LEAN offices, Stress-Busters and the Mellifluous Sound of Karen Carpenter

Well, it’s safe to say that stress levels are running at an all-time high in my workplace. The conversion to a LEAN working environment is making the carrying out of normal duties nigh impossible as on an hourly basis, the tools of our trade, namely desks, shelving, files and stationery are being shipped out to that mythical warehouse, where items that do not fit the modern day workplace, end their days. Considering I am also having to re-apply for my own job in this brave new world, I’m starting to worry that I’m going to end up in that mythical warehouse too – Mr WIAA may well have to send out a search party. But, being serious, it will probably be great when it’s all finished, it’s just that I’m not a great handler of stress and yesterday’s migraine (of the ziggy-zaggy variety) proved it.

stress head

Very recently I admitted on these pages that I seem to have now found myself addicted to blogging. The feedback was very much of the opinion however that it can also be seen as a great stress-buster – Last night, at 10pm, I decided to test that theory out. I am happy to say that after an hour of visiting my favourite blogs and leaving a few comments (although a mere nano-second after posting something I always wish I’d worded it better or corrected the grammar – I hope I’m not alone in this), I was indeed feeling a lot less stressed. I had the best nights sleep I’ve had all week and thus handled today’s chaos of moving to a LEAN and orderly workplace, a lot better. Thank you then fellow-bloggers, the stress-busting theory does seem to work.

Music of course is another great stress-buster, and for me, in my current situation, it had to come from the world of – as the Americans call it – Adult Contemporary. On the way home from work I needed a bit of Karen Carpenter to smooth my furrowed brow. She had the most wonderfully soothing singing voice as she was a contralto, the lowest female voice type. I must also be a contralto then, as whenever I tried to sing chart hits when growing up, those Carpenter songs were the ones I seemed to master best – I could even do that twiddly key changing bit that sounds like yodelling (although there is probably a technical term for it). On the odd occasion a karaoke machine appears at an event, I always start off by refusing point blank to sing, BUT, after a few drinks I end up having to have the mic forcibly removed from my hand once my Karen Carpenter repertoire kicks in. (Although my versions of her songs are a pale imitation of course.)

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The only downside to listening to The Carpenters back catalogue is that the lyrics are all just so damn melancholy – There was Rainy Days and Mondays, Goodbye To Love, Yesterday Once More and Solitaire. Even the jaunty upbeat songs somehow ended up sounding sad at the hands of Karen and brother Richard (Top of the World, Please Mr Postman). As a fan I do enjoy a wallow in all of that sadness from time to time but not to be recommended as a regular pastime.

I have still not really come to terms with how she lost her grasp on life at the very young age of 32 due to complications arising from the illness anorexia nervosa. I was still a child when The Carpenters first started appearing on television but over the years even I noticed the dramatic change in her appearance and wondered what on earth was going on. We knew so little of this particular illness at that time and the solution offered up by her management was that she wear a jacket on stage – It now beggars belief but those of course were far less enlightened times although even today, with an early diagnosis, there is not always a positive outcome.

Superstar by The Carpenters:

Today however I just wanted to hear a little bit of that mellifluous singing voice and of late, the Carpenters‘ song I am drawn to most is Superstar from 1971 – It is about a brief liaison with a rock star who has now moved on to the next town. The girl is sad and lonely but it still sounds just so beautiful at the hands of the singing maestro that was Karen Carpenter.

So, “What’s It All About?” – As a stress-buster, blogging certainly does seem to have its place but so does listening to music and thankfully we all have our own particular favourites for that function. The Carpenters were never seen as “cool” but no-one could deny their talent and Karen’s voice certainly eases my stress. The ultimate stress-buster is of course something that might not be easily managed in the course of a busy working day but it certainly worked for The Starland Vocal Band back in 1976. I don’t think my new LEAN office environment is going to able to cope with that one though – With no need for stationery there is now no need for that scene of many a liaison, the office stationery cupboard! I will leave you with a little bit of Afternoon Delight.

Superstar Lyrics
(Song by Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett)

Long ago, and, oh, so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you’re not really here, it’s just the radio

Don’t you remember, you told me you loved me baby?
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
I love you, I really do

Loneliness is such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again
What to say to make you come again?
Come back to me again and play your sad guitar

Don’t you remember, you told me you loved me baby?
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
I love you, I really do

Music from Guardians of the Galaxy, Part 2 – Rupert Holmes and that Piña Colada Song!

