Alyson’s Archive #5 – David Bowie, “Heroes” and Seasonal Duets

Think back forty years ago, to this week in December 1977. I’m pretty sure I would have been busy at school sitting mock exams ahead of the Christmas break (luckily we got them out of the way beforehand so had the luxury of no holiday revision). But what else would I have been doing? Oh yes, that’s right, I would have been picking up my monthly copy of Words magazine, of which a couple of issues have already been shared in this series.

On the cover was none other than Mr David Bowie, as 1977 was a pretty good year for him having released two successful albums, “Low” at the start of the year and “Heroes” right at the end. Hard to believe that he left us nearly two years ago now. I started this blog on the day we heard of his death and despite never having really been a Bowie fanatic, he has appeared on these pages many times now. He obviously infiltrated the “tracks of my years” in a stealthy fashion without me having realised, and the song Heroes from that second album is one of my all-time favourites.

Heroes by David Bowie:

I’ve visited the soundtrack to the film Moulin Rouge! twice before in this blog (here and here) but as it’s coming up to Christmas (and the sumptuous red dress and glittering lights in this clip remind me of the festive period), I can’t help but share the Heroes portion of the medley performed by the two main characters, Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. A total of 13 songs were melded together to create a cornucopia of love-songs, but for me, Bowie’s Heroes worked the best.

But as usual I’ve become side-tracked – Getting back to the magazine, the music journalist who wrote the column on December’s “Cover Star” seemed to get it just right. To quote from the piece, “Of all our current top rock stars, David Bowie is the one most likely to remain a major musical force decades hence… .” And they continue, “Listening to this [Heroes], you realise that Bowie’s strength and durability lies in the fact he refuses to fit neatly into any specific category. He will constantly surprise even his most dedicated followers, while maintaining an unvarying high quality of performance.” As I’ve discovered from this series, we didn’t always get it right back in the day and the slightly disparaging remarks in my 1978 journal about artists who went on to great things, proves this – Sorry Squeeze! Likewise the music journalists often got it wrong themselves and many of the stories printed in these vintage mags were about people who are now residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Makes for a somewhat excruciating read.

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You can’t have failed to notice that Bing Crosby also appears in the picture above – As I’ve already mentioned the “C” word in this post there is no point in holding back any longer. My first festive offering for this year is therefore going to be that very unusual foray into the 1982 UK Singles Chart by David Bowie. As explained in the column above, it came about as a result of this guest appearance on Bing Crosby’s 1977 Christmas Show. Poor Bing died a month later, before it was aired on television, but if you can get past the highly scripted, faux exchange at the start, it is a remarkable piece of archive material, especially as both “boys in blue” have now passed on. It is unlikely that Bing even knew who David Bowie was before recording the show but once the Peace On Earth counterpoint was written for the duet, Bowie got on board. It was apparently available as a bootleg single for several years before the record company decided to release it as a bona fide single, complete with dialogue. Bowie was unhappy with this move however and it probably led to him leaving RCA soon after.

Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby:

So, “What’s It All About?” – As of this last weekend the festive madness has begun, but it seems to be impossible to opt out. I’ve also just discovered that the online retail store named after a vast South American river is almost out of everything that darling daughter requested on her Santa list (yes he still visits 22-year-olds apparently), so a trip to the shops seems to be on the cards. Looks as if Mr WIAA and I will have to be “Heroes”, just for one day.

Oh and one more thing, the reason this particular cover jumped out at me is possibly because there is currently a 10 foot tall picture of David Bowie residing at the entrance to our local shopping centre – Forty years on, and two years after his death, his images still exude “cool” which has obviously made him the perfect candidate for a certain watch-maker to use as inspiration for their latest timepiece.

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Until next time….

Heroes Lyrics
(Song by David Bowie/Brian Eno)

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact
Yes, we’re lovers, and that is that

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What’d you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes, just for one day

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side

Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
Just for one day

We can be heroes
We’re nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we’re lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safer, just for one day
Oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh

Postscript:

Just in case you’re curious as to what else we were listening to in December ’77 (other than David Bowie) here is a copy of the Words contents page which includes two sets of lyrics. How many of these (without Googling) would you remember?

