The O’Jays, The Three Degrees and a “Year Of Decision”

Well, this is odd. As regulars to this place know I left work last week after around 30 years with the same organisation – Not going to rush headlong into the next project yet, which could be all too easy, so until I start something new I find myself with plenty of spare time to sit down and partake in a little light blogging. Just as I do that however, it seems that inspiration has deserted me! Strange, as when I was a busy bee I had no shortage of inspiration and could often be seen bashing away on the laptop into the early hours of the morning.

But no, the problem this time is perhaps not a lack of inspiration but rather indecision as to what to write about next. I have a couple of series in progress and I have my trusty “blogging notebook” of ideas to refer to, but somehow neither of these routes work for me today so it’s time to search my digital database of tunes, to find something that relates to decision-making – Didn’t have to look far as immediately up popped Year Of Decision from 1974, by The Three Degrees. I haven’t featured anything from that stable of artists who went on to create the Philadelphia Sound before, so high time really. Also, my recent personal “big decision”, makes the lyrics very pertinent.

Year Of Decision by The Three Degrees:

Ok, so if you watched the clip, you had to endure that faux banter that used to happen as a prelude to introducing the acts on light entertainment shows such as this one (plus Cliff’s edge to edge embroidered tunic) but the three girls, Sheila Ferguson, Fayette Pinkney and Valerie Holiday certainly knew how to ply their trade back in the mid ’70s and those glamourous matching outfits, usually chiffon with strategically placed sequins, were their trademark.

Philadelphia International Records was founded in 1971 by the very talented writer-producer duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, along with collaborator Thom Bell.  It very much showcased a new genre of music based on the gospel, doo-wop, and soul music of the time. Throughout the 1970s the label released a string of worldwide hits which featured lavish orchestral instrumentation, heavy bass, and driving percussion. Other than The Three Degrees some of their most popular and best selling acts included The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls. Between 1971 and the early 1980s, the label sold over 170 gold and platinum records.

Watching shows like ToTP in the mid ’70s, rarely a week went by without an appearance by one of the aforementioned acts. The Three Degrees even become known for having our future king as a fan and after reaching No.1 in the UK Singles Chart with When Will I See You Again, they were well and truly propelled into the mainstream.

article-2569757-022A637A0000044D-754_634x515
Charlie’s Darlings!

We’ve now seen a fine example of what the Philly Sound served up in the mid ’70s when it came to the ladies – What were the immaculately dressed men doing around that time? If you did watch the earlier clip, you will know that Gamble & Huff’s first big success was this 1972 song, Back Stabbers, performed by the O’Jays. A fine tune indeed and one I have always liked although apparently a warning to men that although their male friends might be all friendly to their faces, they secretly plan to steal their wives or girlfriends. A far fetched premise indeed although after watching the current hit television drama Dr Foster, where the reviewers are lauding it for being so realistic, I am starting to realise that I must live in an alternate universe where relationships are concerned.

Back Stabbers by The O’Jays:

So, “What’s It All About?” – The move to a new, more home-based life has obviously robbed me of my decision-making abilities. As hobbies go, blogging is a relatively inexpensive one (as long as the technology holds out) so having not done much else over the last 20 months except work and blog, I have bought myself a few months of time before I have to make any more big decisions. Just as well as even deciding on a subject for this post was hard enough.

When I started this blog, I used to link each post to the previous one in some way but it might be more fun if I am set a challenge. I have put out a request like this once before and it worked well for me, so again, which song would logically follow on from either Year Of Decision or Back Stabbers for you? You know where the comments boxes are but please try and make it something I might have heard of!

Until next time….

Year Of Decision Lyrics
(Song by Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff)

Yes
This is the year
To make your decision.
Yes
This is the year
To open up your mind.

If you’ve been holding back kind of slack

Now’s the time to get the things you need.
There ain’t no reason why you should be shy

People have died to set you free.
Oh we need ev’ry one to succeed

Everybody to succeed everybody
Soul isn’t enough hey come on and join us

Please (come on come on and join us please

Yes this is the year . . .

