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: Biography in Music (Day Six). ” … Until You Admit, You’re A Fuck Up Like the Rest of Us”.

Sometimes even the greatest, most talented artists fall by the wayside and are lost in the abyss of obscurity forever more.  And sometimes these artists are thankfully brought back into public consciousness by a song written about them.  One such artist is Bob Lind.  For Pulp’s 2001 album, We Love Life, Jarvis Cocker penned Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down).

The song, as with the rest of album was produced by Scott Walker, in his only production work carried out for a band or artist outside of his own work.  Walker, just like Lind, had also been subjected to years of obscurity following the commercial failure of his now critically acclaimed album Scott 4 (1969).  Walker spoke of his wilderness years in the 2006 documentary, Scott Walker:  30 Century Man:

“The record company called me in [following the commercial failure of Scott 4] and carpeted me and said you’ve got to make a commercial record for us … I was acting in bad faith for many years during that time … I was trying to hang on.  I should have just stopped.  I should have said, ‘OK, forget it’ and walked away.  But I thought if I keep hanging on and making these bloody awful records … this is going to turn round if I just hang in long enough, and it didn’t.  It went from bad to worse …”

Cocker even included a reference to a Walker record in the song Bad Cover Version from the album, slating the second side of 1970’s ‘Til the Band Comes In, which is often and rightfully described as being inferior to the first side:  “The second side of ‘Til the Band Comes In”.

Cocker has since stated that Bad Cover Version was written way before Walker became involved in the project.

So, there is a certain amount of irony about Walker producing a song about another artist who faced years of obscurity.  Bob Lind, born November 25th, 1942 in Baltimore, Maryland, United States is an American folk music singer-songwriter who helped to define the 1960’s folk rock movement in America and England.  Lind is best known for his transatlantic hit, Elusive Butterfly (Don’t Be Concerned, 1966), which reached number 5 in both the UK and US in 1966.  Despite the fact that many musicians have covered Lind’s songs and he still continues to write, record and perform, he still remains relatively unknown.

The Bob Lind story starts in 1965 when he signed a contract with Liberty Records’ subsidiary, World Pacific Records.  It was on this label that he recorded Elusive Butterfly.  The single might have done better on the UK Singles Chart had there not been competition from established Irish recording artist, Val Doonican, who released a cover version of the song at the same time.  In the end, both versions of Elusive Butterfly made number 5 in the UK in 1966.

The B-side of Elusive Butterfly featured Cheryl’s Goin’ Home, a song which was covered by Adam Faith, the Blues Project, Sonny & Cher, John Otway, the Cascades and others.  Other Lind songs were eventually covered by more than 200 artists including Cher, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Nancy Sinatra, The Four Tops, Richie Havens, Hoyt Axton, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Mathis and Petula Clark.

Despite recognition for his song writing ability and the success of Elusive Butterfly, Lind’s star was to shine very briefly.  Plagued by drug and alcohol problems, Lind gained a reputation in the music industry for being difficult to work with.  In 1969, he severed all ties with his record company.  Three years after leaving World Pacific, Capitol Records released the album Since there Were Circles, an album well-received by critics but not commercially successful.  Lind then dropped out of the record industry altogether for a number of years.  Other recognition came from writer friend Charles Bukowski, who based the character Dinky Summers in his 1978 novel, Women and Other Writings on Lind.

In 1988, Lind moved to Florida where he write five novels, an award winning play and a screenplay, Refuge, which won the Florida Screenwriters’ Competition in 1991.  He also became a staff writer for supermarket tabloids Weekly World News and Sun.  He returned to music in 2004, three years after Pulp’s Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down), when, at the request of his friend, Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, he performed live at the Guthrie Center in Becket, Massachusetts.  Lind began touring again and has toured ever since.

In 2006, Lind established his official website.  In the same year, RPM Records re-issued the album Since There Were Circles and Lind self-released the Live at Luna Star album featuring performances of new material.  In 2007, Elusive Butterfly: The Complete 1966 Nitzsche Sessions was released in the UK by Ace Records whilst in 2009, filmmaker Paul Surratt made the concert / documentary film about Lind entitled Bob Lind:  Perspective.  Most recently, 2012 saw the release of Lind’s first album of new material in 41 years, Finding You Again, produced by guitarist of the band The Spongetones, Jamie Hoover.  The album was once again released in Ace Records.  Additionally, as well as naming the song Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down) after Lind, Cocker and bandmate Steve Mackey included the Lind recording Cool Summer (The Elusive Bob Lind, 1966) on their 2006 compilation album The Trip:  Curated by Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey.

In 2013, Lind was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, along with Judy Collins, the Serendipity Singers and Chris Daniels.

