Friday, January 16, 2015

George Hamilton IV – "Urge for Going" (1967)

When the sun turns traitor cold
And all the trees stand shivering 
In a naked row
I get the urge for going
But I never seem to go

(Been there, done that.  What about you?)

This is number two is a series of posts about winter-themed songs.  I'm not sure how long this series will last, but it could go right up until "29 Posts in 28 Days" starts up on February 1.  

Before I go any further, let me make one thing perfectly clear.

The late country singer George Hamilton IV – whose 1967 recording of "Urge for Going" is today's featured song – has nothing to do with the perpetually-tanned actor George Hamilton.

George Hamilton IV
George Hamilton IV was very successful, but wasn't in the same league as country music superstars like Eddy Arnold, Sonny James, George Jones, Buck Owens, or Conway Twitty.  (He had one #1 single – 1963's "Abilene" – while Twitty had 55.)

He started out as a pop singer.  He recorded his first record when he was a 19-year-old student at the University of North Carolina, and it made it all the way to #6 on the Billboard "Hot 100."  Three years later, he moved to Nashville, and in short order became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

It seems somewhat surprising that it was Hamilton who first recorded "Urge for Going," which was written by Joni Mitchell.  Folk singer Tom Rush tried too get Judy Collins to record the song, but ended up recording it himself after Collins declined.  Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded the song in 1971, but didn't release it until 1991.  

Joni Mitchell
Mitchell herself released a recording of the song as a B-side in 1972.

Here's a video of Mitchell performing the song live:

I'm not a big fan of Joni Mitchell, although I would never deny that she's a very gifted songwriter.  Her songs are notable mostly for their words, and I believe that the most important element of a great pop record is the music, not the words.

The lyrics to "Urge for Going" demonstrate Mitchell's mastery of language.  But I think she tried a little too hard when she wrote that song.  I would have preferred lyrics that were a little less highfalutin' than the ones quoted at the beginning of this post:

When the sun turns traitor cold
And all the trees stand shivering 
In a naked row

Or these:

I awoke today and found the frost
Perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky
Then it gobbled summer down

That kind of thing works great in the pages of the New Yorker, but not as well on the radio.

The first verse of "Urge for Going" talks about how the singer gets the urge for going "when the meadow grass is turning brown . . . and winter is closing in."  The next verse is about the singer's lover, who feels the same "urge for going."  And in the next verse, the geese up and leave town:

See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and racing on before the snow

The last verse is about summer itself:

I'd like to call back summertime
Have her stay for just another month or so
But she's got the urge for going 
So I guess she'll have to go

You may be able to talk another person out of going away after winter closes in.  But good luck trying to talk summer out of giving way to winter when the time comes.  

Here's George Hamilton IV's cover of "Urge for Going":

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