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  • Ednold

Liverpool! 1/19/21

If you get up at 4:00 or 5:00am every weekend morning and watch the games, which I’m sure you all do, you already know that Liverpool fans sing the old song “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, or YNWA as it is known, before and after each home game. It’s a tradition. A stupid tradition, but a tradition nonetheless. Why, you may wonder, do thousands of people in Liverpool sing an old tune from an American musical that premiered in 1945? Why would ultra-macho soccer fans, people famous all over Europe for their hooliganism, be caught dead singing an old Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune in public? Excellent questions. And though I can’t promise that it will make any more sense when I’m done that it does now, I can tell you the story of how it all happened.

In 1945 Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were trying to follow up on their smash hit Oklahoma!, which had opened two years earlier to universal acclaim. Oklahoma! was groundbreaking and would be a very hard act to follow. So their next effort was the musical Carousel, a love story set in Maine, which opened just before the end of WWII. One of the songs for the new show was the tear-jerking finale, You’ll Never Walk Alone. Sung by one of the female characters to a girlfriend who had just seen the man she loves die from a self-inflicted stabbing, I guess it could be called a ballad, but in context it wasn’t really a love song. Just a long, sad, boring hymn that gives Shirley Jones a chance to show off her pipes at the end of the movie version.

Subsequently, for reasons that I cannot begin to understand, many other people recorded their own versions of the song. Elvis Presley recorded “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, as did Frank Sinatra, Trisha Yearwood, and Patti LaBelle. Doris Day, Glen Campbell, Judy Garland and Johnny Cash all took a shot at recording their own versions, and if any of them are still alive, you’ll have to ask them why. For the life of me I don’t know. The most successful recording of the song, released in the fall of 1963, was by a band from Liverpool called Gerry and the Pacemakers. That’s right. Gerry and the Pacemakers. What a strange name. Presumably they passed on Gerry and the Defibrillators, or Gerry and the Prosthetic Limbs, or Gerry and the Colostomy Bags. Why the weird name? Again, excellent question that I cannot answer, but, for some reason, The Pacemakers is what they were. Ironically, when Gerry finally passed on, it was due to a heart condition. Just a sad coincidence, as far as I know.

And speaking of Gerry’s passing, that event, just a few weeks ago on January 3rd, was the impetus for this story. For better or worse, Gerry Marsden played a big part in the story of this song and he should receive all of the credit, or blame depending on your opinion, that he is due. After a few big hits during the mid-60s, when the success of the Beatles meant that anyone with a guitar and a home address within 10 miles of the River Mersey could sign a record deal, Gerry and The Pacemakers made a good living replaying those songs for the next 50 years. When you stop and consider that Liverpool was also home to the biggest pop group in history, and that the Pacemakers’ success with this song took place during the height of British Beatlemania, it’s amazing that it all happened the way it did. Even when you consider the fact that The Pacemakers were also signed to manager Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, and they’re first hit, "How Do You Do It?", was suggested by Beatles producer George Martin and recorded in The Beatles' Abbey Road studio, it's still funny that the club chose The Pacemakers as the group they would forever identify with. Who would have guessed?

At the time, it was traditional for the top 10 hits in the country to be played, in countdown fashion, over the stadium loudspeakers during the leadup to each game at Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium, and it was customary for the crowd to sing along with each song. That fall of 1963 when The Pacemakers’ release of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” spent 10 weeks in the top ten and stayed at #1 for 4 weeks, the fans couldn’t get enough. Even after it dropped out of the top 10 they would still sing it after the #1 song, right before kickoff. They were crazy about it. And I am baffled that the members of the Beatles were the products of a city that apparently had such awful taste in music. Liverpool was also responsible for giving us A Flock of Seagulls, and Echo and The Bunnymen, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I expect some of you will use that short list as confirmation that The Beatles were an anomaly among Liverpool musicians. Others may use it as proof that Liverpool is indeed the center of the musical universe. And I’m certainly not here to judge. At least not out loud or in writing. Think what you will, as long as you agree with me that YNWA is not good.

But today the words You'll Never Walk Alone are spelled out above the entrance to the stadium. It's their motto. It's on their official team logo. You can see people walking around in t-shirts and waving scarves that say YNWA. It's all so sad.

