Suzi, Smokie, The Snowdroppers and a Film About A Red Dog

Well, I have so many big things going on in my life at the moment I don’t know where to begin – So I won’t! I do however need to throw down some words and share a tune, just to keep my hand in as they say, so this post is going to be about the film Red Dog which I’ve just finished watching with the other half.

I think I’ve mentioned this around here before, but back in 2012 I put in place a regular monthly event where a group of around seven of us from my neck of the woods would go to our local theatre/cinema to watch whatever turned out to be showing on the last Thursday of the month. It ended up being a great way of randomly trying out new genres, or foreign language films, as well as potentially catching the big Hollywood blockbusters of the day.

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As regular visitors around here would probably expect, a spreadsheet was kept, where I recorded all the films we went to see, who the lead actors were, the directors, the country of origin, and of course a star rating. Of late my little group has dwindled and I can see the demise of Film Club soon, as some of us have retired and grandchildren have started to put in an appearance. We had a great run of it though, and as fate would have it, back in 2012, the first three films we went to see all starred animals. The first was War Horse based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel of the same name. The second was The Artist, the French Oscar winner shot in the style of a black-and-white silent film and starring (amongst others) a little dog called Uggie. But best of all for me, and the recipient of a 5-Star rating, was Red Dog.

Red Dog was a 2011 Australian film set in the 1970s, based on the true story of a dog adopted by the workers of Dampier, a tough mining town in Western Australia. I won’t give too much away, but suffice to say, the storyline revolved around the theme of loyalty and nothing gets to me in a movie more than the undying devotion of a dog – Many tears were shed that first time I watched it in the cinema, and even tonight, on probably the 5th viewing, a fair few tissues were needed to see me through. Red Dog was known locally as the Pilbara Wanderer, and there is still a statue of him in the town of Dampier, erected by the workers of the mining company in his memory. He was indeed the Greyfriars Bobby of Australia.

But I am making this film sound a bit depressing whereas it is anything but. Labelled a comedy-drama for good reason, there are moments of great hilarity throughout which is what you would probably expect from an Aussie film about a bunch of sex-starved males on a red, dusty outpost of that vast country. It also had a great soundtrack made up of carefully selected ’70s music and songs performed by The Snowdroppers who played the role of house band at the local bar. This Australian blues band have been praised for their energetic live performances and on-stage musical theatrics, drawing influence from not only blues but also rockabilly and punk. This is not a clip from the actual film, but the song Do The Stomp is the one they perform in the bar, which has more than a touch of the old Wild West about it.

The big surprise for me however was the inclusion of the song Stumblin’ In by Chris Norman and Suzi Quatro, but it fitted a particular scene in the film really well and I ended up downloading it when I got home. It only reached No. 41 in the UK Singles Chart, but had hit the top spot in Australia, which is how it probably came to be included. Despite the film being set in the early ’70s, this song was from 1978, but watching the pair of them in the video clip here, they do represent that earlier phase of the decade perfectly, before punk, and it’s antithesis disco took over. The song was written by that prolific partnership comprised of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn who between them scored a succession of massive hits written for the likes of glam-rockers Sweet, as well as for Mud, Smokie (of which Chris Norman was a member) and Suzi. (Excuse the cringeworthy clip here, but it seemed to be de rigueur at that time to re-enact the lyrics whilst singing these two-handers.)

Stumblin’ In by Chris Norman and Suzi Quatro:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I have been so busy of late I needed some downtime this evening, and watching a favourite old movie is sometimes just the tonic we need. A good soundtrack can really lift a film and the song choices for Red Dog were excellent I thought.

In case you are wondering where my full moon post is this month, I think I’m actually all mooned-out at the moment, as there is nothing left for me to learn about our only satellite. We should all have been witness to the Pink Moon on Friday night though, and if anyone wants a reminder about how it got that name, here is a link to my Nick Drake post from last year.

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We don’t really do Easter is a big way here in Scotland but if you do celebrate it, hope you have a good one. The perky weather presenters are promising us an exceptionally warm weekend for the time of year, which would be all well and good if we didn’t know that it’s only because we’re killing the planet. In a few years time Scotland will look like the  Western Australia of Red Dog if something doesn’t change. Those with the power to do something about it are all so consumed with the mechanics of Brexit, that none of the really big stuff is being tackled at all, and I fear we are all stumblin’ in to something much, much bigger.

