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

Ewan McGregor, Elton John and “Your Song”

Before I got side-tracked by other things, like writing my landmark 100th post (still basking in the afterglow of having reached that momentous number), I had revisited the Randy Crawford song One Day I’ll Fly Away which is featured in this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad. It led me to share the version performed by Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish movie Moulin Rouge!. Her male co-star and love interest in that movie was Ewan McGregor, my favourite Scottish actor, in fact no, my favourite actor full stop. I am currently eagerly awaiting the sequel to the 1996 film Trainspotting which is due to come out early next year where he very memorably played the character Renton, a young man caught up in a world of addiction and squalor in, ironically, “culturally rich” Edinburgh – Harrowing scenes but also scenes of great humour and on some lists, it is ranked Best Scottish Film of all time.

His role in Moulin Rouge! could not have been more different as in this one he plays a writer/poet who has come to live amongst the Bohemians of Montmartre during the period of La Belle Époque. It is not long before he falls in love with Satine, the star courtesan of the Moulin Rouge nightclub played by Nicole Kidman and for me, the whole film was an absolute spectacle, with fantastic music throughout.

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Ewan and Nicole sing their Love Medley

I hadn’t realised until going to see that film in 2001 that both Nicole and Ewan were such great singers, but they were, and one of their very memorable duets, Elephant Love Medley, was compiled from 13 different Love Songs – If you are around my age, you will recognise all of them. They came just too thick and fast when I watched this song being performed first time around but once home, and with the newly purchased CD in the player (it was 15 years ago now), it was easier to identify and remember all of them. Here is the clip followed by the list, in the correct running order, of all 13 songs from which snippets were plucked. Very aptly for this year, I think my favourite segment is when they sang a few lines from the David Bowie song Heroes.

Elephant Love Medley by Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman:

Medley compiled from:
Love Is Like Oxygen – Sweet
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing – The Four Aces
Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
Lover’s Game – Chris Isaak
I Was Made For Lovin’ You – Kiss
One More Night – Phil Collins
Pride (In The Name Of Love) – U2
Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
Silly Love Songs – Paul McCartney and Wings
(Repeated) Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
Heroes – David Bowie
I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton
Your Song – Elton John

The final song used for the medley was Your Song by Elton John. It was originally released back in 1970 and although I knew it well, I had been too young back then to really appreciate those great lyrics by Elton’s long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin. By the time I was a teenager in 1973, Elton John was one of the biggest singer/composer/musicians on the planet, his albums “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” receiving massive critical acclaim. But, at that time my focus was very much on my oh so good-looking teen idols, the Donnys and the Davids. Elton by this time had embraced the full glam-rock persona with ever more outrageous outfits, glasses and footwear, but not someone I saw as a potential teen idol.

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One of Elton’s outrageous outfits!

This is a roundabout way of saying that it was not until going to see Moulin Rouge! in 2001 that I truly appreciated the sentiment of Your Song, and actually dug out a really old cassette tape from the loft that, amongst others, contained my new favourite song. Again maybe it’s the old romantic in me, but what a wonderful thing I thought, to have a song written specially for you which includes the line: How wonderful life is, while you’re in the world”. Unlike Pattie Boyd, who seems to have had oh so many songs written about how wonderful it was to have her in the world, I am pretty sure no-one has ever written a song for me. At best there may have been a limerick or rhyme (of the non-smutty nature) in a Valentine card at some point, but still perhaps time if Mr WIAA decides to take up the art of song-writing in later life. The really ironic thing is that hubby’s real-life profession is actually mentioned in the song, but in a bit of a derogatory fashion. Yes it is a great source of mirth in our house that one of the lines from Your Song goes as follows: “If I were a sculptor (bit of aside laughter at the ridiculousness of the suggestion), but then again, no”. It turns out that Bernie Taupin decided that it would be preferable being “a man who makes potions in a travelling show” than to be a sculptor. I beg to differ as although I haven’t yet had a song written for me, I have had a few really nice pieces of jewellery, as the sculpture around here is of the miniature, rather than of the monumental variety.

