Tuesday Tunes 21: Growing Up

When I was growing up, all those years ago, the age of majority in the UK was 21, and the occasion was usually marked by a special birthday party. Things began to change in 1969 when the voting age was lowered to 18, giving rise to much confusion: did we now reach majority at 18? Did all those years of tradition have to be thrown out of the window? In typical British style we somehow managed to compromise by counting both as the birthday at which we were suddenly supposed to become mature, and many lucky people had two big birthday celebrations. Me? I had neither! But that may be a story for another day. After going themeless for a couple of weeks I’m returning to the usual plan for this week, and am marking the 21st post in this series with the theme: Growing Up.

There are many songs which talk about what growing up means to us, how a milestone can be a time to both look back and ahead, how it can be a time of reflection and of hope. I had so many from which to choose that I had difficulty even getting the selection down to four songs, so that is what I’m going with.

Where to begin? You just can’t beat the Boss, can you? This song really says a lot about casting off the shackles and constraints that you feel in youth and becoming your own person, and is the ideal launchpad for this week:

As is fairly obvious from the images in the video, this was on Bruce’s debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, which was released in January 1973. As debut albums go, it didn’t do badly, reaching #41 in the UK albums chart and #60 in the US. Probably helped by later sales, after his career took off in a big way, it has sold around 3m copies. As I said, not bad!

This week’s second tune is one that takes the concept of growing up rather differently – in this case, wishing that a youngster could always stay the way they are. I have previously written a post themed around Taylor Swift’s Never Grow Up (find it in the search box if you’d like to) and Rod Stewart covers similar ground, with a lovely video to match:

From its title you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a Bob Dylan song. It is, in part. Rod borrowed a lot from Bob’s song in writing his own, and asked Bob for permission to use his words. They agreed on a co-writing credit and a 50/50 share of the royalties from Rod’s song. That sounds like a good compromise to me – it avoided the long legal wrangles that other songwriters have found themselves in. The song is included on Rod’s 15th studio album, Out Of Order, released in 1988, which peaked at #11 in the UK and #20 in the US – though it did make #1 in Sweden! The track was the second single released from the album, reaching only #57 in the UK and #12 in the US: I think it deserved better.

The next song for this week takes the theme of looking back on life when major changes have impacted you. John Lennon was 25 when he wrote this reflection on how his life had altered, and how he had grown up, in just three years after the Beatles’ massive success began:

Apologies for the static image, but that is the official video for the 2009 remaster of the track, and offers a huge improvement in quality over previous versions, allowing the song’s simple beauty to really shine. As you probably know, it was on Rubber Soul, which was the Beatles’ sixth album, released in December 1965. Unsurprisingly, it peaked at #1 in both the UK and the US, and in a number of other countries too. Like the other songs on the album, it wasn’t released as a single – the Beatles mostly kept singles and albums apart in those days, though a couple of tracks were released as singles in the US in 1966, one of which – Nowhere Man – reached #1. Here in the UK, we just bought their LPs by the shed load!

Having given you songs from three of the best known acts of all time, this week’s final selection is from one of my favourite bands, who will probably be unknown to most of you. Oysterband were formed in my East Kent homeland, and have been a major feature of the English folk music scene for forty years or so. They are also very popular throughout Europe, but have, as far as I know, never achieved much in the US – you guys have really missed out! This is a song about growing up to the point where the life you’ve known no longer gives you all that you need. I think it bookends this week’s post rather neatly with the Boss. Again, this is solely an album track, but is none the less superb for that:

I never fail to be uplifted by that! I don’t think the Oysters have ever dented the charts, here or anywhere else, but their gigs are always sold out (when we’re allowed to go) and they are a brilliant live band: I know, I’ve seen them! The female singer on that one is Rowan Godel, who isn’t a band member but occasionally lends her powerful vocals to their songs, as well as having her own band. The counterbalance between the two voices really makes that one for me. A little side story: several of the then members of the band were also part of Fiddlers Dram, who had a novelty #3 hit in 1979 with The Day We Went To Bangor. Sadly for them there was no follow up success but, if you’ve heard that song, you’ll probably agree that the current version of the band is far better!

That’s about it for this week. I’m off to celebrate my coming of age with a cup of tea and maybe a Mars bar (other chocolate bars are available). Have a great week, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday. TTFN 👋

#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!

Bonfire Night In Song

For the past couple of years I’ve shared a few songs loosely related to the theme of Bonfire Night. I thought it worth doing again, but with an updated and expanded choice of songs. There are so many with the word ‘fire’ in their title that I’m really spoilt for choice!

Last week we ‘celebrated’ Hallowe’en. As I said then, this is largely imported to these shores from the US, in its current form, although parts of the British Isles do have a tradition going back many hundreds of years – the whole thing derives from the pagan festival of Samhain, if you want to follow it up. Our real celebration for this time of year comes today, when we mark what is known as Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, if you prefer. This is still a big night in the UK – understanding of it is perhaps declining, but it marks a momentous event in British history. Bonfires will be lit all over the country, and thousands will attend to watch them and the accompanying firework displays. Why?

