As we enter the fifth week of confinement in the Great Coronavirus Lockdown of 2020, social pressures come to bear.
Neighbourhood net curtains twitch suspiciously should anyone leave their house. Such is the fear instilled by those Moral Guardians lurking in Facebook Resident’s Pages, if you do leave the house you feel obligated to either a) deliberately and obviously carry a shopping bag or b) wear trainers and sportswear, even if you’re driving an ambulance.
Even joggers, just five weeks ago seemingly oblivious to social distancing and the need not to spray everyone around them with a combination of Covid-drenched sweat, wheezing breath and mucus, appear to be acclimatising, and are not now dripping past all those poor grannies queuing in two-metre clumps outside the greengrocers.
In years to come we will be asked “What did you do during the coronavirus lock-down?” and in our mind’s eye that question will be asked by Lord Kitchener, or Dumbledore or someone of similar authority. And the answer we would all like to give is that we did our best. We stayed at home, we didn’t infect anyone else, and we generally helped out.
All of which gets the music bloggers among us pondering. Are we doing our bit? Not all heroes wear capes, although pretty much all of them wear face masks right now, as it happens, assuming they can get hold of them. But is there a small role to be played here by those who wear headphones rather than capes or face-masks, to perhaps distract a bored nation with a jaunty tune or two?
If nothing else, we might spread joy to those people desperately trying to pass the time in a way that doesn’t involve hard labour, painting fences, sanding kitchen work tops, berating naughty children and mending broken drainpipes.
So that’s what you will see here for a while. An excuse to write about some great music in the hope you will be momentarily distracted, and thus your life made marginally less frustrating during lockdown.
So who to start with?
Let’s go back in time, and start with a quiz:
Q1. Who sang on both Dark Side of the Moon and on Dusty Springfield’s 1966 single “Little by Little”?
Q2. Who sang backing vocals on “My Sweet Lord”, “You’re So Vain”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and Nick Drake’s “Poor Boy”?
Q3. Whose (brilliant) version of “Get Back” was released before The Beatles’?
It’s a bit of a trick question, as the answer to all three is the same.
It’s Doris Troy.
Doris Troy first came to the world’s attention with the 1963 hit single “Just One Look”, a brilliant, joyous slice of pop she both co-wrote (with Gregory Carroll) and performed, and which became a big hit both for her (US top 10) and for The Hollies (UK #2).
“Just one look, and I fell so hard, in love, with you”
sings Doris, capturing the excitement of falling in love better than perhaps any other pop song. It even featured in a Pepsi commercial in the eighties in which Cindy Crawford starred. Two little boys stare admiringly, with the punchline being they are admiring the new-look Pepsi can Crawford is drinking from. That, or the idea a supermodel would be drinking full-sugar cola.
Troy was discovered performing, aged just 16, at the Harlem Apollo by James Brown. She was a preachers daughter and had to lie about her age to get a job as an usherette. After seeing the likes of Nina Simone and Etta James performing at the legendary venue, she formed a group with two friends and performed at the Wednesday Amateur Night, where Brown saw them perform.
She wrote her own songs and took one to to 1650 Broadway, the large building which housed most of the music publishers – New York’s “Tin Pan Alley”. The song “How About That” became a hit for RnB singer Dee Clark in 1960. “All my friends had told me I was crazy the way I went about it, but I proved them wrong and it taught me that determination gets you a long way in show business” she said later.
Troy was signed to Atlantic on the basis of a demo of “Just One Look” featuring Bernard Purdie on drums. The demo was so good, they didn’t need to re-record it for release.
A follow up single, “What’cha Gonna Do About It” hit the U.K. top forty and is another wonderful tune, later covered by the Small Faces.
After attempting a solo career, she found a better living could be made singing backing vocals, and she worked with Solomon Burke, Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick.
The third song on our playlist is a Northern Soul classic called “I’ll Do Anything (He Wants Me To Do)” – such a favourite of Tony Blackburn he actually sang a cover of it, which isn’t a patch on the original, but which I leave here for posterity:
Because of the interest in her songs covered by British musicians (and Tony Blackburn), Troy toured the U.K., and her band featured a young pianist called Reg Dwight, who – as we all know – would soon find fame as Elton John.
Troy found more work as a backing singer, in the late sixties and early seventiesHer voice is on many well known tunes, including one of the solo spots on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky”.
Having helped to co-write and record Billy Preston’s album “That’s The Way God Planned It”, Troy came into sight of George Harrison. He signed her to Apple, and her solo LP featured appearances by George Harrison, Steve Stills and Ringo Starr.
Her cover of “Get Back” remains one of the best Beatles cover versions by any artist.
The last song to mention is on the under-appreciated 1974 album “Stretchin’ Out”.
“All I Have is Written in your Eyes” is a fine ballad, and is one of several highlights on this LP notable for its different bands, one reggae-influenced and one emphasising the soulful sounds then coming out of Philadelphia. Not available on Spotify, but can be found at used record shops quite frequently.
Here’s a playlist to hopefully make that lockdown a little less arduous…
and if you want to track down a copy of Stretchin’ Out, I’m sure there are several used record shops on Discogs that would thank you for ordering via this link…