A #SaturdaySong Reprise

Do you use Facebook? If so, do you follow your favourite musicians on there? Unsurprisingly, for someone who posts a lot of music, I can answer ‘yes’ to both of those questions, and in some cases I am a member of that artist’s Facebook fan group page as well. If you haven’t tried this, they are pages where people share their love of the music: they are warm, welcoming places, and we can all use those, especially nowadays.

One of the groups to which I belong is the one for Mary Chapin Carpenter, which probably won’t come as a shock to anyone familiar with my posts, and the other evening someone shared a video for one of my favourites of hers. Watching it again I was transported back many years, as the song has always had a special meaning for me, and this reminded me that I had featured it in my earlier series of #SaturdaySongs. When I looked back, I was slightly taken aback to see that this was well over four years ago, and it struck me that many current readers won’t have seen this post or the series. I’ve never shared this one again, either, despite extensive trawling through my back catalogue, so I thought I’d do it now, as the story is important to me.

The post was originally published on 5 November 2016. Here it is, and I’ll return at the end to round things up:

#SaturdaySongs No.3 – Halley Came To Jackson

Week 3 of #SaturdaySongs and I’ve managed to keep it going this far! Having gone back to the 1970s and 1960s for my first two choices today’s song is much more modern. Well, the 1990s anyway. It is song with a very special, personal meaning for me, although it had not actually been released at the time it always makes me think of. Does that sound weird? Let me explain.

Today’s song is Halley Came To Jackson, by Mary Chapin Carpenter. This song is featured on MCC’s third album, Shooting Straight In The Dark, which was released in October 1990.  She is one of those artists who, during a career which has been thriving since her first album (Hometown Girl) in 1987, has been a conundrum for those who like to pigeonhole their music. Early associations with Nashville meant that she was seen as a country musician, and her albums have enjoyed much more success in the country charts than the mainstream ones, but if you look at Apple Music they seem to put her in a different category every time she releases a new album! To me, she is the writer of classy, intelligent lyrics, which are woven into beautifully crafted songs, all sung with her lovely warm voice. I had the great pleasure of seeing her play live several years ago, and the whole evening was an absolute delight: not only was the music fantastic, but her words between the songs were charming and witty. I’d have expected nothing less of her, to be honest. This is today’s song:

As you can tell from the lyrics, the song relates to the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1910, and was inspired by the writings of a lady called Eudora Welty, who told a story like this about her own childhood in Jackson, Mississippi. MCC also turned the song into a book for children, and several of the pictures in the video are taken from that. Halley’s Comet is only visible from Earth every 75 or 76 years, so the next appearance was in 1986 – as indeed the song tells us. Realising that I would have to live to 108 to see its next scheduled appearance in 2061, I didn’t want to miss my chance in 1986, even though it was only going to be possible to see it at some unholy hour.

The due date was 9 February 1986, which was five weeks before my first daughter was born. Not wanting to wake my pregnant wife – who needed her sleep! – I stayed downstairs until the time we had been told was most likely for viewing, then crept upstairs into the second bedroom, hoping to see the Comet. This was the bedroom that we had prepared as the nursery, for when our baby came, and was already decorated as such, complete with cot and other baby stuff. Standing in the darkness by the window, I could look round at the room, once my eyes had adjusted, and I felt an enormous sense of excitement and nervous anticipation about the imminent change in our lives, as we brought a new little person into the world.

I stayed there for quite some time, enjoying the tranquillity and silence of the early hours, waiting patiently for the Comet to appear. Several times I saw something vaguely bright in the sky – were these going to be my moment? Sadly, no! These were, apparently, the worst conditions in 2,000 years for viewing Halley from Earth, as they were on opposite sides of the Sun, a mere 39 million miles apart. In those days we lived quite near Stansted Airport, so it was much more likely that what I could see were distant planes. Oh well, it was a nice try, and I did feel a sense of something spiritual taking place, a kind of pre-bonding with my unborn child.

