For the first time on this challenge, I have come across a song that found the bulk of its fame through its usage in a Eurovision song contest. The Allisons consist of two lead performers, Bob Day and John Alford, who were marketed as being brothers; I haven’t found much information about the group that wasn’t about their one hit single. “Are You Sure” was the representative song for their home country of the UK, eventually coming in second place. As with many Eurovision entries, the single didn’t find very much commercial success in the states. However, it did reach all the way to #2 in the UK, and it is also far and away the duo’s most well-known hit.
I think the first aspects of this song that caught my attention were the year and nationality of the performers. My knowledge of British music from before the British Invasion of 1964 is, up to this point, reduced solely to Acker Bilk’s instrumental track “Stranger on the Shore”, which went to number one in 1962. Most of what I hear about pre-Beatles-era British music is usually that it generally wasn’t quite as comparable to the American counterpart in terms of quality. For the most part, pop music of the UK is generally seen as inferior and while many popular American musicians, such as Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, continued to find success outside of their country and into the UK, the same couldn’t be said for British acts in the states. While I can’t say that “Are You Sure” is a bad song per se, it’s awfully easy to track the group’s influences. The most obvious comparison would be The Everly Brothers, in their tight harmonies and sing-song quality of the song (as well as the band being marketed to the public as brothers in tradition of the Everlys). Yet the call-and-response nature of the song, as well as the bit of twang in both of their voices, also call to mind folk groups like The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, & Mary, even though the lyrical content doesn’t quite reflect this comparison any further.
The most prominent element of the song itself, at least for me, is that heavenly keyboard bit at the start, which runs through the course of the rest of the song. This was released the same year as Del Shannon’s “Runaway”, and while the keyboard sound on that track is absolutely iconic, I feel pressured to declare the one in “Are You Sure” just as important. I can’t recall anything else that sounds quite like it so early in the decade, and it immediately sets this song apart from its contemporaries. The rest of the song is a pretty standard breakup ballad that gets progressively more and more depressing as it goes on. When the speaker declares, “It’s hard, but I’ll pull through” in the first couple of verses, it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself that his ex-lover will eventually return to him (Are you sure you won’t be sorry? / Comes tomorrow, you won’t want me / Back again to hold you tightly?”). By the end of the song, his denial reaches a head with the line, “What is there to live for?” – as if he’s beginning to finally accept that the relationship is over and really doesn’t know what to do with himself at this point.
Songs that become popular through Eurovision competitions have the tendency to be stereotyped as fitting very certain ideals, to fit the need to appeal to the greatest, most diverse range of listeners possible. ABBA’s “Waterloo” is widely seen as the definitive Eurovision song, with its bombastic sound and pop-infused melody. “Are You Sure” fits the criteria with its simple structure and its general feel-good nature (despite the sad themes and lyrics). It’s easy to see how a song as pleasant and likable as this would rank so highly in the popularity contest, but it’s also just as easy to figure out why The Allisons would never repeat their success. They were essentially an Everly Brothers impersonation duo for the European crowd, and the song is much too steeped in the pop standard to elevate them to levels of true greatness. Still, it’s an amiable little song regardless – I wouldn’t about having listened to it a bunch of times, and I do admire it for piquing my interest in early 60s British music ever so slightly.
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