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, as The Drifters sang in 1961, it’s going to be different, this time I’m going to stay (with it)….

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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). 

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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.

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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.

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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

40 Years Ago Today, Elvis “Left the Building” for the Last Time – Part 1

Yesterday was the day Scottish kids went back to school but 40 years ago we went back to school on today’s date, the 16th August. I remember it well as it was my senior year and we took a picture of me in my Prefect’s uniform (see postscript). I also remember it because it was the day Elvis died.

I have written about Elvis a fair bit since starting this blog as I used to be a massive fan of both him and those films he starred in between the late ’50s and early ’60s. I had a friend who felt the same way and as teenagers, whilst our peers were heading off out at night with their boyfriends, we could often be found at the local fleapit, watching oft repeated showings of old Elvis movies.

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Crowds at the gates of Graceland following the death of Elvis

I’m afraid I’m copying this picture idea from The Swede, whose excellent Unthought of, though, somehow blog is one I visit often, but Elvis is also special to me because “Elvis Sings Flaming Star” was the very first album I purchased with my own money. I wrote about it last year (link here) and some of you may have read that post already, but an appropriate day to re-share it I feel.

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The humble author today, 16/8/17, with her first album

It wasn’t until after I finished that “first album” post however that I did a little more digging and the story of how I came to acquire it, all started to make a bit more sense. We didn’t actually get to see the now legendary ’68 Comeback Special on television in the UK until about a year and a half later. I could only have been about 9 or 10 when it aired but I still remember that evening clearly. I had been asked to go down to our local village shop, which stayed open late on a Friday – All the ladies at the counters were really excited about going home to watch Elvis later on that evening and were asking all the customers if they would be tuning in. I must have mentioned this to my family when I got home and thankfully we did watch this piece of television history. Elvis was clad in black leather, was looking good, singing well and turned in an amazing performance as only he could. He resurrected his career after years of being holed up in Hollywood, churning out what were often thought of as lacklustre movies and dubious soundtrack albums.

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Elvis clad in black leather for the ’68 Comeback Special

The sponsor of the NBC television special was the Singer Sewing Machine Company (yes really) and the company had put together an album called “Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star and Others” (all very confusing) as a promotional tie-in for retail outlets that sold their machines. In March 1969, after the success of the special, it was re-issued internationally for normal retail outlets as “Elvis Sings Flaming Star”, which is when I must have come across it. Wouldn’t have known any of this back story at the time but just goes to show how fascinating rock and pop trivia can be.

So, nearly fifty years on from the infamous Comeback Special and exactly forty years on from his death, which song should I feature from his vast back catalogue? It occurred to me that only last week I had mentioned the song An American Trilogy as part of my Glen Campbell tribute post. Elvis Presley recorded the song in 1972 and it became a bit of a showstopper for him when performed during the massive event that was “Elvis—Aloha from Hawaii” broadcast in 1973. Three 19th century folk songs had been melded together and given the full jumpsuited-Elvis treatment and even today I can’t think of anyone better suited (no pun intended) for the song. His poverty-stricken southern roots, his close affinity with black music and his subsequent elevation to all-American global superstar.

An American Trilogy by Elvis Presley:

This was a more mature Elvis, now in his late thirties, but sadly this would be one of the last times we would see him turn in a performance like this. Later on that year his divorce from Priscilla would become final and he started to become increasingly unwell, his addiction to prescription drugs really starting to take their toll. 

In some ways I am glad Elvis didn’t make it to old age – He would have been exactly the same age as my mum and although the life she leads in her retirement complex suits her well, I cannot contemplate an octogenarian Elvis being suited to a similar life (with all the issues it can throw up). Best to remember the man as he was, the “star” of Flaming Star, the leather clad Comeback King and the jumpsuited maestro of those Global Event concerts broadcast around the world.

RIP Elvis, RIP The King.

