Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Two). “I Always Flirt With Death, I Look Ill But I Don’t Care About It”.

As I talked about yesterday, in songs such as David Bowie’s Space Oddity (David Bowie, 1969), whether space is a metaphor for the effects of heroin, or others drugs, is something that is often debated.  However, on other songs such as The Only Ones’ Another Girl, Another Planet, their best known single and the second track on their debut album, The Only Ones (1978), the references, whilst still being the subject of debate, are much more blatant.  Though the song is often considered something of a rock standard and various publications have named the song the greatest rock single ever recorded, Another Girl, Another Planet was not a hit when first released.  In fact, the song’s highest chart position was number 44 on the New Zealand chart in July 1981.  The song was re-released in the UK in January 1992, backed with Pretty in Pink by The Psychedelic Furs to promote the compilation album, Sound of the Suburbs.  On this release, the song reached number 57 on the UK singles chart, its highest position to date.  Another Girl, Another Planet was placed at number 18 in John Peel’s all time Festive Fifty millennium edition and when playing it as part of 1980’s Festive Fifty, in which it reached number 28, he introduced it as an “artful little caprice”.

Although this song, with its soaring guitars, perfect three minute pop format and front-man Peter Perrett’s elliptical lyrics could simply be read as a song about the excitement and perils of space travel and having a girl on every planet the narrator passes, something which gives the song some of its huge appeal, dig deeper into the song and the heroin references are plain for all to see.

Another Girl, Another Planet starts with the killer opening lines, “I always flirt with death, I look ill but I don’t care about it”.  To “flirt with death” is an expression normally used when talking about doing something dangerous and life-threatening for personal enjoyment.   Here, to “flirt with death” is about the dangers associated with injecting heroin. “I look ill, but I don’t don’t care about it” straightforwardly refers to the sick look which heroin users are prone to inheriting due to regular usage.  This look has in recent years, thanks to the fashion world, become known as ‘heroin chic’ and is characterised by pale skin, dark circles and angular bone structure due to weight loss.  Interestingly, in Blink 182’s cover version of Another Girl, Another Planet (Greatest Hits, 2005), they change the line to “I could kill, but I don’t care about it”, which could refer to the fact that in the process of ‘cooking’ a batch of black tar, bacterial spores can enter the drug solution.   Once the drug is injected, these spores can damage and even kill the body’s muscle, skin and organ tissues.  Alternatively, or perhaps simultaneously, perhaps the singer is telling of how he would kill to receive the drug and its hit.

In the following lines, “I can face your threats, Stand up tall and scream and shout about it”, the facing of “threats” may refer to side effects and risks associated with taking the drug.  The second of these lines, “Stand up tall and scream and shout about it”, finds the singer defiant, telling of how he does not care who knows about his heroin use because of the euphoria he receives from the drug.

The chorus of the song, “I think I’m on another world with you, I’m on another planet with you” finds the singer metaphorically on another planet following the hit of the drug.  Heroin often leads people to hallucinate, so perhaps in this context, Perrett is speaking of how heroin takes him to places that he cannot reach when not under the influence and perhaps hallucinating about women.  It is said that this is a common hallucination when taking heroin.   Alternatively, the “girl” of which Perrett speaks could be a personification of the needle used to inject the drug, with the use of the word “another” being telling of Perrett’s repeated drug use.  Perrett was often compared to Lou Reed, so much so that when listening to an Only Ones recording, the NME’s Nick Kent once believed he was listening to a new Lou Reed recording.  If we were to see the “girl” as a personification of the needle, then we could compare this line to the line, “It’s my wife and it’s my life” in the Velvet Underground’s Heroin (The Velvet Underground and Nico, 1967).

As the song’s second verse opens, we find the line, “You always get under my skin, I don’t find it irritating”, possibly the clearest heroin reference in the whole song.  Usually, if somebody gets under your skin, they are annoying you.  However, here, Perrett states “I don’t find it irritating”, meaning that he enjoys literally having the needle beneath his skin because he knows that what will follow will be a pleasurable experience.  The following line, “You always play to win” refers to heroin playing to win, i.e. claiming lives and being a very difficult addiction to beat.  The following line, “I don’t need rehabilitating” implies that he does not wish to try to kick the habit and would rather “flirt with death” and allow the drug to win.

The song’s final verse starts with the lines, “Space travel’s in my blood, And there ain’t nothing I can do about it”, Perrett’s declaration that he can’t get clean from heroin and that he doesn’t want to try to.  In the following lines, “Long journeys wear me out, Oh God we won’t live without it”, the ‘long journey’ refers to being under the influence of heroin for an extended period of time.  After coming down from his high, he is worn out.  Note the pluralisation of ‘journey’, which is telling of the repetition of injecting the drug.  The line, “Oh God we won’t live without it” is further evidence of the singer’s defiant stance against stopping taking the drug.  In the song’s coda, the line “Another planet, forever holding you down” is, once again, testament to the grip that the drug has on him.  Additionally, heroin is a downer or depressant:  hence, the repetition of injecting the drug is forever holding the singer down.

