Monday, 30 May 2011

Giraffes - Act Two, Scene One.



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

SCENE ONE.

(Aeroplane. Three seats.)

ANNA. Go on. You have the window seat.

SIMON. Thank you.

(Simon sits down. Kirsty sits next to him in the centre seat.)

SIMON. Ur, could you sit in the other seat, please?

(Kirsty does so.)

SIMON. It’s nothing personal.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Well, obviously it is, in a sense, but it’s nothing against you.

ANNA. I think that you’ve explained, Simon.

SIMON. Sorry.

KIRSTY. No no, it’s alright.

* * *

(Simon looks out of the window.)

SIMON. We must be over Brittany by now.

ANNA. Simon’s like a child. It doesn’t matter if we go on an aeroplane or to the restaurant; he has to sit next to the window.

SIMON. I like to watch.

(Simon becomes absorbed in the view. Kirsty whispers into Anna’s ear.)

KIRSTY. You seem calm.

ANNA. Yes. I feel calm, actually. Travel distances me. As soon as the engine starts to run, and whatever transport I’m on starts to move at a regular speed then I can feel my mind become tidy. It makes me optimistic. How about you?

KIRSTY. I feel awful. Wracked. I need a cigarette.

ANNA. You don’t smoke.

KIRSTY. Now would be an ideal time to start again.

(Anna hold’s Kirsty’s hand.)

KIRSTY. What about him?

ANNA. Oh he’s always calm.

KIRSTY. Really?

(Anna nods.)

KIRSTY. Always?

ANNA. Always still and quiet, anyway.


Next -
Giraffes - Act Two, Scene Two.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

CCS - Tap Turns On The Water (1971/ No. 5/ 13 weeks/ RAK)


I have a theory that the charts of 1971 are the happiest hunting ground for crate-digging searchers of curiosity and diversion such as myself. Beyond Bolanmania there seems to have been no underlying pop trend that year, leaving the charts as open ground where absolutely anything could be a hit, however unorthodox, however silly, however rocking.
It was in such a climate that CCS could be chart heroes. This group were essentially a lot of top session musicians under the leadership of Alexis Korner, best known as a super-credible figure on the London music scene, acclaimed as "the father of British blues" by Richards, Hendrix, Clapton, Page et al. If you are like me, you may be more aware of Korner's contribution as the guest vocalist playing the racist father on Hot Chocolate's 'Brother Louis' - "I don't want no smoke in my family. Get it? No smoke!"
CCS occupied the midway point between blues scene cred and Hot Chocolate pop. Originally put together to record a top quality cash-in hit cover version of 'Whole Lotta Love', the Top Of The Pops theme, Korner then kept the name going for a couple of years to create strange pop hits that both wrongfoot and delight the listener.
Tap Turns On The Water has a very odd structure for a hit single, the sort of thing that you would have to be both a very confident musician - and somebody with little appetite to become a pop star (Korner was already well into his forties) - to have come up with.
The entire first minute of the single goes in a different direction to where the song even begins to start. We get percussion that I'd describe as boxy, in the sense that you can imagine it being slapped and thumped on packing cases, a sonorous jazz piano motif that steps forward and back, and a mariachi-styled massive fanfare of brass. This music sounds simultaneously joyous and rough-hewn, like coming across a thrilling impromptu party.
Then everything stops to let some guitars in, and the song proper starts, with a call and response verse between the singer and the band that you think must be the chorus;
Peak through the bathroom door
(Did you evah? Did you evah?) -
See a sister in the raw?
(Did you evah? Did you evah?) -
Swear you could booze all night?
(Did you evah? Did you evah?) -
Sweatin' hard and you're turnin' white?
(Did you evah? Did you evah?)
Its clearly a story presented by a band of dirty men with quite a bit of scuzzy life experience... This effect is accentuated by Alexis Korner's voice, which sounds simultaneously lecherous and aristocratic. This combination is important, meaning that the singer is both someone whose been around the block, but an amusing and diverting character to listen to: a good bluesman!
You have to wait until you're halfway into the single before you get to the actual chorus;
Tap turns on the water!
See the waters flow -
Acorn makes a forest!
Watch the forest grow -
- which is repeated ad infinitum. Its joyous, and the joy comes in creating a mood that is tricky to pull of, and at the root of some of the greatest pop: moronic/profound.

The Creation - Painter Man (1966/ No. 36/ 2 weeks/ Planet)



"Did adverts for TV
Household shops and brands of tea
Labels all around the cans
Who would be a painter man?"

A single of real historically significance that I had never heard until I was 36, by grace of its brief chart history - two weeks and a number 36 smash!

One thing that's really impressive about it is that you've already forgotten about the Boney M version by the second time that you've heard it. Its certainly a song which sounds more comfortable in its skin as a mod beat single.

Two things are going on simultaneously; something impressively rough and dirty, clanging and ragged guitars that seem to turn into a John Cale viola in the fade, fumping garage drums, shards of feedback, a rasping vocal - and an attempt to do a Ray Davies satirical song within this style - the painter man did his time at art school, but now can only find employment through dirty postcards and commercial work ("Classic art has had its day") The Who-styled "oooh" backing vocals glue both parts together.

You might expect this message to be an angry one, but any rage that there is is collapsed into a general feeling of entropy (like Dinosaur Jr did twenty years on)

This is both a satirical examination - and a classic work - of pop art.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Seventeen.



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

SCENE SEVENTEEN.

(Kirsty waits, filled with dread, suitcase by her side. Enter Anna and Simon, seemingly more composed. Anna sees Kirsty, breaks off, attracts her attention and they embrace.)

ANNA. Simon – Kirsty. Kirsty – Simon.

(Kirsty moves to peck Simon’s cheek. Simon moves to take Kirsty’s hand.)

Next -
Giraffes - Act Two, Scene One.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Cilla Black - Conversations (1969/ No. 7/ 12 weeks/ Parlophone)


Another ultra-vulnerable imagined love song about the carapace of self that we armour ourselves with. And another song by Cook & Greenaway, too! You know the sort of thing that I like, dear reader...

It starts with a barrage of questions, asked in a tone both hesitant and a bit blank;

Do you come here often?...
Have we met before?
Tell me your impression now...
Could you like me more?

Then, a little more assertively;

Could you even LOVE me?
Is it too early to tell?

