"Living Without You" / The Alan Price Set
Every fan girl needs a melancholy break-up song to moon over, and this is mine. It's from the 1967 album A Price On His Head, and if you look at the vinyl LP you can see how often I knelt on my dorm room floor beside my pack-n-play stereo to set the needle down on this particular track and no other. (Ah, you youngsters with your CDs and iPods will never know the sweet joy of finding that hiss and groove.) For about a year, it was the first song I played every morning upon waking up; I'd sigh deeply, swipe away a few tears, swallow the lump in my throat, and then drag myself off to another morose day of being a college student.
I can't remember what boyfriend I was longing for at the time; most likely it was Alan Price himself. After I saw him in the 1973 film O Lucky Man! -- he not only wrote and performed the brilliant soundtrack, he had a sizeable role in the film -- I was a Fan Obsessed: I spent the next two years tracking down every album I could find to fill in the gap since he was the original Animals' organist. Every record store I went into required two ritual stops -- one at the K bin for the Kinks, then one at the P bin for Alan Price, hoping I'd find him somewhere in between Alan Parsons and John Prine. Ah, life had a purpose in those days.
Randy Newman wrote this song; Alan covered several early Newman songs -- often the definitive versions, if you ask me. I've heard Randy sing this one: nice try but no cigar. Though the Alan Price Set had a killer horn section, this track is just piano and vocals, and Alan's piano playing is as deft as Randy's -- but it's his vocals that really knock this one out of the park. Like his old bandmate Eric Burdon, Alan Price has a searing voice, velvety and warm as Scotch whiskey, with a rough edge like fog hanging over the Newcastle docks; the fact that Eric got all the lead vocals in the Animals was a crying shame.
The first lines paint you into the scene: "The milk truck pulls the sun up / And the paper hits the door / And the subway shakes my floor / And I think about you," and the way his voice falls miserably on that last line is just perfect; here's another day, and you wake up happy for a moment -- until you remember, and it's all downhill from there. A little snarl of self-pity and resentment creeps in after that: "Everyone's got something / They're out trying to get some more / They got something to get up for-- / Well, I ain't about to."
Then you get to the chorus, where the lyrics numbly rehearse over and over "It's soo hard / It's so-o-o hard / Yes, it's so hard / Living without you," and every repeated "hard" quavers with a little more anger and pain and loss and hurt. By the time Alan's voice rasps on the final "you" -- jeez, Alan, stop moping; I'm right here, and you can have me.
I still have the odd day when I want to wallow in melancholy. Today is one of those days. And, hey, this song still works like a charm -- I heartily recommend it.