Saturday, July 28, 2018

Remedies: Love Potion Number 9

The Clovers: Love Potion Number 9


The Clovers started out before the rock and roll era, and became regulars on the rhythm and blues charts before anyone knew who Elvis Presley was. But they never had a number one song on the r & b charts, and never crossed over. Despite this, they were the original artists on a song that has endured long after most of the songs that charted in 1959 have been forgotten. Of course that song was Love Potion Number 9. Oddly, the song was their last major hit. The group had had lineup changes almost from the beginning, with a single member leaving at a time and being replaced. But right after Love Potion Number 9 charted, the group split in two, with both halves claiming the Clovers name. That would be the end of their popularity.

I can not help wondering what might have happened if they had stayed together. Love Potion Number 9 was the result of a big break for The Clovers. It was their first chance to work with the producing and songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. Lieber and Stoller are legends today, and rightly so. In the 1950s, it seemed that everything that bore their names turned to gold. Love Potion Number 9 would not become a major hit until it was covered by The Searchers in 1963, but I have always preferred the Clovers original version. Here, there is a nice New Orleans vibe to the rhythm that would be completely removed in the Searchers’ version.

The Coasters: Love Potion Number 9


The Clovers became the original artists on Love Potion Number 9 almost by accident. Right before Lieber and Stoller were hired for the session, they had been working with the Coasters, in a session that yielded the hits Charlie Brown, Along Came Jones, and Poison Ivy. If things had gone just a little differently, The Coasters might have been the original artists on Love Potion Number 9. They finally did record the song, as heard here, in 1971. This was a completely different take on the song then what they might have done in 1959. Times and musical tastes had changed, and The Coasters were clearly trying to update their sound with this jazzy funk take. The “Serve it up and drink it down” chorus vocal is new, and the Latin feel to the opening is something Santana might have done at the time. Curiously, there is a Santana video on YouTube that is mislabeled as Love Potion Number 9; it is actually a performance of Evil Ways, but the melodies are surprisingly similar.

The Lamours: Love Potion Number 9


I couldn’t resist including this wonderfully sassy version by the Lamours. They are clearly covering the Coasters’ version, retaining the “Serve it up and drink it down” chant and making the Latin vibe even more explicit. Male singers have always changed the year in the lyrics to keep them from being too old. So the original is “I’d been this way since 1956”, but the Coasters sang “1966”. The Lamours, however, are both shamelessly retro and female, so now we hear “I told her that I was a flop with guys/ I’d been this way since 1955”. So they are taking a 1971 version of the song, performing it now, and treating the lyric as though it was 1959 again. It’s a head scratcher for sure, but it sounds great.

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