Love, Forever Changes and “Alone Again Or”

Well, my last post was a very long one so you’ll be glad to know that this is going to be a shorter, mid-week mini-post. I recently had a comment from a new visitor to this place who knew me from another blog we both frequent (that would be Rich’s KamerTunesBlog). It had come to his attention that I’d written a post called LOVE, Young People and “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and had assumed it was about the band Love. Sadly for him it wasn’t, it was about the One Love Manchester benefit concert that took place back in May, a couple of weeks after the city’s terrorist attack. In reply to his comment I mentioned that I didn’t really know the band Love but said I would definitely seek them out, which is exactly what I did next.

Wow, I am now in love with Love!

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Ever since starting this blog, the year I keep returning to time and time again is 1967, and here we go again. There are many reasons why I am so fond of this particular year and I have cited them many times already but now that I recognise the sheer number of musical genres out there, the ones I warm to most were all at their peak in 1967, orchestral pop, baroque pop, folk rock and psychedelic rock. Love definitely fell into the last camp and despite having poor sales back in the late sixties, their album “Forever Changes” received great critical acclaim and is now ranked 40th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It is also recognised as one of the finest albums to have come out of the Summer of Love.

Alone Again Or by Love:

The first track on “Forever Changes” is the song Alone Again Or which was written by bassist Brian MacLean although most of the other songs on the album were written by the band’s founder, Arthur Lee. I am pretty sure I know it from a soundtrack to a film or television show but can’t quite work out which one – Maybe someone could help me out? The song was apparently inspired by the memory of waiting for a girlfriend – The essence of it is the contrast between the upbeat tune and the sad lyrics, “And I will be alone again tonight, my dear”. Love‘s influences included folk rock, hard rock, blues, jazz, flamenco and orchestral pop so the addition of a string section and a horn part for a mariachi band seemed perfectly sensible. The song has become a true classic and has now been recorded by many other artists including The Damned.

So, “What’s It All About?” – Some bands just seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time so despite their obvious brilliance never really get the commercial success they deserve. Love were the hippest band in LA in 1967 but because they had two black front men playing music unlikely to appeal to a black audience, they were ill-equipped to take the place of bands such as The Byrds. They became overshadowed by The Doors and Jimi Hendrix in 1967 and their drug usage started to spiral out of control. As the year ended, Love splintered apart, never to regain the same momentum. Despite a period of incarceration for gun crimes, Arthur Lee continued to work with other musicians using the band’s name until his death in 2006.

But here we are 50 years on from the now infamous Summer of Love and I am discovering Love for the first time. That all sounds a bit odd actually, but it just goes to show that you are never too old, and I am going to enjoy every little bit of it!

Alone Again Or Lyrics
(Song by Brian MacLean)

Yeah, I said it’s all right
I won’t forget
All the times I waited patiently for you
I think you’ll do (just what) you choose to do
And I will be alone again tonight my dear

Yeah, I heard a funny thing
Somebody said to me
You know that I could be in love, with almost everyone
I think that people are the greatest fun
And I will be alone again tonight, my dear

Yeah, I heard a funny thing
Somebody said to me
You know that I could be in love with almost everyone
I think that people are the greatest fun
And I will be alone again tonight, my dear

“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….

new-jersey

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

Memories of Junior School – Cliff, Marc and Alice

Last time, amongst other things, I wrote about the film Gregory’s Girl which in turn led me to reminisce about my days at secondary school. This morning, whilst starting out on a project to declutter the house, I found a booklet that was printed around the time of the centenary of my primary school. A call had gone out asking ex-pupils to submit their memories, and many did, including myself – Unbeknownst to me until after publication however, most contributors stuck to a concise 150-200 words, whereas my “contribution” ended up being a good deal longer so kind of stood out like a sore thumb (nothing changes does it). I did notice however that the piece included a few references to the music of the day so I’m going to recycle it for this place – Hope you can forgive me this little indulgence.

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My old primary school

Extract from 1899-1999 Centenary Booklet (written in 1998):

If like me you joined the school in 1965, and spent the whole of your primary school education there, your memories of the experience will be very similar to mine. I spent an evening conjuring up images from the past and came up with the following whistle stop tour through the seven years.

