Alexander O’Neal, “Saturday Love” and Mix-Tapes

As is wont to happen, you sometimes start with a plan but then veer off in a different direction to what was originally intended. I started this blog right at the start of the year on the momentous day that David Bowie died. As my day job involves working pretty much exclusively with numbers, I felt in need of some writing practice and with a blog you have a good chance of sticking to the discipline of writing regularly.

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But what to write about? Well for a long time I had thought it would be a good idea to write about those memories conjured up by a random piece of music heard in the course of the day. Like most of us, I have ended up letting my grandparents and even my own dad pass away without ever getting their stories down on paper and as I live what I would call an ordinary life, no-one was ever going to ask me to write an autobiography. Even ordinary lives have extra-ordinary moments however and it has been a bit of a joy recalling some of my special moments.

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So for seven months now I have been merrily tapping away on whatever device is available and have found that it does become quite addictive. There is also the temptation to continually check on your “stats” only to find them disappointingly low considering you have just published something you think is pretty damned good. Feedback is a gift they say, and even if you are working on a pet project mainly for your own benefit, it can still make your day. But as time goes by, you can become a bit too focussed on the desire to get followers, likes and views and lose sight of why you started the thing in the first place!

Time to get back to what was originally intended therefore and not write for any particular audience other than myself – If anyone does read my posts and enjoys them that’s a bonus but not why I’m doing it. I have discovered some excellent blogs written by real music buffs and enjoy them a lot but the music I write about is really just an anchor for the memory and I would not profess to being an expert on any of it.

So if I were to go back to basics and pick a random piece of music to write about, what would that be right now? Well I have just switched on my iPhone which is sitting here beside me, and the song that randomly started playing on the music app was Saturday Love by American R&B star Alexander O’Neal. It was a hit in 1985 and was written by that incredibly successful songwriting team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who also wrote for Janet Jackson, Usher, Boyz ll Men, TLC and many more.

Saturday Love by Alexander O’Neal & Cherelle:

And that is why I think I stopped writing randomly – There is very little I have to say about this track other than that it was one of these smooth night-clubby numbers that I probably heard a lot whilst out with the girls in the mid-eighties (sporting big hair and earrings). I was never a particular fan of the ’80s night club however as it was all smoke and mirrors (literally) and not enough room for the serious business of dancing which is one of my passions. But then again it is a long time since dancehalls and night clubs have been for the sole purpose of dancing – No they have survived for decades for a very different purpose and I think we all know what that would be.

I think this is common to all girls but I do remember having quite a collection of mix-tapes made for me in the mid ’80s by potential beaus! Some of these tapes had fantastic collections of music on them and one had quite a few very seductive Alexander O’Neal tracks. Needless to say, when I met my future husband he was quite jealous of these “love letters in song” and tried to compete by making his own. Sadly he had sold most of his record collection to pay for essentials (like food) when he was a student so didn’t have a great base to work from. His answer was to use my record collection and although it was a really lovely thought, it’s just not the same when a mix-tape is compiled from your own well-loved, but well-worn, tracks. As it turns out we are still together all these years later and I hear him working away on his latest DIY project as I type, so the secret of a long-lasting marriage is obviously not the quality of the mix-tape, just perhaps, it’s the quality of the DIY!

Saturday Love lyrics
(Song by Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis)

It’s been a long time

I didn’t think I was
Going to see you again

See you haven’t changed
It’s good to see you anyway

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
Thursday, Friday, Saturday love
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
Thursday, Friday, Saturday love

When I think about you
My feelings can’t explain
Why after all this time
My heart still feels pain

When I look at you
Memories of love
Like no one before
You’ll stay on my mind

Always so special
(I was yours and you were mine)
Made for each other
(All the good I won’t forget)
You will stay on my mind
(Saturday, the day we met)

Petula Clark, “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” and The Music of 1967

Yesterday’s foray into the musical output of Andy Williams, has reminded me of some of those other great songs from the 1960s. Turns out that many hits from that era were recorded by a whole host of other artists and Petula Clark often released songs previously recorded by Mr Williams.

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A good few years ago after discovering iTunes, we went a bit mad revisiting the “tracks of our years” and probably down to the nostalgia element of remembering happy times as a child with my family, I ended up purchasing quite a few songs from 1967, which was probably the first year I really started to take heed of anything from the world of grown-up music. One of these songs was Don’t Sleep In The Subway by Petula Clark simply because it summed up the sound of my 1960s. The whole hippy thing was happening on the West Coast of America but flower power and psychedelia definitely didn’t come to my Scottish village so the kind of music listened to by families like mine, who watched mainstream television, came from people like Pet Clark, Cilla, Dusty, Lulu and The Seekers. The song was written by Tony Hatch (along with his wife Jackie Trent) and the relationship he had with Petula was likened to the one between Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick. They also worked together on Downtown, I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love and The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener.