Saturday is the day I go for my Stormfront lesson – Sounds like I’m in training to become a Marvel superhero-type figure but no, after purchasing my new Apple laptop from the local Stormfront computer shop, I thought it would be a good idea to actually learn how to use all the bells and whistles on it. It turns out you can buy a year’s Personal Trainer Card which gives you up to 200 hours of one-to-one training. No-one has ever fitted in 200 hours of training in a year to date, but I am working on being the first – Works out at 39p per session if you do, so excellent value for money (and no jokes please about the fact that I am Scottish and therefore unfairly regarded as being a bit tight with the old spondulicks).

Of course whenever anything sounds just too good to be true, it usually is, and by the time you pay for the car parking and shove in time at one of the many nearby stores (if you’ve got there a bit too early), it has already cost you about £15 before you begin but hey, it’s my new Saturday routine, and so far I’ve learnt a lot.

The shop right next door to Stormfront is Lakeland, which of course sells all sorts of highly priced but colourful kitchen accessories that you didn’t ever know you needed. Last week I ended up buying Easter egg moulds and a fancy silicon pastry brush which meant we made some dodgy homemade chocolate eggs which came out at around £10 per unit as opposed to the nice shop-bought ones that could have been purchased for a £1.

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Today I had another browse, as I had again arrived about ten minutes too early, and what was piled up on a table by the front entrance, but loads of pots of ready-made frosting (or icing as we would call it) for cup cakes. Considering I wrote about cakes and icing last Saturday for my MacArthur Park post, I had to have a proper look at these brightly packaged tubs. One of the flavours was “Piña Colada” which of course reminded me of Escape (The Piña Colada Song) released in 1979 by Rupert Holmes. Funnily enough I had already been trying to work out which song to feature next from the excellent Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack album, full of lesser-known ’70s pop fodder. Here it was falling into my lap!

Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes:

I did write about this song last year as I had always thought I liked it because of the jaunty upbeat chorus. After revisiting it however I took more heed of the lyrics and realised (as often happens), that it was not really a jaunty upbeat tale at all. I even ended up having a bit of a spat with an American blogger due to our different interpretation of the lyrics. He seems to have disappeared from the blogosphere since and if it had anything to do with me I am truly sorry, but I doubt it. You need stamina to keep going with all this malarkey and it can really separate the men from the boys (or girls).

The spat came about because of our very different take on the twist to the song. After being tired of his “old lady” Rupert replies to a personal ad in a newspaper but lo and behold, who turns up for their clandestine meeting but his own “lovely lady” – What happened to the “old lady” he was so tired of?

So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady, and she said, “Oh, it’s you”
And we laughed for a moment, and I said, “I never knew”

I know this might sound totally unreasonable but in my opinion if your other half was the person who turned up at O’Malley’s, there would be no sniggers of laughter and playful chiding about how little you knew each other, it would be curtains for the relationship. In the first place you would both have been caught out so you would become all angry and defensive, and secondly, the excitement of perhaps meeting someone with whom to plan your escape has all of a sudden dissipated. I fear there would be no turning back, from this “turn of events”.

My American blogging friend however decided that after the initial shock of finding each other at O’Malley’s, they would indeed get over it, have a laugh about it, and start to rebuild their relationship. He obviously doesn’t know Scottish women!

So, “What’s It All About?” – If you’re thinking of placing sneaky little personal ads or going down the modern day online equivalent, run it by your other half first as you just never know, they might be thinking of doing exactly the same thing! As for me, Mr WIAA has just arrived with a large glass containing a Piña Colada made with the cocktail mix I bought in the Lakeland shop today after my lesson – A pre-emptive strike is the best kind of strike but I do think that this time, I’ll give the dunes of the cape a miss!

dunes

Escape (The Piña Colada Song) Lyrics
(Song by Rupert Holmes)

I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long
Like a worn-out recording, of a favourite song
So while she lay there sleeping, I read the paper in bed
And in the personals column, there was this letter I read

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape”

I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean
But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine
So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad
And though I’m nobody’s poet, I thought it wasn’t half bad

“Yes, I like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne
I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape
At a bar called O’Malley’s, where we’ll plan our escape”

So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady, and she said, “Oh, it’s you”
And we laughed for a moment, and I said, “I never knew”

“That you liked Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
And the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
You’re the love that I’ve looked for, come with me, and escape”

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, come with me, and escape”

An American Odyssey in Song: Vermont – Willie Nelson and “Moonlight in Vermont”

Welcome back to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Well, I’ve just spent a week in New Hampshire but it’s time to move on again and the next state we’re heading into is Vermont. The name comes from old French, meaning “Green Mountain”, and that pretty much sums up the whole state. There are indeed mountains, lots of forests and green, green pastures.

