The Clash, Big Decisions and Girlfriend Trouble

Short post, but with only a day to go, there should be no-one in the UK who doesn’t understand the significance of today’s clip. If the EU was our girlfriend this is how it would be playing out right now but despite the 24/7 debate and news coverage from both sides (all very balanced so as not to show any bias of course) many of us are still none the wiser as to which way to vote.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go by The Clash:

Not entirely sure why Angela Merkel and Co. haven’t been getting involved in the debate but it seems that they don’t want to affect the outcome one way or another, so are leaving it to the people of the UK themselves.

So, no tearful last minute pleadings – “It’s not you, it’s me”, “I think we just need a break” and “You’re too good for me” – It’s all down to us and us alone.

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As for The Clash, they were part of the first wave of British punk bands that emerged in the late ’70s. I was a 17-year-old then, and even we girls couldn’t help but get excited about this new style of music. Lots of energy and a cosmic leap away from everything else that had been around for most of the decade (glam rock, country, soul and disco). They wrote politically-charged songs that meant something to young, white, disaffected youth and became one of the most respected bands from that era influencing many bands that were to follow. This song, Should I Stay Or Should I Go, was re-issued several times but it first charted in September 1982 which was just at the tail-end of their heyday as a band.

clash

I have just made an interesting discovery however, the band’s co-founder Joe Strummer (John Graham Mellor) was born in Turkey to a Scottish mother who hailed from a village not far from me in the Highlands. Also, his diplomat father was born in India and had part-Armenian, part-German parentage. The young Joe spent a lot of his early life living in both Mexico and Germany so although I thought of him as being quintessentially English, and a Londoner at that, I couldn’t have been more wrong. A great choice of song therefore to have used on this last day of campaigning featuring one of music’s most significant contributors.  As it turns out this late discovery about Joe, and the fact that he delivers the song’s backing vocals in Spanish, has made my voting decision even easier.

joe strummer

Should I Stay Or Should I Go
(Song by Mick Jones/Joe Strummer)

Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here till the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

It’s always tease tease tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day is fine, and next is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on and let me know
Should I Stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

The Fresh Prince, Jazzy Jeff and “Summertime”

My last post reflected my negative mood at the time and a lot of it was down to the fact that I usually think of the month of June as being the start of summer, and for one reason or another, it just hasn’t felt very “summery” yet this year.

Time to reload the start of summer therefore and I have just discovered a term I hadn’t heard of before – Seasonal lag! Although for meteorologists, the summer starts at the beginning of June, apparently “astronomical summer” is defined as starting at the solstice. As it turns out, the solstice was a day early this year because of the leap year and here in the North of Scotland this meant that last night was very short indeed. Today, the 21st of June, is therefore the start of astronomical summer and this year I will roll with that definition. The garden was tidied yesterday, the BBQ cleaned and the gazebo put up – All set to go.

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As for “seasonal lag” mentioned above, it confirms what I have always tried to tell my daughter and her friends over the years – Just because the sun’s out, it’s not necessarily time to slip into sundresses and strappy tops (such a mumsy thing to say). There is a Scottish phrase “Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be oot and for good reason – It turns out that average maximum temperatures occur several weeks after the time of maximum hours of sunshine. Perfectly reasonable to go with this very scientific looking graph therefore, and view real summer as starting today.

Phases_of_the_Sun_(NHemi)

The first song that came to mind when rethinking all of this was Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. It came out in 1992 when I was in my early thirties so not really one of the “tracks of my years” – Had I been a teenager around then I would have known Will Smith well from his television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air but I wasn’t, and I didn’t. We still watched TOTP on a Thursday night however and despite the fact I have never really been a fan of rap, this was just a great sounding song, summing up what summertime means for young people.

Will Smith has gone on to great things since and has starred in 21 movies to date with a couple of Oscar nominations under his belt. He is also widely thought of as being the “nicest” A-list movie actor around, always patient with interviewers despite having probably been asked the same question hundreds of times whilst on press junkets promoting a new film.

For now however, I will just enjoy watching the young Will, hanging out with his friends, DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jeffrey to his mum), and coming up with some very entertaining rhymes!

Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff  The Fresh Prince:

Summertime Lyrics
(Song by Will Smith and too many more to mention!)

