Tuesday Tunes 16: Joke


 

 

(I forgot to put in a picture last week, so here’s an extra one to make up for that)

So, we’re now three days into our relaxed lockdown and if I’m honest, it has gone better than I expected. When I heard that pubs would be allowed to open from 6am last Saturday I feared the worst, but despite several reports of throngs of people ignoring social distancing rules and getting drunk things have been relatively quiet. The proof of the pudding will come in a couple of weeks, when we will know if there has been a spike in infections: already there are reports of three pubs having to close again having just reopened, due to customers testing positive for the virus – that doesn’t bode well, but hopefully they aren’t the start of a wider trend.

Reading the Sunday paper to get a glimpse of what had happened on the first day of relative freedom,  my eye was caught by a piece headed ‘The world is laughing, and Britain is the big joke.’ Well, it would, wouldn’t it? This was a less than scientific or comprehensive trawl through newspaper coverage in several countries, but it was good to get a view on how others see us: after all, the rabid right wing press here is much given to demonising citizens of other nations so it is only fair that they get their own back. It was enlightening: I learned that Germans call us ‘Inselaffen,’ which translates as ‘island apes,’ and refer to our Prime Minister as ‘Grossmaul’ – ‘bigmouth.’ Seems fair to me. And then there was Spain: they have long had a word ‘balconing’ to describe the habit of drunken British tourists of risking their lives by jumping from hotel balconies into the pool, but they have now added ‘coronaviring’ to their vocabulary, to describe our habit of risking our lives by flocking in huge numbers to crowded beaches ( I mentioned this mass suicide attempt last week). There were several  examples from other countries, but these should give you the gist. They also gave me this week’s theme for my tunes, taken from the headline: joke.

This week’s first tune is probably an obvious choice, given the theme, but as it reminds me of good times I was never going to leave it out:

That was released in 1973, and was part of the soundtrack to my uni days. It was the title track of the Steve Miller Band’s eighth studio album, and was a US #1 at the time, though not here in the UK. But, weirdly, it did top our charts in 1990 after being re-released to tie in with being featured in a Levi ad. Go figure!

My second tune also dates from the 70s, and goes back to the days when I thought this guy was good:

That was from Rod’s eighth album, Footloose And Fancy Free, and if I’m honest I think that was around the time that, to my eyes, he moved from being a rock musician into the pop mainstream, and his later releases haven’t been as much to my taste. His next album was Blondes Have More Fun, when he got caught up in the disco craze, and kind of invalidated himself for me! From the late 60s on he made a string of great albums, and then ‘showbiz’ got to him. FAFF reached #3 in the UK albums chart, after his five previous albums were all #1s – I rest my case!

As I have done a couple of times before, I wanted to include a bonus track for you this week, in addition to the ‘official’ two. This one is much more recent, and is by a singer-songwriter I really rate. This is beautiful, and incredibly powerful:

That is from Brandi Carlile’s 2018 album By The Way, I Forgive You. She isn’t the most prolific of artists, but has six very good solo albums to her name, as well as her recent collaboration with Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemsby and Maren Morris to form The Highwomen. If you need an introduction to them, I strongly recommend the YouTube video of their version of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain on the Howard Stern show: it is stunningly good.

That’s about it for now. I’ve managed to badmouth drunks, the British press and Rod Stewart, so I think my work is done for another week. I’m hoping that things here will, in the main, continue to be restrained and that all the good we’ve done by being in lockdown isn’t undone by a minority of idiots – covidiots, as they’re known here. Stay safe, keep well, and take care. ‘Bye until next time 👋

#SaturdaySongs No.18 – Independence Day

[As it is Saturday, and this post contains songs, it seemed a good opportunity to badge it as part of my now very occasional #SaturdaySongs series. In doing so, I realised that somehow my numbering system for this series had gone a bit haywire, so bear with me if the menu still looks odd at the time you read this!]

