There aren’t many songs more jaunty and free-spirited than “Georgy Girl” by The Seekers.
From the insouciant whistling which gets us started, through its relentless jollity and up-beat harmonies, “Georgy Girl” defines “jaunty” in the same way Clapton defines “guitar god” and The Smiths define “irredeemable misery”.
And jaunty is hard to pull off. Play it up too much and it’s in danger of becoming twee. Pitch it too low and it starts to feel insipid. It’s a difficult balance.
It helps that you can always hear the sunshine in Judy Durham’s voice, which accounts for much of the positive feel of “Georgy Girl”, but the warmth in the harmonies help considerably too. And let’s face it, it’s not like Judith did her own whistling…
The Seekers were from Australia and in many ways, although I’m not sure either group would entirely welcome the comparison, The Seekers were a bit like Peter, Paul and Mary were in the US. There was a heavy folk influence to their style although their biggest hits may not have been, strictly speaking, folk songs.
“Georgy Girl” was The Seekers’ biggest hit in the US, reaching Number Two in the Billboard charts and winning them a gold record. It made Number Three in the UK and was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar as it was also the theme tune from the 1966 movie of the same name, starring Lynn Redgrave and James Mason.
The songwriting team for “Georgy Girl” is a bit of a surprise, though.
Not so much the composer — Tom Springfield, Dusty’s brother and leader of The Springfields, who had a huge international hit with “Island Of Dreams”, wrote the music. So the fact that he can write a good tune may not be entirely unexpected news.
The lyricist, on the other hand, might be a lot harder to guess.
Jim Dale wrote the lyrics to “Georgy Girl”. As an actor, he’s well-known to British audiences for his various roles in the long-running series of “Carry On” films. But I’d venture he wouldn’t be the first name on anyone’s lips if they were asked to name a British Oscar-nominated lyric writer.
Jim Dale’s speciality in the “Carry On” films was playing a string of gormless individuals. And I guess he was pretty good at playing gormless as he appeared in 11 of that long-running, if not exactly critically-acclaimed, series of films.
Yet, as well as an Oscar nomination for his lyric writing (he and Tom Springfield were beaten to the Oscar that year by the theme tune for the movie “Born Free”), Jim Dale has another surprising musical claim to fame.
In the late 1950s, Jim was the first pop singer to work under the legendary George Martin, whose career up to that point had made a point of avoiding popular music. With George Martin’s help, Jim Dale made the British charts a handful of times in the late 1950s.
It’s arguable that without the future “Carry On” film actor starting to wean George Martin’s production talents away from his classical music heritage and more towards pop music, we might never have had the Beatles as we think of them today.
Anyway, this article isn’t about actors, except incidentally…it’s about a song.
Although I loved it when I first heard it, I spent much of the intervening years not liking “Georgy Girl” very much. When I was younger I just enjoyed the jaunty tune and the lovely harmonies and didn’t think much more about it.
But as I got older a small part of the lyrics troubled me because they’re essentially saying that dowdy girls should spruce themselves up to become more fashionable and thereby make themselves more attractive to men.
The assumption that the only thing women should be thinking about is making themselves more attractive to men is a point of view I feel sends completely the wrong message, to both men and women.
As I’ve got older, I’ve come to accept that back in the mid-1960s when “Georgy Girl” was written, the lyrics were probably more representative of the way both men and women thought and talked at the time. Which is not to excuse it (I can’t). Putting those thoughts in women’s minds, and preying on the insecurities which bedevil us all was just as reprehensible then as it is today.
But if I remember to put “Georgy Girl” in its historical context of the “swinging sixties”, I can enjoy the song for what it is…as a creature of its time…even if I’m still uncomfortable about that part of the lyrics.
The section that used to wind me up is this verse…
Hey there, Georgy Girl
Why do all the boys just pass you by
Could it be you just don’t try
Or is it the clothes you wear
That said, there are some more positively-framed lyrics too. I especially like…
Hey there, Georgy girl
Dreaming of the someone you could be
Life is a reality
You can’t always run away
However, taken all together, I’ve come to enjoy “Georgy Girl” again in recent years by accepting that it was very much of its time.
Perhaps I shouldn’t stop some lyrics written 50 years ago, when the world was a very different place, get in the way of enjoying a very beautiful, and actually quite tender, song…
Hey there, Georgy girl
Swinging down the street so fancy-free
Nobody you meet could ever see the loneliness there inside you
That opening verse is what really struck home with me the first time I heard “Georgy Girl” and what lead to me liking the song so much at the time.
I’m too young to remember the 1960s, so, at a guess, I probably heard the song for the first time somewhere in the mid-1970s.
Although I’ve always enjoyed music, as a kid “Georgy Girl” was the first song I felt spoke directly to my experience of life. Change the name and a couple of the details and it could easily have been a song about me. No song had ever struck home with me in quite the same way before I heard “Georgy Girl”.
To this day, I go to great lengths to appear outwardly fancy-free and make sure people don’t spot the loneliness inside me. In a few words, Jim Dale summed up my life…now that’s an impactful piece of lyric writing…
Despite it all, there’s hope, though. Even for someone like me who can remember the 1970s…
Hey there, Georgy girl
There’s another Georgy deep inside
Bring out all the love you hide and, oh, what a change there’d be
The world would see a new Georgy girl
Despite having some more challenging lyrics than you might think from a superficial listen, The Seekers leave us on a high.
There is hope for the future.
Tomorrow can be better than today.
Your past doesn’t need to control your future.
I wish all that for you. And after all these years, maybe one day I’ll start to believe that might be true for me too.
In the meantime, please enjoy The Seekers, featuring the wonderfully sunshiny voice of Judy Durham, with one of their biggest hits, “Georgy Girl”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/73XQBWHSVLL1939hb8cQTm