Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song Stay. This is a terrific 50s doo-wop song. We will start with the original song by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs, and then we will review covers from Jackson Browne and also by Cyndi Lauper.
Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs and Stay:
Maurice Williams was born in 1938 in Lancaster, SC. He became interested in music through participation in his gospel choir, and Maurice and his childhood friend Earl Gainey formed a gospel group called the Junior Harmonizers.
However, as time went on their interest shifted from gospel to R&B and doo-wop. In the mid-50s, Williams and Gainey formed a quintet with singers William Massey, Willie Jones and Norman Wade. Their first group was called the Royal Charms. Did you ever hear of them? No?
Then how about the Gladiolas, who were formed in 1957? Still no? Well, the Gladiolas released a song called Little Darlin’ in 1957. That song rose to #11 on the R&B charts, but never made it onto the pop charts. However, a Canadian quartet called the Diamonds covered it, and made it into a #2 pop hit.
Did you ever hear of the Excellos, the name that the group adopted in 1958 while they were recording on the Excello label?
Well, in 1960 the group changed their name yet again, to Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. The group chose its name after that of a British-built Ford automobile. They eventually hit the jackpot with their doo-wop song Stay.
Here is a photo of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs from 1960. Maurice is second from left.Embed from Getty Images
Apparently the idea for the song Stay came to Maurice Williams way back in 1953. At the time, the 15-year-old Williams was trying unsuccessfully to persuade his date that she did not have to be home by her curfew.
The lyrics to Stay are exceptionally simple. The singer implores his girlfriend to stay “just a little bit longer.” She is assured that “your Daddy don’t mind, and your Mommy don’t mind” if the couple has one additional dance.
Just a little bit longer
Please, please, please, please, please
Tell me that you’re going to
Now your daddy don’t mind
And your Mommy don’t mind
If we have another dance, yeah
Just one more time
Oh, won’t you stay
Just a little bit longer
Please let me hear you say
That you will
Won’t you place your
Sweet lips to mine
Won’t you say you love me
All the time
Initially, the tune attracted little attention until Al Silver of Herald Records became interested in it. Silver had the song re-recorded, and made one suggestion regarding the lyrics. The line “Let’s have another smoke” had to be changed to “If we have another dance.”
At that point, the song was released by Herald Records. In Oct. 1960 it entered the Billboard Hot 100, and a month later it had reached #1 on the charts, and became a gigantic hit, and eventually a memorable Golden Oldie.
The song Stay has the dubious distinction of being the shortest #1 song in rock music history. The song clocks in at just 1 minute 36 seconds. However, that didn’t stop it from selling a ton of records.
In 1987, the song received another bump in sales, after it was featured on the soundtrack of the Dirty Dancing movie. At left we show the poster for that movie, which starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.
In fact, after the release of Dirty Dancing, the song sold more records than during its original release. Over time, Stay has sold more than 9 million records.
Here we show a ‘live’ performance by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs.
I believe this video is from the Village Square TV show. That show originated in Charleston, SC, Maurice Williams’ home town, and was a weekly program that was syndicated across the US during the years 1965-68. This time period is consistent with the psychedelic backdrop behind the singers.
Of course, Maurice and the boys are simply lip-synching to the record, but it’s a fascinating period piece nonetheless. Stay is a bubbly doo-wop song, with an infectious melody.
The harmony lyrics, such as they are, keep the song bouncing along. And the line “Oh, won’t you stay,” delivered in falsetto, is just perfect for singing in the shower.
And here is a live solo effort from Maurice Williams. This is from a 1999 TV show called “Rock ‘n Roll Graffiti.”
By this time, Maurice is over 60, but his voice is still in fine form, and he is clearly enjoying himself. He’s assisted by a group of backup girl singers.
Not surprisingly, such a classic doo-wop song has been covered by scores of artists. Two of the covers, by the Four Seasons in 1964 and Jackson Browne in 1978, made it into the top 20 on the Billboard pop charts.
But the song was also regularly performed by the Beatles. In their early days, the Beatles featured a number of covers in their act. The songs were generally chosen to highlight the Beatles’ harmonies, or because they were proven crowd-pleasers. The song Stay would have satisfied both criteria.
During the period 1960-62 in Hamburg and Liverpool, the Beatles apparently regularly included Stay in their sets. Unfortunately, no recorded version has survived, and we aren’t even sure whether John or Paul sang lead on this song.
A cover of Stay was the first big hit for the Hollies in the UK in 1963. It was also recorded by the Dave Clark Five, Jan & Dean, and Bruce Springsteen among many others.