If you’re strong out on a Jones
Better make sure that you leave the bad stuff
What ever you want to do think it over good
Cause the change is up to you

The Ronettes, “Sleigh Ride” and a Very Merry Christmas

Well after a bit of a slow start this year (I blame too much time spent in the very absorbing virtual world of late, and not enough time in the real world), I have now totally embraced Christmas. This therefore will have to be a very short post as unbelievably I still have to buy and deliver a few presents, and source the rest of the food to add to the embarrassment of calories that is the traditional Christmas lunch.

So far so good however and despite being up until 4am checking out darling daughter’s whereabouts (it was “Mad Friday” after all, so a bit of a worry), I am up and at it. Our lovely postman, who does go beyond the call in attempting to deliver some of the odd items that arrive in the mail (Mr WIAA being a sculptor an’ all), has already been tracked down and given his Christmas tip. Today I was in “weekend wear” but already this week he has seen me in “straight-out-of-the-shower wear”, “serious-business-woman wear” and “Christmas-jumper-themed wear”. He sees me in more guises than my husband but has become a bit of a friend, so was pleased to see he had his Santa hat on today – All the better to keep his ears warm on this cold morning.

Interestingly, the reason that robins are such a symbol of Christmas is because Victorian postmen wore a bright red uniform. The postmen in their red-breasted coats resembled the much-loved bird, the robin red-breast, earning them the nickname – Robins.

But I digress as this is supposed to be a music blog despite the fact I often stray into other territory. I think my favourite Christmas Album still has to be the one produced by Phil Spector in 1963 called “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector” (originally released as A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records). Spector treated a series of Christmas standards to his trademark wall of sound treatment, and the selections feature the vocal performances of Spector’s regular artists during this period, Darlene Love, The Crystals, The Ronettes etc.

phil-3

Although I now have a copy of the digitally remastered version in CD format, the version I played to death in the early ’80s was the double album vinyl release, when the pink album was Phil’s Christmas one and the blue album was his Greatest Hits one (bit like the Beatles’ Red and Blue Greatest Hits albums). When my flatmates were playing synth-pop and new wave, here I was listening to the fab sounds of Phil Spector and his wall of sound, but then I’ve always been a bit out of kilter timeline-wise, which is why perhaps this year I am smitten by the music of 1967.

The Christmas album has grown in popularity over the years and is full of tracks that have became iconic seasonal songs. My favourite track is Sleigh Ride by The Ronettes where they feature their well-known “ring-a-ling-a-ling ding-dong-ding” background vocals. Their version also made use of the clip-clopping of the horses as well as the sound of a recorded horse whinnying, heard at the beginning and end of the song. It doesn’t get any more Christmassy than that.

Sleigh Ride by The Ronettes:

So, “What’s It All About?” – Christmas starts too early nowadays I feel, but now that Christmas Eve is here I am ready to embrace the excess that will follow over the next couple of days. My plan to help the homeless has been somewhat scuppered as I am reliably informed by those in the know, that they will be well-catered for locally this year, by the professionals who specialise in this kind of thing. It turns out however that the biggest social issue of the day, is loneliness amongst the elderly, so the best thing to do is to make sure that my 81-year-old mum and her little band of buddies at their very swish “retirement” complex, are kept entertained.

Merry Christmas to all my blogging buddies – I didn’t even know this place existed this time last year and in less than twelve months have made a good few like-minded friends of the virtual nature. I have long nagged my daughter and her friends to get out into the real world, and not spend all their time on their devices, but have now discovered myself that it does indeed have its place. Have a good one!

thvirc58t1
The Ronettes at Christmas-time!

Sleigh Ride Lyrics
(Song by Leroy Anderson)

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling,
ring ting tingling too
Come on, it’s lovely weather
for a sleigh ride together with you,
Outside the snow is falling
and friends are calling “Yoo hoo,”
Come on, it’s lovely weather
for a sleigh ride together with you.

Giddy yap, giddy yap, giddy yap,
let’s go, Let’s look at the show,
We’re riding in a wonderland of snow.
Giddy yap, giddy yap, giddy yap,
it’s grand, Just holding your hand,
We’re gliding along with a song
of a wintry fairy land.

Our cheeks are nice and rosy
and comfy cosy are we
We’re snuggled up together
like two birds of a feather would be
Let’s take that road before us
and sing a chorus or two
Come on, it’s lovely weather
for a sleigh ride together with you.

