The Ronettes, Phil Spector and “Be My Baby”

Following on from my last post when I wrote about Amy Winehouse’s album “Back to Black”, her image at that time was very much taken from the American girl groups of the early ’60s. The most famous and recognisable of these was probably The Ronettes of Be My Baby fame.

Be My Baby by The Ronettes:

Now I would be lying if I said that I remembered this song from 1963 when it was first released, but it is one of those songs you will have heard throughout your entire life, popping up on the radio and on film soundtracks. Phil Spector, who produced the record, was an innovator and in the early 60s created his now infamous “wall of sound” as a backdrop to the sultry vocals of singers like Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett of The Ronettes and Darlene Love. This new approach to recording included using whole string and horn sections, as well as guitars and drums. The use of echo chambers and multiple tracking was also involved which basically meant that the sound was re-recorded over a demo of the previous recording many times, building up the cacophony of sound that became his trademark.

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Phil Spector is one of only a few producers who became more famous than many of the artists he worked with and because the “wall of sound” was so clearly associated with him, he was able to release successful albums of his label’s greatest hits under his own name. I bought these two albums in the mid ’80s when they were re-released – Phil Spector’s Greatest Hits & Phil Spector’s Christmas Album. They are still a joy to listen to today and with so few new Christmas songs being released nowadays, his seasonal album has become a staple in our house around that time of year.

Phil Spector

In 1987, a low-budget film called Dirty Dancing was released starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Not ever expected to be a big hit, it has become one of the most well-loved films of all time and was the first movie to sell over a million copies on home video. As I have written elsewhere in the blog, adding the “music of the era” to a film soundtrack is a really effective tool and none more so than in the case of Dirty Dancing which was essentially a romantic drama, set in a 1963 holiday resort in the Catskill Mountains.

Be My Baby was used extensively as were other tracks from that year along with a whole load of new ones specially written for the movie. For some reason I didn’t see it when it first came out, but like most people my age, I have since bought the DVD and CD. I remember watching it with my daughter one Bank Holiday Monday and unlike when it came out in 1987, when I was in my late 20s, I felt real nostalgia for all those holiday experiences that Baby was going through. This has happened before when watching movies with my daughter – It seems that you have to be at least a generation removed to feel that emotion. At 27, I was neither young enough or old enough for that to happen. I would wager that the people who enjoyed that movie best when it came out, were either born circa 1970 (they could empathise) or 1950 (they could reflect nostalgically). Of course there are also all those people who would have enjoyed looking back at the music, fashions and social mores of that early sixties period but they would have been war babies and I don’t think that the film was aimed at that demographic when it came out.

Wouldn’t be a blog post if I didn’t mention someone who had passed away and it is sad to think that the the vital, energetic, handsome Patrick Swayze (dancer Johnny Castle in the movie) is no longer with us. Jennifer Grey is still very much with us, however her appearance has changed so much since her days of playing Baby, that I now wouldn’t recognise her. Looking back, her nose was perhaps on the large side but after having it “done”, her film career was pretty much over. A case of perhaps best to have left well alone? Who knows but yet again I end with the familiar three letter acronym – RIP, Patrick.

Be My Baby Lyrics
(Song by Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich/Phil Spector)

The night we met I knew I needed you so
And if I had the chance I’d never let you go
So won’t you say you love me
I’ll make you so proud of me
We’ll make ’em turn their heads every place we go

So won’t you, please
(Be my, be my baby) Be my little baby
(My one and only baby) Say you’ll be my darlin’
(Be my, be my baby) Be my baby now
Wha-oh-oh-oh

I’ll make you happy, baby, just wait and see
For every kiss you give me, I’ll give you three
Oh, since the day I saw you
I have been waiting for you
You know I will adore you ’til eternity

Amy Winehouse, Beehives and “Tears Dry On Their Own”

Last time I wrote about Ed Sheerin and of his success at this year’s Grammy awards. Back in 2008 it was Amy Winehouse who swept the board at the awards winning a total of six. Sadly just over three years later she was dead.

When writing earlier this year about David Bowie’s sad passing, and all the media outpouring it caused, I had momentarily forgotten what a massive news story it had been when poor Amy was found dead, at home, on a July afternoon in 2011. It was no big shock however as we had seen her life played out over the years on television and in the newspapers. After the massive success of her album “Back to Black”, her life seemed to descend into chaos – Don’t want to go into the detail here but she did appear to have serious addiction issues, relationship issues, an eating disorder and so it goes on. Were we all partly to blame? The press and paparazzi couldn’t seem to get enough of her and although her family seemed to be really supportive, in some ways they seemed to add to the feeding frenzy.

