Nights On Broadway

“Oh, Mary, this London's a wonderful sight, with people all working by day and by night. Sure they don't sow potatoes, nor barley, nor wheat, but there's gangs of them digging for gold in the street. “ So started the lyrics of the Nineteenth Century song The Mountains of Mourne. For those who grew up in the sticks, the seaside or small town, the attraction of the big city - especially a capital city like London or New York – has been a strong one, the ‘streets paved with gold’ story. Going up to London for the first time as a child and seeing more people in one place than you had ever seen before and coming back with a head full of memories of strange things: underground trains, chocolate machines, Beefeaters , weird flattened ducks hanging in the Chinatown windows I had been taken past that looked like a steamroller had passed over them . Or arriving in London to live later on, and seeing the neon lights, cinemas and theatres and amusement arcades of Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus and thinking – yes, this must be where it is all at.

The same thought occurred on my first trip to New York and seeing Broadway for the first time from the Night Loop Bus, a view only slightly marred by the fact that it was pouring with rain and the bus driver was handing out plastic sheeting. This persistent allure was summed up in the title of the Jimmy Reed song, Bright Lights, Big City, though ‘Big City’ is, of course, a relative concept. On the horse - drawn caravan holiday mentioned in the column on N17, after days slowly meandering in the fields and back roads of County Sligo we came to a large-ish village with a pub or two and some shops, where you could buy things. It felt as though we were rolling into Las Vegas.

The notion of the big city, however, has also had an added moral dimension - the source of temptation and corruption, as with Sodom and Gomorrah – and songs have often seen going off to the metropolis as equalling loss of innocence. There are generally two types of stories here. One is where the narrator/subject either manages to make their escape in time or fails and is chewed up. For the former here, there is, for example, Midnight Train to Georgia - “back to his world, the world he left behind..a simpler place and time’ – or Do You Know the Way to San Jose –‘I’m going back to find some peace of mind’: both about escaping Los Angeles. For the latter there have been several songs about those who headed for the big time and failed to either make it or make it back, including, I suppose, I Guess The Lord Must Be in New York City. A particularly bleak one was by Southern soul singer, Doris Duke, I Just Don’t Care Anymore, from her 1969 album, I’m A Loser, which remains a weary and desperate account of the downward spiral of someone moving to the big city - possibly New York – looking for work and ending up in penniless prostitution. The album has been judged by some as the best deep soul album ever but commercial success eluded both this and Doris Duke’s subsequent work. (There was a similar trajectory with a contemporary of Doris Duke, Chicago/Detroit -based singer Laura Lee who also made some classic soul tracks, such as The Rip-Off, that failed to get much recognition at the time and, like Duke, she moved towards gospel. One of her most haunting songs, Her Picture Matches Mine, even slipped by virtually unnoticed as the ‘B’ side of a single)

The other scenario is where the narrator ,is left behind on a metaphorical station platform, sadly watching as their former friend/lover pulls away and out of sight in the glitz and glamour of big city life. What better to represent this than the archetype of glitz and glamour - Broadway , where the neon lights are bright and there is magic in the air. The song here is Nights on Broadway, written and originally recorded by the Bee Gees on their 1975 Main Course album that acted as the bridge between their earlier ballad-focused work and the disco/funk sound of Saturday Night Fever. Though they had the USA hit, oddly enough the UK hit was by Candi Staton, another Southern soul singer whose early 70’s soul records had gone largely unnoticed in Britain. Instead it was the disco-tinged Young Hearts Run Free that first saw her in the charts in 1976, followed by Nights on Broadway the following year. Whereas the Bee Gees’ version had a feel of the stalking theme of Every Breath You Take to it – ‘Standing in the dark where your eyes couldn’t see, I had to follow you’ – Candi Staton’s take on it , though faster and more disco-fied than the Bee Gees, sounds more a lament from someone left behind and knowing they are up against something far more glamorous.

There is, of course, something of the consciously unreal about Broadway, in some ways the opposite of soul. It is the portal to layer on layer of illusion, whether of the traditional dreams of finding fame and fortune, the plays and shows or the diner/restaurant there that has recreated a mythical recent past where servers sing and dance to 50’s rock and roll tunes in between serving and a waitress fed me birthday cake whilst singing ’Happy Birthday to You’ a la Marilyn Monroe (A ‘Beam me Up Scotty’ moment). People come to see the place of Broadway  but perhaps it is more the idea of it they are looking for.


  1. This is a wonderful blog.

    I went to see Candi Staton at London's glitzy Jazz Cafe in 2006.

    Candi was on good form, the audience were behind her all the way and she put on a great show. All the hits and more.

    Highlights were her classics such as In the Ghetto, Stand By Your Man and I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart. But her new release was a killer too - His Hands - a clever song about love, abuse, and redemption written by Will Oldham. Candi emotes first about a husband's hands of love, then his hands of violence, and finally forgiveness from the hands of God.

