When it comes to suggestions for inclusion in any Great British Songbook collection then the join-in-the-chorus anthem Delilah must tick more boxes than most suggestions.
Written by the extremely successful English partnership of Barry Mason and Les Reed it was a global hit for Welshman Tom Jones and a UK one for the wonderful and lamentably under-rated Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
The two acts couldn’t have been much different – while Jones was prepared to build a career being prepared to perform carefully crafted songs aimed at the charts, radio play and Las Vegas audiences – not to mention having ladies underwear thrown at him, Harvey seemed more likely to take a machete to anyone not paying full attention to his stage set – and burnt himself out at 46 dying of a heart attack while waiting for a ferry in Zeebrugge.
The song itself wasn’t the most obvious choice for a potential chart topper – the biblical Delilah saw off Samson by having his hair cut off and her name has subsequently become associated with treacherous and voluptuous women. Reed and Mason’s character certainly has a touch of that about her, even though we don’t actually to get to hear her side of the story.
It’s narrated from the point of view of someone who sees himself as a betrayed lover having rather voyeuristically spied “his” woman in silhouette on a window blind as she cops off with another man:
“I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window
I saw the flickering shadow of love on her blind
She was my woman
As she deceived me I watched and went out of my mind.”
Rather than just knock on the door to find what’s going on (well, it wouldn’t have made much of a song especially as The Rays and later Herman’s Hermits tried that in the early 1960s with Silhouettes and found they’d got the wrong house) he decides she’s not exactly right for him but rather poetically admits: “But I was lost like a slave that no man could free,” pops home to select the weapon of his choice and returns “at break of day” so when that man drove away” he was waiting:
“I crossed the street to her house and she opened the door,
She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more.”
He then patiently waits for the police to come and break down the door and take him away.
Jones delivers all this with a modicum of drama but a bucketful of cabaret. Harvey throws in a maniacal laugh, some searing guitar, truly menacing vocals and makes a slasher movie out of a pop song.
Exactly what fans expected from a band who were the doppelgangers of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars complete with a mock glam rock image of Harvey in vaudeville-like clothes and trademark striped shirt, guitarist Zal Cleminson assuming the identity of a mime act in full make-up and green-yellow jumpsuit, and bassist Chris Glen wearing a dark blue jumpsuit reminiscent of a superhero costume incorporating lighter blue trunks.
While for Jones in 1968 Delilah was more of a lyrical prequel to his earlier life of crime in Green Green Grass of Home, for Harvey in 1975 this was more the revenge of his Tomahawk Kid.
Surprisingly Delilah was originally recorded by the trouser splitting PJ Proby in late November 1967. Supposedly he hated the song (well, he wasn’t famous for great judgement was he?) and refused to include it on his album which was being compiled and recorded at the time. Proby’s version was eventually released on the CD The Best Of The EMI Years …, in 2008.
As for Barry Mason, he grew up in the village of Coppull, near Chorley in Lancashire and partnered up with Les Reed for songs such as Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes), The Last Waltz, Here It Comes Again, I Pretend, There Goes My First Love, A Man Without Love and Winter World of Love.
And as for Delilah, apart from umpteen revivals over the years, Welsh rugby fans have sung it as an unofficial anthem since at least as early as the 1970s and Supporters of Stoke City adopted it as their club anthem in the 1990s after a supporter was heard singing it in a local pub. Some of the song’s original lyrics were adapted for the football terraces but the essence of the song remained the same.
More importantly it will forever be in the Top 10 of Songs Best Sung When Drunk or as Harvey once said – “can’t get enough of that long haired music.”
WRITERS: Les Reed, Barry Mason
PRODUCER: Peter Sullivan
GENRE: Pop
ARTIST: Tom Jones
LABEL Decca
RELEASED Feb 1968
UK CHART 2
COVERS The Sensational Alex Harvey Band