FROM STAGE MUSICALS TO CHART TOPPERS – SPECIAL FEATURE

 

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I Get A Kick Out of You (C Porter) – Gary Shearston 1974

Gary Shearston was born in Inverell (NSW) in 1939 and was a multi-talented singer, songwriter, novelist, actor and a star of the early folk movement in Australia in the 1960’s. He toured with the Australian Puppet Show The Tintookies, and the Hayes Gordon Ensemble Theatre early in his career. At nineteen he was performing professionally at the Sydney venue The Folksinger, and he signed to CBS Records in 1963, two years later he had his first top forty hit with the satirical Sydney Town, and he would go on to host his own national TV show, Just Folks, before trying his luck overseas.

 

The Cole Porter composition that Shearston chose to revive was part of the original score of the 1934 Broadway musical Anything Goes, which is based on a book written by PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton and concerns the madcap antics aboard an ocean liner sailing from New York to London. The main characters are stowaway Billy Crocker, his love interest heiress Hope Harcourt, nightclub singer Reno Sweeney and Public Enemy #13 “Moonface” Martin.

In the staging of the musical, the song I Get A Kick Out of You, appeared in Act 1 as a duet between the characters Reno Sweeney (Ethel Merman) and Billy Crocker (Billy Gaxton) when the show opened in 1934 at the Alvin Theatre in New York.

The song was originally recorded by Ethel Merman and it has been covered by such artists as Paul Whiteman and Frank Sinatra.

This surprise rendition by Gary Shearston was recorded in the Olympic Studio 3 in London with producer Hugh Murphy and was lifted off his Dingo album, with a subtle lyric change to reflect the times, “be-bop refrain” became “cocaine”.

 

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But the record was to undergo major surgery before it was ultimately released. Recording engineer Phil Chapman, believed that Shearston and the production team had not achieved the full potential of the song, the featured instruments played continuously from start to finish with little variation, color or light and shade, and combined with Shearston’s laconic deadpan vocals, the record lacked an engaging, identifiable personality, a typical B-side effort.

One Saturday morning Chapman set about re-mixing the whole song, seven hours later he completed the makeover and the following Monday presented the remix to Hugh Murphy who agreed that it was a big improvement. But he and Shearston remained convinced that I Get A Kick Out of You should be the B-side of the record, and that the A-side should be a Shearston original, entitled Witnessing, a sweet but soporific piano piece lacking real drama.

Tony Stratton Smith the owner of Chrysalis Records, disagreed with his producer and the singer, and had no hesitation making I Get A Kick Out You the A-side and promoting it accordingly. It was a #7 hit in the UK and #19 locally, propelled up the charts by Shearston’s laconic vocals, some gypsy violin wizardry from Kristen Kelly, and the dedication and remarkable production skills of Phil Chapman.

The opening acoustic guitar strumming owes a debt to George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord (or the Chiffons He So Fine), the repeated “I get a kick…” drum break at the end was another catchy Phil Chapman-inspired change, and the spontaneous inclusion of Shearston’s girlfriend’s name – Krystianna Maria Konczewski – towards the conclusion of the song, elevated this old standard to a new level of cool eccentricity and laid-back lounge lizard languor.

 

Following his return to Australia in 1989 Gary continued to write and perform before ultimately departing the music industry and completing divinity studies, becoming an Anglican minister in rural NSW. He sadly passed away in 2013.

 

 

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