In this month's Tidbits we cover the unique affect that televised talent shows can have on the pages of the Great American Songbook. Long before today's American Idol created overnight pop sensations, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts created overnight pop sensations. In both cases, many of the discoveries are or were somewhat successful on a local level. In many cases the talent show format merely serves to accelerate the inevitable rise to stardom.
One such contestant on Godfrey's program was Steve Lawrence, who later fell in with sometime Godfrey substitute Steve Allen. Lawrence became a regular on Allen's Tonight Show shortly after his appearance on Talent Scouts. He began performing duets with Eydie Gorme, a former vocalist for Tex Beneke, and their onstage chemistry made them the "it" couple of the mid-1950s. The duo garnered a Grammy Award in 1960 for their album, We Got Us. In later years they would be lampooned on comedy programs as sort of stooges for Frank Sinatra, so let this serve as a reminder that the pair was once extremely successful in the pop world. Their influence -- collectively and individually -- continues to this day. Gorme scored an individual Grammy in 1967 for "If He Walked Into My Life", although her most important and longest lasting hit was clearly "Blame It On The Bossa Nova" from 1963.
Husband Steve Lawrence's biggest pop hit was also from 1963, a Gerry Goffin and Carole King composition that launched to the top of the charts in January of that year. Interestingly enough, Steve and Eydie's biggest chart hit as a duo also came in 1963: "I Want to Stay Here." Coincidentally, this song was also written by Goffin and King.
"Go Away Little Girl" is another of those songs that highbrow music critics point to as defining a rather bland period in American pop...one of those tunes that would open the door for the British Invasion. Although it surely is neither Goffin nor King's most significant composition -- not by a long shot -- it seems that the song is more significant than one might assume. Over the next four years it was covered by Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, Lawrence Welk, and The Happenings, each of whom had mild success with the song during the height of the British Invasion.
After spending two weeks at number one for Steve Lawrence in January 1963, then making occasional forays onto the charts for those other artists, "Go Away Little Girl" disappeared in the crush of supposedly more cerebral pop music in the late 1960s. The Summer of Love, Woodstock, and finally, Kent State turned music toward more serious themes. The paradigm shift was complete by March of 1971 when Carole King herself released her monumental album Tapestry, which made the rock cognescenti forget all about her Brill Building gems like "Go Away Little Girl."
Not so fast.
Pop music is many things. One aspect of pop is that it has always been a form of simple escapism for the masses, and schmaltzy love songs like "Go Away Little Girl" will hopefully never -- pardon the pun -- go away.
As mentioned in our "Tidbits" article on talent shows, the format fell off a bit during the 1960s after Godfrey's Talent Scouts went off the air. Although the competition aspect had drifted out of style, variety show hosts were forever trotting out "undiscovered" acts. For one thing, it was cheap programming; unknowns don't asks for the same dressing room spread as an established star. Andy Williams provided the best of both worlds; he routinely showcased the stars of the day along with up-and-coming acts. One of his discoveries, The Osmond Brothers, was so popular that they became regulars -- sort of Williams' own "Little Godfreys." The Osmonds grew up in America's living rooms, and as young Donny matured he was a ready-made teen idol. For a brief time in the early 1970s the Osmonds were the biggest draw in both the USA and the UK.
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Here's Donny Osmond's remake of the Steve Lawrence hit. Both versions went to number one on the pop charts. Please note you have to click the little arrow twice to get the video to run.
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Pursued by screaming pre-teen girls, Donny adored his fans but respected the idea that any real boy-girl relationship would be improper. The concept of "go away little girl" rang true for Donny, and he continually insisted that the brothers record the song. They did, and the little girls made it a hit all over again. "Go Away Little Girl" was back on the charts, again rocketing to number one in the nation. It stayed at number one for three weeks, bookended by much more serious music from the likes of Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart, and not too long after King's own "I Feel The Earth Move" had spent five weeks at the top.
To this day the song refuses to "go away." While serious musicians continue to ignore the tune, it remains popular with fans who remember -- and continues to be covered by young vocalists. The reasons are rather simple: King's up and down melody creates a series of anticipation-and-release verses -- like unrequited love -- the melody quickly builds until it seems unbearable, then just as quickly drops in relief. But like young love, it refuses to go away, continuing with the see-saw effect until the end of the song. At that point the singer finally comes to the realization that the object of his affection must go away, calmly repeating it over and over. The melody of course is only half the equation; Goffin's poetry uncannily captures the emotions that a young man feels, and the song is even more personal to the young girls who hear it. It's no wonder then that teenage soloists in high schools across the country continue to perform this song, and it is still very well received nearly 40 years after it last appeared on the charts.
As you read this article, perhaps a few questions came to mind. When will Steve Lawrence finally be recognized as one of the greats? Wouldn't it be terrific if genuine nice guy Donny Osmond hosted a television show of the same caliber as mentor Andy Williams? Will Carole King ever get the recognition she deserves as the most significant female composer of the 20th century? Hopefully all these things will come to pass before "Go Away Little Girl" is again covered and making a run up the charts.
But if you have to make a wager, place your bets on the song.
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If you would like to read and listen to last month's forgotten gem written by Rod McKuen, "Love's Been Good to Me" please click here.
Here's our new way of adding little music clips to PopularSong.org, it's an mp3 player courtesy of Amazon.com. You can click it, and listen to brief snippets of songs at no charge (which is important, since this is a no-charge website!) and it won't load all kinds of junk on your computer. For this one we've embedded both number ones, by Steve Lawrence and Donny Osmond, as well as the interesting cover by The Happenings. We also suggest listening to the Del Shannon cover. Although his version met with some success, In retrospect it seems somewhat ill-conceived for his style. It's interesting to listen to. Amazon provides this for us in the hopes that you'll want to "download" a copy of the full song for a dollar. You can then put it on your own mp3 player, burn it to a CD, or even put it on your "i-pod." (We're still spinning 45s so we can't really say how you do all this stuff, but we're told it's easy, and you can fit a jillion records on a tiny i-pod. Sure. Easy if you're a teenager). So check it out, just click the big arrow thing.
|For those of us who aren't quite adept at downloading and burning or syncing to I-Pods or whatever it is they do, here's a link to an outstanding CD collection of Steve & Eydie's best loved duets. Along with " This Could Be the Start of Something Big," this set includes "Besame Mucho," "Cheek to Cheek," "Sentimental Journey," and a few others. At about five bucks, it's simply a bargain. You should also note that this provides an easy way to fund the efforts of this society: Amazon credits PopularSong.org a tiny bit for each purchase you make through this website, at no added cost to you. Your purchases help cover a small portion of our expenses, and allow us to keep bringing you this "magazine" free of charge.|