Tuesday Tunes 24: Strength

I’ve seen much recently in the news, in social media, and in tv shows about how people’s strength is supporting them and others in these pandemic days. It gave me the idea that this might be a good theme for one of these posts: I had been pondering ‘empowerment’ as a theme but thought that might become overtly political, which isn’t my aim. I just want these to be fun, but I may come back to that one at some point.

There are a great many songs I could have chosen, both those that talk of being strong for oneself or for someone else. I’ve managed to keep the selection to what is becoming my usual four tunes, which probably means that I’ve left out some you might have chosen. But that’s the beauty of music: it would be very boring if we all liked the same things! My selection features two songs that speak of staying strong in oneself, and two about being strong for someone else – that’s my attempt at balance!

This week’s first tune is very much of the ‘I’ve survived because I’m strong’ type:

That song was on Reg’s seventeenth album, Too Low For Zero, released in 1983. The album reached #7 in the UK and #25 in the US. I’m Still Standing was released as a single, peaking at #4 in the UK and #12 in the US. It was, he said at the time, his response to feeling that he had become less relevant after the rise of disco, punk and the New Romantics. The video was filmed in Cannes and has been viewed more than 92m times – it did much to garner airplay and contribute to both the single and the album being successful. For him that was a real statement of personal strength, which he needed after a poor run of performance in the singles chart.

My second choice this week is of the ‘I’m here for you’ type. I featured the Boss a few weeks ago, but make no apology for doing so again – he has, after all, made many great records in a career going back to 1973. This is one of his gentler ones:

The song was on Bruce’s eighth studio album, Tunnel Of Love, released in 1987. This was the follow up to Born In The USA so it tends to pale by comparison. I bought it at the time – it was actually the last vinyl album I bought – and I have always loved it. In my view it has been underrated, though it has sold well over 5m copies, which most acts would die for! This was the fourth of five singles released from the album. It didn’t chart in the US but reached #13 here: I guess most who wanted it had bought the album by then, as that was #1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

There have been several covers of Tougher Than The Rest, one of my favourites being that by Shawn Colvin on her 2015 album Uncovered. That leads me neatly into my next selection for this week which is by, you guessed it, Shawn Colvin. It’s almost as if I plan this, isn’t it? One of her cover versions appeared in my previous post, but this is one of her own. It is another of those ‘use my strength’ songs:

Apologies for the static video but with a song as good as that, who needs pictures anyway? The song featured on Shawn’s second album, Fat City, from 1992. She has never been one to make huge dents in the charts: that album got as far as #142 in the States and didn’t chart here at all. In fact, her best chart performances have only been a #39 in the US and a #67 here – and not with the same album. Her singles haven’t fared much better, either. This one didn’t chart anywhere, as far as I can tell, and she has only ever hit the top 100 once in the US, with Sunny Came Home in 1997. That reached #7 there and #29 here, but at least we’ve got six of her other singles into our top 100 too! I’ve heard it said that some music is too good for the charts: if that is true, Shawn is a case in point, as her output has been uniformly excellent.

For this week’s final choice I’m returning to one of my favourite artists, ever. Somehow I’ve reached the 24th in this series without him, and it’s long overdue that I fixed that. I’ve written about his music before, in particular when I marked his passing with my tribute. This song didn’t feature in that tribute – I had so many to choose from! – but it is still one of my favourites, of his or anyone else’s:

That is just so good! Not a bad backing band, either. The song was on what was officially Tom’s debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, released in 1989, though members of the Heartbreakers played on several tracks, particularly Mike Campbell, who you saw playing guitar in the video. The album was #3 in the US and #8 here, and has sold over 6m copies. Three of its tracks, including this one, were released as singles – this one peaked at #12 in the US and #28 here. Its message of strength and defiance against the odds is a perfect fit for my theme this week. It has also been used by a number of US politicians as music at their campaign rallies, most notably in June this year by the orange moron, who received a ‘cease and desist’ letter from Tom’s family, saying that Tom had always wanted his music to bring people together, not divide them. And so say all of us – well, apart from the aforementioned moron, that is.

