Katie Melua, Mike Batt and “Nine Million Bicycles”

Last time I wrote about the great punk-rock beauty Debbie Harry. Roll forward to the mid noughties and another rare beauty came along in the form of Katie Melua. Although born in Georgia (the former Soviet Republic one) she had moved to Northern Ireland with her family as a child, before heading across to London to attend the BRIT school in her late teens. She has been one of its most successful attendees along with the late Amy Winehouse and of course Adele.

Unlike Debbie Harry however, Katie did not give us punk attitude, instead she gave us…… Really annoying lyrics! I have written before about songs that I had hitherto quite enjoyed because I had never really listened to the lyrics properly (Rupert Holmes’ Pina Colada song – grrr) but it didn’t take long at all for some of Katie’s songs to really grate.

Exhibit A – Nine Million Bicycles which charted in September 2005. I know I am probably being pedantic here but every time I heard her sing about “the fact”, “the thing we just couldn’t deny” (those nine million bicycles traversing the streets of Beijing), I kind of had to say to myself – Really? Could it not possibly be nine and a half million, or perhaps a bit less than nine million now that car ownership has risen? But no, Katie was emphatic in her song that nine million was the exact number.

Nine Million Bicycles by Katie Melua:

Of course we then get on to the next verse and now she tells us that “we are twelve billion light years from the edge” but that “it was a guess and no-one could ever say if that was true”. As it turns out they could, and no, it wasn’t true. Cosmologist Simon Singh took to writing an article for the Guardian pointing out that scientists had pretty much worked out after much research and careful measurement that the universe was actually 13.7 billion years old. A playful spat ensued with Katie re-recording the song with this new information contained within – Needless to say it wasn’t a howling success and both parties had a bit of a laugh about it and agreed that a modicum of poetic license was needed for the song to work, but just shows how hot under the collar we can get when faced with incorrect facts.

I put it all down to the “fact” that the song was written by Mike Batt who despite massive success in many different strands of the music industry will, for me, always be “Head Womble”. There can be no-one of my age who will not have occasionally dipped into an episode of The Wombles on television after coming home from school in the afternoon. They were way ahead of their time with all their recycling, now part of our modern day lives, but back in the 1970s a bit of a novelty and a cue for entertainment.

When Mike Batt got the job of writing the theme song for the animated show, rather than accept a flat fee he chose to acquire the character rights for The Wombles and formed a pop group, releasing a string of top-selling singles and albums between 1973 and 1975. Must have been very hot work “Wombling Free” around BBC Television Centre but quite liberating, as the costumes could be worn by whoever was available on the day. It turns out this was often members of Steeleye Span or the guitarist Chris Spedding (he of Motor Bikin’ fame) whom Mike worked with frequently.

So when Mike discovered Katie in the mid noughties, I think he was so thrown by her amazing beauty that his old Wombling song-writing skills momentarily left him and he put together odd lyrics juxtaposing “facts about love” with erroneous “scientific facts”.

Just one more bone of contention however about a line from the song before I move on – Katie sang about how she would “never tire of the love she would be given every night”. Written by a man indeed as I don’t know of any of my female friends, however happy with their other halves, who would not tire of being given love every night! Sometimes a mug of cocoa and a good book is all that is required – Just sayin’…..

Nine Million Bicycles Lyrics
(Song by Mike Batt)

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That’s a fact,
It’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die.

We are twelve billion light years from the edge,
That’s a guess,
No-one can ever say it’s true
But I know that I will always be with you.

I’m warmed by the fire of your love everyday
So don’t call me a liar,
Just believe everything that I say

There are six billion people in the world
More or less
and it makes me feel quite small
But you’re the one I love the most of all

We’re high on the wire
With the world in our sight
And I’ll never tire,
Of the love that you give me every night

Postscipt:

And in case anyone can’t remember how much fun it was to be a Womble in 1974, here is a clip from Top Of The Pops to remind you (just try to avert your eyes from Noel Edmonds’ revealing shirt and medallion during the introduction). All members present and correct I think – Orinoco, Madame Cholet, Great Uncle Bulgaria, Wellington and Tobermory. Didn’t even have to look it up, such is the power of a childhood memory.

