Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Three). “It’s No Use, He Sees Her, He Starts to Shake and Cough, Just Like the Old Man In That Book by Nabokov”.

The Police released their third studio album Zenyatta Mondatta in 1980, preceded by the single, Don’t Stand So Close to Me.  The single gave the band their third number one single, following Message in A Bottle and Walking on the Moon from their previous album Regatta de Blanc in 1979.  Additionally, the song won the band the 1982 Grammy Award for the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.  It was the biggest selling single in the UK in 1980.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me concerns a schoolgirl’s crush on her young teacher which leads to an affair, which is then discovered.  Sting, who worked as a teacher before the band became successful, has denied that the song is autobiographical.  He qualified as a teacher in 1974, after attending Northern Counties College of Education for three years, before working as a teacher at St. Paul’s First School in Cramlington for two years.  Of Don’t Stand So Close to Me, Sting said in the 1981 biography L’Historia Bandido:

“I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom.  I’d done teaching practice at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them!  How I kept my hands off them I don’t know … Then there was my love for Lolita which I think is a brilliant novel.  But I was looking for the key for eighteen months and suddenly there it was.  That opened the gates and out it came: the teacher, the open page, the virgin, the rape in the car, getting the sack, Nabakov, all that”.

The lyrics and music of Don’t Stand So Close to Me were both written by Sting.  Lyrically, the song deals with the lust, fear and guilt that a female student and a teacher have for one another.  The female student’s feelings towards the teacher are found in lines such as “Young teacher, the subject, Of school girl fantasy, She wants him so badly, Knows what she wants to be”.  Later in the song, we find the teacher’s feelings towards the student in lines such as “It’s no use, he sees her, He starts to shake and cough, Just like the old man in, That book by Nabokov”.  The last line of the verse likens the affair between the song’s characters with the predicament of the characters in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita.  In the novel, the male character, Humbert Humbert is obsessed with the 12 year old Delores Haze, whom he nicknames “Lolita” and becomes sexually involved with after becoming her stepfather.  In Lolita, Humbert is described as “not quite an old man”.

Sting has often been criticised for rhyming “cough” with “Nabokov”.  In an interview on, the singer said of the rhyme:

“I’ve used that terrible, terrible rhyme technique a few times.  Technically, it’s called a feminine rhyme – where it’s so appalling, it’s almost humorous.  You don’t normally get those types of rhymes in pop music and I’m glad”.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me features a guitar synthesiser in the middle of the song, played by Andy Summers.  In an interview with, Summers said of the inclusion of the guitar synthesiser:  “After Sting had put the vocals on Don’t Stand So Close to Me, we looked for something to lift the middle of the song.  I came up with a guitar synthesiser.  It was the first time we’d used it.  I felt it worked really well”.  The verses and choruses do not feature this effect.  Don’t stand So Close to Me utilises a common effect in Police songs, that of the verses being quieter and more subdued whilst the chorus is bolder and bigger in sound.

A few years later, Sting was asked to perform on the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing (Brothers in Arms, 1985) due to being in Montserrat at the same time as the band were recording the song.   Sting performs the “I want my MTV” line, which reuses the melody from Don’t Stand So Close to Me.  After the likeness was mentioned to reporters during the promotions for Brothers in Arms, lawyers for Sting became involved and whilst early pressings of Brothers in Arms only credit Mark Knopfler with having written the song, later copies credit both Knopfler and Sting. It is one of only two shared songwriting credits on a Dire Straits album, the other being Tunnel of Love, from the 1980 album Making Movies, which includes an extract from The Carousel Waltz by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

In 1986, Don’t Stand So Close to Me was re-recorded with a new, more brooding sounding arrangement, a different chorus and more opulent production.  The new version, titled Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86, appeared on the album Every Breath You Take:  The Singles and was released as a single, reaching number 24 on the British singles chart.  The song’s tempo was decreased for the new version and features a slight lyric change in order to compensate for it, with the line “Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov” becoming “Just like the old man in that famous book by Nabokov.  The Police had already split by the time the single was released and aside from the then-unreleased De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da ’86, it is the most recent studio recording released by the band.  A new music video was produced for the reworked song by Godley and Creme.  The video is notable for its early use of computer graphics.

Airbag: Ten Songs About Car Crashes. 83 Spectators Are Killed and at Least 100 are Injured After A Mercedes Benz and an Austin Healey Collide at 24 Hours of Le Mans, Making It the Deadliest Ever Accident in Motorsport History. This Day in History, 11/06/1955.