An American Trilogy Lyrics
(Song by Mickey Newbury)

Oh, I wish, I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away, look away, look away Dixieland

Oh, I wish, I was in Dixie, away, away
In Dixieland I take my stand to live and die in Dixie
For Dixieland, that’s where I was born
Early Lord one frosty morn
Look away, look away, look away Dixieland

Glory, glory, Hallelujah
Glory, glory, Hallelujah
Glory, glory, Hallelujah
His truth is marching on

So hush little baby, don’t you cry
You know your daddy’s bound to die
But all my trials, Lord will soon be over

Glory, glory, Hallelujah
His truth is marching on
His truth is marching on

Postscript:

Yes, being a bit of a hoarder I still have that picture although we weren’t very good at keeping shadows out of the shot back then it seems – Good try though Dad.

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The author on 16/8/77 – The day Elvis died

Car Share, Now 48 and the Fairytale World of Kayleigh Kitson

Well, I know he’s probably not for everyone, but I have absolutely loved the recent set of Car Share episodes, written by and starring, Peter Kay. In case of inadvertently issuing a spoiler however, I thought I should wait until they had actually all been aired on the BBC before writing about them. Like most fans of the first series, I dived in a few weeks ago as soon as they first appeared on the iPlayer – By the time the closing credits came up on a very emotional final ever episode, I had already viewed it around 5 times.

In case you haven’t watched the series, the half-hour episodes could not be simpler in terms of plot-line – Supermarket assistant manager John Redmond (Peter Kay) and supermarket worker Kayleigh Kitson (Sian Gibson) have taken part in their firm’s car share scheme and inevitably over the months, get to know each other really well. They develop a kind of sympatico whilst driving back and forth to work every day, all the time listening to the fictitious Forever FM on John’s Fiat 500 digital radio. Peter Kay has an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop music, especially from the ’80s and ’90s and the third star of this show became that Forever FM soundtrack (took me right back to those days). Moments of great humour emerged when just the right track was picked for a particular scene. The very first episode started off with Martika’s Kitchen and the final episode ended with Marillion’s Kayleigh, the reason for which will become clear (SPOILER ALERT).

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One of the strange outcomes from a hit series like this is that the Now That’s What I Call Music people have had to start repressing copies of Now 48. At the end of the first series, Kayleigh, who was moving house and would no longer be car-sharing with John, left him a parting gift in the form of the aforementioned CD. She also left a little note inside with the not-so-cryptic message that he should listen to Track 2 which was Hear’say’s Pure and Simple. Thinking back, this is the kind of thing I might have given my latest crush as a teenager but there is something very childlike about Kayleigh and this was her favourite CD, so it did seem apt. Not the kind of thing your average 43-year-old man would normally listen to but hey, Kayleigh had her message to get across and this was her way of doing it.

Track 3 on this CD (which became the soundtrack to the fantasy dream sequence starring John, Kayleigh and a Monster Truck!) was Never Had a Dream Come True by S Club 7 which was the official Children In Need charity single that year. This is not the kind of song that would normally be enjoyed by a lady of my age either, but I do have a soft spot for both it, and S Club 7, for the following reasons. S Club 7 were a manufactured pop act put together by ex-Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller and they starred in four really successful kids’ sitcoms. This all happened around the turn of the millennium which was just when I was having a few years off work to be a stay-at-home mum. There was big excitement in our house when Miami 7 first aired on kids’ telly and although she would be embarrassed to admit it now, darling daughter’s very first single (a cassette single actually) was Never Had a Dream Come True. If this blog was a Nostalgic Journey Through the Tracks Of Her Years, this song would most definitely feature. By default therefore, it also features in mine.

Never Had a Dream Come True by S Club 7:

But getting back to Car Share, true-life never runs quite as smoothly as in the fairy-tale world of kids’ telly and John has conveniently chosen to ignore the message offered up in the form of the lyrics to Pure and Simple. They do however reinstate their car-sharing routine and get ever closer by the day as is wont to happen when you spend so much time together.

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In the final episode there is a wonderful scene where Billy Ocean’s Red Light Spells Danger comes on the radio and as ever, our supermarket colleagues who have that whole “unspoken thing” going on, burst into song – It is one of the real high points of the whole series but also spells the end of the unspoken thing, as it finally becomes a “spoken about thing” so can only go one of two ways. Kayleigh is accused of living in a fairy-tale world (which to be honest is preferable to the one we seem to be living in at the moment) and the cautious John, who comes from a background and part of the country where such things are most definitely not spoken about, does not come up with the correct responses. Kayleigh gets out of the car and out of his life. Sadly, if she had waited just a few more minutes, she would have realised that John had engineered a message of his own via the dulcet tones of Forever FM’s drive-time presenter and the playing of that song which bears her name.

