The Jukebox Time Machine – Bowie, The Sweet and a load of “Hocus Pocus”

Lately, I seem to have somewhat lost track of the original premise behind this blog. The eagle-eyed amongst you might have spotted that the domain name for this site contains the words Jukebox Time Machine but it wasn’t long before I decided to veer away from simply journeying back in time to select a random “track from my years”. Oh no, the featured song instead became inspired by what was going on in the news, by the seasons, or indeed what was happening in my own life. Once you delve into the backstory to a song, you find out so much more than was ever available back in the day, so it became appropriate to change the name of the blog to “What’s It All About?” (a nod to the opening lyric from the song Alfie, written by my favourite songwriting team Burt Bacharach and Hal David).

But just for a bit of a change, I am going to resurrect the idea of having an honest to goodness “time machine” that could randomly whisk me back through the years to find out what we were listening to, in terms of the music of the day. There are a fair few time machines in popular culture, but the one I’m going to use this time, is the contraption conjured up by H.G. Wells (very steampunk) and put together by some clever prop designers for the 1960 film The Time Machine starring Rod Taylor.

So, now we have a vehicle to take us back in time, but how will we randomly generate the date to which we will be taken? Fortunately there are lots of devices at our disposal and I’m going to use an online random number generator. The year will be generated from between 1964 and 2006, when the popular UK chart music show Top of the Pops aired on the BBC. I can at a push, remember watching that show with my parents right from the beginning (yes I’m that old), and I stuck with it through the good and bad years, until they pulled the plug on it in the mid-noughties. Since then I have kind of lost the plot as far as non-mainstream new music goes, so will stick to those more familiar years. The month and date can also be randomly generated after which all we have to do is refer to the Official UK Top 40 Archive. All sounds very complicated but trust me, it’s not.

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Time to climb aboard then and generate the first date. Here goes:

Year – 1973
Month2, i.e. February
Date – 14 (cute, it’s Valentine’s Day!)

Anyone who visits here regularly will know that this year could not be better for me in terms of conjuring up memories, as it was not only the year I became a teenager, but it was also the year I became obsessed with pop music and chart rundowns (already written about here). Referring to the Official Top 40 Chart from the 14th Feb 1973, the act at the No. 1 spot was this one, Scottish glam-rock band The Sweet with their only chart-topper, Blockbuster.

Blockbuster by Sweet:

I’m not going to dilly-dally too long writing about that one however as it has been showcased very recently over at Charity Chic Music (link here) where quite a few of us chimed in with our schoolday memories of the song. It amazes me, watching this footage of the band perform, how they still somehow managed to look “macho” whilst wearing just so much glitter, gold lamé and make-up. ‘Twas the times obviously. Lead singer Brian Connolly was a particularly good-looking man back then, and I was very envious of his long blonde hair (although oddly, in this song he refers to someone with long black hair). I think I actually sported a not too dissimilar hairstyle myself for much of the noughties, but hadn’t realised until now that the inspiration for it must have been Brian from The Sweet.

But what else was in the 1973 St Valentine’s Day chart? Well as luck would have it, a song I have already featured in the blog – The Jean Genie by David Bowie (link here). It was pointed out back then by The Swede, that the opening riff of Jean Genie bore a striking similarity to that of The Sweet’s Blockbuster which was recorded for the same record label, at around the same time, and released just a couple of months later (go on, do a quick compare and contrast). But it was The Sweet who made it to the top spot on this occasion as Bowie’s offering only made it to No. 2. Having done a little digging, the date we’re travelling back to in time to was very relevant to Mr Bowie as it seems that it was on the 14th of February 1973 that he collapsed from exhaustion after a performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden. He had been touring and giving press conferences as his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust for some time, but soon after this collapse, he abruptly retired the character live on stage at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.

The Jean Genie by David Bowie:

So far we’ve revisited two songs that sound very similar to each other but what else in that chart sounded very similar? Although I can’t say I was a big fan back then, in the fullness of time I have come to appreciate all the falderals involved in the making of a Focus record (a bit of yodeling anyone?) and February 1973 was their time in the sun as far as chart success went. Their instrumental Sylvia was a climber at No.5 and Hocus Pocus was also climbing up the chart at No. 22.

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The Dutch prog rock outfit, Focus.

