This feature appeared in four parts in Now Dig This from June to September 2003 and has been amended in March 2006 and March 2009. I have added a few songs from readers’ comments and further research and I would welcome anything details of anything I’ve missed. Please write to Spencer Leigh.
“If the music industry had a heart, it would be Doc Pomus.” (Jerry Wexler)
“You believe this shit?” (Doc Pomus)
In my adolescence, I was fascinated by the songs of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman – “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “Little Sister”, “Mess Of Blues”, “A Teenager in Love”. I became intrigued by their names on a record label and although it wasn’t always a guarantee of quality, they were often associated with classic songs. As Phil Spector said, “Doc Pomus is the greatest songwriter who ever lived.”
Now I am even more fascinated by their work – I know of Doc’s early years as a blues singer in New York and I know that several compositions echoed events in his life. He and Mort Shuman were as odd a couple as Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. They formed an unlikely partnership, especially one for creating teenage love songs. After Mort moved to Europe in 1965, Doc had some lean years but, encouraged by Dr John, he wrote some of his best songs and certainly his most introspective lyrics towards the end of his life.
Before I had written a word of this four-part feature, I knew that Doc Pomus was great, but researching it has made me realise just how great he was and how much we have to be thankful for. His story demonstrates the power of the human spirit in adversity, although he wouldn’t have seen it that way. He may have lived his life in a wheelchair but his mind was one of the most agile in New York. Doc Pomus was a wonderful songwriter, being especially adept as a lyricist, and the Brill in Brill Building stands for Brilliant when considering his best work.
Credits and Sources
Many sources have been used to write this feature on Doc Pomus including my own interviews for BBC Radio Merseyside with Doc and Mort and with several people who have known them and/or recorded their songs. My interview with Doc was published in “Now Dig This” (January 1987) and my various conversations with Mort in “Stars in My Eyes” (a book of interviews published by Raven Press, 1980), “Now Dig This” (June 1988) and “Record Collector” (February 1991). Mort also wrote about his work for Elvis Presley in a collection of essays, “Aspects Of Elvis” (edited by myself and Alan Clayson for Sidgwick and Jackson in 1994).
I have used many other sources, the most notable ones being,
- “Growing Pains” (Interview with Doc Pomus from “In Their Own Words” by Bruce Pollock, Collier Books, 1975)
- “The World Of Doc Pomus” (a series of articles by Doc in the early 80s for the magazine, “Whiskey, Women And..”. Doc wrote these articles with a view to preparing for his autobiography, but it was never completed.)
- “What’s Up, Doc? – The Doc Pomus Interview” (Joseph Sapia, “Goldmine”, November 1982)
- “A Taste Of The Blues” (Doc Pomus talks to Anton Mikalsky, WBAI, 26 April 1984)
- “Echoes” (Mort Shuman talks to Stuart Colman, BBC Radio London, over two weeks in November 1986)
- Interview with Doc Pomus by Pete Frame in December 1987 for “The Atlantic Story” on BBC Radio 1. (The producer Kevin Howlett has let me hear the full unedited two hour interview – some amazing stuff from Doc: “I knew the guy who did the charts for ‘Billboard’ and the charts could be bought. If you had X amount of money, you could get on the charts.”.)
- “Call The Doctor” (Interview with Peter Guralnick, Voice Rock And Roll Quarterly, Summer 1988)
- “I Couldn’t Care Less…” (Mort Shuman talks to Trevor Cajiao for “Elvis – The Man And His Music”, September and December 1990 and reprinted in “Talking Elvis”, Elvis – The Man And His Music and Tutti Frutti Productions, 1997)
- “Tribute” (Doc Pomus obituary by Gerri Hershey, “Rolling Stone”, 2 May 1991)
- “Remembering Doc Pomus” (Mort Shuman writes Doc’s obituary, “Now Dig This”, May 1991)
- “The Sweet Music Lessons Of Doc Pomus” and “Tell The Truth Until It Bleeds” (Tribute by John Alan Friedman, “Buddy” magazine, September/October 1991)
- “Death Of An Unassuming Legend” (Trevor Cajiao writes Mort’s obituary, “Now Dig This”, December 1991)
- “The Journals Of Doc Pomus (1978-91)” (From “Antaeus On Music”, edited by Daniel Halpern, Autum Publications, 1993)
- “Treatise On The Blues” by Doc Pomus (from Doc’s Journals) and “Save The Last Dance For Me” by Phil Spector (Induction speech for Doc Pomus in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, 1992) (Both reprinted in “Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay”, Edited by William McKeen, W.W.Norton & Co, 2000)
- “Pro-Files Discographies, Volume 1” by Big Al Pavlow (Music House, 2004)
I would recommend both the contents and the sleeve notes on the two Doc Pomus LPs released by Dan Kochakian for his Whiskey, Women, and…Record Company: “Send For The Doctor” (1983, KM-700) and “It’s Great To Be Young And In Love” (KM-713). They concentrate on his blues recordings although the second includes some early demos with Mort Shuman, hence the unlikely title. A footnote states that Doc receives artist royalties of 40 cents per LP, something I have never seen on an album before and a joking reference to the miserly amounts he originally received.
My thanks to Tim Adams, Will Bratton, John Broven, Trevor Cajiao, Dave Clarke, Howard Cockburn, Stuart Colman, Pete Frame, Bob Groom, Kevin Howlett, Rob Hughes, Joop Jansen, Dan Kochakian, Dave McAleer, Jon Philibert and Walter at honeydhont. Will Bratton, who is Doc’s son-in-law, says that “Doc never fabricated anything in his interviews” and this is borne out by all the material I have read. Even if interviews are divided by ten years, Doc is likely to respond to a question in the same way and not embellish the material. Although I have not spoken to him, the “New York Times” music writer, Alex Halberstadt, is working on an official biography.
Every Doc Pomus composition I can find is listed in the text, together with any co-writers, and the BMI listings, which are available through the internet, were invaluable in this regard. It would appear, though I am not certain of this, that Doc would copyright his songs with the BMI before they were recorded and hence, there are several unrecorded titles in his listings. Either that or my research has been lacking.
The key artists who have recorded the songs are listed in this feature along with the years of issue. American chart placings are taken from the “Billboard” Hot 100 and also the magazine’s Country and R&B charts. UK chart placings are taken from “British Hit Singles” (Guinness Publishing). On occasion, I have reprinted extracts from the lyrics – the ones with Mort Shuman are published by Carlin and the ones with Dr John by Stazybo Music.
Initially, the first part of my research was going to be for a stage play about Doc and Mort to be written by Bill Morrison. Although Bill wrote an excellent play, it has never been staged but a radio version, called “Save The Last Dance For Me” was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 17 December 1999.
There has been an unexpected benefit from writing all this: I am sure that researching Doc’s life will help to make me a better, more tolerant person. I hope you feel this way when you read it – Doc Pomus was an extraordinary man.
PART 1 – A MESS OF BLUES
“I’m boring I’m boring I’m boring
It’s a natural fact
I’m an opening act.”
(Doc Pomus, Journals, c.1980)
Living The Blues
Jerome Solon Felder (Doc Pomus) was born on 27 June 1925 into a poor but respectable, middle-class Jewish family in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Doc’s father was a public-spirited attorney and Doc told “Goldmine”: “My father was a neighbourhood lawyer, who was a captain of a political district. Consequently, we never had any money, but say he had a butcher client, we could get a free meal.” That sense of serving the community runs through the family: Doc’s mother, Millie Goldstein, had been born and raised in London, so Doc, like Bill Haley, is half-English. Her cousin was the left-wing politician, Ian Mikardo, an East End MP who, in the face of considerable opposition, advocated more public ownership in the 1950s.
