The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, July 02, 2007

Because of the TV and radio live coverage of Wembley’s Concert For Diana – a tenth anniversary tribute to that most questionable of paper idols – this week’s edition was condensed from two hours to one (“They’ve abridged me today!” wailed Dale, adding “Oh yes, I’m a bit shorter than usual”), but somehow this served to concentrate the programme’s mind (such as it is) and we were therefore presented with a pretty accurate and balanced picture of what music was changing, or preserving, in the last month before the calamitous rift occurred.

What is very noticeable about the best of the music played within this hour was how little of it would have been played on the Light Programme – or Radios 1 or 2 – in 1967 when it mattered. Nearly everything worthwhile in this list owed its popularity to the pirates, and when the latter were outlawed at the end of August, the singles chart in particular immediately changed for the worse. Since the most creative and forward-looking of the artists who mattered in 1967, whether in rock, pop or soul, were largely expanding towards albums in any case the degeneration of the charts merely expedited their move; why bother trying to compete with battalions of barrel-chested balladeers? But this list may be viewed as a fitting snapshot of an age about to splinter from gold into shards of disparate jewels and dregs. Note especially the immense oceans of doubt which made themselves explicit and implicit in even the sunniest-sounding of these Summer of Love records.

New entries/climbers
40. Marvelettes – When You’re Young And In Love (peak: 13)
Remarkably the only UK hit single for Motown’s greatest girl group, and also the least typically Motown-sounding of their singles – were the two connected, the author queried rhetorically? – “When You’re Young” begins with a very un-Motownish theatrical drum roll, followed by cascading “Lover’s Concerto” piano before settling down to welcome the strings and a warm hug of a bass. The summer of love connections could not be ignored: “Spring in the air (filled with love)/There’s magic everywhere,” and yet, although it’s spring “Each night seems just like the fourth of July.” Further, Gladys Horton’s lead vocal is sung as if in mourning; note the dying fall of her “love” in each chorus,” and the accent she puts on the “tear” in the line “So many teardrops about to fall.” Why teardrops when spring is in the air? The answer is that the singer has been left standing on the outside – or the inside – while the rest of the world falls in love, and the song is an internalised plea for deliverance: “Dreams can come true/If you believe they do” and the significant “There’s no mountain you can’t climb.” The song was written and produced by Van McCoy, and there is something about the record’s deceptive floating lightness which makes it one of several blueprints for the Philly Sound to come.

30. Gladys Knight & the Pips – Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me (peak: 13)
The question has to be addressed of how Motown’s presence in the singles chart diminished so actively between the dissolution of pirate radio and Dave Godin’s concerted effort 12 months later to set history right. Both this and “When You’re Young And In Love” – both expectant ballads, both set at night – were among the last Motown hits to filter through the net in Britain before the lines closed (save the occasional “I Was Made To Love Her”); the Supremes, Four Tops and Miracles all continued to chart, but their records peaked lower and lower, and this was all in spite of Radio 1’s flagship DJ being Tony Blackburn, one of the few broadcasters in Britain prepared to play black music and who certainly didn’t falter from preaching the Motown or Stax or Atlantic gospel on his breakfast show. The issue of institutional racism in the national media of the period – and remember, 1968 was also the year of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech – cannot be ducked, and one wonders whether the current oldies policy of Radio 2 is an extended attempt to plea penance for the atrocities of ignorance committed when times demanded otherwise.