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The Name Of The Game by Abba:

Fireworks, Full Moons and “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”

Well, socially it’s a busy time of the year in my neck of the woods and there have been two soirées in the last week alone. Last Tuesday our “across-the-road” neighbours hosted a Halloween party which was great fun. We all specialise in different kinds of events (I do quiz nights and landmark dates in the calendar) but Halloween belongs to them. Despite being in their late sixties now, their son’s old baby bath is hauled out to enable “dooking for apples”, the garage is given a spooky makeover and all the local kids drop by in their costumes.

Then on Saturday, friends who live across on what is called the Black Isle (it’s not actually an island but it’s bordered on three sides by firths, so almost), asked if we’d like to join them for their local Bonfire Night celebrations. The best bit of the whole night however was that we witnessed the most spectacular full moon I think I’ve ever seen. The picture below is not of that actual moon, as I wasn’t quite on the ball with my camera equipment, but it could well have been.

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Having looked into it a bit more it was called the Frost Moon which peaked this year on the 4th November. It is also called the Beaver Moon however, that name coming from the Native Americans as this was the time of year they set their beaver traps to make sure there were enough warm furs ahead of winter. It turns out all full moons have a name which is something I hadn’t realised before. Over the next 12 months we will have the following:

December – Cold Moon
January – Wolf Moon
February – Snow Moon
March – Worm Moon
April – Pink Moon
May – Flower Moon
June – Strawberry Moon
July – Buck Moon
August – Sturgeon Moon
September – Fruit Moon
October – Hunter’s Moon 
November – Beaver Moon

Over the last year I have written about all the landmark dates in the ancient Pagan, or Celtic calendar, but as that cycle is now complete I think I can feel a new series coming on, this time all about moons! But of course Saturday’s moon wasn’t just impressive because it was a full one – Oh no, it was also a “supermoon”, when it comes to that point nearest the Earth. Despite being only about 26,000 miles closer than at other times, it appears around 14% larger and a whopping 30% brighter than usual. I love all this stuff.

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But this is a music blog, so which song came to mind as I wandered along the beach on Saturday night on my way to the bonfire? Perhaps because I have written both about Frank Sinatra and the song Fly Me To The Moon in my last couple of posts, I ended up going down the Rat Pack route, and serenaded our friends with this golden oldie.

In Napoli where love is king
When boy meets girl, here’s what they say:

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore”

That’s Amore is a song written by Harry Warren and Jack Brooks which became a big hit (and signature song) for Dean Martin in 1953. Funnily enough, I remember it best from the Cher film Moonstruck, where she plays a widowed Italian-American who falls in love with her fiancé’s estranged, hot-tempered younger brother (played by Nicolas Cage). Cher won the Oscar for Best Actress in that one and as I haven’t watched it in years, I think I will now go and seek it out.

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But what else comes to mind when I think of songs with the word moon in the title or lyrics. Well, this might be a good time to include something by Christopher Cross in the blog. I have held off as long as possible as it seems that Christopher has unfortunately ended up being attributed to that category of artists who produce what is called soft rock, or even worse yacht rock. Apparently yacht rock relates to the stereotype of the yuppie yacht owner, who enjoys smooth music while out for a sail. Also, since sailing was a popular leisure activity in Southern California, many yacht rockers made nautical references in their lyrics, videos, and album artwork, particularly Sailing by Christopher Cross.

But hey, I have never owned a yacht nor am I ever likely to, but I still warm to the melodic tones of Mr Cross and always enjoy that romantic line from his Academy award winning song Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)If you get caught between the Moon and New York City, the best that you can do is fall in love”.

Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) by Christopher Cross:

It is no surprise really that I have always liked this song as it was written by Burt Bacharach (amongst others) for the 1981 film Arthur starring our own Dudley Moore. Burt’s song Wives and Lovers featured in my last post so definitely on a Frank and Burt roll at the moment it seems. What I have just discovered however is that the line about getting caught between the moon and New York City was inspired not by a romantic encounter but because one of the credited songwriters, Peter Allen, got stuck in a holding pattern waiting to land at JFK airport in New York several years earlier. Oh well, best not to know sometimes how these memorable lines came to pass.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I seem to have a new series on my hands! (Yes, I know I have a few others in progress but I will make time for them too, promise.) There are certainly many, many songs that mention the word “moon” in the title but which are your favourites?