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Green pastures of course lead to daily farming and Vermont is where those quirky ice-cream makers called Ben and Jerry set up shop, wowing us with their wittily named flavours (Vermonty Python being one). Their visitor centre is the most visited attraction in the state. Vermont is also where those singing Von Trapps settled when they arrived in America. They built a Lodge in the picturesque Stowe which must have reminded them of their home in Austria. Climb every mountain indeed.

But what song to choose for this state, as again, a bit of tricky one? A few suggestions came in from fellow bloggers – Rol (from My Top Ten) came up with a couple that had the name Vermont in the title but not songs I’m familiar with (Long Vermont Roads by The Magnetic Fields and Just Give Me Moonlight In Vermont by Amy Allison). Another suggestion (from Rich at KamerTunesBlog) was that I use the theme tune for the ’80s TV Series Newhart which was of course set in Bob’s Vermont B&B. I do remember that show and it seemed to come along just at the time American sitcoms started to get really funny, and ours became less so. If you want to see what it would be like to live in that green, green land, check out this clip. Very nice indeed.

But no, my last couple of song choices for states have been a tad tenuous so this time I’m going for a song that really paints a picture of the state – Moonlight in Vermont. There have been numerous versions of this standard from 1944, recorded by a variety of artists, but the one I have enjoyed listening to most over the last week was the one by Willie Nelson. Like Roger Miller, Willie is from Texas but no matter, when he decided to record an album of standards in 1978 called “Stardust”, he wanted this song to be on it. The song is considered the unofficial state song of Vermont and is frequently played as the first dance song at wedding receptions.

Moonlight in Vermont by Willie Nelson:

Willie Nelson is one of the greats of country music and will turn 84 (god willing) later on this month. He was one of the main figures of “outlaw country”, a subgenre of country music that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction to the restrictions of the “Nashville sound”. Willie has also acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, has been involved in activism and (not surprisingly) the legalisation of marijuana.

The phenomenally successful ballad Crazy, most closely associated with Patsy Cline, was composed by Willie as were many other country standards from the 1950s. After great success he retired in 1972 but of course that didn’t last long and he is still performing today, still sporting his trademark pigtails and bandana. His version of Always On My Mind, although made famous by Elvis, is still my favourite.

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But this post needs something else, a little heart-warming story, and whilst doing a bit of background reading about the State of Vermont, I make an interesting discovery. The blacksmith and inventor John Deere was born there and was responsible for giving us much of the agricultural and construction equipment still used today, specifically the large steel plough. My grandfather was not the “lineman for the county” but he was the “roads supervisor for the county” back in the 1940s/50s. The climate and landscape of the North of Scotland would have been similar in many ways to that of Vermont, so thank goodness for the large snow plough attachments that came across from America just at the time my grandfather was responsible for keeping the often snowbound, highways and byways of Aberdeenshire open. Back then, before the days of television, the wireless was the main form of home entertainment and I feel sure that my grandfather might well have listened to an early version of the song Moonlight in Vermont before heading out for a night time shift on one of those giant snow ploughs. He would not have probably realised however that the large steel attachment at the front, was all down to a man called John Deere, from Vermont.

So, next time we’re going to be heading down into Massachusetts, and although I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve, I would be very grateful for some more song suggestions connected to that state. We’re still in New England but are now heading back along the coastal states towards New York where the problem will no doubt be, that there are just too many songs to choose from!

Until next time….