Back down again, for where we know in our hearts that this is leading towards;

Who am I foolin'?
When I know too well -

The conversation is, of course, only happening in her head; it’s the protagonist of 'How Soon Is Now?' explaining why she goes to a club on her own and she stands on her own – “Make a move?/Try to speak?/Raise my eyes from the floor?” Like someone who’s forgotten how to do it, or has never done it, "losing my patience /Forgetting the lines".

Two ways of reading this song, both unhappy. Sometimes I think that the loved other is a specific man. The singer spending too much time musing about things in the abstract, so that they become more intimidating, taking on a strange unhelpful life of their own, with her playing out every scenario in her head without ever giving the man the chance to play his part.

In this instance, at least he does exist as a person, a possibility, even if their history is one of hesitancy on her part ("When we meet, will I act like I've done before?... Say "Hello", nothing more").

The other way of reading this is that he is so provisional as to be an abstract in his own right, not even a specific distant crush, which seems to fit in with the mannequin figure that the protagonist sees herself as being, crushed by a series of rituals that she can't find herself fitting in with.

Crucial to this ambiguity, as with 'Surround Yourself With Sorrow' is the one non-specific line;

I've still got to meet him.
Yes, I've still got to meet him!

Defiance? Purpose? A knowledge that she must undergo what she knows to be torment, but will? Or - A consoling illusion that she will meet a 'him', one day? It's the point in the single where everything gets ratcheted up, with the arrival of backing singers and where Cilla starts belting the song out.

Either way, this is a compelling and uneasy song, brilliantly performed.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Mary Hopkin - Those Were The Days (1968/ No. 1/ 22 weeks/ Apple)


"The busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way"

A quatrain. Each of the four verses presents a different stage of life;

Youthful hopes

Consolidation

Frustration at dashed hopes and loss

"Was that lonely woman really me?"

And then -

"Through the door I heard familiar laughter"

A quiet but welcoming second chance.

The instrumentation is different for each section, you may note. The children's choir underscore the emotions perfectly.

It's a very acute song about middle-age, I think. Odd that it took the purity of an 18 year old to interpret it, in all its sadness and ruefulness, so precisely.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Sixteen.


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

SCENE SIXTEEN

(Anna and Simon’s house.)

SIMON. Have you packed?

ANNA. Not yet. I suppose that you have.

SIMON. This morning.

ANNA. Be prepared. Are you taking things with you?

SIMON. Well, yes.

ANNA. What?

SIMON. Clothes. Toothpaste. Razors.

ANNA. No. I meant distractions.

SIMON. Distractions?

ANNA. Yes.

(Simon thinks)

SIMON. Personal projects.

ANNA. What ‘personal projects’?

SIMON. Not mine. The classes’

ANNA. What are they?

SIMON. One lesson a week they can write about whatever they want to. It’s supposed to encourage individuality. That’s why they’re all about either the Mutant Ninja Turtles or the New Kids on the Block. At least they don’t take very long to mark.

ANNA. Do you have to take them with you?

SIMON. I suppose not. Perhaps I ought to.

ANNA. Can you not take anything to read with you?

SIMON. Is that what you want?

ANNA. Yes. I want us to leave everything behind. If you decide that it’s going to be the week that you read Finnegan’s Wake, then…

SIMON. Well if you’re sure.

(Pause.)

SIMON. What are we going to do there?

ANNA. Walk. Eat. Swim. Talk.


Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Seventeen.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Detroit Spinners - Could It Be I'm Falling In Love? (1973/ No. 11/ 14 weeks/ Atlantic)


As a pop-obsessed 12-year old of 1985, this was obviously a song that I knew well, thanks to David Grant & Jakki Graham. But I had never knowingly heard the original version until Dale Winton played it on Pick of the Pops one Saturday a couple of years ago. So the initial effect on hearing this was to be struck by quite what a feeble effort the UK interpretation is; a blaring and thumping eighties arrangement that lacks finesse and turns the song into a karaoke number.

An absolutely crucial thing about this song that I hadn’t realized until I heard it anew again was how badly it works as a duet. Grant and Graham interpret the thing as being a buoyantly cheery song of found love – the ‘Could it be?’ question clearly a rhetorical device, a veneer of faux coyness to cover a mood of mutual triumphalism.

Actually, though, this is a song that is above all about doubt – about a sense of disbelief about the possibility of finding love and happiness;

Since I met you I’ve begun to feel so strange
Every time I speak your name…
That's funny.
You say that you are so helpless too.
That you don’t know what to do.

- and of admitting this to yourself when it may once again turn to ashes;

Each night I pray there will never come a day
When you up and take your love away…
Say you feel the same way too
And I wonder what it is I -
Feel for you

This mood of vulnerability is accentuated by the Al Green styling of the vocal. The music too is extremely slow, and the arrangements are all quite subtle details. This is an archetypal slow dance number to neck and to cling to at the end of the dance (or it would work just as well to cry into your beer to), to make the dancers very aware of the beating of hearts – either their own or the other’s.

The female vocals that come in at the chorus are spectral, as much in the mind of the singer as a woman who he’s talking to. This sense of internal feelings being externalised is accentuated by the ad lib to fade in the last minute of the single;

I walk around with my heart in my hands hey
Walk the street as long as I can baby
I used to sing (…)
Once you get me up
Won’t let me down
Just let this feeling carry me on…
Skip the beats with my heart, girl

Hushed. Awed. Sanctified by love.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cilla Black - You're My World (1964/ No. 1/ 17 weeks/ Parlophone)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5A_a1C0LdG8

It's the combination of two factors that makes this single so thrilling for me; George Martin's arrangement and Cilla Black's performance.

Martin's productions for the Beatles are forever and rightly lauded, of course: the great enabler, tactfully and modestly allowing the visionary music of the young mens' imaginations to be brought to life. But this thoughtful sense of how to make records emotive and artful worked in other places, too - most remarkably in The Goons' crazed hits of the 1950s, but also for more conventional pieces such as 'You're My World'.

When we praise Cilla Black's music of the 1960s, we tend to talk about her breathier and more vulnerable moments - Step Inside Love, Surround Yourself With Sorrow - these are tremendous singles, but skirt around from acknowledging that her most celebrated ability was to absolutely belt out songs, and not even in a controlled and phrased Shirley Bassey manner either, but with the overflowing emotion of a very young woman very eager to impress and to please. This vocal approach certainly provokes a fingernails-squeaking-the-blackboard aversion on the part of many listeners, and how I respond to it or not is very much dependent upon which song she's attacking.