Doc’s brother, Raoul Lionel, who was born in 1934, became a divorce lawyer. Doc, who had a way with words, might also have been a lawyer, but his father saw him an athlete. Recalling his childhood, he reflected to Peter Guralnick, “I lived in a dream world. I have few happy memories of my father. I knew him to be bitter and sullen and what I felt was completely unsympathetic to my needs. Much later I figured out that I was supposed to his living flower – you know, a great athlete – and when I turned out to be a cripple, he was devastated.”
In 1931 there was no such thing as a vaccine against polio. The young Jerome was sent to a summer camp in Connecticut to escape the epidemic in New York. It didn’t work. Doc contracted polio and for some time was in plaster from the neck down. Doc was interested in music and to help his lungs recover, he practised on the saxophone. Unfortunately, he broke his hands in an accident and they did not repair sufficiently well for him to continue playing. He also played a little piano, but as he discovered, “I found I could do more by singing.”
Doc would never walk properly again, using crutches and braces in his early years, although he was able to drive. After a fall in the mid-60s, his condition deteriorated and he relied on a wheelchair. But, from a young age, he was determined to do something with his life. Hardly ever changing his phrasing, he told interviewer after interviewer, “I was going to do something to show the world that I could cope with my handicap and be a man amongst men.”
His salvation was in music. He told me, “The first records I bought were ‘Traffic Jam’ by Artie Shaw and ‘Scatterbrain’ by Freddy Martin. I bought them in a neighbourhood record bin for five cents. I liked the trumpet sections and the saxophone sections of an orchestra, but when I heard Joe Turner and my life changed. That’s how I felt singing should be, that’s how I felt music should be.”
Big Joe Turner was born in Kansas City in 1911 and started recording in the 1930s. He established himself with Pete Johnson’s band on the “Spirituals To Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and his popular records included “Cherry Red” (1939) and “Piney Brown Blues” (1940). “Most people sing blues slow and draggy, but I put the beat into it,” said Big Joe. Turner wrote about a character he knew in Kansas City in “Piney Brown Blues”, but he later moved to New York.
Doc Pomus recalled, “I heard Joe Turner sing for the first time in 1941. I was 16 years old and it was his recording of ‘Piney Brown Blues’. I was a lover of Joe Turner’s music before I was a lover of the blues, but from that moment on, I had to be a blues singer and a songwriter. The cavern of his voice and the grandeur of his phrasing touched the deepest part of me.”
When Doc was 18, he was studying political science at Brooklyn College, but in the evenings he would watch the trumpet player Frankie Newton with his band at George’s Tavern in Greenwich Village. When he was invited to sit in with the band, he sang “Piney Brown Blues” and, as a result, he was invited to sing with the band on a regular basis. He called himself Doc Pomus so that his parents would not be embarrassed: “White kids didn’t sing blues with negroes in the 40s. I called myself Doc because it sounded like a hip midnight character. The name, Pomus, sounded foreign and mysterious.”
B.B. BLUES (Doc Pomus)
Doc’s first composition was about staying with his grandparents at Brighton Beach. It has never been recorded.
Doc sang at George’s Tavern and also at a place round the corner, the Pied Piper. From time to time, the young Milt Jackson was playing with him. The noted jazz critic and blues songwriter, Leonard Feather, heard Doc at the Pied Piper and asked him to make a record. Feather wrote both sides of Doc’s first record, which was made for Apollo with the Tab Smith Septette in October 1945, “Blues In The Red” / “Blues Without Booze”. The first blues is about being broke and the second has an outdated lyric about prohibition. They are well performed and, if you heard the record blind, you would swear Doc was a black blues artist. The Big Joe Turner influence is self-evident and runs through his blues recordings. The single was recorded quickly as Willie Bryant recorded the two-sided “Blues Around The Clock” at the same three hour session. Doc sometimes appeared on Bryant’s radio show with Ray Carroll, “The Willie And Ray Show”.
LOVE DOCTOR BLUES (Doc Pomus)
• Gatemouth Moore (1946)
Gatemouth Moore, like Joe Turner, came from Kansas City and he sang with the Walter Barnes Orchestra. He was lucky to escape from a fire at Natchez Rhythm Club, which killed most of the orchestra. He was brought to New York in 1946 for sessions with the Tiny Grimes Swingtet. Some of his other tracks (“I Ain’t Mad At You, Pretty Baby”, “Did You Ever Love A Woman”) were R&B hits, but not the bragging “Love Doctor Blues”,which Doc had originally written for his own performances:
“I’m a doctor of love and I don’t charge no money fee,
So come around all you women and get some great loving that’s free.”
This may have been too strong for Gatemouth as he turned to gospel music in a new career as Reverend Moore. The record was produced by Herb Abramson, who became one of the founders of Atlantic Records.
MY NEW CHICK (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1947)
This was one of four sides cut with the Curley Russell All Stars. It is a fun song about the demands of a nymphomaniac but it is marred by an imbalance between the tenor sax and Doc’s vocal. Fortunately, the balance is okay on the other three tracks from the session.
DOC’S BOOGIE (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1947)
Dancing as a synonym for sex. It’s a good track with a very abrupt ending, but that can happen to sex too.
FRUITY WOMAN BLUES (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1947)
When I saw the blues singer, Guy Davis, in St Helens in June 2002, he said, “The worst question you can ask someone is ‘Where did you stay last night?’ A lot of blues have been written on that theme.” Here’s one of them.
MY GOOD POTT (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1947)
Doc appears to have realised the medicinal qualities of cannabis before anybody else. The reefer is compared to a woman:
“Long and thin but awful sweet
A perfume smell that can’t be beat.”
These four tracks play to the interests of his audience. Doc has written, “Everybody was out every night having a good time. It was a world of pimps, hookers, maids, chauffeurs, good-time whites, factory workers, white collar workers, musicians, entertainers, bartenders, waiters – everybody hanging out together. A little money went a long way and there was no tomorrow.”
POMUS BLUES (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1947)
This live recording from the Pied Piper Club starts off with Doc lamenting the loss of his woman, but he then gets excited about their good sex: “She’s got no teeth but she knows how to chew.” On the same night, Doc put down his version of Billy Eckstine’s hit song, “Jelly Jelly”.
Another student at Brooklyn College, Rector Bailey, was a jazz guitar player with the Herman Chittison Trio. He took Doc to an exclusively black club to hear his band and from then on, Pomus sought out black clubs. He would go to Paul’s Café and hear Otis Blackwell and, despite his own colour, he became, at different times, the house singer at the Verona with Buddy Tate’s band, the Sports Inn with Mickey Baker and the Central Plaza with Willie “The Lion” Smith. He also worked with Dan Burley, the man who conceived the original skiffle sessions. Doc was briefly managed by Maele Bartholomew, the wife of the child actor Freddie Bartholomew (“David Copperfield”, 1935). She managed Charlie Parker, but after some bounced cheques, Doc decided to do things himself.
Doc commented: “I was the only white person singing in these clubs, and especially singing that kind of music, and at that time I took it for granted that there were people like me working all over the world, white men working in black clubs, and it was only much later on that I realised that wasn’t true.” He also remarked, “To the world, a fat crippled Jewish kid is a nigger.”
Much to Doc’s surprise, the magazine, “The Music Dial”, gave him a rave review: “I really didn’t know that I was any good. I thought that this was the only way I could express myself and the blues was the only way I could channel my feelings and tell the world who I was.” He was starting to become a man amongst men.
ALLEY ALLEY BLUES (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1948)
Doc Pomus was one of the first to write an R&B commercial: “The Brookyn neighbourhood that I was singing in was mostly around Fulton Street, and there was a very high fashion clothing store called Alley’s. I used to buy my clothes there and one day, Alley, the guy who owned the store, asked me to make a commercial for them. With the full length version, we did a nasty blues about being in an alley instead of it being about Alley’s pants.”