In Miss Margaret’s Primary One class, courtesy of the Tom and Ann books, we all became literate. For many Aberdeenshire children this was no mean feat since these books were written in English and not in our native Doric. At the same time we were also becoming numerate courtesy of wooden rods number one to ten (or was it twelve in those pre-decimal days?). These rods came in the full spectrum of colours and I’m pretty sure that number three rod was quite an attractive lime green.

By the time we progressed next door to Miss Mabel’s Primary Two class we were ready to pick up on the finer points of spelling, writing and sums. Miss Margaret and Miss Mabel, being sisters and located in rooms next to each other, frequently brought their classes together. Sometimes it was for Music and Movement and sometimes it was to watch a film on the noisy school projector skilfully manned by Mr Anderson the headmaster. (Women in those days were obviously not to be trusted with advanced technology.) The film invariably had a Commonwealth theme (the young queen was very popular in the mid ’60s) and might have been about children on sheep stations in Australia or perhaps in African villages. At the time however I think I was more fascinated by the projector’s light beam picking up the slow moving mass of chalk dust that usually filled the air.

projector

For Primary Three we veered round the corner to Mrs Scott’s classroom next to the staffroom. I seem to remember that we were introduced to the wonderful world of “work cards” which dealt heavily with Stone Age man and the Romans in Britain. At age seven we were full of knowledge about the average Neanderthal or Centurion. Also at that time, it was very important for us to master the new metric system which would soon take over completely from the old imperial system of measurement. Over thirty years later and I still quote my height in feet and inches and order my curtain material in yards – What would Mrs Scott say?

Primary Four, back in 1968, was housed in a hut to the right of the main school building. Mrs Fraser was the teacher and although most classes at that time still had milk monitors, Primary Four was the only class that had a wood-burning stove monitor. A major turning point for the school came that year when the old wooden desks, complete with ink well, were abandoned in favour of new-fangled formica tables that had little plastic drawers on runners. Very much in keeping with the hi-tech furniture of the time.

There was great dismay however for me that year when Helen, my best friend since Primary One, left the village for a new life in Aberdeen (with her parents and younger brother Stuart I hasten to add). We lost touch for many years however met up again at University in 1978 and we both ironically became accountants in later life. Miss Margaret’s number one to ten rods must have had a profound effect on us.

As we come to Primary Five, my memories get more vivid. We were back in the main body of the school and our teacher was Miss Reid who impressed the girls at any rate, with her trendy crocheted waistcoats and short skirts. She also had amazing high hair usually adorned with elaborate accessories. It was now 1969 and great advances were being made in the world of Science and Technology. We were lucky enough to have Mr Bruce take us for science once a week and in one lesson he mass-manufactured bright blue eye-shadow for the girls (much to the anguish of our parents I’m sure). He also invited everyone to his lab to witness one of the first Apollo moon landings. To my eternal shame, not realising the significance of what we were to watch on the grainy black and white TV, I was so busy discussing with new best friend Sheena what a novelty it was to get off normal lessons, that I think I missed the whole thing.

Christmas time always was and still is an exciting time in the school year and as was often the case we performed a nativity play that year. I was the narrator, a major part that called for much learning of lines and constructing of angel wings and head-dress. If you were a girl however the most sought after role was always that of Mary (depending of course on whoever happened to be Joseph that year). The other event that made Christmas special was the annual Christmas party when before dances, the boys would line up on one side of the gym hall and the girls on the other as if about to go into battle. Nine year old boys and girls are not known for being socially at ease with each other but somehow we manfully made it round the hall on an annual basis mastering the finer points of the Gay Gordons, the St Bernard’s Waltz and the Bluebell Polka. To this day, every time I attend a Wedding or Dinner Dance, I thank my primary school for having taught me the rudiments of Scottish Country Dancing.

Incidentally, growing disquiet in the ranks over the choice of music for our annual bash (we were living in the psychedelic ’60s after all in the days of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix) meant that the teachers had to take steps in acquiring some “pop” records for us as well as the Jimmy Shand perennial favourites. For some strange reason what they came up with was Cliff Richard singing the waltz-friendly When The Girl In Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised it happened to be from The Young Ones filmed in 1961 – Not quite what we had in mind.

