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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023: Tommy Edwards, ‘It’s All In the Game’

Posted by jeff on Jul 28, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week, Vocalists

I’ve had a fitful music week, which happens sometimes. I generally spend a goodly portion of my listening (i.e., waking) hours with ‘music I don’t enjoy’ – new music, difficult music – in that never-ending search for magic. This week it seemed to be all music that takes an effort – mostly uneven Brazilian stuff I’m trying to get a handle on, especially Yamandu Costa and last week’s Roberta Sa; a restless mix of fine newgrass band Crooked Still, King Pleasure, Michael Franks, Paul Bley; a smattering of Schumann chamber music, Hindemith, and Faure and Kiri Te Kanawa. In short, I hit no groove.

VP Gen. Charles Gates Dawes

But it’s time to SoTW, so I figured I’ll just close my eyes and dip into the treasure barrel of old favorites and see what we grab.

Tommy Edwards’ #1 hit from 1958, ‘It’s All in the Game’. What an absolute pleasure.

The melody was written in 1912 by non-musician Gen. Charles Gates Dawes, a banker and, from 1924, vice-president of the United States under Calvin Coolidge, then a year later recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for creating a program (unrealized) to enable Germany to restore and stabilize its economy. A sitting VP?

Carl Sigman

Then in 1951, along come Carl Sigman and added some words. Carl was one of them New York Jewish lawyers, but he also won a bronze star in North Africa. And he’s an inductee at the Songwriters Hall of Fame, having penned lyrics for “Ebb Tide”, “What Now My Love”, “Love Story” (the Andy Williams one, not the Randy Newman one), and another favorite of mine, Tad Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now“.

Tommy Edwards

Tommy Edwards, an R&B singer from Richmond, Virginia, who had previously recorded the prudent “That Chick’s Too Young to Fry”, recorded it for MGM in 1951 with the Leroy Holmes orchestra providing lots of gushy strings, and it reached #18 on the charts. Then he recorded it for them again in 1958 with the same orchestra, but this time with a piano providing pop triplets and a back-beat drum shuffle pushing the kids onto the slow-dance floor and into each other’s arms. Tommy sang it on The Ed Solomon Show (that’s what my grandmother called it, anyway), and it became a smash hit.
It was subsequently recorded by Gerry & the Pacemakers, Barry Manilow, Tony Orlando, Louis Armstrong, Bobby Bare, Brook Benton, Glen Campbell, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Sammy Davis Jr, Jackie DeShannon, Billy Eckstine, Tennessee Ernie Ford, The Four Tops, Art Garfunkel, Leslie Gore, Robert Goulet, Merle Haggard, Isaac Hayes, Englebert Humperdinck, Keith Jarrett, Elton John, Tom Jones, Ben E. King, Rahsaan Roland Kirk (!!!), The Lettermen, Liberace, Nick Lowe, Tony Martin, Johnny Mathis, Gene McDaniels, Glenn Miller, Van Morrison, Rick Nelson, Donny Osmond, Esther Phillips, Sandy Posey, Arthur Prysock, Johnnie Ray, Cliff Richard, Neil Sedaka, Dinah Shore, Phoebe Snow, UB40, Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton, Lawrence Welk, Barry White, Roger Whittaker, Andy Williams and Jimmy Witherspoon (and these are only the ones I know from the list of over 250 artists).

How did I meet this song, you might ask. 1958. I was only 10. Was I listening to pop radio at 10? No, I wasn’t. I started listening at about 13. I’d hear all 4 new Songs of The Week (or whatever they called them) Monday afternoons on WSAI, and the Top 40 on Thursday nights, and those same songs all week long, hour after hour after hour after hour. But I was afraid I’d missed something (obsessive-compulsive can raise its ugly little head at an early age), so when they started broadcasting 24-hour oldies marathons on holidays, guess who was secretly pulling all nighters up in his room, his ear smashed up against the little speaker on the plastic AM radio next to his bed?

You have to understand, ‘oldies’ was a very different concept in 1961. It meant rock and roll oldies, and rock and roll was barely 5 years old! So what the heck were they playing all those hours on the oldies marathons? There really was quite a rich supply of pop hits, major and minor. Today, the distance between The Coasters’ “Searchin'” and Tommy Sands’ “Teenage Crush” seems much greater than it did back then. But I wanted to learn it all. So I saved up all my quarters for the Oldies collections issued by Liberty and Roulette and Atco, the first LPs I ever bought. I still remember (if somewhat vaguely) the MGM.collection. Leroy Holmes’ “Theme from ‘The High and the Mighty'”, Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel”, David Rose’s, “The Stripper”,  Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater”, Johnny Tillotson’s “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On”, Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe”, not one of which I’d really like to spend 2:40 listening to now, certainly not at 3AM on Thanksgiving night, and one very beautiful, touching ballad that has been playing over and over in my head for almost half a century now.

So wish me luck in my listening next week. Maybe I’ll discover some jewel even half as lovely as Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All In the Game”.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
034: Dionne Warwick, ‘Walk On By’ (Burt Bacharach)
062: Martha and The Vandellas, ‘Heat Wave’
120: Sam Cooke, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’


002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’

Posted by jeff on Jun 28, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

This week we’re paying a visit to the pantheon.

Buddy Holly’s professional career lasted less than two years, cut short by a plane crash in Iowa in February, 1959 (as described by Don McLean in “American Pie”). BH is of the same age, locale and musical background as Elvis. But as Lennon said, “Elvis died in the army.” And Buddy Holly lives. His songs have been recorded by a wide range of artists without a break for the past 50 years. His reputation continues to grow.