Moonlight In Vermont Lyrics
(Song by John Blackburn/Karl Suessdorf)

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont

Icy finger-waves
Ski trails on a mountainside
Snowlight in Vermont

Telegraph cables, they sing down the highway
And travel each bend in the road
People who meet in this romantic setting
Are so hypnotized by the lovely
Ev´ning summer breeze
Warbling of a meadowlark
Moonlight in Vermont

Music from Guardians of the Galaxy, Part 1 – Blue Swede and Hooked on a Feeling

Hope everyone had a lovely Easter Monday. My day was particularly good in that it was spent almost entirely away from a computer screen. Considering that in my last post I wrote of my suspected “addiction to blogging”, this is a good thing. Instead my day was spent licking the back garden into shape, getting the outdoor furniture back in its usual spot in order to read the last few chapters of the book I’ve been stuck on for ages and having a lovely meal cooked for us by darling daughter.

The icing on the cake however was that one of our favourite films was on telly in the evening so for the first time in ages “we three” watched something together and not in different rooms of the house as is wont to happen nowadays. What was the film? – Why it was Guardians of the Galaxy which is an unusual choice for me but it is a very different animal from other films of its ilk because one of its stars is a “mix-tape”. I wrote about this mix-tape last year as the most important song on it was Hooked On A Feeling by Blue Swede and it was only after watching last year’s Eurovision Song Contest (yes I watch it) that I discovered it was actually by a band from Sweden. In the interests of continuing my detox from the computer screen for a little longer, I hope you don’t mind if I do another little cut and paste from last year:

Guardians of the Galaxy
Those intrepid Guardians of the Galaxy!

“Last time I wrote about the Eurovision Song Contest and the show itself, hosted by Sweden this year, was possibly the best ever and had a brilliant set of very entertaining “interval fillers”. The most surprising of these was a film montage of Sweden’s contribution to pop music – Surprising, because I hadn’t realised that many of these artists were in fact Swedish. For a small Nordic country it seems to have punched above its weight in that department. Even if they had only produced Abba and then stopped that would have been enough, but no, we have also had Roxette, Europe, Ace of Base and many more that have passed me by, but the younger generation will know well.

The first of these artists to be celebrated was Björn Skifs of the band Blue Swede who hit the No. 1 spot in the US Charts in 1974 with Hooked on a Feeling. At exactly the same time, Björn Ulvaeus and the rest of Abba launched themselves on an unsuspecting world at the Eurovision Song Contest, winning decisively with Waterloo. Just to top things off, that was also the year that Björn Borg really started making a name for himself in the tennis world – So, all in all, a good year for Swedes called Björn.

Blue Swede

Looking at him now, our first Björn looks like the archetypal Disney Prince with his “Viking-esque” clothing and blond hair. The song Hooked on a Feeling was written by Mark James and was first recorded in 1968 by B.J. Thomas (he of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head fame). The Blue Swede version that did so well in the US has the strange “ooga chaka” chant at the beginning which was originally added by Jonathan King in 1971. Until last Saturday night watching Eurovision, I hadn’t realised that this song, which has come into my life twice in the last 20 years, was by a band from Sweden.

Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede:

A couple of years ago darling daughter persuaded us to go and see a new Marvel Studios film called Guardians of the Galaxy. My heart sank when she mentioned the name as I am not a fan of superhero-type space films at all, but it turned out to be excellent. The writing was predictably sharp and witty, local girl Karen Gillan starred in it and best of all, the soundtrack was full of ’70s songs that totally resonated with us. Yes, it was set in space, but it took me right back to my school days and all the memories they conjure up. The ’70s songs were on a mix-tape (remember those?) played over and over by the lead character on an old Walkman, as a link to his dead mother and home in Missouri.

The main song was Hooked on a Feeling but there were also ones by 10cc, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Elvin Bishop and Rupert Holmes. An excellent soundtrack album was released but ironically had to be downloaded with a digital picture of a cassette tape attached as no-one has the means to play actual tapes any more. The success of this mix lay in the fact that the songs chosen were, according to the director, “semi-familiar” – Ones you recognise but might not be able to name off the top of your head.

I mentioned that the song had come into my life twice before, the other time being when it popped up on the television show Ally McBeal, a comedy drama set in a Boston legal firm. The use was made of fantasy sequences and the “dancing baby” made regular appearances, always accompanied by the Blue Swede song Hooked on a Feeling. I loved that show as it came along in the late ’90s just at the time I had given up work to be a full-time mum. I think it reminded me of what life was like on the outside but thankfully I don’t remember ever feeling wistful about wanting to return to it which made for a happy time for us.

