Dionne, Aretha and “I Say A Little Prayer”

Now that I no longer have to commute to work every day, I seem to be missing out on those wonderful moments when a great song comes on the car radio, and you just have to turn up the volume to full blast.

I did however experience such a thing earlier this week on my way to the supermarket and needless to say it stuck with me for a good few days. The song was this one, I Say a Little Prayer, written by my favourite songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Inevitably the first person to record it back in 1967 was Dionne Warwick, as she was very much Burt’s “go-to” girl when he needed a chanteuse for his great material. What I hadn’t realised until now was that Hal David’s lyrics were meant to convey a woman’s concern for her man, who was serving in the Vietnam War (makes total sense now considering the timing). I have always loved those first few lines where the words wake up and makeup are used to such great effect. The rhyme just works so perfectly and for us girls, anything that happens before the morning ritual of putting on the makeup is early indeed, so doubly emphasizes the urgency of the prayer.

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup
I say a little prayer for you

Although Burt’s recordings with Dionne usually took no more than three takes, I Say a Little Prayer took ten takes and he still disliked the completed track, feeling it rushed. He was nothing if not a perfectionist that Burt Bacharach.

But the version I heard in the car the other day wasn’t by Dionne but instead by the person who had a big hit with it in the UK. Aretha Franklin was in the process of recording her 1968 album entitled “Aretha Now” when her backing vocalists, The Sweet Inspirations, started singing the song just for fun. It suddenly became apparent that I Say a Little Prayer could be a worthy inclusion on the new album which is exactly what happened. The song ended up being released in July 1968 as the B-side to the single The House that Jack Built, but after accruing its own airplay reached No. 10 on the Billboard Chart and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

And here is where the music producers seem to get it horribly wrong at times – It had taken much persuasion for Burt to release the original recording by Dionne Warwick, but with Theme from Valley of the Dolls on the B-side, it became one of the most successful double-sided releases of all time. Aretha’s version was never expected to make any sort of mark in its own right, but in subsequent decades it has been ranked right at the top of lists relating to the “Greatest 150 Singles of All Time”. How bizarre and makes you wonder what other delights have slipped through the net and never been given the air time they indubitably deserved. Then again, is that not the case for every art form? How many great writers and artists (and I include Mr WIAA and some of my blogging buddies in those categories) slip through the net, not seeming to catch that lucky break needed to get to the important next level, where actual money changes hands for exceptional work done.

But before I go, it should also be mentioned that I Say a Little Prayer is one of several Bacharach and David songs to feature prominently in the 1997 rom-com/chick-flick My Best Friend’s Wedding. There was a reggae-style cover by Diana King and a version sung by the film’s cast. Diana’s cover was released as a single which brought the song back to the Top 40 almost thirty years after Dionne Warwick’s original.

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I Say A Little Prayer by Diana King:

So, “What’s It All About?” – Having included all three very different versions in this post, they are ripe for a compare and contrast. Dionne’s does indeed sound a bit too rushed and not typical of Burt Bacharach’s usual orchestral pop style. Diana’s reggae version certainly creates a very different sound where the lyrics are sung Jamaican-style (before mi put on mi makeup). Aretha however, being the Queen of Soul an’ all that, nails it for me and is probably why the car radio had to be turned up to such a volume earlier in the week. Some songs, despite having a very low key start in life, end up becoming the most memorable and that’s why I live in hope that some of my wonderful artsy friends also eventually catch that lucky break which leads to their work being reclassified from being ordinary, to being extra-ordinary.

Until next time….

I Say A Little Prayer Lyrics

(Song by Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup
I say a little prayer for you
While combing my hair, now
And wondering what dress to wear, now
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only be heartbreak for me

I run for the bus, dear
While riding I think of us, dear
I say a little prayer for you
At work I just take time
And all through my coffee break-time
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only mean heartbreak for me

I say a little prayer for you
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only mean heartbreak for me

My darling, believe me
For me there is no one, but you
Please love me, too
I’m in love with you
Answer my prayer
Say you love me, too
Why don’t you answer my prayer?
You know, every day I say a little prayer
I said, I say, I say a little prayer

Martika, Jona Lewie and “You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties”

As regular visitors to this place know, the soap opera that is my life seems to get played out on these pages and this post is very much in that vein. Until this week I was a “new kitchen” virgin as somehow I have always been able to make do and mend with whatever kitchen was in place when we moved house. A few things happened towards the end of last year however that meant time was definitely up on our much-loved, brightly painted cabinets and obsolete appliances. (I used to be a great fan of the telly show Changing Rooms and threw myself into “upcycling”.)

