Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day Two). “My Travelling Companion is Nine Years Old, He is the Child of My First Marriage”.

Paul Simon released his seventh solo album, Graceland, in 1986.  Prior to the album’s release, Simon’s career had hit an all-time low.  Following a reunion with former partner Art Garfunkel, which had been successful but contentious, Simon’s marriage to actress Carrie Fisher had fallen apart and his previous record, Hearts and Bones (1983), had been a commercial disaster.  In 1984, following a period of depression, Simon became fascinated by a bootleg cassette of South African township music.  He planned a trip to Johannesburg in the New Year with producer Roy Halee, where he spent two weeks recording with South African musicians, who most famously included Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The album was recorded between 1985 and 1986 and featured an eclectic mix of styles ranging from pop and rock to a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya and andmbaqanga.  Simon faced much controversy for seemingly breaking the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against the apartheid regime in South Africa at the time.  Furthermore, some critics felt that Graceland was an exploitive appropriation of African cultures.  Despite the controversy, Graceland was a major commercial hit, becoming Simon’s most successful solo album.

During the recording of the album, Simon would remain unsure of the album’s thematic connection.  He kept dozens of yellow legal pads with random words and phrases which he would combine in an attempt to define the album.  The album’s title was taken from a phrase written on one of the pads, “driving through wasteland”, which was changed to “going to Graceland”, a reference to the Memphis home of Elvis Presley.  In doing so, Simon believed that it represented a spiritual direction.  Just as he had taken his trip to Africa to collect ideas, he also took a trip to Graceland in order to revitalise his love for music.

The album’s title track tells of the singer’s thoughts during this journey following the failure of his second marriage.  As the song opens, we find the lines, “The Mississippi Delta was shining, Like a national guitar” in which the singer romanticises the spiritual home of the blues and the birthplace of modern music as we know it.  In the following lines, “I’m following the river down the highway, Through the cradle of the civil war”, the singer is driving through the area where many civil war battles were fought.

Following the chorus of the song, the second verse introduces us to Simon’s travel companion with the lines, “My travelling companion is nine years old, He is the child of my first marriage”.  Simon’s first marriage was to Peggy Harper from 1969 to 1975.  They had one son, Harper Simon.  However, Harper Simon was born in 1972, which would make the year of Simon’s trip to Graceland, 1981.  We know that the trip took place later, somewhere between 1983 and 1986.  Therefore, the child that Simon is talking about is more likely to be a metaphor for the emotional baggage which he carries from his first marriage.  With Simon’s marriage to Peggy Harper ending in 1975, we can date his journey to Graceland to 1984.  The idea of the “child” being a metaphorical one is made more apparent by the later line, “And my travelling companions are ghosts and empty sockets”, with the “ghosts” and “empty sockets” being the reminders of Simon’s failed relationships.  In several lines of the song, such as “But I’ve reason to believe, We both will be received in Graceland” Graceland is portrayed as a spiritual place, somewhere which the singer and other imperfect sinners can be unburdened of their troubles and regrets.  This can also be seen in the line in the chorus, “Poor boys and pilgrims with families”.

In the third verse of the song, Simon speaks of Fisher, describing the way “she” had physically left him but had then returned to let him know that she was leaving: “She comes back to tell me she’s gone, As if I didn’t know that”.  Simon also tells of how his sense of observation has been insulted by his wife telling him she has left him in the lines, “As if I didn’t know my own bed, As if I didn’t know that”.  In the same verse, Simon drifts into daydreaming thinking about his estranged wife with lines such as “As if I’d never noticed the way she brushed her hair from her forehead”.  Following this, Simon speaks of how vulnerable love makes people and the devastating effect his marriage break up has been on him with words spoken to him by Fisher:  “and she said, “Losing love, Is like a window in your heart, Everybody sees you’re blown apart, Everybody sees the wind blow”.