“Alley Alley Blues” wasn’t far removed from “Jelly Jelly”. It would have worked as a duet, but rather than use a girl, the guitarist Ralph Williams was asked to sing as high as he could. This spoils a good record as there is not much difference between the voices. It could be taken as the world’s first gay duet.
NAGGIN’ WIFE BLUES (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1948)
Good boogie woogie number and yet another song about sex. Doc is ready for his evening ride and Ralph Williams adds squeals of delight.
KISS MY WRIST (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1949)
One of two tracks that Doc recorded with Freddie Mitchell and his Orchestra. Doc’s woman has left him but he doesn’t sound too sad about it. “Kiss my wrist” is a euphemism for “kiss my arse”.
TRAVELLING DOC (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1949)
Not satisfied with one woman, Doc is now looking “for three or four”. This is the second track with Freddie Mitchell and his Orchestra. As Doc would say in his live performances, “Maybe I can’t run the hundred-yard dash, darling, but I’m still a 60 minute man.”
FOOL ALL THE TIME (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (demo, 1949)
A revealing snippet on the LP, “It’s Great To Be Young And In Love” shows how Doc was writing his songs. He sings the blues lyric into a tape recorder and to save time he says “Repeat” rather than sing the first line of each verse. Doc would record the song over and over until he had completed the lyric to his satisfaction. “Fool All The Time” was never recorded, but there’s no reason why not.
BABY GET IT OUT YOUR MIND (Doc Pomus – Reginald Ashby)
• Doc Pomus (demo, 1950)
Another example of Doc’s songwriting. He sings the song unaccompanied and then Reggie Ashby joins him on piano. The final take with a vocal group and some rhythm could easily have been worked into a commercial record. Good song.
NO HOME BLUES (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1950)
Doc was always based in New York but he recorded a single for Chicago’s Chess label. “No Home Blues” is a sad story of a man who has had too much whiskey and too much jelly roll. The overall feel is similar to Ray Charles’ “I’ve Had My Fun”.
SEND FOR THE DOCTOR (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1950)
The TV host, Ed Sullivan criticised Bo Diddley for singing about himself, but clearly he hadn’t heard many blues. “Send For The Doctor” is a quicker-packed companion to “Love Doctor Blues”. Doc enjoys encouraging Ray Abrams on tenor sax and Rex Stewart on cornet. This track on Chess 1440 was included on the box set, “The Chess Story”, and Doc is on the same CD as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf.
From 1951 to 1955, Doc Pomus had a residency at Snooky’s, a white club in Manhattan, that was a hangout for pimps and hookers. He said, “Wherever I worked, I was always a feature act, but I couldn’t work outside these places. I never thought anything was going to happen with my life. On the one hand, I had this crazy desperation, where I was pushing and pushing. On the other hand, I was afraid I was going to end up on the streets. And I’d be living in these fleabag hotels.” There is an hilarious but telling reference in a later song, “The Night Is A Hunter”, to playing “upholstered sewers.”
The pianist Bill Doggett took a residency at the KC Club in Brooklyn because he wanted to develop his organ technique. Whilst he was there, he arranged four tracks for Doc including a Coral single, “Blues For Sale” / “Give It Up”. Although the label credits “Bill Doggett and his Orchestra”, it is Doc’s pal, Reggie Ashby who is playing piano.
BLUES FOR SALE (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1951)
Blues don’t come much sadder than this. In “No Home Blues”, Doc was at least returning to his woman. Here he wishes,
“Could make it to the graveyard, I’d kiss my mother’s grave,
I’d lie down beside her ’cause dying is all I crave.”
Bill Doggett’s arrangement featuring some muted trumpet is very effective.
GIVE IT UP (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1951)
A cheerful call-and-response number, once again about sex, and with some neat originality coming through in the lyrics:
“If Hollywood saw you, they’d make you a star,
I’d rather have you than a fish-tailed car.”
Chuck Berry could have written that.
TOO MUCH BOOGIE (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus (1951)
Similar to “Give It Up” and we all know what too much boogie is…
The fourth track that Doc recorded with Bill Doggett and his Orchestra was a cover of Amos Milburn’s “Pool Playing Baby”: “We’re rolling up and down and then from side to side, I always get them in ’cause the pocket’s opened wide.” Ramblin’ Syd Rumpo had nothing on this lot.
WORK LITTLE CARRIE (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus All Stars (1952)
And yet another song about energetic sexual couplings. This hoarse shouting rave-up is not far removed from what Little Richard was doing in 1956. Attributed to the Doc Pomus All Stars, the single features the first recorded sax solo from King Curtis. Curtis was living above Snooky’s and would borrow Doc’s car for his gigs.
THE LAST BLUES (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Pomus All Stars (1952)
More from the Doc Pomus All Stars and this time a slow big band blues featuring Mickey Baker’s guitar. The accompaniment is better than the song which sounds like Doc is retreading old ground. He is leaving his woman and looking for “three or four” new ones. Poor rhyming of “coin” and “scene”, which is unusual for Doc, so possibly he wrote this in the studio.
“Work Little Carrie” / “The Last Blues” was on After Hours and in a sense, these singles were often gig records as After Hours was one of the New York clubs. It was Doc’s last single for three years, but he was having his songs recorded by other artists. Considering that he worked with many of the same musicians, I am surprised that he didn’t get songs to Wynonie Harris, but as might be expected, Big Joe Turner was a welcome recipient.
Boogie Woogie Country Boy
One night at the Baby Grand in Harlem, Doc Pomus saw his hero: “I met Joe Turner when I was 26 and he was way over six feet tall and big all over – like a football player or a nightclub bouncer. But somehow a kind of sweetness and gentleness got through to you. I was mesmerised and terrified at the same time and I was too shy and embarrassed to introduce myself. The next afternoon I went to Atlantic Records, hustling some new songs. Big Joe was there. He had been talking about me and from that day on, I wrote for him, trailed him around and finally became old and mature enough to be a close, close friend.”
However, Doc soon found that there was a problem in working with Joe Turner: “At Atlantic at first I was too poor to make demos and I would sing the songs to Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson. Joe Turner couldn’t read or write so I had to do a piano and voice demo for him so he could memorise the lyrics. Every once in a while I had to go to a session and whisper the lyrics in his ear. When you hear the records, you wouldn’t believe that was so. He did the songs magnificently.”
I’VE GOT THAT FEELING (Doc Pomus – Herb Abramson)
• Lil Green (1952)
DON’T YOU CRY (Doc Pomus)
• Big Joe Turner (1952)
A lot of thought went into the arrangement of this slow R&B song, but the song is not especially memorable. Much better recorded than Doc’s own tracks, but following Joe’s hits, “Chains Of Love” and “Sweet Sixteen”, he needed something better.
STILL IN LOVE (Doc Pomus)
• Big Joe Turner (1952)
• Jimmy Rushing (date unknown)
• Johnny Adams (1991)
• Solomon Burke (1995)
And then he got it. This aching blues ballad was given a terrific performance by Big Joe Turner and it is the earliest of Doc Pomus’ songs still being performed today. Joe’s performance was topped in 1991 by a superb arrangement by Red Tyler for the New Orleans gospel singer, Johnny Adams. The Solomon Burke version is okay, but the arrangement is too busy. Doc said in 1982, “The song was a complete success for me as I did exactly what I wanted to do. I wrote it when I was 24 and I don’t think I could do it better now.” He was delighted when Big Joe made the R&B charts as he wanted to be a professional songwriter. Although he liked playing, he was tiring of the club life and he hated his living accomodation. In another revealing quote, he said he hated going out in the rain as he would be worried about falling over. In another he said, “Until I was 32 years old, my good years were when I was able to buy a suit.”