Hooked On A Feeling by Vonda Shepard:

Ally and her colleagues always frequented the same bar after work where the resident performer was singer Vonda Shepard. It was inevitable therefore that there would be an album of songs from the show and of course I bought it. Hooked on a Feeling was on it of course but again there was a great mix of lesser-known tracks, my favourite being the Skeeter Davis song The End of the World which had accompanied a particularly poignant scene in the show.

So, a song I had come across often but hadn’t realised was by a Swedish band until last weekend. Looking now at pictures of all the aforementioned Björns in later life, they could be the affluent CEOs of large multinational corporations. The Swedes are successful in music and sport but the “rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle is obviously not for them – In view of what has been happening to so many of our idols of late, I think I am grateful.”

Hooked on a Feeling Lyrics
(Song by Mark James)

Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga
Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga
Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga
Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga

I can’t stop this feeling
Deep inside on me
Girl, you just don’t realize
What you do to me

When you hold me
In your arms so tight
You let me know
Everything’s all right

I’m hooked on a feeling
I’m high on believing
That you’re in love with me

Lips as sweet as candy
It’s taste is on my mind
Girl, you got me thirsty
For another cup o’ wine

Got a bug from you girl
But I don’t need no cure
I’ll just stay a victim
If I can for sure

All the good love
When we’re all alone
Keep it up girl
Yeah, you turn me on

I’m hooked on a feeling
I’m high on believing
That you’re in love with me

Postscript:

For those who have seen the movie, here is a wee fellow you may recognise – Made by Mr WIAA for darling daughter as she was such a fan.

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Baby Groot!

Jimmy Webb, MacArthur Park and Are You Also, Addicted to Blogging?

Well, it’s the Easter long weekend but I’m a bit thrown – Since starting to get interested in, and following, the festivals that align themselves with nature’s calendar, my Ostara happened three weeks ago and I wrote about it here, The Vernal Equinox, Nina Simone and Feeling Good.

Time to spend time with friends and family then, or out in the garden (pictures above) getting it ready for spring/summer. Oh no, that’s right, over the last 15 months whenever I’ve had time off work all I do is spend even more time blogging, researching future blog posts or reading/commenting on the other blogs I follow. I’m starting to think I’m “addicted” – Are any of you similarly afflicted and is it really “a thing”?

Hello – My name is Alyson, and I’m addicted to blogging

I have recognised that this has been an issue for some time now but whenever I try and have a break I end up losing my resolve and start re-posting older stuff. You tell everyone you’re going to be absent for a while, but then make a fool of yourself by popping up again soon after. Anyway, the garden is in great need of some tender loving care as I think is Mr WIAA, as he has had to spend an awful lot of time watching television on his own of late. My American Odyssey In Song is well underway so I can pick that up at any time now. Have the next state almost in the bag and once we’re out of New England it will start to get really interesting. (So many songs about Delaware… NOT!)

In view of this admission I’m going to cheat a bit today by borrowing from last Easter’s post which was from my newbie days so it didn’t get seen by many. It was about the song MacArthur Park written by Jimmy Webb back in 1967. Over the last year I have discovered that Jimmy Webb is a bit of a god in the song-writing world and there’s even a song that proves it (Jimmy Webb is God by The Boo Radleys).

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The great Jimmy Webb

Here is that post from last year:

“Tried to think of a song to write about that relates to Easter but could only think of Easter Parade from the 1948 film of the same name which cannot really be considered a track from my years (I’m not quite that old) and not really a pop song but one from the golden age of MGM musicals.

When you do think of other songs that have religious connotations (from Life of Brian, Jesus Christ Superstar) there is the capacity to cause offence and that’s not what this blog is about. So, back to letting the old brainbox come up with something subliminally and that turned out to be MacArthur Park – Not entirely sure how that happened but I think it’s because there is a park involved and at this time of year, in Scotland anyway, the parks are all waking up from their winter sleep and are full of crocuses and daffodils. Easter is a time of rebirth and eggs are a symbol of fertility. Also, the bizarre line in MacArthur Park about the cake being left out in the rain probably made me think of Simnel cake, traditional at this time of the year.