Don’t Sleep In The Subway by Petula Clark:

Listening to this song again, it is about a couple having a “domestic” so not really the jaunty, upbeat number I had always considered it to be. There are a few lyrics in there that I find vaguely amusing and don’t quite fit the rhythm of the music (’cause it hurts when your ego is deflated, um-m-um-um-um-um) but I don’t profess to be an expert at this kind of thing and it did sell an awful lot of records so who am I to pick holes?

As a matter of interest, a couple of the other songs I purchased from that year were Georgy Girl by The Seekers and To Sir With Love by Lulu. Neither of the films that these songs came from were about particularly jaunty, upbeat topics either but they are still great songs, so well worth another listen.

Georgy Girl by The Seekers:

To Sir With Love by Lulu:

As it turns out my rose-coloured spectacles regarding the 1960s were severely tested this week as I watched the 1966 Ken Loach television play Cathy Come Home starring Carol White and Ray Brooks. It was a landmark piece of broadcasting at the time and told the harrowing story of an initially happy young couple with children, who due to unfortunate circumstances suffer the trauma of unemployment, poverty and homelessness. It was filmed in a doumentary-style which made it all the more poignant but for me the worst aspect was that fifty years on, many young couples with children still suffer the same problems today. It does sadden me that although we have made amazing advances in certain aspects of life (having the technology to amuse ourselves with all this malarkey), we still have people sleeping in subways, and that just can’t be right.

Getting too maudlin now so will leave it there for today but realising as I revisit the tracks of my years, that those seemingly happy, up-tempo songs often told a very different tale, and one which I am only now appreciating.

Don’t Sleep in the Subway Lyrics
(Song by Tony Hatch/Jackie Trent)

You wander around
on your own little cloud
when you don’t see the why
or the wherefore

Ooh, you walk out on me
when we both disagree
’cause to reason is not what you care for

I’ve heard it all a million times before
Take off your coat, my love, and close the door

Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’
Don’t stand in the pouring rain
Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’
The night is long
Forget your foolish pride
Nothing’s wrong,
now you’re beside me again

You try to be smart
then you take it apart
’cause it hurts when your ego is deflated
um-m-um-um-um-um
You don’t realise
that it’s all compromise
and the problems are so over-rated

Good-bye means nothing when it’s all for show
So why pretend you’ve somewhere else to go?

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.

Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb and an American Trilogy

I hope I haven’t caused confusion – Yes Elvis Presley recorded the song An American Trilogy 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. But no, the songs I want to revisit today are the three Jimmy Webb compositions recorded by Glen Campbell in the late ’60s.

pheonixIn the UK at that time London was “Swinging” and we were listening to Sandie Shaw, Cliff Richard and Lulu, but in the USA, the average “Easy-Listening” aficionado would have been enjoying Glen Campbell. He was now in his early thirties and had served his apprenticeship in the music industry working first with his uncle in Albuquerque and then by moving to LA to work as a Wrecking Crew session musician with some of the biggest artists of the day. He even became a Beach Boy for a short while, filling in for the man himself, Brian Wilson, on one particular tour. He definitely has the look of a Beach Boy about him and I can just imagine him in his twenties sporting the short-sleeved stripy shirt that was their trademark.

In 1967 he recorded By The Time I Get To Phoenix, in 1968 it was Wichita Lineman and in 1969 Galveston. I have just revisited a map of the Southwest USA and these places are in Arizona, Kansas and Texas respectively. Glen himself was from Arkansas (born in a town called Delight – lovely) and went on to star in the western True Grit, so he was the perfect choice for this material. Elvis was ultimately a man for all of the USA but Glen was the man for these country-music-loving states. Each artist had their own American trilogy, and Glen had these three songs.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix by Glen Campbell:

I have written about Jimmy Webb before as he also wrote MacArthur Park, successful twice in the charts but with lyrics universally regarded as a bit bizarre. The song used the “cake left out in the rain” metaphor to symbolise the wasted demise of a relationship. With By The Time I Get To Phoenix, here he was again apparently inspired by the same break-up, but this time with much less bizarre lyrics. The timings of his journey across the country are tight, but at a push it turns out the timeline is possible, not that I would recommend trying. Best not to split up in the first place – Just sayin’.

Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell:

And so we move on to song number two – Wichita Lineman tells the tale of a blue-collar worker in the heart of prairie country, alone with his thoughts. Again Jimmy was inspired by a relationship that had not turned out well for him so that’s three songs now we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy had his love-life run smoothly. Moving on to the third song, Galveston, the story-telling this time is about a soldier about to go into battle who is thinking of his hometown and the girl he left behind. Written in 1969 it was perceived to be an anti-war song but the inspiration was supposedly a soldier from the Spanish-American war and not the Vietnam war – Perhaps, but a third beautifully put together song featuring a place name in the title.

