Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Seven). Carly Simon on ?: “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Song is About You”.

Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, from her 1972 breakthrough album No Secrets has been the subject of much debate for decades.  Many of her ex-boyfriends have wondered whether they were the inspiration behind the singer’s cutting description and Simon has relished in it, throwing curveballs and adding to the mystery at every opportunity.  Other than You’re So Vain being a wonderful pop song with one of the most classic choruses in music history, together with an array of brilliant and sometimes witty lines, this mystery is the key to the song’s longevity.  So, let’s line up the vain suspects.

Prior to You’re So Vain becoming a hit, Simon told interviewers that the song was about “men” in general and not a specific “man”.  However, this didn’t stop potential subjects wondering whether the song was about them and Simon’s audience trying to unravel the clues in the lyrics.

Mick Jagger wondered whether the song was about him.  Jagger provided backing vocals for You’re So Vain and in Angie Bowie’s 1993 book Backstage Passes, she claimed that Jagger had been “obsessed” with Simon.

Additionally, Angie Bowie claimed to be the “wife of a close friend” mentioned in the final verse of the song.

When You’re So Vain was sampled for Janet Jackson’s 2001 single, Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song is About You), from the album All for You, Simon stated that “The apricot scarf was worn by Nick [Delblanco].  Nothing in the words referred to Mick”.  Simon started dating Delblanco in the early 1960s whilst he was studying at Harvard University and was being hotly tipped as the next big thing in literature.  She and Delblanco travelled to France together where Simon acted as her boyfriend’s helpmeet.  The couple broke up in 1964.

Could the song be about Kris Kristofferson, with whom Simon had a summer-long love affair with in 1971?  During their romance, Simon wrote the song Three Days, from the album Anticipation (1971), about Kristofferson.

In return, Kristofferson wrote I’ve Got to Have You, from the album Breakaway with Rita Coolidge (1974), about Simon.

As quoted in Sheila Weller’s 2008 book, Girls Like Us, Kristofferson said of the Simon:  “Looking back on the romance, I was pretty self-absorbed in those days.  Carly was funny and really smart – she had more brains than I did.  I have a hard time now believing she tolerated my company”.

In a 1989 interview, Simon said that the song is a little about Warren Beatty, whom she dated in the early 1970s, but is actually a composite of three men from her days in Los Angeles.  In a 1983 interview with The Washington Post, Simon said:  “It certainly sounds like it was about Warren Beatty.  He certainly thought it was about him – he called me and said thanks for the song.  At the time I met him, he was still relatively undiscovered as a Don Juan.  I felt I was one among thousands at that point – it hadn’t reached, you know, the populations of small countries”.

To keep her audience on their toes, Simon has divulged letter clues as to the mystery man over the years.  During an interview with CNN in 2004, she said, “Well, I guess for those who are interested in clues – the name of the person it was about had an ‘E’ in it … Maybe I could disclose another letter.  Ok, it also has an ‘A’ … Well listen, two vowels ain’t bad!”  Additionally, in an interview with Regis and Kelly in 2004, when asked by Regis Philbin who the mystery man was, Simon dropped another letter clue, this time saying, “If I tell it, it’s going to come out in dribs and drabs.  And I’ve given out two letters already, an ‘A’ and an ‘E’.  But I’m going to add one to it.  I’m going to add an ‘R’, in honour of you”.

Between 1972 and 1983, Simon was married to singer / songwriter James Taylor, who is often cited as a potential source of inspiration for the song.  However, in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1973, she said, “No, it’s definitely not about James, although James suspected it might be about him because he’s very vain.  No, he isn’t, but he had the unfortunate experience of taking a jet up to Nova Scotia after I’d written the song.  He was saved by the fact it wasn’t a Lear”.

Cat Stevens has also been cited as a speculative candidate.  Simon opened for Stevens at The Troubadour for three nights in April 1971.  Following the sell out shows, Simon travelled back to New York with Stevens, where he asked her out and the pair became romantically involved.  Simon wrote her single 1971 Anticipation, from her second album, also called Anticipation, whilst waiting for Stevens to pick her up for a date.  She also dedicated the aforementioned album to him, using his real name, Steve (Steven Demitri Georgiou).

In return, Stevens wrote the song Sweet Scarlet, from his 1972 album Catch Bull at Four, about Simon.

For his 2006 book, Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?, Gavin Edwards interviewed Simon’s ex-husband James Hart, whom she was married to between 1987 and 2007, who said, “I’m sure that the song wasn’t about anybody famous”.  Hart was the subject of another of Simon’s songs, Coming Around Again, from the album Coming Around Again (1987).

On the 19th June 2008, disc jockey Howard Stern claimed on his show on Sirius Satellite Radio that Simon had privately revealed to him whom the song was written about following an interview.  Stern said of the revelation that, “There is an odd aspect to it … he’s not that vain”.  On the 17th March 2009, again on his radio show, Stern claimed that it was a “composite of three people”.  Most recently, Stern said on air on the 5th May 2014, “She takes me aside, pulls me close, whispers in my ear three names.  She goes, it wasn’t one person, it was three people”.  Stern also said that he thought one of the names could have been Warren Beatty and another might be American business magnate and Geffen Records boss, David Geffen, but said he “forgot”.

Another possible candidate may be musician Dan Armstrong, whom Simon had first known whilst performing in nightclubs in the mid 1960s.  Armstrong owned Armstrong’s Guitar Repair Shop and in 1968, the two met officially and started a relationship when Simon took her guitar to be fixed.  Their relationship lasted for two years.  In Sheila Weller’s 2008 book Girls Like Us, she states that “Although Simon described him as an arrogant, opinionated Neanderthal, she found him to be overwhelmingly handsome and very gifted musically”.  In his 2012 biography of Simon, More Room in a Broken Heart, Stephen Davis claims that Simon described herself as “naive” at the time.  Could Armstrong be at least the inspiration behind the lines “Oh, you had me several years ago, When I was still naive”?  After Simon broke her relationship with Armstrong off, he moved to Los Angeles to set up a new business.  Simon regretted her actions and tried to make it up to Armstrong but tono avail.  Her heartbreak over the end of the relationship inspired the song Dan, My Fling from her 1971 debut album, Carly Simon.  Armstrong’s full name of Daniel Kent Armstrong feature all three letters of Simon’s clue.

During an interview with WNYC’s Soundcheck on the 4th November 2009, Simon stated that she had hidden the identity of the vain man, whispered backwards, in a certain version of the song.  The next day, the show revealed that the name was “David”.  Simon, however, denied that the name was David, saying that she spoke “Ovid” both forwards and backwards and that it sounded like “David”.  In the February 2010 issue of Uncut magazine, Simon once again stated that the subject of the song was whispered backwards in a re-recording of You’re So Vain.

At this time, a representative for Simon confirmed that the name was indeed “David”.  Following this, various publications quickly reported that David Geffen was the subject of the song and that the song had been inspired by Simon’s jealousy over the attention that Geffen had paid to label-mate Joni Mitchell.

