Tuesday Tunes 10: Mystery

As we step tentatively into week 10 of the U.K. lockdown there are some potentially positive signs. Our esteemed Prime Minister – or more accurately, his main advisor – has decided that it may be possible to open up some retail outlets from 1 June, and quite a few more from 15 June. No joy for the hotel, catering and tourism lot yet, though. This is, of course, all predicated on there not be a worsening of the situation before then. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, we had one of our rather few Bank Holidays yesterday and, judging by the reports of hordes descending on beaches and one of these invasions turning into a mass brawl, the end may not yet be in sight. It appears that the plebs are beginning to tire of the lockdown and are deciding that it doesn’t apply to them. That may be the result of last week’s statement by the PM, which confused more than it clarified. No change there, then. More likely it was because of the story splurged all across our news media that the aforementioned main advisor, Dominic Cummings, had been caught travelling to Durham from his London home either twice or thrice, depending on which source you believe. This was despite the rules that he wrote for Johnson to announce. I could say much more on this, but you can easily find coverage of it if you’d like to know more. I am enjoying watching the hypocrites squirming, though, and thinking up ever more implausible justifications. But the petition for Cummings to be sacked now has more than 500k signatures – watch a news space near you!

The underlying takeaway from this, for me, is that we are embroiled in an unknown situation, we have some clues as to what may happen, but don’t know how it will end. Rather like a mystery, in fact, which seemed a suitable theme for this week’s two tunes (spot the seamless segue!).

This week’s first song goes way back to my teenage years and is, I think, very appropriate for what we are currently experiencing. If many shops do reopen next month, it will very much be a Magical Mystery Tour into an unknown future. Roll up, roll up:

The original version of that was released as two 7 inch EP discs, presented in a lovely book format with loads of colour photos of the making of the film, which was first shown on the newly colourised BBC2 channel on Boxing Day 1967. I remember it well, though we were only watching in black and white: neither of my parents was willing to sell a limb to be able to afford a colour tv at that point. It received an audience of 15m, but was savaged by the critics: a good reason, if you needed one, to ignore those idiots! While visiting YouTube for this video I also found a short ‘making of’ piece about the film, which I thought was also worth sharing, both for its historic content and for the snippets of all six tracks on the EP:

My second tune for this week is a little piece of wisdom from the lovely Iris DeMent. Pondering on the meaning of life and the possible hereafter, she comes to the conclusion that the best course is to ‘jest’ Let The Mystery Be:

As someone says at the end of that clip, that one is for keeping. It was recorded in 1995 for the first series of a programme called Transatlantic Sessions, which brought together folk, country and Americana musicians from both sides of the pond. There have to date been six series of this, and they are highly recommended. In recent years there has also been a set of live gigs around the UK, which I was lucky enough to see back in 2014 – also highly recommended!

If you scroll down the comments far enough you will see one from me (I’m CliveChip – don’t ask!) which mentions the version of this song by 10,000 Maniacs, with a guest appearance by David Byrne, of Talking Heads. For what I imagine are contract reasons around Byrne, that didn’t appear on the Unplugged album for which it was recorded. However, there are videos of it and in a fit of unparalleled generosity I thought I’d share one with you – unlike some, I’m still keeping to my ‘rule’ of two songs per week, after all:

I think that is also a lovely version, or perhaps it’s just because I love the song. If it has piqued your interest in Iris DeMent I can also recommend watching her perform with the late John Prine on his song In Spite Of Ourselves – it’s a little gem.

That’s your lot for this week’s bumper edition, in which I have somehow managed to get four videos out of two tunes. Not bad, eh? As always, I wish you well. Be safe, and hopefully the end of this nightmare is in sight.

Christmas Number Twos

I feel I should point out immediately that this piece is about pop music, and has nothing to do with bodily functions, so if you have come here for the wrong reason I suggest you leave quietly, before anyone notices. I won’t tell. Honest!

A slightly strange custom grew up in the UK in the 1960s surrounding the music charts: who would have the Christmas number one single? The charts as we know them date back to 1952, and gradually the achievement of being number one at Christmas came to acquire a certain cachet. During my teenage years this actually mattered to us, believe it or not. We talked about it, we had our favourites that we wanted to see at the top of the charts, and more often than not we were disappointed. To this day, the status of “Christmas Number One” still gets a lot of media coverage and present day pop fans take an interest. To complete the picture, the BBC even trundles out Top Of The Pops for a special Christmas edition – assuming they can find any presenters who aren’t in prison, that is. But in recent years the whole thing has become a farce, largely due to the Man Who Murdered Music and his Crap Factor TV ‘reality’ show. Either the winner of that is basking in their 15 seconds of fame at the top spot, or a spoiler from the ABC (Anyone But Cowell) camp has led the way: Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name really does say it all about Christmas, doesn’t it!

My first thought had been to do a piece on the number ones but, given the Cowell Factor, there has of late been a growing interest in what has held the number two spot at Christmas, so I thought that this might be a better source of some proper music. It also leads to a better title for this piece. Assuming that even Wonkipedia can’t cock up something as simple as a list, I consulted that oracle to compare the two lists. I was temporarily shocked to find that the Beatles had been number two twice in the 60s. Heresy! Who could have kept them off the top? Ah, it was themselves, so no need to panic. This happened in 1963, when I Want To Hold Your Hand led She Loves You, and again in 1967 when one of my favourite Beatles songs, Hello Goodbye, beat this to number one:

For those who don’t know it, the Magical Mystery Tour was a TV special made by the Beatles after they became too big to tour. It was released as a 6 track double EP, in a lovely gatefold book form, and cost the princely sum of 13s 11d, as compared with around 6s 8d for a standard single. Old money, kiddies, look it up! I don’t think any other band at the time could have achieved this, especially when you consider that to get to the top of the charts in 1967 required many more sales than today. No other act has ever done that even once, let alone twice, although sadly Dustbin Blubber holds the top two places in the pre-Christmas chart so has a chance of doing it this year. I never thought I’d want Cowell to succeed until now!

From my perspective, the heyday of Christmas singles was the 1970s, when anyone who was anyone just had to have a Christmas single. A lot of nobodies did too, but they won’t be featuring here! Of course, Christmas singles were nothing new, but Slade and Wizzard were at the forefront of a trend which carried on  through the 80s with Wham and others through to the present day. Often a novelty record made it to number one – Benny Hill’s Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West in 1971 for example – and occasionally they would deprive a much more deserving record of the top spot. Well, one that I liked better, anyway. So, in 1974, whilst Little Jimmy Osmond basked in top spot glory with Long Haired Lover From Liverpool (had he even been there?) this had to make do with being number two:

Always guaranteed to fill the dancefloor when I was at Uni! British public, how could you?!

One of the great musical tragedies of the 90s, for me, was the juggernaut of bad taste that was the Spice Girls, and the fact that they had three successive Christmas number ones. At least they had the decency to call their last one, in 1998, Goodbye but it still kept this off the top, for which I’ll never forgive them (along with all their other crimes against music):

I think the Chef was robbed! But at least he and Isaac Hayes had the satisfaction of dethroning the Shouty Girls the following week.

I’m going to finish this brief trawl through the depths of the pop charts with one of the all-time great Christmas crimes. The Pet Shop Boys were one of the biggest bands of the 80s and were at number one yet again in 1987, this time for Christmas with Always On My Mind (I preferred Willie Nelson’s own version but didn’t have a vote). But they kept this seasonal classic from being number one:

Guess which one still gets played a lot today! And it has still never been number one at any time, not just for Christmas. But I’ll be playing it again this year, unlike the new nonentity at the top for a nanosecond or two.