Easter, “MacArthur Park” and Donna Summer

Short post today as it’s Easter Weekend and I’m off to roll my egg!

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

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

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

MacArthur Park by Donna Summer:

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

As for Donna Summer, it was when she happened to be in Germany performing in the musical “Hair” that she had a fortuitous meeting with the producer Giorgio Moroder. Yet again we have a chance encounter that went on to have great significance, this time for the future of electronic dance music or “Disco”. Listening to the record again, I love hearing that disco beat and if you were a keen dancer like me, not afraid to clear the floor with a few special moves (think Joan Travolta in footless tights and a shiney wrap dress) the late ’70s were a bit of a golden age! As for the lyrics of the song, although I now understand them a bit more, I do think the whole cake metaphor was taken just that little bit too far.

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

MacArthur Park Lyrics
(Song by Jimmy Webb)

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

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

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

Student Life, Carole King and “It’s Too Late”

Following on from my last post, I mentioned that 1979 was my last disco-dancing year as around that time I met a boy and morphed into a full late-70s student. We dressed in interesting clothes from charity shops (they weren’t called vintage in those days), hung around dingy bars and listened to “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” (in between attending lectures of course). Looking back, the tracks of my years had up until then, revolved around what was on Top of The Pops, what was played on BBC Radio 1 and the music from film soundtracks so this was a whole new branch of music that I hadn’t really experienced before. Artists like Cohen didn’t release singles that would appear in a chart show run-down, but whole albums of songs to be listened to late at night, in a soporific condition with preferably, a significant other.

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Also, the great thing about meeting a boy who flat-shared with an older brother, was that you immediately had access to their record collection as well. Being of the opposite sex and having a few more years’ worth of vinyl, his collection was vastly different to my own and so it came about, that in late 1979 I discovered and formed a relationship with Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Mr Cohen mentioned above, and last but not least, Carole King.

One of the albums we listened to a lot at that time was “Tapestry” which had been Album of the Year in 1972 and went on to sell over 15 million copies. I wasn’t that familiar with Carole King until this time but a lot of the tracks on the album were indeed familiar, as she had been part of that amazing team of Brill Building songwriters who prolifically churned out songs for ’60s artists such as Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles. She wrote, or co-wrote, all of the songs on Tapestry and in doing so created a truly amazing body of work, most of the songs becoming standards in their own right. I think my favourite is It’s Too Late, a really sad song about the end of a relationship and of course by this time King’s marriage to Gerry Goffin, her songwriting partner and high school sweetheart was over, so bittersweet. Interesting also that during this intensely successful period of her career, Carole King had moved to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles and was hanging out with the likes of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. I have mentioned Laurel Canyon before in relation to The Eagles, Jackson Brown and Linda Ronstadt – Must have been quite a place back in the day.

It’s Too Late by Carole King:

Not really a coincidence that it’s Tapestry I’m writing about today however – I noticed earlier on social media that it’s the 45th Anniversary of its release. Any artist releasing an album today will have to wait until the year 2061 to celebrate the same anniversary. What will our world be like then? Who knows but I am optimistic that good music will still be around and perhaps we may still enjoy listening to the dulcet tones of Carole King, and Tapestry!

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It’s Too Late Lyrics
(Song by Carole King/Toni Stern)

Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time
There’s something wrong here, there can be no denying
One of us is changing, or maybe we’ve just stopped trying

And it’s too late baby, it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it

It used to be so easy living here with you
You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do
Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool

There’ll be good times again for me and you
But we just can’t stay together, don’t you feel it too
Still I’m glad for what we had, and how I once loved you

Maurice White, “Boogie Wonderland” and The Last Days of Disco

As anticipated, the blog is in danger of turning into an obituary column. Yesterday we heard the news that Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire had passed away. Again he had been ill for some time and died of an age-related condition and again, I am very sorry for his friends and family. My husband did remark however that the news story is now more about the sheer number of artists who have passed away in the last month, and is not so much about the individual any more so we have to be careful not to dwell on it too much. It is going to be a perfectly natural occurrence that will happen on a much more regular basis. Also the radio station I mainly listen to is aimed at an older audience so what is news to a 50-something would not be news to my daughter or her friends.

