Alyson’s Archive #2 – Old Magazines, Steely Dan and “Haitian Divorce”

As everyone who visits here must realise by now I’m a bit of a hoarder, but it’s all well catalogued and stored so when I heard the other day that Walter Becker from the band Steely Dan had died, I just had to have a search for this. Why would I want to search for a magazine with a picture of The Glitter Band on the cover I hear you ask? (They had just changed their name to The G Band by the way, perhaps having had the foresight to distance themselves from the former “Leader Of The Gang”). Well, between 1976 and 1978 I had a subscription to this publication and along with snippets of pop news and gossip, they also printed the lyrics to 25 chart, or smash hits.

img004.jpgThis was the first edition of 1977 and because the Steely Dan song Haitian Divorce was in the current UK Singles Chart, the lyrics appeared on page 3 (although credited to Steeley Dan I see – tut, tut, Mr Words editor). Now how is it possible that I can remember which page a set of lyrics appeared on from over 40 years ago but I can’t remember really important work-related stuff from just last week? Beyond me, but I imagine it all stems from the sheer amount of time that was spent pouring over such publications.

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During the mid ’70s I spent an awful lot of hours in a day listening to the radio. Combine that with the regular purchase of a fair number of music-related magazines during those years and it means that I still have a fairly good knowledge of just about everything that made it to even the lower reaches of the ’72-’78 charts. Haitian Divorce was the first Steely Dan single to enter the UK Top 20, and I was mighty impressed by it. First of all much use was made of that device called a talkbox, which created the distinctive robotic intro. Secondly it was about a couple called Babs and Clean Willie – None of the mums and dads I knew were called that, it was all Bill and Ann, or Mike and Fiona, so all very exotic. Finally it just had a great sound and feel to it because Steely Dan’s music was characterised by “complex jazz-influenced structures and harmonies”.

Haitian Divorce by Steely Dan:

What I wouldn’t have known back in 1977 was that the lyrics to Haitian Divorce were about the tourism ploy that led foreigners who were dissatisfied with their marriages to the country of Haiti. A simple and easy divorce could take place with hardly any restrictions and only one member of the married party had to be present. Of course this is what Babs planned to do but somehow the zombie cocktail, a Charlie and a bit of Merengue dancing leads to a tearful reunion back in the USA. Nine months later a kinky-haired baby is born, but nothing is said of it.

At 16 I really wouldn’t have got any of this and there was no internet in those days to offer up an explanation but it didn’t really matter as it was still just a great sounding song and started me out on a journey of Steely Dan fandom – Not in a big way like many of you out there but I do have a fair bit of their music on my digital database and unlike many of the songs that would have appeared in Words magazine (Haitian Divorce shared a page with Grandma’s Party by Paul Nicholas!), theirs have very much stood the test of time.

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Walter Becker in 1977

So, we say farewell to yet another of the artists of our youth and this time at the suddenly very young-sounding age of 67. This year has not been quite so brutal as last (so far) in terms of the sheer number of shock deaths from the world of rock and pop, but never a month goes by without someone’s name appearing amongst the obituaries, which is now to be expected I suppose.

Before I go, as I have added this post to the Alyson’s Archive series I should really share something else from that edition of Words magazine. I give you the “Sounds Around” feature where amongst other stories there is a piece about the New York club CBGBs – It was a place where, “If the music’s good, punk bands don’t need to degrade both themselves and their audiences to attract attention”. Nice to know.

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Until next time…., RIP Walter

Haitian Divorce Lyrics
(Song by Donald Fagen/Walter Becker)

Babs and Clean Willie were in love they said
So in love the preacher’s face turned red
Soon everybody knew the thing was dead
He shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night

She go crazy
Got to make a getaway
Papa say

Oh – no hesitation
No tears and no hearts breakin’
No remorse
Oh – congratulations
This is your Haitian Divorce

She takes the taxi to the good hotel
Bon marche as far as she can tell
She drinks the zombie from the cocoa shell
She feels alright, she get it on tonight
Mister driver
Take me where the music play
Papa say

At the Grotto
In the greasy chair
Sits the Charlie with the lotion and the kinky hair
When she smiled, she said it all

The band was hot so
They danced the famous Merengue
Now we dolly back
Now we fade to black

Tearful reunion in the USA
Day by day those memories fade away
Some babies grow in a peculiar way
It changed, it grew, and everybody knew
Semi-mojo
Who’s this kinky so-and-so?
Papa go

Blondie, Debbie Harry and “Denis”

I seem to have stumbled upon “new wave” with my last couple of posts, writing first about The Clash and then Madness. I am still however not entirely sure how to define new wave which does seem to be a common problem. Although it started out with ties to late ’70s punk-rock, it eventually covered a myriad of sub-genres and the distinction between them leaves me confused and bewildered. Suffice to say it wasn’t “old wave” which up to that point had been rock, pop, country and soul.

