There’s lots of do’s and don’ts in pop music.
At the tip of the positive iceberg you can Do It Again with the Beach Boys or Steely Dan, you can Do The Clam with Elvis Presley or Do What You Do Do Well with Ned Miller.
As for don’t, well, just for starters Don’t Believe a Word (especially if Thin Lizzy tell you), Don’t Fear the Reaper (if it’s anything to do with Blue Oyster Cult) and certainly Don’t Pay the Ferryman (if Chris De Burgh is sailing with you).
Mostly though – don’t shed any tears for politically volatile South American countries. Or as the Lennon and McCartney of stage musicals, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber far more profitably put it in their globally successful collaboration Evita: Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
Everybody and their maiden aunt seems to have a pop at performing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina since its creation in 1976 (way before the rest of the musical) – with varying degrees of success and failure.
But arguably no one has bettered the original album version of the song by Julie Covington. Recorded before it was anything more than a highspot of a work-in-progress double “concept” album (long before the stage and film versions) – she topped the charts ahead of everyone else such as The Shadows whose sort of singalonga instrumental reached number five, Madonna (the surprise choice as Eva Peron for the film version) somehow reached number three – and also kidnapped the musical’s saddest song, Another Suitcase Another Hall taking it to number seven, let alone Mike Flowers Pops keeping their tongues in their cheeks right up to number 30, and Sinead O’Connor scraping a 53 spot.
Part anthem, part love song, part intro, part outro, neither the song nor the musical’s subject matter are typical of a hit single. It’s one thing singing to or about a city, town or location (eg New York, New Orleans, Chicago, Baltimore – or Ilkley Moor) but outside of a national anthem, addressing a whole nation has got to be admired.
The song was written and composed by Lloyd Webber and Rice while they were researching the life of Argentinian leader Eva Perón and eventually appeared at the opening and near the end of what became the musical Evita, initially as the spirit of the dead Eva exhorting the people of Argentina not to mourn her, and finally during Eva’s speech from the balcony of the Casa Rosada.
The song actually had a number of different titles before Don’t Cry for Me Argentina was chosen (the line only appears three times in the original version and alternatives included It’s Only Your Lover Returning and All Through My Crazy and Wild Days) and shares much of its melody with Oh What a Circus (a hit for David Essex) and lyrically consists of platitudes by Eva trying to win the favour of the people of Argentina.
It was released in the UK on 12 November 1976 as the first single from the album and reached number one, earning a gold certification with over a million copies sold. It also reached the top of the charts in Australia, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
The song won the 1977 Ivor Novello award in the category of Best Song Musically and Lyrically.
Madonna’s later version was released as the second single from the film soundtrack on 4 February 1997. A separate version called the “Miami Mix”, which included re-recorded vocals in English and Spanish and an Argentinean bandoneon in the song’s intro, was promoted to radio. The song reached number one in France, Spain, and the European Hot 100 Singles, while the remix topped the US Dance Club Songs chart. It also reached the top ten on the US Billboard Hot 100 and several other nations, and received gold certifications from five countries.
The idea of producing an album version of Evita before adapting the idea for the stage followed the formula that Lloyd Webber and Rice had employed during the production of their previous musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
After it was composed, Lloyd Webber and Rice struggled to find a suitable musical actress for the songs and the titular role. The only one they knew, Yvonne Elliman, had moved to the United States. Then while watching the British musical television show, Rock Follies, they spotted Julie Covington playing an aspiring rock musician. She was also a former Godspell cast member, and coupled with acting abilities in Rock Follies she was a shoo-in for Evita.
Covington was intrigued by the offer and although she considered Eva Perón to be a non-commercial idea for a musical she (and others) thought that the songs were great and signed on for recording them – starting with demos for Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You and Buenos Aires, with just piano as an accompaniment.
They moved on to sign a deal with MCA Records, to release an album based on the songs, but with extremely poor royalty rates since the record company executives didn’t expect it to be a success.
The song title comes from an epitaph on a plaque at Eva Perón’s grave in the La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. The plaque was presented by the city’s taxi drivers’ union and roughly translates as: “Don’t cry for me Argentina, I remain quite near to you.”
And before we get carried away, the song’s lyrics are, after all, little more than a “string of meaningless platitudes” according to Rice, who felt that it worked as an emotionally intense but empty speech by a “megalomaniac woman” trying to win the favour of the Argentines.
The rest is all a part of musical theatre history except that by the time Evita moved to a London theatre, Julie Covington had become disenchanted with the whole thing – refusing to promote the single or appear on Top of the Pops and turning down the invitation to reprise the part of Eva which went instead to Elaine Paige.
As Eva would have said/sung:
“And as for fortune and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world
They were all I desired
They are illusions
They’re not the solutions
They promise to be
The answer was here all the time
I love you and hope you love me.”
|Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
|andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, David Land
|12 November 1976
|Madonna, Elaine Paige