You’ll never walk alone

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

So sings, well many actually. ‘You’ll never walk alone’ was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein – Richard Rodgers wrote the rousing tune, Oscar Hammerstein the stirring lyrics. They wrote it for their 1945 show musical Carousel. In the show it is sung twice – as a solo then a later choral reprise. It was first sung on Broadway by Christine Johnson but it has been covered many many times. Not as many times as ‘My Way’, but there must be in excess of a hundred recordings.

You'll Never Walk AloneIt is the sentiment that resonates with me. No atomised anthem, individualistic elegy imagining that we can all go it alone, ‘You’ll never walk alone’ reminds that we always have each other and that each other can take very many forms – the apple of your eye, family, neighbours, friends, work-colleagues, country, or in common cause there is strength in numbers whatever that cause might happen to be. Occupy each others Hearts and Minds.

My Way is the Bizarro version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, with its bombast and bluster, you against the world, enduring by your own unique strength and talent – and of course we the listener are doing it our way too and whatever your way and my way is we are too assume it does not involve anything we might do together, never our way! For My Way Hell is Other People, for You’ll Never Walk Alone Heaven is Other People.

You’ll Never Walk Alone connects between peoples but other listeners may feel it like a modern hymn reminding them that however alone they might feel their God is always by their side. Whether you believe your beginning is Genesis or Big Bang its sentiment stirs deep.

It first came to my attention as a 1960’s pop song by Gerry & The Pacemakers. They were from Liverpool England and I was aware too that fans of Liverpool Football Club sang it at their Anfield football stadium before during and after the match. It was a unifying anthem for them but clearly when they were singing ‘You’ll never walk alone’ they did not have the rest of humanity in mind not even the rest of Liverpool – their local rivals Everton would not have been included in this apparent lyrical embrace! The song, perhaps not surprisingly, was adopted by many other supporters of football clubs all around the world – reminding that what is inclusive is at the same time exclusive.

At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Shirley Jones

Shirley Jones

The next version I heard of this song was to be my favourite and it was from the 1956 film adaptation of Carousel. I did not much care for the film but the two versions, first solo by Claramae Turner then a choral version with Shirley Jones, I found the most moving and magical – even the poor slightly echo-chamber sound recording only seemed to add to its other-worldly feeling.

But even so I did not feel this could be the best version of this song – a more anthemic choral version I felt must be out there.

Must it? I might never be able to find out. Until that is the arrival of the global jukebox that is Spotify.

Now I would be able to type in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and be presented with countless versions.

And countless versions there were – far too many indeed to list never mind listen to.

Inevitably there was a version by Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley seems to have covered every song that ever existed for no other purpose than giving his golden tonsils a workout. You’ll Never Walk Alone is no different – his heart is not in it – when he sings ‘tossed’ it sounds like ‘toast’ – though your dreams be toast and blown! He does though have a gospel accompaniment which at least gets some of the spirit of the song.

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Johnny Cash

The Man in Black

Johnny Cash was another singer who covered a lot of other people’s songs particularly toward the end of his life with his American Recordings series. His covers usually transformed the originals with his own singular stamp such as his cover of U2’s One – he gets it and then some. Not so it seems with ‘You’ll never walk alone’ which he also covered. And like Elvis he seems to have trouble with the lyrics too – he sings ‘lark’ like he was about to sing ‘lord'(‘and the silver sound of the lark). The musical accompaniment goes church again but this time with its organ not its choir. Though he sounds like he is taking it more seriously than Elvis does, he does not really seem to be swept along by the sentiment merely going through the motions as if he had clocked in for work and was looking to clock out again as soon as he could. From the man who made ‘I Walk The Line’ perhaps his attempt at You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was always going to fail.

Nina Simone

Nina Simone

It turned out that many legendary American singers had covered You’ll Never Walk Alone. Another was Nina Simone – her signature song perhaps is ‘Ain’t Got No (I Got Life) with lines such as ‘Ain’t got no mother, ain’t got no culture, ain’t got no friends, ain’t got no schooling’ – what has she got? – well she has got herself – again like Johnny Cash would You’ll Never Walk Alone prove too much an alien philosophy for  her?! Her version is from her 1958 Little Girl Blue album and the opening minute or so sees her playing in its melody on the piano by way of an introduction – or so I hoped waiting expectantly for Nina Simone’s deep dark voice to appear but it never did. This was a piano version – and she certainly puts her heart into it building it up to a crescendo. But the music alone is not enough – I need the stirring words too.

