can’t live again– so he makes a child. And he wants that child to do well– more than anything else in the world. He wants it so badly– that it drives him crazy. And then he drives the child crazy. Out of love. Out of wanting the child to do well. You see? Because of the love of parents for children, we have a crazy world.”

1927893_10205897796545051_7828271431273868310_nDoes life have inherent significance or not? I personally have no idea what the answer to that conundrum is. If any of you out there do, please to drop me an email!

In the meantime, I’ve been mulling over the answer provided by an extravagant, eccentric 16-year old, one Laura Nyro (1949-97). It’s as convincing a statement about procreation as any I’ve encountered.

I’m not scared of dying and I don’t really care.
If it’s peace you find in dying, well, then let the time be near.
Just bundle up my coffin, ‘cause it’s cold way down there.
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born and a world to carry on.

How is is possible, you ask, for a teenager to write that? Laura once said, “I think that song has a certain folk wisdom that teenagers have.” Most of the teenagers I’ve known have displayed a whole lot more hormone-choked stupidity than folk wisdom, but who am I to question Laura Nyro, one of the great and most underappreciated artists of our time?

For 50 years now I’ve been shouting Laura’s praise to whomever I can get to listen. She is a great artist. If you don’t know her, you’re denying yourself. Joni is craft; Laura, inspiration.

lnfharjew9489fslka999Peter, Paul and Mary gave Laura her break (at 17) by recording her song ‘And When I Die’, as the lead track on their very fine album “Album”, August 1966. And a very respectable treatment it is.

My troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well.
I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell.
Swear there ain’t no heaven and pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell.
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born and a world to carry on.

PP&M’s version does more justice to the song than Laura’s own recording on her first album (February, 1967), which contained great songs (‘Wedding Bell Blues’, ‘Stoney End’, ‘Flim Flam Man’) but suffered from an infamously insensitive production. I won’t even link here the criminally vulgar hit version of ‘And When I Die’ by David Clayton-Thomas and Blood, Sweat and Tears (December, 1968).

lauranyro3But fortunately we have about a dozen performances of the song by Laura among the various live recordings that have cropped up over the years (official and bootleg) – including 6 in this new batch, among the over 80 newly-emerged Laura Nyro tracks from six performances from four dates in 1970, 1976 and 1978.

Laura gets it. You fight off the devil with music. As I maintained when missiles were falling on my fair town daily, Laura’s music can fend off ground-to-ground missiles. So the devil’s no big challenge, right?

Give me my freedom for as long as I be,
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally.
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born and a world to carry on.

At one of the lowest points in my life, when I was on the very cusp of being beaten by the devil – I mean it was really hanging in the balance – I calmly resorted to the only weapon I really understand. I put on “Eli & the 13th Confession”. Know what happened? I lived to tell the tale.

Why thefantasy-jesus-vs-satan-arm-wrestling-wallpapern is the biological imperative incumbent upon us millenials? Haven’t we evolved past poopy diapers?

Laura has a whole arsenal of answers to confound Satan.

She can laugh in his face, as in this jolly version (March 13, 1976). You can work your devious works all you like, Mr Lucifer – I’m gonna die, but I made a kid. So there!!

Or she can just step outside the arena of nose-to-nose confrontation, as in this mellow, resigned version (July 12, 1978). You can’t touch me, she shrugs. We might want to remember that Laura’s real child, Gil, would not be born for over a year.

eba9a074ec2ef11f5d10ed27b1d2bde4The same text serves her in 1993 (her son now a teenager, two years before she is diagnosed with the cancer that would end her life at 49) – in a minor scale, bitter in victory. Yeah, I won the game, but I’m still going down into that cold, cold grave. “Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound/My echoing song.” Interestingly, this is the interpretation that Billy Childs and Alison Krauss chose to follow in the recent tribute/revisiting album “Map to the Treasure”. Even more significantly, every time Laura performs the song in minor she omits the line “And all I ask of dying is to go naturally” from the last stanza. It would be too speculative of me to suggest a reason, but I sure am thinking about it a lot.

But if I get my druthers, I’m going to go for Laura’s fuck-you answer (June 20, 1970, when she’s a mere 21 years old). Here Laura digs in, takes on the devil face-to-face, unflinching. She grapples, she wrestles him to the ground, and she cows him with her utter fury, vanquishes him.