A little footnote for you, too. As Wikipedia notes: ‘The song has become a tradition at Florida Gators football games at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Petty’s hometown. Petty died unexpectedly on October 3, 2017, and at the next home game the following Saturday, the song was played between the third and fourth quarters after the traditional university song “We Are The Boys From Old Florida.” It has been played at that time at every subsequent Florida home game, with fans singing along and holding aloft cell phones to fill the stadium with lights.’

Here is that first time:

That, for me, is a perfect example both of the strength and power of music, and of its ability to unite us. A suitable place to end this week’s tunes, I think. Take care, be safe and stay strong.

You Go To School

The ever reliable Timehop reminded me this morning of a piece I wrote seven years ago today, when I was two weeks away from retirement. It was a fairly short one, but it resonated with me when I read it again so I thought I’d share it for you – after all, how many of you were reading my blog seven years ago and will have seen this before?!

A few things struck me:

1. Those were the days when (a) WordPress offered us a Daily Prompt, and (b) they were helpful.

2. The link to WordPress’ Daily Prompt still works! You’ll have to scroll a long way down the 216 contributions to find mine though, back in the days when this still went by the original, albeit not very original, title of “Clive’s Blog.’

3. I used to listen to my music on an iPod back then – remember them? Just think how much streaming services have rendered them obsolete in seven years, saving us the task of copying our CDs and transferring them! I think mine is tucked away in a drawer somewhere, long since left silent.

4. This will be the second time this week that I’ve shared a Steve Earle song – because he’s worth it!

5. Sadly, I don’t see the point I made about the lack of availability of education for all becoming less valid any time soon.

This is what I said back then:

YOU GO TO SCHOOL AND YOU LEARN TO READ AND WRITE

Daily Prompt: Can’t Drive 55

I haven’t posted for one of the daily prompts for a while – or anything else, come to that – but I was rather taken with the challenge in today’s, which reads:

Take the third line of the last song you heard, make it your post title, and write for a maximum of 15 minutes. GO!

As I’ve been fighting headaches and a migraine all week I haven’t listened to any music since last weekend, so I had to check on my iPod what that last song was. It turned out to be this:

As I’ve mentioned before I am a long time fan of Steve Earle, and this song comes from his first full-length studio album, Guitar Town, which was released in 1986. The third line of the song goes:

You go to school and you learn to read and write

A fairly basic statement, until you hear it in the context of the song, which is about the frustrations of a young man growing up in a small town wanting to get away to see ‘what’s over that rainbow.’ The next line is:

So you can walk into the County Bank and sign away your life

Get the picture? The song is really a mix of those frustrations with hope that the future will be better, all based on the belief of youth that the world is a much better place everywhere except in the small cocoon that encloses them. I know, I was young once, and my memory hasn’t completely gone. Yet. As I approach a major change in my life it does in some strange way feel like I’m a teenager again, with so much to look forward to. The big difference is that I’m not dreaming about what my life may hold and what I may make of it, but how I can spend my time enjoying myself, doing all the things I’ve wanted to do but haven’t yet done, and hopefully still making a useful contribution to society in my own small way. That’s a kind of dream, isn’t it? To my mind, there’s nothing wrong with having dreams at any time about what life may hold for you – being without some hope is like giving up on life, which is not something I’m planning on doing any time soon!

But let’s go back to the song line that started off my thoughts. At its most basic level it is a simple statement of fact: everyone goes to school, and reading and writing are the basis of all forms of learning. All of you reading this must have gone through some schooling to be able to be here now. But I know that people read this blog from a huge number of countries worldwide, not all of which have such a developed education system as the USA and the UK, where the bulk of readers come from. We take education as a right, as a given part of our lives. My education has taken me to university, to a Masters degree, and supported me through my working life. I have been able to read anything I wanted to along the way – even if I still have to look up the big words in a dictionary from time to time. I’ve always seen this as an entirely natural thing, and the opportunity to have a good education should be a given for everyone, regardless of where they are born. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, that is still not the case everywhere. Maybe, when we sit and think about our frustrations with life, with our dreams of something better, we should also think how lucky we are to do that – not everyone even knows the rainbow exists and that there might be a better place beyond it.

