“Yeh Yeh” / Georgie Fame
This song was a UK #1 hit in 1965, and though it didn’t do quite so well in the States, I must have heard it at the time -- it sure jumped out at me when I got a History of British Pop compilation years later. Given the Beatle-dominated popscape of 1965, I imagine it sounded a bit of a throwback even then. The hepcat saxophone accents, the finger-snapping syncopation, Georgie’s cha-cha-ing electric organ, all make me picture a 1950s bachelor pad, well-stocked with hi-fi, jazz LPs, mood lighting, and martini glasses. Laurence Harvey would be right at home in this song.
They Might Be Giants did an excellent, and very faithful, cover of this on their Mink Car album. I love their version, but when I hear the original again, I appreciate all over again the velvety textures of George Fame’s inimitable voice. Despite being one of those early 1960s manufactured British popsters, in the mold of Adam Faith or Cliff Richard, his heart always lay with jazz; as soon as the pop star thing died down, he started recording with folks like Count Basie and Harry South, and in the 1990s worked a lot with Van Morrison on jazz and blues standards.
Clearly Georgie was already tending jazzward way back in 1965 when he recorded this track – play it next to any contemporary records by the Beatles or the Stones or the Animals or the Kinks and you’ll be surprised at its retro sound. There’s no plot to speak of – the singer meets his girlfriend after work for dinner at her flat and they just have a groovy time. She keeps asking him if everything is okay, and he happily answers “The only thing I can say / I say Yeh yeh.” It’s so upbeat, so unconflicted, it raises my spirits every time I give it a spin. (I’ll always think of this revolving on a turntable.)
The best effect is that middle section, where Georgie, starting with his huskiest low tones, sings one long suspenseful chromatic scale, rising in volume and pitch all at the same time: “We’ll play a melody and turn the lights down low so that none can see / You gotta do that! You gotta do that!” Then he does it again “And there’ll be no one else alive in all the world ‘cept for you and me / Yeh yeh yeh yeh yeh….” Maybe it’s a sexual climax, maybe it’s just exuberance; the main thing is that he hits those last phrases with such joy. For just a moment at least, the world feels totally copasetic. Yeah, man.