Blood, Sweat & Tears, Petite Fleur and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”

Well, I hope everyone who celebrates it has enjoyed their Christmas Day. We were just four for lunch this year which is a really easy number to cater for so not too stressful at all. I don’t even feel as if I’ve eaten too much as instead of the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner with a few snacks thrown in, on Christmas Day you just have breakfast, a whopping big festive lunch and then not much else, so it all evens itself out nicely. I realise not everyone is quite so restrained, but it works for me. As for the presents, lots of lovely things as ever and my daughter, who knows me just too well it seems, came up with this very appropriate gift. It is sitting beside me as I type so lets hope I will be inspired by the contents which sadly aren’t of the alcoholic variety as I am on driving duty, but I don’t mind, which is just as well.

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It has become my routine of late to post on a Monday so didn’t want to veer away from that pattern just because it’s Christmas Day. Also, the great thing is that we no longer have to share anything Christmassy as a song choice – I don’t know about you but if I ever hear Andy Williams singing It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year again whilst shopping, I will start a petition to have it banned. Unless your life really is on the up, and absolutely nothing bad has happened in the course of the year, it’s tough being constantly bombarded with Mr Williams’ chirpy lyrics. I always feel for those who may indeed not be having the MOST wonderful time. At one point I thought we ourselves might be having a bit of a Blue Christmas (Elvis version) this year as darling daughter is a bit lost spending it without her special someone, my mum is a bit lost without her memories and as regulars to this place know, I myself seem to have temporarily lost my “purpose”. As it turns out however it has been a really lovely day with no “blue-ness” making an appearance at all, for which I am really grateful.

But here I am linking to festive songs whereas the song that has formed an earworm over the last week is something quite different. I have mentioned recently that over the last few weeks I’ve been working my way through all seven series of the television show Mad Men on Netflix. Well here’s a bit of irony – The final season hasn’t fully made it on to Netflix yet so I had to buy back the same DVD I donated to a charity shop earlier in the year after embarking on a bit of decluttering. No matter, all for a good cause, but didn’t realise I would get quite so into it second time around. First time around I hadn’t starting blogging yet whereas this time the carefully chosen songs that feature in each episode are doubly interesting for me as the late 1960s seems to have become my favourite era to revisit. [Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet reached it, Season 6 is about to be mentioned!]

Megan

By the end of season 6, the main character’s wife had moved west to LA in order to further pursue her acting career. Megan Draper, the French Canadian secretary turned copy-writer turned actress, had always been captivating on screen ever since first appearing in season 4 but having set up home amongst the musicians and acting fraternity of Laurel Canyon, she seemed to have found her spiritual home. Her New York based, “Ad-Man” husband Don was suddenly an anachronism and it made for uncomfortable viewing watching the end of a marriage being played out on screen. Right at the end of episode 6 Megan hosts a party at her house in the hills – One of the songs played at the party was this one and although I had heard of the band Blood, Sweat & Tears and even seen pictures of them, they’ve never featured amongst the tracks of my years so I hadn’t realised they were responsible for this gem of a song – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.

You’ve Made Me So Very Happy by Blood Sweat and Tears:

This beautiful song was written by Brenda Holloway amongst others and was first recorded by her in 1967 on the Tamla label. The song later became a huge hit for jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1969, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 35 in the UK Singles Chart. But the musical surprises didn’t end there in this particular episode as to husband Don’s discomfort, Megan proceeds to entertain her guests with an impromptu dance to Petite Fleur, a jazz instrumental played by some of her musician friends. This piece of music was originally written and recorded by Sidney Bechet in 1952 but became an international hit in 1959 for Chris Barber’s Jazz Band. It was this version with the clarinet solo that provided the inspiration for Megan’s “performance” – Very apt for the petite fleur that was French-speaking Megan Draper (née Calvet).

Petite Fleur by Chris Barber’s Jazz Band:

So, “What’s It All About” – Sometimes we don’t even realise how much time and effort has gone into choosing just the right music for a television show as it just feels incidental, but once you start to take note, as I have done re-watching this award winning drama, it adds a whole new dimension to the experience. The Blood, Sweat & Tears song was the perfect choice for this party in the Hollywood Hills of 1969 but also bittersweet as that evening perhaps marked the beginning of the end for the two main protagonists. Megan had made Don “so very happy” and vice versa, but those days were soon to be in the past. The petite fleur would soon be out of his life for good.