    Naturally the crowd went wild for Young Hearts Run Free towards the end and the final number You Got the Love.

    My guilty pleasure was midway through the set when Candi said, "This next song was a big hit over here in England." And proceeded to sing Nights on Broadway. I was in disco heaven.


  2. hey you might enjoy my mashup of "George Benson - Give Me The Night" & "Candi Staton - Nights On Broadway" - just posted today man. http://soundcloud.com/breakzlinkz/pecoe-night

  3. Loved this!!! I have all six of her albums:)

  4. I love how in this other version she is in bellbottomed pink jumpsuit, riding on the hood of a car driving through 1970s New York City, joyously!


  5. For other Broadway songs worth listening to, there is Billy Joel "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)."

  6. I also always liked Candi's version of "Suspicious Minds" from the early 1980s.

  7. I love this way more than the Bee Gees version!

  8. I saw her show in Brighton earlier this year and loved it.

  9. Also Bette Davis – Turn Me Loose On Broadway.

  10. I love her soulful disco like When You Wake Up Tomorrow.

  11. I am definitely among the many who are profoundly fascinated by New York. Without ever having been there, or to America at all, I feel an affinity with the place. I love when you write about it!

  12. Hi Geoff
    I've been meaning to send along a new NYC list (songs about NYC) for a while, and then your column inspired me to post it this week....... here it is!

    Conor Oberst – NYC – Gone, Gone (2008)
    Lou Reed – NYC Man (1996)
    Steely Dan – Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More (1975)
    Chicago - Saturday In The Park (1972)
    Bob & Earl - Harlem Shuffle (1963)
    Brecker Brothers – East River (1978)
    A-ha – Manhattan Skyline (1987)
    Dar Williams - The Hudson (2005)
    The Avett Brothers – Famous Flower Of Manhattan (2006)
    The Statler Brothers – New York City (1970)
    Steeleye Span feat. Peter Sellers – New York Girls (1975)
    Belle & Sebastian – Piazza, New York Catcher (2003)
    The Moldy Peaches – NYC’s Like a Graveyard (1997)
    Fountains Of Wayne – Red Dragon Tattoo (1999)
    Thomas Dybdahl – One Day You’ll Dance For Me, New York City (2004)
    Suzanne Vega – Ludlow Street (2007)
    Art Garfunkel – A Heart In New York (1981)
    Horace Silver – Summer In Central Park (1973)
    Sammy Davis Jr. – New York’s My Home (1956)

  13. Thats a great list with some unusual artists for NYC - Steeleye Span and Belle & Sebastian!

  14. And there is Nellie McKay’s Manhattan Avenue, which only came out in 2004 but it sounds like a classic already..........

  15. And I kind of like “New York’s a Lonely Town” by the Tradewinds. I think Jack Nitsche wrote it. Surfer boy’s parents drag him from California, is the plot.

  16. Although it’s never specifically mentioned in the song, Chicago’s Saturday In the Park was written about spending a 4th of July in Central Park in NYC. Chicago also recorded the upbeat calypso-esque Another Rainy Day in NYC on Chicago X (although many die-hard Chicago fans consider that album the biggest lemon of the Terry Kath era).

  17. I love NYC songs:) I keep an ongoing list......... Here the first 24, some of which I think were mentioned in an earlier New York column!

    1. Billie Holiday – Autumn In New York
    2. Ray Charles – New York’s My Home
    3. Bobby Darin – Sunday In New York
    4. Ad Libs – Boy From NY City
    5. Harpers Bizarre – 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)
    6. Gerard Kenny – New York, New York
    7. Russ Ballard – New York Groove
    8. Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire
    9. Ramones – Rockaway Beach
    10. Bruce Springsteen – Sherry Darling
    11. Ryan Adams – New York New York
    12. Elliot Smith – Amity
    13. Bright Eyes – Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)
    14. Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go
    15. Rufus Wainwright – Chelsea Hotel No 2
    16. Everything But The Girl – The Only Living Boy In New York
    17. Mondo Kané feat. Georgie Fame – New York Afternoon
    18. Prefab Sprout – Hey Manhattan!
    19. Neil Diamond – Brooklyn Roads
    20. Gil Scott-Heron – New York City
    21. Steely Dan – Brooklyn
    22. Lou Reed – Dirty Blvd.
    23. Bob Dylan – Hard Times In New York Town
    24. Bob James – Angela (Theme from Taxi)

  18. Few more...........
    Christy Moore – Fairytale Of New York (1994)
    B.J. Thomas - Eyes Of A New York Woman (1968)
    Sex Pistols – New York (1977)
    Shinehead – Jamaican In New York (1992)

  19. Great lists so far!! My contribution:
    Klaatu – Sub-Rosa Subway
    NRBQ – Boys In The City
    Mason Jennings – New York City
    Kevin Devine – Brooklyn Boy
    Ian Hunter – Central Park N West
    Donavan Frankenreiter – Spanish Harlem Incident
    Bobby Womack – Across 110th Street
    Ella Fitzgerald – Manhattan
    Hem – Great Houses Of New York
    The Mamas & The Papas – Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)
    Odyssey – Native New Yorker
    Elkow Bones & The Racketeers – A Night In New York
    Nicole with Timmy Thomas – New York Eyes

  20. Beastie Boys – An Open Letter To NYC (2005): “Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten, from the Battery to the top of Manhattan. Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin, black, white — New York you make it happen”......


