Our Winter Love
latest edit: 4 December 2016
(above) Bill Justis and Bill Pursell
(above, left) Justis is best known for his influential 1957 instrumental hit Raunchy, (right) Grady Martin is described in the Wikipedia profile of the artist as “one of the most renowned, inventive and historically significant American session musicians in country music and rockabilly.”
Our Winter Love (m. Johnny Cowell, w. Bob Tubert)
According to the story told in an article by M. C. Antil titled, Song of the Day: Bill Pursell’s “Our Winter Love”, a demo recording of the original composition by Johnny Cowell was mailed to a Nashville publishing company co-owned by legendary session guitarist Grady Martin. The year of composition is not given. The original title of the composition was Long Island Sound. Sometime in 1962, the acetate demo recording by Cowell caught the attention of songwriting partners Bill Pursell and Bill Justis at Martin’s publishing company. Their interest was piqued even more so after Martin mistakenly played the disc for them at the wrong speed (a 78 RPM disc played at 45 RPM), giving the slowed down piano introduction a unique quality. They went to work on creating a recording which would reproduce that effect.
In order to obtain something like the haunting sound they had heard on the acetate played at slow speed, pianist-composer Pursell developed a way of playing the opening piano chords “with very stiff fingers” followed immediately by much softer repetitions. Antil says, “The technique gave the melody what Pursell would later claim was an “icy” sound, and it was soon suggested by someone that the song be renamed Our Winter Love.”
With modifications of the melody by Pursell, a Bill Justis arrangement which borrowed a distorted guitar idea from the 1961 Marty Robbins hit Don’t Worry, and backed by an orchestra directed by Martin, they produced a 1962 recording that was very successful.
Bill Pursell — recorded in 1962; issued, according to 45cat.com, on 2 November 1962 on the single Columbia 4-42619, b/w “A Wound Time Can’t Erase” (B. Johnson)
Single chart positions and personnel, from the above-cited Song of the Day article :
The song climbed to #9 on the pop charts, and to #4 on the adult contemporary charts. It even climbed to #20 on the R&B charts. Meanwhile the album, which took its name from the hit single, reached #28
Bill Pursell: piano
Boots Randolph: tenor sax
Harold Bradley: bass
The Anita Kerr Singers: choral vocals
Versions including Bob Tubert lyric
Lyrics were added by Bob Tubert no later than 1963. At least two vocal versions of the song were recorded that year.
- Anita Bryant — Columbia 4-42739 (45cat, Discogs), b/w “Honest John,” issued on 8 Mar 1963
- The Hi-Lites — King 45-5730, b/w “Death of an Angel,”* issued in March 1963
The only other vocal recordings I’ve found so far are the following:
- The Dovells — issued in 1965 on Jamie 1369, b/w “Blue”
- The Lettermen — issued on 26 December 1966 on the single Capitol Records 5813, b/w “Warm” (Jimmy Krondes, Sid Jacobson); also issued on the 1967 album Warm, Capitol Records T 2633 (Mono), Capitol ST-2633 (Stereo)
- The Mercy — final track on the 1969 album Love (Can Make You Happy), Sundi SRLP 803, credited to “The Mercy” a studio construction put together by Sundi Records in an attempt to capitalize on the hit single (#2, Hot 100 and #2, AC) “Love (Can Make You Happy),” after the leader and manager of the original band Mercy abruptly enlisted in the Army, presumably before the single began to climb the charts.
- The Sycamore Street Singers — from the 1970 album Bright Down the Middle, (Canada) Ampersand 477-1602
I’ve also included the following instrumental recordings:
- Robert Maxwell: His Harp and Orchestra — from the 1965 album A Song for All Seasons, Decca DL 74609 (Stereo), Decca DL 4609
- Leon Russell — from the 1973 album Looking Back, Olympic Records 7112
- Johnny Cowell with members of the Toronto Symphony — recorded at Ontario Place in Toronto, 1978
Other instrumental recordings of the song include orchestral versions by André Kostelanetz, Lawrence Welk, and Hugo Winterhalter. It was also the title track of the last recorded album by violin virtuoso Felix Slatkin. However, Slatkin died suddenly of a heart attack a day prior to the scheduled recording of the song. With the encouragement of the president of Liberty Records and Slatkin’s widow the song was recorded by the orchestra as scheduled on 9 February 1963.
