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.
It 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
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 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.
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
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.
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.