Greenland, Guam and How Often Do You Check Your Stats?

A bit of a silly post this but I have previously asked the question, “Are you also addicted to blogging?” and the responses were interesting. Like me, many others would admit to being addicted, but in a good way. To share our thoughts with others in this community can be a great stress-buster at the end of a busy day and the community itself is something to be cherished, a beautiful add-on to a world of real-life friends and colleagues.

My question today is, “How often do you check your stats?”. I ask because I tend to check mine quite frequently. I’m not sure how it works on other platforms but here at WordPress we get all sorts of breakdowns on a daily basis as to how our blog posts are faring – How many visitors and views, where these visitors come from and which posts are the most popular. Having dealt with statistics for most of my working life, I know that we have to take these stats with a pinch of salt, as there are many underlying reasons as to why a particular result might arise – Still makes for interesting reading though.

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An example of the WordPress stats page

At the moment my most visited post by a country mile is this one – The Proclaimers, Hibs and Sunshine On Leith. It was written right at the start of my blogging career but by sheer coincidence I picked a post title that matches exactly what a Hibernian Football Club fan would enter into a search engine after winning a big match. The song Sunshine On Leith is the anthem the fans sing from the terraces whilst supporting their team and those who want to relive that emotional moment probably stumble upon my post. This in turn pushes it up the search engines so when the recent documentary about the twins was aired on telly, that post started getting another massive hike in views. Interesting stuff but whether these visitors hang around and read any of my other posts is debatable.

Another statistic I love is looking at that map of the world which shows where your visitors come from. First thing in the morning your top views are likely to be from North America and Australasia as those are the English-speaking regions that have been surfing the net whilst we in the UK are sound asleep. By mid afternoon however the tables turn and your most frequent visitors are likely to come from the UK and the rest of Europe. A fellow blogger wrote recently about all of this – I mentioned in his comments boxes that it fascinates me too and that I have had views from countries as diverse as Greenland and Guam. I threw those two in as I thought it formed a nice bit of alliteration – Imagine my surprise therefore, when only last week, on a single day, I had views from both those countries! There is a good chance that any visits to ours blogs are merely the result of a google search for something else and the surfer didn’t linger long – Just in case that was not the case for my visitors from Greenland and Guam however, I decided to do a little research into the music of those two, very different countries.

Greenland:

Most of us will know that Greenland is that island within the Arctic Circle that always looks enormous on a conventional map but mainly down to the way the globe is stretched at the north and south poles via Mercator projection. It is however still the world’s largest island although it is also the world’s least densely populated country, no doubt because of that giant ice cap that practically covers it. Although part of the North American continent it has long been politically and culturally associated with Europe and more specifically Scandinavia. Its people are in the main of Inuit and Danish descent.

The traditional music of Greenland features drum dances but modern day music tends to be influenced primarily by rock bands from the US and the UK – According to native drummer Hans Rosenberg, Greenland is definitely a rock country, both musically and literally. With the wonders of modern technology at my disposal it didn’t take me long to find something by this popular modern day Greenlander band Nanook. The video clip gives a really good impression of what it would be like to live there (brrr…) and I have become quite smitten by this song which is tricky to spell but hopefully I’ve got it right – Ingerlaliinnaleqaagut.

Guam:

Unlike Greenland, Guam has a tropical rainforest climate and is the largest island in Micronesia. Most of us will know that it’s a territory of the United States and since the 1960s the economy has been supported by two main industries – Tourism and the United States Armed Forces. Indigenous Guamanians are the Chamorros who are related to other Austronesian natives to the west in the Philippines and Taiwan. A frequently used territorial motto is “Where America’s Day Begins”, which refers to the island’s close proximity to the international date line.

Modern music from Guam has American, Spanish, Filipino and Polynesian influences however it seems that of all the popular Chamorro musicians, Flora Baza Quan is the “Queen”. Her most famous recording was of the song Hagu so time to head down to Pika’s Café where Jen and RJ perform a fine cover version. 

So, another little geography lesson from me at “What’s It All About?” – Other countries that seem to pop up on my stats quite frequently, but unusually I think, are Japan, Finland and The Philippines. Always interested in who drops by this place so please pop your head round the door if you do indeed visit from these countries.

Getting back to my native Scotland, it does seem appropriate that my most popular post to date featured those heavily accented twins from Auchtermuchty, The Proclaimers. I do have a category dedicated to Scottish bands (link here) of which there are many, but for this post I should really include something else by Craig and Charlie Reid. As there is a lot of “love in the air” around here at the moment (yes, darling daughter has a new boyfriend), it will have to be I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) from 1988. I’m not entirely sure if the new boyfriend would yet walk 500 miles, and then 500 more, to fall down at her door but as love songs go it’s a belter and not schmaltzy at all.

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers:

Until next time….