Today is 4th July which, as any American will tell you, is celebrated there as Independence Day. This dates back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, by the 13 Colonies which were later to join together as the United States of America. I won’t detain you with the full history lesson, as there are many places in which you can read about it, but suffice it to say that this was the upshot of their treatment at the hands of King George III – to their minds, this amounted to tyranny. He later descended into mental illness – now believed to be the result of suffering from porphyria, a genetic disease – and the history books haven’t been kind to him. He is, however, one of the British monarchs whose story has been the subject of a movie, as QEII has found, and there are some others, such as Queen Victoria. In case you missed it, the George III movie was called The Madness Of King George, and you can get a taste of it from this trailer:

The Declaration came some three years after a now well known event, which was probably a major catalyst for the subsequent American Revolutionary War, which ran from 1775 to 1783, until peace was agreed and the UK formally recognised the new USA. The American Colonies had been outraged by the way they were taxed, in particular over tea, and in 1773, tea ships moored in Boston Harbour were boarded by colonists and the tea was thrown overboard, an event that became known as the Boston Tea Party. This is the excuse for my first song today. I’m guessing that this will be unfamiliar to many, but I thought you’d like to see a song by a Scottish rock band written from their perception of the American viewpoint. I’ve always felt this song to have a feel of menace about it – I’d be interested to know if you agree after you’ve heard this:

That’s it for my pseudo-history lesson: you’ll no doubt be pleased to know that the remaining ‘Independence Day’ songs share that title and, in a couple of cases, reference the date, but they are actually dealing with a different kind of independence. The first one is relatively recent – the album it is on came out in March this year – and is by one of the leading ‘UK country’ bands. Yes, that is a ‘thing!’ I’ve followed them since they started, and this is fairly typical of them; the metaphor of 4th July as being the day of independence from a failed relationship is the starting point for an uplifting piece that looks to the future:

To date, The Shires have yet to dent the US charts, though they have toured with the likes of Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood. All four of their albums have topped the UK Country Chart though, and have reached the top 10 in the overall albums chart. I hope they reach that wider audience – I think they deserve it.

Having begun with two British acts I’m now turning to the US: it seems right that I do! One of the biggest songs to carry this title is by Martina McBride:

As I know that song so well I was surprised to find that it only reached no.12 in the US Country Chart in 1994, and didn’t make the top 100 pop chart at all. Nevertheless it has sold over 500,000 copies so it hasn’t done badly! One thing that isn’t, I think, widely known about the song is that it was written by Gretchen Peters, who just happens to be one of my favourite singer-songwriters. Gretchen has also recorded it, and it features often in her live performances, as here:

If you listen to the lyrics you’ll hear that the song is about an abused woman who ‘celebrated’ Independence Day in very dramatic fashion. The song is very powerful: I’ve heard Gretchen play it live and it really is one of those ‘hairs on the neck’ moments. It won her the CMA award for best song in 1995 and was also nominated for a Grammy that year, though it didn’t win. If you want to find it, it was on Gretchen’s first album The Secret Of Life, released in 1996, and has been on compilations too.

My final selection for today is a pretty obvious choice: you’ve probably been wondering when I’d get around to it. Fear not, I’m nothing if not predictable! This one is by one of my all-time favourite artists. You may have heard of the Boss:

That song was on Bruce Springsteen’s fifth studio album, The River, released in 1980. It is up there with his best, I think, and has so many great tracks on it. It has sold upwards of 7m copies – not bad for a double album! Springsteen fans will know that I had another possible choice from him: 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) from his album The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle but I prefer this one, sorry!

To me, it is interesting to see how three songwriters have taken the theme of independence as their starting point but have gone in different directions: firstly, the failed relationship, secondly the drastic action to spare a woman and her daughter from abuse, and finally the son who realises that for the sake of both himself and his father, he needs to move away to preserve any chance they may have of a relationship. But none of them are political – it took a Scotsman to do that!

As it is your day, America, I think it fitting that, after my musical trawl through various kinds of independence, I should let your Founding Fathers have the final words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday Tunes 15: Bye Bye Lockdown?

