Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Four). “Oh Manchester, So Much to Answer for …”

Suffer Little Children, the final song on The Smith’s self-titled debut album (1984), is a chilling and sombre account of The Moors Murders, carried out by Myra Hindley and Ian Brady between July 1963 and October 1965.  It would be a further year before Hindley and Brady confessed to the murders and the full extent of the crimes that inspired Suffer Little Children would come to light.  At the time of the song’s writing and release, Hindley and Brady had both maintained their innocence and had not told the police about two of the murders, hence Suffer Little Children only including the names of three of the victims.

“Over the moor, take me to the moor, Dig a shallow grave, And I’ll lay me down”

The first victim of the killer couple was the 16 year old Pauline Reade, Hindley’s neighbour.  Reade had disappeared on her way to a dance at the British Railways Club in Gorton, Manchester, on the 12th July 1963.  On the same evening, Brady had told Hindley that he wanted to “commit his perfect murder”.  He told Hindley to drive her van around the local area whilst he followed on his motorcycle.  Upon spotting the victim for “his perfect murder”, he would flash his headlights and Hindley was to stop to offer that person a lift.

Driving down Gorton Lane, Brady saw a young girl walking towards them and signalled Hindley to stop, which she did not do until she had passed the girl.  Brady stopped his motorbike alongside Hindley’s van and demanded to know why she had not offered the girl a lift, to which Hindley replied that she recognised the girl as Marie Ruck, a neighbour of her mother’s.

Shortly after this failed attempt, at around 8pm, the couple were driving down Froxmer Street when Brady noticed a girl wearing a pale blue coat and white high-heeled shoes walking away from them.  Brady once again signalled for Hindley to stop.  Upon stopping, Hindley recognised the girl as Pauline Reade, a friend of her younger sister, Maureen.  Reade accepted a lift from Hindley.  Hindley told Reade that she had lost an expensive glove on Saddleworth Moor and asked if she would mind helping her to find it.  Reade said she was in no hurry and agreed to helping Hindley.

Reade was 16 years old, a few years older than their intended first victim, Maria Ruck.  Hindley realised that there would be slightly less commotion over the death of a teenager than there would be over a child of seven or eight.  Upon reaching the moor, Hindley stopped her van and Brady arrived shortly afterwards on his motorcycle.  She introduced him to Reade as her boyfriend and said he had also come to find the missing glove.  When questioned, Hindley told the police that Brady had taken Reade onto the moor whilst Hindley waited in the van.  After about 30 minutes, Brady returned alone and took Hindley to the place where Reade lay dying.  Her throat had been cut twice with a large knife, with the larger of these wounds being across her voice box.  The collar of Reade’s coat had been pushed into the wound in a deliberate fashion.

Whilst Brady had gone to find the spade which he had hidden nearby to bury the body, Hindley told of how she had noticed that Reade’s coat was undone and her clothes were untidy, leading Hindley to guess that Brady had sexually assaulted her.  However, Brady’s account of the murder differs greatly.  Brady claimed that Hindley was present at the crime scene and that she even took part in the sexual assault.  After burying Reade’s body, Brady put his motorcycle in the back of Hindley’s van.   Whilst returning home, Hindley and Brady passed Reade’s mother, Joan, who was accompanied by her son, Paul.  Hindley and Brady stopped to help Joan search the streets for her daughter.

Oh John, you’ll never be a man, And you’ll never see your home again”.

The second victim of The Moors Murders was 12 year old John Kilbride.  Hindley and Brady approached Kilbride at a market in Ashton-Under-Lyne in the early evening of the 23rd of November 1963.  The couple offered Kilbride a lift home, telling him that his parents would be worried about him being out so late.  They bribed Kilbride with a bottle of sherry and he got into the Ford Anglia car that Hindley had recently hired.  Once in the car, Brady told Kilbride that the sherry was at the couple’s home and that they would have to make a detour to collect it before dropping him home.  Once they were on their way, Brady suggested another detour to search for a glove which he said Hindley had lost on the moor.  Upon reaching the moor, Brady took to the child with him to supposedly search for Hindley’s glove whilst Hindley waited in the car.  Brady sexually assaulted Kilbride and attempted to slit his throat with a 6-inch serrated blade before eventually strangling him with a piece of string, possibly a shoelace.

“A woman said: “I know my son is dead, I’ll never rest my hands on his sacred head.””

The third victim was Keith Bennett, who vanished from his grandmother’s house in Longsight, Manchester, during the early evening of 16th June, 1964, four days after his twelfth birthday.  Hindley asked Bennett for his help in loading some boxes into her Mini pick-up truck and told him that she would drive him home afterwards.  Once she had lured him into the pick-up truck, she drove to a lay-by on Saddleworth Moor, where Brady was waiting.  Once again, Bennett was told that Hindley had lost a glove and she had asked for his help in finding it.  Brady went with Bennett to find the fictitious glove.  Hindley kept watch until 30 minutes later when Brady reappeared, alone and carrying a spade which had been hidden there earlier.  When Hindley asked Brady how he had killed Bennett, he said he had sexually assaulted him and strangled him with a piece of string.

“Lesley Ann, with your pretty white beads”.

On the 26th December 1964, Hindley and Brady went to a local fairground in search of another victim.  They noticed Lesley Ann Downey standing beside one of the rides.  After realising Downey was on her own, they approached the 10 year old girl and deliberately dropped some of the shopping they were carrying close to her.  They asked for Downey’s help in carrying the shopping to the couple’s car and then to their home.  Downey agreed and once back at Hndley and Brady’s home, she was undressed, gagged and forced to pose for photographs before being raped and killed.  It is suspected that like the previous two victims, Downey was strangled with a piece of string.

When questioned about the murder, Hindley maintained that she had gone to fill a bath for the child and on returning found the girl dead, killed by Brady.  However, Brady stated that it was Hindley who killed Downey.  The morning after the murder, Hindley and Brady drove Downey’s body to Saddleworth Moor and buried her, naked with her clothes at her feet, in a shallow grave.

