STEELY DAN: WHAT´S IN A NAME?
asks Norman ooh ooh oohooh oohhoo hoo Warwick
“Norman” is a popular song written by John D. Loudermilk. Recorded by Sue Thompson in 1961, the song reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The next year, Carol Deene released her version of the song (left) in the United Kingdom, where it reached No. 24 on the UK Singles Chart, and made my life a misery ! Guy Lombardo later apparently recorded a version of the song for his 1962 Decca LP By Special Request..
The nine year old man I had become when Carol Deene enjoyed her minor hit single, at my expense, squirmed back into being an embarrassed little boy as his three favourite female pupìls in Miss Lightbowne´s class at Rectory Lane Primary School became The Beverley Sisters or The Andrews Sisters, as they sang the soppy song to me, with its horrible chorus, a hundred times a day for the three or four weeks the song was played almost constantly on the BBC light programme.
Of course, as soon as the song peaked and then dropped from the charts, the girls, Angela James, Kay Charnock and Marilyn Stewart found another poor boy to torment and returned to treating me with same disdain they always had done previously. The damage was done though. I came to detest the name Norman, which now sounded soppy. I tried to become known as Paul, my middle name, but that only Miss Lightbowne to call out my name of Norman with what seemed to me an especially unpleasant elongated way. I suppose I probably only imagined that however.
Carol Deene´s next hit, in 1962 was another belittlement of men as she urged her latest flame to Hold The Ladder Steady, James ! If there any guys out there of my generation called james, who are still traumatised by the song or their primary school classmates, I can recommend a good counsellor !
For a reason no more mature than that I think they sound literary, I occasionally write under my father´s Christian names as Ralph Dent even though I know that, if he is looking down on me he will be furious. The real Ralph Dent Warwick was a brewer and proud of it and writing would never be a proper job for his eldest son. But dad never had to put up with his name being sung on the radio for a year of his young life.
Later on I married a girl, who at school and later at work had been called by her Christian name of Elizabeth but was always called by what felt a much cooler title of Dee by her family for some reason. Having a wife called Dee was cool until The Pink Ladies greased up Sandra Dee ! Then my brother-in-law, christened Christopher, married a girl called Erica, and called her Rikki, an even cooler, classier name made even cooler a couple of years or so later by Steely Dan.
So come follow your art down sidetracks & detours to a time when having a cool name meant everything.
¨It always comes back to jazz,´ Sam Long opined when writing the story behind the song Rikki Don´t Lose That Number, for American Songwriter recently.
That Steely Dan song has remained a permanent tile on my playlists ever since it was first released as a single. I´m not sure, though, whether my colleagues and friends at The Hot Biscuits Jazz Programme would agree that the song is ´jazz´ in any way at all. However, I support Sam Long because that record has a rock-steady vibe that is the kind of jazz I love !
As Sam reminds us, it was in the ’seventies when experimental, prog-jazz rock slithered into popular music, Steely Dan found their way into the Billboard Hot 100 charts with the single Rikki Don’t Lose That Number in 1974.
Coming in as a top-five hit for that year, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number eventually became the group’s highest-charting single. The Rikki in the title is thought to be Rikki Ducornet, a New York writer and artist. Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen met Ducornet while attending a small event at a liberal arts school, Bard College.
While the lyrical message might be obscure, the musicality of the single is clear. The keyboard riff was taken from 1964 “Song For My Father” by jazz composer and pianist Horace Silver, a name recently re-evañluated ion The Horace Silver Project, as mentio0ned in xxxx still available in our archives of over 950 articles. Just tape his name into the search in our archives area.
“Song For My Father” influenced many in popular music over the years, including the opening horn riff for Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and Earth Wind & Fire’s opening bass notes for the song “Clover.”
It all comes back to jazz.
After Fagen gave Rikki his number he was subsequently inspired to write the iconic lyrics below:
Rikki, don’t lose that number
You don’t wanna call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki, don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home
Rikk (left) herself, however, commented in 1998 on the meaning behind the song and offered a more philosophical approach rather than assuming the single to be just an unrequited love song.
“Philosophically it’s an interesting song; I mean I think his ‘number’ is a cipher for the self,” she said.
As for whether or not jazz purists like my mates Steve Bewick and Gary Heywood Everett might well be more receptive to Rikki Don´t Lost That Number than I imagine we should perhaps recall what the writers themselves said about the track at the time.
´In the band, (right) we’re basically all jazz fans and most of the records we listen to are jazz´, Fagen said in 1975 about the group’s jazz influence. “The people who made them are dead or they were recorded so long ago that they’ve been forgotten. We’re definitely pretty cold at the moment. We’ve more or less abandoned hope of being one of the big important rock ‘n’ roll groups, simply because our music is somehow a little too cheesy at times and turns off the rock intelligentsia for the most part, and at other times it’s too bizarre to be appreciated by anybody.”