Some of the most curious lines of the song are found in verse five:  “There’s a girl in New York City, Who calls herself the human trampoline”.  Simon explained the meaning of “human trampoline” to SongTalk magazine, saying:

“That line came to me when I was walking past the Museum of Natural History.  For no reason I can think of.  It’s not related to anybody.  Or anything.  It just struck me as funny.  Although that’s an image that people remember, they talk about that line.  But really, what interested me was the next line, because I was using the word “Graceland” but it wasn’t in the chorus.  I was bringing “Graceland” back into the verse.  Which is one of the things I learned from African music: the recapitulation of themes can come in different places”.

As the Simon’s travelogue draws to a close, he sings of how the beauty of Graceland is the way in which “pilgrims” are received without question and do not need to explain themselves:  “And I may be obliged to defend, Every love, every ending, Or maybe there’s no obligations now”.

Musically, Graceland is notable for featuring guest backing vocals from Simon’s childhood heroes, Don and Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers.  Simon had previously paid tribute to the duo on Simon and Garfunkel’s album Bring Over Troubled Water (1970), which features a cover of the Everly Brothers’ Bye Bye Love (The Everly Brothers, 1958).

In The Story of Graceland as Told by Paul Simon, released by Legacy Recordings on the 25th Anniversary of Graceland, Simon stated, “I always heard that song as a perfect Everly Brothers song”.

Cosmonaut No. 7: Ten Songs About Cosmonauts and Astronauts. Three Russian Cosmonauts are Found Dead in Their Soyuz 11 Space Capsule After It Made What Looked Like a Perfect Landing in Kazakhstan. This Day in History, 30/06/1971.

1.  Scarfo ‘Cosmonaut No. 7’

(from the album Luxury Plane Crash, 1997).

2.  Pixies ‘Planet of Sound’

(from the album Trompe Le Monde, 1991).

3.  Rolling Stones ‘2000 Light Years From Home’

(from the album Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967).

4.  Arcade Fire ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’

(from the album Funeral, 2004).

5.  Amanda Palmer ‘Astronaut’

(from the album Who Killed Amanda Palmer, 2008).

6.  David Bowie ‘Space Oddity’

(from the album David Bowie, 1969).

7. Belle and Sebastian ‘A Space Boy Dream’

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

8.  Elton John ‘Rocket Man’

(from the album Honky Chateau, 1972).

9.  Black Sabbath ‘Into the Void’

(from the album Master of Reality, 1971).

10. Ian Brown My Star’

(from the album Unfinished Monkey Business, 1998).

Sharpen Up the Knives: Ten Songs About Knives. The Night of the Long Knives, Adolf Hitler’s Violent Purge of His Political Rivals in Germany, Takes Place. This Day in History, 30/06/1934.

1.  Puressence ‘Sharpen Up the Knives’

(from the album Only Forever, 1998).

2.  Black Veil Brides ‘Knives and Pens’

(single A-side, 2009).

3.  Dire Straits ‘Six Blade Knife’

(from the album Dire straits, 1978).

4.  Therapy? ‘Knives’

(from the album Troublegum, 1994).

5.  Bobby Darin ‘Mack the Knife’

(from the album That’s All, 1959).

6.  Radiohead ‘Knives Out’

(from the album Amnesiac, 2001).

7.  Beirut ‘Forks and Knives (La Fete)’

(from the album The Flying Club Cup, 2007).

8.  The Decemberists ‘Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)’

(from the album The Crane Wife, 2006).

9.  The Long Blondes ‘A Knife for the Girls’

(from the album Someone to Drive You Home, 2006).

10.  Morrissey ‘Smiler With Knife’

(from the album World Peace is None of Your Business, 2014).

Eye of the Tiger: Ten Songs About Boxing. Happy Birthday to Mike Tyson, 49 Today.

1.  Survivor ‘Eye of the Tiger’

(from the album Eye of the Tiger, 1982).