REALLY SATISFIED (Doc Pomus)
• Millie Bosman (1955)
HEARTLESSLY (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Palmer (1955)
This slow blues for Dawn Records is easily the most distinctive of Doc’s own records, although he released it under the name of Doc Palmer. Doc has more light and shade in his voice than usual and the excellent arrangement includes Sam “The Man” Taylor on tenor sax and Mickey Baker, who had started working with Sylvia Vanderpool, on guitar. Dr John: “Doc had a Chuck Willis voice, a little uneven maybe, but a real pleasing bluesy tenor.”
Alan Freed loved “Heartlessly” (perhaps along with the payola it generated) and played it every day on his radio show. RCA-Victor bought the rights to market it nationally on their new subsidiary, X Records, but it never happened. The song would have suited Elvis.
BYE BABY BYE (Doc Pomus)
• Doc Palmer (1955)
An upbeat blues shouter with Sam “The Man” Taylor on top form. The lyric is a nothing but a live recording from Club Musicale shows that Doc used the song to link other numbers. The 18-minute extract on “It’s Great To Be Young And In Love” includes an extended version of Joe Turner’s “Wee Baby Blues”, a snatch of Cousin Joe’s “You Ain’t No Such A Much”, Wynonie Harris’ “Here Comes The Blues”, more Joe Turner with “My Gal’s A Jockey” (double entendres gone mad) and “Mad Blues”, and three versions of “Bye Baby Bye”. In his introduction, Doc refers to recording it for Groove, so is there another single I haven’t listed? Possibly he used the Doc Palmer name because he had already recorded it as Doc Pomus, I don’t know.
BOOGIE WOOGIE COUNTRY GIRL (Doc Pomus – Reginald Ashby)
• Big Joe Turner (1955)
• Sleepy LaBeef (1979)
• Bob Dylan (1995)
Big Joe Turner had adapted to the new rock’n’roll phenomenon by slightly changing his style with “Shake, Rattle And Roll” and “Flip, Flop And Fly”. Doc gave him one of his most insidious tunes and included references to rock’n’roll and “a good rockin’ band”. This tremendous record was wasted on a B-side, admittedly the B-side of a very big hit, “Corrine Corrine”, and because of its long lyric, Turner was reluctant to perform it in concert. Doc says that he wrote the song himself: “The pianist wrote the lead sheet and I gave him 15% of the song. He got lucky. Years later his daughter called me and said that I had stolen the song from him. Until I was 30, I never wrote a song with anybody else.”
After years of neglect, Bob Dylan revived this excellent song in 1991. Dylan’s performance will be too nasal for some, but it is great to hear him sounding so happy.
MY HAPPINESS FOREVER (Doc Pomus)
• LaVern Baker (1956)
LaVern Baker’s manager met Doc at Atlantic Records “and asked if he had any songs for her: “I said, ‘Of course’. That’s what a songwriter always says.” “My Happiness Forever” was the first of Doc’s singalong pop ballads. It was the B-side of her single, “Get Up, Get Up (You Sleepy Head)” and included on her album, “Rock And Roll With LaVern Baker”. Good song: if Connie Francis had recorded “My Happiness Forever” instead of “My Happiness”, she still would have had a hit record.
In 1955/6 Doc was singing and MC’ing at the Club Musicale, a white club, and living at the Stratford Arms Hotel: “My neighbours were welfare cases, small-time hookers and seldom-employed musicians. If there was any kind of loser, he or she was there. The hotel rooms were small and shabby and dark and airless. You had to share a bathroom with whomever was living next door, so you had to hope that he or she didn’t have some kind of communicable social disease.”
He noted in his Journals: “My hotel room was always the scene of endless trips in and out of the bed, in and out of the bathroom, constantly changing clothes, always on the phone, anything to keep me from quietly living with myself and thinking about what was going to happen.” Maybe that inspired the next song…
LONELY AVENUE (Doc Pomus)
• Ray Charles (1956) (US R&B 6)
• Marty Wilde (1963)
• Crickets (1964)
• Everly Brothers (1965)
• Gene Chandler (1968)
• Van Morrison (1993)
• Los Lobos (1995)
• Joe Cocker (unissued)
Because Atlantic was, at that time, a black label, they didn’t record Doc Pomus but they respected his opinions and encouraged his songwriting. One night in 1952, Herb Abramson woke him in the middle of the night to hear a tape by a new artist, Ray Charles: “Atlantic wanted to record him in New York and wanted to get him some gigs there for $100 a week at the same time. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take a chance on an unknown singer but they made the record anyway.”
Doc became friends with Ray Charles, who asked him for a song and, with his new girlfriend Wilma Burke on backing vocals, they recorded a demo of “Lonely Avenue”. Will Bratton: “Doc told me that the song was based on personal experience. He had been rejected by a girl, probably because of his handicap.” Dr John has not recorded the song himself but he says, “That is one of my favourite tunes, and a place where Doc may have lived in his heart but never showed it.”
Although Doc wrote “Lonely Avenue” about himself, Ray Charles, also disabled, would identify with the song:
“Now my room has got two windows,
But the sunshine never comes through,
It’s always dark and dreary
Since I broke off, baby, with you.”
And just listen to Ray Charles’ performance – his gasps and pants enhance the lyric.
The booklet for the Ray Charles’ box set, “The Birth Of Soul”, says that the song was based on a gospel song by the Pilgrim Travellers’ “How Jesus Died”. I don’t know this track and can’t comment, but its jerking rhythm gave the impression that this was about a drug addict – another reason why it might have appealed to Ray Charles. Doc Pomus: “Mac (Dr John) always said that was the junker blues. It’s got a monotonous and sad lyrical line that for some reason has always attracted junkies. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum – I imagine they’re shuffling along to it, or something. All the junkies, Mac told me, thought I must be a junkie. Mac couldn’t believe how straight I was.”
“Lonely Avenue” was on the US R&B charts, but it never did anything here. Marty Wilde’s 1963 revival was very good but he had passed his sell-by date. The Crickets miss the point completely and their version sounds like party time. The Everlys were in their “lonely” period as they recorded “Lonely Weekends”, “Lonely Island” and “Lonely Street” around the same time.as “Lonely Avenue”. The Everlys are going through the motions on this hurried, rather busy arrangement – with a little thought, they could have done something excellent. On his oldies collection, “Too Long In Exile”, Van Morrison with Georgie Fame on Hammond organ give the song a six-minute jazz setting but Van’s love of scat singing takes over when one verse consists of nothing but the word “you”. Cesar Rosas perfects his Howlin’ Wolf impersonation to David Hidalgo’s guitar on Los Lobos’ treatment, and it makes me wish that Wolf had recorded it himself.
YUM YUM (Doc Pomus)
• Harriet Kay (1956)
• Fontane Sisters (1956)
The Fontane Sisters specialised in white covers of potential R&B successes. They didn’t back a winner with this one but it was another first for Doc Pomus.
The most that Doc had earned in a year was $2,000 and often he would be singing in blues joints with his friend, Otis Blackwell, for $8 a night. Appearing in the clubs must have been very stressful for Doc. Not so much performing there as getting there. Clubs did not have disabled entrances and, indeed, Doc didn’t play the Savoy Ballroom because there were too many steps. The crippled Merseyside drummer, Arthur Davis, told me an horrific story of having to crawl down the steps to the Cavern because he was playing there with his group in the 60s. Doc was able to hold his own and one evening he prevented Charlie Parker from being beaten up.