Then, four years later, along came this song. It tells a beautiful little story, and I could relate to the father holding his baby to see the Comet, as that is what I would have been doing if birth date and viewing conditions had allowed. From that moment on, every time I hear this I’m instantly transported back to 9th February 1986 and to what for me was a magical night, even if the two stars (Halley and Katy) hadn’t made an appearance. This is one of my favourite MCC songs, and one of the best narrative songs I know, so I’ve listened to it a great many times. I relive that moment, and feel that special bond again, every time.

That unborn baby of mine is now 30, and had her first book published yesterday. How times change! I hope that by 2061 she will be a mother and there will be a grandchild of mine sharing the next viewing with her. Maybe I’ll be there too, who can tell? 🙂

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And this is me back again today. I’ve often thought that music is an essential part of our memories, and this song certainly holds that place in my heart. The original post prompted one of my favourite comments fields, too – the post and those comments can be found here if you’d like to see them. Life has, of course, moved on since then. In the intervening four and a half years, my daughter Katy has had three further publications (co-editor and contributor status) and has risen to the ranks of a Senior Lecturer at one of the better known UK universities. Prior to the pandemic she was a regular presenter at conferences, though that has all stopped for now: she has been working from home and providing all of her tuition via Zoom! Sometimes, however, she has been distracted by my granddaughter, who has joined the family since I wrote the post, and who will be three in June. By my reckoning, that will make her around 43 the next time Halley (hopefully) makes an appearance, so maybe she and her Mum will be sharing a moment like mine with a child or children of her own, as I pondered?

This song will be around seventy years old by then: I wonder if people will still be listening to it? I hope they will, as it is a perfect distillation into three minutes of the important things that make our lives so fulfilling: love, children and family. These will, I hope, remain important for us forever. For myself, I am happy to have a song that reminds me of this whenever I listen to it.

Tuesday Tunes 46: Winning

Three weeks ago I took my theme of Wheels from my football team’s recent performances, described by one pundit as ‘the wheels have fallen off.’ After two successive 4-0 wins I’m hopeful that those wheels are now back on the team bus, and have decided to do a counterpoint as this week’s theme. Readers, I give you: Winning.

Thinking about this, a number of songs with win/winning/winner in their title came to mind, as well as a couple of others that take this as their theme. Spoilt for choice, I managed to shrink them down to seven songs but couldn’t go beyond that, so here goes. The first is a longtime favourite of mine, from a singer-songwriter who has, I think, been largely underrated for much of his career:

That was the closing track on Chris Rea’s 1984 album Wired To The Moon, which reached #35 on the UK albums chart. Chris has had two #1 albums here, a #2, plus three more in the top ten, from a total of 25 album releases. Only three have had any US chart success, the best being his very first album, Whatever Happened To Benny Santini? which got to #49. With singles, 42 of his 72 records have reached the UK top 100, but only one, The Road To Hell, has got as high as #10. In the US, only 6 have made the top 100. I think you’d call that steady, rather than spectacular, and is why I think he has been underrated. To me, that is a real shame, as he has made some great albums. If you want to hear more, check out his Shamrock Diaries album, and especially the song Stainsby Girls – you won’t be disappointed.

In terms of chart success I’m going from one extreme to the other, with my next choice:

It may come as a surprise to see me include ABBA, but it isn’t the first time I’ve done so. Whilst my taste tends to veer away from the mainstream pop charts, there can be no denying the brilliance of their songwriting and performances, and this is no exception. It is a break up song, so is a little more downbeat than my reaction to my team winning a couple of games, but I just had to include it! What is there left for me to say about them, after all that has been written over the nearly forty years since they began? The basic facts are that this was from their Super Trouper album, which was released on 3 November 1980, and became the best selling album of 1980 in the UK – in eight weeks! The album was, of course, #1 here and in Germany, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. It also made the top ten in a further seven countries, and reached #17 in the US. This song was released ahead of the album, in July 1980, and was #1 in the UK and #8 in the US. It is, simply, perfect pop music.