'You're My World' is perhaps the ideal vehicle for a full-blooded Black performance. It has to be said that it is a pretty formulaic song - the premise of "I can't live without your love" swiftly established and then amplified to greater and greater levels of dependence over three minutes. This sense of formula is accentuated by the fact that 'You're My World' is a song in translation, starting life as 'Il Mio Mondo', a recent Italian hit for Umberto Bindi snapped up by Brian Epstein as a likely smash hit instant follow up to her chart-topping 'Anyone Who Had A Heart'.

Martin and Black between them manage to make this old trope of a sentiment sound epochal. The single has the most brilliant introduction, a menacing seven seconds of strings, begging to be sampled;

TCHANG!! Tchangtchang! Tchangtchang. (tchangtchang)...

TCHANG!! Tchangtchang! Tchangtchang. (tchangtchang)...

And an - as yet subdued - Cilla establishes what this song is going to be about;

You‘re my world, you‘re every breath - I take

You‘re my world, you're every move - I make

Some up-down piano scales and sedately swoopy violins over the next two lines;

Other eyes see the stars up in the skies

But for meeee they shine with-in - your - eyes

This is already swelling a bit, but its soo obvious that its about to burst... When and how is it going to happen?;

As the trees reach for the sun above...

TCHANG!! Tchangtchang! Tchangtchang. (tchangtchang)...

(YES! Those scary strings are back! I KNEW that had to happen!)

So my arms reach out to you - for love

With your haaaaahnd res-ting in miiiiiihn

Hih feel a poooooow-er soh deviiiiiine -

(YES! YES! Here it comes right NOW! - a great thunderburst of orchestration and vocals. We get the TCHANGTCHANG! but accompanied by trumpets this time - cueing in a Cilla unleashed;

YOU'RHE MY WOORLD!

YOU'HRHE MY NIIIIIIGHT AN-D-AAAAAAAAHY!

The trumpets have been joined by a full barrage of strings and some indecorously clumping drums;

YOU'RHE MY WOORLD!

YOU'HRHE EVRHY PRAHYER IH-PRAAAAAAAAHY!

To support Cilla's all-encompassing feeling with some divine gravitas, a host of heavenly voices appear from out of nowhere. They are backing vocalists The Breakaways, and it sounds as though there are a hundred of them...;

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! - AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

The effect is like a hi-fidelity Abbey Road Studios approximation of Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound. Trumpets offer a noisesome fanfare - DJANGDJANG! DJANGDJANGAJANG! - before Cilla reiterates the global scale of her love;

HIFHOURLOOOOOOOOOOFVE!!

CEYCSESTEWBEEEEEEEEEE!!

HTHENNITSTHEHENDHOHFOURLOOOOOOOOOOFVE!!-FOOOR MEE!

The effect is then repeated over the remainder of the single, on a yet grander and louder scale. With a song like this, you really can't go at it half-cock. A vast canvas, suitable for two talents who enjoy achieving a big music.

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Fifteen.



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

SCENE FIFTEEN.

(Kirsty's house.)

ANNA. Would you like to go on holiday?

KIRSTY. Yes!

ANNA. With me and Simon?

KIRSTY. Couldn't it just be the two of us?

ANNA. No.

(Pause.)

ANNA. I'm not going to leave anyone behind, Kirsty.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. You can't go forward without leaving people behind.

ANNA. Pardon?

(Pause.)

ANNA. We need to.

KIRSTY. No we don't.

ANNA. Do you want things to carry on as they are?

KIRSTY. Yes.

ANNA. Sure?

KIRSTY. No.

ANNA. Well -

KIRSTY. But why on a holiday?

ANNA. Because it would clear our minds. Because everybody needs a holiday.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Where were you thinking of?

ANNA. A house on the island. We borrow it from time to time. This should be a good time of year.

KIRSTY. Not too hot?

ANNA. No. But always warm.

(Pause.)

ANNA. It's beautiful. You'll like it.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. How many bedrooms are there?

ANNA. Two.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. So what will our arrangements be?

ANNA. Oh.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Ur...

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. You haven't thought this through, have you?

(This is the first time that we see Anna truly fazed.)

ANNA. One room has three single beds. So we could all stay in there. Or one of us could sleep on the sofa and the other two could have a bedroom each.

(Pause.)

ANNA. It's important for things to be equal.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Look, you can't plan everything.

KIRSTY. No. You can't.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Sorry


ANNA. Apology accepted. Let me put my arms around you.

(She does.)

ANNA. I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard.

KIRSTY. It is.

ANNA. But you will come?

KIRSTY. Yes.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Can we afford to go?

ANNA. It’s only the air fare that costs anything.

(Pause.)

ANNA. You have reservations?

KIRSTY. Many.

ANNA. So do I. So do I. But sometimes you just have to leap into the unknown.

KIRSTY. That’s true. That’s our story, in fact.

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Sixteen.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Secret Affair - My World (1980/ No. 16/ 9 weeks/ I-Spy)



The mod revival of 1979 is not remembered as one of the highlights of British pop history, and perhaps rightly so; Bands with names like The Scooters and The Mods, teenagers in supermarket versions of the snappy attire of their 1960s elders. Secret Affair in particular, as the only band from this movement to have more than one hit, are generally remembered with derision, especially for their fanatical group of followers, the self-styled 'Glory boys'.

What the myth doesn't lead you expect is what these singles actually sound like, attempts to find valiant moments among the absolute mess of youth culture life of the end of the 1970s. These songs are a bit more honest and canny than their idiot reputation might suggest. Hence, the anthemic 'My World' is also a study of confusion and insecurity;

I can feel that taste for life -
slipping away!
And striking the lost chord I find -
nothing new to say!
Someone told me all dressed up -
nowhere to go!
I should have that sinking feeling -
my heeaad huuung low!

The music here is extraordinarily jittery and skittish, especially the hyperactive drums. The string section is not the usual attempt to paste on a sense of gravitas, but conveys a ceaseless restlessness that is both uncomfortable and questing. I've never taken speed, but I think that it might be a lot like this. The chorus is glorious and takes up most of the record; innumerable yelps of "MY world!" - the interior and the universal combined in the minimum number of words. By the fade-out it transforms into a call-and response "My world!" alternating with "Your world!", joining the listener into this very specific and necessary worldview.

Andy Williams - Where Do I Begin? (1971/ No. 4/ 18 weeks/ CBS)



Karen Carpenter apart, Andy Williams is my favourite pop voice. It's the absolute lightness within the great power, so that even at his most emphatic, it feels as though he's gently confiding to you (seen here in the repeated "She fills my HEEAARRRT!")