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I had seen Amy on television many times over the previous few years as she started out as a soulful, jazz-influenced singer who did really well with her first album “Frank”. For “Back to Black” however she had morphed into a 21st century version of a 1960s, American girl-group member (think Ronnie Ronette with tatoos and piercings). Every time we saw her, the beehive had got bigger and the eye make-up even more extreme but sadly, she also seemed to be getting thinner and more erratic in her behaviour. I remember watching the 2008 BRIT awards with great trepidation as she was due to perform Valerie with Mark Ronson. It actually went well but she did look “unworldly” and kept pulling at her short skirt and hair throughout the performance. We all hoped that she would get the help she so obviously needed as her talent was immense, and she had so much more to give.

My favourite song from Back to Black was Tears Dry On Their Own. Watching the video again however just reminds me of the chaotic and extreme world she seemed to be living in at that time which ultimately proved just too much for her.

Tears Dry On Their Own by Amy Winehouse:

It was at the end of 2009 that we moved our entire record collection to our new Apple Mac computer. All the CDs and downloads were now in one place which was great as personal playlists of favourites could be compiled by each member of the family. My playlists generally included an Amy Winehouse track and invariably it was this song. Very sad when you listen to it now knowing that she died aged only 27. I have written a lot about icons who have passed away since starting this blog but none were young like poor Amy and I have a feeling that for some, it is only a matter of good luck that they got through their “crazy period” intact. Wasn’t to be the case for this talented lady – RIP Amy.

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Tears Dry On Their Own Lyrics
(Song by Amy Winehouse)

All I can ever be to you
Is the darkness that we knew,
And this regret I’ve got accustomed to.
Once it was so right,
When we were at our high,
Waiting for you in the hotel at night.

I knew I hadn’t met my match,
But every moment we could snatch,
I don’t know why I got so attached.
It’s my responsibility,
And you don’t owe nothing to me,
But to walk away I have no capacity.

He walks away,
The sun goes down,
He takes the day
But I’m grown,
And in your way,
In this blue shade
My tears dry on their own.

I don’t understand
Why do I stress a man
When there’s so many bigger things at hand.
We coulda never had it all,
We had to hit a wall,
So this is inevitable withdrawal.

Even if I stop wanting you,

A perspective pushes through,
I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon.
I shouldn’t play myself again,

I should just be my own best friend,
Not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.

So we are history,
Your shadow covers me
The sky above,
A blaze.

I wish I could say no regrets,
And no emotional debts,
‘Cause as we kiss goodbye the sun sets

So we are history,
The shadow covers me,
The sky above,
A blaze that only lovers see,

The Grammys, Ed Sheeran and “The A Team”

Today we found out who had won awards at this year’s Grammy Awards. The ceremony would have taken place last night but with the time difference, it’s always the next day until you find out who won. Not a big deal in my life nowadays I have to say, but part of awards season so always interesting to see if any of our home-grown British acts did well. As usual we did, with Ed Sheeran coming away with two awards.

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I am really conscious of the fact that since starting this blog, I have (except for last year’s Eurovision winner) not written about any songs post 1994. I suspected this might happen early on as it seems that once you pass your late 30s, the shutters go up and your brain wants to let you know that there’s enough in there already – No room for new songs! We buy the greatest hits albums of the artists we enjoyed in our youth, we buy soundtrack albums, ones advertised on television and of course have to continually re-purchase all our old material but in a different format. I was of the generation that bought everything originally on vinyl and cassette tape then had to collect it all again in CD format and now digitally – Good for the arists I imagine as they keep on collecting those royalties every time the medium of choice changes, but it means a lot of us are perhaps not investigating enough of what is new out there.

Also, it doesn’t help that the radio stations I listen to primarily play older music so unless something is really mainstream and award-winning, I’m not experiencing it any more. My daughter’s music collection features, in the main, people I have never heard of but that would have been the case for my parents and the music I loved in the 1970s. Probably being really uncool here but if I never hear another Kanye West track, my life will be the better for it – Sorry but just don’t get him.

But back to Mr Sheeran and his awards. One was for Thinking Out Loud which won Song of the Year. Now this is indeed a great song (although I am perplexed about what happens when he gets to 71) but I think I want to write about the one that first brought him to our attention – The A Team. It became a big breakthrough hit for him in the summer of 2011 when Ed was aged just 20 and although a great sounding song to listen to, it had a really dark theme about the world of drugs and prostitution.

The A Team by Ed Sheeran:

I can hardly believe that Ed was only 18 when he wrote it after performing at a homeless shelter. He admitted later that he had been naïve about the problems faced by some of the young people he met there, as I would have been at his age, so really quite brave of him to tackle writing such a song. Made a lot of us sit up and think however – A few bad breaks in life and not easy to get out of that downward spiral. Ed has carried on raising money for charities that help young people who find themselves in a desperate situation, like the girl in the song. Hopefully his success will have the beneficial effect of helping many others too – Good karma.