Until next time…

Stumblin’ In Lyrics
(Song by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn)

Our love is alive, and so we begin
Foolishly laying our hearts on the table
Stumblin’ in
Our love is a flame, burning within
Now and then firelight will catch us
Stumblin’ in

Wherever you go, whatever you do
You know these reckless thoughts of mine are following you
I’m falling for you, whatever you do
‘Cos baby you’ve shown me so many things that I never knew
Whatever it takes, baby I’ll do it for you

Our love is alive, and so we begin
Foolishly laying our hearts on the table
Stumblin’ in
Our love is a flame, burning within
Now and then firelight will catch us
Stumblin’ in

You were so young, and I was so free
I may been young, but baby that’s not what I wanted to be
Well you were the one, oh why was it me
‘Cos baby you’ve shown me so many things that I’ve never seen
Whatever you need, baby you’ve got it from me

Our love is alive, and so we begin
Foolishly laying our hearts on the table
Stumblin’ in
Our love is a flame, burning within
Now and then firelight will catch us
Stumblin’ in
Stumblin’ in
Stumblin’ in

“Jilted John”, Gordon and 21st Century Student Life

Well, a totally different routine for me this weekend, as for only the second time since I started my college course last September, I am meeting up with my classmates in a non-virtual fashion. Turns out courses like ours are mainly done online nowadays, with lectures being given via Video Conference. ‘Tis the times, but I had hoped, like last time around, I would make lifelong buddies. A slight flaw there in that most of them are just starting out in life, whereas being realistic, I am already over two thirds of the way through my life. Also, the only communication between students nowadays seems to be via social media/group chat and the like. Although I seem to have mastered blogging, that world is still pretty much alien to me (and being older than most of their parents, I think I am possibly out of the loop anyway).

But hey ho, I rolled up to the village of Cromarty yesterday at 4pm on the dot, as that was the time our weekend programme of activities was supposed to begin. The centre where we are staying is an old brewery, so what better name for this quite fabulous centre for the arts than, The Old Brewery. I am local-ish, so know the village well, and Mr WIAA’s very first job was at the local pottery (it is a very artsy place), but for people who have never visited before, it really is quite something – Almost a time capsule from the 18th century when Cromarty was one of the most prosperous places in Scotland because of trade with Northern Europe, and because of the vast shoals of silver darlings (herring to you and I) that were caught off its shores.

I did say it was almost an 18th century time capsule however, and that would be because if you look west along the firth, the view is something like this. I went out for a walk last night amongst the quaint streets of the old fishertown, but when I joined the shore road, I was quite mesmerised by the scale of the lit-up structures attached to the oil fabrication yard on the north side of the firth.

Drilling rigs are parked up in the Cromarty Firth near Invergordon, Scotland
The Oil Fabrication Yards at Nigg

But this morning, I woke up to this – What a weird mix of old and new, but strangely alluring too, as it brings a modern-day sharpness to the quaint and slightly twee village.

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The quaint village of Cromarty

But what of our programme of activities? Well despite there being a timetable with carefully allocated slots, it seems that artsy kinda people don’t hold with sticking to timetables, so I’ve been a bit thrown, as I like to have a clear structure to my day. The other thing that has thrown me is that the students of today eat very healthily and don’t go the the pub. Forty years ago, when I was a student first time around, our very educational Field Trips were an excuse to do little else than go to the pub and get very, very drunk. Last night I suggested we head out for some food but nearly everyone had brought little microwaveable pots of grains, vegetables and unidentifiable gluten/dairy-free substances. What the f**k? I did persuade one other soul to come with me, but when we got back, having consumed some very unhealthy scampi and chips, everyone else had headed to bed (alone). No alcohol allowed on the premises so not much else to do but join them.

On the upside, I’ve had a really busy and stressful time of late, so for a couple of days I’ve hopped off the hamster wheel and can just relax. The clocks change tonight, so an hour less in my little student bed than I had hoped for, but if I’m in it by 10pm (as seems highly likely), I’ll still rack up more hours of sleep than usual.

What song to include though? Back in 1978, when I was a student first time around, this song, Jilted John by Jilted John was in the charts, and whenever Gordon X, the President of the Student’s Representative Council was called upon to speak at an official ceremony in one of the ancient university’s impressive auditoriums, he had to suffer the ignominy of having it sung to him by the mass student body.

I think I now miss those days.

Jilted John (Gordon is a Moron) by Jilted John:

Until next time….

Jilted John Lyrics
(Song by Jilted John)

I’d been going out with a girl,
and her name is “Julie”.
But last night she said to me,
when we were watching telly…
This is what she said;

She said; “Listen John, I love you,
but there’s this bloke I fancy.
I don’t want to two-time you,
so it’s the end for you and me!”

“Who’s this bloke?” I asked her.
“Gordon” She replied.
“Not that puff!” I said dismayed.
“Yes, but he’s no puff” She cried.
“He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be!”

Here we go. Two Three Four.

I was so upset that,
I cried all the way to the chip shop
When I came out, there was Gordon
Standing at the bus stop.

