YEARS AGO – FRANK IFIELD

 

Frank Ifield

I Remember You (Mercer/Shertzinger) – Frank Ifield 1962

 

Born in Coundon, Coventry (England) in 1937 to Australian parents Richard and Hannah, and one of seven sons, Frank Ifield’s father was an engineer and inventor who travelled to England in the 1930’s to take up a position with Lucas Industries, where he invented the Ifield fuel pump, which became an integral component of jet aircraft.

The Ifields returned home to Australia in 1948 and settled near Dural, 50 kms north-west of Sydney, Frank was eleven years old and intrigued by the country music around him, particularly the songs of such US country stars as Hank Snow, Buck Owens, Hank Williams, and Roy Acuff as well as the music hall songs of his grandfather who had been a performer in a travelling minstrel show.

At age thirteen he appeared on Radio 2GB’s Amateur Hour and cut several songs for Regal Zonophone, he was also a child star on Big Chief Little Wolf’s touring wrestling show where he sang western songs, did rope tricks and took the great Chieftain’s advice “If you’re not prepared to make a fool of yourself, you should not be in this business”. He became a regular performer on Brisbane Radio 4BK’s Youth Parade and in 1956 at age nineteen he was fronting his own Sydney TV show Campfire Favorites on local TV station TCN-9.

Whiplash was his first commercial release the following year, it was the title and theme song for one of Australia’s first TV series, a joint Seven Network, ATV and ITC production loosely based on the life of Freeman Cobb, founder of the Cobb & Co. stagecoach service. American Peter Graves starred and between 1960-61 many Australian entertainers were guest stars including Leonard Teale, Robert Tudawali, Stuart Wagstaff, Chips Rafferty, and Lionel Long.

Frank also charted with several teenage crush songs in 1959 – True (#26) and Teenage Baby (#23), but later that year he returned to the UK to take a shot at international stardom and to realize his long-held ambition to perform at the London Palladium.

Ex-pat Aussie Peter Gormely, who would soon manage Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and later Olivia Newton-John, became Ifield’s manager, early appearances on Ted Ray’s Ray’s a Laugh led to a contract with Columbia EMI and a recording session with Norrie Paramor, which resulted in Ifield’s first UK chart success with Lucky Devil which climbed to #22. Ifield competed to represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest with Alone Too Long but was unsuccessful and subsequent records failed to impact, however Ifield was closing in on his first million-selling hit record.

He was touring the UK with such performers as Duane Eddy, Bruce Chanel and the Everley Brothers and was impressed by Delbert McClinton’s harmonica accompaniment on Chanel’s hit Hey Baby, he looked for suitable material to record  and after several false starts discovered the sheet music to a 1942 Johnny Mercer show tune I Remember You which had featured in the Dorothy Lamour movie of that year The Fleet’s In.

Frank demoed a vastly reworked version of the original song for Norrie Paramor, there were substantial chord changes, a McClinton-inspired harmonica was to be featured, cellos added, acoustic guitar would carry the refrain, and Ifield unleashed his powerful falsetto voice to rebirth the song in a way that surprised Paramor, who reluctantly completed the arrangement, but ultimately produced a career-defining hit record.

The first few bars of Waltzing Matilda are played on harmonica at the intro to I Remember You and the harmonica is a feature throughout the melody, the Beatles knew of Frank Ifield and Paul McCartney performed this song in their set at the Cavern Club accompanied by John Lennon on harmonica, both Chanel and Ifield who used harmonica so skillfully in their records at the time, inspired the Beatles arrangement of Love Me Do.

 

Ifield’s unique “yodeling” version of I Remember You became a million-selling #1 hit in the U.K. and topped the charts there for eight weeks, it was also  #1 in Australia and top 10 in the USA. Frank would become hugely popular in the UK and score no less than four #1 hits there in the period 1962-63 and in Australia he secured the #14th best-selling record in Australia for 1962 with I Remember You.

The B-side, I Listen to My Heart was penned by Ifield and became a top forty hit in the UK for the Swedish group the Spotnicks as Just Listen to My Heart in 1963.

I Remember You also had a gossipy back story of infidelity and Hollywood shenanigans not generally known at the time. Lyricist Johnny Mercer was having an affair with Judy Garland, for whom he wrote the song, Mercer’s wife Ginger insisted on Johnny ending the affair and never mentioning Judy’s name again. When Johnny Mercer died in 1976 his wish that his tombstone should bear the inscription I Remember You, was furiously rejected by Ginger, and she even omitted any reference to the song in an edited collection of Mercer’s lyrics published in 1982 under the title Our Huckleberry Friend.

But there was one more ironic twist in the tale of this song, for when Ginger passed away the cover of her memorial service program, perhaps innocently, had the words I Remember You printed on the front cover.

 

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