The Kinks, “Autumn Almanac” and The Music of 1967

Three different reasons for this post about the 1967 song Autumn Almanac by The Kinks, and here is the first one – Last time I wrote about the song California Dreamin’ but also of how I had gone for a walk, on the day of the autumnal equinox, in the forest that backs onto the street where I live.  Of course we take the forest for granted but it did cause a bit of envy when I mentioned it, and I just wanted to share a few autumnal pictures. So here it is, my forest, and one we can take a walk in every day if we feel like it (but sadly often don’t).

The second reason for the post is the obvious one – Yes I think we can all agree now, that however you define it, autumn is now with us and just to confirm the central heating is now back on and the summer clothes are being packed away for another year.

The third reason is a bizarre one but yesterday I did a bit of a review of the songs I have written about for the blog to date and it turns out, statistically speaking, that the modal class (getting all “mathsy” here) is the 1960s – Yes, although I was only a little kid then, it seems to be the decade I have gravitated towards most often when “nostalgically revisiting the tracks of my years”. I am still trying to work out why that is the case and there are probably lots of different reasons, but after looking into it further, the most written about year for songs has been 1967, that mythical year that gave us The Summer of Love. I have of course mentioned before in this blog that the Swinging Sixties, the Hippy Era and Flower Power didn’t ever make an appearance in my small Scottish village and if they had, my dad and his fellow civic-minded friends would probably have had something to say about it, but hey, always nice to dream about what could have been.

summer-of-love

Having made this discovery that I seem to have a fascination for the music of 1967, I took it upon myself to look at an alphabetical list of the most popular songs from that year – This was interesting indeed as at the top of the list was Alfie, but not the version by Cilla Black I usually mention here but a version by Dionne Warwick. Working my way down the list, the next familiar song I came to was Autumn Almanac which sounded just perfect for this time of year.

Autumn Almanac by The Kinks:

Autumn Almanac was written by The Kinks frontman Ray Davies CBE who is one of Britain’s most respected songwriters and has received many awards in the course of his long career. The Kinks most commercially successful period was 1964-1967 but it was towards the end of this time that Ray started to change his songwriting style. He became a bit of a social commentator, first writing about the brave new world that was Swinging London (Dedicated Follower of Fashion), but also about his urban environment (Waterloo Sunset) and the traditional working class lifestyles he was familiar with (Autumn Almanac). These songs really are in a different league to much of what was around at that time, and have truly stood the test of time.

As Waterloo Sunset is also such a wonderful song I will end by including a clip of it as well. With this song Ray has adopted the role of bystander, where he paints a picture of two lovers meeting at Waterloo Station from the perspective of someone looking on from a nearby window. He actually performed this song at the (very musically inclined) closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics, describing it as his love letter to the city.

Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks:

One last thing before I go however – I did say there were only three reasons why I wanted to feature Autumn Almanac, but here is another. I love the sound of certain words and Almanac is a great onomatopoeic one. For me, it conjures up an image of a sturdy leather-bound book with possibly a locking device that makes a satisfactory clunking sound when closed. Books like this are sadly missed nowadays and from a bygone age. Next time I have a walk in the forest however, I will think back to days gone by and will mentally record what might have been recorded, in my leather-bound autumn almanac!

Autumn Almanac Lyrics
(Song by Ray Davies)

From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar
When the dawn begins to crack, it’s all part of my autumn almanac
Breeze blows leaves of a musty-coloured yellow
So I sweep them in my sack, yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac

Friday evenings, people get together
Hiding from the weather, tea and toasted
Buttered currant buns, can’t compensate
For lack of sun because the summer’s all gone

La la la la, oh my poor rheumatic back
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac
La la la la, oh my autumn almanac
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac

I like my football on a Saturday
Roast beef on Sundays, all right
I go to Blackpool for my holidays
Sit in the open sunlight

This is my street and I’m never gonna to leave it
And I’m always gonna to stay here if I live to be ninety-nine
‘Cause all the people I meet, seem to come from my street
And I can’t get away because it’s calling me, come on home
Hear it calling me, come on home

La la la la, oh my autumn almanac
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac
La la la la, oh my autumn almanac
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes

Bop bop bop bop bop, whoa
Bop bop bop bop bop, whoa

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.

ronettes

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.

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.

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Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey partaking in some Dirty Dancing!

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