Nina Simone was a Diva before that term was invented. Next up was another Diva this one though I would be approaching with trepidation, musical trepidation. It was Barbra Streisand – of the tradition of all about me, so all about Barbra and You’ll never walk alone led me to approach this version with much scepticism. Would she kill it with schmaltz? Be far too concerned about hitting all the right and high notes than nailing its sentiment and spirit? I’m afraid my prejudices were confirmed – ‘walk on, walk on’ she sang, she could have been singing a TV commercial for hiking boots…

The next version I saw coming – an Opera version.This one by the Three Tenors of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras – so light entertainment opera at that. It had plenty of passion though if too much like a singing contest between the three of them than any feeling of solidarity with the other – more ‘I will always walk alone’!

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone

The Righteous Brothers

The Righteous Brothers

My quest for the golden version was remaining elusive. Next up was a version by the Righteous Brothers – known for their soulful Phil Spector ballads such as Ebb Tide and Unchained Melody they would surely hit the spot? On this occasion though Bill Medley’s deep voice sounded like a bad Elvis cover-version though his ‘brother’ Bobby Hatfield crooned it beautifully but when their voices both joined in harmony with the string accompaniment it was like being bubble-bathed in Mantovani – the only thing missing was the scented candles –  I needed a cold shower afterwards!

I was giving up hope. The next version was an actual chorus being the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – perhaps this would be the one…alas no – too much like a choir practice than a rapturous soaring of souls.

There were still a lot more versions ahead of me and I was losing heart. Three torch singers my eyes next alighted on – Mahalia Jackson, Judy Garland and Tammy Wynette – if one of them can’t nail it then I would be calling it quits!

Mahalia Jackson’s version was not a church one which I was hoping for but a live nightclub one – you could hear the coughs and clinks of wine-glasses in the background – her version is a little too sober though, a little more wine for her may have been in order.

On to Tammy. Tammy Wynette sings it in typical heart on her sleeve style, the sobs stifling in her throat. Had I not known anything at all about this song and this my first hearing of it I am sure I would have warmed to it. But I had heard plenty about this song and like most others singing it she did not seem to realise the magnificence and scale of the song – it was not just another standard to be notched up and crossed off.

Judy Garland

Judy Garland

Well for a start her version would see the chorus changing the lyric ‘Hold your head up high’ to ‘Keep your chin up high’! – not quite capturing the same sentiment I thought! It was a good version though and Judy Garland is one of those who can sing the telephone directory and make them sound like torch-song tablets from the musical mountains but again their version did not capture its hold-hands spirit – she and her chorus sounded like they were in two separate rooms – as in don’t upstage the original diva by standing in my presence! – sort of ‘You’ll never walk alone, just not with me’!

Oh well. So my quest goes on.

You’ll Never Walk Alone was I suppose the We Are The World of its time and I only make that comparison to wonder if a fitting version of it would require a number of singers and groups coming together to do an ‘Hallelujah’ version of it as it were? – Thom Yorke, Scott Walker, Anthony Caleb Followill, Ed Sheeran, Gary Barlow, June Tabor, Van Morrison, Kate Bush, Neil Young, Shirley Manson, Rachel and Becky Unthank…in my dreams!

Should any of you have a favourite version then please don’t keep it to yourself but share in the comments below.

21 thoughts on “You’ll never walk alone

  1. I thought I’d give my tuppenceworth after finding this on a google search for the sheet music of this song. My absolute favourite version by far is Nina Simone’s piano rendition. I think the way in which she builds up the drama and the sheer beauty of the song through her skilful piano playing is absolutely glorious. I don’t even think it needs the words to be honest, I think the piano says it all. Another version I’m fond of is Frank Sinatra’s version. But yes, a very nice blog on a great song. 🙂

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    • I did enjoy the Nina Simone version which I only heard for the first time when writing this post and think my anticipation of her singing the song distracted from my appreciation of her piano treatment of it and I will be revisiting it again.

      And Frank Sinatra is one of my favourite vocalists so I will definitely be tracking his version down. He certainly put his stamp on My Way which as I noted in my post is a very different song to You’ll Never Walk Alone so I am looking forward to hearing how he approaches it.

