Sunday, January 7, 2018

"Tar and Cement"

I've stated elsewhere that (and I'm quoting from myself, here) "I 'became aware' of the music playing on AM radio during the years 1962 and 1963, when I was roughly six years old. I say 'roughly' because I didn't turn six until very late 1962, namely, November."

Close to twenty years ago, not long after I first started using the internet, I decided to look for a song I remembered from my childhood. I use the word "remembered" very loosely. I couldn't recall what year the song was released, but I was pretty sure that it hit the airwaves sometime during the early 1960s, maybe even before the Beatles arrived in America.

The biggest obstacles to my search were the facts that:
  • I didn't know the title of the song.
  • I didn't know who sang it.
  • I couldn't even remember more than a few random words from it!
Not a hell of a lot to go on, right? My faded memories told me that one line was "I can see it all so clearly now."

Needless to say, as far as my search went, I was what they call "S.O.L."!

Several years later -- "several" being more than ten -- I tried again, and I have no idea what I did differently, but this time I found the damned song!

As it happens, I was off by a few years regarding the song's approximate year of release. "Tar and Cement", sung by Verdelle Smith, came out in 1966, and just barely made it onto the Top 40 in the USA, reaching #38. However, it climbed all the way to #1 in Australia.

Here's the song, for those of you who want to see if it was really worth all the fuss... and right below the embedded video are the lyrics, if you want to follow along!

The town I came from was quiet and small
We played in the meadows where the grass grew so tall
In summer the lilacs would grow everywhere
The laughter of children would float in the air

 And I can see it all so clearly now
Still going on
Yes, I can see it oh so clearly now
 Though all of it's gone

 As I grew older I had to roam
Far from my family, far from my home
Into the city, where lives can be spent
Lost in the shadows of tar and cement.
Into the city where I had my eye
On all the pleasures that money can buy

And every night I'd sit alone and learn
What loneliness meant
Up in my rented room above a world
Of tar and cement.

Each day I'd wake up and look at the sky
Think of the meadows where I used to lie
Then I'd remember all of that's gone
You're in the city, you better push on
Get what you came for, before it's too late
Get what you came for, the meadows can wait.

So every night I'd sit alone and learn
What loneliness meant
Up in my rented room above a world
Of tar and cement.

Many years later, tired at last
I headed for home to look for my past
I looked for the meadows, there wasn't a trace
Six lanes of highway had taken their place
Where were the lilacs and all that they meant
Nothing but acres of tar and cement.

Yet I can see it there so clearly now
Where has it gone?
Yes I can see it there so clearly now
Where has it gone?

Where are the meadows? (tar and cement)
Where are the lilacs? (tar and cement)
And where is the tall grass? (tar and cement)
The laughter of children? (tar and cement)
Nothing but acres (tar and cement)
Acres and acres (tar and cement)

Typically, I wasn't content to stop there. I did a little research on Ms. Smith. And I must admit that I did said research with a bit of trepidation, because as all of my regular readers know, it usually happens that whenever I wonder "Whatever happened to So-and-So?" I discover that the person in question is dead, or worse, I find out very soon afterwards that the person just died.

Well, there wasn't a lot of information regarding Verdelle Smith on the internet back then, nor now, but at least I can say that, as of this writing, she is alive, thankfully!

Verdelle Smith, born in Florida and raised in New Jersey, now lives in Brooklyn. She left the music business shortly after recording "Tar and Cement". One good thing about the internet is that there's always new material being added, so now, there is this interview with Verdelle Smith available!

I also found another version of the song, this time in French, a version which came out the same year. It was called "La maison où j'ai grandi" and sung by a young lady with whom I was unfamiliar, named Françoise Hardy.

Françoise Hardy sometime during the 1960s.

And here, just for the sake of comparison, is Ms. Hardy's version:

Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to delve a little deeper and see whether or not she, too, was still living. I'm happy to say that as of today, she's still with us!


As it turns out, the very first version of the song was performed by an Italian singer, songwriter, actor, director, comedian, and TV host named Adriano Celentano! Celentano, a huge star in Italy, is sometimes referred to by the Italians as "Molleggiato" (the flexible one), and was influenced by both Elvis Presley (and 1950s rock'n'roll in general) and Jerry Lewis!

The original version of the song that became "Tar and Cement" in America was "Il ragazzo della via Gluck" (which translates as "The boy from Gluck Street", not the best title for a song in my opinion, but hey...). Celentano wrote the music, while Luciano Beretta and Miki Del Prete wrote the lyrics, but Celentano evidently had a hand in writing the lyrics because they include several references to Celentano's own life and career. "Il ragazzo della via Gluck" came out in 1966, as did the two versions I mentioned earlier.

In the years since, the song has been covered by many artists, in many different languages. The lyrics for the American version were written by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance.