“Edward, see those alluring lights?  Tonight will be your very last night”.

The final victim of the couple was 17 year old engineer Edward Evans.  On the 6th October 1965, Brady had met Evans at Manchester Central Railway Station.  Hindley had driven Brady to Manchester Central Station and waited outside whilst Brady selected their victim.  After a few minutes, Brady reappeared with Evans, introducing Hindley as his sister.  Brady invited Evan’s back to the couple’s home at 16 Wardle Brook Avenue in Hattersley, Manchester for a drink, where Brady beat him to death with an axe.

This murder was to prove to be the couple’s undoing, as now becoming cocky and complacent, Brady had attempted to recruit Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith into their murderous plans.  When the couple had arrived home with Evans, Brady had sent Hindley to fetch Smith.  On returning with Smith, Hindley told Smith to wait outside for her signal, a flashing light.  After the signal, Smith knocked on the door and was met by Brady who asked him if he come for “the miniature bottles of wine”.  Brady led Smith into the kitchen and left him there, saying that he was going to collect the wine.  A few minutes later, Smith heard a scream followed by Hindley shouting loudly for him to come and help.  Smith rushed into the living room to the sight of Brady repeatedly striking Evans over the head with the flat of an axe.  He watched in shock as Brady then throttled his victim with a length of electrical cord.  During the process of killing Evans, Brady had sprained his ankle and the body was too heavy for Smith to take to the car on his own.  They therefore wrapped the body in plastic sheeting and put it in the spare bedroom.  Smith agreed to help Brady to dispose of Evans’s body the following evening.  He went home and, horrified at what he had witnessed, told his wife, Maureen, what he had seen.  The couple called the police from a public phone box at 6.07am the morning after the murder, the police searched the house and found the body of Edward Evans and Hindley and Brady were arrested.

When interrogated about the events, Hindley said “Whatever Ian has done, I have done”, alluded to in Suffer Little Children with the line “Wherever he has gone, I have gone”.  Upon sentencing the couple to life imprisonment, the judge, Mr Justice Atkinson described Brady and Hindley as “two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity”.

“Oh, find me … find me, nothing more, We are on a sullen misty moor …” 

Initially, the police were only aware of three killings, those of Edward Evans, Lesley Ann Downey and John Kilbride.  The investigation was reopened in 1985 after Brady was reported in the press as having confessed to the murders of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett.  Hindley and Brady were taken separately to Saddleworth Moor to assist the police in their search for the bodies of Reade and Bennett, by then having both confessed to their murders.

Hindley was characterised by the press worldwide as “the most evil woman in Britain”.  She made several attempts to have her life sentence overturned, claiming that she was reformed and no longer a danger to society, but was never released.  Hindley died in 2002, aged 60 years old.  Brady was declared criminally insane in 1985 and has since been confined to the high security Ashworth Hospital.  He has made it clear that he never wants to be released and has repeatedly asked that he be allowed to die.

At the time of the murders, Morrissey was a child himself, being 4 years old in 1963, making the youngest victims not too much older than him.  The reaction in Manchester was one of horror and disbelief that such acts could happen and also that one of the perpetrators was a woman, perhaps why the song focuses more on Hindley than Brady.  In Suffer Little Children, Morrissey may allude to the shock felt that one of the perpetrators was a woman in the phrase “Hindley wakes …” Hindle Wakes is 1910 play by Stanley Houghton (which has since seen various film versions).  The play criticises the patriarchal society’s view that women, unlike men, are not governed by the laws of nature, primarily those related to sexual desires.  Therefore, by referring to the title of the play with the phrase “Hindley wakes”, Morrissey may be extending this criticism to include many peoples’ beliefs, particularly at the time of Hindley’s arrest, that a woman is not naturally capable of horrors such as the Moors Murders or that she could not have been a conscious participant, instead being manipulated by the man.

Morrissey wrote Suffer Little Children after reading Emlyn Williams’s book Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and its Detection (1967).  It was one of the first songs that lyricist Morrissey wrote with guitarist Johnny Marr.  The title of the song is taken from the Gospel of Matthew 19:14 in which Jesus rebukes his disciples for turning away a group of children by saying, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven”.

Suffer Little Children caused much controversy at the time of its release, particularly when placed in context of an album on which the opening song, Reel Around The Fountain, was said by many, including the press, to allude to a homosexual and potentially paedophilic relationship (“It’s time the tale were told, Of how you took a child, And you made him old”).

Similarly controversial at the time was track 5, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which the press also suggested was about paedophilia.  These claims have been strongly denied by the band.

Suffer Little Children cause more controversy when it was featured on the B-side of the single Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984).  The single featured an image of 1960’s pools winner Viv Nicholson who bore more than a passing resemblance to Myra Hindley, something that many newspapers picked up on.  As a result, the single and album were both withdrawn from sale by some retailers, including Woolworths and Boots.  Despite this, Morrissey later struck up a close friendship with Ann West, the mother of victim Lesley Ann Downey, after she accepted that the band’s intentions had been entirely honourable.

Sympathy For The Devil: Ten Songs About The Devil. The Church of Satan is Established at The Black House in San Francisco. This Day in History, 30/04/1966.

1.  The Rolling Stones ‘Sympathy For The Devil’

(from the album Beggars Banquet, 1968).

2.  Tom Waits ‘The Black Rider’

(from the album The Black Rider, 1993).

3.  British Sea Power ‘No Lucifer’

(from the album Do You Like Rock Music?, 2008).

4.  Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘Red Right Hand’

(from the album Let Love In, 1994).

5.  Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps ‘Race with the Devil’

(single A-side, 1956).

6.  Iron Maiden ‘The Number of the Beast’

(from the album The Number of the Beast, 1982).

7.  Wilco ‘Hell is Chrome’

(from the album A Ghost is Born, 2004).

8.  The Charlie Daniels Band ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’

(from the album Million Mile Reflections, 1979).

9.  Elvis Presley ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’

(single A-side, 1963).