Photo by Elaine Mayes

Photo by Elaine Mayes

You. Will. Not. Defeat. Me.
I. Am. Stronger. Than. You.
I have defeated death. My blood, my genes, my hair color, my predilection for dried apples—they shall live on in my child.
Fuck you, Mr Devil.

Laura 1, Lucifer 0.

So A., Laura and I both get why you’re a bit overwhelmed by the moment of what you’ve just done. You’ve just stood up to join the human collective – your ancestors, those around you, and now your descendants.

What does it mean? Believe me, I have no idea. It’s just a sort of existential game. But I do know that you made a courageous, joyous comeback deep in the second half.

A. 2, Mortality 0.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

202: Laura Nyro, ‘The Confession’

182: The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’

170: Laura Nyro, ‘Luckie’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)

154: Laura Nyro, ‘Save the Country’

036: Laura Nyro, ‘Sweet Blindness’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)

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202: Laura Nyro, ‘The Confession’

Posted by jeff on Sep 12, 2014 in Rock, Song Of the week

Laura Nyro — ‘The Confession’


It’s been a landmark week of vindication, one of the biggest “I Told You So”s in my personal history. After 46 years of grabbing unsuspecting passersby by the lapels, shoving my face into their face, and shouting, wide-eyed: “Laura Nyro!” – I’ve been justified.

This week Billy Childs released the long-awaited “Map to the Treasure – Reimagining Laura Nyro”, featuring a whole all-star array of guest artists: Shawn Colvin, Chris Botti, Jerry Douglas, Lisa Fischer, Renee Fleming, Yo Yo Ma, Rickie Lee Jones, Alison Krauss, Ledisi, Dianne Reeves, Esperanza Spalding, Wayne Sorter, Becca Stevens, Susan Tedeschi.

laura23It’s a PR-touted release on a major label by a Grammy-winning artist in collaboration with his boyhood friend and collaborator, Grammy-winning Larry Klein (ex-husband/producer of Joni Mitchell, current husband/producer of the divine Luciana Souza).

So I’ve been jousting at a particular windmill for most of my life, dooming myself to universal ridicule and scorn, and then this Hall of Fame of musical Playboy bunnies comes along and coos “Oh, Jeff, you were right all along.” So what’s my reaction?

Depression, of course.

Laura NyroBecause I’m disappointed in myself. Laura recorded those songs as a personal, private gift to me. And it’s pandering for me to look for approval from others, no matter how many Grammies they’ve won. I’ve been intimate with Laura and her music my entire adult life – it’s informed me and inspired me and educated me and comforted me and protected me – and I shouldn’t give a wooly hoot what anyone else knows or thinks.

What they think – true, I don’t care. Well, I shouldn’t care. What they know – I do care. I’m an altruist, a lover of mankind, an anthrope (that’s the antonym of misanthrope). I want to share great music. I get great pleasure out of facilitating great pleasure in others.

NL2Which is why I’m just pleased as a peacock about the release of “Map to the Treasure”. And I’m not going to get into why I listened to it a few times and went back to listening to Laura. I come to praise Laura, not to bury Billy Childs and Larry Klein, who are fine musicians and have done a wonderful service here. Tens of thousands of people will now listen to Laura, and that’s a cosmic imperative. So, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you, Billy and Larry.

But yeah, I’m disappointed. I don’t expect much from other artists trying to rework the magnitude of Laura’s talent. Even artists I really do admire very much, such as Ms Spalding and Wayne Shorter. My greatest letdown is Rickie Lee Jones. She’s not only a great artist (as are Spalding and Shorter), but her music patently derived from/grew out of Laura’s. Rickie generously admits to that. I heard it from her mouth. (I met her a few years ago, and you can bet your booties I asked her about Laura’s influence). Here she performs ‘Been on a Train’, a diffuse, drugged-out ramble. Laura recorded a lot of those, and they’re not her best. Rickie recorded a lot of those, and they’re not her best.  So -1-1=letdown. Oh, what might have been if – oh, let’s not even go there, Jeff.