In December, all being well we will witness the Cold Moon, that name again from the Native Americans as it was associated with the month when winter cold fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark. Any suggestions for songs therefore that relate to both the moon, and to the cold grip of winter, gratefully received. I will get my thinking cap on myself before that date and apologies that I couldn’t muster up anything this time that related both to the moon, and to beavers – Might have been a stretch?!

Until next time….

Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) Lyrics
(Song by Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager/Christopher Cross/Peter Allen)

Once in your life you find her
Someone that turns your heart around
And next thing you know you’re closing down the town
Wake up and it’s still with you
Even though you left her way across town
Wondering to yourself, “Hey, what’ve I found?”

When you get caught between the Moon and New York City
I know it’s crazy, but it’s true
If you get caught between the Moon and New York City
The best that you can do,
The best that you can do is fall in love

Arthur he does as he pleases
All of his life, he’s mastered choice
Deep in his heart, he’s just, he’s just a boy
Living his life one day at a time
And showing himself a really good time
Laughing about the way they want him to be

When you get caught between the Moon and New York City
I know it’s crazy, but it’s true
If you get caught between the Moon and New York City
The best that you can do,
The best that you can do is fall in love

Postscript:

Out of interest here are a few pictures from the display we went along to on Saturday night – The fireworks were indeed spectacular but not quite as spectacular as that amazing full moon reflected on the water of the firth. Very special indeed.

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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. Ironically, when good friends of ours recently moved to another town, their new next-door neighbour turned out to be the recipient of that first kiss – I went to say hello as we’d been right through secondary school together, but at first he didn’t recognise me because he didn’t have his glasses on! Oh the cruel passage of time and how it affects our senses.

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year:

By the age of 21 I had done the unthinkable, I had dropped all my female friends because I wanted to spend most of my day with my student boyfriend. He was never alone however so it was usually a group of about five lads and myself, in the library, in the bar, in the dining hall…., you get the picture. (“Yes, we see, he was the Leader of the Pack” – sorry couldn’t resist).

Anyway, they were all great fans of that other famous son of New Jersey Bruce Springsteen, so when a rumour went round that he was coming to play the NEC in Birmingham, tickets were acquired. The boyfriend’s parents’ Volvo was commandeered and on the day of my 21st birthday we headed off, driving through the night to the West Midlands. I will have to admit that at age 21 I was more of a fan of Ultravox, Spandau, Visage and Adam Ant so my knowledge of Bruce’s back catalogue was scant indeed. In the weeks before the concert I therefore immersed myself in his album “The River”. By the time the concert came along I was sufficiently au fait with his material to really enjoy the whole experience, especially the saxophone playing of Clarence Clemons. As for the song The River, Bruce cited his inspiration as being his sister and brother-in-law who are still married today. Unlike my New Romantic bands from the early ’80s, Bruce has kept on writing and touring to this day. Never having been a follower of fashion in any way (his stage outfit remains almost unchanged) he has never gone out of fashion – He is the bard of New Jersey but a campaign to get Bruce’s Born To Run named as official state song did flounder, as in reality the song was all about getting the hell out of New Jersey!

When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year:

By 35 I was a working mum and a very busy bee indeed so music didn’t feature quite as highly in my life but it would have been hard to miss the fact that Ms Whitney Houston, one of New Jersey’s most famous daughters, had really achieved success of the stratospheric nature. Pop royalty, she was the cousin of Dionne Warwick, the daughter of Cissy Houston, Darlene Love was her godmother and Aretha Franklin an honorary aunt. She had been around since the mid ’80s but after appearing in films such as The Bodyguard the awards just kept on coming. The lead single from the film’s original soundtrack, I Will Always Love You, received the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1994 and became the best-selling single by a female in music history. I think I now prefer the original version, by the writer of the song Dolly Parton, but no-one can deny that Whitney had a stupendous set of pipes back then.