10. Queen ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

(from the album A Night at the Opera, 1975).

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Three). “I Can’t Believe the News Today …”

Derry is a small town in Northern Ireland, the home to approximately 100,000 people.  Derry has a dark past.  In 1970, the British Army had entered Northern Ireland to keep the peace at the height of The Troubles.  On the 9th August, 1971, Internment had been introduced by The British Government and the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland.  In the small hours of the morning, those suspected of being IRA members were subjected to their houses being raided and being put in prison with no trial, completely bypassing the judicial system.  On the 30th January 1972, British soldiers shot twenty six unarmed civilians during a protest march against internment organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and The Northern Resistance Movement.   Fourteen people were killed.  Thirteen were killed outright whilst another man died four and a half months later due to the injuries he sustained.  Many of the victims were shot whilst fleeing from the soldiers, whilst others were shot trying to help the wounded.  Two protestors were also injured when they were run down by army vehicles.  This bleak event in the history of Northern Ireland became known as Bloody Sunday.

Move forward eleven years and Northern Ireland was still in the grips of The Troubles.  A young band from Dublin begins to play a song.  Starting with a militaristic drum beat which evokes image of soldiers and guns and almost makes the listener feel as though they were there on Bloody Sunday even before the vocals begin, this song is Sunday Bloody Sunday and the band is U2.

Sunday Bloody Sunday, from U2’s third album War (1983), grew from a guitar riff written by guitarist the Edge in 1982.  Whilst singer Bono and new wife Ali Hewson were on their honeymoon in Jamaica, the Edge was in Ireland working on the music for what would become the War album.  Following an argument with his girlfriend and a period of self doubt over his abilities as a songwriter, the Edge channelled his frustration into what would become Sunday Bloody Sunday, writing the first draft of the song’s lyrics.  Bono rewrote the Edge’s lyrics, which started with the line “Don’t talk to me about the rights of the IRA, UDA”, fearing that the original lyrics would be misinterpreted to be sectarian thus placing them in danger.  Instead of the original potentially volatile opening line, Sunday Bloody Sunday starts with the line, “I can’t believe the news today”, evocative of the prevailing response to the violence in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.  Thus, with this still powerful opening line, Sunday Bloody Sunday became U2’s equivalent of The Beatles’ A Day in the Life (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967), which starts with the line, “I read the news today, oh boy”.

Despite the way in which Sunday Bloody Sunday is often perceived as a protest song, something heavily disputed by the band, the song actually takes the viewpoint of somebody outside of the violence who is horrified at the cycle of violence in the province and the effect it has on people.  Sunday Bloody Sunday links together the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 and Bloody Sunday in Dublin, 1920, where British troops fired into the crowd at a football match in retaliation for the killing of British undercover agents.  The band has said that the song is not specifically about either event.  Sunday Bloody Sunday is more a condemnation of the glorification of violence, common with those involved in it and those supporting it in Ireland and elsewhere around the world.  In an interview with Lucy White in 1983, Larry Mullen Jr said of the song:

“We’re into the politics of people, we’re not into politics.  Like you talk about Northern Ireland, Sunday Bloody Sunday, people sort of think, ‘Oh, that time when thirteen Catholics were shot by British soldiers’; that’s not what the song is about.  That’s the incident, the most famous incident in Northern Ireland and it’s the strongest way of saying, ‘How long?  How long do we have to put up with this?’  I don’t care who’s who – Catholics, Protestants, whatever.  You know people are dying every single day through bitterness and hate, and we’re saying why?  What’s the point?  And you can move that into place like El Salvador and other similar situations – people dying.  Let’s forget the politics, let’s stop shooting each other and sit around the table and talk about it … There are a lot of bands taking sides saying politics is crap, etc.  Well, so what!  The real battle is people dying, that’s the real battle”.

At a concert filmed the night of the IRA Enniskillen bombing on the 8th November, Bono backed up this viewpoint, saying:

“I’ve had enough of Irish-Americans who haven’t been back to their country in twenty or thirty years coming up to talk to me about the resistance, the resistance back home.  And the glory days of the revolution.  FUCK THE REVOLUTION!  They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution.  What’s the glory in taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and children?  Where’s the glory in that?  Where’s the glory in bombing a remembrance Day parade of old age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day?  Where’s the glory in that?  To leave them dying or crippled for life or dead.  Under the rubble of a revolution.  That, the majority of people in my country don’t want.  No  more!”

The song also links the events of both Bloody Sundays to Easter Sunday, paraphrasing religious text from Matthew 10:35 in the line “Mothers children; brothers, sisters torn apart” and twisting 1 Corinthians 15:32 to fit around the theme of Bloody Sunday in the line “We eat and drink while tomorrow they die”.  The chorus of Sunday Bloody Sunday, the opening track on War, is echoed in the album’s closing track 40, which is a heavily based on Psalm 40.

The chorus of “How long, how long must we sing this song …” rhetorically pleads with those involved in the killing of innocent people and the glorification of such atrocities over the course of The Troubles.  What became known as The Troubles lasted between 1960 and the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998 but in reality, Ireland has seen bloody clashes since the 1600s and continues to see sporadic violence, such as the Massereene Barracks Shooting in 2009.

Throughout Sunday Bloody Sunday, disturbing images of violence abound.  In verse two of the song, “Broken bottles under children’s feet” refers to the combatants’ use of Molotov Cocktails during The Troubles and “Bodies strewn across the dead end street”.  These lines are followed by Bono’s insistence that he affiliates with no side in the conflict and that he and the band are simply against violence:  “But I won’t heed the battle call, It puts my back up, Puts my back up against the wall”.  Later in the song, we see the lines “And the battle’s just begun, There’s many lost but tell me who has won”.   Between 1969 and 2001, 3,526 people were killed as a result of The Troubles.  “The trench is dug within our hearts, And mothers, children, brothers, sisters Torn apart” Bono continues, telling of the devastating effects of death, political and religious difference and imprisonment.  The lines, “Cause tonight, we can be as one, Tonight, Tonight” end this section of the song with a powerful cry for unity and an end to the bloodshed and misery.