And guess who was with him?
Yeah, Julie!
And they were both laughing at me!

Oh she’s cruel and heartless
To pack me for Gordon!
Just ’cause he’s better looking than me
Just ’cause he’s cool and trendy.

But I know he’s a moron!
Gordon is a moron!
Gordon is a moron!
Gordon is a moron!

Here we go. Two Three Four.

She’s a slag! He’s a creep!
She’s a tart who’s very cheap!
She is a slut, and 50 tough.
She is a bitch, and he’s a puff!
Yeah, yeah! It’s not fair!
Yeah, yeah! It’s not fair!

I’m so upset.

I’m so upset! I’m so upset!
Yeah yeah!

I’m gonna smash his face in!
Yeah, but he’s bigger than me In’t he?
I know! I’l get my mate Barry to hit him!
He’d flatten ‘im!

Postscript:

Jilted John was a character played by comedy actor and musician Graham David Fellows. He was a drama student at Manchester Poly when he first came to prominence as the eponymous singer of the novelty record Jilted John, a first-person narrative of an embittered teenager whose girlfriend Julie had left him for another man called Gordon, just because “he was better looking” and “cause he was cool and trendy“. The song became known for the refrain “Gordon is a moron” repeated many, many times.

Jilted John was first played on national radio by BBC Radio One’s John Peel who commented that if the single was promoted by a major record label he could see it becoming a huge hit. This proved to be the case. The song was introduced on TOTP as “one of the most bizarre singles of the decade”, and reached No. 4 in the UK Singles Chart.

The lyrics are most definitely questionable and wouldn’t be included in a mainstream pop hit today but ’twas the times, so I left them in as they were written 41 years ago.

Just a Song – Janis Ian, “At Seventeen”

One of the pitfalls of writing a bit of an “uncool” post around here, is that for the next few days, the title appears in all its glory on the sidebars of the blogs whose hosts have been kind enough to create a link to our own. My last post was a “moon-related” one, as the March full moon appeared in our skies on Wednesday night. Although I love all those old movie songs sung by people like Doris Day, they are not the staple of the blogging community, so best to move on to another a featured song perhaps.

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As I am heading off shortly to meet a cousin who only in the last few years returned to live in Scotland after over 40 years of living abroad, the song I’m going to chose is Janis Ian’s heart-rending At 17. Having just referred to the long list of “posts pending” in my trusted blogging notebook (which hasn’t been referred to for quite some time as it turns out), it was the most obvious choice, as the aforementioned cousin set sail for a new life in South Africa at that very age, 17. I was a mere 13-year-old back then, so she seemed really grown up to me, and ready for it, but looking back that was a really brave thing to do. She was going to live with an aunt and uncle for a start, so not totally entering the unknown, but back in the early 1970s the world was a much bigger place, and for most of the next 40 years all we exchanged was the occasional letter.

But back to Janis’ song. In 1970s Scotland, most 17-year-old girls were not doing brave things like leaving their families to head off for a new life on the other side of the world. Oh no, most of us were instead having massive crises of confidence, and having our hearts broken, just like the girl in this song.

At Seventeen by Janis Ian:

The song was a big hit for Janis in the US in 1975, and although it never appeared in the UK charts, it soon became a staple of the airwaves. The song is about a girl who is somewhat of a social outcast in high school, and so it became a kind of anthem. She was inspired to write the single after reading a newspaper article about a young woman who believed her life would improve after a debutante ball, and her subsequent disappointment when it did not.

All these years later nothing has changed, and with social media to muddy the waters, if anything, things have got worse. I remember the year my daughter and her friends turned 17 and were experiencing the kind of anxieties as recounted in the song. I got them to listen to this song, as I think it summed up how they were feeling. Many nights were spent bemoaning the fact they were not one of The Populars, that group of girls with “clear skinned smiles” who always seem to get the boy.

I would argue that my daughter and her friends may well have been the ugly ducklings at school, but a few years on, they have now emerged as swans (but I would say that wouldn’t I). Janis Ian herself was even quoted as saying: “To me it’s never been a depressing song. It says ‘ugly duckling girls like me,’ and to me the ugly duckling always turns into a swan. It offers hope that there is a world out there of people who understand.”

Before I go, I feel I should add this second version of the more mature Janis perform the song. In a lovely preamble she tells the audience how blessed she feels that she has written a song that truly resonates with so many people, from all genders, races and cultures. One song, one time, that touches everyone who hears it, and they make it their own – Has made it a life worth living.

Until next time….