Sadly, Whitney died in 2012 at the very young age of 48, but she certainly has left us with a wonderful back catalogue of songs. She was one of the first singers to make use of that vocal technique called melisma, where by packing in a series of different notes, a single syllable can take nearly six seconds to sing. The technique inspired a host of imitators in the ’90s but what Whitney perhaps nailed best was moderation. Earlier this year I went to the cinema to see the new Kevin Macdonald documentary film Whitney: Can I Be Me – The upshot seemed to be that no, she couldn’t.

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Whitney Houston, RIP

I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston:

So there we have it, by using Frank’s song I have been able to link three other musical legends from New Jersey into this post. Incidentally there is another link you might not have noticed. Frankie Valli actually made several appearances in The Sopranos, playing the mobster Rusty Millio. Also, the Four Seasons’ music is heard in many episodes, especially Big Girls Don’t Cry. Steven Van Zandt, a long term member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, played the character Silvio Dante in all six seasons of The Sopranos and finally, Whitney Houston, was a mezzo-soprano (tenuous that one, but you can’t win them all).

Big Girls Don’t Cry by The Four Seasons:

Next time we head across the border into Pennsylvania – As ever, ideas for song choices gratefully received.

Until next time….

It Was a Very Good Year Lyrics
(Song by Ervin Drake)

When I was seventeen, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for city girls
Who lived up the stairs
With all that perfumed hair
That came undone
When I was twenty-one

When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means
We’d ride in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the years
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

Orange Juice, Altered Images and Gregory’s Girl

Last time I perhaps foolishly put out a request asking for song suggestions – My previous post (link here) had featured two songs from the Gamble & Huff stable in Philadelphia, Year Of Decision by The Three Degrees and Back Stabbers by the O’Jays. As ever you didn’t disappoint and there were quite a few Should I Stay Or Should I Go suggestions but that Clash song featured here last year (link here), as part of my “pre-EU Referendum going-to-the-polls” post (we all did one let’s face it and I’m just glad that over a year on, everything is progressing so well on that front, with negotiations going swimmingly!). Other suggestions were mainly for songs I didn’t really know or for another song by the same artist so I decided to plump for this one, Rip It Up by Orange Juice (that suggestion from Rol over at My Top Ten).

Rip It Up By Orange Juice:

Every now and again a particular city seems to be at the epicentre of things, musically speaking, and in the early 1980s that city seemed to be Glasgow. The independent Postcard Records, started in a tenement flat bedroom, spawned many fine acts, two of which were Edwyn Collins’ Orange Juice and Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera. Postcard Records didn’t last long but both of these bands were soon signed by bigger labels and started making headway in the charts. In 1983 the single Rip It Up made it to No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart which was their only top 40 success which surprises me. This single was less post-punk than their earlier material and they used synthesisers to create a more disco-oriented sound. Edwyn went on to become a solo artist and had a worldwide hit in 1994 with A Girl Like You. There also can’t be many people who don’t know that Edwyn suffered two cerebral haemorrhages in 2005 which resulted in a long period of rehabilitation – A documentary film on his recovery, titled The Possibilities Are Endless, was released in 2014. He now lives on the old family croft in Sutherland, north of where I am, and has his own recording studio up there. His speech is still affected but when he sings it all magically comes together – The power of music.

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I did try to put together a list of all those bands that came out of Glasgow in the late ’70s/early ’80s but just too many to mention and if you’re here already, you probably know who I’m talking about anyway – Suffice to say there were many. I always remembered Claire Grogan from the band Altered Images saying in an interview that when they travelled south to London in those days to record ToTP, it was a bit of a home from home, as half the dressing rooms were filled with bands they knew well from their home city. Altered Images also fitted into that post-punk genre when they started out, although like Orange Juice soon started making headway in the charts reaching No. 7 in 1983 with this fine song, Don’t Talk To Me About Love. The “pop pixie” Claire only needed a big baggy top, a pair of dangly earrings, a quick blow-dry at the hairdressers and a bit of gold eyeshadow to make us all fall in love with her back then. So much more demure than the pop princesses of today and for me, much sexier – Just sayin’ girls!