Primary Six was Mrs McPhee’s class in the room next to the “Higher Grade” girl’s cloakroom [this was a junior/secondary school that taught kids up to the age of 15 after which, unbelievably, they could leave school and join the adult world of work – A]. At age ten we were in awe of these “women” of 14 and 15 in their wetlook coats and boots, long sleek hair and chokers. Full decimalisation came about in 1970 and I remember the excitement on the first day about paying for our lunch tokens with the already circulated 50p and anticipating the change in shiny new pence. On receiving these new pence we hotfooted it to the local baker’s shop at break time where we regularly went to buy our sweets. Soon a dilemma was to be faced – Apparently during the transition period one new pence was to equate to both the old tuppence and thrupence. It was important to remember to buy a penny chew along with your tuppenny ice-pole or else you lost out bigtime. I think this was also the year that we broke some record or other by being the first school, thanks mainly to the endeavours of Mr Bruce, to have everyone over a certain age pass their cycling proficiency test. We were even photographed for the Aberdeen Press and Journal so fame indeed.

Educationally by this stage, we were covering the whole gamut of school subjects and even received extra tuition from the Higher Grade teachers. One of these teachers was Miss Jaffrey whom the girls at any rate, got for Sewing and Knitting. (I would have said Home Economics but at that age we were obviously not to be let loose with cookers, although when attempting to thread the needle of the electric sewing machine with my friend Lorna that year, we did inadvertently manage to stitch through the top of my finger!) Miss Jaffrey got married when we were in Primary Six and I remember the girls clubbing together to buy her a wedding present – Unfortunately for Miss Jaffrey this wedding present took the form of a pair of plastic ornamental bambis. Much to her credit however she seemed overwhelmingly pleased with her gift although I doubt if they ever took pride of place on her mantelpiece.

And so we come to Primary Seven, our last year in junior school. We were right along the corridor beyond the art room and the janitor’s cupboard. Our teacher was the heavily accented Miss Robertson [she was half German which often came about as a result of servicemen marrying local girls after the war – A]. I remember this being a really enjoyable year despite having to endure the dreaded 11-plus test at some point. Coming up to Christmas we feverishly collected for the Blue Peter Annual Appeal and were rewarded with a personal thank you note from Pete, John and Val. Brenda snuck in a copy of her big sister’s T. Rex LP to the Christmas party (Jeepster had been a big hit in the November of that year) and things were never quite the same after that. Roger and Stephen both got feather cut hairstyles and so ended the era of short back and sides for most of the boys in the class.

Also that year I suffered a nasty bout of appendicitis which took me into the Sick Children’s Hospital for quite some time and off school for about a month. When in hospital I received a box of fruit from the class (as was usual) and Scoop Bookclub paperbacks (remember them?). Unfortunately a schedule of schoolwork also came in the box which I conveniently mislaid and then pleaded ignorance when asked about it later. (Well, there had to be some advantages in having your appendix removed.) In the spring of 1972 both the boys and girls were heavily involved in football and netball tournaments which took us to distant lands (other villages 5 to 10 miles away) – Most of the time however I didn’t even make it into the first team which kind of put me off competitive sport for life although I discovered later that they just didn’t want me to overdo it since I’d been so recently in hospital. The grand finale of Primary Seven was School Camp in Abington, Lanarkshire. We had a great time and made lots of new friends from all over Aberdeenshire, many of whom we met up with in later years [in fact Mr WIAA’s predecessor was a boy I fell for at School Camp who hailed from a nearby village – A].

So there we have it. In the summer of 1972 Alice Cooper was topping the charts with School’s Out and our class went their separate ways. There were choices and some of us went to one nearby academy, some went to another and some stayed at the junior/secondary (although by this time the leaving age had increased to 16). I hadn’t really thought much about my school days until recently when it was time to enrol my daughter for pre-school [this was written in 1998 – A]. I suddenly decided that we would have to move house as I wanted her to go to a school like the one I attended. This must certainly be a testament to the time I spent there, the inspirational teachers and the friends I made along the way.

School’s Out by Alice Cooper:

Until next time….

