YEARS AGO _ NORMIE ROWE

normie rowe

It Ain’t Necessarily So (G Gershwin/D Heyward) – Normie Rowe and the Playboys 1965

 

Normie Rowe was inspired by early Aussie rocker Col Joye and won his first talent quest at Melbourne’s Lou Toppano Music School Annual Concert in 1960 with his version of Col’s early hit Rock and Rollin’ Clementine. Local DJ Stan Rofe compered that show and he invited Ivan Dayman, Sunshine Records supremo, to see the young singer perform at the Preston Circle Ballroom.

EMI had already passed on Normie, but Dayman was convinced he would be a future star and told Festival Records of his latest discovery.

Festival saw the potential and signed him up via their independent Brisbane outfit Sunshine Records. Dayman was quick to feature Rowe in his many dance venues around the country – Cloudland in Brisbane, Op Pop City and Bowl Sound Lounge in Sydney, Mersey City (Festival Hall) in Melbourne and Swinger in Adelaide, and he became a regular performer on such pop shows as Teen Scene, The Go!!Show and Bandstand.

It Ain’t Necessarily So was the title track from Rowe’s debut album and his first hit single, it is a clever beat version of the song from the 1935 George Gershwin three act opera Porgy and Bess which was based on the 1926 novel entitled Porgy by DuBose Heyward.

Gershwin’s opus was a sensation, fusing as it did classical opera with Broadway musical, the work is set in the fictional all-black town of Catfish Row, in Charleston, South Carolina. The opera tells the story of the disabled beggar Porgy’s attempts to rescue the beautiful Bess from her twin dependency on her violent and possessive lover Crown, and the sleazy dope-peddling character Sportin’ Life.

It Ain’t Necessarily So is sung by Sportin’ Life in the musical and these are the lyrics that Rowe used, without the Creole patois, and out of context in respect of the arc of the story integral to the original work by Gershwin. The song was originally suggested to the eighteen- year-old Rowe by Melbourne DJ Stan Rofe who possessed a vast collection of imported records.

The song had previously been given the beat treatment by several UK bands, in 1963 a Liverpool beat group Ian and the Zodiacs included a version on their debut album This Is Merseybeat in 1963, which became the template for the Normie Rowe record. The Honeycombs had also released an album version in 1964 and the Moody Blues had included a version of this song on their album, The Magnificent Moodies in 1965, but this was not released until after Rowe’s record had charted.

The local version was produced for Sunshine Records by the renowned Pat Aulton at the Bill Armstrong studios in South Melbourne.

A haunting organ accompaniment by Phil Blackmore, resounding bass guitar by Neil McArthur, and accomplished percussion from Graham Trottman, which included the resonant tremelloe/vibrato effect created by striking a handheld woodtone block, created a moody and brooding beat classic. Rowe’s powerful and affecting vocals are supported by a backing choir which lends a spiritual feel to what was a potent mix.

 

The song was a surprising choice as a debut single for Normie Rowe, Bill Duff of Sunshine Records was unsure of its potential and famously ordered only an initial pressing of 50 records, but the gamble paid off and it was a hit.

The Catholic Church-owned Sydney radio station 2SM banned the song as sacrilegious and thus created notoriety around the record’s release, airplay was limited in Sydney as a result, but the song was a big hit and charted #5 nationally.

The song and the opera of which it is an integral part has always been controversial, Gershwin had originally wanted to premiere the musical at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, but the management stipulated that they would only use white opera singers in blackface. Gershwin rightly protested that this was not only racist, but demeaning, and would reduce a powerful work of drama to mere caricature. African-Americans have also claimed that Porgy and Bess promoted negative racial stereotypes because it focused on the violent behavior, drug-dependence and misogynism of black men.

It Ain’t Necessarily So was clearly a controversial choice for a young Normie Rowe, but it showcased his vocal dexterity and launched his career with a breakout record, that was quickly followed by three more top ten hits in the same year. Normie’s debut album was studded with future hits, in addition to the title track there was Que Sera, Sera, I (Who have Nothing), Tell Him I’m Not Home, The Breaking Point, Pride and Joy, Shakin’ All Over and the Stones That I Throw.

 

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