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Over the last few years we seem to have produced a lot of very successful singer/songwriters who do especially well at the Grammys. Last year it was Sam Smith and before that we had Adele and of course the late, great Amy Winehouse. Whenever they get up to receive their awards, I suddenly feel really nervous for them and just hope and pray that their little thank you speech is filled with nothing too rude, rebelious or controversial. Yes, I am at the age that I think of them as my children and want them to give a good account of themselves. No pressure then – It’s not enough that they have won one of the biggest prizes in the global music industry, they have to make us proud of their social skills as well. No problem with Mr Sheeran as he always comes across as a fine young man with a lovely speaking voice but there is a part of me that would just love to give his hair a good tidy, and his clothes a thorough iron before he steps out to collect his award.

And there we have it – the main reason I find it hard to write about recent songs is that I am now emotionally attached to these young artists in a maternal way with the days of teen idolatry far behind me. You can never feel the same way about songs in later life as you did in your youth (especially if you are a girl) because those hormones are just no longer there (literally) and if you have moved onto a happy marriage and family life, there will be no “last dance songs”, “break-up songs” or “new-found-love songs” to torture the soul. Thank goodness as I don’t think I could go through all that again, but it does explain why, in the main, I will probably be writing about songs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s!

Congratulations to Ed – A worthy winner.

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The A Team Lyrics
(Song by Ed Sheeran)

White lips, pale face
Breathing in snowflakes
Burnt lungs, sour taste

Light’s gone, day’s end
Struggling to pay rent
Long nights, strange men

And they say
She’s in the Class A Team
Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
Cause we’re just under the upper hand
And go mad for a couple grams
And she don’t want to go outside tonight
And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland
And sells love to another man
It’s too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly

Ripped gloves, rain coat
Tried to swim and stay afloat
Dry house, wet clothes

Loose change, bank notes
Weary-eyed, dry throat
Call girl, no phone

An angel will die
Covered in white
Closed eyed
And hoping for a better life
This time, we’ll fade out tonight
Straight down the line

The Human League, “Louise” and Songs About Lost Love

I don’t know if anyone has ever conducted a study on this, but looking at any long list of songs, they do in an awful lot of cases include the word love in the title. Even if the word is not in the title it’s included in the lyrics and I would guess that about 80 per cent of songs are either about new-found love, unrequited love or lost love. The rest will be dance tracks, novelty songs or ones that deal with meatier topics, but where would we be without the love song?

Writing last time about Carole King’s It’s Too Late made me think about “songs about lost love“. Until you go through an emotionally draining parting of the ways, as I did in the autumn of 1984, you don’t realise just how many songs out there are about this very subject. Lyrics, hitherto not really listened to, suddenly play out exactly what you are going through and cut like a knife whenever they come on the radio. I don’t know if I was unlucky but during that period the charts seemed to be full of such songs. It all started off with John Waite and his heart-wrenching song Missing You and then led on to Jim Diamond‘s I Should Have Known Better.

For me however, the one that caused the most distress was Louise by The Human League. I have always loved The Human League, not least because of their sheer “Northern-ness”. Phil Oakey, their lead singer, sported the androgynous look favoured by the synthpop bands of the day and his asymmetrical hairstyle must have cut a dash in the nightclubs of Sheffield before he joined the band, but when you heard him speak he came across as a “reight” good northern bloke and not the artsy model you would expect. When the girls, Joanne and Susan, were “emergency-recruited” to fulfill the band’s touring commitments, the line-up we are most familiar with was complete. (Of course it has become part of pop folklore that the girls were at the time still at school and on a night out when they were spotted by Phil. After having a discussion with their parents they were allowed to join the band and go on tour, but had to return to school afterwards!)

Louise by The Human League:

But back to the song Louise – It was the third and last single to be released from their 1984 album “Hysteria” and only reached No. 13 in the UK Singles Chart but trust me, it received blanket airplay at the time I was at my most vulnerable, and I will always associate it with that period. It turns out that the lyrics had a darker subtext but most people would have taken them at face value and for someone like myself, going through a break-up, the song made for painful listening – Hard to reconcile that the person who had been your closest friend for years, would in the future be someone you might have a chance encounter with whilst getting off a bus. As it turned out I moved to another town soon after and didn’t tend to use buses very often but it still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it. Thanks Phil for a beautiful song.

Louise Lyrics
(Song by Phil Oakey/Jo Callis/Philip Adrian Wright)

When he saw her getting off the bus
It seemed to wipe away the years
Her face was older just a little rough
But her eyes were still so clear
He drank his coffee and he hurried out
Across, before she walked away
Then he approached her like a little child
Too scared for what he had to say

“Hello Louise
Remember me?
Now should we part
Or stay awhile
As if we were still lovers?”