Bryan Adams has a couple of songs with ‘win’ in their title. One of them, We’re Gonna Win, is much used in the sports world as a motivational song, and there are several versions on YouTube, including one by a sporting superstars band including John McEnroe and Damon Hill. It is the obvious choice for this post – so I went for the other one:

Call me perverse if you like, but of the two songs I prefer this one. As you can probably tell from it being an ‘audio only’ video, it is very much out of the Adams mainstream: as far as I can see it has only featured as a bonus track on the 30th anniversary re-release of his Reckless album – the one which made him a big star, reaching #1 in the US and his native Canada, and #7 here in the UK. If you’re in need of sporting motivation, there are always the videos for the other song I mentioned – maybe that’s what has been playing for the Spurs team before recent games, just to remind them of the objective of the game?

As well as the Chris Rea song that I began with, I also know and like another with Winning as its title:

This was a track on Carlos Santana’s twelfth album, Zebop, released in 1981, which peaked at #9 in the US and #33 here in the UK. It was also a #17 single in the US. The song was written by Russ Ballard, who you may know from his days in the band Argent. The lead vocal is by a Scottish singer/guitarist/drummer by the name of Alex Ligertwood, who has many appearances on others’ records to his credit but doesn’t appear to have released anything under his own name. He was vocalist for Santana in five different spells between 1979 and 1994, so Carlos obviously rated him a lot to keep inviting him back!

I know of three songs with You Win Again as their title, so the problem was which one to choose. I quickly discounted the Bee Gees (of course), and another is by Hank Williams. There are so many cover versions of that song, by a Who’s Who of country artists, and the choice was very hard. So what did I do? I avoided that decision and went for the third song instead:

As you may have noticed if you’ve seen any of my posts before, I am a huge fan of Mary Chapin Carpenter, so this really wasn’t a difficult choice to make, if I’m being honest. This was a track on MCC’s third album, Shooting Straight In The Dark, which reached #70 on the main US albums chart, and #11 on the country chart, but didn’t do anything here. This was the first single released from the album, and it got to #16 on the US country singles chart. Sadly, it was to be a further couple of years before the British record-buying public noticed her, but her albums have since then consistently achieved respectable appearances in our album charts, though she has only ever reached our top 100 singles twice. She deservedly has a loyal following here, though: during the pandemic she has been releasing a video each week from her home, and the comments on these show that her appeal stretches far beyond her homeland.

The two final songs this week don’t have any version of the word ‘win’ in their title, but are nevertheless very appropriate for inclusion. This is about someone who never gave up, even when everything seemed to be against him, and is to my mind one of the best songs ever written:

A magical performance of a truly wonderful song. You get a sense from that of how much it means to both of them, from the facial expressions and the lovely moment when Art puts a comforting hand on Paul’s back. This was a track on the classic album Bridge Over Troubled Water, which was released in January 1970. It was #1 in 11 countries, including both the US and the UK, and was the bestselling album of 1970 in both countries too. The song was released as a single in March 1969, whilst they were recording further tracks for the album, and reached #7 in the US and #6 here, as well as making the top ten in ten other countries. It has been covered many times, but no one has ever got close to the original – how could they?

This week’s final song has a message for us all, whether that be in a sporting context or in the wider scope of life in general:

This was a track on Journey’s seventh album, Escape, released in July 1981. It was a US #1 that year and made #32 here in the UK in 1982. This was also a hit single in the US, where it got to #9, but only made #62 here on its original release. It has, however, had an extended lifespan here, as it has also been a chart single in 2007 (#97), 2008 (#93), 2009 (#71), 2010 (#6, after a copy by the Glee cast was a hit), 2011 (#74), 2012 (#88), and 2013 (#44). Odd, or what? I think the reason I’m including it is fairly apparent, though: if we don’t have belief in ourself, what chance do we have at success? Unless, of course, we are a certain ex-President who has so much misplaced self-belief that he can’t avoid ‘winning,’ as he sees it.

Spurs are playing again on Thursday. Is a third successive win too much to hope for? Come on, Clive, don’t stop believing…

That’s all for this extended edition of Tunes. Stay strong, keep believing, and we will get through everything that life is throwing at us right now. Take care.