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.