Back in ’65, the newly-HOT Michael Caine (now Sir) scored the title rôle in the film version of Bill Naughton’s play of that name. The film was enormously successful and made Caine the superstar he still is.
The film was different in many ways – not least the opening. Alfie begins by addressing the camera directly and informing the audience they will NOT be seeing the usual opening credits. This is commonplace now – the titles running between the end of the film and the closing credits.
Commonplace and ANNOYING, now – but unique then.
Thus the song “Alfie” – whose opening line echoes the closing line of the film – was not heard until the END of the film, the incidental music being a jazz score by Sonny Rollins. And it is that song which this piece is primarily about…
In the British release of “Alfie” it was sung by also-then-hot Cilla Black – but in America (where the film grossed twenty times its budget) Cilla was a virtual unknown. And so the US print featured a recording by Cher.
It seems strange today that no-one was very interested in recording “Alfie” at first – but the song was written BEFORE the release of the smash hit film. And so Sandie Shaw turned it down – and Cilla was less than enthusiastic.
In fact it was she who insisted the recording be made with its composer, Burt Bacharach, conducting and playing – which she figured he would balk at. But she was WRONG.
Burt hopped on a plane.
While in England, he made a number of TV appearances – “The Eamonn Andrews Show”, “Top Of The Pops”, etc. And Granada made a whole DOCUMENTARY about him – in which the World got to see “a little bit of magic” being created.
They taped the “Alfie” recording session at Abbey Road.
Sadly today, the tape – along with most of those made in the Sixties (see elsewhere in these columns) – is GONE. But miraculously, a kinescope still exists of the take that eventually ended up on the record.
Now these days, it is not unusual for people to dub these old kinescopes – with their inferior “striped” sound – onto the original RECORD the artist was MIMING to (Sixties Pop records featured production values that were impossible to re-create in a live performance).
And so I decided to give this a go, with my equipment. Since video-tape, kinescopes and CDs are all “phase-locked” to mains AC, once you have them in synch – they STAY there.
But I did not have “Alfie” on a CD – only a rather scratchy album.
However, my record deck is a precision Swiss one, with an infinitely variable speed control – so within ten minutes, I managed to record a dub that stayed in synch for the required two minutes and forty-one seconds.
I only did it for my own enjoyment – but then, when I went online, I posted it onto YouTube. Little did I know the furore it would create!
The recording itself is incredible. Burt was a perfectionist and had Cilla do UMPTEEN takes (reports vary as to how many were eventually done – but Cilla looks EXHAUSTED in the kinescope).
In fact George Martin – her usual producer, who was in the box for the session – at one stage thumbed his mic and asked the maestro, “What are you LOOKING for, Burt?”
Bacharach answered, “That little bit of magic.”
To which George replied, “I think we HAD that in take SEVEN!”
Anyhoo, I quickly had to put my YouTube upload on “comments must be approved” because of the deluge of HANDBAGS the piece attracted from fans of Cilla and Dionne Warwick.
In America (wherein lives the bulk of YouTube’s audience) many dislike Cilla’s voice (“foghorn” was the only printable description) and prefer the version THEY are used to – Dionne’s.
While the British prefer the PASSION of Ms Black to the languid stylings of Ms Warwick.
Thus my upload immediately became a BATTLE-GROUND between British Cilla-fans and American Dionne-fans – with predictable UK-US animosity.
(Stateside, The Cher version faired little better than Cilla’s, so no-one cared about THAT).
And all this over a SWEET song – sung by a KNACKERED Cilla!
Anyway, here it is…