Don’t Talk To Me About Love by Altered Images:

But of course for people of my generation, and specifically Scottish people I imagine, Claire Grogan is best remembered for playing Susan in Bill Forsyth’s wonderful coming-of-age romantic comedy Gregory’s Girl. If like me you went to a straight down the middle, semi-modern state secondary school (usually called an academy), this film will resonate in so many ways. All the stereotypes were present – The gangly and awkward Gregory (played by John Gordon Sinclair), his socially inept friends (think the Inbetweeners 40 years ago), the football obsessed PE teacher, the more mature and business-savvy Steve who offers dating advice, the confident and sporty Dorothy and the slightly quirky but impossibly cute Susan.

This film was made in 1980 and I left school in the summer of 1978 but little had changed and when I went to see it all those fond memories came flooding back. I realise now in later life that I was one of the lucky ones as my schooldays were charmed, full of fun, friends and laughter (and hard work of course). Like in the film, the machinations that took place between girls in order to contrive an evening date “up the country park” (heady stuff), were something to behold. Also what was it with Scottish schools and football? – At our one, all other sports were pretty much side-lined as the focus of attention was on getting as many boys as possible into the prestigious North of Scotland Select – Our school was so focussed on this goal (no pun intended) that we had five boys at one point in that team and when school-boyfriend scored the winning goal in a grudge match with the South of Scotland, he huffed for a week when I wasn’t suitably impressed!

I still really enjoy watching this film today and never tire of it – The music by Colin Tully recorded for the title sequence was just perfect and I can’t listen to the sound of that wonderful saxophone without having a massive pang of nostalgia for my schooldays – I know it doesn’t happen this way for everyone but my schooldays really were the best days of my life, yet I didn’t realise that at the time, which is sad. (I’m not saying of course that it’s all been rubbish since, but as an adult there are always pesky responsibilities and worries that detract from that feeling of pure happiness – As you get older and your kids get older the worries sadly don’t seem to ease, they just change!)

And on that note I will sign off for today.

Until next time….

Rip It Up Lyrics
(Song by Edwyn Collins)

When I first saw you
Something stirred within me
You were standing sultry in the rain
If I could’ve held you
I would’ve held you
Rip it up and start again

Rip it up and start again
Rip it up and start again
I hope to God you’re not as dumb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God
And I hope to God I’m not as numb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God

And when I next saw you
My heart reached out for you
But my arms stuck like glue to my sides
If I could’ve held you
I would’ve held you
But I’d choke rather than swallow my pride
Rip it up and start again

Rip it up and start again
Rip it up and start again
I hope to God you’re not as dumb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God
And I hope to God I’m not as numb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God

And there was times I’d take my pen
And feel obliged to start again
I do profess
That there are things in life
That one can’t quite express
You know me I’m acting dumb-dumb
You know this scene is very humdrum
And my favourite song’s entitled ‘boredom’

Rip it up and start again
I said rip it up and start again
I said rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and start again

Chuck Berry, Back To The Future and “Johnny B. Goode”

My last two posts have in effect been tributes to artists who passed away in 2017. Another colossus from the world of music who died earlier this year, but whom I omitted to write about at the time, was Chuck Berry. It was not until after his death at the grand old age of 90, that I discovered he’d led such a colourful life, and not always because of his success as one of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll. Oh no, over the years it was common to see him having been incarcerated for a variety of misdemeanours, so despite having come from a reasonably well-off, middle class family, there was something about his personality that must have made that likely to happen.

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Chuck Berry in 1958

As for me, being a child of the ’60s, Mr Berry’s rock ‘n’ roll career had kind of passed its heyday by the time I got to know about him, and ironically when I did, it was only because of the truly awful novelty song My Ding a Ling. For some reason, despite its awfulness, it must have resonated with the record-buying public back in 1972, and hit the No. 1 spot in several countries including the UK.