However, Simon’s publicist stated that the song was not about Geffen but there was indeed “a David who is connected to the song in some way, shape, or form”.  In an Email to Showbiz 411, quoted in the March 2010 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Simon said “What a riot!  Nothing to do with David Geffen!  What a funny mistake!  Someone got a clue mistaken for another mistake”.  Simon went on to say that she didn’t know Geffen when she wrote the song in 1971.  This would be true as the song was written prior to Simon’s label Elektra Records being merged with Geffen’s Asylum Records in 1972, when Geffen assuming control of the combined companies.  If the David in question is not David Geffen, then could it be David Bowie?  Taking Simon’s  ‘A’, ‘E’ and ‘R’ clues and using Bowie’s real name, David Robert Jones, then perhaps.  Additionally, and to add further confusion, the February 2010 issue of Vanity Fair noted that the names “David”, “Warren” and another unintelligible name are whispered during the recording.

That’s cleared that one up then.

Walk Like An Egyptian: Ten Songs About Egypt. Egypt Formally Ends Its 31 Year State of Emergency. This Day in History, 31/05/2012.

1.  The Bangles ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’

(from the album Different Light, 1986).

2.  Radiohead ‘Pyramid Song’

(from the album Amnesiac, 2001).

3.  Madness ‘Night Boat to Cairo’

(from the album One Step Beyond, 1979).

4.  Kate Bush ‘Egypt’

(from the album Never For Ever, 1980).

5.  Fiery Furnaces ‘Clear Signal From Cairo’

(from the album Widow City, 2007).

6.  Richard Thompson ‘Pharaoh’

(from the album Amnesia, 1988).

7.  The Cure ‘Fire in Cairo’

(from the album Three Imaginary Boys, 1979).

8. Bob Dylan ‘Isis’

(from the album Desire, 1976).

9.  Pink Floyd ‘The Nile Song’

(from the album More, 1969).

10. The Police ‘Tea in the Sahara’

(from the album Synchronicity, 1983).

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists. Pete Doherty and Carl Barat on Each Other. “An Ending Fitting For A Start”.

When artists write about each other, it usually either takes the form of a songwriter writing about a musician outside of their own creative sphere (take for example, previous posts this week such as Patti Smith writing about Kurt Cobain or Ian Dury writing about Gene Vincent) or bands writing about members who are no longer with them (take for example, my posts earlier this week about Pink Floyd writing about Syd Barrett).  Occasionally, bands who have split up may write out their grievances with their ex-band mates in a song (take for example, John Lennon writing about Paul McCartney and vice-versa on my post earlier this week).   It is more unusual, however, for members of a band who are still together to write about other members in the band, particularly in a frank and personal manner.

One band who did just this was The Libertines.  Their second and final album before their original break up, The Libertines, from 2004 was bookended by the tracks Can’t Stand Me Now and What Became of the Likely Lads, frank and honest duets co-written and sung by Pete Doherty and Carl Barat detailing their grievances with each other, their love for one another and questioning whether there was any future in their relationship.  The love affair between Doherty and Barat had kept us enthralled, and had been an endless source of press interest, for the previous two years.  On these songs, we were witnessing a divorce; the messy fag end of a turbulent relationship being pulled apart largely by Doherty’s addictions to crack, cocaine and heroin.

In a 2004 interview for the BBC Radio One documentary, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, Roger Sargeant, the band’s photographer and a close friend, described the relationship between Doherty and Barat as like “first love, and all the jealousy and obsessiveness that comes with that … I think there’s, y’know, obsession and jealousy on both of their sides.  They bitch about each other to each other or to other people.  They have a bond, intellectually and spiritually, like nothing I’ve ever seen … but sometime, you know, you just think, God, why don’t you just get a room”.  In the same documentary, when asked how close the relationship between him and Barat was, Doherty responded: “I love him.  Wouldn’t go, um – certainly not on Radio one – go into much detail, but we had lots of wonderful times together, yeah”.  When questioned similarly by The Guardian in 2010, Barat fervently denied that the relationship had involved anything “physical” and insisted that “people are really into conjecture”.  In a 2011 interview with Attitude magazine, when asked if the two had ever had a physical relationship, Barat replied:  “Does that include violence?  There have been moments in our relationship where physicality has ensued.  I’ll leave it there.  I wouldn’t like to say.  The volatile nature of Doherty and Barat’s relationship informed a significant part of the music of The Libertines, as well as their live performances.

Whilst the band were recording their debut album Up the Bracket (2002) and on its supporting tour, Doherty’s drug addictions had increased greatly, with the singer now regularly using both crack cocaine and heroin.  His ever-heightening drug problems were already starting to cause a serious deterioration in relationships between him and the three other members of the band.  During a trip to the US to promote the band, The Libertines stopped off in New York, where they recorded the Babyshambles Sessions, versions of current and future Libertines and Babyshambles (Doherty’s other band) releases such as Last Post on the Bugle (featured on The Libertines), as well as Albion and In Love with A Feeling (featured on Down in Albion by Babyshambles, 2005) and Side of the Road (featured on Shotter’s Nation by Babyshambles, 2007).

It was whilst they were in New York that Doherty and Barat got the “Libertine” tattoos that they have on their arms.  The tattoos, written in Barat’s handwriting, were a sign of commitment to the band and probably to each other, and can be seen on the front cover of The Libertines.  The pair had obviously been thinking about the tattoos for a while because on The Good Old Days, from Up the Bracket, after the lyric “A list of things we said we’d do tomorrow!”, Doherty shouts, “Get a tattoo!”

Despite this sign of commitment, Barat was becoming increasingly exasperated with Doherty’s drug-fuelled behaviour, the people whom he was choosing to spend time with and the drugs they brought into the band’s circle. Barat quit in disgust, leaving Doherty to finish the recording alone.  The resulting sessions were given to a fan named Helen Hsu, who under Doherty’s instruction, put them on the internet for free.

Once back in the UK, tensions between Doherty and Barat continued to grow.  Doherty organised guerrilla gigs which Barat did not attend.  During the recording sessions for the non-album single Don’t Look Back into the Sun (2003), Doherty did not work well with producer, ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler and was very rarely present.  Because of this, Doherty’s vocal parts had to be pieced together from what he provided whilst he was in the studio and Butler, who had previously produced the band’s debut single What a Waster / I Get Along, had to play Doherty’s guitar parts.

For Barat’s birthday on the 6th June, Doherty organised a special celebration gig, which he hoped would relieve the tensions between the pair.  However, Barat was already attending a party organised by friends and the hosts convinced him not to leave.  Doherty was left to play the gig alone.  Feeling hurt and betrayed, Doherty refused to travel to Germany the following day for the band’s European tour.  The band were forced to play without Doherty and a guitar technician learned and played his parts whilst several songs had to be dropped altogether.  Angry at Doherty’s behaviour, Barat refused to let Doherty back in the band unless he cleaned himself up.  Whilst The Libertines toured Japan without him, Doherty concentrated on his side project Babyshambles.  Distraught and angry at his exclusion from the group, Doherty burgled Barat’s flat and was arrested as a result.  He pleaded guilty to the charge of burglary at the preliminary hearing on the 11th August 2003, a week before the release of The Libertines’ Don’t Look Back into the Sun.  On the 7th September, Doherty was sentenced to six months in prison, although his sentence was later reduced to two months.