‘Where Do I Begin?’ is a song of found love that could be absolutely appalling if treated differently. The choruses are a series of questions ("How can I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be?", "Where do I start?") that are both awed at being in love, and admissions of doubt, particularly the "How long must it last?" of the second chorus. In contrast, the verses are descriptions of rapture (a love "older than the sea", full of "angels songs" and "wild imaginings").

The doubt and the joys are perfectly balanced in Williams' reading, which is neither cynical nor sentimental. You'd want to be in love like this, though the pain entailed is clear, too.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Fourteen.


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

SCENE FOURTEEN.

(Anna and Simon's house.)

SIMON. You seem happy.

ANNA. Yes. Yes I do feel happy. Do you feel happy?

SIMON. If you're happy then that makes me feel happy.

ANNA. Are you sure about that?

(Pause.)

SIMON. Yes.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Are you still happy?

ANNA. I was happier before we started this.

(Pause.)

ANNA. You're not happy are you?

SIMON. It still does make me happy to see you happy.

ANNA. Really?

SIMON. Of course.

ANNA. Always?

SIMON. Almost always.

ANNA. When not?

SIMON. I never resent it.

(Pause.)

ANNA. When doesn't it make you happy?

SIMON. When I don't feel capable of happiness myself. But when you're happy... It always makes life more vivid and exciting.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Look, seeing you happy never makes me unhappy. Sincerely.
(Pause.)

ANNA. What would make you happy?

SIMON. I'd still like to meet her.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Would you like a holiday?

SIMON. Half term?

ANNA. Yes.

SIMON. Where?

ANNA. The island.

SIMON. Can we afford it?

ANNA. Yes.

SIMON. Then yes. I would.

ANNA. With Kirsty.

SIMON. Oh.

(Pause.)

ANNA. I think that the time has come.

SIMON. It has.

ANNA. But I don't want to do it any other way.

SIMON. No.

(Pause.)

ANNA. This city... Work... A few hours. It wouldn't be right, would it?

SIMON. No.

(Pause.)

SIMON. It wouldn’t.

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Fifteen.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Narada Michael Walden - I Shoulda Loved Ya (1980/ No. 8/ 9 weeks/ Atlantic)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tYIbLrco24

You should always start with your strongest move.

There's the most almightily seductive Bernard-Edwards-from-Chic-style bassline snaking around you from nowhere. To help the listener make sense of it, we get handclaps! This is in the first five seconds.

If he keeps that up, this is going to be fantastic!

Fifteen seconds in, the pattern is complicated by the introduction of a saxophone and some choppy rhythm guitar.

Oh yes - Good! We're in safe hands here!

The vocals come in with the chorus first, sung not by Narada, but by some female voices;

I shoulda loved ya!
I shoulda loved ya!
Ooh, when I touched ya...
I shoulda loved ya!

(Note how the brass responds to each "should loved ya!" with a taunting echo; "Baba!baba! Waaah-wah-wah-waaagh!")

Aha, I know what this is about. Its a lost opportunities song. Still, as he's singing to her now in a dancing situation, perhaps his mistakes might be rectified? This music is so fantastic and full of possibility, that it sounds like the best second chance you could ever imagine coming
your way.

Except it isn't quite like that. What you don't really realise when you first listen to it, as you're so busy dancing and being beguiled, is that its actually a horribly honest song of male self-castigation. He really has messed this up for good, and it was the best thing he might have known;

A seduction grabbed my hand...
Ooh, my body screamed, but my heart just didn't -
Un-derstand!
Life between the sheets is fine -
If all you want to make this time -
But if you want to make it last -
Ooh, you'll lose control if - you -
Drive too fast.

I shoulda loved ya!

The further you get into the record, the greater the anguish that you realise the singer is feeling;

Going down for the count
Now I'm in, but you are out
My memories are my obsession
Beggin' for attention! ooh yeah...

(suddenly, unexpectedly, falsetto)

Apprehending all my criminal NEED!
That stole your heart, then left ya to bleed!
Those days are over, baby, yes, I swear...
Just say the word and I'll be there?

In the break towards the end of the single, Narada throws some new effects in, a plinkyplink piano solo which is then deposed by a supatwinkling magic piano organ solo. They sound fantastic, but also contain a reflective melancholy within them.

By this stage, the listener stops imagining that Narada is singing to the lovely lost lady at the disco, and realises that he's having the conversation with her in his own head, while he sits at home on his own with a George Benson album on the turntable, a bottle of wine, and his head in his hands.

The last time that we hear the chorus, Narada is ad-libbing in response to the chorus of backing girls, pleading his lost case;

I shoulda loved ya! (Ooh! My babybabybabybabybabe...)
I shoulda loved ya! (Said I-I shoulda looooved yew)
I shoulda loved ya! (Oh yeh, oh yeh...)
I shoulda loved ya! (falsetto again - I shoulda loved ya)

And yet and yet... The music is so splendid and attractive, that the single never quite brings the listener down. Like the persistence of hope itself.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Johnny Pearson Orchestra - Sleepy Shores (1971/ No. 8/ 15 weeks/ Penny Farthing)


The theme from Owen MD. No, me neither. It was something on BBC1 that starred Ian Cuthbertson, presumably as Owen. But like the themes from A Summer Place or Stranger On The Shore this piece has long become detached from its mysterious source, and has an autonomous life as a work in its own right.

It must be one of the quietest hits of its day. A piano tinkles back and forth while a string section undulates; waves, beach and sky. From time to time the thing pauses and slightly changes direction. Its very poised and unruffled. There is a tremendous sense of past and nostalgia to this music, inherent for me to the hauntological process of listening to television themes from before I was born, but surely also integral to the music itself. I can't ever imagine this sounding current, but working for the listener as an echo; the remembrance of the sea heard in a shell, a message in a bottle.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Thirteen.



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

SCENE THIRTEEN.


(Anna and Simon in bed.)

ANNA. Do you mind?

SIMON. Do I mind what?

ANNA. You know. Us not...

SIMON. You don't want to know.

ANNA. Of course I do.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Yes. I do mind.

ANNA. So why don't you say so?

SIMON. Because I can't see what that would achieve.

(Pause.)

ANNA. You're not very passionate are you?

(Pause.)

SIMON. Can I tell you something.