In a 2001 interview with NME to accompany the release of We Love Life, Cocker said of Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down):

“There was this bloke in the late ‘60s called Bob Lind.  One of his most famous songs is Elusive Butterfly, which was one of my favourites when I was younger.  Something about the sound of this song made me think of him.  It’s about someone who is a fuck-up.  And sometimes there’s something good about admitting that.  Most people who are famous and wealthy tend to be more fucked up than everybody else.  Bob Lind, he writes quite, kind of, sweet songs but then they’ve often got quite negative words.  For instance, there’s a song of his called Remember the Rain [Photographs of Feeling, 1966] …

… which is basically saying:  “Remember the rain, when you walk in the sunshine”, it’s saying, “Oh right, you might be having a good time now, but listen, you will be having a shit time soon” – which is a pretty negative thing to write about and yet it’s quite a nice, jangly little tune.  So that song reminded me of him a bit.  So Bob Lind was just a working title, but then as sometimes happens, I couldn’t think of a better one.  So I just left it.  And he did get in touch the other day and said, “I’m gonna sue”.  No, he didn’t – he got in touch, and he seemed to be quite flattered that somebody had remembered him”.

The Long and Winding Road and Nine Other Songs About Roads. The Long and Winding Road Becomes The Beatles’ Last US Number One Single. This Day in History, 13/06/1970.

1.  Bruce Springsteen ‘Thunder Road’

(from the album Born to Run, 1975).

2.  The Wedding Present ‘Interstate 5’

(from the album Take Fountain, 2004).

3.  The Go-Betweens ‘The Wrong Road’

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

4.  Elton John ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’

(from the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973).

5.  Bob Dylan ‘Highway 61 Revisited’

(from the album Highway 61 Revisited, 1965).

6.  Chris Rea ‘The Road to Hell (Parts 1 & 2)’

(from the album The Road to Hell, 1989).

7.  Tom Robinson Band ‘2, 4, 6, 8 Motorway’

(single A-side, 1977).

8.  A-Ha ‘Stay On These Roads’

(from the album Stay On These Roads, 1988).

9.  Talking Heads ‘Road to Nowhere’

(from the album Little Creatures, 1985).

10. The Beatles ‘The Long and Winding Road’

(from the album Let It Be, 1970).

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: 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: War in Music (Day Seven). “Generals Gathered in Their Masses, Just Like Witches at Black Masses”.

1970 was a busy year for rock band Black Sabbath.  In February, they released their debut self-titled album, following it up in September of the same year with their second album ParanoidParanoid has come to be regarded as one of the most quintessential and influential albums in heavy metal history and features several of Black Sabbath’s signature songs, including the title track, Iron Man and opening track, the anti-war anthem, War Pigs.

In 2006, in Black Sabbath:  Doom Let Loose:  An Illustrated History, a book by Martin Popoff, drummer Bill Ward recalled performing an early version of what would become War Pigs as early as 1968 at The Beat Club in Switzerland.  During their early period, the band were often required to play several sets in one night but because of the limited amount of material at their disposal, would perform lengthy jam sessions to fill out the sets.  In conversation with Wes Orshoski for Billboard in 2002, guitarist Tony Iommi confirmed that War Pigs did indeed originate from these live jam sessions:  “We were playing this club in Switzerland, it was the early days and of course, there were about five people there.  So we used to get bored and start making up stuff.  And we used to do a long jam.  And that’s when I came up with War Pigs”.

War Pigs criticises those who wage and carry out war but keep their distance through fear of getting their hands dirty, a case in point at that current time, the United States and the ongoing war in Vietnam.  In Carol Clerk’s 2002 book Diary of a Madman:  Ozzy Osbourne:  The Stories Behind the Songs, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne states that the band “knew nothing about Vietnam.  It’s just an anti-war song”.  However, bassist and War Pigs lyricist Geezer Butler told Martin Popoff for the 2006 book Black Sabbath:  Doom Let Loose:  An Illustrated History that War Pigs is “totally against the Vietnam War, about how these rich politicians and rich people start all the wars for their benefit and get all the poor people to die for them”.

War Pigs was originally titled ‘Walpurgis’ and dealt with the witches’ Sabbath.  Walpurgis Night is the English translation of Walpurgisnacht, a German name for the night of the 30th April, the eve of the feat day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th century abbess in Germany.  In German folklore, Walpurgisnacht, also referred to as Hexennacht, literally translated as “Witches’ Night”, is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains.  The Harz Mountains lay between the rivers Weser and Elbe in central Germany.

Butler explained to Noisecreep in 2010 that “Walpurgis is sort of like Christmas for Satanists.  And to me, war was the big Satan.  It wasn’t about politics or government or anything.  It was (about ) evil.  So I was saying ‘Generals gathered in the masses, Just like witches at black masses’ to make an analogy.  But when we brought it to the record company, they thought Walpurgis sounded too satanic.  And that’s when we turned it into War Pigs.  But we didn’t change the lyrics, because they were already finished”.  Whether accidentally a song about the horror and destruction of war or not, what is true is that War Pigs is now an essential part of the anti-war song genre.