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) Lyrics
(Song by Craig Reid/Charlie Reid)

When I wake up, well I know I’m gonna be,
I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next you
When I go out, yeah I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you
If I get drunk, well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who gets drunk next to you
And if I haver up, yeah I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s havering to you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

When I’m working, yes I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s working hard for you
And when the money, comes in for the work I do
I’ll pass almost every penny on to you
When I come home (when I come home) well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who comes back home to you
And if I grow-old (when I grow-old) well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s growing old with you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

When I’m lonely, well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s lonely without you
And when I’m dreaming, well I know I’m gonna dream
I’m gonna dream about the time when I’m with you
When I go out (when I go out) well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you
And when I come home (when I come home) yes I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who comes back home with you
I’m gonna be the man who’s coming home with you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

Fireworks, Full Moons and “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”

Well, socially it’s a busy time of the year in my neck of the woods and there have been two soirées in the last week alone. Last Tuesday our “across-the-road” neighbours hosted a Halloween party which was great fun. We all specialise in different kinds of events (I do quiz nights and landmark dates in the calendar) but Halloween belongs to them. Despite being in their late sixties now, their son’s old baby bath is hauled out to enable “dooking for apples”, the garage is given a spooky makeover and all the local kids drop by in their costumes.

Then on Saturday, friends who live across on what is called the Black Isle (it’s not actually an island but it’s bordered on three sides by firths, so almost), asked if we’d like to join them for their local Bonfire Night celebrations. The best bit of the whole night however was that we witnessed the most spectacular full moon I think I’ve ever seen. The picture below is not of that actual moon, as I wasn’t quite on the ball with my camera equipment, but it could well have been.

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Having looked into it a bit more it was called the Frost Moon which peaked this year on the 4th November. It is also called the Beaver Moon however, that name coming from the Native Americans as this was the time of year they set their beaver traps to make sure there were enough warm furs ahead of winter. It turns out all full moons have a name which is something I hadn’t realised before. Over the next 12 months we will have the following:

December – Cold Moon
January – Wolf Moon
February – Snow Moon
March – Worm Moon
April – Pink Moon
May – Flower Moon
June – Strawberry Moon
July – Buck Moon
August – Sturgeon Moon
September – Fruit Moon
October – Hunter’s Moon 
November – Beaver Moon

Over the last year I have written about all the landmark dates in the ancient Pagan, or Celtic calendar, but as that cycle is now complete I think I can feel a new series coming on, this time all about moons! But of course Saturday’s moon wasn’t just impressive because it was a full one – Oh no, it was also a “supermoon”, when it comes to that point nearest the Earth. Despite being only about 26,000 miles closer than at other times, it appears around 14% larger and a whopping 30% brighter than usual. I love all this stuff.

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But this is a music blog, so which song came to mind as I wandered along the beach on Saturday night on my way to the bonfire? Perhaps because I have written both about Frank Sinatra and the song Fly Me To The Moon in my last couple of posts, I ended up going down the Rat Pack route, and serenaded our friends with this golden oldie.

In Napoli where love is king
When boy meets girl, here’s what they say:

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore”

That’s Amore is a song written by Harry Warren and Jack Brooks which became a big hit (and signature song) for Dean Martin in 1953. Funnily enough, I remember it best from the Cher film Moonstruck, where she plays a widowed Italian-American who falls in love with her fiancé’s estranged, hot-tempered younger brother (played by Nicolas Cage). Cher won the Oscar for Best Actress in that one and as I haven’t watched it in years, I think I will now go and seek it out.

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But what else comes to mind when I think of songs with the word moon in the title or lyrics. Well, this might be a good time to include something by Christopher Cross in the blog. I have held off as long as possible as it seems that Christopher has unfortunately ended up being attributed to that category of artists who produce what is called soft rock, or even worse yacht rock. Apparently yacht rock relates to the stereotype of the yuppie yacht owner, who enjoys smooth music while out for a sail. Also, since sailing was a popular leisure activity in Southern California, many yacht rockers made nautical references in their lyrics, videos, and album artwork, particularly Sailing by Christopher Cross.

But hey, I have never owned a yacht nor am I ever likely to, but I still warm to the melodic tones of Mr Cross and always enjoy that romantic line from his Academy award winning song Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)If you get caught between the Moon and New York City, the best that you can do is fall in love”.

Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) by Christopher Cross:

It is no surprise really that I have always liked this song as it was written by Burt Bacharach (amongst others) for the 1981 film Arthur starring our own Dudley Moore. Burt’s song Wives and Lovers featured in my last post so definitely on a Frank and Burt roll at the moment it seems. What I have just discovered however is that the line about getting caught between the moon and New York City was inspired not by a romantic encounter but because one of the credited songwriters, Peter Allen, got stuck in a holding pattern waiting to land at JFK airport in New York several years earlier. Oh well, best not to know sometimes how these memorable lines came to pass.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I seem to have a new series on my hands! (Yes, I know I have a few others in progress but I will make time for them too, promise.) There are certainly many, many songs that mention the word “moon” in the title but which are your favourites?