2.  Morrissey ‘Boxers’

(from the album World of Morrissey, 1995).

3.  Simon and Garfunkel ‘The Boxer’

(from the album Bridge of Troubled Water, 1970).

4.  LL Cool J ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’

(from the album Mama Said Knock You Out, 1990).

5.  Bob Dylan ‘Hurricane’

(from the album Desire, 1976).

6.  DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince ‘I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson’

(from the album In This Corner …, 1989).

7.  Bruce Springsteen ‘The Hitter’

(from the album Devils and Dust, 2005).

8.  Kaiser Chiefs ‘Boxing Champ’

(from the album Yours Truly, Angry Mob, 2009).

9.  Elvis Costello ‘TKO (Boxing Day)’

(from the album Punch the Clock, 1983).

10. Ben Folds Five ‘Boxing’

(from the album Ben Folds Five, 1995).

Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day One). “I Am A Traveller of Both Time and Space to Be Where I Have Been”.

Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s sixth album, released on 24th February 1975.  The band wrote eight new songs for what would become Physical Graffiti at Headley Grange recording studios.  Upon realising that due to the length of the tracks, they would not be able to fit all eight songs on one record, they decided to make Physical Graffiti a double LP by using the eight recorded tracks together with one outtake from Led Zeppelin III, three from Led Zeppelin IV and three from Houses of the Holy, including the unused title track.  The new songs written for Physical Graffiti included Kashmir, a monolithic eight minute piece which became a staple part of every Led Zeppelin concert from 1975 onwards.

The song was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, with contributions from John Bohnam, over a period of three years.  The lyrics were written by Plant in 1973 immediately after Led Zeppelin’s 1973 US Tour in an area he has referred to “the waste lands” of Southern Morocco, whilst driving from Goulimine to Tantan in the Sahara Desert.  Despite the geographical location of the song’s conception, the song is named after Kashmir, a region in the Indian subcontinent.  In an interview with William S. Burroughs in 1975, Page mentioned that at the time of the song’s composition, none of the band had been to Kashmir.  Plant explained the reason for naming the song Kashmir to Cameron Crowe for his extended essay to accompany the Led Zeppelin boxset, The Complete Studio Recordings in 1993:

“The whole inspiration came from the fact that the road went on and on and on, it was a single-track road which neatly cut through the desert.  Two miles to the East and West were ridges of sandrock.  It basically looked like you were driving down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it.  ‘Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams …’ It’s one of my favourites … that, All My Love and In the Light and two or three others were the finest moments.  But Kashmir in particular, it was so positive, lyrically”.

In an article with Triple J Broadcasting Association for an article entitled Hottest 100 of All Time, in 2010, Plant spoke of the challenges which he faced writing lyrics for such a complex piece of music:

“It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me … Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is … not grandiose, but powerful:  it required some kind of epithet, or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments.  But everything is not what you see.  It was quite a task, ‘cause I couldn’t sing it.  It was like the song was bigger than me.  It’s true:  I was petrified, it’s true, it was painful, I was virtually in tears”.

The song has a very distinctive musical composition featuring a rising and falling guitar riff played on a guitar tuned to DADGAD.  It was inspired by Middle-Eastern, Moroccan and Indian music.  In the 1994 book, Led Zeppelin by Chris Welch, Page explained:  “I had a sitar for some time and I was interested in modal tunings and Arabic stuff.  It started off with a riff and then employed Eastern lines underneath”.

To add to the composition’s uniqueness, Kashmir was one of the very few Led Zeppelin songs to feature outside musicians.  Session players were brought in the studio to record the string and horn sections.  As well as the original Physical Graffiti version of the song, several alternative versions exist, including one entitled Driving Through Kashmir (Kashmir Rough Orchestra Mix) with a slightly different structure.  This version was released in February 2015 as part of the remastering process of all nine albums.