There’s a birthday party
at the home of Farmer Gray
It’ll be the perfect ending a perfect day
We’ll be singing the songs
we love to sing without a single stop,
At the fireplace while we watch
the chestnuts pop. Pop! pop! pop!

There’s a happy feeling
nothing in the world can buy,
When they pass around the chocolate
and the pumpkin pie
It’ll nearly be like a picture print
by Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things
we remember all through our lives!
of a wintry fairy land

Our cheeks are nice and rosy
and comfy cosy are we
We’re snuggled up together
like two birds of a feather would be
Let’s take that road before us
and sing a chorus or two
Come on, it’s lovely weather
for a sleigh ride together with you.

My 100th Post, Linda Ronstadt and “Different Drum”

Well, didn’t think I’d reach this landmark so soon but after only 10 months of blogging I’ve made it to 100 posts – Averages out at…, well you can do the maths, but probably why I’ve not had much time for other hobbies this year (or seen as much of my friends, or got that promotion, or kept on top of the garden) but hey, I think I’m about to get one of those virtual blue “congratulations” badges from the WordPress people, so all worthwhile!

So, why did I start blogging? For all sorts of reasons probably but I realised that something had to be done last year on New Year’s Eve, when holed up in bed with a nasty cold. Due to miss the Hogmanay celebrations we are so fond of here in Scotland, and with not much to do except feel sorry for myself, I picked up my iPhone to do a bit of stalking, I mean Facebooking. Anyone who uses Facebook will know that there is a little box at the top with the prompt, “Whats on your mind?” – I took them literally. A thousand words later I was done (but not recommended as if you’ve ever done a 1000 word post on your iPhone you’ll know that after 500 words it starts to really slow down, only letting you key in one letter every 5 seconds). Most of my friends either ignored it or put it down to the delirium caused by my malady but one kind soul did submit the comment, “I see you’ve been busy sharing your thoughts. All the best for 2016”. Hmm… what would be the best for 2016 I wondered – Not sharing my thoughts on Facebook that’s for sure!

And so I discovered WordPress – Ideal, I could write away to my heart’s content without bothering any of my friends. A couple of decades ago I would have probably gone down the Carrie Bradshaw route (a bit of an idol of mine despite her expensive taste in shoes) but I no longer live in a city and I don’t think any of my middle-aged friends would appreciate having their sex lives strewn across the world wide web. No, it had to be something else and for some time I had thought it would be a good idea to write about those memories conjured up by a song or piece of music. After a few false starts and changes in format, WIAA? came about, and it has been quite a journey (as they say on those televised, reality-cum-singing shows).

First of all I had expected at least a few of my friends and family to read what I was posting but it turns out they don’t, so that is quite liberating and allows me to regale all sorts of tales from the past without fear of redress. Secondly, I hadn’t expected to make “blogging buddies” which I kind of think I have. Thanks to everyone who has left comments over the months, especially the hard-core music bloggers (their sites on my sidebar) as I know the song choices here at WIAA? are not always to their taste, but I’ve had to stay true to my remit of writing about what is relevant to me at the time, and if it happens to be the worst song in the history of mankind, then sobeit. (Hopefully not gone there yet but when National Treasure Sir Terry Wogan passed away I did include The Floral Dance although no-one would begrudge me that one I’m sure).

An unexpected bonus of writing about songs is that you have to do a fair bit of research beforehand and it has been a joy finding out so much more about the artists and songs than would ever have been possible first time around – It has been an education indeed, especially as I was always more of a “geek” about music, recording chart rundowns, alphabetising record collections and memorising books of hit singles.

What on earth to include in this historic post then? As it turns out that’s an easy call. Over the months it has become apparent that the year I keep coming back to is 1967 which is very bizarre because I was just a little kid then. I have put it down to the fact that songs from back then have not yet become over-familiar; no unpleasant memories are attached; spiritually I think I would have been a flower-child; the radio stations I listen to often play songs from that year and finally the sub-genre (I had no idea there were so many) I find myself warming to most of all, is orchestral/baroque pop.

A few months ago, over at A History of Dubious Taste, Jez featured the song Different Drum by Linda Ronstadt as part of his “Sunday Morning Coming Down” series. (To be fair the song is actually attributed to The Stone Poneys but she was the voice of the aforementioned Poneys.) I was smitten, and immediately had to make a purchase which wasn’t easy as it was one of those “buy the whole album or nothing” deals. It was of course from 1967, and was of the baroque pop/rock persuasion.

