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Dec 04

GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

Popular20 comments • 4,068 views

#159, 2nd November 1963

Of course, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has a life well beyond its recorded history – it was odd for me to come to it as a record at all, more so when I realised that its history as a kind of secular hymn dates from this single: if asked, I’d have guessed that Gerry Marsden picked it because Liverpool fans sang it. But no – the record predates the tradition.

That tradition forms the song’s third life, which we can talk about when Marsden takes the song to No.1 again, in 1985. The song’s first life was as a show-stopper and wartime spirit-lifter in Carousel, which is where he would first have heard it. This single is the culmination of “YNWA”‘s second life, as the big ballad in the Pacemakers’ club sets.

You can imagine it doing a job: an opportunity to slow dance if you’d found a partner, and sway and sing if you hadn’t. Putting it on record would hardly have been a risk: the public’s appetite for all things Mersey and its joy in soppy ballads were well proven. Gerry plays the song absolutely straight – sentimental and a bit pompous, constantly building, making the most of access to an orchestra and of the tune’s slothful pace. His only dynamic trick, his one reminder that we’re listening to modern pop, is the closing “You’ll ne – evuh”: it’s showy and I don’t think it works. But then I don’t think “You’ll Never Walk Alone” works sung by one voice not many – the latter is a mass affirmation, the former a hope at most.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Anonymous on 28 May 2005 #

    10 points, that’s what this song needs, a veritable european champion of a song

  2. 2
    DJ Punctum on 11 Jun 2008 #

    There was an excellent documentary about the history of the song on Radio 2 last night and how it evolved to become a terrace anthem and then a hymn of sorts. To summarise briefly from the ‘Pool/Gerry perspective:

    The Pacemakers had included the song in their stage act for the previous 3-4 years; Marsden had noticed with the Beatles how they got screamed at when they did ballads and wanted some of that action. Also don’t forget that this was still the era where the overriding ambition was to become an “all-round entertainer” – Marsden was certainly keen on doing this, and in particular expanding his ballad repertoire.

    Both Brian Epstein and George Martin took some persuading to put out “YNWA” as the third Pacemakers single on a “don’t fuck with the formula” basis but Marsden prevailed in the end. He says that he wanted to make his version more “beaty” to get away from the song’s showtune origins, hence the triplets on the drums and piano and the breaking up of the vocal phrasing. Martin produced and did the string arrangement and Marsden was blown away.

    Anyway, it became their third and biggest-selling number one and the Pacemakers became the first act to have three number ones with their first three releases. The story with Liverpool FC goes that before one match the crowd was treated to a run down of that week’s top ten, and at number one it was the local lad; his sonorous tones rang out across Anfield, the Kop choir took it up, and thus legend.

    (and why Liverpool FC and not Everton? Well, Everton already had their official anthem, the folk song “Johnny Todd” which Fritz Speigl had recently adapted for use as the theme tune to Liverpool-set BBC cop show Z Cars)

    I’m ashamed that I hadn’t realised that this was also number one in the UK when JFK was shot and therefore proved even more resonant with the Irish Catholic community, especially in Liverpool (number one in the States at the time was “Dominique” by the Singing Nun, a spiritual of, er, different calibre). Anyway I think the boy Gerry done great here and I apologise for any underestimation of his work I may have written in the Haloscan days.

  3. 3
    wichita lineman on 12 Jun 2008 #

    DJP, I always assumed the Singing Nun’s no.1 was a numbed American reaction to JFK’s assassination, followed by the country crumbling at the feet of four smiling mop tops who delivered them from evil. That was a verrrry strange no.1 – shame American Hot Wax won’t get to cover it (but I live in hope).

    Tom, much as I find the Kop’s rendition moving they don’t count for me as a pop act. One other hit version shows how minimal production and a solo voice work on it – Elvis’s 1968 single (which I avoided for years because I thought it would be, well, boring) is quite incredible. Just him and a piano, it builds up in a way that definitely doesn’t spell out all-round-entertainer. Intensely emotional.

    I think Elvis took his cue from Roy Hamilton’s mid 50s lead, as the Righteous Brothers did by following Unchained Melody with Ebb Tide. Ashamed to say I only know Roy’s 60s soul cuts. Anything I read makes him sound like a key pre-rock figure.

    Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles’ 1963 version is also slow, dramatic, and quite special.

