Panic in Detroit: Ten Songs About Detroit. Aretha Franklin is Arrested in Detroit for Creating A Disturbance. This Day in History, 22/07/1969.

1.  The White Stripes ‘The Big Three Killed My Baby’

(from the album The White Stripes, 1999).

2.  Alice Cooper ‘Be My Lover’

(from the album Killer, 1971).

3.  Blondie ‘Detroit 442’

(from the album Plastic Letters, 1978).

4.  David Bowie ‘Panic in Detroit’

(from the album Aladdin Sane, 1973).

5.  MC5 ‘Motor City is Burning’

(from the album Kick Out the Jams, 1969).

6.  Johnny Cash ‘One Piece At A Time’

(from the album One Piece At A Time, 1976).

7.  Martha Reeves & The Vandellas ‘Dancing in the Street’

(from the album Dance Party, 1965).

8.  Patti Smith ’25th Floor’

(from the album Easter, 1978).

9.  ELO ‘All Over the World’

(from the album Xanadu, 1980).

10. Marvin Gaye ‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)’

(from the album What’s Going On, 1971).

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”.

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Six). “She Packed My Bags Last Night, Pre-flight. Zero Hour: 9am. And I’m Going to be High as a Kite by Then.”

Rocket Man, alternatively named Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), from the 1972 album Honky Chateau, is a song composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.  The song was produced by Gus Dudgeon, the producer of David Bowie’s 1969 breakthrough hit Space Oddity (David Bowie).  The song was inspired by Taupin’s sighting of either a shooting star or a distant aeroplane and was inspired by the notion of being an astronaut no longer being a hero, instead being an everyday occupation.  This idea can be most seen most notably in the song’s opening lines, “She packed my bags last night, pre-flight.  Zero hour: 9am.  And I’m going to be high as a kite by then”.

The lyrics of the song, written as per usual by Taupin, were inspired by the short story, The Rocket Man by Ray Bradbury and featured in his 1951 collection, The Illustrated Man.  The story tells of how astronauts are few in number, meaning that they work for high pay.  One such “Rocket Man” goes off into space for three months at a time, only returning to Earth for three days to spend time with his wife and son, Doug.  Additionally, the song was also inspired by another song called Rocket Man by Tom Rapp, written for his band Pearls Before Swine and featured on their 1970 album The Use of Ashes.  The Rapp song Rocket Man was in turn also inspired by Bardbury’s short story.

Due to a number of similarities in Rocket Man, some presume that this song might also be an allusion to David Bowie’s character Major Tom in Space Oddity.  Bowie has even made the connection himself during various live performances of Space Oddity in which he called out, “Oh, Rocket Man!”

As with Space Oddity, Rocket Man has been said to use space as a metaphor for a drug high.  The line most associated with being a drug reference is “And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then” with ‘high as a kite’ being a common idiom in drug use.  There is nothing to suggest that Taupin intended the double entendre but the song was released at the peak of the ‘70s stoner culture.

The first stanza of Rocket Man was thought up by Bernie Taupin whilst he was on the motorway heading to his parents’ home.  Taupin had to repeat the line to himself over and over for two hours. Upon reaching his parents house, Taupin has said a number of times over the years that he rushed in to the house and ordered nobody to speak to him until he had written the lines down.  Additionally, the song is thought to be a comment on fame and touring, with the line “I’m not the man they think I am at home” perhaps referring to the superficiality of stardom and stage persona.

Musically, the song is one of John’s most grandiose offerings, anchored by piano, with atmospheric texture added by synthesiser, which was played on the recording by studio engineer Dave Hentschel and processed slide guitar.  Rocket Man is also notable for being the first of a number of John recording to feature the signature backing vocals of his band at the time, Dee Murray, Nigel Olssen and Davey Johnstone.  The song was another resounding success for John, reaching number 2 on the UK singles chart and number 6 on the US Billboard Pop Singles Chart.  In 1998, John played Rocket Man at the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

Rocket Man has been covered a number of times over the years, most famously in 1991 by Kate Bush as part of the Elton John / Bernie Taupin tribute album, Two Rooms:  Celebrating the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.  Bush’s unique reggae-styled interpretation of the song was a great commercial success, reaching number 12 on the UK chart and number 2 on the Australian chart, where it was held off the top spot by Julian Lennon’s single, Saltwater (from the album Help Yourself, 1991).  Bush’s version of Rocket Man was voted as the Greatest Cover of All Time by readers of The Observer in 2007.