Fortunately for Doc, his personal and professional life were about to change dramatically. Within a year, he would be married and would be writing in a totally new direction with a young pianist he had discovered, Mort Shuman.
PART 2 – WHY MUST I BE A TEENAGER IN LOVE?
“His was more than a lust for life. He was a whole teeming soul neighbourhood in one man. The sparkling eyes, the moving hands, the booming voice…Doc oozed personality à la Lloyd Price.”
(Mort Shuman, “Now Dig This”, 1991)
Last month we looked at Doc Pomus’ early years as a blues singer and songwriter around New York. In 1956, he had written a hit record for Ray Charles, “Lonely Avenue”, but his own record, “Heartlessly”, had done disappointingly after a good start. He was tiring of his life in the “fleabag hotels” and, at the age of 31, wanted some uniformity to his life. And he wanted something to happen:. “I didn’t want to be the crippled songwriter or the crippled singer. I wanted to be the singer or the songwriter who was crippled. I wanted to be larger than life and a man among men.”
Two major upheavals to Doc’s life happened at the same time, both related to finding partners.
Mortimer Shulman (later Shuman) was 13 years younger than Doc Pomus, being born in Brighton Beach, New York on 12 November 1938. His parents came from Russian stock and he wrote about where they lived in his 1973 composition, “Brooklyn By The Sea”. The song is not revealing, but Mort’s melody is eventually engulfed by traditional Jewish music. Cole Porter once said to Irving Berlin, “I envy you, Irving, because you know all those Jewish melodies.” Mort was a very good pianist and he had attended courses at the Juilliard School of Music.
When he was 15, Mort enrolled at New York City College but he was asked to leave the following year for spending too much time playing piano in bars. He wanted to be a songwriter and when he met a cousin of Doc’s, Neysha, he had to be introduced. Here was someone who had had his songs published. But Doc Pomus wasn’t making much money. To make ends meet, he was writing stories for “Confidential” magazine.
Mort loved R&B, one of his favourite records being the largely instrumental “Please Don’t Leave Me” by Fats Domino (1953). Mort told “Now Dig This” in 1991, “Doc’s jazz records filled an entire room of his parents’ flat in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn where he usually came to lick his wounds for a while, get his act together, eat some chicken soup and wait for advances, royalties or a gig. The gigs were fewer and far between. It was a crossroads in his life and I just fell in kind of like a signpost pointing to rock’n’roll heaven.”
Doc loved Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and he needed someone to help him to write teenage songs. His previous themes of the joys of uninhibited sex or smoking pot were hardly suitable, although in reality they might have been for the delinquent Lymon. He showed Mort his songs and said he would take him as an apprentice. Doc’s friend, the writer Albert Goldman, told me, “For the first six months, Shuman was just an apprentice. He would sit with Doc while the latter worked and once in a while throw in a suggestion of his own. He was not familiar with this type of music and was just a lad of about 17. Doc, on the other hand, was a highly experienced blues singer, familiar with all kinds of popular music.”
In Doc’s Journals, he looks at this Job Creation scheme from Mort’s side:
“I was kind of hip and sly
I had that faraway look in my eye
you came along and grounded me
your choice of words astounded me
you put me under your wing
and that sort of thing
and from that day
I became your protégé.”
Although the label on their first compositions might say, “Doc Pomus – Morty Shuman (sic)”, Doc would only give Mort 10% or 15% of the publishing. However, this arrangement only lasted for four or five songs.
YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Mort Shuman (working demo, 1955)
• Doc Pomus (demo, 1955)
Doc Pomus: “This is a quasi-amateurish song at the beginning of my partnership with Mort Shuman. Mort would sit at the piano playing rhythm and I would feed melodies to him which he would then play. Then I’d compose the lyrics to go along with the melodies and then Mort would eventually sing the lyrics.” At the beginning it sounds like Mort is going to go into “Smack Dab In The Middle”, clearly the template for the song. The working tape on “It’s Great To Be Young And In Love” is followed by Doc’s demo. Sounds good.
THE CURTAIN FELL (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Cardinals (1956, unissued)
How strange that a songwriting partnership should start with a dramatic song about the end of a relationship.
MY ISLAND OF DREAMS (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Clyde McPhatter (recorded 1956, issued 1958)
After R&B hits with Billy Ward and the Dominoes (“Sixty Minute Man”, 1951) and the Drifters (“Money Honey”, 1954), Clyde McPhatter had a solo crossover hit with “Treasure Of Love” on Atlantic in 1956. It was a schmaltzy ballad, but McPhatter was a superlative singer who made it sound sincere. Knowing everyone at Atlantic, Doc and presumably 15% of Mort wrote something similar.
“The sea is always blue,
The skies are never grey,
Nature painted a perfect colour scheme,
As long as there’s you
Here by my side,
This will be my favourite dream.”
Whatever happened to scansion? Nice song though and would have suited an Hawaiian arrangement.
(WAKE UP) MISS RIP VAN WINKLE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Tibbs Brothers (1956)
Doc had worked with Andrew Tibbs on a Battle of the Blues at the Club Caravan in New Jersey. He considered Tibbs to be “up there with Joe Turner and B.B.King as the three greatest male blues singers who ever lived. Tibbs was small and thin and had an innocent angelic face that was marred by a knife scar that ran down an entire cheek. He looked like a choir boy gone bad. The combination of good and evil in his looks and the bend and quiver in his voice drove the girls crazy.” Here he was featured with his brother, Ken, and the harmony vocals come from Doc and Mort. Doc also brought along King Curtis and Mickey Baker, making their first appearances for Atlantic.
The Tibbs Brothers were junkies so, despite this being a good record, they were totally unsuited to a nursery rhyme lyric, but it does show how Doc was trying to break into the market with its references to the Atomic age and “Tutti Frutti”.
I’M GOING CRAZY (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Tibbs Brothers (1956)
I love this. A witty call and response ballad about someone whose world is upside down: “Putting pepper on my coffee, Sugar on my eggs, I’m going crazy.” Good dirty sax break too. Whatever Mort did for his 15%, it was worth it.
Mort Shuman’s father died in 1957 and as well as studying at university, he was taking part-time jobs to help his mother. He was very keen that their songwriting partnership should be successful. Mort was studying philosophy. “That could be useful,” said Doc, so who knows what they would be writing next?
LOVE ROLLER COASTER (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman – Big Joe Turner)
• Big Joe Turner (1957)
Doc played Mort a batch of Joe Turner’s records and then they wrote this, which Big Joe Turner then amended for himself. This cheerful song, full of fairground images, was an A-side and it made the US pop charts. Could easily be revived today.
I NEED A GIRL (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Big Joe Turner (1957)
Big Joe needs a non-stressful job, a flashy car, a fashionable suit and lots of money, but most of all he needs a girl. Lighthearted novelty item and good fun.
Doc Pomus married a beautiful blonde actress, Wilma Burke, on 28 June 1957 at the Waldorf Astoria. They drifted around the state of New York on an extended honeymoon. When they were in Ellenville, they looked at the contents of a juke-box in a bar. Doc was surprised to find “Young Blood” by the Coasters as one of the records. Had they recorded the tune he had given to Jerry Wexler a year or so earlier?