      Thanks Patrick for your kind comments about this post and taking the time to comment.

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  2. Aretha Franklin nailed it on her “Amazing Grace” sessions (recorded live in an LA church). I’m surprised it didn’t come up in your Spotify search.

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  3. I absolutely love Judy Garland & have hired heaps of videos at the local of her – everything I could get. I can’t believe they called her ugly.

    You’ll never walk alone is brilliant & does resonate yes, though one of my ultimate favourites is Elvis singing Unchained Melody. Oh, oh, oh.

    I’m sorry I can’t read music – but damn it looks beautiful, doesn’t it.

    Interesting post, Sam 🙂

    Hey Merry Christmas to you & your family…

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  4. I found your blog after spending two hours listening to various renditions of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” via MOG, and also snippets from Amazon — and doing lots of heavy weeping. I was excited to find your topic and similar sensibilities, but now I’m crestfallen that you never did come up with a satisfactory answer. Neither have I, and I need to put it on a CD I’m making for my 96 year old dad. In a hurry!. If I come up with one that satisfies me, I’ll come back and post.

    Part of the problem is that it’s hard to listen to a lot of them without starting to lose perspective. I’m looking for a combination of intimacy, comfort/hand-holding, particularly in the beginning, but sufficient power/inspiration during the latter part of the song. And, of course, it has to sound convincing! I’ve found parts, but can’t seem to get the complete package.
    Enjoyed reading your blog. 🙂

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    • This is amazing Marina. I wonder how many others are on a similar quest. So You’ll Never Walk Alone even when searching for the ideal version of You’ll Never Walk Alone – sorry could not resist saying that!

      I agree completely that this too is not an ideal song to listen to multiple versions of back to back – you need to have a lie down and compose yourself for minutes, if not hours, between each one.

      Possibly the best version of it was sang many a year ago, never recorded, and heard by only a few, but I can’t entertain that desolate thought!

      Thank you for promising to comment again should you hear a version that satisfies you. Likewise I will update my original post should I hear one. At least I don’t have a deadline to complete for a 96 old loved one!

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      • Oh, hello! I just saw your post after posting my second comment! Yes, during my search I was trying to listen to people I’d never heard of, and as you say, it could have even happened at some point and not been recorded. I think it takes a genius to do this song justice!
        I’m delighted to hear you will update if you discover another version that satisfies. Loved your remark about never walking alone, even when searching for the ideal version….
        Very clever!

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    • I’m out of time, and I’m choosing Roy Hamilton. I listened to the complete song on YouTube, and I’m downloading it from Amazon. Very nice. Not impeccable in every single aspect, but much to recommend it. Authentic, moving delivery; the accompanying music is nice and not overpowering, with a super nice bit of trumpet. Warm and sincere and also sufficiently powerful. Would be very interested in knowing your opinion.

      Actually, I notice I’m not crying. I’m pretty sure that’s because I’m all cried out now, after the hours I spent crying earlier today, and I just can’t go there again right now. I believe though, that even IF this version is any less heart-wrenching, it scores very high on the hand-holding/comforting scale, but still with power.

      And perhaps I’ll cry again when I hear it tomorrow! 🙂

      Cheers,

      Marina

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      • Thanks for getting back to me with your find Marina.

        I like your review of it. I had not heard of Roy Hamilton so went on to Google and discovered on Wikipedia that it was his version of You’ll Never Walk Alone that Gerry Marsden of Gerry & The Pacemakers heard and which inspired them to cover it.

        He is certainly giving his take of the song – as you say he is authentic. And I like his voice. My reservation is that he and the music don’t feel especially at one.

        It did not bring a tear to my eye or give me the tingle factor. On the other hand I have probably gotten too close to this song of late and am now expecting unreasonable feats from the performers.

        As you say it takes a genius to do justice to this song. It may be months, indeed years, before I get the ‘Eureka’ moment!

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        • Thank you for your reply, Sam. I didn’t cry today either, so it could very well be that this isn’t the one. I was taken in by his voice and his sincerity. I definitely need some distance. I don’t think I could respond to any version again anytime soon after that massive crying jag yesterday! Meanwhile, I had to finish the CD. Putting the final touches on it and trying to make the last mail pickup.

          Looking forward to reading your future blogs.

          Best regards,

          Marina

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  5. I am replying to your last comment Barefoot Contessa up here! WordPress does not seem to allow me more than three comments to each thread!