When asked whether drugs were an aspiration for him in an interview with Classic Rock magazine in July 2014, Perret replied:

“No, it was just an accident.  I never, ever wanted to devote my life to drugs.  I’d starting smoking joints and they relaxed me.  Because I wanted the best hash, I started meeting people that had the best hash.  Gradually, over a couple of years, I met people, started doing it as a business.  I signed on at college and I used to go in at the beginning of each term, get my grant money and start up dealing, then I eventually met people, started importing it.  Then we went over to importing cocaine – it’s a fraction of the size, much easier to smuggle in, and you’re facing the same risks.  All of a sudden, I’m doing the cocaine that used to knock my head off.  That was about 1975, and after that I tried smack.  That was a big mistake because all of a sudden, that was the best feeling I’d ever felt in my life.  That’s why it’s so dangerous.  It’s silly telling people not to take it.  You’ve got to let them know that the reason it’s so dangerous is because it’s the best feeling you’ve had in your life, and it’s so hard not to want it all the time, and if you have it all the time, eventually it stops working and you need it just to be able to function”.

When the Wind Blows: Ten Songs About The Bomb. The First Republic of China Tests It’s First Hydrogen Bomb. This Day in History, 14/06/1967.

1.  Morrissey ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’

(from the album Viva Hate, 1988).

2.  U2 ‘Seconds’

(from the album War, 1983)

3.  Manic Street Preachers ‘Born to End’

(from the album Generation Terrorists, 1992).

4.  OMD ‘Enola Gay’

(from the album Organisation, 1980).

5.  Sting ‘Russians’

(from the album The Dream of the Blue Turtles, 1985).

6.  The Smiths ‘Ask’

(single A-side, 1986).

7.  Tears for Fears ‘Famous Last Words’

(from the album The Seeds of Love, 1989).

8.  David Bowie ‘When the Wind Blows’

(from the album When the Wind Blows, 1986).

9.  The Jam ”A’ Bomb in Wardour Street’

(from the album All Mod Cons, 1978).

10. Kate Bush ‘Breathing’

(from the album Never For Ever, 1980).

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 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”.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Musicians (Day Two). Pink Floyd on Syd Barrett, Part Two: “Remember When You Were Young, You Shone Like the Sun …”

It’s sad that these people think he’s such a wonderful subject, that he’s a living legend when, in fact, there is this poor sad man who can’t deal with life or himself.  He’s got uncontrollable things in him that he can’t deal with and people think it’s a marvelous, wonderful, romantic thing.  It’s just a sad, sad thing, a very nice and talented person who’s just disintegrated”.

– David Gilmour, interview with Musician Magazine, December 1982.

The mad genius of Syd Barrett first addressed by Pink Floyd on Brain Damage from The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973 was further celebrated on Shine On You Crazy Diamond from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.  The recording session for the song is infamous due to the appearance of Barrett wandering into the studio complete with shaved head and eyebrows and having put on a lot of weight since the band had seen him last some years earlier.  Because of his drastically changed appearance, the band did not recognise him for some time.  Upon finally recognising him, Roger Waters was reduced to tears.  Somebody asked to play the suite, followed by Barrett saying a second playback wasn’t needed when they had just heard it.  According to Richard Wright in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2004, when the song Wish You Were Here was played, “He [Barrett] stood up and said, ‘Right, when do I put my guitar on?  And of course, he didn’t have a guitar with him.  And we said. ‘Sorry, Syd, the guitar’s all done”.  When asked what he thought of Wish You Were Here, Barrett said it sounded “a bit old”.  He subsequently slipped away during celebrations for Gilmour’s wedding to Ginger Hasenbein, which had taken place earlier that day.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond contains nine parts and was written by Roger Waters, Richard Wright and David Gilmour.  As with Brain Damage, Waters was the chief lyricist.  The nine parts of Shine On You Crazy Diamond were originally intended to fill an entire side of the Wish You Were Here album, much like the song Atom Heart Mother fills an entire side of Atom Heart Mother (1970) …

… and Echoes fills an entire side of Meddle (1971).

Instead, Shine On You Crazy Diamond was split into two sections and bookends Wish You Were Here, with the other tracks on the album also being tributes to Barrett and telling of the situation which the band found themselves in.

Lyrically, Shine On You Crazy Diamond looks at the life of Syd Barrett, considering the way the artist was before demons such as LSD, fame and mental illness took hold in lines such as “Remember when you were young, You shone like the sun, Shine on you crazy diamond!” before contrasting it with lyrics detailing the effect of these demons in lines such as “Now there’s a look in your eyes, Like black holes in the sky, Shine on you crazy diamond!”  The latter lines state the way in which Barrett’s bandmates described him after he had succumbed to mental illness.