The decision made, we proceeded to do the rounds of the many outlets who offer up fancy pants new kitchens. Anyone who replaces their kitchen often will be an old hand at all this but as newbies we were first of all aghast at just how much choice there is out there in terms of the various components (so many decisions to be made), and also of course shocked at how a set of cabinets costing around £4k leads to a grand total of about £12k after installation, but hey ho, god willing we won’t be doing it again for a very long time. With any luck, in another week or two we will end up with something as shown in this fine aerial plan done in minutes on the company’s wizard computer system. In the meantime a makeshift kitchen has been set up in the living room and the temperature, having plummeted of late, means that the garden is like one giant fridge/freezer so no problem keeping the milk fresh at all

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I read earlier this week that Donald Trump’s diet consists mainly of takeaways from McDonalds as he is wary of being poisoned from eating food prepared elsewhere (as if!) – Having given in to hunger the other night and gone out to pick up such fare, I am not convinced he’ll last the distance. Morgan Spurlock made the excellent film Super Size Me back in 2004 and all the doctors were shocked at just how much his health deteriorated in the 30 days he consumed nothing but McDonalds’ food. Fortunately for us this was a one-off that won’t be repeated for some time, but for people like Donald who appear to be frequent consumers, they need to watch this film. Might be better to stick to that original fast food pre-packed by Mother Nature – The humble banana.

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Something I’ve been trying to shoehorn in for some time.

Anyway, no-one wants to hear any more about my renovation project but of course it has got me thinking about songs that refer to kitchens in their titles. The first that came to mind was Martika’s Kitchen sung by none other than the lady herself, Martika. Although this song came along in the early ’90s, long after I had lost interest in what was happening in the current singles chart, I do remember her popping up several times on those Saturday morning TV shows made primarily for kids, but also watched by those of us who might have been slowly recovering from the night before. Looking back, the show I must have spotted her on could only have been Going Live which ran from 1987 to 1993 and was presented by Phillip (after The Broom Cupboard but before This Morning) Schofield and Blue Peter’s Sarah Greene.

Having just listened to this song again for the first time in decades, it turns out that it’s probably not the kind of ditty that should have been anywhere near a kid’s telly show and not even really the kind of fodder I usually feature here at WIAA. It was written by Prince (that explains a lot) as Martika was one of his many dark-haired female protégés who were around at that time. Somehow, unlike my good self, I don’t think Martika ever got an aerial plan of the kitchen she’s singing about in this song.

But what other songs have been written about honest to goodness kitchens and not ones that were euphemisms like the one Martika sang about. Well back in 1980, ahead of the release of his perennial Christmas hit Stop The Cavalry, Jona Lewie gave us You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties. Unlike in the early ’90s when I seemed to be busy watching telly whilst nursing hangovers, at the start of the ’80s I was still keeping a close eye on what was in the charts and I remember this song well. Jona Lewie, I have just discovered, used to go by the name Terry Dactyl (as in pterodactyl, hmm…) and along with his backing band the Dinosaurs (what came first, the dinosaur or the terry dactyl?) had a hit in 1972 with the song Seaside Shuffle. Don’t know if it’s just me, but it has a definite Mungo Jerry sound to it.

You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties by Jona Lewis:

An interesting snippet about this song is that it was the first time Kirsty MacColl sang as a backing singer for Stiff Records. The daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl, Kirsty went on to record several pop hits from the early ’80s to the mid ’90s but is of course best remembered for the Pogues song Fairytale of New York on which she dueted with Shane MacGowan. Kirsty sadly died in 2000 as a result of a tragic accident whilst on holiday in Mexico.

So, “What’s It All About?” – Like Jona Lewie I have done my fair share of spending time in the kitchen at parties. It can be a tough gig breezing it out with people you barely know in the main venue, so to retreat with a few others to the more relaxed environment of the kitchen can be just the ticket. I hope my new kitchen (once we manage to source a table that fits in properly) becomes a relaxed hub where people can hang out during parties should they wish. Whether I will actually have the time or energy to host any parties in the near future is another topic, for another day, but in the meantime I’m just glad for once that the temperatures are very low indeed as I’m about to pop out to the giant fridge that is our garden, for a cold beer and a pint of milk!

Until next time….

