Transcript 90–Long Cool Woman

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.

Hello! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.

My name is Claude Call, and that’s still okay, right? 

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This show just wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t have some trivia for ye, so here we go: There are a bunch of stories out there about the Ed Sullivan Show and its relationship with rock music. You may recall that I spoke with Chris McKittrick a couple of weeks ago about the Rolling Stones and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and Buddy Holly, and most people know about The Doors refusing to change a lyric for the show’s sake. Now, British Invasion act Peter and Gordon’s first hit in the United States was “A World Without Love,” but when they came to America to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, they were asked to sing a different song instead. So instead of “A World Without Love,” the gigantic hit they had which was written by Paul McCartney, they sang another of their singles written by Paul McCartney, called “I Don’t Want to See You Anymore” as their Ed Sullivan debut. So here’s the question: Why did the Sullivan producers object to their singing “A World Without Love”? Believe it or not,  I’ll have the answer for you near the end of the show. 

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Before I forget, let me give a little shout-out to listener Peter Hall, who suggested this week’s song. And you can make requests too, through the website or the social media, so pay attention at the end of the show so you know where to find me. 

Would you believe it if I told you that The Hollies never had a Number One hit in the US? They came close a couple of times, and “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)” was one of those occasions. In fact, I’d venture to say that “Long Cool Woman” may be second only to “Louie Louie” in popularity among songs whose words you can’t understand. And each record has its own reason for that unintelligibility, but we’ll get to that in a couple of minutes. 

So one of the things that you may have noticed that’s different about “Long Cool Woman” is that it’s probably the only Hollies hit that doesn’t have those amazing harmonies in it. In fact, throughout the song, all we hear is Allan Clarke’s singing. Well, it turns out there’s a reason for that. You see, Allan Clarke wrote the song, along with Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, as a potential single for a solo album that Clarke was planning. But when the band got wind of the solo project, they told him that he could do the solo album, but he’d have to leave the Hollies in order to do it. According to an interview he did with Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, Clarke was quoted as saying  “I think with me the band feared that if I got a hit I’d leave. How can you stop destiny? Now, if they originally agreed, I might not even have left. ‘Long Cool Woman’ would have been released a year earlier, and we’d have done a few tours of the States and maybe would have been really big.” What happened instead was that he stayed with the group and they cut the song. They put it on the album Distant Light, and THEN Clarke left the group. The Hollies found a replacement singer and, about a year after the album came out, they finally released “Long Cool Woman” as a single. When it became a hit, Clarke had a change of heart and rejoined the group. During that year, though, the band had put together another album with the new singer, Michael Rickfors. That album was called Romany and, while it sold well early on, most of the airplay was limited to FM album-oriented stations and there were no charting singles from it. 

All right, so let’s get to those lyrics. I’m pretty sure that everyone knows the opening two lines: Saturday night I was downtown/Working for the FBI…and of course all the parts where the title comes in, but other than that? Admit it, you really don’t know many more of the words. I know I didn’t, so I went to look them up because the internet is a beautiful thing, and I have to admit that I was a little surprised. I thought we were getting a little bit of a modern-day spy story, what with the FBI and the mysterious woman, and the James Bond-like guitar line that opens the song. But when I saw the lyrics, I realized that this is more of a 1930s Prohibition-era storyline. Our narrator is in a speakeasy and he’s about to blow the whistle when he hears the woman singing. Now, there’s a line here that can be taken two ways, that goes “a pair of forty-fives made me open my eyes,” but I’m pretty sure he’s not talking about guns, since the very next thing he’s appraising the woman: a long cool woman in a black dress, just a five-nine, beautiful, tall. Moments later he hears a siren and everybody scatters, but the next thing you know, he’s being congratulated by the District Attorney and this femme fatale is standing right next to him. So it’s possible that she was also in on the bust–you should excuse the expression–and he didn’t know about it, or perhaps she wasn’t, but in the end she was just the entertainment, who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and she’s likely to not be arrested. 

Even as a Hollies song it’s a definite change of sound for the band, partly because of the lack of backups, but also because they decided to give it a little bit of a Swamp Rock feel. Think about Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River,” which came out around the same time they were working on this record. In fact, have a listen to this bit of “Green River”: 

[GREEN RIVER CLIP] into LCW

So there’s definitely a CCR influence going on there. The other thing is that the band’s usual producer, Ron Richards, was out sick the day they recorded, so the band members themselves did the producing. Richards did the mixing when he returned to work. But the big thing that really contributed to the sound was the slapback echo on the vocals. Roger Cook said in an interview with The Tenneseean that Allan Clarke really liked all that echo on his voice. In the same interview he noted that the three of them were pretty drunk themselves when they decided they wanted to write a song about Prohibition, and by all accounts the song came together pretty quickly. 

Oh–and I wanted to call your attention to Bernie Calvert’s bass line for this record, because it’s one of those bits that supports the song overall, but in the chorus, it also pulls you along in a very cool way just by way of the descending notes. It’s not flashy but it sounds great. Therefore I think the bass is the Sneaky MVP of this record. 

So as I mentioned earlier, this was NOT a Number One hit for The Hollies, because that group never had one, at least not in the United States. It was one of two songs to reach Number Two, and it’s considered their biggest single. It spent two weeks in the Number Two slot, behind Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” and it’s got to be notable on its own that the Top Two songs both had part of the title in parentheses. For what it’s worth, the week of August 28, 1972, the top three songs were “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)”, then “Alone Again (Naturally),” then “Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)”, which was about to move up. But that means that all three of the top records that week had parentheses in the titles. I don’t know if that’s a record or anything, but stuff like that catches my eye sometimes. The song DID go to Number One in Canada and South Africa, but oddly enough it didn’t do very well in the UK, peaking at Number 32. Typically their songs did better over there than they did on this side of the pond, but not in this case. 

[CLINT BLACK]

As far as covers of the record, there was a pretty good one by country artist Clint Black that went to Number 58 on the Country Chart, and then there’s this fun version from 1995:

[ROCKAPELLA]

This version appeared on their sixth album and their North American debut, and it’s also where you can find them singing the theme to the TV show, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? 

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And, now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I noted that Peter and Gordon were asked NOT to sing “A World Without Love” when they made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, so they sang “I Don’t Want to See You Again.” What was the producers’ objection to their singing that gigantic hit? 

Well, as it turns out, someone else had already sung that song on the show a couple of weeks earlier. Bobby Rydell had recorded his own version of “A World Without Love” and released it just a couple of months after the Peter and Gordon version came out. Both versions climbed the chart, with Peter and Gordon being more of a national hit and Rydell’s version doing very well in specific pockets of the country, especially his native Philadelphia. Rydell was pretty much a regular on the Ed Sullivan Show, so when he went on the show in late October of 1964, naturally he sang his latest hit. 

[RYDELL WORLD WITHOUT LOVE]

When Peter and Gordon got to the show, they were asked to sing something else because, while the kids would be tuning in specifically to see them, regular watchers of the show would remember that that same song had just been sung a couple of weeks earlier. So, they were asked to sing something else instead. 

See? It’s not always for prudish reasons. 

Not always. 

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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when we go Under the Covers yet again.  

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