At Seventeen Lyrics
(Song by Janis Ian)

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say come dance with me
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems
At seventeen

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, “Pity please the ones who serve,
They only get what they deserve”
The rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly

Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debentures of quality
And dubious integrity
Their small town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received
At seventeen

To those of us who know the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me

We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say, come dance with me
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At seventeen

Willie Nelson, Moonlight in Vermont and Snow (Or Rather, the Lack of It)

Since discovering that all full moons have a name (given to them by the Native Americans who kept track of the months by the lunar calendar), I have written about each one as they appear in our skies. To accompany the post I always include one of the numerous songs that have been written about the moon and its many foibles.

I can scarcely believe it’s been four weeks since my last “moon post”. What is it with time? The older you get, the faster it seems to whizz by. I heard a great quote recently, where the phenomena was described as such: “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.” How apt I thought.

Anyway, it is now nearly a month since we witnessed (or didn’t in my case) January’s lunar eclipse. This month, we should witness the Snow Moon on the night of the 19th February. I had intended to use the alternate names for the full moon this year, however last year, because of the 29 and a half day lunar cycle, we didn’t have a full moon in February at all. Instead, we ended up with two Blue Moons (a second full moon in the same calendar month) on either side. As I said at the start of this series, no two years will ever be the same.

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The Snow Moon

As it turns out, there has been very little snow in town this winter at all. In fact, there have been many crisp clear days and beautiful starry nights. Last month, around the time of the full moon, a local photographer posted some of his pictures on social media, and I liked this one so much I asked him if I could use it in my blog. I thought it made the town look really quite romantic, which is just what we need to attract visitors to the place. I have now been the proud owner of a holiday hideaway for a week now, and although I’m another few weeks away from launching Alyson’s Highland Adventures (don’t worry, that name is merely a work in progress), I am getting really excited about the forthcoming season.

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A full moon shining brightly over the town

But this is a moon post, so what song to feature this time. Well, getting back to that old chestnut time, or rather the lack of it this week, I am going to cheat a little and include a song that has previously been included as part of another series. I started out with great gusto on my American Odyssey in Song in early 2017, but floundered last year upon reaching little Delaware. There was only one obvious contender for that state, but I didn’t want to write about it, and that was that. Fortunately, George has picked up the mantle, and is manfully making his way round the 50 states over at CC’s place. Lets hope, unlike me, he doesn’t flounder when he reaches Delaware.

This is a very roundabout way of saying, the song I’m going to include to accompany the Snow Moon, is Moonlight in Vermont by Willie Nelson. I didn’t actually know the song until it was suggested as a contender for my series, and after listening to several versions (it has been recorded by just about everyone), the one I warmed too most was Willie’s version.

Moonlight in Vermont by Willie Nelson:

Willie Nelson is of course one of the greats of country music, and when he decided to record an album of standards called Stardust, in 1978, he wanted the song to be on it. It is considered the unofficial state song of Vermont and is frequently played as the “first dance song” at wedding receptions. It was written in 1944 by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf, and is unusual in that the lyrics take the form of a haiku.

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Willie Nelson

And again, I’m going to share this heart-warming little story connecting my grandfather to the state of Vermont and to the song. Whilst doing a bit of research for my “Vermont post” back in 2017, I made an interesting discovery. The blacksmith and inventor John Deere was born there, and he was the man responsible for giving us much of the agricultural and construction equipment still used today, specifically the large steel plough.

My grandfather was not the “lineman for the county”, but he was the “roads supervisor for the county” back in the 1950s. The climate and landscape of the North of Scotland would have been similar in many ways to that of Vermont, so thank goodness for the large snow plough attachments that came across from America just at the time my grandfather was responsible for keeping the often snowbound, highways and byways of Aberdeenshire open. Back then, before the days of television, the wireless was the main form of home entertainment, and I feel sure my grandfather might well have listened to an early version of the song Moonlight in Vermont before heading out for a night-shift on one of those giant snow ploughs.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I apologise for this bit of lazy blogging, but I did kind of fall in love with the song first time around, and always thought it would make a reappearance at some point in this Moon Series. Also, there has been very little snow with us so far this year, and as I needed some snow shots to accompany the post, Vermont manfully came to the rescue.

As for my holiday hideaway, more of that to follow no doubt, as I get it up and running. It has just hit me however, that it has all kind of come about because the daughter of the man in the picture above, my mum, is now an 83-year-old herself, and in need of a care home. Time marches on indeed, and the younger generation becomes the older generation, in what feels like the wink of an eye.

Lord knows I have had plenty of rants over the last year about the current state of adult social care and the dementia tax, so I won’t go there again, but in the event my mum’s funds run out, and I have to contribute to the care home fees, I am at least trying to put in place a means of doing so. For anyone out there who has not yet done so, start having the conversation early on as to how you want things to go should the unthinkable happen. We sadly didn’t, and some bad decisions were made, without the help of professionals. Wouldn’t want to land DD in a similar position.

