THE GIRL IN THE SONG – PART 6- Human League, Serge Gasinsbourg, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Sam Cooke, Gordon Lightfoot.


Human League – Don’t You Want Me (1981)

GRL25The early 1980’s saw the rise of the New Romantic movement in the UK, you may recall the look-  eyeliner, blush makeup, puffy shirts, and asymmetrical hairstyles- and that was just the guys. Human League were a British new wave, synth-pop group who released Don’t You Want Me in December 1981, the song was written by lead singer Phil Oakey who was inspired by a photo-story in a teen-girl’s magazine, about a couple splitting up. The original recording was a male solo, with the two female backing singers in the group, Susan Ann Sulley (above right) and Joanne Catherell (above left), both former cocktail waitresses, providing vocal support. GRL26But after seeing the film A Star Is Born, Oakey was inspired to turn the song into a conflicting duet with one of the two female vocalists in the group, and Susan Ann Sulley was chosen. The autobiographical nature of the call and response lyrics and the power play between Oakey and Sulley was intriguing, and the synthesiser score by Jo Callis and Philip Wright was menacing, brooding, and right on the money. But the group hated the recording, thinking it was “too commercial”, and relegated it to the last track on side two of their album Dare, and it was only the fourth and last single lifted from that album, and even then only after their record company overruled the band and issued the single anyway. Don’t You Want Me crashed into the charts just before Christmas 1981, it was #1 in the UK for five weeks and #1 in the USA for three weeks, global sales exceeded two million and the song is rightly regarded as a classic of the New Romantic era, Oakey still has reservations about it, and describes it as “ a nasty song about sexual power politics”.  The promo clip was brilliant and the followup song  (Keep Feeling) Fascination, was almost as good.

Serge Gainsbourg (with Jane Birkin) – Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus (1969)

GRL32When Brigitte Bardot (below with Gainsbourg) asked actor/poet/singer Serge Gainsbourg to compose a beautiful song for her in 1967, he came up with the erotic duet Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus, (I love you … me neither) and with its repeatedly whispered title, plus simulated lovemaking noises, atop an organ backing inspired by Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, it really pushed the bounds of censorship at the time. Bardot and Gainsbourg had starred in several French films together and had been lovers at different times over the preceding years, their shared intimacy was evident when they first performed the song live on Bardot’s French TV show. GRL27But things didn’t work out between them because Bardot’s husband Gunter Sachs found out about the steamy recording and stopped its release. Gainsbourg went on to re-record it with his new girlfriend Jane Birkin (together below), this rendition was released in 1969 and it became a household hit, amidst great controversy, the song depicted explicit lovemaking, and Gainsbourg was forty and Birkin was twenty-three.GRL31Despite the Lolita-like image of Birkin with Gainsbourg on the record cover, and the controversial lyrics, the record sold over four million copies internationally and the original version with Gainsbourg and Bardot was eventually released in 1986, but it did not chart, the steam had gone out of the song, and by that time Samantha Fox was the current Page 3 Pin-Up Pop star.


Leonard Cohen – Suzanne (1967)

GRL37Suzanne Verdal (below) first met Canadian singer/poet/author Leonard Cohen in the early 1960’s when she was still a teenager, at the Le Vieux Moulin jazz club in Montreal, where she danced with her lover and soon-to-be-husband, sculptor Armand Villaincourt. Suzanne was a muse of many of the beat poets of the area and Cohen was smitten by the younger woman. GRL38After she and Villaincourt separated in 1965, Cohen became a regular visitor to her cottage by the St. Lawrence river, where she would light a candle, serve him tea and mandarin oranges, and they would stroll past the Notre -Dame -de-Bon-Secours Chapel (below).GRL40The two shared what Verdal described as a “spiritual union”, and what Cohen would depict in his collection of prose entitled Parasites of Heaven (1966), in the poem Suzanne Brings You Down, as an unrequited  love letter to Verdal, as the song alludes “ And you want to travel blind/ And you know that she will trust you/ For you’ve touched her perfect body/ With your mind.”  It would take Judy Collins to make a successful record of Cohen’s poem in 1967, before he would get a record deal, establish himself, and ultimately record his magnum opus Hallelujah.

