Alma Cogan: Wikis

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Alma Cogan
Birth name Alma Angela Cohen
Born 19 May 1932(1932-05-19)
Golders Green, London, England
Died 26 October 1966 (aged 34)
Genres Traditional pop
Years active 1952 - 1966
Labels HMV, EMI Columbia
Website Alma Cogan International Fan Club

Alma Cogan (19 May 1932 – 26 October 1966[1]) was an English singer of traditional pop music in the 1950s and early 1960s. Dubbed "The Girl With the chuckle In Her Voice",[2] she was the highest paid British female entertainer of her era. Throughout the mid 1950s, she was the most consistently successful female singer in the UK.[3]

Contents

Early life and career

She was born as Alma Angela Cohen' in Golders Green, London of East European Jewish descent: her parents Mark and Fay Cohen would have another daughter: the future actress Sandra Caron, four or five years later1 and Alma Cogan also had a brother. Mark Cohen's work as a haberdasher involved opening stores in different areas entailing frequent relocation for his family. One of Cogan's early residences was in Worthing, Sussex - where her family originally lived above her father's shop.

Although Jewish, she attended St Joseph's Convent School in Reading[4] Her father was a singer but it was Cogan's mother who had show business aspirations for both her daughters - she had named Cogan after silent screen star Alma Taylor - and after eleven year old Cogan won the Sussex Queen of Song contest her encouraged mother managed to get her an audition with bandleader Ted Heath, who was impressed but thought Cogan too young.[1]

Nevertheless by her teens Cogan was singing at London tea dances and at age fourteen she was featured in a variety show at the Grand Theatre in Brighton having been recommended by Vera Lynn.

Proceeding to art school Cogan continued singing in London venues including Selby's Restaurant and the Café Anglais. Cogan was a member of the chorus the production of High Button Shoes at the Hippodrome - the production opened in December of 1948 - and Cogan was also featured in Sauce Tartare which opened in May 1949 at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End: Sauce Tartare was a review starring Muriel Smith which also featured Audrey Hepburn, Renée Houston and Bob Monkhouse. [5]

In 1949 Cogan also became the resident singer at the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch where her original six week booking was extended to eighteen months. It was at the Cumberland Hotel that Cogan was spotted by Walter Ridley an a&r man for HMV Records who was looking for a female act to add to the label's mostly male roster.

  • 1The "Tail Pieces by the Alley Cat" column in NME dated 14 September 1956 cites Sandra Caron's age as 19.[2]

Early recording career

Cogan's first recording was "Red Silken Stockings" but as it was decided to give that song to her HMV label-mate veteran entertainer Betty Driver, Cogan's first release was the 78 rpm record "To Be Worthy Of You" / "Would You" recorded on her twentieth birthday in 1952.

When none of her first recordings became hits Cogan was moved to submit a demo to the BBC who - out of a field of four hundred applicants - hired Cogan as vocalist for the programme Take It From Here; both Cogan and June Whitfield were added to the cast upon the departure of Joy Nichols.

In 1953 Cogan was recording the song "If I Had A Golden Umbrella" and broke into a giggle: she played up this effect on some later recordings and upon attaining stardom would become known as "The girl with the giggle in her voice".

In the fashion of the time many of Cogan's recordings would be covers of US hits beginning in 1952 with "Half as Much"; however the Rosemary Clooney original also became the UK hit. HMV would subsequently have Cogan cover US hit songs by Clooney, Teresa Brewer, Georgia Gibbs, Joni James, Patti Page, Jo Stafford and Dinah Shore.

Symptomatic of the '50s UK music industry, three UK singers covered Teresa Brewer's "Ricochet": Alma Cogan, Billie Anthony and Joan Regan, and the same three UK singers: Cogan, Anthony and Regan, had as their next release a cover of "Bell Bottom Blues" - again a US hit for Teresa Brewer.1 Regan had had the UK hit with "Ricochet" but "Bell Bottom Blues" proved to be Cogan's chart breakthrough, reaching #4 on the chart dated 3 April 1954.[3]

  • 1Both Cogan and Billie Anthony had as their subsequent single to "Bell Bottom Blues" a cover of Jo Stafford's "Make Love to Me" - the original became the UK hit. Cogan, Anthony and Joan Regan all covered Rosemary Clooney's 1954 US #1 "This Ole House" - this time Anthony had the hit (she reached #4 despite being bested by the Clooney original at #1).

