Thursday, January 08, 2015

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Two Lovely Black Eyes

Here's an old song from the English Music Hall tradition that came to me via a British Invasion band that doesn't get nearly enough respect:

Herman's Hermits.

The song is called "Two Lovely Black Eyes." It first appeared on the long out of print 1966 album Both Sides of Herman's Hermits. What made this album different was that on Side Two there were four songs that came from the Music Hall, which basically was a British cousin of American vaudeville. Music Hall started out around 1850 and lasted well into the 20th Century. Although it was considered rther corny by the time rock 'n' roll came around, its influences can be heard in certain songs by British invasion bands including The Beatles  (think "When I'm 64"), The Kinks, The Bonzo Dog Band and even The Rolling Stones ("Something Happened to Me Yesterday")

And Herman's Hermits. One of their biggest hits, "I'm Henry the VIII I Am" came straight out of Music Hall, first recorded by Harry Champion in 1911.

Besides "Two Lovely Black Eyes," Both Sides included "The Future Mrs. 'Awkins," "Oh Mr. Porter," and "My Old Dutch."

Curiously, on the album the songwriting credits of all of these songs go to someone named Kenny Lynch. There was a British pop star by that name around that time (he recorded a cover of The Beatles' "Misery" before The Beatles recorded it.) I can't swear if he's the same Kenny Lynch claiming credit for these four songs.

Trouble is, all four of these were written by others.

Albert Chevalier wrote "The Future Mrs. 'Awkins" and "My Old Dutch." George and Thomas Le Brunn wrote "Oh Mr. Porter."

And "Two Lovely Black Eyes" was written in 1886  by Charles Coborn. He also first recorded it. (He actually recorded several versions, some of which with the chorus sung in several languages.)

Take a listen:



Coborn wrote the words, but he borrowed the melody from an older song called "My Nellie's Blues Eyes." Here's a version of that by Irish tenor Dennis Day.


But back to the lyrics:

The words Colson wrote in the 1880s are different that the ones Herman sang in the '60s. Colson sang about getting beat up in overheated political arguments.

Strolling so happy down Bethnal Green
This gay youth you might have seen,
Tompkins and I, with his girl between, 
Oh! what a surprise!
I prais'd the Conservatives frank and free,
Tompkins got angry so speedilee,
All in a moment he handed to me,
Two lovely black eyes!

Next time, I argued I thought it best,
To give the conservative side a rest.
The merits of Gladstone I freely pressed, When
Oh! what a surprise!
The chap I had met was a Tory true,
Nothing the Liberals right could do,
This was my share of that argument too,
Two lovely black eyes!

The moral you've caught I can hardly doubt
Never on politics rave and shout,
Leave it to others to fight it out, if
You would be wise
Better, far better, it is to let,
Lib'rals and Tories alone, you bet,
Unless you're willing and anxious to get,
Two lovely black eyes!

CHORUS:
Two lovely black eyes!
Oh! what a surprise!
Only for telling a man he was wrong,
Two lovely black eyes!

But in the version I've been carrying around in my head for almost 50 years, the singer got his black eyes from a jealous husband, then his own jealous wife.

Strolling with me mate down Petticoat Lane
I fancied this bird, so I asked her her name
Pointed to her husband - six foot two
Oh, what a surprise

Two lovely black eyes, two lovely black eyes
Only for telling the man he was wrong, I got two lovely black eyes

Strolling with the bird down Bethnell Green
Suddenly find my wife I have seen
Oh what a rumpus, oh what a din
She blacked my eyes with the rolling pin

(I got) Two lovely black eyes, two lovely black eyes
Only for telling my wife she was wrong, I got two lovely black eyes

Two lovely black eyes, two lovely black eyes
Only for telling my wife she was wrong, I got two lovely black eyes

Two lovely black eyes, oh what a surprise
Only for telling the man he was wrong, I got two lovely black eyes

Two lovely black eyes, oh what a surprise
Only for telling my wife she was wrong, I got two lovely black eyes

CHORUS:
Two lovely black eyes!
Oh! what a surprise! (etc etc)

Maybe it was the mysterious Kenny Lunch who rewrote Coburn's song.

Anyway, enjoy it:

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