NL4Perhaps the most characteristic cut is Becca Stevens’ ‘The Confession’. Up front: I am a Becca Stevens fan. She’s a ballsily independent, genre-flaunting singer-songwriter. She’s sweetly cocky, She’s cool. Aye, there’s the rub. She belongs to Generation X, or Y, whatever we’re up to. The ones who choose Withdraw over Engage. Those who observe wryly. As opposed to those who grab you by the lapels, shove their face into your face, and shout, wide-eyed: “Love my lovething! Love is surely gospel!”

Laura left us three live versions of ‘The Confession’: from Carnegie Hall in 1976, the 1977 “Season of Lights” version, and the 1990 Bottom Line version (charmingly mashed with ‘Hi-Heeled Sneakers’). The song is so imposingly intense that it had never been covered until Billy and Larry had Becca try it. Would that they have chosen a different song for her. Becca is a fine artist, but such up-front sexuality and spiritual epiphany are beyond her (their) emotional range.

NL9The subject of ‘The Confession’, at least ostensibly, is sex. The joy of sex. “Would you love to love me baby?/I would love to love you baby, now baby – now!”

When Laura released “Eli & the 13th Confession” in March, 1968, the two most influential female singers in rock were the androgynous Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin (who loved sex but talked about Respect). Janis Joplin (who also loved sex but sang about heartbreak) released “Cheap Thrills” the same month. Joni Mitchell entered the spotlight a year later, Carol King’s “Tapestry” only in 1971. It was Laura who shattered the glass ceiling, at least for those who were listening.

I’m talking about sex not as an entertainment, but as a central component of the revolution of which Laura was more than a harbinger – she was a catalyst. In March 1968, a woman was a companion, an addendum, a decoration. Women were not yet speaking in a Woman’s Voice. Laura was the first, at least in rock music.

l (5)‘The Confession’ is the closing song of “Eli & The 13th Confession”. That of course is the definitive treatment of the song, with the energizing, thrusting, pulsating guitar and drums so lacking in the later live versions. Here it exists in the context of a world of passions – devils, epiphanies, devastations and celebrations. Yeah, it starts with carnality. But her physical passion is her objective correlative of something much greater: “I keep hearin’ mother cryin’/I keep hearin’ Daddy through his grave/Little girl, of all the daughters/You were born a woman, not a slave.”

‘Little girl, you of all the daughters.’ This is a new breed. Women, throughout the generations, have been appurtenances, slaves in a Man’s World. Waiting to react, to nurture, to serve. Laura Nyro serves no man.

NL6And then come the final lines of the world that is “Eli”, the ultimate confession: “Oh, I hate my winsome lover/Tell him I’ve had others at my breast./But tell him he has held my heart/And only now am I a virgin/I confess.”

Those lines are too elusive for me to or dissect with an academic explication or pin down with a definitive parsing. Why does she hate her lover’s winsomeness? His vulnerability is unsatisfying? After all her battle for independence, she wants to be taken by force, is that her confession?

laura22He has held her heart, she has felt love for the first time, and that has redefined her, restored her to a state of prelapsarian innocence. She has finally, after all those lovers, transcended the carnal into the spiritual? Or has she achieved a state of higher reconciliation? ‘Love my lovething, love is surely gospel’.

I haven’t a clue. I’m intrigued, I’m puzzled, I’m mystified. In the final accounting, I just don’t understand women. Hell, I don’t even understand men.

But I keep listening to Laura, I keep trying. And for that, I don’t need no glitzy Sony Masterworks rehabilitation. I need no confirmation. I have The Confession.


Super summer, sugar coppin’ in the mornin’
Do your shoppin’ baby, oh, I love my love thing
Super ride inside my lovething –
You may disappear, but you’ll be back, I swear.

Would you love to love me baby?
I would love to love you baby, now
Would you love to love me baby?
I would love to love you baby, now baby now
No, no it’s not pain.