So, “What’s It All About?” – As a long-term observer of the human condition, this was an excellent piece of writing from Mr Kay and his song choices throughout were impeccable. As a lady of a certain age, Kayleigh had indeed “no time to waste” and she had to invoke what I used to call, the 3-month rule. Even with the most unlikely of partners, you can have a lot of fun for around three months, but it is highly likely that after that point the rose-coloured spectacles come off and lots of things about them really start to grate. If however all is still going well, it is wise to find out where things are “going”, as before you know it the years have rolled by and you find yourself with someone who is unwilling to commit (not that I know of anyone who has had that happen to them of course).

As for Car Share, it sounds as if that truly is the end of it, and so it should be as we are left to decide for ourselves how things turned out for our supermarket heroes. I choose to think there would have been a happy ending as to think otherwise, for me, is not an option. As for the songs, I’m off to have another wallow in that Forever FM soundtrack as it takes me right back to those days of dalliances and the invoking of the 3-month rule. As for Now 48 I might just pass on that one, but for darling daughter, however strenuously she denies it in the future, I will always know that Track 3 was her very first single!

Never Had A Dream Come True Lyrics
(Song by Cathy Dennis/Simon Ellis)

Everybody’s got something
They had to leave behind
One regret from yesterday
That just seems to grow with time
There’s no use looking back, or wondering
How it could be now or might’ve been
All this I know
But still I can’t find ways to let you go

I never had a dream come true
‘Til the day that I found you
Even though I pretend that I’ve moved on
You’ll always be my baby
I never found the words to say
You’re the one I think about each day
And I know no matter where life takes me to
A part of me will always be with you

Somewhere in my memory
I’ve lost all sense of time
And tomorrow can never be
‘Cause yesterday is all that fills my mind
There’s no use looking back, oh wondering
How it should been, now oh might’ve been
All this I know
But, still I can’t find ways to let you go

I never had a dream come true
‘Til the day that I found you
Even though I pretend that I’ve moved on
You’ll always be my baby
I never found the words to say
You’re the one I think about each day
And I know no matter where life takes me to
A part of me will always be with you

You’ll always be the dream that fills my head
Yes you will
Say you will
You know you will oh baby
You’ll always be the one I know I’ll never forget
There’s no use looking back, oh wondering
Because love is a strange and funny thing
No matter how hard I try and try
I just can’t say good bye

Darling Daughter, Defying Gravity and The Day We “Cut A Record”

I mentioned last time that I now have a backlog of “posts pending” – I seem to continually add new post ideas to my blogging notebook but then write about other things instead. In order to start making inroads into this long list of ideas I have now put them on a spreadsheet, sorted them alphabetically, given each one a number and then, to make it a bit more interesting, used a random number generator to select the next “post idea”. (You can probably tell I work in finance and am by nature a very spreadsheety kind of person.)

Well, number 37 popped up and what did that correspond to on the long list of ideas? – “Musical Theatre and Wicked”. Before you start panicking that I’m about to share a whole load of show tunes with you, let me explain this little bit of self-indulgence. A couple of our good friends have been very successful on the career front (didn’t rub off on us sadly), but have not had any children. There is probably a correlation there but the upside is, when it comes to birthday presents, darling daughter is bestowed with some very nice ones. Just before her 16th birthday a rectangular padded envelope arrived and much speculation went on as to what could be inside. It turned out to be one of those Experience packages where she was given the chance to visit a recording studio and lay down some tracks. Being a keen singer, and having been in a few theatre shows up to that point, there was much excitement, and in due course the experience was booked for a Sunday in August.

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As the good friends live in London and we live in the Scottish Highlands, we chose the recording studio in Edinburgh, which was listed as an option, and planned a meetup. The timing coincided with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and if you’ve never been to our capital city in August I would thoroughly recommend it (although accommodation is hard to come by, granted). I’m pretty sure the locals who just want to go about their daily business during the month of August get pretty hacked off with it all but it certainly brings a colourful, carnival atmosphere to the city and many a stand-up comedian has cut his or her teeth in one of the many venues.