Different Drum by The Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt:

The song was actually written back in 1965 by Mike Nesmith of The Monkees, before he joined the band, and is penned very much from a male perspective but was tweaked a little for a female songstress. The song tells of a pair of young lovers, one of whom wants to settle down, while the other wants to retain a sense of freedom and independence. The narrator wants to remain free, telling the other that they’ll “both live a lot longer” if they part ways now. I can see a pattern forming here as the 1964 song We’ll Sing In The Sunshine by Gale Garnett (featured last time) told a similar tale but I’ll put it all down to “the times” as not something I could ever have done myself, being an all or nothing kind of girl.

Before discovering this song, my only memories of Linda Ronstadt were from the late ’70s and of her big hit Blue Bayou. She was cute as a button back in 1967 and even in 1977 she was the girl we all wanted to look like. I have written recently about how this was a really confusing time for young people in Britain – Out of the big cities, we still dressed like Amercian kids in wide flared jeans and oufits like the ones Linda Ronstadt wore (I had hair like this in 1977 although my mum made me take the flower out for school), but our boyfriends had adopted the clothes of their punk-rock idols. A right bunch of odd couples we must have looked – The song my new boyfriend (he’s been mentioned before and his ears will be burning wherever he is) and I adopted as “our song” in 1977, was indeed Blue Bayou. What I hadn’t realised then was that Linda had previously been with The Stone Poneys and unbelievably, once she set out on a solo career, her original backing band was The Eagles.

heart-like-a-wheel-outtake_0_1
Lnd Ronstadt circa 1977

In all, Linda produced more than 30 Studio Albums and has won 11 Grammy Awards. It is with great sadness that I have now discovered she has Parkinson’s disease, and “can no longer sing a note”. This nostalgic revisitation of the “tracks of my years” can be somewhat harrowing at times – Where have the years gone?

The orchestral pop genre that emerged in the late ’60s and which I seem to be so fond of, incorporated symphonic strings and horns played by groups of properly arranged studio musicians. Many pop arrangers and producers worked orchestral pop into their artists’ releases, including George Martin with the Beatles, and John Barry for his scores to the James Bond films. Burt Bacharach (who has featured here a lot) and the Beach BoysBrian Wilson were also seen as “gods” of orchestral pop.

As for baroque pop/rock, by early 1966, various groups had began using baroque and classical instrumentation. The Zombies‘ single She’s Not There marked the starting point and would inspire New York musician Michael Brown to form the Left Banke, whose song Walk Away Renée was possibly the first baroque pop single. Other examples include Spanky and Our Gang‘s Sunday Will Never Be the Same, and of course The Stone PoneysDifferent Drum, all of which used harpsichord and strings.

An extremely long post this so thanks for bearing with me if indeed you have. I wasn’t sure if I would keep going after 100 posts, as blogging does tend to impinge of the rest of your life, but I’ve enjoyed it all so much I think I will, until it no longer works for me.

Again thanks to those followers who have jumped in with comments – Chris, Marie, CC, Jez, Rol, C, The Swede, Rick, Lynchie, Ovidiu and anyone else I might have missed. It is much appreciated and I have in turn learnt so much from your blogs. Thanks also for allowing me to be part of The Chain Gang, despite my lame choices, and finally thanks to Denise Marsa for finding my post about her Lucky Stars duet with Dean Friedman and whom I cannot believe that I have as a follower.

Last but not least there is of course Mr WIAA to consider, who has had to spend long evenings watching television on his own this year whilst I have been beavering away on the computer. Couldn’t have done it without him though and despite the odd raised eyebrow when I am yet again caught blogging when supposed to be doing something else more worthy, on the whole he has been my biggest supporter. Not so much travelling to the beat of a different drum this year therefore, more a case of the same drum being in different rooms of the house. Post a hundred and one, here I come….