Additionally, and perhaps most impressively out of the alternative versions of Kashmir, Page and Plant recorded a live 12 minute version with a Moroccan / Egyptian orchestra for their album No Quarter (1994).

As the lyrics begin with the line “Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream”, we are introduced to the narrator, a powerful, mysterious and transcending figure.  This audible thought finds the narrator pausing from his travels to soak up the warmth and light from above, figuratively, and perhaps literally, recharging himself.  In the following line, “I am a traveller of both time and space, to be where I have been”, we are told that this is a journey of epic proportions, one which transcends the limitations of this dimension, both temporarily and in physical space.

Following this, “To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world had seldom seen” could refer to Revelation 4:4 in the Book of Revelation where John the Apostle is caught up in the heavens and sees the 24 elders seated on their thrones:  “And around the throne were twenty-four thrones and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads”.  Alternatively, this line and the next three, “They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed, Talk and songs from lifting grace, whose sounds caress my ear, But not a word could I relate, the story was quite clear”, may refer to JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and Lord of the Rings (1954).  Plant was well known to be a fan of Tolkien and often used imagery from his work.  Take for instance, the lyrics to Ramble On (Led Zeppelin II, 1969): “Mine’s a tale that can’t be told, My freedom I hold dear, How years ago in days of old, When magic filled the air, ‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, But Gollum and the evil one crept up, And slipped away with her”.

Additionally, see the song titles, Over the Hills and Far Away (Houses of the Holy, 1973) …

… and Misty Mountain Hop (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971).

Following this, the line “But not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear” is also likely to be a Tolkien reference.  In a number of Tolkien’s works, particularly The Silmarillion (1977), it is mentioned that when the elves sing in a language the listener can’t understand, they can sometimes still see the images that they are singing about.

Moving into the bridge section, the lyrics, “Oh, I been flying … mama, there ain’t no denyin’, I’ve been flyin’, ain’t no denyin’, no denyin’” could refer to the band travelling round the world before and during the composition of the song.

In the following lyrics, “All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground, And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land, Trying to find, trying to find where I’ve been”, we can clearly see the landscape which inspired Kashmir, “the wastelands” in southern Morocco.  Next, “Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace”, perhaps refers to God, whilst following this, “like thoughts inside a dream” refers to the creator of the storm being as hard to visualise as the thought inside one’s dream.  The creator is elusive and mysterious but somehow very real.

The “Shangri-La” mentioned in the lines “Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream, My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again” refers to the fictional paradise from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933).  In the novel, Shangri-La is a utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.  Shangri-La is often referred to in the same way that someone would refer to the Garden of Eden.  These lines suggest that the narrator of the song s haunted by the memories of the place which he speaks of and is attempting to return.

“Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir” finds the narrator once again speaking of the dusty road which inspired the song.  Following this, the “father of the four winds” mentioned in the following line possibly refers to Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds who is usually depicted as the controller of the Anemoi, the minor wind gods.  Alternatively, the “Father of the four winds” could possibly be another Tolkien reference:  Manwe, the King of the Valar, from The Silmarillion.

More travel imagery follows with “… fill my sails, across the sea of years, With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear”.  Here, the lyrics once again compliment the utter vastness of the composition, with the narrator, the “traveller of both space and time”, travelling across “years”, unsure of what he will discover on his journey.

The song reaches its climax with Plant singing “… well I’m down so down … let me take you there”.  Kashmir speaks of a dark time of reflection, of God, of existence and Plant attempting to find his place in the midst of all of this.

One thing to note about Kashmir is its curious placing on the album.  One may expect a song of such monolithic proportions to end the album but it is instead placed, if we were to think of Physical Graffiti as a double vinyl album, at the end of side two.  In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Page said of this:

“Each side of the vinyl was sequenced to showcase whatever was on there, so it wasn’t square pegs in round holes.  Any of the four sides could be your favourite side.  All of them have an intensity to them, but some have got more rock roots than others.  A double album was so right for Zeppelin”.