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The song MacArthur Park, written and composed by Jimmy Webb, was first recorded by Richard Harris in 1968 but my favourite version was the one by Donna Summer from 1978. She was the undisputed Queen of Disco in the ’70s and 1978 was the year I reached the age of 18 and could legitimately go dancing in the various licensed venues where I lived (although in those days this was not heavily policed and pretty much everyone over 16 was allowed in). This was rural Scotland however and we certainly didn’t have anything resembling Studio 54 but the local hoteliers manned up and kitted out their function suites with glitter balls, flashing lights and if you were very lucky, those flashing tiled floors as seen in Saturday Night Fever. The DJs were often local teenagers who’d had the foresight (or parents with foresight) to invest in the equipment and records needed to hire out their services – A nice little sideline before returning to school on the Monday.

MacArthur Park by Donna Summer:

I have always liked this song although its flowery lyrics are definitely not for everyone and it was not until looking into it a bit more for this post, that I came to understand that the whole “cake left out in the rain” line, was a metaphor for lost love and the end of a relationship. Nearly 40 years on and it now makes sense although back in the day a most unusual song to have been given the full-blown disco treatment. Although I now understand the lyrics a bit more, I do think however that the whole cake metaphor was perhaps just taken that little bit too far.

As for Donna Summer, it was when she happened to be in Germany performing in the musical “Hair” that she had a fortuitous meeting with the producer Giorgio Moroder. Yet again we have a chance encounter that went on to have great significance, this time for the future of electronic dance music or “Disco”.

Poor Donna died quite young in 2012 at the age of 63 but she has left a great legacy, as the defining female voice of the disco era and also because of her influence on the dance music that was to follow by artists such as Madonna and Beyoncé. Thank you Donna for many happy memories on the dance-floor.”

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So, “What’s It All About?” – Be careful out there and if you start seeing signs that you are becoming addicted to blogging, take steps. Is there a twelve-step programme I wonder for those afflicted? Whatever, I have spent a little too much time of late in this wonderful place so maybe time to redress the balance, for one weekend at least!

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it. For the rest of you, the holiday is a great opportunity to spend time with the family and get outdoors – There will always be time to write that next blog post another day but why oh why is it always just so hard to drag yourself away?

MacArthur Park Lyrics
(Song by Jimmy Webb)

Spring was never waiting for us dear
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground beneath your knees
The birds like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing Chinese checkers by the trees

An American Odyssey in Song: New Hampshire – Noel Harrison and The Windmills Of Your Mind

Welcome to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we started our journey in Maine and our road trip inevitably now takes us to the neighbouring state of New Hampshire. This is a state that has very little coastline but it does have the highest peaks east of the Mississippi – The White Mountains cover about a quarter of the state and are part of the northern Appalachian range. Looking at a map of New Hampshire, New England you could be back in Old England as the place names are all very familiar to us. There is Portsmouth on the coast then slightly inland there is Exeter, Dover and Manchester. Yes when the founding fathers landed in the New World they took a lot of the old world with them.

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The most distinctive thing about New Hampshire for me, is that it does seasons like no other state. Autumn, or fall as it is called there, is spectacular and in winter the mountain regions are covered in snow. Spring and summer look quite nifty too and again, although these are not travelogue posts, I’ll include a few pictures.

In popular culture, the Henry/Jane Fonda film On Golden Pond is set in New Hampshire and John Irving, a native of the state, wrote his best-selling novel about the eponymous Hotel. In both crime dramas Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, we have characters who successfully hide out there for long periods, in “cabins in the woods”.

But this is supposed to be a music blog so what song could accompany my post about New Hampshire? The suggestions were not as free-flowing as last time, mainly because there aren’t many well-known songs that mention place names from The Granite State although thanks to Jez for manfully coming up with his suggestion (The Shaw Brothers’ New Hampshire Naturally). Rick, a New-Englander himself, came in with a late suggestion (Tom Rush’s Merrimack County) and CC’s generic pick (Jonathan Richman’s New England) is being kept for another state. Rol, who can usually be depended on for a multitude of suggestions, was even stumped in finding songs suitable for this blog – As he pointed out there are plenty of songs that refer to Manchester, Portsmouth and even Lebanon but just not the ones in New Hampshire. Time to bend the rules a bit then and this is where I made a wonderful discovery.