In December, all being well we will witness the Cold Moon, that name again from the Native Americans as it was associated with the month when winter cold fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark. Any suggestions for songs therefore that relate to both the moon, and to the cold grip of winter, gratefully received. I will get my thinking cap on myself before that date and apologies that I couldn’t muster up anything this time that related both to the moon, and to beavers – Might have been a stretch?!

Until next time….

Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) Lyrics
(Song by Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager/Christopher Cross/Peter Allen)

Once in your life you find her
Someone that turns your heart around
And next thing you know you’re closing down the town
Wake up and it’s still with you
Even though you left her way across town
Wondering to yourself, “Hey, what’ve I found?”

When you get caught between the Moon and New York City
I know it’s crazy, but it’s true
If you get caught between the Moon and New York City
The best that you can do,
The best that you can do is fall in love

Arthur he does as he pleases
All of his life, he’s mastered choice
Deep in his heart, he’s just, he’s just a boy
Living his life one day at a time
And showing himself a really good time
Laughing about the way they want him to be

When you get caught between the Moon and New York City
I know it’s crazy, but it’s true
If you get caught between the Moon and New York City
The best that you can do,
The best that you can do is fall in love

Postscript:

Out of interest here are a few pictures from the display we went along to on Saturday night – The fireworks were indeed spectacular but not quite as spectacular as that amazing full moon reflected on the water of the firth. Very special indeed.

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“Wives and Lovers”, Mad Men and Julie London

Since giving up work a few weeks ago, my life has taken a serious turn for the better – Suddenly there is enough time for everything I need to do in my life and joy of joys there is also enough time for some things that I don’t really need to do, but am enjoying immensely. One of the frivolous things I don’t really need to do, has been to binge watch one of my favourite television shows, Mad Men, set in the 1960s at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on New York’s Madison Avenue. Season One begins in March 1960, just before I was born, and it’s almost worth watching for the clothes alone. Totally impractical but incredibly beautiful.

The show won many awards over the years and has been lauded for its historical accuracy. For fans of music, the song choices for each episode were spot on in terms of evoking the era and how they related to a particular scene or storyline. This song, Fly Me To The Moon by Julie London, featured in the first season of Mad Men. I have always loved her languid voice, especially when singing her signature song Cry Me A River, and Julie’s look and sound were totally appropriate for this glamorous show.

Towards the end of the first season, the upcoming presidential elections feature highly as the agency was to work with Nixon’s team to help him secure that win. They think it’s a foregone conclusion but of course we all now know it turned out very differently back in 1960 and Nixon ended up being pipped at the post by a young Jack Kennedy. After watching that episode I was reminded of something in my box of memorabilia – Richard Nixon may not have won the election in 1960 but in a very tragic roundabout way, he did win the election in 1968 and soon after he paid a visit to Britain to meet with our incumbent Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. I know this because I still have my 1969 school exercise book devoted to the pursuit of “joint-up writing”, something we were all just getting to grips with at the tender age of eight.

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Last time I shared something written by my own fair hand, CC from Charity Chic Music commented that my handwriting was much better than his at the same age – That would be down to the long hours spent perfecting it in Mrs Fraser’s Primary Four classroom. I think this February entry was one of my first perfect 10 scores, but from then on they just kept on coming. And this has been one of my downfalls in life – I am from the kind of family where if you got 99 out of a 100 in a test, there would be some praise but mainly the question would be, “What did you get wrong and why?”. This drive to get perfect scores in whatever I turned my hand to has led to much anguish over the years and of course when it comes to the world of work it is nigh impossible, especially nowadays when constant “firefighting” seems to be the order of the day. So, although I seem to be living the life of Riley at the moment, sometimes watching television during the day no less, a lot of it is down to the fact that yet again I had to walk away from a job I felt I could no longer do “perfectly” because of our new agile working set-up. Instead it is being done by someone who will do it “well enough”, certainly not perfectly, but everyone will be happy with that.

But I have become side-tracked by Richard Nixon – Time to get back to 1960 and what was happening on Madison Avenue. Mad Men depicts the American society and culture of the 1960s, highlighting cigarette smoking, drinking, sexism, adultery, homophobia, anti-semitism, and racism. It kind of reminds us that although we have a nostalgia for the past, we also sometimes have a selective memory.

A song I have in my digital database by Julie London is this one, but not easy to listen to nowadays. Despite the fact I love the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the lyrics to Wives and Lovers are just so at odds with how a 21st century woman would think, or more importantly how a man would expect her to think, that they become quite laughable. However if you watched only the first episode of Mad Men, set in 1960, they suddenly seem frighteningly accurate:

Hey! Little Girl
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door.
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore   (?!)