'50s hitmaker

"Bell Bottom Blues" was typical of Cogan's '50s single releases, her output comprising mostly lightweight numbers whose chart success was fairly arbitrary: she appeared on the UK Singles Chart eighteen times between 1954 and 1960 with the 1955 release "Dreamboat" reaching #1.

Cogan's second charting single had been a cover of Kitty Kallen's "Little Things Mean a Lot": Kallen's US #1 had been equally successful in UK release in the summer of 1954 but Cogan's version did reach #11. One of Cogan's earlier releases that year: "Little Shoemaker", had been a cover of the Gaylords' US #2 hit - it was a version by another UK songstress: Petula Clark, which had become the chart hit (Clark's first).

It was also in 1954 that Cogan recorded "I Can't Tell a Waltz from a Tango", again a cover of a US chart hit - this one by Patti Page. Unusual for a UK cover, the original had only been a marginal US hit: "I Can't Tell a Waltz from a Tango" was recommended to Cogan primarily as it was deemed a strong number for her and her version became the second of Cogan's four Top Ten hits the fourth one being the Tommie Connor composition "Never Do the Tango With an Eskimo" (#6/ 1955).

Cogan also reached #16 in 1958 with her version of "Sugartime" despite competition from the McGuire Sisters original and another cover by Jim Dale. Her final Top 20 hit, "Sugartime" aroused an especial antipathy in future Beatle John Lennon then a Liverpool art school student whose classmate Helen Anderson would recall "used to make horrible jokes against [Cogan], impersonating her singing 'sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at suppertime'. He'd pull crazy expressions on his face to try to imitate her expressions." Ironically Lennon and Cogan would later become friends and (according to Cogan's sister Sandra Caron) sometime lovers.[4]

Cogan also faced chart competition for her chart singles "Willie Can" (#13/ 1956) - the Beverley Sisters' version reached #23 - and her version of Marty Robbins' "The Story of My Life" which was one of four to hit the UK charts in 1958 with Michael Holliday besting Cogan (#25) and also Dave King and Gary Miller by reaching #1.

Cogan did step outside the Pop idiom with her cover of the Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" (#22/ 1956) although her version was bested by the original which reached #1.

Cogan's recordings were originally produced by Walter Ridley and subsequently by Norman Newell.

Cogan was one of the first UK recording artists to recognize the promotional potential of the new medium of television; while other singers were dependent on the vagaries of the record charts Cogan's career was buoyed by frequent television appearances showcasing not only her vocal prowess but her bubbly personality. Typically Cogan wore hooped skirts heavy with sequins and figure-hugging tops; reputedly her dresses were all custom made to her own designs and never worn twice. Cliff Richard recalls: "My first impression of her was definitely frocks - I kept thinking, how many can this woman have? Almost every song had a different costume. The skirts seemed to be so wide - I don't know where they hung them up!" [5][6]

In 1957 Cogan journeyed to New York City to make a 14 April appearance on the televised variety programme Toast of the Town as The Ed Sullivan Show was originally named. Cogan's performance led to a booking at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. RCA Victor released some of Cogan's singles in the US with no discernible result.

Cogan's first album was released in 1958: I Love to Sing, which featured Frank Cordell conducting the orchestra, was focussed more on traditional pop classics rather than the lightweight material typical of Cogan's single releases.

In December 1956 Cogan topped the annual NME reader's poll as "Outstanding British Female Singer".[7 ] She finished top again in 1957 and 1958; after coming second to Shirley Bassey in 1959 Cogan again topped the poll in 1960 remaining a popular personality despite by then no longer being a major chart presence.[7 ]

The 1960s

Cogan's final single release of the 1950s was her cover of Bobby Rydell's US hit "We Got Love" which entered the Top 30 in December of 1959: its #26 peak on the chart for 2 January 1960 would prove to be her highest charting for the incoming decade.