School’s Out Lyrics
(Song by the Alice Cooper band)

Well we got no choice
All the girls and boys
Makin all that noise
‘Cause they found new toys
Well we can’t salute ya
Can’t find a flag
If that don’t suit ya
That’s a drag

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

School’s out forever
School’s out for summer
School’s out with fever
School’s out completely

Postscript:

Interestingly, despite the fact we wanted more Beatles and less Jimmy Shand (MBE) in the late ’60s, it turns out that much of Jimmy’s success in the charts in the ’50s was down to none other than George Martin! Yes once signed to Parlophone, the master of the button box accordion was given George as a producer, and became the only leader of a Scottish Country Dance Band ever to enter the UK Singles Chart.

Beach Boys, Phil Collins and “There’s a Ghost in My House”

Well, it’s been a bit of a week, with no time for heavily researched blog posts. When that happens I usually resort to a web-diary type affair and a few songs have come to mind. First of all, after reading a post written by Jez over at Dubious Towers last weekend, where he recommended watching the film Love & Mercy about the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, I did just that. In doing so I fell in love with the album “Pet Sounds” all over again. I think I knew a bit about the troubled life that Brian had post Beach Boys, but this film really highlighted the nightmare he went through in the 1980s under the supervision of highly controlling psychotherapist Dr Eugene Landy – Fortunately the love of a good woman saved him and joy of joys they are still married today, so a happy ending to a sorry tale.

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What was great about this film however was that we got to witness the creative genius that went into producing “Pet Sounds” back in 1966. The sounds on this album were just that, Brian’s favourite, or pet sounds, and the infamous Wrecking Crew that worked with him on that album acknowledged his genius above all others they collaborated with. Brian at this point was still aged only 24. I have featured the wonderful song God Only Knows before in this blog (link here) so here is another from that album, Wouldn’t It Be Nice. Something interesting that came out of this biopic was that contrary to popular belief, The Beach Boys didn’t actually surf!

Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys:

So, what else has been happening this week? – Turns out that giving up the job you were very generously slotted into post re-structuring and leaving the organisation you’ve been part of for 30 years isn’t easy. I made the terrible mistake of wanting to leave in a good way, leave in a way that caused the least disruption, but it’s making me miserable. Having discussed it with friends who have retired recently, leaving work is a kind of bereavement and there are “stages” you go through. If I’d given the standard four weeks notice, after taking annual leave I would have been gone two weeks ago and all would have been well. Instead, I have hit the wobble zone that comes about a month after resigning when you start to question the rash decision-making that led you to forego your livelihood for a life of speculative self-employment. Fortunately for those that choose to retire there are many courses you can go on to pave the way, but of course I am not retiring, so I’ll just have to wobble on for another three weeks.

Phil_Collins_-_Face_Value

Over at Rich Kamerman’s excellent blog, where in his Forty Year Friday series he reviews  the albums of 1977, the band Genesis were featured last week. This in turn made me look into the whole Phil Collins negativity issue a bit more. Personally I quite liked his albums from the 1980s but somehow down to his sheer omnipresence and success during that decade, and perhaps his not-so-great actions and opinions, he became quite unpopular. Whatever, I did mention in Rich’s comments boxes that when a good wallow is called for this is one of the songs I turn to – Somehow it seems very apt for someone who has all of a sudden decided that the paperless office is not quite so bad (there is still a lot of paper) and that having everyone you’ve ever worked with over a thirty year period in the same building is now a good thing. Oh well, I give you If Leaving Me Is Easy which was one of the singles released from Phil Collins’ 1981 album “Face Value”. The answer by the way is…. No Phil, it’s blinking not.

If Leaving Me Is Easy by Phil Collins:

The final song that comes to mind this week is There’s a Ghost in My House by R. Dean Taylor. Why would that be I hear you ask? Well, whilst at our local art-house cinema with my girlfriends last night (two of whom are the aforementioned 55-year-old retirees), we somehow managed to display the most ridiculous display of giggling fits ever to have taken place in a non-comedy venue. The film we go and see is purely down to whatever is showing on the last Thursday of the month – Some we win, some we lose but it’s easy to organise and a great excuse for a get-together.