Day after day
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men.
Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again   (?!)

There is a lot of talk in the media at the moment about certain “unsolicited actions” and “inappropriate behaviour” having been carried out by people in power. Our blogging buddy Jez has written a very good piece about it this weekend (link here) which I would thoroughly recommend. As he says, time and time again we hear the defence that the accused is “a dinosaur”, that their behaviour was acceptable “back in the day” – No, it really wasn’t.

Wives and Lovers by Julie London:

Until next time….

Wives and Lovers Lyrics
(Song by Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

Hey! Little Girl
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore

For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you…

Day after day
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men
Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again

For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
He’s almost here…

Hey! Little girl
Better wear something pretty
Something you’d wear to go to the city and
Dim all the lights, pour the wine, start the music
Time to get ready for love
Time to get ready
Time to get ready for love

Postscript:

Just in case anyone hadn’t heard of her before, Julie London was an American singer and actress, whose career spanned over forty years. She released 32 albums of pop and jazz standards during the 1950s and 1960s, her signature song being the classic Cry Me a River. Julie’s 35-year acting career began in 1944 and included roles co-starring with Rock Hudson, Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum. She achieved continuing success in television in the 1970s, appearing in the show Emergency! with her husband, Bobby Troup.

An American Odyssey in Song: New Jersey – Frank, The Sopranos and “It Was A Very Good Year”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Well, I seem to have been tettering on the edge of the George Washington bridge for two months now, as my New York post ended up being rather a long one, and New Jersey doesn’t look as if it will be much shorter, or easier to put together. After this state I will really try and get back to the original premise of one state, one song, but in the meantime it will have to be another “stream of consciousness” kind of affair. Here goes….

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New Jersey is tantalisingly close to wealthy and sophisticated Manhattan, but here, a mere 10 minutes across the bridge (or through the tunnel), we have a much more workaday state. To use another British analogy, New Jersey is probably the Essex of America where “Joisey” girls and boys tend to be the butt of many a joke. It is called the Garden State but the area bordering the Hudson is heavily industrialised and provides a home to many a chemical plant. The beautiful Ivy League University Princeton however is in New Jersey and further south we have the many fine beaches. Atlantic City, with it’s seven miles of boardwalk, was a highly successful and popular resort in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Post WWII it fell into decline but in 1976 came the legalisation of gambling after which massive casino hotels were built such as the Trump Taj Mahal. The original was one of the seven wonders of the world, but inside this one day and night merge into one, as high and low rollers from all over the world are sucked in leaving the old boardwalks neglected and empty.

But this is a music blog so what, and who, comes to mind when I think of New Jersey? First of all here is a clip showing the opening sequence to the television show The Sopranos – It shows the journey made by its lead character Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini), all the way from the New Jersey Turnpike to his comfortable suburban home. The theme music for this show (Woke Up This Morning) was ironically provided by British band Alabama 3 and I have written about that song here before as I’ve always really liked it. The short film also gives a pretty good whistle stop tour of that part of the state, just across the Hudson from NYC.

Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3:

Like many other successful television dramas it wasn’t long before a CD was released featuring the songs included in the show, and being a big fan of course I bought it. Being a drama very much focused on Italian-Americans, it was inevitable that one of New Jersey’s most famous sons, born to Italian immigrants living in Hoboken, would pop up quite early on in the series. Not in person of course, as he died the year before the show first aired, but by providing It Was A Very Good Year, the soundtrack to the opening sequence for Season 2.

Frank Sinatra was possibly the very first teen idol, the hero of the “bobby-soxers” who sang with the Tommy Dorsey band in the ’40s and appeared in many lavish MGM musicals. After his career started to slump in the early ’50s he turned to Las Vegas, becoming one of the infamous Rat Pack. A second successful film and recording career followed in the later half of that decade and then a long period of recording and performing live in concert, right up until 1995. In terms of retirement, it never really worked out for him.

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A young Frank in Hoboken, New Jersey

Although Frank didn’t ever learn how to read music, he had a fine, natural understanding of it and was known to be a perfectionist. It is often mentioned that he had wonderful “phrasing”, which is how a musician shapes a sequence of notes in a passage of music in order to express an emotion or impression – I do believe that with It Was A Very Good Year, he does that with bells on.

It Was A Very Good Year by Frank Sinatra:

Another reason I wanted to include this song in my New Jersey post is because its whole sentiment is very appropriate for what I am doing with this blog – I am probably now in the autumn of my years myself but it is enjoyable to look back nostalgically over my life, telling the stories and sharing the music of my youth.

