21
Sep 04

HELEN SHAPIRO – “Walking Back To Happiness”

Popular13 comments • 4,073 views

#128, 21st October 1961

My problem with Helen Shapiro is the complete disconnect between her voice and her hit material. What do you do with a perky 15-year-old who sounds like a husky femme fatale? If it’s the 00s – or even maybe the late 60s – you can package her up as a soul singer, but in 1961 soul was too new, there wasn’t a ‘way’ of doing it that you could get a prodigy to learn. And of course it would have been too sexual, too black, too too inappropriate for a fifteen-year-old girl to sing that way. Let’s face it, it still might be.

Shapiro in 1961 has a long career as a jazz and gospel singer ahead of her, and I bet some of those records are great. This isn’t: the gap between her throaty, sassy delivery and the chipmunk backing singers is grotesque (turns out she thought so too, going back to these hits later in her career and re-doing them herself, minus chipmunks). Worse, whenever that rotten “whoop-ba-oh-yay-yeah” hook barges in she has no idea what to do with it – she tries to sing it sultry, like it means something, and it comes out laughable. “Walking Back” was obviously written as a bubblegum record – and as with a lot of bubblegum, a gifted singer can ruin the effect.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Bill on 22 Sep 2006 #

    Totally agree on the Chipmunk voices – this was probably Norrie Paramor’s idea of sophistication (It was also Paramor’s idea to not release Helen’s version of “Misery” which would have been the first Lennon-McCartney cover ever….)The singhles “as is” are so much of their time and a bit of an insult to the prodigiously talented Helen….but get to one of her Gospel outreaches and you’ll see the real Helen (plus, probably, a Chipmunk-free rendition of “Walking back to Happiness”…..)

  2. 2
    Ed on 18 Nov 2006 #

    I agree with both these guys and personally believe that EMI and, Paramour in particular, should be shot for their inability to see HS as being other than a British Brenda Lee. [That title should have gone to Lulu although even that is an insult to Ms Lee] To add to the stupidity over ” Misery ” you have the failure with the Nashville recording of ” It’s my party ” to
    a] Give it a more up beat arrangement from the veritable dirge that was produced.
    b] Having done that, release it quicker, not wait for Lesley Gore to get her hands on it.
    If you want to see what I mean and have a turntable where you can crank up the speed, cboost it up by 10%. Sounds a lot better. Same goes for ” Are you lonesome…” absolutely awful until you speed it up a little.
    Tom, if you want see what she could do with better material and music producers try any of her Jazz LPs. Better still get hold of a Germany released LP called ” All for the love of Music ” [ EMI refused to release it in this country!!]. Some really good Pop style stuff. Same goes for a Japanese CD called ” I want to see you”. Both produced ln the late 60′s early 70′s I think.

    What a waste.

  3. 3
    Lena on 26 May 2008 #

    I just heard this on the Capital Gold countdown and she is great! The background is a bit naff but I can ignore it pretty easily…and think about how she was her time’s Amy W (without the scandals)…

  4. 4
    wichita lineman on 27 May 2008 #

    The patchiest of all the British 60s girls but, Dusty aside, the most talented. Got to say that Tell Me What He Said, the sequel to Walking Back To Happiness which stuck at 2 behind The Shadows’ Wonderful Land, married nascent soul and teen-pop pretty perfectly, yearning, busting with frustration.

    Beyond that there’s Old Father Time (flip of Fever) which is a Mashed Potato Time/Please Mr Postman knock-off, feisty and absolutely in Helen’s ball park. And then the self-penned He Knows How To Love Me which sprung joyously, in a proto-Natural Woman way, some 2 yrs on from the pent-up emotion on Tell Me What He Said. It’s on the flip of Shop Around and will delicately twist your heart.

    She was always best handling emotionally mature material (ie not Walking Back…). Check also Forget About The Bad Things, Silly Boy, Stop And You Will Become Aware, Take Me For A While. There’s a faultless 20 track comp in there somewhere.

  5. 5
    DJ Punctum on 27 May 2008 #

    Calling Bob Stanley…

  6. 6
    rosie on 6 Jul 2009 #

    This song is sung by an apparently uncredited club singer in the 1963 film This Sporting Life

  7. 7

    [...] “Walking Back to Happiness”/Helen Shapiro (12/4/61). Shapiro was voted Britain’s top female singer in 1961 and scored a handful of major hits in the UK, but got only this sniff of the charts in the States. As an experiment, click this YouTube link but don’t look at the screen while you listen, picture Helen, then prepare to be surprised. More at Popular. [...]

  8. 8
    Brooksie on 16 Feb 2010 #

    Well look who it is…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1-fHLgqYzI&

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 25 Jun 2010 #

    Another song I discovered off Jimmy Saville’s Old Record Club. It struck me at the time that the voice and the backing track were at odds with eachother. Only when I discovered playing the 45 at 33rpm, that the backing track begins to sound like a polite ballroom dance work-out. Of course the trade-off is Ms Shapiro’s voice becomes this interminable bass growl…quite comical.

    Then it strikes me that she’s not really walking back to happiness. As the world speeds around her like a film student’s experiment in stop-motion animation, she’s dragging her feet. This “happiness” then is a prison of conformity. The kind of prison a 15 year old would be desperate to escape.

    Despite it’s faults, and yes there are many (“Whoop-Pa Oh yeah-yeah”?) I still quite like it. Sometimes playing tracks at the wrong speed can unearth the hidden parallels that lay dormant within the most innocuous pieces of vinyl.

  10. 10
    Martin on 1 Sep 2010 #

    The nightclub singer in This Sporting Life was a 21-year-old ex-mill-girl from Pudsey called Kim Leslie who won the audition that producer Karel Reisz organised. When a shortlist of four women had been selected, they sang before the crowd at Wakefield Trinity’s rugby ground (where much of the filming took place) and the loudness of the applause was measured. Consequently Kim Leslie’s part in the film was chosen.

    The source for this information is an article “Ex mill-girl sings her way into film role” in a PDF of background information on the DVD.

  11. 11
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Martin Pipe, horse trainer (1999).

  12. 12
    Patrick Mexico on 26 Nov 2013 #

    I’m listening to all the Popular number ones so far in order today, and for this, Spotify yields a cover from “100 Greatest 60s Hits” that’s pure Readers’ Wives. Awkward.

    I don’t mind this, but you’re right about the yawning gulf between the voice and the material. It captures the “innocence” and “optimism” of the sixties, though that’s not necessarily a good thing. Gave it a 6.

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 18 Jun 2014 #

    unlike the last few entries this at least has a sense of liveliness – even the chirpy backing vocals avoid the dreary good taste of ‘Michael’. Helen Shapiro gives some hint of youthful energy pushing against the boundaries

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