ANNA. You don't have to ask to tell me.

(Pause.)

SIMON. No it's -

ANNA. Go on.

(Simon composes himself.)

SIMON. All the time, these days, when I'm with you, I want to fall down, fall apart, at your feet. Saying "I love you, I love you, I do, I know that it's sincere, I've always known that I love you sincerely and for the right reasons. And you're glorious and transcendent and beautiful, in mind and body and spirit and my life would not be worth living without you, really, that's not me being glib, I really think that's true." And I want to grab hold of your ankles and weep onto your toes and stay there forever.

ANNA. So why don't you?

SIMON. Because I'd be embarrassing and you'd be embarrassed.

ANNA. No I wouldn't.

SIMON. You would be if you were leaving to go to work or Kirsty's. And I never want to be unreasonable to you.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Simon.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Have I hurt you?

(Pause.)

ANNA. Are you still the same?

SIMON. It's three in the morning. Lack of sleep is heightening and distorting our feelings. Now, relax yourself, lie down flat, put your arms down, don't clench your hands like that. Let everything go limp. Good. Now, breathe deeply, evenly. Imagine all that breath being spread equally, smoothly, to every part of your body. Now, in your own time, close your eyes, don't force them shut, just let them go.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Good. Now, don't say anything. Try not to think of anything. And in the morning when you wake up, you'll feel well disposed towards the world and you will have completely forgotten that, at dead of night, a few hours earlier, both you and your husband were feeling fraught and desperate.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Sleep well.

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Fourteen.

The Rolling Stones - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (1965/ No. 1/ 12 weeks/ Decca)


Sometimes, with these historical monuments (Beatles, Dylan, Pistols et al - the usual Mojo/ Uncut canon), I do feel that I have to squint my ears to get the significance and greatness of the record. These things are unquestionably great, but you are better able to get them with the benefit of the footnotes of quite a lot of historical knowledge. The appeal of the sixties Stones is always immediate, though, and rich and strange new notes always surprise me when I listen to them. A few reflections about this single;

The absolute confidence of Keef. That riff might seem like a trope when you think about it, but when you actually hear it - especially on headphones - it is quite relentless, locked-on. I think that it's placing the song within three separate types of music; the repetition of the same guitar motif to support the mood of the singer is a Kentish blues, of course, but also the way that its treated and works as a fanfare is aping the brass arrangements of contemporaneous soul (specifically 'Dancing In The Street'), and the fuzz and distortion are inventing this thing that we know as rock music. And he's pretty much inventing this - Visionary!

And then the interplay of the band beside Keef both deepens and complicates this sense of relentlessness. The bassline is like a shadow of the guitar, and the drums both fump menacingly and add little jaunty touches of finesse. There's an organic quality to how the Stones function as a real group that I rarely hear in more recent music where the parts have all been put together separately.

We tend to neglect Mick Jagger's voice, but it is one of the most extraordinary in all pop, always shifting, always creating a character... but WHERE is he coming from? You never can tell... Sometimes the deep south, sometimes the deep South of London, sometimes rough, often fey and fruity, sometimes yelping like a puppy, sometimes world-weary and as old as the hills - and all within the same song. And he's pretty much inventing this - Visionary!

Listen to the lyrics and two things always strike me about the early Stones. The first one, which can't be said too much, is how funny they were, like Chuck Berry adjusting to being dropped into Knightsbridge or Stepney;

When I'm drivin' in my car
And that man comes on the radio.
He's tellin' me more and more
about some YEWSLESS info'mation
supposed to FIRE! my imagination!
(resigned tone) I can't get no...

(Are you listening, Moyles?)

The other thing is that, for a man who was living like, and feted as, a prince at the time, how utterly fed-up Jagger often sounds in these songs, wanting to get some sleep, away from these tiresome people, uncertain of what he wants instead. People are wrong when they condemn Sir Mick as some kind of betrayal of his young self, this fustian Mail On Sunday character hanging out with Sir John Major at Lords, when it was there right from the start. The Jagger-character that leads us through the songs both experiences and observes with disdain. Its what makes him so compelling to listen to.

The Achilles heel of this character is here as in almost every other song - "I can't get no - girl reaction!";

And I'm tryin' to MAKE! some girl
Who tells me baby
"Better come back later next week..."

There's always a woman at the bottom of a Stones song, and she pretty much never come out of it well. For me, its what makes these songs so particularly unsettling, even when they're 46 years old.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Joan Baez - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (1971/ No. 6/ 12 weeks/ Vanguard)


"Like my father before me, I'm a workin' man,
Like my brother above me, I took a rebel stand.
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, But a Yankee laid him in his grave,
I swear by the mud below my feet,
You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat."

A civil war song about the siege of Petersburg that lasted for almost a year in 1864 and 1865, seen from the point of view of a young confederate soldier holding the line against the Union army ("We were hungry. Just barely alive") and mourning the death of his young brother alongside him.

Also a revered rock classic from The Band's second album, and a song which I prefer in this version. As is often in the case in cross-cast cover versions, the displacement of voice from protagonist perhaps makes the listener concentrate on the story more and empathise with the teller through this (Brecht!). As always Baez's extraordinary purity of voice lends the epic story a beauty and understated grandeur.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Twelve.


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


SCENE TWELVE.


(Kirsty's house. Anna and Kirsty are playing a game.)

KIRSTY. Puppy face!

ANNA. Yap! Yap! Yap! Monkey face!

KIRSTY. Eeep! Eeep! Eeep! Uuuh! Uuuh! Uuuh! Giraffe face!

ANNA. Giraffes can't speak.

KIRSTY. Can't they? I never knew that. Ur, lion face, then.

ANNA. Groarr! Growwl! Grrrrr! Rat face!

KIRSTY. Sniffle! Sniffle! Sniffle! Scritch! Scritch! Scritch!

(This is such a seriously impressive characterisation that Anna cannot resist joining in.)

ANNA. Sniffle! Scritch!

(A spirited rat fight ensues.)

KIRSTY. Scritch itch itch itch itch Chinchilla!

ANNA. (Incredulous) Scritch itch itch itch Chinchilla?

KIRSTY. Well some rats might say that!

(They collapse. Silence.)

ANNA. I told him you know.

KIRSTY. (Cautiously) You told him what?

ANNA. We're not sleeping together at the moment. Ur - Well we are in a sense.

KIRSTY. In what sense?

ANNA. Only in a purely literal sense.

KIRSTY. Anna! That's great!