Super summer, sugar croppin’ in the mornin’
Do your shoppin’ baby
I love my love thing
Super ride inside my love thing
You may leave the fair
But you’ll be back, I swear

Would you love to love me baby?
I would love to love you baby, now
Would you love to love me baby?
I would love to love you baby, now baby, now

I keep hearin’ mother cryin’
I keep hearin’ Daddy through his grave
Little girl of all the daughters
You were born a woman, not a slave

Oh I hate my winsome lover
Tell him I’ve had others at my breast
But tell him he has held my heart
And only now am I a virgin
I confess, I confess

Love my love thing
Love is surely gospel…

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

036: Laura Nyro, ‘Sweet Blindness’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)
154: Laura Nyro, ‘Save the Country’
170: Laura Nyro, ‘Luckie’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)
182: The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’

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154: Laura Nyro, ‘Save the Country’

Posted by jeff on Jul 9, 2014 in Israeli, Personal, Rock

I first published this posting two and a half years ago. Yesterday, again, 40 missiles were shot from Gaza at my city. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, right? But merrily we rock and roll along, whistling a happy tune and pretending there’s some coherence and logic on this orb. Well, at least routine. But in the interim I did make a new friend, a very talented young Danish singer/arranger/conductor named Line Groth. And just to prove that I don’t love Laura only when missiles are falling, I twisted this poor Dane’s arm till she gave me this gift.

Laura Nyro – Save the Country (Stereo Single)

Laura Nyro – Save The Country (Mono Single)
Laura Nyro – Save the Country (Album)
Laura Nyro – Save the Country (Live TV performance)

I learned something this week: you can appreciate music even when missiles are falling on you. Well near you, anyway. Certain music you can appreciate even because missiles are falling near you. I live in southern Israel. My city had 86 missiles shot at it over eight days from our neighbors in Gaza. There’s an Israeli-developed anti-missile system called Iron Dome. It detects the missile, sets off alarms in the targeted areas. This is what it sounds like from my room. Everyone runs for ‘safety rooms’ made of reinforced concrete. Poets in the heat of inspiration. Kids on potties. Barbers in the middle of a haircut. Couples in flagrante delicto. Everyone.

Iron Dome

After half a minute’s warning, the whoosh of the Iron Dome. Then we wait 10 seconds for the boom. It might not come at all. Or it might happen up in the air above an open field outside of town. Or it might be among the 1/3 of the incoming rockets that aren’t caught, and it might fall on your next-door neighbor, or on you, or on your children. That’s the bad time, those 10 seconds. There are people around the world who say that Israel’s at fault in this conflict. I’m here to talk about music, not to shout polemics, but let me just say that Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza to the recognized international border seven years ago; that Israel’s rationale for the sea embargo is to prevent Hamas from stockpiling missiles; and that anyone who thinks one side is all wrong and the other is all right in a conflict as complex as this one is too biased to talk to.

Velvet Dome

On one level, I dealt with the 86 sirens and the explosions with equanimity. No tears, no screaming, no bed-wetting; I’ve had a pretty full life. But still, I do feel a certain indignation, deepening with each day of sirens and explosions. Stop shooting at me! I don’t want to hurt you! Stop trying to hurt me! This war stuff is crazy!

And a sound track emerged: I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal – In my mind I can’t study war no more. Save the people, save the children, save the country, now!

It’s ‘Save the Country’ by Laura Nyro (1947-1997). I’ve known it intimately since for 44 years, but it never resonated as strongly as during those sirens and explosions. It’s a furious demand for an end to violence, sung in her unique street gospel style. ‘I will not tolerate this evil! I personally am going to fill this world with love, goddamit, and if you keep shucking your ugly, I’m personally gonna kick your ass!!’

I’m reminded of a story my college friend Steve told me. He was in a bad place, dropped acid in the worst possible circumstances, and took off on a Bad Trip. He told me that he felt The Devil was about to envelop him. But he did have the presence of mind to sit himself down and put on “Eli and the 13th Confession”, knowing that Laura would protect him; she knew all about fending off Lucifer.

That’s sort of how I felt this week. Laura’s unbridled love would protect me. Together with Iron Dome. Come on people, come on children, Come on down to the glory river. Gonna wash you up  and wash you down, gonna lay the devil down. The song and the atmosphere that evoked it sent me on a binge of listening to Laura Nyro (not that I need much of a push). I listen to her frequently and intently and passionately. She is one of my very favorite artists. I usually confine myself to her masterpiece “Eli and the 13th Confession” and to “Spread Your Wings and Fly: Live at the Fillmore East”, recorded in 1971 but released only in 2004. Here’s ‘Save the Country’ from that show.