In any event, “Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me” would hardly have been deemed suitable playlist material for the 1967 BBC – despite, or additionally because of, another nod to psychedelia with its opening harpsichord figures – since Gladys is evidently and palpably bursting to fuck and be fucked: “There’s a mist of ecstasy that’s blowing over me.” As the arrangement slowly builds, her patience starts to run out (“Tell me what are you waiting for?,” the craving on the “need” in the phrase “in need of”), her passion intensifies (would that today’s R&B butt-thrusting numbers could incorporate such phrases as “the joyous splendour”) and she grabs the urgency, the nowness of physical contact – “Don’t lose the feeling, make it last!” – eventually verging on hysteria (“Any second now I’ll explode!”) before grasping on the need to celebrate the vital moment of now as her vocal dissolves into out-of-tempo pleas and demands: “Now’s the time!” and “Love me!” repeated and echoed until he finally gets the message, overcomes the fear barrier and they “make this night one sweet song.” Lascivious and deeply soulful. Not the way we do things here in bowler-hatted 1967 Britain.

28. Pink Floyd – See Emily Play (peak: 6)
And this is what crossing that barrier might sound like; to hell with the sodden politesse of an Anita Harris, here is Syd, glossing through his notion of now: “There is no other day/Let’s try it another way.” The song sounds, as ever, like an alien broadcast seeping through onto an abandoned radio, so full of swerves and dichotomies, collisions and explosions that it barely contains itself as a “pop record” and yet is perhaps the most “pop” record on this chart, if you see “POP” in the Prisoner sense as an exploding planet (“Protect Other People!” “People’s Own Protection!!”), of poor Emily’s everyday woes being blasted into space as Syd glides through his guitar like he saw Keith Rowe doing with AMM (that ominous deep Mellotron landing which heralds every new verse), phrases which are hardly playable or repeatable, Richard Wright’s organ anticipating Robert Wyatt’s later muses, Nick Mason functional on drums but pouncing at exactly the right nanosecond when he needs to, Roger Waters’ astonishing pumping bass which could continue (as the fadeout demonstrates) pumping on forever, and Barrett absolutely king of the mountain for the last time in his life he could be said to be truly happy and completely himself, before he disappears forever and future pop, if it knows what’s good for it, takes his ideas on board (as well as his pronunciation of “tomorrow” which leads directly, among thousands of direct leads, into “For Tomorrow” as Albarn and I head our own (if nearly identical) routes into town on the 1993 Westway), continuing to feminise the noise of rock and pop, always mobile, aiming for the interstellar. On TOTP, the group performed “Emily” surrounded by a seated, kaftan-clad audience in total awe, and the spectacle was not lost on the Beatles when they came to prepare “All You Need Is Love.”

New Releases
Dave Davies – Death Of A Clown (peak: 3)
Ray’s kid brother sounds remarkably like David Essex throughout this necessary flipside to the cautious happiness of “Waterloo Sunset”; indeed, the imagery of “My make up is dry/And it cracks around my skin,” coupled with the slightly stoned, strained jollity of the pub piano accompaniment, places it in an anticipatory 1974, messed up in the burned-out basement next to “One Man Band,” “Pinball,” “Far, Far Away” and “Stardust.” At the height of the summer of summers, Ray suddenly decides he’s had enough; back to the village green, demolish the façades – and on “Death Of A Clown” he’s sinisterly audible with his mocking, mock-Nashville backing vocals as Dave agonises over the mess that the deluge of fake freedom has left, but Ray is also looking forward to what happens when the party will end; the fortune teller lying dead on the floor, the insect trainer desperately crawling around looking for an escaped flea, the lions and tigers rendered powerless – the Summer of Love, and already the dream is over.

Traffic Jam – Almost There But Not Quite (peak: none)
Status Quo before they became, as such, Status Quo; a strangely heavy bubblegum piece about ingenue sexual frustration with its curiously naïve phraseologies (“cuddle up,” “tickle you”). Despite the period organ there are still clear hints, in the rhythm and the occasional interception of boogie-down lead guitar, of what they will become, and there is a nice teaser line with “It makes me feel all of ten…feet tall.”

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (peak: none – clearly there ain’t no chart high enough)
As we say, the magic of POTP lies in its playing songs which one entirely needs to hear to confirm that there is a benign, unifying power up there. We know from what went on to happen that Marvin and Tammi’s happiness was not to last, and yet there is so much enthusiasm, hope and love in their duets such that they are eventually transcended and the performances can be appropriated as signifiers for other, lifelong duets.