Different Drum Lyrics
(Song by Mike Nesmith)

You and I travel to the beat of a diff’rent drum.
Oh, can’t you tell by the way I run
Ev’ry time you make eyes at me. Wo oh.
You cry and you moan and say it will work out.
But honey child I’ve got my doubts.
You can’t see the forest for the trees.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m knockin’.
It’s just that I’m not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me.
Yes, and I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t pretty.
All I’m sayin’s I’m not ready for any person,
Place or thing to try and pull the reins in on me.
So Goodbye, I’ll be leavin’.
I see no sense in the cryin’ and grievin’.
We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m knockin’.
It’s just that I’m not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me.
Yes, and I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t pretty.
All I’m sayin’s I’m not ready for any person,
Place or thing to try and pull the reins in on me.
So Goodbye, I’ll be leavin’.
I see no sense in the cryin’ and grievin’.
We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me.

Postscript:

And just in case the 1977 boyfriend ever stumbles upon this post (unlikely), here is something for old time’s sake. Good times that were “of their time”.

Blue Bayou by Linda Ronstadt:

Controversy, Frankie Says and The Music of 1984

Last week I wrote about Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers, and how they were the first ever band to reach No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart with their first three releases. Roll forward 21 years and the next band to achieve the same feat also came from Liverpool – Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Back in 1963, Gerry and the Pacemakers had the good fortune of being managed by Brian Epstein who in turn took the band south to work with record producer George Martin at EMI. It is easy to forget now that Gerry and his band were the ones that started off more successfully than The Beatles, and the first single they released had originally been planned as a Beatles record. The year 1963 belonged to them with How Do You Do It? then I Like It and finally You’ll Never Walk Alone all reaching the top spot.

gerry

It is hard now to believe how quickly things had moved on by 1984. Frankie Goes To Hollywood didn’t make simple, twee pop songs – Their output was overtly sexual and controversial. That was 32 years ago and I don’t think a UK band has caused such a furore in the mainstream media since. A year full of outrageous pop music, but one that ironically ended with the biggest charity single ever – Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?

frankie2

I mentioned George Martin earlier as I have come to realise late in life, that most of the records I have enjoyed over the years would never have come about if not for a team of very clever people working behind the scenes. Frankie Goes To Hollywood had producer Trevor Horn as Team Leader as well as NME journalist Paul Morley (co-founder of their record label). The videos were directed by the masters of that new medium, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, and of course the most important person in the mix of all – Mike Read, the Radio 1 DJ who was so shocked by the lyrics to their first release Relax, that it was banned. Nothing sells records like a bit of controversy so needless to say it went straight to the No. 1 spot and stayed there for five weeks! Despite it being banned, I remember hearing it all the time in early 1984 and probably didn’t even take much heed of the lyrics anyway because the record’s appeal was mainly down to its thumping bassline, dramatic vocals and big production values. Yes, Frankie were the band of the moment. There were even T-shirts to prove it.

 

 

 

The team carried on unabashed, releasing two more records, first in the summer and then just before Christmas. This time the topics to cause controversy were not sex, but politics and religion. The threat of nuclear war was a very real one in 1984 and we had been bombarded by films and mini-series on the horror of it all. Two Tribes was a massive and opulent recording, drawing on all of Trevor Horn’s skills as a producer. It had the voice of Patrick Allen from his Protect and Survive public information films, the air-attack warning siren, American funk, Russian classical, Holly Johnson’s powerful vocals and again that thumping bassline. A wall of sound that stayed at No. 1 for nine weeks.

Their third release in 1984 was The Power of Love, not actually a Christmas song at all but released at that time of year so was married up with a nativity-style video, courtesy of Messers Godley and Creme. Again it reached the No. 1 spot which cemented their position as the most successful band of the year. After that they kind of dropped out of the limelight due to the usual infighting between band members and the departure of Holly Johnson. For one year however, they were the front men for an amazing team of people who had pulled together all their skills, and seemed to know exactly how to make hit records. This has happened before and will happen again – The sad thing is that when the band or artist at “front of house” start to believe their own press, they part company with those that “made” them and then the magic ends.

The Power of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood:

As for my memories of 1984, I was in my early twenties and doing a lot of partying with my friends and flatmates. I was enjoying the music of the day whilst out socialising, but not thinking about any of it too deeply. Also, when you are young you are not really shocked by much and you kind of enjoy when the generation in authority get uptight about “what the young people are listening to” – We were not parents yet so didn’t have to care about the moral welfare of our offspring and our adult lives had just begun so we couldn’t (or didn’t want to) compare with “how things used to be”.

