Saturday, 30 April 2011

Simon & Garfunkel - I Am A Rock (1966/ No. 17/ 10 weeks/ CBS)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVLFlkehGuU

A quanglywangly guitar line ushers in a gentle wistful harmony;

A winter's day

In a deep and dark December

Perhaps unexpectedly the drums come in;

BOCK! BOCK! BOCK! BOCK!

This recording is an object lesson in the occasional advantages of musicians chasing bandwagons. 'I Am A Rock' is a type of song that has to be exceptionally good of its kind not to irritate me. Its premise is built around an obvious irony: Refuting John Donne's claim that no man in is an island, the singer tells us of his isolated and self-sufficient lifestyle, all the time revealing the lonely unhappiness of his isolation, its causes, and concluding with the lines -

And a rock feels no pain;

And an island never cries.

- evidently sung by a man in pain, fighting back tears. Do you see what Paul Simon did there? Its the type of song that I find rather hectoring (perhaps partly for the personal reason that I'm generally considered quite reserved and am certainly an innately solitary man, I do concede).

Simon & Garfunkel were great beneficiaries of the Bob Dylan boom of 1965/6, when not only was the man at the prodigious height of his powers (writing brilliant song after brilliant song, going wild and electric, the familiar thrice-told tale), but half of the pop charts were filled with Dylan associates (Joan Baez), Dylan songs (The Byrds, Cher, Manfred Mann), Dylanalike songs (Barry McGuire, Sonny Bono), even an implausible "British Dylan" in the form of Donovan. In such a climate, a folk duo like Simon & Garfunkel could be remoulded by their management into a renowned and commercial rock act, simply by hiring Dylan's band for the day to overdub 'The Sounds Of Silence' with guitars and drums, transforming it into an up-to-the-minute sound-of-the-moment hit.

There are two versions of 'I Am A Rock' in circulation. Here's the original acoustic version;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=My9I8q-iJCI

For me, something rather alchemical happens to this once the generic 1966 arrangement gets added into the mix: the music starts to challenge the meaning of the song. The tone of defiance in the vocals at the chorus ("I am a rock! I am an II-II-IIS-LAND!") is counterpointed by the chime of the guitars and the swoop of the hammond organ, which become choppy waves and eddies lapping around the rock of elective isolation. In this context, being a rock or an island starts to sound very exciting state of affairs, even rather fun in a way. Despite being intellectually invited to distance ourselves from the singer, the listener is encouraged to empathise with the considerable pleasures of solitude; the snow outside the window, the book-lined room. These consolations can be very real and satisfying, I know, though are only really appreciated in moments of calm such as are denied to the singer of 'I Am A Rock'...

The defiance masks a hurt, of course. A change of vocal tone, switching to a reflective and wistful;

Don't talk of love,

Well I've heard the word before;

It's sleeeeping in my memoorry.

The organ is skidding about in a freaky fashion under this. The vocals change to punkily defiant;

I won't disturb the slumber!

Of feelings that-have DIED!

If I never loved -

I never would-have CRIED!


I find this moment rather funny, I must say. Indeed, the sulkily adolescent "It's LAUGHTER and it's LOVIN' I DISDAIN!" sometimes makes me laugh out loud. I'm not quite sure if this is quite the reaction that Paul Simon wanted to provoke... Still, these instinctive reactions that I feel whenever I hear 'I Am A Rock' - laughing, singing along, shaking my fists - give his song a lot more bite than a more demure treatment would give it. Its what makes 'I Am A Rock', well, rock!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Eight.


This isn't going to make much sense unless you start at the beginning - Giraffes - Act One, Scene One.

SCENE EIGHT.

(Kirsty's house. Kirsty and Anna are reclining.)

KIRSTY. What do you do with him?

(Pause.)

ANNA. I thought that you didn't like me talking about him.

KIRSTY. I don't mind at the moment.

(Pause.)

ANNA. We make each other meals. We help each other with the housework. We talk about work with each other. We see our friends together. We read the same books and we see the same films and we talk about them with each other.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. No I mean what do you do together.

ANNA. I don't know what you mean.

(She does.)

KIRSTY. Yes you do.

ANNA. No I don't.

(Pause.)

ANNA. You'll have to give me a clue.

KIRSTY. Does he...?

(She whispers into her ear.)

ANNA. No he doesn't.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Would you? For me?

KIRSTY. I'll see what I can do.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. So what does he do then?

ANNA. Secret.

KIRSTY. (Softly) Oh come on Anna.

ANNA. Sorry. Private. You wouldn't like him to know what we do, would you?

(Silence.)

ANNA. Would you?

KIRSTY. I'd like everybody to know what we do.

(Pause.)

ANNA. I hope that you haven't told anyone.

KIRSTY. No.

ANNA. Good.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Do you like it with him?

ANNA. Yes.

KIRSTY. Why?

ANNA. 'Cause it makes me feel happy.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. But I thought that you didn't fancy him?

ANNA. I don't. I love him.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. But you do fancy me though.

ANNA. You know that I do. All the time.

KIRSTY. And do you love me?

ANNA. Of course I do. Like no-one else.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. So therefore... I have more to offer you than him, then?

ANNA. (Not fazed or offended at all.) You didn't meet me when I was at university. You've never lived with me. You never met my father. You haven't spent a month abroad with me. You've never seen me in despair.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Sorry.

ANNA. It's not a criticism.

(Pause.)

ANNA. And what's more, you know that it isn't.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Its just... I think that when we get together we have something so special. Unique. Not like anything else that I've ever experienced anyway. I don't like to think of somebody else touching you after that. Because that person would be getting it wrong.

(Pause.)

ANNA. And I hope that you never do see me in despair, either.

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Nine.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Television - Marquee Moon (1977/ No. 30/ 4 weeks/ Elektra)




http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlbunmCbTBA

For an abstract collection of crepuscular imagery and guitar solos Marquee Moon is remarkably precise about human perception. It captures the moment when you discover such a state of heightened awareness of consciousness and your own physicality that the external world suddenly becomes both more amazingly specific and detailed than you usually notice but also unreal-seeming: the epiphanal sensation of the potential of ecstasy in being alive and sentient, and the uniqueness and irretrievableness of the given moment of this intense sensation.

This is achieved through a chiaroscuro effect. The three guitars do three different things;

(bass) Dumdum!-Dumdum!
Dumdum! -Dumdum!

More of a pulse than a rhythm. The abdomen of the song.

(rhythm guitar) Tschang!-Tschang!
Tschang!-Tschang!

More astringent. The top note, and probably the part which the listener is most immediately conscious of. The inescapable presence of thought, and the head of the song.

On top of this, of course, Tom Verlaine's guitar; writhing, cascading, liquefying sound! The heart and spirit of the record.

(Shouldn't forget the drums, of course, switching from rat-a-tat-tat to great tidal waves of rolling as the guitars transform)

I was listenin' -
Listenin' to the rain
I was hearin' -
Heaarrin' something ELSE!