Your Song by Elton John:

So, “What’s It All About?” – It’s good in later life to revisit songs you may not have truly appreciated first time around because you were just far too busy swooning over your latest teen idol, who happened to have great hair, teeth, waistcoats and headwear. (That would be Donny Osmond in his trademark purple cap then!) I sadly did not appreciate Your Song first time around so was glad to rediscover it properly after watching Baz Luhrmann’s lavish film. Yet again, the subject matter for both the above songs is that old chestnut love but as I have mentioned here before (just a few times), that is indeed what it’s all about. We seem to be living in a bit of a troubled world at the moment but I will remain positive and hope that love will win out in the end.

Until next time here is the Moulin Rouge! version of the song, Baz Luhrmann style. Both have their merits but it’s the simple pared down version by Elton for me now – Unlike Pattie Boyd I may never have any songs written for me, or about me, but in the meantime a nice piece of sculptural jewellery will do nicely. The man who makes potions in a travelling show is not the one for me!

Your Song Lyrics
(Song by Elton John/Bernie Taupin)

It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide
I don’t have much money but boy if I did
I’d buy a big house where we both could live

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show
I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well a few of the verses well they’ve got me quite cross
But the sun’s been quite kind while I wrote this song
It’s for people like you that keep it turned on

So excuse me forgetting but these things I do
You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue
Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

Christmas Adverts, Randy Crawford and “One Day I’ll Fly Away”

You know that the festive season is just around the corner when John Lewis comes up with another of their “heart-warming” Christmas adverts. I first watched it properly a few nights ago and much to my chagrin, this year they are using one of my all-time favourite songs, One Day I’ll Fly Away. The version for the ad is by South London band Vaults (no The apparently) but the version I fell in love with many years ago was by Randy Crawford. Incredibly, despite being from Georgia, she didn’t ever crack the Billboard Hot 100 in the US but achieved great success in Europe and the UK making it to No. 2 in our Singles Chart in 1980 with that song.

One Day I’ll Fly Away by Randy Crawford:

My chagrin comes from the fact that a song I have always loved will by the end of the festive period have lost all its charm due to having been listened to just once too often. One upside of blogging however is that it does leave very little time for television, so what I do watch nowadays tends to be very carefully cherry-picked from recordings or on-demand services (that would be Netflix then) – With any luck I might be spared the over-exposure. To be fair however, the ad, featuring a very excited Buster the Boxer joyously jumping up and down on the trampoline from Santa, is a great one and not the sadvert they were accused of putting out last year. I do wonder whether it actually does lead to a hike in sales nowadays, when so many of us do our Christmas shopping online, but they have kind of set the bar for this new art form and as yet have seen off the competition. A lot of course is down to the song choice, and I certainly can’t fault Vaults performance in this one (One Day I’ll Fly Away – John Lewis style).

But back to the song itself – In 1979 Randy Crawford sang with The Crusaders, providing vocals for their excellent hit Street Life. Joe Sample and Will Jennings from The Crusaders then wrote One Day I’ll Fly Away specifically for Randy. The song is apparently about emotional bondage and the longing to be free of it. Coincidentally it came to mind the other Sunday (the same day I took to “tipsy blogging”) on my drive to the supermarket when I felt I had just too much to do that day. How wonderful I thought it would be to get off the hamster wheel and just keep on driving, flying away to a new less busy life. (Just to be clear no emotional bondage to be free of, as Mr WIAA is a great other half, just wouldn’t mind there being a bit less “to-do-list” bondage in an average week.) Needless to say I didn’t fly away that afternoon but did the shopping and then went home to cook the Sunday dinner as per usual!

But the video clip I’m going to share today is actually from the sumptuous 2001 Baz Luhrmann musical Moulin Rouge! where Nicole Kidman turned in a great performance playing Star Courtesan Satine. Who knew she could sing so well (I didn’t anyway) and the scene in the amazing “Red Room Elephant” where she sings One Day I’ll Fly Away was my favourite of the whole movie. Satine is not particularly yearning to be free of emotional bondage or even to-do-list bondage, but she longs to leave the life she is living at The Moulin Rouge, and become a “real” actress.

