Edwin Starr, “War” and a Different Kind of (Eye to Eye) Contact

Well, it’s going to have to be a shorter post this time as I have an awful lot going on at the moment. The new business I hinted at a few weeks ago, came into our possession yesterday, so it’s all systems go now to get it up and running as soon as possible. More on that to follow in the weeks to come, but in the meantime, my featured artist for this post is going to be Edwin Starr.

Why would that be Alyson?

Because this week, of all weeks, I have been afflicted with a nasty eye infection. On Monday evening, my right eye appeared to be glued together, and the redness and swelling surrounding it suggested I had just gone five rounds with Mike Tyson. I had loads of very important business-y type stuff to organise over the next few days in town, and here I was looking like something from Fight Club

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Of late, I have been very good at body-swerving Doctor Google if I have an ailment, as whatever rabbit hole you disappear down, the diagnosis is always a tumour of some sort. In this instance however, I was pretty sure it wasn’t an eye tumour, so I needed a bit of guidance on how to clear up the infection as soon as possible. After a bit of gentle bathing in warm water, Mr WIAA was dispatched to the chemist’s for some eye drops, which I must say have worked their magic. I had to lie low for the whole of Tuesday though, so as not to frighten poor unsuspecting children, and for the rest of the week I have had to be careful not to transfer the bacteria (sounds gross I know) to the other eye. Oh yes, I was already blind in one eye, so important not to make (Eye To Eye) Contact with the other. Cue Mr Starr (starts to really get going at 2:10).

Regulars to this place will know I wrote quite a lengthy post a fortnight ago on the disco genre. A fair bit of research had to be done (I watched a recorded episode of a TOTP Disco Special), and one of the songs I was reminded of, was indeed (Eye To Eye) Contact. It actually found greater success in the UK than across the pond, and reached No. 8 in the Singles Chart in early 1979.

I only found out recently from one of the other music blogs, that Mr Starr, a native of Nashville Tennessee, actually spent his later life living in the North of England. He had become a big “star” on the Northern Soul circuit, where many of his lesser-known Motown classics had found favour with that movement’s faithful. He moved to a village on the outskirts of Nottingham in 1973, and died there in 2003, aged only 61.

1770373ca80cc3d09e910c0fa829d71b--edwin-starr-soul-singers
Edwin Starr

But this foray into the world of disco (he also recorded the uplifting H.A.P.P.Y. Radio) was more of a comeback for him. The recording – I’m loath to call it a song as it’s more of a dramatic soul roar – he is probably best remembered for however, is War, the 1970 counter-culture protest song. Powerful stuff.

War

     huh

          yeah

What is it good for?

     Absolutely nothing

          oh hoh, oh 

War by Edwin Starr:

Edwin Starr’s intense vocals transformed this Temptations’ album track into a totally different animal, and it spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard chart. It was an anthem for the anti-war movement, and it continues to appear on movie soundtracks and hip hop music samples today. War appeared on both Starr’s “War & Peace” album, and its follow-up.

And here is where I have made a new discovery. I am usually late to the party but it seems Bruce Springsteen started performing War in concert in 1985. It was initially suggested as something to make the concluding shows of the Born In The USA tour a little bit different and special. Bruce and the E Street Band came up with a rock arrangement that worked well for them, and once released as a single in 1986, it got to No. 8 on the Billboard chart. Again, powerful stuff, and this time a protest against the Reagan Administration’s foreign policy in Central America. 

I will leave you with a video clip of Bruce, who after an impassioned talky intro (starts at 0:50), looks very much as if he might burst a blood vessel performing the song. Fortunately he survived unscathed, and unlike poor old Edwin Starr, is still out there doing his thing today. 