Last night’s film was called A Ghost Story and despite expecting it to be all scary and full of the supernatural, it turned out to be (inadvertently) the best comedy we have ever witnessed. The main character was a ghost draped in a sheet and all we could think of whenever he appeared was this character from John Carpenter’s Halloween, a film we had also seen recently and again had a slight fit of the giggles.

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Michael Myers in Halloween

I am very sorry that our fellow cinema-goers had to suffer our childish guffaws but once a giggling fit starts it’s hard to stop and we all fed off each other. At one point I had to rush out of the cinema into the little foyer area for fear that holding my nose and breath for so long would induce a fainting fit. Needless to say I was joined by one of my buddies very soon after and we all threw in the towel after an hour and retired to the bar for a large glass of calming red wine. Just to be clear, this was a very “inventive and artful film about love and loss” but what can I say, even at the combined age of 220, once the giggles start, we four ladies just couldn’t control them!

And so as an homage to our embarrassment here is that song from 1967, There’s A Ghost in My House by R. Dean Taylor. This was a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition from the Motown stable that was not a hit when originally released but then became so in 1974 after finding favour on the Northern Soul circuit. That’s when I remembered it from but only really came to understand the whole Northern Soul phenomenon when I wrote a post about it a few months ago (link here).

So, “What’s it all about?” – Sometimes it’s all about control. Brian Wilson was totally in control of the recording studio in 1966 but by 1986 had lost control of his life to Dr Landy.

Sometimes, our plans go awry because we let a stupid piece of paperwork control them – Had the notice period not been unusually long I wouldn’t be having to endure the current wobble. Had I not lost control of my emotions a month ago, it wouldn’t even be an issue (although I’m sticking to my guns that it’s still the right decision).

ghost

But best of all, although everyone else around us was in control, sometimes a fit of the giggles just can’t be controlled – The rest of the audience might not have approved but it’s been the best therapy I’ve had in years and the plethora of ghost emojis on our phones today, and the visit to my friend’s back garden draped in a sheet goes to prove it!

Until next time….

Wouldn’t It Be Nice Lyrics
(Song by Brian Wilson/Michael Love/Tony Asher)

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong

You know it’s gonna make it that much better
When we can say goodnight and stay together

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is new?
And after having spent the day together
Hold each other close the whole night through

Happy times together we’ve been spending
I wish that every kiss was never ending
Wouldn’t it be nice?

Maybe if we think, and wish, and hope, and pray, it might come true
Baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do
We could be married
And then we’d be happy

Wouldn’t it be nice?
You know it seems the more we talk about it
It only makes it worse to live without it
But let’s talk about it
Wouldn’t it be nice?

Postscript:

Having just delved into the background to A Ghost Story a little more, I found this quote from the film’s creator David Lowery. He had apparently wanted to make a film for quite some time featuring a man in a simple rudimentary ghost costume – “I just loved that image. I love taking something that is understood to be funny or charming or sweet or naive and instilling it with some degree of gravity“. Oh dear David, I’m afraid we just found it funny!

An American Odyssey in Song: New York – Boroughs, Bridges and “Feelin’ Groovy”

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!

It’s quite some time since I continued on my American Odyssey in Song and that would be because I developed a severe case of Odyssey block! After struggling somewhat to identify any songs at all for the New England states, once I hit New York there were just too many. I have started this post on numerous occasions but always gave up half way through. This time however I’m going to buckle down and get on with it.

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No time for lengthy paragraphs about the state itself this time though as loads of songs to get through. Suffice to say it must be one of the most diverse states in the whole of the US as not only does it have Long Island, whose “Hamptons” are where rich New Yorkers go to spend their summers, but it also has the wilderness areas to the north where hunting and fishing are the pastimes of choice. The state borders Canada and two of the Great Lakes but at the foot of the triangle there is one of the most iconic and culturally rich cities in the world, New York.

Time to get this party started then and it’s not going to be pretty – Via “a stream of consciousness” is how I’m going to tackle this one. Everyone will have different songs that they associate with New York but these are the ones that have come to mind over the last few weeks. Ready, steady, go….

There can’t be many people who are not familiar with the sights of New York City but just in case, here’s a whistle stop tour courtesy of MGM and those three sailors who had a whirlwind 24-hour leave back in 1949. Ok, ok guys, we’ve got it – “The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, the people ride in a hole in the ground”.

