Wednesday, April 29, 2009


If you've said "God give me strength," your prayers...have not been answered here. Closest you get is illfolks giving you "Tower of Strength." TEN VERSIONS.

This minor Burt Bacharach song is one his greatest...because it forged new territory in the lyrics, as well as having Burt's trademark musical stylings. It also had Gene McDaniels giving the performance of his life.

Burt's pioneering style of jumpy cadences and awkwardly placed sharps and flats, made some very stupid songs very popular, like the questionable question mark songs "What's New Pussycat?" or "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" Neither question was answered in the song, nor should it have been asked.

A lot of Burt's tunes are catchy but the lyrics forgettable, as in "After the Fox," or "Casino Royale" (yes, it did have lyrics, though the wonderful Herb Alpert version didn't bother with them). Most of the Bacharach catalog is pleasant pop, much of it trifling to anyone under 60: "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," "Baby It's You," "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," "Wishin' and Hopin'," "I Say A Little Prayer," "This Guy's In Love With You," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "Trains and Boats and Planes." That stuff's fluff.

When Burt got farther away from "Close to You" silly love songs, he produced some of his most enduring work. "The Look of Love" is more sensuous than his usual ditties. "Little Black Book" is a solid piece of broken hearted rock (which veers between brag and bawl, but in a different way than "Tower of Strenth.")"Anyone Who Had a Heart" is bombastic, despite drifting into waltz time with a flabby mid-section that sounds like something from the loser bin of the San Remo festival. Similarly, "God Give Me Strength" has a typically dopey brass solo that undercuts the drama in the rest of the song. Other enduring Bacharach songs include "Any Day Now" and "Don't Make Me Over," which show real emotion, even if they don't cover new ground.

"Tower of Strength" covered new ground. That's why it's championed here. Not many songs have talked of love from the point of view of being trapped in a shitty relationship. Maybe "Prisoner of Love," but that's crooning. This song is much more complex. Bacharach's eccentric rhythms and loopy arrangement underscore the unusual, confessional lyric. The words are not by Hal David, but his earlier partner, Bob Hilliard, who also wrote "Any Day Now."

Gene McDaniels was delighted with the result: "I liked "Tower of Strength' because of the humor and the trombone solo in front. You never heard a trombone intro to a song, and there it was, and it was a hit! It blew my mind."

(1) on your download is Paul Rich, apparently the first to sing this. With the grand "rags to riches" crooning style of a Buddy Greco, Merv Griffin or Regis Philbin, swingin' Paul brings nothing to the tune. He doesn't act out sobbing or holding back the tears...a few drumbeats cover the pause in "tower of strength is something...I'll never be." This is dance music.

Gene McDaniels (2) and his backing musicians made a masterpiece, a hybrid R&B, rock and pop classic. Though the studio technician calls out take "22, swingin' 22" at the start, fortunately big band takes a back seat to vivid backbeat rhumba, strong jazz and some raw rock. Gene puts vengeful anger in the line, "and I'd walk out the door," swoops into R&B falsetto, ("you'd be callin' to meeeeee") and then gives in to an inhaled sob when he confesses "a tower of strength is something...I'll never be."

Some of Burt's songs make the band co-conspirators with the singer (remember the brass joining Tom Jones for "What's new Pussycat? Woaahh Woahhhhhhh.) But here, there's some very mocking musical imitations of a grown man in helps the song's sado-masochism along. First Gene is in sadist fantasy, then masochistic reality. By the song's end, one band member is practically blowing a raspberry at the pathetic singer, the brass line mocking him as he trudges away.

Yes, an unusual topic...being too physically or emotionally needy (or as we psychiatrists say, "fucked up") to leave someone who should be left. How many songs, especially at that time, twisted between pathology and pity? Boy loses girl, sure. Boy gets girl, sure. Boy is stuck with bitch? Hmmm...

In England, Frankie Vaughan (3) did a fair job of copying Gene, but won't humiliate himself; he lets the kettle drums give a rat-a-tat-tat where he should've gulped back the tears. He does convey some of the mixed emotions here, with a throaty growl or a vague attempt at falsetto (he goes up an octave on the last note of "and I'd walk out the door.") Meanwhile, Gary Glitter, at the time called Paul Raven, hoped HIS version (4 in the download) would be the hit. It wasn't, but he gave it a shot. His somewhat chipmunky version tries to touch all the emotional bases, but instead of a McDaniel gasp, he literally gives a hoot! The song even has a false ending at 1:20 in, as the glittery one barely makes this cover last two minutes flat.

Back in the early 60's, various budget labels such as Tops and Promenade, would offer 6 cover versions on a single 45 as sung by anonymous hacks. The unknown guy (5) aping Gene McDaniels on this cover from the Gilmar label, hasn't much energy (the guy blowing trombone behind him has more wind) but he does try to issue some kind of anguished gasp over not being a tower of strength. (PS, the mp3 tagging on this download didn't quite work, hence more description so you can determine some of the songs that ended up just called "Tower of Strength." Sorry about that.)

Is it possible for a woman to sing this song? Technically yes. But Sue Richards' country arrangement (6) is merely a novelty. Nobody expects a woman to be a tower of strength, even a Girl named Sue, who could probably tell off the Harper Valley PTA. No, she doesn't even give a mock cry over her failure to be strong. This version is followed by (7) from Gloria Lynne and her answer version, "You Don't Have to Be a Tower of Strength." She actually does sound like a female match for Gene, a soulful babe who promises to be good to her man. At least till the ring is on her finger.

(8) Enoch Light's version is, as you might expect, awful. A mixed chorus of men and women warble the tune, with rinky-tink piano and a geriatric swingin' beat. There's a "boing" noise added instead of a gasp. Very "Winchester Cathedral," this one.
Your last two versions are from Gerd Bottcher and Adriano Celentano. Gerd is singing to "Carolin," and while the familiar trombone counter melody is here, it seems pretty clear that this girl is not much of a problem. Just what's going on in "STAI LONTANA DA ME" from Adriano Celentano, I have no idea, but saucy Celentano is having a great time sneering (with added "uh huh? eh eh?) and he tosses in a pungent "ewwww!" and even utters some snickering laughs. He doesn't seem to be missing the woman at all...just the bus to the asylum.

Celentano doesn't sound like the leaning tower of Pisa. Nope, the tower that is swaying is Gene McDaniel, shocked, mocked and rocked in the best of the ten versions in this file on "Tower of Strength."

Update November 2011: Rapidshare deletes files if they aren't uploaded often enough to suit them. Several individual songs have been re-upped individually via a better service:







TOWER OF STRENGTH cute recent Asian version by Yeongene


TOUTE MA VIE (Tower of Strength) Audrey Arno



Download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads or use of sleazy companies that pay a percentage to bloggers for their "hard work." The hard work was done not by upping files, but by the original writers and performers.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the well documented post...

Now, if we only knew the release year of this song it would be perfect...

I'm trying to put all the Bacharach song chronologically and it's proved to be a tower of strength task...


Ill Folks said...

Gene's version of "Tower of Strength" was recorded in August of 1961 and released a month later. Quick work!