One Day I’ll Fly Away by Nicole Kidman:

This was a typical Baz Luhrmann, over-the-top production with many great songs but with a very simple boy-meets-girl storyline. Enter poet/writer Christian, played by my favourite Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who falls in love with Satine. Who knew he could sing so well either, but the pair of them performed many memorable duets in that movie some of which I will leave for another day.

No great light-bulb revelation with this post other than a pleasant revisitation of a song I have enjoyed over the years, albeit prompted by a Christmas ad. It is my abiding hope that it doesn’t get ruined for me over the festive period through over-exposure. One mini revelation however was finding out that the main hook in the song (its title) was based on the opening sequence from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers – Every day’s a school day!

One Day I’ll Fly Away Lyrics
(Song by Will Jennings/Joe Sample)

I follow the night
Can’t stand the light

When will I begin?
To live again?

One day I’ll fly away
Leave all this to yesterday
What more could your love do for me
When will love be through with me
Why live life from dream to dream
And dread the day when dreaming ends

One day I’ll fly away!
Leave all this to yesterday!
Why live life from dream to dream!?
And dreamt the day when dreaming end

September, Jerry Orbach and “Try to Remember”

Well, here we are into the month of September already and there is definitely a feeling of “autumnal-ness” in the air today. There is always a slight sadness at this time of year if like me you live in the North of Scotland, as we pretty much know that summer is now behind us for another year and barring the odd exceptional day, the weather will just get that little bit colder and wetter every day now until the seasons turn again next year.

On the other hand, if like me you enjoy knitwear, coats and woollen accessories, or indeed if you manufacture and sell these items, I imagine you are quite happy that autumn is now upon us. I do have a large collection of polo neck jumpers and although I can wear some of the sleeveless and cottony ones during the summer months, my signature black polos have had to sit unworn for quite a few months now. Looking forward in a way to reacquainting myself with the rest of my wardrobe.

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Local girl Tilda Swinton – The new face of Pringle knitwear

A few years ago I set myself the challenge of taking an “interesting” photo of the natural world, every day, for a year – Unlike with this blogging malarkey that has taken up most of my free time this year, it was an excellent hobby for getting incidental exercise, as I had to do a sizeable walk every day in search of new scenes and subjects. I probably gained a bit of a reputation in the area as I didn’t have a dog to explain the walking, I tended to be on my own and at a moment’s notice I would suddenly jump down into a ditch and appear to get up close and personal with what might to others, look like a weed (good for a picture though sometimes).

Anyway, I did end up with a great set of 365 photographs that pretty much told the story of our seasons that year. Ironically it turned out to be the snowiest winter we’d had in years, so lots of brilliant snow-scenes. As we’ve meteorologically reached autumn today, I have looked back at my “365” photo for the 1st September and it turned out to be this one – My neighbour’s hydrangea shrub. I probably walked a few miles that day only to discover that the best picture came from a few yards away, in the garden next door! It looks as if I’ve “special-effectified” it as I was wont to do back then, but you can still see the signs of approaching autumn in the leaves. Sad for me too as this neighbour, who ended up being like a granny to our daughter, died later on that year so this would have been the last time she would have seen these giant flowers in the garden she so loved.

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But this is supposed to be a blog that features songs and of course all day I had that line in my head about September, from the song Try to Remember. Having just looked it up, I discovered that it was written for a long-running musical comedy called The Fantasticks which is one I had never heard of before. It was originally performed by the show’s lead actor Jerry Orbach in 1960 and again although I didn’t recognise that name, I certainly recognised him, as it was Baby’s dad from Dirty Dancing a good few years on.

This song famously makes use of rhyming to an extreme degree and looking at the lyrics, each verse specialises in a different type of rhyming word. If it wasn’t such a melancholy sounding song it would be quite comical but the sadness in it is apt for today I think, and although I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be “following”, I suspect it’s the memory.

Here is a clip of Jerry Orbach singing his version of the song in 1982, where he appears to have just been introduced by Richie Cunningham’s dad.

