This week’s tunes are a kind of continuation from last week’s theme. If you recall, I spoke of the lack of clarity surrounding our government’s announcement of new rules on wearing masks in shops, and of how typical that was of the way they have ‘managed’ the whole pandemic crisis. I have been critical of them on a number of occasions in this series so far, but in case you think I’m alone in that, maybe these two recent cartoons will confirm that I’m not. Firstly, from The Times last Saturday:
And secondly, I’m not sure where this one came from, as I found it on Facebook, but it is by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, and as usual he makes his point well:
Adams, by the way, is American so it’s good to see that our Prime Minister’s shambolic style and inability to speak coherently are recognised over there, too. For anyone who hasn’t been following British news that closely, the basic message the government gave us was to ‘wear a mask in shops’ but, in their usual fashion, it was accompanied by a series of caveats and ‘clarifications’ – a clear sign to me that the original communication left something to be desired, and with the result that the public received a confused message. Scott Adams’ text could have been taken from an official government briefing!
Almost inevitably, the announcement was greeted by some disquiet from retailers, concerned at their newly designated role as Stasi officers on mask wearing, and from the Police Federation, who pointed out that the rules were unenforceable. To reuse a phrase I borrowed and quoted last week: “Confused? You will be.” Still, I’m hoping that people will realise that the government hasn’t just made these rules for fun, and will comply with the requirements. But this has given me this week’s theme: Confusion. To be honest, I think I could have chosen that at any time in this series, but better late than never, eh?
When I decided on the theme, three songs came to mind almost at once. I’ve thought a lot about which of them to drop and have decided, in my usual undecided fashion, to make this another of my ‘bonus three tunes’ weeks. With decision-making skills like that I think I’ve missed my vocation: is it too late for me to become Prime Minister? The first song is the one I think is the obvious choice:
The song featured on the ELO’s eighth album, Discovery, which was released in 1979. The album was a UK #1 and a US #5, and Confusion was also a moderate hit single: #8 in the UK but only reaching #37 in the US. Despite the jaunty tune the lyrics are rather dark, which makes for an interesting contrast. I went to one of ELO’s earliest gigs: they came to my uni in autumn 1972, on the strength of their first hit single, 10538 Overture. To say that they were underprepared would be being kind to them: I still have a vision of that being the only gig I’ve ever been to where a roadie had to lie on the stage to hold the drum kit down, and poor Bev Bevan got ever more frustrated as the evening went on and his kit continually went walkabout around the stage. Their set was very short, probably only six or seven longish songs, and when they got to the time for an encore they had to admit that they didn’t have any more to offer, so we got 10538 again. But then Roy Wood left to form Wizzard, Jeff Lynne stepped up to lead the band, and they became rather famous after that. All from the humble beginnings of an onstage shambles!
My second tune this week is from a long-time favourite band of mine: Genesis. This is from their thirteenth album, Invisible Touch:
The album was released in 1986 which, as you can see from the video, was the heyday of the TV series Spitting Image. Apparently Phil Collins liked the puppet of him that was made for the programme very much, and he commissioned all the puppets for the video on the strength of it. I still think it is one of the creepiest pop videos ever! The album was slated by the snobby critics, who claimed it was the end of Genesis as a serious prog-rock band. One retrospective review said “On the dark day in Genesis history when this record was released, the band fully transitioned from art-rock glory to radio-ready piffle, replete with all the worst that ’80s overproduction had to offer.” I kinda liked the album, and as it sold over 9m copies I suspect a few others did, too. It was a UK #1, and #3 in the US, so I’d imagine the band didn’t care two hoots for the critical slagging they received. This song was one of the five tracks (out of eight) on the album which became singles, reaching #14 in the UK and #4 in the US: interestingly, all of the singles fared far better in the States than here. It carries an obviously political message, one which isn’t out of place more than 30 years since it was first released.
Talking of songs with political messages, my final choice for this week takes some beating:
That song was a single, released in 1970: it reached #3 in the US and #7 in the UK. The Temptations slick dance routines may lull you into a false sense of security, but beware: that is one of the strongest protest songs I know of and sadly, fifty years on, its lyrics are just as relevant as they were back then. Tina Turner recorded a version in 1982 which is credited with being the starting point of her 1980s career revival. But the lyrics are just as strong and meaningful, whichever version you listen to!
That’s enough confusion for one week, I think. Whilst the ELO offering may not have had a message, the other two choices are both indicative of the power of rock and pop music to address serious topics and communicate them to large audiences. Little did I realise, watching The Temptations on Top Of The Pops in 1970, that their song’s message would remain relevant for so long.
I hope you have a good week, and remember to wear your mask when going out to shops and other locations where you will encounter unfamiliar people. Whatever is said about the science, it is intuitive to me that we are protecting both ourselves and others when we do that. Stay safe and well, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.