Tuesday Tunes 30: Sixties USA

 

For the past couple of weeks I’ve promised to do a set of songs from the US, and that time has come. American pop and rock music has undoubtedly had a massive influence on music here, and I thought it only right that I should focus this week on artists and bands who were important to many here, not just to me. Whilst making my choices I was struck by how much my musical tastes were ‘growing up’ in the sixties, from simple pop music to what I know as rock music, which is my staple diet for listening. It is no coincidence that from about 1969 onwards I rarely bought singles, preferring to go for the longer listening experience offered by albums, and my seventies choices will reflect that. For now, though, I thought I’d begin with a couple which I think show how my tastes were subtly changing, starting with this one:

I did find a live version of that from the Ed Sullivan Show but the owner has banned it from being shared: spoilsport! This was the opening – and title – track on the Byrds’ debut album, which was released in 1965, a month or so after the single. The album reached #6 in the US and #7 in the UK, and the single was #1 in both countries. To us, they were a little bit different, exotic almost, and I instantly fell in love with that jangly guitar sound. That has been a big feature of music I’ve enjoyed over the years: I’ve written here before about how big a Tom Petty fan I am, and he is one among many who have carried on that tradition.

My next choice this week is from a band who had a couple of years’ head start on the Byrds, having released their first album in 1962. They were very prolific: a month after Mr Tambourine Man was issued, they released their ninth album in a little over three years. Their early days had a number of classic surf music singles, and I’ve had real difficulty in making a choice of just one of their songs. For no other reason other than that I loved it at the time and bought the single, I’m going with this one:

I’ll happily accept that this isn’t the most obvious choice, but hey – I’m making the decisions here! The song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and was a conscious revisiting of their original surf sound, which they hadn’t used since 1964. By 1968 the band were beginning to decline in popularity in the US but still sold loads of records here: this one only reached #20 in the US but was a massive hit here in the UK, where it spent a week at #1 before being replaced by a bit of schmaltzy tat by the Bee Gees – you’ve never been able to trust the British public, have you!

Next up is a choice from a man who has sold over 100m records, so he clearly has something that people like! He has written many songs that have been recorded by other artists, of which this is one:

I always think it a mark of a songwriter to see who has covered their songs. In this case, the most notable cover for me is Johnny Cash’s, which was the title track of his album American Recordings III: Solitary Man. Whilst I’ve always loved Neil’s version I have to say that Johnny’s gravelly voice adds a whole new dimension to it: check it out if you haven’t heard it, I can highly recommend it. Which is more than I can say for Cliff Richard’s version but, to be fair, it doesn’t appear to have ever been released as a single or on one of his albums, so at least we’ve been spared that! The song was from Neil’s early career days, before things really took off for him, and it only reached #55 in the US. It was re-released in 1970, when it did better, peaking at #21. It didn’t make the UK charts on either occasion (see earlier comment about the British public!).

Neil Diamond wrote some songs that were hits for The Monkees. The most famous is probably I’m A Believer, but I prefer this one:

That was released as a non-album single in March 1967, and reached #2 in the US and #3 in the UK, driven by the success of their TV show. The show ran for just two series, from September 1966 to March 1968, but they managed to pack in 58 episodes in that time. It was shown here at Saturday tea time, and was enjoyed by the whole family: it made my parents laugh a lot and they even accepted that the music wasn’t bad! I think my mum had a crush on Davy Jones, if I’m honest. Incidentally, that was the first Monkees single on which Davy took lead vocal: I think they missed a trick by waiting so long, but their sales were still pretty good anyway!

I mentioned earlier that it was around the end of the Sixties that I converted to buying mostly albums, and this next choice, although released as a single, is very much an album track:

That was the second track on CS&N’s eponymous debut album, which I bought and just about wore out! To this day I still think they are one of the best ever folk-rock bands, and their music has been a big part of my listening down the years. I would have thought the song ideally suited to be a single, but it only reached #28 in the US and didn’t chart here. Graham Nash wrote it while he was still a member of The Hollies, who rejected it as not being sufficiently commercial. Given that it is a live show favourite, which they have played over 450 times, I think he may have had the last laugh there despite its lack of success as a single!

