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Aug 04

JOHN LEYTON – “Johnny Remember Me”

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#124, 2nd September 1961

I can’t take any of Joe Meek’s futurist cred away, and I wouldn’t want to try. But with forty-years of hindsight it’s also obvious how bound some of his records are to the past. “Johnny Remember Me” comes at us, bodice heaving, straight out of the Victorian gothic – “when the mists are rising and the rain is falling and the wind is blowing cold across the moors”. It’s a ghost story! But more than that, it’s a country ghost story – Leyton’s accent slips into pseudo-prairie and the urgent gallop of the music shares a bloodline with western standard “Ghost Riders In The Sky”. And more still, it’s a love song – a haunted, desperate love song. As the dead beloved’s vocals ring out high and clear Leyton’s own replies become more crazed – “Yes I’ll always remember – till the day I die I’ll hear her cry!”. Meek’s use of echo here is perfect – Leyton’s voice has a tint of it but the dead woman’s words are sharp and true; out on these moors we have slipped more than halfway into the beyond and it’s the living who sound muffled and eerie.

Gothic, western, romance – a pulp trinity, and “Johnny Remember Me” is on this list because the British love a melodrama. The best melodrama is played with an intensity which dares you, snarling, to take it lightly. The best melodrama is also often a little camp. Leyton doesn’t let his audience down – as he rips through those wonderful opening lines you can almost hear his nostrils flare. By the end of the song, as his spectral lover keeps calling he sounds genuinely doomstruck. A rich treat and a remarkable record.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Pete on 7 Jul 2009 #

    In Telstar: The Joe Meek Story, this is presented perfectly. There are ten minutes of very stagey knock-about farce, the artists are done down, the star is ridiculed, and the whole process seems slapdash and played for tense, but obvious laughs. So when they start to play it, first take off the bat and it turns into this wonderfully spooky concoction it really does sum up the delicious joy of pop music.

    Of course a record that is produced to a fine art like this never sprung for the mics fully formed as suggested, but the subtle lie of the film is how pop fans believe records re made and it suits the film and this song remarkably well (along with its “pop hit montage of flipping records and Music Week headlines).

  2. 2
    wichitalineman on 21 Oct 2009 #

    Meek was also bound to the more recent past: give Frankie Laine’s Girl In The Wood a listen (though I found it kinda upsetting, in the way that I didn’t like Tago Mago when I first heard it, preferring to carry on believe the myth that The Fall had sprung entirely newborn from somewhere on the Bury New Road).

    Still, I have to give this a ten. So few British R&R records could hold their own against the American model – this not only does, but manages to sound entirely British into the bargain. Both songwriter and producer clearly spent a lot of their spare time in the Holloway Odeon: calling it widescreen or technicolour is a cliche, but it’s true.

    In 1961 a lot of people thought rock’n’roll was dead. I get the feeling that its practicioners were really pulling out the stops (Runaway, this, Runaround Sue, His Latest Flame, I Love How You Love Me) to create something new and remarkable, enough to keep the flame alight and keep the balladeers and pre-rockers at bay.

    Another record from the same year which is as remarkable in its own way as Johnny Remember Me, a US counterpart even, is Dick & Deedee’s The Mountain’s High. It’s extraordinarily anguished and vague. What is keeping the keening young lovers apart? Why does that rattling snare sound so ominous? Who thought of that insane key change? All D&D’s other singles were straight as a di; this goes “I was lonely, baby, I couldn’t sleep, the night they took you from my side.” Beautiful and baffling.

  3. 3
    thefatgit on 2 Apr 2010 #

    “Johnny Remember Me” is a milestone for Meek but also a milestone for Death Rock. I think it’s the first UK example of the genre, and Geoff Goddard, it is believed, wrote and recorded a demo after a disturbing nightmare. It don’t get much more goth than that! John Leyton was well known as an actor, and had 2 hit TV shows (Biggles and Harpers West One) under his belt as well as a successful film career.

    Meek’s production is the thing. Most will admire as his distinctive sound and use of technology felt as alien as B-movie monsters to most ears, but it’s grounded in the familiar, the galloping horse rhythm holds the song within a framework that allows that spectral female voice to float above your head, if you’re listening in stereo. Leyton adds the drama and urgency, making it an aural adventure. She glides in and out of the song, achieving that sense of distance and proximity at the same time. It’s odd, yet there’s comfort to be found that your deceased lover is watching over you. Quite an achievement and a song that echoes down the years. Indeed, love never dies.

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 17 Jun 2014 #

    the instruments and backing vocals all sound slightly processed to my ears which adds to the uncanny feel of this song. John Leyton’s voice echoes eerily while the guitars twang like rubber bands.

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