So, another Liverpool band that dominated one single year in the charts then pretty much bowed out. I was recently pleasantly surprised however, to hear a new song by Holly Johnson called Ascension, from the movie Eddie the Eagle. We are only a week away from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest and it struck me that this could have been an amazing entry. He still has those great vocals, and a cheeky Liverpudlian smile!

Two Tribes Lyrics
(Song by Holly Johnson/Peter Gill/Mark O’Toole)

The air attack warning sounds like.
This is the sound.
When you hear the air attack warning, You and your family must take cover

Love’s gone, oh

When two tribes go to war
One is all that you can score
(Score no more, score no more)
When two tribes go to war
One is all that you can score
(Workin’ for the black mask)

Comrad number one
A born again poor man’s son
(Poor man’s son)
On the air America
I modeled shirts for Van Heusen
(Workin’ for the black mask)

Switch up your shield
Switch up and feel
I’m walkin’ out, lover hey
I’m givin’ you back a good time
I’m shippin’ out, out
I’m workin’ for the black mask

Tell the world that you’re winning
Nothin’ life, nothin’ life

Listen to the voice sayin’ follow me (x2)

When two tribes go to war
One is all that you can score
When two tribes go to war
One is all that you can score

You’ve got two tribes
(We got to part, we got to part)
Somethin’ this good died

(Spoken: Are we living in a land where sex and
Horror are the new gods?)

When two tribes go to war
One point is all that you can score

Prince, The Hippocampus and Creative Genius

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on just how many individual songs the average person in the western world, aged around 55, would have had exposure to during their lifetime, and indeed be familiar with. It must run into tens of thousands – Looking at my iTunes library there are currently 4083 songs there, then there are all the CDs, the vinyl, the bakelite 78s and the cassette tapes in storage. That covers purchased material but what about all the other material that we didn’t buy but have heard over the years on the radio and on television, listened to in films and at concerts and within all the other media platforms we have access to nowadays. I’m starting to think that “tens of thousands” might be an underestimate!

The really scary thing is that in the morning, when the radio comes on and you are still half-asleep, it only takes a few seconds of intro for you to work out what the next song is going to be. This morning it was Princes’ “Little Red Corvette” which actually starts off a bit slowly and unremarkably – In a heartbeat, my husband and I both knew that it was this 1985 song despite the fact neither of us had ever been particular fans of Prince, or the song. Why, oh why does this not happen at work when you are asked a question about something really important you did just the previous day.

red

Apparently long-term memories like this are stored in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, so-called because it’s seahorse-shaped. I am totally in awe of how our brain retains all this information and especially of this little seahorse-shaped bit. When you think that early computers, holding and processing very little information, filled massive rooms and had to be treated with kid gloves in order to churn out a few figures – the old hippocampus is a seriously impressive body part. Granted we have come a long way and your average mobile phone will be more powerful than the computers that got men into space, but for a little bit of soft, squidgey, grey tissue to hold all our memories and have the sheer capacity to also remember these tens of thousands of songs – Well, words fail me.

hippo

At this point I usually add a clip of the song I am writing about but it seems Prince has managed to extricate himself from YouTube and all other forms of shared media. Yet another foible of this artist who in 1993 changed his name to the unpronounceable Love Symbol (can’t even insert it here as not easy to find on a keyboard). There is no denying however that the man from Minneapolis has talent and apparently played all 27 instruments on one of his albums, but again like others I have written about, the more the artist is imbued with creative genius, the slightly weirder they become. Don’t know if you’ve ever seen him on any awards shows but he is definitely “otherworldly”.

symbolBefore leaving the world of Prince entirely however, I did find a clip of his wonderful song Diamonds and Pearls which I think has one of the most beautiful intros ever. It came out in 1991 which was the last year I lived on my own before getting married – It was often played on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show and if you had to wake up alone, at least it made for a lovely start to the day!

prince

Diamonds and Pearls Lyrics
(Song by Prince)

This will be the day
That u will hear me say
That I will never run away

I am here for u
Love is meant for two
Now tell me what u’re gonna do

If I gave u diamonds and pearls
Would u be a happy boy or a girl
If I could I would give u the world
But all I can do is just offer u my love

