Friday, June 23, 2017

Peter and Gordon – "Lady Godiva" (1966)

Her long blonde hair
Falling down across her arms
Hiding all the lady's charms

Godiva, Countess of Mercia – better known as Lady Godiva – was a real person.

Godiva was the wife of Leofric, the Earl of Mencia, who was one of the richest and most powerful men in 11th-century England.

A 1586 painting of Godiva by Adam Van Noort
According to legend, the mothers of Coventry – a town that was part of Leofric’s realm – told Godiva that the taxes that he had levied upon them were so oppressive that their children were starving.  Godiva took pity on them and nagged her husband to reduce their taxes.  

Hoping to shut her up, Leofric told Godiva that he would grant her request if she stripped naked and rode a horse from one end of the city to the other.  

John Collier's "Lady Godiva" (1897)
Godiva surprised her husband by doing exactly that.  Her hair was long enough to conceal her front bits and fanny, but Godiva wasn’t taking any chances: she issued a proclamation directing the townspeople to stay inside with their windows shuttered during her ride.

The good people of Coventry were so grateful to Godiva that they happily complied with her request – even the men.

Except for one man, that is – a tailor named Tom, who forever thereafter was known as “Peeping Tom.”  

A poster for the 1955 movie,
"Lady Godiva of Coventry" 
Legend has it that God punished Peeping Tom by blinding him.  From Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1842 poem, “Godiva”:

[H]is eyes, before they had their will, 
Were shrivel'd into darkness in his head, 
And dropt before him.  So the Powers, who wait 
On noble deeds, cancell'd a sense misused . . . 

Leofric was supposedly so moved by his wife’s courage that he not only acceded to her request to lower the tax rate, but also got religion.  He began to make generous contributions to religious orders, and endowed several monasteries, including one in Coventry (where he and Godiva were eventually buried).  

*     *     *     *     *

I heard Peter and Gordon’s 1966 hit, “Lady Godiva,” on the Sirius-XM “Beatles Channel” a few days ago.

I don’t think I had heard the song for close to 50 years.  I remembered it as soon as it started to play, but I would have bet money that Peter and Gordon’s version wasn’t the original one.  (I would have lost that bet.)

Why was “Lady Godiva” being featured on the “Beatles Channel”?  According to Peter Asher, the SiriusXM host who played it, the songwriter who wrote “Lady Godiva” – Mike Leander – also did the string arrangement for the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.”

That’s a pretty tenuous connection.  I suspect that the real reason that “Lady Godiva” was featured is that Peter Asher is the “Peter” of Peter and Gordon.

Peter’s sister Jane dated Paul McCartney for several years, which may explain why McCartney gave Peter and Gordon several of his songs to record – including “A World Without Love,” which became a #1 hit for them.  (Jane and Paul eventually became engaged, but Jane called the wedding off when she caught Paul in bed with another woman.)

Jane Asher and Paul McCartney
“Lady Godiva” was Peter and Gordon’s last top ten hit in the U.S.  When the duo disbanded in 1968, Asher became a very successful record producer.  He discovered James Taylor and produced his most successful albums.  He also produced several of Linda Ronstadt’s best-selling LPs.

Here’s “Lady Godiva”:

Click below to buy the from Amazon:

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