“First Cut Is The Deepest” — P. P. Arnold

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I always think “P. P. Arnold”. You might think Sheryl Crow, Rod Stewart, Keith Hampshire or even Cat Stevens.

But for me the mellow soulfulness of P. P. Arnold is hard to beat.

A former backing singer for Ike and Tina Turner, P. P. Arnold came to London in the late 1960s and signed for Immediate Records, formed by Andrew Loog Oldham, The Rolling Stones’ manager at the time.

By chance, Mike Hurst, P. P. Arnold’s producer, was also working with a promising teenage singer/songwriter called Cat Stevens and, thank to him, would find the song that made P. P. Arnold a star in late 60’s London.

Because Cat Stevens disappeared from the music industry for several decades, we often forget what a great songwriter he was. However the maturity of his composition about a first love gone wrong was astonishing for someone who was just a kid himself…

I would have given you all of my heart
But there’s someone who’s torn it apart
And he’s taken almost all that I’ve got
But if you want, I’ll try to love again
Baby, I’ll try to love again

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Someone takes your whole world away and we can’t imagine loving anyone ever again.

For some, that’s it for the rest of their life. The experience was too traumatic to go through more than once in a lifetime. They throw themselves into work, or support charities, or take up hobbies to keep their hands busy and their minds occupied.

From that moment on, their heart will only ever be an organ obeying the laws of physics and biology. No longer is it the place their soul calls home...the place where they carry round the feelings of being close to someone they could never imagine being apart from.

A lucky few get beyond that. Often without meaning to.

They gave up on love, but one day something happened — a chance encounter, a shared interest, a moment of collective humanity — and long-forgotten feelings come to the surface once more.

Of course, they don’t consciously realise at the moment it happens. Only after the moment has gone…perhaps on the drive home, or recalling the moment over breakfast the next morning…do they realise they enjoyed sharing some time with another human being again, perhaps for the first time in years, and can’t wait to do it again.

Maybe that’s possible. Perhaps this encounter was with a work colleague or a friend of a friend, where you can call in a few favours and engineer another encounter to check those feelings are still there the second time you meet. After all, given what happened last time, you need some corroborating evidence those feelings were real…all those years of loneliness might just have been playing tricks with your mind.

But sometimes it isn’t. Perhaps you shared an hour at an airport while you each waited for your flight to two different cities. Perhaps you just caught someone’s eye on a bus or a train and an instant connection stirred up those unfamiliar feelings inside you — however you have no idea who they were or where they were going and you haven’t seen them since.

Maybe that’s all it will ever be. A moment in time where, like the lovely movie “Sliding Doors”, you can dream about what might have been if the circumstances has been just a tiny bit different…if your airport lounge companion turned out to be sitting next to you on your flight…if the commuter you had noticed across the carriage had been standing next to you instead.

Then you might have reached out. Got their number. Invited them for a coffee.

But the opportunity passed. And like in all the best Hollywood movies, you spend your time wondering what might have been.

Even for those who are prepared to put their initial reservations on one side and give love another go, it’s by no means easy to put what happened last time behind you…

I still want you by my side
Just to help me dry the tears that I’ve cried
And I’m sure gonna give you a try
And if you want, I’ll try to love again
Baby, I’ll try to love again but I know
The first cut is the deepest

Yes, the first time you have your heart broken is the time it hurts the most. From them on, you make sure that never happens again. You either avoid love altogether or you protect yourself by making sure you never give 100% of yourself to a new relationship.

Your first love got everything you had to give. You’re determined no-one else is going to share more than 90% of you to make sure there’s a small piece left intact if (when) they let you down like that first love did.

You need a piece of yourself you can rebuild from instead of needing to build yourself up from the foundations all over again. You made that mistake once. You’ll never make it again.

Which is why it takes a very special person to understand and accept that. Someone who wants you to keep that bit of yourself safe, protected, cossetted. They know they’re not going to let you down, but they understand why you have to operate as if they will.

They understand what “the first cut is the deepest” really means.

Suiting the mood of the moment, P. P. Arnold’s version of “First Cut Is The Deepest” is the definitive one for me…an opinion original songwriter Cat Stevens shares.

For starters, I love the late 1960’s soul sound producer Mike Hurst fashioned for P. P. Arnold. It could easily have been recorded in one of Memphis’s finest recording studios of the day, and sounds like it might have been, but P. P. Arnold’s version of “First Cut Is The Deepest” was recorded in London with an ex-folkie in the producer’s chair.

Mike Hurst first got traction in the music industry with Dusty and Tom Springfield in The Springfields, who stormed up the UK and US charts in the early 1960s with hits like “Island Of Dreams”. He’d go on notch up major chart hits with groups like Manfred Mann, The Spencer Davis Group and Showaddywaddy.

But I don’t think he was ever involved with quite as much of a tear-jerker as “First Cut Is The Deepest”.

Of course, P. P. Arnold’s wonderful vocal does much of the heavy lifting here, but putting that vocal against the backdrop of such a wonderful arrangement and wringing the last ounce of emotion out of the lyrics…well, that’s an impressive job, expertly executed.

Your memories may be of a different version of “First Cut Is The Deepest”, but if you aren’t familiar with hers, give P. P. Arnold’s version a try first.

Her recording was the first hit version of the song, hitting the UK Top 20 in 1967, although it’s not so well-known outside the UK.

By and large, the later versions did better in the charts — Rod Stewart’s and Sheryl Crow’s versions, in particular, both did extremely well . But for a slice of near-perfect 1960’s pop, you won’t get much better than P. P. Arnold’s mellow, soulful performance.

However, just in case one of the other versions is your personal favourite, you’ll find some other recordings of Cat Stevens’ song of learning to love again after P. P. Arnold’s video below…

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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