I really struggled to get the selection down to manageable numbers this week, and then realised that I hadn’t made room for my all time favourite song. I couldn’t possibly leave it out, so you’re getting six tunes this week. This is still, to me, a musical masterpiece:

The song was written by Bryan MacLean, who took lead vocal – until Arthur Lee persuaded their record company that his was the stronger voice, so they added him into the mix. I bought it as a single, but didn’t get around to the album for a few years. The song peaked at #123 in the US but didn’t chart here, though the album – Forever Changes – fared rather better here, reaching #24, compared with #154 in the US. Maybe the British record-buying public weren’t so bad after all: we were  into our psychedelic rock in those days! The album has since become a seminal work, and is often cited in those ‘best ever albums’ polls that newspapers and magazines are so keen on making up. I think it deserves all the kudos it has received.

Thats it for this week. I hope there is at least one here that you enjoyed: preferably six, but that may be a touch optimistic. We’re in the process of being put back into lockdown, in a tacit admission by the government that things aren’t any better than they were in March. All part of life’s rich tapestry, I guess. Stay safe and well, take care of yourself and those you love.

See you next time.

Reliving The Celebration

To complete my resharing of some of my favourite posts (which I featured in 300 Not Out – A Retrospective) this is A Celebration, originally posted on 16 September 2016. As you will see, this date is my birthday, and having reached the grand old age of 65 yesterday, I am now officially a UK State Pensioner – I’ve applied for my pension but, despite their saying that I would be sent the details in the 14 days before the due date, I’ve yet to hear what untold riches will be coming my way. I guess the government has been too busy screwing the country over Brexit to worry about me!

As before with these posts, I’ll give you the original and then rejoin you at the end for an update. So, here’s the 2016 version:

“Today I awoke – or, more precisely, was awoken by a thunderstorm and torrential rain – to the thought that I am now 63. I’ve never been this old before! But we are told that ‘age is just a number’ so who’s counting? Three years ago today, I retired from a lifetime of work, on my 60th birthday, and to celebrate my milestone my two wonderful daughters arranged a special day out for me in London. I had commuted into the capital to work for more than 35 years, and this marked the beginning of my re-acquaintance with London as a place to enjoy, rather than somewhere I was happy to escape on a daily basis. During a comments ‘chat’ with a fellow blogger a few weeks ago I realised that I had never written about that day out. I would have laid odds that I had but when I checked I found several photographs in my Facebook and Instagram feeds, but no blog posts. I decided that I would write something as part of my celebration of three years’ retirement – so here it is.

Due to their work commitments the girls arranged the day out for the weekend, Saturday 14th to be precise. This had the bonus of there being lighter usage of public transport than on a weekday,img_2695  which made it easier to get into London and get around while we were there. They knew that I had a longstanding desire to take a ride – or ‘flight’, as it is officially known – on the London Eye, so to be honest I wasn’t surprised to be taken to the Southbank Centre, adjacent to the Eye. And yes, that was where my grand day out was beginning, with a flight in one of these:

img_2696And in case you haven’t seen it before, this pod is part of a much bigger structure. This, in fact. I don’t have a head for heights, but didn’t at any time have a problem. The Eye moves very slowly, and the only real sense of movement that you have is the changing scenery around you, as the ground disappears further into the distance!

London has centuries of history and many famous landmarks, most of which are visible from the Eye. Here as an example is the Shard, one of the more modern buildings

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And this is Elizabeth Tower, previously known as St Stephen’s Tower, until it was renamed in 2012 to mark QE2’s Diamond Jubileeimg_2691

Before anyone corrects me, Big Ben is the name by which the clock goes, not the tower itself. A common misconception, which the pedant in me (I am, after all, a Virgo) takes delight in correcting! The ‘guide book’ to your flight is an iPad, suitably encased in a stand to prevent theft, which is programmed to show you where all the landmarks are as the flight progresses. A nice touch.

Having had a wonderful time, we then went into a nearby bar for a light lunch, before the next part of my treat. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any more but shortly afterwards we were climbing img_2690onto one of these

Spot the operative word: ‘amphibious.’ Believe it or not, this little bus worked both on land and water. Apparently they were originally designed and built in the Second World War for troop movements, and the actual bus that we travelled in was 70 years old. After a trip around some of the landmarks by road, which covered quite a lot of London’s history, we were driven to the side of the headquarters of MI6 – appropriate, I thought – and down a ramp. Moments later, we were in the Thames

We've fallen in the water!
We’ve fallen in the water!

We then went for a ‘boat trip’ along part of the Thames, which was quite an experience. To prove it, here’s a shot of the Parliament buildings – the Palace of Westminster – as seen from the river. As it was a weekend nothing was happening inside, but I’m reliably informed that on a working day you can see the hot air rising from here

We all bowed in reverence, of course :-)
We all bowed in reverence, of course 🙂

Until that day I’d not been aware of this service, and it really was an unusual experience, which I felt very lucky to have enjoyed. Doubly so a few weeks later when one of the vehicles caught fire while on the river, causing a suspension of the rides until thorough safety checks had been undertaken on the entire fleet! There but for the Grace of God…..