You can’t have failed to notice that Mr Francis Albert Sinatra plays one of the sailors in that clip and I’m sure it’s expected that his version of the song New York, New York will feature here, but that would just be too obvious, so unusually for me I’ll enter the 21st century and share Empire State of Mind by Mr Shawn Corey Carter (otherwise known as Jay-Z). 

JAYZ
Jay-Z, Rapper and Businessman

Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys:

Lord knows I’m not usually a fan of rap but I was truly blown away by this “song” (if that’s what it’s called) when it came out in 2009. Some fantastic lines in there referencing Sinatra’s New York, New York but also Afrika Bambaataa, the Bronx DJ who became known as the Godfather of hip-hop. The rap part on it’s own I probably wouldn’t have warmed to that much (although I don’t know), but with the inclusion of Alicia Keys vocals it became something really special. The pair are both from NYC and the song’s main writer, Angela Hunte, grew up in the same building as Jay-Z – 560 State Street, Brooklyn, an address mentioned in the song.

Something that comes across loud and clear from the lyrics of Empire State of Mind is that NYC is not just the island Manhattan as I had often thought as youngster. Oh no, NYC is made up of five boroughs – Brooklyn and Queens on the western end of Long Island, Staten Island which nestles up against New Jersey and The Bronx, north of Manhattan. Manhattan itself only becomes an island because of that tiny sliver of water linking up the East River with the Hudson.

5 boroughs

New York City, despite being made up of these five boroughs is very much centred on Manhattan, so how is it all linked up? Why by ferries and bridges of course. I am reminded of the scene in Saturday Night Fever where John Travolta’s character tries to impress his potential love interest with his knowledge of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, that double-decked suspension bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Another iconic bridge is the one that featured in the opening sequence to one of my favourite TV shows from the early ’80s – Taxi starring Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch. Whenever I hear this theme song I am right back in my student room, my little white portable telly perched precariously on the edge of my desk, just in the right place for the aerial (coat hanger?) to pick up a signal. It would have been mid-week and I was probably having a break from all those laborious hours spent writing everything out in longhand (no computers in those days). A flatmate might have popped in for a coffee whilst we watched the show. Sometimes those memories are the best, ones where nothing in particular was happening, just normal everyday life but hearing that theme reminds me of the scene. A beautiful piece of music called Angela by Bob James.

Angela (Theme from Taxi) by Bob James:

Of course I had to do some research after rewatching that clip to find out which bridge it actually was that came up every week in the titles – Joy, oh joy, it was none other than the Queensboro Bridge – So what I hear you ask? The alternative name for that bridge is The 59th Street Bridge and considering this whole series was inspired by the Paul Simon song America, it is fitting that his song about the bridge be included in this post.

feelin groovy

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Simon and Garfunkel:

Paul Simon said that he’d spent most of 1965 in England but after coming back to the US, and having success with The Sound of Silence, life became really hectic for a while and he found it difficult to adjust. One day, going home to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge, he kind of started to snap out of it as the day had been a really good one, a “groovy one” – Once home he started to write the song subtitled Feelin’ Groovy that went on to appear on the 1966 album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” recorded with musical partner Art Garfunkel.

But enough about bridges, in the New York of 1977 the phenomenon that was disco had started to really make its mark. Manhattan had Studio 54 where Liza, Michael, Mick and Bianca were regulars but across the Brooklyn Bridge (oops, more bridges), they had a local disco called 2001 Odyssey and every Saturday night, aforementioned John Travolta (playing the character Tony Manero), temporarily left his monotonous life behind and became “king of the dance floor”. Watching him now, the dancing doesn’t look quite as impressive as it did when we first experienced Saturday Night “Fever” and the parodies have been ruthless, but I still have fond memories of going to see that movie when it first came out in the UK in 1978. As someone who has been known to “do a John” over the years and clear the dancefloor, it can be an exhilarating feeling (and not showy-off at all of course!).

You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees:

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album, featuring disco songs by the Bee Gees, is one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. How Deep Is Your Love is the song that appears in the closing scenes of the movie as we watch a desolate Tony ride the New York subway late at night. It is one of my all-time favourite love songs (which is probably why it became the choice for my Valentine’s Day post).

