ROCK OF AGES – 1955-1963 – FRANK IFIELD

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I Remember You (J Mercer/ V Shertzinger) and Lovesick Blues (I Mills/C Friend) – Frank Ifield 1962

Born in Coundon, Coventry (England) in 1937 to Australian parents Richard and Hannah, and one of seven sons, Frank’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. Below – Frank with his parents Richard and Hannah, in the 1970’s.

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The Ifields returned home to Australia in 1948 and settled near Dural, 50 klms north-west of Sydney, Frank was eleven years old and intrigued by the local country music around him, but 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 part of a travelling minstrel show.

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At age thirteen he appeared on Radio 2GB’s Amateur Hour hosted by Terry Dear (above) 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.

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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.

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Ex-pat Aussie Peter Gormely (above), 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. Below L-R – Johnny Kidd, Delbert McClinton, Bruce Chanel, Frank Ifield.

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He was touring the UK with such American performers as Duane Eddy, Bruce Chanel and the Everly 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/ Victor Shertzinger show tune I Remember You which had featured in the Dorothy Lamour movie of that year The Fleet’s In.Below- Bandleader/Producer Norrie Paramor.

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Frank demoed a vastly reworked version of the original song for his producer 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 would unleash his powerful falsetto voice to rebirth the song in a way that surprised Paramor, who apparently 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 signature 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.

The breakthrough smash hit for Frank Ifield in the UK, held the UK #1 spot for 7 weeks.

Ifield’s unique version of I Remember You became a million-selling #1 hit in the U.K., #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. Below Johnny and Ginger Mercer

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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 words 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. Below Judy Garland and Johnny Mercer.

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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.

Frank Ifield was looking for a follow up to his UK chart-topping hit I Remember You and he was persuaded by his producer Norrie Paramor to update Lovesick Blues with a twist beat to reflect the current dance craze, and it became Ifield’s second #1 UK hit as well as #2 charter in Australia and a #44 hit in the US.

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The song had started life in the 1920’s as a show tune, when composed by Cliff Friend and Irving Mills for the stage musical O-oo Ernest, a frivolous and long-forgotten tale of lonesome pilots. But the song never really hit the charts until US country star Hank Williams gave it his familiar country/honkytonk treatment in 1949, when he took Lovesick Blues to the top of the C&W charts in the US. The Williams recording however was not without its intrigue and drama. Hank, and fellow country singer Rex Griffin were drinking pals, Williams was only permitted to record songs published by Acuff-Rose, he dishonestly told Rose that he had acquired the rights to Lovesick Blues from Griffin who had recorded the song in 1939, but never owned the rights. Some years earlier Irving Mills had bought out co-writer Friend’s interest in the song, so when the Hank Williams version hit the charts, an irate Mills headed straight for Acuff-Rose with writs to sue in hand, a substantial out-of-court settlement was awarded to Irving Mills.  

Another big hit for Ifield, went to #1 in the UK and stayed there for 5 weeks.

Reaction to Ifield’s treatment of the song in the US by C&W aficionados was quite negative, one review in the “Elizabethan” asserted that Ifield’s version “had none of the Jim Reeves depth and character, nor the subtle melodic quality of Don Gibson …”. Frank Ifield’s version however sold over a million copies internationally and was the most successful version of the song to that time, so plenty of fans disagreed with the opinion of the US Country artists, who were known to jealously guard their market, and repel “outsiders” from participating. In the 1970’s Olivia Newton- John would also discover how narrow and xenophobic the Nashville C& W community could be when threatened by Antipodean competition from outside the traditional Grand Ole Opry family. Below- Frank performs on the Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960’s  

1967 Ed Sullivan Show appearance.

Ifield’s B-side to Lovesick Blues was She Taught Me to Yodel, a popular tune in the 1960’s which Frank had performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in the US, the song was famously re-birthed as a dance re-mix by Frank when he teamed up with the Backroom Boys and took it back into the UK top 40 in 1991 as The Yodeling Song.

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