The B-side of Bush’s version of Rocket Man was a cover of another John and Taupin classic, Candle in the Wind.

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day One). “Ground Control to Major Tom …”

This week’s theme for Song of the Day is ‘Space’, so what better way to start than with David Bowie and his love of all things otherworldly.  The man who would later bring us the glam alien Ziggy Stardust, started writing about space way back in July 1969, with the release of Space Oddity, the first single from his second album David Bowie.  The success of the single on its release in 1969, led the album to be renamed Space Oddity when it was reissued in 1972.

To set the scene, the single was released just nine days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, leading some to dismiss the song as a cheap shot at cashing in on the impending moon landing.  These detractors included producer Tony Visconti, who despite liking the demo songs for the rest of the album, decided to delegate Space Oddity to Gus Dudgeon.  To realise his vision for his space tale, Bowie looked to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which inspired the song’s title.  Additionally, the slow and barely audible instrumental build up of Space Oddity is similar to the deep bass tone used in Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, which is used predominantly in the film.

In a 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter magazine, Bowie said of Space Oddity:

“In England, it was always presume that it was written about the space landing, because it kind of came to prominence around the same time.  But it actually wasn’t.  It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing.  I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me.  It got the song flowing.  It was picked up by the British television, and used as the background music for the landing itself.  I’m sure that they really weren’t listening to the lyrics at all (laughs).  It wasn’t a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing.  Of course, I was overjoyed that they did.  Obviously, some BBC official said, ‘Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great’.  ‘Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir’.  Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that”.

Space Oddity saw the first appearance of astronaut Major Tom, whom has since become one of Bowie’s most famous character creations.  There has been much speculation whether the space theme of Space Oddity was actually a metaphor for heroin use, with the countdown heard in the song being analogous to the drug’s passage down the needle prior to the euphoric hit.  Bowie spoke of a period of brief heroin before the release of Space Oddity in a 1975 interview with Playboy, saying:

“The only kinds of drugs I use are ones that keep me working for longer periods of time.  I haven’t gotten involved in anything heavy since ’68.  I had a silly flirtation with smack then, but it was only for the mystery and enigma of trying it.  I never really enjoyed it all.  I like fast drugs.  I’ve said that many times.  I hate falling out, where I can’t stand up and stuff.  It seems like such a waste of time.  I hate downs and slow drugs like grass.  I hate sleep.  I would much prefer staying up, just working, all the time.  It makes me so mad that we can’t do anything about sleep or the common cold”.

The idea of Space Oddity being at least partially related to heroin use was made even more likely with the arrival of the song’s first sequel, Ashes to Ashes, from the album Scary Monsters & Super Creeps, in 1980, which stated, “We know Major Tom’s a junkie, Strung out on heaven’s high, Hitting an all-time low”.  Additionally, this lyric is also thought to be a play on the title of Bowie’s 1977 album Low, which charted his withdrawal inwards following his drug excesses in America a short space of time before.

Major Tom was resurrected once again for Hallo Spaceboy.  Whilst the album version from 1. Outside (1995) does not reference Major Tom, when the song was remixed by the Pet Shop Boys and released as the third single from the album, it added the lines, “Ground to Major, bye bye Tom … Dead the circuit, countdown’s wrong … Planet Earth, is control wrong” sung by Neil Tennant in reference to Space Oddity.

On 12th May 2013, Space Oddity was covered by astronaut Chris Hadfield, shortly after handing over command of the International Space Station.  Hadfield, already famed as being the first Canadian to walk in space, released the video of him performing the song on YouTube, which has so far received over 25 million views.  Hadfield’s performance was the subject of a piece by Glenn Fleishmann in The Economist on the 22nd May 2013, which analysed the legal implications of publicity performing a copyrighted work of music whilst in earth orbit.  There was no need to worry as Bowie fully endorsed the cover, taking to Facebook to call it, “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created”.

Other versions of Space Oddity, and arguably the oddest of all, include Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola, released in November 1969, a special version of the song with Italian lyrics.  Two Italian bands, Equipe 84 and The Computers, had already recorded their own Italian versions of Space Oddity.  Feeling that these versions may threaten the chances of Bowie’s original in Italy, Bowie’s record company commissioned Mogol to write the new Italian lyrics.  Mogol came back with a song about a young couple who meet on top of a mountain, the title of which translates as “Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl”.  Bowie was highly amused when he found out what the new lyrics meant, saying in an interview for the 1999 biography Strange Fascination by David Buckley:  “I’ve put in all that time singing some bloody love song about some tart in a blouse on a mountain!”

