I’m Going to Spain: Ten Songs About Spain. Adolfo Suarez Becomes Premier of Spain. This Day in History, 03/07/1976.

1.  The Clash ‘Spanish Bombs’

(from the album London Calling, 1979).

2.  Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballe ‘Barcelona’

(from the album Barcelona, 1988).

3.  The Jimi Hendrix Experience ‘Spanish Castle Magic’

(from the album Axis: Bold As Love,1967).

4.  The Business ‘Spanish Jails’

(from the album Saturdays Heroes, 1985).

5. The Stranglers ‘Spain’

(from the album Aural Sculpture, 1984).

6.  Sylvia ‘Y Viva Espana’

(single A-side, 1974).

7.  Madonna ‘La Isla Bonita’

(from the album True Blue, 1986).

8.  Morrissey ‘The Bullfighter Dies’

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

9.  The Fall ‘I’m Going to Spain’

(from the album The Infotainment Scam, 1993).

10. Manic Street Preachers ‘If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next’

(from the album This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, 1998).

Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day Three). “Motorway Sun Comin’ Up With the Morning Light”.

2-4-6-8 Motorway was the first single released by the British punk rock / new wave group, Tom Robinson Band.  Released on the 7th October 1977, the single reached number five in the UK singles chart.  The band had only formed in January of the same year and was signed to EMI in the August.

Robinson had written 2-4-6-8 Motorway between leaving his previous band, Cafe Society, in 1976 and forming his new band.  At the beginning of the Tom Robinson Band, Robinson was playing gigs with whichever friends were available on the night, so the song was written in order that it could be learnt in a matter of minutes.

The music of 2-4-6-8 Motorway was conceived whilst Robinson was attempting to work out the chords for the Climax Blues Band song, Couldn’t Get It Right (Gold Plated, 1976).

He couldn’t remember the tune properly and this led to the song having just three chords repeated throughout the whole song.  The song has a suitably driving beat which helps to conjure up visions in the listener’s mind of the “ol’ ten-ton lorry” travelling down the motorway.

Lyrically, the song was inspired by Robinson’s memories of driving back to London through the night after gigs with Cafe Society.  He explained this in an interview with M Magazine in 2011:  “The verse lyric came from having done cheap gigs around the country with my previous band, Cafe Society, and driving back through the night from places like Scarborough and Rotherham.  By the time our van hit the last stretch of the M1 into London, the motorway sun really was coming up to the morning light”.

The song tells of the joys of driving a truck with lines such as “Drive my truck midway to the motorway station” and all the things the narrator encounters on his journey, such as “Fairlane cruiser coming on up on the left side”, “The little young Lady Stardust hitching a ride” and “Whizzkid sitting pretty on your two-wheel stallion”.  “The little young Lady Stardust” takes her name from the David Bowie song Lady Stardust, from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972).  Given that Robinson is openly gay, something celebrated in the song Glad to Be Gay and that the Lady Stardust in Bowie’s song is actually male, it could be suggested that 2-4-6-8 Motorway is about a gay truck driver and even that the narrator picks up “Little young Lady Stardust” for a “ride” in the sense of sexual intercourse.

Elsewhere in the song, Robinson sings “Me and my radio truckin’ on thru the night”.  In this line, the “radio” could either refer to a radio in the stereo system sense or perhaps the CB radios used as a communication tool between truck drivers.  Other lines include “Headlight shining, driving rain on the window pane” and “… on the double white line”, which further evoke thoughts of travelling on the motorway.  Additionally, the narrator tells of how he doesn’t need anybody but his beloved truck and the simplicity of only having himself to answer to in lines such as “Ain’t no use setting up with a bad companion, Ain’t nobody get the better of you-know-who” and “Well there ain’t no route you could choose to lose the two of us, Ain’t nobody know when you’re acting right or wrong”.

The chorus of the song was adapted from a Gay Lib chant which went, “2-4-6-8, Gay is twice as good as straight … 3, 5, 7, 9, Lesbians are mighty fine”.  Although the origins of the chorus are not apparent to the casual listener, they could be seen as a precursor to later more politically driven songs such as the follow up single, Glad to Be Gay (1978).

On hearing the song, EMI turned it down, but following a period of touring in which the band became tighter and guitarist Danny Kustow expanded his riff repertoire, they relented and released the record.  The single was such an instant success that it saw the band performing it on Top of the Pops on the 27th of October and later on the 10th of November.

