Sometimes, the themes for these posts just fall into my lap. This is one such week. Readers outside the UK may not be aware of this story, but the main news item here since Friday has been the revelation that our now former Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, has been caught in an affair with one of his main aides. She was a friend from his university days, who he had appointed to a post – paid for by UK taxpayers – with no proper process, and then he started bonking her in his office. The fact that her brother owns a company which has seemingly benefitted from NHS contracts awarded without competitive tender is, of course, entirely coincidental. Just when you thought that the hypocrisy and sleaze in this government couldn’t get any worse, along comes someone who lowers the bar to champion limbo dancer level. Going down in his office, and now going down in his career: there could only be one theme word this week, and that is down.
I went through my usual process of supplementing my memory of song titles with a search of my Apple Music library, and quickly got to twenty possibles. That was too many even for me to contemplate putting into one post, so I’ve stuck to usual numbers – the selection was very difficult, though, and as this is such fertile ground I may make this a two week miniseries.
Where do I begin? How about a band who I’ve featured before, who mean next to nothing in the States even though they have been hugely popular around the rest of the world – especially in the UK and Europe – for over fifty years:
If you weren’t fully awake before that, I’ll bet you are now! Status Quo have long been a firm favourite with fans here, and that is one of their best, and best known, songs. It was released as a single in November 1974, and was their first, and so far only, UK #1. It also reached #1 in Belgium and The Netherlands, #4 in Australia, and many other top tens across Europe. In the US – absolutely nothing. That was my final year at uni, and listening to it again brings back great memories of the lunchtime that I was in our communal kitchen when this came on the radio. Suddenly, there were about six of us throwing our long hair around, madly playing air guitar, only to realise that our corridor’s cleaner was standing with her mouth wide open, watching us in bemusement. Stella was a lovely lady who had, I think, long ago come to the conclusion that her ‘boys’ were all mad, and that just confirmed it for her. Happy days!
Fast forward seven years and you get to this piece of madness:
In case you hadn’t noticed, Men At Work are an Australian band. That was a massive global hit in 1981, reaching the #1 spot in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries. The album it came from – Business As Usual – was also #1 in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand. That was quite some debut, although this was actually the second single from the album: Who Can It Be Now had initially been released as a single before being included on the album, and was a US #1, #2 in Australia, and had various lower chart placings in other countries including the UK, where it only got to #45. I still find that the video makes me smile forty years on, and love the song.
I could hardly do a post of down songs without including this next one, could I:
As that is the official video I’m hoping it doesn’t run into any copyright problems, which tend to beset Beatles videos. As the YouTube note tells us, this is the version of the song which was included on the Let It Be – Naked album, and was recorded on 30 January 1969 on the roof of the band’s Apple Corps headquarters in central London: the final time they played in front of an audience. The performance was at lunchtime, and made the tv news broadcasts that evening – I can still recall complaining to my parents that the news bulletin didn’t show much of the twenty minutes for which they played. The song was recorded as part of the sessions for the Let It Be album, but was omitted from the final release. It was however the B-side to the Get Back single, which was of course #1 in the UK, US, and just about everywhere else. This song also reached #35 in the US in its own right as part of that. It was finally included in 2003 on the Let It Be – Naked album, a stripped down version of the original release, with a slightly different track listing. The album reached #7 in the UK and #5 in the US.
The next one is another from my uni days, having been released in late 1972, in the days when bands did a lot of lip synching on tv shows:
The song gave The Strawbs their first hit single, reaching #12 in the UK charts, and was the first single taken from their 1973 album Bursting At The Seams. The follow up, Part Of The Union, got to #2. They only had one other top forty single before returning to their life as a folk/prog/rock band, but it was fun while it lasted, and various incarnations of the band under the leadership of Dave Cousins have continued to this day. The album was also #2 in the UK and although they had no chart singles in the US the album did climb to the dizzy heights of #121 there. I can find no information as to whether drummer Richard Hudson ever found that missing tooth, in case you were wondering.
My next choice is one that I’m guessing will be unfamiliar to many. The original of this was a pop hit for Billy Joe Royal in 1965, but this version shows you what can happen to a song in the hands of a master of Americana slide guitar music:
I have also found a video of Billy Joe singing the song as part of a gathering of country musicians, which is perhaps not surprising when you consider that it was written by Joe South, the Games People Play man. But for me this version knocks the original out of the park. The musicianship is excellent, and the vocal harmonies are superb. Ry Cooder has made seventeen albums since his debut in December 1970. As the video shows, this was a track on Borderline, his ninth album, released in October 1980. In addition to his own records, he has written many film scores and has been involved in a huge number of collaborations, as part of his continuing drive to explore music from different cultures. I have been a fan since the beginning: he is remarkable. The album only charted in Australia, at #43, and no singles were released from it. The Wikipedia entry for the song doesn’t even mention this version, so I think it safe to say that it has very much gone under the radar for most people! I still love it, though, and I hope you enjoy it too.
Having had to prune down my original list of twenty songs, I’m giving you the first seven of them this week, and this is the penultimate one. This one has been a favourite of mine since it was first released in 1989:
James are another of those British bands who have meant nothing to the States, and on initial release this one didn’t do much here, either, peaking at #77. A re-recorded version was released in 1991, and gave the band their first big hit, reaching #2 here in the UK. Another remix was a UK #7 in 1998, which was around the time this video was recorded, so I’m guessing that is the version they are playing here. I’ve always thought that singer Tim Booth has a pleasing voice, and feel they deserved more chart success than they have had. The band are still going strong, and released their sixteenth album, All The Colours Of You, on 4 June this year – an album created at long distance, as the band members were stranded in a variety of different locations by the pandemic. It has been well-received critically and has reached #3 in the UK – their audience is still loyal!
I’m closing this first set of down songs with another which I have always liked:
This is the song whose lyrics gave Creedence Clearwater Revival’s fourth album its title: Willy And The Poorboys. I played this album to bits when it first came out, and have everything they have ever recorded. The band are, in my view, unique in their role in American rock music, and it is good to see that John Fogerty is still going strong: if you didn’t see the series of videos he released last year, playing some of his classic songs with his daughter and two sons, you’ve missed a treat – they are all still on YouTube so get on over there! They did a version of this one, but I preferred to stick with the original for today – that bass line needs to be heard again. The album was released in November 1969, and reached #3 in the US and #10 in the UK. This was the only single released from it, also making #3 in the US but only #31 in the UK.
So, that’s it for this week. Looking at my list of unused down songs I think I may well be sharing some more of them next week, as there are some cracking tunes in there. That is, of course, unless the sleazebags running the country do something to throw another theme at me in the meantime, which is of course perfectly possible. Until then, I hope you enjoy the music, and have a good week. I shall be immersing myself in Wimbledon and Euro 2020 (deferred) so you’ll know where to find me! Have a good one 😊