But here I am blogging with my new mug by my side at nearly 10pm on Christmas Day – DD has invited some friends round and by the sound of the laughter from the other room, they seem to be making her “so very happy”. Time to seek out Mr WIAA, as it’s probably time to make him “so very ….. ” – No that all sounds a bit wrong. Time to sign off for today before I get myself into trouble!

Merry Christmas from all of us here at WIAA – Hope you’ve had a good one.

Until next time….

You’ve Made Me So Very Happy Lyrics
(Song by Berry Gordy Jr/Brenda Holloway/Frank Wilson/Patrice Holloway)

I lost at love before
Got mad and closed the door
But you said try just once more
I chose you for the one
Now I’m having so much fun
You treated me so kind,
I’m about to lose my mind
You made me so very happy
I’m so glad you came into my life

The others were untrue,
But when it came to lovin’ you
I’d spend my whole life with you
‘Cause you came and you took control
You touched my very soul
You always showed me that
Loving you was where it’s at
You made me so very happy
I’m so glad you came into my life

Thank you baby, yeah yeah

I love you so much, it seems
That you’re even in my dreams I can hear
Baby, I hear you calling me
I’m so in love with you
All I ever want to do is
Thank you, baby
Thank you, baby

You made me so very happy
I’m so glad you came into my life
You made me so very happy
You made me so, so very happy baby
I’m so glad you
Came into my life
Mmmm, I want to thank you, girl
Every day of my life
I wanna thank you
You made me so very happy
Oh, I wanna spend my life thanking you
(Thank you baby, thank you baby)

Moonlighting, Al Jarreau and The Cold Grip of Winter

Last month I wrote a post (link here) about that amazing full moon we in the UK were all witness to. Having discovered that all full moons have a name, generally having come from the Native Americans who very much used the moon’s cycle as their calendar, I decided to embark on a series of “moon posts” to coincide with whenever a new one appears in our skies. Last night, despite the fact there had been solid cloud cover all day, I managed to witness the Cold Moon, so-called because it occurs at that time of the year when the cold grip of winter really starts to take hold. I tried very hard to get a good shot of it both with my phone and camera, but not easy, so here is the best I could come up with – My Cold Moon as seen in the Highlands of Scotland.

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The next full moon will occur in January, so as this is my last lunar offering of 2017 I am going to feature a song by an artist who sadly left us earlier this year and whom I have been remiss in not mentioning until now. I am talking about Al Jarreau who despite having had an incredibly long career as a jazz performer will, for me, always be remembered as the guy who sang the “Moonlighting” Theme. Al started out in 1968 and during his lengthy career received a total of seven Grammy Awards and was nominated for over a dozen more. He is perhaps best known for his 1981 album “Breakin’ Away” but passed away back in February this year at the age of 76, just two days after announcing his retirement.

“Moonlighting” Theme by Al Jarreau:

Moonlighting was the American comedy-drama television series, set in the offices of a private detective agency, that ran for four years in the late 1980s. It was must watch telly in the flat I shared with my best friends and even when we all started to move out and go our separate ways, it was always a great excuse for a get-together back at the mothership!

The show made a star out of Bruce Willis and re-launched the career of Cybill Shepherd. The relationship between their characters, David and Maddie, was of course one of those “will they, won’t they” ones but naturally once they did, the magic ended. Still included in most lists of the best TV couples of all time however.

Next month’s full moon will be called the Wolf Moon so I shall return at the start of January with another lunar song title. A bit of a quirk next month however in that we will also have a Blue Moon. Doesn’t happen often (thus the name) but as all full moons occur every 29.5 days we will have one on the 2nd and the 31st (just snuck in there at the end of the month). Plenty of song choices for blue moons but will have to have a think about which song would be most suitable for a wolf moon. Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band immediately comes to mind but we’ll see!