Adam Faith, “Someone Else’s Baby” and The Music of 1960

I had a birthday this week and it got me thinking about those birthday cards and “gift ideas” that feature the song that was at the top of the charts on the day you were born. It turns out, that for me, it would have been the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown” which I do know but have no emotional attachment to at all. Although it is quite interesting to have a newspaper from the year of your birth (gives a good snapshot of what life was like back then), a record is a bit pointless. Although you will have heard it on the radio over the years, it won’t be one of the “tracks of your years” as you were just far too busy being a baby, all your energy going into crying for most of the night and putting on a few pounds a week. As for your parents, it probably won’t even be one of the tracks of their years as suddenly all their time, money and energy is going into the welfare of aforementioned baby – you!

Looking back at the charts of 1960 therefore is a bit of a historical exercise as apposed to a trip down memory lane but one which I have put a bit of effort into this week. I have written about this before, but it turns out that women, on the whole, were not very well represented in terms of record sales until much later. In the sample charts I looked at, we just had Connie Francis, Brenda Lee and Shirley Bassey (only British female in there so well done her). As for male solo artists there were loads of them, namely – Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochrane, Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, Adam Faith, Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison, Johnny Preston, Rolf Harris, Max Bygraves, Anthony Newley, Lonnie Donegan and many more. As for groups, the era of The Beatles hadn’t really got started yet so we only had duos such as The Everly Brothers and backing groups turned frontmen (performing mainly instrumentals) such as The Shadows.

I have deliberately included the pictures above in black and white because that is how most of these artists would have been viewed if watched on television at the time. It always seems such a shame, that when looking back to those days, the world (or certainly the UK which didn’t have Hollywood) seemed a much greyer place. Of course it wasn’t, it’s simply that most of it was recorded in black and white, but difficult for those of us not born until later to see how exciting life must have been. The 1950s had started with rationing and the continued deprivations of the war years but by 1960 things were a whole lot better. There was pretty much full-employment and the consumer society had begun in earnest with young people buying clothes, records and hanging out in Coffee Bars.

The artist I’m going to write about started out playing in the The 2i’s Coffee Bar. Liverpool had The Cavern Club but London’s Soho had the 2i’s. Many artists from that rock’n’roll/skifle/rockabilly era started out there, including Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele but the one I’m going to feature is Adam Faith as he continued to pop up in other guises throughout my life.

In 1960 Adam Faith reached No. 1 in the charts with Someone Else’s Baby. He was the first artist to have his first seven singles reach the Top 5 and had I been born in the late ’40s he would certainly have been my teenage crush. He didn’t have the strongest singing voice and he had the malnourished look of someone born during the era of rationing but those short snappy songs, inspired by the pizzicato arrangements (no, I hadn’t heard of that term before either) made popular by Buddy Holly, made him one of Britain’s first “pop stars”. He was known for his hiccupping glottal stops and his pronunciation of the word ‘baby’ as ‘bay-beh’. My dad’s boss at the time (a bit of a father figure to many of the young lads in his employ) blamed him single-handedly for the sloppy way of speaking they had started to adopt in those days. He used Adam as an example of everything that was wrong with society – Harsh really, but my dad always reminisced about these rants when he appeared on television over the years.

Adam himself had actually started out as an actor and during the early 60s appeared in several films. In the long school summer holidays of the early 70s, these old black and white movies starring the “pop stars” of the day were often shown. I clearly remember watching the comedy What a Whopper with my cousins one rainy summer morning, when going outside to play was not an option. As well as Adam, the cast included all the usual stalwarts of British comedy – Wilfrid Brambell, Sid James, Charles Hawtrey and Terry Scott. I must have enjoyed it as I went on to watch the rest of the films in the season starring Billy Fury, Cliff Richard and others.

what a whopper.jpg

At around this time, in 1971, Adam himself had left the music industry behind and was starring as the eponymous hero in the ITV drama Budgie. I would be lying if I said I remember watching this show at the time as for some reason our television set was permanently tuned to the BBC but it was also on quite late so I was probably deemed too young to watch it anyway. It definitely was a popular show however and I have since watched reruns showcasing the hairbrained schemes Budgie got into with his boss Charlie Endall.