After the follow-up "Dream Talk" peaked at #48 Cogan had her last Top 30 hit with the Paul Anka-penned "Train of Love" (#27) which had been a US Top 40 hit for Annette.

The B-side of "Train of Love": ""The 'I Love You' Bit", a duet with "Oscar Nebish" was in fact performed with Lionel Bart who was for a time considered Cogan's fiancé. Bart had written the musical Oliver! with Cogan in mind for the role of Nancy but as Cogan was reluctant to commit to the stage musical Oliver opened in the West End June 1960 with Georgia Brown in the Nancy role. (Cogan would contribute to a recording of the musical for EMI, produced by Norman Newell, released in 1965.)

Cogan's next single "Just Couldn't Resist Her With Her Pocket Transistor" fell short of the UK Top 50 but found a receptive audience in Japan, the "pocketable" radio being the 1957 Japanese invention which as Sony's inaugural import to North America had generated Japan's rise as a global electronics giant. Reportedly Cogan's single topped the Japanese charts for ten months to a year - the first indication of the '60s trend that would see Cogan's recordings scoring well internationally while being overlooked in the UK. Cogan returned to the Japanese Top Ten in the spring of 1961 via a release of "Train of Love".

In 1961 EMI moved Cogan from the HMV Pop label to its Columbia subsidiary. Her label debut: "Cowboy Jimmy Joe" was an English version of the German hit "Die Sterne Der Prärie" by Lolita. Cogan's fellow '50s vocalistes Anne Shelton - a formative influence and friend of Cogan's - and Petula Clark had both just reached the UK Top Ten with their respective versions of Lolita's "Sailor" - Clark's version had given her a first ever #1 - and there were obviously hopes that Cogan's Lolita-cover might similarly launch her as a 60s hitmaker. However "Cowboy Jimmy Joe" would be Cogan's last UK chart single (#37).

Like Petula Clark, Cogan was a '50s Pop vocalist whose talents could be well showcased by the music of the subsequent decade: that Cogan failed to register on the UK charts later than 1961 is attributable to the "party girl" image that had originally boosted her career coming across in the '60s as "square", an opinion expressed by Lionel Blair the 1991 BBC documentary Alma Cogan: The Girl with the Giggle in Her Voice.

Cogan's friend singer Eddie Grassham told the BBC Cogan was especially disappointed that her 1963 cover of the Exciters' US hit "Tell Him" to return her to the UK charts while a rival cover by teenage Mod Billie Davis would reach #10 ("Tell Him" gave Cogan her sole charting in France at #53 - the Exciters' version was a French #1).

After having only one long playing release in the '50s Cogan had one album released in both 1961 and 1962 entitled respectively With You in Mind and How About Love? which like the 1958 album I Love to Sing showcased Cogan with more substantial material that did her body of singles. How About Love? was picked up for US release by Vee-Jay Records but internal problems caused that label to temporarily suspend operations in 1963 and How About Love? was one of the releases consequently canceled. [6]

In 1964 Cogan made a recording of "Tennessee Waltz" conducted by Charles Blackwell [7] the musical director for Kathy Kirby whom he'd provided hits with updated versions of '50s hits: "Secret Love" and "Let Me Go Lover".

Cogan's version reinvented the 1950 Patti Page classic as a rock and roll ballad notable for its rendering of the titular lyric as "Ten-ten-tennessee waltz". [8] Overlooked in the UK and as a one-off US release by on the American Arts label, Cogan's "Tennessee Waltz" became a surprise hit in Europe reaching #10 in Germany and spending five weeks at #1 in Sweden.

"Tennessee Waltz" remained Cogan's only single to rank in the German Top 20 - although Cogan's reworking of "Home on the Range" entitled "Hillbilly Boy"1 reached #39 in Germany in 1965 - but Cogan consolidated her stardom in Sweden where she returned to #1 for three weeks in 1965 with her cover - unreleased in the UK - of Jewel Akens' US hit "The Birds and the Bees".2

Beginning with "Tell Him", Cogan courted international success by recording up to seven versions of some tracks in different languages including German and Japanese. She also traveled extensively in the mid-60s making personal appearances and appearing on television in Europe, Australia and Japan.