The following line, “You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom”, refers to the way in which Barrett was never able to fully engage the transition from underground sensation to mainstream success and the pressure and implications that came with it.  The next line, “Blown on the steel breeze” alludes to the sound made by Barrett’s guitar strings.  The lines “Come on you target for faraway laugher, Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” is a reference to the way in which Barrett was ousted from the band in favour of David Gilmour due to his worsening drug use and mental problems rendering him ineffective as a band member.

The lyric “You reached for the secret too soon” refers to the true meaning of life and the mysteries which lay behind it.  Barrett used drugs in order to try to unlock the meaning and its mysteries but was not ready to see them, causing him to go insane.   The following lines, “You cried for the moon, Shine on you crazy diamond!” are a reference to the band’s previous album The Dark Side of the Moon and its lyrics about Barrett and talk of how Barrett’s life had peaked too soon.  “Threatened by shadows at night, And exposed in the light, Shine on you crazy diamond!” refers to the way in which the darker machinations in Barrett’s mind, the “shadows at night” shielded him from the public eye, the exposure to light, which overwhelmed him.  These lines express the exposure of himself beneath the outward appearance of the rockstar.

The “random precision” referred to in the lines “You wore out your welcome with random precision, Rode on the steel breeze” is an allusion to the haphazard nature of Barrett’s contributions to the band towards the end of his involvement whilst the following lines, “Come on you raver, you seer of visions, Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner and shine!”, the word “seer” can be read in two ways.  Firstly, a “seer” is a person of supposed supernatural insight who sees visions of the future.  Secondly, a “seer” is simply somebody who sees things, i.e. ‘a see-er’. Additionally, the use of the word “piper” alludes to Pink Floyd’s first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), the only album by the band to feature full involvement from Barrett.

“Well, I’m a painter, I was trained as a painter … I seem to have spent a little less time painting than I might’ve done … but it didn’t transcend the feeling of playing at UFO and those sort of places with the lights and that, the fact that the group was getting bigger and bigger”.

– Syd Barrett, interview with Melody Maker, March 1971.

As Shine On You Crazy Diamond moves into its ‘Parts 6-9’ section, we find the line “Nobody knows where you are, How near of how far”, an insight into the blankness and the madness that hallucinogenic drugs left Barrett with.  The title of Shine On You Crazy Diamond itself is interesting as if one were to remove the words ‘on’ and ‘crazy’ from the title, the first letters of the words in ‘Shine You Diamond’ spell out ‘Syd’.

In the lyric “Pile on more layers, And I’ll be joining you there”, the use of the word ‘layers’ perhaps refers to an array of interpretations of one’s surroundings.  Waters feels that he must “pile on more layers” in order to attain Barrett’s level of introspection and worrying that, if in the process, he might succumb to the same fate as his former bandmate.  These lines are Waters admittance that he is less contemplative than his former bandmate.  Following this, “And we’ll bask in the shadow, Of yesterday’s triumph” memorialises the triumphs that the band shared with Barrett, whilst the repetition of the idea of “the steel breeze” in the line “And sail on the steel breeze” in this case refers to the fact that both Waters and Barrett played steel instruments.

The three variations on the idea of “the steel breeze” lyric throughout the song are interesting.  The first variation, “Blown on the steel breeze” implies that Barrett was somewhat thown in to musical production in order to meet the demands of the media.  The second variation, “Rode on the steel breeze” alludes to the way in which, despite the delusive state of his mind, Barrett still attempted to carry on playing music.  Finally, the third variation, “And sail on the steel breeze” finds Waters suggesting that if he were reunited with Barrett, they could take control of the music and take it in any direction they wish.

“That’s all I wanted to do as a kid.  Play guitar properly and jump around.  But too many people got in the way”.

– Syd Barrett, Rolling Stone, December 1971.

The next line, “Come on you boy child” tells of how the band were very young when they first started and is suggestive that Barrett was impressionable and irresponsible in his lifestyle.  The line “You winner and loser” juxtaposes Barrett’s triumphs and failures:  Despite the fact that he suffered due to his recklessness and divided opinion as to whether he was a “winner” or a “loser” even amongst his own bandmates and in the public eye, his triumphs included the work he contributed to the band in the early days, his solo work, and his influence on artists such as T-Rex, The Kinks and David Bowie.  In 1973, Bowie acknowledged the influence of Syd Barrett by covering the Barrett penned Pink Floyd single See Emily Play (1967) on his album Pin Ups.

The final line of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, “You miner for truth and delusion, and shine!”  sees Barrett portrayed as an artist who both dug for truth and meaning and tapped into his drug-induced delusions in order to influence his often deep and penetrating lyrics.

