Today’s song is ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’. This song was written and recorded by Neil Diamond in October 1970. The song became Diamond's first American Number 1 hit on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’, and his third to sell a million copies. It was his breakthrough single on the ‘UK Singles Chart’, reaching Number 3 for four weeks in November and December. Billboard ranked the record as the Number 17 song of 1970. It also reached Number 2 on both the ‘Australian Singles Chart’ and the ‘Irish Singles Chart’. Its best performance was in New Zealand, where it stayed at Number 1 for five weeks at the end of the year.
Married to a catchy and dynamic melody and arrangement, the lyrics suggested to some a devotion to a woman of the night. But, ‘Crackling Rosie’ is a type of wine. Diamond heard a story about a native Canadian tribe while doing an interview in Toronto, Canada. The tribe had more men than women, so the lonely men of the tribe would sit around the fire and drink their wine together, a scene that inspired him to write the song. The title has also been interpreted to be a misspelling of a rose wine which is ‘crackling’—a U.S. term equivalent to pétillant or lightly sparkling.
I have only ever known one young woman who was called Rosie. When I say ‘known’, I literally mean it in the biblical sense. Rosie was born in County Limerick in Ireland, but I was to meet her on the steps of the Cleckheaton Town Hall one Saturday night in 1960 as I attended the rock and roll dance with half a dozen friends from Windybank Estate.
Rosie was an only child who’d moved to West Yorkshire with her parents six years earlier. She worked as an apprenticed hairdresser, which essentially meant that being less than three full years into a five-year apprenticeship, she still made the tea and swept the floor but had progressed to washing, rinsing and curling the hair of patrons in her third year at the salon.
I and my mates had spent the first three hours of that evening visiting three or four pubs as we walked two miles down the road to Cleckheaton from ‘The Old Pack House Inn’. The distance it took to walk between the watering holes we visited was usually just enough to get all our belching done before gulping another pint of beer down our throats in one sup at the next pub. I never saw the point in guzzling beer down and probably drunk the least in our group. I always preferred romance to drink, and brunettes always went down better with me than brown ale. Three or four pints would be my usual Saturday night limit, while the others could down double the amount I drank.
I’d have to say though, that in regards of getting a good-looking young woman to dance with and to walk back home with at the end of the night when the dance was over, my success rate was double theirs.
The night I first met Rosie, I accidentally knocked her down as I ran up the steps one minute before the clock struck 10:00 pm with my five or six mates. The man on the door was a stickler for time and would bar all entry after the official closing time to enter the Town Hall arrived. The reason that all dancing entry was barred after 10:00 pm was to prevent the drunks from getting in and creating havoc. That is why the lads tended to drink as much as they could before entering the dance at 10:00 pm.
After I’d accidentally knocked Rosie down rushing up the steps past her, she let out a cry of anguish that instantly stopped me dead in my tracks. I thought she’d sprained a leg when she cried out, “You…you silly bugger, you’ve ruined my tights. I won’t be able to dance now. Who’s going to dance with me now?” Seeing her looking at her bruised leg, it instantly became apparent that it wasn’t an injured leg that had upset her but a laddered pair of the finest denier stockings she wore. None of her friends had a spare pair and she had a big ladder that had holed in hers. After Rosie angrily cried out, ’Who’s going to dance with me now?” I looked at her picking herself up off the steps and feeling sorry for the damage I’d caused, I jokingly said, ‘I will!”
When we got inside and could get a good look at each other, neither victim nor assailant was disappointed with what we each saw in the other. She saw an overconfident 18-year-old with the combined looks of Marty Wilde and James Dean, and I saw a beautiful looking young woman with long brunette hair that sat astride the top of her head in a Helen Shapiro beehive hairstyle. Her dress wasn’t anything to write home about, but her looks were stunning, and her slim figure and womanly form were completely captivating. Her legs, although bruised and now without stockings, were legs to die for! They went all the way up to heaven.