1.  Radiohead ‘Airbag’

(from the album OK Computer, 1997).

2.  Joy Division ‘Disorder’

(from the album Unknown Pleasures, 1979).

3.  The Normal ‘Warm Leatherette’

(B-side of the single T.V.O.D, 1978).

4.  Siouxsie and the Banshees ‘Kiss Them for Me’

(from the album Superstition, 1991).

5.  David Bowie ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’

(from the album Low, 1977).

6.  Suede ‘Daddy’s Speeding’

(from the album Dog Man Star, 1994).

7.  The Clash ‘The Right Profile’

(from the album London Calling, 1979).

8.  Ray Peterson ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’

(from the album Tell Laura I Love Her, 1960).

9.  The Smiths ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’

(from the album The Queen Is Dead, 1986).

10. The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’

(from the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967).

Song of the Day: Hollywood in Music (Day Four). “Whiplash Caught The Silver Son, Took The Film To Number One”.

“If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he is dead, then maybe he was a great man”.

– James Dean

At a dusty and isolated crossroads in Central California on the outskirts of nowhere, James Dean’s crash course with destiny came to an end.  It was Friday, 30th September, 1955.  Dean was just 24 years old.  Dean made just three films in his lifetime, East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without A Cause (1955) and Giant (1956), which was still in the production stages at the time of Dean’s death.

In April 1954, in celebration of securing the lead role in Cal Trusk in East of Eden, James Dean purchased a 1955 Triumph Tiger T110 650cc motorcycle and later, a used red, 1953 MG TD sports car.  Earlier in 1955, Dean had traded his MG in for a brand new 1955 Porsche Super Speedster, purchased from Competition Motors in Hollywood.  He traded his Triumph sports car in for a 1955 Triumph TR5 Trophy three days after the end of filming on East of Eden.  Shortly before starting to film Rebel Without A Cause, Dean entered the Palm Springs Road Races with the Porsche Super Speedster on March 26 -27.  He finished first overall in Saturday’s novice class and second overall in the Sunday main event.  Later in the year, Dean raced the Speedster at Bakersfield on May 1 – 2, finishing first in class and third overall.  His final race with the Speedster was at Santa Barbara on Memorial Day, May 30, where he started in eighteenth position, worked his way up to fourth, before over-revving his engine and blowing a piston.  He did not complete the race.

During the filming of Giant, from June through to mid-September, Warner Bros. had placed a ban a ban on Dean competing in racing.  After finishing the filming of Giant, Dean traded his Porsche Super Speedster in for the brand new, more powerful and faster 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder and entered the upcoming Salina Road Race, scheduled for October 1 – 2.  Dean proudly named his new car “Little Bastard”.  On introducing himself to British actor Alec Guinness outside the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood, he invited Guinness to view his new car.  Guinness has since said that he found the car ‘sinister’, telling Dean:  “If you get in that car, you will be found dead by this time next week”.  Guinness’s prediction was scarily and sadly accurate:  James Dean’s fatal car crash took place seven days after this encounter.

On the day of the crash, Dean and his Porsche factory-trained mechanic Rolf Wutherich travelled to Competition Motors in Hollywood to prepare the Porsche 550 Spyder for the weekend sports car races at Salinas, California.  The original intention was to tow the car to the race site but because the Porsche did not have enough break-in miles prior to the race, Wutherich recommended to Dean that he drove the Porsche to Salinas.  Wutherich accompanied Dean on the journey.  Whilst travelling to Salinas, they were stopped by a California Highway Patrolman at Mettler Station on Wheeler Ridge, just South of Bakersfield, for driving 65 mph in a 55mph zone.  A few hours later, a black and white 1950 Ford Tudor Coupe was travelling at high speed east on Route 466.  Its driver was a student named Donald Turnupseed.  Turnupseed made a left turn onto Route 41 headed north, toward Fresno.  As Turnupseed’s Ford crossed over the centre line, Dean, who was driving at a reported speed of 85 mph, apparently tried to steer the Spyder in a “side stepping” racing manoeuvre, but with insufficient time and space, the two cars crashed almost head on.  Dean’s Spyder flipped up into the air and landed back on its wheels in a gully, northwest of the junction.  The impact was of such force that Turnupseed’s Ford was sent broad-sliding 39 feet down Route 466 in the westbound lane.

