The seventh in a series of excerpts from the forthcoming book, Field Notes From a Music Biz Life
It was good to be 16. (It was the best of times...)

It was the first week of January 1966, the beginning of the second semester of my junior year at Great Neck South High School. Our varsity basketball team was well on its way to winning the Nassau County Championship. And though it had hurt to get cut from the Rebels (this was the north shore of Long Island, but we were Great Neck South), watching the games, especially the David-vs.-Goliath, come-from-behind wins, was thrilling.
I’d been invited by a pretty girl to a fancy Sweet 16 party to be held at Leonard’s, the garish monstrosity on Northern Boulevard which, 48 years later, elicited this Yelp rating: "The room we were in was overly pink, but I guess it was befitting for a Sweet 16."

Best of all, the music that filled the air was, my friends and I agreed, unreeel. It wasn’t just the Beatles, the Stones and Bob Dylan who were churning out what we called crucial records. The Who, the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons, the Kinks, the Byrds, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Temptations and dozens of other artists served up platter after platter of transcendent music that got better with each listening.

And there was still room near the top for standards like Carl’s "Ebb Tide," which hit #5, courtesy of Phil Spector and the Righteous Brothers.

But I was 16. As January wore on, life began to suck so bad it was ummbuhleevable. (It was the worst of times...)

I suffered from a wicked Basketball Jones after a sprained ankle sidelined me from the addictive daily pick-up games at Wyngate Park.

Sam Cooke’s lament—"Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody"—summed up my social situation after, for reasons known only to my unconscious, I’d blown the Sweet 16 by ignoring my friendly good-looking date in favor of a sarcastic snob at the next table. When I summoned the courage to call a cute cheerleader to tell her I liked her, I got smacked with a bruising one-two punch: "Mike, I think you’re terrific" followed by, "I like you as a friend."
In the real world, the country was still reeling from the JFK assassination. Simmering civil rights tensions erupted with the murder of Malcolm X, the Watts riots and similar violence in other cities. Kids my age were getting arrested for possession of a single marijuana joint. LBJ’s invasion of the Dominican Republic was bad enough; his dramatic escalation of the Vietnam War spurred major anti-war demonstrations, draft card burnings and accusations of treason from an older generation that, from our point of view, didn’t get it.

At home, anxiety reigned. Carl—incorrectly, as it turned out—was convinced that rock ‘n’ roll and the attendant cultural revolution would ensure that "Ebb Tide" was his last hit.

Call it synchronicity, coincidence, or convenient narrative, but my emotional swings seemed eerily connected to the content of Carl’s chartmakers. By the end of January, as "Ebb Tide," his most romantic song, began to roll back out to the murky depths, "What Now My Love," his most despairing creation, waded into the charted waters of the Hot 100.

By the time lovestruck hippies Sonny & Cher released their jingle-jangle version of "What Now My Love," the song already had an illustrious history. In 1961, Gilbert Becaud, a French singer/composer/actor whose energy and passion earned him the moniker "Monsieur 100,000 Volts," asked Carl to write an English lyric to a powerful French number called "Et Maintenant" (French lyric by Pierre Delanoe) that Becaud himself had recorded and taken to #1 in France.
Compared to the torture Carl had endured in writing the blissed-out "Ebb Tide," creating the suicidal howl of "What Now My Love" was a walk in MacArthur Park. It had been impossible to fit the already existing title "Ebb Tide" into Robert Maxwell’s tune, but for Carl, "what now my love" presented itself almost immediately as the perfect wedding of words to the first four-note phrase in Becaud’s composition.

Each tune builds to a dramatic climax, but while "Ebb Tide" explodes into orgasmic ecstasy followed by utter peace, "What Now My Love" leaps off a cliff into nothing less than nothingness.

What now my love, now that you left me
How can I live through another day
Watching my dreams turn to ashes
And my hopes turn to bits of clay
Once I could see, once I could feel
Now I am numb, I’ve become unreal
I walk the night, without a goal
Stripped of my heart, my soul
What now my love, now that it’s over
I feel the world closing in on me
Here come the stars, tumbling around me
There’s the sky, where the sea should be
What now my love, now that you’re gone
I’d be a fool to go on and on
No one would care, no one would cry
If I should live or die
What now my love, now there is nothing
Only my last good-bye