I tend to approach Marquee Moon as an experience to be lived through, rather than as a song, but the internal perception/ external world ultra-sensuality is presented and suggested to the listener through these lyrics and their ragged, excitable, delivery;

I rememberrrrr -
How the dark-nesss DOUBLED!!
I recallll -
LIGHTNIN'!
STRUCK!
ITS-SELF!!

I'd say that this is an astonishing testament to what four people with three guitars and a drum kit can achieve - Music that seemingly changes the very fabric of reality itself.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Wigan's Chosen Few - Footsee (1975/ No. 9/ 11 weeks/ Pye)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWRY_VBZijU

A curious record indeed. The Northern Soul scene of the 1970s consisted of high-tempo soul records of the 1960s being played to cognoscenti audiences of frenetic and participatory dancers, and was an absolutely massive movement in the north and midlands of England, but one that happened largely away from the eyes of the media and press. The most famous club was the Wigan Casino, although each one had its own rival set of DJs and particular take on the music. In being based around imported records - and generally pretty old ones at that - a cachet surrounded a lot of these songs that came from their rarity and obscurity, real insiders' music.

However, once somebody managed to track the rights to these songs and managed to reissue them, they managed to become bona fide chart hits. There were a lot of these for a few years in the mid-1970s, often great Billy favourites; I'm Gonna Run Away From You, Heaven Must Have Sent You, Here I Go Again, Sweet Talkin' Guy, You're Ready Now...

Footsee is a strange one, though. It is, in essence, a bootleg. An anonymous Canadian record dealer, Simon Soussan, managed to source a copy of an obscure mid-sixties beat instrumental by the actual Chosen Few, and elected to modify it, I would imagine to claim co-composer royalties. So the horn section is taped over with the sound of kazoos, and the thing is madly overdubbed with cheering crowd noises and "Ah yeah"s. Most strikingly, at one point the whole thing stops, replaced with a cut and pasted blaring klaxon and roaring crowd, sampled from the 1966 Wembley FA Cup final.

As you might expect, such a meretricious exercise enraged purists, especially when a troupe of anonymous dancers appeared on Top Of The Pops to promote the record. The peculiarity of the project makes it gloriously compelling to me, though, and it precisely capture the very particular excitement of hearing a favourite record being played in a club.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Seven.



This isn't going to make much sense unless you start at the beginning - Giraffes - Act One, Scene One.

SCENE SEVEN


(Anna and Simon's house.)

SIMON. I thought that I might repaint the spare bedroom.

(Pause.)

SIMON. I've been meaning to do that for years.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Why?

SIMON. It's a state. It needs freshening up.

ANNA. But why tonight?

SIMON. No time like the present. Haven't got anything else to do.

(Pause.)

ANNA. You don't have to.

SIMON. What?

ANNA. All this decorating, tidying, repairing.

SIMON. Yes I do. I've always done it.

ANNA. Not so much.

SIMON. I haven't had so much time to myself before.

(Pause.)

SIMON. It's not a sin.

ANNA. I never said that it was.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Am I a sinner?

SIMON. No.

ANNA. You don't think so?

SIMON. You're not a sinner.

ANNA. What am I then?

(Simon thinks.)

SIMON. You're honest.

ANNA. That's true.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Do you resent me working on the house?

(Anna reflects.)

ANNA. Yes.

SIMON. Why?

ANNA. It makes me feel guilty.

SIMON. It isn't meant to.

ANNA. How is it supposed to make me feel?

SIMON. Happy. Comfortable.

(Silence.)

SIMON. (Suddenly upset) I have to do something constructive for you, Anna.

ANNA. I know. I know you do.

(Pause.)

ANNA. You don't have to try so very hard, that's all.

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Eight.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Roxy Music - Angel Eyes (1979/ No. 4/ 11 weeks/ Polydor)


"Angel
Angel eyes
Am I deceived
or did you sigh?
For all I know
You let your love light
shine on me"

This is as formally bold as the mark II Roxy got, and - wow! - This is one strange single that takes you to another place, a different state of mind.

It's barely a song at all, but a device for changing the rules of pop music. Two different things happen concurrently - great blocks of sound come in unheeded and very loud and immediately disappear; angelic harps, crazy sax, and - most of all - what you might call a riff, if it wasn't just one note. And then behind that something nimble and bubbling, the interplay between guitars, is continually beguiling, stroking you.

I've not taken many drugs, but I can imagine that ones perception must be like this - the combination of the feeling of the trapped and the expansive, the thoughts both funky and the subtle, the revelatory but nebulous sensation of being close to love...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Dexys Midnight Runners - Let's Get This Straight From The Start (1982/ No. 17/ 9 weeks/ Mercury)


Rat-a-tat-tat! goes the intro, a drum roll. This has always reminded me of the opening credits of Play School, a 1970s programme for pre-school children, a place of calm and safety; "Here's a house (rat-a-tat-tat!) - Open the door!"

There's an odd paradox to the raggle-taggle gypsies middle period of Dexys Midnight Runners. The music is so jovial and fun, but the impulses that lie behind Kevin Rowland's lyrics and singing - and the sense that this is something that he has to put himself through - are profoundly troubled and anxious (the fierce-looking Kevin Rowland looked a bit scary to me as a seven-year old boy). Its the combination of these two factors that make this music so compelling and fascinating.

The music itself isn't something that you register as being rock and roll - You have to be listening to this very carefully to pick out a guitar. In being based around fiddles and pianos you'd be better off calling it rattle and shake. Its also really complex in its melody and tempo, as anybody who has ever attempted dancing to 'Come On Eileen' at a wedding will testify; Hang on, what's going on here? It's changed again! What bit should I move in time to? The challenges that this presents to the dancer means that you always end up extemporising your moves, part of what makes that song so exhilarating and pleasurable to dance to. (Another brilliant thing about that song is that its quaint novelty reputation masks its acutely accurate portrayal of desperate, long-endured lust - "COME ON!")

'Lets Get This Straight From The Start' is cut from the same cloth as Eileen - soaring fiddles, a call-and response structure, Rowland's voice lurching between growl to yelp to falsetto. I couldn't tell you with confidence what he's singing about though. A pop-savvy listener might be initially primed to think of it as being a song dismissing a love rival;

What's that!? What's that!? on the start?
Let's get this straight from the start!
Who's that!? Who's that!? What's his part?
Tell him come back tomorrow and start!

Rowland tellin' the woman to establish how things are between them straight from the start, but the rest of the song doesn't particularly support this reading. Whatever demons and challenges Rowland is facing, they sound oddly personal and uniquely specific to his own experience in this song;

This is somethin' I don't even understand..
Owh! (These people round here have -)
Their own way of thinkin'!
Some of them get an-gry with the things I've heard!
(Watch what you're saying...)
That's NOT what I'm thinkin'!