  21. Maybe my suggestions are a bit weird, not sure. But I thought of:

    1. Velvet Underground - I’m Waiting For The Man (1967)
    2. Death Cab For Cutie – Marching Bands Of Manhattan (2005)
    3. Wallflowers - 6th Avenue Heartache (1996)
    4. Bob Dylan – Hard Times in New York Town (1962)
    5. John Lennon – New York City (1972)
    6. Hank Ballard and the Midnighters - Broadway (1962)
    7. Ella Fitzgerald – Manhattan (1956)
    8. Grover Washington Jr. – East River Drive (1981)
    9. Tyrone Thomas and the Whole Darn Family – New Yorkin’ (1976)
    10. Ben Sidran – New York State Of Mind (1975)
    11. Albert Hammond – New York City Here I Come (1974)
    12. Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs – New York City’s Killing Me (2010)
    13. Dar Williams – Southern California Wants To Be Western New York (1996)
    14. Caitlin Rose – New York City (2010)
    15. Rufus Wainwright – Poses (2001)
    16. Al Stewart – Broadway Hotel (1992)
    17. Cat Stevens – New York Times (1978)
    18. Eagles - In A New York Minute (1994)
    19. Simon & Garfunkel – At The Zoo (1968)

  22. This doesn't relate at all to your (great) column on Broadway, but I read this book this week and thought you'd enjoy it, Geoff: http://www.julianbarnes.com/bib/metroland.html

  23. Thanks.I have read some of Julian Barnes books but not this one. I think he is a great writer.
    Thanks for the exhaustive lists on NYC songs!

  24. A special clip for your diner moment, Geoff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxKJyeCRVek

  25. I know the diner you mean.... Ellen's Stardust! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPftq6ObMXQ

  26. I think that in many ways, the image of Broadway is that of Times Square. And the problem is, Times Square should be loathed. I loathe it. Why? Because I'm a New Yorker. You can always tell whether someone's a New Yorker by asking them what they think about Times Square. If they answer in any way other than "I wish it were cut off from the island and floated out to sea," then they're a tourist. Yeah, it looks cool at night. But that's really about all it has going for it. It's a shlock-ridden, filth-strewn tourist trap. I hate Times Square. I think that if Broadway itself - which actually also passes through Greenwich Village down South and Columbia's campus up North - could be decoupled in its image from the nightmare of Times Square, that would be kind to the poor street........

  27. Brilliant description here: "after days slowly meandering in the fields and back roads of County Sligo we came to a large-ish village with a pub or two and some shops, where you could buy things. It felt as though we were rolling into Las Vegas." We had a similar experience after a few days on a steamboat passing through the fields and forests of mid Mississippi. We reached a tiny town called Helena in Arkansas - which looked like this: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/115/288166389_7241a34edc_o.jpg - and all of a sudden it was like being in the center of the world......

  28. I've been on the NYC bus tour when it was raining too.... - http://www.flickr.com/photos/carpeicthus/4688261855/sizes/l/ - those yellow raincoats were pretty invaluable that day.

  29. I love the description of your London impressions! - "underground trains, chocolate machines, Beefeaters, weird flattened ducks hanging in the Chinatown windows I had been taken past that looked like a steamroller had passed over them."

  30. From your photos, that night tour looked a little empty Geoff! (lots of empty seats on the bus......:) I guess the pouring rain wasn't a great aspect!:)

  31. I love Doris Duke's I Just Don’t Care Anymore

  32. "People come to see the place of Broadway but perhaps it is more the idea of it they are looking for" - VERY VERY TRUE! I wonder though if the idea and the place did used to match more closely than they do today. In a pre-Hollywood era, when it was the centre of all things showbiz, rather than just a site of nostalgia and tourism. This kind of 1940s Broadway: http://www.pstos.org/instruments/or/portland/broadway_streetscene-1946-l.jpg

  33. That does look more glamorous than my photo!

  34. Here is a version of that song that Geoff opened with, in case anyone is interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0n64KrAGBw

  35. I don't speak or write publicly. But a friend forwarded me your column, I enjoyed it and your other columns on New York and other places, agree with the description of my song, appreciate you mentioning that some said my album was the best deep soul album ever. I'm a Loser and A Legend were reissued a couple of years back too. In terms of the commercial success problem you mention, the financial collapse of my original label Canyon didn't help.