    All this red meat makes Gerry’s thin, tinkly version seem like a bowl of tepid blind scouse. He was soon back on the Merseybeat course with I’m The One, which came within a whisker of making it FOUR straight number ones in the new year. Only the Searchers’ Needles And Pins checked his run.

  4. 4
    DJ Punctum on 12 Jun 2008 #

    Roy Hamilton is maybe the most underrated musical figure of the last half century; probably in part because he died young, but if anyone needs a definitive Rhino-type compilation it’s him.

  5. 5
    mike on 12 Jun 2008 #

    I only know RH’s “Dark End Of The Street” from one of the Dave Godin comps, but I was mightily struck by it and would like to hear more.

  6. 6
    DJ Punctum on 12 Jun 2008 #

    His “Crackin’ Up Over You” (complete with breaking glass sound effects!) is a Northern Soul classic.

  7. 7
    Mark G on 12 Jun 2008 #

    Nick Lowe had hits with “I love the sound of breaking glass”, and “Crackin’ up”

    Bet he was a fan.

  8. 8
    Erithian on 12 Jun 2008 #

    One of the most moving renditions of this song was by AC Milan fans on 19 April 1989. Four days after the Hillsborough disaster, the Milan-Real Madrid European Cup semi-final was interrupted when the referee blew his whistle 6 minutes into the match (the time at which the game at Hillsborough had been stopped) for a minute’s silence. Instead of maintaining the silence the Milan fans sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as their own tribute.

  9. 9
    wichita lineman on 12 Jun 2008 #

    Shout, which is part of RPM, have started a series of RH comps which do the Rhino-esque job.

    http://www.cherryred.co.uk/rpm/artists/royhamilton.htm

  10. 10
    DJ Punctum on 13 Jun 2008 #

    Ah, excellent; I must investigate these.

    Wish RPM would get a move on with the Lou Christie series, though.

  11. 11
    rosie on 14 Jun 2008 #

    My original post here went into the Haloscan black hole.

    My dad went to every home game at Anfield. Sometimes, but not all that often because he wasn’t going to take us on the Kop, he took me and my sister and sometimes my mum (but sister and mum often preferred to shop in Owen Owens instead.) When this came out, it was played before every home match, I think as the last one over the PA before the game started, or maybe it was timed to coincide with the Liverpool team running out onto the pitch. Anyway, the Kop picked it up and sang along. The rest is history.

    Gerry Marsden doesn’t sing it quite as Oscar Hammerstein intended, mind! But Carousel is still my favourite R&H by a long way.

  12. 12
    Erithian on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Seems appropriate today to relocate the discussion on “YNWA” here from the “Happy Talk” thread.

    RIP to the 96 from a United supporter.

  13. 13
    rosie on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Revisiting this with Hillsborough in mind.

    It seems to me worth mentioning in passing that at the time Liverpool FC were not the force in the land they soon would be. They were only in their second season back in the top division after a lengthy period in Division Two, and it was Everton who were reigning champions at the time this was a number one.

  14. 14
    Tooncgull on 25 Sep 2009 #

    I dont like this song – firstly, its a maudling over-sentamental show-tune, and secondly, I really dont like the football team that appropriated it. So, for those purely objective reasons, I give it a Big Round ZERO.

  15. 15
    Erithian on 28 Apr 2010 #

    Back in the Top 40 this week, thanks to Celtic fans’ Facebook campaign in reponse to Rangers fans’ campaign to do likewise for Tina Turner’s “The Best”. Result: Tina 9, Gerry 32. I make that a 44½-year gap between chart entries for Gerry – is that right Marcello?

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 28 Apr 2010 #

    We’ll be hearing from Gerry in 1989…

  17. 17
    Erithian on 28 Apr 2010 #

    Oh of course – well, the Pacemakers at least then!

  18. 18
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Bill Shankly, Football Manager(1965)

    Phil Redmond, Screenwriter, TV Producer (1995)

    Jimmy Mcgovern,Playwright, Screenwriter(1996)

    Sue Johnston. Actress(2002)

    Micheal Howard, Politician (2004)

    George Davies, Businessman, Designer, Retailer (2006).

  19. 19
    lonepilgrim on 16 Sep 2012 #

    slight return

  20. 20
    lonepilgrim on 28 Jan 2015 #

    there may well be better, other versions of this song but I enjoy this immensely. There’s a sincerity to Gerry Marsden’s vocal which perfectly suits the song and the message of solidarity in the face of adversity seems appropriate for Liverpool, the city and the team – as well as for a wider audience.

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