Initially, Rosie seemed indecisive as to whether she ought to slap me across the face or to accept my invitation to dance. Fortunately for me, a good night was had. While Rosie was Irish and proud to be so, because I had no Irish accent, I had a difficult time persuading her that I’d also been born in Ireland but came across to England when I was 4 years old. We dated for five weeks (that meant meeting Rosie inside Cleckheaton Town Hall on a Saturday Night five times), but the third Saturday of our acquaintanceship fell on Christmas Eve.
That night was to prove memorable for us both. Rosie lived in Liversedge in an area called ‘Crossed Keys’. The area had got its name from one of the oldest inns in Yorkshire. She was the only child of professional parents. On Christmas Eve of 1960, I called at her house to collect her for the dance instead of meeting her outside the Town Hall. When she opened the front door, the first thing I looked at was her stunning legs. I wanted to see if she was carrying a scar from our first meeting. Rosie was wearing a Chinese style dress with a long slit down one leg that provided occasional sight of her thigh as she moved. My wife, Sheila informs me this style of dress is known as a ‘Cheongsam’.
“Will you come in for a Christmas drink?” she asked. “Mum and dad have gone out for a Christmas Eve meal in Dewsbury and won’t be back before 11:00 pm.” The upshot was we never did go to the dance at Cleckheaton Town Hall that night. In fact, we stayed in the lounge all evening and only left the house at 10:30 pm (on my suggestion), half an hour before the expected return of Rosie’s parents. I was wary of meeting them, and because I'd absolutely no intention of settling down into a steady relationship with any woman, I saw little point in getting to know them!
That was a most memorable Christmas Eve during the first 18 years of my life. We walked and talked and stopped and kissed and walked and talked some more. The last thing on my mind that Christmas Eve was attending Midnight Mass in Cleckheaton, (something I usually did with my mum and sisters, Mary and Eileen). We must have walked for around six miles up the Halifax Road, and as I walked Rosie back home early Christmas morning around 1:00 am, it started to snow. Those few snowflakes falling from the sky rounded off my Christmas morning of 1960 far better than I could ever have imagined when leaving my parent’s home, the evening before, to collect Rosie.
I was 18 years old at the time and had no intentions of settling down until I was around thirty, however beautiful or loving the young woman on my arm happened to be. Besides, I’d just been appointed the youngest textile shop steward in Great Britain, and I’d also been offered a scholarship at Ruskin College to fast-track me in the trade union movement. But more than wanting any of this, I yearned to travel abroad and to test out the waters as a singer, as I then had a very good crooning voice and fancied myself as a new Bing Crosby or Dean Martin in the making.
Besides, when it comes to the fairer sex, there is something such as ‘having too much of a good thing’’. It may be good for one’s teenage ego to have a highly attractive young woman hanker after you, but it plays havoc with a young man’s Catholic conscience who ‘can’t do right for doing wrong, and can’t do wrong for doing right’.
I continued seeing Rosie for two more weeks into the New Year of 1961 before I ended our relationship. I would occasionally see Rosie dancing with her friends at the Cleckheaton Town Hall during most of 1961, and there were occasions when I came close to weakening my resolve to ‘leave well alone’. The simple fact was our brief contact had proved too good to continue outside marriage or self-respect. I never danced with Rosie again, but I would smile and wave or say a polite hello when we passed. She was too beautiful a person and too dangerous a young woman for any substantive relationship between us to be encouraged and allowed to continue. Canada was still in my sight and I’d no intention of narrowing my horizon.
Three years later, my Christmas Eve of 1963 was spent aboard the S.S.Sylvania. I was bound for Canada, where I would live for two years between 1963-65. While my first two months in Canada led to me discovering, that although I was indeed a very good singer (I sang for a living for two months in a Montreal Night Club called ‘The Last Chance Saloon’), I also learned that I wasn’t the best singer in the world and that there were indeed many better! Possessing the (then) character flaw that I had, I decided that if I couldn’t be the best singer in the world, I’d stop playing the game. So, I took my bat home and gave up my singing job at the age of 21 years. I would be 75 years old before I sang to a public audience again.
I rarely think of Christmas Eve/Christmas Day 1960 these days. Indeed, the only time I think fondly and briefly of that Christmastime Rosie and I ‘spooned’ together is whenever I hear this Neil Diamond song, ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’.
Love and peace Bill xxx