While we’re at the Fillmore, here’s ‘Walk on By’, a knock-out ‘Spanish Harlem’, and the sublime ‘Emmie’. This time I revisited her entire oeuvre, particularly enjoying the 1970 “Christmas and the Beads of Sweat” (including ‘When I Was a Freeport and You Were the Main Drag’ and ‘Up on the Roof’) and this hour-long low-quality video “Live in Pittsburgh” from 1994. It begins inauspiciously – overweight (from chemotherapy?); in Pittsburgh; in daylight; at a low point in her career and nearing the end of her life; on electric piano (why in heaven’s name?) accompanied only by 3 singers; and including songs dedicated to Animal Rights, Native Americans, and her own menstruation (no kidding). But amazingly, it’s a knockout.

Here’s ‘Save the Country’ from that show. And just for good measure, here’s ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’ and from her first album ‘Blowin Away/Wedding Bell Blues’. Oh, and one I never appreciated before, ‘Oh Yeah, Maybe Baby (The Heebie Jeebies)’. And here’s a fine 10-minute film with and about Laura made by her long-time lady partner in 1995.

Up On The Roof

It reminded me just how much I love and admire and am inspired by Laura Nyro. She’s a major artist. Together with Joni Mitchell, the two most accomplished women to emerge from the rock idiom. Joni is an artisan, a craftswoman, a perfectionist, every song a finely cut gem. Laura is all soul and inspiration, a look-ma-no-hands roller-coaster trip. If Laura was too quirky to be fully appreciated during her prime years, recognition of her talent and influence has been growing by quantum leaps in recent years. Elton John, guesting on Elvis Costello’s TV show, said “This is music so far ahead of its time that it still sounds unbelievable – the soul, the passion, the audacity of her rhythmic and melody changes was like nothing I’d ever heard before.” Rickie Lee Jones told me how deeply indebted she is to Laura. This year Laura was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bette Midler. Mega-producer Larry Klein is working on a “Reimagining Laura Nyro” project with Dr Billy Childs, guests including Renee Fleming, Rickie Lee Jones, Yo-Yo Ma and Wayne Shorter .

‘Save the Country’ was Laura’s response to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy on June 5, 1968 (Keep the dream of the two young brothers). I remember the event and its context well. It was a trying time, difficult to maintain your equilibrium let alone envision peace. Not Universal Harmony. Just let-me-get-through-the-day-unscathed peace. The song was originally recorded  that summer as a single, her first release after her monolithic second album, “Eli and the 13th Confession”, then subsequently in a different version on her follow-up “New York Tendaberry”.

Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro

Laura was having a lot more success in the late 1960s as a songwriter than as a performer. She had bleached hit treatments of her songs by Three Dog Night (‘Eli’s Coming’); Barbra Streisand with “Stoney End”, “Time and Love”, and “Flim Flam Man”; Blood, Sweat & Tears and Peter, Paul & Mary with “And When I Die”; and especially The 5th Dimension with “Blowing Away”, “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stoned Soul Picnic”, “Sweet Blindness”, “Save The Country” and “Black Patch”.

Columbia President Clive Davis and Producer Bones Howe appreciated Laura’s talent and wanted to help her take off commercially. Bones Howe, on ‘Save the Country’: “She was excited about it when she did [the single version]. But when she stepped back she said, wait a minute, that’s not me. It was too produced, too pop for her. She wanted to do ‘Save the Country’ just sitting at the piano. She said ‘you make records that sock it to the people. I can’t sock it to the people. I just don’t do that.'”

I’ve always felt closer to the single version. I find it a finely fashioned pop funk production. To tell the truth, I’ve never succeeded in snuggling up to “New York Tendaberry”. I find her slow, rambling songs (‘December’s Boudoir’ and ‘Woman’s Blues’ from “Eli”, most of “Tendaberry”), hard to follow – diffuse, unfocused, less engaging than when she’s being melodic. The first half of the Tendaberry ‘Save the Country’ is solo piano, and is fine. At mid-song it shifts gears in typical Nyronian fashion, to my taste to too hysterical a tempo, the orchestration overbearing.

The version that grabbed me most strongly this time is the rare TV appearance (1968, I’m guessing), in unfortunately low quality. She takes beautiful rhythmic liberties, she swings and sings and rocks and smiles. She lays the devil down. She makes me believe – even as the sirens are wailing and the explosions are shaking my walls – that we can build the dream with love. That’s what music can do.