Hostess to the Beatles

By the mid 1960s, Cogan was a staple of the UK press less for her performing career than for the all-night parties she threw at the Kensington High Street apartment her father had purchased in 1951 (Mark Cohen died in 1952): 44 Stafford Court was the longtime residence of Cogan and her mother Fay Cohen and sister Sandra Caron.

Cynthia Lennon described Cogan's home as "decorated like a swish nightclub with dark, richly coloured silken fabrics and brocades everywhere. Every surface was covered with ethnic sculptures, ornaments and dozens of photographs in elaborate silver, gold and jewelled frames."

Regular visitors included such diverse figures as Noël Coward, Tommy Steele,[2]Cary Grant, Sammy Davis, Jr, Danny Kaye, Audrey Hepburn, Princess Margaret,Michael Caine, Frankie Vaughan, Lionel Bart, Stanley Baker, Bruce Forsyth, Ethel Merman, Roger Moore and a host of other celebrities.[6]

Lonnie Donegan recalls Cogan "told me Cary Grant proposed to her, and she said 'I don’t know what to do, Lonnie.' I said 'Well, love, if you have to ask the answer's got to be no.' She didn't accept, so I suppose she must have listened to me!"

Cogan was especially noted for her friendship with the Beatles who she met during rehearsals for Sunday Night at the London Palladium on 12 January 1964, John Lennon and Paul McCartney in particular being her frequent guests.

John Lennon's wife Cynthia Lennon would recall "John and I had thought of Alma [who John dubbed 'Sara Sequin'1] [as] out-of-date and unhip. We remembered her in the oldfashioned cinched-in waists and wide skirts of the Fifties. But in the flesh she was beautiful, intelligent and funny, oozing sex appeal and charm." In fact Cynthia detected sexual tension between her husband and Cogan to the point of believing the two were intimately involved and a longterm affair between Cogan and John Lennon is alleged by Sandra Caron (Paul McCartney acknowledges conducting a "slight romance" with Caron). [9]

It was on the piano at Cogan's flat that McCartney first played the melody of "Yesterday" which had come to him in a dream: McCartney wished assurance his dream song was original and felt that Cogan with her vast musical knowledge would be the person to identify the tune if it did already exist. (Her response was: "I don't know what it is, but it's beautiful.")

Rumors that McCartney and Lennon contributed musically to Cogan's mid-60s recording sessions proved longstanding but only McCartney's playing tambourine on "I Knew Right Away" - the B-side of Cogan's 30 October 1964 release "It's You" - is verifiable. McCartney has said of Cogan: ""We'd known Alma as the big singing star. We never interacted musically, she was a little too old for our generation, not much probably, but it seemed like an eternity, so I never took her seriously musically. She was old-school showbiz."

  • 1The other three Beatles referred to Cogan as "Auntie Alma".

Final recordings

Cogan hoped to utilize her association with the Beatles to abet a recording comeback by cutting an album comprising Lennon/ McCartney compositions. The album concept was nixed by EMI but Cogan did cut versions of "I Feel Fine", "Yesterday", "Eight Days a Week" and "Help" with the last two tracks being released as a single in 1965: the A-side "Eight Days a Week" - recorded at Abbey Road Studios 4 October 1965 in the presence of John Lennon and Paul McCartney - being considered one of Cogan's most distinguished tracks.

Cogan also recorded tracks for producer Andrew Loog Oldham including a remake of Barbara George's "I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)": these tracks which showcased Cogan as a much grittier vocalist than previously were dismissed by EMI as substandard and unreleasable.

In 1965 EMI's dissatisfaction with Cogan manifested in the label's decision to have her cut an album whose recording would satisfy the number of tracks Cogan's contract demanded EMI allow her to record, after which EMI would not renew Cogan's contract. The production was assigned to David Gooch an independent producer who had been responsible for the recording of several West End musical soundtracks for EMI's affiliate MFP label. With orchestrations by veteran Cogan associate Stan Foster, the recording of tracks for the final album began that summer in Studio 1 at Abbey Road Studios.[3]

All of the songs were initially recorded without the presence of the singer because Cogan was unwell ("supposedly with a bad cold or the flu" - Gooch): the Musicians' Union gave permission for the backing tracks to be recorded to which she later added her voice.