She took a moment just to recognise the man she’d known so well before
And as he started to apologise
Lose any bitterness she bore
She gently put her finger on his lips
To let him know she understood
And, with her suitcase standing on the floor
Embraced him like a lover would

He told Louise
“You look so good
It’s just you see
You make me feel
As if we were still lovers”

It’s not always true that time heals all wounds
There are wounds that you don’t wanna heal
The memories of something really good
Something truly real, that you never found again

And though they talked for just a little time
Before she said she had to go
He saw the meeting as a tiny sign
That told him all he had to know

And so Louise
Waved from the bus
And as she left
She gave that smile
As if they were still lovers

Postscript:

I feel I can’t quite move on until I mention that The Human League were by no means the only successful act to emerge from Sheffield in the early ’80s – At around the same time Heaven 17 and ABC were also producing excellent albums and doing really well in the charts.

Since then there have been numerous other success stories including Pulp, Babybird, Moloko and currently The Arctic Monkeys. There are apparently twice the percentage of people in Sheffield engaged in the creative industries compared to the national average and I know I will want to investigate this further down the line. The city suffered the collapse of the steel and coal industries in the 70s and 80s and there does seem to be a correlation here – When work is no longer plentiful, young people have the time and energy to exercise their creativity and for Sheffield it has led to an economy now very much on the up.

This of course can be said of many other cities with a similar industrial background such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester all of whom, have at some point in the last 50 years, been at the epicentre of a music revolution. Interesting stuff and a real piece of luck if you happened to be in the right place at the right time. In the early 80s, if you weren’t one of the Blitz Kids from London’s Covent Garden, the next best place to emerge from was obviously, Sheffield.

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

Maurice White, “Boogie Wonderland” and The Last Days of Disco

As anticipated, the blog is in danger of turning into an obituary column. Yesterday we heard the news that Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire had passed away. Again he had been ill for some time and died of an age-related condition and again, I am very sorry for his friends and family. My husband did remark however that the news story is now more about the sheer number of artists who have passed away in the last month, and is not so much about the individual any more so we have to be careful not to dwell on it too much. It is going to be a perfectly natural occurrence that will happen on a much more regular basis. Also the radio station I mainly listen to is aimed at an older audience so what is news to a 50-something would not be news to my daughter or her friends.

It has however, been a bit of a wake-up call for all of us of a certain age as we consider our own mortality perhaps a little bit more than usual in view of the events of the last month. We now may be considering moving retirement plans forward a little and that can’t be a bad thing.

As usual this latest death has brought back great memories of the music. Maurice White was the founder member of Earth, Wind and Fire. He wrote the songs, sang the songs and produced them so he was essentially Mr EWF. If you haven’t seen them perform on stage, it was like witnessing a riotous fancy dress party with vast numbers of musicians, singers and dancers filling ever corner of the stage. They were essentially an R&B act but in the late ’70s Disco was King and their music did fit neatly into that genre making their songs a must-play on the dancefloors of the nation. In 1979 they realeased Boogie Wonderland with The Emotions (even more people on stage in wildly flamboyant costumes).

Listening to this song again, Mr White appears to have had a cold when recording it as there is a definite nasal quality to his voice but that didn’t stop it getting to the top of the charts and it was great fun dancing along to it on a night out. Looking at the outfits I can’t believe now that so much was made of Bowie’s look and style only five years earlier – He was positively tame compared with these guys! Maurice is definitely the ringleader here though and he is obviously enjoying himself immensely. (A receding hairline for a black man sporting an afro must have been troublesome for him but so much else going on we didn’t notice.)

On a personal note, being a fan of Earth, Wind and Fire was a bit of a problem for me in 1979 – I was a 1st Year student going through that transition period where a big change in lifestyle has taken place. I still had my best friend from school but we hadn’t quite morphed into full-blown students yet (although that followed). Disco fever was still rife and if you loved dancing and getting dressed up there were plenty of places to go. I remember buying some yellow and black shiny material that I made into a skirt with a side split in the Student’s Union sewing room (yes there was one). Worn with footless tights and a black top that I’d cut diagonally across the front leaving one arm free and one covered, I was all set to boogie. If you were a student, it wasn’t cool to like disco music, dress in shiny clothing or go out dancing but we were clinging onto a bit of our old lives for a while yet. By the following year I had found myself a boyfriend and instead of dancing, we sat up late listening to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. The shiny clothes went and we started buying our “student uniforms” in charity shops and workwear outlets. But during that last disco-frequenting summer of 1979, we made the most of the sounds of Mr White and his high energy brand of music. RIP Maurice.