As you may have guessed, I’m not a Liverpool fan, but I came up with a joke that I wanted to include in this story. It doesn’t seem to really fit in anywhere, but I think you’ll agree that it’s just too good to leave out, so I’m going to put it right here. Here’s my joke:

Q: Why do they sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Liverpool soccer games?

A: Because Rodgers and Hammerstein never wrote a song called “We Suck”.

I’ll give you all a moment to pull yourselves together after that. Funny, right? I thought you’d like it.

OK. Back to the story. So, for the past 58 years the people at Anfield have been singing that awful song. It’s become their anthem. Why? What does the game of soccer have to do with walking alone, or not walking alone, or not walking at all? Nothing. It makes no sense. What if somebody WANTS to walk alone? Wouldn't any considerate person allow them to do so? It sounds like a threat to me: "You'll walk alone over my dead body, you bastard!". Right? Let’s take a look at just the first few lines of the song:

When you walk through a storm

Hold your head up high

And don't be afraid of the dark

At the end of a storm

There's a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark

What? There’s a storm coming? And when it’s over we’ll hear a lark? So don’t be afraid of the dark? What the hell? Where is the part about stomping on the other team and kicking the crap out of the opposition and the part about what a hell-hole the other town is and the disreputable profession of their players' mothers? I just don’t get it.

And if we look back at that list of other famous Liverpool music groups I bet we can find something more appropriate. How about "I Ran", by A Flock of Seagulls? I don’t care much for the song, but at least it makes sense. The players are always running all over the place. How about "Relax", by Frankie? That’s good advice for players who might be a little nervous before a game. Echo and The Bunnymen did a song called "The Game". How about that? Even The Beatles had "Don’t Let Me Down", or "Help!" Those would work. If Liverpool fans would have just been willing to wait a few years they could have had their pick of lots of good songs. But they settled, and now they’re stuck with that crusty old tune. I was kind of thinking that they only kept it up so as not to hurt Gerry's feelings and that as soon as he was gone they would stop pretending to like it. But since his death they have only gotten more extreme in their adulation. Thank god, this year there are few fans in the stadium to sing it, but they still insist on blasting it over the PA system to begin and end each game. Sometimes it's Gerry and the original recording and sometimes it's a recording of the fans singing along to Gerry. Either way, it's torture.

But I actually liked Gerry Marsden and his cardiological implants, and I’m glad he lived long enough to see Liverpool win the championship last year, their first in 30 years. He must have wondered if he would ever see that day, and he did. I’m happy about that because I’m starting to wonder the same thing about my team. And if you really want to know how well Gerry could sing, listen to "Ferry Cross the Mersey" or "Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying". The Pacemakers also did maybe the worst cover ever of the Hank Williams song Jambalaya, so you can skip that one. But there’s no doubt the guy could sing.

No, my beef isn’t with Gerry or the Pacemakers, or even Rodgers and Hammerstein. People seem to love that song and if they created something that brings joy to that many people, good for them. And If soccer fans all looked and sounded like Shirley Jones did 65 years ago I may not mind so much. But they don’t, and I shouldn’t have to turn on my TV to watch a match and have to listen to 50,000 drunken scousers trying to sing that stupid song.

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Jan 20, 2021

Ednold, You know I don't know much about socker! Who knew? I agree with you that "You'll Never Walk Alone" is a completely insane song to stir the troops to action. But I'm not sure I know what would rile them to action.

It was an interesting post and I always learn something from you. Mom


Jan 20, 2021

Well said. Though I'm not a Liverpool fan I, like most of my generation, find "You'll Never Walk Alone" both stirring and inspirational. On the other hand I share your high opinion of Gerry Marsden, even if "The Pacemakers" sounds a little lame.

Of course, if you are looking for something more upbeat, by all means DO NOT listen to the Arsenal FC theme song. "We're on your side," originally by the North Bank, sounds very much like a funeral dirge. (Appropriate, eh?) It's enough to put Charley George asleep.

Finally, if you need spiritual boast I recommend a hearty version of "When The Spurs Go Marching In." That's enough to get your blood flowing.

Well done once again.

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