After all of that excitement, we ended the day in a lovely restaurant tucked out of the way in Camden, where to my further surprise I was treated to a cake, and a candlelit rendition of Happy Birthday To You from staff and customers. Truly, a lovely day and a perfect celebration I’ll always remember, made special for me by these two beautiful young women

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As you may have noticed, I have for some reason I don’t understand been looking back to three years ago quite a lot this week – my Facebook friends have been treated to reminders of my week of songs for the day which I posted in the lead up to my retirement, so count yourselves lucky to have been spared that! I don’t think this means that I have been wallowing in the past, as some might say, and I feel it important that we don’t lose touch with our past. It is, after all, a part of who we are now. I’m intending to do a post or two on linking the past with the future, when I’ve worked out what that means for me. For now, cake is beckoning, so I bid you adieu until the next time.”

And here I am again, back in the now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trawl through some of my earlier posts. This last one is particularly special for me, as it reflects a wonderful day out given to me by two wonderful people, who are the focal point of my world. As you may have noticed from some of my recent posts, they have been joined in my affections by the most recent arrival to our family. Looking back on the good things in your life is great, but the future is there to be enjoyed too. Yesterday my older daughter sent me this to mark my birthday:


Our new focus of special memories will, I’m sure, feature here again at some point. It’s good to have the future, looking forward.

 

For Mother’s Day

This coming Sunday, 11th March, is celebrated here in the UK as Mother’s Day. This day has longstanding religious tradition and history behind it, although you’d be forgiven for not noticing that nowadays. These traditions vary, depending on the religion. Here the day is actually recognised in the church calendar as Mothering Sunday, and falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Because Easter is early this year, this means that for the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Irish Republic and Nigeria, who use this date, Mother’s Day is also earlier than in some years. There are in fact 32 different dates around the world on which Mother’s Day is celebrated, the most commonly used of which is the second Sunday in May, which is the day in North and South America, and across large parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. The modern version was first celebrated in the USA in 1908, after a campaign by a lady called Anna Jarvis to have a designated day for mothers. Commercialisation began in the 1920s, when Hallmark began selling cards, and Jarvis was arrested for a public protest against this. But the date and nature of the celebration have since been widely adopted.

The commercialisation of the date means that it is ubiquitous. Apart from all of the advertising which uses the day as the basis for promotion – often in incredibly dubious and convoluted ways – there are TV programmes, articles in papers and magazines etc, which are very difficult to avoid unless you become a hermit. And in this modern technological age, I’d also need to stop checking my emails too. Some of the bombardment is unbelievable: I even had an email the other day from a clothing company which only sells men’s clothing, inviting me to purchase one of a choice of outfits to wear when celebrating with my mother, from the formal suit to go to the posh lunch to smart casual if cooking her a meal at home, complete with an apron!

Mother’s Day is a hard one for me. My Mum died nearly ten years ago, on 15th May 2008 and, whilst the immediacy of the feelings of loss is somewhat diminished by the passage of time, those feelings are still there. Many millions have lost their mother, and could do without the commercial juggernaut reminding us of what we have lost and what we could have otherwise been doing. It’s a difficult time of year. I find myself wishing that all of the companies stuffing this down my throat would roll up their promotional material very tightly and insert it where the sun doesn’t shine. And I’d bet I’m not alone in that. I shall be spending this Sunday in quiet reflection, remembering the person who brought me into this world and all that she did for me. I don’t need any marketing to tell me how to do that. I find myself agreeing with Anna Jarvis: this should be a day to celebrate our mothers, not to spend loads of money. Whilst the cards, flowers, chocolates and wine – especially the wine! – may be very welcome, do mothers really need this to know that they are appreciated? Wouldn’t telling them, face to face, be much better? And doing things for them, to show them that you care? Not just on Mother’s Day either: our mothers are very special people and deserve to know that our love for them is always there, with or without the giving of physical gifts on a particular day to make the statement for us.

If you’re going to be spending Mother’s Day with your Mum, I hope you – and she – have a fantastic day, full of the joy that families give us. And long may you be doing that: the happiness of days like Sunday will build into cherished memories. To repeat myself: Mums are special people, they deserve our love.

 

Mum, Dad, my sister, a cousin (top) and me, c.1960 I think.