Earworm of the Week #7 – Lovers Rock, Janet Kay and ‘Silly Games’

Well, you don’t experience an ‘earworm’ for weeks and then two come along at once. I wrote about the phenomenon last week in relation to another song, from an advert, but I defy anyone who has watched Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock not to have Janet Kay’s Silly Games on repeat in their head afterwards. Lovers Rock is the second film in Steve’s anthology film series Small Axe which tells stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s. The title references a proverb – ‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe’ – that was popularised by Bob Marley in his song Small Axe.

I was drawn to the episode after watching an interview with Steve where they showed the trailer. I was intrigued, as it was only last month that I first heard the term Lovers Rock. When writing my tribute post to those we have lost from the world of music this year, I found a quote from Boy George who had been saddened by the death of Johnny Nash.

‘R.I.P to the reggae legend Johnny Nash. One of the artists who made me fall in love with lovers rock and reggae music in the early 70s. So many amazing tunes and a voice like silk. I have never really known a time without reggae music. He was one of the greatest.’ – Boy George

At the time I thought it was a typo. I didn’t think it made sense, but then when sharing my story about a break-up, I found a suitable featured song by Alton Ellis who himself was a proponent of Lovers Rock. This short film was the third time it had cropped up in as many weeks, so time to investigate.

It seems Lovers Rock is not a genre or subgenre as such but a style of reggae music noted for its romantic sound and content. It became really popular in South London in the mid-1970s and combined the smooth soul sounds of Chicago and Philadelphia with rocksteady and reggae bassline rhythms. The style had particular appeal amongst women and produced many female stars. Dennis Harris set up a new record label, Lover’s Rock, at his South East London Studio along with Dennis Bovell, which gave the new style a name. It was Bovell who wrote and produced Silly Games, which reached number 2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1979. He got the inspiration for it from an advert where Ella Fitzgerald sang a note and broke a glass – ‘I wanted a song with a note like that. Little girls always try to sing a high note, so when I wrote “Silly Games” and put that high note in there, it meant that every female in the dance would try and sing that note.

Silly Games by Janet Kay:


Back in 1979 I was a great fan of radio and chart music so I know this song well, but I had never heard of Lovers Rock back then so wouldn’t have known it was part of something much bigger, almost spiritual. After watching Steve’s film I now get it. The film is really quite mesmerising and follows the events taking place over a night and morning during a London house party in 1980. There is very little dialogue, but somehow it doesn’t matter and we feel as if we are there with them.

For second-generation West Indian immigrants, who were denied access to white clubs, these parties were a haven where they could dance, drink, smoke and be themselves. It was common in a big house to clear the furniture and carpets to make a dance floor, set up the sound system and have curried goat served up from the kitchen. The main character, Martha, sneaks out of her devout mother’s house after dark and she and her friend Patty take a bus ride to the party. Once there, they pay their 50p to the doorman, cross the threshold and look forward to what the night will bring.

In 1980 I lived at the opposite end of the country from Martha and her friends and come from a totally different cultural background but what struck me most about this film is that there is a commonality amongst young people to want to get together, listen to music and dance. It’s biological. As the night wears on the tempo changes and the music inspires slow sensuous dances but every couple is in their own little bubble, oblivious to those around them. Not that dissimilar to the house parties I went to as a teenager before we were old enough for clubs and pubs. Many of the romances kindled during those parties have survived the test of time, but of course like Martha, our parents knew nothing of them. A lot of sneaking around and the creating of alibis had to be done in the run up to the event.

If you haven’t yet watched the film, I would thoroughly recommend it. I haven’t watched the others in the series yet but I plan to. As for this style of music, first I discovered Alton Ellis, and now I understand the background to some of the chart hits I remember from the 1970s. I’ll finish with Ken Boothe and his 1974 hit Everything I Own. It now makes sense that Boy George also recorded a version.