With the opening lines of War Pigs, “Generals gathered in their masses, Just like witches at black masses”, Black Sabbath, in a leftover element from when the song was named Walpurgis, compare the meeting of witches with meetings between politicians where wars such as the Vietnam War are conceived.  Think here of the War Room scene in Dr Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

In the following lines, “Evil minds that plot destruction, Sorcerers of death’s construction”, the song tells of the way in which the generals, through their plotting of destruction, serve only to cause death through lengthy conflict as their primary purpose.

Following this, the lines “In the fields the bodies burning, As the war machine keeps turning” refer to thousands upon thousands of deaths of civilians and soldiers caused by the US’s bomb and napalm air-strikes on Vietnam.  “Death and hatred to mankind, poisoning their brainwashed minds” continues the song, telling of how little regard the masters of war have for human life.

In the song’s second verse, we find the lyrics “Politicians hide themselves away, They only started the war, Why should they go out to fight?  They leave that role to the poor” which speak of the upper class politicians’ exploitation of the seemingly expandable lower classes in order to carry out tasks in the war that the politicians do not want to.

The following verse starts with the line “Time will tell on their power minds”, where the band tell of how those who start wars will eventually get their comeuppance for causing countless numbers of deaths.  “Making war just for fun, Treating people just like pawns in chess” continues the third verse, condemning draft into the US army where soldiers were treated like pawns, low powered chess pieces routinely sacrificed in order to achieve a tactical or strategic purpose.   The final line of verse three, “Wait ‘til their judgement day comes” reiterates the idea of comeuppance talked of in the opening line of the verse, this time introducing the biblical idea of Judgement Day.

These lines and the lines “Now in darkness world stops turning, Ashes where the bodies burning, No more war pigs have the power” in the fourth and final verse are a prelude to the aforementioned Judgement Day where the war pigs will be punished.  This judgement Day arrives in the next few lines of the song, “Hand of God has struck the hour, Day of judgement, God is calling, On their knees the war pigs crawling, Begging mercy for their sins”, where we find the war pigs begging to be admitted into heaven, but as we see in the last line of the verse, “Satan laughing, spreads his wings”, they are destined to end up in hell for their terrible sins, with Satan amused at the politicians’ pleas for forgiveness.

War Pigs was also the original title of the song’s parent album.  However, the band’s record company, Vertigo Records, allegedly changed the name to Paranoid due to fear of backlash from supporters of the ongoing Vietnam War.  Additionally, the first single from the album, Paranoid, reached number 4 in the UK singles chart and the record company felt that the album would be easier to sell if it was named after the successful single.  Despite the fact that the album was, in part, renamed Paranoid in a shrewd marketing move made by the record company, it was actually a brilliant move.  At the time in which Paranoid was released, the Cold War, of which Vietnam was a proxy-war, was in full swing and paranoia regarding the nuclear bomb was rife.

In his 2010 autobiography I Am Ozzy, Osbourne says of the album’s name change:

“Paranoid went straight to number four in the British singles chart and got us on Top of the Pops – alongside Cliff Richard, of all people.  The only problem was the album cover, which had been done before the name change and now didn’t make any sense at all.  What did four pink blokes holding shields and waving swords have to do with paranoia?  They were pink because that was supposed to be the colour of the war pigs.  But without “War Pigs” written on the front, they just looked like gay fencers.  “They’re not gay fencers, Ozzy”, Bill told me.  “They’re paranoid gay fencers””.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Five). “Four Dead in Ohio”.

On the 30th April 1970, President Richard Nixon appeared on national television to announce the invasion of Cambodia by the United States Army.  He explained the need to draft 150,000 more soldiers for an expansion of the Vietnam War effort.  Nixon’s announcement provoked massive protests on campuses all over the United States.  At Kent University in Ohio, the protest included setting fire to the ROTC building which prompted the governor of Ohio to dispatch 900 National Guardsmen to the campus.

On May 4th, twenty-eight guardsmen opened fire on a crowd, firing 67 rounds in the space of 13 seconds.  Four people were killed (Jeffrey Glenn Miller (aged 20); Allison B. Krause (aged 19); William Knox Schroeder (aged 19) and Sandra Lee Scheuer (aged 20)) and a further nine were wounded, one of whom (Dean R. Kahler) was left permanently paralysed from the chest down.

There was significant national response to the incident, almost five hundred colleges being forced to shut down due to a student strike of four million students.  Despite public outcry, the Justice Department initially declined to conduct a grand jury investigation into the incident in Ohio.  However, a report by the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest did acknowledge that the action of the guardsmen had been “unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable”.  Eventually, a grand jury indicated eight of the guardsmen but charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.