Anita Bryant — issued on 8 March 1963 on Columbia 4-42739, b/w “Honest John”
The Hi-Lites we are concerned with are described by the site White Doo-Wop Collector as a “pop trio from Toronto, Canada; Harry Harding, Larry Sturino and Jimmy Nolan featuring Bill Holmes on harmonica.” The group evolved through a series of name and personnel changes. Harding began his professional career with a quartet called The Four Emcees. A retrospective of the group’s history at foreveryoungnews.com by Andrew Merey says,
Higgins joined the group in Cleveland in late 1957. With Harding, Higgins, Sturino and the late Iver McIver now on side, the foursome that would prevail through the next two “magic” years had been assembled.
Label changes required new names for The Four Emcees, so they later recorded as The Stereos, The Nobles, and The Hi-Lites. This group is not to be confused with the vocal harmony group from New Jersey, Ronnie and the Hi-Lites, active in the early 1960s.
The Hi-Lites — issued in March 1963 on King 45-5730, b/w “Death of an Angel”
The following audio file of the recording of Our Winter Love by the Canadian vocal group The Hi-Lites has very poor sound quality. I’ve heard several copies of the recording, all with the same sound issues. The ring of mic feedback is heard periodically throughout, an artifact introduced who knows when. Other issues include a general coarseness of the sound throughout, loud cracks and pops, intermittently out of tune music, fluctuating volume, and at least one discordant voice near the end, on the word “desire.” Nevertheless, it is brilliant.
To listen to or download an audio file please visit
The Dovells — issued in 1965 on Jamie 1369, b/w “Blue” (added on 22 February 2016)
An incomplete audio file can be listened to at the following page:
The Lettermen — issued on 26 December 1966 on the single Capitol Records 5813, b/w “Warm” (Jimmy Krondes, Sid Jacobson); also issued on the 1967 album Warm, Capitol Records T 2633 (Mono), Capitol ST-2633 (Stereo)
The Mercy — last track on side 2 of the 1969 album Love (Can Make You Happy), Sundi SRLP 803
The track begins at 12:18 in the following video:
The Sycamore Street Singers — from the 1970 album Bright Down the Middle, (Canada) Ampersand 477-1602
OUR WINTER LOVE
(m. Johnny Cowell, w. Bob Tubert)
as sung by the Hi-Lites (back vocals excluded) 1963*
Born in wintertime,
Warms this heart of mine
With dancing fire
Of sweet desire
We’ve found our winter love
Cold as fallen tears,
Brought me chilly fears
How could I guess
We’d find our winter love
Now the world is warm,
Warm through coldest storms
We’ve found a fire
Of sweet desire
We’ve found our winter love
lyric transcribed by doc (Jim Radcliff), c. 2011; edited, 2013; organization and punctuation revised, 2016
Selected instrumental recordings
Robert Maxwell: His Harp and Orchestra — from the 1965 album A Song for All Seasons, Decca DL 74609 (Stereo), Decca DL 4609
Leon Russell — from the 1973 album Looking Back, Olympic Records 7112
This recording has, for unexplained reasons, been included on recent digital re-releases of the Glen Campbell album The 12 String Guitar of Glen Campbell, originally released in 1966, though no early version of the album that I’ve seen contains the track. In fact it replaces the track “Walk Right In” from the original on these digital re-releases. The track has also been included on various other digital release albums on which the instrumentation for the track is credited to Leon Russell (harpsichord) and Glen Campbell (12 string guitar). That Campbell may have been incorrectly credited in these cases is attested to by the fact that in listening to the track one detects no evidence that a 12 string guitar is among the instruments being played on the recording. Also, the lists of musicians credited for contributing to the album on which the track was released, the 1973 Leon Russell album Looking Back, at pages on the album at Discogs.com and Wikipedia, do not include Glen Campbell. The only person credited with playing guitar on the album is Tommy Tedesco.