Maurice Williams is still alive and is active in the music industry in Charlotte, NC. Williams was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
In 1999, PBS TV station WQED-TV in Pittsburgh produced a special called “Doo-Wop 50,” as part of a pledge drive for that station. The producers located a number of doo-wop performers and filmed their performances before a live audience.
Doo-Wop 50 was a tremendous success; it
became the highest-producing pledge drive special in the history of PBS at that time, garnering more than $20 million for its member stations.
A DVD and CD was produced of this concert. The doo-wop revival show was then followed by several more events.
Maurice Williams participated in a few of the PBS Doo-Wop concerts, performing his two blockbuster hits, Stay and Little Darlin’.
Jackson Browne and The Load-Out/Stay:
Jackson Browne is a singer-songwriter, and he has been a major figure in folk-rock music. We first discussed him in our blog post on the song Take It Easy, a tune that was initially begun by Browne, but then given to his friend Glenn Frey.
Jackson Browne was one of a number of musicians who came to prominence in Southern California in the late 60s and early 70s. Among this group were Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Immediately after graduating from high school in 1966, Jackson Browne joined the country-rock group Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. After leaving that group, Browne headed east to Greenwich Village, where he joined an active folk-rock scene.
Below is a photo of Jackson Browne playing guitar, circa 1970.Embed from Getty Images
After a couple of years on the East Coast, Browne moved back west to L.A. There, his initial success was as a songwriter. In 1971 he landed a recording contract with his manager David Geffen’s Asylum Records.
His first single hit was Doctor My Eyes, from his first eponymous album in 1972. That song made it into the Billboard Top Ten singles, and sent Browne out as a headliner, touring with other rising stars such as Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell.
I have always been embarrassed that for a couple of years, I mistakenly thought that Doctor My Eyes was a song by Crosby, Stills & Nash. CSN had released their first blockbuster album a couple of years earlier, and I assumed that Doctor My Eyes was a CSN song.
I no longer felt so bad about this mistake, after I discovered that Crosby and Nash were singing backing vocals on Doctor My Eyes; so it was not surprising that it might be confused with CSN.
Jackson Browne has had a long, successful career. His songs are marked by deeply personal lyrics, with memorable phrases and impressive production values.
Jackson Browne had a long-time girlfriend Phyllis Major, who was a model and actress. Their son Ethan Browne was born in 1973 and they married in 1975. Less than a year later, Major committed suicide. Browne’s next album, The Pretender, contained several songs that dealt with interpersonal issues and problems of communication.
Here is Jackson Browne singing the medley The Load-Out/Stay. This is a live performance at the BBC in 1978.
The Load-Out/Stay was the final song on Jackson Browne’s 1977 album Running on Empty. This was Browne’s fifth and most commercially successful album; the album cover is shown above left. It reached #3 on the Billboard albums listings, and remained on the charts for over a year.
This medley is highly enjoyable, and was performed by Browne as the final song in his concerts during this period. The Load-Out describes the life of a touring musician in considerable detail.
Now the seats are all empty
Let the roadies take the stage
Pack it up and tear it down.
They’re the first to come and last to leave
Working for that minimum wage
They’ll set it up in another town.
Tonight the people were so fine
They waited there in line
And when they got up on their feet they made the show.
And that was sweet…
But I can hear the sound
Of slamming doors and folding chairs
And that’s a sound they’ll never know
Initially the song is hesitant and muted, just featuring Browne at the piano. It continues on, slowly but surely picking up the pace. There are lovely solos on keyboards, and David Lindley plays a haunting lap steel guitar.
The song talks about the roadies, the incessant travel, tedium and boredom on the road. “We just pass the time in our hotel rooms and wander ’round backstage, ‘til those lights come up and we hear that crowd and we remember why we came.”
Eventually, the song shifts to a cover of Stay. Here, the original lyrics are changed so that the song now refers to the crowd remaining while the band plays a final song (“well the roadies don’t mind, and the union don’t mind, if we … play one more song”).
The phrase “Oh won’t you stay, just a little bit longer” is reprised three times, while each successive time it is sung in a higher pitch. The first time it is sung by Jackson Browne, the second by Rosemary Butler, and the third time guitarist David Lindley sings it in falsetto.
Clearly, this medley would be a terrific way to end a concert.
I should give a special mention to David Lindley, who was a member of Jackson Browne’s band from 1972 to 1980. Lindley is an acclaimed musician who can play nearly every stringed instrument known to man.