In many countries the lockdown is beginning to be relaxed with, it has to be said, rather mixed results. In the US, which to my eyes bears the dubious distinction of being the only country to have handled the pandemic more ineptly than us, many states have done the Numpty’s bidding and opened up again rapidly, with some dramatic resulting increases in new cases. But hey, what are a few plebs’ lives when there’s money to be made? I know that these are incredibly difficult decisions to take, and I wouldn’t want to be the one balancing the saving of lives against the need to restart the economy, and what that means for employment and general wellbeing. But as so little is still known about this virus I would have hoped that caution might have been exercised, both on the part of governments and their populations. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and I suspect that we may not be over it yet, hence this week’s theme: Bye Bye Lockdown? Note that question mark, it is important.

Here in the UK you could be forgiven for thinking that our lockdown is already over, judging by the news coverage of rallies, protests, and huge numbers flocking to the beaches during the recent good weather – but with lavatories not being allowed to be open I hate to think what the state of the seawater was like. So, our lockdown is not yet over, but you could be forgiven for not noticing.  Shops and public places have been gradually reopening over the past couple of weeks, but the real changes for most of us don’t even come into effect until this weekend. This will see a significant relaxation in the rules about meeting people outside and inside your home, and will also permit the reopening of pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres. In keeping with the whole process so far, the rules are complicated and, in some cases, downright stupid: theatres can reopen, but are not allowed to hold live performances in case anyone gets spat on. Likewise for live music, as it is of course a well known fact that musicians take great delight in spitting on their audiences to share their germs: the Sex Pistols have a lot to answer for!

So, having chosen my theme for this week, how could I find a couple of tunes to illustrate it? On the one hand, there is the aspect of our new freedom, while on the other there is the continuing need to exercise caution to help prevent a second wave of the virus. In true British compromise spirit I decided on one tune for each. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not running the country with decision making abilities like that, but I’m not, so you can all breathe a huge sigh of relief – into your mask, of course. This week’s first tune is the one that goes down the ‘let’s all have a good time’ route, and is from one of my favourite bands: The Darkness. They get a mixed press, and are often deemed not to be ‘cool,’ but I think they make some of the best rock music in this country. They also make superb videos, not taking themselves too seriously, as this one demonstrates. It has a bit of an intro but stick with it – you’ll laugh, I promise:

That track was released as a single, ahead of its inclusion on the band’s third album, Hot Cakes. Surprisingly to me it was their first single not to chart, but I think that may have had more to do with the band having been on a five year hiatus than anything else. Justin Hawkins, the band leader, said this about it at the time: “We wanted to write the world’s simplest, dumbest rock song. It’s harder than you might imagine. Songwriting is like catching butterflies. If a big dumb butterfly isn’t flying past when you’re sitting there with your net, you aren’t going to catch one.” I think it’s rather better than that!

This week’s second tune takes the other route: the need for caution. You have probably gathered from what I have already said, in this post and others, that I am very wary of things being done too quickly. As well as in the US, lockdown relaxations in other countries, such as Germany, Singapore and China, have caused a spike in new cases, and here we have the city of Leicester being put back into quarantine just as the rest of the country is released. I’ll be honest: I’m scared of what may happen, and will be venturing out even less than normal till I’m confident. I’m still some way from needing to cut my own hair, and online shopping does just about everything else I need! So when I saw that another of my favourite bands had recently released a song called Caution it seemed a no-brainer for today:

Whilst the lyrics talk about ‘throwing caution’ there is, I think, an underlying sense that he is trying to get out from what has been holding him back, even though caution may be the better option. The song is going to be on The Killers’ new album, Imploding The Mirage, which is now due (after some delays) for release in December, I think. I for one can’t wait! Like The Darkness, The Killers have also had periods of hiatus in their 20 years together, but it’s good to see them both back with new music. This will be The Killers’ sixth album, which by a neat piece of symmetry (coincidence?) matches The Darkness, whose sixth album Easter Is Cancelled was released last November.

That’s it for this week (back to the regular two tunes!). I hope that by next week events will have enabled me to feel more confident about coming out of lockdown, and I hope that, wherever you are, the same will be true for you. Take care, stay safe, keep well.