On my long list of “posts pending”, which I have mentioned just a few times (I can’t keep up with it), I have the song The Windmills Of Your Mind by Noel Harrison because it is one of Mr WIAA’s favourites. It was written for a key scene in the film The Thomas Crown Affair and wait for it, that key scene is set in New Hampshire where Steve McQueen’s character flies a glider over the little airport in Salem. It’s obviously not autumn because it’s all very green but we do, literally, get a bird’s eye view of the landscape.

The Windmills Of Your Mind by Noel Harrison:

This classic 1968 bank heist film needed an original song for that glider scene and the director asked French composer Michel Legrand, along with American lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, to come up with something that referenced the feelings of Thomas Crown as he calmly flies his glider, whilst experiencing the inner tension of preparing to commit a major robbery. To quote the Bergmans – “The lyrics were a stream-of-consciousness. We felt that the song had to be some kind of mind trip. I think we were thinking of that feeling you have when you try to fall asleep at night and you can’t turn your brain off because thoughts and memories tumble.”

I don’t know about you but I often find that I can’t turn my brain off (maybe why all this outpouring in a blog is so therapeutic) and this song does kind of conjure up images of what is going on in there. As for the film, I am actually more familiar with the very stylish remake from 1999 which starred Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo. The plotline was adapted somewhat to take account of the times but what I remember most about it was that Ms Russo, a lady of a certain age by that time, kept appearing in the most stunning outfits.

One of my many potential schemes for making money over the last decade has been to devise a wardrobe planning system for busy women. Out there in cyberspace, there is probably still a website called The Little Red Box Wardrobe Planner, although I can’t quite remember where. There were business cards and everything and I even had conversations with the Dragon’s Den TV Show people about it as my online pitch must have caught their interest. Nothing came of it in terms of earning potential (I am exceptionally good at putting in an awful lot of time and effort to that end) but it still works for me on a daily basis – My point being is that one of the things that really causes the windmills to work overtime in a woman’s brain is that eternal dilemma, “What to wear?”. Not so if like Renee Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair you have all your outfits carefully co-ordinated and selected for you, or, if you are the proud owner of a Little Red Box Wardrobe Planning System!

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Noel Harrison

It was of course Noel Harrison (son of Rex) who recorded the original version of The Windmills Of Your Mind and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1968. The remake in 1999 also featured the song, this time played during the end credits and performed by Sting who along with some other very serious-minded chaps seems to rarely pop up in the music blogosphere. Whatever, I do like his jazzy take on the song and it gives us a chance to revisit the autumnal New Hampshire landscape from that upgraded glider, and see some more of Renee’s great outfits (although in the still for this YouTube clip she seems to be in her birthday suit!).

Next time we’re heading across the state border into Vermont and any suggestions for songs associated with that state would be gratefully received. As you can see from this post it doesn’t necessarily have to be namechecked, just associated in some way. You know where the comments boxes are.

In the meantime, it’s not comments boxes I’m off to look at but Little Red Boxes of the wardrobe planning variety. Why have those windmills going round and round in your head all night when there is no need. Just sayin’.

Until next time…..

The Windmills Of Your Mind Lyrics
(Song by Michel Legrand/Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman)

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind

Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly, was it something that you said?
Lovers walking along a shore and leave their footprints in the sand
Is the sound of distant drumming just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song
Half remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over you were suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning to the colour of her hair!
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

An American Odyssey in Song: Maine – Roger Miller and King of the Road

Welcome to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

First of all thanks to everyone who helped out with suggestions for getting this trip started. It may not happen in real life now (although never say never and all that), but I’m going to try and make sure it happens on these pages. I have planned a route map that means we take in all 50 states but never enter and leave the same one more than once. I won’t share the map with you until the end however as best to retain an element of surprise as to where we are going to end up next (although sometimes of course there will be only one contender).

After a bit of thought I have decided to start in Maine and end up in Florida as opposed to doing it the other way round. North to South makes more sense from a geographical point of view and we will build up to all those great songs from the Southern States gradually.