In the final verse of the song, Bono tells of the effect of media manipulation on conflicts with the lines “And it’s true we are immune, When fact is fiction and TV reality”.  The band itself grew up in Dublin, Republic of Ireland where the violence of Northern Ireland didn’t impact them in terms of seeing it firsthand but more through media coverage, relating back to the song’s opening lyric, “I can’t believe the news today”.  Therefore, much like most other people listening to the song, he is taking the viewpoint of simply seeing second hand accounts of the violence.  Bono has said of the day of Bloody Sunday in an article for The New York Times in 2010:

“It was a day when my father stopped taking our family across the border to Ulster because, as he said, the “Nordies have lost their marbles”.  And we were a Catholic-Protestant household”.

The band end the last verse of song on a religious note, neatly linking the events in Northern Ireland to Easter Sunday and calling for an end to the violence with the lines, “The real battle just begun, To claim the victory Jesus won on …” before returning to the chorus for the full effect of the “How long …” refrain.  This refrain has been used to great effect in concert during The Troubles and other conflicts around the world, often being played as the final song of the set, with the audience continuing to sing it long after the band have left the stage.  Also greatly effective in live performances was Bono waving a white flag whilst performing the song, both as a call for peace and to ward off unwanted politically-motivated attention for the song.

U2 have returned to the subject of The Troubles several times throughout their career, most notably on the song Please, from 1997’s Pop album. The song is about the ongoing Northern Ireland Peace Process and in particular, the lack of resolution from the talks.  When Please was released as the fourth single from the album, the sleeve featured pictures of four Northern Irish politicians – Gerry Adams, David Trimble, Ian Paisley and John Hume.  In the song’s fourth verse, we find the lines “Your holy war” referring to The Troubles and “Your northern star” referring to Northern Ireland.  These lines are followed by an allusion to car bombs in the lines “Your sermon on the mount, From the boot of your car”.

In the final verse of Please, Bono sings: “September … streets capsizing … Spilling over, down the drain … Shards of glass splinters like rain, But you can only feel your own pain … October … talking getting nowhere … November … December … remember, Are we just starting again?”  These lines juxtapose the difficulties in coming to a peace agreement with images of violence in The Troubles, which were still continuing.

Please could be seen as the sequel to Sunday Bloody Sunday, perhaps approached with more maturity but also more cynicism.  Bono has now gone past the point of screaming for peace and sounds positively exhausted, at his wit’s end pleading with those involved in The Troubles to find a resolution.

Around the same time as Bono penned the lyrics for Please, he and the Edge collaborated with Christy Moore on the equally mournful and pleading North and South of the River, also influenced by The Troubles.  The song was recorded during the Pop sessions and released on the B-side of the album’s second single, Staring at the Sun in 1997.  The band played the song live for the 1998 television benefit for the victims of the Omagh bombing.  To date, this is the only time the song has been played live.

For their All That You Can’t Leave Behind album, released in 2000, the band were inspired by The Troubles once again.  Peace on Earth was directly influenced by the Omagh bombing on the 15th August 1998.  The car bombing was carried out by the Real IRA, an IRA splinter group who opposed the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement.  The bomb killed 29 people and injured about 220 others, making it the highest death toll from a single incident during The Troubles.  Telephoned warnings had been received approximately 40 minutes before the incident but the details conveyed by those responsible were inaccurate and as a result, the police had inadvertently moved people towards the bomb.

During the song, Bono pays tribute to the victims of the bombing, reading out several of the names of people killed in the highly moving verse:  “They’re reading names out over the radio, All the folks the rest of us won’t get to know, Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann and Breda, Their lives are bigger, than any big idea”.  Similarly, the song makes reference to the funeral of victim James Barker in the lines “She never got to say goodbye, To see the colour in his eye, Now he’s in the dirt”.  The Irish Times had quoted James Barker’s mother as saying, “I never realised how green his eyes were”.  Peace on Earth gained further meaning in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks when the band performed the song as an encore, usually coupled with Walk On from the same album, during their Elevation Tour.

After the anger and frustration of Sunday Bloody Sunday and the emotional appeal of Please, Peace on Earth, although also political, finds Bono at crisis point.  In Peace on Earth, Bono expresses that ‘Peace on Earth’ is simply a saying that is thrown around with no actual meaning.  As much as the singer despises war, he finds the concept of people saying that there will be peace on Earth difficult.  Peace on Earth is Bono attempting to come to terms with the seemingly impossible nature of peace.

The Love of Richard Nixon: An Historical Drama in Twenty Songs. Richard Nixon Announces The Release of Edited Transcripts of White House Tape Recordings Relating to the Watergate Scandal. This Day in History, 29/04/1974. / Richard Nixon Takes The Rap For The Watergate Scandal, 30/04/1973.

1.  Manic Street Preachers ‘The Love of Richard Nixon’

(from the album Lifeblood, 2004).

2.  Stevie Wonder ‘He’s Misstra Know-it-all’

(from the album Innervisions, 1973).

3.  Randy Newman ‘Mr President (Have Pity On The Working Man)’

(from the album Good Old Boys, 1974).

4.  The Undisputed Truth ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’

(from the album The Undisputed Truth, 1971).

5.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ‘Ohio’

(single A-side, 1970).

6.  Phil Ochs ‘How High’s The Watergate’

(from the album Live 1974, 1974).

7.  Neil Young ‘Campaigner’

(from the album Decade, 1977).

8.  Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

(from the album Second Helping, 1974).

9.  Frank Zappa ‘Son of Orange County / More Trouble Every Day’

(from the album Roxy & Elsewhere, 1974).

10. Elton John ‘Postcards From Richard Nixon’

(from the album The Captain & The Kid, 2006).

11.  Curtis Mayfield ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go’

(from the album Curtis, 1970).

12. David Bowie ‘Young Americans’

(from the album Young Americans, 1975).