Until next time…

Silly Games Lyrics
(Song by Dennis Bovell)

I’ve been wanting you
For so long, it’s a shame
Oh, baby
Every time I hear your name
Oh, the pain
Boy, how it hurts me inside

‘Cause every time we meet
We play hide and seek
I’m wondering what I should do
Should I, dear, come up to you
And say, How do you do?
Would you turn me away

You’re as much to blame
‘Cause I know you feel the same
I can see it in your eyes
But I’ve got no time to live this love
No, I’ve got no time to play your silly games
Silly games

Yet, in my mind I say
If he makes his move today
I’ll just pretend to be shocked
Oh, baby
It’s a tragedy
That you hurt me
We don’t even try

You’re as much to blame
‘Cause I know you feel the same
I can see it in your eyes
But I’ve got no time to live this love
No, I’ve got no time to play your silly games
Silly games

Silly games
Silly games (No, don’t wanna play)
Silly games (Your silly)

No, I’ve got no time to play your silly games

The Thaw and Alton Ellis, ‘Breaking Up Is Hard’

Trying not to fill too many of this month’s output with stuff that’s appeared around here before, so going to borrow from my college course this time. We had to write a short ‘character without words’ piece recently, based on watching a couple have a conversation through a café window. We had to rely on body language alone to explain what was happening, and this was my effort.

The Thaw, by Alyson

Waiting for the bus in the biting cold, I spot a young couple seated by the window in a nearby café. Rivulets of condensation run down the glass, blurring the scene, but I am transfixed.

The boy sits bolt upright like an angry meerkat, his canvas satchel slung over his shoulder, but the girl is hunched over the table with her head in her hands. I can tell from the rise and fall of her shoulders that she is sobbing, but he remains immobile, his eyes fixed on the doorway that leads out onto the pavement. His badly bleached and tousled hair contrasts wildly with her long dark braids, but they are both from the same tribe, dressed alike in jeans, ribbed sweater, and ethnic scarf. Her earrings are large silver hoops threaded with beads. In his right lobe, he wears a red stud.

Moments later the girl sits up and becomes animated. She tries to reach out for his hand across the wooden table, but to no avail. Her mascara has started to run down her pale cheeks, but she lets it happen. Still the boy sits immobile.

Someone comes along to clear their empty mugs, but obviously thinks better of it and leaves them be.

The girl starts waving her hands in front of his eyes, but he barely blinks and continues to focus on the pale blue doorway. She slumps back in her chair and reaches for a napkin. Dabbing her eyes, and then her cheeks, she appears to recover slightly although her face is still awash with sadness. The boy loosens slightly and turns to face her. He too seems to have shed tears.

Eventually the boy takes off his satchel and slowly heads to the counter. He returns with another two mugs and he sets them down on the table. This time he lets her hold his hand, but still no words are spoken. They sit like this for some time then the girl picks up her large mug and drinks. When she lowers it, a big blob of milky foam rests on her nose. The boy tries to fight it, I can tell, but then he starts to laugh. The girl smiles. I smile. My bus arrives at the stop.

The obvious song choice to accompany this piece for me was Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, but it has featured here before, when sung by both Neil Sedaka and The Partridge Family. It was a pleasant surprise therefore to find another song of the same name (almost), this time by an artist I had never heard of before called Alton Ellis, a Jamaican singer-songwriter. He died in 2008 but it seems he was one of the innovators of rocksteady and was given the informal title, ‘Godfather of Rocksteady’. Alton was inducted into the International Reggae And World Music Awards Hall Of Fame in 2006.

Breaking Up Is Hard by Alton Ellis:


How beautiful is that? Breaking up is hard, of that there is no doubt, however the couple in my story fortunately seemed to have made up by the end of it. Looking through a café window we can’t be sure, but when the narrator gets on the bus, that milky blob of foam has her reassured.

Until next time….

Breaking Up (aka Breaking Up Is Hard) Lyrics
(Song by Alton Ellis)

When you turned
And you walked through that door
It hurt me so
Said it hurt me so

When you looked at me
And you said goodbye
You made me cry
Said you made me cry

So listen to me
While I say to you
Breaking up, is hard to do
Breaking up, is hard to do

I cannot let you go now
For my love is strong
My love, is so strong
My love, is so strong

The Arctic Monkeys, Bob Marley and “Come Together”

Wasn’t going to mention the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election in America as have tried to stay away from controversial topics since starting the blog. I seem to be one of the few in my little circle who hasn’t however, so here goes. (The caveat of course being that the following is just my opinion.)

I was not in the slightest surprised that the election went Trump’s way, just as I was not surprised in June, with our referendum on whether to leave or remain in the EU, that the Leave camp won.

First of all polls don’t work – Too many people are not keen to share what they know could be construed as unpopular views, albeit ones they hold, thus we end up with the Shy Tory, the Shy Brexiteer and now it seems the Shy Trump-Supporter. Yet how campaigns are run is dictated by polls so here’s an idea for future elections and referendums – Forget what the pollsters say and LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE.

