22
Sep 04

FRANKIE VAUGHAN – “Tower Of Strength”

Popular20 comments • 3,102 views

#130, 9th December 1961

A record that anticipates, outdoes, and sadly fails to prevent Tom Jones, “Tower Of Strength” is the pop equivalent of those great, famous old Charles Atlas ads. Hey! Wimp! Fed up with having sand kicked in your face? Well, we can’t promise you the secrets of muscle mystery, but we can slap your frustration on vinyl and let you howl along as if you did have biceps like steel cords. Frankie Vaughan’s performance is beserk – check that first verse, he bellows the lines and then ends each one – “door!”, “knees!”, “mee-eee!” – with a different kind of shriek. When he comes back for more in verse two his voice is more of a bassy gasp, and then he ends it all with a cod-opera flourish. Marcello C has called this one of the great British soul singles – I’d agree, but I think it’s helped hugely by being recorded near the beginning of soul, before its emotional lexicon had been fully compiled. In the right mood “Tower Of Strength” can harrow you, but in another mood – which also turns out to be ‘right’ – it’s an absolute hoot. Like much of my favourite British music, you can take it as seriously as you like – or need.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Joe Williams on 29 Aug 2005 #

    Can’t say I agree about the quality of the record (I’ll go for 5/10) but it certainly is a mental performance. Also the first Number One written by Burt Bacharach, fact fans.

  2. 2
    Tom on 22 Jul 2006 #

    I thought “Magic Moments” by Perry Como was also by Bacharach?

  3. 3
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Jul 2006 #

    Indeed it was.

  4. 4
    Lena on 26 May 2008 #

    This is an overwhelming record and I can’t help but think that Billy MacKenzie heard it & absorbed it when he was but a lad…just tremendous…

  5. 5
    wichita lineman on 27 May 2008 #

    Gene McDaniels’ original (from mere weeks earlier) is absolutely worth a listen. Less histrionic but just as intense and tragicomic.

  6. 6
    DJ Punctum on 27 May 2008 #

    You get this idea in your head about Frankie Vaughan – the top hat n’ tails, the cane, the Tiller Girls and all that – and then suddenly he erupts into something like this. It’s an astonishing example of a singer momentarily exceeding himself and accidentally (or not) becoming something or someone greater, even if only for two or three minutes. I can’t think of many other examples of this from the British showbiz perspective (except Anthony Newley, but then he was always a law in and unto himself).

  7. 7
    SteveIson on 21 Jul 2008 #

    You can hear the joy of using a full orchestra here to create such a dramatic impact as well..Yeh,brilliant melodramatic vocal too 8

  8. 8
    Col Berg on 2 Aug 2008 #

    First two records I bought at about the same time. Tower of Strength by Frankie Vaughn, and Hit the road Jack, Ray Charles. I knew nothing about Blues, Jazz or what they were, I just loved those records when I heard them on the Radio. Since then I became a huge Jazz, blues and soul fan. I guess that says a huge amount about Tower of Strength.

  9. 9
    wichita lineman on 3 Aug 2008 #

    I think he was underused resource. Jim Lowe’s original Green Door is weak alongside Frankie’s version (at a time when this was almost never true of British covers), which sweats frustration. He wasn’t all vaudeville and, yes, he shared some of Anthony Newley’s versatility. Has anyone seen any of his films? Mid 60s FV 45s that make the grade are moody, mid-paced You’re The One For Me and a version of Wait from Rubber Soul (the only cover of it that I can think of).

  10. 10
    wichita lineman on 3 Aug 2008 #

    I think he was an undervalued resource. Jim Lowe’s original Green Door is weak alongside Frankie’s version (at a time when this was almost never true of British covers), which sweats frustration. He wasn’t all vaudeville and, yes, he shared some of Anthony Newley’s versatility. Has anyone seen any of his films? Mid 60s FV 45s that make the grade are moody, mid-paced You’re The One For Me and a version of Wait from Rubber Soul (the only cover of it that I can think of).

  11. 11
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Irene Handl, actress(1962).

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 24 Sep 2012 #

    Frankie played for Wingate FC – how did I not know this?! Britain’s only semi professional Jewish football club, now operating as Wingate & Finchley in the Ryman Premier League. Their original ground is now under the M1. The England team traned there during the ’66 World Cup Finals. It looked like this:

    http://twitter.yfrog.com/h8pc7thsj

    …and he also co-starred in a film with Marilyn Monroe. Two boxes I’d have been proud to tick, there.

  13. 13
    Mark G on 25 Sep 2012 #

    Right.. (pulls up a chair)..

    So, to do the necessary research, I go to Youtube and search this track, and find one that won’t play on my mobile,and one that does. And even though its labelled as Frankie Vaughn Tower of Strength, it’s a bloke in a wheelchair singing at home with a karaoke machine. I don’t think it’s Frankie. OK, that’ll do.. (that’s what I get for spelling the surname wrong..)

    So, the song is an eye opener: If the dude was a Tower of Strength, he’d chuck her and be off, but he’s only a man and not as strong as all that so he acknowledges that it is her that is the TOS and by the end of the song, all is returned to base again, like a TV show where each episode is stand-alone.

    Except he’s already stated doubts, the foundation is gone and all that holds the structure up is desperation! What if the bloke gets his legs back working and manages to walk? Will he be out of the door and down to Jackson to mess around? Woe betide anyone actually doing this as karaoke for his wife. Except I would guess the wife would more than likely be thinking of Frankie Vaughan and not studying the lyrics..