I may well have forgotten all about these Dutch prog rockers had it not been that the album I got for Christmas that year was “Arcade’s 20 Fantastic Hits by the Original Artists”, the emphasis on the word original, as up until then most of these compilations were very much by the unoriginal artists. If you look closely you will see that Blockbuster, The Jean Genie and Hocus Pocus (Track 7 on Side 2) all featured, so this February chart certainly seems to have spawned a fair few of the year’s most memorable hits. (Interesting to note there is a picture of the artist who is apparently Python Lee Jackson which caused lots of confusion at the time. Turned out PLJ was the name of an Aussie band and Rod Stewart had been a guest vocalist.)

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Hocus Pocus by Focus:

Although we have travelled back in time 45 years, so many of these songs are now part of popular culture and I can’t imagine them ever being forgotten, whereas can we really say that about much of what is in the charts today? Maybe I’m wrong but could we envisage a time in the future when there will be another television cop show, this time inspired by the music of 2018? Not sure, but it certainly happened around 10 years ago when Life On Mars was made for our own BBC. The lead character Sam Tyler goes back in time to 1973 and finds himself working under the highly misogynistic, homophobic, borderline alcoholic Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt – The Gene Genie. For those of us who remember those days, there were many, many amusing musical exchanges between Sam and Gene. These were only made possible because Sam knew the legacy left behind by some of the artists they listened to, on the Ford Granada car radio, or during a nightclub raid. For Gene all this music was as yet unknown, and anyway, he and his wife preferred listening to Roger Whittaker!

Ok, so Life On Mars aired a fair few years ago now but I think it is generally agreed that one of last year’s best films, for music fans at any rate, was this one, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. I’m not usually a fan of films that feature multiple car chases, but this one was a very different animal, and the best car chase of all was played out to the sounds of Focus with what has turned out to be their most memorable recording (was it because the words rhymed so well I wonder?). Watching this excellent clip again, the lead character Baby, could definitely give Lewis Hamilton a run for his money.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on my Jukebox Time Machine journey back to February 1973. All you need is a random number generator it seems and we’re good to go, although I may change the mode of transport for next time as H.G. Wells’ time machine was a tad uncomfortable at times – Doc Brown’s DeLorean might make for a smoother ride.

As to whether the music of 2018 will feature in the movies and telly of the future, having thought about it all a bit more, it probably will. As the music-obsessed youngsters of today become the movers and shakers of tomorrow, they will use the “tracks of their years” when making directorial debuts, peppering their films with the works of Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino (yes I watched the Grammys this week so am “down with the kids”). Problem is, by the time you make it in that world and are entrusted with the big budgets you are a generation older than the majority of your audience. Great for parents taking their kids to the cinema though as there is something for everyone, the action for the youngsters and the music for the mums and dads (Guardians of the Galaxy springs to mind) – All in all, a bit of a win-win situation.

Until next time….

Blockbuster Lyrics
(Song by Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn)

Ahhh, Ahh Ahhh
You better beware, you better take care
You better watch out if you’ve got long black hair
He’ll come from behind, you’ll go out of your mind
You better not go, you never know what you’ll find
Ahh Ahh, Ahh Ahhh

Can’t look into his eyes, you’ll be surprised
If don’t know what going on behind his disguse
Nobody knows where Buster goes
He’ll steal your woman out from under your nose

Does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a clue what to do)
Does anyone know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster

The cops are out, they’re running about
Don’t know if they’ll ever be able to blockbuster out
He’s gotta be caught, he’s gotta be taught
‘Cause he is more evil then anyone here ever thought

Does anybody know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a aho)
Does anybody know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster

Does anybody know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a clue what to do)
Does anybody know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster

Ahh Ahh, Ahh Ahh
Ahh Ahh, Ahh Ahh

Buster buster blockbuster
Buster buster blockbuster
Buster buster blockbuster
Buster buster blockbuster

Buster buster blockbuster
Buster buster blockbuster

Postscript:

It occurred to me that although the journey back in time was primarily to find out what we were listening to in February 1973, perhaps it might be interesting to remind myself what I was doing at school. As luck would have it (that trusty archive box came up trumps once again), I still have a self-penned “magazine” which we all had to produce in English (the subject not the language) that year.