Chuck Berry has graced these pages before (link here) but only because I had written a post about songs chosen for crime dramas. Quentin Tarantino, a master at picking lesser-known and somehow timeless tracks for his movies, had used Chuck’s You Never Can Tell for the infamous twist contest scene in Pulp Fiction, where Mia Wallace instructs a nervous Vincent Vega that she wants to win that trophy (and what Mia wants, Mia gets).

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But no, I’m sure we’d all agree that the song most closely associated with Chuck Berry is none other than Johnny B. Goode. It was written back in 1955 and was all about an illiterate, guitar-playing country boy from Louisiana who dreamt of having his name in lights. Although originally about a “coloured boy”, Chuck changed the lyrics to “country boy” to make sure of airplay and it sits at No. 7 on that list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

There also however can’t be many people of my age who don’t know that his whole career was based on a chance phonecall from his cousin Marvin Berry, who had accidentally injured his hand and needed a guitar-playing stand-in at short notice. Fortunately, a time-travelling kid from 1985 was literally waiting in the wings for his chance to shine and the rest as they say, is history – Chuck had finally found that new sound he was looking for. (Check out the proof at 1:30)

Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry:

But of course that couldn’t really have happened, even in the fanciful world of Steven Spielberg movies, as it would have constituted a paradox. Marty McFly in the film Back To The Future would never have known the song Johnny B. Goode in 1985 had Chuck not written it in 1955, but a great little bit of space-time continuum humour for the movie. In October 2015, whilst on holiday, it became apparent via social media that we were celebrating Back To The Future Day – As luck would have it the day was a bit of a miserable one weather-wise, so how better to spend it than to watch all three BTTF movies back to back – How accurate had the film-makers been in predicting how we would live in the future? Not too bad at all as it turns out although to date I have never popped to the shops on a hover board!

And here is where my geek credentials come to the fore – I do love the whole concept of time-travel (this blog’s domain name is “jukeboxtimemachine.com” after all) so I decided, once and for all, to document the BTTF journeys made by Marty and Doc Brown. It’s easy to get a tad confused over the sheer number of trips made by our intrepid duo over the course of the trilogy but by the end of film number two it was all on paper, and was making total sense – A seemingly inconsequential action taking place in an alternate past can change the future from being a rosy one, to one of utter chaos and that’s exactly what had happened. It was time to go further back in time, to 1885.

Now it was starting to get really complicated but I soldiered on over the course of the afternoon recording the many, many DeLorean journeys back and forth in time. By early evening I thought I had it, and clearly marked on the bit of paper I had commandeered from our holiday cottage sideboard, that there were indeed no paradoxes. What a fool I was however as I had clearly not considered the fact that Mr Berry’s song, duck walk and guitar riff had, according to cousin Marvin, not even been thought of yet. As it turns out, many other paradoxes have been discovered over the years by eagle-eyed fans (or should that be pedantic geeks), but on that evening of 21st October 2015, I was still feeling really quite chuffed with myself.

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So, “What’s It All About?” – It seems that for someone my age, Chuck Berry is not so much remembered for being pivotal in the melding of rhythm & blues with country music and bringing it to a mainstream audience in the form of rock ‘n’ roll, but instead for a (really bad) novelty song, the music used for Pulp Fiction’s twist contest and for that highly entertaining musical paradox in a film about a pair of time travellers. What can I say, I am a product of the pop culture of my times.

I feel as if I have now caught up with this year’s tributes and am crossing fingers that no more will have to be written for a while, although unlikely considering the age of some of the rock royalty still around – We wouldn’t want to admit it but I can’t be the only one who has conjectured on who will be next. Before I go however we should really see some more of Chuck in action, as it sounds as if without him there might not have been any Beatles or a myriad of other ’60s bands influenced by him and his ilk. Without Chuck there would probably have been no British Invasion, so however his life panned out, that is quite a legacy to leave.

Until next time….

