Story of the Song: Valerie, The Zutons, 2006

Robert Webb
Friday 07 January 2011 01:00 GMT

Not to be confused with the hit of the same title by Steve Winwood, the Zutons' "Valerie" was the song that gave the Liverpool band their breakthrough.

It was, according to their lead singer Dave McCabe, named for a friend he had met in America who had been caught drink driving. The band's drummer, Sean Payne, has called it a "musical postcard to her, saying he's having a hard time and can she come over and see him." McCabe wrote it in a taxi on the way to visit his mother. "The whole song was written before I got there," said McCabe. "So 20 minutes, max." It was recorded at London's Townhouse Studios, with Stephen Street producing and the band playing together live. "The guitar arpeggio at the start was added as an afterthought to improve the intro," recalls Street. "It took a couple of attempts of mixing to get it right."

It was the second single taken from the band's album 'Tired of Hanging Around'. A hit in the summer of 2006, it found an unlikely fan in Amy Winehouse, who was still humming it a year later as she was invited to contribute to a new project with Mark Ronson. Winehouse, whom Ronson claimed only listened to things made before 1967, was struggling to come up with something that would fit the sessions for what would be Ronson's mega-selling 'Version'. "I explained that it was soul covers of guitar records," he said. Eventually, Winehouse told Ronson that she might try "Valerie". Ronson strained to hear her voice singing it in his head. "I wasn't sure how it would work, but she went into the studio and tried it. I loved it," he said.

Ronson's production rested on a beat borrowed from the Jam's "A Town Called Malice". Winehouse also recorded a jazzier, acoustic version for 'Radio 1's Live Lounge', which was issued at the same time as the Ronson collaboration and a hit in its own right, possibly due to download confusion – it was the Ronson version that got the airplay. The song has become something of a mixed blessing for McCabe. "I certainly have to try hard sometimes to not think about 'Valerie'," he said. "The days it's in my head are when I have to put down the guitar and just forget about writing."

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