When Doherty was released in October 2003, Barat was waiting for him at the prison gates.  The band played an emotional reuinion gig at the Tap ‘n’ Tin pub in Chatham, Kent on the same day.  The show was later named as the NME’s Gig of the Year.

Shortly afterwards, the band started to record what would become The Libertines with Bernard Butler producing.  However, the relationship between Doherty and Butler was just as unsuccessful as before and Butler left, forcing the entire sessions to be abandoned.

Doherty recorded a single, For Lovers, with his friend, local poet Peter ‘Wolfman’ Wolfe, credited to Wolfman and Peter Doherty.  Despite Barat’s distaste for Wolfe and the associated drugs, he recorded guitar for the single’s B-side Back from the Dead.  The single was released on the 13th April 2004, reaching number 7 in the UK charts, higher than any Libertines singles up until that point (Don’t Look Back into the Sun had reached number 11).

The Libertines attempted to record their second album again, this time with Mick Jones, formally of The Clash, who had also produced their debut album.  Security guards had to be hired in order to stop Doherty and Barat from fighting.  In spite of the in-band tensions, the album was finished.  Doherty left the mixing and dubbing to the Jones and the rest of the band and would never return to a recording session with the band again.  On the 14th May, he was admitted to high-profile retreat The Priory in order to overcome his addictions.  He left early, then went back only to leave again a week later on the 7th June.  The Libertines played their final UK until their first reunion in 2010 shortly afterwards; Doherty wasn’t permitted to play with them.  Doherty continued to concentrate on Babyshambles, who were gaining a large following and exposure in the media.

Meanwhile on the 9th August, the first single from the second Libertines album, Can’t Stand Me Now was released.  The highly autobiographical Can’t Stand Me Now reached number 2 in the UK singles chart (the band’s highest entry) and details the breakdown of the relationship between Doherty and Barat.  In the BBC documentary series The Seven Ages of Rock, Doherty describes the song as “a Samuel Beckett-like dialogue between me and Carl”, whilst in a March 2008 interview with Q Magazine, Libertines bassist John Hassall said, “The song that stands out is Can’t Stand Me Now.  Maybe the only thing Pete and Carl could honestly sing about was the situation, what they felt about each other.  Almost a sort of therapy in itself”.  The harmonica section of the song is an allusion to the harmonicas which Barat would buy as Christmas presents for the rest of the band.

The music of Can’t Stand Me Now is also notable for the way in which it starts with a snippet of music taken from the end of the previous single, Don’t Look Back into the Sun, cleverly reflecting Can’t Stand Me Now’s opening lyric, “An ending fitting for a start”.  “An ending fitting for a start” details the fact that what brought Doherty and Barat together (i.e. the freedom of an undisciplined life, music, drugs etc) is now tearing them apart.  The following line “You twist and tore our love apart” has a double meaning.  Firstly, we have Doherty’s point of view referring to Barat, with Doherty feeling that Barat betrayed him when he was struggling with his drug habit and secondly, Barat’s point of view referring to Doherty, with Barat feeling that Doherty twisted and tore the pairs’ love apart with his drug-influenced behaviour and the events caused by his addiction.  The lines, “Your light fingers through the dark, Shattered the lamp, into darkness it cast us all” are a reference to Doherty breaking into Barat’s flat.

We then find Doherty telling Barat that it was him who started the disintegration of their relationship by trying to cut him out of his life and using Doherty’s various drug addictions as an excuse in the lines “No, you’ve got it the wrong way round, You shut me up and blamed it on the brown”.  These lines are followed by the lyrics “Cornered the boy, kicked out at the world, The world kicked back a lot fuckin’ harder now”, a reference to Doherty’s arrest for burglary and his subsequent punishment.

Following this, the lines “If you wanna try, if you wanna try, There’s no worse you can do” find Barat and Doherty deciding that it wouldn’t hurt to give their friendship another try.  The next lyrics, “I know you lie, I know you lie, I’m still in love with you” tell of how, despite Doherty’s broken promises of staying clean, Barat still loves him.  The bridge of “Can’t take me anywhere, I Can’t take you anywhere, Can’t take me anywhere, Well, I won’t take anywhere, I’ll take you anywhere, I’ll take you anywhere you wanna go” is a prime example of the Barat and Doherty so wonderfully bounced off each other whilst singing The Libertines’ songs and perfectly encapsulates their love / hate feelings towards each other at that point in time.  The chorus of “Can’t stand me now …” finds Doherty lamenting that Barat hates him because of his various misdemeanours and Barat feeling that Doberty no longer likes him in return.

Possibly the key lines in the song, “Have we enough to keep it together?  Or do we just keep on pretending and hope our luck is never ending?” which finds the pair wondering if they have enough of a relationship left after all they have been through in order to be able to keep The Libertines together.

“You tried to pull the wool, I wasn’t feeling too clever is Doherty feeling that Barat betrayed him whilst he was in a bad way, whilst the next line, “And you take all that they’re lending, Until you needed mending” is Barat telling Doherty that he has taken all that the drug dealers (“they”) are selling (“lending”) and now, as a result, he needs “mending”.

The brilliance of Doherty and Barat trying to struggle through their problems with each other put to music on Can’t Stand Me Now, the opening track of The Libertines, is complimented by the closing track of the album, What Became of the Likely Lads.  Very much the band’s swansong, thus being perfectly positioned as the last song on their last album, What Became of the Likely Lads was also released as the second single from The Libertines and the band’s final single overall.  The song’s title and the lyrics of the chorus echo the title and theme tune of 1970’s British situation comedy Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.

Interestingly, there are parallels to be drawn between the stories of Doherty and Barat and Rodney Bewes and James Bolam, the actors who played the two main characters, Bob and Terry in the series with Bewes and Bolam having fallen out with each other at the end of the programme’s run.  Additionally, the bond between Doherty and Barat could be seen as being quite similar to the bond between the programme’s main characters.  Doherty particularly is known to be a fan of classic British comedy, which perhaps inspired the humour and distinct brand of Britishness found in many of The Libertines’ songs.

What Became of the Likely Lads starts with the lines “Please don’t get me wrong, See I forgive you in a song, We’ll call The Likely Lads”, a verse in which Doherty and Barat forgive each other for past misdemeanours before the song moves on to talk about the pair’s brotherly bond.  This bind is discussed in lines such as “Just blood runs thicker, oh, We’re thick as thieves, you know”.  The allusion to the term ‘Blood runs thicker than water’, meaning family obligations before friends, reinforces the idea of Doherty and Barat being family.  The use of the term “thick as thieves”, as well as emphasising the pair’s closeness, could also be an allusion to Doherty burgling Barat’s flat.