The call and response vocals are crucial to the effect of this song, sometimes supporting Rowland's view of the world, sometimes acting as wise counsel ("Watch what you're saying..."). He's calling out for two contradictory things in this song; commanding us to get things straight from the start demanding commitment and respect, put also pleading for forgiveness, understanding and atonement;

(You keep saying - )
SO WHAT DID AH SAY!?
(You keep saying - )
Go on - TELL ME what I said!
I KNOW what I said! - I said! -
Pardon me! OOH!
Pardon me! OOH!
Pardon me! PLEASE!
Pardon me...
Suggest you come round here singin' -
Let's get this straight from the start!

For what its worth, I think that this is a song about leading a band, the impossibility of both holding an intense personal vision, while trying to realise it through a group of musicians - friends, rivals, and girlfriend - while trying not to become a despot. A song about being Kevin Rowland in 1982, in fact.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Six.


This isn't going to make much sense unless you start at the beginning - Giraffes - Act One, Scene One.


SCENE SIX.

(Kirsty's house. Kirsty is sitting with a book, but not reading. She puts the book down and picks up a pad of paper, finds a pen, and sits down again. She does not write. A knock at the door. Kirsty gets up to answer it. Enter Anna.)

KIRSTY. Anna! Salvation!

ANNA. Kirsty.

(They settle down. Anna is exhausted. She rests her legs on Kirsty's lap.)

ANNA. Good day?

KIRSTY. Not until now. Everything that I had to do seemed to be impossibly tricky, so I didn't try to do anything. How about you?

ANNA. I think that I worked too hard today. Made a lot of mistakes that I usually wouldn't.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. What do you fancy doing tonight?

ANNA. I feel really tired... But I'm also really nervy. Jumpy.

KIRSTY. Have a bath.

ANNA. No, that would just make me fall asleep.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. I like watching you when you're asleep.

ANNA. Thank you. Even so, I feel like doing more tonight.

KIRSTY. Have a bath with me.

ANNA. That sounds... lovely.

(Pause.)

ANNA. But I do need to do something else first. If I was a businessman I'd go and play squash.

KIRSTY. But you're not.

ANNA. Thank God.

(Silence.)

ANNA. Dancing!

KIRSTY. Dancing?

ANNA. That's what I feel like doing tonight!

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Dancing?

ANNA. Mm. Have something piping hot to eat, go out, promenade out into the frosty night, dance a bit, drink a lot, go home, bathe, fall into each others' arms.

KIRSTY. Well, if you put it like that -

ANNA. I do.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Do you often go out dancing?

ANNA. No.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Actually, I haven't done it for years. I just suddenly felt like it.

KIRSTY. Fair enough then.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Is that alright with you?

KIRSTY. Yeah! Fine fine.

(Pause)

KIRSTY. Where shall we eat?

ANNA. I'll cook.

KIRSTY. I haven't got much in.

ANNA. That's okay. I can manage. I like cooking.

KIRSTY. Do you?

ANNA. Yeah!

KIRSTY. Always?

ANNA. Usually.

KIRSTY. Don't you get bored with having to do it every day?

ANNA. I don't.

(Anna goes offstage.)

ANNA. (Off) Simon does a lot of it.

(Pause.)

ANNA. (Off) In fact Simon's been doing all of it recently.

KIRSTY. Why?

ANNA. (Off) Pardon?

(Anna returns, bearing food.)

ANNA. Pasta. Tomatoes. Sweetcorn. Not the most interesting of meals, I'm afraid, but I used to live off this stuff.

* * *

(Anna and Kirsty return home.)

KIRSTY. Sorry, Anna, but I am not going to do that again.

ANNA. No. It wasn't my best idea, was it?

KIRSTY. No!

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. What's happened to music these days?

ANNA. Too bleepy!

KIRSTY. And those people!

ANNA. - Stuck up, self-serving -

KIRSTY. Weren't they?

ANNA. Those drinks!

KIRSTY. - So expensive!

ANNA. Watered down.

KIRSTY. Were they?

ANNA. I thought so.

KIRSTY. Doesn't surprise me.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Do you like clubs?

KIRSTY. I like the idea of clubs.

ANNA. What way?

KIRSTY. I like the idea of sipping vivid cocktails in the company of a mysterious girlfriend in an elegant room full of sophisticated people.

ANNA. Have you ever been to a club like that?

KIRSTY. No.

(Pause.)

ANNA. I meant dancey clubs.

KIRSTY. I never really go to them.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. What about you?

ANNA. Mm.

KIRSTY. 'Cause I thought that I enjoyed that more than you did.

ANNA. Once in a blue moon I'll go out and have the most fantastic time.

(Pause.)

ANNA. But not often. And it doesn't always work. It didn't tonight. Sorry about that.

KIRSTY. No it was... interesting.

ANNA. You could say that.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. And it was with you. That was the important thing. You do dance well, Anna. And the way that you dealt with those drunks was brilliant.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. And I was with you. All the time. That was enough for me.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Shall I run a bath?

KIRSTY. Can I come?

(Anna offers her hand.)

ANNA. It's your house.

(Kirsty takes it.)

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Seven.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Herb Alpert - This Guy's In Love With You (1968/ No. 3/ 19 weeks/ A & M)


Has any declaration of love song ever been so vulnerable or emotionally naked as 'This Guy's In Love With You'? I only know of two others, 'Please Stay' by The Cryin' Shames (Bacharach again) and Peter Skellern's 'You're A Lady'. With both of those you feel pretty sure that the singer's rejection is foredoomed ("I might as well get it over"!), but with 'This Guy' the outcome is more uncertain, and the effect is more measured. A lot of this is due to Alpert's interpretation. Although the song is self-evidently a thing of transcendent wonder, it's not hard to imagine it's devastating effect failing to come off: it is easy to convert vulnerable into bland, or collapse through the trapdoor of overkill on the key line of “if not I’ll just die.” There's a mental game that I like to play with songs that I love of this period of imagining with terror how they would sound if performed by Tom Jones or Englebert Humperdink. Very few would survive this, I can tell you.

How did Bacharach - who could have chosen anyone he wanted - come to chose Herb Alpert to sing this? He wanted Chet Baker at first, but he was at death's door by 1968. The unlikely decision was an inspired one. Because we haven't heard him sing anything else, there's no wall of preconceived persona to come between the listener and the song, making it's intimacy a degree closer than other recordings. The voice is trying for nonchalance, lightness of touch, but failing to hide a frailty, a frailty that conceals shyness, humility and depth of emotion. Bacharach's piano and orchestra try to open him up, but just when things seem to be boiling to a climax the piano suddenly shuts everyone up, there is a brief silence, and Herb's lone semi-voice is alone in its own sudden realisation of dread. He whimpers

"if not, I'll just

. . .

die."

Then another silence, almost unbearable. The trumpet resumes the tune to fade, almost reluctantly.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Five.


This isn't going to make much sense unless you start at the beginning - Giraffes - Act One, Scene One.

SCENE FIVE.

(Anna and Simon's house. Morning. Simon sits at the table.)

ANNA. Up early again.

SIMON. Yes.

ANNA. Couldn't sleep?