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Boogie Wonderland Lyrics (a song for dancing to, so bear that in mind!)
(Song by Jon Lind/Allee Willis)

Dance, boogie wonderland
Ha, ha, dance
Boogie wonderland
Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get
Daylight deals a bad hand to a woman who has laid too many bets
The mirror stares you in the face and says,”Baby, uh, uh, it don’t work”
You say your prayers though you don’t care; you dance and shake the hurt

Dance, boogie wonderland
Ha, ha, dance
Boogie wonderland
Sounds fly through the night; I chase my vinyl dreams to Boogie Wonderland
I find romance when I start to dance in Boogie Wonderland
I find romance when I start to dance in Boogie Wonderland
All the love in the world can’t be gone
All the need to be loved can’t be wrong
All the records are playing and my heart keeps saying
“Boogie wonderland, wonderland”

Postscript:

The striking Earth, Wind and Fire album covers were by Japanese artist Shusei Nagaoka and usually featured an Egyptian theme – Maurice White had conceived the name of the band from his star sign Sagittarius which has the elemental quality of Fire and seasonal qualities of Earth and Air. This all contributed to the band’s colourful and mystical style. As I’ve said before, I miss album cover art – It was most definitely a very special art form.

Eurovision Memories, Riverdance and Måns Zelmerlöw

Following on from my last post when I wrote about the sad passing of Sir Terry Wogan, I feel I can’t end that thread until I have mentioned The Eurovision Song Contest. Love it or loathe it, the contest is a big fixture in television’s annual calendar and is watched by, wait for it…… up to 600 million people worldwide!

Terry presided over the television commentary of the contest from 1980 until 2008 after which he hung up his headphones, making way for another witty Irishman, Graham Norton. During his years at the helm, Terry’s commentary was far more of a draw for viewers than the contest, or nonsense as he called it. Who can forget all the “eejit” on-stage hosts we had to endure, and his observation that the Danish pair in 2001 looked like “Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy”.

My first memories of Eurovision were from 1967 when a barefoot Sandie Shaw won for the UK with Puppet On A String. I have mentioned my “anorak” tendencies before in this blog and The Eurovision Song Contest is a dream for people like me – Endless possibilities when it comes to stats, lists and databases. Who won in which year; where the contest was held; which artist represented each country and so it goes on…

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Anyway, in 1967 when I was still only 6 years old I remember using a little blue Silvine notebook to record my family’s verdict on the songs which had made the shortlist as potential contenders for our entry to that year’s contest. I can’t remember if as a family we did pick Puppet On A String but I do remember that we all had to give each song points out of 10 and I was savvy enough to realise that if I started with a lowish score of 5 out of 10 there would be room for manoeuvre. I also can’t remember if we actually sent in our verdict on a postcard (or if you couldn’t afford one of those a stuck down envelope), but for me, it was the start of a long love affair with all things Eurovision. As the years went by I became an even bigger fan of the contest and when colour came to our television screens things just got better and better.

Sadly when my teens and twenties came along, and I found myself a social life, Eurovision lost out as I tended to be out on a Saturday night but it would have been impossible to miss the fact that we won again in 1976 with Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses for Me, and soon after in 1981, with Bucks Fizz and Making Your Mind Up.

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The contest at this time was entering a fallow period and it was definitely not cool to admit to being a fan. Terry’s commentary continued to amuse but we didn’t really put up any worthwhile candidates and didn’t win again for another 16 years. During the ’90s however the Celtic Tiger was rearing its head and Ireland won the contest four times in five years. It seemed they could do no wrong and when Bill Whelan’s Riverdance was performed as the interval “filler” during the 1994 contest, a new and very lucrative art form was born. Gone were the days of folksy, green velvet-jacketed Irish dancing and in breezed Michael Flatley and a cast of thousands with their toe and heel-tapping spectaculars. Johnny Logan who won the contest himself for Ireland in 1980 and 1987 also wrote the winning song for Linda Martin in 1992, making him the most successful entrant ever. Wonder if any of this success was down to Terry and his Irish charm?

The times they were a-changing however and when the wall came down, Eastern Europe suddenly wanted to be a part of this music-fest, not realising that here in the UK it was still seen as a bit of light-hearted nonsense. In the rest of Europe, the contest has become a juggernaut of a show with each country putting up their most talented artists and in the build up to the live final, practically bankrupting their country with the promotion of their song. It all got a bit too much for Terry however, and his astute observation that there may well have been some political voting (never!) led to his eventual departure from the commentary box.

Since my daughter has been old enough to enjoy Eurovision with us, it has become one of my favourite nights of the year. We print off the scoresheets, invite friends round, serve the food and drink of the host nation and wave our little flags when the UK entrant appears on stage. Since the debacle of 2003 when Jemini had the distinction of receiving the first ever score of “nil points”, we have generally languished around the bottom of the scoreboard and it is hard to see how things are ever likely to change. We don’t really take it seriously, we are part of the “Big 5” who pay for the thing so go straight through to the final (no-one likes someone to get an unfair advantage) and yes, political voting is absolutely part of the contest and pretty much nobody wants to pal up with us in the world of Eurovision.

