Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rant #908: Let's "Shout" About Lulu

On the Saturday before last, when I was away on vacation, someone visited our shores, probably for the first time in ages, and performed for supposedly the first time in the New York City Metropolitan area.

Who was this performer, and is it true that during her nearly 50-year professional career, she never performed in the Big Apple?

Marie Lawrie, better known as Lulu, has been one of the most popular entertainment personalities in England since the early 1960s. She became internationally known through her role as one of the combatant students in the film "To Sir, With Love," and she took that song to No. 1 in 1967.

She had a few other mild hits here--including her rousing version of "Shout" which was a major hit record in Europe--and over the years, in Europe, she became more of an all-around entertainer, and it is safe to say that everyone in England knows who Lulu is.

Over here, however, after that one song, it was kind of a struggle to get her music heard.

She's done rock, pop, soul, country, even disco, placed 11 songs on the Hot 100 from 1964-1981--including her only other Top 20 American hit, "I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do)" from 1981--she has recorded with David Bowie and the Dixie Flyers, been married to a Bee Gee, done stage, film and TV work, but alas, in the U.S., she has been pretty much pegged as a one-hit wonder.

So that is why it is incredible that on Saturday, Feb. 16, Lulu made her New York Metropolitan area concert debut at B.B. King's.

Or was this really her debut?

I beg to differ.

It may have been her debut in New York City, but it definitely wasn't her debut in this area. I can vouch for that.

During the early summer of 1967, as a 10 year old, my family made our only visit to the legendary Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. This park was heralded on WABC and other stations as the fun place to be in the 1960s, as you could go on the numerous rides and even swim there if you wanted.

We went there, and I remember that we went on the Swiss Bobs ride. We didn't realize how fast the ride was, and for the first and only time on such a ride, I got sick. I felt nauseous after the ride ended, and dizzy, and I remember I needed to sit down to calm myself.

My parents found a bench for me to sit on, and I think one of them took my sister on some other rides while I sat and calmed myself.

The bench that I sat at was part of the performing area at Palisades, which I don't think any one of us realized.

After sitting for maybe a minute or two, popular New York disk jockey Hal Jackson came on, and I started to perk up. He announced that he had a new talent to spotlight that day, and out came a kind of roly-poly looking young lady with big earrings and poufed up blond hair.

She was announced as Lulu, and as one of the stars of the upcoming film "To Sir, With Love."

To mild applause--since nobody knew her here, although back home, she was a star at this time--she began to sing, but not the title song to that movie.

She sang "The Boat That I Row," a minor Neil Diamond-penned song that nobody knew.

She sang the song and to my recollection, that was the only song she performed.

And that was it. I was better and we moved on.

Why that song?

"The Boat That I Row" was the original American A side to the "To Sir, With Love" single, and that was so both here and in England.

The song did chart here--it reached a paltry No. 115--but was a big hit in England, so that side was initially pushed by the record company.

But what happened is that when the film opened in the late summer, disk jockeys turned the record over, and were playing "To Sir, With Love" more than the original A side, pushing that song to No. 1 here.

Over in England, that song was never pushed as a "hit" side, and remained as a B side.

So over here, probably more than a month prior to the film being released, no one knew that the song and the movie of the same name would become smashes.

But I do remember Lulu back then, and looking at her now, it is hard to believe that she is the same person.

She isn't so round anymore, and she is a mature, beautiful woman, probably in her mid-60s by now.

So, any news reports that said that this was her first New York Metropolitan area gig were wrong, because I saw her way back when, even if she only did one single, solitary song.

I guess I wish I could have been there, but being where I was that Saturday, I guess I was happy, too.

Maybe next time ... .

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