Last time I wrote about the great punk-rock beauty Debbie Harry. Roll forward to the mid noughties and another rare beauty came along in the form of Katie Melua. Although born in Georgia (the former Soviet Republic one) she had moved to Northern Ireland with her family as a child, before heading across to London to attend the BRIT school in her late teens. She has been one of its most successful attendees along with the late Amy Winehouse and of course Adele.
Unlike Debbie Harry however, Katie did not give us punk attitude, instead she gave us…… Really annoying lyrics! I have written before about songs that I had hitherto quite enjoyed because I had never really listened to the lyrics properly (Rupert Holmes’ Pina Colada song – grrr) but it didn’t take long at all for some of Katie’s songs to really grate.
Exhibit A – Nine Million Bicycles which charted in September 2005. I know I am probably being pedantic here but every time I heard her sing about “the fact”, “the thing we just couldn’t deny” (those nine million bicycles traversing the streets of Beijing), I kind of had to say to myself – Really? Could it not possibly be nine and a half million, or perhaps a bit less than nine million now that car ownership has risen? But no, Katie was emphatic in her song that nine million was the exact number.
Nine Million Bicycles by Katie Melua:
Of course we then get on to the next verse and now she tells us that “we are twelve billion light years from the edge” but that “it was a guess and no-one could ever say if that was true”. As it turns out they could, and no, it wasn’t true. Cosmologist Simon Singh took to writing an article for the Guardian pointing out that scientists had pretty much worked out after much research and careful measurement that the universe was actually 13.7 billion years old. A playful spat ensued with Katie re-recording the song with this new information contained within – Needless to say it wasn’t a howling success and both parties had a bit of a laugh about it and agreed that a modicum of poetic license was needed for the song to work, but just shows how hot under the collar we can get when faced with incorrect facts.
I put it all down to the “fact” that the song was written by Mike Batt who despite massive success in many different strands of the music industry will, for me, always be “Head Womble”. There can be no-one of my age who will not have occasionally dipped into an episode of The Wombles on television after coming home from school in the afternoon. They were way ahead of their time with all their recycling, now part of our modern day lives, but back in the 1970s a bit of a novelty and a cue for entertainment.
When Mike Batt got the job of writing the theme song for the animated show, rather than accept a flat fee he chose to acquire the character rights for The Wombles and formed a pop group, releasing a string of top-selling singles and albums between 1973 and 1975. Must have been very hot work “Wombling Free” around BBC Television Centre but quite liberating, as the costumes could be worn by whoever was available on the day. It turns out this was often members of Steeleye Span or the guitarist Chris Spedding (he of Motor Bikin’ fame) whom Mike worked with frequently.
So when Mike discovered Katie in the mid noughties, I think he was so thrown by her amazing beauty that his old Wombling song-writing skills momentarily left him and he put together odd lyrics juxtaposing “facts about love” with erroneous “scientific facts”.
Just one more bone of contention however about a line from the song before I move on – Katie sang about how she would “never tire of the love she would be given every night”. Written by a man indeed as I don’t know of any of my female friends, however happy with their other halves, who would not tire of being given love every night! Sometimes a mug of cocoa and a good book is all that is required – Just sayin’…..
Nine Million Bicycles Lyrics
(Song by Mike Batt)
There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That’s a fact,
It’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die.
We are twelve billion light years from the edge,
That’s a guess,
No-one can ever say it’s true
But I know that I will always be with you.
I’m warmed by the fire of your love everyday
So don’t call me a liar,
Just believe everything that I say
There are six billion people in the world
More or less
and it makes me feel quite small
But you’re the one I love the most of all
We’re high on the wire
With the world in our sight
And I’ll never tire,
Of the love that you give me every night
And in case anyone can’t remember how much fun it was to be a Womble in 1974, here is a clip from Top Of The Pops to remind you (just try to avert your eyes from Noel Edmonds’ revealing shirt and medallion during the introduction). All members present and correct I think – Orinoco, Madame Cholet, Great Uncle Bulgaria, Wellington and Tobermory. Didn’t even have to look it up, such is the power of a childhood memory.