Also from Wish You Were Here, the title track, as well as encompassing Waters’ feelings of alienation from other people, also tells of Barrett’s mental breakdown.  The music of Wish You Were Here was a collaboration between Waters and Gilmour, with Waters once again being the primary lyricist.  Whilst Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a specific homage to the absence of Barrett, Wish You Were Here can also be read as a more general song about absence, undoubtedly adding to its appeal over the last forty years.  The other two tracks from Wish You Were Here, Welcome to the Machine …

… and Have a Cigar express the band’s distaste for the pressures of the music industry which they felt, in part, aided Barrett’s breakdown, therefore tying the album together as a concept album.

In the opening lines of Wish You Were, “So, do you think you can tell, Heaven from hell”, the band introduce the idea that something that may look like heaven, in this case being part of the music industry, may actually be hell, as it turned out to be for Barrett.  The following lines of the first verse, starting with the line “Blue skies from pain” are further juxtapositions of emotions and elements, creating a series of metaphors for heaven, “blue skies” and hell, “pain”.  The lines “Can you tell a green field, From a cold steel trap” are a reference to the lines “Hold You tighter so close, Yes you are, Please hold on to the steel rail” from Syd Barrett’s solo song If It’s In You, from the album The Madcap Laughs (1970).

By referencing these lines, the band places the listener in no doubt as to the inspiration behind the song and its parent album.  The repetition of the line “So you think you can tell” at the end of the first verse emphasises the question put to Barrett as to whether he really wants to be squandering his life on his various addictions.

The “They” mentioned in the lines “Did they get you to trade, Heroes for ghosts” could be interpreted as being the voices in Barrett’s mind which stop him from remaining on the straight and narrow.  The “heroes” referred to in these lines are the rock stars, such as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Gram Parsons,  who fell prey to the lifestyle which could have also cost Barrett his life.

The second verse of the song continues with the lines “Hot ashes for trees, Hot air for cool breeze”, reinforcing the idea of questioning one’s surroundings and whether change is necessarily the best thing first seen in the first verse.  The final highly powerful sentiment of the second verse, “And did you exchange, A walk on part in the war, For a leading role in a cage?” refers to the way in which Barrett chose to forgo his chance to be a small part in something hugely important, instead selfishly insisting on being the main event with his drug-influenced behaviour.

The final verse of Wish You Were Here, “How I wish, I wish you were here, We’re just two lost souls, Swimming in a fishbowl, year after year, Running over the same old ground, What have we found?  The same old fears, Wish you were here” could be interpreted in two different ways.   Firstly, the “fishbowl” of which Pink Floyd speak could refer to the world of fame and the record industry which the band are so disheartened by on the entire Wish You Were Here.  Secondly, this part of the song could simply just be an analogy for life itself, with everybody living the same life, making the same mistakes and going around in endless circles “year after year”.  On this verse, Waters covers similar ground to that of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, echoing Shine On You Crazy Diamond’s expression of kinship with Barrett in the line “We’re just two lost souls”.

Additionally, in 1968, Waters also wrote the song Incarceration of a Flower Child, the lyrics of which appear to also tell of the downfall of Syd Barrett, although Waters himself has never confirmed this.  Lyrically, Incarceration of a Flower Child covers much the same ground as Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here, being full of reminiscence about more innocent times in lines such as “Do you remember me?  How we used to be helpless and happy and blind?” before discussing the causes of the Flower Child’s downfall in lines such as “Sunk without hope in a haze of good dope and cheap wine?”

The song compares the culture of the flower power movement, with tongue-in-cheek humour directed at its pretentiousness (“Laying on the living-room floor on those Indian tapestry cushions you made, thinking of calling our first born Jasmine or Jade”), with the potential consequences of the movement upon some of those who had got too heavily involved in its drug culture, such as Barrett (“Now in your little white room with no windows and three square sedations a day, You plead with the doctor who’s running the show, “Please don’t take Jasmine away and leave me alone””).

Possibly the most important and indeed chilling line of Incarceration of a Flower Child, bearing in mind that the song was written in 1968, is “It’s gonna get cold in the 1970s”.  Incarceration of a Flower Child could be seen as Waters’ veiled warning to Barrett from the time in which Barrett’s mental state was starting to suffer, that things had the potential to get much worse.  It would seem that Barrett wasn’t the only “seer of visions” in Pink Floyd.

Incarceration of a Flower Child remained unrecorded for years until Waters offered it to Marianne Faithfull to record for her 1999 album Vagabond Ways.  When recorded by Faithfull, the lyrics of Incarceration of a Flower Child took on a whole different dimension.  The song was quite probably written about Barrett but it could very easily have been about Faithfull.  Faithfull herself  had also been a casualty of the flower power era, developing various serious drug addictions from which it would take her years to recover, both in terms of her personal life and her career. However, compared to Barrett’s disintegration, even Faithfull escaped the flower power era relatively unscathed.

“We are very sad to say that Roger Keith Barrett – Syd – has passed away.  Do find some time to play some of Syd’s songs and remember him as the madcap genius who made us all smile with his wonderfully eccentric songs about bikes, gnomes and scarecrows.  His career was painfully short, yet he touched more people than he could ever know”.