Until next time…

War Lyrics
(Song by Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong)

War huh yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, oh hoh, oh
War huh yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again y’all
War, huh good God
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

Oh, war, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tear to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go off to fight and lose their lives

I said
War, huh good God y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, just say it again
War whoa Lord
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
War, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker

Oh war, is an enemy to all mankind
The thought of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest within the younger generation
Induction, then destruction who wants to die

War, good God, y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it, say it, say it
War, uh huh, yeah, huh
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
War, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker
War, it’s got one friend that’s the undertaker

Oh, war has shattered many young man’s dreams
Made him disabled bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious to spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life it can only take it away, ooh

War, huh, good God y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again
War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
War, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker

Peace love and understanding tell me
Is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way

War, huh, good God y’all
What is it good for?
You tell ’em, say it, say it, say it, say it
War, good Lord, huh
What is it good for?
Stand up and shout it, nothing
War, it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreaker

St Valentine’s Day, The Bee Gees and “How Deep Is Your Love”

By rights I shouldn’t have time for blogging today as it is indeed St Valentine’s Day and I should be spending it being all loved up with Mr WIAA – After being together for 28 years however, it is a bit hard to muster up the enthusiasm for a day of romance but I have just popped in past our local M&S to pick up one of their very delicious special occasion “Dine In For Two” meal deals (no expense spared here at WIAA HQ). I’m sure if we didn’t both have stinky colds it would all taste lovely, but what with the two cards sitting on the mantelpiece and the planned dinner, at least we’re making a bit of an effort.

st-vs-dayThe main reason I wanted to post something today however is that I have been feeling a tad guilty of late for the following reason – Of the 120 original posts that I’ve published since starting the blog 13 months ago, the only one I’ve “trashed” permanently is the one I wrote this day last year, featuring a song by The Bee Gees. Yes, despite the fact that I’ve written about some ropey acts since starting this blog, once I’d accumulated a few followers, the only one I was really embarrassed about having covered was The Bee Gees. I blame the sheer number of comedy sketches that were made about them during their heyday (that would be Kenny Everett then), as how else can it be that a group who has sold 100 million-plus records; penned the world’s biggest-selling soundtrack album; had 10 UK No. 1s; wrote 4 consecutive US No. 1s and were the first group to have UK Top 20s in 5 decades, be embarrassing? No indeed, today is the day to come right out and say it – I’m a Bee Gees fan and am proud to admit it!

bee gees
The Bee Gees circa 1978

For the record, this was last year’s trashed post (fortunately still in a Word doc as I do worry about the day WordPress crashes and we lose all our stuff):

“No long-winded post today as it’s St Valentine’s Day and I’m going to spend it with my lovely husband. (It was a Sunday last year.)

Last time I wrote about the “break-up song” but How Deep Is Your Love by The Bee Gees is from the other end of the spectrum (I think – although retrospectively I’m starting to doubt some of my interpretations of the lyrics). It is still however, my all-time favourite love-song. It was from the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever (starring a young John Travolta) which was released in the summer of 1978. That turned out to be the best summer of my young life to date – School had finished in the June, and the four month period before University was due to start was filled with happy memories that have stayed with me forever. To use the parlance of American teen movies, for my friends and I, that was our coming-of-age summer.

Unusually for me I’m going to leave it there for today – Enjoy that wonderful intro and Barry’s amazing falsetto. Happy Valentine’s day!”

How Deep Is Your Love by The Bee Gees:

But I did say that the main reason for wanting to post something today was to right the wrong of “trashing” a post about this much-loved group of brothers but the second reason is that last night darling daughter and I watched the highlights of the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. Last year I wrote a post about the 58th Grammys where our own Ed Sheerin came away with a couple of awards and I would probably have been writing a post again this year but they have coincided with St Valentine’s Day and anyway, the big awards, yet again, went to Adele. It was pretty much a re-run of our own Brit Awards last year and my thoughts about that ceremony still ring true (The Brits, The “Suits” and Adele), so no point in covering the same old ground.

What was of interest however was finding there had been a Bee Gees tribute on the big night performed by an array of contemporary acts. It is now 40 years since the making of the “Saturday Night Fever” album and 60 years since the brothers first formed a band singing harmonies together. It did make me sad however to see Barry, the only brother still alive, sitting on his own in the front row watching the performance intently, but sometimes also quizzically. Not the way they used to perform these songs back in the day but here is what the 59th Grammys served up.