13.  John Lennon ‘Gimme Some Truth’

(from the album Imagine, 1971).

14.  Gil Scott Heron / Brian Jackson ‘H²Ogate Blues’

(from the album Winter in America, 1974).

15.  Bill Horwitz ‘If I Had A Friend Like Rosemary Woods’

(from the album Lies Lies Lies, 1975).

16.  Robyn Hitchcock ‘1974’

(from the album A Star For Bram, 2000).

17.  James Taylor ‘Let It All Fall Down’

(from the album Walking Man, 1974).

18.  Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’

(from the album Storm Front, 1989).

19. Pink Floyd ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’

(from the album The Final Cut, 1983).

20.  Mono Puff ‘Nixon’s The One’

(from the album Unsupervised, 1996).

French Disko: Ten English Speaking Songs That Contain French Lyrics. Charles de Gaulle Resigns As President of the French Republic. This Day in History, 28/04/1969.

1.  Stereolab ‘French Disko’

(from the Jenny Ondioline EP, 1993).

2.  Talking Heads ‘Psycho Killer’

(from the album Talking Heads: 77, 1977).

3.  Roxy Music ‘A Song For Europe’

(from the album Stranded, 1973).

4.  REM ‘Talk About The Passion’

(from the album Murmur, 1983).

5.  Calexico ‘The Ballad of Cable Hogue’

(from the album Hot Rail, 2000).

6.  Blondie ‘Denis’

(from the album Plastic Letters, 1977).

7.  Belle and Sebastian ‘Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie’

(from the 3, 6, 9 Seconds of Light EP, 1997).

8.  The Beatles ‘Michelle’

(from the album Rubber Soul, 1965).

9.  Joan Jett and the Blackhearts ‘The French Song’

(from the album Album, 1983).

10. Blur ‘To The End’

(from the album Parklife, 1994).

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Two): “New York is the Place Where …”

Right from the early days of The Velvet Underground, Brooklyn born Lou Reed had taken the location, people and elements of New York, usually the darker elements, and put them to a unique musical backdrop in order to tell a story.  Take for example, I’m Waiting for the Man from Velvet Underground and Nico (1967), a song about purchasing $26 worth of heroin in a Harlem brownstone near the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street, written from the perspective of the purchaser.

In the late 1960s, Reed (along with other members of The Velvet Underground:  John Cale, Stirling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, together with Nico) was a regular at Andy Warhol’s Factory.  In 1966, Warhol set his sights on the world of rock music, sponsoring The Velvet Underground.  From The Factory, Reed drew inspiration for many of the Velvet Underground’s songs, setting the ‘low life’ characters that were an integral part of the scene and the goings on inside The Factory to music.  Take for example, Heroin (from Velvet Underground and Nico) and later, Candy Says (from The Velvet Underground, 1968).

Candy Says is a precursor to the themes expressed on one of Reed’s best known songs, Walk on the Wild Side, from his 1972 David Bowie produced classic, Transformer.  Candy Says tells the story of Candy Darling, a transgender Warhol Superstar who starred in Warhol’s films Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971).  Four years after Candy Says, Darling would also become one of Reed’s muses for Walk on the Wild Side.

Jayne County said of Reed’s transfixation with characters such as Candy Darling:

“Lou Reed was fascinated with trannies, transsexuals particularly.  He loved transvestites, he’s fascinated with transvestites.  But Lou, at one time actually had a girlfriend called Rachel and she was a transsexual.  It’s only natural that Lou would write a song where three of the characters are drag queens”.

Reed struggled with his own sexuality throughout most of his life.  When he was 16, his parents consented to Reed being given electroconvulsive therapy in an attempt to cure his homosexual feelings.  Reed appeared to blame his father for what he had been put through and wrote about the incident in his 1974 song Kill Your Sons, from the album Sally Can’t Dance.

In an interview with Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain for the book Please Kill Me:  An Uncensored Oral History of Punk (1996), Reed said of the electroconvulsive therapy:

“They put this thing down your throat so you don’t swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head.  That’s what was recommended in Rockland State Hospital to discourage homosexual feelings.  The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable.  You can’t read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again”.

For Walk on the Wild Side, Reed remembered the transsexuals and transvestites of Warhol’s Factory scene and painted a tale of how they had come to be in New York.  In the first verse of the song, we are introduced to Holly:  “Holly came from Miami, FLA”.  Holly refers to Holly Woodlawn, a transvestite born Haraldo Santiago Franeschi Rodriguez Danhakl, born in Puerto Rico, 1946 who “Hitched hiked her way across the USA, Plucked her eyebrows on the way, Shaved her legs and then he was a she”.  Holly is best remembered for starring in Warhol’s film Trash (1970) alongside Joe Dallesandro, whom I shall mention later.

In the second verse, we see Candy Darling return into Reed’s songwriting:  “Candy came from out on the Island”.  Transsexual Candy Darling was born James Lawrence Slattery on Long Island, New York in 1944.  Candy Darling died of cancer in 1974.

In the third verse, “Little Joe” who “never once gave it away” refers to Joe Dallesandro, born in Pensacols, Florida in 1948.  Dallesandro was the ‘straight’ butch Brooklyn street kid who had turned to gay hustling before his discovery by Warhol and director Paul Morrissey, hence the lines, “A hustle here and a hustle there, New York City is the place where …”  Warhol and Morrissey used Dallesandro’s universal sex appeal to their advantage in several full-length cinema projects, most notably Lonesome Cowboys (1968); Trash (1970) and Heat (1972).  Later Dallesandro crossed over into mainstream films, playing the part of Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano in The Cotton Club (1984) alongside Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins.  He is now considered to be an icon of underground cinema and of gay subculture.

“Sugar Plum Fairy” in verse four, refers to actor Joe Campbell and not to a drug dealer, as often mistakenly thought by listeners.  Campbell, who’s nickname was the “Sugar Plum Fairy” appeared in a few of Warhol’s films, including My Hustler (1965) and Nude Restaurant (1967).  Campbell was also known for being in a relationship with openly gay politician Harvey Milk.  Campbell passed away in 2005 following a lengthy battle with AIDS.