Talking of the people, here in the UK it became clear after our referendum just how divided we were as a nation and now it appears the US has gone the same way. The urban areas appear in one colour whereas the mainly rural and traditionally industrial areas appear in another colour (Scotland and N. Ireland being the exceptions but then we have our own devolved parliament/assembly). Whoever has been in charge for the last couple of decades hasn’t been LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE. Just as in the UK after Brexit, I don’t believe for a minute that the vast number of Trump voters in the US agree with his very extreme views but if they would rather go down that route than vote for the alternative, there seems to be a very big problem.

So here we are in a state of limbo in the UK awaiting the outcome of the machinations that will decide whether we go down the hard or soft Brexit route. In the US they will find out what kind of President Donald J will become – The businessman-cum-reality television star will set up home in The White House! In an era of 24-hour Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reality TV, Netflix, X-Box, iPhones, iTunes, Soundbites, Drive-through McDonalds, Zero-hour contracts, Temporary contracts, Student loans, Crippling house prices, Aging populations, Sink Estates, Clothing at throwaway prices – none of it surprises me. As for Mr Trump, I am trusting there are enough checks and balances built into the constitution of the United States to save anything truly dire happening.

But this is supposed to be a music blog and these are the two songs that have come to mind to compliment this post. The first is One Love by Bob Marley & the Wailers. Marley wrote this song during the turmoil of the Jamaican elections of December 1976. Marley had supported Michael Manley when he won the election in 1972 and became Prime Minister of Jamaica, but four years later, although Marley was by far the most popular person in Jamaica, he refused to take a political stance as the country was divided between Manley’s People’s National Party and the Jamaican Labour Party. It was very violent time in the country, and Marley tried to stay politically neutral while offering peace and shelter however he could – His home was kind of a safehouse for people with nowhere to go.

One Love by Bob Marley & the Wailers:

This second one is Come Together, a song written by John Lennon but performed here by the Arctic Monkeys for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. It was ironically inspired by a political campaign, when Timothy Leary stood against Ronald Reagan for Governor of California. Although Lennon freely admitted that the lyrics are gobbledygook, I love this performance, and the sentiment of “coming together”.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I get that there are a lot of forgotten people out there who feel as if they have been hung out to dry by successive governments, but the challenges are just so insurmountable that we seem to be reaching a tipping point whereby life in the western world will just carry on getting a little harder every year.

I do fear for my daughter and her generation who were sold the dream of going to University in order to get a good job, but in reality, for the majority, the only jobs they get are in retail or hospitality (we have the most highly qualified army of baristas in history). They are generally heavily in debt due to student loans and if they ever do manage to buy property, they will just make it onto the first rung of the ladder, the only rung they will ever be able to afford. We have middle-aged parents in large houses with offspring raising a family in converted basements for goodness sake. We will of course try our best to help, and those little cartoons you see showing recent retirees “spending the kids inheritance” don’t amuse me – The majority will need you, and your cash, for some time to come.

I do try to keep my posts light and amusing and realise that this one hasn’t been at all. Felt it needed to be said however as this is primarily a web-log (with music thrown in). Hopefully back to business as usual soon!

One Love Lyrics
(Song by Bob Marley)

One Love!
One Heart!
Let’s get together and feel all right.
Hear the children cryin’
(One Love! );
Hear the children cryin’
(One Heart! ),
Sayin’: give thanks and praise
To the Lord and I will feel all right;
Sayin’: let’s get together
And feel all right.
Wo wo-wo wo-wo!

Let them all pass all their dirty
Remarks (One Love! );
There is one question
I’d really love to ask (One Heart! ):
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner,
Who has hurt all mankind just
To save his own beliefs?

One Love! What about the one heart?
One Heart!
What about?
Let’s get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning
(One Love! );
So shall it be in the end
(One Heart! ),
All right!
Give thanks and praise to the Lord
And I will feel all right;
Let’s get together
And feel all right.
One more thing!

Let’s get together to fight
This Holy Armagiddyon (One Love! ),
So when the Man comes there will be no,
No doom (One Song! ).
Have pity on those whose
Chances grows t’inner;
There ain’t no hiding place
From the Father of Creation.

Sayin’: One Love!
What about the One Heart?
(One Heart! )
What about the?
Let’s get together and feel all right.
I’m pleadin’ to mankind!
(One Love! );
Oh, Lord!
(One Heart)
Wo-ooh!

Give thanks and praise to the Lord
And I will feel all right;
Let’s get together and feel all right.
Give thanks and praise to the Lord
And I will feel all right;
Let’s get together and feel all right.