It has however, been a bit of a wake-up call for all of us of a certain age as we consider our own mortality perhaps a little bit more than usual in view of the events of the last month. We now may be considering moving retirement plans forward a little and that can’t be a bad thing.

As usual this latest death has brought back great memories of the music. Maurice White was the founder member of Earth, Wind and Fire. He wrote the songs, sang the songs and produced them so he was essentially Mr EWF. If you haven’t seen them perform on stage, it was like witnessing a riotous fancy dress party with vast numbers of musicians, singers and dancers filling ever corner of the stage. They were essentially an R&B act but in the late ’70s Disco was King and their music did fit neatly into that genre making their songs a must-play on the dancefloors of the nation. In 1979 they realeased Boogie Wonderland with The Emotions (even more people on stage in wildly flamboyant costumes).

Listening to this song again, Mr White appears to have had a cold when recording it as there is a definite nasal quality to his voice but that didn’t stop it getting to the top of the charts and it was great fun dancing along to it on a night out. Looking at the outfits I can’t believe now that so much was made of Bowie’s look and style only five years earlier – He was positively tame compared with these guys! Maurice is definitely the ringleader here though and he is obviously enjoying himself immensely. (A receding hairline for a black man sporting an afro must have been troublesome for him but so much else going on we didn’t notice.)

On a personal note, being a fan of Earth, Wind and Fire was a bit of a problem for me in 1979 – I was a 1st Year student going through that transition period where a big change in lifestyle has taken place. I still had my best friend from school but we hadn’t quite morphed into full-blown students yet (although that followed). Disco fever was still rife and if you loved dancing and getting dressed up there were plenty of places to go. I remember buying some yellow and black shiny material that I made into a skirt with a side split in the Student’s Union sewing room (yes there was one). Worn with footless tights and a black top that I’d cut diagonally across the front leaving one arm free and one covered, I was all set to boogie. If you were a student, it wasn’t cool to like disco music, dress in shiny clothing or go out dancing but we were clinging onto a bit of our old lives for a while yet. By the following year I had found myself a boyfriend and instead of dancing, we sat up late listening to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. The shiny clothes went and we started buying our “student uniforms” in charity shops and workwear outlets. But during that last disco-frequenting summer of 1979, we made the most of the sounds of Mr White and his high energy brand of music. RIP Maurice.

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Boogie Wonderland Lyrics (a song for dancing to, so bear that in mind!)
(Song by Jon Lind/Allee Willis)

Dance, boogie wonderland
Ha, ha, dance
Boogie wonderland
Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get
Daylight deals a bad hand to a woman who has laid too many bets
The mirror stares you in the face and says,”Baby, uh, uh, it don’t work”
You say your prayers though you don’t care; you dance and shake the hurt

Dance, boogie wonderland
Ha, ha, dance
Boogie wonderland
Sounds fly through the night; I chase my vinyl dreams to Boogie Wonderland
I find romance when I start to dance in Boogie Wonderland
I find romance when I start to dance in Boogie Wonderland
All the love in the world can’t be gone
All the need to be loved can’t be wrong
All the records are playing and my heart keeps saying
“Boogie wonderland, wonderland”

Postscript:

The striking Earth, Wind and Fire album covers were by Japanese artist Shusei Nagaoka and usually featured an Egyptian theme – Maurice White had conceived the name of the band from his star sign Sagittarius which has the elemental quality of Fire and seasonal qualities of Earth and Air. This all contributed to the band’s colourful and mystical style. As I’ve said before, I miss album cover art – It was most definitely a very special art form.

Sir Terry Wogan, A Sad Pudsey and “The Floral Dance”

Didn’t anticipate when I started the blog last month that it would become an obituary column for so many stars from the world of entertainment. Since Christmas we have lost Lemmy from Motorhead, Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey and as of last weekend, “National Treasure” Sir Terry Wogan. I can only hope they are all having a wonderful celestial time with Sir Terry acting as the host of BBC Heaven’s newest and best ever chat show.