All very embarrassing as ever, but I was only 12 remember, and one of the “stories” was essentially an exchange between my mum and myself as to the merits of acquiring one of those new-fangled cassette recorders that had just come on the market. Ignore the fact I seem to have missed the letter “t” in the title (should be tempted) and please ignore the fact that it seems my family were a bit tight with the cash, as in reality I did get a MURPHY cassette recorder later that year. It was my absolute pride and joy and was heavily used for the rest of my teenage years. I give you an extract from the Reader’s Realm February ’73 edition (adverts were included).

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Alyson’s Archive #5 – David Bowie, “Heroes” and Seasonal Duets

Think back forty years ago, to this week in December 1977. I’m pretty sure I would have been busy at school sitting mock exams ahead of the Christmas break (luckily we got them out of the way beforehand so had the luxury of no holiday revision). But what else would I have been doing? Oh yes, that’s right, I would have been picking up my monthly copy of Words magazine, of which a couple of issues have already been shared in this series.

On the cover was none other than Mr David Bowie, as 1977 was a pretty good year for him having released two successful albums, “Low” at the start of the year and “Heroes” right at the end. Hard to believe that he left us nearly two years ago now. I started this blog on the day we heard of his death and despite never having really been a Bowie fanatic, he has appeared on these pages many times now. He obviously infiltrated the “tracks of my years” in a stealthy fashion without me having realised, and the song Heroes from that second album is one of my all-time favourites.

Heroes by David Bowie:

I’ve visited the soundtrack to the film Moulin Rouge! twice before in this blog (here and here) but as it’s coming up to Christmas (and the sumptuous red dress and glittering lights in this clip remind me of the festive period), I can’t help but share the Heroes portion of the medley performed by the two main actors, Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. A total of 13 songs were melded together to create a cornucopia of love-songs, but for me, Bowie’s Heroes worked the best.

But as usual I’ve become side-tracked – Getting back to the magazine, the music journalist who wrote the column on December’s “Cover Star” seemed to get it just right. To quote from the piece, “Of all our current top rock stars, David Bowie is the one most likely to remain a major musical force decades hence… .” And they continue, “Listening to this [Heroes], you realise that Bowie’s strength and durability lies in the fact he refuses to fit neatly into any specific category. He will constantly surprise even his most dedicated followers, while maintaining an unvarying high quality of performance.” As I’ve discovered from this series, we didn’t always get it right back in the day and the slightly disparaging remarks in my 1978 journal about artists who went on to great things, proves this – Sorry Squeeze! Likewise the music journalists often got it wrong themselves and many of the stories printed in these vintage mags were about people who are now residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Makes for a somewhat excruciating read.

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You can’t have failed to notice that Bing Crosby also appears in the picture above – As I’ve already mentioned the “C” word in this post there is no point in holding back any longer. My first festive offering for this year is therefore going to be that very unusual foray into the 1982 UK Singles Chart by David Bowie. As explained in the column above, it came about as a result of this guest appearance on Bing Crosby’s 1977 Christmas Show. Poor Bing died a month later, before it was aired on television, but if you can get past the highly scripted, faux exchange at the start, it is a remarkable piece of archive material, especially as both “boys in blue” have now passed on. It is unlikely that Bing even knew who David Bowie was before recording the show but once the Peace On Earth counterpoint was written for the duet, Bowie got on board. It was apparently available as a bootleg for several years before the record company decided to release it as a bona fide single, complete with dialogue. Bowie was unhappy with this move however and it probably led to him leaving RCA soon after.

Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby:

So, “What’s It All About?” – As of this last weekend the festive madness has begun, but it seems to be impossible to opt out. I’ve also just discovered that the online retail store named after a vast South American river is almost out of everything that darling daughter requested on her Santa list (yes he still visits 22-year-olds apparently), so a trip to the shops seems to be on the cards. Looks as if Mr WIAA and I will have to be “Heroes”, just for one day.

Oh and one more thing, the reason this particular cover jumped out at me is possibly because there is currently a 10 foot tall picture of David Bowie residing at the entrance to our local shopping centre – Forty years on, and two years after his death, his images still exude “cool” which has obviously made him the perfect candidate for a certain watch-maker to use as inspiration for their latest timepiece.

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Until next time….

Heroes Lyrics
(Song by David Bowie/Brian Eno)

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact
Yes, we’re lovers, and that is that

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What’d you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes, just for one day

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side

Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
Just for one day

We can be heroes
We’re nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we’re lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safer, just for one day
Oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh

Postscript:

Just in case you’re curious as to what else we were listening to in December ’77 (other than David Bowie) here is a copy of the Words contents page which also includes two sets of lyrics. How many of these (without Googling) would you remember?