TELL ME MORE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Karen Chandler (1957)
• Paris Sisters (1957)
WAY BEYOND THE HILLS (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman – Wilma Burke)
• Gloria Wilson (1957)
SOME DAY, MAYBE TONIGHT (Doc Pomus – Herb Abramson – A Goland)
• Jerry Grant (1957)
YOUNG BLOOD (Doc Pomus – Jerry Leiber – Mike Stoller)
• Coasters (1957) (US 8, R&B 1)
• Beatles (Decca audition tape, 1962)
• Leon Russell (“Concert For Bangla-Desh”, 1971)
• Bad Company (1976) (US 20)
• Bruce Willis (1987)
• Jerry Lee Lewis (1995)
• The Band (1995)
No. Doc had taken a piece of street jargon – “young blood” for a good-looking girl – and written a song around it. The CD booklet with “50 Coastin’ Classics” says that Doc only had the title but this is not so. Jerry Wexler had the demo of Doc’s song and thought that the title would be perfect for the Coasters. He passed it to their producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and Mike took Doc to lunch. He asked if they could rework the song and Doc said yes and forgot about it, not even wanting approval for the final version.
Leiber and Stoller produced the record in February 1957 and Mike Stoller has said, “Each of the guys took one of the lines one after the other, and they were cracking up in the studio when they were doing it.” It was a perfect record and it went soaring up the charts as a double-sided hit with “Searchin’”. Doc Pomus remarked in 1982, “Most of the articles about ‘Young Blood’ never mention my name. Although Leiber and Stoller wrote most of the song, the title and concept was mine. C’est la vie. Sometimes my name doesn’t make the label credits. I weigh too much be invisible.”
When Doc played that record on the jukebox, he immediately called Atlantic Records and asked for an advance. They held such high hopes for the song that they gave him $1,500 and this saw them through the first year of their marriage. More than that, it showed Doc the way to go: “I had been writing for a mature black audience, the Coasters were easily palatable and appealed to young white teenagers.
“Young Blood” is one the Coasters’ classic songs about kids in New York. The Beatles remained true to the original on their audition for Decca, but they were turned down. Bruce Willis, an unlikely Motown act, showed his love of Atlantic pop with covers of “Under The Boardwalk” and “Young Blood”. Levon Helm sings the lead vocal on the Band’s version but when they take the individual lines at the end of the verses, they sound too world-weary for the song. The Coasters sound like cartoon characters and although Jerry Lee Lewis and the Band sound like old men looking for young girls, Jerry Lee’s version does have a storming piano break.
When a friend of Doc’s married a millionairess 25 years old than himself, he decided to form a record company. So, in November 1957 Doc became the president of the R&B Recording Corporation at the Brill Building. Doc was paid $100 a week and Mort $40 to write for their acts. The first act they signed should have done well for them as Doc had discovered Ben E. King with the Crowns.
MISERY’S CHILD (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Richard Hayes (1957)
• Marty Wilde (1958)
This echo-drenched, doom-laden song was Marty’s follow-up to “Endless Sleep”. Would have been better if they’d ditched the vocal backing. To date “Misery’s Child” has been an endless sleeper.
KISS AND MAKE UP (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Crowns (1958)
Doc and Mort have taken the successful ingredients of doo wop records – strong lead vocals, nonsense background sounds, a deep bass voice and a sax break – and recorded the Crowns on “Kiss And Make Up”. That it works is largely down to Charlie Thomas’s performance, although Doc realised that Ben E.King was the singer with the real potential. “Billboard” described the single as a “rhythmic meshuga-styled pleaser with a slighly Latin beat. Side has potential if pushed.” And it was pushed in Boston, Providence and Pittsburg. Sadly, however, the millionairess had found out about the record company and declared that this was not the way she wanted to spend her money.
Not to worry, George Treadwell owned the name the Drifters and when the group split up, Treadwell asked the Crowns if they would like to become the Drifters and take over their engagements. Doc and Mort were to continue their association with the group.
Donny Kirshner, who wrote songs with Bobby Darin, asked for Doc’s advice. Doc thought their songs, which included “Wear My Ring” for Gene Vincent, were “really bad” and recommended that he took up publishing. When he formed his own company at 1650 Broadway, he offered Doc and Mort a contract with a weekly retainer. Doc said that he would need $200 and Mort $100 and when Kirschner couldn’t pay that, Doc recommended Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. Doc: “Neil went to Aldon because he was willing to work for almost nothing.” Thus started the famed Aldon Music, while Doc and Mort slogged away in the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway. They had a contract with Hill and Range, a company owned by the Aberbachs, and their song plugger was Paul Case, who had made the transition from Broadway songs to rock’n’roll very effectively and proved to be a good editor for their work. Doc and Mort actually worked in one of those legendary cubicles with a piano and two chairs. When they became more successful, they were given a bigger room with paintings and a plush carpet but it soaked up their creativity and they returned to a cubicle for both inspiration and perspiration. Doc regretted that they hadn’t been forward enough: “We could have had a piece of the publishing and owned some of the songs.”
HELLO, HOW YA’ BEEN, GOODBYE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Guitar Slim (1958)
SUNGLASSES (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman – Wilma Burke)
• Shades (1958)
Sounds like Doc and Mort wrote a song for the Coasters, but couldn’t get it past Leiber and Stoller. Mort recorded it himself, using King Curtis on sax and featuring the unrelated Knott Sisters, actually Wilma and some Broadway friends, on backing responses, and you can hear how it would have suited the Coasters.
I’M ON FIRE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Shades (1958)
SAY THE WORD (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Mickey and Sylvia (1958)
Doc gives a song to his old friend, Mickey Baker.
LAND OF LOVE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Jimmy Simmons (1957)
YOU BE MY BABY (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman – Ray Charles)
• Ray Charles (1958)
Really good interplay between Ray Charles and the Raelets on this catchy song, which was released as an A-side in 1958. Shane Fenton and the Fentones used to perform this a lot and I’m surprised that it didn’t become a beat group favourite.
WHITE BUCKS AND SADDLE SHOES (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Bobby Pedrick Jr (1958)
• Vernons Girls (1958)
PLAIN JANE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Bobby Darin (1958) (US 38)
As Bobby Darin could sing in a variety of voices and styles, he was one of the best demo singers around the Brill Building. Doc and Mort often used him and they would tease him about his hypochrondria, not realising that he had a damaged heart and knew his life could end abruptly. He had made some singles for Atlantic that hadn’t sold and the label owner, Ahmet Ertegun, was giving him one last chance by producing the record himself. He was recording Darin’s song “Splish Splash” and Darin was so nervous that he collapsed in Doc and Mort’s office. They calmed him down and “Splish Splash” was a US Top 10 hit.
In keeping with the spirit of the time, Doc and Mort wrote him a song around a girl’s name, “Plain Jane”. It wasn’t a difficult day for coming up with a melody as they used the folk song, “Buffalo Gals”.
Doc and Willi Burke have a daughter, Sharon Ruth, later called Sharyn, which was reported in “Billboard” in June 1958. Cue for a song.
I AIN’T SHARIN’ SHARON (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Bobby Darin (recorded 1958, released 1960)
• Buddy Knox (1958)
• James Darren (1959)
Bobby Darin shares the spotlight with the horns on this medium-paced rocker, but it stayed on the shelf for two years. Buddy Knox recorded the song with Norman Petty at his studio in Clovis, New Mexico in 1959. Knox’s vocal is fine but his attempt to do the background vocals on his own is ridiculous. Didn’t anyone ever play these records back? Unusually, Doc and Mort produced a version for James Darren in October 1959, so we can only blame them for the annoying girlie chorus. Same comment.
(SINCE YOU’RE GONE) I CAN’T GO ON (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Bobby Darin (1958)
A track from Bobby Darin’s first LP, “Bobby Darin”, released in July 1958.
CARRYIN’ THE LOAD (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Ray Charles (1959)
This sounds like a gospel song that has been secularised. Ray Charles with the Raelets sound more inhibited than usual but it is a strong performance, which was released as an A-side, with little effect, once he had left Atlantic.