Drums please, summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind

Here it is, the groove slightly transformed
Just a bit of a break from the norm
Just a little somethin’ to break the monotony
Of all that hardcore dance that has gotten to be

A little bit out of control, it’s cool to dance
But what about the groove that soothes
That moves romance, give me a soft, subtle mix
And if ain’t broke then don’t try to fix it

And think of the summers of the past
Adjust the base and let the alpine blast
Pop in my CD and let me run a rhyme and put your car
On cruise and lay back ’cause this is summertime

Summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind
Summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind

School is out and it’s a sort of a buzz
But back then I didn’t really know what it was
But now I see what have of this
The way that people respond to summer madness

The weather is hot and girls are dressin’ less
And checkin’ out the fellas to tell ’em who’s best
Ridin’ around in your jeep or your Benzos
Or in your Nissan sittin’ on Lorenzo’s

Back in Philly we be out in the park
A place called the plateau is where everybody goes
Guys out huntin’ and girls doin’ likewise
Honkin’ at the honey in front of you with the light eyes

She turn around to see what you beepin’ at
It’s like the summer’s a natural aphrodisiac
And with a pen and pad, I compose this rhyme
To hit you and get you equipped for the summertime

It’s late in the day and I ain’t been on the court yet
Hustle to the mall to get me a short set
Yeah, I got on sneaks but I need a new pair
‘Cause basketball courts in the summer got girls there

The temperature’s about 88
Hop in the water plug just for old times sake
Creak to ya crib, change your clothes once more
‘Cause you’re invited to a barbecue that’s startin’ at 4

Sittin’ with your friends ’cause y’all reminisce
About the days growin’ up and the first person you kiss
And as I think back, makes me wonder how
The smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia

All the kids playin’ out front, little boys messin’ ’round
With the girls playin’ double-dutch
While the DJ’s spinnin’ a tune as the old folks
Dance at your family reunion

Then six ‘o clock rolls around
You just finished wipin’ your car down
It’s time to cruise, so you head to
The summertime hangout, it looks like a car show

Everybody come lookin’ real fine
Fresh from the barber shop or fly from the beauty salon
Every moment frontin’ and maxin’
Chillin’ in the car they spent all day waxin’

Leanin’ to the side but you can’t speed through
Two miles an hour so, everybody sees you
There’s an air of love and of happiness and this is
The Fresh Prince’s new definition of summer madness

Changes, Referendums and its “Raining In My Heart”

Well, it’s the day I usually put together a post featuring a song from my past, but not in the best frame of mind for it for several reasons. I finally bit the bullet this week and replaced my trusty old steed (my ten year old PC) for an all-singing and dancing wireless version (a stallion amongst PCs) but needless to say it is taking me a while to navigate all the set-up routines, transfer over data and get used to how different it all is. I don’t do well with change and this one is frustrating me.

This song, Changes by David Bowie, is not really relevant to my particular problem but it inevitably came to mind when writing about change. From the “Hunky Dory” album, it became one of his most popular recordings ever but not a hit when it was first released in 1972 – Ironically it charted for the first time this year, just after his death.

Changes by David Bowie:

On top of the domestic upheaval with new computers, we have this momentous decision to make on Thursday which could possibly take us out of the EU and it very much seems as if people are going to the ballot box loaded with highly dubious facts, figures and scaremongering. Not a great way forward for any democratic nation. This may sound flippant but if we had a greater affinity with Europe in terms of music and film, the decision would probably have been far easier. Despite the fact that the rest of Europe puts us to shame with their excellent grasp of English, there is still that cultural barrier that sets us apart and makes us different.

Looking back over the “tracks of my years”, I can think of very few artists from the rest of Europe who have done well in the British charts. That dashing Frenchman Sasha Distel popped up in the early ’70s and the not-so-dashing Charles Aznavour a while later. There have also been a few Greeks (Demis Roussos, now forever associated with the Mike Leigh play Abigail’s Party), the phenomenon that was Abba, Boney M and A-Ha. In the late ’70s when punk kind of became mainstream, our favourite record at the local “youth club” (the only pub happy to admit 16 and 17-year-olds) was Ça Plane Pour Moi by Belgian Plastic Bertrand. A one-hit wonder, but thoroughly memorable even now.

This next one is a bit before my time but it still kind of sums up the difference between us Brits and our French neighbours – Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg was inevitably banned when it was released in 1969 due to its explicit lyrics and “sound effects” but of course this just led to it becoming an ever bigger hit. I’m sure the French find our prudishness very amusing and their sub-titled films shown on television in the ’70s were awash with casual disrobing, which caused much anguish for the parents of teenagers at the time.

Getting back to the whole referendum issue however, the campaigning has now been put on hold as one of our best-loved MPs was tragically shot dead a couple of days ago in Yorkshire. This, on top of the mass shooting earlier this week in a night club in Florida, has caused an outpouring of grief and questions are being asked as to the motive for such happenings – The work of lone gunmen or part of something bigger and more sinister.