ANNA. Does that make you feel better?

KIRSTY. Yes.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Does it make you feel better?

ANNA. I can live with it.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Does he mind?

ANNA. Who can tell?

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. Well as long as -

ANNA. Don't say another word.

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Thirteen.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Delilah (1975/ No. 7/ 7 weeks/ Vertigo)


Friends of mine will need little reminding of my visceral dislike of the works of Tom Jones, and his singular ability over 45 years to convert any given song that he is given to sing into a display of showboating, bellowed by a fool. Normally the effect of this is merely irritating, but when it comes to Delilah the effect is distasteful to the point of being offensive.

Despite its jolly oompah karaoke reputation, Delilah might actually be one of the most horrible songs to have have been a top ten hit, the story of a cuckolded man who lies outside Delilah's home watching her in flagrante, hangs around until dawn waiting for the other man to leave, knocks on the door, is laughed at by Delilah, stabs her to death and breaks down in remorse and self-pity before the police come. My fucking Christ! Put like that that doesn't sound very funny does it? This does not in any way make Delilah a bad or immoral song, just one that needs some thought put into it.

Enter Alex Harvey, one of the great unsung heroes of British rock history, by 1975 already the wrong side of 40 and with 25 years of singing behind him, recognised in Scotland but before the SAHB invisible south of Paisley. The band manage to fuse his astonishing serrated tearing Glasgow holler to a cabaret backing (that's cabaret in a Wiemar sense, not a working men's club one) holding back and then roaring free in a way that's both funny and genuinely frightening, with songs that are often about war and history in some way. By all accounts, Harvey himself was an intimidating character, a combination of bonhomie and aggression that sometimes, to outsiders, Glaswegians seem particularly prone. He died in 1982. No-one was surprised.

The SAHB version of Delilah is certainly an audacious work, full of pauses and pleasant keyboard lines, oddly reminiscent of 'I'm Not In Love' that quickly stop. A bloopy moog line echoes each development in the protagonists' murderous thoughts in a truly grotesque way.

And then the middle eight bit, which in Jones' version is a rather silly trumpet solo, here becomes a delirious dumb show. You get the effect just through listening to the single (and this is also one of the very few singles which is enhanced by being a live recording), but how this actually looked in performance is an astonishing sight;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vSLZs3kq2M

Most of all though, Harvey's voice is compelling throughout - the frisson of distaste as "She stood there... laughing!". The final hoarse glee and proud self-justification in

"So -

BEFORRE

THEY COME!

to break down the door!"

(I've actually done it!)

turns instantly into self pity and sobbing

"Forgive me, Delilah!
I Just couldn't take any more!"

(I've actually done it...)

This theatrical rendering of a melodramatic song encourages tremendous melodramatic acting on the part of the singer. If Tom Jones had made you think of this as a cartoon song, the Alex Harvey version will make you see it as a Dostoevskian story of a vengeful and dangerous underground man.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Shirley Bassey - Something (1970/ No. 4/ 22 weeks/ UA)


"Something in the way he knows
And all I have to do is think of him
Something in the way he shows me
I don't want to leave him now
You know I believe and how"

When a song is as great - and as true - as George Harrison's quiet, awed meditation on love in the first place, then you can totally reinterpret it musically, and it's power will still be at the heart of it. It's a very personal song, but that doesn't mean that it can't suit very diverse personalities.

This is vast, and spellbinding. The arrangement is relatively subdued for the verses; grand like a Bond theme for the middle eights ("I don't know! I don't know!"), and then grows and swells to the peak of big period sophistication for the culmination.

You don't doubt for a moment that the man Shirley knows really does have that "something".

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Eleven.


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

SCENE ELEVEN.

(Anna and Simon in bed.)

SIMON. Would you like to...

ANNA. Mmm.

(She moves closer to Simon. She moves further away from Simon.)

ANNA. No I wouldn't actually.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Fair enough.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Not anymore. Not for the time being.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Can I ask why?

ANNA. Yes.

SIMON. Why?

(Pause.)

ANNA. It's too difficult.

SIMON. It's very easy.

(Pause.)

ANNA. It's too involved.

SIMON. Not in a demanding way.

(Pause.)

SIMON. You do still enjoy it, don't you?

(Pause.)

ANNA. Yes.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Yes I do.

(Pause.)

SIMON. For how long...?

ANNA. I don't know.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Not forever.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Well that's something.

(Pause.)

SIMON. Is it me or is it her?

(Pause.)

SIMON. Be honest

(Pause.)

ANNA. It's her.

(Pause.)

ANNA. Does that make you feel better?

SIMON. Yes.

ANNA. Why?

SIMON. Because there's nothing I can do about it.

ANNA. Eh?

SIMON. Shh.


Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Twelve.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Compound Premier League Table


There are certain thoughts that will always reveal your age. Hearing that QPR and Norwich have been promoted back to the Premier League, I had the instinctive response that that seemed right, the rightness signifying nothing more than that both teams were at their peak in the late eighties and early nineties when I was in my teens and early twenties and was paying much closer attention to League football (and that both were entertaining and attractive teams to watch, too - once QPR had stopped using that plastic pitch, anyway. If Wimbledon and Luton had returned to the big time - not though either of them exist as league teams anymore - my reaction would have been "Here we go again")

This thought raised a further question "Which teams actually have been in the top division for the most years?" I couldn't find a table of all of this information anywhere - after 1992, certainly, the term "Since Premier League records began" a guaranteed way to irritate anyone over about thirty - so I ended up having to collate it myself. So here's the compound table of First Division/ Premier League membership since 1884 -