Until next time…. RIP Al Jarreau

Moonlighting Lyrics
(Song by Al Jarreau/Lee Holdridge)

Some walk by night
Some fly by day
Nothing could change you
Set and sure of the way
Charming and bright
Laughing and gay
I’m just a stranger
Love the Blues and the Braves
There is the sun and moon
Facing their old, sweet tune
Watch them when dawn is due
Sharing one space

Some walk by night
Some fly by day
Something is sweeter
When you meet ‘long the way
There is the sun and moon
Facing their old, sweet tune
Watch them when dawn is due
Sharing one space

So come walk the night
Come fly by day
Something is sweeter
‘Cause we met ‘long the way
We’ll walk the night
We’ll fly by day
Moonlighting strangers
Who just met on the way
Who just met on the way

Alyson’s Archive #4 – David Cassidy, The Partridge Family and “I Think I Love You”

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there lived a handsome prince called David. All the young ladies of the land collected pictures of the prince and adorned their walls with them. 

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The humble author’s teenage collection of David Cassidy pin-ups

Many of you will have heard that one of the 1970’s biggest teen idols died earlier this week at the age of 67. Not a massive shock this time as it had been announced earlier this year that he was suffering from dementia and then last weekend, from multiple organ failure – A transplant was not deemed possible so the life-support machines were switched off on Tuesday at noon. Still sad news however for those of us of a certain age who remember him at his shiniest best.

Of course when I heard the news I had to refer to my box of teenage memorabilia and in the folder of pin-ups and posters from the early ’70s, it turned out that most were of David Cassidy. There were also a fair few of those Osmond Brothers, The Jackson 5, David Essex, Bjorn Borg, Marty Kristian from the New Seekers and Ben Murphy of Alias Smith and Jones fame, but no, by far the biggest number were of Mr Cassidy as he was omnipresent within the pages of teen mags from 1970 to 1974.

I have written about David Cassidy in this blog before (link here) as my first three posts ended up being about artists called David – Bowie, Davy Jones of the Monkees and David Cassidy. Sadly, not one of that triumvirate of Davids is still with us, which is a sobering thought. This revisitation of the artists of my youth is a constant reminder that we are all journeying along that conveyer belt of life apace, and with this latest departure it does give us another “mortality reality check”.

I was just at the right age for David Cassidy to come into my life – As a pre-teen I had watched him play the character Keith Partridge in the kid’s musical sit-com The Partridge Family and then as I reached my teenage years he had become the world’s biggest pop idol, selling out concerts in every corner of the globe. But was it his music we adored or was it the idol himself? As I mentioned last time he appeared on these pages, his song Could It Be Forever was the first one that made me cry, and I didn’t even know why! The teenage hormones were starting to kick in and we girls lose our sanity a bit when it comes to our idols, behaving in a totally irrational and frenzied manner. We buy all the magazines with their pictures and create scrapbooks/fanzines. We cover our bedroom walls with their posters and even iron picture transfers onto our pillowcases. Of course we also dream of them being our fantasy boyfriends, without really understanding what having a real boyfriend would mean.

I have another few things in the archive folder that refer to David Cassidy and think they are worth sharing here as a lasting reminder of just how big he was in the early ’70s. These wordy pages are often to be found on the back of the aforementioned pin-ups but are proving to be the most interesting when looking back – A little bit of pop history. (By the way in case anyone thinks it’s a bit weird that I still have all this stuff – No, I don’t sit around of an evening dressed in flares and platform shoes pouring over pictures of my teen idols, it’s just that if you’ve ever had to clear out your parents’ loft so they can downsize, you end up finding all this childhood ephemera and are somewhat loathe to get rid of it just in case you ever start writing a music blog!)

Poor David’s time in the sun was short-lived as seems to be the case with most teen idols – As soon as your fan base comes of age and finds love with real-life boys, the career is over. Some manage to reinvent themselves but sadly David didn’t really ever manage to negotiate that cross-over success although he did record a new album in the mid ’80s and continued to tour until earlier this year.

But I can’t leave it there. Many of us who were fans back in the early ’70s probably didn’t give David and his Partridge Family pals much thought in the intervening years, but when the Richard Curtis film Four Weddings and a Funeral was released in 1994 there was a great scene where slightly awkward, upper-class Englishman Charles (played by Hugh Grant) attempted to declare his love for Carrie (played by Andie MacDowell). After much procrastination he finally got round to uttering those most difficult of words, “I think I love you” but of course they were attributed first to David Cassidy, when he was still with The Partridge Family – Très amusant and because of that scene (at 0:30) it has become my favourite Cassidy song.