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day Four). “Come Dancing, That’s How They Did It When I Was A Kid …”

Come Dancing, from The Kinks’ 1982 album State of Confusion, takes its name from the TV series, Come Dancing, a BBC British ballroom dancing competition show which ran from 1949 to 1998, making it one of television’s longest running shows.  Come Dancing is also the forerunner of Strictly Come Dancing, which has ran on the BBC since 2004.

In addition to its title inspiration, the song was also inspired by memories of Ray Davies’ sisters, who loved to dance, going on dates to the local Palais and in particular, his sister, Rene.  Rene, who lived in Canada with her reportedly abusive husband but visited her parental home in Fortis Green occasionally, is notable for having bought Davies his first guitar for his thirteenth birthday (21st June 1957) after his attempts to get his parents to buy him one had failed.  On the evening of the same day, Rene, who had a weak heart as a result of a childhood bout of rheumatic fever, died of a heart attack whilst dancing at the Lyceum ballroom.  In an interview with NPR Music in 2014, Davies said of the day:

“[Rene] had died dancing in a ballroom in London in the arms of a stranger … Coming back from Canada where she’d emigrated to die, really, and again, being a source of inspiration … She gave me my first guitar, which was a great parting gift”.

Davies and his older brother and band-mate, Dave Davies, had six sisters.  Another sister, Rose was the inspiration behind the song Rosie, Won’t You Please Come Home, from the album Face to Face, 1966.

Later, on the album Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire (1969), Rose inspired the song Australia.  Rose had moved to Australia in 1964, with her husband Arthur Anning, who gave the Arthur… album its name.

Lyrically, Come Dancing is a nostalgic look back at the songwriter’s childhood, with memories of Rene and his other sisters going on dates at the local Palais dance hall where big bands would play.  The lyrics also tell of how the Palais has now been demolished and of the changes that have taken place in Davies’ native London:  “They put up a parking lot on a piece of land, Where the supermarket used to stand, Before that they put up a bowling alley, On the site that used to be the local Pally, That’s where the big bands used to come and play, My sister went there on a Saturday”.

The lyrics go on to reminisce his sisters’ dates:  “She would be ready but she always made them wait, In the hallway, in anticipation, He didn’t know the night would end up in frustration, He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week, All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek”.  Davies also remembers his sister coming home from the dates in the lines “My sister should have come in at midnight, And my Mum would always sit up and wait, It always ended up in a big row, When my sister used to get in later, Out of my window, I can see them in the moonlight, Two silhouettes saying goodbye by the garden gate”.  Later in the song, Davies tells of how his sisters’ daughters are now going on dates:  “My sister’s married and she lives on an estate, Her daughters go out, now it’s her turn to wait, She knows they get away with things she never could, But if I asked her, I wonder if she would, Come dancing …”

In an interview with Uncut magazine in 2014, Davies stated that the song was sung from the perspective of a spiv:  “It was about an East End spiv, sung in a London voice.  If anybody had lost faith in us being real people, that record would restore it”.  However, in a 2010 interview with Clash magazine, Davies also stated the song was sung from the point of view of an East End barrow boy:  “[Come Dancing] is sung by an East End barrow boy – I think there’s cockney rhyming slang in it”.

Musically, Davies has stated that Come Dancing was an attempt to get back to the “warmer” style which had informed their songs before their transformation into an arena rock act.  In his 2014 interview with Uncut magazine, Davies said:  “I wanted to regain some of the warmth I thought we’d lost, doing those stadium tours.  Come Dancing was an attempt to get back to our roots, about my sisters’ memories of dancing in the ‘50s”.  The music of Come Dancing takes the idea of the big bands mentioned in the song and uses it to great effect, creating an upbeat pop single which rightfully reached number 12 in the UK charts, the band’s highest charting single since Apeman, from the album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, in 1970.

The single also fared successfully in the US, reaching number 6 and becoming the band’s biggest hit since Tired of Waiting for You, from the album Kinda Kinks, in 1965.

The promotional video for the single, filmed at Ilford Palace in November 1982, was directed by Julien Temple, also famous for his work on promotional videos for the Sex Pistols, Culture Club and Dexys Midnight Runners.  The lyrics of the song are used in the storyline for the video, with Ray Davies starring as a spiv character who takes the sister out on a date.   The rest of the band appear as the band playing at the Palais after the events from Davies’ childhood, with the spiv character solemnly watching.

