"Cold Grey Light of Dawn" /
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.