'You'll Never Walk Alone' by Gerry & The Pacemakers: The making of the football anthem

21 October 2021, 13:33

Gerry & The Pacemakers - You'll Never Walk Alone
Gerry & The Pacemakers - You'll Never Walk Alone. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Mayer Nissim

A football anthem and now funeral favourite, 'You'll Never Walk Alone' is an absolute classic.

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Gerry & The Pacemakers version of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' has been a massive football anthem for decades, but on a wave of COVID-loneliness, it's now topped the list of songs people have played at their funerals, too.

But who wrote the song, and who performed it first?

What's more, how did it become the terrace theme song for not just one, but loads of different football cubs? Read on to find out the answer to all these questions and more.

Who wrote 'You'll Never Walk Alone'?

'You'll Never Walk Alone' was a massive hit for Gerry & The Pacemakers, but it was written and recorded a couple of decades before Mr Marsden got his hands on it.

The song was first a show tune from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel, which means it had music from Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

The song features twice in the play: the first time is when Nettie Fowler sings it to comfort Julie Jordan when her husband Billy Bigelow dies in her arms when falling on his own knife after attempting a robbery.

It gets reprised at the end when Billy and Julie's daughter is graduating, while a ghostly Billy looks on having been granted the chance for one extra day on Earth to seek redemption (sob).

Rodgers and Hammerstein had based Carousel on Ferenc Molnár's 1909 play Liliom but reworked his bleak ending into that graduation scene, which inspired the lyrics of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

When was 'You'll Never Walk Alone' released, and how did Gerry & The Pacemakers end up recording it?

Read more: Gerry and the Pacemakers singer Gerry Marsden dies, aged 78

Carousel opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945 before moving to the West End in 1950.

Cast albums for both productions were released on 78 RPM vinyl, before the movie adaptation of Carousel in 1956, which of course had its own soundtrack release the same year.

Since then, the play has been revived countless times, and many, many cast recordings have been released, but the most important recording for pop fans came on July 2, 1963.

Musician and childhood Carousel fan Gerry Marsden recorded 'You'll Never Walk Alone' with his band Gerry & The Pacemakers, and their version was released in October 1963.

Where did 'You'll Never Walk Alone' get in the charts?

Gerry & The Pacemakers took 'You'll Never Walk Alone' all the way to number one in the UK singles charts, and it stayed there for four weeks.

It also topped the charts in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

Since then, it's also been a chart hit around the world for Patti LaBelle, The Lettermen, Elvis Presley, The Crowd, and Marcus Mumford.

How did 'You'll Never Walk Alone' become Liverpool's anthem?

Managed by Brian Epstein, Gerry & The Pacemakers were one of the ultimate Merseybeat bands, and beloved by most in Liverpool.

As for how it became the club's official anthem, there's a couple of versions of that tale.

Anfield was apparently one of the first football grounds to have its own DJ, and fans would sing along to a rundown of the top 10, especially if it included one of the local faves like The Beatles, Cilla Black, or of course Gerry & The Pacemakers.

'You'll Never Walk Alone' went top ten just before Liverpool played West Brom on October 19, 1963, and it got to number one a fortnight later before a home match against Leicester.

"When it went out of the top 10, the Kop were singing, 'Where’s our song? Where's our song?'," Marsden later remembered.

It was official by the time the 1965 FA Cup Final came around, with commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme calling it "Liverpool's signature tune" as the fans sang it before their win over Leeds United at Wembley.

Though apparently, the song was destined to be Liverpool's anthem even before it was released, let alone topped the charts.

Ex-player Tommy Smith claims that Gerry gave Liverpool manager Bill Shankly a copy of the then-unreleased song during a pre-season summer coach trip in 1963.

"Shanks was in awe of what he heard," Smith said.

"Football writers from the local newspapers were travelling with our party and, thirsty for a story of any kind between games, filed copy back to their editors to the effect that we had adopted Gerry Marsden's forthcoming single as the club song."

Marsden then invited Shankly and the team on to The Ed Sullivan Show when the band performed it for US audiences.

"When we finished it, Bill came up to me," Marsden recalled. "He said, ‘Gerry my son, I have given you a football team and you have given us a song’."

You'll Never Walk Alone is now emblazoned on Liverpool scarves and merchandise, and even over the Shankley Gates entrance to the stadium, becoming a mantra for the club and its fans.

How did Celtic FC and other sports team end up adopting 'You'll Never Walk Alone'?

The magic of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' soon rubbed off on other teams.

After Liverpool played Celtic in the 1966 European Cup Winners' Cup semi-final at Anfield, they adopted the song, too and their fans sing it before every European tie.

German team Borussia Dortmund went on to play Liverpool in the final, and they too now sing the song.

Other football clubs who have adopted the song include everyone from Greece's PAOK to Japan's FC Tokyo, as well as Belgium's Club Brugge and Austria's FC Admira Wacker, among others.

Even ice hockey teams have got in the action, with fans of Germany's Krefeld Pinguine and Croatia's Medveščak Zagreb singing the track.

When Liverpool played Celtic in the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup in 2003, Gerry Marsden performed 'You'll Never Walk Alone' at Celtic Park before kick-off.

How did 'You'll Never Walk Alone' inspire Queen's 'We Will Rock You' and 'We Are The Champions'?

'We Are The Champions' by Queen: The making of the ultimate stadium anthem

According to Brian May, the band were serenaded with a rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' by fans at the end of a show at Bingley Hall in Stafford.

Freddie Mercury wanted to build on that audience response, inspiring their anthemic double-header 'We Will Rock You' and 'We Are The Champions', both of which have become sports stadium classics in their own right.

"We wanted to get the crowds waving and singing," said May,

"It's very unifying and positive. People love it because it’s so uplifting."

How did COVID-19 bring 'You'll Never Walk Alone' back into the charts?

With its message of strength and togetherness overcoming loneliness, it was only natural that the song came to mind in the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So on BBC Breakfast, Michael Ball sang the track for Captain Tom Moore, who had just finished the first part of his incredible back-garden fundraising walk.

Within a day, the song was re-recorded with the NHS Voices of Care Choir, along with Moore's spoken words – all proceeds from the song went to the NHS Charities Together.

The song went to number one in the UK charts six days before Captain Tom's 100th birthday.

Who else has performed 'You'll Never Walk Alone'?

Gerry & The Pacemakers version is still the best-known today, but 'You'll Never Walk Alone' has been covered by countless significant artists before and after Gerry made it his own.

Rock 'n' Roller Gene Vincent recorded it for his 1958 album Gene Vincent Rocks, The Blue Caps Roll, and Patti LaBelle had a US hit with it early in 1964.

Since then you've had (deep breath), Frank Sinatra, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Judy Garland, Doris Day, Andy Willians, Olivia Newton-John, Marcus Mumford, Barbra Streisand, Jerry Lewis, The Three Tenors, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Bassey, Nina Simone, Tom Jones, The Righteous Brothers, Glen Campbell, Josh Groban, Dionne Warwick, Lana Del Rey, Andrea Bocelli and many more give it a go.

Pink Floyd didn't cover it, but they incorporated the sound of Liverpool fans singing it into 'Fearless' from their 1971 album Meddle.

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