Darling daughter was given the choice of which show she wanted to see on the Saturday night and she chose one starring those very nifty street dancers, Flawless. I was sceptical that they would  be able to hold our attention for a whole hour and a half but you know what, they did. The audience were also all given fluorescent gloves and after a short lesson on “the moves” we had to make, we were projected on a big screen behind the dancers, so all very interactive.

And so it came to the Sunday, and we made our way to the recording studio which turned out to be in an Industrial Estate in Leith. Sadly there was no sunshine on Leith that day and Abbey Road it was most definitely not, but once we arrived, the “producers” were all really friendly and welcoming – I’m pretty sure they would have preferred to spend their afternoon laying down some tracks with a cool new rock band as opposed to a 16-year-old from the Highlands and her extended family, but if they did, they didn’t show it.

The song of choice that day was Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked, based on the alternative telling of L. Frank Baum’s classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Around that time the television show Glee, about an American High School glee club/show choir, was a firm favourite with darling daughter and her friends, and one of the characters in the show had performed the song in a recent episode. Of course now her musical tastes are very different and I know she would be very embarrassed about me sharing this but hey, I’m a proud mum, she never reads my blog and it’s the most anonymous place on the internet, so here is what she came up with on that day. It was a fascinating process, how you record many versions of the same song, do a bit of tweaking and then cut and paste sections together to create the best version possible. She starts off a bit tentatively but after 1:00 the confidence shines through.

Defying Gravity by “Darling Daughter”:

As I said earlier, this was always going to be a very self-indulgent post but this 2003 song by Stephen Schwartz is, for the reasons above, now very much one of the “tracks of my years” and that is exactly what this blog is all about. The lyrics of the song are about living without limits and going against the rules that others have set for you. For darling daughter’s generation I think that can-do attitude is going to be very important as they try to negotiate this brave new world we seem to find ourselves in.

Until next time….

Defying Gravity Lyrics
(Song by Stephen Schwartz)

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap!

It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
And you won’t bring me down

I’m through accepting limits ’cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change but ’til I try, I’ll never know!
Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well, if that’s love, it comes at much too high a cost!

I’d sooner buy
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you won’t bring me down

The (Very) Eclectic Mix of Honor Blackman, Andy Stewart and Eric Idle

Reminiscing in my last post about those shiny white boots worn by Nancy Sinatra, reminded me that in December 1990, the novelty song Kinky Boots by those intrepid Avengers Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman had made it to the top of the UK Singles Chart. Nancy had recorded the theme song to the Bond movie You Only Live Twice and Honor of course played infamous Bond girl Pussy Galore (wouldn’t get away with that name nowadays thankfully), so both ladies had a bit more in common than just a habit of wearing, and singing about, boots!

The reason that I know it was a hit in Dec 1990 is because I still have a copy of the 7-inch single in my collection! At that time BBC Radio 1 was aimed at a more mainstream audience and the Breakfast Show DJ was Simon Mayo. Every year prior to Christmas he championed an old ’60s novelty song and gave it copious amounts of airplay. Needless to say it always sold well and made it to the higher reaches of the singles chart, No. 5 in this case. I’m pretty sure my boyfriend of the time (now husband) bought it for my “hypothetical” Christmas stocking (trying to fit a record of any kind into a real stocking tended to be a physical impossibility).

Kinky Boots had been commissioned to accompany a short film about these fashionable items of footwear for the very popular early ’60s satirical TV Programme, That Was The Week That Was. The most obvious candidates to sing the song were the stars of the new spy-fi drama that was entertaining Britain at that time – The main characters in The Avengers were Steed with his bowler hat and umbrella, and Cathy Gale in her long thigh-length boots. This was a very new kind of role for a woman in television and Honor Blackman played her perfectly. The role must have led to her becoming the leader of the all-female Flying Circus in Goldfinger but there followed in her wake a string of other “Avenging” women namely Emma Peel, Tara King and in the ’70s, the iconic Purdey, who inspired a generation of girls to have their beautiful long hair cut into a bowl shape!