Johnny B. Goode Lyrics
(Song by Chuck Berry)

Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play a guitar just like a-ringing a bell

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Go sit beneath the tree by the railroad track
Oh, the engineer would see him sittin’ in the shade
Strummin’ with the rhythm that the drivers made
The people passing by, they would stop and say
“Oh my, but that little country boy could play”

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

His mother told him, “Someday you will be a man,
And you will be the leader of a big ol’ band
Many people comin’ from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down
Maybe someday your name’ll be in lights
Sayin’ ‘Johnny B. Goode tonight!'”

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

The Bee Gees, Al Green and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”

Like many of us, I probably spend far too much time in a day visiting the various blogs I follow but today’s visit to a great series called The Songwriters by Chris over at Winding Road has got me all emotional. Any regulars to this place know that I’m a bit fragile at the moment anyway because of my impending “retirement” so it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge. The songwriters of choice today were The Bee Gees and although it took me quite some time to admit to being a fan of both them and their music around here, once I did I was flooded with affirmation that it was ok, so a bit of a relief really.

One of the featured songs in Chris’ post was How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, written by The Bee Gees but covered by Al Green in 1972. You probably reside in much calmer households, but with darling daughter back living with us, there seems to be no end of broken hearts around here nowadays and somehow we get caught up in it all. The simple relationships she and her friends had during their schooldays and beyond appear to be far behind them now, and never a weekend seems to go by without some drama or other. This weekend has been no exception so needless to say this song has suddenly become very pertinent.

Because of the subject matter, it pops up all the time on film soundtracks and I probably remember it best from the Richard Curtis film Notting Hill. Poor old Hugh Grant had very bravely but sensibly rejected Hollywood A-lister Julia Roberts’ advances, but it wasn’t an easy decision and he had to suffer the emotional fall-out as a result. Cue Al Green and his beautiful version of the song.

Barry and Robin Gibb wrote the song one afternoon in 1970 after getting back together after a period of estrangement. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart was obviously relevant to their situation but it also cries out to all those broken-hearted souls who have just seen a parting of the ways. Fortunately for us the Gibb brothers did mend their broken hearts otherwise everything they did after 1970 would have been lost to us. I don’t think this is a spoiler alert because just about everyone who would have wanted to watch Notting Hill will have done so by now, but Hugh’s broken heart also ends up being mended too!

I did spend a fair bit of time watching Glastonbury on telly this year, dipping in and out over the weekend of festivites. Sunday afternoon is reserved for the Legend Slot and this year the artist performing was none other than Barry Gibb himself. It was for me the highlight of the weekend (and there were many this year) but what can I say, this blog’s tagline is “A Nostalgic Journey Through the Tracks of My Years” and it doesn’t get much more nostalgic for me than hearing Barry sing all those great songs he recorded with his brothers over a 40-year period. The sadness came from the fact that he (ironically the eldest of the four brothers) is now the only one still alive, but they are always up there on stage with him he says, and at one point a large image of the missing Bee Gees came up on the screen behind him. Here is a clip of one of the last times they would have performed How Can You Mend A Broken Heart together on stage, pretty much just as it would have sounded back on that fateful afternoon in 1970.

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart by The Bee Gees:

So, “What’s it all about?” – From experience broken hearts do get mended, but usually all down to that old chestnut time. Try telling that to a 21-year-old who has just had their heart broken however – It doesn’t tend to go down very well.

Until next time….

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart Lyrics
(Song by Barry Gibb/Robin Gibb)

I can think of younger days
When living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do
I could never see tomorrow
But I was never told about the sorrow

How can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?
What makes the world go round?

How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart
And let me live again

I can still feel the breeze
That rustles through the trees
And misty memories of days gone by
We could never see tomorrow
But no one said a word about the sorrow

How can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down
How can you stop the sun from shining
What makes the world go round

And how can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart
And let me live again

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

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

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

New York.jpg

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

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

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

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

JAYZ
Jay-Z, Rapper and Businessman

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

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

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

5 boroughs

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

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

Angela (Theme from Taxi) by Bob James:

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

feelin groovy

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

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

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

You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kellermans in the Catskills, the setting for Dirty Dancing

Stay by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs:

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

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

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

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

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

manhattan

Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin:

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

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

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

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