Which one of us is right
If we always fight
Why can’t we just let love decide (Let love decide)

Am I the weaker man
Because I understand
That love must be the master plan (Love is the master plan)

If I gave u diamonds and pearls
Would u be a happy boy or a girl
If I could I would give u the world
But all I can do is just offer u my love

D to the I to the A to the M
O to the N to the D to the pearls of love
D to the I to the A to the M (To the M)
O to the N to the D to the pearls of love

There will come a time (There will come a time)
When love will blow your mind (Blow your mind)
And everything U’ll look 4 U’ll find (Take a look inside)

That will be the time (That will be the time)
That everything will shine (Forever)
So bright it makes u colorblind (U will be color blind)

If I gave u diamonds and pearls
Would u be a happy boy or a girl
If I could I would give u the world
All I can do is just offer u my love

If I gave u diamonds and pearls (Pearls)
Would u be a happy boy or a girl (Yeah yeah)
If I could I would give u the world (Give u the world)
All I can do is just offer u my love (All I can do)

If I gave u diamonds and pearls (Diamonds)
Would u be, would u, would u
(Would ya, would ya, would ya be happy little baby)
A happy boy or a girl
If I could I would give u the world

Postscript:

Can’t believe that only 11 days after posting this, Prince was found dead at his home in Minneapolis. I now realise that of all the artists I have covered since starting the blog, Prince was the most multi-talented of them all. I hadn’t really appreciated that until writing about him. He not only wrote all those amazing songs but also sang, danced, produced, choreographed, could act and played every musical instument on some of his albums. Don’t know what is going on this year but we are losing our most talented artists at an alarming rate. RIP Prince Rogers Nelson.

Easter, “MacArthur Park” and Donna Summer

Short post today as it’s Easter Weekend and I’m off to roll my egg!

Tried to think of a song to write about that relates to Easter but could only think of Easter Parade from the 1948 film of the same name which cannot really be considered a Track FromMy” Years (I’m not quite that old) and not really a pop song but one from the golden age of MGM musicals.

When you do think of other songs that have religious connotations (from Life of Brian, Jesus Christ Superstar) there is the capacity to cause offence and that’s not what this blog is about. So, back to letting the old brainbox come up with something randomly and that turned out to be MacArthur Park – Not entirely sure how that happened but I think it’s because there is a park involved and at this time of year, in Scotland anyway, the parks are all waking up from their winter sleep and are full of crocuses and daffodils. Easter is a time of rebirth and eggs are a symbol of fertility. Also, the bizarre line in MacArthur Park about the cake being left out in the rain probably made me think of Simnel cake, traditional at this time of the year.

easter

The song MacArthur Park, written and composed by Jimmy Webb, was first recorded by Richard Harris in 1968 but my favourite version was the one by Donna Summer from 1978. She was the undisputed Queen of Disco in the ’70s and 1978 was the year I reached the age of 18 and could legitimately go dancing in the licenced venues where I lived (although in those days this was not heavily policed and pretty much everyone over 16 was allowed in). This was rural Scotland however and we certainly didn’t have anything resembling Studio 54 but the local hoteliers manned up and kitted their function suites out with glitter balls, flashing lights and if you were very lucky, those flashing tiled floors as seen in Saturday Night Fever. The DJs were often local teenagers who’d had the foresight (or parents with foresight) to invest in the equipment and records needed to hire out their services – A nice little sideline before returning to school on the Monday.

MacArthur Park by Donna Summer:

I have always liked this song although its flowery lyrics are definitely not for everyone and it was not until looking into it a bit more for this post, that I came to understand that the whole “cake left out in the rain” line was a metaphor for lost love and the end of a relationship. Nearly 40 years on and it now makes sense although back in the day a most unusual song to have been given the full-blown disco treatment.

As for Donna Summer, it was when she happened to be in Germany performing in the musical “Hair” that she had a fortuitous meeting with the producer Giorgio Moroder. Yet again we have a chance encounter that went on to have great significance, this time for the future of electronic dance music or “Disco”. Listening to the record again, I love hearing that disco beat and if you were a keen dancer like me, not afraid to clear the floor with a few special moves (think Joan Travolta in footless tights and a shiney wrap dress) the late ’70s were a bit of a golden age! As for the lyrics of the song, although I now understand them a bit more, I do think the whole cake metaphor was taken just that little bit too far.

donna 2

Poor Donna died quite young at the age of 63 in 2012 but she has left a great legacy, as the defining female voice of the disco era, and also because of her influence on the dance music that was to follow by artists such as Madonna and Beyoncé. Thank you Donna for many happy memories on the dance-floor.