Thank you so much, Laura.

Come on people, come on children, come on down to the glory river.
Gonna wash you up  and wash you down, gonna lay the devil down.
Come on people, come on children, there’s a king at the glory river.
And the precious king, he loved the people to sing,
Babes in the blinking sun, saying “We Shall Overcome”
I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal –
In my mind I can’t study war no more.

Save the people, save the children, save the country, now.

Come on people, come on children, come on down to the Glory River.
Gonna wash you up  and wash you down, gonna lay the devil down.
Come on people, sons and mothers, keep the dream of the two young brothers.
Got to take that dream and ride that dove, we could build the dream with love.
I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal –
In my mind I can’t study war no more.

Save the people, save the children, save the country, now!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

182: The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’
170: Laura Nyro, ‘Luckie’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)
036: Laura Nyro, ‘Sweet Blindness’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)

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182: The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’

Posted by jeff on Oct 18, 2013 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

The Shirelles – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (original)

The Shirelles – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (live)

Carole King – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’

Of course I know who Amy Winehouse is. I’ve even listened to a couple of her songs. Would you like to hear a story about her?

Once upon a time, Virginia, about 30 years ago, people thought sex was bad. At least they said they thought sex was bad. You couldn’t talk about it openly on TV or in movies or in songs. But people still had it on their minds, no matter what the Brain Police said, especially hormone-choked teenagers; and since they were the ones buying 45s – What? That’s an ancient euphemism for popular records. Anyway, it was teenagers buying these records – What? Oh. A round black thing made out of plastic that has a song on it. You know what a song is, right? You still have those?

Goffin, King, and the morning after

Well, after WWII, a lot of people started having babies (though it was never quite clear back then just how), and when these babies grew up (in a certain sense, anyway) some of them wanted to make their own songs. And there were some grown-ups who let them. Two of these kids, Carole and Gerry started making music together. Their songs weren’t too successful, but their other music was, and at 17 she found herself in the family way. What? Knocked up, okay? So they got married. Gerry worked as a chemist and Carole as a secretary, and in the evenings they kept writing songs for a guy named Don Kirshner.


They heard a hit song on the radio called ‘Tonight’s The Night’. It was sung by a black girl group called The Shirelles. The girls sounded quite innocent, and the music was a pleasing new amalgam of black timbre, strings, and an American Bandstand slick-white you-can-dance-to-it beat. Now, Gerry and Carole – having gone down that road – understood the meaning of “You said you’re gonna kiss me/Tonight’s the night/Well, I don’t know”, even if the persona herself didn’t. So they wrote a song based on their own personal experience, which they called ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’.

Tonight you’re mine completely/You give your love so sweetly/Tonight the light of love is in your eyes/But will you love me tomorrow?

Plus ça change

That idea expresses a formula that governed the war between the sexes from the beginning of time till a few years ago: men give love for sex, women give sex for love. We’re much more enlightened now. Let’s see how long that lasts. I’m betting it ain’t gonna make it 8000 years.

What does this have to do with Amy Winehouse? Well, keep your pants on. In a manner of speaking.

So Don loved the Goffins’ song, and thought it had more potential for more than a one-hit group from Scepter records, so he offered it to Columbia taste arbiter Mitch Miller for Johnny Mathis, but was politely refused, which Kirshner later said was “The best thing he ever did for me.”

Will you still love me tomorrow?

The Shirelles recorded ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, and it became the first #1 hit by a girl group since the McGuire Sisters, the first ever for a black girl group.

It should be noted here that in 1960, Motown was just getting started – we’re talking about two years before The Marvelettes (‘Please, Mr Postman’, ‘Beechwood 4-5789’), four years before The Supremes. White kids weren’t yet buying records made by black artists. Girls weren’t yet singing about being amenable to sex. But indeed ‘there was music in the cafes at night, and revolution in the air’.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ was the first #1 hit for Gerry Goffin and Carole King. We’ll get back to them in a minute, but let’s hop over to picturesque Passaic, New Jersey, circa 1957, where Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, “Micki” Harris and Beverly Lee met at their high school talent show in Passaic, New Jersey, calling themselves The Poquellos. Classmate Mary Jane Greenberg (no comment Jeff, it’s not politically correct) convinced them to sign with her mother’s small record label, which was quickly sold to Decca, where the girls had a flop with their own song ‘I Met Him on a Sunday’ (later remade beautifully by Laura Nyro as the opening cut of her 1971 album “Gonna Take a Miracle”).