When I was seventeen, it was a very good year:

Right at the start of my teenage years a new Community Centre was built next to the Academy I attended, and so for the next five years, until I reached the age of 17, it became the focus of our social life. Unlike today when very few parents/community leaders are willing (or allowed) to supervise a few hundred teenagers with raging hormones, back in the ’70s they were plentiful. Nearly every weekend we headed along to the Saturday night “disco” held in one of the big halls. The records, played by some of our classmates who had been insightful enough to buy the equipment, were all the current chart hits and of course it was there that we experienced first kisses, fumbles and romance.

Funnily enough one of my most vivid memories of those years is dancing to songs by a band that really should be more closely associated with the ’60s. Those original Jersey Boys, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons had a bit of a resurgence in popularity in the ’70s and I am pretty sure my first kiss took place whilst the song December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night) was playing in the background. Ironically, when good friends of ours recently moved to another town, their new next-door neighbour turned out to be the recipient of that first kiss – I went to say hello as we’d been right through secondary school together, but at first he didn’t recognise me because he didn’t have his glasses on! Oh the cruel passage of time and how it affects our senses.

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year:

By the age of 21 I had done the unthinkable, I had dropped all my female friends because I wanted to spend most of my day with my student boyfriend. He was never alone however so it was usually a group of about five lads and myself, in the library, in the bar, in the dining hall…., you get the picture. (“Yes, we see, he was the Leader of the Pack” – sorry couldn’t resist).

Anyway, they were all great fans of that other famous son of New Jersey Bruce Springsteen, so when a rumour went round that he was coming to play the NEC in Birmingham, tickets were acquired. The boyfriend’s parents’ Volvo was commandeered and on the day of my 21st birthday we headed off, driving through the night to the West Midlands. I will have to admit that at age 21 I was more of a fan of Ultravox, Spandau, Visage and Adam Ant so my knowledge of Bruce’s back catalogue was scant indeed. In the weeks before the concert I therefore immersed myself in his album “The River”. By the time the concert came along I was sufficiently au fait with his material to really enjoy the whole experience, especially the saxophone playing of Clarence Clemons. As for the song The River, Bruce cited his inspiration as being his sister and brother-in-law who are still married today. Unlike my New Romantic bands from the early ’80s, Bruce has kept on writing and touring to this day. Never having been a follower of fashion in any way (his stage outfit remains almost unchanged) he has never gone out of fashion – He is the bard of New Jersey but a campaign to get Bruce’s Born To Run named as official state song did flounder, as in reality the song was all about getting the hell out of New Jersey!

When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year:

By 35 I was a working mum and a very busy bee indeed so music didn’t feature quite as highly in my life but it would have been hard to miss the fact that Ms Whitney Houston, one of New Jersey’s most famous daughters, had really achieved success of the stratospheric nature. Pop royalty, she was the cousin of Dionne Warwick, the daughter of Cissy Houston, Darlene Love was her godmother and Aretha Franklin an honorary aunt. She had been around since the mid ’80s but after appearing in films such as The Bodyguard the awards just kept on coming. The lead single from the film’s original soundtrack, I Will Always Love You, received the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1994 and became the best-selling single by a female in music history. I think I now prefer the original version, by the writer of the song Dolly Parton, but no-one can deny that Whitney had a stupendous set of pipes back then.

Sadly, Whitney died in 2012 at the very young age of 48, but she certainly has left us with a wonderful back catalogue of songs. She was one of the first singers to make use of that vocal technique called melisma, where by packing in a series of different notes, a single syllable can take nearly six seconds to sing. The technique inspired a host of imitators in the ’90s but what Whitney perhaps nailed best was moderation. Earlier this year I went to the cinema to see the new Kevin Macdonald documentary film Whitney: Can I Be Me – The upshot seemed to be that no, she couldn’t.

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Whitney Houston, RIP

I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston:

So there we have it, by using Frank’s song I have been able to link three other musical legends from New Jersey into this post. Incidentally there is another link you might not have noticed. Frankie Valli actually made several appearances in The Sopranos, playing the mobster Rusty Millio. Also, the Four Seasons’ music is heard in many episodes, especially Big Girls Don’t Cry. Steven Van Zandt, a long term member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, played the character Silvio Dante in all six seasons of The Sopranos and finally, Whitney Houston, was a mezzo-soprano (tenuous that one, but you can’t win them all).

Big Girls Don’t Cry by The Four Seasons:

Next time we head across the border into Pennsylvania – As ever, ideas for song choices gratefully received.

Until next time….

It Was a Very Good Year Lyrics
(Song by Ervin Drake)

When I was seventeen, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for city girls
Who lived up the stairs
With all that perfumed hair
That came undone
When I was twenty-one

When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means
We’d ride in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the years
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

Amsterdam, Van der Valk and a “Lost Weekend”

Ever since I got back from my trip to Amsterdam last week I have been meaning to write a short post about it all – Problem is, I’ve struggled to come up with anything particularly “Dutch” to include as a featured song. Tonight however, as I made my way home from my regular Friday night rendezvous with my mum at her retirement complex (the fun just never ends around here!), I switched on the radio to partake in a bit of Friday Night Is Music Night. I do love the affable Ken Bruce, and he does a great job of hosting this show, which is apparently the longest-running live orchestral music programme in the world. In terms of the particular inspiration for each show, you just never know what you’re going to get and this week it was Espionage, so a night of great spy theme music got underway. The programme included music from The Ipcress File, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Third Man, The Avengers and, of course, 007 himself James Bond.