2-4-6-8 Motorway was not featured on the band’s debut album Power in the Darkness (1978).  Robinson had described the decision to not include the song as a “fatal mistake” on many occasions.  However, in the US, the song was included on a free 7” EP, together with Gad to Be Gay, which came with the album.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Three). “This is the Story of the Hurricane, The Man the Authorities Came to Blame”.

Hurricane is a protest song written by Bob Dylan for his 1976 album, Desire.  The song, co-written with Jacques Levy, is based on the imprisonment of American / Canadian boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.  It compiles the alleged acts of racism and profiling against Carter, which led to his trial and wrongful imprisonment.  He was later freed via a petition of habeas corpus after spending almost twenty years in prison.

Carter (6th May, 1937 – 20th April 2014) was arrested in 1966, along with his friend John Artis, for a triple homicide committed in the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey.  Police stopped Carter’s car and brought him and Artis, also in the car, to the scene of the crime.  When the police carried out their search of the car, they found ammunition which fitted the weapons used in the murder.  Police took no fingerprints at the crime scene and at that point in time, did not have the facilities to conduct a paraffin test for gunshot residue.  Carter and Artis were convicted twice for the murders, in 1967 and 1976, but after the second conviction was overturned in 1985, prosecutors chose not to try the case for the third time.

In 1975, Carter’s autobiography, The Sixteenth Round, was published by Warner Books.  In the book, Carter maintained his innocence.  The Sixteenth Round moved Dylan to such an extent that he visited Carter in Rahway State Prison in Woodbridge County, New Jersey and began to write what would become Hurricane.  At first, Dylan was unsure whether he could do justice to Carter and his predicament in song form but using the storytelling method previously used on other topical ballads such as The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (The Times They Are a-Changing, 1964) …

… he eventually found that the words flowed reasonably quickly, such was his contempt for those who had wrongfully imprisoned the former middleweight boxer.  Hurricane was one of Dylan’s few protest songs of the 1970’s and became his fourth most successful single of the decade, reaching number 33 on the US Billboard Chart.

Hurricane was first recorded in July 1975 with Scarlet Rivera on violin and Vinnie Bell on Danelectro Bellzouki 12-string guitar.  In October 1975, Dylan was forced to re-record the song with its lyrics altered, after concerns were raised by Columbia’s lawyers who feared a lawsuit regarding references to Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley, petty criminals who were in the area to burgle a factory, robbing the bodies.  Bello and Bradley had never been accused of such acts.  Due to the amount of leakage on the multi-tracks, making it difficult to achieve a vocal ‘punch in’, Dylan decided to record the entire song.  The resulting final version of Hurricane is faster than the original cut and in addition to Rivera on violin, uses other musicians from Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue as the back-up band.  The final version was put together from two separate takes, both recorded on the 24th October, 1975, and clocks in at over eight minutes in length.

Despite the fact that some offending lyrics had been rewritten, the song still managed to attract legal action, from eyewitness Patricia Graham Valentine.  However, her case was dismissed by a federal district.  The dismissal was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  Other lyrics to receive criticism included the line “Number one contender for the middleweight crown” because according to the May 1966 issue of The Ring, Carter was ranked ninth at the time of his arrest and had never been placed higher than third.  Additionally, at the time of the song’s release, reporters for the Herald News, a New Jersey newspaper published not far from the scene of the crime, questioned Dylan’s objectivity and accused him of excessive poetic license.  Others noted that there was no reference to Carter’s criminal history or violent temper.  Another song from Desire, Joey, about the life and death of mobster Joey Gallo, received similar criticism.

Hurricane brought Carter’s case to the attention of the wider public and is credited with harnessing popular support to Carter’s defence.  Following the release of Desire, Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue played a benefit concert for Carter in New York’s Madison Square Garden.  The concert raised $100,000.  Dylan and his band also played another benefit at the Houston Aerodrome a year later, alongside Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr and Dr John, whom Dylan had personally managed to get to play the concert after meeting with managers Richard Flanzer and Roy Silver.  Despite its all-star line-up, after expenses were paid, the Houston failed to raise any money.