I used to finish each post with the comment that I hoped it would be a long time until I had to write about the passing of another legend but I am starting to realise that this will certainly not be the case. Until 1952 there were no music charts to speak of and it was not until the 1960s that television became universal in homes. Since then there has been an explosion of easily accessible visual entertainment and the multitude of stars we have grown up with are as familiar to us as our family – We look upon them as our friends. Until recently, most of the really high profile deaths in the music world were down to tragic circumstances but now the deaths are much more age-related. Yes, the baby boomers are getting older and sadly we will have to start saying goodbye on a much more regular basis. Won’t dwell any longer on this sad fact but am now prepared for this kind of news when I switch on the radio in the morning.

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Sir Terry Wogan

Cannot end this short post, which should really reflect the soundtrack to my life, without mentioning that Terry Wogan himself actually entered the charts in 1978 and even appeared on Top of the Pops with a song called The Floral Dance which was written way back in 1911. (Apparently it had been one of his father’s favourites and he used to sing it whilst in the bath.)

The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band had been successful with an arrangement of the same song the previous year so now Terry was having some fun with it making it all the way to No. 21 in the UK Singles Chart. It was most definitely a comedic version and was mainly for the amusement of his millions of “Wake Up To Wogan” listeners. Although hated by serious music fans, there is part of me that is still glad that songs like this made it onto TOTP. There aren’t many vehicles for the novelty song nowadays, yet something so very British about it all – An eccentricity sadly missed.

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Floral Dance Lyrics
(Song by Kate Moss – the other one!)

I thought I could hear the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, ‘cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Far away, as in a trance
I heard the sound of the Floral Dance

As I walked home on a Summer night
When stars in Heav’n were shining bright
Far away from the footlight’s glare
Into the sweet and scented air
Of a quaint old Cornish town

Borne from afar on the gentle breeze
Joining the murmur of the summer seas
Distant tones of an old world dance
Played by the village band perchance
On the calm air came floating down

I thought I could hear the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, ‘cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Far away, as in a trance
I heard the sound of the Floral Dance
I heard the sound of the Floral Dance

And soon I heard such a bustling and prancing
And then I saw the whole village was dancing
In and out of the houses they came
Old folk, young folk, all the same
In that quaint old Cornish town

Every boy took a girl ’round the waist
And hurried her off in tremendous haste
Whether they knew one another I care not
Whether they cared at all, I know not
But they kissed as they danced along

And there was the band with that curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, ‘cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Each one making the most of his chance
All together in the Floral Dance
All together in the Floral Dance

Dancing here, prancing there
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere
Up and down, and round the town
Hurrah! For the Cornish Floral Dance

England Dan & John Ford Coley, Warm Winds and “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight”

Listening to Lyin’ Eyes yesterday and reminiscing about The Eagles’ great music got me thinking about all the other ’70s American artists we loved to listen to. There were a group of them living in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles who collaborated to create amazing American country rock – Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Bob Seger.

For teenagers in rural Scotland, the lyrics in their songs conjured up something totally other-worldly – “Dark desert highways”, “Blue bayous” and “Tequila sunrises”. Also until then I hadn’t really listened to the lyrics of songs properly, it was always about the melody or the artist (typical teenage girl) but these guys were telling a whole story in a song. Yesterday’s Lyin’ Eyes tells an incredibly sad story and makes me realise how lucky I am to have married my best friend and not had to resort to “the cheatin’ side of town”. (One of the best lines ever in a song.)

Anyway, by chance when I was in the car today, this song came on the radio and although more from the soft rock/easy listening camp, it totally reminded me of those great American songs from that mid ’70s era. I’d Really Love To See You Tonight was in the UK Singles Chart in September 1976 and told the sweet story of a guy who just wanted to “hang out” with (probably) an old girlfriend, no strings attached. It was recorded by England Dan and John Ford Coley and was their biggest hit in the UK.

I’d Really Love To See You Tonight by England Dan & John Ford Coley:

They definitely weren’t teen idols (see picture below) but there is something about this song that I’ve always loved – What not to love about the line “there’s a warm wind blowing the stars around, and I’d really love to see you tonight”. Where we lived there was never, ever a warm wind blowing and the stars were usually hidden by cloud, so something really exotic and romantic-sounding.

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I am partial to a “story song” and re-reading these lines, know that I’ve been there. Sometimes it’s just really nice to meet up with an old boyfriend, post-breakup, knowing you are never going to get back together but just to reminisce about good times. All very lovely until you bump into them with their new girlfriend, in which case the pain comes right back, but tolerable if you’ve put on a great outfit that day and perfected the hair and makeup. My 16-year-old self didn’t know about any of that as not really had any great romances yet, but boy did I enjoy listening to that line about the warm wind blowing the stars around.

