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 one 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 it 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. Mad Men depicts the American society and culture of the 1960s, highlighting cigarette smoking, drinking, sexism, adultery, homophobia 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   (?!)

Wives and Lovers by Julie London:

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.

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….

new-jersey

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.

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.

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

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

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

New York.jpg

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

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

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

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

JAYZ
Jay-Z, Rapper and Businessman

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

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

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

5 boroughs

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

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

Angela (Theme from Taxi) by Bob James:

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

feelin groovy

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

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

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

You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees:

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

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

Of course New York has long been known for its flamboyant characters and Sting sang about one of them, eccentric gay icon Quentin Crisp, in his 1988 song Englishman In New York. Another “character” committed 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.

kell
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 favourite movies used to be Manhattan directed by Woody Allen (it now sadly troubles me). I was given the soundtrack album by the boyfriend of the day after going to see it, as I was just so bowled over by George Gershwin’s compositions. They were all performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and somehow I now always think of Rhapsody In Blue when I see the New York skyline.

manhattan

Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin:

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

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

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

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

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

Scottish kids went back to school yesterday after the long summer holidays, but 40 years ago we went back to school on today’s date, the 16th August. I still remember it well, as it was my senior year, and we took a picture of me in my new Prefect’s uniform. 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 during 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.

graceland
Crowds at the gates of Graceland following the death of Elvis

Elvis is also special to me however 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.

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