I Think I Love You by The Partridge Family:

So, “What’s It All About?” – Poor old David Cassidy had a bit of a difficult life after his early ’70s heyday as a teen idol but that seems to be the norm for anyone who has experienced that level of idolatry. I can confirm however that having his picture on my bedroom wall back then was a real joy, and as I drifted off to sleep at night I probably whispered those five little words, “I think I love you”.

Until next time…. RIP David

I Think I Love You Lyrics
(Song by Tony Romeo)

I was sleeping and right in the middle of a good dream
Like all at once I wake up from something that keeps knocking at my brain
Before I go insane I hold my pillow to my head
And spring up in my bed screaming out the words I dread
I think I love you (I think I love you)

This morning I woke up with this feeling
I didn’t know how to deal with and so I just decided to myself
I’d
hide it to myself and never talk about it
And did not go and shout it when you walked into the room
I think I love you (I think I love you)

I think I love you so what am I so afraid of
I’m afraid that I’m not sure of a love there is no cure for

I think I love you isn’t that what life is made of
Though it worries me to say that I never felt this way

I don’t know what I’m up against
I don’t know what it’s all about
I got so much to think about

Hey, I think I love you so what am I so afraid of
I’m afraid that I’m not sure of a love there is no cure for

I think I love you isn’t that what life is made of
Though it worries me to say I never felt this way

Believe me you really don’t have to worry
I only wanna make you happy and if you say “hey go away” I will
But I think better still I’d better stay around and love you
Do you think I have a case let me ask you to your face
Do you think you love me?

I think I love you
I think I love you…

Postscript:

I now realise I was remiss in not sharing any video footage of David Cassidy in today’s post – Here he is as Keith Partridge singing Walking In The Rain, the Phil Spector song that was first a hit for The Ronettes in 1964. This song has actually featured in the blog before (link here) when I wrote about radio, and the chart-run down shows of my early teenage years. Shirley Jones who played his mother in The Partridge Family television series was actually his step-mother in real life and has also appeared on these pages before (link here) when I wrote about the song You’ll Never Walk Alone. As I often say, we keep going in circles around here. Oh and more thing, the eagle-eyed amongst you might just spot a young Jodie Foster in the front row of the audience in this clip as she played the daughter of Shirley Jones love interest in this episode!

“Wives and Lovers”, Mad Men and Julie London

Since giving up work a few weeks ago, my life has taken a serious turn for the better – Suddenly there is enough time for everything I need to do in my life and joy of joys there is also enough time for some things that I don’t really need to do, but am enjoying immensely. One of the frivolous things I don’t really need to do, has been to binge watch one of my favourite television shows, Mad Men, set in the 1960s at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on New York’s Madison Avenue. Season One begins in March 1960, just before I was born, and it’s almost worth watching for the clothes alone. Totally impractical but incredibly beautiful.

The show won many awards over the years and has been lauded for its historical accuracy. For fans of music, the song choices for each episode were spot on in terms of evoking the era and how they related to a particular scene or storyline. This song, Fly Me To The Moon by Julie London, featured in the first season of Mad Men. I have always loved her languid voice, especially when singing her signature song Cry Me A River, and Julie’s look and sound were totally appropriate for this glamorous show.

Towards the end of the first season, the upcoming presidential elections feature highly as the agency was to work with Nixon’s team to help him secure that win. They think it’s a foregone conclusion but of course we all now know it turned out very differently back in 1960 and Nixon ended up being pipped at the post by a young Jack Kennedy. After watching that episode I was reminded of something in my box of memorabilia – Richard Nixon may not have won the election in 1960 but in a very tragic roundabout way, he did win the election in 1968 and soon after he paid a visit to Britain to meet with our incumbent Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. I know this because I still have my 1969 school exercise book devoted to the pursuit of “joint-up writing”, something we were all just getting to grips with at the tender age of eight.