He’s a musician’s musician. Keith Richards credits him with inspiring the Stones to create original material. Bruce Springsteen said, “I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on–it keeps me honest!” Paul McCartney made an excellent, adulatory documentary movie about him.

The month before his death, Buddy recorded six songs he had written himself, alone with his acoustic guitar, in his living room at Apartment 4H of the Brevoort Apartments at 11 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. For many years, these were known only in adulterated versions, over-dubbed with a cheap rock-and-roll band and chintzy backing vocals.

They included ‘Peggy Sue Got Married‘, ‘That Makes It Tough‘ and ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping‘. But the real gem for me is ‘Learning the Game‘, a painfully honest song that touches the adolescent bewilderment and insecurity most of us never fully outgrow.

All the songs display a sophistication of personal expression – especially cynical resignation –unheard of in a teenage context in 1959. Known today as “The Apartment Tapes”, they predate the singer-songwriter by just a few years chronologically, but by light years conceptually.

Buddy was 22 and a half when he recorded this, and when he died. At that age, John Lennon was recording “Love Me, Do”, and Bob Dylan had recorded one album of original material.

But for me, the stories and the loss and the legend are of secondary importance. What really matters is how beautiful and truthful a song is ‘Learning the Game‘.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

070: Buddy Holly, ‘That’ll Be the Day’
122: George Harrison (The Beatles), ‘You Know What to Do’ b/w Buddy Holly, ‘You’re the One’
155: Buddy Holly, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’

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048 Sam Cooke ‘Bring It On Home To Me’,

Posted by jeff on May 31, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Sam Cooke, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, Live at the Harlem Square Club

I learned something new this week. Or more precisely, I had a long-held misunderstanding corrected. C’mon, Jeff, just say it—you were wrong, you just found out.

I always believed that Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ was a derivative cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me’. And I’m here today to make a public confession that I was wrong, that Sam Cooke’s version came first, and thus to try to right that heinous injustice.

‘BIOHTM’ was released on May 8, 1962 as the B-side of ‘Having a Party’ on the RCA label.
‘YRGAHOM’ was released on November 9, 1962 on the Tamla label, a subsidiary of Motown.

So there. I’m sorry, Sam. But I guess I don’t really need to worry about it too much, since the half century since Cooke’s death at 33 in 1964 (shot by a lady motel manager whose room he had broken into and was allegedly trying to assault) has been very kind to his reputation. He commands the greatest respect imaginable, especially as a vocal stylist. Van Morrison readily admits that his whole approach to singing is modeled after Cooke. Rod Stewart often sounds like a bleached version of Cooke. You can’t imagine Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye without Cooke’s precedent. And that’s only the start of a very long list.

But that’s not his only achievement. He’s considered one of the finest gospel singers of the 1950s. In 1958 he crossed the line from the sacred world of hoot-and-shout gospel to the profane world of string-backed, hormone-soaked teenage carnal love with one of the biggest hits of the decade, ‘You Send Me’. Over the next few years until his death he had a string of memorable pop hits (‘Cupid‘, ‘Wonderful World’ later covered by James Taylor/Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel, among many others) as well as hits that in retrospect were trailblazing steps into what would become soul music (‘Shake‘, ‘Ain’t That Good News’, and the immortal ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’). He was a political rebel, promoting black consciousness and pride, founding his own record company to fight the repressive, commercialized (white) music distribution business.

In a previous SoTW, I expressed some of my admiration for Smokey Robinson’s stunning ‘The Tracks of My Tears’. And I’m glossing right over Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ here, because it is too divine to be discussed other than on its own. This week we’re going to confine ourselves to these two companion pieces, ‘BIOHTM’ and ‘YRGAHOM’.

They’re both written by the very first black singer-songwriter auteurs in the pop idiom. They both reach back into the artist’s gospel roots, using the black Baptist church’s call-and-response format in a secular R&B song. And then looking around to write this, I discovered another very striking similarity–both were clearly toned down, sweetened up and bowdlerized for the Top 40 (white teenage) market, but both have a well-known raw, soulful version that puts the more popular version in a much clearer light.

Here’s Smokey Robinson & The Miracles hit record of ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me’. And here’s a live version of the song, typical slick Motown, very much reflecting the spirit of the recorded version. It’s from the (Wonder Bread-white) TV show Shindig; Smokey and the guys are wearing tuxedos, and the dancing is typical 1964-vintage Motown. And here’s a pretty remarkable clip from 1963 in front of a black audience, from the “Motortown” revue at the Apollo Theater, with the legendary James Jamerson on bass, Smokey’s wife Claudette as a member of the original group. Apparently Motown didn’t have choreographers yet to polish the dancing, and Smokey’s tie is undone. His performance here is more James Brown than David Ruffin.

And here’s our SoTW, Sam Cooke’s inadvertently maligned ‘Bring It On Home To Me’. Here’s the hit record version of the song. The second voice here is the uncredited, then-unknown Lou Rawls! Ernie Freeman plays piano. And here it is live in front of a black audience at the Harlem Square Club in Miami, 1963. I’ve heard this song many times, by many artists. But I certainly never experienced it as I did when I heard this very, very raw and real version.

Among the countless artists who have covered the song are Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Paul McCartney (twice), John Lennon, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, and Aretha Franklin. So I’m not sure that Sam Cooke really needs rehabilitation from me. Still, it’s my privilege and pleasure to join the choir. So I guess I learned two things this week. First of all, that Sam Cooke takes a back seat to no one, not even to Smokey Robinson. Secondly, and much more important as a practical lesson for the future–the sweetest fruits are often those closest to the roots.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:


152: Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’
136: James Taylor, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – ‘Wonderful World’
120: Sam Cooke, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’

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