27 January 2015

"Softly Whispering I Love You": five versions and one that never existed.

When I looked into the history of this song I thought I was tracing the original version of a 1972 Australian single by Johnny Farnham and Allison Durbin.

That single never existed, it turned out, and the song was never recorded by Farnham and Durbin.

True, they recorded an album of duets in 1971, Together. One track on the album, Baby Without You, had been a hit that I'd already written about at the website. Softly Whispering I Love You wasn't on the album, nor did it appear as a single the following year.

Mick Robbins spotted it immediately. He's long been a friend of the website, and he's often helped me out with his knowledge of 60s and 70s Australian pop, especially of female singers such as Allison Durbin. There's no such record, he said, must be a misprint somewhere, and he was right.

The phantom version was mentioned in two Wikipedia articles (now corrected) that had been copied and pasted many times on various websites, so a Google search certainly threw up a lot of mentions. That gave the impression that this was a known record.

I finally found out that the Wikipedia article had used a source that had somehow substituted Farnham and Durbin for the name of The Congregation, the UK group that charted in Australia in 1972 with a version of the song. It was a simple transcription or cut-and-paste error that took on a little life of its own.

[If you are sceptical, try finding the record in any reliable discography, 1972 chart, official artist biography or 1972 news story. The only mentions I found online were in the erroneous source - now corrected - or had been cut and pasted from the now-corrected Wikipedia articles. So ignore passing mentions and look in the databases, contemporary sources and authoritative books. You won't find it.]

The non-existent Farnham-Durbin version is still listed in my website's index pages, but all you'll find at my page on the song is a brief explanation with a link to here, under the heading THE RECORD THAT NEVER WAS! (Get the cultural reference?)

I had become attached to the song over the two or three days that I was researching it, and I still have it playing in my head. When I rediscovered it, I vaguely recalled that it had been previously released by someone else, but I had no details.

It sounded to me like one of those pop tunes that originated with a classical piece, but that isn't so. (I was thinking of the likes of If I Had Words a 1978 record by Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley that reggaes up a melody by Camille Saint-Saëns [YouTube]. My friend Ostin Allegro has a website devoted to these classic-to-pop cases.)

I was pleased to find that it originated with Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, examples of those powerhouse British songwriting teams of the late 60s whose songs were always on the charts, even if we'd never heard of them. Not only had they written it, but they'd recorded it in 1967 as David And Jonathan whom I recalled only as having had a successful cover version of the Beatles' Michelle (1966, #11 UK). They also charted with Lovers Of The World Unite (1966, #7 UK).

I was also taken by a YouTube video a Top of the Pops performance of the 1971 version by The Congregation. This has vocalist Brian Keith out front, with guitarist Martin Sack filling in for Alan Parker from Blue Mink (heard on the Congregation record), who was unavailable for this filming. The rest of the studio space is taken over with a choir, complete with an energetic conductor - Andrew Jackman - who I could swear is a model for the zany choir conductor in The Vicar of Dibley. (He is particularly noticeable from around 2:30.) [Updated Nov 2018]

There is also a lead quartet of young female singers up front. They could be session singers, but there is something about the encouraging smiles they give each other that suggests choristers who are not used to being in the limelight in this way, on a major TV pop show. See what you think, but they add a lot of charm to the performance.

It reminds me of Ray Davies' recent performances of his songs with a choir (try Waterloo Sunset at Youtube), and of a 2006 Procol Harum concert recorded in Denmark with orchestra and choir (try A Salty Dog at YouTube).

It seemed pointless to leave at the website the background story of a recording that didn't exist, but I didn't want to delete the whole story, so here it is, beginning with the original version and working down the page to the latest charting version.


Softly Whispering I Love You (Roger Cook - Roger Greenaway)
UK 1967 
Original version
 #15 Brisbane #16 Perth

Single on Parlophone, produced by George Martin, arranged by Mike Vickers (of Manfred Mann). Charted in Australia mid-1968.