    Your comment about a so-so tune maybe being transformed by a later cover has given me an idea for a future post – the musical alchemists that turn leaden songs into golden moments!

    Incidentally I was not presuming to suggest that you yourself would never walk alone – my hope was that the song itself You’ll Never Walk Alone would not disappear into eternal silence. This was a rhetorical hope though as I am quite certain it will not!

    In my original post I gave various examples of ways in which we never walk alone. I did not include the world wide web and think I should have done, allowing at it does like-minded people to come together, not least the blogging community that ever burgeons.

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    • Found the reply box fine, that is weird,that only three comments to each thread. I wonder if it’s your theme, or maybe the comment widget setting itself. Just thinking out loud.here. (*&*) I’ve just rescrolled back up to warn you that I’ve thought out loud here with you nad have maybe created a novella here.

      I will be your first fan to comment should you create a post topic. I think the idea is brilliant. The tunes that were maybe released as dogs (pardon my crude expression) and were transformed into as you say golden moments should be celebrated. This could be a great source for good discussions which no doubt would cross generations.
      Although I’d say I’m predominately a classic rock fan there are those tunes and lyrics that touch my soul as well as rock my world such as You’ll Never Walk Alone,.I’ve recently been enamored with Michael Buble’ and him doing copy tunes of great artist’s like Sinatra, Bennett, N. K. Cole.

      My belief is that the lyrics like “I’ll Never Wal Alone” are invincible, that in every generation there are those who will somehow be turned on to such music by family, friend’s, mentors, teachers. Even my 18 year old granddaughter who listens to great artists like Iron and Wine, Kid Rock finds great value in such Lyrics. That’s pretty amazing to this Baroness, that’s 5 generation of women whose heart strings are tugged by such real emotion from an incredible song.
      Did I say Thanks for the memories? .

      PS Sam I never felt you were presuming anything at all. I know communication can be difficult via world wide web and blogs can sometimes be misconstrued. But your comments were not in any way, nor was I offended in any way. In fact as I said, I sense you are a gentle soul, a gentleman. No worries!

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      • You were correct, it was the Widget comment settings. Not noticed this until now because this is the first time I have replied more than once to a posted comment! I have now changed it to the maximum allowed!

        I’m going to continue my reply here before I confuse the both of us completely!

        I’m glad you like the post idea – I shall be keeping a list of such songs until I consider I have enough for a post. I like Michael Buble too – his voice alone. Great fan of Sinatra – naturally! Love Nat King Cole. Need to listen to more Tony Bennett. My musical tastes are quite eclectic though rock and pop music probably are my most listened to genres.

        It is great when music crosses generations. Too often people tend to end up in one camp or the other – only listening to new music or only listening to older music (often from their own youth!) – when there are treasures to be found from every era, from every year.

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  6. You have a like minded & kindered soul in me when it concerns this piece of music and the lyrics.

    You say:: “a more anthemic choral version I felt must be out there.”

    “Judy Garland Well for a start her version would see the chorus changing the lyric ‘Hold your head up high’ to ‘Keep your chin up high’! – not quite capturing the same sentiment I thought! ”

    I reply~
    This was my all time piece I adored doing in choir.

    Some lyrics were meant never to be messed with, leaving the original at peace.

    The Rghteous Bros came closest for me. For me the ultimate would have to be a duet, and singing
    a cappella. Just pure harmony

    And thank you kind Sir for choosing to follow my train of thoughts~

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    • I love your line regarding lyrics of ‘leaving the original at peace’.

      I love too the sound of your ideal version.

      Some songs deserve their oblivion, but many a good song meets it too. I do hope this is not the fate of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

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      • Sam Thanks! I agree completely with you that some songs “deserve their oblivvion. I really like your verbage “deserve”. It’s perfect.
        Some songs should be covered over and over, maybe one time their will come brilliance from a so- so tunes.

        You are a gentle soul I can tell. Thank you for your hope that my fate is to Never walk alone. Between you & me; I’ll never actually ever walk alone because I have a strong faith that there is something more powerful in charge than us. My faith is my hope, and with my faith I’ll never walk alone again.

        In this earthly world in I begin to question whether it will be a personal walk alone as the so called golden years approach. Who knows what the universe will bring.

        BTW did I tell you how much I loved the sheet music posted with this? Very nice touch!

        Like

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