My song today is ‘I just Called to Say I Love You’. This is a ballad that was written, produced and performed by Stevie Wonder. It remains Stevie Wonder's best-selling single to date, having topped a record 19 charts. The song was the lead single from the 1984 soundtrack album ‘The Woman in Red’, along with two other songs by Stevie Wonder, and scored Number 1 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ for three weeks from October 13 to October 27, 1984. It also became his tenth Number 1 on the ‘Rhythm and Blues’ chart, and his fourth Number 1 on the ‘Adult Contemporary Chart. The song also became Wonder's only solo UK Number-1 success, staying at the top for six weeks, in the process also becoming ‘Motown Records’ biggest-selling single in the UK, a distinction it still holds as of 2018.
In addition, the song won both a ‘Golden Globe’ and an Academy Award for Best Original Song’. The song also received three nominations at the 27th Grammy Awards for ‘Best Male Pop Vocal Performance’, ‘Song of the Year’, and ‘Best Pop Instrumental Performance’. There was a dispute among Stevie Wonder, his former writing partner Lee Garrett and Lloyd Chiate as to who actually wrote the song. Chiate claimed in a lawsuit that he and Garrett wrote the song years before its 1984 release; however, a jury ultimately sided with Wonder.
When I started my daily singing practice around thirty months ago at the age of 75 years, I hadn’t sung in public since the age of 21 years, with one exception. That exception was at a public house in Scarborough one weekend with my sisters, and when I was partially inebriated during the early 2000s.
For around two years after my divorce, I regularly stayed at an apartment on the Scarborough front with my three sisters and the occasional brother. We would spend the weekend talking about our childhood and teenage years growing up in the Forde family; about the good times and the hard years, we spent being one of seven children born to Irish parents who were as different as chalk and cheese. When those subjects weren’t being discussed, we would naturally gossip about any absent family member, besides following a rock and rock singer who regularly sang in the Scarborough pubs and clubs called Danny Wilde. We would usually have a merry weekend.
One of the pubs on the seafront had Karaoke all day long, and because my siblings were always talking about ‘Our Billy having been a great singer as a teenager’ I was frequently urged to get up and give them a song. Not having sung in front of an audience for over five decades, public singing had become so fearful a prospect to me, and I would always adamantly refuse. One evening, when in between the stages of being mildly fresh and bordering upon the verge of drunkenness, I threw caution to the wind and had a go on a Karaoke machine for the first time in my life.
The song I wanted and tried to sing was the Stevie Wonder number, ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’. I had not sung in public since 1964 when I’d abandoned a singing career while out in Canada. At the time, I believed myself to be the best singer on the American continent, but after I discovered that I wasn’t and that there were some singers who were as good and a few even better than me, my ego couldn’t take it. So, having the character flaw I then possessed (that told me if I wasn’t the best, I would prefer to give up singing all together), I didn’t sing in public for another fifty-four years! Naturally, the more time went on over the next half-century, the more fearful I became of singing in public ever again.
My karaoke performance in the Scarborough pub went down as flat as a fart having the life slowly squeezed from it. I’d never used a Karaoke machine previously and was highly nervous as I took the stage. After a reasonable start, I forgot both words and tune halfway through. All the other pub listeners and my family didn’t give a tinker’s cuss about my performance, but I did. The end of my performance couldn’t come soon enough for me and when I sat down, I felt as though my ego had been flattened by the Forde Steamroller.
I was highly embarrassed. I’d never felt so humiliated, especially as I’d allowed false pride and foolishness to give way to my better judgment as my family in the pub chanted, ’Give us a song, Billy! Give us a song, brother!” To tell the truth, I felt a bit of a wimp having allowed myself to have been corralled back into the entertainment spotlight after a 54-year retirement break from public singing. None of the numerous prizes, trophies, and cash I’d won during my years growing up between the ages of 8 years and 21 years in regional and national singing contests, mattered one jot to me anymore. As far as I was concerned, all that I would be remembered for the rest of my non-singing life by my beloved family and friends who were present at the spectacle would be the apologetic performance and pig’s arse I’d made of our Scarborough Karaoke night out; and all because I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut and sup my ale quietly in the corner, silently remembering that I could once sing better than anyone that took the stage that night or probably any night that year.
About thirty months ago, I was reading a newspaper article about the positive benefits of daily singing practice. The article indicated that a few hours of singing practise daily could significantly improve one’s lung capacity as well as increasing the level of oxygen in one’s blood.
Since 1982, I had experienced deteriorating health which had significantly reduced my lung capacity and the ratio of blood/ oxygen levels. Two successive heart attacks in 2002 had left me unconscious for four days, and when I recovered, my breathing capacity was much depleted as my damaged heart now operated on three arteries only instead of four. This extent of my heart damage, along with having smoked cigarettes heavily for fifty years since the age of 12 years, left me at the COPD and emphysema lung level.
While I hadn’t given up smoking cigarettes until the age of 61 years, I’d had to give up working ten years earlier at the age of 52 years when my walking mobility rapidly worsened. I frequently became breathless whenever I exerted myself above the walking pace of a snail or exercised the energy of a tortoise eating a lettuce leaf. In early 2013, I was diagnosed with terminal blood cancer, and since then, I developed and have been operated on for three more different cancers as well as being close to death three on four occasions.