You are probably wondering if I am ever going to get round to the song in this post well here we go. Last year after watching the contest for nearly 50 years on television, I went to watch it LIVE in Vienna! We went with our best friends dressed as Bucks Fizz and had the best time ever. As usual the UK came about last but we made loads of new friends and were “papped” constantly in our outfits. The winner was a young Marti Pellow-lookalike called Måns Zelmerlöw from Sweden with his fantastic song Heroes. Sweden are now knocking on the door of Ireland’s record of seven wins in the contest with a very impressive six, their first being the song Waterloo by the most successful Eurovision act of all time, Abba.

Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw:

There are a lot of problems in the world today and even in Europe we are facing big political decisions in the very near future. I just wish we could gather together some of our leaders for the next Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm. The whole concept behind the contest in the 1950s was to help a war-torn Europe rebuild itself. The European Broadcasting Union set up a committee to search for ways of bringing countries together, via a “light entertainment programme”. From our first hand experience of Vienna, it certainly works and if Angela Merkel and David Cameron want to join us we have a couple of very fetching Bucks Fizz outfits going spare?

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Heroes Lyrics
(Song by Linnea Deb/Joy Deb/Anton Hård af Segerstad)

Don’t tell the gods I left a mess
I can’t undo what has been done
Let’s run for cover
What if I’m the only hero left
You better fire off your gun
Once and forever
He said go dry your eyes
And live your life like there is no tomorrow son
And tell the others

To go sing it like a hummingbird
The greatest anthem ever heard:

We are the heroes of our time
But we’re dancing with the demons in our minds
We are the heroes of our time
Hero-uh-o-o-oes
O-uh-o-o-oh
We’re dancing with the demons in our minds
Hero-uh-o-o-oes O-uh-o-o-oh

The crickets sing a song for you
Don’t say a word, don’t make a sound
It’s life’s creation
I make worms turn into butterflies
Wake up and turn this world around
In appreciation
He said I never left your side
When you were lost I followed right behind
Was your foundation

Sir Terry Wogan, A Sad Pudsey and “The Floral Dance”

Didn’t anticipate when I started the blog last month that it would become an obituary column for so many stars from the world of entertainment. Since Christmas we have lost Lemmy from Motorhead, Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey and as of last weekend, “National Treasure” Sir Terry Wogan. I can only hope they are all having a wonderful celestial time with Sir Terry acting as the host of BBC Heaven’s newest and best ever chat show.

I used to finish each post with the comment that I hoped it would be a long time until I had to write about the passing of another legend but I am starting to realise that this will certainly not be the case. Until 1952 there were no music charts to speak of and it was not until the 1960s that television became universal in homes. Since then there has been an explosion of easily accessible visual entertainment and the multitude of stars we have grown up with are as familiar to us as our family – We look upon them as our friends. Until recently, most of the really high profile deaths in the music world were down to tragic circumstances but now the deaths are much more age-related. Yes, the baby boomers are getting older and sadly we will have to start saying goodbye on a much more regular basis. Won’t dwell any longer on this sad fact but am now prepared for this kind of news when I switch on the radio in the morning.

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Sir Terry Wogan

Cannot end this short post, which should really reflect the soundtrack to my life, without mentioning that Terry Wogan himself actually entered the charts in 1978 and even appeared on Top of the Pops with a song called The Floral Dance which was written way back in 1911. (Apparently it had been one of his father’s favourites and he used to sing it whilst in the bath.)

The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band had been successful with an arrangement of the same song the previous year so now Terry was having some fun with it making it all the way to No. 21 in the UK Singles Chart. It was most definitely a comedic version and was mainly for the amusement of his millions of “Wake Up To Wogan” listeners. Although hated by serious music fans, there is part of me that is still glad that songs like this made it onto TOTP. There aren’t many vehicles for the novelty song nowadays, yet something so very British about it all – An eccentricity sadly missed.

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Floral Dance Lyrics
(Song by Kate Moss – the other one!)

I thought I could hear the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, ‘cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Far away, as in a trance
I heard the sound of the Floral Dance

As I walked home on a Summer night
When stars in Heav’n were shining bright
Far away from the footlight’s glare
Into the sweet and scented air
Of a quaint old Cornish town

Borne from afar on the gentle breeze
Joining the murmur of the summer seas
Distant tones of an old world dance
Played by the village band perchance
On the calm air came floating down

I thought I could hear the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, ‘cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Far away, as in a trance
I heard the sound of the Floral Dance
I heard the sound of the Floral Dance

And soon I heard such a bustling and prancing
And then I saw the whole village was dancing
In and out of the houses they came
Old folk, young folk, all the same
In that quaint old Cornish town