Verdal was unaware of the song initially as she had traveled overseas with her daughter and returned to learn of Cohen’s love letter to her. She has said that she was flattered by the song but felt that his depiction of her was overly gloomy and sad, Cohen did not contact her for some time after that.  But they did reconnect in the 1970’s when Cohen was touring in Montreal, and Verdal has said that she declined an intimate moment with the rising star. Suzanne remained faithful to her hippie beliefs and lifestyle, busking, promoting recycling schemes, and pursuing her art, she came to believe that because Cohen had aspired to great commercial success that he felt intimidated, embarrassed or uncomfortable, whenever he encountered his muse, who had stayed true to her cause, Suzanne Verdal is pictured below at an anti-war rally in Los Angeles in 2011.GRL77

Jimi Hendrix – Foxey Lady (1968) and Sam Cooke – Only Sixteen (1959)

Lithofayne (Faye) Pridgon was born in 1940, in Moultrie, Georgia, she met Little Willie John, the composer of the song Fever, in 1955 at the Apollo Theatre (NYC), and began life as a groupie. She was seduced by Sam Cooke at 16 yrs of age, and inspired his hit song Only Sixteen, which was written by Cooke for actor Steve Rowland, who passed on it. To conceal the fact that he was having underage sex with Pridgon, Cooke attributed the song to being inspired by the sixteenth birthday of Lou Rawls stepsister, Eunice.

Little Willie John, Cooke, and James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix would compete for her affections, and she befriended many other black singers of the era including Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Ike Turner and James Brown (below with Faye).GRL42Her relationship with Hendrix (together below) was intense, she met him at the Apollo Theatre in 1963 before he relocated to London, grew an Afro, revealed his guitar wizardry, and found fame. But she remained his muse and confidante, and whenever he returned to Harlem it was “Faye his Foxy Lady” who he looked up. GRL41She was a free spirited party girl who rejected monogamy, much to Jimi’s frustration, she seemed to be drawn to qualities in her lovers that resonated with her own sense of self – John’s uninhibited spirit, Cooke’s romanticism, the sensitivity of Hendrix, and the animal lust of James Brown. GRL45“Foxy” or “Foxey” was one of Jimi’s favourite expressions, which he equated with “sexy, cool, and groovy”, and the song first appeared on his album Are You Experienced. It instantly became one of his most popular, combining the guitar techniques of jazz, blues, and British rhythm and blues, with feedback, that would emerge as the signature Hendrix sound, and be much imitated around the world.

Lithofayne Pridgon’s photo appears under the name Faye, on the inner gatefold sleeve of the Jimi Hendrix album Electric Ladyland, issued in 1968 (below).GRL44Both Cooke and Hendrix met untimely deaths, Sam Cooke was shot by Bertha Franklin, manager of the Hacienda Motel, in Los Angeles in 1964, he was 33, Hendrix would die of a drug overdose in London in 1970, at the age of 27, and along with Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, who also died at the age of 27 of drug overdoses between 1969-71, created what came to be known as Club 27, Kurt Cobain would join this club in 1994.

Gordon Lightfoot – (That’s What You Get) For Loving Me (1966) and If You Could Read My Mind Love (1970)

GRL34Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jnr, emerged in the 1960’s and 70’s with Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Neil Young as one of Canada’s greatest song writers, he has produced 20 albums to date and his name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness, his music unquestionably defined the folk-pop sound of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Lightfoot was also a hard-drinking, whoring, insecure, chauvinist, who would marry three times and father four children, and father a further two children with de facto partners between 1973-89. He often poured out his bitterness and recriminations in his songs, not sparing the feelings of women who had shared his bed and been spurned by him, or who he was intending to leave.

Lifted from the 1966 album Lightfoot!, his first big hit was  (That’s What You Get) For Loving Me a cavalier and boastful parting broadside from Lightfoot at one or more of his lovers “ So don’t you shed a tear for me/ I ain’t the love you thought ‘d be/ I’ve had a hundred more like you, so don’t be blue/ I’ll have a thousand ‘fore I’m thru.”  One can only wonder what his first wife Brita Ingegard Olaisson, who wed Lightfoot in 1963 (image below), made of this song and other similarly cruel, insensitive lyrics, but she would soon find out what his intentions were.GRL36In 1970 he released one of his most famous songs, If You Could Read My Mind Love,  which on first hearing sounds genial, reflective, almost poetic, with metaphorical allusions to old time movie scenes, wishing wells, and paperback novels, but there was a stinging rebuke of Brita and an ominous threat about the future of their disintegrating marriage “ And if you read between the lines/ You know that I’m just trying to understand/ The feelings that you lack/ I never thought I could feel this way/ And I got to say that I just don’t get it/ I don’t know where we went wrong/ But the feeling’s gone/ And I just can’t get it back…”

Never one to examine his own behaviour too closely, and he was a serial philanderer, Lightfoot accused his wife and the mother of his two children of lacking feelings, not understanding his emotional needs, and therefore responsible for their failing marriage, and they would be divorced in 1973. His eldest daughter Ingrid has toured with Lightfoot in recent years and persuaded her father to change several of the lyrics in these two songs out of respect for her mother Brita, but as Gordon Lightfoot knows only too well, you can’t rewrite history.

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