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So, we have just flown across the Atlantic from Scotland and are about to explore the State of Maine. This is not going to be a travelogue style series of posts so I will just include a few pictures and links, but suffice to say, Maine is the most northernmost state in New England, it has an awful lot of forests and coastline, its climate is warm and humid in summer but cold and snowy in winter, and it’s famous for its seafood cuisine, especially lobster and clams. The musical Carousel is set in Maine (songs from which I have written about twice on these pages here and here) and of course a certain amateur lady detective also resides there, in the fictitious Cabot Cove (the American equivalent of our Midsomer it seems). The prolific author Stephen King comes from Maine and many of his books, in turn made into films, are set in that State (Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption and the film that forever gave clowns a bad rap, It).

When I first considered this series, I was a bit troubled that I might sometimes get stuck, and be unable to find songs that I could write about for certain states, but of course you didn’t let me down. A fair few suggestions came in from Marie, CC, Lynchie, Rol, Neil and Chris (links to their blogs on my sidebar) but the song I hadn’t realised even mentioned Maine before, was King Of The Road by Roger Miller (credit for that one goes to both Lynchie and Rol). This song is all about the day-to-day life of a hobo, who, despite being poor (a man of means by no means) revels in his freedom, describing himself as the “king of the road”. The first line in the second verse goes as follows, “Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine” which is why it becomes my first featured song in this series.

Roger himself of course didn’t come from Maine but from Texas. He wrote mainly country songs, and was very successful at doing so, but King Of The Road was a major crossover hit into mainstream pop and was No.1 in the UK Singles Chart in 1965.

King Of The Road by Roger Miller:

As is often the case I would be lying if I said that I remembered this song from first time around, but someone who would have done, was my Uncle Kenny. This is where it gets a bit personal as is often wont to happen on these pages. Kenny was a lad who grew up in our village in Scotland and did all the usual things young men did in those days – Went to school, completed an apprenticeship, met a girl, got married and had a family. The opportunity came along for him to move to the city and start driving lorries long distances. With a large family to support he took it on. Soon he was travelling all over the UK and the Continent, gone from home for long periods at a time. He loved it and whenever anyone was going on holiday by car, he could always be relied upon to come with the best route.

(Uncle Kenny is the tall dark-haired one and didn’t his best man look like Richard Widmark?)

This life on the road was not of course conducive to family life and in due course his marriage failed and we didn’t see much of him for long stretches of time. Every now and again he would turn up at my grandparents house in a massive articulated lorry, stay the night, then head off again. He was very unlike my own very stable, home-loving dad and was a bit of a mythical creature as I was growing up. As I got older I was busy getting on with my own life so didn’t see him often at all, but a few years ago now we heard he was ill, so my mum headed off to see him in his little flat. It wasn’t good and he died soon after at the age of 76 with, ironically, his ex-wife and his children at his bedside – He may not have been a great family man but they had stayed close over the years and loved him to the end.

When it came to organising the funeral it turned out he wanted to be buried along with his parents (my grandparents) in the village where he had grown up. A bit of a surprise but it made sense. The important thing was that he wanted King Of The Road to be played as his coffin was carried out of the church. My mum (his sister), who finds it very important to always “do the right thing”, was a bit concerned – In her experience people always chose very sombre hymns – What would people think? But no, his family stood firm and King Of The Road it was. When the time came there wasn’t a dry eye in the church and even my mum had to admit it was the right choice.

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Before I go, it might be an idea to include the version by those very Scottish Proclaimers from 1990. If he was still driving lorries at that time maybe Uncle Kenny liked that one too. Whatever, I am pretty sure if the chance had come up, he would have loved driving across the highways and byways of America in one of those very large trucks, maybe even up as far as Maine. This post therefore is for him. (Look out for The Proclaimers’ homage to Roger Miller at 2:20)

“What’s It All About?” – I have often seen talk on the blogosphere of the music people would like to have played at their funeral (morbid I know but true) and I too have chosen my particular song. We may not be there in person but we will be leaving a little bit of ourselves behind in our choices. Those left will feel a surge of emotion, but it will be much appreciated, as was the case with Uncle Kenny.

So, we have now visited Maine in song (very tenuously I know but I think that’s how it will often go) and the next state we will cross into is New Hampshire. I will always have a standby song but would very much appreciate some more suggestions that I have no doubt (if this post is anything to go by), will be better than mine. You know where the comments boxes are.

Until next time….

King Of The Road Lyrics
(Song by Roger Miller)

Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out clothes and shoes,
I don’t pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found short, but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain’t locked, when no one’s around.

I sing, trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.