As the majority of readers here are based outside the UK it would be presumptuous of me to assume that you would know why we do this. Briefly, on 5th November 1605 a man called Guy Fawkes was discovered in the vaults of the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was there to blow the place up during the State Opening of the English Parliament, as part of a plot by Catholics to murder the King – James I of England and VI of Scotland – and install his 9 year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as a Catholic monarch. The details of this are well documented so I won’t bore you with them here, but if you want to know more there is a good article in Wikipedia which draws on a number of authoritative sources to give a full description of the plot and its aftermath, which resulted in trials for those who had not been killed as they tried to make their escape, and subsequent executions by the barbaric method of hanging, drawing and quartering. Perhaps ironically, Guy Fawkes managed to escape this end – weakened by having been tortured during the investigation into the plot he jumped from the gallows and broke his neck. This all sounds very gory to me!

In the following years the foiling of this plot was celebrated on its anniversary by the ringing of church bells, special sermons and the lighting of bonfires, and it became a part of traditional British culture as a result. This tradition included the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes on top of the bonfire, although in recent times there have been occasions when masks of modern political figures have been put on the guy – we may love our democracy but it doesn’t stop us hating the politicians! When I was growing up it was commonplace to see groups of children on the streets with their guys, quite often being transported in their dads’ wheelbarrow, asking for a ‘Penny for the guy, mister’ but this is seen much less nowadays. In our current Health and Safety conscious era I guess they are most likely to be arrested for begging!

To round off my little history lesson here’s a better explanation than I could ever give:

As I said, I’m marking the event with a few songs, none of which has anything to do with Guy Fawkes but all of which have the word ‘fire’ in their title. I’ve really thought this through, haven’t I! A couple of these were included when I first posted for Bonfire Night, but I’ve added in several new ones for your delectation and listening pleasure.

First up is a typical 60s (January 1968) English pop song, from a band which eventually morphed into two parts – Jeff Lynne (who joined after this song) turned his bit into the ELO, and Roy Wood turned into Wizzard. This is nutty but I love it still – and bought the single when first released:

See what I mean about there being no influence from Guy Fawkes? It’s still a great song though. In case you were wondering, the clip is from the UK’s Top Of The Pops programme, and the presenter was Dave Cash.

The events we are remembering today took place 414 years ago. But there are, sadly, echoes in modern day life: religion as the basis for differences and even violence; a threat to democracy from those who want another form of government and are prepared to go to illegal and destructive ends to attain it. Sound familiar? We don’t learn as much from history as we would like to think, do we? For a potted history lesson, we could all do a lot worse than listen to my second choice for today:

And when I say ‘all’ I’m thinking in particular of a certain orange president who seems determined to ignore any lessons he might have learned from history, assuming he has ever read about it. Sadly, he is far from alone in that, and we now have his Mini Me allegedly running our country, although hopefully for not much longer.

Of similar vintage, how about this one?

That was the title track of Free’s third album. They were only together for a short time but made a series of great records, and I was lucky enough to see them play live once – at an age when I probably shouldn’t have been allowed into the club!

That last one was from 1970, and so is my next ‘fire’ song. This is from James Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James. This intimate ‘in concert’ performance is beautiful, and made all the more poignant when you know that the song was written to help him work through his thoughts and feelings after the suicide of a friend:

I couldn’t do this selection of ‘fire’ songs without this one. From the Boss’ superb album Born In The USA, released in 1984 – so it’s much more recent than some of these! One of seven singles released from the album:

Next up is Bob Seger. He never really enjoyed commercial success here in the UK, which I think is criminal! He has written some of the best rock song lyrics ever, as typified in this song, which was the title track of his fourteenth studio album, The Fire Inside, released in 1991:

My final ‘fire’ song just has to be this. Utterly bonkers, the archetypal one hit wonder, from 1968:

They don’t really make them like that anymore, do they? Somehow, though, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown best fits the theme for today: he’s a kind of walking bonfire, really.

I’m sorry if I haven’t included your favourite fire song, but I didn’t want to overburden you (and as it’s my blog I can choose what I want 😂). Two other obvious candidates are Great Balls of Fire and Ring of Fire (nothing to do with curries). No doubt you can think of many more, all of which will share one common denominator: they are not about Guy Fawkes. There are a number of traditional folk songs and ballads going right back to the early 17th century but sadly, for some reason, none of these appears to have found their way onto YouTube – what were they thinking! There are also a few modern day efforts which mostly share the characteristics of being loud, tuneless and not good enough to meet the high quality standards I apply to this blog (ahem). 

If you’re out tonight stay warm, stay safe, and enjoy yourself. And please remember that pets (and ageing bloggers) need to be looked after during the fireworks and explosions.