The bridge of What Became of the Likely Lads echoes the bridge of Can’t Stand Me Now in its back and forth conversation style and further emphasises the bond between the two singers, showing both agreement and argument:  “If that’s important to you, It’s important to me, I tried to make you see, But you don’t want to know!”

In the following verse, we find a reference to Doherty’s drug use in the lines in the period leading up to the recording of the song:  “If you pipe all summer long, Then get forgiven in a song, Well, that’s a touch, my lad”.  Next, we find the lines “They sold the rights to all my wrongs, And when they knew you’d give me songs, Welcome back, I said” which are a riposte to the record industry, which doesn’t much care about the personal and emotional effects Doherty’s drug use and such had on Barat; it cares more about the songs that will be produced from it, thus record sales and money.

Can’t Stand Me Now and What Became of the Likely Lads are brilliant confessional conversations which perfectly frame an album which has become a classic.  The Libertines has become a snapshot of a period in the lives of its songwriters and of our lives as we listen and remember being right there watching the saga of Doherty and Barat unfold.

Leader of the Pack: Ten Songs About Motorcycles. Evel Knievel Jumps 16 Automobiles on His Motorcycle. This Day in History, 30/05/1967.

1. The Shangri-Las ‘Leader of the Pack’

(from the album Leader of the Pack, 1965).

2.  Pixies ‘Nimrod’s Son’

(from the album Come On Pilgrim, 1987).

3.  Jesus & Mary Chain ‘The Living End’

(from the album Psychocandy, 1985).

4.  Manic Street Preachers ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’

(from the album Generation Terrorists, 1992).

5.  Neil Young ‘Unknown Legend’

(from the album Harvest Moon, 1992).

6.  Suicide ‘Ghost Rider’

(from the album Suicide, 1977).

7.  Salad ‘Motorbike to Heaven’

(from the album Drink Me, 1995).

8.  Richard Hawley ‘The Motorcycle Song’

(from the album Lowedges, 2003).

9.  Radiohead ‘High & Dry’

(from the album The Bends, 1995).

10. Twinkle ‘Terry’

(single A-side, 1964).

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Five). Ian Dury on Gene Vincent: “But Your Leg Still Hurts and You Need More Shirts, You Got to Get Back on the Road”.

For his debut album New Boots and Panties!! (1977), Ian Dury looked towards his hero, rock ‘n’ roll singer Gene Vincent for inspiration, penning one of his many iconic songs, the biographical Sweet Gene Vincent.  Sweet Gene Vincent was released as the sole single from the album on the fledgling, and equally iconic, Stiff Records label in November 1977.  The song, as with New Boots and Panties!!, is credited to Ian Dury as a solo artist, as his backing band, The Blockheads, were yet to be named at this point.

As a teenager, Dury, born 12th May 1942 in Harrow, London, had lovingly bought every single that Vincent had ever produced.  On various occasions, Dury would tell of how upon hearing Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula in the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It, he was reduced to tears.

Throughout his entire career, Dury would talk sentimentally, and on occasions poetically about Vincent and the influence that he had had on him.  Whilst Vincent’s music inspired Dury to follow the path of rock stardom, the fact that the two shared a similar disability only served to make his affinity felt towards Vincent even stronger.

At the age of seven, Dury contracted polio.  He believed that he had contracted the disease from a swimming pool in Southend on Sea during the polio epidemic of 1949.  He spent six weeks in a full plaster cast in Truro Hospital before being moved to Black Notley Hospital in Braintree, Essex, where he remained for a year and a half. Following this, he was sent to Chailey Heritage Craft School, a boarding school for disabled children in East Sussex in 1951.  He was left permanently disfigured by the polio and wore a calliper on his withered left leg.  The disease similarly affected his left arm and hand.

Gene Vincent was born Vincent Eugene Craddock on February 11th 1935 in Norfolk, Virginia, USA.  Dury refers to Vincent’s Virginia origin in the line “I miss your sad Virginia whisper”.  The man who became the pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly had actually planned a career in the Navy, hence the line “Skinny white sailor, the chances were slender”.  He first enlisted in the Navy in 1952 after dropping out of school at the age of seventeen.  He completed boot camp and joined the fleet as a crewman aboard the fleet oiler USS Chukawan, although he spent two weeks training period in the repair ship USS Amphion before returning to the Chukawan.  He never saw combat but completed a Korean War deployment.  He sailed home from Korean waters on board the battleship USS Wisconsin but was not part of the ship’s company.

In 1955, Craddock re-enlisted in the Navy and used his $612 re-enlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorbike.  In July 1955, whilst in Norfolk, he crashed his motorbike and shattered his left leg.  He refused to have it amputated.  Whilst his leg was saved, the crash left him with a permanent limp and constant pain, hence the line “But your leg still hurts …”  He wore a steel sheath around the leg for the rest of his life, much like Dury wore a calliper.  In various interviews, Vincent would tell a different story of how he received his injury, claiming that he was injured whilst serving in the Navy.

Once recovered enough, Craddock became heavily involved in Norfolk’s local music scene, changed his name to Gene Vincent and formed the rockabilly band, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps.  ‘Blue Caps’ is a term used to describe enlisted sailors in the US Navy.  The Blue Caps are mentioned in the line, “Let the Blue Caps roll tonight”, which is also a reference to Vincent’s 1958 album Gene Vincent rocks! and His Blue Caps Roll!  In 1956, he wrote the song which would secure him with a record deal with Capitol Records, Be-Bop-A-Lula.  The song became a number 5 hit on the Billboard Chart.  Although the band were unable to follow up the commercial success of Be-Bop-A-Lula, they did gain an appearance in The Girl Can’t Help It and released critically acclaimed songs such as Bluejean Bop (1956) and Race With The Devil (1956), both taken from the debut album Bluejean Bop (1956).

On April 16th 1960, whilst on tour in the UK, Vincent, fellow rock ‘n’ roll artist Eddie Cochran (who had also appeared in The Girl Can’t Help It) and songwriter Sharon Sheeley were involved in a high-speed traffic accident in a private hire taxi in Chippenham, Wiltshire.  Vincent suffered broken ribs and collarbone and further damaged his already weak left leg.  Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis whilst Cochran, who had been thrown from the vehicle, suffered serious brain injuries and died the following day.

Following the accident and overcome with grief at the death of his friend Cochran, Vincent returned to the US, where his life went into terminal decline, developing serious addictions to alcohol and painkillers.  Vincent’s alcoholism is referred to in the line “Shall I mourn your decline with some Thunderbird wine”.  Incidentally, Thunderbird wine is a particularly cheap brand of fortified wine containing 17.5% alcohol, introduced after the end of prohibition.  Despite its yellow colour, Thunderbird wine turns your lips and tongue black when consumed in large quantities, therefore linking in with the prominent theme of black in the song, “black handkerchief” and so on.