Listening to some of those great TV Theme tunes reminded me of the wonderful Van der Valk, that ’70s television series produced by Thames Television. It starred Barry Foster as Dutch detective Commissaris Piet van der Valk. The stories were mostly based in and around Amsterdam, where Commissaris van der Valk was a “cynical yet intuitive detective”.

Watching this very old piece of footage (wasn’t the colour poor in those days) reminded me of the very locations where I spent time last week, as in a city of canals the street pattern of central Amsterdam hasn’t changed much in about 400 years. The best thing about the show Van der Valk however was its very memorable theme tune, Eye Level, composed by Jack Trombey and played by the Simon Park Orchestra. Unbelievably, it even reached the UK Chart’s No. 1 spot back in 1973. I’m pretty sure that just couldn’t happen today but I still remember them well appearing on ToTP, as those were the days when I religiously taped the show on my little cassette recorder and carefully entered all the chart positions, in my “Chart Positions Notebook”!

thBut what did we get up to last week? The big irony of course was that despite the fact that Mr WIAA and I were also celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary, off I went gallivanting with one of my best female friends. It had all been booked a long time ago and the bad timing was down to that old chestnut, the annual leave window. Of course I am no longer even in the job that I couldn’t get leave from at any other time, but no matter, Mr WIAA was more than happy to hold down the fort and is now promised a trip of his own sometime soon.

Day 1: Headed down to Dam Square where an enormous Ferris Wheel was in operation – Great to get a view of the whole city I thought not realising that my poor friend has a massive fear of such things. She did it though and yes, we did get a great view of the whole city.

Day 2: The obligatory boat trip around the canal system. No room for any more house boats though as all the berths now taken. Also paid a visit to the Museum of Bags and Purses (it’s a thing) and the infamous Red Light District, De Wallen. Learnt a lot in the Museum of Prostitution (yes, it’s also a thing).

Day 3: Visited the Rijksmuseum where you could seriously get lost for a whole day – Pondered over probably some of the most valuable paintings in the world (Rembrandt’s The Night Watch?) and enjoyed glasses of mint tea – Maybe I’m just unsophisticated but up here in Scotland our tea doesn’t come with a bunch of mint leaves and a small pot of honey but very, very nice.

Day 4: Our last day so spent time in the harbour area where our hotel, which used to be the accommodation for Naval Officers, was based. A fantastic table with artwork depicting the harbour took pride of place in the dining room. Oh and it had its own brewery – Bonus.

Although I did say that I couldn’t really think of any songs with a Dutch theme, it was inevitable that this 1985 recording of Lost Weekend by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions would form a bit of an earworm whilst I was away. The lyrics however were not particularly appropriate for our trip as: a) we didn’t catch pneumonia b) the price of the medicine therefore wasn’t an issue and c) we came home before the weekend, so not really a lost one. Great excuse to include a song however that I have always really liked and I’ve now worked out why a band from Glasgow just didn’t sound very Scottish. Turns out Lloyd was from Derbyshire and formed the band whilst studying Philosophy and English at the University of Glasgow. Every day’s a school day.

Lost Weekend by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions:

Until next time….

Lost Weekend Lyrics
(Song by Lawrence Donegan/Lloyd Cole/Neil Clark)

It took a lost weekend in a hotel in Amsterdam
And double pneumonia in a single room
And the sickest joke was the price of the medicine
Are you laughing at me now may I please laugh along with you

This morning I woke up from a deep unquiet sleep
With ashtray clothes and miss lonely heart’s pen
With which I wrote for you a lovesong in tattoo
Upon my palm ’twas stolen from me when Jesus took my hand

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces too easily

I was a king bee with a head full of attitude
Wore my heart on my sleeve like a stained
My aim was to taboo you
Could we meet in the marketplace
Did I ever hey please did you wound my knees

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces

Yes it’s too easy and there’s nobody else to blame
Will I hang my head in a crying shame
There is nobody else to blame nobody else except my sweet self

Again it took a lost weekend in a hotel in Amsterdam
Twenty four gone years to conclude in tears
That the sickest joke was the price of the medicine
Are you laughing at me now
May I please laugh along

I was a king bee with a head full of attitude
And ashtray heart on my sleeve wounded knees
And my one love song was a tattoo upon my palm
You wrote upon me when you took my hand

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces too easily

Postscript:

Apologies for the quality of these pictures – Not up to my usual standard but when on a short trip like this we just didn’t want to spend lots of time fiddling with our camera equipment, so done on the hop on our phones. Sometimes the best way to go.