How Deep Is Your Love Lyrics
(Song by Barry Gibb/Robin Gibb/Maurice Gibb)

I know your eyes in the morning sun
I feel you touch me in the pouring rain
And the moment that you wander far from me
I wanna feel you in my arms again
And you come to me on a summer breeze
Keep me warm in your love and then softly leave
And it’s me you need to show
How Deep Is Your Love

How deep is your love, How deep is your love
I really need to learn
‘Cause we’re living in a world of fools
Breaking us down
When they all should let us be
We belong to you and me

I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You’re the light in my deepest darkest hour
You’re my saviour when I fall
And you may not think I care for you
When you know down inside that I really do
And it’s me you need to show
How Deep Is Your Love

Easter, “MacArthur Park” and Donna Summer

Short post today as it’s Easter Weekend and I’m off to roll my egg!

Tried to think of a song to write about that relates to Easter but could only think of Easter Parade from the 1948 film of the same name which cannot really be considered a Track FromMy” Years (I’m not quite that old) and not really a pop song but one from the golden age of MGM musicals.

When you do think of other songs that have religious connotations (from Life of Brian, Jesus Christ Superstar) there is the capacity to cause offence and that’s not what this blog is about. So, back to letting the old brainbox come up with something randomly and that turned out to be MacArthur Park – Not entirely sure how that happened but I think it’s because there is a park involved and at this time of year, in Scotland anyway, the parks are all waking up from their winter sleep and are full of crocuses and daffodils. Easter is a time of rebirth and eggs are a symbol of fertility. Also, the bizarre line in MacArthur Park about the cake being left out in the rain probably made me think of Simnel cake, traditional at this time of the year.

easter

The song MacArthur Park, written and composed by Jimmy Webb, was first recorded by Richard Harris in 1968 but my favourite version was the one by Donna Summer from 1978. She was the undisputed Queen of Disco in the ’70s and 1978 was the year I reached the age of 18 and could legitimately go dancing in the licenced venues where I lived (although in those days this was not heavily policed and pretty much everyone over 16 was allowed in). This was rural Scotland however and we certainly didn’t have anything resembling Studio 54 but the local hoteliers manned up and kitted their function suites out with glitter balls, flashing lights and if you were very lucky, those flashing tiled floors as seen in Saturday Night Fever. The DJs were often local teenagers who’d had the foresight (or parents with foresight) to invest in the equipment and records needed to hire out their services – A nice little sideline before returning to school on the Monday.

MacArthur Park by Donna Summer:

I have always liked this song although its flowery lyrics are definitely not for everyone and it was not until looking into it a bit more for this post, that I came to understand that the whole “cake left out in the rain” line was a metaphor for lost love and the end of a relationship. Nearly 40 years on and it now makes sense although back in the day a most unusual song to have been given the full-blown disco treatment.

As for Donna Summer, it was when she happened to be in Germany performing in the musical “Hair” that she had a fortuitous meeting with the producer Giorgio Moroder. Yet again we have a chance encounter that went on to have great significance, this time for the future of electronic dance music or “Disco”. Listening to the record again, I love hearing that disco beat and if you were a keen dancer like me, not afraid to clear the floor with a few special moves (think Joan Travolta in footless tights and a shiney wrap dress) the late ’70s were a bit of a golden age! As for the lyrics of the song, although I now understand them a bit more, I do think the whole cake metaphor was taken just that little bit too far.

donna 2

Poor Donna died quite young at the age of 63 in 2012 but she has left a great legacy, as the defining female voice of the disco era, and also because of her influence on the dance music that was to follow by artists such as Madonna and Beyoncé. Thank you Donna for many happy memories on the dance-floor.

MacArthur Park Lyrics
(Song by Jimmy Webb)

Spring was never waiting for us dear
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground beneath your knees
The birds like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing chinese checkers by the trees

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.

ewf2

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.