1. Everton 115 seasons (1888-1915/ 1919-30, 1931-39/ 1946-51, 1954-2018)
2. Aston Villa 105 (1888-1915/ 1919-36, 1938-39/ 1946-59, 1960-67, 1975-87, 1988-2016)
3. Arsenal 101 (1904-13, 1919-39/ 1946-2018)
4. Liverpool 100 (1894-95, 1896-1904, 1905-15/ 1919-39/ 1946-54, 1962-2018)
5. Man U 93 (1892-94, 1906-15/ 1919-22, 1925-31, 1936-37, 1938-39/ 1946-74, 1975-2018)
6. Man City 88 (1899-1902, 1903-09, 1910-15/ 1919-26, 1928-37, 1947-50, 1951-63, 1966-83, 1985-87, 1989-96, 2000-01, 2002-18)
7. Sunderland 86 (1890-1915/ 1919-39/ 1946-58, 1964-70, 1976-77, 1980-85, 1990-91, 1996-97, 1999-2003, 2005-06, 2007-17)
8. Newcastle 84 (1898-1915/ 1919-34, 1948-61, 1965-78, 1984-89, 1993-2009, 2010-16, 2017-18)
9. Chelsea 83 (1907-10, 1912-15/ 1919-24, 1930-39/ 1946-62, 1963-75, 1977-79, 1984-88, 1989-2018)
=. Tottenham 83 (1909-1915, 1920-28, 1933-35, 1950-77, 1978-2018)
11. WBA 80 (1888-1901, 1902-04, 1911-15/ 1919-27, 1931-38, 1949-73, 1976-86, 2002-03, 2004-06, 2008-09, 2010-18)
12. Bolton 73 (1888-99, 1900-03, 1905-08, 1909-10, 1911-15/ 1919-33, 1935-39/ 1946-64, 1978-80, 1995-96, 1997-98, 2001-12)
13. Blackburn 72 (1888-1915/ 1919-36, 1946-48, 1958-66, 1992-99, 2001-12)
14. Derby 68 (1888-1907, 1912-14, 1919-21, 1926-39/ 1946-53, 1969-80, 1986-91, 1996-2002, 2007-08)
15. Sheffield Wednesday 66 (1892-99, 1900-1915/ 1919-20, 1926-37, 1950-51, 1952-55, 1956-58, 1959-70, 1984-1990, 1991-2000)
16. Wolves 63 (1888-1906, 1932-39/ 1946-65, 1967-76, 1977-82, 1983-84, 2003-04, 2009-12)
17. Stoke 62 (1888-90, 1891-1907, 1922-23, 1933-39/ 1946-53, 1963-77, 1979-85, 2008-18)
18. M'boro 61 (1902-15/ 1919-24, 1927-28, 1929-39/ 1946-54, 1974-82, 1988-89, 1992-93, 1995-97, 1998-2009, 2016-17)
19. West Ham 60 (1923-32, 1958-78, 1981-89, 1991-92, 1993-2003, 2005-11, 2012-18)
20. Sheffield U 59 (1893-1915/ 1919-34, 1946-49, 1953-56, 1962-68, 1971-76, 1990-94, 2006-07)
21. Birmingham 57 (1894-96, 1901-02, 1903-08, 1921-39, 1948-50, 1955-65, 1972-79, 1980-84, 1985-86, 2002-06, 2007-08, 2009-11)
22. Nottingham Forest 56 (1892-1906, 1907-11, 1922-25, 1957-72, 1977-93, 1994-97, 1998-99)
23. Burnley 55 (1888-97, 1898-1900, 1913-15/ 1919-30, 1947-71, 1973-76, 2009-10, 2014-15, 2016-18)
24. Leeds 50 (1924-27, 1928-31, 1932-39/ 1946-47, 1956-60, 1964-82, 1990-2004)
=. Leicester 50 (1908-09, 1925-35, 1937-39, 1954-55, 1957-69, 1971-78, 1980-81, 1983-87, 1994-95, 1996-2002, 2003-04, 2014-18)
26. Preston 46 (1888-1901, 1904-12, 1913-14/ 1919-25, 1934-39/ 1946-49, 1951-61)
27. Southampton 39 (1966-74, 1978-2005, 2012-18) 
28. Coventry 34 (1967-2001)
29. Portsmouth 33 (1927-39/ 1946-59, 1987-88, 2003-10)
30. Huddersfield 31 (1921-39/ 1946-52, 1954-56, 1970-72, 2017-18)
31. Notts C 30 (1888-93, 1897-1913, 1914-15/ 1919-20, 1923-26, 1981-84, 1991-92)
32. Blackpool 28 (1930-33, 1937-39/ 1946-67, 1970-71, 2010-11)
33. Charlton 26 (1936-39/ 1946-57, 1986-90, 1998-99, 2000-07)
=. Ipswich 26 (1961-64, 1968-86, 1992-95, 2000-02)
35. Fulham 25 (1949-52, 1959-68, 2001-14)
=. Norwich 25 (1972-74, 1975-81, 1982-85, 1986-95, 2004-05, 2011-14, 2015-16)
37. QPR 23 (1968-69, 1973-79, 1983-96, 2011-13, 2014-15)
38. Bury 22 (1895-1912, 1924-29)
39. Crystal Palace 18 (1969-73, 1979-81, 1989-93, 1994-95, 1997-98, 2004-05, 2013-18)
40. Cardiff 16 (1921-29, 1952-57, 1960-62, 2013-14)
=. Luton 16 (1956-60, 1974-75, 1983-92)
42. Wimbledon 15 (1985-2000)
43. Bradford 12 (1908-15/ 1919-22, 1999-2001)
=. Grimsby 12 (1901-03, 1929-32, 1934-39/ 1946-48)
=. Oldham 12 (1910-15/ 1919-23, 1991-94)
46. Watford 11 (1982-88, 1999-2000, 2006-07, 2015-18)
47. Bristol City 9 (1906-11, 1976-80)
=. Swansea 9 (1981-83, 2011-18)
49. Wigan 8 (2005-13)
50. Accrington 5 (1888-93)
=. Brentford 5 (1935-39/ 1946-47)
=. Brighton 5 (1979-83, 2017-18)
53. Hull 4 (2008-10, 2013-15, 2016-17)  
54. Bournemouth 3 (2015-18)
=. Bradford PA 3 (1914-15/ 1919-21)
=. Oxford 3 (1985-88)
=. Reading 3 (2006-08, 2012-13)
58. Darwen 2 (1892-94)
=. Millwall 2 (1988-90)
60. Barnsley 1 (1997-98)
=. Carlisle 1 (1974-75)
=. Glossop 1 (1899-1900)
=. Leyton Orient 1 (1962-63)
=. Northampton 1 (1965-66)
=. Swindon 1 (1993-94)

Friday, 6 May 2011

Junior - Mama Used To Say (1982/ No. 7/ 13 weeks)


Junior Giscombe is generally remembered for two things; being one of the biggest of the British music industry's periodical great black hopes for a crossover UK soul star with a long-term career, and for only really having one hit (the much later Kim Wilde duet doesn't really count).

What a hit it was, though! In America, too. When you remember it in your head, its the song that you recall - a series of injunctions from a dear departed mother to be careful with girls remembered as a man, an eighties take on Smokey Robinson's 'Shop Around'. When you listen to it, the thing which knocks you out is the hardness with which the song is aurally achieved - more Britfunk than light pop.