A fellow blogger was writing yesterday about songs that refer to rain and how, in a song, that particular weather condition usually symbolises sadness and dark times – This week, the sadness felt in this 1959 Buddy Holly song, Raining In My Heart, sums up how I feel. Not about a lost love but about the loss of something in society that can’t easily be identified, but something that is definitely no longer with us.

On a very literal note, it really hasn’t helped either that we have had a pretty awful week of weather with rain every day. My favourite month is not panning out as expected this year. The tennis has been heavily disrupted and the poor ladies at Ascot were draped in waterproof ponchos, their beautiful hats and outfits in many cases ruined.

As for Buddy, the non-stop touring schedule that came about as a result of his meteoric rise to fame led to the plane crash that took his life in 1959. Rock ‘n’ roll was in its heyday and he was one of its brightest stars. Considering he died very young, aged only 22, he left many songs that most people of a certain age will be familiar with – Peggy Sue, It Doesn’t Matter Any More, Rave On, Oh Boy!, That’ll Be The Day, True Love Ways and many moreHe even made horn-rimmed glasses look cool – Great for the eyesight of 1950s teenagers.

As for me, I’ll try to rid myself of the black dog by this time next week when we’ll also know if we are still “in” or now “out”. Interesting times indeed.

Raining In My Heart
(Song by Bouleaux Bryant/Felice Bryant)

The sun is out, the sky is blue
There’s not a cloud to spoil the view
But it’s raining, raining in my heart

The weatherman says clear today
He doesn’t know you’ve gone away
And it’s raining, raining in my heart

Oh, misery, misery
What’s gonna become of me?

I tell my blues they mustn’t show
But soon the tears are bound to flow
‘Cause it’s raining, raining in my heart

It’s raining, raining in my heart

Oh, misery, misery
What’s gonna become of me

Raining in my heart!
Raining in my heart!

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.

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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.

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

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein and “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”!

Sorry, but couldn’t resist posting this clip today as it’s the 1st of June and it marks the start of my favourite month of the year – Yes, it has to be June Is Bustin’ Out All Over from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. It looks dated granted, and we are not used to seeing men in such high-waisted trousers (troubling somehow), but it does sum up how I feel about today.

There are so many great things about the month of June if, like me, you live in Scotland (as there would have been in Maine, where Carousel was set) – The light nights, warm weather and (if you’re lucky) sunshine. The garden is starting to look interesting and it’s safe at last to plant out those tender young plants without having to worry about frost.

As the month goes by we’ll have tennis to watch, starting off with the French Open (Andy Murray won today) and towards the end of the month, Wimbledon. Mid-month The Royal Family will be on parade at Ascot, and some very smart ladies will be modelling those quirky hats. If you’re a football fan, a big tournament is about to take place and outdoor events, impossible during the long winter months and risky even in spring and autumn, suddenly fill the calendar. There will be Highland Games, Fetes and Music Festivals taking place every weekend – It may rain granted, but at least the rain will be warm.

In Scotland the school year lasts until the end of June but for some reason the really serious, life-changing exams always took place in May. This also happened when you moved on to College or University, so even now I still recall the relief that was felt in June, once those exams were over and you could finally relax after all the hard work. It was like that final scene in the film Grease when the Principal makes a short speech before the “commencement of commencement” – Happy memories indeed. June of course is also the month before everything becomes “weird” when a normal routine is disrupted with people disappearing off on holiday. When you were at school it meant that you no longer saw your best friends every day, and it still is a bit like that as dates for get-togethers with friends become nigh impossible to arrange. Thirty days therefore to pack in as much as possible.

grease

I have mentioned the film Carousel before, when writing about the song You’ll Never Walk Alone. It is not my favourite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and the juvenile in me finds the song title “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” a trifle amusing, but, included alongside Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, it completes an impressive body of work and one which was much appreciated by my dad and I on a wet Sunday afternoon when I was young. Nothing brightened the spirit more than to watch these all-singing, all-dancing spectaculars on television. Apparently my dad and his friends, in their youth, had gone into the city from our village every fortnight to watch their football team play in home games. They always finished the day off with a nice meal and a trip to the “pictures” to watch the big movies of the day. These invariably were musicals, featuring the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly which gave him a life-long love of the genre, and one which he passed on to me. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not convinced that your average football fan of today would appreciate the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein – Different times obviously, and different forms of entertainment today to whet a young man’s appetite, but I’m just glad that my dad was able to experience all these films, unabashed.

So, will I be able to fit in many posts this month when there is just so much to enjoy out there? We’ll see, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with the (exceptionally long therefore abbreviated) lyrics to this very seasonal song – Enjoy.