Later on the 70s, when I was having a full-blown teenage crush on the all-round star of stage, screen and pop music that was David Essex, I went into the big city with my friends to watch the film Stardust. It starred David Essex as Jim MacLaine who with the help of his manager Mike (played by Adam Faith), soon becomes a massive star. The film documents the detrimental effects of success on MacLaine and how his relationship with manager Mike becomes soured by money and success. Adam was actually nominated for a BAFTA for his performance in the film although I was probably too preoccupied with watching David Essex at the time to notice how well he executed his craft.

Somewhat bizarrely, in the 1980s Adam became a bit of a financial guru and had a column in the national press. This was the era of the yuppy and tales of obscene money-making (and spending) by London’s young stockbrokers, but all good things come to an end, and Adam ended up being declared bankrupt in later life so I’m glad now I didn’t take too much heed of his money advice back then.

His last foray into the world of popular television entertainment was when he starred with Zoë Wanamaker in the BBC comedy-drama, Love Hurts. It came about in 1992 just after I’d got married and had moved into a new house. With hefty mortgage repayments a new reality, Fridays nights were no longer spent out on the town, so instead, we settled down to watch the sparring between Frank and Tessa in Love Hurts – Our favourite show of the week. Adam was now 52 but still a very good-looking man so although I had been too young to appreciate him at the height of pop-idol success in the early ’60s, I clearly remember appreciating him as one of the most attractive actors around in the early ’90s.

love hurts.jpg

Sadly Adam died young of a heart attack in 2003 aged only 62 but what a career he’d had. I will leave you with another song of his from 1960 – An era that forms a gap in the annals of my musical memories but worth revisiting every now and again just to remind ourselves what our parents were missing when they were busy “bringing up baby”.


Someone Else’s Baby Lyrics
(Song by Perry Ford/Les Vandyke)

Someone else’s baby
Someone else’s eyes are blue
Someone else’s baby
Someone else’s five-foot-two

Oh, who’s got a hold up
Nine carat gold love
I wonder who’s in the loveseat
Who’s got a heartbeat, like thunder

If I acted bad
I could steal his fairy queen
I know he’ll be mad
But I can’t resist the thought of being kissed

By someone else’s baby
Someone else’s special date
Someone else’s baby
Someone else is kinda late

He’d better mind out
She’s gonna find out I love her
This little fellah is gonna tell her
That someone else is me

Postscript:

I was in two minds about sharing this clip as much of it seems shockingly sexist to our 21st century sensibilities but it shows the scene with the title track to the film What a Whopper sung by Adam Faith. Glad these films are still available however as no better way of looking back at the social history of a nation, than by going through their movie archives. Enjoy.

Alabama 3, Curtis Stigers and Great Theme Songs

After writing about music from both film and television crime dramas in my last post it got me thinking about some other outstanding theme songs. The Sopranos was first aired in 1999 and followed the life of one, Tony Soprano, the head of a New Jersey, Italian-American, crime family. This was a mafia show unlike any other in that it not only depicted the (seemingly very realistic) goings-on of his cosa nostra family but also centred around his home life and the relationships he had with his wife, children, mother, sister and therapist – A normal family guy you warmed to and identified with in some scenes but then were reminded in no uncertain terms in other scenes that no, this guy and his colleagues had to be sociopaths. It was a brilliantly written series with excellent acting and direction and very deservedly won many awards during its 7-year run.

I think it was first shown on British television around the time we moved to our current house, and from the first episode I was hooked. It was however an HBO show which “from the beginning and throughout” covered scenes of a sexual nature, violence, drug-taking and bad language (the first time I ever heard the “c” word uttered on television). It was my favourite show of the week, but it had to be aired after 11pm at night. With ad breaks it went on until around 12.15am – Not great for a work and school night but I just had to watch it. Before it came on I made sure I was all prepared for the next day, in pyjamas, teeth brushed and ready for bed as soon as it finished – A guilty pleasure but not exactly sleep-inducing.

I think there is an element of voyeurism in the watching of such shows. Like probably most of the people who were fans, I live in law-abiding, “nice-world” where the worst crime I have ever committed is parking illegally or accidentally speeding in a built-up area. To witness the lives of these characters is to open a window onto a world you would never experience in real life. Our modern day lives are so controlled and safe that it is sometimes necessary to experience something a bit more edgy from the other side of the tracks, albeit from the safety of our living rooms.

sopranos__1224097378_0618

But back to the reason for this post, the opening sequence featured the journey made by Tony from New York back to his home in suburban New Jersey. He is seen emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel and passes through the tollbooth for the New Jersey Turnpike. Numerous landmarks are shown passing by as Tony drives down the highway. The theme played during this sequence was the excellent Woke Up This Morning written by, and performed by, British band Alabama 3. It took me some time to work out that this band was indeed from London as they sounded so American, but that would have been because the music they made at that time fused country, blues, rock and acid house. An unusual mix but as mentioned last time when I wrote about the opening sequence to Pulp Fiction, the audience were left in no doubt as to what kind of show they were about to watch.

Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3:

alab
Alabama 3 (from Brixton, London)

Yet another crime drama that we’ve just finished watching is Sons of Anarchy about the life and times of a gun-running motor-cycle club based in Northern California. It took nine months to get through all seven seasons and at one point the graphic violence became so relentless that I had to take a sabbatical from watching it. Again though, it was a window onto a world I had no idea existed and there were parallels to the mafia-based show I had watched ten years earlier, it was just that this time the protagonists were West Coast rather than East Coast based, dressed in biker kuttes rather than sharp suits and preferred Harleys to expensive SUVs. Also, like with The Sopranos, you warmed to the main characters as they exhibited strong emotional bonds to their families, and to each other, but in nearly episode there was a very violent reality check reminding you that they were in essence outlaws and criminals. The scenery, clothing and shoot-outs made you think of the old Wild West – They were just substituting Harleys for horses.

But yet again I digress – The opening sequence to Sons of Anarchy, like The Sopranos, featured a great theme song called This Life performed by Curtis Stigers and the Forest Rangers. It is probably not the kind of song I would have taken much heed of had I heard it on the radio, but after listening to it 92 times as I must have done watching the show, you form an attachment, as you form an attachment to the characters.

sons

So, another post about music from award-winning crime dramas. Time to move on I think to another topic for next time, back in “nice-world”. Will ponder on what it will be over the next few days but yet again I am realising that the “tracks of my years” in later life are often associated with films and television. We now binge-watch boxsets which means you form a close relationship with the characters in favourite dramas. Yes it is make-belief but so was the relationship you had with your teen-idols back in the day. It does sound a bit wrong I know, but there are times when the cavewoman in me must come out and I wish I had a Tony Soprano or a Jax Teller there to fight my corner. I used to fantasise about trips to the cinema with Donny Osmond, now I fantasise about having one of the Sons of Anarchy as a minder when I’m feeling harassed – I would get all the best parking spaces and be able to jump queues. But no, although I don’t exactly live in Stepford, that just can’t happen, but nice to dream……and listen to all that great music!

Woke Up This Morning Lyrics
(Song by Jake Black/Rob Spragg)

You woke up this morning
Got yourself a gun,
Mama always said you’d be
The Chosen One.

She said: You’re one in a million
You’ve got to burn to shine,
But you were born under a bad sign
With a blue moon in your eyes

You woke up this morning
All that love had gone
Your Papa never told you
About right and wrong

But you’re looking good, baby
I believe you’re feeling fine,(shame about it)
Born under a bad sign
With a blue moon in your eyes

You woke up this morning
Got a blue moon in your eyes
You woke up this morning
Got a blue moon in your eyes

You woke up this morning
The world turned upside down
Lord above, thing’s ain’t been the same
Since the blues walked into town

But you’re one in a million
You’ve got that shotgun shine (shame about it)
Born under a bad sign
With a blue moon in your eyes

When you woke up this morning everything was gone
By half past ten your head was going ding-dong
Ringing like a bell from your head down to your toes
Like a voice trying to tell you there’s something you should know
Last night you were flying but today you’re so low
Ain’t it times like these that make you wonder if
You’ll ever know the meaning of things as they appear to the others;
Wives, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers
Don’t you wish you didn’t function, don’t you wish you
Didn’t think beyond the next paycheck and the next little drink?
Well you do so make up your mind to go on, cos
When you woke up this morning everything you had was gone

Woke up this morning
Woke up this morning
Woke up this morning
You want to be the Chosen One

Woke up this morning
Woke up this morning
Woke up this morning
You got yourself a gun

“Crystal Blue Persuasion”, Pulp Fiction and Twist Contests

I was at a bit of a loss about what to write about this week. My last post was straight after this year’s Eurovision Song Contest so ended up being about the Swedish band Blue Swede and their song Hooked on a Feeling. The way the mind works, this got me thinking about the song Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James & The Shondells which I came across recently when watching the brilliant television show Breaking Bad.

Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James & The Shondells:

The main character, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, inadvertently finds himself in charge of the industrial-scale production of blue-coloured crystal meth so the song was perfect for a particular scene in the show. It turns out however that Blue Swede recorded a cover of a Tommy James & The Shondells song as their follow-up to Hooked on a Feeling, so it wasn’t just the word “blue” that caused this connection, their whole sound and style must have reminded me of Tommy and his band.

tommy

As I have written about Breaking Bad before however, and as I don’t have any particular memories of Crystal Blue Persuasion other than from that show, I decided to go down another route. The song Hooked on a Feeling was from the soundtrack to the movie Guardians of the Galaxy which very effectively used lesser-known songs from a specific era to give the main character an anchor to his past. Another director who uses lesser-known songs for his soundtracks is Quentin Tarantino, and lo and behold, it turns out that Hooked on a Feeling was also used in Reservoir Dogs – We keep going in circles here.

My favourite Tarantino soundtrack is the one he put together for Pulp Fiction where the songs used were as important to the success of the finished movie as the screenplay and performances by the actors. Who could forget the opening title sequence featuring the Dick Dale classic Misirlou played at breakneck speed – This was nominally “surf rock” but the audience were left in no doubt as to what kind of movie they were about to watch. Tarantino called it “rock ‘n’ roll spaghetti western music” which is a perfectly fitting name for it.

The great thing about Pulp Fiction is that it takes place in a stylised world which cannot really be attributed to any particular era – We are led to believe it was contemporary but the eclectic mix of American rock and roll, surf music, pop and soul made the time frame irrelevant. This is yet another movie I had to immediately watch for a second time after finishing it, as it was just so mind-blowingly brilliant. The three different storylines, told out of chronological order, threw up some unforgettable performances (Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules reciting the passage from Ezekiel) and of course we had the iconic twist contest featuring Mia and Vincent (Uma Thurman and John Travolta).

Difficult to pick a stand out track as they all contributed so brilliantly to the look and feel of the film but quite appropriately I think I’ll choose the song used for the twist contest – You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry. It was a hit for him in 1964 but of course became popular again when the film came out in 1994. A classic rock ‘n’ roll tale of young love, which against all the odds seemed to have succeeded – “C’est la vie” said the old folks, “It goes to show you never can tell”.

So, two songs from crime dramas where music is used to great effect. The creator of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, pays homage to Tarantino right through the whole series by using similar characters, camera angles, names and of course music choices. Didn’t think I would end up writing about LA Mobsters when I started this post referencing the Eurovision Song Contest but it just goes to show, “You never can tell”!

You Never Can Tell Lyrics
(Song by Chuck Berry)

It was a teenage wedding and the old folks wished them well
You could see that Pierre did truly love the Mademoiselle
And now the young Monsieur and Madame have rung the chapel bell

“C’est la vie” say the old folks
It goes to show you never can tell

They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale
The Coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale
But when Pierre found work, the little money comin’ worked out well

“C’est la vie” say the old folks
It goes to show you never can tell

They had a hi-fi phono — boy, did they let it blast!
Seven hundred little records all rock, rhythm and jazz
But when the sun went down the rapid tempo of the music fell

“C’est la vie” say the old folks
It goes to show you never can tell

They bought a souped-up jitney was a cherry red ’53
And drove it down New Orleans to celebrate their anniversary
It was there where Pierre was wedded to the lovely Mademoiselle

“C’est la vie” say the old folks
It goes to show you never can tell

Three Björns, Mix-tapes and “Hooked on a Feeling”

Last time I wrote about the Eurovision Song Contest and how it was devised in 1955 as a means of bringing countries together, post-war, in the form of a “light” television entertainment programme. As it turned out, Saturday night’s winning song and the new more transparent voting system did the antithesis of that so a fantastic production was, for me, marred by the devisive outcome. But we move on and the show itself, hosted by Sweden this year, was possibly the best ever and had a brilliant set of very entertaining “interval fillers”.