California Highway Patrol Captain Ernest Tripke and his partner, Corporal Ronald Nelson, had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles when they were called to the called to the scene of the accident at the Route 466/41 Junction.  Before the officers arrived, James Dean had been pulled from the wreckage of the Porsche Spyder.  Dean had taken the brunt of the horrendous crash and suffered a broken neck as well as several internal and external injuries, including his foot being crushed between the clutch and brake pedal.  The unconscious and dying Dean was placed into an ambulance, whilst a barely conscious Wutherich, who had been thrown from the Spyder, was lying on the shoulder of the road next to the wrecked car.  Wutherich and Dean were taken in the same ambulance to the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital 28 miles from the crash site.  James Dean was pronounced dead on arrival at 6.20pm.

Ironically, shortly before that fateful day, whilst he was filming Giant, Dean had filmed a short Public Service Announcement with fellow actor Gig Young for the National Safety Council.  Dean, dressed as his Giant character Jett Rink, spoke of how driving fast on the highway could be more dangerous than racing on a track.  At the end of the Public Service Announcement, instead of saying the intended catchphrase, “The life you save may be your own”, Dean said, “The life you might save might be mine”.

There have been many songs written about or mentioning James Dean over the years, many of which either portray Dean as the ultimate all American hero or a Hollywood poster boy.  Take for example, Electrolite by REM, from the album New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996), with the line “Hollywood is under me, I’m Martin Sheen, I’m Steve McQueen, I’m Jimmy Dean”.

Occasionally some centre on Dean’s crash, usually in a metaphoric sense.  One that springs to mind is Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, from Transformer (1972), which features the lines, “Jackie is just speeding away, Thought she was James Dean for a day, Then I guess she had to crash, Valium would have helped that bash”.

However, the most powerful retelling of James Dean’s death is Daddy’s Speeding by Suede from their second album Dog Man Star (1994).

Daddy’s Speeding was inspired by a dream that Brett Anderson had about James Dean’s death.  He told  “I was immersing myself in overtly clichéd Hollywood iconography at the time.  I guess it was an extension of the isolation / pornography themes where I saw people forming relationships with fantasy figures rather than real people; Our new communities were soap operas, our new friends were characters in American sit-coms”.

The first lines of the song tell of how “Whiplash caught the silver son, Took the film to number one”, of course referring to Giant, which was released posthumously, gear us up for a song which manages to evoke a feeling not dissimilar to one you would get from reading Crash by JG Ballard with images of “death machines” in a barren landscape of “green fields”.  There is something of a hero worshipping homoerotic quality to Daddy’s Speeding, with Anderson telling of how the leader (the “daddy”) of the gang of car obsessed teenagers “crashed the car and left us here” and how “Daddy turned a million eyes, Took the teenage dream to bed”.

Anderson’s drug of choice at the time was Acid, and its influences on the song are quite evident.  Daddy’s Speeding is a drug induced dream of a song, a tale of a doomed car race and a Hollywood star undone by destructive self-decadence in the dark underbelly of existence.

The song’s macabre but strangely beautiful depiction of James Dean’s death is aided by its stunning music.  Slow paced, starting with little more than a solitary guitar and Anderson’s mournful voice, building and building into a cacophony of white noise and feedback which is probably the greatest musical depiction of a car crash ever put on record.  The song ends with what sounds like the grim aftermath of the crash, fading away with the narrator, the ‘child’ of the “Daddy”, in his dreaming state, realising what has happened on that dusty and isolated crossroads.  This is a highly disturbing song of Ballard-like proportions, one which seems to be coming through the stereo speakers from another dimension or more accurately, from Brett Anderson’s drug fuelled dreams.

Yesterday’s Papers: Ten Songs About Newspapers. Fleet Street Papers Return After Month Long Maintenance Workers’ Strike. This Day in History, 21/04/1955.

1.  The Rolling Stones ‘Yesterday’s Papers’

(from the album Between the Buttons, 1967).

2.  The Jam ‘News of the World’

(from the album This is the Modern World, 1977).

3.  Elvis Costello ‘Fish ‘n Chip Paper’

(from the album Trust, 1981).

4.  Billy Bragg ‘It Says Here’

(from the album Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, 1984).

5.  Radiohead ‘The Daily Mail’

(from the single The Daily Mail / Staircase, 2011).

6.  Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘People Ain’t No Good’

(from the album The Boatman’s Call, 1997).

7.  Public Enemy ‘A Letter To The New York Post’

(from the album Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Back, 1991).

8.  Wire ‘Field Day For The Sundays’

(from the album Pink Flag, 1979).

9.  Dusty Springfield ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’

(from the album Reputation, 1990).

10. The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’

(from the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967).