Vincent’s career never really recovered following the accident, despite several comeback attempts.  One such comeback attempt was his 1969 album I’m Back and I’m Proud, produced by Kim Fowley, later the Svengali behind The Runaways, and released on John Peel’s Dandelion Records label.

Fowley would later pay tribute to Vincent and his experiences producing I’m Back and I’m Proud on his 2004 album Adventures in Dreamland.

Vincent died on October 12th, 1971 from a ruptured stomach ulcer in his mother’s arms.  His final words were reportedly, “You can call the ambulance now, mama”.

Vincent’s death inspired Dury, who at this point in time was a member of pre-Ian Dury and the Blockheads band, Kilburn and the Highroads, to make a serious go of a career in the music industry.  Dury also began to mimic Vincent’s stage outfits for his own on stage presentation, most notably, black leather gloves.

He also referred to Vincent in the Kilburn and the High Roads song Upminster Kid, from their debut album Handsome (1975).  Upminster Kid can, in many ways, be seen as a forerunner to Sweet Gene Vincent and discusses Vincent’s influence on Dury.

Dury dissolved Kilburn and the Highroads in 1977 in order to form the band which would become known as Ian Dury and the Blockheads.  Whilst writing what would become New Boots and Panties!!, Dury spent six weeks researching the lyrical content for Sweet Gene Vincent, reading two biographies about his hero, before handing an initial draft to the song’s co-writer and Blockheads guitarist and keyboardist, Chaz Jankel.  Jankel joked that if the song has been kept in its original form, it would have lasted 15 minutes.

Sweet Gene Vincent makes several references to Vincent’s songs.  Firstly, the opening line, “Blue Gene baby”, is a play on the first line of Bluejean Bop, “Bluejean baby”.

Additionally, the music of Sweet Gene Vincent, which begins with a slow paced verse before moving into the rockier section of the song, is a tribute to the musical structure of Bluejean Bop.  The line “Who, who, who slapped John”, spoken as the song moves into its faster section, is a direct lift from the song Who Slapped John, the B-side of Bluejean Bop.

Later in the song, the lyric “and you lay that pistol down” is a reference to the single Pistol Packin’ Mama (1960), which includes the line “Lay that pistol down” and also refers to Vincent’s habit of waving guns around in the studio.  In one incident of ‘pistol packin’’ in 1968, Vincent is said to have scared Gary Glitter so much that he nearly left the country in fear.

“Here comes Duck-tailed Danny dragging Uncanny Annie, She’s the one with the flying feet” refers to the line “She’s the one with the flying feet” in Be-Bop-A-Lula.  The “Danny” mentioned in the line appears in Rollin’ Danny, from the album Gene Vincent Rocks! And The Blue Caps Roll (1958), whilst the name “Annie” could be a reference to Queen Anne County, now known as Virginia Beach, where Vincent lived during part of his childhood.

The line “And you jump back honey in the dungarees, Tight sweater and a ponytail” is a reference to both Jump Back, Honey, Jump Back from the Bluejean Bop album …

… and Red Blue Jeans and a Pony Tail from Vincent’s follow up album Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (1957).

Additionally, the line “The devil drives ’til the hearse arrives” not only speaks of Vincent’s death but also refers to Race With the Devil.

Other references to Vincent’s music include the lines “At the sock hop ball at the Union Hall, Where the bop is their delight”.  “At the sock hop ball” refers to the song Ready Teddy (1958), which includes the lines “All the flat top cats and the dungaree dolls, Are headed for the gym to the sock hop ball” …

… and “Union Hall” refers to Vincent’s song Rip It Up (1958) which includes the line “Shag on down to the Union Hall, Cats are jumpin’, gonna have a ball”.

Sweet Gene Vincent also makes many references to Vincent’s typical black and white stage attire and presentation:  “White face, black shirt, White socks, black shoes, Black hair, white strat, Bled white, died black” and “Black gloves, white frost, Black crepe, white lead, White sheet, Black knight, Jet black, dead white”.

Dury would pay further tribute to Vincent when he appeared as a guest on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1996, choosing Woman Love, the B-side of Be-Bop-A-Lula, as one of his 8 songs.

King of the Mountain: Ten Songs About Mountains. New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay Become the First to Reach the Summit of Mount Everest. This Day in History, 29/05/1953.

1.  Kate Bush ‘King of the Mountain’

(from the album Aerial, 2005).

2.  Biffy Clyro ‘Mountains’

(from the album Only Revolutions, 2009).

3.  Bjork ‘The Modern Things’

(from the album Post, 1995).

4.  Ike & Tina Turner ‘River Deep – Mountain High’

(from the album River Deep – Mountain High, 1966).

5.  Inspiral Carpets ‘Biggest Mountain’

(from the Island Head EP, 1990).

6. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’

(from the album United, 1967).

7.  The Shamen ‘Move Any Mountain’

(from the album En-Tact, 1990).

8. Loretta Lynn ‘High On A Mountain Top’

(from the album Van Lear Rose, 2004).

9.  Super Furry Animals ‘Mountain People’

(from the album Radiator, 1997).

10. The Supernaturals ‘Everest’

(from the album A Tune A Day, 1998).

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Four). The Go-Betweens on Patti Smith on Kurt Cobain and Others. “When She Sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I Thought What A Shame It Wasn’t About Tom Verlaine”.

Patti Smith, along with her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, began work on her sixth studio album, Gone Again (1996) in 1994.  Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, previously of the seminal garage band MC5, was a highly influential force on what would become Patti Smith’s first album since Dream of Life in 1988, teaching her to play acoustic guitar so she could write songs by herself and providing her with titles and concepts to develop.

The first of these songs was Summer Cannibals, the eventual single from the album, which discussed the darker side of being a rock musician.  The couple drew from Fred’s Indian ancestry in order to compose a song told from the point of view of a tribe’s shaman.  The song tells of an old woman coming down from the hills in order to tell her people of their history, informing them of, in times of strife, the cycle of life and the changing seasons. And thus began the potent theme of death on Gone Again, a theme inspired by the deaths of several people close to Smith.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had died March 9th 1989, aged 42, from an AIDs-related illness …

… and Patti Smith Group pianist Richard Sohl had died on June 3rd 1990, aged 37, from heart failure.

During the writing of Gone Again, Patti Smith was devastated yet further when on November 4th 1994, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith died suddenly from heart failure, aged just 45.   The loss of her husband informs a vast majority of Gone Again but specifically the final song, Farewell Reel.  Played on the acoustic guitar which her husband taught her how to play, Farewell Reel opens with the spoken message, “This little song’s for Fred; it’s G, C, D and D minor”.

Shortly after the death of her husband, her brother, Todd, also died, aged 45.  Gone Again is also notable for featuring the last studio performance by Jeff Buckley, who added his voice to Beneath The Southern Cross.

