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

The BRITs, Adele and “Someone Like You”

Thought this post would be really easy to write as it was BRITs week and we found out who the big winners were on Wednesday night’s live show. Unlike my husband, I have always watched the BRITs, since the days they were called the BPI Awards. Back then, in 1982, it was cosy little affair held in a smallish venue, not the juggernaut of show now held in the O2 Arena with an audience of thousands.

The great thing about the BRITs for me, is that I get a chance to find out about all those artists who may have slipped under my radar in the course of the year. Apart from Tame Impala who won the award for Best International Group, I had heard of everyone and sorry to say, most of the nomimees have been around for a very long time. Coldplay won the award for Best British Group and yes they are a great group, and yes they have had massive success, but their first BRIT award was in 2001 for goodness sake. When it came to nominations for Best International Female, Bjork’s name was read out which surprised me as she has been around since the 1980s when she fronted Indie band The Sugarcubes. Lo and behold – Bjork was the winner.

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So it seems that the British Phonograph Industry has gone the same way as a lot of other well-established industries. The median age of the people running them is going up every year, and this is reflected in who wins awards. Maybe I am wrong here, but to me, the winners were all a pretty respectable bunch who have been around for a long time and are a safe pair of hands when it comes to their musical output. None more so than Adele who every few years produces a new album that sweeps the board at award ceremonies and outsells everything else on the market – She did it at 19, at 21 and now at 25. She was the big winner of the night and bar the fact that the bleeper man misjudged his timing, and let one of her conversational expletives slip through to live television, all the “Suits” as she herself has called them, must have been feeling pretty smug with themselves.

So if the awards themselves were a bit predictable, what about the performances – There are usually a few excellent ones in the course of the evening including a pretty special duet and something we will all be talking about the next day. Last year there was Madonna’s spectacular “fall” from grace when her cape fastening malfunctioned. This year, other than some questionable choreography from Rhianna and Drake, there was nothing of note. I did enjoy James Bay’s guitar accompaniment to Justin Bieber’s vocals but nothing to write home about. Jess Glynn did a great set but although very now and of the moment, I feel she could have come from any of the last few decades – Something about her style I think.

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Adele, the big winner of the night, performed her song Hello to close the show. It was predictably perfect but didn’t blow me away quite as much as her rendition of Someone Like You at the 2011 BRITs. She was quite a bit younger then and was visibly moved by the song she was singing, which was about a failed relationship.

I have written on a few occasions now about the “break-up song” and this one really tugs at the heartstrings. My break-ups were all a lot earlier than 2011 thankfully, otherwise this song could have caused immense distress, but watching Adele perform it that night at the BRITs did bring back memories. How many of us I wonder have split up with a significant other because they say they never want to get married, only to find that they do exactly that a couple of years later with someone else? I used to think, bitterly, that it wasn’t that they didn’t want to get married, it was just that they didn’t want to marry me. As I’ve matured I’ve realised that it’s rarely that simple, it’s just that the  timing was wrong. I have a pretty big hunch that had I met my husband ten years earlier we would not be married today. Fortunately for us, when we did meet, the timing was just right!

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Someone Like You Lyrics
(Song by Adele/Dan Wilson)

I heard that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re married now.
I heard that your dreams came true.
Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.

Old friend, why are you so shy?
Ain’t like you to hold back or hide from the light.

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it.
I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
That for me it isn’t over.

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I’ll remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead,
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead”

You know how the time flies
Only yesterday was the time of our lives
We were born and raised
In a summer haze
Bound by the surprise of our glory days

Nothing compares
No worries or cares
Regrets and mistakes
They are memories made.
Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?

Amy Winehouse, Beehives and “Tears Dry On Their Own”

Last time I wrote about Ed Sheerin and of his success at this year’s Grammy awards. Back in 2008 it was Amy Winehouse who swept the board at the awards winning a total of six. Sadly just over three years later she was dead.

When writing earlier this year about David Bowie’s sad passing, and all the media outpouring it caused, I had momentarily forgotten what a massive news story it had been when poor Amy was found dead, at home, on a July afternoon in 2011. It was no big shock however as we had seen her life played out over the years on television and in the newspapers. After the massive success of her album “Back to Black”, her life seemed to descend into chaos – Don’t want to go into the detail here but she did appear to have serious addiction issues, relationship issues, an eating disorder and so it goes on. Were we all partly to blame? The press and paparazzi couldn’t seem to get enough of her and although her family seemed to be really supportive, in some ways they seemed to add to the feeding frenzy.

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I had seen Amy on television many times over the previous few years as she started out as a soulful, jazz-influenced singer who did really well with her first album “Frank”. For “Back to Black” however she had morphed into a 21st century version of a 1960s, American girl-group member (think Ronnie Ronette with tatoos and piercings). Every time we saw her, the beehive had got bigger and the eye make-up even more extreme but sadly, she also seemed to be getting thinner and more erratic in her behaviour. I remember watching the 2008 BRIT awards with great trepidation as she was due to perform Valerie with Mark Ronson. It actually went well but she did look “unworldly” and kept pulling at her short skirt and hair throughout the performance. We all hoped that she would get the help she so obviously needed as her talent was immense, and she had so much more to give.

My favourite song from Back to Black was Tears Dry On Their Own. Watching the video again however just reminds me of the chaotic and extreme world she seemed to be living in at that time which ultimately proved just too much for her.

Tears Dry On Their Own by Amy Winehouse:

It was at the end of 2009 that we moved our entire record collection to our new Apple Mac computer. All the CDs and downloads were now in one place which was great as personal playlists of favourites could be compiled by each member of the family. My playlists generally included an Amy Winehouse track and invariably it was this song. Very sad when you listen to it now knowing that she died aged only 27. I have written a lot about icons who have passed away since starting this blog but none were young like poor Amy and I have a feeling that for some, it is only a matter of good luck that they got through their “crazy period” intact. Wasn’t to be the case for this talented lady – RIP Amy.

