‘I Walk Along The City Streets . . .’

Originally posted July 21, 2009

Sometime during the early months of 1970, a new record came whispering out of the radio as I listened. It might have been a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but most likely, it was a weekday evening, and the radio was my old RCA, perched on the nightstand in my bedroom, keeping me company as I did homework, read or simply puttered around with the things that were important to a sixteen-year-old boy.

And as I puttered, I heard the singer, with a little bit of a rasp in his voice, tell the object of his devotion, “There’s always something there to remind me . . . You’ll always be a part of me.” And as the sound and the words sunk in, I operated on two levels for an instant. A portion of me recognized the voice as that of R.B. Greaves, who’d had a hit the previous autumn with “Take A Letter Maria.” (That record, the tale of a cuckolded husband who turns around and hits on his secretary, peaked at No. 2 during a thirteen-week run in the Top 40.)

And on the other level, I was thinking, “Always there to remind me: Oh, yes! Always be a part of me. Oh, yes! But how does he know?” How, I wondered, can the people who write and perform popular songs know what it is I’m going through? For there was in fact someone who mattered that much during that winter of 1969-1970, one whom I adored without consequent return. And in the confined environment of even a large high school like St. Cloud Tech, there were many places and people and things and moments that reminded me of her as I made my way through the days. And as I heard “Always Something There To Remind Me” from time to time – it spent only five weeks in the Top 40, reaching just No. 27 – it became one more of a chorus of songs that reminded me almost daily that the one I wanted to hold would remain forever beyond my reach.

So how do I hear the song today when it pops up on the RealPlayer or – infrequently – on the radio? I smile, recalling the absolute devotion of the high school junior I was, and I smile with a shrug of regret as I recall the exasperation on the face of my beloved. As it happens, the song doesn’t come around on the oldies stations very often: Greaves is remembered more for “Take A Letter Maria,” but then, that was the bigger hit. On occasion, though, it makes it way through the speakers here in the study. And almost forty years after that one-sided high school romance, the song – which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David – brings back memories far more sweet than bitter.

Over the years since Greaves’ version of the song was on the charts, I’ve learned, of course, that Greaves was not the first to record the Bacharach-David song, just as I learned that there are at least two ways to present the song’s title. Two versions that reside in my collection came out of 1964: One by British singer Sandie Shaw and the other by Lou Johnson.

Shaw’s version – one I’ve never much cared for – was a hit in the United Kingdom, reaching No. 1. Here in the U.S., it went to only No. 52. At the same time in the U.S., Johnson had been assigned through his record label, Big Top, to work with Bacharach and David. His take on “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” was his second single for them, and it went to No. 49, according to All-Music Guide. (AMG says that Bacharach brought Johnson to London for an appearance on Top of the Pops, but the visit took place right during the time that Shaw’s version of the song was dominating the charts.)

A few years later, in 1968, José Feliciano slid the song onto his record Feliciano as an album track, and in 1972, a couple of years after Greaves recorded his version, Michael McDonald recorded the song for his first album, a little-known artifact called That Was Then. Neither version reached the Top 40, and neither seems to be anything special, though I like the Feliciano version better of the two. (The McDonald album was recently released in a CD package with some extra tracks; I have utterly forgotten who pointed it my way, but they deserve my thanks.)

Finally, the last version in my collection is the one that most recently reached the Top 40 chart: the 1983 cover of the song by Naked Eyes, with the attention-grabbing chiming bells in the introduction. The record, which I quite like – though I was prepared not to when I first heard it – went to No. 8 and spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, the first – and best-performing – of four Top 40 hits for the English duo.

There are of course, many others who’ve covered “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.” Some of them are: Affinity, the Drifters, Carol Duboc, the Four Seasons, Aretha Franklin, Jay & The Americans, Larry Knechtel, Patti LaBelle, Brenda Lee, Peggy Lee, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, the Pozo-Seco Singers, the Stylistics, Stanley Turrentine, Dionne Warwick and Don Williams.

I’ll likely dig a few of those up in the future. (The idea of the Aretha cover of the song intrigues me.) But these six will have to do for now:

A Six-Pack Of Reminders
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Sandie Shaw, Pye 15704 (UK) [1964]
“(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by Lou Johnson, Big Hill 552 [1964]
“(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by José Feliciano from Feliciano! [1968]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Michael McDonald from That Was Then [1972]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by R.B. Greaves, Atco 6726 [1970]
“Always Something There To Remind Me” by Naked Eyes, EMI America 8155 [1983]

Afternote: I read Oldetymer’s note, and yes, the McDonald track does sound like B.J. Thomas. I admit to wondering about it myself, as it was an extra track in the That Was Then package someone posted for me. So I did some digging, and it turns, according to what I learned at An Overdose of Fingal Cocoa, that McDonald recorded some tracks for Bell Records in 1972 that were eventually released on Arista in 1982 as That Was Then. A later re-release on vinyl included some bonus tracks, one of which was “Always Something There To Remind Me.” So it is in fact a young Michael McDonald.

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