Smith was also moved by the death of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, with whom she had sympathised.  Cobain committed suicide, aged 27, on 5th April 1994.  Smith didn’t know Cobain personally but told Seattle Weekly News in 2010:

“My reaction to Kurt Cobain was much more emotional.  I was heartbroken when he committed suicide.  I loved Nirvana.  And I knew that Kurt Cobain was very fond of my husband and the MC5.  We felt so badly.  We just wished that we would have known him, and been able to talk to him, and had some sort of positive effect on him.  Seeing Robert [Mapplethorpe] doing everything to live, and then seeing this very gifted boy kill himself was painful to factor”.

Smith’s reaction to Cobain’s death can be heard on the song About A Boy, a suitably etheral and sometimes funereal lament, the title of which is a play on Nirvana’s About A Girl, from their 1989 album Bleach.

Lyrically, About A Boy, much like many other songs on Gone Again, is spiritual and almost hymnal with lines such as “Toward another, He has gone, To breathe an air, Beyond his own, Toward a wisdom, Beyond the shelf, Toward a dream, That dreams itself”.

The verse “From the forest, from the foam, from the field, That he had, Known, Toward a river, Twice as blessed, Toward the inn of happiness” tells of Cobain’s ascendance to heaven but also refers to his hometown of Aberdeen in the US State of Washington.  The forest mentioned in the verse is most likely to be Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington, whilst the river mentioned is the Wishkah River, a tributary of the Chehalis River which flows south through Washington and empties into the Chehalis at Aberdeen.  Linking in with the Indian theme on Gone Again, the name “Wishkah” is an adaptation of the Chehalis Indian word ‘hwish-kahl’, meaning “stinking water”.  More importantly, however, the Wishkah River has a great deal of significance in the legend of Kurt Cobain, as he lived under a bridge on the river during a period of homelessness after dropping out of high school and being thrown out of his mother’s home.  The song Something In The Way from Nevermind details this time in Cobain’s life.  After his death, one third of his ashes were scattered in the river.  Additionally, the river gave its name to the Nirvana live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released in 1996 and featuring live performance recorded between 1989 and 1994.

A band who had been listening to Smith’s tender tribute to Cobain was Australian band, The Go-Betweens.  For their 2000 album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Robert Forster wrote When She Sang About Angels, in part an answer song to About A Boy.

When She Sang About Angels includes the slightly sarcastic sounding riposte to Smith choosing to pay tribute to Cobain, “When she sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I thought what a shame, it wasn’t about, Tom Verlaine”.  Tom Verlaine is best known as the front man of seminal New York rock band Television, most notable for their critically acclaimed and highly influential debut album Marquee Moon (1977).  Verlaine was a stalwart of famous New York punk clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and dated Patti Smith whilst they were both up and coming artists.  Verlaine has collaborated with Smith many times over the years, most notably adding guitar to Smith’s albums Horses (1975); Easter (1978); Gone Again (1996) and later, Gung Ho (2000) and Twelve (2007).

The song’s title and lyrics “When she sang about angels, She looked at the sky …” refers to both Smith’s songs about people who have died on Gone Again and to Smith’s song Ask The Angels, the opening track on, and third single taken from, her 1976 album Radio Ethiopia.

Additionally, When She Sang About Angels includes lines such as “When she sang about the fields, She raised up her arm, As if she was pushing back the cotton on some Midwestern farm”, a reference to Smith’s powerful stage mannerisms and the imagery of fields which inhabits some of her songs.  Take for example, in About A Boy where she sings, “From the field that he had known”; Ask the Angels, in which she sings “Across the country through the fields” and Birdland (Horses, 1975) in which she sings, “Him and his daddy used to sit inside, And circle the blue fields and grease the night”.

Despite the hint of sarcasm which pervades Forster’s critique of Smith, there is also a lot of tenderness expressed towards Smith in When She Sang About Angels.  Take for example the refrain, “Anybody else, anybody else, but I let it go by”, absolving Smith of her various lyrical and performance tendencies and the reminiscence of the lines “Then she threw some names, Like she always did, She threw some names, she dropped some names, Like she used to when I was a kid”.  Smith is known for writing songs about other people and in particular other artists.  Take for example, her song Frederick (Wave, 1979), written about Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith before their marriage in 1980.

Smith would pay further tribute to Kurt Cobain on her 2007 album of cover versions, Twelve, when she covered Nirvana’s 1991 mega-hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the album Nevermind.

Smith’s version of Smells Like Teen Spirit strips away the thundering bombast of the original, the sound which inspired a thousand other bands and almost single-handedly invented ‘Grunge’, and delivers it with a sparse country-tinged arrangement featuring a bass guitar, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and her voice, which much like Kurt Cobain’s, has influenced whole generations.

Space Monkey: Ten Songs About Monkeys. Two Monkeys Named Able and Baker Become The First Living Creatures To Survive A Space Flight. This Day in History, 26/05/1959.

1.  Patti Smith ‘Space Monkey’

(from the album Easter, 1978).

2.  Peter Gabriel ‘Shock The Monkey’

(from the album Peter Gabriel, 1982).

3.  Pixies ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’

(from the album Doolittle, 1989).

4.  Toots & The Maytals ‘Monkey Man’

(single A-side, 1969).

5.  Chuck Berry ‘Too Much Monkey Business’

(from the album After School session, 1957).

6.  The Beatles ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey’

(from the album The Beatles, 1968).

7.  Ian Brown ‘Dolphins Were Monkeys’

(from the album Golden Greats, 1999).

8.  Echo & The Bunnymen ‘Monkeys’

(from the album Crocodiles, 1980).

9.  The Rolling Stones ‘Monkey Man’

(from the album Let It Bleed, 1969).

10. Placebo ‘Space Monkey’

(from the album Meds, 2006).

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Three). Lennon vs. McCartney: “So Sgt. Pepper Took You By Surprise …”

The dissolution of The Beatles had been a turbulent affair for all involved.  Although Let It Be (1970) was the final Beatles album to be released, it had been largely recorded prior to Abbey Road (1969).  The idea for Let It Be, originally titled Get Back, had come from Paul McCartney, who made the suggestion of recording an album of new material, rehearsing it and performing it before a live audience on a one hour television special called Beatles at Work.  Producer George Martin has said that the project was “not at all a happy recording experience.  It was a time when relations between the Beatles were at their lowest ebb”.

John Lennon described the sessions as “hell … the most miserable on Earth” and George Harrison similarly stated that they were “the low of all-time”.  Harrison had been so irritated by fighting between Lennon and McCartney that he walked out for five days.  On his return to the fold, he threatened to leave the band unless they “abandon[ed] all talk of live performance” and instead focused on finishing a new album.  He also demanded that they cease work at Twickenham Studios and relocate to the newly finished Apple Studio.  His band mates agreed and the idea came about to salvage the material shot for the TV production for use in a feature film.

So advanced were the tensions within the band that Harrison invited American virtuoso keyboardist Billy Preston to participate in the final nine days of the recording sessions.  Preston received a label credit on the Get Back single, released on the 11th April 1969.  Other than Tony Sheridan in 1962, Preston was the only artist outside of the four Beatles to receive this honour.