But back to Simon Mayo’s Breakfast Show on the radio – Unbelievably, the previous year the song he had championed was actually by our very own local hero, Andy Stewart. Andy had been a bit of an institution in Scotland in the world of light entertainment and presided over the excruciatingly embarrassing White Heather Club which ran for 10 years between 1958 and 1968. It portrayed a very tartanised version of Scotland, what with the kilts, the dancing, the accordions and all the other stereotypical falderals and although very popular with television audiences, if you were a kid like me, lapping up all the great music that was emerging from America and “Swinging London”, it was seen as very uncool.

But in his wisdom Simon Mayo must have discovered Andy’s novelty song Donald Where’s Your Troosers from 1960 and helped it reach No.4 in the December 1989 singles chart. This could be a difficult listen I grant you, but bear with it, as Andy was a great impressionist as well as a singer/comedian and his impression of Elvis (at 1:45) is still a really funny one.

Out of interest, the third of Simon’s attempts to influence the outcome of who might top the Christmas singles chart, was when he championed Always Look on the Bright Side of Life sung and written by Eric Idle. It had first appeared in the Monty Python film The Life of Brian and here it was back in the charts in December 1991, this time reaching the No. 3 spot. This song still resonates with us today and it has popped up quite frequently in the various blogs I follow of late – ‘Tis the times we obviously live in.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I really miss that sense of community we used to get from all watching or listening to the same thing at the same time. If like me, you worked in an office back in the ’80s and ’90s, the topic of conversation first thing in the morning was whatever had been on television the night before (very memorable Wogan interviewees for example, and I think we all know who I’m talking about) and what the breakfast DJ had been playing as we got ready for work. Now all you get is, “Don’t tell me what happened, I’ve recorded it” or “I only watch Netflix and boxsets” or “I don’t listen to that radio station”.

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In an era with so much choice and so many ways to consume visual and aural entertainment we have lost what it was that used to bring us all together. The days of getting together for a sing-song around the piano have long-gone and now it seems we hardly ever watch or listen to the same things, at the same time. Maybe, just maybe, that is why I am enjoying the blogosphere so much – Once you are part of a little group, you end up all reading (watching and listening to) the same post at the same time and have a wee chat about it. It’s not the community of my parents generation and not even the community of 20 years ago, but perhaps it’s a new kind of community that works for the modern day world. I may not know much about any of you, but it’s nice that you take the time to drop by and leave some feedback – Whether I’m likely to get much feedback on a post featuring Andy Stewart remains to be seen, but here’s hoping!

Until next time….

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life Lyrics
(Song by Eric Idle)

Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say.
Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle,
Don’t grumble, give a whistle!
And this’ll help things turn out for the best
And

Always look on the bright side of life!

Always look on the bright side of life
If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,

When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!
And always look on the bright side of life

Come on!

Always look on the bright side of life

For life is quite absurd,
And death’s the final word.
You must always face the curtain with a bow!
Forget about your sin — give the audience a grin,
Enjoy it, it’s the last chance anyhow!

So always look on the bright side of death!
Just before you draw your terminal breath.
Life’s a piece of shit,
When you look at it.

Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true,
You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!

And always look on the bright side of life

Always look on the bright side of life

Come on guys, cheer up

Always look on the bright side of life

Always look on the bright side of life

Worse things happen at sea you know

Always look on the bright side of life

I mean, what have you got to lose?
you know, you come from nothing
you’re going back to nothing
what have you lost? Nothing!

Always look on the bright side of life

Roberta Flack, Clint Eastwood and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Well, today was the start of the first “normal” working week for a while after the confusing festive period. I am glad however as it is easy to get thrown out of kilter by the space-time continuum messiness that happens around this time of year – It certainly has thrown a certain Chain-Ganger, who shall remain nameless, but hopefully all will be back to normal this week!

Anyone who visits these pages will know that I am often earworm-afflicted, but thankfully most of these earworms are of the pleasurable variety. Last week it was The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack which had popped up on on the car radio on my way home from work. I hadn’t heard it in years and was struck by just how beautiful it was. Such a slow pace to it which contrasted markedly to everything else I had heard during the same journey. It was actually written back in 1957 by Ewan MacColl, the multi-talented British folk singer, songwriter, activist and more importantly, dad to Kirsty, but was subsequently covered by many other artists.

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The young Ewan MacColl – Is it me or is there a passing resemblance here to a certain Mr Shane MacGowan?