But hey, I don’t want to end this post on a negative note. There is a lot to be positive about at the moment and I am embarking on a totally new career in my late 50s, so that can’t be bad. Willie Nelson however is still out there campaigning and performing at the age of 85, so it just goes to show, age is no barrier to taking up new challenges.

Until next time…

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

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

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

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

Edwin Starr, “War” and a Different Kind of (Eye to Eye) Contact

Well, it’s going to have to be a shorter post this time as I have an awful lot going on at the moment. The new business I hinted at a few weeks ago, came into our possession yesterday, so it’s all systems go now to get it up and running as soon as possible. More on that to follow in the weeks to come, but in the meantime, my featured artist for this post is going to be Edwin Starr.

Why would that be Alyson?

Because this week, of all weeks, I have been afflicted with a nasty eye infection. On Monday evening, my right eye appeared to be glued together, and the redness and swelling surrounding it suggested I had just gone five rounds with Mike Tyson. I had loads of very important business-y type stuff to organise over the next few days in town, and here I was looking like something from Fight Club

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Of late, I have been very good at body-swerving Doctor Google if I have an ailment, as whatever rabbit hole you disappear down, the diagnosis is always a tumour of some sort. In this instance however, I was pretty sure it wasn’t an eye tumour, so I needed a bit of guidance on how to clear up the infection as soon as possible. After a bit of gentle bathing in warm water, Mr WIAA was dispatched to the chemist’s for some eye drops, which I must say have worked their magic. I had to lie low for the whole of Tuesday though, so as not to frighten poor unsuspecting children, and for the rest of the week I have had to be careful not to transfer the bacteria (sounds gross I know) to the other eye. Oh yes, I was already blind in one eye, so important not to make (Eye To Eye) Contact with the other. Cue Mr Starr (starts to really get going at 2:10).

Regulars to this place will know I wrote quite a lengthy post a fortnight ago on the disco genre. A fair bit of research had to be done (I watched a recorded episode of a TOTP Disco Special), and one of the songs I was reminded of, was indeed (Eye To Eye) Contact. It actually found greater success in the UK than across the pond, and reached No. 8 in the Singles Chart in early 1979.

I only found out recently from one of the other music blogs, that Mr Starr, a native of Nashville Tennessee, actually spent his later life living in the North of England. He had become a big “star” on the Northern Soul circuit, where many of his lesser-known Motown classics had found favour with that movement’s faithful. He moved to a village on the outskirts of Nottingham in 1973, and died there in 2003, aged only 61.

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Edwin Starr

But this foray into the world of disco (he also recorded the uplifting H.A.P.P.Y. Radio) was more of a comeback for him. The recording – I’m loath to call it a song as it’s more of a dramatic soul roar – he is probably best remembered for however, is War, the 1970 counter-culture protest song. Powerful stuff.

War

     huh

          yeah

What is it good for?

     Absolutely nothing

          oh hoh, oh 

War by Edwin Starr:

Edwin Starr’s intense vocals transformed this Temptations’ album track into a totally different animal, and it spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard chart. It was an anthem for the anti-war movement, and it continues to appear on movie soundtracks and hip hop music samples today. War appeared on both Starr’s “War & Peace” album, and its follow-up.

And here is where I have made a new discovery. I am usually late to the party but it seems Bruce Springsteen started performing War in concert in 1985. It was initially suggested as something to make the concluding shows of the Born In The USA tour a little bit different and special. Bruce and the E Street Band came up with a rock arrangement that worked well for them, and once released as a single in 1986, it got to No. 8 on the Billboard chart. Again, powerful stuff, and this time a protest against the Reagan Administration’s foreign policy in Central America. 

I will leave you with a video clip of Bruce, who after an impassioned talky intro (starts at 0:50), looks very much as if he might burst a blood vessel performing the song. Fortunately he survived unscathed, and unlike poor old Edwin Starr, is still out there doing his thing today. 

Until next time…

War Lyrics
(Song by Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong)

War huh yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, oh hoh, oh
War huh yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again y’all
War, huh good God
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

Oh, war, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tear to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go off to fight and lose their lives

I said
War, huh good God y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, just say it again
War whoa Lord
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
War, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker

Oh war, is an enemy to all mankind
The thought of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest within the younger generation
Induction, then destruction who wants to die

War, good God, y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it, say it, say it
War, uh huh, yeah, huh
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
War, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker
War, it’s got one friend that’s the undertaker

Oh, war has shattered many young man’s dreams
Made him disabled bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious to spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life it can only take it away, ooh

War, huh, good God y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again
War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
War, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker

Peace love and understanding tell me
Is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way