    Appreciate the appreciation. Also because I always thought it was a women’s album. Our liner notes to I’m A Loser even said: "Every woman who hears this album will have the emotional shock of the forgotten past, being vividly brought back into focus; to the point that they will relive the sadness, jealousy, anger and heartbreak, that once was theirs..." So I appreciate the appreciation, from a man who clearly respects and cherishes black female soul singers.

  36. We love Laura Lee - we named our band for her.


  37. Doris, I just adore you, thank you for breaking silence. And I agree, Geoff is actually a Soul Sister on the inside.

  38. You can hear a fascinating five-part history of her life at Laura's website here - http://lauralee.bandcamp.com/. It's definitely worth your time; it's a living, personal history of soul.

  39. In the case of Laura Lee, the title track of 1972's Women's Love Rights made up for its average chart success with its perfectly timed manifesto and rallying cry for downtrodden women. Three decades later, music magazine Mojo would also recognize the album's anthem-like qualities by including 'Wedlock Is a Padlock' in a Top 100 of protest songs for its May 2004 issue. In its turn, the bolshie monologue preceding the Buddy Johnson ballad 'Since I Fell for You' would be acknowledged as the lyrical jump off point for Millie Jackson.

  40. I also recommend the long versions of Laura Lee's slammin' Since I Fell For You, and Crumbs Off The Table.

  41. Thank you so much for getting in touch,Doris, your comments are very much appreciated -as is your music.
    I am also rather touched by your comment, Desiree!

  42. I grew up in a small town in Indiana, so you can well imagine the shock I experienced when I moved to New York for school. I arrived full of expectations, hope and dreams of living a Bohemian lifestyle in the big city. Then, well, let's just say I relate to the Doris Duke/Laura Lee disillusionment you wrote about here!

  43. I grew up in a small town of about 1,000 people. This was a place where the Town Marshal also served as our substitute teacher, the guidance counselor was my mom’s best friend, and the school nurse and I shared the same last name! Arriving in New York, I absolutely related to the theme of your column this week - and this whole genre of small-town person being dazzled by the lights of Broadway / London........

  44. I tried to live in New York. But there seemed to be an unwritten rule followed by nearly all city dwellers—never make eye contact. If you attempt to do so, your glance will be met with utter disregard. You do not exist, other than being an object to avoid. I learned this the hard way. Upon moving from Minnesota—the friendliest of all possible places—I would attempt to make eye contact with strangers on the street out of courtesy. In Minnesota, this is commonplace. There, my glances were often met with a polite smile or a courteous “hello.” In New York - even on streets that were anything but crowded - they were ignored with complete indifference.

  45. I guess it's country singers who have the market cornered on small town anthems / celebrations, but sometimes their lyrics are good. Like Justin Moore's 2009 hit "Small Town USA." Justin Moore is on record saying, “I grew up in one of those towns where nothing mattered but baseball on Friday night, church and family. I always loved that. I was never one of those kids that wanted to get the heck out of Dodge. I always wanted to stay there, and I’d love to move back one day.” Here are the lyrics to his song - one example of a counterpoint genre to the big city / bright lights songs you wrote about this week, Geoff........

    A lot of people called it prison when I was growin’ up
    But these are my roots and this is what I love
    Cause everybody knows me and I know them
    And I believe that’s the way we were supposed to live
    Wouldn’t trade one single day here in small town USA

    Give me a Saturday night my baby by my side
    A little Hank Jr. and a six pack of light
    Old dirt road and I’ll be just fine
    Give me a Sunday morning that’s full of grace
    A simple life and I’ll be okay
    Here in small town USA

    Around here we break our backs just to earn a buck
    We never get ahead but we have enough
    I watch people leave and then come right back
    I never wanted any part of that
    I’m proud to say that I love this place
    Good ole small town USA

    Give me a Saturday night my baby by my side
    David Allen Coe and a six pack of light
    Old dirt road and I’ll be just fine
    Give me a Sunday morning that’s full of grace
    A simple life and I’ll be okay
    Here in small town USA
    Oh yeah

    I wouldn’t trade one single day
    I’m proud to say I love this place

    Give me a Saturday night my baby by my side
    Sweet home Alabama and a six pack of light
    Old dirt road and I’ll be just fine
    Give me a Sunday morning that’s full of grace
    A simple life and I’ll be okay
    Yeah I’ll be okay
    Here in small town USA
    Oh yeah small town USA

  46. Geoff! No pressure but wanted to let you know that I miss your column and hope you're ok!

  47. Sorry Desiree, I am running late! I'll try and put one up in next day or two. Thanks for concern!

  48. I missed it too! It was like my university was suddenly closed down for a week!:)