In November 1959, the New York songwriters, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, came to London for a special edition of the ITV show, Boy Meets Girls, devoted to their work. Joe Brown told me that they should have appeared on What’s My Line? They would have beaten the panel convincingly as nobody would have guessed that they wrote teenage love songs.
By the time they wrote A Teenager In Love, Doc Pomus was in his thirties and married with a daughter. He had been crippled through polio as a child, but he didn’t let his disability prevent from singing in small dives around New York. He had written many blues songs and had had success with Lonely Avenue in 1956. Many people suppose that Ray Charles is singing about his heroin addiction but really it is Doc talking about the loneliness of being trapped in some sleazy hotel (“My room has got two windows”).
On his own, Doc felt too old to capture the teenage market and he recruited Mort Shuman, who was born in 1938, to help make some decent money. Mort was the same age as the teen idols of the 50s but, like Ritchie Valens, he looked much older than he was. Both of them were determined to live life as they pleased. Once they had success, Mort used his royalties to travel the world and so he often wasn’t around when Doc wanted him. This, however, had its benefits as the Latin rhythms in Save The Last Dance For Me gave their work a distinctive edge. Because of its Cuban feel, Doc wrote a lyric that sounded like a translation: hence, the clumsy “And in whose arms you’re going to be”. I ask you – how clever is that?
Ironically, one of the compelling things about Pomus and Shuman is that they would write a classic one day and turn out a piece of junk the next. This is unlike Bacharach and David who rarely faltered. I love the fact that when they came to the UK (looking like salesmen when they got off that plane!), they passed their duds to a host of British performers with Jess Conrad and Tommy Bruce among the recipients. Indeed, I hope that Ace will do a volume of Pomus and Shuman in the UK, though I might be the only person who would buy it. Here, though, we have two of the best results from their UK trip: the glorious It’s Been Nice from Marty Wilde and the hit single, Too Good for Little Tony & His Brothers.
This excellent collection, with first class booklet notes from Mick Patrick, demonstrates their versatility (which became even more marked once they split up). It includes Del Shannon’s curious version – the original, incidentally - of His Latest Flame with a Runaway organ (and why not?) and LaVern Baker’s answer to Little Sister, Hey Memphis. Elvis Costello has sung the praises of Gary “US” Bonds’ glorious Seven Day Weekend and then there’s Gene McDaniels’ exquisite Spanish Lace. Fabian is often considered a joke (and a bad one) but he doesn’t sound too bad on Turn Me Loose, which would have been ideal for Presley.
As I write this Marty Wilde is touring the UK and singing “Why must I be a teenager in love?” at the age of 67. Of course, he should be singing, “Why can’t I be a teenager in love?”, but the point is that the song holds good. It is among the first songs to include the word “teenager”: there were hardly any before the mid-50s!