And here is a really schmaltzy version of The Way We Were by Gladys Knight (seemingly without her ever-present Pips) that got to No. 4 in the UK Singles Chart in 1975, where in the preamble, she makes great use of the first line from Try to Remember. I keep having to remind myself here that although I am enjoying this nostalgic revisitation of the songs of my youth and the memories they conjure up, I mustn’t get too melancholy about it all – But you know what, on this, the first day of autumn, I think I just might.

The Way We Were / Try to Remember by Gladys Knight & The Pips:

Try To Remember Lyrics
(Song by Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones – the other one)

Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September when grass was green and grain was yellow
Try to remember the kind of September when you were a tender and callow fellow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

Try to remember when life was so tender that no one wept except the willow
Try to remember when life was so tender that dreams were kept beside your pillow
Try to remember when life was so tender that love was an ember about to billow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

Deep in December it’s nice to remember although you know the snow will follow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember without the hurt the heart is hollow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember the fire of September that made us mellow
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow

An Eclectic Mix of Anthony Newley, Nile Rodgers and Noel Coward!

Well it seems ages since I’ve written what I would call a conventional post – One intro, one song, one back story, one memory and one, “Wow, didn’t realise that back in the day” moment. Blame those very compelling Olympics, the fact that summer eventually came to Scotland and a lot of blog admin to be done (who knew that as time goes by there could be so much, but in for a penny in for a pound and all that).

I’m sure all bloggers are the same but even if I haven’t been posting much of late I’ve had plenty of ideas and I find myself scribbling these down on scraps of paper in the course of the day (surreptitiously of course when I’m at work and supposed to be thinking of very serious statistical analysis type stuff). I have now found these scraps of paper and the topics, if I can read them, are as follows:

  1. Random pick from music app – Visions by Cliff Richard
  2. Concerts at Capitol Theatre, Aberdeen
  3. Anthony Newley, Fiddle liddle I doh
  4. Songs from every Olympics since 1968
  5. Duets where girl is forgotten about – Cherrelle, Denise Marsa, Marilyn Martin
  6. Chic – “Don’t live in the past but it’s a nice place to visit” song 
  7. Songs from daughter’s time in musical theatre
  8. Inter-Oil Company Pop Quiz 1985

So lots to choose from there but the random picks of the day are turning out to be quite embarrassing and if from your iTunes library it means you’ve actually parted with hard-earned cash to own them. I can only confess to purchasing Visions because I sometimes struggle with sleep and discovered that Cliff‘s voice and the sentiment of the song are both quite soporific and lullaby-like (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

Strawberry Fair by Anthony Newley:

Lots of stories to relate about the excellent concerts I witnessed in a small Art Deco theatre in Aberdeen in the ’70s and ’80s but will keep that one for another day. Anthony Newley‘s Strawberry Fair is our favourite novelty song as a family and if there is a chance to get the phrase “fiddle liddle I doh” into a conversation in the course of the day, we will. (Yes I know the actual phrase is “ri-fol ri-fol tol-de-riddle-li-do, but we never heard it that way.)

As for the Olympics, they have been great but as they end this weekend, anything related to all things Olympian will no longer be topical. I have already written about those very memorable duets, like Lucky Stars, where the girl is kind of forgotten about and wasn’t credited (Denise Marsa) then did it myself last week when I wrote about Saturday Love by Alexander O’Neal. As it turns out the song was actually a Cherrelle one and it was Alexander who was asked to duet with her later – My bad.

cherrelle

Chic, a band that epitomised the whole disco scene of the late ’70s, came back last year with I’ll Be There which was heavily played on the radio at the time. Not that their creator Nile Rodgers has ever been away, as he is the genius behind some of the best-selling albums of all-time which I often hadn’t realised until doing research for this blog. The track popped up this week on the radio and I do like that line, “Don’t live in the past but it’s a nice place to visit” especially when spending time on a project like this – Lovely to look back nostalgically but there is a whole world out there still to be discovered and experienced. Got to remind ourselves sometimes that the relationship we have with our laptops is never going to be as important as real-life relationships (and not being smutty here).