Every boy took a girl ’round the waist
And hurried her off in tremendous haste
Whether they knew one another I care not
Whether they cared at all, I know not
But they kissed as they danced along

And there was the band with that curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone
Fiddle, ‘cello, big bass drum
Bassoon, flute and euphonium
Each one making the most of his chance
All together in the Floral Dance
All together in the Floral Dance

Dancing here, prancing there
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere
Up and down, and round the town
Hurrah! For the Cornish Floral Dance

Simon & Garfunkel, ‘The Sound of Silence’ and Mrs Robinson

Writing yesterday about the wonderful song I Only Have Eyes For You, got me thinking about Art Garfunkel who also had a big hit with that song in the 1970s. His most successful period however was the 1960s, when he and high school friend Paul Simon formed a duo. They first started recording music as teenagers but got back together in their early twenties to record their first album which featured a simple, pared-down, folk version of The Sound of Silence. Sadly the album was not a great success and the pair went their separate ways. Fortunately for us however, the song’s producer revisited it in the wake of increased airplay, remixed it and transformed it into the kind of folk rock record that was being produced by the Byrds and Bob Dylan at the time. By 1966 The Sound of Silence had become an international hit and needless to say Art Garfunkel headed back from college, and Paul Simon from working in England, in order to capitalise on the renewed interest in their music.

The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel:

I don’t think I really would have remembered them from that era as I was too young but in 1967 the film The Graduate was released and rather than use a specially written soundtrack, the director chose to use Simon & Garfunkel songs such as “The Sound of Silence”,” Mrs Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair”. The film was a massive success and unlike other film songs I have written about, these are carefully woven into the storyline to great effect, adding another dimension to an already compelling screenplay. Benjamin Braddock has returned home to Pasadena, California after graduating from college. Unsure of what he wants to do with his life, he spends his days lounging in the swimming pool of his parents’ very luxurious home. Enter Mrs Robinson, the wife of one of his father’s colleagues who is similarly bored and and disillusioned with life. Of course the inevitable happens and the affair she draws the inexperienced and clumsy Benjamin into, leads to moments of great two-handed dialogue.

Benjamin: For god’s sake, Mrs. Robinson. Here we are. You got me into your house. You give me a drink. You… put on music. Now you start opening up your personal life to me and tell me your husband won’t be home for hours.
Mrs. Robinson: So?
Benjamin: Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.
Mrs. Robinson: [laughs] Huh?
Benjamin: Aren’t you?

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I really only appreciated the music of Simon & Garfunkel properly after watching the film in the ’70s when it first appeared on television. (Was I too young for it I now wonder? – Doubt it as adult themes but never anything too disturbing.) I don’t think any other film made such good use of its soundtrack, until Saturday Night Fever came along in 1978 featuring the music of The Bee Gees.

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So, ‘What’s It All About’ – Yet again I am writing about music from film or television. The soundtrack to my life has most definitely been heavily influenced by what I used to watch on screen. As a teenager I had a Saturday job in our village newsagents. In my lunch hour I used to go to our local electrical retailer (otherwise known as ‘The TV Shop’) which had a small rack of vinyl albums up near the back. Nothing there had been anywhere near a chart but there were lots of Greatest Hits (Simon & Garfunkel), Easy Listening (Burt Bacharach) and Film Soundtrack albums (The Graduate, West Side Story etc). All my welfare needs were already catered for by my parents, so the Saturday job wages were used to buy vinyl from this shop.

Walking back to the newsagents one Saturday ahead of the afternoon shift with a carrier bag obviously containing an album (they were a very distinctive shape), I bumped into a friend. She immediately asked what I had just bought – ‘G-Gary Glitter’ I quickly replied, embarrassed to admit it was actually a Glenn Miller album as I’d fallen in love with his music watching The Glenn Miller Story with my dad the previous Sunday. Funny how the passage of time has rendered that answer wrong on so many levels – I am proud however to say that I was never, ever again embarrassed to admit that I loved Mr Miller and his unique ‘sound’.

The Sound of Silence Lyrics
(Song by Paul Simon)

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know.
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

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Postscript:

I feel I can’t finish today’s post without mentioning the sad passing of Sir Terry Wogan – I can’t remember a time when he hasn’t been part of our television and radio lives, bringing joy to so many people. It’s akin to losing a favourite uncle (or great-uncle depending on your age). It is appropriate to therefore note, that the guest who caused him most difficulty during his long run of early evening chat shows, was indeed ‘Mrs Robinson’ herself, Anne Bancroft – She apparently sat in a catatonic trance and refused to answer any of his questions.

RIP Sir Terry.

Sadie Hawkins Dances, The Flamingos and “I Only Have Eyes For You”

This random means of choosing songs is turning out to be anything but random as the radio station I usually tune into caters in the main for people of my generation, so a lot of ’70s/’80s material. Also these songs are likely to be the mainstream, highly commercial chart hits of the day so unlikely to come across something quirky or unusual.