Johnny Cowell with members of the Toronto Symphony — recorded at Ontario Place in Toronto, 1978
The arrangement is clearly not akin to the original, which is described in the mcantil.com article cited above as uptempo. Rather, Cowell seems to have adopted a tempo similar to that of Pursell’s 1962 recording. Video provider Zarudny84 indicates that Cowell had composed the piece in response to a request for a trumpet solo for Al Hirt to record in upcoming sessions.
* Comparative analysis of significant differences in the words sung in the six known vocal recordings of “Our Winter Love”:
Eyes, cold as fallen tears, brought…
In the second section of the lyric, the first two words sung by Anita Bryant (1963) and the Lettermen (1966) appear to be “Ice cold.” In the version by the Hi-Lites (1963) the two words are instead “Eyes, cold…,” which makes more sense in the context of the words that follow, which are different than those sung by the Bryant and the Lettermen. The Sycamore Street Singers (1970), appear to sing the same first two words in the second section as Bryant and the Lettermen, and while they sing the same words as the Hi-Lites in the following three lines in the section, the phrasing of them is more like that of the Bryant and Lettermen versions, as I’ll illustrate presently.
The word which follows “tears” in the second section is typically given in online lyrics sites as “grow.” That not only leaves you with the peculiar phrase “as fallen (or falling) tears grow” — we usually speak of tears growing before they fall — but also forces you, in the case of the Lettermen version, to admit the invention of a new word, “me-chilling,” used as an adjective, ostensibly a modifier of the noun phrase “fears of loneliness.” The words sung by Bryant are different, but equally strange. Here are the most troublesome lines as sung by Bryant and the Lettermen (as I hear them):
As falling tears draw
Me chilly fears
As fallen (or “fallin'”) tears draw (or “drop)
It is evident to me that neither of the two artists sing “grow” at the end of the second line of this portion of the second section, as is usually given at lyrics sites. The word sung here by Bryant seems to be “draw.” The word sung in this location by the Lettermen sounds to me like either “draw” or “drop.”
The phrase “As falling tears draw me chilly fears,” which I was pretty certain I heard Anita Bryant sing in previously included copies of the recording, is certainly an odd one. A better quality recording added on 25 January 2016, suggests that Bryant might (like the Hi-Lites and Sycamore Street Singers) sing the word “brought,” but without a distinct articulation of the “t” at the end, instead of the word “draw.” I’ve considered the possibility that the Lettermen also sing “brought” in this location, but after many dozens of listens over the past couple of years to various copies of the recording, I haven’t been able to convince myself that that they sing the word “brought,” instead of “draw” or “drop.”
The questionable compound neologism or two word phrase incorporating the word “chilling” sung by the Lettermen is usually given as “bechilling” or “be chilling,” though they very clearly sing “me-chilling, or “me chilling.”
Below are some relevant Google search results (most from 13 March 2016), which suggest to me the prevalence on the web of inaccurate transcriptions of the words sung in recordings of the song by particular artists.
- “Our Winter Love” “tears grow” — 391 results
- “Our Winter Love” “tears grow” Lettermen — 376 results
- “Our Winter Love” “tears draw” — 1 result (this page); zero results for “tears drop”
- “Our Winter Love” “tears brought” — 2 results (this page and one other)
- “Our Winter Love” “bechilling” — 191 results
- “Our Winter Love” “bechilling fears” — 186 results
- “Our Winter Love” “be chilling” — 174 results
- “Our Winter Love” “me chilling” (Lettermen) — 4 results (this page, and three different pages on one other site)
- “Our Winter Love” “me chilling” Lettermen (also “me-chilling”) — 1 result (this page)
- “Our Winter Love” “me chilly” (Bryant) — 2 results (this page and one other)
In the 1963 recording by the Hi-Lites, the word usually given as “grow” in published lyric transcriptions is difficult to understand, but I believe it is “brought,” which at least coheres and doesn’t require word invention or nonsense phrasing to make it fit. The word “brought” in this location (end of first line, second section) is more clearly heard in the 1965 recording by the Dovells, and in the 1970 recording by the Sycamore Street Singers.