War, huh, good God y’all
What is it good for?
You tell ’em, say it, say it, say it, say it
War, good Lord, huh
What is it good for?
Stand up and shout it, nothing
War, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker

Rod Stewart, Decade by Decade #3 – “The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II)”

Well, my planned post for this weekend has been gazumped, as for the last few days Rod Stewart’s The Killing Of Georgie has been playing on repeat in my cranium. Yes, for the  second week in a row I have been inspired by Rol’s Hot 100 Countdown series, where he chooses a song to represent a number, counting down from 100 to 1. Last week I wrote about Le Freak by Chic, as reference is made in the lyrics, to the famous Studio 54 Nightclub in New York City. This time I’ve decided to return to my Rod Stewart series, which was on hiatus, all because of another New York location, the junction of 53rd and 3rd. Back in the 1970s, this was a well-known spot for male prostitution (the Ramones even wrote a song about it called 53rd and 3rd), but I quickly remembered that it also appears in the lyrics of one of my favourite “story songs”, The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II).

The sight of blood dispersed the gang
A crowd gathered, the police came
An ambulance screamed to a halt on Fifty-third and Third

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The junction of 53rd and 3rd

I started this series towards the end of last year, when Mr Stewart seemed to be omnipresent on telly and radio, promoting his 30th studio album “Blood Red Roses”. He has had such longevity in the music business, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit his body of work, decade by decade. Once I got half way through the ’70s however, I kind of lost my way, as so many of his long-term fans abandoned him, feeling he had sold out. He had changed record label, parted company with the Faces and moved whole-heartedly to LA (acquiring a Hollywood actress as a girlfriend on the way, in the form of Britt Ekland). In retrospect, I can see this was the case, but here’s the thing – In the mid ’70s I was still a teenage girl, lapping up all that TOTP, Radio 1 and the world of teen mags threw at me, and rarely a week went by without us being treated to one of Rod’s new single releases.

There is a trilogy of albums from that time I still own. He released the “Atlantic Crossing” album in 1975, “A Night On The Town” in 1976 and “Foot Loose & Fancy Free” in 1977. My favourite track from the album shown below was his cover of the Isley Brothers song This Old Heart of Mine. I have written often about how our teen idols were just substitutes for “real boys”, as we hadn’t quite got round to proper relationships yet, and wouldn’t do for quite some time. I think of my period of Rod Stewart fandom, as coinciding with the time we had moved on to “real boys” but in that really stupid, hormonally-induced, teenager-y way.

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My copy of Atlantic Crossing. The inner sleeve used to reside on my bedroom wall!

Most towns have them, that group of lads who seem to have an aura around them, who dress well, dance well and can have their pick of the girls. I ended up having a massive crush on a boy who looked just like the Rod who featured on the “Atlantic Crossing” inner sleeve. I pinned it to my bedroom wall, and cried as I listened to This Old Heart… , on repeat. Sometimes, if I was lucky, the boy asked me to dance. Sometimes he even walked me home, but looking back I was being utterly ridiculous – We had nothing in common, there was little conversation (just smooching), and I knew he would move on to another girl the following weekend. We haven’t changed much since Stone Age times I fear, and at a certain age we are still drawn to what we perceive as alpha males, who will in some way provide for us, and protect us from danger. As it turns out, most of these lads, who unlike us did not progress to any form of further or higher education, ended up doing pretty well for themselves, so the whole “aura” thing worked well for them.

But I have become side-tracked, as this post is supposed to be about The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II). Now that I was actually taking heed of the lyrics in songs (which up until that point, not so much), I was blown away by the lyrics in what ended up being my favourite song from the album “A Night On The Town”. I am not going to include a video clip of Rod performing the song, as I think we can all agree, by this time he had turned into a parody of himself, wearing glam clothes, make-up and not really taking the performance seriously. After the release of Tonight’s The Night a new genre was even born, sex rock, although unbelievably, I was too naïve to pick up on all that back then.

Best to just listen to the audio I think.

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

I have written about this song before, as part of my post about New York for my American Odyssey series (link here). As I said at the time:

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” committed 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 on 53rd and 3rd 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. The song combines the melancholy and sombre Part II (incidentally employing a melody identical to the Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down) with the more popular Part I.

Before I go, a bit of an embarrassing exposé of something else from Alyson’s Archive (my box of teenage memorabilia). When “Foot Loose & Fancy Free” was released, one of the songs on it really summed up what I have been trying to recount above. I took to “pouring my heart out”, not in song, but in my 1978 diary. Yes, those boys with the aura, had a lot to answer for. I give you my hand-written lyrics to I Was Only Joking from January 1978. I laugh when I read the heading now, as to be honest, there never was a “relationship”, it was all in my head!

