Passing by the recycling area where I work I noticed a box with some sheet music tumbling out. Irresistible! And inside, some local gems among the foreign dross: “Best Wishes” by Sam Freedman, and “Remember Me” by Selwyn Toogood. What? No – it turns out that the avuncular Toogood is only on the cover of the US country standard thanks to his role hosting the Lifebuoy Hit Parade, the soap-sponsored ZB programme that for nearly 20 years was New Zealand’s weekly radio showcase to 30 minutes of the latest pop songs. It was no hit parade, chosen from sales figures, but a broad selection of tunes selected by the producers. So despite its reputation as an outlet for rock’n’roll – which just shows how desperate the young listeners were to hear something fresh – you were just as likely to hear Ezio Pinza singing “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific. The programme made its final broadcast in December 1965, the same month the Beatles released Rubber Soul. Selwyn talked fondly of “Some Enchanted Evening”, which had recently been covered by Jay and the Americans.
This edition must date from before January 1955, which is when the Lifebuoy Hit Parade changed its name to the Lever Hit Parade. It is intriguing to wonder which artist had just covered “Remember Me” successfully enough to be broadcast on the programme, but was too unknown or ugly to feature on this edition of the sheet music. The local publishers were Chappell, then based in Wellington’s Dominion building, and it was printed just a block away at LT Watkins on Cuba Street (where John Dix completed Stranded in Paradise). Remarkably, both buildings are still there.
“Remember Me” has been covered by countless singers, among them Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Buddy Holly and – in 1961, Bob Dylan in a private recording in a New Jersey living room. The song was written in 1939 by Scott Wiseman, who made the first recording in his duo, LuLu Belle and Scotty. The version I know best is by Willie Nelson, on his great 1975 album Red Headed Stranger, which finally broke him out of cult status. (It’s a simple, moving album, about pioneers of the old West – but, thanks to a tip from Al Hunter, I’m an even bigger fan of 1974’s Phases & Stages. Another concept album, it tells the story of a break-up, alternating between the male and female points of view; it was produced by Jerry Wexler with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section.)
But Nelson’s version of “Remember Me” is unforgettable, a plaintive sentiment with a melody to match. I always loved the way he relished the internal rhymes: “A brighter face may take my place when we’re apart, dear” and “But in the end, fair-weather friends may break your heart, dear”. In 1994 I saw Nelson perform it live in New Orleans – his phrasing was as sophisticated as Sinatra, with the added extra of dazzling gut-string guitar solos – and then his older sister Bobbie segued to an instrumental from RHS. Hearing her ripple through “Denver” in her inimitable piano style, a mix of Baptist Church, Stephen Foster and Floyd Cramer, was a powerfully moving experience.