– David Gilmour in response to Syd Barrett’s death, 2006.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Musicians (Day One). Pink Floyd on Syd Barrett, Part One: “The Lunatic is on the Grass …”

Roger Keith Barrett, better known as Syd Barrett, was an English musician, composer, singer, songwriter and painter most notable for being a founder member of the band Pink Floyd.  Barrett was Pink Floyd’s lead vocalist, guitarist and principle songwriter in the band’s early days before leaving the band in April 1968, due to his increasingly unpredictable behaviour.  Barrett was hospitalized briefly shortly afterwards amid speculation of mental illness exacerbated by heavy drug use.

Barrett was musically active for less than ten years.  With Pink Floyd, he recorded just four singles in 1967 (Arnold Layne; See Emily Play; Flaming; Apples and Oranges), their debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and contributed one song, Jugband Blues, to their second album A Saucerful of Secrets (1968).

Barrett began his solo career in 1969 with the single Octopus, which was included on his debut solo album The Madcap Laughs (1970).  The album was recorded over the course of a year and included contributions from Pink Floyd members David Gilmour and Roger Waters.

Barrett began working on his second solo album, simply called Barrett (1970), two months after the release of his debut solo album.  This album also included contributions from David Gilmour and also featured Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright.  Following his second solo album, Barrett went into self-imposed seclusion until his death in 2006 from pancreatic cancer, aged 60.

Following Barrett’s departure from the group, Pink Floyd wrote a number of tributes to him, most notably Brain Damage from 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon album and Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here from 1975’s Wish You Were Here.  The latter album is actually said to be a concept album with every song actually being about Barrett and his experiences with the music industry.

Brain Damage was brought to the band by Roger Waters along with other songs such as Money when the band reconvened following the American leg of their tour in support of their 1971 album, Meddle.  At this point in time, Brain Damage was titled The Dark Side of the Moon, a title which would later just be used for the song’s parent album.  The song was inspired by Barrett’s mental breakdown and was originally part of a suite of songs entitled A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.  Brain Damage was recorded alongside another track from The Dark Side of the Moon, Any Colour You Like.  David Gilmour encouraged Waters to sing the song on the album, whilst, following Waters’ departure from the band in 1985, Gilmour sung the song when Pink Floyd performed it in concert and Waters himself has performed it in his solo shows.

The famous opening verse of Brain Damage, “The lunatic is on the grass, The lunatic is on the grass, remembering daisy chains and games and laughs, Got to keep the loonies on the path” refers to areas of turf which display signs reading “Please keep off the grass” with the exaggerated implication that disobeying such signs may indicate insanity.  In the 2003 documentary Classic Albums:  Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon, Waters said that the particular patch of grass he had in mind when writing the song was to the rear of King’s College, Cambridge and that the real insanity was not letting people on such beautiful grass.  To add another meaning to the opening verse of Brain Damage, ‘grass’ is also a slang term for marijuana.  Therefore, these lines could perhaps be remembering the good times the band had smoking marijuana before Barrett’s drug habit escalated to using drugs such as LSD and caused him mental problems.  The line “Got to keep the loonies on the path” could be a reference to the way in which “lunatics” are given drugs to control them.

The second verse of Brain Damage, “The lunatic is in the hall, The lunatic is in my hall, The paper holds their faded faces to the floor, And every day, the paper boy brings more”, uses the idea of the hallway as a metaphor for Barrett’s mind.  The door which the paperboy, a metaphor for society, pushes information (the newspapers) through refers to the way in which the “lunatic” is locked inside his own mind.  Additionally, those featured in newspapers are often seen as “lunatics” of society.  “And every day, the paper boy brings more” is suggestive of overload with the mind of the “lunatic” not being able to take all the information thrown at him on board.  The fact that the pictures of the “lunatics” on the newspaper are face down is suggestive of them being locked up away from the view of society.   Additionally, the way in which their faces are “faded” is suggestive of the way in which the “lunatics” become just a faded memory when locked away.

The first chorus, “And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, and there’s no room upon the hill, And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon” refers to the way in which Waters felt a kinship with Barrett in terms of his mental idiosyncrasies.   The line “And if there is no room upon the hill” could be seen as a nod to The Beatles’ song The Fool on the Hill, from their 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour.  The fact that “there is no room on the hill” is suggestive that we all have lunatic elements within us.

The following verse, “The lunatic is in my head, The lunatic is in my head, You raise the blade, you make the change, You re-arrange me ‘til I’m sane, You lock the door and throw away the key, There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me” refers to the frontal lobotomy, a controversial surgical intervention used to treat psychosis, schizophrenia, paranoia or other severe conditions.  In particular, the line “You raise the blade, you make the change” refers to the actual act of making incisions in the patient’s head.  The final line of the verse, “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me”, is suggestive of the disassociation felt by those suffering from mental illness between the true self and the self impacted by the condition; the self presented to the world outside of their head.