You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties Lyrics
(Song by Jona Lewie/Keith Trussell)

I’m no good at chatting up and always get rebuffed
Enough to drive a man to drink, I don’t do no washing up
I always reached the stuff piled up, piled up in the sink

But you will always find him in the kitchen at parties

Me and my girlfriend we argued and she ran away from home
She must have found somebody new and now I’m all alone
Living on my own, what am I supposed to do?

That’s why you’ll always find him in the kitchen at parties
You will always find him in the kitchen at parties
You will always find him in the kitchen at parties

Then I met this debutante, I said that I like new wave rock
She was into French cuisine but I ain’t no Cordon Bleu
This was at some do in Palmer’s Green, I had no luck with her

You will still find him in the kitchen at parties
You will still find him in the kitchen at parties

At last I met a pretty girl, she laughed and talked with me
We both walked out of the kitchen and danced in a new way

And now I’ve done my time in the kitchen at parties
I’ve done my time in the kitchen at parties

He’s done his time in the kitchen at parties
He’s done his time in the kitchen at parties
He’s done his time in the kitchen at parties
He’s done his time in the kitchen at parties

The Waterboys, “The Whole Of The Moon” and Hello 2018!

A Happy New Year to everyone who visits here.

Since I’ve taken to posting on a Monday, I will make this offering the next in my “full moon” series, as the first lunar spectacle of 2018 should appear in our night skies tomorrow, the 2nd January. Since starting this series we’ve had the Beaver Moon in November and the Cold Moon in December. January is the month of the Wolf Moon, again taken from the Native Americans as it used to appear in the sky when wolves were howling in hunger, outside their villages.

And here is where I get to share the song I have most looked forward to revisiting since starting this series – The Whole Of The Moon by The Waterboys. No need to wait until tomorrow to attempt an amateurish shot of the Wolf Moon then, as the picture in this clip is pretty special in itself.

The Whole Of The Moon by The Waterboys:

Appropriate that this song should feature at the time of year often associated with the Scots and Hogmanay as it was written by a native of Edinburgh, head Waterboy Mike Scott. The Whole Of The Moon was first released in 1985 but only achieved moderate success in the charts. By the time The Waterboys had released their greatest hits album in 1991, Celtic Rock was in the ascendance so when re-released the song reached the No. 3 position in the UK Singles Chart. Early Waterboys sound was often referred to as “The Big Music” after a song on their second album. That sound either influenced or was used to very aptly describe a number of other Scottish or Irish bands who specialised in anthemic music at that time – U2, Simple Minds, Big Country and the Hothouse Flowers.

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Gene and Cyd in Brigadoon

Some great lines in this song, my favourite being this one, “I saw the rain dirty valley, you saw Brigadoon” – It sums up how we’d all like to be in life, but not always easy to get into that mindset. I really wish I could always see Brigadoon rather than the rain dirty valley and I also wish that I could always see the whole of the moon rather than just the crescent but hey, I’m only human, and we humans can get bogged down in the detail sometimes losing the ability to see the big picture.

Cross fingers then that we’ll get to see tomorrow night’s Wolf Moon. An unusual month this in that there will be another full moon at the end of it, as the lunar cycle takes 29 and a half days to complete. I shall therefore return on the 31st with another song, this time about Blue Moons which is what that phenomenon is called and why it is also used for “something that doesn’t come along very often”. As I often say around here – Every day’s a school day.

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Until next time….

The Whole Of The Moon Lyrics
(Song by Mike Scott)

I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hands
I had flashes
You saw the plan
I wandered out in the world for years
While you just stayed in your room
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon

You were there in the turnstiles
With the wind at your heels
You stretched for the stars
And you know how it feels
To reach too high
Too far
Too soon
You saw the whole of the moon

I was grounded
While you filled the skies
I was dumbfounded by truth
You cut through lies
I saw the rain dirty valley
You saw, “Brigadoon”
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon

I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered, I guessed and I tried
You just knew
I sighed
But you swooned
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon
The whole of the moon

The torch in your pocket
And the wind on your heels
You climbed on a ladder
And you know how it feels
To reach too high
Too far
Too soon
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon

Unicorns and cannonballs
Palaces and Piers
Trumpets, towers, and tenements
Wide oceans full of tears

Flags, rags, ferryboats
Scimitars and scarves
Every precious dream and vision
Underneath the stars

Yes, you climbed on the ladder
With the wind in your sails
You came like a comet
Blazing your trail

Too high (too high)
Too far (too far)
Too soon (too soon)
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon
Yeah, you saw the whole of the moon

Björk, “It’s Oh So Quiet” and It Turns Out It’s Good To Be Busy!