The new wave artist that caused a fair bit of excitement when she first appeared on Thursday night’s Top Of The Pops in February 1978 was Debbie Harry, or Deborah as she preferred to be called. She was the lead singer with the band Blondie and this was the first time we had seen them perform the song Denis (pronounced Denee). Dressed in her “swimsuit” with what appeared to be her dad’s old tuxedo jacket casually thrown on top, she really made us sit up and take notice. She was stunningly beautiful with perfectly applied make-up but everything else was of a punk persuasion – Hair bleached a white blonde (it either had to be jet black or blonde if you were a girl) and odd combinations of black/red/white/striped clothes.

Denis by Blondie:

I was in my final year of high school and of course the topic of conversation the next day was Debbie Harry. I don’t know how it was done in those pre-internet days, but the shocking news got out quite early on that she was the grand old age of 32. Considering some of us probably had mothers who were not much older, I can see now how that would have been newsworthy. In the North of Scotland at that time (or anywhere?), our mothers just didn’t look like Debbie Harry.

The difference in look was because these guys were American and had emerged from New York’s punk-rock scene whose music venue of choice was CBGBs based in Manhattan’s East Village. This was where The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and Talking Heads had also cut their teeth, but possibly because Blondie had Debbie Harry, they quickly moved on to more mainstream success, especially with their top-selling album “Parallel Lines” from which they took their disco-influenced single, Heart of Glass.

Yet again Debbie looked stunning, despite the fact her long hair seemed to have been roughly chopped off with a blunt pair of scissors and then dragged through the proverbial hedge backwards. Her dress appeared to have been fashioned from a bit of old sackcloth then suspended loosely from one shoulder, but as ever she looked marvellous. The hits kept on coming for a few more years until, as is wont to happen, they started to fall out of favour with the record-buying public.

A bit of trivia about the song Denis – It was originally recorded by American doo-wop group Randy & the Rainbows in 1963 but back then was called Denise. Changing it to a song about a boy sounded better with a silent “s” so the boy became French. Debbie sang the last two verses in that language although a bit of poetic license was used it seems with grammar, but who cared – Debbie in her swimsuit could sing the telephone directory, badly, and still get away with it.

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As someone who had their hair chopped off yesterday after having it long for over 20 years, I couldn’t help thinking that in life there are the Debbie Harrys, and then there are the rest of us. I would have loved to be able to carry off the sackcloth and mussed-up hair look back then and even now, but sadly I will continue to be a slave to hair products and styling techniques for the foreseeable future. As for Debbie, aged now 71, she still looks great and I will very magnanimously put that down to excellent genes.

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Denis Lyrics
(Song by Neil Levenson)

Oh Denis doo-be-do
I’m in love with you, Denis doo-be-do
I’m in love with you, Denis doo-be-do
I’m in love with you
Denis Denis, oh with your eyes so blue
Denis Denis, I’ve got a crush on you
Denis Denis, I’m so in love with you

Oh when we walk it always feels so nice
And when we talk it seems like paradise
Denis Denis I’m so in love with you

You’re my king and I’m in heaven every time I look at you
When you smile it’s like a dream
And I’m so lucky ’cause I found a boy like you

Denis Denis, avec tes yeux si bleux
Denis Denis, moi j’ai flashe a nous deux
Denis Denis, un grand baiser d’eternite

Denis Denis, je suis si folle de toi
Denis Denis, oh embrasse-moi ce soir
Denis Denis, un grand baiser d’eternite

Oh Denis doo-be-do
I’m in love with you, Denis doo-be-do
I’m in love with you, Denis doo-be-do
I’m in love with you

Postscript:

The law relating to freaky coincidences strikes again. I discovered after writing this post about Debbie Harry, that it happened to be her birthday today – Many happy returns D!