SIMON. Didn't try.

ANNA. Oh.

(Anna moves to leave.)

SIMON. I tidied up the other cupboard.

ANNA. I thought that we were going to do that together.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Well, it's hardly a treat, now, is it?

ANNA. No.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Let me make you breakfast.

ANNA. Do you really want -

SIMON. Of course I want to.

ANNA. Okay.

(Simon goes to the kitchen.)

SIMON. (Off) I hope that you're hungry.

ANNA. (Lying) Yes I am actually.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Did that cupboard take all night?

SIMON. (Off) No. I got some work done too.

(Pause.)

ANNA. What are you doing this morning?

SIMON. (Off) Might see if I can get some sleep.

ANNA. I thought that you couldn't sleep during the day?

SIMON. (Off) True.

(Simon returns.)

SIMON. But the difference is that I didn't try to get to sleep last night.

(Pause.)

SIMON. I thought that might make a difference.

ANNA. I see.

(Pause.)

SIMON. I thought that if I couldn't get too sleep I'd go to the shops, look at some bedspreads.

ANNA. I thought that we were going to do that together.

(Simon goes out.)

SIMON. (Off) Well, I won't buy anything. Just have a look.

(Pause.)

SIMON. (Off) You were thinking about green, weren't you?

ANNA. (Not thinking) Yes yes.

(Pause.)

SIMON. (Off) Bacon?

(Anna does not hear.)

SIMON. (Off) I said: Bacon?

(Anna still does not hear.)


* * *
(Evening.)

ANNA. Did you see any bedspreads?

SIMON. A few.

ANNA. What were they like?

(Simon shows catalogues.)

ANNA. Too stripy. Too plain. Oh my God! I hope that you weren't thinking of -

SIMON. Let's have a look.

(He takes catalogue.)

SIMON. No! This one's for children.

ANNA. Oh.

(Pause.)

ANNA. What did you get a childrens' catalogue for?

SIMON. I thought that you might find it funny.

(Pause.)

ANNA. The things they make for children nowadays. You never had something like that, did you?

(Simon thinks)

SIMON. I had a duvet with cartoon tigers on it.

ANNA. Well that's fair enough. That's normal. Not like that.

(Pause.)

SIMON} Can I see her?
}
ANNA } Did it come from Frosties?

SIMON} Pardon?
}
ANNA } Sorry?

SIMON. Nothing.

ANNA. It sounded like something.

SIMON. It wasn't anything important.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Sorry. What were you saying?

ANNA. Did it come from Kellog's Frosties?

SIMON. Yes. That's right. It did.

(Pause)

SIMON. No. It was something important, actually.

ANNA. I used to have a Snap, Crackle & Pop one.

SIMON. Can I see her?

ANNA. Yes.

SIMON. When?

ANNA. Not yet.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Not until you're both ready.

(Pause.)

SIMON. I do want to see her.

ANNA. Why?

(Pause.)

SIMON. I could deal with it better if I knew what she was like.

ANNA. Would you like to see a photo?

SIMON. No.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Well... Yes, actually. But you understand what I mean?

ANNA. Yes.

SIMON. Have you got one?

(Pause.)

SIMON. A photo.

ANNA. No.

(Pause.)

ANNA. I promise that I'm not... hiding you two from each other. Because I'm not ashamed. I'm proud. Of both of you. And I will introduce you.

SIMON. When?

ANNA. When life is calmer.

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Six.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Hurricane Smith - Oh Babe, What Would You Say? (1972/ No. 4/ 16 weeks/ Columbia)


"Have I a hope or half a chance
to even ask if I could dance
with you?
You-hoo!
Would you greet me
or politely turn away?
Would there suddenly be sunshine
on a cold and lonely day?
Oh babe!
What would you say?"

Norman Smith was already well into middle age (he'd engineered The Beatles and produced Pink Floyd for EMI) when he became a short lived pop star, which accounts for the delightful 1950s old fashioned styling of this song.

It’s got a funny structure, with two verses being followed by two choruses. This makes the climax of the second verse particularly effective, when - having asked his "sweet lollipop" to dance - the singer gets carried away with visions of a future contentment ("such a lot to say"); walking her across the milky way, caressing her every night and bringing her flowers every day, before he returns to the matter in hand -

"But anyway!

What would you say?"

- And cue jovial sax solo.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Vernons Girls - Lover Please (1962/ No. 16/ 20 weeks/ Decca)


It starts with a drum pattern that sounds like the sort of thing you imagine would make a cool sample. Then some resonant piano chords and handclaps. This can only be understood as a rhythmical undercarriage for the whole single.

Then there's a peripatetic bassline. None of this ever seems to let go over the next two minutes - this is one of the most relentless and fast songs you can imagine.

'Lover Please' was a brand new US rhythm and blues hit for Cylde McPhatter in the US, written by Billy ('I Can Help') Swan. The Vernons Girls were perhaps an act with less ostensible credibility than the original source. Starting out as a fifteen piece chorus line for Jack Goode's Oh Boy! British rock 'n' roll package shows of the 1950s, by 1962 they had been whittled down to a three girl pop group. The good news is that they were rockin' and whoever put this cover version together knew how to make things exciting.

The song itself tells a familiar story;

Lover please!
Please come back.
(LOVER PLEASE!)
Don't take the train comin' down the track!
(LOVER PLEASE!)
Don't please don't!
Don't leave me!
(LOVER PLEASE!)
Don't leave me in A-MIS-EREE!

This would grab your attention in itself, but of greater note is the backing vocal, repeated so many times in the song as to leave you quite giddy just listening to it;

Ooperchooperooperchooperoopachoowa!
Ooperchooperooperchooperoopachoowa!

Two other effects are added to the mix - A remarkably terse and simple brass section in the brief gaps between verses and choruses. and then what appears to be a penny whistle. This all adds to the sense of this being a railway song, and one of almost unbearable urgency. All of these short choppy musical and vocal effects make this a surprisingly locked-on and peripatetic single. It doesn't really go anywhere over the two minutes, it just pledges its case with ever greater urgency and excitement.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Four.



This isn't going to make much sense unless you start at the beginning - Giraffes - Act One, Scene One.

SCENE FOUR

(Kirsty's house.)

ANNA. Happy now?

KIRSTY. Mm. I am now.

ANNA. Had a good day?

KIRSTY. Not really. I couldn't work. Kept on making cups of tea, reading the paper, playing bits of CDs. I didn't get much actual work done.

ANNA. Oh, I haven't seen the paper yet today. Was there much in it?

KIRSTY. A big thing about prisons. Wasn't worth reading.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. How was your day?

ANNA. Far too busy.

(Pause.)

ANNA. It wasn't because of me, was it?

KIRSTY. Was what?

ANNA. That you couldn't work?

KIRSTY. Possibly. But I do have days like that anyway.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. I was thinking about you all day.

ANNA. So was I. Looking at my watch every minute. Like I was at school again.

KIRSTY. That's it. You make me feel so young again.

ANNA. But we are young.