The effect is like living in a computer game and years ahead of its time. It's all electronic, even the brief ranging guitar solo and brass fanfares. Two elements are continually fighting against each - a deep bassline that waves loomingly back and forth, and a disruptive quacking siren effect that never seems to stop.

Peculiar percussive effects comment on the song - especially the rolling drums underneath the "You're YUNG! so YUNG!" plea and something that sounds like a crate of milk bottles being aggressively rattled. Junior's vocals complement this hard-edged and crunching thing, turning from light to growlly in a line, most obviously on the chorus;

"HMM-MUMMA Huesed to seh!"

Listening to this can be an immersive experience.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Ten


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

SCENE TEN.

(Kirsty's house. As at the end of scene eight.)

KIRSTY. I just don't like you sleeping with him.

ANNA. He must feel similarly about you.

KIRSTY. But it's not the same, is it? It can't be like it is with us.

ANNA. Can't it?

KIRSTY. Of course not.

ANNA. You don't have to make any sacrifices. I do.

(Pause.)

KIRSTY. You -

ANNA. Decent and honorable, Kirsty. Decent and honorable.

KIRSTY. But it doesn't feel all that decent or honorable, does it? Sharing.

ANNA. I have never deceived and I am never going to willfully disappoint.

KIRSTY. But you are disappointing -

ANNA. Sorry!

KIRSTY. You're disappointing me.

ANNA. Which is worse? To disappoint one person totally, or to disappoint two people quite a lot?

KIRSTY. That's a riddle.

ANNA. No, it's true.

KIRSTY. But no-one's really happy with the way things stand at the moment.

ANNA. I am.

(Silence.)

ANNA. Aren't you?

KIRSTY. I am when we're together. Blissfully, in fact. But I want more now. I think that we've got to a stage where -

ANNA. That's enough. We'll cross bridges when I choose to reach them, not before. And both of you will have to meet and talk when we do. And neither of you are ready for that yet. Alright?

KIRSTY. Alright.

ANNA. Good.

(Silence. Anna softens again.)

ANNA. Sorry about that. What shall we do tonight?

Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Eleven.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Bryan Ferry - Tokyo Joe (1977/ No. 15/ 7 weeks/ Polydor)



"When all the world's a stage, oh where are you?
Femme fatale or ingenue?"

I realise that it could be said that this single is the precise midway point between 'Street Life' and 'Trash', but having invented a whole new way of viewing the world through pop music, Ferry could be excused for offering up delightful variations on an amazing theme.

The Japanesery here is just a styling; some amusing plinky 'oriental' stings and keyboards and a chewy rhythm section that reminds me of nothing so much as the theme to 'Hong Kong Phooey'.

What is important is the crammed-in style, an infinitude of references, an entire world of possibilities created through recasting life through imagination, filled with dynamic situation and the potential for beauty, love and danger.

The girl is unknowable, despite the mad specifics of what she likes (lotus blossom, bebop) and does ("hokey cokey 'til the cows come home"!).

Not real, like reality?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Cilla Black - Surround Yourself With Sorrow (1969/ No. 3/ 12 weeks/ Parlophone)



Is their any figure in British pop history more unfairly maligned than Cilla Black? Admittedly, her lorra lorra 1980s incarnation as the face of LWT on Surprise Surprise and Blind Date might cast a retrospective shadow, but you only really need to listen to the records to forget that. Amongst stupider people, she seems to be condemned for the sin of not being Dusty Springfield, as if to admit the one into the rock canon, she had to have an obviously inferior rival. In fact, these are two of the greatest of pop voices, each unique and distinctive, leading the listener into a particular way of seeing and responding to the world. Cilla's voice is breathy and soft, and always seems to me to switch between vulnerability, hope and retreat into the self from line to line.

'Surround Yourself With Sorrow' is an impressively doomy song, somewhere between heartbreak and emotional blankness, buoyed along by an incongruously jaunty arrangement. A morse cose siren, a whirlwind of strings and a brass fanfare set up a verse that is not as euphoric as you might have been led to expect;

Watch the water falling down
Falling down outside your head
You do your best to turn the tide
But can't forget ev'rythin' he said
The pressure's getting far too great
The word together came too late

The singer against the world, powerless to affect external circumstances, be they the rain, the tide, or the perfidy of men. The idea of the observing but powerless head continues in the second verse ("Like a neon in your head/ The neon's flashing off and on/ Recalling ev'rything he said'). The chorus is both emphatic and ambiguous;

What do you do when your love breaks up?
Do you fall apart like a butter cup?
Forget about tomorrow (!/ ?)
Surround yourself with sorrow (!/ ?)

I couldn't tell you if the third and fourth lines are questions or decisions, if the singer is telling herself to pull herself out of this mood of desolate blankness or stay in it. It takes an exceptionally subtle and vulnerable voice to pull off an ambiguity like this. One of the great pop stars of her time, in fact.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Giraffes - Act One, Scene Nine.



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

SCENE NINE.

(Simon and Anna in bed, asleep.)

ANNA. Iwuhyh.

(She becomes agitated.)

ANNA. Iwanou. Iwantyou.

(Her movements become convulsive.)

ANNA. I want you. I want you. I want you.

(Simon is awoken.)

SIMON. It's alright. It's alright. It's alright.

(This spoken while embracing and comforting her. Anna's shaking subsides.)

(Silence.)


SIMON. Who?



Next -
Giraffes - Act One, Scene Ten

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Cure - Pictures Of You (1990/ No. 24/ 6 weeks/ Fiction)



By 1989, Robert Smith really had hit upon a unique form of song writing. This is a remarkably sparse song. The trademark sonorous bass line and spectral guitar don't do very much, but evoke a deep fluidity that could go on forever (and effectively does on the 12") that foregrounds the lyrics.

This is a quiet song of lost love, but a devastating one. It isn't, as the chorus might lead you to think, a song about looking at photographs of an ex-girlfriend. The girl, "running soft though the night, bigger and brighter and whiter than snow", and the love were extraordinary, beyond temporal limits, "so much more than everything".

But with this ethereal quality, the loved one was also ill-equipped for life. Unsettling descriptions of her state increasingly blot the song; fear, screaming, being lost, slipping away, finally finding "the courage to let it all go"

Madness and suicide. It’s an Ophelia story. It hooks you in.