As a reaction to what quickly became known as the Kent University Massacre, Neil Young wrote the protest song Ohio.  Young was inspired to write Ohio after seeing photographs of the dead and wounded at Kent state university in the media and in particular, a photograph of fourteen year old Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of one of the victims, Jeffrey Miller, who had been shot in the mouth.  The photograph in question was taken by Kent State photojournalism student John Filo and won a Pulitzer prize.  It became one of the most enduring images of the anti-Vietnam movement.

Ohio was performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and was recorded a mere seventeen days after the incident.  According to recording engineer Bill Halverson, the song was completed in (at most) three takes.  In the liner notes for his compilation album, Decade (1977), Neil Young said of the song:

“It’s still hard to believe I had to write this song.  It’s ironic that I capitalised on the death of these American students.  Probably the most important lesson ever learned at an American place of learning.  David Crosby cried after this take”.

Of the lyrical content of the song, the “Tin soldiers” mentioned in the opening line refer to the Ohio National Guard and “Nixon’s coming” alludes to Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia and makes it clear that Young felt the incident at Kent University was Nixon’s fault.  When the song was released, David Crosby noted that including Nixon’s name in the lyrics as “the bravest thing I ever heard”.  The line, “We’re finally on our own” describes Young’s feelings that his generation has been abandoned by institutions and the government and his dismay that their country is now openly attacking them.  In this line, Young removes any remaining link that he feels between his generation and the establishment.

The lines “Gotta get down to it, Soldiers are gunning us down, Should’ve been done long ago” are a reference to the general public reaction following the incident and strong anti-student feeling.  A Gallup poll soon after the attacks showed that 58% of those taking part in the survey blamed the students whilst only 11% blamed the guardsmen.  In this verse, Young attempts to shock those who blame the students out of their complacency with the lines, “What if you knew her, And found her dead on the ground, How can you run when you know?”  In the fade out of the song, Crosby can be heard singing, “Four, why?  Why did they die?” and “How many more?”

The refrain of “Four dead in Ohio” was taken from the newspaper headlines following the incident.  The song quickly became an anthem to those opposed to the war effort.  The song was rush released as a single in early June 1970, backed with the equally direct song, Find the Cost of Freedom, written by Stephen Stills as a tribute to those killed in the Vietnam War.  Ohio was heard on the radio despite the band already having the hit single Teach Your Children in the charts at the time.  In some parts of the country, Ohio was banned from playlists due to its strong anti-war and anti-Nixon sentiments.  Upon the song’s release, Graham Nash said:

“Four men and women had their lives taken from them while lawfully protesting this outrageous government action.  We are going back to keep awareness alive in the minds of all students, not only in America, but worldwide … to be vigilant and ready to stand and be counted … and to make sure that the powers of the politicians do not take precedent over the right of lawful protest”.

Space Oddity: Ten Songs About Space Travel. Apollo 13 is Launched, This Day in History, 11/04/1970.

1.  David Bowie ‘Space Oddity’

(from the album Space Oddity, 1969).

2.  The Only Ones ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’

(from the album The Only Ones, 1978).

3.  Legendary Stardust Cowboy ‘I Took A Trip (On A Gemini Spaceship)’

(from the single I Took A Trip (On A Gemini Spaceship) / Down in the Wrecking Yard, 1968).

4.  The Prodigy ‘Out of Space’

(from the album Experience, 1992).

5.  Ash ‘Girl From Mars’

(from the album 1977, 1995).

6.  Pixies ‘Motorway To Roswell’

(from the album Trompe Le Monde, 1991).

7.  The Carpenters ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’

(from the album Passage, 1977).

8.  REM ‘Man On The Moon’

(from the album Automatic For The People, 1992).

9.  Ian Brown ‘My Star’

(from the album Unfinished Monkey Business, 1998).

10.  The Beatles ‘Across The Universe’

(from the album Let It Be, 1970).

Paperback Writer: Ten Beatles Songs Written By Paul McCartney. Paul McCartney Quits The Beatles, This Day in History, 10/04/1970.

1.  The Beatles ‘Back in the USSR’

(from the album The Beatles, 1968).

2.  The Beatles  ‘I Saw Her Standing There’

(from the album Please Please Me, 1963).

3.  The Beatles ‘Eleanor Rigby’

(from the album Revolver, 1965).

4.  The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’

(from the album The Beatles, 1968).

5.  The Beatles ‘Let It Be’

(from the album Let It Be, 1970).

6.  The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’

(from the single Hey Jude / Revolution, 1968).

7.  The Beatles ‘Penny Lane’

(from the single Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever, 1967).

8.  The Beatles ‘Paperback Writer’

(from the single Paperback Writer / Rain, 1966).

9.  The Beatles ‘We Can Work It Out’

(from the single We Can Work It Out, 1965).

10. The Beatles ‘Yesterday’

(from the album Help!, 1965).