The Abbey Road sessions featured a version of "A Lover's Concerto": a German language version of that song cut in Cologne would be Alma Cogan's final recording.

Illness & death

Singer Anne Shelton attributed her friend Alma Cogan's health decline to "highly experimental" injections she took to lose weight saying "after those injections, [Cogan] was never well again." [10]

In the spring of 1966 Cogan embarked on a series of club dates in the north of England: she collapsed after two performances suffering stomach pains and returned to London where she was diagnosed with stomach cancer.[6] She received treatment and planned to continue her career, even co-writing several songs with Stan Foster for other singers including "I Only Dream of You" recorded by Joe Dolan and Ronnie Carroll's "Wait For Me". Cogan used the pseudonym "Al Western" for these titles while Foster was credited as "Stephen Forest".[8 ]

Still hoping for a return to the UK charts, Cogan recorded the "Al Western"/ "Stephen Forest" composition "Love Ya Illya" under the pseudonym Angela and the Fans; released by Pye Records in April 1966 this salute to the David McCallum character on the TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. received extensive airplay without mustering enough popularity to rank in the UK Top 50.

While touring Sweden in the summer of 1966 in support of her current Swedish hit single "Hello Baby", Cogan collapsed, evidencing the irrevocable breakdown of her health. She was hospitalized at London's Middlesex Hospital for three weeks before succumbing to ovarian cancer on 26 October 1966 at the age of 34.

Cogan had never been a practicing Jew but in deference to her family her passing was observed with traditional Hebraic rites concluding with burial at Bushey Jewish Cemetery, Bushey, Hertfordshire.

Legacy

David Gooch oversaw the release of a posthumous single featuring Cogan's composition "Now That I've Found You" - originally issued as the B-side of the 1965 single "Love is a Word" - backed by Cogan's version of "More" which Gooch chose in recognition of its lyricist Norman Newell's contribution to Cogan's career. Cogan's final album Alma - comprising the tracks cut at Abbey Road in 1965 augmented with some of Cogan's final single releases - was released in 1967; its release was held back for several months to accommodate the release of the retrospective album Alma Cogan.[6]

Alma Cogan's passing failed to significantly renew interest in her; however she's remained a cult figure in the British consciousness with new fans being converted in each generation. Collections of Cogan's music have been released throughout the CD era, including a complete triple album anthology (A-Z of Alma, 1995).[6] The novel Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn - in which a retired Cogan is still alive in the 1980s - won the Whitbread Book Award in 1991. The 1996 hit "Alma Matters" by Morrissey - who is known for his appreciation for cultural icons - has been interpreted as being about Alma Cogan. [11]

A blue plaque commemorating Alma Cogan was installed by the entrance of her longtime residence 44 Stafford Court on 4 November 2001.

Recordings

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Singles

[9 ]

Albums

In popular culture

See also

Biography

  • Alma Cogan: The Girl With The Laugh In Her Voice by Sandra Caron (Alma's sister) - ISBN 0-7475-0984-0

References

  1. ^ Dead Rock Stars Club @ efortress.com
  2. ^ a b "Alma Cogan - Biography". http://www.almacogan.org/1biography.html. Retrieved 12 February 2008.  
  3. ^ a b Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 20. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.  
  4. ^ "Alma Cogan". mp3.com. http://www.mp3.com/artist/alma-cogan/summary/. Retrieved 26 November 2007.  
  5. ^ Audrey.hepburn.free.fr
  6. ^ a b c d e "AMG". http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:gvfwxqrgldke. Retrieved 23 May 2009.  
  7. ^ a b Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 33. CN 5585.  
  8. ^ "Lost Divas - Alma Cogan by Steve Walker". http://www.rockabilly.nl/references/messages/alma_cogan.htm. Retrieved 24 February 2009.  
  9. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 113. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.  

External links


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