My song today is ’Such a Night’. This is a popular song from 1953. It was written by Lincoln Chase and was first recorded by The Drifters in November, 1953. It was released in January 1954 but was banned by some radio stations as too ‘racy’. It reached Number 2 on the ‘American R&B Chart’ in 1954.
The song also became a hit single for Johnnie Ray whose cover version reached Number 1 in the ‘UK Singles Chart’ in 1954. Johnnie Ray's version entered the ‘US Cash Box Chart’ on 27 March 1954, peaking at Number 18 two weeks later on 10 April, 1954.
Over artists to cover the song included The Four Lovers (1956): Elvis Presley: Dinah Washington, who recorded the song twice (1954 and 1962): Elvis Presley (1964): Roy Stevens (1982): Aaron Neville (1993): Cliff Richard (2013) and Michael Buble (2018).
I will never forget the first time I heard this song. It was sung by Johnnie Ray. Whenever we heard an American singer with a hit song, it was all the rage. Johnnie Alvin Ray was born in 1927 and was raised in Dallas, Oregon. He would become a singer, songwriter and pianist; and if the truth is known, he was cited by music critics as a major precursor to what would become Rock and Roll, for his jazz and blues-influenced music and his animated stage personality. Tony Bennett called him the ‘father of rock and roll’ and historians have noted him as a pioneering figure in the development of the genre.
Johnnie first started to impress in the nightclubs of Detroit after being raised partially deaf. Johnnie started singing at the age of 15 years; only four years older than I was when I first sang his songs. Discovered in the night clubs of Detroit in 1951, he was subsequently signed by Columbia Records and rose quickly from obscurity in the United States with the release of his debut album, ‘Johnnie Ray’ (1952), as well as with a 78 rpm single, both of whose sides reached the Billboard magazine's ‘Top Hot 100 Songs of 1952’ with songs, ‘Cry and ‘The Little White Cloud that Cried’.
In 1954, Ray made his first and only major motion picture, ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’, in which he, along with Ethel Merman and Marilyn Monroe and others were part of an ensemble cast. His career in his native United States began to decline in 1957, and his American record label dropped him in 1960. He never regained a strong following there and rarely appeared on American television after 1973. His fanbases in the United Kingdom and Australia, however, remained strong until his death in 1990 of complications from liver failure.
Johnnie Ray would become a British sensation in the 1950s with his heart-wrenching vocal delivery of 'Cry'. Ray’s delivery of this song was to influence many acts including Elvis Presley and was the prime target for teen hysteria in the pre-Presley days. Ray's dramatic stage performances and melancholic songs have been credited by music historians as precursory to later performers, ranging from Leonard Cohen to Morrissey.
When I was 11 years old (1954), the hits that were then the cream of the crop on British shores were songs like ‘Oh My Papa’ and ‘The Happy Wanderer’, along with many lovely ballads. We were a nation of fun songs and luvy duvy ballads when suddenly, out of America burst that unforgettable voice of Johnnie Ray who would rock the feet of the British youth and shock the sensibilities of our more reserved parents and elders.
I attended St Patrick’s Roman Catholic School in Heckmondwike at the time. I would travel the three-mile distance to school daily by bus pass. The bus would stop at the getting off point at Heckmondwike Green and its young passengers would alight and walk to their school, five minutes away. I would never go straight to school and would frequently arrive late for morning prayers and assembly.
At the time, I considered myself a cracking singer and my vocal talent had won me local prizes in various competitions from the age of 8 years upwards. At the left-hand side of the park green was male and female toilets. In those days, all toilets, swimming baths and the passages within all public buildings were lined with tiled walls that created the echo and resonance of a recording studio. Every morning, after alighting the bus, I would make my way inside the toilet, where I would sing the song of the moment at the top of my voice, just to hear what a professionally produced record of me might sound without the musical accompaniment in an echo chamber.
I will always remember singing Johnnie Ray’s songs of ‘Cry’ and ‘Such a Night’. The reason I recall these songs of Johnnie Rays more than any other songs of the time was that shortly after my ‘public rehearsals’ in the park toilets on the days in question, I was singing a much different tune as I fought for my life in Batley Hospital. I had been run over by a large milk wagon on Windybank Estate and had been unfortunate to have my body twisted around the main drive shaft of the wagon which gave me several life-threatening injuries like a damaged spine, collapsed chest, lung puncture, 22 broken ribs, plus numerous broken bones to arms, legs hip and back. The upshot was that I was in the hospital for nine months and was unable to walk again for another two years after my hospital discharge. I was in fact told as a hospital patient that I would never walk again due to the damage in my spine.
What I loved about Johnnie Ray’s singing was his confidence in giving his singing full voice to the point of what adults might have judged as vocal vulgarity then. He introduced into his songs raw ‘emotion’ and he gave his young fans like me much pleasure in his total absence of vocal restraint. I will never forget those days in the Heckmondwike Park toilets as my notes bounced and reverberated in echo off the toilet walls. Oh, happy days of a wonderful youth.
I dedicate my song today to Colin Jagger of Halifax who celebrates his birthday today. Have a nice birthday, Colin and leave room for lots of cake and ale. Thank you for being my Facebook friend. Love and regards Bill.
Love and peace Bill xxx