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The Name Of The Game by Abba:

Alyson’s Archive #3 – David Bowie, Aladdin Sane and “The Jean Genie”

Welcome to this occasional series where I share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog”, courtesy of that as yet unthought of invention, the world wide web! 

One of the things I found in the archive box recently was an old pocket file containing lots of pin-ups from 1970s teen magazines such as Jackie, Fab 208 and this lesser known publication (and one I had forgotten about), called FAN. I can tell which of these pin-ups had appeared on my bedroom wall at some point as the corners are a bit damaged with drawing pin holes or sticky blu-tack. This one of David Bowie was in mint condition however which makes sense as at this time it was David Cassidy and Donny Osmond (I was only 12) who tended to grace my walls, but I had obviously been enough of a fan to carefully remove it from the magazine and keep it for posterity.

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What I’ve discovered to be the most interesting aspect of having kept all this stuff for over 40 years however, is that yet again I seem to have developed a selective memory when it comes to reminiscing about the musical heroes of my youth. It is only after reading the articles on the back of these pin-ups that you work out what was actually happening in the world of pop music in the early ’70s as opposed to what we choose to remember was happening. No need for a long wordy post with this one therefore as it’s just kind of interesting to read this 1973 interview with Mr Bowie as it stands – It took place right around the time of the release of the album “Aladdin Sane” (with it’s iconic lightning bolt cover) and just before he embarked on the tour that would culminate in the “retirement” of the character that had become his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust.

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Question Time with David Bowie, not David Dimbleby!

Considering Bowie went on to make albums right up until his death at the beginning of 2016, it is bizarre to read in this 1973 interview that he fully intended to wave goodbye to the music industry at that time and concentrate on other projects. In fact he doubted that he would appear on stage again for a very long time!

Anyway, as the timing of this interview coincided with the release of “Aladdin Sane” (apparently a play on the words “A Lad Insane”), it is entirely appropriate that today’s featured song should be something from that album. The Jean Genie had been a hit for him in December 1972 reaching No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart. It had a protagonist that was partly inspired by his good friend Iggy Pop, or an “Iggy-type” character at any rate. Much has also been made about the title referring to the author Jean Genet however Bowie himself admitted that even if it was the case, it was probably done subconsciously.

The Jean Genie by David Bowie:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I’m loving looking back at all this material from over 40 years ago but time and time again I’m having to reappraise my memories of the times. Back in the ’60s, bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks fully expected their careers to last for 2 or 3 years maximum, and being of the first rock ‘n’ roll generation there was no model to suppose it would turn out to the contrary. Likewise in the early ’70s David Bowie fully embraced that his music career was probably now over and I no doubt just accepted that as being the case back then. How bizarre then to think that I have a friend who is just back from seeing Sir Paul McCartney perform live at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Rolling Stones are still touring and Ray Davis has just been knighted. Who would have thought it?

The Jean Genie Lyrics
(Song by David Bowie)

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go and everything tastes right
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

Sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile
She loves him, she loves him but just for a short while
She’ll scratch in the sand, won’t let go his hand
He says he’s a beautician and sells you nutrition
And keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

He’s so simple minded he can’t drive his module
He bites on the neon and sleeps in the capsule
Loves to be loved, loves to be loved

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

David Bowie, George Michael and “Star People”

Some of you who visit this place from time to time (thank you for that by the way) will know that Mr WIAA had recently entered a piece into a sculpture competition and that it had inspired me to write about a specific song (Alice, Jefferson Airplane and White Rabbit). The awards ceremony took place in London on Monday evening and I’m pleased to say that not only did he win a Bronze Award for the sculpture (up against stiff competition) but he also won a Gold Award for his entry in the 2D category. I also think I mentioned in my last post that there was no monetary award, it was just for the prestige of being the best in your field – Turns out I was wrong and the gold award winners do indeed get a cash prize! We left the venue with a spring in our step and headed back to the hotel for some nice food and wine.

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So, we’d spent the whole of day one of our London Trip simply traveling down from the far North of Scotland, navigating our way to the hotel and attending the awards ceremony. On day two we would hopefully have time for a few of the things tourists do in London before it was time to head back home. Because the theme of the competition entry was the marrying up of sculpture with literature, a trip to the British Library was on the cards, mainly because they have the original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland housed there. After dropping off our cases at left luggage and acquiring our blue Oyster Cards (always think of the band Blue Oyster Cult whenever I get one of those but you probably have to be of a certain age to get that joke), we were free to navigate London via its venerable Underground.