The most surprising of these was a film montage of Sweden’s contribution to pop music – Surprising because I hadn’t realised that many of these artists were in fact Swedish. For a small Nordic country it seems to have punched above its weight in that department. Even if they had only produced Abba and then stopped that would have been enough, but no, we have also had Roxette, Europe, Ace of Base and many more that have passed me by, but the younger generation will know well.

The first of these artists to be celebrated was Björn Skifs of the band Blue Swede who hit the No. 1 spot in the US Charts in 1974 with Hooked on a Feeling. At exactly the same time, Björn Ulvaeus and the rest of Abba launched themselves on an unsuspecting world at the Eurovision Song Contest, winning decisively with Waterloo. Just to top things off, that was also the year that Björn Borg really started making a name for himself in the tennis world – So, a good year for Swedes called Björn.

bjorn 1

Looking at him now, our first Björn looks like the archetypal Disney Prince with his “Viking-esque” clothing and blond hair. Abba’s Björn was similarly blond-haired but was landed with having to wear those ridiculous outfits. Our tennis playing, blond-haired Björn became a bit of a teen idol and I remember clearly having his poster all over my bedroom wall in the mid ’70s.

But back to the song Hooked on a Feeling – It was written by Mark James and was first recorded in 1968 by B.J. Thomas (he of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head fame). The Blue Swede version that did so well in the US has the strange “ooga chaka” chant at the begining which was originally added by Jonathan King in 1971. Until last Saturday night watching Eurovision, I hadn’t realised that this song, which has come into my life twice in the last 20 years, was by a band from Sweden.

A couple of years ago my daughter, during her last summer of living at home, persuaded us to go and see a new Marvel Studios film called Guardians of the Galaxy. My heart sank when she mentioned the name as I am not a fan of superhero-type space films at all, but it turned out to be excellent. The storyline was very clever, local girl Karen Gillan starred in it and best of all, the soundtrack was full of ’70s songs that totally resonated with us. Yes, it was set in space, but it took me right back to my school days and all the memories they conjure up. The ’70s songs were on a mix-tape (remember those?) played over and over by the lead character on an old Walkman, as a link to his mother and home in Missouri.

gotg

The main song was Hooked on a Feeling but there were also ones by 10cc, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Elvin Bishop and our old friend Rupert Holmes (his name just keeps on popping up – grrr). A must buy soundtrack but ironically it had to be downloaded with a digital picture of a cassette tape attached as no-one has the means to play actual tapes any more.

The success of this mix lies in the fact that the songs chosen were, according to the director, “semi-familiar” – ones you recognise but might not be able to name off the top of your head. As we all know there is a tipping point, when you have heard songs just once too often and become tired of them – This is a shame but we will never run out of material and revisiting these lesser-known songs from the past, and perhaps seeing something in them that was missed first time around, can be really rewarding.

I mentioned that the song had come into my life twice before, the other time being when it popped up on the television show Ally McBeal, a comedy drama set in a Boston legal firm. The use is made of fantasy sequences and the “dancing baby” makes regular appearances, always accompanied by the Blue Swede song Hooked on a Feeling. I loved that show a lot as it came along in the late 90s just at the time I had given up work to be a full-time mum. I think it reminded me of what life was like on the outside but thankfully I don’t remember ever feeling wistful about wanting to return to it which made for a happy time for us.

dancing baby
Ally with that Dancin’ Baby

Hooked On A Feeling by Vonda Shepard:

Ally and her colleagues always frequented the same bar after work where the resident performer was singer Vonda Shepard. It was inevitable that there would be an album of songs from the show and of course I bought it. Hooked on a Feeling was on it of course but again there was a great mix of lesser-known tracks, my favourite being the Skeeter Davis song The End of the World which had accompanied a particularly poignant scene in the show.

So, a song I had come across often but hadn’t realised was by a Swedish band until last weekend. Looking now at pictures of all these Björns in later life, they could be the affluent CEOs of large multinational corporations. The Swedes are successful in music and sport but the “rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle is obviously not for them – In view of what has been happening to so many of our idols this year, I think I am grateful.