I’ll Be There by Chic:

I’ve mentioned before that my daughter was an aficionado of musical theatre and at some point I’m going to post one of her great recordings but to save embarrassment I will probably have to wait until she goes travelling, to a zone with no Wi-Fi. As an aside, anyone who wants to make a lot of money very easily – Set up a Musical Theatre school for little girls! Don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington was told, but you know what, that’s exactly what lots of mums are intent on doing nowadays and from what I can see it’s money for old rope. You hire a church hall for a Saturday, get some music teachers to give up a few hours of their weekend, set yourself up with some fancy branding and logos and you’re away. Fees for the “term”, fees to appear in a show, fees for the costumes, fees for the tickets to go and watch the show and all the petrol for the running around. The “teachers” then get very generous Christmas gifts from some parents (which I always cynically thought was a bribe to get star-billing for their offspring – quite rightly it never worked though) and lo and behold come the teenage years they announce they don’t want to do it any more. Hallelujah.

You can tell quite early on however whether your progeny is going to be the next Barbra Streisand or whether they are more likely to make up the chorus. I remember well paying a fortune for tickets so that all the family could see our daughter appear in the local musical theatre school’s extravaganza. There are usually a few favourites that get the starring roles in any show but the vast majority of the other 200 or so make a very brief appearance and this time aforementioned daughter was in the chorus of Cats so no-one even spotted her or knew which “cat” she was! A lot of frustrated impresarios run these schools I feel and their students are not always given age-appropriate material – Fourteen-year-olds performing the Cell Block Tango from Chicago anyone? No I didn’t think so either. Anyway rant over but I still love my daughter’s singing voice and now she sings just for pleasure. Best way to go I think.

So, finally got to the last topic and I think I have used up too many words already so definitely one for next time – Yes the Inter-Oil Company Pop Quiz of 1985. A few funny stories about that one, a bit of of name-dropping and a few good tunes as well so will work on it over the next few days. In the meantime I will leave you with the sage and very witty words of Mr Noel Coward and his Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington.

Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington Lyrics
(Song by Noel Coward)

Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage
The profession is overcrowded
The struggle’s pretty tough
And admitting the fact she’s burning to act
That isn’t quite enough
She’s a nice girl and though her teeth are fairly good
She’s not the type I ever would be eager to engage
I repeat, Mrs. Worthington, sweet Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage

Regarding yours, dear Mrs. Worthington
Of Wednesday, the 23rd.
Although your baby may be keen on a stage career
How can I make it clear that this is not a good idea
For her to hope and appear, Mrs. Worthington
Is on the face of it absurd
Her personality is not in reality quite big enough, inviting enough
For this particular sphere

Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage
She’s a bit of an ugly duckling, you must honestly confess
And the width of her seat would surely defeat
Her chances of her success
It’s – it’s a loud voice, and though it’s not exactly flat
She’ll need a little more than that to earn a living wage
On my knees, Mrs. Worthington, please Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage

Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage
Though they said at the school of acting
She was lovely as Peer Gynt
I’m afraid, on the whole, an ingénue role might emphasize her squint
She has nice hands, to give the wretched girl her due
But don’t you think her bust is too developed for her age
No more buts, Mrs. Worthington, nuts! Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage

Jackie Magazine, Jackie The Musical and “Sad Sweet Dreamer”

If like me you became a teenager in 1973, when I mention Jackie magazine you will know exactly where I am coming from. Between 1972 and 1974 the magazine was selling in excess of 1.1 million copies per week and was a must-buy for “go-ahead” teens – its target market. I don’t know if my friends and I were indeed all that go-ahead, but Thursday was one of the best days of the week as it was not only Top Of The Pops night, but it was also the day when we picked up our copy of Jackie. With centrefold posters of the pop idols of the day, titbits of gossip about their likes and dislikes, great fashion spreads and the Cathy & Claire page (where all those problems we couldn’t possibly discuss with our mums were aired and very sensibly answered), it truly was the bible for girls trying to find their way in the world.

As we all know, they will make a musical about practically anything nowadays, but last week I went to see “Jackie The Musical” (excellent by the way) and if this blog is all about looking back nostalgically, by revisiting the Tracks of My Years, this was the stage musical equivalent. The main character was 54-year-old Jackie, a woman with an adult son still living at home, going through the trauma of divorce, and experimenting with online dating. Whilst packing up the contents of her house she finds her old teen magazines and of course starts to reminisce about her hopes and dreams back then. Her younger self even makes an appearance dressed in very authentic early ‘70s-style clothing (flares/big collars/platform shoes) to great comedic effect, often quoting verbatim what Cathy & Claire would have advised.