Live version of Wichita Lineman/Galveston/Country Boy (You’ve Got Your Feet in LA) by Glen Campbell:

I don’t quite know why, but I just love these story-telling American songs featuring place names. Probably because they just wouldn’t work over here. Substitute Phoenix for Felixstowe, Wichita for Widnes or Galveston for Galashiels and the romance is lost. As for 24 Hours From Tulsa, you are never 24 hours from anywhere in Britain unless you have had the misfortune to suffer multiple delays on public transport. Show Me The Way To Amarillo or Show Me The Way To Aberystwyth – I know which one I’d go for. San Jose or Sandbach – It’s a no-brainer.

Yes, it looks as if I have indeed been brain-washed from years of watching American films and television, and listening to all these great songs. As the GI Brides discovered however, when they went stateside after the end of the war with their new husbands, all that glittered was not gold and many found that the deprivations of war, experienced in a small terraced house in Britain, were nothing compared to life in a wooden shack in the Smokey Mountains. But it’s all relative and I am sure that the tourists who flock to my neck of the woods in summer just love songs with our place-names in the title – I did write about Runrig’s live version of the traditional song Loch Lomond a while back and I expect that the Caledonian Societies of North America feel the same way about that song as I do about Galveston.

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One last thing – I did consider calling the appreciation of these songs a “guilty pleasure” but have decided against using that term any more. They are indeed a pleasure, so why feel guilty about it? I have always been a fan of music from the easy-listening camp and have had to tell some porkies in my time to explain the ownership or purchase of such material. But why does music always have to be difficult? It boils down to the fact that we never want to feel embarrassed in front of our “cool” friends. No more of this nonsense I say, be loud and proud about what you enjoy and I am pretty sure that if they were being perfectly honest, our “cool” friends would agree with many of our choices.

Wichita Lineman Lyrics
(Song by Jimmy Webb)

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation but it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

Student Life, Carole King and “It’s Too Late”

Following on from my last post, I mentioned that 1979 was my last disco-dancing year as around that time I met a boy and morphed into a full late-70s student. We dressed in interesting clothes from charity shops (they weren’t called vintage in those days), hung around dingy bars and listened to “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” (in between attending lectures of course). Looking back, the tracks of my years had up until then, revolved around what was on Top of The Pops, what was played on BBC Radio 1 and the music from film soundtracks so this was a whole new branch of music that I hadn’t really experienced before. Artists like Cohen didn’t release singles that would appear in a chart show run-down, but whole albums of songs to be listened to late at night, in a soporific condition with preferably, a significant other.

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Also, the great thing about meeting a boy who flat-shared with an older brother, was that you immediately had access to their record collection as well. Being of the opposite sex and having a few more years’ worth of vinyl, his collection was vastly different to my own and so it came about, that in late 1979 I discovered and formed a relationship with Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Mr Cohen mentioned above, and last but not least, Carole King.

One of the albums we listened to a lot at that time was “Tapestry” which had been Album of the Year in 1972 and went on to sell over 15 million copies. I wasn’t that familiar with Carole King until this time but a lot of the tracks on the album were indeed familiar, as she had been part of that amazing team of Brill Building songwriters who prolifically churned out songs for ’60s artists such as Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles. She wrote, or co-wrote, all of the songs on Tapestry and in doing so created a truly amazing body of work, most of the songs becoming standards in their own right. I think my favourite is It’s Too Late, a really sad song about the end of a relationship and of course by this time King’s marriage to Gerry Goffin, her songwriting partner and high school sweetheart was over, so bittersweet. Interesting also that during this intensely successful period of her career, Carole King had moved to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles and was hanging out with the likes of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. I have mentioned Laurel Canyon before in relation to The Eagles, Jackson Brown and Linda Ronstadt – Must have been quite a place back in the day.

It’s Too Late by Carole King:

Not really a coincidence that it’s Tapestry I’m writing about today however – I noticed earlier on social media that it’s the 45th Anniversary of its release. Any artist releasing an album today will have to wait until the year 2061 to celebrate the same anniversary. What will our world be like then? Who knows but I am optimistic that good music will still be around and perhaps we may still enjoy listening to the dulcet tones of Carole King, and Tapestry!

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It’s Too Late Lyrics
(Song by Carole King/Toni Stern)

Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time
There’s something wrong here, there can be no denying
One of us is changing, or maybe we’ve just stopped trying

And it’s too late baby, it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it

It used to be so easy living here with you
You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do
Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool

There’ll be good times again for me and you
But we just can’t stay together, don’t you feel it too
Still I’m glad for what we had, and how I once loved you