An Open Letter to George Michael RIP, Part 4 – The Documentary

My Dear George

Just when I thought I had nothing else to say to you, and I would finally have to accept you are gone, up you pop on our television screens with a brand new documentary called Freedom.  All about your life and career, and with contributions from many of those who were your friends and musical collaborators, it was seemingly in the process of being completed just before you died. It was even directed by you, so very much your baby. You really had no idea how ill you were at that time did you? What the heck were those around you doing for goodness sake – Not looking after your health it seems. To be fair you were an adult and should have taken responsibility for that yourself but not always easy I imagine for someone in your position who had already experienced so many ups and downs in life.

But I digress, the documentary called Freedom was a wonderful gift for those of us who would always want to eke out a little more new and original George Michael goodness before all that is left is the back catalogue and archived footage. I have already written to you about my memories of the Wham! and solo years but here we had all of it, and narrated by none other than your good self. The voice was a bit deeper and more gravelly than I remember, but it was most definitely you, although sadly there had to be a lookalike actor sitting there in your Highgate house supposedly typing out the dialogue for the film. We always knew how self-conscious you were about your looks and it seems you were not prepared to appear in the 2016 film as you were at the time – Sad but understandable.

One of the wonderful things about the film was that along with the really big hits from the “Faith” and “Listen Without Prejudice Vol I” eras, some of the less commercially successful songs made an appearance and this one, Kissing a Fool, has really stayed with me over the last week. Apparently you recorded the vocals for this beautiful, jazzy ballad in one take – It all sounds sublime and despite only making it to No. 18 in the UK Singles Chart, the song remains a firm favourite with fans and I can totally understand why.

Kissing a Fool by George Michael:

But what did I learn about you that hasn’t been covered in my previous letters? First of all I had no idea just how big you were in America once you went solo and released the album “Faith”. The marketing machine went into overdrive and you were on the cover of every magazine, you topped the Billboard chart with 5 of the singles released from the album and won numerous awards, including those in the R&B/Soul category. It was inevitable that there would be a backlash and for fear of burnout you had to walk away from it all for a while.

GM4 When you did come back with the very appropriately titled “Listen Without Prejudice Vol I”, you were making a statement – “Don’t pigeon-hole me, just take these songs as they come”. As James Corden said in the film however, there are some people in life who seem to have a layer or two of skin missing and appear to bruise more easily than the rest of us. You were one of them and when you sang the songs from this album for us, the pain you felt was palpable. All of this was written and recorded when you were still aged only 27 – An old head on young shoulders it seems.

When I wrote previously about that stunning performance you gave at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert I was just taking it at face value. Now however I understand how you were able to lift that performance to a whole new level – Having finally found love with Anselmo, you had learnt that he had also been diagnosed as HIV positive. He was in the crowd that night and although your fans didn’t even know about your sexuality at that time (well we did, but not officially), and he was unknown to us, you were singing the song for him and your heart was breaking for what was to come. The anger you felt at the unfairness of the situation was taken out on the record company from which you desperately wanted a divorce. A landmark case indeed but one which you lost in the end – As one of the executives said however, you may have lost the battle but you won the war as it was a given that you wouldn’t record anything for them again, so like with a top footballer you went on the transfer market and were snapped up by Virgin.

With the album “Older” you were able to both heal and recover from the grief you felt at the loss of Anselmo, but, then your mother got ill and died soon after so for much of the early ’90s it seems you were suffering from something much deeper than depression, a permanent fear of bereavement. By the second half of that decade you had started to come out the other side and the MTV Unplugged concert in 1996 was a fantastic example of you at your very best. You had the voice of an angel and had the ability to share raw emotion via your lyrics. A gift that possibly comes along once in a generation.

But I don’t want to say my final farewell to you George on a sad note. First of all, I noticed that the song used for the opening titles of your documentary was the Adele version of Fastlove performed at this year’s Grammys. Also the song used for the closing credits was the one jointly performed by Chris Martin and your good self (on a big screen) at the Brits. These were obviously added after your death and although I was a bit (quite a bit actually) disparaging about both of them earlier in the year, the passage of time must have made me warm to them as I thought they were both perfect for this film which turned out to be an unintented obituary. Secondly, I think James Corden has a lot to thank you for as your willingness to always step up to the plate when it came to making a bit of a fool of yourself in comedy sketches for charity, has in turn led to a new art form – Carpool Karaoke! I did love this when it first aired and never tire of watching it.