So far we’ve checked out the geography of New York and talked about the bridges and the nightlife. What about the people? I read an article recently about the flamboyant octogenarian fashionistas, who cut a dash on 5th Avenue – Way to go ladies!

Of course New York has long been known for its flamboyant characters and Sting sang about one of them, eccentric gay icon Quentin Crisp, in his 1988 song Englishman In New York. Another “character” commited to song was when Rod Stewart wrote and recorded  The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II) in 1976. This story song tells the tale of a young gay man who became successful and popular amongst Manhattan’s upper class – He was “the toast of the Great White Way”, which is the nickname given to the Theatre District of Midtown Manhattan. Georgie attends the opening night of a Broadway musical, but leaves “before the final curtain call” and heads across town. He is attacked near East 53rd Street by a gang of thieves and one inadvertently kills him. The song was apparently based on a true story about a friend of Rod’s old band The Faces.

I have waited a fair amount of time to feature Rod Stewart in this blog as it seems to be universally accepted that by the late ’70s he had sold out and his albums just weren’t up to the calibre of his earlier ones but hey, I was a mere 16-year-old schoolgirl at this time and was a big fan. This song especially, combining the melancholy and sombre Part II with the more popular Part I has long been a favourite of mine.

The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II) by Rod Stewart:

We’ve spent an awful lot of time in New York City so far in this post but what about the rest of the state? Back in the early sixties before kids started heading off to Europe on holiday they used to go with their parents to resorts such as Kellermans in the Catskill Mountains. This is where “Baby” Houseman spent the summer of 1963, and fell for dashing dance instructor Johnny Castle. Dirty Dancing was a low-budget film that had no major stars but became a massive box office hit and was the first film to sell more than a million copies on home video. It has some great dance scenes and the soundtrack is full of classic songs from that early ’60s era such as Be My Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Love Is Strange and this one, Stay by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs.

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Kellermans in the Catskills, the setting for Dirty Dancing

Stay by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs:

There are some great scenes in the movie where the landscape of the Catskills is kind of the star. I must admit to having become a bit of a fan of this movie in my later years although didn’t really take much heed of it when it first came out – I think it’s down to the nostalgia element, the music choices and the sadness that comes from the realisation that my days of dalliances with a young Johnny Castle are well behind me. Whatever, I’ve ended up writing about songs from it three times now (Be My Baby, Doomed Romances and Summer’s End) and they take the prize for being my least viewed posts – Sacre bleu!

Another song that makes me think of Upstate New York is Woodstock, written by Joni Mitchell but made famous in 1970 by Matthews Southern Comfort. The irony of course is that Joni Mitchell hadn’t even made it to the infamous festival which took place on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, but wrote about it after having watched it from her hotel room in New York. The lyrics tell the story of a spiritual journey and make prominent use of sacred imagery, comparing the festival site with the Garden of Eden. The saga commences with the narrator’s encounter of a fellow traveller, a “child of God”,  and concludes at their ultimate destination where “we were half a million strong”.

Iain Matthews of Matthews Southern Comfort was actually from Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire but he had previously been with the band Fairport Convention who were at the time heavily influenced by American folk rock.

Well I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted – This post has been a long time coming and I’m sorry it’s so wordy, but I for one am now just pleased that it’s “in the can” so that the journey can continue. Next time we’ll be passing through the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey so as ever, suggestions for that state are more than welcome. Unlike with the New England states I have a feeling that it’s now going to get a whole lot easier.

A final clip before I go however – One of my all-time favourite movies is Manhattan directed by Woody Allen. I was given the soundtrack album by the boyfriend of the day after going to see it, as I was just so bowled over by George Gershwin’s compositions. They were all performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and somehow I now always think of Rhapsody In Blue when I see the New York skyline.