Will he still love her tomorrow?

Young Ms Greenberg started her own Scepter label, where they flopped with ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’, a cover of a 1957 R&B song by The “5” Royales, a comic/risqué band from North Carolina. So Ms Greenberg drafted Luther Dixon, who had previously worked with Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and Pat Boone and co-written the 1959 hit ‘16 Candles‘, to work with her Shirelles. The result was ‘Tonight’s The Night’, which Dixon wrote and produced. It hit #39.

Then came ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ (#1, with Carole King playing timpani), followed by a re-issue of ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’ which now hit #3 (later #2 by The Mamas and the Papas, Mama Michelle’s first lead), then ‘Mama Said’ (written by Dixon, #4), followed by ‘Baby It’s You’ (written by Dixon, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, #8, covered by The Beatles on their first LP, later #5 by Smith in 1969), and ‘Soldier Boy (#1, written by Dixon).

Will she still love him tomorrow?

By the way, the ‘B’ side (sorry Virginia, there’s a limit to how much I can explain) of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ was ‘Boys’ (written by Dixon), also covered by The Beatles on their first album. McCartney: “Any one of us could hold the audience. Ringo would do ‘Boys‘, which was a fan favorite with the crowd. And it was great — though if you think about it, here’s us doing a song and it was really a girls’ song. ‘I talk about boys now!’ Or it was a gay song. But we never even listened. It’s just a great song. I think that’s one of the things about youth — you just don’t give a shit. I love the innocence of those days.”

Both Beatles covers were recorded for “Please Please Me” on February 11, 1963, when they did a total of 10 tracks in one day! I remember distinctly pondering The Beatles choice of ‘oldies’ – all of two years after the originals.

Can I believe the magic of your sighs?

Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ was rejuvenated a decade later by singer-songwriter Carole King herself on “Tapestry”. Producer Lou Adler: “The only thing we reached back for, which was calculated in a way, which of the old Goffin and King songs that was hit should we put on this album? And, that’s how we came up with ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow‘. I thought that song fit what the other songs were saying in Tapestry. A very personal lyric.” That’s James Taylor playing acoustic and singing backup. The two of them continued to perform the song together on their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour. It was also performed by Trisha Yearwood, Gloria Estefan & Emile Sandé at the White House when President Obama awarded Ms King the 2013 Gershwin Prize.

‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ has had more cover versions than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill – 555, according to one count. It’s been a favorite on American Idol/The Voice, but you’re going to have to check out those versions yourself, Virginia, there’s a limit to how low I’ll stoop even for the sake of completism.

…plus c’est la même chose.

There have been some fine ones. Here’s Roberta Flack, whom I often find somewhat heavy-handed, doing a great job on it. Here’s the ever-fetching Norah Jones. Here’s the ever-marvelous Laura Nyro in an inspired version released posthumously. And yes, Virginia, here’s the version you love so much by Amy Winehouse.

A surprising number of fine artists have recorded lousy covers of the song (which I’ll refrain from linking here), including the Bee Gees, Elton John, Dusty Springfield, Smokey Robinson, Lykke Li, and Linda Ronstadt. It seems everyone loves to sing ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’. (I sure did, back in The Day, with my buddy Becca.) So here’s a Carole King-karaoke version for you to sing along with. Go on, give it a go.

The song still strikes a responsive chord, even in an age where the boy could be singing it to the girl. Our insecurity about opening ourselves up, revealing our insecurities, praying the heat of the moment won’t leave us embarrassed in the morning. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, they say. Some things don’t change, Virginia. Such as, for instance, a fine song. As your Amy Winehouse says, “I never want it to end.”

Tonight you’re mine completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your size?
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Tonight with words unspoken
You say that I’m the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning sun?

I’d like to know that your love
Is love I can be sure of
So tell me now, and I won’t ask again
Will you still love me tomorrow?

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

034: Dionne Warwick, ‘Walk On By’ (Burt Bacharach)
117: Carole King, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’
160: Smokey Robinson & Aretha Franklin, ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ (Live)

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