The second chorus, “And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear, You shout and no one seems to hear, And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon”, makes reference to Barrett’s behaviour towards the end of his time with the band.  Due to his mental health issues, he would spontaneously break into playing a different song to the rest of the band in the middle of a concert, hence the band “playing different tunes”.

Barrett’s final practice session with the band including the artist coming into the session saying he had a new song called Have You Got It Yet?  At first, the song was simple to learn, but quickly became impossible, with the rest of the band then realising that Barrett had been changing the arrangements whilst they were practicing it.  He would then play it again, with the changes he had made and sing “Have you got it yet?”  Eventually his bandmates realised that they were simply being subjected to Barrett’s idiosyncratic sense of humour.  In Toby Manning’s 2006 book The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd, Waters called the incident, “a real act of mad genius”.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Four). “And Here’s to You, Mrs Robinson …”

Mrs Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel, from the album Bookends (1968) is famous for its inclusion in the movie The Graduate (1967) and has become inseparable from the character in the film.  However, the roots of Mrs Robinson came from a song completely unrelated to the movie that Paul Simon had written called Mrs Roosevelt, about Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the years previous to The Graduate, Simon & Garfunkel had risen to national fame in the United States touring colleges and releasing a string of hit singles and albums.  At the same time, director Mike Nichols was in the early stages of making his movie, The Graduate.  Nichols had become an instant fan of the duo, listening to them constantly before and after filming.  So infatuated with the duo was Nichols that he met with Columbia Records chairman Clive Davis to ask permission to use their music in his new film.  Davis saw the idea as potentially lucrative and envisioned a best-selling soundtrack album.  Paul Simon, however, was dubious, considering movie soundtracks to be selling out.  After careful consideration and being impressed by Nichols’ wit and script, the songwriter agreed to write at least one or two songs for the film.

After a few weeks, Simon presented two new tracks, Punky’s Dilemma and Overs, neither of which particularly impressed Nichols.  Nichols asked the duo whether they had any more songs to offer, and after a break in the meeting, they returned with an early version of what would become Mrs Robinson, then still named Mrs Roosevelt.  Nichols was instantly ecstatic about the song and could envision its use in the film instantly.

Of the song’s content, the “dee de dee dee de dee dee dee” section of the introduction of the song occurred when Simon and Garfunkel presented the unfinished song to Nichols and didn’t have lyrics to sing over the music.  Nichols suggested that this should be part of the finished song and Simon used it in the introduction.  Similarly nonsensical is the inclusion of the “coo-coo-ca-choo” phrase in the chorus, which is Simon’s homage to The Beatles’ I Am the Walrus, which was also released in 1967.

Parts of the song are very much still in line with the original subject matter of the song, Eleanor Roosevelt. Wife to US President Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt survived an orphaned and loveless childhood, a faithless husband and domineering mother-in-law, emerging as an independent personality after her husband was paralysed from the waist down after contracting polio in 1921.  Due to her husband’s paralysis and the many bouts of ill health which he had suffered from birth, the First Lady was transformed from shy wife into an autonomous public leader due to having to serve as her disabled husband’s eyes and ears.  This triumph of what women were capable of in a time when women were expected to be subservient to men came into even fuller effect in 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt’s death and was sustained through worldwide acclaim until her death in 1962.

In the first verse, lines such as “We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files, We’d like to learn to help you help yourself” could refer to Eleanor Roosevelt in conversation with her psychiatrist.  Eleanor Roosevelt suffered from depression throughout most of her life, mostly stemming from her tragic childhood.  Her mother had died from diphtheria when Eleanor was just 8 years old and her brother Elliott Jr died from the same disease just 5 months afterwards.  Her father was an alcoholic who was confined to a sanatorium and died just two years after Eleanor’s mother after he jumped out of a window during a fit of delirium tremens.  He survived the fall but died after suffering a seizure shortly afterwards.  Similarly, the lines “Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes, Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home” represent Eleanor Roosevelt being at a mental health facility with the workers and patients worrying for her.

The second verse, “Hide it in the hiding place where no one ever goes, Put it in your pantry where no one ever goes, Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes, It’s a little secret, just the Robinsons’ affair, Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids” are reference to Eleanor living in a time where strong women had to repress their feelings and emotions, hiding them away completely out of sight.  Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt had many marital problems, with Franklin having many affairs.  Women who he allegedly had affairs with include Princess Martha of Sweden, his secretary, Missy and Eleanor’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer.  These affairs would eventually lead to the couples’ separation and ended any intimacy in their relationship.  There are also rumours that Eleanor was a lesbian and had a relationship with Lorena Hickock.

In the third verse of the song, “Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon, Going to the candidates’ debate, Laugh about it, shout about it, When you’ve got to choose, Every way you look at it you lose”, Eleanor watches her husband’s debate in which he won he presidential election.  Due to her husband’s paralysis and ill health, Eleanor did most of the work.  Eleanor therefore would have been more than capable of running for the presidency herself but could not because she is a woman.