“Jackie is just speeding away, Thought she was James Dean for a day …” refers to drag queen Jackie Curtis.  Curtis was born John Holder Jr. In 1947 and performed both in and out of drag in films, most notably Warhol’s Flesh and Women in Revolt, as well as onstage.  He was also a prolific writer.  Curtis has also been credited for, in some part, inspiring the glam rock movement of the 1970’s due to his use of lipstick, glitter, bright red hair and ripped dresses and stockings during drag performances.  Warhol once described Curtus as follows:  “Jackie Curtis is not a drag queen.  Jackie is an artist.  A pioneer without a frontier”.  Curtis was also a heavy drug user, hence the aforementioned lines alluding to speed and its effects and the following lines, “Then I guess she had to crash, Valium would have helped that bash”.  Curtis succumbed to his addiction to heroin and various other drugs and died following an overdose in 1985.

Amazingly, for a song that concerns itself with such subject matter and contains phrases such as “giving head”, Walk on the Wild Side was never banned by the BBC or by most US radio stations because they simply did not understand the references.  Walk on the Wild Side did however see some edited versions at the time, but instead of taking out the reference to oral sex, various edits replace the line “And the coloured girls say” with “And the girls all say”.  This could simply just be because many radio stations in 1972 were limited to a time frame of 3 to 3 and a half minutes per song, which the full version of Walk on the Wild Side lasts 4 minutes and 12 seconds.  Speaking about Walk on the Wide Side in Victor Bokris’s biography Transformer:  The Lou Reed Story (1994), Reed said:  “I always thought it would be kind of fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet”.

Reed continued to use the backdrop of New York and its people, often those caught on the outside of society, in his songs throughout his career.  The Transformer album notably features several songs written about the New York scene that he loved, including Andy’s Chest, a song with a Dadaist lyrical structure written for Andy Warhol following his failed assassination attempt by Valerie Solanas in 1968.

The album also notably includes New York Telephone Conversation, a rather sarcastic song about the spreading of tittle-tattle by telephone in “the city of shows”.

Later in his career, Reed would use the imagery of New York, still using inhabitants regarded as ‘low life’, to great effect on his 1989 album New York.  Whilst the New York album is highly regarded for the strength and force of its lyrics, it drew much criticism at the time for its apparent pedestrian “truck driver” musicianship.  However, the music of the New York album is purposely simplistic in order to not distract from the frankness of the lyrical content.  Throughout the fourteen songs featured on the album, the lyrics are profuse and carefully woven into a concept album.  In the liner notes for the album, Reed directs the listener to hear the album in one sitting “as though it were a book or a movie”.

On New York, an older Reed seemed more much more bitter towards his once beloved city.  Take for example, the lyrics in one of the album’s tales of life in a New York Slum, Dirty Blvd.  “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ‘em, That’s what the statue of bigotry says, Your poor huddled masses, Let’s club ‘em to death, And get it over with and just dump them on the boulevard”, says Reed with more than a hint of sarcastic anger.  These lines are a play on the 1883 poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, which in 1903 was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the second verse of which reads:

“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!””

Elsewhere on the New York album, we find the song Romeo Had Juliette, a song about New York’s hopeless, hopeful, innocent, violent and greedy.  Romeo Had Juliette is a dark and bitter modern day take on Romeo and Juliet but also a poem to the beautiful but dirty and wrecked city that Reed adored, complete with the awe-inspiring opening lines, “Caught between the twisted stars, The plotted lines, the faulty map, That brought Columbus to New York”.  Elsewhere, Reed tells of how “Manhattan’s sinking like a rock, Into the filthy Hudson, what a shock, They wrote a book about it, They said it was like ancient Rome”, expressing Reed’s concerns that like Ancient Rome, New York had become too big for its own good.

Also on the album is the song Halloween Parade, about the annual gay celebration in Greenwich Village and to all intents and purposes, a dark sequel to Walk on the Wild Side.  Halloween Parade is a post-AIDS crisis tribute to those who had fallen.  “There ain’t no Harry, no Virgin Mary, You Won’t hear those voices again, And Johnny Rio and Rotten Rita, You’ll never see those faces again” says Reed solemnly.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day One). “Just Got Into Town About An Hour Ago …”

Welcome to L.A., as seen through the eyes of Jim Morrison.  L.A. Woman from The Doors’ 1971 album of the same name is a film noir style ride barrelling down the highway surveying L.A. at night.  Think of L.A. Woman and you are immediately put in mind of 1940’s writers such as Raymond Chandler and Nathaniel West, for the L.A in this song is the city that lurks beneath the shiny veneer, the dark and seedy underside, one filled with crime and injustice, sex and passion and complimented beautifully by an intense delivery that may well be the band’s finest.

“Just got into town about an hour ago” sings Jim Morrison on the song’s opening line, setting the scene for his romp through the black underbelly of the city.  “Take a look around, see which way the wind blows”, he continues, like a stranger that the Santa Ana wind blew in.  Incidentally, and linking to the Jim Morrison legend of him witnessing a car accident in the desert in which a family of Native American’s were injured and possibly killed, Joan Didion said of the Santa Ana winds in her 1965 essay Santa Ana Winds:

“I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew.  I could see why.  The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf.  The heat was surreal.  The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called “earthquake weather””.

Raymond Chandler also wrote of the Santa Ana winds in Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories in 1946:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night.  It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.  On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight.  Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.  Anything can happen.  You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge”.

“Where the little girls in their bungalows” could be considered to be about the murder of Sharon Tate in 1969.  Tate’s home and scene of her brutal murder at the hands of Charles Manson was 10050 Cielo Drive, a bungalow-style property in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles.  Later in the song, Jim Morrison sings, “Motel, money, murder, madness, Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness”.  Is one of the dark forces at work in L.A. Woman and perhaps the person blown in by the Santa Ana winds, Charles Manson?  Alternatively, or perhaps simultaneously, the line “Where the little girls in their bungalow” could also refer to Jim Morrison’s libido.  At the time of the singer’s death, there were apparently 20 paternity cases directed towards Morrison in L.A.

“Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light?” continues Jim Morrison, “Or just another lost angel, City of Night”.  Firstly, there is the juxtaposition of “Light” and “Night”, with “Light” referring to the public face of L.A. and “Night” referring to its dark underside.  “City of Night” is a reference to John Rechy’s novel City of Night (1963), a tale of a young man’s homosexual experiences in L.A.  “Lost angel” is a near homonym of “Los Angeles”.  In the documentary Mr Mojo Risin – The Story of L.A. Woman (2012), drummer John Densmore said of the song:

“The metaphor of the city as a woman is brilliant.  “Cops in cars”, “Never saw a woman so alone”, I mean, this is just great stuff.  It’s metaphoric, he’s looking at the physicality of the town and thinking of her and we need to take care of her.  It’s my home town, so let’s nurture the L.A. Woman”.

In the line “L.A. Woman, Sunday Afternoon”, Morrison paints an image of a driver moving through the city in a languorous state, influenced by Charles Aznavour’s Je Hais Les Dimanches (translated as ‘I Hate Sundays’ ).  This would appear to be Jim Morrison telling of his next move, which was of course, to Paris.  Paris, incidentally, is known as “The City of Light”.

The lines “I see your hair is burnin’, Hills are filled with fire” refer to the wildfires which sometimes threaten the Santa Monica mountain region of L.A.  The Santa Ana winds alluded to earlier in the song are a key contributor to these wildfires.  In a song packed with double meanings, these lines could simultaneously be referring to the Watts race riots of 1965.  The use of the words “burnin'” and “fire” also evoke images of a sexual passion for the city.  The following lines “If they say I never loved you, You know they are a liar”, not only tell of Jim Morrison’s love for L.A. but also echo the lines “You know that it would be untrue, You know that I would be a liar” from The Doors’ breakthrough hit Light My Fire, from their debut album The Doors in 1967.  These lines, therefore, could be seen as Jim Morrison tying up loose ends before leaving the city which had been so important to The Doors throughout their career and his own life and moving to Paris.

The bridge of L.A. Woman is arguably the most famous part of the song.  “Mr Mojo Risin” is an anagram of Jim Morrison’s name.  The term ‘Mojo’ was often used by early blues musicians, for example by Muddy Waters on his song I Got My Mojo Workin’ (1957).  Whilst ‘Mojo’ has come to refer to sexual energy, hence Morrison sounding like he is simulating an orgasm in the bridge of L.A. Woman, the term actually derives from an African-American folk belief called hoodoo, in which it is an amulet consisting of a flannel bag containing magical items.  A ‘Mojo’ is a ‘prayer in a bag’, a spell which can be carried with or on the host’s body.   In L.A. Woman, the term ‘Mojo’ is not only used to allude to sexual gratification in the city and sexual attraction to L.A in its metaphorical form of a woman, but also as a homage to the blues sound which influenced the whole of the L.A. Woman album.  It could perhaps also be said to tell of the spell which the city has cast on Morrison.  So strong was The Doors’ dedication to their blues sound on the L.A. Woman album that it prompted a split from long time producer Paul A. Rothschild, who felt that their direction sounded like “cabaret music”.

Three months after the album’s release, on the morning of July 3rd, 1971, Jim Morrison was found dead.  L.A Woman and its parent album are a fitting epitaph to Morrison’s life and career.  The title track is Morrison’s final fond farewell to his beloved L.A., a wonderfully complex song of myriad meanings and interpretations and possibly the greatest song to have ever been written about the city.

Gimme Hope Jo’anna: Ten Songs About Apartheid. The Group Areas Act is Passed, Formally Segregating Races, This Day in History, 27/04/1950.

1.  Eddy Grant ‘Gimme Hope Jo’anna’

(from the album File Under Rock, 1988).

2.  U2 ‘Silver and Gold’

(from the album Rattle and Hum, 1988).

3.  Manic Street Preachers ‘Kevin Carter’

(from the album Everything Must Go, 1996).

4.  The Special AKA ‘(Free) Nelson Mandela’

(from the album In The Studio, 1984).

5.  Tracy Chapman ‘Talkin’ About A Revolution’

(from the album Tracy Chapman, 1988).

6.  Peter Gabriel ‘Biko’

(from the album Peter Gabriel, 1980).

7.  Simple Minds ‘Mandela Day’

(from the album Street Fighting Years, 1989).

8.  Paul Simon ‘Homeless’

(from the album Graceland, 1986).

9.  Artists United Against Apartheid ‘Sun City’

(from the album Sun City, 1985).

10. Labi Siffre ‘(Something Inside) So Strong’

(from the album So Strong, 1987).

Visions of China: Ten Songs About China. Ronald Reagan Arrives in China For A Six Day Visit, The First Visit By An American President Since Richard Nixon in 1972. This Day in History, 26/04/1984.

1.  Japan ‘Visions of China’

(from the album Tin Drum, 1981).

2.  The Ramones ‘Chinese Rock’

(from the album End of the Century, 1980).

3.  David Bowie ‘China Girl’

(from the album Let’s Dance, 1983).

4.  Tori Amos ‘China’

(from the album Little Earthquakes, 1992).

5.  Gorrilaz ‘Hong Kong’

(from the album D-Sides, 2007).

6.  Coldplay ‘Princess of China’

(from the album Mylo Xyloto, 2011).

7.  Blur ‘Chinese Bombs’

(from the album Blur, 1997).

8.  John Cale ‘Chinese Envoy’

(from the album Music For A New Society, 1982).

9.  Ed Harcourt ‘Shanghai’

(from the album Here Be Monsters, 2001).

10.  Julian Cope ‘China Doll’

(from the album My Nation Underground, 1988).

Song of the Day: Hollywood in Music (Day Seven). “The Day of the Death of a Matinee Idol”.