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Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin:

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) Lyrics
(Song by Paul Simon)

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

Hello, lamppost, what’cha knowin’?
I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’
Ain’t’cha got no rhymes for me?
Doot-in doo-doo, feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

40 Years Ago This Week, Elvis “Left the Building” for the Last Time – Part 2

Last time I told the story of how it came about that my very first vinyl album was an Elvis one. Believe it or not my first CD was an Elvis one as well (and I didn’t even have a CD player yet!). We had been slow to move from vinyl and cassette tape to digital mediums as I just couldn’t get my head round the concept of having to replace nearly 30 years’ worth of music, but the writing was on the wall, so when I decided to buy the new Elvis compilation album “Always On My Mind” in 1997, it had to be in CD format. As new parents money was tight, so the cutting-edge CD player had to wait until later in the year to be purchased. In the meantime however, I played it liberally on our home computer until the ridiculously large VDU (remember those) decided to blow up after over-heating one sunny afternoon. Hard to believe in Scotland I know, but we had stupidly placed it right in front of a single-glazed window.

The anniversary of Elvis’ death sort of crept up on me this week and the post that I published on the actual day itself was a very hastily put together affair. Since then however I have had a chance to read the many other posts written by my fellow bloggers, and after having watched some great video clips, listened to many of his wonderful songs and generally had a good wallow through the memorabilia in my “Elvis Box” (it’s a thing), my love for the man and his music has returned with a vengeance.

Talking of love, the CD “Always On My Mind” was subtitled The Ultimate Love Songs Collection, so not surprisingly it contains an awful lot of songs with that word in the title. Looking at it right now we have: Can’t Help Falling In Love, Love Me Tender, Love Me, Loving You, Love Letters, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and It’s Only Love. The word mind also crops up a couple of times as Suspicious Minds (this is a blistering live version) was included as well as the title track, Always On My Mind.

Always On My Mind by Elvis Presley:

Elvis Presley recorded his version of Always On My Mind a few weeks after his final separation from Priscilla. Although Elvis didn’t actually write any of his songs, he might as well have done, for they always seemed to be just so darned personal. Elvis was not the best of letter-writers and Priscilla used to say that they communicated through music instead, as he regularly sent her “meaningful” records after returning home from Germany. Always On My Mind was most definitely for Priscilla which makes it all the more heart-breaking. I don’t really think Elvis ever thought she would leave, but one little lady (albeit with sometimes very big hair) versus the might of the Memphis Mafia, was never going to work out in the long run.

And this is where I’m reminded of the film Blue Hawaii which has become a bit of a tradition in our house as a Boxing Day pick-me-up. Living in Scotland is a cold, damp and dreich affair over the winter months so what could be better than to curl up on the sofa with some slices of fresh pineapple (yes really) and watch Elvis rock-a-hula his way across the sands of Waikiki Beach. I am reminded of the film because of this song, Almost Always True. No, I think it’s a given that Elvis was not “always true” but he was a family man at heart so when Priscilla left, that marked the beginning of the end for him.

Funnily enough, well actually not funny at all as it turns out, my Boxing Day tradition of watching Blue Hawaii did not take place last year as that was the day we found out that George Michael had passed away. I spent most of the day surfing the net and writing the first of my tribute posts. A couple of days later however, the film Viva Las Vegas popped up on the television schedules and whilst watching the antics of Elvis and Ann-Margret (again, their on-screen chemistry suggested he was almost always true), it occurred to me that both men had similarly long careers but both came to a similarly premature, and undignified end.

So, no little paragraph this time with my musings on the “meaning of life”, as just a bit too sad. Instead a photomontage of two of my musical heroes, both taken from us far too soon. I rest my case. RIP Elvis, RIP George.

Always On My Mind Lyrics
(Song by Johnny Christopher/Mark James/Wayne Carson)

Maybe I didn’t love you
Quite as often as I could have
Maybe I didn’t treat you
Quite as good as I should have
If I made you feel second best
Girl I’m sorry I was blind
But you were always on my mind
You were always on my mind

Maybe I didn’t hold you
All those lonely, lonely times
I guess I never told you
That I am so happy that you’re mine
If I made you feel second best
Girl I’m sorry I was blind
But you were always on my mind
You were always on my mind

Tell me, tell me that your sweet love hasn’t died
Give me, give me one more chance
To keep you satisfied
I’ll keep you satisfied
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time
But you were always on my mind
You were always on my mind
You were always on my mind
You were always on my mind