Well, that old adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person” turns out to be correct! My old life, which incorporated the heady world of secure employment as well as blogging, acting as Mr WIAA’s unpaid secretary, caring for my mum and filling the role of chief cook and bottle-washer is now a full eight weeks behind me, but I don’t seem to be getting any more done in the course of a week than before – Very strange.

Not having been in this position before I had no idea how it would pan out – I think I had this romantic notion that I would finally get round to writing that opus which would earn me millions, I would sweep through the house like Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen creating a tranquil “haven in the Highlands” and home-cooked meals would await the family every evening….. The list goes on.

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But no, it turns out that you just get a little more sleep (which is good as I didn’t get enough before, sometimes blogging until well after midnight), you spend a bit more time on housework (but no-one even notices unless for some reason it stops being done, so a bit of a thankless task really), faff about on the computer far too much and watch a bit more telly (quite a bit more actually down to the curse of the boxset). So, a life outside the home awaits me in the new year I’ve decided, although I’m a tad sceptical about how easy it will be for someone of my vintage to actually acquire paid employment in today’s job market – Time will tell I suppose and should make for some interesting blog posts.

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The myth of the jolly housewife!

But although this blog does tend to become a place for me to offload my thoughts, it’s supposed to be about music and this morning that quirky Icelandic songstress Björk was to be heard on the radio promoting a show she is to take part in later on tonight. They don’t get much more bonkers than Bjork in the world of performance but I have always had a soft spot for her right from the days when she fronted The Sugarcubes. What I remember from her little slot on the radio earlier today was something about how she believes you just have to create work based on how you are feeling at the time and that is probably the case for bloggers too, which is why I’ve gone down this route today.

A song by Bjork that immediately springs to mind is this one, It’s Oh So Quiet, which was a big hit for her in November 1995 and reached the No. 4 spot in the UK Singles Chart. I remember it well because that was the month darling daughter made an appearance in the world (yes, we’ve just celebrated her 22nd birthday). It seemed to get blanket airplay right at the time we, as new parents, were navigating that tightrope between trying to be “oh so quiet” and coping with a “riot of crying”, so all very timely. Ironically that was also the last time I was a stay-at-home person, but as anyone who has had children knows, those first few weeks and months are no picnic and unlike now there was never enough time for anything, especially sleep. Different times.

It’s Oh So Quiet by Björk:

Appropriate that Björk Guðmundsdóttir should feature in this post as my last one (link here) featured music by a Greenlander band called Nanook. She is pretty unique in the world of music and has gone on to have a career spanning four decades having developed an eclectic musical style that draws on a wide range of influences. She has also won numerous awards including five BRITs. As for the song It’s Oh So Quiet it was originally recorded by the American singer Betty Hutton in 1951 as a cover of the German song Und Jetzt Ist Es Still. As I often say around here, every day’s a school day.

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So, “What’s It All About?” – It turns out that unless you are officially retired with an income to match and have no responsibilties to speak of, after a couple of months of enjoying the luxury of being at home when all your old colleagues are still beavering away on the 9 to 5, you start to hanker after a life out in the real world. Back in the days of DD’s “gap year” when she was pondering over what she wanted to do with her life, I kept labouring the point that everyone needs something to get up for, a purpose. Time to heed my own advice I think but will just make sure I finish decluttering the loft first!

Until next time….

It’s Oh So Quiet Lyrics
(Song by Hans Lang/Bert Reisfeld)

It’s. Oh. So quiet
It’s. Oh. So still
You’re all alone
And so peaceful until…

You fall in love
Zing boom
The sky up above
Zing boom
Is caving in
Wow bam
You’ve never been so nuts about a guy
You wanna laugh you wanna cry
You cross your heart and hope to die

‘Til it’s over and then
It’s nice and quiet
But soon again
Starts another big riot

You blow a fuse
Zing boom
The devil cuts loose
Zing boom
So what’s the use
Wow bam
Of falling in love

It’s. Oh. So quiet
It’s. Oh. So still
You’re all alone
And so peaceful until…

You ring the bell
Bim bam
You shout and you yell
Hi ho ho
You broke the spell
Gee. This is swell you almost have a fit
This guy is “gorge” and i got hit
There’s no mistake this is it

‘Til it’s over and then
It’s nice and quiet
But soon again
Starts another big riot

You blow a fuse
Zing boom
The devil cuts loose
Zing boom
So what’s the use
Wow bam
Of falling in love

The sky caves in
The devil cuts loose
You blow blow blow blow blow your fuse
When you’ve fallen in love

Ssshhhhhh…

Postscript:

Having just watched that video clip of Bjork singing It’s Oh So Quiet, I am reminded of the film La La Land which did so well earlier this year at the Oscars. What with the yellow dress and the street scenes where everyone suddenly joins together seamlessly in a well-choreographed dance, it is another wonderful homage to those great musical films of yesteryear.

