Song Of The Day 10/5/2015: Lou Johnson – “A Time To Love - A Time To Cry (Petite Fleur)”

The Hidden '60s, Part 2 – Petite Fleur” is an elegiac melody composed by Sidney Bechet, one of jazz music’s earliest titans and the man who brought the soprano saxophone to prominence. I don’t have quite the context here to explain Bechet’s important role in the development of New Orleans jazz, but it’s colossal. Read some books. You can recognize a Bechet line, whether on sax or clarinet, by its vibrato. It’s pendulous to the extreme. You can use it to run a grandfather clock. Anyway, “Petite Fleur” came about in 1952, relatively late in Bechet’s life when he was living in France. It’s a great melody, covered by everyone from Petula Clark to Angélique Kidjo.

It’s Lou Johnson’s version (#59, 1965) that knocks me out though. Johnson’s one of the ‘60s’ most frustratingly overlooked R&B vocalists, along with James Carr, Lorraine Ellison, Chuck Jackson and sometimes Solomon Burke. When he started out in New York in 1962 Johnson became acquainted with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose songwriting partnership was hitting professional adolescence. Johnson was the “test” vocalist on a lot of their new songs, including the first version of “Always Something There to Remind Me.”

“A Time to Love – A Time to Cry” is arguably my favorite thing that’s yet emerged from this whole Hidden ’60s marketing initiative. Johnson’s version uses an un-syncopated, European cabaret rhythm, unlike any other rhythm R&B was messing around with at the time, maybe since. There’s a lot of space that Johnson can fill, but he chooses his moments very prudently and sings around the pulses, breaking out only when it makes the most sense. For Pete’s sake there’s even a clarinet, which in 1962 was on its way to becoming artistic contraband. This is full-tilt magic. I have no jokes.

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