Thursday, April 30, 2009

Clyde McPhatter

The group-leader-goes-solo syndrome. It worked for Diana Ross because she is Diana Ross; it worked for Smokey Robinson and that makes sense. But for so many it didn’t work, or it worked in a way that highlighted the extent to which it did not work – think David Ruffin post Temptations, think Ben E King post Drifters. They both had hits, hits which have passed into legend status, but there was something that did not quite jell.

Clyde McPhatter’s recordings with The Drifters were transcendent; I guess people expected great things from Clyde McPhatter solo artist. And the truth is that he had 21 solo records in the top 100, 8 of those in the top 40, 2 in the top 10. But he had to wade through three labels to do it (Atlantic, Mercury, MGM), his last top 40 hit was in 1962, and the whole thing came to a halt in 1964. And how many people have ever heard of Clyde McPhatter, and how many times did I hear his songs played on the radio (answer: zero). People know Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Ben E King, Fats Domino; they don’t know Clyde McPhatter. And considering how great a singer he was, well, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

I have two collections by McPhatter. The first has four tracks; Treasure Of Love, Without Love (There Is Nothing), and Lover’s Question, all three from some volume or other of Atlantic Rhythm And Blues 1947 – 1974, plus Lover Please, which I probably took from some rock and roll collection K-Tel type album.

The second collection is Deep Sea Ball, the Atlantic CD, which I picked up here at the Grande Bibliotheque, which has the first three songs mentioned, so I present it here, plus Lover Please, which is cheating I know. Bite me.

Clyde McPhatter:

I Can’t Stand Up Alone – A bit of the gospel touch here. McPhatter alternates between fast and slow, with the chorus coming in on the fast parts, as if to emphasise the message of the title. Knock ‘em dead…
Seven Days – His debut single on the top 100, from winter 1956. His girl has disappeared off the face of the earth, apparently, and all he can do is cry. Maybe he ought to call the police. Covered by The Crew Cuts.
Treasure Of Love – There’s a kind of bolero thing going on here, as Mr. McPhatter waxes eloquent about Love, with a capital L. From the summer of 1956.
Rock And Cry – You can’t stay sad when you get into a rockin’ groove. There may be some truth in that. This from the fall of 1957.
I’m Lonely Tonight – A more or less typical pining song, nothing to miss in this life apart from her embrace and kiss…
Without Love (There Is Nothing) – From the winter of 1957. This is a bold as it gets. I remember Tom Jones doing this, and Ray Charles had a crack at it. But no one can pull it off like Clyde McPhatter. He reaches notes on the chorus that didn’t exist before this record came out…
Deep Sea Ball – A rock and roll party at the bottom of the ocean. Honest…
Just To Hold My Hand – A twist in terms of pronouns, just to keep us off balance. From the summer of 1957.
My Island Of Dreams – Not to be confused with Island Of Dreams by The Springfields. The singer paints us his fantasy paradise.
No Matter What – Not the Badfinger song, but same idea.
Come What May
Lovey Dovey – I think The Clovers did this, and for sure Buddy Knox did it. McPhatter puts more bounce into it. From spring, 1959.
I’m Not Worthy Of You – There is humility in this, obviously, and it’s ok for a pop song, but I don’t like the sentiment, truly. It’s not basis for a relationship, in my humble opinion…
A Lover’s Question – This is the song that kicked off The Golden Age Of Rock ‘N Roll by Sha Na Na. And for a long time I didn’t know who did the original version, which is as good an indication as any of how McPhatter disappeared off the musical map. From the winter of 1959, a song about uncertainty, insecurity, a road with no maps, emotions running wild, cluelessness…
Thirty Days – Not the Chuck Berry song. After seven days he sang Seven Days, and now he’s up to thirty days and counting…
You Went Back On Your Word Little Girl – Things change, promises are broken, especially ones that are made without adequate consideration of the uncertainty of emotional commitment. But… Clyde is none too happy. I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me, he sings. Been there. From the fall of 1959.
No Love Like Her Love – Kind of Treasure Of Love redux.
Long Lonely Nights – Also a hit for Lee Andrews & The Hearts, and in 1965 Bobby Vinton did a remake. From the fall of 1957.
Since You’ve Been Gone – Not the Aretha Franklin song. From the summer of 1959. Seems that quite a few of his songs are about being left behind…
Lover Please – Change of label, change of style. Clyde rocks it up, begs his girl to stay. From the spring of 1962, and Kinky Friedman covered this.

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