Similarly, on the vinyl versions of Physical Graffiti, the colossal 11 minute In My Time of Dying closes side one of the album.

Once again speaking to The Guardian, Page said:  “Those songs – In My Time of Dying, Kashmir – are supposed to be:  That’s it.  Nothing follows that.  You need time to catch your breath after”.

Finding You: Ten Great Go-Betweens Moments. Happy Birthday to Robert Forster, 58 Today.

1.  The Go-Betweens ‘Lee Remick’

(single A-side, 1978).

2.  The Go-Betweens ‘Your Turn, My Turn’

(from the album Send Me A Lullaby, 1982).

3.  The Go-Betweens ‘Cattle and Cane’

(from the album Before Hollywood, 1983).

4.  The Go-Betweens ‘Bachelor Kisses’

(from the album Spring Hill Fair, 1984).

5.  The Go-Betweens ‘Spring Rain’

(from the album Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, 1986).

6.  The Go-Betweens ‘The House That Jack Kerouac Built’

(from the album Tallulah, 1987).

7.  The Go-Betweens ‘Streets of Your Town’

(from the album 16 Lovers Lane, 1988).

8.  The Go-Betweens ‘Surfing Magazines’

(from the album The Friends of Rachel Worth, 2000).

9.  The Go-Betweens ‘Too Much of One Thing’

(from the album Bright Yellow, Bright Orange, 2003).

10. The Go-Betweens ‘Finding You’

(from the album Oceans Apart, 2005).

Down By the Water: Ten Songs About Water. Diana Fountain Given the Go Ahead in Hyde Park, London. This Day in History, 29/06/2001.

1.  PJ Harvey ‘Down By the Water’

(from the album To Bring You My Love, 1995).

2.  Ultrasound ‘Aire and Calder’

(from the album Everything Picture, 1999).

3.  TLC ‘Waterfalls’

(from the album CrazySexyCool, 1994).

4.  The Who ‘Water’

(from the album Who’s Next (bonus track), 1971).

5.  Ute Lemper ‘Little Water Song’

(from the album Punishing Kiss, 2000).

6.  Talking Heads ‘Once in a Lifetime’

(from the album Remain in Light, 1980).

7.  Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘Sad Waters’

(from the album Your Funeral … My Trial, 1986).

8.  Blur ‘Oily Water’

(from the album Modern Life is Rubbish, 1993).

9.  The Delgados ‘Everything Goes Around the Water’

(from the album Peloton, 1998).

10. Damien Rice ‘Cold Water’

(from the album O, 2002).

Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Seven). “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm …”

Canadian folk rock band Crash Test Dummies released their second album God Shuffled His Feet in October 1993.  The first single from the album was Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, was released in the same month.  The song’s distinctive chorus of simply “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm …” sung in singer, songwriter and guitarist Brad Roberts’ distinctive bass-baritone voice helped to make the song the band’s most successful single  and an international hit.  The song was a number one hit in Germany, Australia and on the US Modern Rock Track chart.  Additionally, it reached number 2 in the United Kingdom and number 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Of writing Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, Roberts, whom had studied to be a professor of English literature prior to the band’s success, told The Independent in May 1994:

“When I wrote that song, it didn’t flow through me, I wasn’t inspired.  I sat down and I decided I had certain themes that I wanted to make sure I handled in a way that wasn’t sentimental but at the same time was powerful and poignant.  I wanted to put a funny angle on it without being merely slapstick.  It all boils down to careful scrutiny of what you’re doing, your rational faculties being brought into play”.

Each verse of Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm deals with the isolation and suffering of a child, two of whom have a physical abnormality.  The first verse of the song tells of how “Once there was this kid who, Got into an accident and couldn’t come to school, But when he finally came back, His hair had turned from black into bright white, He said that it was from when, The cars had smashed so hard”.  Ironically, in 2000, Roberts was nearly killed in a car accident but escaped with a broken arm before his car exploded.

