By the end of the 1950s in America, when the idea of being a teenager had become well established, so had the music that defined them. Richard Berry was one of the songwriters who helped express the ideas of a new generation, a generation that felt free to love and free to travel, and in the case of Have Love Will Travel, doing both at once.
Have Love Will Travel – Richard Berry original
Richard Berry wrote the song in 1959. The sound is very much doo-wop with its ‘baw-baw’ noises and backing singers which brings a degree of innocence to it compared with the later Sonics version.
In the lyrics we hear about a young cad, willing to travel from his home town to find love in another – anywhere from ‘Maine to Mexico’ – carrying a suitcase full of kisses. He’s willing to take whatever means necessary to get there; boat, plane, train, but walking the distance is not beyond him either.
Have Love Will Travel – The Sonics version
By the mid-sixties the teenager has become a fully formed rebel, and The Sonics’ 1965 cover provides the revolutionary theme. Out goes doo-wop, in comes tough drums, raw guitar and saxophone; the early sound of garage rock. The Sonics have often been deemed integral to the birth of punk, as well as being the godfathers of grunge; certainly they’ve been cited as an influence for Nirvana and The White Stripes, and the song itself had a later reworking by The Black Keys.
In The Sonics version of Have Love Will Travel the ‘baw baws’ have become ‘woah’ screams and any lyrical innocence has morphed into something a little more ferociousness. Now our protagonist might take a plane or boat but is also prone to more rebellious modes of travel, perhaps hitchhiking or jumping a railroad train, actions deemed plausible because, ‘your kind of love drives a man insane’. There’s no suitcase full of kisses here, more like a leather jacket stuffed full of smokes.
A modern relevance
Despite their very different guises, what both these songs retain, and which holds true today, is the idea that travel equals freedom, and part of that freedom inevitably includes the opportunity to meet others, and of course with that comes the potential of a love affair, be it of an affectionate nature (Richard Berry) or a more riotous one (The Sonics). Choose your soundtrack.