The star of this record, musically, has to be Benny Benjamin, whose drums continually comment on the singers’ distance-demolishing ambition, from the subdued rimshots at the beginning, coming out of an astral heaven of celeste, to his heavily accentuated full kit emphases behind key lines (e.g. the “worry” on Gaye’s “don’t worry baby”). Similarly, note the subtle progression of the string line from hesitant pizzicato in the first verse to flowing lyricism in the second. And I will admit that Gaye’s “Whoo!” at 1.40, in response to Terrell’s “My love is alive” exceeds Diana’s “Ow!” since the emotional traffic in this version is two-way. They are miles apart but their love is undiminished, and no obstacle, natural or human, can stand in its noble way.

Album chart
1. Beatles – A Day In The Life (album: to paraphrase Mingus, I told you already)
Psychedelia didn’t exist on a rarefied plane set apart from the world. All the notable examples to appear in this list are deeply concerned with our relationship between the “real” world and the “desired” world, and which is the realer. The general consensus is that the “real” world is authentically false. This is the world from which Lennon is so keen to escape; a world already strangled by celebrity, such that the crowd gathers around the wrecked tragedy in Redcliffe Square and care only about where they think they might have seen the victim before (“Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords”). On TV, as I write this, the Concert for Diana continues.

And then there are all the other micro-signifiers; the sudden, angry acoustic guitar thrash which momentarily erupts after the English Army win the war, the party which seems to be going on in McCartney’s head as he rushes for the bus to get to his crappy job (it’s John and Paul in the studio, whooping and giggling over how much of a bloody turn-on song they’re writing) such that the Clapham Omnibus turns into Ken Kesey’s coach. Yet the song tells us it’s all there, in ourselves, and all we need to do is unlock it; as someone else said a generation later, though in a markedly different way, leave tonight or live and die this way.

Due to the shortened programme, only the number one album was mentioned and only the top ten singles were played. The 20-11 entries were still counted down at the end, and although I do not propose to comment on these at length, since none was played, the juxtapositions are intriguing:

20. Vikki Carr – It Must Be Him
19. Cream – Strange Brew
18. Vince Hill – Roses Of Picardy
17. Four Tops – Seven Rooms Of Gloom
16. Beach Boys – Then I Kissed Her
15. Kinks – Waterloo Sunset
14. Small Faces – Here Comes The Nice
13. Arthur Conley – Sweet Soul Music
12. Petula Clark – Don’t Sleep In The Subway
11. Topol – If I Were A Rich Man

In truth it was a matter of taking sides; the Establishment with its array of valium weepies, pre-war singalongs and show tunes, and the now of Motown and Stax, the future-grasping Mod and blues band/improv graduates, the gleeful drug adverts, the sonic/emotional interfaces of Holland/Dozier/Holland and Brian Wilson – and both 15 and 12 can fairly be said to have a benign foot in both camps. The top ten looked like this:

10. Diana Ross and the Supremes – The Happening (peak: 6)
How do you follow “A Day In The Life.” With what kind of awakening? On this occasion, the final chord of the former was succeeded by Diana Ross beaming “Hey life! Look at me! I can see the reality!” Suddenly she just wakes up. But despite its surface jauntiness “The Happening” is about total and irrevocable loss, as signalled by the wriggling guitar line which spurts out at the end of each chorus; it is about where you go “when you find that you’ve left the future behind.” Superficially it is about lost love, but neither Civil Rights nor drugs can be discounted – too many people in 1967 would have identified with “I saw my dreams torn apart” and “Now I see life for what it is – it’s not a dream, ooh it’s not all bliss” (a self-mocking “ooh” included). The dilemma drives Diana into existentialist self-doubt – “Is it real? Is it fake? Is this game of life a mistake?” “The Happening” is about someone who is only slowly realising that the lights have indeed changed.