But of course the raison d’être behind any musical is the performance of the songs and this Jukebox Musical did not disappoint – Interwoven into the storyline were a host of very nostalgia-provoking songs such as Could It Be Forever (by David Cassidy), I Love To Love (by Tina Charles), Crazy Horses (by The Osmonds), The Things We Do For Love (by 10cc), Hold Me Close (by David Essex), Tiger Feet (by Mud), Puppy Love (by Donny Osmond) and many, many, more.

It was no coincidence of course that the vast majority of the audience were ladies of a certain age with very few men, quite sensibly, choosing to partake in this very girly extravaganza. By chance I met lots of people I knew, which was really nice, but of course it is also no coincidence that the main character was a stereotypical 54-year-old of today, and sad to say the chances of being separated or divorced are indeed quite high. Sad also to reflect that Cathy & Claire would not have anticipated that being the outcome for the Jackie Class of 1972-74 and although this is not the place to conjecture what has gone wrong, from a purely observational point of view, it seems that No – We can’t have it all. I have my own theories on that one, but perhaps for another time.

As a Scot, I am really proud that DC Thomson of Dundee, that city famed for Jam, Jute and Journalism was the publisher responsible for a magazine that both entertained and helped so many of my generation negotiate their way through those tricky teenage years. I probably still have my pillowcase somewhere with the Donny Osmond iron-on transfer (in purple – his favourite colour) and my heart-broken/heart-mended badge, both free gifts from that golden era.

badge.png

So many songs from the show that I could feature here but as I have already written about a few of the most obvious contenders, I think I will pick one of the lesser known songs that may have been forgotten about in the intervening years. Before the days of Pop Idol and The X-Factor we had much less lavish mid-week talent shows such as New Faces. One of the acts that did really well on that show were an 8-piece soul group from Manchester, called Sweet Sensation. Once signed to Pye Records, under the guidance of one of the judges Tony Hatch they started to release records and although their first didn’t make it to the charts, their second, Sad Sweet Dreamer, made it all the way to the No. 1 spot in October 1974. (Again – just so much purple.)

The readers of Jackie magazine were often sad (mainly due to boyfriend trouble – the lack of one), they were young so generally still quite sweet, and, they were all overwhelmingly “dreamers”. There couldn’t have been a similar magazine for boys at that time and practically none of the songs in the show would ever have appealed to them anyway – The Davids and the Donnys belonged to us, and boy did we dream!

Sad Sweet Dreamer Lyrics
(Song by David Parton)

Sad sweet dreamer
It’s just one of those things you put down to experience
Sad sweet dreamer
It’s just one of those things you put down to experience

Been another blue day without you girl
Been another sad summer song
I’ve been thinking about you girl
All night long

Been another sad tear on my pillow
Been another memory to tell me you’re the one, girl
I kept thinking about you girl
All night long

Sad sweet dreamer
It’s just one of those things you put down to experience
Sad sweet dreamer
It’s just one of those things you put down to experience

Been another long night and I’ve missed you girl
Been another story from those endless magazines
Can’t help thinking about you girl
All night long

Was so happy when I found you
But how was I to know
That you would leave me walking down that road

Been another hard luck story
Been another man who thought that he was oh so strong
Been thinking about you girl
All night long

Postscript:

I often feel we go in circles here as since starting the blog so many hitherto unknown connections have come to light. It turns out that the bass player with Sweet Sensation, Barry Johnson, later joined reggae band Aswad whom I wrote about only last week. Different style of music but definitely more in tune with his roots as like many of his fellow bandmates from Sweet Sensation, he was born in Kingston, Jamaica.

Cliff, “Summer Holiday” and a Red London Bus

Well it’s still raining and I’m still waiting for summer to begin – So much for getting all excited on 1st of June when I thought the song of the day should be June Is Bustin’ Out All Over from Carousel. And, so much for rethinking it all at the solstice when I redefined the start of summer based on “seasonal lag” (yes new to me too). No I can see it’s going to be one of those summers where we need Cliff Richard to come along in that red London bus in order to whisk us off to Athens.

