Wednesday, 19 March 2008

BILLIE DAVIS: The Last One To Be Loved

The public didn't quite trust Billie Davis; there was something subtly but unrelentingly defiant about her which prevented easy love, and despite this, or because of this, she has remained one of the least revisited of Sixties Brit girls, and unjustifiably so. Her career was awkward; one big hit in 1963 with a reading of the Exciters' "Tell Him" with a near-punkish delivery - her high pitch is awkwardly aimed at, but she doesn't really seem to care. There is the feeling that she urgently needs to cry this out to you, rather than just telling you, an overt emotionalism which didn't fit with the bouncy 1953 countenances of fellow chart inhabitants such as Maureen Evans or Susan Maughan. Good advice is ignored as thoroughly as Girls Aloud would do four decades later.

Then there was the affair with Jet Harris, lately blackened out of the Shadows, the car crash and the scandal; after which she was kept at a commercial distance, shuttled between different record labels (with the consequent difficulties in assembling a thorough one-stop compilation of her work) like Monopoly railway stations. Her output was not evenly glorious, but had its clear peaks; when in 1968 she threatened a major comeback with "I Want You To Be My Baby," still one of the sexiest of all British pop records with a Greek chorus encompassing everyone from Denny Laine to Kiki Dee, her record label's pressing plant staff went on strike just as it was about to hurtle into the Top 30.

Amidst all this confusion, there is the quietened prayer of "The Last One To Be Loved," which has remained a relatively obscure Bacharach and David song, recorded for Pye in 1965. After a huge triple orchestral sweep of apocalyptic question marks, the music crouches down to the characteristically florid-alternating-with-sparse Bacharach structure (via Milhaud and Jobim) of piano and hushed rhythm section. She's not quite young any more; everyone else has systematically paired off, and finally, belatedly, it's her turn. She is quietly euphoric and fearful in roughly equal measures; she wants it and dreads it at the same time. Her anguish increases in volume with the chorus - "Remember I'm the last one to be loved/The last one to be KISSED and CARESSED AND to be blessed from above" - which in turn resolves with monumental staircases of block piano chords (played by Bacharach himself?) before receding back into soft worry: she might be holding him too tight or kissing him until both are out of breath but "forgive me - I am so new at this" she asks before confessing that she's "scared to death" of the happiness about to be revealed, and yet she knows there's no way back.

The instrumental break expands as hugely as "Walk On By" before she returns for one final reassurance, and now she is sure: "I'm so glad I saved all my love for you," she cries, but adds that if he should leave her, as orchestra and chorus venture to the edge of the abyss and stop dead, "I...would..."


Big finish?

The quiestest ever "die" you ever heard, even closer to silence than Herb Alpert's "die."

The music resumes quietly towards fadeout with her repeating her mantra: "I'm the last one to be loved..."

Throughout her voice is tremulous with a slight, concealed edge of harshness, but her tentative delivery suits the song's initial extended uncertainty of emotion. Her vocal grain also sounds surprisingly close to Duffy's, without the suffocating need to "impress" people or "stand" for something...she knows her limits but also how and why and when to hold back. She can be trusted.