Time therefore to return to the thread linking the previous posts (before I decided it had reached a natural conclusion) – Was proving to be a fine way of progressing despite the fact that a new thread often had to start on the days we found out that yet another of our rock legends had died. Crossing fingers that won’t happen for a while so back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer the television show and another song that came, this time, from a Season 2 episode. I have already talked about the show, its cult status and importance to our family in my last post won’t go there again but will encourage you to watch it, all the way through from the begining, to the final scene where Sunnydale disappears into the collapsed Hellmouth. I know – it all sounds fantastical – and it is, which is why you must watch it. A life-enhancing experience (in my opinion).

The song that featured heavily in the Buffy episode “I Only Have Eyes For You” was the song of the same name by The Flamingos. We’ll ignore the fact that the episode was set in 1955 whereas this recording was made in 1959 – Didn’t make any difference as it was a wonderful, romantic, “doo-wop” song that really captured the mood of the decade. The lyrics were also highly relevant to the storyline and the key characters in it. I Only Have Eyes For You was actually written much earlier in 1934 for a film starring a young Ruby Keeler but has been covered many times, the most familiar to me being the beautiful 1975 version by Art Garfunkel (during his clown-hair period).

I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos:

This episode featured an event I had never heard of before, the forthcoming “Sadie Hawkins Dance” and how a tragic happening from that same dance in 1955 rears its ghostly head again for Buffy and her friends in 1998.

Having done a little research it seems that Sadie Hawkins Day is a folk event particular to America – An annual “holiday” that originated in Al Capp’s classic hillbilly comic strip, Li’l Abner. When the character Sadie reached the age of 35 and was still a spinster, her father called together all the unmarried men from the town and declared it “Sadie Hawkins Day”. A race was decreed, with Sadie in hot pursuit of the town’s eligible bachelors. With matrimony as the consequence of losing the race, the men of the town were running for their freedom! This inspired real-world Sadie Hawkins dances, where girls asked boys out – Simple gender role-reversal.

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Anyway, back to Buffy and the “ghostly” episode. The doomed romance between a female teacher and male student in 1955 had led to a sorry end for both of them (he shot her and then committed suicide). The ghost of the student, in an effort to gain forgiveness, keeps returning to possess the bodies of various 1998 characters but every time the ending is the same. When Buffy and Angelus are possessed however, the story of their doomed romance cleverly mirrors that of the teacher and student and with the roles this time reversed, Angelus the vampire is unable to be killed and a happy conclusion is reached for the ghost of the poor student. All of this drama of course is played out to the strains of I Only Have Eyes For You.

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The whole theme of this episode was role-reversal but even now the idea of my younger self asking a boy out, or even to dance, fills me with horror. I am full of admiration for the girls of America who probably still have Sadie Hawkins Dances. Looking back, I don’t think I really appreciated how nerve wracking it must have been for the teenage boys of my youth to pluck up the courage to ask girls out, yet that was just how it all worked. I know on occasion I came up with pretty lame excuses for not accepting a date and sometimes it marked the end of a friendship as once the line has been crossed between friendship and potential romance, it is hard to go back.

I had always thought it was a pretty good system, as at any one point in time you had your eye on a few boys you liked, and just had to hope that one of them would ask you out. I’m sure there must a name for it – The Law of Teenage Mutual Selection or something. Looking back, it worked for the girls as they didn’t have to suffer the humiliation and rejection of being turned down but they did I suppose have to suffer the heartache of not perhaps being asked out, by the one boy they really wanted.

Roll on to your twenties, thirties and beyond and things get a whole lot more complicated but perhaps Sadie Hawkins had the answer. Dismiss dating websites, pubs, clubs and friends trying to set you up at dinner parties. Just arrange an annual race for all the single ladies who want a partner – All those eligible bachelors who want to be caught will be the tortoises and those who don’t will be the hares. Possibly as good a system as any!

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 I Only Have Eyes For You Lyrics (had to leave in the Sha bop sha bops!)
(Song by Harry Warren/Al Dubin)

My love must be a kind of blind love
I can’t see anyone but you
Sha bop sha bop
Sha bop sha bop
Sha bop sha bop
Sha bop sha bop
Sha bop sha bop

Are the stars out tonight
I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you dear
Sha bop sha bop

The moon may be high
Sha bop sha bop
But I can’t see a thing in the sky
I only have eyes for you

I don’t know if we’re in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue
Sha bop sha bop

You are here
Sha bop sha bop
And so am I
Sha bop sha bop

Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you

Sha bop sha bop
Sha bop sha bop
Sha bop sha bop
Sha bop sha bop
Sha bop sha bop