I did spot however that we were starting off on the Victoria Line and which station was only four stops away? It was Brixton, south of the river, and birthplace of Mr David Bowie. I knew there was a mural there of David in his Ziggy Stardust guise which people went to visit and treated as a place to leave tributes. We had the time so why not? It turned out to be incredibly easy to find as the mural is right on the street opposite the exit to the station. It wasn’t very big and has now been covered with a perspex sheet to protect both it, and the messages left by fans, but considering my very first blog post was about the death of David Bowie I thought it was important to have seen it. (Excuse the glare from the perspex but unavoidable and a short film added right at the bottom of this post.)

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Reading the messages that surround the David Bowie mural in Brixton

Starman by David Bowie:

It isn’t big and overwhelming but I did enjoy visiting the Starman’s mural in Brixton – People like to have a shrine, a focal point, so that they can leave messages, floral tributes and gifts and this is just one of those places. It got me thinking however, here we were in Brixton but if we travelled back up the line to Highgate we could see all the messages and floral tributes left for George Michael. In view of the fact I have spent a lot of time recently writing about the sadness I have felt over the loss of George, this seemed the right thing to do. And so, at around lunchtime on Tuesday we found his very house and outside there is a little park which has become a bit of a shrine to him.

Again, just so many messages left by fans and here I was doing something I had never contemplated doing before – Stalking a big star from the world of music but sadly just a couple of months too late. There was a really great looking little pub across the street from his house so we went in and had a lovely lunch. It wasn’t lost on me that he was bound to have popped in for a pint at some point but I was too cool to ask the staff if that was actually the case. I just sat there and imagined the scene of myself, George and Mr WIAA having a drink, some food and a chat, trying to put the world to rights.

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George Michael’s local

So, “What’s It All About?” – It seems as humans that we like to be able to visit a specific place to remember our sadly departed. Don’t want to be morbid but I do actually want a headstone when the time comes as I do want my family to have a place they can visit. From what I saw this week the fans of David Bowie and George Michael also wanted a place to visit and I am glad that I was able to persuade my gold award-winning husband (its ok he won’t be allowed to get big-headed) to come along with me on my pilgrimage. For the record we did also manage to visit the British Library and along with Alice, the diaries of Sir Walter Raleigh and the Magna Carta, we also saw some scribbles by John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles, so again very relevant for the blog.

All back to normal now however and as we missed Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday because of our trip, darling daughter treated us to some tonight. I have already shared David Bowie’s Starman from 1972 but I will leave you with a live version of George singing Star People ’97, funnily enough from 1997 – Enough now, time to move on.

Star People ’97 by George Michael:

Star People Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

Star people
Counting your money till you soul turns green
Star people
Counting the cost of your desire to be seen

I do not count myself among you
I may be living in a dream
It’s just seem to many of you
Can’t help but hope
There’s a difference between, you and me

You’re a star
(I’m talking to you)
You’re a star

Maybe your mama gave you up boy
(It’s the same old same old)

Maybe your daddy didn’t love you enough girl

Star people
Never forget your secret safe with me
Just look at all wonderful people
Trying to forget they had to pay for what you see

It’s a dream
With a nightmare stuck in the middle
But where would you be
Without all of that attention
You’d die
I’d die
We’d die wouldn’t we
(Well wouldn’t we)

Big, big star
Should go far

Talk about your mother
Talk about your father
Talk about the people
Who have made you what you are
Talk about your teacher
The bully boy who beat you
Talk about the people who have paid
For that new sports car

Did you get off on a bad foot, baby
Do you have a little tale to tell
Is that why you’re a star?
Is that what makes a star?

Nothing comes for nothing, baby
That fame and fortune’s heaven sent
And who gives a fuck about your problems, darling
When you can pay the rent
How much is enough?

Postscript:

Just in case anyone from outside the UK unlikely to ever see the mural in Brixton wants a closer look, here is a short film –  a bit wobbly but a few good close-ups!

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!