KIRSTY. I know. But I'd forgotten it 'til I met you.

ANNA. Mm.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Let's go to the restaurant again tonight.

KIRSTY. Let's! It was so good last time.

ANNA. And then back here?

KIRSTY. Mm. Of course.


Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Five.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Miracles - If You Can Want (1968/ No. 50/ 1 week/ Motown)


Normally with songs of devotional unrequited love, you're listening against the grain for one of three revelations; that the singer is a creep, that the beloved one isn't worth it, or that this is clearly a foolhardy exercise.

You don't get this here. Robinson's always-astonishing sweetness of voice manages to carry over some reasoning that looks pretty hopeless when written out;

"If you can want
you can need
and if you can need
you can care
If, baby, you can care
you can love
Whenever you want me
I'll be there"

There's a tremendous quality of openheartedness when the singer concedes that "this may take some time, but if time was money, then I would be a millionaire." Offsetting this is an arrangement that is not as light as it initially sounds, with a shuffling secondary drumbeat that adds a near subliminal sense of tension to the gentleness of Robinson's declaration. of love.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Dusty Springfield - I'll Try Anything (1967/ No. 13/ 9 weeks/ Philips)


Now, if you were only half listening to this one, you'd think that it was something pleasant and exceptionally well-arranged - especially the lovely bridge bit where the trumpet and the ooohing female backing vocals alternate. After all, songs about trying anything 'til I make you my man are a very common pop trope.

Listen closely, however, and a remarkably candid story is told here, not merely foolhardy but frankly dangerous. It's there right from the get-go;

You be-long
To somebody else and not to me
Right or - wrong
That's NOT the way that it's gonna be!

Straight into the chorus from here, and the crucial bit is delivered more quietly than the rest and on a descent, making it a confidence that the listener can easily miss;

I'll try any-thing to get you!
I'll do any-thing I can!
I'll try any-thing to get you!
(I'll cheat and I'll lie)
And I'll try 'til I die
'Til I make you my man!

(Did I just hear that right?) The second verse expounds upon how the singer has now vowed to play dirty;

I've been burned
Whenever I've followed - all the rules
So I've learned
That playing it fair is - just for fools
I'm fighting and win or lose
I'm not minding my P's and Q's

There isn't a third verse - You don't really need one after that, but we do get this in between the next to choruses;

I want you so much inside
I'm throwin' away all my conscience and pride.

There are quite a few songs about love making you giddy and reckless, which seduce you with the delirium and the headiness of the feeling nonetheless, but not many that make you so aware of the cost to one's dignity and integrity as this one.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Three.


This isn't going to make much sense unless you start at the beginning - Giraffes - Act One, Scene One.

SCENE THREE.


(Anna and Simon's house. Morning. Simon sits at the table.)

ANNA. You're up early.

SIMON. You're back late.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Sleep well?

SIMON. I couldn't

(Pause.)

SIMON. Did you?

(Pause.)

SIMON. Sorry. Didn't mean anything. Would you like me to cook you breakfast?

ANNA. No. It's okay. I've still got time for a quick lie down.

SIMON. I'd like to cook you breakfast.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Please.

ANNA. Okay then.

(She sits down. He gets up.)

ANNA. Thanks.

SIMON. I want to pamper you before you go. It'll put me in a good frame of mind.

(Pause)

SIMON. It's my morning off. I thought that I'd sort out that cupboard.

ANNA. Oh, I'll help with that, if you don't mind waiting 'til Saturday.

SIMON. It's alright. It's mostly my mess anyway.

(Pause.)

ANNA. You look tired.

SIMON. I am.

ANNA. You should get some rest.

SIMON. I can't sleep during the day.

(Pause.)

SIMON. You will be in tonight, won't you?

ANNA. Of course.

SIMON. What would you like for breakfast?

(He goes to the kitchen.)

ANNA. Oh. Not much. I'm not very hungry.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Grapefruit perhaps.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Poor Simon.

SIMON. (Off) What was that?

ANNA. Nothing.


* * *
(Evening.)

ANNA. (Off) Oh well done. You did that cupboard.

SIMON. Yes.

ANNA. How long Did it take you?

SIMON. A couple of hours.

ANNA. Did you throw anything out?

SIMON. No. I put some stuff in the garage.

(Pause.)

SIMON. So how was work?

ANNA. So so. Not much going on. How was yours?

SIMON. Good, actually.

ANNA. Yeah?

SIMON. Mm. Constructive lesson. Worked well.

ANNA. You work hard for those children.

SIMON. It's worth it sometimes.

(Anna yawns.)

SIMON. You're tired.

(Pause.)

SIMON. So am I.

ANNA. Tired Simon.

SIMON. Tired Anna.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Did you want that Indian stuff for dinner tonight?

ANNA. Okay.

SIMON. I'll go and put it on.

ANNA. I'll do it.

SIMON. No. You need a rest.

(He exits.)

ANNA. Simon?

SIMON. (Off) Yes?

ANNA. Come here.

(He returns.)

ANNA. Do you...

Are you...

I mean, would-

SIMON. Not now. I'm too tired for it. And so are you.

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Four

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Wizzard - Rock & Roll Winter (1974/ No. 6/ 7 weeks/ Warners)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Duq5QDp6KqE

It’s a wonderful rock n’ roll winter, baby...

Although Roy Wood was one of Britain's most popular and successful pop stars for eight years or so, I always sense a strangely jinxed, underdog, feel to his career. 'Rock & Roll Winter' is an interesting case in point. A literal sequel to 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day', it should have been released the moment when that song fell out of the top ten and kept the narrative going without hiatus. Instead, Wizzard changed labels from EMI to Warners, the single got caught up in red tape, and so this brilliant love song to both a woman and a season came out in April 1974.

That fits the record in a way, too. The song twines the girlfriend to the season completely, fixing the relationship to a single point in time, looking forward to the wonderful rock 'n' roll winter that lays ahead for them. Heard when the clocks have gone back and with twilight at half past eight, it gains a sense of retrospective reflection and a certain sadness, a mood already posited in the listeners' mind from the first line;

It’s so sad to leave you cryin’ in the rain
Silly girl - those drops won’t mend your heart again
If your most important things don’t go your way -
Come on - come on - come on -
Let’s save the day...

Its written to a specific woman, too, pulchritudinous fellow popstar Lyndsey De Paul, of 'Sugar Me' fame. So the anticipated joys of winter are to be realised in making music together, creating mutual consolation and purpose, shelter from the harsh season;

Through the icy rain the northern winds may blow
But now your friendly music keeps me warm each night
It’s the perfect pleasure you might never know -
Come on - come on - come on
You’ll be alright...

Two little moments in this always strike me as exceptionally tender and true;

Oh we’re gonna make some rock n’ roll this winter
Now my teenage heart has said hello to you

Even if you had no idea who Wizzard were, it doesn't sound like a song made by actual teenagers. The teenage heart suggests a renewed and fragile youthful hope and optimism. And;

Almost every song I dream of in the end
I could dedicate to you my lovely friend

I often think that "My lovely friend" is the best concise term of endearment imaginable... Genuine fondness is a surprisingly rare emotion to come across in pop. Its a romantic song, not through being bedecked in hearts and flowers signifiers, but in its specific delight in, and concern for, the other.