David And Jonathan were the composers, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. They had charted under this name in 1966 with Michelle, a cover of the Beatles song (#11 UK) and Lovers Of The World Unite, their own composition (#7 UK).

Greenaway and Cook wrote numerous hit songs together, beginning with The Fortunes' You've Got Your Troubles (1965, #2 UK, #7 USA).

Roger Greenaway was one half of The Pipkins (Gimme Dat Ding, recorded in Australia by Frankie Davidson and by Maple Lace). Roger Cook sang lead vocals with Madeline Bell in Blue Mink, a band whose repertoire was made up of Greenaway-Cook compositions, including Melting Pot (1969, #3 UK), Banner Man (1971, #3 UK) and Can You Feel It Baby (1970), covered in Australia by Sherbet.

Disambiguation: New Zealand musician Roger Greenaway is a different person.

Further reading: 1. For the extent of their output, see Hiroshi Asada's Cook &; Greenaway Song List. 2. The song catalogs of Roger Greenaway and of Roger Cook at Songwriters Hall of Fame include collaborations with many other songwriters. 3. Roger Cook: www.rogercook.comhttp://www.rogercook.com/; Roger Greenaway: www.rogergreenaway.com


Softly Whispering I Love You (Roger Cook - Roger Greenaway)
UK 1971 
 #4 UK #29 USA #6 Sydney #12 Brisbane #4 Adelaide #5 Perth #9 Canberra

Single on Columbia (UK), released in USA on Atco, as The English Congregation to avoid confusion with The Mike Curb Congregation who also covered this song. The writers, Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook, had recorded the song themselves as David And Jonathan in 1967.

Lead vocals on this version are by Brian Keith.

The Congregation was a studio band put together by guitarist Alan Parker who, along with Roger Cook, was in Blue Mink, a band that recorded Cook-Greenaway songs.

Charted in USA and Australia early in 1972.

References: 1. Chronology (go to November 1971) at Roger Cook's website. 2. The English Congregation at All Music.

Thanks to Terry Stacey for chartology.


Softly Whispering I Love You (Roger Cook - Roger Greenaway)
UK 1971

This was a track on album 9 of Hot Hits, the MFP label's budget series of cover versions of current hits.

Although the artists were unnamed on the Hot Hits albums, in this case the vocals are by Brian Keith, the singer from the band being covered, The (English) Congregation. Hear this version at YouTube.

There is another re-recorded version using the name New Congregation which may also be Brian Keith but I can't confirm that. My impression is that it exists only as a downloadable track on Internet-only compilation albums.

This is not Brian Keith the American star of TV's Family Affair, although you may notice a YouTube suggestion for a Family Affair video when you are listening to 'Softly Whispering I Love You'.

Further reading: There is a whole site about the MFP Hot Hits albums: see Hot Hits 9 or home page.


Softly Whispering I Love You (Roger Cook - Roger Greenaway)
USA 1971

Single on MGM.

[An established US group called The Mike Curb Congregation covers a record by a newer British group called The Congregation, who have to be known as The English Congregation in the US to avoid confusion.]

Composer and producer Mike Curb (b. 1944) started up the Sidewalk label as a teenager in 1963. He became head of MGM and Verve records, and from the mid-70s he ran the Curb label through Warner.

He formed the Mike Curb Congregation in the 60s. Their notable recordings include Burning Bridges (1971, #34 USA, in the film Kelly's Heroes), The Sherman Brothers' Disneyland song It's a Small Small World (1973) and their appearance on Sammy Davis Junior's hit The Candy Man (1973, #1 USA, from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory). Curb, a Republican, served as Lieutenant-General of California (and acting Governor) 1979-1983.

Further reading: 1. Biography at Mike Curb's website. 2. Mike Curb compositions and producer credits listed at 45Cat.com


Softly Whispering I Love You (Roger Cook - Roger Greenaway)
UK 1990
#21 UK #38 Perth

Single on CBS by British soul styled singer, previously lead singer of soul revival band Q-tips.

There is also a 2004 version by New Zealand singer Yulia (MacLean) on her album Into The West. No doubt there have been others.