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Last time I shared something written by my own fair hand, CC from Charity Chic Music commented that my handwriting was much better than his at the same age – That would be down to the long hours spent perfecting it in Mrs Fraser’s Primary Four classroom. I think this February entry was one of my first perfect 10 scores, but from then on they just kept on coming. And this has been one of my downfalls in life – I am from the kind of family where if you got 99 out of a 100 in a test, there would be some praise but mainly the question would be, “What did you get wrong and why?”. This drive to get perfect scores in whatever I turned my hand to has led to much anguish over the years and of course when it comes to the world of work it is nigh impossible, especially nowadays when constant “firefighting” seems to be the order of the day. So, although I seem to be living the life of Riley at the moment, sometimes watching television during the day no less, a lot of it is down to the fact that yet again I had to walk away from a job I felt I could no longer do “perfectly” because of our new agile working set-up. Instead it is being done by someone who will do it “well enough”, certainly not perfectly, but everyone will be happy with that.

But I have become side-tracked by Richard Nixon – Time to get back to 1960 and what was happening on Madison Avenue. Mad Men depicts the American society and culture of the 1960s, highlighting cigarette smoking, drinking, sexism, adultery, homophobia, anti-semitism, and racism. It kind of reminds us that although we have a nostalgia for the past, we also sometimes have a selective memory.

A song I have in my digital database by Julie London is this one, but not easy to listen to nowadays. Despite the fact I love the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the lyrics to Wives and Lovers are just so at odds with how a 21st century woman would think, or more importantly how a man would expect her to think, that they become quite laughable. However if you watched only the first episode of Mad Men, set in 1960, they suddenly seem frighteningly accurate:

Hey! Little Girl
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door.
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore   (?!)

Day after day
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men.
Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again   (?!)

There is a lot of talk in the media at the moment about certain “unsolicited actions” and “inappropriate behaviour” having been carried out by people in power. Our blogging buddy Jez has written a very good piece about it this weekend (link here) which I would thoroughly recommend. As he says, time and time again we hear the defence that the accused is “a dinosaur”, that their behaviour was acceptable “back in the day” – No, it really wasn’t.

Wives and Lovers by Julie London:

Until next time….

Wives and Lovers Lyrics
(Song by Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

Hey! Little Girl
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore

For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you…

Day after day
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men
Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again

For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
He’s almost here…

Hey! Little girl
Better wear something pretty
Something you’d wear to go to the city and
Dim all the lights, pour the wine, start the music
Time to get ready for love
Time to get ready
Time to get ready for love

Postscript:

Just in case anyone hadn’t heard of her before, Julie London was an American singer and actress, whose career spanned over forty years. She released 32 albums of pop and jazz standards during the 1950s and 1960s, her signature song being the classic Cry Me a River. Julie’s 35-year acting career began in 1944 and included roles co-starring with Rock Hudson, Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum. She achieved continuing success in television in the 1970s, appearing in the show Emergency! with her husband, Bobby Troup.

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

Amsterdam, Van der Valk and a “Lost Weekend”

Ever since I got back from my trip to Amsterdam last week I have been meaning to write a short post about it all – Problem is, I’ve struggled to come up with anything particularly “Dutch” to include as a featured song. Tonight however, as I made my way home from my regular Friday night rendezvous with my mum at her retirement complex (the fun just never ends around here!), I switched on the radio to partake in a bit of Friday Night Is Music Night. I do love the affable Ken Bruce, and he does a great job of hosting this show, which is apparently the longest-running live orchestral music programme in the world. In terms of the particular inspiration for each show, you just never know what you’re going to get and this week it was Espionage, so a night of great spy theme music got underway. The programme included music from The Ipcress File, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Third Man, The Avengers and, of course, 007 himself James Bond.

Listening to some of those great TV Theme tunes reminded me of the wonderful Van der Valk, that ’70s television series produced by Thames Television. It starred Barry Foster as Dutch detective Commissaris Piet van der Valk. The stories were mostly based in and around Amsterdam, where Commissaris van der Valk was a “cynical yet intuitive detective”.