MacArthur Park Lyrics
(Song by Jimmy Webb)

Spring was never waiting for us dear
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground beneath your knees
The birds like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing chinese checkers by the trees

George Martin, The Beatles and “Alfie”

I did say recently that I didn’t want the blog to become an obituary column which seemed to what was happening throughout January and February but I don’t want to omit mentioning the passing this week of one of the music world’s most well-known and influential record producers – George Martin, the 5th Beatle.

Looking back now at photos of George working with The Beatles, he could be their dad, always dressed in his shirt and tie, his brylcreemed hair immaculately combed back. As it turns out he could have been an older brother in age terms but it goes to show how that small age difference in the ’60s meant that you were either part of that pre-war generation who had suffered the hardships and direct involvement, or you were the new post-war “never had it so good” generation who were bringing such innovation to music, film, fashion and ideas.

george martin

George however, although he may not have looked like his protégés, certainly had the ideas that contributed to their incredible success. In fact during their short career (considering their impact on the music world even to this day), they spent half of it in the recording studio with George, choosing that medium for their musical output rather than returning to live shows in front of screaming fans, who wouldn’t have been able to hear the songs anyway. There can’t be many people who haven’t heard of, or listened to, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which truly was a landmark album in the history of pop music. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968 and often tops polls of “The Greatest Album Ever Made”. None of this would have come about without George.

Again, I am probably going to horrify people by admitting that I was never a great fan of Sgt. Pepper and preferred The Beatles earlier pure pop output. It is simply that I was too young in 1967 to appreciate its sophistication. As a child, the films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! appealed to me much more and were shown regularly on television. As happened with David Bowie, I was just born too late to appreciate them at their creative height, but have kind of come round since.

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

George Martin’s relationship with The Beatles came about because of his link to Brian Epstein, the band’s manager. During the early ’60s, Brian Epstein and George Martin between them, were pretty much responsible for creating the Mersey Sound or Merseybeat as it came to be called. Brian had tried all the major labels to sign his Liverpudlian stable of artists, but it was not until an initially reluctant George Martin at Parlophone saw something there he could work with, that the magic began. As well as The Beatles, other artists such as Cilla Black, Gerry & the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas all made the regular trip south to visit George and the team at Parlophone. Cilla Black may have referred to the orchestra he used as “a bunch of auld fellas” but they certainly all contributed to making those artists the massive recording stars of the day.

cilla

There are just so many songs I could have picked to write about in relation to George Martin but the most obvious for me is of course Alfie, the song I used as inspiration for the title to the blog. Cilla Black was initially reluctant to take on this Bacharach and David classic but after Burt came across to London from the US to play and conduct on this oddly titled song, she could hardly refuse, despite her reservations that it was the name you would give a dog! George Martin was at the mixing desk performing his magic and after many takes of the song, they produced something truly remarkable.

Alfie by Cilla Black:

It’s now over 50 years since Cilla was asked to record Alfie in order to promote the Michael Caine film of the same name. Right at the end, our eponymous hero poses the question, “What’s it all about?” and I have come to realise that after 50 years of listening to popular music and now writing about the memories it inevitably conjures up, the answer is very much love, just as the song lyrics say. It is the love for our family as children, the love for our best friends as teenagers, for the various boyfriends/girlfriends on the way to finding that special someone, and now for me, the love I feel for my husband, daughter and special friends. Since starting this blog, I have never once reminisced about that important work deadline, that crucial exam result or the completion of that lengthy report, it is always about the people along the way. There is the old adage that you never go to your deathbed wishing you had spent more time at the office and after writing this, my 30th post, I am more convinced than ever that this is the case. As The Beatles sang – “All You Need Is Love”!

RIP George Martin.

Alfie Lyrics
(Song By Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

What’s it all about Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live
What’s it all about
When you sort it out, Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if, if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above
Alfie, I know there’s something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed
You’re nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day Alfie, oh Alfie.