Eighties Bowie, David Sylvian and “Forbidden Colours”

Inevitably I got to thinking a lot about David Bowie this week and like many of us, have ended up spending a fair bit on time online looking back at his many guises. One that has thrown me a bit is the early ’80s “Let’s Dance” phase. Early ’70s David Bowie hid behind bizarre “spaceman” characters but by 1983 he had gone seriously mainstream – Or was he playing another character? I heard him say in an interview that he felt far more confident on stage playing a character such as Ziggy but by 36, as he would have been by this time, it looks as if he was confident enough to be himself. Amazingly, after looking pale, thin, malnourished and let’s be honest, a tad weird a decade earlier, he had turned into one of the best-looking guys in the industry (we’ll ignore the teeth). This was the post-New Romantic period and he was very much adopting the sharp, elegant look that bands such as Duran Duran, ABC and Japan favoured.

b2

I am still unsure who copied who, but in 1983 there were a series of events that seemed to tie in and feed off each other. He released the “Let’s Dance” album that year and a string of hits came from it starting off with the title track in March. He had approached Nile Rodgers to act as producer on it and his brief was to “give him hit singles” which is exactly what he did. The year earlier, Duran Duran had been really successful with their album “Rio” also produced by Nile Rodgers, and it seems that he simply wanted to be back on top. A massive world tour followed and I remember my flatmate of the time heading downtown with her sleeping bag in order to queue all night for tickets (no computers or Ticketmaster in those days, we were old school).

We knew that Bowie had a film coming out later that summer, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and leading the advance party were David Sylvian (ex of the band Japan) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (also an actor in the film), who had produced the soundtrack album. The beautiful song Forbidden Colours was released in July 1983 and looking at a picture of David Sylvian now, there is more than a passing resemblance to Bowie at that time although not as suntanned (as he hadn’t been on location in a tropical rainforest).

d syl

The lyrics again are a bit bizarre but the theme is a forbidden love, which is also reflected in the storyline of the film. I do remember going to see it when it came out the following month and Bowie turned in a really good performance. A male colleague from that era had also been to see it and when I asked his opinion he decided that there had been something lacking, in that there were no women in it. That would of course have been because it was set in a male prisoner of war camp!

Forbidden Colours by David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto:

So, unlike with his earlier creations, David Bowie in 1983 was very much part of the zeitgeist making highly commercial pop music and looking and dressing very much like his younger counterparts. He was back acting, and feeding off the people he worked with. Happy memories of those days – The real start of big ’80s hair (perms and bleaching were de rigueur), bold bright earrings, tanned skin, and lots of white shoes and clothing. Those of us who got on board with the whole look have probably ruined our hair and skin in the process but boy did we feel good when stepping out for a “night on the town”!

Forbidden Colours Lyrics
(Song by David Sylvian/Ryuichi Sakamoto)

The wounds on your hands never seem to heal
I thought all I needed was to believe
Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or the beat of my heart
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes

Senseless years thunder by
Millions are willing to give their lives for you
Does nothing live on?

Learning to cope with feelings aroused in me
My hands in the soil, buried inside of myself
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes in you once again

I`ll go walking in circles
While doubting the very ground beneath me
Trying to show unquestioning faith in everything
Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or a change of heart

My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes in you once again

David Bowie, “Life on Mars?” and The Mortality Reality Check

Ironically I had already chosen this day, 11th January 2016, to start a blog. The idea behind it was to jot down those memories conjured up by a random piece of music heard in the course of the day. And what a day it turned out to be. News broke this morning, as we were all waking up, that David Bowie had died after an 18 month struggle with cancer. I had noticed a few days earlier that he’d just released a new album to coincide with his 69th  birthday (suddenly prolific in his later years after a long gap with little output), but like most of us I was unaware that he was so ill. A video clip showed him with stylish short cropped hair, smartly dressed, but looking old I thought which made me sad. Sad perhaps because of my own mortality. If our musical heroes were getting old then so must we. This morning’s news confirmed that “The Man Who Fell To Earth” was indeed not immortal.

bowie 2.jpg

Only three times in my life can I remember this much media attention having been paid to the death of a person from the world of music, and they were:

Elvis Presley, who died the day I went back to school after the long summer holidays in 1977. I was only 17 and had been a big Elvis fan mainly because of the movies we had watched on television and then the massive events that were the ’68 Comeback Special and the ’73 Aloha from Hawaii concert broadcast live around the world. In a career stretching back to the mid 1950s it’s sad that so many only remember Elvis in the later jumpsuited, Vegas years when until the early 1970s he truly was still the King of Rock and Roll.