Davies would also play the spiv character in the video for Don’t Forget to Dance, also directed by Julien Temple.  Don’t Forget to Dance was the follow up single to Come Dancing and also taken from the State of Confusion album. 

The Spiv character was also reprised for the video for the Do It Again single, from Word of Mouth (1984), once again directed by Julien Temple.

Additionally, according to Davies, The Kinks’ 1986 album Think Visual was originally conceived as a concept album centering around taking the character and putting him in the environment of a video shop.

Just like the Palais mentioned in Come Dancing, Ilford Palace, the setting of the single’s video was demolished in 2007 in order to make way for luxury flats.  Come Dancing later served as the title track for The Kinks’ 1986 compilation album, Come Dancing with The Kinks: The Best of the Kinks 1977 – 1986 and the title track for Ray Davies’ 2008 stage musical of the same name, set in a 1950’s music hall.

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: 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: Movies in Music (Day One). “Anybody Seen A Knight Pass This Way? I Saw Him Playing Chess with Death Yesterday”.

Following his tenure in The Walker Brothers, Scott Walker’s four self-titled albums of the late 1960s cemented his critical reputation but also alienated most of his previous audience.  For many fans of Walker’s previous work in The Walker Brothers, Scott 4 (1969) was the final straw, so far removed was it from what his audience had come to expect of the artist in the earlier part of the decade.  Scott 4 was originally released under Walker’s real name, Noel Scott Engel, with the name ‘Walker’ not appearing on the album until it was re-released some years later, a conscious effort it would seem to further remove himself from whatever his audience might expect, thus allowing the artist to move into new creative territories.  The album was also the first Walker solo album to be completely comprised of his own material, with the previous three Scott albums all featuring covers of songs by Jacques Brel.  Scott 4 was so unpopular at the time of its release that it completely failed to chart and was deleted soon afterwards, triggering an emotional and artistic crisis from which it would take the artist years to recover.  Scott 4 is now rightly seen as a classic and one of Walker’s strongest works, with musicians including David Bowie and Radiohead even citing it as a major influence.

The opening track of Scott 4, The Seventh Seal, is a straight yet highly poetic retelling of the 1958 Ingmar Bergman film of the same name.  Bergman’s The Seventh Seal tells of life in a 14th century Swedish village experiencing the cataclysmic effects of the Black Death. The Seventh Seal highlights the very worst shortcomings of religion, questioning its insufficient explanations of human suffering, the lack of proof regarding the existence of God, the witch hunts undertaken by the church, the immorality of the clergy and the way in which religious leaders manipulate believers into undertaking immoral tasks.

In The Seventh Seal, disillusioned knight Antonius Block and his squire Jons return home after ten years fighting in The Crusades to discover that Sweden is being torn apart by the plague (“Anybody hear of plague in this town, The town I’ve left behind was burned to the ground”).  In the film, Block meets Death and challenges him to a chess match believing that he can prevent his fate (“Anybody seen a knight pass this way?, I saw him playing chess with Death yesterday”).

In the space of a five minute song, The Seventh Seal uses the full storyline of the film.  The song gives four of its nine verses to the scene in which Block goes to the confessional.  Death, dressed as a priest, takes position on the other side of the grille.  Block tells the figure on the other side of the grille that his life has been futile and without meaning and that he wants to perform one meaningful deed (“My life’s a vain pursuit of meaningless smiles”).  Upon revealing the chess strategy that will save his life, Block discovers that the person who he thought was a priest is Death, who promises to remember the tactics (“He knelt to confess, The face within the booth was Mr. Death …”).

Additionally, we find references to the scene in which Block speaks to a young woman who has been condemned to be burnt alive for fraternising with the devil (“A young girl on a stake her face framed in flames cried, I’m not a witch God knows my name”).  Later in the song, there are lyrics based upon the final move in the chess game which seals Block’s fate (“The knight hung his head, And said you’ve won I’ve nothing left to play”) before a lyrical depiction of the final scene of the film in which Block and his followers are led away over the hills in a solemn dance of death after Block loses the game of chess to Death (“Their hands held as one, Solemnly danced toward the dawn …”).

Walker’s The Seventh Seal takes the subject matter of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and plays it out in a song complete with some of the most effective tambourine playing you will ever hear on a record, swooping strings, mariachi style trumpet that wouldn’t sound out of place on a western soundtrack, church bells and a male voice choir, all pulled together by the operatic baritone of Walker’s unique and much celebrated voice.  Like much of the material on the Scott albums, The Seventh Seal is a work of cinematic scope and vision rarely matched by any other artist.