Leonard Cohen’s “Memories” Features Lines From The Shields’ Doo Wop Hit “You Cheated”

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Leonard Cohen Sings “You Cheated, You Lied”

Careful listening to the outro of “Memories,” released as a track on the 1977 Leonard Cohen-Phil Spector collaboration, Death of a Ladies’ Man, reveals Cohen singing1

You cheated, you lied,
You said that you love me.

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This YouTube recording of the album version of Memories starts just before those lyrics begin.

Those lines from “Memories” are significant because they are taken from the lyrics of the 1958 single, “You Cheated” by the Shields, a musical allusion2  the implications of which have been discussed. Three examples follow:

From Memories Leonard Cohen by Phil Kakulas3  (Words & Music November 2012):

The heightened atmosphere also inspired one of Cohen’s finest vocal performances, as he abandons all restraint to scream, moan and plead his case over the outro [of Memories], the song fading away to the strains of You Cheated, You Lied by The Shields – a nod to one of the song’s musical inspirations.

From Editor’s note from The New Inquiry Magazine, No. 9: Concept Album

“You cheated, you lied; you cheated, you lied,” sings Leonard Cohen, almost inaudibly, over the long fade of “Memories,” a characteristically ambivalent track from his shambolic 1973 album Death of a Ladies Man. These lines, lifted from a canonical doo-wop hit, are ostensibly directed at a high school flame, two-and-a-half decades after the fact, for failing to be true. The wounds over the furtive, frustrating efforts to achieve some sort of sublime contact at a high school dance remain fresh for the man in his 40s singing the song. But he might just as well be singing about old songs themselves, the ones that promised more than he ended up getting. His jaded disappointment can’t fully conceal how stunned he continues to be that the yearning so palpable in love songs never quite translated into a lasting unity, that listening to those songs yields only a fleeting connection that’s already dissolving into a dubious memory before the record ends.

From Wall of Crazy by Liel Leibovitz (Tablet: December 11, 2012)

Take the album’s best-known track, “Memories”: It’s a grand doo-wop anthem, and it ends with a snippet from The Shields’ 1958 hit “You Cheated, You Lied,” which it closely resembles. Hearing the newer song melt into the older one delivers a brutal jolt of emotion. Here is doo-wop, two decades later, its promises all soured. It is sung now not by the sweet-voiced youths that Spector was so good at finding and cultivating (and sometimes destroying) but by a raspy-sounding middle-aged man. The Shields’ song conveyed the genteel sadness of broken-hearted teenagers who grieved for an affair gone bad but who sensed, however unconsciously, that they had their entire lives ahead of them to fall in love all over again. Working with more or less the same tune, Cohen sounded desperate as he sang about walking up to the tallest and the blondest girl and asking to see her naked body. He cast himself as the same doo-wop crooner, 20 years older, realizing that heartbreak wasn’t a sweet and passing sorrow but a permanent state of being, now seeking not romance but meaningless sex. The melody is louder and more frayed, almost hysterical.

Hear The Original (Kind Of) “You Cheated”

You Cheated, You Lied by The Shields

The Original Original “You Cheated”

Less has been made of the fact that the Shields did not release the original version of “You Cheated.” Rather, the song was first performed by The Slades.4

From The Slades–The Shields–”You Cheated” by Joe Troiano (Jan 30, 2011)

Hello,  Two groups The Slades and The Shields had big hits with a classic hit from 1958.  The Slades were a doo-wop trio from Austin, Texas, members included Don Burch-lead, Bobby Doyle, Tommy Kaspar and John Goeke.  Jimmy Davis was added to their second recording, which was there only Billboard Top 100 hit.  On August 4, 1958 The Slades hit of “YOU CHEATED” on Domino Records entered the pop chart.  The Slades version of the song is the original version.  “You Cheated” climbed the Top 100 and reached #42 just missing the Top 40, it remained on the chart for 12 weeks.  The “B” side of their hit was a tune entitled “THE WADDLE”, it did not chart.  The Slades would not have another charted hit record as many follow-up recordings sold as well as their hit.  Domino Records was a small label that didn’t have the distribution of the larger labels, making it hard to get their records to DJ’s for radio rotation and to record shops for retail sales.

The Shields were an R&B group formed by Los Angeles producer George Motola to cover The Slades original version of “You Cheated”.  Members were Frankie Ervin-lead, the great Jesse Belvin, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Mel Williams and Buster Williams.  Ervin sang lead for Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers from 1953-1955.  Jesse Belvin had hit records with “GOODNIGHT MY LOVE” which he co-wrote, in 1956, “GUESS WHO” in 1957.  He is a co-writer of The Penguins classic, “EARTH ANGEL”.  On August 25, 1958 The Shields version of “You Cheated” made it Billboard Top 100 debut, just three weeks after The Slades version.  The Shields cover was released on Dot Records, so there was no problem with distribution.  Their version climbed the Top 100 to #12 and remained on the chart for 16 weeks.  On September 1, 1958, a week after charting on the Top 100, The Shields debuted on the Billboard R&B chart.  The record climbed to #11 and remained on the chart for two months.

The Shields would not chart any other hit records.

The Slades – You Cheated

Note: Originally posted Oct 15, 2013 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
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  1. While most articles mention only Cohen singing these words, at least one listener reports Bob Dylan singing along: “Bob Dylan chimes in at the end of Leonard Cohen’s Memories, first harmonizing and then singing a few bars of ‘you cheated, you lied.’ he’s mixed down pretty low, too.” []
  2. The outro  also includes  a reference to singer Frankie Laine, but that’s another post. []
  3. Phil Kakulas was a member of The Blackeyed Susans, a group that produced an outstanding cover of “Memories.” See Blackeyed Susans And David McComb & The Red Ponies Cover Leonard Cohen’s “Memories” []
  4. This brings up the query, “Was ‘You cheated, you lied, …” Leonard Cohen’s shout-out directed to The Shields or The Slades?  All the references I found designate the Shields but none offer any evidence other than the lyrics and tune themselves, which are all but identical on both 1958 records.  There may be an interview in which Mr Spector or Mr Cohen specifies one group or the other, but I haven’t come across it. []

2 Replies to “Leonard Cohen’s “Memories” Features Lines From The Shields’ Doo Wop Hit “You Cheated””

  1. Paul Grundy

    Thanks Allan. I wasn’t aware that the outro of Memories was a snapshot cover of an old doo wop tune but it certainly sounded like one. It’s great to hear the lines in their original context. Curiously, I see that The Slades 1950s original was released on a “Domino” record label of the day. You mention in the article’s footnotes the cover of Memories by David McComb & The Blackeyed Susans. As you will know, the Susans’ cover of Memories uses the You Cheated segment of the song rather more prominently than Cohen’s original. McComb built his reputation as part of The Triffids. Their back catalogue was recently reissued on the present day Domino Records. In this trainspotterish sense, and rather like the old vinyl, things seem from original to cover to cover to have gone full circle. Cheers.