Ewan made no bones about the fact that he didn’t like these cover versions, but despite that, Roberta’s version from 1972 became a major international hit, winning a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Her rendition, at over five minutes long was much slower than the original which ran to only two and a half minutes but the success of this more sensual version was no doubt because it was used by Clint Eastwood for his 1971 film Play Misty for Me, where he made his directorial debut. Yes, although the song was originally written as a love song for Ewan’s long-distance American lover Peggy Seeger, whom he subsequently married, the Roberta Flack version, once in the hands of Mr Eastwood became a song all about “makin’ love” – All very smooth in the make-believe world of the movie and not at all like in the real world where I’m sure there would have probably been nettle stings, ants and mussed-up hair.   

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack:

Play Misty for Me is a really great psychological thriller and one which I do remember watching on television as a teenager, back in the ’70s. Of course in those days families generally only had one television set which resided in what we called The Living Room (although I am aware that depending on your class and geographical location it could have been called something else). We also had no central heating but a very fine looking 2 bar electric fire to keep us cosy during the long winter months. My point is that the whole family sat in the living room watching television together and whenever “scenes of a sexual nature” as they are called nowadays were transmitted, it was a cue for everyone to get very embarrassed. My dad would suddenly pick up his Aberdeen Press and Journal (Scotland’s oldest daily newspaper) to hide behind, and my mum would find something very important to do in the kitchen. I was left red-faced, willing the “scene of a sexual nature” to be over as soon as possible so that we could all get back to the business in hand, which was hoping that the dashing Carmel-by-the-Sea radio jockey Mr Eastwood, would manage to thwart the unwanted attentions of his stalker, Jessica Walter.

And here is where the law of freaky coincidences strikes again. After purchasing the song at the weekend I decided to write about it on Sunday night. I got side-tracked however by a spot of boxset binging – Mad Men, the final season. Anyone who has watched Mad Men will know that it is an American period drama set primarily in the 1960s at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on Madison Avenue. We were now right at the end of the final season however and had reached the early 1970s. At the end of each episode they chose a song from the era to accompany the closing credits and what did Sunday night’s turn out to be? Yes, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack!

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The Cast of Mad Men – They’ve reached the 1970s!

But of course I can’t leave it there as this would just be too schmaltzy a post. No, instead I will leave you with Will from the Inbetweeners movie, who thought that a spot of Roberta Flack would help him capture the heart of Katie, a girl he had met on holiday – Needless to say it didn’t, and she led him a merry dance on the way to finding that out, but all very funny nonetheless. Until next time, I give you Will…..

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
(Song by Ewan MacColl)

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies my love
To the dark and the endless skies

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command my love
That was there at my command my love

And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last ’till the end of time my love
And it would last ’till the end of time

The first time ever I saw your face
Your face, your face

Post 101, The Jackson 5 and and Got To Be There

Well this is embarrassing. After basking in the achievement of having just reached the momentous target of publishing 100 posts; after being incredibly grateful to my band of blogging buddies for leaving such great comments and finally; after telling everyone I would carry on for another 100 posts – I now have writer’s (or should it be blogger’s) block!

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To be fair it’s not really blogger’s block, it’s just that the list of ideas for “songs and stories” I have jotted down over the months for future posts, now seem a bit dull and boring. I always thought that writing about songs would be easy as I could never, ever run out of material, so could it be that my best stories are behind me? I do hope not. Also as a self-confessed anorak when it comes to listings, cataloguing and alphabetisation, that magical number 100 against “No. of Posts Published” on my WordPress Summary page, is a really tidy one, and when I next press the “publish” tab, it will turn into a bit of an untidy number 101.

Lots of significance however to the number 101 – There is of course the torture room in the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four which has in turn been the inspiration for the Radio then TV show Room 101 where celebrity guests are invited to discuss their pet hates and persuade the host to consign them to that fictional room. Works well and hosted by the affable Frank Skinner whom I am warming to more and more as both he and I get older. His Saturday morning show on Absolute Radio is one of my favourites.