Hooked on a Feeling Lyrics
(Song by Mark James)

Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga
Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga
Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga
Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga

I can’t stop this feeling
Deep inside on me
Girl, you just don’t realize
What you do to me

When you hold me
In your arms so tight
You let me know
Everything’s all right

I’m hooked on a feeling
I’m high on believing
That you’re in love with me

Lips as sweet as candy
It’s taste is on my mind
Girl, you got me thirsty
For another cup o’ wine

Got a bug from you girl
But I don’t need no cure
I’ll just stay a victim
If I can for sure

All the good love
When we’re all alone
Keep it up girl
Yeah, you turn me on

I’m hooked on a feeling
I’m high on believing
That you’re in love with me

Better Call Saul, Prefab Sprout and “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”

Something very odd has been happening. After writing about Rupert Holmes (of Pina Colada Song fame) a couple of weeks ago I have been bombarded by Rupert Holmes references. I am pretty sure I hadn’t thought about him or his song for years, but lo and behold, one of the writers for my favourite magazine dedicated her entire column to him this week, reminiscing about their time together at a literary festival – It turns out he is now a successful novelist. (Hope he isn’t writing books about men being tired of their “old ladies” – grrr.)

Last night when we were watching Better Call Saul (the great Breaking Bad spin-off series), there was a scene where the main character is caught filming in a schoolyard – When challenged, his story is that he is making a documentary about Rupert Holmes (of Pina Colada Song fame – it always has to be qualified), who went to school there. Of course he didn’t, but of all the people in music to use, how bizarre that it had to be him.

saul

I was still reeling from this when I remembered that last week I wrote a post about the song “A Horse With No Name” which featured in Breaking Bad. Like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is set in Albuquerque which is right in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Funny they have never used the Prefab Sprout song The King of Rock’n’ Roll I thought, as Albuquerque is mentioned eight times as part of the chorus. Yes you’ve guessed it, it was the first song to be played on my radio alarm when it came on this morning. It turns out there is even a name for such coincidences – The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

So, a bizarre introduction to the song The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll from 1988, but that is how it popped into my head today. The British band Prefab Sprout had a run of minor hits from the mid ’80s to early ’90s but this was the one that achieved their highest chart position of No.7. It was the second single to be taken from their album “From Langley Park to Memphis” (although from Durham they were obviously into all things American) and is apparently about a washed-up 1950s star who is only remembered for his one-hit novelty song. Don’t really think I would have worked that out for myself but the more I write about songs from “The Soundtrack to My Life”, the more I realise how little I have ever really thought about the lyrics – I either like the whole sound and rhythm of a song or I don’t. I am a sucker for a great intro and that is usually what reels me in.

langley

So, “What’s It All About?” – Personally I think we, the record-buying public, are being led a merry dance much of the time. I read the supposed meaning behind the lyrics and then I find out that the songwriter just needed a word that rhymed – Fans (short for fanatics remember) often read a bit too much into the lyrics I feel, but hey that’s just my opinion. In the meantime I’ll get back to looking out for more Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon coincidences, like being introduced to a new colleague called Rupert Holmes, or being told that someone has just booked a trip……. to Albuquerque!

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyrics
(Song by Paddy McAloon)

All my lazy teenage boasts are now high precision ghosts
And they’re coming round the track to haunt me
When she looks at me and laughs I remind her of the facts
I’m the king of rock ‘n’ roll completely

Up from, suede shoes, my baby blues
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque

The dream helps you forget you ain’t never danced a step
You were never fleet of foot, hippy
All the pathos you can keep for the children in the street
For the vision I have had is sweeping

New broom, this room, sweep it clean baby (hot dog!)
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
Sing out boy…
High kickin’ dandy,
Fine figure fine cut a fine figure fine oh yeah
Long legged candy,
Fine figure fine cut a fine figure fine oh yeah yeah

Now my rhythm ain’t so hot, but it’s the only friend I’ve got
I’m the king of rock’n roll completely
All the pretty birds have flown now I’m dancing on my own
I’m the king of rock’n roll completely

Up from, suede shoes, my baby blues (hot dog!)
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
Are ya lonesome?
High kickin’ dandy,
Fine figure fine cut a fine figure fine oh yeah
Long legged candy,
Fine figure fine cut a fine figure fine oh yeah yeah

Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
Sing out boy…
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
(The king of rock ‘n’ roll)
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque, yeah!
Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque
(The king of rock ‘n’ roll)
Hot dog, jumping frog
Albuquerque

Postscript:

As it turns out a comment left from Mark (Manchester) in the boxes below has thrown a bit of light as to the meaning behind these lyrics. To quote: “I have always been told that ‘hot dog, jumping frog and Albuquerque’, are all makes of jukebox.

