Some of popular music’s biggest songs take their names from people, and in the case of this list, women. Little Richard screamed ‘Lucille’ back in 1957 and The Everly Brothers toned it down for their own prettier version in 1960. In the 70s, country crooner Kenny Rogers had a massive hit with a different ‘Lucille’ and The Datsuns had yet another ‘Lucille’ in 2004.
Rock’n’roll’s finest poet Chuck Berry loved a good name song with ‘Maybellene’, ‘Carol’ and ‘Nadine’ all released as singles. Them and Laura Branigan each had their own ‘Gloria’, the 60s had ‘Michelle’, ‘Cecilia’ and ‘Delilah’, the 70s ‘Lola’, ‘Jolene’ and ‘Roxanne’, the 80s ‘Elvira’, ‘Rosanna’ and ‘Nikita’, and on into the future. Sometimes the names were changed to protect the innocent (‘Layla’), sometimes they were not (‘Suzanne’).
New Zealand acts are no exception: here is a selection of home-grown songs whose titles are a woman’s name. Bypassing some of the more obvious ones, just because we can – ‘Cheryl Moana Marie’ (John Rowles), ‘Victoria’ (Dance Exponents), ‘Lydia’ (Fur Patrol), ‘Ngaire’ (The Mutton Birds) and ‘Sophie’ (Goodshirt) – here’s a random roll call of 10 of them.
‘Carolina’ – Creation
Winner of the Loxene Golden Disc in 1972, ‘Carolina’ was offered to Creation while the band was touring New Zealand with British jazz/soul trio The Peddlers. Whether the name of the artist on the cassette The Peddlers gave the band was ever mentioned, nobody remembers, but the song proved to be a big hit for Creation.
“We arranged it sort of like a mixture of Barry Ryan, Love Affair, all my influences, and we were playing it and using it as our sort of original song, I suppose,” singer/bass guitarist Greg Christensen told AudioCulture in 2017.
Much later it transpired the original singer had been Cockney soul belter James Royal, but Creation did away with the piano and bombastic drums of the Royal treatment, opting instead for sparse acoustic guitar from Glenn Timihou, strings and horns arranged by Brian Hands, and Christensen’s double-tracked vocals.
‘Esther’ – The Mutton Birds
When The Mutton Birds recorded bass guitarist Alan Gregg’s ‘Esther’ for their second album Salty it was done quickly with the band not playing their usual instruments. “It was one of the first times I ever sang in a studio and I didn't have a clue what I was doing,” Gregg said.
“Esther was a real person who I worked with in a record shop in Palmerston North many years ago. All the stuff in the first verse is true – she did shave off her hair and put a ring in her nose, she did start wearing all black. She carried around books by important authors and she went to art-house movies. So those lines were in my mind for ages and one day I was playing the piano and the rest of the words and the chords just kind of arrived.”
The song is a favourite of Canadian troubadour Ron Sexsmith, who blew Gregg’s mind when he sat down and played him the whole song before sitting in with The Mutton Birds to perform it at a festival in Toronto. Gregg doesn’t know if the real Esther ever heard the song.
‘Geraldine’ – Jan Hellriegel
The Geraldine of this eponymous mid-1990s APRA Silver Scroll finalist is in fact Jan Hellriegel herself! “Geraldine was my moniker for a few years,” she said. “I thought Jan was a bit dull and thought Geraldine was a great name.
“I just liked the name and signed off as Geraldine sometimes. It didn’t stick, but I love the song. And that song is probably a good example of what I was thinking in the late 90s.”
Geraldine addresses herself throughout, wondering but then doubting that if she screams loud enough will she recall the night she left herself behind. She surmises, “if diamonds are a girl’s best friend, then use them well to sharpen all your claws”.
Directed by Kerry Brown, the music video was shot in St Kevins Arcade on Auckland’s Karangahape Road. ‘Geraldine’ is from Hellriegel’s Warner Australia album Tremble.
‘Isabelle’ – Greg Johnson Set
Greg Johnson’s first charting single may never have seen the light of day had his band not been encountering problems with the song they were intending to record. “I played ‘Isabelle’ to [bandmate] Nigel Russell on the piano and he suggested we try recording that instead.”
With Mark Tierney engineering and mixing at The Lab, the band “whacked it out” in one afternoon with Pagan label head and band member Trevor Reekie playing dulcimer. Rachel House, who would later turn her hand to acting in local and overseas box-office hits such as Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Moana and Thor: Ragnarok, provided backing vocals.
“I wrote ‘Isabelle’ in 1991 after seeing a news item about the war in Bosnia,” Johnson said. “The reporter interviewed some people about the same age as I was then – early 20s – and it struck me that while we were living the good life here in New Zealand, they were dealing with a horrific war.”
‘Julia’ – Citizen Band
Appearing on Citizen Band’s 1978 debut LP, ‘Julia’ harks back to its writer Geoffrey Chunn’s days with Neil Finn and Buster Stiggs in After Hours. That fledgling band demoed ‘Julia’ at the original Harlequin Studios but never completed the vocals before Finn flew off to join Split Enz in the UK in April 1977.
