Friday, September 19, 2008

"Cold Grey Light of Dawn" /
Nick Lowe

No, Nick didn't write this -- it's one of those covers he tends to do, of obscure old country-soul numbers no one has ever heard of. Well, at least I haven't. This one's by Ivory Joe Hunter, a black guy out of Texas who had a few R&B hits in the 1950s (he wrote "Ain't That Loving You, Baby" for Elvis Presley), and came back as a country singer in the late 60s. And now you know as much as I do about Ivory Joe Hunter (thanks, Wikipedia!)

But Nick loves to dig up these old chestnuts, and so he unearthed this one for 1998's Dig My Mood, an album that finds Nick in prime genre-hopping mode. I don't know the original, but I can imagine it's a good deal smoother than Nick's twangy version. I almost put it on my Break-Ups playlist, but even though this song is all about a break-up -- sung from the perspective of a guy waking up to realize afresh that he's alone now -- it's way too cheerful to make anybody feel sorry for him.

And yet I love it. It's a series of slidey little phrases, jerking up gradually up the scale, and Nick delivers it in a cornball drawl that really cracks me up. It's the opening lines that are stuck in my head today: "That old alarm clock / Gives a yell / Starting another / Day in hell." That yell/hell rhyme is priceless, isn't it? There are a few other good couplets here, too, like "In the mirror / I see / Someone who used to / Be me", and of course that irresistible title couplet "And I turn blue / In the cold grey light of dawn." That alone was reason for Nick to sing this.

My other favorite effect on this track is the string arrangement -- what I always think of as "Ray Charles strings" after of the orchestral arrangements on things like "Georgia" and "Crying Time". Corny corny corny, and absolutely delicious. The first time they slip in is on the line "The neon light / And the jukebox / Help to ease me / Through the night," and the echoing flourish of strings after "neon light" is so witty I can't stand it.

It's hardly a great song -- it's pretty Tin Pan Alley, in fact, or whatever the LA equivalent of that was. And it's not exactly one of Nick's greatest performances (truth to tell, it barely even sounds like him singing). But I heard it a couple of days ago on my shuffle and I haven't been able to get rid of it since.

Not that I'm trying to, mind you. The days I get Nick stuck in my head are generally my best days.


Mark said...

Thanks for making me listen to this song again! Yes, it's the kind of cover Nick does very well. (I love his version of "Not Too Long Ago" on At My Age!) I think Ivory Joe Hunter also wrote and sang "I Almost Lost My Mind," which Pat Boone covered and had a big hit with in the 50's.

Those strings are totally the "Ray Charles Strings"! Ray really started something, there's a whole school of songs in the early 60's that were based around/ripped off from his version of "I Can't Stop Loving You." Like Al Martino's "I Love You Because." What an Italian crooner was doing covering a country song that Elvis sang during his Sun sessions, I have no idea. Bobby Darin also wrote a song in the same vein, "You're the Reason I'm Living." Anyway, Nick really nails the sound and vibe of those late 50's, early 60's songs, doesn't he?

Holly A Hughes said...

All that Nick was missing on this track was the cheesy choir going "oooooh--ooh-ooohh" in the background!

I've been listening to a lot of Nat King Cole lately too, and he got infected by that orchestral lushness -- Nelson Riddle was a big-time purveyor of it -- though in Cole's case, it doesn't always work.

Nick also did a cover of Hunter's "I'll Give You All Night To Stop," an unreleased track on the rarities disk of The Doings box set. I would love to see Nick Lowe's record collection, just once in my life.

Anonymous said...

Ivory Joe Hunter's, "Since I Met You Baby" is probably his signature song. It's the same melody as "I almost lost my mind" which was done quite well by Charlie Rich - another crooner that I'm sure Nick appreciates.
"Cold Grey" is classic indeed - nice post!