A final thought: the song that started this off has been covered several times. I’ll leave you with my favourite of these, with the beautiful voices of Shawn Colvin and, providing harmonies, her great pal Mary Chapin Carpenter:

A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Four

So here it is, Merry Christmas….no, wait, not that one please! Don’t worry, in keeping with the rest of Advent only two of my final set of eight choices for the remaining seven days have been chart hits. That makes a total of five out of twenty six, but I make no apologies – if you really want them the usual suspects can be found on every Christmas playlist on every streaming service! Having said that, this final set contains several of my own usual suspects, but they are so good that they deserve to be heard.

For the 19th I gave you one which I’ve featured for all five years that I have done this. It is clearly a favourite of mine, and displays my folkie roots. Kate Rusby is a folk singer-songwriter from Yorkshire, in the north of England. Her shows are full of lovely music and warm, friendly repartee, as I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. She comes from an area with a strong tradition of sharing Christmas songs and has to date released four albums of them. This is the title track from the first of those, and is accompanied by a lovely animated video – the singer in it is a very good likeness of Kate:

I went across the pond for the 20th. Continuing my choices of female singer-songwriters, I selected one from Shawn Colvin’s album Holiday Songs And Lullabies – sorry, my American friends, but I really don’t get your reluctance to call this by its proper name of ‘Christmas,’ as I said here. Again, this one is accompanied by an unofficial video, which complements the song well:

On the 21st – the Winter Solstice – I took a slightly different approach. This isn’t an obvious Christmas song, but a modern variation on the theme of a special baby with mystical powers. It seemed an appropriate choice to mark Yule:

Returning to Christian traditions on the 22nd I chose this one. I’ve seen the band perform this live and it is a magical moment. There is a video on YouTube of them from a 2004 concert DVD but I chose this version: it is the one they originally released in 1972 on their Below The Salt album, and the voice of Tim Hart can be clearly heard. Tim, sadly, died of cancer on Christmas Eve 2009, at the age of 61, and I selected this to pay my respects to him:

It being Sunday on the 23rd I kept to my habit of sharing a carol. This one is very well known and there are many versions to choose from. This, by the amazing Sinead O’Connor, is my favourite by miles, and the video is superb too:

My choice for Christmas Eve has been the same for all five years. For me, this is an absolute no-brainer and the fact that it is a lovely song helps no end! Mindy Smith deserves to be more widely known: she released five albums between 2004 and 2012, one of which – My Holiday – was a seasonal (ie. Christmas) album, and this song is from her most recent release, an EP entitled Snowed In, from 2013. Her website gives no details of any upcoming performances so it appears that she may have ‘retired’ from music – I hope not, and live in hope as she has recently been active on Twitter and Facebook. This is beautiful:

And finally to today. If you’re actually reading this on Christmas Day I thank you for being here and sharing this with me. If not, there is nothing wrong with catching up! There does seem to be a subtext of my liking for female singer-songwriters showing through my choices: this is another whom I’ve been lucky enough to see perform live, and I recommend her highly if you get the chance. She has a beautifully warm voice which is so well suited to her songs. This one is from her album Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs Of Christmas. For me this is the absolutely perfect choice for Christmas Day. Merry Christmas!

Ah, hold on. I promised you eight songs for this final compilation and if you care to count back you’ll see there have only been seven so far. I know it’s cheating, but I think I can be forgiven for adding in a bonus song for Christmas Day. This one has been a chart hit many times, including this year, but has never been the Christmas Number One – a criminal oversight by the British record-buying public, to my eyes. Even in the first year of release it only made number two, kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ wilful destruction of a Willie Nelson song. I really think we should have tried harder! You *may* have heard this one before:

So that’s it for another year. I hope you have enjoyed my choices, especially those which may have been new to you. I do try and steer as far clear of the charts as I can, and my disappointment is that I have to leave out so many other good songs. If you are interested, my YouTube playlist is ever growing, currently standing at around 120 songs (including some alternative versions) and can be found here.

Thank you for following, reading, liking and commenting on my posts. As another year draws to a close, I marvel yet again at the wonders of modern technology that allow us to communicate like this, and to share our thoughts, hopes, dreams and, in my case, our love of music. On which point, something new for me: I will be sharing on Twitter and my Facebook page a ‘new year’ song each day from tomorrow up until New Year’s Day, when I will return here with a compilation post of these, for those who won’t have seen each daily offering as they happen. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year!