Saturday, 29 October 2016

Bobby Vee - Prince of Teen Angst

Bobby Vee (Robert Velline), who died on 24 October at the age of 73, was unfairly roped in with the numerous teen-appeal vocalists of the late 1950s / early 1960s, who were hammered by music critics for being lightweights with weak voices and even weaker recording material. Examples would have been Bobby Rydell (‘Wild One’, 1960), Frankie Avalon (‘Venus’, 1959), and Fabian (‘Tiger’, 1959).

Whilst Vee was visually and vocally not dissimilar to Rydell and the others, his choice of songs was always superior, and his hit recordings, produced by the legendary  ‘Snuff’ Garrett (1938-2015), sounded bigger and better than those of the competition.

Bobby Vee was the perfect vehicle for the classic songs that emanated from New York’s Brill Building and similar hothouses of competitive song-making. Hit records aside, Vee’s place in rock’n’roll folklore was assured, when on 3 February 1959, he and his group (‘The Shadows’) deputised for the newly-deceased Buddy Holly, in Moorhead, Minnesota, on that fateful day.

Just as intriguing is the fact that Bob Dylan, going by the name of Elston Gunn, briefly played piano with Vee’s group. It is said that it was Dylan who persuaded Velline to abbreviate his stage name to ‘Vee’.

At the heart of the better songs that Bobby Vee recorded were the lyrics of Gerry Goffin, either with Carole King, or Jack Keller, providing the seductive melodies. The famous breakthrough hit was ‘Take Good Care Of My Baby’ (Goffin/King, 1961), in which the singer addresses his adversary and accepts that he has lost his love to another, but remains gracious, perhaps secure in the knowledge that ‘she’ will eventually come back.

And if you should discover, that you don’t really love her,
Just send my baby back home to me

In ‘Run To Him’ (Goffin/Keller, 1962), again Vee remained quietly confident that his personal charms would send his ‘baby’ running back to him.

 If you think his lips can kiss you
Better than my lips can kiss you, run to him…


If somebody else can make you
Happier than I can make you, run to him,
My tears will dry (!)

Vee’s songs, or to be precise, Goffin’s lyrics, continually throw down the gauntlet at the feet of the errant lover. Perhaps there is a smugness underpinning Goffin's (in)security.

‘Sharing You’ (Goffin/King, 1962) continues the premise, but this time Vee accepts his fate. The song's middle eight contains the pinnacle of Goffin’s lyrical misery:

There are two of us to kiss you,
Two of us to miss you,
And two of us to wish there were two of you…

‘Two of you’! As if all the greater world’s romantic conflicts of interest could be solved by cloning the target of two persons’ affections. If only.

‘A Forever Kind Of Love’ (Goffin/Keller, 1962) was another winner, although not a chart hit in the USA. In this song, Vee makes a commitment.

It seems my reputation has met you before me,
People say I treat love like a game
Well once that was so true, but now that I’ve found you,
I know that I will never be the same...

Yes, I’ve kissed girls just for the thrill of kissing them…

In addition to these remarkable songs was the notable ‘The Night Has A Thousand Eyes’ (Weisman/Wayne/Garrett, 1962). Was this pop music’s earliest case of unintentional surrealism and blatant paranoia?

You say that you're at home when you phone me
And how much you really care
Though you keep telling me that you're lonely
I'll know if someone is there…
Cos the night, has a thousand eyes

This necessarily brief summary of Bobby Vee’s greatest moments cannot be concluded without a nod to ‘More Than I Can Say’ (Curtis/Allison, 1960), written by two of Buddy Holly’s closest workmates and featuring, on record, the distinctive double-tracked lead vocal, a trademark of Holly’s producer, Norman Petty.

Bobby Vee’s records sold by the million to the teen market at which they were aimed. 

Today, the words of the songs that he sung just might strike a chord with the terminally young at heart. Colour me there.

And rest in peace, Bobby Vee.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Teenarama - 'injections in the knee'

Teenarama, is what you’re giving me,
Teenarama, injections in the knee…

This was the rather desperate couplet I wrote for The Records’ song Teenarama a long time ago. A few years back I received an email from one Pat Broderick (USA I think) asking if ‘injections in the knee’ was a euphemism for something he didn’t understand. I replied that it was just a throwaway line that rhymed, but ‘I guess the knee, like the elbow, is not a sensitive part of the body, therefore you wouldn’t really feel it.’

How wrong I was.

Yesterday, several decades after writing said couplet, I did in fact receive an injection in the (left) knee to hopefully address the ‘meniscal tear exacerbating osteoarthritis’ that was revealed by an MRI scan. Too many years operating that kick drum, I told myself. But ouch!

Knee 13 October

24 hours later and I’m swanning round the gaff like a young man, devoid of the pain I have endured for a year or so, that reached its most intense trudging up and down the steep streets of San Francisco a few months back. But it’s early days – there is no guarantee the pain won’t return and I’m urged by my knee specialist to exercise. And I have friends with far worse health conditions, to whom I send best wishes.

Anyway - by an amazing coincidence – ‘you couldn’t make it up’ - just last night as I was retiring with my new knee, I received a message at my Facebook Will_Birch ‘fan page’ from one Michael Newman (Topeka, Kansas), who couldn’t possibly know the intricacies of my joint pain resolution. Michael asked:

‘Will, can you demystify the line ‘injections in the knee’ for me? I’m guessing you’ve been asked this before.’

Indeed I have, and I replied to another recent enquiry explaining that the lyric to Teenarama (having reflected on the matter) was written from the perspective of an older man – well, pushing 30 at the time - becoming entangled with a younger girl, say around 20, whose sweetly callow, teenage ways were a source of fascination. And that an ‘injection in the knee’ was something more associated with older folk, but I could have been fudging that a bit.

For your amusement only I reproduce the lyrics here, they’re not too deep:

I wanted a holiday, you sure had a lot to say every night
I thought that a younger girl, could show me the world, I was right
Coca-cola, is all you ever drink, the way you smile, the way you wink…

Teenarama is what you’re giving me
Teenarama injections in the knee
Teenarama, and all that melodrama
Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie, gimme, teenarama

I wanted a change of style, to be with a juvenile for a week
I rented an apartment, then you went and lost the key
Sugar candy is all you ever eat, you’re so skinny, you’re so sweet…


Blind date, school gate,
You wait, he’s late,
Daddy’s car, coffee bar,
First bra, too far…

Guitar solo

Coca-cola, is all you ever drink, the way you smile, the way you wink…


© Will Birch/John Wicks (Off The Peg Songs/Admin. Universal Music Publishing USA)          

And congratulations to Bob Dylan for winning the Nobel prize in literature.