The Infinite Jukebox: Reparata’s ‘Shoes’

I’ve thought about writing about this unusual but fun song several times but have always been held back by the conviction that I have already. But a prolonged search on the blog, and an equally prolonged search of my laptop shows no sign of even the word Reparata being used. So be prepared to hear a complicated tale about a hit that never was.
The name Reparata immediately leads the connoisseur of Sixties music to the New York girl group Reparata and The Delrons, whose only success in the UK charts came in 1968 when they took their twee and bubbly song ‘Captain of your Ship’ to no. 13. They had the typical girl group format, Reparata – real name Mary Aiese – as the lead singer, the Delrons (one of whom was stone cold gorgeous) as the backing voices.
‘Captain of your Ship’s British Top 20 score was the girls’ biggest success. They were used as backing singers on the Stones’ ‘Honky Tonk Women’, but in 1969, Reparata left the group, after marrying, leaving Lorraine Mazzola to take over lead vocals. And, in due course, start to call herself Reparata. You can see what’s coming, can’t you?
Mary O’Leary, as she now was, returning to recording in 1971 on a solo basis, using the Reparata name, which she’d taken on her confirmation. The other Reparata became a backing singer for Barry Manilow.
We jump now to late 1974. Mary Reparata records the song ‘Shoes’, written by Eric Beam and recorded by his band, Felix Harp in 1973. There’d been other versions released but Reparata’s version came out in the UK as a promo single in late 1974, using a remix on the original backing track. It was then released commercially in spring 1975 on a different label and started getting airplay in America.
A problem arose when Lorraine Reparata sued her former bandmate over the use of the name, killing the song’s momentum in the United States. That didn’t stop the single being released in the UK in October, picking up radio airplay and starting to pick up sales. Tony Blackburn made it his Record of the Week, everyone was expecting a Top 10 hit, and then – a second crunch.
Reparata had signed an exclusive three year deal with Dart Records entitling them to sole ownership of all her works and recordings. It had expired in February 1975, but they were convinced the song must have been recorded before then, which we know it was. Therefore it belonged to them, not to Polydor. The song was building, It was in the chart, it had reached no 43…
And Dart Records applied for an injunction against Polydor selling it.
Result: people want to buy the record, in increasing numbers, but it isn’t in the shops, it isn’t being pressed, Radio 1 has stopped playing it – what’s the point of playing a single you can’t buy, no matter how much you rate it? No top 10, not even a top 42. And, as was inevitable, when the dispute was resolved, when the single was once again made available, in two identical versions, one on each label, the time had gone. ‘Shoes’ was a thing of the past. No-one was interested.
Now I didn’t know any of this in 1975.I just assumed that the Great British Record Buying Public had exercised it’s inalienable right to get it all wrong again and didn’t like the record. Some indefinable time later, I heard about the record not being in the shops when wanted, and even then I just assumed it was the same story that cropped up from time to time. Some singles, even albums sometimes, were never the hits they would have been because the recording printing presses weren’t printing the physical copies. Press-shop strikes put paid to Kirsty MacColl’s original ‘They Don’t Know’, priority runs for more popular bands meant Pete Atkin fans couldn’t get his albums. In those days it wasn’t quite vinyl or nothing but it was close, and the idea of the ‘cassingle’ – which never caught on – hadn’t arisen.
Reparata just ended up screwed up by time and circumstance.
But what of ‘Shoes’ itself, the song, the singing? Is it worth all this long-winded fuss after all?
Obviously I think so. It’s an odd little number, starting off with its subject being a wedding, not one of pop’s top five subjects for a song. Then there’s Reparata’s calm, understated vocals, sung in a lower register that was usual for her, low enough to mislead some listeners into thinking this was a male singer, and causing others to claim that this somewhat unemotional treatment is intended to cast a shadow of unease, an undermining of what’s being sung about here. And there’s the song’s odd structure, without a chorus, without a break in tempo, and it’s unusual mixture of instruments, the main rhythm played on harpsichord, an enthusiastic bouzouki break, namechecked in the lyrics. They say the song has a ‘Middle Eastern’ feel but, despite Reparata being Catholic, and the song hinting at a Catholic ceremony, I’ve always felt ‘Shoes’ to be strongly Greek in flavour.
And what I hear is celebration, love and celebration, spreading way beyond the couple tying their happy knot, Johnny and Louise both on their knees, praying to God confess them that he may bless them on their wedding day… You’re getting a bit of the idea now. It’s a stream of lyrics, one following another, all building into the sensation of a great big affair of family and friend bringing their abounding warmth and love to the occasion. Father following them as they run down the aisle, throwing rice, Uncle Jerry opening the wine…
Why’s it called ‘Shoes’? It wasn’t known by that name until Reparata recorded it. The title comes in the only couplet whose meaning isn’t open and clear: Mother didn’t give her abuse, she didn’t forget her shoes. What? Are you sure that word is abuse? On a 1975 transistor radio I always heard it as ‘her views’. What is it about the shoes anyway?
But really it doesn’t matter, the song’s long past that by now, we’ve leapt from wedding to reception, Tom brings his band, bouzouki in his hand, and yes, here it comes, and Reparata’s voice lifts as she tells us everything’s so grand and gay, we can frolic all day, but don’t wait a moment, Louise starts to dance, Johnny gets a glance from all the other girls who smile, cos they know all the while, and what they know is that when the happy couple retire to their secret place to make love there’ll be music filling the air…
And the music fills the air, with a moment of an angel choir, and a break in the unchanging rhythm for clap and ‘hey hey hey’s but even though the song fades out there’s the sense that it’s still going on, that Johnny and Louise’s wedding reception is still going on, Louise is dancing, Tom’s bouzouki is still in his hand, and I really don’t get this idea of bittersweet or an ironic undercutting, because all I hear is celebration, which makes this song alive.
I really would have liked to have seen Reperata reach the Top Ten. I bet it would have peaked at no. 8: that’s what it was like in those days.

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