June Is Bustin’ Out All Over Lyrics
(Song by Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein ll)

June is bustin’ out all over!
All over the meadow and the hill!
Buds’re bustin’ outa bushes
And the rompin’ river pushes
Ev’ry little wheel that wheels beside the mill!

June is bustin’ out all over!
The feelin’ is gettin’ so intense
That the young Virginia creepers
Hev been huggin’ the bejeepers
Outa all the mornin’-glories on the fence.
Because it’s June!
June, June, June
Jest because it’s June, June, June!

June is bustin’ out all over!
The ocean is full of Jacks and Jills,
With her little tail a-swishin’
Ev’ry lady fish is wishin’
That a male would come
And grab her by the gills!

Because it’s June! June, June, June
Just because it’s June, June, June!

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

Sandie, Cliff and Lulu too!

Well, it’s Eurovision week and like many others I end up reminiscing about those halcyon days, in the long distant past, when we used to win rather a lot and if we didn’t win we usually came in either second or third at worst. But that was back in the late ’60s when London was “Swinging” and all it took was a barefoot Sandie Shaw simply to turn up, in order to sweep the board. Our songs were usually written by the big-selling songwriters of the day and the artists singing those songs were generally international stars. It was in 1967 that the UK first won the contest with the Bill Martin/Phil Coulter song Puppet On A String and they went on to write our 1968 entry Congratulations, this time sung by Cliff Richard. Sadly Cliff didn’t win, although he came a close second, but the royalties must really pour in to this day as it is used whenever a big event is taking place where “congratulations” are the order of the day. (Not very original I know but true.)

Puppet On A String by Sandie Shaw:

Taking us up to the close of the ’60s was Lulu with the song Boom Bang-a-Bang by Alan Moorhouse and Peter Warne. She was the joint winner that year with three other countries, but you can see a pattern forming here whereby very simple pop songs with titles non-specific to any particular European language, became the big winners. The song that had pipped Cliff at the post the previous year was called La La La. The big change in 1969 was that the contest was broadcast in colour, so some of us could watch Lulu sporting her cute little pink dress. Sadly however, like in most homes at that time, I still had to watch in black and white but it is nice to now see, what could have been possible, if my parents had been a bit more cutting-edge with their home entertainment systems.

The philosophy behind the staging of the first contest in the late 1950s was a good one – To help a war-torn Europe rebuild itself via a light entertainment television programme. What would the founding fathers think of what the contest has become? There are now around 40 countries competing as opposed to the original 7 and it is the most watched non-sporting event in television’s annual calendar – A juggernaut of a show.

But when it comes down to it nothing has really changed – The big winners are still the international stars of the day, it’s just that these stars now come from Russia, Sweden or perhaps Serbia. Despite being well-known all over the continent they are pretty much unknown to us in the UK until they turn up at the contest. Our home-grown recording stars won’t touch it with a barge pole as it is seen as being desperately uncool and lacks credibility – To do badly can destroy a career. So it is down to our continental rivals to sweep the board nowadays.

Unknown

The songs that win are excellent and most are generally now sung in English as that is ironically the common language of Europe. Ironic because the songs we sing, in this common language, no-one votes for any more. Yes our heyday in the contest is well and truly in the past but we do still pay for a large chunk of it and many of us will still tune in to watch the whole extravaganza on Saturday night. The staging is now spectacular and having just watched the first semi-final last night, the technical people have done an amazing job this year. As the slogan for this year’s contest says, “Come Together”, but here we are having referendums on coming apart – Not what the EBU meeting in Monaco in 1955 would have envisaged for sure. Let’s hope the whole Eurovision philosophy will see this current episode in European relations through, but still not hopeful that we will see anything other than nil points on the scoreboard for us this year. I live in hope!

Puppet On A String Lyrics
(Song by Bill Martin/Phil Coulter)

I wonder if one day that, you’ll say that, you care
If you say you love me madly, I’ll gladly, be there
Like a puppet on a string

Love is just like a merry-go-round
With all the fun of a fair
One day I’m feeling down on the ground
Then I’m up in the air
Are you leading me on?
Tomorrow will you be gone?

I wonder if one day that, you’ll say that, you care
If you say you love me madly, I’ll gladly, be there
Like a puppet on a string

I may win on the roundabout
Then I’ll lose on the swings
In or out, there is never a doubt
Just who’s pulling the strings
I’m all tied up in you
But where’s it leading me to?

I wonder if one day that, you’ll say that, you care
If you say you love me madly, I’ll gladly, be there
Like a puppet on a string

I wonder if one day that, you’ll say that, you care
If you say you love me madly, I’ll gladly, be there
Like a puppet on a string

Like a puppet on a….. String