John Lennon, shot down by Mark Chapman at the end of 1980. I was a 20-year-old student at the time and stayed in bed most of the morning listening to BBC Radio 1 which played the music of both The Beatles and Lennon himself. Andy Peebles, a DJ of the day had recently recorded an interview with Lennon, so he found himself suddenly the man of the moment in terms of contributing to the day’s output.

Michael Jacksonthe King of Pop. It was June 2009 and we had just come back from my daughter’s school’s version of Britain’s Got Talent.  She was one of eight performers that night (one of three solo singers) and was by far the youngest entrant at 13. After tremendous praise from our local panel of celebrity judges who forecast her being “snapped up by Simon Cowell”, she ended up not being placed so was upset. A tremendous rush of adrenaline following weeks of preparation which led to disappointment and the low that comes with it. It was when we got home that we heard of the death of Michael Jackson and as we watched footage of him as a very young boy totally outshining his brothers with his singing and dancing, it did make me glad that my 13-year-old daughter had perhaps had her wings clipped as I can think of very few child stars who have gone on to have a long and happy life.

And now we have Mr Bowie. At 69 he has actually had a long life compared to the others listed above who died at 42, 40 and 50 respectively. It is sad that his family and friends will no longer be able to talk with him, work with him and spend time with him but I am not sure if it is true that it is “sad” for the rest of us who did not know him other than through his work. It is more a massive shock that someone who has been around for such a long time as part of the fabric of Britain’s music culture, is suddenly no longer with us. Back to the mortality, reality check. It is sad that his body of work is now complete but what a body of work to leave – It will be added to, new material will be found and it will be reworked for as long as people have the appetite to do so. With a creative force such as Bowie whose work never did fit neatly into a particular genre or period, it will keep on appealing to new fans.

So back to the original premise to this blog – The random piece of music heard in the course of the day. I’m going to pick Life On Mars?

Life On Mars? by David Bowie:

I have watched many video clips of Ziggy Stardust today and heard much analysis of how Bowie pushed boundaries with his androgyny, but here’s the thing, when Life on Mars? hit the charts in June 1973, I was just a 13-year-old girl who loved Top of the Pops and Radio 1’s chart show. I sat poised with my cassette recorder and microphone on a Thursday night at 7.30pm desperately trying to capture my favourite songs with no annoying applause or voice-overs. I liked Life on Mars? a lot, because it’s a great sounding song, but at 13 I really wouldn’t have understood what androgyny meant and having taken in lots of telly from the mid ’60s onward, he was just another flamboyantly dressed pop star (we’d had the hippy era already and glam rock was well and truly underway by this time). Looking now at the lyrics, they are fairly bizarre and my 13-year-old self wouldn’t have given them much thought. The weirdest thing about Life on Mars? foray into the charts is that it coincided with The Laughing Gnome’s second release after failing miserably to make an impact first time around in 1967. Not part of his grand plan to have both songs around at the same time I imagine but the economics of the recording industry being as they are, his former record company weren’t going to miss out on an income stream from a now popular artist.

My older self now sees what a massive a creative talent David Bowie was and I look forward to revisiting his back catalogue as we all do when something like this happens. When I said earlier that he was just another flamboyantly dressed pop star I will concede that he was indeed the most flamboyant of them all. The striped, sleeveless swimsuit affair and the one-legged jumpsuit ensembles are still deeply troubling to look at today! I will try to make sense of it all although I am not entirely sure we were ever meant to. He was unusual in that he was primarily an actor and artist whose biggest success came in the music industry. Only an actor could reinvent himself, so often, so successfully, into so many great characters.

But when all’s said and done I would just like to know, once and for all, how to pronounce his name – Is is Bow-ie or Bo-wie?  Still working that one out but maybe that’s how it should be for the master of reinvention.  RIP David.

Life On Mars? Lyrics
(Song by David Bowie)

It’s a god-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling “No”
And her daddy has told her to go
But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks
through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen
But the film is a saddening bore
For she’s lived it
ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall

Oh man!
Look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns

But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on…

Postscript:

A brilliant television series, first shown in 2006 was also called Life On Mars. The main character Sam Tyler went back in time to join the 1973 Manchester Police Force. It had a really clever fantasy-esque plotline and a great soundtrack of ’70s songs which made it a must-watch show, especially for me. It was inevitable that Life On Mars? the song, would be heavily used throughout the whole series and probably contributed to it becoming my favourite Bowie song.