YOU’RE TEASING ME (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• LaVern Baker (1959)
The B-side of LaVern Baker’s US Top 40 entry “I Waited Too Long”, which was written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. A happy song with a Latin feel and yet another sax break from King Curtis.
Hitting the jackpot
Until this point, quality artists had been recording Doc and Mort’s songs. Their impressive credits included Ray Charles, LaVern Baker, Clyde McPhatter and Bobby Darin, all excellent Atlantic acts. Everything changed with Hill and Range’s requirements for other record labels.
I’M A MAN (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Fabian (1959) (US 31)
• Mort Shuman (1959)
• Adam Faith (1960)
One of Doc and Mort’s first assignments at Hill and Range was to write some songs for Elvis. They came up with a wild rocker, “I’m A Man”, which Elvis rejected. Elvis was in the army in Germany and possibly he knew that he was going to move away from rock’n’roll when he returned. In any event, why should he want to record a retread of “Hard Headed Woman”?
Doc and Mort had also been asked to write for Fabian, a good-looking lad (or so they so, he looks a little greasy to me) who couldn’t carry a tune. Mort Shuman: “I met Fabian two or three times and he was a sweet kid. He was not presumptuous at all. I suppose he knew that he was good-looking and that was why it had happened for him. We’d written ‘I’m A Man’ and ‘Turn Me Loose’ with the old-style Elvis in mind, or for that matter any other tough rock’n’roll singer. Fabian couldn’t sing those lyrics as he wasn’t allowed to sing anything that was sexually explicit. Doc changed them into something teenybopperish.”
Fabian’s record made the US Top 10 and Mort Shuman, on a visit to the UK, recorded the original words with Joe Brown on guitar. He said in 1987, “I heard it recently and I couldn’t believe how bad I was.”
Adam Faith also sang the original words, and the song was given a typical John Barry arrangement. Faith’s version was parodied by Dennis Potter in a sketch about him for the BBC’s “That Was The Week That Was”:
“I may be young but I still go to school,
When it comes to chicks, I’m no poor little fool,
I’m a man.”
TURN ME LOOSE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Fabian (1959) (US 9)
• Cliff Richard (performed on “Oh Boy!”, 1959)
• Mort Shuman (1959)
• Adam Faith (1960)
• Dion (1995)
At a guess, Doc and Mort heard Elvis do “One Night” and determined to write something similar. “Turn Me Loose” would have been ideal for Elvis and he should not have turned it down. Again, it went to Fabian, but he recorded the original lyric (with Mort on piano) and took it into the US Top 10. It gave him an image and led to his next hit, “Tiger”. Both Doc and Mort told me that Fabian had sung the amended lyrics, but they are mistaken. Fabian sings:
“Gonna have a thousand chicks
And get a thousand kicks.”
The wimpy lyrics were, however, recorded by Adam Faith, but, curiously, John Barry’s menacing brass arrangement would suit the original words, so make what you will of that. Cliff Richard performed a moody version on the “Oh Boy!” show, but didn’t record it. I was excited by the prospect of Dion reviving the song as he could give it a “Wanderer”-style workout. His version is the best, but is still lack-lustre.
PAJAMA PARTY (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Bobby Pedrick Jr (1959)
Recorded by Pedrick as a follow-up to his US hit, “White Bucks And Saddle Shoes”. The record featured King Curtis on sax and was produced by Leiber and Stoller. Bobby Pedrick Jr had a US No.l, “Sad Eyes”, as Robert John in 1979.
TREAT ME LIKE A WOMAN (Doc Pomus – Allen Jeffreys)
• Doc Pomus (demo, 1959)
• Joya Sherrill (1960)
Joya Sherrill was a highly-rated vocalist with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. A demo with Doc singing and Mort playing organ was recorded for her use with the title, “I’ll Treat You Like A Woman”. I’ve never heard Joya Sherrill’s record but if it’s anything like this demo, it will be excellent.
A TEENAGER IN LOVE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Dion and the Belmonts (1959) (US 5,UK 28)
• Marty Wilde (1959) (UK 2)
• Craig Douglas (1959) (UK 13)
• Dickie Valentine (1959)
• Rikki Henderson (1959)
• Four Preps (parody version, 1961) (US 17)
According to the legend, Doc and Mort were asked to write something along the lines of “Poor Little Fool”, Ricky Nelson’s 1958 hit. Whatever the truth of the matter, we can hear how they were getting on as their demo of their first attempt, “It’s Great To Be Young And In Love”, has been released. It is very cheerful and jaunty with Mort singing,
“It may be raining but the sun will be shining in my heart,
I’m not complaining because I know that you love me from the start,
Each night I thank the stars up above,
It’s great to be young and in love.”
The melody for the verses was there but both its optimism and its middle section were changed. The only line from the original lyric to be salvaged was “Each night I thank the stars up above”. Mort liked to joke, “‘Why must I be a teenager in love?’ has to be one of Doc’s lines. No teenager would ever write like that. All teenagers are either in love or they want to be. It’s all they think about. They don’t query it.” Doc had only just found out what teenagers were: “When I grew up in Brooklyn, you had short trousers and you were a child. One day you had long trousers and you were a man.”
“A Teenager In Love” was given to the Mystics at Laurie Records, but the label then decided that the song was too good to give to an unknown group and passed it to Dion and the Belmonts, who had already had three hits. Dion has since said that he preferred “I Wonder Why”, but I wonder why. Now a medium-paced, plaintive rocker, the song is given a great reading by Dion and his Belmonts. It should have done very well in the UK too, but it became part of a chart race. Dion lost to Marty Wilde, but there was no shame in that as Marty’s version was excellent.
One of the covers was by Dickie Valentine, almost as old as Doc and asking, “Why must I be a teenager in love?” Craig Douglas sang it pleasantly but without the grittiness of the original, but if you want to hear why the Brits were no good at rock’n’roll, play Dickie Valentine with his girlie chorus. I rest my case.
In 1961 the Four Preps parodied Dion and the Belmonts on their send-up, “More Money For You And Me”, recorded live in Pasadena:
“Each night I ask the stars without fail,
Why must I be a teenager in jail?”
I’VE CRIED BEFORE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Dion and the Belmonts (1959)
The B-side to “A Teenager In Love” and the first time that Doc and Mort had both sides of a single. Nice song but Dion takes it too formally. “Billboard” called it an “interesting weeper ballad”.
Doc: “I’ve always liked it better than ‘A Teenager In Love’.”
HUSHABYE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Mystics (1959) (US 20)
• Beach Boys (1964)
• Jay and the Americans (1969) (US 62)
The Brooklyn doo woppers, the Mystics had lost out on “A Teenager In Love”, but they were given something almost as good. Inspired by the Elegants’ “Little Star’ (but not handicapped by using a nursery rhyme) or possibly by Doc singing to his daughter, “Hushabye” is a beautiful lullaby which gave their harmonies a chance to shine. In 1964, even the Mystics’ version was topped by an extraordinary version by the Beach Boys with both Brian Wilson and Mike Love at their best. It’s a rare example of a cover improving an original, and what an original they had to beat. Jay and the Americans take it slower, which I suppose makes it more effective as a lullaby, and add a middle section. After all, if you’re not asleep at the end of the record, has the song worked?
The Brill Building was full of old-time music writers who were horrified that rock’n’roll had come along or were trying, somewhat ridiculously, to adapt themselves to it. Billy Rose who wrote “Me And My Shadow” and “Happy Days And Lonely Nights” said of Elvis Presley, “Not only are most of his songs junk, but in many cases they are obscene junk, pretty much on a level with dirty comic magazines. It’s this current climate that makes Elvis Presley and his animal posturings possible.” Doc Pomus: “It wasn’t acceptable to the other songwriters. Even when I had the hits, I thought it would be all over in three years. There were no rock critics, just the magazines that had the lyrics in.”
