Spoiler if you haven’t seen the end of Dr Strangelove: everybody dies. Well, presumably they do, since the film ends with the outbreak of nuclear war. Soundtracked, naturally, with Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again”.
I haven’t found a definitive answer as to which recording the film used, but it seems to be the same arrangement done by Roland Shaw for Lynn’s 1953 remake version. An A/B comparison quickly reveals it’s not the same performance though (for one thing, on the film version the backing vocals are noticeably out of time), so my best guess is that it’s an alternative take from the 1953 session. Speculation: could Kubrick’s people have been supplied with an out-take by mistake? In any case, it’s certainly neither the original 1939 version (on which Lynn was accompanied by a Novachord, a pioneering if temperamental and ultimately not very successful analogue synthesiser), nor the better-known orchestral recording from 1943. Nor even the dashed-off remake from Lynn’s 1962 Hits of the Blitz LP. I can tell you this, I really didn’t expect to be delving quite so deeply into Vera Lynn scholarship. Which, incidentally, doesn’t appear to exist, as you’d think somebody in the last 50-odd years would have attempted to identify the Dr Strangelove take already… but apparently not.
I wasn’t intending to post any Vera Lynn today… or ever… but the fact that the original version used a synthesiser, in 1939, is actually rather interesting, so here is that version:
However, what I’m really here for is the fallout (pardon the pun) from Kubrick’s use of the song. “We’ll Meet Again” wasn’t entirely unknown in the States before then: Benny Goodman laid down a really rather fun swing version in 1942, with a young Peggy Lee on vocals; and Frank Sinatra cut a slow and boring version on his 1962 album Songs From Great Britain. But after Dr Strangelove‘s concluding mushroom cloud montage, the song suddenly became hip in the US counterculture as well. First to the punch were The Byrds, who used the song to close their 1965 debut album Mr Tambourine Man. That the song was considered quintessentially British is reflected in the performance, which is marred by some terrible mock-English accents…
Also playing up the Englishness is this recording by The Turtles, an unsuccessful US single which British audiences got to hear when it was issued as the B-side to the UK pressing of “Happy Together”. This is my favourite version, an upbeat celebratory arrangement with a pub-style piano.
There were other versions as well, and they didn’t always go for the Anglophile angle. For example, this attempt at a Beach Boys-style rendition by The Cryan’ Shames:
The song was well established as a peacetime, as well as wartime, standard by the time P. J. Proby gave it the lounge treatment in 1972 (stick with it, it starts slow but it goes full Vegas by the end):
Proby’s version demonstrates a perennial problem for interpreters of this song: there’s not a lot to it. You basically have to do the entire song twice to stretch it out to a reasonable length. It doesn’t help that none of the later versions (even Lynn’s own) bother with the opening verse present on the 1939 Novachord original. Proby’s partial answer to the problem, a spoken-word section, is also used by Johnny Cash on American IV, his last album released during his lifetime. This was the same album which included his acclaimed version of Nine Inch Nails‘ “Hurt”. “We’ll Meet Again” is the closing song (of course), and it’s a rather sweet acoustic version. Special mention has to go to Terry Harrington for his understated clarinet solo.
I was going to leave it there, but it occurred to me that we haven’t heard a female performance since, well, the original. So to take us full circle (kinda), here’s the version from She & Him‘s 2014 covers album, Classics. It’s actually quite strange to hear the song done straight again…
And we’ll meet again… in a few days. It may even still be sunny.
Sharing thirteen versions of this song, is definitely overkill. I had planned to share a three-track single and then got carried away and started gathering all the versions I have. I will highlight my favourites as we go along…
The song in question is “Tokyo Wa Yoru No Shichiji” (literally “7pm in Tokyo”, but known in English as “The Night Is Still Young”), a 1993 single which was the first major release by Japanese alt-dance oddments Pizzicato Five after they’d slimmed down to a duo of Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi. It’s one of their straighter club dance tracks, rather than one of their quirky “modern retro” things like “Twiggy Twiggy” or “Baby Love Child”. At this stage they were still unknown in the West but the single would eventually appear on Matador’s second P5 compilation, The Sound Of Music, where I first heard it. The original version is still a favourite…
Link: Pizzicato Five – The Night Is Still Young (single version) – recommended pick!
The original single also featured an instrumental version (which I don’t have) and this mellower remix by Yukihiro Fukutomi:
Then in 1994, they revisited it in two very different versions. On the EP “A Television’s Workshop”, they did it in a more disco arrangement with rhythm guitar and strings. Nice! I suspect that if P5 themselves had to choose a definitive version, this might be the one. Probably the most immediately likeable version as well.
Link: Pizzicato Five – The Night Is Still Young (MFSB Readymade Mix) – recommended pick!
The other 1994 version was this remix (by Fukutomi again) which appeared on their album Overdose:
In 1995, during a promotional tour for The Sound Of Music, the duo did this live acoustic version for KCRW Los Angeles.
Link: Pizzicato Five – The Night Is Still Young (KCRW acoustic session) – recommended pick!
And when P5 finally split in 2001, their farewell compilation Pizzicato Five RIP (on their Japanese label Nippon Columbia, not Matador) featured yet another remix.
Since the split, both halves of the duo have revisited the song solo. Yasuharu was first, producing this 2006 version for his protege Karia Nomoto, aka Karly. “The First Cut” is the album version (the album being Dance Music, which I will share at some point), and is somewhere between the original and the Readymade MFSB arrangements:
Maki Nomiya waited a bit longer, and then put versions of “The Night Is Still Young” on four consecutive albums! The deluge started in 2012 when she marked 30 years in the business we call show by recording an album of “self covers”, including this:
I’m not sure that really adds anything to the previous versions. However, Nomiya’s more recent takes on the song, actually do something different with it. First is the swing arrangement on her 2014 live album Miss Maki Nomiya Sings Shibuya-kei Standards:
Link: Maki Nomiya – The Night Is Still Young (live) – recommended pick!
…which she also did a studio recording of for her 2015 album What The World Needs Now Is Love.
And her most recent re-invention of the song is this distinctively Japanese “bon odori” version, tacked on as a bonus track to her 2016 album Un Homme Et Une Femme. It’s a little bit cheesy, but an interesting twist all the same.