Preston was known as a top session musician in the 1960’s, having already worked alongside Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.  He would go on to achieve fame as an artist in his own right, releasing the album That’s the Way God Planned It on The Beatles’ Apple Records in 1969 and scoring a UK number 11 hit with the title track of the album.

At the end of the rehearsal sessions, the band could not agree on a location to film a concert.  They rejected several ideas, including a boat at sea, a lunatic asylum, the Tunisian desert and the Colosseum before finally deciding on filming what would become their final live performance on the rooftop of the Apple Cops building at 3 Saville Row, London, on the 30th January 1969.

By the time it came to assembling an album, The Beatles were in such disarray that engineer Glyn Johns, whom has been described as the project’s uncredited producer, was given free rein as the band had virtually washed their hands of the entire project.

The band was put under further strain by the arrival of financial adviser, Allen Klein.  The need for a financial adviser had been evident since the death of original manager Brian Epstein on the 27th August 1967.  Klein had previously managed the Rolling Stones and Sam Cooke.  Arguments between the band members erupted once again due to McCartney wanting John Eastman, brother of Linda Eastman whom McCartney had married on the 12th March 1969, to manage the band.  In order to appease McCartney, both Klein and Eastman were appointed but further conflict ensued and financial opportunities were lost.  On the 8th May 1969, Klein was named sole manager of the band.

Following the miserable experience that was the Get Back sessions and such was the ill feeling in The Beatles camp, Martin was surprised when McCartney asked him to produce another album.  The recording sessions for what would become Abbey Road started on the 2nd July 1969 and were equally fraught.  Lennon rejected Martin’s proposed format of a “continuously moving piece of music”, instead wanting his and McCartney’s songs to occupy separate sides of the album.  The finished format of standard individually composed songs on the first side of the album and the second side largely consisting of a medley was McCartney’s suggested compromise.

On the 4th July 1969, Lennon became the first Beatle to release a solo single, Give Peace A Chance, credited to the Plastic Ono Band.

The completion and mixing of the Lennon penned song I Want You (She’s So Heavy) on the 20th August 1969 marked the last time that all four Beatles were together in the same studio.

Lennon announced his departure from The Beatles to the rest of the band on the 20th September 1969 but agreed not to make a public announcement in order to avoid denting the sales of the forthcoming Abbey Road album, due to be released six days later.  The album sold 4 million copies within three months and remained at the premier position in the UK charts for a total of seventeen weeks.  Harrison’s composition Something was released as a single, notable for being the only Harrison song to appear as a Beatles A-side.

Abbey Road was met with mixed reviews, although the medley was generally acclaimed.  Whilst Martin describes Abbey Road as his personal favourite Beatles album, Lennon felt it was competent but lacking life.

On the 3rd of January 1970, the final song, Harrison’s I Me Mine, was recorded for the Get Back album.  Lennon, who was in Denmark at the time, declined to participate.

Klein was unhappy with the work that Johns had done on the project, and following the change of the album’s name to Let It Be, the session tapes were given to Phil Spector, who had recently produced Lennon’s solo single Instant Karma!

On receiving the tapes, Spector edited, spliced and overdubbed several of the recordings which had been intended to have the ‘live’ sound.  McCartney was horrified with the results and particularly criticised the orchestration work carried out on The Long and Winding Road, which included a fourteen voice choir and a 36 piece instrumental ensemble.  When his demands that the alterations to the song be reverted were ignored, McCartney announced his departure from the band on the 10th April 1970, just a week before the release of his debut solo album, Paul McCartney.

The Let It Be album was released on the 8th May 1970 with the version of The Long and Winding Road which McCartney hated so much being released as the lead single in the United States, but not in Britain.  The Let It Be documentary film followed later that month and went on to win the 1970 Academy Award for Best Original Song Score.  Meanwhile, legal disputes between the Beatles continued long after the band’s break up and the dissolution was not made formal until the 29th December 1974.

As for the Let It Be album, Spector’s production work remained a bone of contention for McCartney for many years, until 2003 when he was the driving force behind Let It Be … Naked:  A presentation of the album in the form that he felt it should have been released in, complete with The Long and Winding Road without the production treatments which had finally forced him to quit the band.

Whilst the Beatles fought out their differences in the courts, McCartney and Lennon were also busy fighting each other on their subsequent solo releases.  On his second solo album, Ram (1971), McCartney and wife Linda made a barely concealed attack against Lennon on the opening track, Too Many People.  The song starts with the words “Piss off, cake”, a slur which McCartney would eventually admit was aimed at Lennon in an interview with Mojo Magazine in 2001:

“Piss off, cake.  Like, a piece of cake becomes piss of cake, and it’s nothing, it’s so harmless really, just little digs.  But the first line is about “too many people preaching practices”.  I felt John and Yoko were telling everyone what to do.  And I felt we didn’t need to be told what to do.  The whole tenor of the Beatles thing had been, like, each to his own.  Freedom.  Suddenly, it was “You should do this”.  It was just a bit the wagging finger, and I was pissed off with it.  So that one got to be a thing about them”.

The insults directed at Lennon on Ram did not go unnoticed by McCartney’s former songwriting partner and his wife, Yoko Ono.  They, and the record buying public, also noted lines such as “You took your lucky break and broke it in two”.  In an interview with Playboy in 1980, Lennon said of the damning lyrical content of Ram:

“There were all the bits at the beginning of Ram like “Too many people going underground”.  Well that was us, Yoko Ono and me.  And “You took your lucky break”, that was considering we had a lucky break to be with him”.

Additionally, Ram also featured the equally bitter song 3 Legs, in which McCartney uses the idea of a dog with three legs (“My dog, he got three legs, But he can’t run”) as a metaphor for the other three members of The Beatles, suggesting that they would never amount to anything without him.  The song also contains lyrics such as “Well, when I thought, well, I thought, When I thought you was my friend … But you let me down, ho, Put my heart around the bend” and “My dog he got three legs, your dog he got none”.

Already angry at the attacks delivered towards him on Too Many People, 3 Legs only served to exacerbate Lennon’s rage.   Also, on viewing the artwork for the Ram album, he noted the significance of the picture of two stag beetles mounting each other.  It would seem that McCartney was throwing down the gauntlet and Lennon was all too pleased to oblige.

In a game of one-upmanship which had started with McCartney pipping him to the post by being the first Beatle to publicly quit the sinking ship, Lennon penned a retort to his former band mate.  The resulting song, How Do You Sleep? was featured on Lennon’s second solo album Imagine (1971).  Particularly citing the insults directed at him on Too Many People as ammunition, Lennon pulled no punches in his assassination of his former bandmate.

How Do You Sleep? starts with the sound of an orchestra warming up in reference to The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and in particular its title track, the concept of which was introduced to the band by MacCartney.