As I often say around here, every day’s a school day!

Breaking Bad, America and “A Horse With No Name”

I seem to have been languishing in the late ’70s for some time now, writing about songs that many think of as a bit “naff” (although I don’t) so time to move to a slightly different era perhaps, and to a different style of music.

Most people will have heard the song A Horse With No Name by America at some point in their lives. It was a hit in the UK for them in 1971 but it turns out that they were actually from Ruislip outside London! Would seem a bit bizarre if not for the fact that all three band members had US Airforce Officer fathers who were based over here and that is how they met. There is no escaping the fact that their music is very much in the style of Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, but that was exactly what they intended so worked well for them. I have written before of how kids like myself who came from rural Scotland found this kind of music very exotic and otherworldly. We had no dark desert highways or tequila sunrises, we certainly didn’t have warm winds blowing the stars around and we wouldn’t have dreamt of crossing a desert on a horse with no name – Plenty of cows and sheep where I came from and lots of lush grass, but no, the whole desert imagery was something beyond our ken.

A Horse With No Name by America:

The amusing thing for me about this “desert” song, is that it was actually recorded in the UK, at a studio in Puddletown, Dorset (you couldn’t make it up). It was released here first and it was not until the following year that it was a hit in the US. Yet another group of artists with a hybrid transatlantic upbringing which might have contributed to their success on both sides of the pond (don’t like that term for the massive ocean that is the Atlantic but seems to have become the term used to make us feel closer to each other than is really the case). Rupert Holmes, whom I wrote about last week, was born in Cheshire to an English mother as a result of his US Army Officer father being stationed there. There are many more stories like this and it might be an idea for another post, another day.

desrt

But back to the song – For me, it will always be associated with my school days. In Primary School I always wore my long hair tied back in a ponytail so it was inevitable that the joker of the class would assign me an “equine” nickname. Too embarrassing to spill the beans here but suffice to say it was all done in jest and never caused upset. When we moved up to Secondary School I found myself in the same class for most subjects as the “joker” from my junior school days. The ponytail had long gone but of course the song A Horse With No Name had well and truly become a part of our musical memory bank, so for the next six years I often found myself sitting in class, concentrating on a tricky maths or physics problem, suddenly realising that this song was being quietly hummed in the background for my benefit! Sadly we have now lost touch but I swear that if our middle-aged selves met up today, I would get a big smile, would be greeted with my old nickname and given a few bars of A Horse With No Name. Funny how some things stick.

Like most people on the planet last year, we got hooked on the television series Breaking Bad set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The plot and the acting were all absolutely first class and we binge-watched it over a period of a few weeks. I was constantly amazed how these big cities could have evolved in the middle of the desert but for various strategic and economic reasons they have, and they continue to prosper. Of course whenever the main characters left the city and drove across the desert, most of the audience must have thought of the song A Horse With No Name and it was only a matter of time before it made a cameo appearance on the show. In Season 3, Episode 2, Walter White is singing along to the song on the radio when he is pulled over by the police for having a broken windshield, and that is part of a much bigger storyline that I thoroughly recommend you dip into.

I noticed this week that Elton John has come out saying, that in his opinion, the best year for music was 1971 and this song came along right at the end of that year. Looking back at lists of what was No. 1 in the Singles Chart however never substantiates such claims as that was also the year that gave us “Grandad” by Clive Dunn, “Ernie” by Benny Hill and “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” by Middle of the Road. It is usually the songs that reached the lower reaches of the charts that best stand the test of time. America reached No. 3 with their desert song and Elton himself only reached No. 7 that year with the wonderful “Your Song” written by Bernie Taupin.

So, the young songwriters of today should not be deterred as it seems that we just do not know which of their songs will still be around in the future – It only takes the fortuitous selection of a minor hit from the past, for inclusion in a film soundtrack, television show or advert, to turn them into the biggest selling records of all time. We have seen it happen before and we will see it happen again. In the meantime though I’m off to have a wallow in the music of 1971 – If it’s ok for Elton, it’s ok for me!

A Horse With No Name Lyrics
(Song by Dewey Bunnell)

On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead

You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

After nine days I let the horse run free
‘Cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
there was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with it’s life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love

You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la …