“We did however manage to squeeze in Neil’s wonderful piano accordion part,” Chunn lamented. “Somewhere there is a two-inch tape … somewhere!”
Chunn wrote the song around 1975 but not about any one person in particular. “‘Julia’ was more a personification of my romantic longings and not the name of any one of them. Maybe the name of all of them with the edges rounded off to fit the musical hole, so to speak.
“When I look back at my lyrics over the decades I see that I long for unrequited love more than tangible love. I can’t say that I understand why that is.”
‘Lucy’ – Goodshirt
From Goodshirt’s second album Fiji Baby, released in 2004, ‘Lucy’ was songwriter Gareth Thomas’s way of telling his “super-smart, charming and attractive” little sister Lucy that everything would work out for her in the end despite going through a hard time in her early 20s.
“I pointed out that she was a model, Dux, got a four-year engineering degree in 2.5 years and all my friends seemed to be in love with her,” Thomas said. “I think she’d just broken up with another one of my friends, for the fifth time. There were two more friends after the song!”
The video features prominent New Zealand TV journalist Amanda Millar interviewing three men besotted with a model named Lucy. As for the real-life Lucy, Thomas told AudioCulture she had “grown into an amazing, positive woman and settled down: business owner, homeowner, happy family and well loved by her friends and community”.
‘Maureen’ – The Warratahs
After an ultimately unsuccessful stint with The Tigers in Sydney, Barry Saunders quit the band in late 1981 and began playing more country-based material with Rose Tattoo guitarist Mick Cocks. It was during this time Saunders wrote The Warratahs’ perennial ‘Maureen’.
Returning to New Zealand in 1984, he introduced his new songs to Dragon’s Paul Hewson as they swapped ideas and spoke with no real enthusiasm of getting a band together in Auckland. By the next year, Hewson was dead and Saunders was flatting in Wellington with his future Warratahs partner Wayne Mason.
Saunders told AudioCulture the lyrics to ‘Maureen’ pretty much said it all. “The name was as I misheard it on introduction, being deaf as a post!” Not so commonplace at the time, the delivery in the New Zealand vernacular was deliberate and liberating.
The Waka Attewell-directed video finds The Warratahs between bass players following the departure of John Donoghue. Saunders and Mason’s former Rockinghorse bandmate Clinton Brown would soon replace him.
‘Maxine’ – Sharon O’Neill
Sharon O’Neill wrote ‘Maxine’ about a working girl in Kings Cross, where she was staying with her New Zealand band while working gigs in and around Sydney in the early 1980s.
“When we got back late from our gig she was always there and I guess I imagined what her life might be like, why she chose that life and how she coped with life in the Cross back then,” O’Neill said. “I gave her the name but I never met her or knew her real name. I’ve always liked the name Maxine. I thought it had an attitude and felt good to sing.
“‘Maxine’ is a special song to sing for me because I love hearing the crowd sing the answer vocals towards the end, and over the course of its life I’ve had positive feedback from women who have known their own Maxine and have been able to relate to the lyrics.”
Recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, a highlight of the session for O’Neill was that producer John Boylan had secured the services of two of her favourite singers, Arnold McCuller and David Lasley, to sing those answer vocals.
‘Rosalie’ – The La De Da’s
Guitarist Kevin Borich hadn’t listened to The La De Da’s 1967 Loxene Golden Disc finalist ‘Rosalie’ for many a year when I contacted him for his reminiscences and suggested to him it was quite a quirky piece.
“I just had a listen to it, very on the quirky,” Borich said. “Some harpsichord in there, mainly bass, and what was Brett [Neilsen] hitting? Maybe it was a tap-dancing horse. Plenty of good humour for sure. Quirky, yes, a good word for the description. But we all thought it was great and not too far from some of The Kinks’ songs in quirkiness.”
Written by organist Bruce Howard and bass guitarist Trevor Wilson, who have both passed away, ‘Rosalie’ was released as a single in New Zealand in August 1967 while the band were having an unhappy time in Melbourne. Although it was climbing the charts when The La De Da’s returned home the following month, Borich says they never performed it live.
‘Virginia’ – Dave McArtney
Just weeks after the demise of Hello Sailor in February 1980, Dave McArtney was back in the studio with Sailor, sans Graham Brazier but augmented by Dragon pianist Paul Hewson, to record his debut solo single ‘Virginia’.
In his posthumously published memoir Gutter Black, McArtney referred to his demos of the time as “my usual mix of unfinished ideas and 65 hooks in one song”. He continued, “But I took one song, written on the road with Dragon in Adelaide, and trimmed it back to just a chug-along, verse-chorus, verse-chorus, middle-eight, and out-on-a-footy-team-singalong.”
Co-produced by McArtney and Ian Morris and with Morris’s help on said soccer team vocals, ‘Virginia’ didn’t set the charts on fire but time and again with songs such as ‘Infatuation’, ‘Is That The Way’, ‘I’m In Heaven’ and ‘Never Fade Away’, McArtney proved himself one of New Zealand’s finest ever pop songwriters.