9. Tremeloes – Silence Is Golden (peak: 1)
Although originally a Four Seasons song, the delivery and approach here is irretrievably British, since it’s all about keeping that damnable countenance again; the singer sees that she has not yet worked out the happening, but should he tell her and risk having his face slapped, or maintain the most cowardly of brave faces and let her be destroyed? The timidity of both performance and production suggest the former will always win out.

8. Young Rascals – Groovin’ (peak: 6)
A direct precursor to Nyro’s more explicit “Stoned Soul Picnic,” this immaculately messy record ambles along as though improvised in real time with its seagull harmonica, congas and bird calls, not to mention the backing singers audibly tapping their feet far off in the right channel. Felix Cavaliere’s lead vocal is happily controlled as he seeks escape from the straight world – “Couldn’t get away too soon” and the artful inversion of the “crowded avenue” scenario in Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” – but then again, since I’ve just witnessed Tom Jones on TV covering “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor,” I’m additionally confused as to what constitutes the straight world. Anyhow, “the world is ours whenever we’re together” and the Rascals’ world is an eminently desirable one with its momentary Marvelettes-esque baroque piano line, the tripartite “ah-hah-hah”s, each one stronger than the last, supplied by the backing singers, and Cavaliere’s plaintive “We can be anyone we like to be” and his sign-off of “I feel it coming closer every day”…it’s another polite request for revolution.

7. Monkees – Randy Scouse Git (a.k.a. Alternate Title) (peak: 2)
Fittingly the Monkees’ biggest British hit after “I’m A Believer” was the first single written and almost entirely performed by the group themselves and also their most extreme single this side of “Porpoise Song”; Mickey Dolenz was present at one of the Pepper recording sessions (“The four kings of EMI are sitting stately on the floor”), having just met his future wife (“I find it hard to tell her that I’ll shortly have to leave”) and the song bumps along entertainingly with its semi-improvised drum track and percussion.

But then in the chorus it explodes into a direct, near-atonal confrontation between the Old and the New: “Why don’t you cut your hair?” roars Dolenz, issuing a series of similar putdowns before uttering the giveaway “I’d kill to be free!” – the new generation having the courage which parents and war had drummed out of their precedessors. The ominous tympani triplets which storm in and out of the record emphasise that, for all the existing threat, the New has it.

6. Turtles – She’d Rather Be With Me (peak: 4)
The cover of their Happy Together album, taken very much in the manner of Pepper, finds the band sprawled out blissful and colourful at the front of the picture. Behind them sit serried, scowling, besuited ranks of the old guard (most of whom turned out to be the management board of their record company). “She’d Rather Be With Me” similarly steams along with a head full of nonchalant glee, with its untidy brass, thrashing guitars, purposeful drums and cowbells and cheerful vocals. Yet it’s a song about those old-fashioned virtues of monogamy and commitment. “But this boy wants to settle down,” sings either Flo or Eddie. Four years later they were contributing androgynous backing vocals to “Hot Love” and “Get It On,” so their idea of settlement was clearly negotiable.

5. Traffic – Paper Sun (peak: 5)
The nagging sax of Chris Wood which runs through the undergrowth of “Paper Sun” like an unusually distressed bee makes it clear that here is another conflict with what is expected of the average citizen of The Real World. The song’s floating, impalpable echoes of promises are bewitching, but focus in closer on Winwood’s vocal and the story isn’t quite as clear. “So you think you’re having good times?” he asks, warning the unnamed subject not to be “too upset” about the “shadow on the run.” The titular metaphor seems to refer to money/capital(ism) rather than five leaves left, but is entirely suitable for a band who had purposely retreated to the country to live in a community and see, through improvisation, what they might come up with (sounds familiar?). “Too much sun will burn,” Winwood warns, and the shabby compromises of conventional living are duly spelt out: “All your clothes are thrown about/Cigarettes burn windowsills/Your meter’s all run out.” Finally he focuses on her coming to the end of another “tired and lonely” day “watching people going home” and she begins to cry “icicles” – the boy with whom she had run on the beach at the beginning of the song has turned out to have “left you so cold in the paper sun.” The moral: tear the paper up in order to see the real sun. Or, as Jim Capaldi remarks in broad Brummie at the end of the fadeout: "That’s the one!”

4. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich – Okay (peak: 4)
Six years before Barry Blue hit on the idea of snagging the summer holiday vote with “Dancing On A Saturday Night,” here were the frankly bizarre DDDBM&T bearing their bouzoukis and accordions for a package tour knees-up tale of a holiday romance nearing its transient end. By the song’s climax Dave Dee is agonising “Why can’t good things last for always?” and growling “Go and live your life and let him treat you this way,” so things are evidently far from “okay.” Possibly the strangest record in this whole list.

3. Hollies – Carrie Anne (peak: 3)
On the face of it, the usual agreeable and unsensational Hollies fare, though Graham Nash’s hand in both song and vocals is especially evident and the lyrics are rather strange, beginning with childhood enchantment (“I played a janitor, you played the monitor”) quickly souring into premature cynicism (“You lost your charm as you were ageing/Where is your magic disappearing?”) and yet the girl is obviously not yet of legal age – note Allan Clarke’s loudly concerned “You’re so like a woman to me” and over-emphatic handclaps in the bridge, followed by an inexplicable steel drum interlude. Eventually the singer too grows up and proposes a new stage in their relationship: “You use my mind and I’ll be your teacher.” In this chirpy context, it’s clear why Nash felt he needed to locate the exit door as quickly as possible, since the song is anything but chirpy.

2. Engelbert Humperdinck – There Goes My Everything (peak: 2)
He might have been The Enemy, but enemies are entitled to their own brand of grief and with his achingly elongated “slowly”s and “softly”s, not to mention the barefaced statement in the chorus of “There goes my reason for living,” emotionally it’s not that far away from “The Happening” and clearly had immediate resonance for those too old or too frightened to join in with the sixties; also, of his country-derived series of weepies this at least has a reasonably authentic sound, avoiding the syrupy orchestra in favour of some telling lead guitar lines from one John McLaughlin. Not my thing, but I’m not going to demolish it here.

1. Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
I can still visualise them playing this, in a deserted Portsmouth ballroom in 1966 when they were still the Paramounts – or maybe they were grinding through “When A Man Loves A Woman” for the fifth time that night and, bored, started messing about with the song’s structure, sticking in a bit of Bach and making up nonsensical new words, getting a little fed up of being stuck in the Beat Boom. The song echoes through halls of plywood, if not quite marble, though Brooker’s organ is already and hugely out of place.

Yet it’s not quite nonsense. “She said there is no reason and the truth is plain to see.” What’s the alternative? Continue chasing the paper sun, crying oneself to sleep each night, losing one’s reason for living? In the face of all this then perhaps it’s better to admit that the “real” world is irrecoverably mad and, as Spike Milligan, a huge admirer of Procol Harum’s work, said, shout or sing gibberish at the world as the most slowly potent form of anarchy. “And although my eyes were open, they might just as well have been closed.”

The message permeated everyone; the song was an immediate sensation directly attributable to Radio Caroline playing it around the clock, its “anti-meaning” stance ensuring that it became a fitting anthem for the British variant of the Summer of Love. The meaning of its “anti-meaning” was not lost on key players, either; Lennon borrowed its tempo and atmosphere to form the basis of “I Am The Walrus,” the “would not let her be” passage over slowly swelling organ surely could not have escaped McCartney’s attention, the sixteen vestal virgins leaving for the coast go on to invent “American Pie” five years later…and somewhere in the Kent countryside, an eight-year-old girl catches the song on her generous father’s radio and realises that it’s not the world, it’s her…and the story will eventually climax and resolve at the edge of the Atlantic, but you know this already…

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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