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I Was Only Joking by Rod Stewart:

Rod gets a lot of flak for that late ’70s phase of his career, but the two featured songs here show he was a master story-teller. I Was Only Joking is a tale of regret and of the care-free minds of the young. As such, it has become one of Stewart’s best loved songs and it contains one of the best guitar solos in classic rock. Rod co-wrote it with guitarist Gary Grainger. The Susie alluded to in the song was Susannah Boffey, who met Rod in 1961 when she was a 17-year-old art student. In 1963 she gave birth to a daughter, who was fostered out and eventually adopted by a wealthy couple. In 2010 however, Sarah Streeter was finally admitted to her father’s family.

Enough confessionals for today, and time to move onto another theme I think for next week or else Rol will think I’m being a bit weird, stalking his blog for ideas. Plenty more ideas out there, just sadly not always enough time for them all.

Until next week…

The Killing Of Georgie (Part I And II)
(Song by Rod Stewart)

In these days of changing ways
So called liberated days
A story comes to mind of a friend of mine

Georgie boy was gay I guess
Nothin’ more or nothin’ less
The kindest guy I ever knew

His mother’s tears fell in vain
The afternoon George tried to explain
That he needed love like all the rest

Pa said there must be a mistake
How can my son not be straight
After all I’ve said and done for him

Leavin’ home on a Greyhound bus
Cast out by the ones he loves
A victim of these gay days it seems

Georgie went to New York town
Where he quickly settled down
And soon became the toast of the great white way

Accepted by Manhattan’s elite
In all the places that were chic
No party was complete without George

Along the boulevards he’d cruise
And all the old queens blew a fuse
Everybody loved Georgie boy

The last time I saw George alive
Was in the summer of seventy-five
He said he was in love I said I’m pleased

George attended the opening night
Of another Broadway hype
But split before the final curtain fell

Deciding to take a short cut home
Arm in arm they meant no wrong
A gentle breeze blew down Fifth Avenue

Out of a darkened side street came
A New Jersey gang with just one aim
To roll some innocent passer-by

There ensued a fearful fight
Screams rang out in the night
Georgie’s head hit a sidewalk cornerstone

A leather kid, a switchblade knife
He did not intend to take his life
He just pushed his luck a little too far that night

The sight of blood dispersed the gang
A crowd gathered, the police came
An ambulance screamed to a halt on Fifty-third and Third

Georgie’s life ended there
But I ask who really cares
George once said to me and I quote

He said “Never wait or hesitate
Get in kid, before it’s too late
You may never get another chance

‘Cos youth’s a mask but it don’t last
Live it long and live it fast”
Georgie was a friend of mine

Oh Georgie stay, don’t go away
Georgie please stay you take our breath away
Oh Georgie stay, don’t go away
Georgie please stay you take our breath away
Oh Georgie stay, don’t go away
Georgie, Georgie please stay you take our breath away
Oh Georgie stay

Chic, “Le Freak” and Studio 54

We all experience those freaky coincidences from time to time don’t we, when we start thinking of a song we might not have heard in ages, only for it to pop up on the radio a few minutes later. I had such a freaky coincidence this week, which ironically involved the 1978 Chic song, Le Freak.   

Over at My Top Ten, Rol has resumed his Hot 100 Countdown. Every week he chooses a song to represent a number, counting down from 100 to 1. This week suggestions were sought for songs that mention the number 54 in the title or lyrics. As expected quite a few of these suggestions included Le Freak, as the lyrics include the lines: 

Just come on down, to 54
Find a spot out on the floor

A reference of course, to the legendary Studio 54 in New York City, which in the late 1970s was probably the most famous nightclub in the world, the home of disco, and frequented by A-listers from the worlds of music, film, art and fashion. 

As a suggestion for a 54 song, it was a good one, so I too offered it up in the comments boxes. I also left a lame remark about how I had loved Le Freak back in the day, but had no idea at the time what the reference to 54 meant, coming from rural Aberdeenshire as opposed to The Big Apple. Needless to say, once I had slept on it, I realised I could have yet again made a bit of a naïve faux pas, perhaps not realising the number 54 was code for the kind of hedonistic activities that went on there during its heyday (I have been caught out with this number malarkey before). I wasn’t even up yet, but I decided to do a quick Google search on my phone, to find out what the 54 in the song was all about. Yes, you’ve guessed it, just as I clicked on the first entry thrown up by the search engine, I hear the words “Ah…, Freak Out” coming out loud and clear from my new radio alarm. 