Part of what makes Roy Wood’s singles so compelling to me is their element of subdued madness. There’s a very bipolar aspect to the project – as if somebody who experiences terrible lows and fears is desperately trying to keep a manic phase going by testing his virtuosity to the very limit. It’s like watching a conjourer spinning dozens of plates simultaneously, how many different hooks and phrases he keeps going in his performances.

Amongst this body of work, Rock & Roll Winter is a funny one. Its clearly intended as a five minute epic symphony; the backing vocals are powerful and compressed, saxophones and strings are all present and correct, it even retains the sleighbells from I Wish It Could Be Christmas. And yet... the arrangement still comes across as muffled and distracted to me - as though it was recorded simultaneously in another studio while Roy sat on his own next door, with only headphones, microphone and a mixing desk for company.

Like the other Wizzard records 'Rock & Roll Winter' sounds gloriously made-up, but also particularly genuine and truthful, too.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Two.


This isn't going to make much sense unless you start at the beginning - Giraffes - Act One, Scene One.


SCENE TWO.

(Kirsty's house.)

KIRSTY. So you told him?

ANNA. Yes.

KIRSTY. And?

ANNA. ...he...

KIRSTY. He didn't like it?

ANNA. ...no...

KIRSTY. He did like it?

ANNA. No.

KIRSTY. What did he think?

ANNA. He wasn't sure.

(Pause.)

ANNA. I'm not sure.

KIRSTY (softly). Oh come on, Anna.

ANNA. No - you're right. I am sure.

KIRSTY. ...so...?

ANNA. So?

KIRSTY. So where do we go from here?

(Pause.)

ANNA. Who's "we"?

(Pause.)

ANNA. Sorry.

KIRSTY. No no. It's alright.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. I meant us.

ANNA. Oh - just one day at a time.

(Pause.)

ANNA. For the time being.

(Pause.)

ANNA. See how things settle.

KIRSTY. It's okay. I won't push you.

ANNA. No. I won't push you, either.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Nor will I push him.

(Pause.)

ANNA. You do understand. Don't you?

KIRSTY. Of course I do. I don't want to push him either.

ANNA. But you've never met him.

KIRSTY. But I still don't want to push him.

ANNA. Why not?

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Because he's a part of you. And I don't like pushing people anyway.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Let's hope that he doesn't want to push us either.

ANNA. I just want everything to be decent. Decent and honorable. You do understand?

KIRSTY. Of course I understand.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Decent and honorable. It's why I love you.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. So...

ANNA. So?

KIRSTY. Tonight.

ANNA. What would you like to do?

KIRSTY. I want to be seen with you. I want us to go out together. I want people to say "they're together."

ANNA. "God they look beautiful!"

KIRSTY. Precisely. Where shall we go?

ANNA. Somewhere intimate. Not flash.

KIRSTY. I know the place. It's lovely.

ANNA. Is it local?

KIRSTY. Quite. Why?

ANNA. I can stay the night now.

KIRSTY. Great.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. You're so gorgeous.

ANNA. So are you.

(Pause.)

ANNA. I've never lied.

KIRSTY. Never?

ANNA. Not for years.

KIRSTY. Such a good girl.

(Pause.)

ANNA. That's why I haven't stayed the night before. Not because I didn't want to.

KIRSTY. I know.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. And he never -

ANNA. I told him that I was visiting a friend. That was true.

KIRSTY. It is true. We are friends. Amongst other things.


Next - Giraffes - Act One, Scene Three.

Top of the Pops - 1 April 1976.


For as long as BBC4 carry on repeating old editions of Top Of The Pops in their entirety, and I have the stamina to do so, I'll write a commentary about each show. To write about old television is always to engage in a struggle between identifying the representative and identifying the exceptional. In as far as I can deduce, the first week of April 1976 seemed to be a fairly typical Top Of The Pops programme, but, as usual, brought forth some extraordinary sights and sounds.

Presenter: Tony Blackburn

- is in fairly subdued form, only making a joke about fellow DJ chum Dave Diddy Hamilton once. Blackburn is dressed tonight in a long brown dimpled jacket.

Sailor - Girls Girls Girls

A great start! I can remember the first time that I heard Sailor's greatest hit, 'Glass of Champagne'. I was watching Julian Temple's Sex Pistols documentary The Filth & The Fury, and a brief extract of Sailor appeared to demonstrate the cultural wasteland that was supposedly 1976 pop. A problem with this thesis is that the moog-heavy 'Glass of Champagne' is unremittingly ace, full of hooks and playfulness, while 'Anarchy in the UK' usually comes over as a rockist plod to my ears these days.

The initial impression that 'Glass of Champagne' makes on the listener is that a lot of hack songwriters and session musicians have heard Sparks and Roxy Music and have thought that they could emulate them in a more overly populist fashion. But once you learn that they were Dutch the element of translation makes something else become apparent in their songs, an aspect of trying on clothes and styles for the pure fun of it.

So 'Girls Girls Girls' is trying to hark back forty years to Busby Berkley, struck dumb by the agreeable idea of the world overflowing with lovely ladies to be charmed by. It achieves this through a rinkydink piano rhythm that rotates around and round, always sounding like its about to spin away.

The dressing up element of the music is fully embraced by the band, kitted out in a range of costumes; tugboat captain, farmer, a singularly geeky Monte Carlo gadabout. All four of them look a lot more like musicians than popstars, but full marks for pop spirit.

The reaction from the audience is mixed. Two girls in the front row have developed synchronised arm movements, while another stands stock still next to them, arms folded.

Diana Ross - Do You Know Where You're Going To? (promo)

I always find this vulnerable song quite painful to listen to, chiefly because of the series of repeated questions in the chorus that I always feel duty bound to answer;

Do you know where you're going to?

(No. Does anyone?)

Do you like the things that life is showing you?

(Only intermittently.)

Where are you going to?

(Look, I told you -)

Do you know?

(Starts crying)

A no-expense-spent promo film from Motown here, La Ross looking out of a car window in Rome. It serves the song well.

Do you get what you're hoping for?


(No. I haven't yet.)

Tarney & Spencer - I'm Your Man Rock & Roll

"I think this is going to be a smash hit" predicts Blackburn, inaccurately.

Now, this is how you only really gain a representative sense of Top of the Pops through entire shows being repeated. A 'new release', and a wholly forgotten non-hit. The arrangement is really good, a radio-friendly, sparklingly produced version of the Bo Diddley beat, sadly let down by a big unmemorable nothing of a song about rock 'n' roll being great.

For added cruel irony, Tarney and Spencer perform on the Top of the Pops studio set that places then in the middle of a huge star.