    The one thing that did strike me about the song was how similar to “Working Class Hero” it is, almost in reverse.

    So how come i never heard this? It’s before my time but all this stuff would still have currency back in the mid sixties which would be my earliest proper memory period. “Your mother should know” and obviously she did. To her, Frankie V was “Give me the moonlight” and that’s what people would want to hear. So many acts can have, ooh, 11 hits, and yet ‘Golden Hits’ radio nowadays would only play one of three. Back then, these guys would tour as part of a package of, ooh, 11 odd acts so any singer/band would get to play maybe three tracks. Once the set-list gets filled with the oblig tracks, there’s not a lot of space for ‘variety’, ironically enough considering that’s what the shows were called.. (That’s my projection, I don’t doubt TOS was the other permanent fixture)..

    So, after the war, so many guys were expected to be strength towers, but you get nowhere if you cannot express vulnerability. but this song is not designed to ‘appeal’ to the ladies but to express brotherhood with the men. Ironically, again. You’re back home for a few years, and you need your partner more than want her. and the options are non-existant. Man, this is a cruel song.

    I give it 8 for brass neck!

    Research link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9sITaJgsWo

  14. 14
    wichita lineman on 26 Sep 2012 #

    Gosh. Hats off, Mark.

    An odd thing about Give Me The Moonlight is that it came out (’58, ’59?) several years after Frankie’s breakthrough and wasn’t a hit at all. So how’d it become his signature tune? Same goes for Ken Dodd’s Happiness.

    Also Give Me The Moonlight pales alongside most of Frankie’s proper hits. Kookie Little Paradise would’ve made for an intriguing sig tune.

    My mum, as it ‘appens, was very fond of Tower Of Strength and often cited it as proper music from the proper good old days (her tastes stretched to River Deep Mountain High and Holding Out For A hero, which adds up).

    Possibly the reason it hasn’t become an oldies staple is that Frankie must have seemed pretty out of wack with the other ’61 no.1 hitmakers (Marcels, John Leyton, Del Shannon) who you still hear regularly. New radio producers will see the title on a list of ’61 no.1s and shrug. Too late to turn back now, but this really is a storming single.

  15. 15
    ottersteve on 27 Sep 2012 #

    I believe Frankie’s final top 10 single was “There must be a way” about 1967/68 – ish?

  16. 16
    Mutley on 27 Sep 2012 #

    Give Me the Moonlight was paired with Tweedlee Dee which was a minor hit for Frankie in 1955. GMTM was the B side which makes it an even stranger choice as signature tune. I think it gained that status because he would start his act by coming on stage with top hat, cane, high kicks etc. singing it. Tweedle Dee was originally (and brilliantly) recorded by LaVern Baker and her version was definitely on the rhythm and blues/rock’n’roll side of the fence. Frankie’s version on the other hand is a disaster (still stuck in the big band era) but of interest as probably his first venture into the new music that would put entertainers like Frankie out of business unless they adapted.

  17. 17
    wichita lineman on 27 Sep 2012 #

    His choice of singles around the time R&R broke was intriguing. There were also covers of Boyd Bennett’s Seventeen and Dorothy Collins’ My Boy Flat Top – I’m not sure how anyone thought the latter wouldn’t sound ‘curious’ given there was no gender change.

    So he gave it a go. And then in 1957 he starred as a “misunderstood rebel” in Dangerous Youth (when was pushing 30). Green Door and Garden Of Eden are kind of rockers, too. I think Frankie knew his limitations in that market and didn’t, like ‘soul boy’ Tom Jones, later pretend that, deep down, he had always been a ted.

  18. 18
    Erithian on 27 Sep 2012 #

    #12 Wichita – apologies for diverting yet another thread to the subject of Erith & Belvedere FC, but our local paper, previewing our London Senior Cup tie against Wingate in November 1955, said the visitors were “to be led by their recent signing, Frankie Vaughan the crooner”. He didn’t turn out for the match in fact, possibly (my theory) due to promotional duties for the abovementioned “Seventeen” which was about to become his fourth Top 20 hit.

    Deres won 6-2 since you ask.

  19. 19
    wichita lineman on 28 Sep 2012 #

    Apology accepted! Fantastic stuff. I can’t believe in all the years I’ve been going to see W&F, no one mentioned Frankie was an ex player.

    One of the regrets of my ‘pop career’ is that we were on a pilot TV show in the late 90s with Frankie (the name of it escapes me, though I’d love to know). The idea was that each week it would be set in someone’s house, and the residents would choose their favourite act. The ‘lucky’ family who got to host the one and only show were in Romford.

    Most of the acts were desperate for publicity (including us) and were only there due to pluggers doing their job.

    But the grandmother was a huge Frankie Vaughan fan and so the poor bloke showed up, then had to hang around in the garden – where his turn was being filmed – for hours. It wasn’t warm and by early evening I was genuinely worried for him. He smiled through the whole ordeal, but was clearly starting to suffer.

    I couldn’t think of anything to talk to him about at the time. Now I’m older and “wiser”, I could have asked him about Wingate, Marilyn, losing his scouse accent for Dangerous Youth, what he thought of My Boy Flat Top, whether he met Joe Meek…

  20. 20
    lonepilgrim on 19 Jun 2014 #

    Frankie Vaughan erupts with emotion, in stark contrast to the stoicism shown by Elvis in the previous number 1. Another precedent for ‘Under my Thumb’ which reverses the dynamic of the relationship and reveals the implicit aggression in being a ‘tower of strength’

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