“I would rather quit while I was ahead.  There’s no need in overstaying your welcome”.

– River Phoenix.

It was the night of the 31st October, 1993 on a West Hollywood street outside The Viper Room.  Around 1am, the stage door of the club opened.  Actor River Phoenix, most famous for roles in films such as Explorers (1985), Stand By Me (1986), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and My Own Private Idaho (1991), was carried out of the club by his film actress girlfriend, Samantha Mathis and Phoenix’s younger brother, Joaquin (aka Leaf) Phoenix.  River Phoenix’s younger sister, Rain Phoenix followed.

Many present at The Viper Room that night had thought River Phoenix was drunk, but as the night air hit him, River Phoenix fell to the ground and began to have a violent seizure.  Some reports suggest that the seizures started inside the club, where Johnny Depp, co-owner of The Viper Room, was playing guitar on stage with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass and Gibby Haynes of The Butthole Surfers on vocals, together with other assorted members of Depp’s short-lived band P.  River Phoenix, an accomplished guitarist, was due to join them on stage for a jam later that night.  The Viper Room’s doorman had previously ordered River Phoenix’s friends to take him outside earlier on during the night.  There are many stories surrounding what happened prior to the actor being taken out onto the pavement.  Some say he was shouting and vomiting inside the club and in one particular newspaper report, he was said to have screamed “I’m gonna die dude” as his entourage took him outside.

As River Phoenix began to have his first seizure, the doorman shouted, “Do something, call 911!” to which his brother looked back and yelled, “He’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine”.  Following the first seizure, there was a pregnant pause and then a second seizure.  By this point, River Phoenix’s eyes were rolling back into his head, he was shaking violently and his arms were shaking around.  Leaf Phoenix rang for an ambulance but was already unable to determine whether his brother was breathing.

In total, River Phoenix had five seizures outside the club, arms flailing and head banging on the pavement.  Rain Phoenix laid on top of her brother in an attempt to suppress the movements.  Following the final seizure, River Phoenix went still.  His sister laid next to him on the pavement, lifted up his shirt, rubbed his stomach and said, “Can you hear me, can you hear me …?” She attempted to give him mouth to mouth resuscitation.

By the time the ambulance arrived, River Phoenix had no pulse, was not breathing and up close, his complexion was dark blue.  Basic life support was given but it was already too late.  River Phoenix was loaded into the ambulance.  As it was preparing to pull away, Flea, who had abruptly left the stage after news of the events unfolding outside had filtered through the club, ran outside and tried to climb in the back of the ambulance but was told to sit in the front.  River Phoenix was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  Further unsuccessful resuscitation attempts were made.  River Phoenix was pronounced dead at 1.51am PST on the morning of October 31st, 1993.  He was just 23 years old.

The following day, The Viper Room became a makeshift shrine to the actor, with fans and mourners leaving flowers, pictures and candles on the pavement as well as graffiti messages on the walls of the club.  A sign was solemnly placed at the club’s window, reading:  “With much respect and love to River and his family, The Viper Room is temporarily closed.  Our heartfelt condolences to all his family, friends and loved ones.  He will be missed”.  The club remained closed for a week.  Each year on the anniversary of River Phoenix’s death, Johnny Depp would close the club in respect until selling his share in 2004.

River Phoenix’s autopsy, signed November 15th, 1993, reads, under the second ‘Opinion’:  “Toxicology studies showed high concentrations of morphine and cocaine in the blood, as well as other substances in smaller concentrations”.  The cause of death was stated as “acute multiple drug intoxication”.

During his lifetime, River Phoenix’s image had been squeaky clean, something that he continuously moaned about in interviews.  This image of River Phoenix stems from his reputation as firstly a child star and then a ‘teen sensation’ and his public dedication to many social, political, humanitarian and dietary interests that were not always popular during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.  His death caused much media interest, with some circles calling him “The James Dean of our time”, making comparisons between the youth and sudden deaths of both actors.

Amongst the many tributes made to River Phoenix, he has inspired a large number of songs, many of which have been written by his musician friends.  Despite his reputation as a truly gifted actor, River Phoenix had actually wanted to be a full time musician.  He had his own band, Aleka’s Attic, and loved to spend time with bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, who all became close personal friends after he and Flea met when they were both cast in My Own Private Idaho.

It is no wonder then, that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have recorded a number of tributes to River Phoenix, notably the song Transcending from 1995’s One Hot Minute album, which includes lyrics such as “Smartest fucker I’ve ever met” and “I called you a hippie, you said ‘Fuck off’”.

Whilst he was still alive, the Red Hot Chili Peppers dedicated a whole verse of one of their biggest hits, Give It Away, from the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991), to the actor.  The verse reads:  “There’s a river, born to be a giver, Keep you warm, won’t let you shiver, His heart is never gonna whither”.

Another artist profoundly affected by the death of his close friend was Michael Stipe of REM, who was so devastated by the loss that he could not write songs for five months afterwards.  After his recovery, REM made the album Monster (1994) which the band dedicated to River Phoenix.  Monster featured the single Bang and Blame, which had backing vocals performed by Rain Phoenix.  Following the death of his friend, Stipe bought the rights to Aleka’s Attic’s recordings from Island Records, which River Phoenix had under contract.

Incidentally, whilst River Phoenix laid dying outside The Viper Room, Johnny Depp, Flea and co were playing a song entitled Michael Stipe.

Rufus Wainwright was another friend of the actor deeply affected by his death.  His debut album Rufus Wainwright (1998), written over a period of several years, included the song Matinee Idol.  Matinee Idol is about the rise and fall of an entertainment figure and was directly inspired by River Phoenix’s death.  Set to a 1920’s cabaret style musical backing, the lyrics of the song tell of River Phoenix laying dead on West Sunset Boulevard as the angels come down for the actor:

“Still so beautiful as the angels

As the angels came down from on high

So sweet and so soft

So charmingly daft

So young was the matinee idol

Lips of crimson slightly open

As the flash and all fame put to rest”.