Shortly after "What Now My Love" was published in 1962, the brilliant arranger Nelson Riddle (Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat Cole, et al.) was in England scoring the film Lolita when he found the time to work with a 25 year-old singer named Shirley Bassey, whose extraordinary pipes were matched by an operatic stage presence. The resulting album, Let’s Face the Music, featured a monumental rendition of "What Now My Love" which was released as a single and rose to #5 in the U.K. The song went on to become a centerpiece of Bassey’s more than 50-year concert career.
Once Bassey showed the way, a flood of "What Now My Love" covers ensued. But it took the mid-’60s supernova husband and wife team Sonny & Cher, fresh off the massive success of their paean to hippy love, "I Got You, Babe" (an answer song to Dylan’s 1964 break-up masterpiece "It Ain’t Me Babe"?) to give it singles cred. As their record approached the Top 20, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass declared "cover battle" with a syncopated, Latin-flavored instrumental version to follow up their No 1 smash "A Taste of Honey." Both singles did well, and Herb’s double Grammy-winning "What Now My Love" album also rose to #1, where it fended off all challengers for nine weeks.

Once a pop song becomes a standard, its inherent versatility takes it to places its creators never imagined. "What Now My Love" has been imagined and reimagined by so many artists in so many genres and styles it’s hard to believe it was written as an expression of unmitigated agony.

Dame Shirley Bassey’s 1962 version remains definitive for female vocalists, but that hasn’t stopped Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughn, Brenda Lee, Jane Morgan, Dionne Warwick, Petula Clark, Connie Francis, Nancy Wilson, Dakota Staton, Lana Cantrell and ABBA’s Agnetha Faltzkog from weighing in with their own impressive interpretations.

Despair being neither merely female nor male, but a part of the human condition, male vocalists took to the song even more readily. A partial list seems like a catalogue of the era’s best: Vic Damone, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Darin, Robert Goulet, Steve Lawrence, Al Martino, Anthony Newley, Lou Rawls, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Bobby Darin (who also sent up the song’s portentousness by sticking his head in an oven while crooning it on his TV show), Paul Anka (who swung it on the TV rock show Hullaballoo) Lenny Welch (who’d also had a hit single with "Ebb Tide"), Jack Jones and Tom Jones.

The song was a natural for jazz reinvention. In addition to Herb Alpert, it’s been recorded by Lou Donaldson, Stephane Grappelli, Ray Anthony and The Modern Jazz Quartet) and big band (Joe "Fingers" Webster & His River City Jazzmen).
Willie Nelson and Don Gibson took the song into country, while the Temptations, Martha & the Vandellas, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin and Ben E. King found its soul.

Sinatra’s solo version swings, and his duet with Aretha presents a swing/soul combo you won’t find anywhere else.

The great Lee Dorsey took the tune way down yonder to New Orleans, and there were reggae iterations by Archie Lewis and Byron Lee & the Dragonaires.

If you needed additional evidence that the song was something of a Rorschach test, six decades of rockers took it on too: Duane Eddy, Roy Orbison, Mitch Ryder, the Righteous Brothers, Long John Baldry, Wall of Voodoo and NOFX, whose remodel gives us Herb Alpert by way of the Ramones.

Liberace and Jackie Gleason had their moments with "What Now My Love," as did a distraught diva named Miss Piggy.

Given the song’s origin, it is perhaps a surprise that Carl’s English-language lyric has been recorded by French singers including Charles Boyer, Patricia Kass and Amanda Lear on her new Elvis tribute album.

Speaking of The King, Elvis used his amazing range to give "What Now My Love" the full emotional treatment in his live act; it was a highlight of his Aloha From Hawaii concert, broadcast to over a billion earthlings in 1973.

If you consider that "What Now My Love" has been a staple for four decades of Elvis impersonators, the number of its performances approaches infinity.

Toward the end of junior year, it was again the best of times.

On Senior Prom night for the class one year ahead of us, a bunch of friends and I snuck into the back of the gym and listened rapturously as the Chiffons sang about a "Sweet Talkin’ Guy" and the Young Rascals held forth about the need for "Good Lovin’." We may not have been sweet talkin’ enough to get good lovin’ at that moment, but being in the presence of music so sublime was just as good. Maybe better...

The competition is fierce. (7/7a)
A "Moon" shot. (7/6a)
Fingers crossed for indie venues to return. (7/6a)
Latifah, Lauryn, Missy, Lil Kim, more. (7/7a)
Juiced with a big D2C initiative. (7/7a)
Would you like some Swiss cheese with your nachos?
Oh, sorry--we were just singing to ourselves.
Family is everything.
Are they coming for Kanye? Yes.

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