So, I was naturally interested when I read the newspaper article about the huge health benefits that daily singing practice could bring. The newspaper article made a great deal of sense to me so I thought I’d nothing to lose by giving it a go! It also provided me with an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Being fearless for most of my life, my greatest fear since my teenage years had always been ‘fear itself’. My 54-year absence from singing in public had reinforced my level of fear year-upon-year of ever singing in public again, and if I died in the near future, I wanted to die as I’d lived the majority of my life; fearless. It was also in my obvious health interests to boost my lung capacity significantly.
As a professional worker who had helped many people reduce unhealthy fear levels for thirty years, I knew that there were two main methods of reducing fears; each being ideally suitable for different behavioural types. The first method was using a step-by-step approach for the Non-Assertive type of person. The second method was for who Psychologists defined as ‘Type-A’ clients. This second category was the one I belonged to and are usually known by Behaviourists as ‘Very Assertive- Types’. The method of fear reduction that best suits the ‘Type -A’ person is ‘swamping them’. ‘Swamping’ is akin to throwing them in at the deep end of the pool, if they are non-swimmers wishing to learn to swim, but too fearful to try!
So, like a smoker determined to break the habit or a dieter planning a crash diet, I publicised in advance what I intended to do, in order to incentivise me not giving up without the risk of me experiencing further public humiliation!
Over the past thirty months, I am glad to say that my daily singing practice which I have made public from day one, (over 700 songs so far sung and video-recorded on my own ‘YouTube’ Video Channel’ has proved remarkably successful and has led to me achieving five main things:
(1) I have improved my lung capacity and oxygenation levels in my blood by 20 percent and have daily registered normal healthy readings for the past two years in blood pressure levels, body temperature and oxygen/blood mix ratio.
(2) I no longer have any public fear of singing and every morning I sing a new song which I daily post on my Facebook page.
(3) My willingness to try and sing a wide variety of songs in every singing genre going has enabled me to greatly improve my vocal range to a presentable level of competence for a 77-year-old man, besides restoring my self-confidence to ‘hold a tune’.
(4) Daily singing practice, apart from making me healthier, has also made me immensely happier. It is a very productive and satisfying way to remain socially isolated and stay housebound during the country’s lockdown with the COVID-19 pandemic. I have always been a positive and cheerful person who has fortunately never known one moment of depression in my life yet, singing every day has made me even happier than I was before I took it up again. It has even encouraged my lovely wife, Sheila (who has played both the organ and piano for many years) to take up the Ukulele and the Saxophone also. Her bedroom is presently full of musical regalia from wall to wall.
(5) Looking for new songs to sing daily, has enabled me to research the history of music and song over the past hundred years, and today, nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to find and sing a song that was first published a century ago, whilst the following day, to come across a song released a mere week ago. The greatest pleasure though has involved using my selection of daily songs to record a history of my own life and development in tandem. It is a kind of ‘musical blog’ taking the reader from my childhood days through to the present, and hearing the songs along the way which had a bearing and influence on my life.
These songs I daily sing engender memories of my childhood years. They remind me of growing into an arrogant and fearless teenager, brimming with self-confidence; a cocky young man who was determined to take on the world and beat it at its own game. The songs I sing today often remind me of my late teens and early twenties, and the years exorcising my body from its wanderlust as I travelled around Canada before returning to live back in England. Then, after becoming a Mill Manager at the age of 25 years, I decided to give up the high-wage job and become a Probation Officer in my thirties, effectively completing my character transformation from poacher to gamekeeper in a 15 year period.
The years 1970-95 saw me engaged in the extensive research of human response patterns, during which time I pioneered a new method of dealing with aggressive offenders called 'Anger Management' that mushroomed across the English-speaking world within a matter of years thereafter. I also became an author from 1990 onwards and had 64 books published which raised over £200,000 for charitable causes from their sales in West Yorkshire. Then, following my premature retirement on medical grounds, subsequent years witnessed me having knee and hip replacements, two heart attacks, contracting one terminal blood cancer plus three other body cancers and a carcinoma, plus having nine operations, 18 months of chemotherapy plus one month of radiotherapy daily. Finally, I learned to conquer my fear of singing in public again and to improve my lung capacity and increase my blood/oxygen ratio back to healthy proportions.
The strongest memory of my childhood years is my dearly departed mother who never went through a minute of any day she ever lived without a song in her heart. She literally sang as she worked. She sang, not because she was good at it but because she had a song to sing and it made her day happier for doing so. I sing today because my mum sang, because birds sing and because I have a song to sing.
I dedicate today’s song to my family. I submit today’s rendition as being a better rendition of the same song I tried to sing, but couldn’t sing fifteen years ago in that Scarborough Karaoke pub. Should you want to view or access any of the 700 songs I have already video recorded on my YouTube Channel over the past thirty months, please use the link below: http://www.fordefables.co.uk/my-singing-videos.html
You are able to subscribe to the channel at no cost and you will be automatically informed whenever I put up a new video song (which is daily, unless I am in hospital at the time).
Love and peace Bill xxx