So, yet again I prepare to sign off for the last time – No more letters but before I go I just want to quote what you said during an earlier interview, included right at the end of the documentary. When asked what you would like to be remembered for, you said that you… “would like to be remembered for your songs and for your integrity, but that was very unlikely, so it was probably all a waste of effort”. I think you were just being modest there, as I expect we all would be if faced with a similar question, but of course in reality you will always be remembered – For the songs, your integrity, your performances, your generosity and yes, for those comedy sketches.

Farewell then George and thank you for that bonus gift you gave us last week in the form of your wonderful documentary. It was much appreciated.

Until next time….

Kissing a Fool Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death, and from my heart
Strange that you were strong enough
To even make a start
But you’ll never find
Peace of mind,
‘Til you listen to your heart

People
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will
For they will
If you let them
Steal your heart from you
People
Will always make a lover feel a fool
But you knew I loved you
We could have shown them all
We should have seen love through

Fooled me with the tears in your eyes
Covered me with kisses and lies
So goodbye
But please don’t take my heart

You are far
I’m never gonna be your star
I’ll pick up the pieces
And mend my heart
Maybe I’ll be strong enough
I don’t know where to start
But I’ll never find
Peace of mind
While I listen to my heart

People
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will,
For they will
If you let them
Steal your heart

And people
Will always make a lover feel a fool
But you knew I loved you
We could have shown them all

But remember this
Every other kiss
That you ever give
Long as we both live
When you need the hand of another man
One you really can surrender with
I will wait for you
Like I always do
There’s something there
That can’t compare with any other

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death, and from my heart
Strange that I was wrong enough
To think you’d love me too
I guess you were kissing a fool
You must have been kissing a fool

Postscript:

As of the 20th October, the reissued “Listen Without Prejudice / MTV Unplugged” Double CD is available everywhere. A worthy addition to any fan’s collection.

Alyson’s Archive #3 – David Bowie, Aladdin Sane and “The Jean Genie”

Welcome to this occasional series where I share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog”, courtesy of that as yet unthought of invention, the world wide web! 

One of the things I found in the archive box recently was an old pocket file containing lots of pin-ups from 1970s teen magazines such as Jackie, Fab 208 and this lesser known publication (and one I had forgotten about), called FAN. I can tell which of these pin-ups had appeared on my bedroom wall at some point as the corners are a bit damaged with drawing pin holes or sticky blu-tack. This one of David Bowie was in mint condition however which makes sense as at this time it was David Cassidy and Donny Osmond (I was only 12) who tended to grace my walls, but I had obviously been enough of a fan to carefully remove it from the magazine and keep it for posterity.

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What I’ve discovered to be the most interesting aspect of having kept all this stuff for over 40 years however, is that yet again I seem to have developed a selective memory when it comes to reminiscing about the musical heroes of my youth. It is only after reading the articles on the back of these pin-ups that you work out what was actually happening in the world of pop music in the early ’70s as opposed to what we choose to remember was happening. No need for a long wordy post with this one therefore as it’s just kind of interesting to read this 1973 interview with Mr Bowie as it stands – It took place right around the time of the release of the album “Aladdin Sane” (with it’s iconic lightning bolt cover) and just before he embarked on the tour that would culminate in the “retirement” of the character that had become his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust.

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Question Time with David Bowie, not David Dimbleby!

Considering Bowie went on to make albums right up until his death at the beginning of 2016, it is bizarre to read in this 1973 interview that he fully intended to wave goodbye to the music industry at that time and concentrate on other projects. In fact he doubted that he would appear on stage again for a very long time!

Anyway, as the timing of this interview coincided with the release of “Aladdin Sane” (apparently a play on the words “A Lad Insane”), it is entirely appropriate that today’s featured song should be something from that album. The Jean Genie had been a hit for him in December 1972 reaching No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart. It had a protagonist that was partly inspired by his good friend Iggy Pop, or an “Iggy-type” character at any rate. Much has also been made about the title referring to the author Jean Genet however Bowie himself admitted that even if it was the case, it was probably done subconsciously.

The Jean Genie by David Bowie:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I’m loving looking back at all this material from over 40 years ago but time and time again I’m having to reappraise my memories of the times. Back in the ’60s, bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks fully expected their careers to last for 2 or 3 years maximum, and being of the first rock ‘n’ roll generation there was no model to suppose it would turn out to the contrary. Likewise in the early ’70s David Bowie fully embraced that his music career was probably now over and I no doubt just accepted that as being the case back then. How bizarre then to think that I have a friend who is just back from seeing Sir Paul McCartney perform live at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Rolling Stones are still touring and Ray Davis has just been knighted. Who would have thought it?

The Jean Genie Lyrics
(Song by David Bowie)

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go and everything tastes right
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

Sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile
She loves him, she loves him but just for a short while
She’ll scratch in the sand, won’t let go his hand
He says he’s a beautician and sells you nutrition
And keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

He’s so simple minded he can’t drive his module
He bites on the neon and sleeps in the capsule
Loves to be loved, loves to be loved

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!