Following this, we find the first incendiary lines, “So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise, You better see right through that mother’s eyes”.  The use of the word “mother”, a shortened version of the swearword ‘motherfucker’ is a rather direct retort to the “Piss off, cake” utterance in McCartney’s Too Many people.  This opening is also a further attempt on Lennon’s part to disassociate himself from The Beatles in order for him to be seen as an individual and solo artist.  This idea of severing all ties with his Beatles past was first seen on his song God from previous album John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (1970) …

… which featured lines such as “Don’t believe in Beatles , I just believe in me …” and “I once was the walrus [in reference to The Beatles’ I Am The Walrus (1967)], but now I’m John”.

Following this, the line “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead” refers to the Paul is dead hoax, a conspiracy started by American college students in 1969.  The conspiracy suggested that McCartney has died following a car crash in 1967 and had been replaced by a doppelganger.  The students published articles claiming that clues to McCartney’s death could be found amongst the lyrics and artwork of the Beatles’ recordings.  This clue-hunting proved infectious and within a few weeks it had become an international phenomenon.  Clues were said to include a message saying “Turn me on, dead man” when Revolution 9, from The Beatles (1968) is played backwards …

… and the utterance of “I buried Paul” at the end of Strawberry Fields forever (1967), words which Lennon stated were actually “Cranberry sauce”.

In addition to the hundreds upon hundreds of suggested allusions to McCartney’s death, the cover photo of the Abbey Road album was said to symbolise a funeral procession, with Lennon, dressed in white, symbolising a clergyman or heavenly figure; Ringo Starr, dressed in black, symbolising either an undertaker or mourner; George Harrison, dressed in denim jeans and shirt, symbolising the gravedigger and finally, McCartney, shoeless and out of step with the other Beatles, symbolising the corpse.  In November 1969, McCartney gave an interview with Life Magazine in order to dispel the rumours.  In this line, Lennon is saying that McCartney is dead to him.

Following this, the line “The one mistake you made was in your head” is a retort to McCartney’s lines in Too Many People, “That was your first mistake” and “That was your last mistake”.  Following this, we find the song’s title sung as the refrain.  “How do you sleep?” is sung a total of eight times throughout the song, just in case McCartney didn’t get the point the first time.

The line “You live with straights who tell you you was king” are a gilded attack on the egotism that McCartney had displayed on Too Many People and 3 Legs, suggesting that he associates himself with sycophants who feed his ego.  “Jump when your momma tell you anything” displays McCartney as a ‘Mummy’s boy’.  This line can be seen as slightly hypocritical on Lennon’s part as whilst McCartney also lost his mother at a young age, the loss of Lennon’s mother, Julia, in a traffic accident in 1958 when Lennon was 17, was a major source of insecurity and fed many of his lyrics.  Obvious examples include Julia (The Beatles, 1968) …

… and Mother (John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, 1970).

This line is also a jab at McCartney’s title track of the Let It Be album which proved to be the band’s downfall, in which McCartney sings, “And in my hour of darkness, Mother Mary comes to me”.

Lennon further rubbishes McCartney’s back catalogue on the line “The only thing you done was yesterday, And since you’ve gone you’re just another day”.  The first song to be poked fun at in this double-pronged attack is Yesterday (Help!, 1965) …

… and the second is McCartney’s solo single, Another Day, released earlier in 1971.

The song’s outro begins with the lines, “A pretty face may last a year or two, But pretty soon they’ll see what you can do”.  This lyric refers to the way in which McCartney was often seen as the “pretty face” of The Beatles and suggests that McCartney is all front and no substance.  The following lines, “The sound you make is muzak to my ears, You must have learned something in all those years” are an equally debasing line which further states Lennon’s low opinion of McCartney’s increasingly sentimental songs, first expressed towards the end of The Beatles when he described McCartney’s lyrics as “granny music shit”.  The song that attracted such scorn from Lennon was Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles, 1968).  The outro of How Do You Sleep? could be read as entirely referring to Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, with the words “A pretty face” also referring to a mistake that McCartney made whilst singing the song.  In the last verse, the line “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face” was supposed to be “Molly stays at home and does her pretty face”.   Desmond.  Apparently, this mistake was kept in the song because the other Beatles, even Lennon, liked it.

To add further insult, Lennon even enlisted George Harrison to play slide guitar on the song and in the 1971 film Imagine, with Harrison playing alongside him, Lennon sings, “How do you sleep, ya cunt” before asking the engineer to stop recording.  Additionally, whilst Lennon is credited with writing the song alone, multiple reports suggest that Yoko Ono and Allen Klein, now Lennon’s manager, also contributed lyrics.  Ringo Starr visited the studio during the recording of the song and was reportedly upset enough to say, “That’s enough, John”.  However, for Lennon, this wasn’t enough.  Also note how the following song on Imagine is entitled How as if to emphasise the point of How Do You Sleep? still further.  And last but not least, the inside sleeve of the Imagine album features a picture of Lennon holding the ears of a pig, parodying the cover of McCartney’s Ram.

On the release of the Imagine album, Rolling Stone magazine described How Do You Sleep? as “horrifying and indefensible”.  In an attempt to defend himself, by the mid 1970’s, Lennon often said that he had in fact written the song about himself.  However, in his interview with Playboy in 1980, he said:

“I used my resentment against Paul … to create a song … not a terrible vicious horrible vendetta … I used my resentment and withdrawing from Paul and The Beatles, and the relationship with Paul, to write How Do You Sleep?  I don’t really go round with those thoughts in my head all the time”.

In his interview with Mojo Magazine in 2001, McCartney said of How Do You Sleep?:

“The answer to John was well – I was sleeping very well at the time.  Before John died, I got back a good relationship with him.  That was very special.  The arguments we had didn’t matter.  We were able to just take the piss about all those songs; they weren’t that harsh.  In fact, I have been thanked by Yoko and everyone else for saving the Beatles from Allen Klein.  Everything comes round in the end”.

National Express: Ten Songs About Buses. Worst Motor Vehicle Disaster in UK; Bus Full of Elderly Women Plunges Dibble’s Bridge, Yorkshire, Killing 38. This Day in History, 27/05/1975.

1.  The Divine Comedy ‘National Express’

(from the album Fin de Siecle, 1998).

2.  Billy Preston ‘The Bus’

(from the album I wrote A Simple Song, 1971).

3.  The Who ‘Magic Bus’

(single A-side, 1968).

4.  Simon & Garfunkel ‘America’

(from the album Bookends, 1968).

5. Supergrass ‘Sitting Up Straight’

(from the album I Should Coco, 1994).

6.  The Hollies ‘Bus Stop’

(single A-side, 1966).

7.  Belle & Sebastian ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’

(from the album The Boy with the Arab Strap, 1998).

8.  The Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’

(from the album Magical Mystery Tour, 1967).

9.  Dawn featuring Tony Orlando ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’

(from the album Tuneweaving, 1973).

10. Oasis ‘Whatever’

(single A-side, 1994).