The different beginning (“Eyes, cold…” rather than “Ice cold”), the word “brought” instead of “draw/drop,” or “graw/grow,” plus a difference in the point at which the cited lines are broken up in the version by the Hi-Lites, result in the lines saying something much more coherently than in either the Anita Bryant or the Letterman versions. The Hi-Lites break the lines in consideration as follows:
Cold as fallen tears,
Brought me chilly fears
These lines form a sentence. In the second line, “cold as fallen tears” is an adjective phrase which modifies the subject, “Eyes.” Remove the modifier and we’ve got “Eyes…brought me chilly fears of loneliness.” A certain type of eyes had this effect. What type? Eyes which were “cold as fallen tears.”
In the versions by the Dovells, and the Sycamore Street Singers, the word “brought” is clearly heard, but in each case the first two lines (or phrases) of the section are broken in the same way as they are in the Bryant and the Lettermen versions. Like Bryant and the Lettermen, both the Dovells and the Sycamore Street Singers seem to begin this section with the phrase “Ice cold.”
The Dovells 1965 version goes:
As falling tears brought
Me chilling fears
The corresponding lines in the recording by The Mercy (1969) include two which are significantly different than those in all of the other cases in consideration. Their version seems to go:
And softly tears fall
We share these tears
The 1970 version by the Sycamore Street Singers goes:
As fallin’ (or “fallen”) tears brought
Me chilling fears
Note also that the first three lines of the first section of the chorus are broken up differently in the Hi-Lites version than in all other vocal versions in consideration here. The Hi-Lites sing:
Love, (1 note)
Born in wintertime, (5)
Warms this heart of mine (5)
whereas each of the other vocal versions goes:
Love born (2 notes)
In wintertime warms (5)
This heart of mine (4)
In each case, the note pattern present in the opening three lines of the first section (either 1-5-5 or 2-5-4) is repeated in the first three lines of the second and third sections. While in each version with the 2-5-4 pattern the two notes correspond to two words in the initial line of the first and second sections, and the same is true of the initial line of the third section in most versions, the Lettermen and the Mercy are exceptions in that in the first line of the third section of their versions each sing two notes for just the one word, “Now.”
We’d find vs. We’d found…
In the 1966 recording by the Lettermen, the final line of the second section appears to be “We’d found our winter love.” This doesn’t make as much sense in the context of the preceding lines (which describe the despair before love was found) as “We’d find our winter love,” as sung by the Hi-Lites (1963), and by the Sycamore Street Singers (1970). In the first and final sections of the Hi-Lites and Sycamore Street Singers versions, the
combination of the auxiliary verb “have” and the verb “found” is in the present perfect form, “have found.” So the tense of the “found” line alternates, going from present perfect in the first section, to past perfect in the second, and back to present perfect in the third.
The world is warm vs. …warm, warm and coldest storms vs. cold and storm
There are differences in the final sections of the versions by Anita Bryant, the Hi-Lites, the Lettermen, the Mercy, and the Sycamore Street Singers (final section of the Dovells version not included in the incomplete audio clip linked to above). Here are some of those I’ve detected:
1. The word that begins the final section, “Now,” is repeated in the versions by the Hi-Lites, Anita Bryant, and the Sycamore Street Singers, but not in the versions by the Lettermen and the Mercy.
2. The Hi-Lites sing the second and third lines of the final section with a different break between them than found in the other four versions — the word “warm” finishes the second line (or phrase) and begins the third, rather than being repeated in the second line as in the versions by Bryant, the Lettermen, the Mercy, and the Sycamore Street Singers. This difference is a result of the different note pattern present in the Hi-Lites version that I illustrate above, where I conclude:
In each case, the note pattern present in the opening three lines of the first section (either 1-5-5 or 2-5-4) is repeated in the first three lines of the second and third sections.
The Lettermen and the Mercy retain the 2-5-4 pattern in the last section, despite singing only one word in the first line, by giving that one word two notes.
3. The third line of the final section in the versions by the Hi-Lites, Anita Bryant, and the Sycamore Street Singers ends with the phrase “coldest storms,” which imperfectly rhymes with “warm,” the last word in the previous line. The Lettermen sing instead “cold and storm.” The third line sung by the Mercy is unclear (see #5 below).
We’ve fed the fire
Of sweet desire
5. Like its second section, the final section in the version by the Mercy is quite different than that of all of the other versions. It appears to go as follows (third line questionable):
The world is warm, warm
With heart that’s warm
We’ve found our love
Our sacred love
We’ve found our winter love