Meanwhile, in the second verse, Roberts sings about a girl with birth defects:  “Once there was a girl who, Wouldn’t go and change with the girls in the change room, But when they finally made here, They saw birthmarks all over her body, She couldn’t quite explain it, They’d always just been there”.

Following this, the bridge of the song expresses the boy and girl’s relief that “one kid had it worse than that” before Roberts tells of how “then there was this boy whose, Parents made him come directly home right after school, And when they went to their church, They shook and lurched all over the church floor, He couldn’t quite explain it, they’d always just gone there”.  During a live performance of Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm for Dutch radio station Kink FM, Roberts whispered during the third verse, “Pentecostal”, inferring that the lyrics relate to the Christian denomination.

Sometimes when the band perform the song in concert, the character in the third verse is replaced by a boy whose mother disposed of his tonsils after a tonsillectomy, thus depriving him of the possibility of bringing them to show and tell.

The promotional video for the single sets the song’s lyrics as the script for a series of one-act plays performed by school children.  During the performance of the plays, the band are seen playing the song at the stage side.

Despite the success of the single, Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm is constantly mentioned on lists of bad songs.  The song was ranked number 15 on VH1’s 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever, whilst Rolling Stone magazine named it as the “15th Most Annoying Song”.  On AOL Radio’s list of 100 Worst Songs Ever in 2010, Matthew Wilkening described the song as “Not only bad but amazingly monotone and depressing”, and “Absolutely the last song to play for your sad friends”.  On a positive note though, in 2011, VH1 named Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm the 31st greatest one-hit wonder of the 1990’s.

I Will Talk and Hollywood Will Listen: Ten Songs About the Movies. Happy Birthday to Mel Brooks, 88 Today.

1.  Robbie Williams ‘I Will Talk and Hollywood Will Listen’

(from the album Swing When You’re Winning, 2001).

2.  Suede ‘Filmstar’

(from the album Coming Up, 1996).

3.  David Bowie ‘Drive-In Saturday’

(from the album Aladdin Sane, 1973).

4.  The Beatles ‘Act Naturally’

(from the album Help!, 1965).

5.  Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Californication’

(from the album Californication, 1999).

6.  Roisin Murphy ‘Movie Star’

(from the album Overpowered, 2007).

7.  Cornershop ‘Brimful of Asha’

(from the album When I Was Born for the 7th Time, 1997).

8.  Steely Dan ‘Peg’

(from the album Aja, 1977).

9.  Rufus Wainwright ‘Release the Stars’

(from the album Release the Stars, 2007).

10. Blondie ‘Fade Away and Radiate’

(from the album Parallel Lines, 1978).

South American Getaway: Ten Songs About Central and South America. The US Congress Passes the Spooner Act, Authorising Theodore Roosevelt to Acquire Rights from Colombia for the Panama Canal. This Day in History, 28/06/1902.

1.  Burt Bacharach ‘South American Getaway’

(from the album Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid OST, 1969).

2.  Roxy Music ‘Amazona’

(from the album Stranded, 1973).

3.  Drugstore ‘El President’

(from the album White Magic for Lovers, 1998).

4.  Luke Haines ‘Our Man in Buenos Aires’

(from the album 21st Century Man, 2009).

5.  Rolling Stones ‘Indian Girl’

(from the album Emotional Rescue, 1980).

6.  Kirsty MacColl ‘England 2 Colombia 0’

(from the album Tropical Brainstorm, 2000).

7.  Big Audio Dynamite ‘Sambadrome’

(from the album No. 10 Upping Street, 1986).

8.  Madonna ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’

(from the album Evita, 1996).

9.  The Clash ‘Washington Bullets’

(from the album Sandinista!, 1980).

10. Guillemots ‘Sao Paulo’

(from the album Through the Windowpane, 2006).