Here's the original Italian version:

I finally worked up the courage to see if Adriano Celentano was also still alive, and once again, I'm pleased to say that he is! He just turned eighty years old on January 6th, and by the way, he's been married to actress, singer, and television producer Claudia Mori since 1964!

Well, fellow babies, I'm almost done. I just want to share two more videos with you. The first is Françoise Hardy's version of "Il ragazzo della via Gluck" itself, in the original Italian:

And I'm going to conclude with the following song, recorded in the 1970s by Adriano Celentano, "Prisencolinensinainciusol!" Yep, that's the right title. "Prisencolinensinainciusol" consists of Adriano spouting gibberish imitating how English sounds to... well, to people who don't speak English! Give it a listen, won't you?

So, to Verdelle Smith, Françoise Hardy, and Adriano Celentano, all I can say is "Stay healthy!"

And thanks for your time!


  1. Lovely music - I really liked both Verdelle's and Francoise's renditions, both ladies have wonderfully warm voices. Don't speak French but like the how it sounds generally. And that 'gibberish' song is beyond brilliant - I'm gobsmacked by how much work it must have taken to create and arrange and sing that number - so convincing! and hilarious.

    You probably didn't find T&C on your first search because it hadn't been added then to the internet - the youtube video is from 2009. Nothing wrong with your search...and I'm surprised you didn't end up with I can see clearly now which is a more popular/well-known song.

    Thoroughly enjoyed all the music, thanks for posting. And truly glad all the artists are with us! :)

    1. Yeah, so am I. Three out of three still alive? I never expected that!

  2. I liked Verdelle's the best. And look, you are losing your touch, good thing, as all still alive and well. That last one reminds me of some freaky cult for some reason.

  3. My first thought was I've never heard of this song and I don't know who Verdelle is, but the song sounds familiar. I must have heard it somewhere, sometime. My second thought was, Is Verdelle dead? I'm pleased to known she's still kickin'.


    1. Maybe you heard it on the radio as a child. You would have been young enough so it may not be a very clear memory.

  4. Wonderful that they are all still with us. Love the song. Maybe 2018 has broken the spell. No, wait. Did you by chance make a New Year's Resolution? No more wondering and having someone die? haha. :) Would you believe this is the first year in decades I didn't make any resolutions? What has the world come to!?

    1. Me, make a resolution? Nope. It was just dumb luck!

  5. Wow. This is so a lot of good detective work! I do the same when investigating things. Never heard of the track!

    1. I'm not surprised. I haven't heard it on the radio in fifty years! And thanks for the compliment.

  6. I have to admit when I first came over and saw the post, I thought, please not another artist gone to the other side. Maybe, she retired from music because she wanted the meadow and lilacs more than the tar and cement.

    The lyrics are strong and there is a message that stands, time changes things and sometimes we need the basics of life. There is the contrast between country and city living. I guess this makes me think about balance in life. My mind is just wandering again. Sorry!

    1. No apology necessary. I'm glad I posted something that inspired you to think.

      According to the interview I listened to, Verdelle found that the music business didn't mesh with her religious upbringing, so she simply left it.

    2. This is totally unrelated, but yesterday I pulled into a parking spot and looking back at me was a black pickup truck. Now, you might be wondering where is she going with this? Haha it made me think of you. Do you want to know why? I know you do, so I will enlighten you! On the hood of this monster black truck was a yellow Batman symbol. I thought, hmm rather cool, but wait there is more. I noticed someone behind the wheel. He was cloaked in a black hoodie. He had his window down and I said, “hey sometimes you just have to be Batman” he laughed and turned up his radio. I never saw his face as it was still shrouded by his hoodie., but I could feel his smile. I just had to share since you have a Batman persona.

    3. Ha. Great story. Thanks for sharing it, True!

  7. You are quite the sleuth. My guess as to your success this time is that search engines are simply that much more efficient. But it really sounds like you came up with the mother lode on this one!

    I love the fact that I can google five words of a song and come up with a title and artist.

    1. There's certainly a lot more on the internet now than there was fifteen years ago. Somewhere around 1998 I did a search for "roller derby" and there was practically nothing online at all, as opposed to now, when you can find more than you could ever read.

      I've heard unfamiliar songs on the radio at least twice, and to locate them online, it's just as you said. I just listed a handful of words from the song and found it in no time!

  8. Wow - that was some post! I started to play the first video, but didn't make it to the end. I didn't play the French version - and by the way - isn't she still a beautiful woman? (I'm so jealous of how French women age so incredibly well.) I did listen to some of Adriano's song, which made me laugh. Thank you!
    Susan A Eames at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos

    1. Francoise Hardy was absolutely adorable back in the '60s, and I agree with you that she's still strikingly attractive nowadays, in her seventies.


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