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

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

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

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

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

Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3:

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

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

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A young Frank in Hoboken, New Jersey

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

It Was A Very Good Year by Frank Sinatra:

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

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

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

Funnily enough one of my most vivid memories of those years is dancing to songs by a band that really should be more closely associated with the ’60s. Those original Jersey Boys, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons had a bit of a resurgence in popularity in the ’70s and I am pretty sure my first kiss took place whilst the song December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night) was playing in the background.

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

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

My Dear George

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

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

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

Kissing a Fool by George Michael:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time….

Kissing a Fool Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript:

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

Leaving Work for the Last Time – Queen and “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”

Forgive me WordPress for I have sinned – Much of the last seven days has been spent over on Facebook as it was my last week at work and I wanted to share pictures of the various colleagues who were to become my best friends over a 30 year period. As anyone who visits here knows I am a bit of a hoarder, and there was no shortage of material to work with as I’ve always been the custodian of our memories, wherever I’ve worked. The exercise was a resounding success and the surprised comments from friends have been rolling in thick and fast, with promises that we’ll keep in touch, have a reunion etc. That remains to be seen but it has been a very sociable week indeed, culminating in a dinner and drinks “leaving do” last night.

leaving

The departure from the world of secure employment came about because of this – I think I’m a bit of a dinosaur in the world of offices as I like my pin boards, folders and stationery. Sadly all the tools of my trade had to go earlier this year as we adopted what is commonly known as agile working i.e. no fixed desk, no paper, no clutter and no talking! I decided that the sterile world of the modern day office was not for me. Goodness knows how we kept the ship on course all those years with just so much paper to hinder us, when instead we could have had terabytes of data at our fingertips with no idea of how to turn it into meaningful information.

office

Anyway, a new life awaits me but I cannot help but feel very sad that the old one is now behind me – The world of the ’80s office was a much less pressurised one and, dare I say it, a lot more fun than it is now and I miss that. On the way home from work for the last time the song These Are The Days Of Our Lives came on the radio and it summed up how I was feeling:

When we were kids, when we were young (I was in my twenties)

The days were endless, we were crazy (lots of work nights out!)

Sometimes it seems like lately – I just don’t know (the world of agile working?)

Those were the days of our lives (of my working life definitely)

Those days are all gone now but one thing is true – When I look and I find I still love you (the happy memories will never leave me)

These Are The Days Of Our Lives by Queen:

This song by the band Queen was released as a double A-side in the UK in December 1991, after the death of Freddie Mercury. It entered the UK Singles Chart at No. 1 and remained there for five weeks. It also received a Brit Award for Best Single in 1992.

The accompanying video was the last to feature Freddie and was released in black and white to hide the full extent of his illness. With a knowing farewell look straight at the camera, Freddie whispers “I still love you” as the song ends, which were his last ever words on camera.

RIP Freddie, RIP the 1980s Office.

These Are The Days Of Our Lives Lyrics
(Song by Roger Taylor)

Sometimes I get to feelin’
I was back in the old days – long ago
When we were kids, when we were young
Things seemed so perfect – you know?
The days were endless, we were crazy – we were young
The sun was always shinin’ – we just lived for fun
Sometimes it seems like lately – I just don’t know
The rest of my life’s been – just a show.

Those were the days of our lives
The bad things in life were so few
Those days are all gone now but one thing is true –
When I look and I find I still love you.

You can’t turn back the clock, you can’t turn back the tide
Ain’t that a shame?
I’d like to go back one time on a roller coaster ride
When life was just a game
No use sitting and thinkin’ on what you did
When you can lay back and enjoy it through your kids
Sometimes it seems like lately I just don’t know
Better sit back and go – with the flow

Cos these are the days of our lives
They’ve flown in the swiftness of time
These days are all gone now but some things remain
When I look and I find – no change

Those were the days of our lives yeah
The bad things in life were so few
Those days are all gone now but one thing’s still true
When I look and I find, I still love you,
I still love you.