I’d Really Love to See You Tonight Lyrics
(Song by Parker McGee)

Hello, yeah, it’s been a while
Not much, how ’bout you?
I’m not sure why I called
I guess I really just wanted to talk to you
And I was thinking maybe later on
We could get together for a while
It’s been such a long time
And I really do miss your smile

I’m not talking ’bout moving in
And I don’t want to change your life
But there’s a warm wind blowing the stars around
And I’d really love to see you tonight

We could go walking through a windy park
Or take a drive along the beach
Or stay at home and watch tv
You see, it really doesn’t matter much to me

I’m not talking ’bout moving in
And I don’t want to change your life
But there’s a warm wind blowing the stars around
And I’d really love to see you tonight

I won’t ask for promises
So you don’t have to lie
We’ve both played that game before
Say I love you, then say goodbye

Glenn Frey, The Eagles and “Lyin’ Eyes”

After last week’s shock news of the death of David Bowie, I had hoped it would be some time before the blog would end up being about the death of another ’70s rock legend but here we are again. Woke up this morning to the news that Glenn Frey from The Eagles had died yesterday aged 67.

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Got me thinking that we are maybe at the tipping point, where our post-war baby boomers who entered the music industry in the ’60s and ’70s and by their own admission lived a hedonistic drug-fuelled lifestyle, are now maybe running out of luck. I don’t know the details of his death and don’t really want to delve into all that, but a pattern is definitely emerging here. Again, as with Bowie, I am really sorry for his family and friends who will no longer be able to spend time with him but for the rest of us, we will always have those fantastic songs.

I have decided therefore to make today’s featured song Lyin’ Eyes from 1975 as it was one of The Eagles’ early ones where Frey performed lead vocals. If this blog is supposed to reflect the soundtrack to my life, Lyin’ Eyes definitely played a large part in forming the soundtrack to the mid ’70s. I was still at school and not really old enough for pubs and clubs, but local bands were regularly booked to play the town and village halls in our area. Their music of choice tended to be cover versions of songs by soft rock bands such as The Eagles, and Lyin’ Eyes (all 6 minutes of it) was most definitely a favourite. If a boy you weren’t too keen on asked you to dance, but you were far too polite to refuse, it was a very long song.

Lyin’ Eyes by The Eagles:

By the time we got to 6th year at school, everyone owned their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 album and many an evening was spent hanging out with friends listening to it. I have just double-checked but already knew that Lyin’ Eyes was track number 3 on side 1. I miss that nowadays with digital downloads – We knew exactly where, on every piece of vinyl, our favourite tracks lay. The technology of the day didn’t involve touchscreens or keyboards, you simply had to pick up the arm of the record-player and place it gently on the record – If you had good control and eyesight you could seamlessly jump straight to the song of choice and in my case it was often Lyin’ Eyes.  RIP Glenn.

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Lyin’ Eyes Lyrics
(Song by Don Henley/Glenn Frey)

City girls just seem to find out early
How to open doors with just a smile
A rich old man
And she won’t have to worry
She’ll dress up all in lace and go in style

Late at night a big old house gets lonely
I guess every form of refuge has its price
And it breaks her heart to think her love is
Only given to a man with hands as cold as ice

So she tells him she must go out for the evening
To comfort an old friend who’s feelin’ down
But he knows where she’s goin’ as she’s leavin’
She is headed for the cheatin’ side of town

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin eyes

On the other side of town a boy is waiting
with fiery eyes and dreams no one could steal
She drives on through the night anticipating
‘Cause he makes her feel the way she used to feel

She rushes to his arms,
They fall together
She whispers that it’s only for awhile
She swears that soon she’ll be comin’ back forever
She pulls away and leaves him with a smile

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide you lyin’ eyes

She gets up and pours herself a strong one
And stares out at the stars up in the sky
Another night, it’s gonna be a long one
She draws the shade and hangs her head to cry

She wonders how it ever got this crazy
She thinks about a boy she knew in school
Did she get tired or did she just get lazy?
She’s so far gone she feels just like a fool

My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things
You set it up so well, so carefully
Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things
You’re still the same old girl you used to be

You can’t hide your lyin eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes
Honey, you can’t hide your lyin’ eyes

The Partridge Family, David Cassidy and “Could It Be Forever?”