The song’s chorus could be read in many ways.  The references to “Jesus”, “Heaven” and “God” could be suggestive of mourners at Eleanor’s funeral or simply Eleanor being prayed for by those with the “sympathetic eyes” mentioned in the first verse of the song.  When used on the film’s soundtrack, the chorus takes on a new meaning, telling the listeners that Mrs Robinson should not cheat and sin on her daughter’s boyfriend and encouraging Mrs Robinson to become a holy and moral person.

The final verse of the song is perhaps the most talked about verse of the entire song.  The lyrics, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, What’s that you say Mrs Robinson, Jolting Joe has left and gone away”.  In the context of a song about Eleanor Roosevelt, lines about a New York Yankees Major League Baseball centre-fielder may appear to be slightly out of place when analysing the lyrics.  However, Joe DiMaggio is referenced in the song as he represented traditional American values with the lines being a tribute to his unpretentious heroic stature in America in a time when popular culture magnifies and distorts how we perceive our heroes.  It is widely known that Paul Simon was a huge fan of baseball player Mickey Mantle and when asked during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970 why he chose to talk about Joe DiMaggio instead, Simon replied, “It’s about syllables, Dick.  It’s about how many beats there are”.  DiMaggio initially had reservations about his name being used in the song, wondering why Simon had written the line, “Joltin Joe has left and gone away” when he hadn’t gone anywhere.  DiMaggio soon dropped his complaint after Simon explained what the lines meant.  In a New York Times op-ed in March 1999, shortly after DiMaggio’s death, Simon said of the DiMaggio reference:  “In these days of Presidential transgressions and apologies and prime-time interviews about private sexual matters, we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence”.  Simon later performed Mrs Robinson at Yankee Stadium in honour of DiMaggio a month after his death.

After its inclusion in The Graduate, Mrs Robinson was awarded two Grammy Awards at the 11th Annual Grammy Awards in 1969.  It became the first rock song to win Record of the Year and was also awarded the Grammy for Best Contemporary-Pop Performance – Vocal Duo or Group.  The duo declined to perform the song at the ceremony, instead shooting a video which consisted of them at the Yankee Stadium in reference to the song’s final verse about Joe DiMaggio.  Mrs Robinson was ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Original Song because as a nominee, a song must have been written exclusively for the film in which it appeared.

The song has also seen the accolade of being covered several times, including by Frank Sinatra on his 1969 album My Way.  Sinatra’s version of My Way changes a number of lines, including replacing the word “Jesus” with “Jilly”, perhaps motivated by the refusal of some radio stations to play a song including the word “Jesus”.  Sinatra’s version also includes a new verse directly referring to The Graduate.  These changes make for a rather odd version of the song and is not one of Sinatra’s more successful covers.

More successful was The Lemonheads’ cover of Mrs Robinson, recorded to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of The Graduate in 1992 and featured on their 1992 album It’s A Shame About Ray.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Seven). “It’s All Too Beautiful”.

Released as a single in 1967, Itchycoo Park by The Small Faces is a tale of skipping school and taking drugs in the park.  But is that all Itchycoo Park is about?  Sure, The Small Faces made other references to drugs in their music.  Take for example, the band’s previous single, Here Come the Nice (1967), with its overt references to taking speed with “the nice” being the drug dealer: “He makes me feel like no-one else could, He knows what I want, He’s got what I need, He’s always there, if I need some speed”.   Speed was a popular drug in the 1960’s, particularly with the Mods.  Like most bands in the late 1960’s, the Small Faces had effortlessly fallen into the drug culture of the time, regularly using speed and the new creative drug of choice, LSD, which is often said to have informed the content of Itchycoo Park.  Under the influence of infamously over-controlling manager Don Arden, it is doubtful that the Here Come the Nice single would have ever seen the light of day but new manager Andrew Loog Oldham, he of Rolling Stones fame, had no qualms releasing the single on his Immediate record label.  Here Come the Nice reached number 12 in the UK singles chart in June 1967 whilst Britain was fully in the grips of the flower power culture.

“The life we was living, if you didn’t have a few dubes, you couldn’t do it, you know.  We were up and down the motorways eight days a week.  Our drug of choice was hash actually, we used to smoke all the time … Steve particularly wanted to turn everybody on, but it was a secret, you know”.

– Ian McLagan, Jukebox Heroes, BBC, 2001.