As a coincidence, I thought this was an extreme one, but Mr WIAA merely brushed it aside, saying these things happen all the time. Personally I think we have far more influence on the world around us than we will ever understand, and because some of us were collectively thinking of the song Le Freak for Rol’s countdown on Tuesday night, the gods of radio playlists picked it for the Wednesday morning schedules. Oh, and for the record, I hadn’t actually been naïve after all, as it turns out Studio 54 was located at 254 West 54th Street, so that’s how it got its name. But enough about freaky coincidences, how about we actually listen to the song?

Le Freak by Chic:

I think most of us have watched reruns of TOTP2 often enough by now to know the story behind the song, but it seems Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic wrote it after being denied admission to Studio 54, even though they had been invited along by Grace Jones. Their earlier hit Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) was played often inside, but they weren’t on “the list” so the doorman, who didn’t recognise them, turned them away. It was New Year’s Eve, 1977, but they now had nowhere to go, so ended up writing this song as a reply to the doorman. They called it “F**k Off” but when they decided to record it, to appease Bernard Edward’s sensibilities, they changed it to “Freak Out”. Incidentally, the “stomping at the Savoy” line in the song makes reference to Edgar Melvin Sampson, nicknamed The Lamb. He was an American jazz composer, arranger, saxophonist, and violinist born in New York City, his most notable composition being Stompin’ at the Savoy

The disco genre was massive between 1977 to 1978, when I was in my final year of school and heading out every weekend to socialise with my friends. Even in rural Scotland, the venues (local hotelier’s unused function suites) were transformed overnight into mini-Studio 54s, complete with a DJ, glitter balls and floors with flashing lights. We’d also now had the films Saturday Night Fever, and Thank God It’s Friday, which had kind of made disco go mainstream. Young people want to get together and meet other young people at the weekend, and this was a really easy and accessible way to make it happen. (Link here and here to my previous disco-related posts.)

The band Chic were probably the most stylish of all the disco acts at the time, and of course Mr Nile Rodgers is still doing his thing today, having worked with some of the most successful acts of the last 40 years. Back then, they were inspired by Bryan Ferry’s “look” after watching him with Roxy Music, but safe to say, nowadays Nile has adopted the look of a street hippie, and looks very comfortable in his skin I must say. 

Getting back to Studio 54 and its history, it apparently first opened in 1927 as the Gallo Opera House, but it was short-lived. After changing its name several times it eventually became a CBS radio and television studio. Then, in 1977, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager created the space that became the world-famous nightclub and discotheque. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional lighting design and kept many of the former TV and theatrical sets, creating a unique dance club that became famous for its celebrity guest lists and restrictive (and subjective) entry policies, based on appearance and style.

I am reminded of a scene from the film American Hustle when one of the main characters, Bradley Cooper, has a night off from his FBI duties and takes Amy Adams dancing at Studio 54. I remember being impressed at how many of the details they got right in terms of fashion and hairstyles for this movie. It reminded me that even in rural Aberdeenshire, back in 1978, the boys took to having their hair permed. A strange sight back on the building sites on a Monday morning (and no doubt a lot of teasing from their older workmates) but ’twas the times. Tough to find a suitable clip, but this one gives a feel for what it must have been like in its heyday.

Something I never knew before, were the names of the two girls who sang lead on Le Freak. For the record they were Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin but in the Chic Choir we also had future luminaries such as Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown. The Chic Strings completed the line-up.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I think I have opened a can of worms here, as there was just too much information to get through in order to write only one post on the whole disco phenomenon. If I have a rummage in the loft, I’m sure I’ll be able to find some pictures of me in my dancing gear (basically a leotard, footless tights and a wraparound skirt), and the diary entry reviewing my first night out in one of Aberdeen’s new nightspots. Most of the cinemas had seen better days by the tail end of the ’70s so they were being converted to places like Ruffles (on Diamond Street) and Fusion (on Bridge Place). I think I was unusual in that I truly went to dance, and could often be found hogging that sweet spot in front of the DJ, along with the boys who, like John Travolta, enjoyed a bit of “showboating”.

I will leave you with another Chic clip, this time featuring Norma Jean Wright on lead vocals. Everybody Dance got to No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart in April 1978. Enjoy.

Until next time…

Le Freak Lyrics
(Song by Bernard Edwards/Nile Rodgers)

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Have you heard about the new dance craze?
Listen to us, I’m sure you’ll be amazed
Big fun to be had by everyone
It’s up to you, it surely can be done

Young and old are doing it, I’m told
Just one try, and you too will be sold
It’s called le freak, they’re doing it night and day
Allow us, we’ll show you the way

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

All that pressure got you down
Has your head spinning all around
Feel the rhythm, check the rhyme
Come on along and have a real good time

Like the days of stomping at the Savoy
Now we freak, oh, what a joy
Just come on down, to 54
Find a spot out on the floor

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Now freak!

I said freak!

Now freak!