Although there have been many albums inspired by the aforementioned novel, the only one I remember personally is The Eurythmics’ soundtrack album for the film Nineteen Eighty-Four which contains the song Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four), but not something I have in my collection nor would I want to (too intense for my liking). Having lived in Aberdeen for the best part of the ’80s I do feel disloyal to Annie Lennox for having said that, especially as about half the locals I worked with claimed they’d been to school with her (must have been a very big school), but not one of my favourites from that era. Nonetheless Ms Lennox always gave 110 percent as they tend to say on those reality/singing/karaoke shows (although a numerical impossibility) and also gave us some very striking and androgynous looks over the years.

But back to the number 101 – It does of course also look very much like a “binary number” and if I remember correctly (ok I cheated and looked it up), it equates in decimal to the number 5. There have indeed been many bands and songs with the number 5 in their name – The Jackson 5, Maroon 5, The Dave Clark 5, Five and of course those personable Pearsons from Reading, 5 Star! As for songs, I recently featured that upbeat ditty from McFly called 5 Colours in Her Hair (although not sure if my readership appreciated that one too much).

I have kind of avoided mentioning Michael Jackson too much in this blog so far, and haven’t really come to terms yet with what became of him. It saddens me so much that the gorgeous little boy who first stepped out on stage with his brothers (the place he obviously found to be the most comfortable on earth), morphed into someone totally different and died in such a nonsensical manner. If like me, you were a pre-teen back in the early ’70s, The Jackson 5 were omnipresent and even had their own cartoon series (The Jackson 5ive). It was a must-watch show after coming home from school and they recorded just so many great songs during that era, this one being I Want You Back from 1970.

Final thoughts on the number 101 – Since starting this blog I have found myself in the company of some serious music buffs whose knowledge way surpasses my own and the first time I joined in with The Chain Gang, the link was to a song by the 101ers whom I hadn’t heard of until that point. They were the band that a young Joe Strummer (whose name has cropped up on these pages) left to join The Clash. The band’s name apparently came from the number of the squat they lived in at 101 Walterton Road, Maida Vale. I saw it as a “palindrome number” so came up with the suggestion Pacific State, the 1989 electronic chill-out track by that other palindromic outfit 808 State. Looking back, this choice was probably met with raised eyebrows as not the kind of thing you often see appearing over on The Chain. It was a favourite of an ex-colleague of mine, or rather I kept thinking it was whereas the one he actually did like was called Pacific Highway by someone else. It has become a great source of mirth however that I always got the two mixed up but ended up getting to like the wrong one better anyway. Oh yes, we know how to keep ourselves amused up here in Scotland during the long, dark, winter nights. (And, I only mentioned that because he is one of my very few real-life friends who know about this place.)

So, “What’s It All About?” – I think it’s just about having a bit of a crisis of confidence when sometimes you feel it’s best to quit whilst you’re ahead, but don’t really want to. Having revisited my list of “song and story” ideas however, there are definitely still quite a few in the tank, so you’re stuck with me for a while yet. I will quickly therefore get this post out of the way, as once onto number 102 it won’t seem quite so daunting and will simply be back to business as usual.

But wait a minute, before I go this post is all wrong (in more ways than one you might say) – I haven’t included a music clip or the lyrics yet! Fear not, in light of the fact that I have inadvertently revisited the Jackson 5‘s back catalogue by associating the binary number 101 with the decimal number 5, I am going to think back to 1972 when I was aged just 11 and loved watching the very young Michael Jackson sing lyrically inappropriate ballads, just for me. Got To Be There is a beautiful Motown track and is still one of my favourites from those much more innocent times. RIP Michael.

Got To Be There by Michael Jackson:

Got To Be There Lyrics
(Song By Elliott Willensky)

Got to be there, got to be there in the morning
When she says hello to the world.
Got to be there, got to be there,
Bring her good times and show her that she’s my girl.
Oh, what a feeling there’ll be
The moment I know she loves me.
‘Cause when I look in her eyes.
I realize I need her sharing the world beside me.
So I’ve got to be there, got to be there in the morning,
And welcome her into my world,
And show her that she’s my girl.
When she says hello world!
Got to be there.
I need her sharing the world beside me.

That’s why I’ve got to be there, got to be there
Where love begins and that’s everywhere she goes,
I’ve got to be there so she knows
That when she’s with me she’s home, yeah

Got to be there, got to be there, got to be there.
Got to be there, got to be there, got to be there.