For the follow up single to Here Come the Nice, the band took the name Itchycoo Park from the nickname of Little Ilford Park on Church Road in the London suburb of Manor Park, where singer, guitarist and co-songwriter Steve Marriott grew up.  Little Ilford Park was where members of the band used to go whilst playing truant from school, hence the lines: “You can miss out school, won’t that be cool?  Why go to learn to the words of fools”.  The park is referred to as Itchycoo Park because of the stinging nettles which grew there. The appeal of the song in no small part comes from the fact that everybody knows an ‘Itchycoo Park’, so much so that there is some dispute within the band as to which park the song refers to.  Drummer Kenney Jones told NME in 2014:

“Itchycoo Park was the bomb ruins, in the East End, where I used to play and we all had short trousers as kids and then there was these great big stinging nettles, you know, really horrible, the big ones, you know, and when they stung you, God, it was terrible so it was itchy, so itchycoo.  In fact, all of us had an Itchycoo Park around us.  Steve Marriott had one in Ilford, which was called Itchycoo Park and there’s another one in the city that I found as well.  So there’s a few around.  But my one was the bomb ruins”.

Whilst this meaning of the song is more widely known, the actual starting point for the song came from bassist and co-songwriter Ronnie Lane reading a magazine article on the virtues of Oxford, which mentioned its “dreaming spires”.  Whilst the song tapped firmly into the drug culture of the time with lines such as “What did you do there?  I got high”, Itchycoo Park is actually more about education and privilege.  Whilst the line “Under dreaming spires” refers to Oxford, the opening line of the song, “Over Bridge of Sighs” refers to Cambridge.

“Itchycoo Park basically came to me.  I lifted it from a hymn, God Be in My Head, and I also got the theme to the words in a hotel in Bath or Bristol.  There was a magazine in the room with a rambling account of some place in the country and it was about ‘dreaming spires’ and a ‘bridge of sighs’ – there was a write-up on this town – and I just thought they were nice lines”.

– Ronnie Lane, Record Hunter magazine, 1991.

The message of Itchycoo Park is that the band didn’t need privilege or education when they could find beauty in the local park.  The band made many protestations that the song was not in any way about drugs; much like John Lennon continually said that The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967) wasn’t about drugs.  In an interview with Creem magazine in 1975, Steve Marriott said of the song:

“The thing about Itchycoo Park was that the era was wrong, and the word ‘high’ freaked everybody out.  All the radio stations.  But that song was real.  Ronnie Lane and I used to go to a park called Itchycoo Park.  I swear to God.  We used to bunk off school and groove there.  We got high, but we didn’t smoke.  We just got high from not going to school”.

Talking about the song to Uncut magazine in an interview alongside drummer Kenney Jones in 2014, keyboardist Ian McLagan said:

“I never liked Itchycoo Park because me and Ronnie had to sing, “It’s all too beautiful” and you sing that a few times, and you think … It’s not”.

Upon the single’s release, it was immediately banned by the BBC because of what they deemed to be overt drug references in lines such as “What did you do there?  I got high” and “I feel inclined to blow my mind, get hung up, feed the ducks with a bun, They all come out to groove about, Be nice and have fun in the sun”.  In order to get this ban lifted, Andrew Loog Oldham’s business partner, Tony Calder explained to the BBC that the song had a perfectly innocent meaning.  In Paolo Hewitt and John Hellier’s biography of Steve Marriott, All Too Beautiful (2009), Calder says:

“We told the BBC Itchycoo Park was a waste ground in the East End which the band played on as kids.  We put the story out at ten and by lunchtime we were told the ban was off”.

The fears of the BBC and questions over its perceived advocation of drug use only went to strengthen the song’s performance in the UK charts, reaching number 3 in August 1967.  Despite the success of Itchycoo Park, the band themselves weren’t happy with the song being released as the follow up to Here Come the Nice.  Kenney Jones told NME in 2014:

“Itchycoo Park was a song that we did that we didn’t particularly want to release.  It was whilst we were away in Germany, Andrew Oldham, who made hit records, went in the studio and sort of dug through the stuff we were doing and we were away at the time.  And then, it got released, we didn’t realise it was being released, so that’s how that came about, you know.  We’d only done the song for a laugh really … it was a lovely song but not the ones that we wanted to be known for, because it was a bit commercial and stuff.  A great song, don’t get me wrong.  We didn’t get a say in what we released so that’s wrong for a start, along with Lazy Sunday.  All we were trying to do was shake this teeny bop pop image that we had and we just couldn’t shake it for the life of us and so that was kind of another nail in our coffin the fact that that was put out, when we really wanted to put out songs we were doing like Here Come the Nice and Tin Soldier”.

The biggest achievement of Itchycoo Park is that whilst it is steeped in childhood recollection of bunking off school and one of the band’s favourite hang outs as children, it is also very much a song of its time.  Even if you weren’t there during the empowerment of youth and counterculture revolution of the 1960’s, the Small Faces somehow manage to take you there in the space of a 3 minute pop song.  This is in no small part helped by the song’s apathy towards educational establishments and disdain for authority. Over the years, the band may have been coy with regards to the allusions to drug use in Itchycoo Park, but this, other than it just being a great song, is one of the many things that has helped the song’s longevity.