TWO FOOLS (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Frankie Avalon (1959)
Considering that they had written Frankie Avalon’s labelmate, Fabian, and considering that those songs had been published by Frankie Avalon Music, it is surprising that they didn’t immediately write for Avalon. This pleasant song was the B-side of 1959 US Top 10 hit, “Just Ask Your Heart”, and could easily have been on the top.
ANGEL FACE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• James Darren (1959) (US 47)
• Billy Fury (1959)
Doc and Mort wrote this ballad for the actor James Darren to sing to his fiancé, Evy. They produced his version too, but I could have done without the heavenly harmonies. Billy Fury, a far superior singer, takes the song in too high a key but it is a much better production from Jack Good.
TEENAGE TEARS (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• James Darren (1959)
You can imagine Doc being delighted with this title, but it isn’t much of a song. And what a plodding vocal group. Ironically, the B-side of Marty Wilde’s “Sea Of Love”, also called “Teenage Tears”, is far superior.
SWEET TALK (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Bobby Comstock and the Counts (1959)
Don’t know this record.
NO ONE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Doc Pomus (demo 1959)
• Connie Francis (1960)
• Brenda Lee (recorded 1960, released 1965)
• Ray Charles (1963) (US 21, UK 35)
• Johnny Adams (1991)
Doc recorded a demo of this smoky ballad in 1959 and it confirms what Mort Shuman said about him, “The greatest blue-eyed blues shouter of them all.” The full potential of this song has never been realised. Connie Francis recorded it three times, once in 1959 and twice in 1960, with the third version being used on the B-side of her US hit, “Where The Boys Are” in 1961. It was also recorded by Connie’s chart rival, Brenda Lee, in Nashville in August 1960. She was only 15 and it is a remarkably mature performance, but it was not issued at the time. Ray Charles gave the song a big band jazz interpretation in 1963. Eventually, Brenda Lee released it on the B-side of her US and UK hit, “Too Many Rivers”, and it is also among the better tracks on her “Too Many Rivers” LP. Johnny Adams with Dr John on piano give it a funky workout and I love the bit where Johnny plays his “mouth trombone”. Frank Sinatra should have recorded this.
THE TIGER AND THE MOUSE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Connie Francis (1959)
Connie Francis recorded “The Tiger And The Mouse” in July 1959, but something was wrong and she tried again in October. The first version has never been issued but the second was eventually released on the 1987 CD, “Rocksides (1957-64)” (US, Polygram 831698 2). Interesting that this was recorded before “Robot Man” as the songs sound like close cousins.
THREE YOUNG MEN (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Lee David (1959)
DEEP INSIDE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Malcolm Dodds (1959)
Like Woody Allen, it was hard to get Doc Pomus out of New York, but Jack Good persuaded him and Mort Shuman to come to the UK for a special edition of the ITV show, “Boy Meets Girl” on 21 November 1959, which would be devoted to their songs. They would meet many of the up and coming British rock’n’roll stars, some of whom Jack produced, and they were asked to bring a portfolio with them. The photo of them at London Airport looks as though they were hawking their songs as soon as they step from the plane.
Mort Shuman performed “I’m A Man” on “Boy Meets Girls” and Jack Good coaxed him into Decca’s studios for a single of “I’m A Man” and “Turn Me Loose”. Jack described it as “the wildest rock’n’roll session I have ever experienced.” Both of them were surprised by the interest in their work – after all, they were just two of scores of songwriters in New York – and they were delighted by the press coverage. The fact that three versions of “A Teenager In Love” had made the UK charts gave the newspapers a peg for a feature. Joe Brown told me that they could have appeared on “What’s My Line?” and no one would have guessed what they did for a living. Of course, their American publishers would hardly want to promote Doc as a writer of teenage hits in the way that Aldon did with the young and good-looking Carole King. Carole, incidentally, had fun at Shuman’s expense by recording “Short Mort” as a companion to Annette’s “Tall Paul”.
In their subsequent interviews, Doc and Mort refer to “the intellectuals” being interested in their work, presumably Jack Good, although Doc can hardly have been pleased at The Intellectual calling him Long John Silver. Most of the songs recorded here were published by Jack Good Music, so this man had a finger in every pie. He wasn’t accepting payola but he was promoting artists that he was recording and whose songs he was publishing. Doc met up with his relations but there was one sour moment to their visit: Doc’s daughter was kidnapped, but everything was soon resolved.
Doc remarked, “There was something back doorish in the States about writing this sort of music, but it was considered legitimate songwriting in England. We were treated very well and we went out with Tommy Steele and Lionel Bart. I like the fact that comedians told political jokes. You would never get that in America: Alan Freed never told a political joke. My wife went back with our daughter and she became very indignant that I didn’t come back immediately. Eventually I went back to save my marriage. When I got back to the Brill Building, the elevator man said, ‘I’ve not seen you recently: have you been sick?’”
THE SNAKE AND THE BOOKWORM (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Pat Shannon (1959)
• Cliff Richard and the Shadows (1959)
• Coasters (1960)
After the success with “Young Blood”, Doc had wanted to write for the Coasters, but they couldn’t match the witty vignettes that Leiber and Stoller wrote for the group. They almost got it right with “The Snake And The Bookworm”, which was recorded by Dick Glasser’s brother, Pat Shannon. He takes the song too fast but it is not a bad version and the pay-off, “The snake is a bookworm” is different from both Cliff Richard and the Coasters. The song, like that other Cliff favourite “Willie And The Hand Jive”, is based on the Bo Diddley beat, but with Hank Marvin adding a typical solo. When Pomus and Shuman returned home, they gave it to Leiber and Stoller and it became the B-side of the Coasters’ glorious “Shoppin’ For Clothes”. The Coasters’ version is mostly harmony singing with King Curtis’ sax and the beat is played down. Mort Shuman remarked, “It is not one of my favourite songs. It was Jerry and Mike who had the knack of writing of writing for the Coasters.” Doc Pomus: “Leiber and Stoller were the real geniuses. They put comedic ideas into pop songs. They gave us a lot of hints and they were great collaborators.”
TOO HOT TO HANDLE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman – Mae McDonald)
• Jimmy Simmons (1958)
• Michael Cox (1959)
Good rocker and probably a Fabian reject (if there is such a thing). I wish Michael Cox had sung it straight, and it should have gone to Billy Fury. Some good lyrics, admittedly with a mixed metaphor:
“If you keep carrying on like a flea-bitten mule,
Before you know it, you’ll run out of fuel.”
Don’t know who Mae McDonald is – it’s her only song on the BMI listing.
SERIOUS (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Michael Cox (1959)
Obviously not written for Michael Cox with its reference to a graduation ring. A high-school teen ballad and the intended recipient could have been Frankie Avalon. B-side of “Too Hot To Handle”.
PEOPLE GOTTA TALK (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Ersel Hickey (1959)
• Joe Brown (1959)
The A-side of Joe Brown’s first single, produced by Jack Good. It’s a pleasant country-sounding rockaballad about the problems of gossip. The Bruvvers sound more like the Vernons Girls to me.
COMES THE DAY (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Rusty Lane (1959)
• Joe Brown (1959)
Rather a meandering song for the B-side. Doesn’t sound like Joe Brown at all.
SAVAGE (Doc Pomus – Mort Shuman)
• Sneaky Petes (1960)
Mort Shuman shouts out, “Okay, let’s hear it one more time, Joe” and we are into an instrumental single released under the pseudonym, the Sneaky Petes. Good fun, good riff but no melody. The only Pomus and Shuman instrumental in the entire feature. Mort on piano and probably done in ten minutes at the end of a session.