Watching this very old piece of footage (wasn’t the colour poor in those days) reminded me of the very locations where I spent time last week, as in a city of canals the street pattern of central Amsterdam hasn’t changed much in about 400 years. The best thing about the show Van der Valk however was its very memorable theme tune, Eye Level, composed by Jack Trombey and played by the Simon Park Orchestra. Unbelievably, it even reached the UK Chart’s No. 1 spot back in 1973. I’m pretty sure that just couldn’t happen today but I still remember them well appearing on ToTP, as those were the days when I religiously taped the show on my little cassette recorder and carefully entered all the chart positions, in my “Chart Positions Notebook”!

thBut what did we get up to last week? The big irony of course was that despite the fact that Mr WIAA and I were also celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary, off I went gallivanting with one of my best female friends. It had all been booked a long time ago and the bad timing was down to that old chestnut, the annual leave window. Of course I am no longer even in the job that I couldn’t get leave from at any other time, but no matter, Mr WIAA was more than happy to hold down the fort and is now promised a trip of his own sometime soon.

Day 1: Headed down to Dam Square where an enormous Ferris Wheel was in operation – Great to get a view of the whole city I thought not realising that my poor friend has a massive fear of such things. She did it though and yes, we did get a great view of the whole city.

Day 2: The obligatory boat trip around the canal system. No room for any more house boats though as all the berths now taken. Also paid a visit to the Museum of Bags and Purses (it’s a thing) and the infamous Red Light District, De Wallen. Learnt a lot in the Museum of Prostitution (yes, it’s also a thing).

Day 3: Visited the Rijksmuseum where you could seriously get lost for a whole day – Pondered over probably some of the most valuable paintings in the world (Rembrandt’s The Night Watch?) and enjoyed glasses of mint tea – Maybe I’m just unsophisticated but up here in Scotland our tea doesn’t come with a bunch of mint leaves and a small pot of honey but very, very nice.

Day 4: Our last day so spent time in the harbour area where our hotel, which used to be the accommodation for Naval Officers, was based. A fantastic table with artwork depicting the harbour took pride of place in the dining room. Oh and it had its own brewery – Bonus.

Although I did say that I couldn’t really think of any songs with a Dutch theme, it was inevitable that this 1985 recording of Lost Weekend by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions would form a bit of an earworm whilst I was away. The lyrics however were not particularly appropriate for our trip as: a) we didn’t catch pneumonia b) the price of the medicine therefore wasn’t an issue and c) we came home before the weekend, so not really a lost one. Great excuse to include a song however that I have always really liked and I’ve now worked out why a band from Glasgow just didn’t sound very Scottish. Turns out Lloyd was from Derbyshire and formed the band whilst studying Philosophy and English at the University of Glasgow. Every day’s a school day.

Lost Weekend by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions:

Until next time….

Lost Weekend Lyrics
(Song by Lawrence Donegan/Lloyd Cole/Neil Clark)

It took a lost weekend in a hotel in Amsterdam
And double pneumonia in a single room
And the sickest joke was the price of the medicine
Are you laughing at me now may I please laugh along with you

This morning I woke up from a deep unquiet sleep
With ashtray clothes and miss lonely heart’s pen
With which I wrote for you a lovesong in tattoo
Upon my palm ’twas stolen from me when Jesus took my hand

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces too easily

I was a king bee with a head full of attitude
Wore my heart on my sleeve like a stained
My aim was to taboo you
Could we meet in the marketplace
Did I ever hey please did you wound my knees

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces

Yes it’s too easy and there’s nobody else to blame
Will I hang my head in a crying shame
There is nobody else to blame nobody else except my sweet self

Again it took a lost weekend in a hotel in Amsterdam
Twenty four gone years to conclude in tears
That the sickest joke was the price of the medicine
Are you laughing at me now
May I please laugh along

I was a king bee with a head full of attitude
And ashtray heart on my sleeve wounded knees
And my one love song was a tattoo upon my palm
You wrote upon me when you took my hand

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces too easily

Postscript:

Apologies for the quality of these pictures – Not up to my usual standard but when on a short trip like this we just didn’t want to spend lots of time fiddling with our camera equipment, so done on the hop on our phones. Sometimes the best way to go.

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

My Dear George

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

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

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

Kissing a Fool by George Michael:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time….

Kissing a Fool Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript:

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