Thinking yesterday about my first crush (Davy Jones) inevitably led me to think of my second big crush, David Cassidy. Thankfully this David is still alive and well although now 65 which would have made him around 21 when he first came into my life in the early ’70s. He starred in The Partridge Family which was shown midweek in the kid’s TV slot just before the early evening news.

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It was inevitable because of his amazing good looks and great singing voice that he would become a teen idol. There had been chart hits already with The Partridge Family but in April 1972 David had his first solo hit as himself, and not as Keith Partridge. Could It Be Forever was the perfect vehicle to cement David’s place as one of the two biggest “pop stars” of the day (the other being Donny Osmond but we’ll leave him for another time).

Looking back at the dates now, I realise that this song must have been around during the last few weeks spent at my Scottish primary school. It is also the first song that made me cry – I still remember those tears welling up as I listened to it being played on the radio. Young girls are highly emotional beings and at around 12, just when the hormones are kicking in, we have to leave the familiar surroundings and friendships of our junior school and enter the serious, scary world of secondary school. We end up losing our sanity a bit when it comes to our pop idols and behave in a totally irrational and frenzied manner. We buy all the magazines that have their pictures and create scrapbooks and fanzines. We cover our bedroom walls with their posters. We even iron picture transfers onto our pillowcases. (Yes guilty of all the above.) Of course we dream of them being our fantasy boyfriends, without really understanding what having a real boyfriend would mean.

The really frenzied behaviour however happens if we are ever lucky enough to see them in concert, or in the flesh, and whenever David came to Britain there were hordes of girls at the airport to greet him. It always amazes me when we see old footage of these scenes, that young girls simply headed off to Heathrow en masse unsupervised. We have become a nation who heavily supervises its young people until they are practically at the stage of leaving home – Wasn’t so in the early ’70s obviously. Also, the girls are practically on the tarmac and hanging off every balcony/rooftop vantage point. Compare that to the massive security operation nowadays of getting people shoeless, belt-less and scissor-less through to their plane of choice.

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As with most teen idols, David’s time in the sun didn’t last and it was practically all over by 1974. He had become disillusioned with it all by then anyway and who could blame him. It can be a curse to be that good-looking as you are going to have a stratospheric rise to fame but then lose all control of your life in the process. Unless you are incredibly grounded, realistic and well-managed you will find it very hard to cope with life when it’s over. He also suffered the double-whammy of having a fan die in the crush at one of his concerts which he never quite got over. He did attempt a bit of a comeback in the ’80s but it was short-lived. Young girls are very fickle and grow up fast – Once they’ve moved on to “real boys” the career is over.

As for me I will enjoy listening once more to the first song that really made me weep. His second solo single How Can I Be Sure didn’t just make me weep but sob. Yes the hormones and move to “big school” were really kicking in by then. Thank goodness for DC Thomson of Dundee who could be relied upon weekly, to provide plenty of reasonably priced centrefold posters of our idol in Jackie magazine. Hope this David lives a long and healthy life.

Could It Be Forever Lyrics
(Song by Wes Farrell/Danny Janssen)

Could it be forever or is my mind just rambling on
Well I touched you once and I kissed you once
And I feel like you’re mine
Well I feel like you’re mine and I see in your face
I’m not wrong to have these feelings
Well I feel like you’re mine and I’ve never known a time before
That’s had so many meanings

Could it be forever or is my mind just wasting time
Well I don’t think so because you let me know
You make me feel like you’re mine
Well I feel like you’re mine and I can’t remember
When the feelings have been stronger
And all I know is I can’t let go of you
Or be with you just a little while longer

All my feelings come together
All of me is here
Never known when I felt better
Cause I know this won’t disappear

But could it be forever
Or is my mind just rambling on
Maybe it is, if it is
Then I’ll be moving on

Well, I feel like you’re mine
And I see in your face
I’m not wrong to have these feelings
Well, I feel like you’re mine
I’ve never known a time before
That’s had so many meanings