ABBA - Fernando (promo)

Epic have put a bit more effort into their promo film than Motown did, booking some film studio time for the great men and women, putting them behind a campfire and in front of an artificial starscape of light bulbs.


How to annoy your colleagues through deep understanding of song # 1:


In 1998, a year or so after I’d graduated, I started my grand career as a library assistant for the council. Soon, I was working all week in a small district library with just one colleague most of the time, my manager Sylvia, who was about 50, divorced, voluble and opinionated, easily riled and East End. We made for a kind of chalk and cheese pairing. She listened to Capital Gold a lot. Generally, I was quite taciturn in her company, because I knew that I’d have to explain whatever I said, as it would generally be misunderstood.


One day, Fernando is playing.


Sylvia: This always makes me think of my dad, ’cause he was in the Spanish Civil War.


Billy: I think that it’s about the Mexican War of Independence though, because they’re singing about crossing the Rio Grande.


Sylvia was cross, and I reflected that my pop knowledge was not always welcome.


Lawrence Andrew - I'll Never Love Anyone Anymore.

Another non-hit new release, rather giving the lie to the much-repeated claims about Top of the Pops being the most democratic show on television, as the performers appearances was reliant upon their being in the charts.

A highly generic wet ballad, where Andrew indeed keeps on telling us that he'll never love anyone any more. The visuals are a lot more interesting than the song, with the entire performance captured in one movement by a single camera, presenting the viewer with a long shot that encompasses the singer's view of the audience, swings round to a close up of Andrew making his mawkish promise to never love anyone anymore to camera, and then tracking backwards to take leave of the whole sorry spectacle, audience, singer, star stage and all.

The audience are lit through a baby blue filter. Lawrence Andrew is dressed in a patchwork jacket with wide lapels in burgundy velvet.

"That's lovely, isn't it?" asks Tony Blackburn.


Hank Mizell - Jungle Rock (Pan's People)

Now this is ace! Mizell's record was already 20 years old in 1976, but is strikingly abrasive and unmelodic rockabilly, closer to The Fall than Shakin' Stevens.

This tale of rockin' fauna in the wild is given a classical literal interpretation by Pan's People, dressed in identical trench coats and wielding outsize blunderbusses while leaping out from behind the green plastic ribbons of studio jungle flora, while appearing in cuaways as boppin' versions of the creatures that they are hunting. And what an impressive menagerie the BBC Costume Department managed to come up with; a chimp, monkey, alligator, fox, rabbit, elephant, curiously bipedal hippo, camel and kangaroo! Though they do draw something of a blank in trying to realise the ring-dang-doo, whatever that is supposed to be. In some ways I think that Pan's People were sexier when they were being silly than when they were being overtly sexy - they look as though they're having fun and entering into a spirit of knowing ridiculousness.


One inaccuracy, though: "The camel was a jitterbugging with the kangaroo!" That wasn't a jungle you were rocking in, Hank, it was a zoo.


John Miles - Music

I can't say that I've ever been fond of this. Very high male voices - Demis Roussos, Jon Anderson, Jim Diamond - are one of my least favourite things in pop, having a fingers scraping on blackboard aversion effect on me. 'Music' is certainly an impressive example of no-expense-spared seventies production though, especially in the lavish orchestral section. Its unfortunate that you have to listen to a lot of throatache emoting and widdlywiddly guitar to get up to that point. The song fails to hold the attention of two girls in the front row of the studio audience who are seen chatting to each other behind John Miles' shoulder.

The visual aspects of this performance, lit through a magenta filter, are of greater interest to me; the art deco scenery is very in keeping with the thirties revival that was going on at this time, but I'm especially fascinated by Miles' jacket, a white satin affair with navy and lime piping and no collar whatsoever, which looks to me like the sort of garment worn by a Lego racing driver.

"That's terrific, isn't it?" asks Tony Blackburn.


Fox - S-S-S-Single Bed


Ooooh Noosha Fox! Highlight of this week. The odd, choppy, presciently postpunk, rhythms of 'S-S-S-Single Bed'! The handclaps! The "Do-de-oh-do!" distorted response - visualised here through the guitarist singing through a plastic tube! The way that Noosha's sidekicks are continually responding to the song!

And above all, the figure of Noosha Fox herself, this week in black satin shorts and wearing what looks like a bedsheet as a cape. This performance combines the dressing-up box made-up sense of sailor with the Pan's People dichotomy between silly and sexy.

"It's great, isn't it?" asks Tony Blackburn. See, he wasn't always wrong!

The Beatles - Hey Jude (promo)

Not this sodding thing again... bloody rock heritage! In fairness, this was only a mere eight years old at the time of transmission, despite a confused Blackburn twice telling us that it was from 1966. In the 1976 context of a brief and smeary monochrome extract it just sounds plodding and quaint, unlike the already ancient 'Jungle Rock', beamed in from another ultra-vivid world.


The Brotherhood Of Man - Save All Your Kisses For Me


I’ve just been listening to the Kenicke version, to try to find out if there’s a song worth redeeming underneath the horrible arrangement, presentation, and dismal ‘twist’ revelation at the end of the Brotherhood of Man performance. Guess what – there really isn’t. It’s only a residual affection for the sound of Kenicke’s own songs that stops me from switching off. The surprise at the end of the song is so atrocious that, understandably, the best way that Kenicke can deliver it is with a cackle of derision.

Of greater interest than the song is the awkward way that performance fits, or fails to fit, onto Top of the Pops. The staging is entirely pitched as variety, rather than pop/rock, and acts as a dress rehearsal for their forthcoming Eurovision performance on a much bigger stage in a concert hall. So the sightline of the audience is problematic in this performance, with the group entirely working to the cameras and with no interaction with the milling crowd next to them.

They do share the best scenery of the episode with Fox, a large triangle of multicoloured lights.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Sisters Of Mercy - This Corrosion (1987/ No. 7/ 6 weeks/ Merciful Release)


"I got nothing to say I ain't said before
I bled all I can, I won't bleed no more
I don't need no one to understand
Why the blood run hold
The hired hand
On heart
Hand of god
Floodland and driven apart
Run cold
Turn
Cold
Burn"


Thinking about writing this, I've looked at the lyrics for this song for the first time in twenty-three years and am quite surprised how little ostensible sense they make. This is a single as an edifice as much as a song, Eldritch creating a whole city in song, vast in every way (if I remember correctly, a forty voice choir multitracked forty times!), big but also crammed with detail. The sensation for the listener is immersive, especially on headphones or played loud - you feel as though you have lived through this rather than merely heard it.

"On days like this
In times like these
I feel an animal deep inside
Heel to haunch on bended knees
Living on if and if I tried,
Somebody send me... please..."

It's a song for end of days. At the heart of it is a glaring irony: A massive baroque construction is a hymn to destruction and collapse.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene One.


CAST.

SIMON. Late twenties/ early thirties.

ANNA. Late twenties/ early thirties.

KIRSTY. Late twenties/ early thirties.


THE TIME.

ACT ONE. Late winter, 1990.