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Tears Dry On Their Own Lyrics
(Song by Amy Winehouse)

All I can ever be to you
Is the darkness that we knew,
And this regret I’ve got accustomed to.
Once it was so right,
When we were at our high,
Waiting for you in the hotel at night.

I knew I hadn’t met my match,
But every moment we could snatch,
I don’t know why I got so attached.
It’s my responsibility,
And you don’t owe nothing to me,
But to walk away I have no capacity.

He walks away,
The sun goes down,
He takes the day
But I’m grown,
And in your way,
In this blue shade
My tears dry on their own.

I don’t understand
Why do I stress a man
When there’s so many bigger things at hand.
We coulda never had it all,
We had to hit a wall,
So this is inevitable withdrawal.

Even if I stop wanting you,

A perspective pushes through,
I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon.
I shouldn’t play myself again,

I should just be my own best friend,
Not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.

So we are history,
Your shadow covers me
The sky above,
A blaze.

I wish I could say no regrets,
And no emotional debts,
‘Cause as we kiss goodbye the sun sets

So we are history,
The shadow covers me,
The sky above,
A blaze that only lovers see,

The Human League, “Louise” and Songs About Lost Love

I don’t know if anyone has ever conducted a study on this, but looking at any long list of songs, they do in an awful lot of cases include the word love in the title. Even if the word is not in the title it’s included in the lyrics and I would guess that about 80 per cent of songs are either about new-found love, unrequited love or lost love. The rest will be dance tracks, novelty songs or ones that deal with meatier topics, but where would we be without the love song?

Writing last time about Carole King’s It’s Too Late made me think about “songs about lost love“. Until you go through an emotionally draining parting of the ways, as I did in the autumn of 1984, you don’t realise just how many songs out there are about this very subject. Lyrics, hitherto not really listened to, suddenly play out exactly what you are going through and cut like a knife whenever they come on the radio. I don’t know if I was unlucky but during that period the charts seemed to be full of such songs. It all started off with John Waite and his heart-wrenching song Missing You and then led on to Jim Diamond‘s I Should Have Known Better.

For me however, the one that caused the most distress was Louise by The Human League. I have always loved The Human League, not least because of their sheer “Northern-ness”. Phil Oakey, their lead singer, sported the androgynous look favoured by the synthpop bands of the day and his asymmetrical hairstyle must have cut a dash in the nightclubs of Sheffield before he joined the band, but when you heard him speak he came across as a “reight” good northern bloke and not the artsy model you would expect. When the girls, Joanne and Susan, were “emergency-recruited” to fulfill the band’s touring commitments, the line-up we are most familiar with was complete. (Of course it has become part of pop folklore that the girls were at the time still at school and on a night out when they were spotted by Phil. After having a discussion with their parents they were allowed to join the band and go on tour, but had to return to school afterwards!)

Louise by The Human League:

But back to the song Louise – It was the third and last single to be released from their 1984 album “Hysteria” and only reached No. 13 in the UK Singles Chart but trust me, it received blanket airplay at the time I was at my most vulnerable, and I will always associate it with that period. It turns out that the lyrics had a darker subtext but most people would have taken them at face value and for someone like myself, going through a break-up, the song made for painful listening – Hard to reconcile that the person who had been your closest friend for years, would in the future be someone you might have a chance encounter with whilst getting off a bus. As it turned out I moved to another town soon after and didn’t tend to use buses very often but it still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it. Thanks Phil for a beautiful song.

Louise Lyrics
(Song by Phil Oakey/Jo Callis/Philip Adrian Wright)

When he saw her getting off the bus
It seemed to wipe away the years
Her face was older just a little rough
But her eyes were still so clear
He drank his coffee and he hurried out
Across, before she walked away
Then he approached her like a little child
Too scared for what he had to say

“Hello Louise
Remember me?
Now should we part
Or stay awhile
As if we were still lovers?”

She took a moment just to recognise the man she’d known so well before
And as he started to apologise
Lose any bitterness she bore
She gently put her finger on his lips
To let him know she understood
And, with her suitcase standing on the floor
Embraced him like a lover would

He told Louise
“You look so good
It’s just you see
You make me feel
As if we were still lovers”

It’s not always true that time heals all wounds
There are wounds that you don’t wanna heal
The memories of something really good
Something truly real, that you never found again

And though they talked for just a little time
Before she said she had to go
He saw the meeting as a tiny sign
That told him all he had to know

And so Louise
Waved from the bus
And as she left
She gave that smile
As if they were still lovers

Postscript:

I feel I can’t quite move on until I mention that The Human League were by no means the only successful act to emerge from Sheffield in the early ’80s – At around the same time Heaven 17 and ABC were also producing excellent albums and doing really well in the charts.

Since then there have been numerous other success stories including Pulp, Babybird, Moloko and currently The Arctic Monkeys. There are apparently twice the percentage of people in Sheffield engaged in the creative industries compared to the national average and I know I will want to investigate this further down the line. The city suffered the collapse of the steel and coal industries in the 70s and 80s and there does seem to be a correlation here – When work is no longer plentiful, young people have the time and energy to exercise their creativity and for Sheffield it has led to an economy now very much on the up.

This of course can be said of many other cities with a similar industrial background such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester all of whom, have at some point in the last 50 years, been at the epicentre of a music revolution. Interesting stuff and a real piece of luck if you happened to be in the right place at the right time. In the early 80s, if you weren’t one of the Blitz Kids from London’s Covent Garden, the next best place to emerge from was obviously, Sheffield.

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