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.