ACT TWO. Early spring, 1990.

ACT ONE SCENE ONE

(Anna and Simon's house.)

SIMON. Is it me or is it her?

(Pause.)

SIMON. Be honest.

ANNA. It's her.

SIMON. But its me too?

ANNA. No.

(Pause.)

ANNA. It affects you, but its not because of you.

SIMON. Can I tell you what to do?

ANNA. No.

SIMON. Can I suggest?

ANNA. Of course you can. What do you want me to do?

SIMON. I don't know.

(Pause.)

SIMON. It's all so new to me.

ANNA. A man's worst nightmare.

SIMON. No. Its not that.

(Pause.)

SIMON. I think.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Can I meet her?

ANNA. No. Not yet, anyway.

SIMON. Do I know her?

ANNA. No. Can I meet her?

SIMON. Can I stop you?

ANNA. No. Do you want to stop me?

SIMON. I don't know.

(Pause.)

SIMON. I don't think so.

ANNA. Why don't you think so?

(Pause.)

SIMON. Because its what you want. And what you want is important to me.

ANNA. Thank you.

(She kisses his cheek)


Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Two.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Kylie Minogue & Jason Donovan - Especially For You (1988/ No. 1/ 14 weeks/ PWL) Jason Donovan - When You Come Back To Me (1989/ No. 2/ 11 weeks/ PWL)



You could always tell when Stock, Aitken & Waterman were pulling out the stops for something that they wanted to be remembered - a bit more care was put into the instrumentation. Both of these prestige Christmas products are free of the lapses that even aficionados like me tend to find mar their universally excellent songs; rum-ti-tum percussion and blaring synthi-horns. Here we find rather nice flamenco guitar solos and Christmassy bells. And best of all -

Those harmonies that usher in the duet!

Wow they're divine! There's a little pause before the listener is swept into the world of the song;

Especially for you
I wanna let you know what I was going through
All the time we were apart I thought of you
You were in my heart
My love never changed
I still feel the same

There's a directness to the best SAW lyrics that tends to be overlooked, and is a really difficult technique for songwriters to master. You could call it simplicity, but I prefer to hear it as unaugmented expression of feeling and circumstance - objectives and obstacles, as dramatists are encouraged to think.

There is something atavistic about the appeal of these songs to the appreciative listener - the search for the missing other... This theme is made yet more direct in the video for Especially for You, and the memorable Top Of The Pops appearance climaxing in Kylie running into Jason's arms. For good or ill, it is a moment that is remembered by everybody who was even faintly following pop music in Britain in 1988.

And the next year's follow-up is, if anything, even better. In marketing terms, I think that a trick was missed in not making the single Kylie & Jason: The Return - Kyliealike vocals from SAW stalwarts Miriam Stockley and Mae McKenna are all over the backing of this, sometimes taking lines where Jason remains mute, the invisible and enacted presence of Kylie making her a more spectral loved other than in 1988. This song is actually a bit harsher than Especially for You, not having a pay-off of a reunion in the last verse. Its also explicitly set at Christmas in England;

So many people
Smile on their faces
Armfuls of presents
Going to places
There’s a chill in the air
as I walk through the night
How I wish I could walk
through the windows of time
Would I see happiness there?
see your face everywhere
But the lights all go down
over London...

The tempo of the song then steps up a gear, leading to several minutes of various protestations of Donovan knowing that she will come back and that when she does the fire will glow, etc. Sometimes this can sound ecstatic to me, sometimes hollow - I only realised after 19 years of listening to this song that what I've always heard as "pain in my heart" is actually "a flame in my heart". This double edge of joyous conviction, but a conviction based on little but faith with no indication of reciprocal feelings from the loved other makes 'When You Come Back To Me' a pretty accurate representation of what the feeling of hope is actually like, and makes this song amongst the very best of Christmas hits.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Andy Williams - Home Lovin' Man (1970/ No. 7/ 12 weeks/ CBS)


Ah, now this is my very favourite Andy Williams single. And once again, a song written by Cook & Greenaway - Why does nobody ever go on about them?

It starts with a churchy fugue organ. As a way of setting a mood, this acts as a kind of palette-clearing exercise for the listener, establishing a certain tone, grown-up, formal. Then Williams' voice is introduced, but with a wordless croon. The effect is to evoke a hushed intimation of prayer, settling the listener down, working out what we want to say. For what we are about to receive...

Then a guitar goes shhting! and the song proper begins. It's a seafaring tale;

The harbour lights were shining.
The moon was at its high.
The captain said, "Thank God we're home!
We've drunk the barrels dry."

Set down in writing, those lyrics look like they could well be a yo-ho-ho shanty, but that certainly wouldn't be ideal material for this powerful, but always gentle, voice. Instead, the tempo is rollingly slow, the tide lapping against the shore, the steady pace of moving over water. We learn from the singer that the journey hasn't always been this smooth ("I'd never thought we'd make it/ But we've twenty leagues to go"). The arrangement of this is very measured, two guitars and a bass with drums. The orchestration doesn't come in until the "blow" of the next line;

So blow you southern trades
And guide me safely to the shore

The strings and the brass become the wind itself, powerful and benign, guiding the singer and the listener to safety and love;

I'll never ever gonna sail
The seven seas no more.

Several instrument seems to have little tiny solos during the chorus, the guitar, the piano, and especially some jovial drum rolls, as though each player wants to convey their supportive happiness for the voyager's very imminent return;

I don't want to miss the sand in my hair,
The roll of the tide and the salt in the air
Deep inside it's true
I'm a home lovin' man
Comin' on home to you

(and reiterated, with more attractive details)

I don't want to miss the wind in my eyes,
The shimmerin' light when the seagull flies
Lo, I've traveled far
I'm a home loving man,
Home is where you are

The second verse changes the focus of the song, away from the crew and the harbour lights. As the ship moves in closer, we can make out the figures of the people waiting there;

The crowd upon the quayside
Their faces long and drawn
Are suddenly awakened
As we sail in on the dawn
The wives, the sons, the lovers,
Who never gave up hope
All breathe a sigh together
As they reach to catch the rope

And back to the home lovin' sailor, more ecstatic now that his loved ones are in sight;

God bless you, southern trades,
You got me safely back this time!
Oh, you'll never have the need again
To save this soul of mine!

Note that this is a song about anticipation. We never get given a pay-off scene of the actual reunion between the sailor and his love, the song requiring some empathetic imagination on the part of the listener. What does happen is that it gets more and more exciting, the glorious tune and gorgeous arrangement accentuating the simple narrative device of the ship getting closer and closer in to dock.

It also speaks to a deep seated desire for the love and solace of a redemptive other, I think, achieving this without hollering or crowing about it. But the story is essentially about leaving the sea for a woman, realising that salvation lies not in the hands of fate, but in your own actions with an individual in whom you can find a sense of belonging. For all that its a story of the end of an epic voyage, it could be the feelings of a man on the train home from work, really looking forward to seeing his wife again.