Thursday, 14 August 2008

Beautiful songs: Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)

I don't remember precisely when I first heard Frank Wilson's "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)", but I can narrow it down to a brief two years, during which I lived at 607 Huron St. in Toronto, with my great friend Derek, to whom I owe much gratitude for invading his apartment and life, and often monopolizing his computer. If memory serves, that was May 2000 to May 2002. I'm not sure if that seems like a long time or not. Certainly a lot has happened in that time, and equally certainly eight years feels longer than six. If I could find the original CD onto which I burned the song, I could narrow down the period even further; but I'm sure that I've since copied and thrown away that scratched disc.

Those were my early Soul years and still the early years of mass illicit downloading. The two are connected since, through Napster and its descendants, I discovered a world of music, thousands of songs—of all genres, but particularly Soul and Funk—that added fuel to my flaming passion for music. I made a series of soul compilations—14 at last count—each containing between 20 and 25 songs; and those were only the ones I deemed worthy of repeat listening or spinning. I was a DJ then, too, and few activities gave me greater pleasure than serving some excellent new discovery in the club and watching the crowd eat it up. Discovering new hidden gems (and playing them for people, in clubs or in private) still gives me immense pleasure.

Ironically, though, "Do I Love You" is a song that I rarely played for the crowds. I'm not sure why exactly. It's almost too specific, too perfect, too sweet for the congregation I ministered to. I feel like it stands apart from other soul music, other music generally, so much that I would have had a hard time fitting it in, mixing it with any other song, as if anything else would seem vulgar in comparison, or bland. Or perhaps I was afraid that other songs would vulgarize "Do I Love You" and make it seem too simple.

The song is simple and sweet. It is devoid of the pretensions of rock and the sappy syrupyness of its Motown brethren. But it is lush and driving and powerful. And at two and a half minutes, it is desperately short, though perfectly indicative of its time. It is over before you realize it and practically demands that you listen to it again. I must admit, I never knew the lyrics before researching this story, because the song sends me into a reverie halfway into the first verse and the song changes to a feeling.

From early morning until late at night
You fill my heart with pure delight
Do I love you?
Now whenever I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord your soul to keep
And bring you home safe to me, forever darling
Do I love you?
...
Indeed I do
The vocal performances—both lead and backup—are urgent, approaching breathlessness, as if the words are coming at the moment they are sung, direct from the inspired heart, and occasionally Wilson bursts forth in a sort of raspy yell that suggests he can't contain himself.

Frank Wilson was a songwriter and producer for Motown from the mid-sixties to the late seventies, and he wrote or co-wrote numerous hits during that time. ("Stoned Love" is another great favourite of mine.) But for some reason, when he recorded this song—his own song—the label said no, even after pressing several hundred copies. The label ordered all copies destroyed and Frank Wilson's solo career was over before it began. But a year later, the song was resurrected by female Motown artist Chris Clark in a new vocal recording over either the original music track or a near identical rerecording. The two versions are very similar, but Chris Clark's vocal lacks the energy of the original, and the urgency—really, I think it suffers simply from its lack of originality.

At any rate, the legend says that two copies of the record survived, and in the seventies, one of them found its way into the hands of a Northern Soul DJ. The whole story is repeated in great and variable detail elsewhere, and if you're at all interested in music history, I recommend you take a look for it. Truly, the legend adds to the song's intrigue, but not to its greatness. The simple fact of its existence—its creation—is a miracle, a testament to momentary genius. That we have the original recording to enjoy today is testament to the unsuppressible nature of genius and creativity: art.

I find it interesting that my connection to this song isn't through some collection of important life events that are somehow wrapped up with it. Rather, my connection is somehow instantaneous, imperative. Despite all of the great great Soul music that exists and that I absolutely love—from both before and after "Do I Love You"—this particular song embodies Soul music: it is simple, it evokes God's connection to love, it contains a chorus-like call and answer, all characteristics that come from Gospel music, the essence of Soul.

It's in a space of sheer wonder that I experience "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)". And in that space I am open to the pure love the song proclaims in its every aspect.
__

Here I am on bended knees
I lay my heart down at your feet
Now do I love you?
All you have to do is ask
I’ll give until there’s nothing left
Do I love you?
As long as there is life in me
Our happiness is guaranteed
I’ll fill your heart with ecstasy, forever darling
Do I love you?
Do I love you?
Do I love you?
Indeed I do
Indeed I do

The very thing that I want most
Is just to have and hold you close
Do I love you?
From early morning until late at night
You fill my heart with pure delight
Do I love you?
Now whenever I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord your soul to keep
And bring you home safe to me, forever darling
Do I love you?
Do I love you?
Do I love you?
Indeed I do, sweet darling,
Indeed I do

Now whenever I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord your soul to keep
And bring you home safe to me
Forever darling
Do I love you?
Do I love you?
Do I love you?
Indeed I do, little darling,
Indeed I do

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