David Lindley has had a successful solo career, but he is probably most famous as a session musician. He appears on records and in live appearances with an incredible array of artists, including
Warren Zevon, Curtis Mayfield, James Taylor, Graham Nash, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and Rod Stewart.
Below is a photo of David Lindley playing lap steel guitar at a Jackson Browne concert in Sacramento in Sept. 1974.Embed from Getty Images
Now back to Jackson Browne, who has been a life-long political activist. He was one of the co-founders of the anti-nuclear power group MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), and helped organize the “No Nukes” concerts in the 1980s.
Browne is also a dedicated environmentalist. Apparently his farm runs on wind power and is completely off the grid, and he has received a number of awards for his environmental activism.
In 2004, Jackson Browne was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also, three of his albums were included in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 Best Albums of All Time.
So, we hope that Jackson Browne will “stay” productive and continue with both his music and his activism.
Cyndi Lauper and Stay:
Cyndi Lauper is a singer-songwriter who came to prominence in the early 80s, and has had quite an amazing career. As we will see, she seems to be one of those people who can be successful at just about everything.
However, Cyndi’s early life was extremely challenging. She was expelled from high school, and left home at age 17 to escape an abusive stepfather.
She then began singing with various cover bands, with little commercial success. Then, in 1977 she damaged her vocal cords and was told that she would likely never sing again. Fortunately for all of us, Cyndi recovered with the help of a vocal coach.
Below is a photo of Cyndi Lauper in the early stages of her career.Embed from Getty Images
In 1978 her band won a recording contract and released a critically-acclaimed album. Unfortunately, the band broke up when the album failed to sell. Their manager then filed suit against them, forcing Cyndi into bankruptcy.
But in 1983, everything finally turned around for Cyndi Lauper. She released her first solo album, She’s So Unusual. It became a blockbuster, with two of the singles, Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Time After Time, becoming iconic pop hits.
Cyndi Lauper then became a pop-singer superstar. In addition, Lauper’s quirky personality, her multi-colored hair and style sense made her into a cultural icon.
Ms. Lauper was named Best New Artist at the 1985 Grammy Awards. Her album She’s So Unusual was nominated for a bunch of Grammys. In addition, the music video for Girls Just Want to Have Fun won the first-ever Best Female Video category at the 1984 MTV Music Video awards.
In addition to her tremendous voice and memorable arrangements, Cyndi Lauper became famous for her creative and humorous use of music videos. Cyndi made effective use of the exposure on MTV that the music videos provided.
In 2003 Cyndi Lauper released the album At Last, a collection of covers of jazz songs and pop standards. It included a version of Stay. Here is Cyndi perfoming the song live on the Wayne Brady show in 2004.
This is a terrific cover of Stay. It is performed in merengue fashion. The band has a great horn section, and includes conga drums as well.
Cyndi Lauper shows off her range on this tune, and also her vocal power. I must admit, I’m not 100% sure the song is live and not lip-synched. However, the transposition of the song Stay from doo-wop to Latin jazz is most enjoyable.
Cyndi Lauper has proved to be exceptionally multi-talented. She has composed the music for a number of movies, and has garnered acting roles in several movies and TV shows. For example, Ms. Lauper has a recurring role as a psychic in the TV series Bones.
Cyndi was one of the performers in the VH1 benefit Divas Live 2004. She is sufficiently famous as a cultural icon that she appeared as herself in an episode of The Simpsons, and in 2010 Mattel released a Cyndi Lauper Barbie doll as part of their Ladies of the 80s series.
She also wrote a best-selling memoir in which she chronicled her experiences dealing with child abuse and depression.
To top things off, in 2013 Ms. Lauper collaborated with Harvey Fierstein in composing the music to the Broadway musical Kinky Boots. This was a smash hit. It dominated the 2014 Tony Awards, with 13 nominations and 6 wins, including Best Original Score for Cyndi Lauper.
Cyndi Lauper has also been a trail-blazer and a social activist. An entire generation of women musicians who followed Cyndi cite her as a role model, including Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Jewel, Nicky Minaj and Lady Gaga.
Lauper has also been an LGBT supporter throughout her career. She has raised funds for charities and appeared at gay rights functions.
Ms. Lauper co-founded the True Colors Fund which supports the Human Rights Campaign. And she founded the True Colors Residence in New York City that provides temporary shelter and job placement information for LGBT homeless youth.
Cyndi Lauper is a real superstar, and we wish her continued success in her many activities.