If you’ve ever watched the 1963 film Summer Holiday, you’ll know that the title sequence starts off in black and white and shows scene after scene of miserable looking holiday-makers trying to shelter from torrential rain at Britain’s various seaside resorts and piers. A group of mechanics at London Transport’s main “works” are looking out at the rain and, apart from not looking very convincing as mechanics (but we’ll come to that), are not hopeful about their forthcoming holiday. All of a sudden through the pouring rain a bus emerges, colour comes to the screen (turning the bus bright red) and a very young looking Cliff Richard runs in to tell them, through the medium of song, that he’s got the go-ahead to convert the bus into a giant 1960s Winnebago so that they can tour the continent (a trial run for fee-paying passengers the following year).

summer holiday.png

Now we all know that Don (Cliff’s character) will never have picked up a spanner in his life nor will any of his friends (they are all talented dancers, actors and singers) but even in those days it must have been hard to suppress a snigger when listening to Don’s rallying cry to the “fellows” on the shop floor (in reality I know where they would have told him to go) but this is a musical so they get the job done on time and off they set on their travels. Cue the scene where Don/Cliff sings the very memorable title track, also called Summer Holiday.

Summer Holiday by Cliff Richard:

If ever you needed a song to lift the spirits, this is it and I remember well waking up to it one morning when working as a waitress the summer after leaving school. I was sharing a room with my best friend in a cottage on the grounds of a very grand country house hotel, but come the weekend, we had to get up at the crack of dawn ready to serve breakfast to unsuspecting guests. In those days we could burn the candle at both ends so had probably been out the night before, but at 6am were not exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Fortunately the gods of radio playlists must have known of our plight and offered up Cliff with Summer Holiday. Within seconds of the very jaunty, upbeat intro being played, a big smile crept onto our faces. Getting up and at it suddenly didn’t seem such an effort with this song playing in the background.

The film of course looks dated now but is still great fun to watch with some amazing performances from the cast – Una Stubbs is perfect as Sandy, lead singer with the girl trio they meet on the way and the dancer Teddy Green, although appalling at acting, can definitely move on a dance floor. The girls and boys all pair up pretty quickly leaving poor old Don (by far the most attractive of the bunch) on his own, just drivin’ the bus. Fortunately for him however they pick up a young runaway lad who soon ends up being his love interest (what?), this lad being thinly disguised American stage actress Lauri Peters, initially posing as a boy (ah that explains it). Even in those days it seems we needed an American in any film being pushed towards that market. Anyway, many adventures later they reach Athens and end up in the Mediterranean joined by The Shadows, Hank playing a Bouzouki rather than the famed Fender Stratocaster Cliff bought him in the early days.

If ever a post needed a postscript however, this is it – All about a happy, upbeat song with a few fond memories thrown in. As it turns out I can’t share any of these happy memories with the above-mentioned friend as she passed away over 15 years ago aged only 41. After being joined at the hip for at least four of our most formative years, boys and relationships got in the way and after a silly misunderstanding we had a falling out and subsequently lost touch. Writing to her parents after her death, telling them that she was probably the best friend I’d ever had, was a massive case of too much too late.

So, “What’s It All About?” – It’s definitely about making up with old friends before it’s too late, being able to share some really special memories unique to just the two of you. It’s fun reminiscing about the past, but much more fun when you are doing it with the people involved and not just typing it all out on a computer screen. Sorry to end on a sombre note but worth saying – As for me, I think I’m off to look for, and dust off some of my old address books.

Summer Holiday Lyrics
(Song by Bruce Welch/Brian Bennett)

We’re all going on a summer holiday

No more working for a week or two
Fun and laughter on our summer holiday
No more worries for me or you
For a week or two

We’re going where the sun shines brightly
We’re going where the sea is blue
We’ve seen it in the movies
Now let’s see if it’s true

Everybody has a summer holiday
Doing things they always wanted to
So we’re going on a summer holiday
To make our dreams come true
For me and you