‘Don’t You Turn Your Back On Love . . .’

Long, long ago, as I was about to graduate from high school, my sister asked me to give her a list of things – records, books and so on – that I might want as graduation presents. I gave her a brief list, and on graduation night, I learned that the list had not been for her – she gave me an Alvarez classical guitar – but for the man she’d been dating for about a year and who, in another year or so, would become my brother-in-law.

From my list, he selected two records: Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney and Janis Joplin’s posthumous Pearl. My placing the latter album on the list was no doubt spurred by hearing Janis’ No. 1 hit, “Me & Bobby McGee,” rolling out of the radio many times earlier that year. And, I think, there was an awareness that Janis had been an important artist, and it was time to learn more about her.

I loved – and still love – Pearl. I loved Ram, too – and still like it – but I knew I would; I wasn’t certain I was going to even like Janis’ album when I put it on my list. But Janis and her band – Full Tilt Boogie – cooked at the right spots and they caressed at the right spots. And two of the tracks spoke to me: Bobby Womack’s “Trust Me” and “Get It While You Can” by Jerry Ragovoy and Mort Shuman.

As I listened to Pearl that summer, the two songs seemed to be two halves of a lesson about girls: Embrace love when it comes, but let it grow in its own time. (At seventeen, I needed all the lessons I could get, but I look back and can see that those lessons, in my life at least, could only successfully be applied after at least one failure to heed them, another reminder that we learn better through experience than we do through even very good lyrics.)

I’ve written about Womack at various times, and I included Joplin’s version of “Trust Me” in my Ultimate Jukebox a few years ago. Today, it’s time to take a listen to “Get It While You Can.” (In the autumn of 1971, the track was released as a single and went to No. 78.)

So why write today about something that happened over the course of the summer in 1971? Because until today, I’d never wondered about where the song “Get It While You Can” came from. It is, as I noted above, a Jerry Ragovoy-Mort Shuman composition, and these days, those names on a label would grab my immediate attention. (So, too, would the name of Bobby Womack.) But not so in 1971. I had much to learn.

That was underlined this morning when I was scanning the Billboard Hot 100 from April 8, 1967. As is usually the case, most of the records at the top of the list were familiar, and many in the lower regions were not. And then, at the bottom, bubbling under at No. 134, was a familiar title: “Get It While You Can” by one Howard Tate.

That sweet record, I learned from some digging, is the original version, arranged and produced by Ragovoy. But as good as it is, it did next to nothing on the Hot 100. After bubbling under for one week, the record was gone. (It was one of six records Tate placed in or near the Hot 100; he had six in the R&B Top 40, as well, but the two lists are not identical: “Get It While You Can” did not hit the R&B chart, while “Baby, I Love You” touched the R&B Top 40 but not the Hot 100 during the summer of 1967. Tate’s best performing record was his first in either chart: “Ain’t Nobody Home,” went to No. 63 on the Hot 100 and to No. 12 on the R&B chart in 1966.)

Would I have liked Tate’s version of “Get It While You Can” if I’d heard it in 1967? Probably not. I wasn’t listening much, and the record’s soul aesthetic was far different than the little bits of pop, rock and light R&B that I was hearing when I did pay attention. I do like it this morning, and there are a few other versions out there that I like a little (I hope to write about those sometime in the next week or so), but when I think of the song, it’s always going to be Janis’ version I hear.

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3 Responses to “‘Don’t You Turn Your Back On Love . . .’”

  1. Paco Malo says:

    “we learn better through experience than we do through even very good lyrics.” I need to think about that one.

  2. […] dug around last week into the origins of “Get It While You Can,” noting that it was written by Jerry Ragovoy and […]

  3. Marc says:

    Another “get it while you can” song is Steve Goodman’s the Ballad of Carl Martin.

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