Despite winning the right to a new trial, Carter and Artis were once again found guilty and on the 9th February 1976, Carter was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.  Dylan and Carter’s other high-profile supporters did not attend the trial.  In 1985, Federal Judge H. Sarokin of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial and set aside the conviction, commenting that the prosecution had been “based on racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure”.  Ironically, Sarokin had declined to listen to Dylan’s song when it was offered to him by his family.  In 1988, following the prosecution stating that they would not seek a third trial and filed a motion to dismiss, a Superior Court Judge dropped all charges against Carter.

Lyrically, Hurricane is a straight, or as straight as can be from a writer who wasn’t present at the scene of the crime, retelling of the events that led to Carter’s arrest and his incarceration.  The song sets the scene with its opening line, “Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night”, placing the listener at the crime scene.  The star witness, Patty Valentine, who was awoken by the sound of the gunshots, is mentioned in the second line, “Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall”.  Following this, we find Valentine’s view as she entered the bar:  “She sees the bartender in a pool of blood, Cries out, “My God, they killed them all”.  “All” refers to bartender, James Oliver and two customers, who were killed instantly.

The following section of the song and probably its most famous, “Here comes the story of the Hurricane, The man the authorities came to blame, For something that he never done, Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a-been, The champion of the world” finds Dylan lamenting on how Carter lost twenty years of his life along with his career and his chances of reaching the top of his profession in the process.

Following this, we once again find Patty Valentine’s view, “Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see”.  The prosecution believed that the murders at the Lafayette Bar and Grill, particularly that of white bartender James Oliver, were motivated by the murder of black bartender, Leroy Holloway, who happened to be the stepfather of one of Carter’s friends.  The next lines, “And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously, “I didn’t do it”, he says and throws up his hands, “I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you undertand, I saw them leavin’”, he says and stops”, refer to Bello’s testimony at the 1966 and 1976 trials, in which he stated that he saw Carter and Artis outside the Lafayette Bar and Grill with a shotgun and a pistol immediately after the triple murder.  He apparently came face to face with them on the sidewalk and saw their getaway car.

“”One of us had better call up the cops”, And so Patty calls the cops, And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’, In the hot New Jersey night”.  Due to the murder taking place on the 17th June, the temperatures would most probably have been at an extreme high, common at that time of year.  It has been said that heat can cause people to be enough on edge to commit murder.  This idea was also famously used by Spike Lee in his 1989 film, Do the Right Thing.  In both Hurricane and Do the Right Thing, heat is portrayed as a major physical and psychological factor for rage and violence.

The next lines, “Meanwhile, far away in another part of town, Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around, Number one contender for the middleweight crown, Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down”, find Carter and his friends driving through town, completely unaware of what was about to happen.  Carter, at this stage in his life, was in the middle of his career.  He had a record of two wins, twelve losses and one draw.  As several publications have noted since the song’s release, Dylan neglects to mention that Carter was far from a law abiding citizen, having done several stints in jail for mugging and assault.  However, on this occasion, Carter was wrongfully convicted by the US’s corrupt justice system.  In the following lines, “When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road, Just like the time before and the time before that”, Dylan suggests that the police continuously pulled Carter over as they were racist.  The idea of the police being racist is carried over to the next lines, “In Paterson that’s just the way things go, If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street”, which suggests that racism against black men like Carter was institutionalised and was readily practised by the local police.  In the following line, “’Less you wanna draw the heat”, “heat” is this time used to refer to the police.

The following lines feature further testimony from Bello and Bradley:  “Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops, Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around, He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights, They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”.  Note the vague way in which the men say, “they looked like middleweights” expressed in Dylan’s lyrics.  Additionally, Bradley refused to cooperate with prosecutors, and neither prosecution nor defense called him as a witness.

The line “And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head” refers to the way that Valentine simply agreed with what other witnesses had seen without actually knowing anything.  Valentine provided a description of the car to the police, which changed at the second court case.  Valentine claimed that the lights “lit up like butterflies”.  However, on Carter’s car, this was not the case, as only the end two lights lit up.

“Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”, So they took him to the infirmary, And though this man could hardly see, They told him, that he could identify the guilty man, Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in, Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs, The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye, Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for?  He ain’t the guy!” refers to Willie Marrins who was not killed instantly and the police attempt to have Carter identified as the murderer.  Marrins told the police that Carter was not the murderer but his testimony was ignored.

Further into the song, we find the line “He ain’t no Gentleman Jim”, a reference to James J. Corbett, who is considered to be the father of modern boxing.  Carter is said not to be a “gentleman” because, unlike Corbett, Carter is black.  Other lines of interest in Hurricane include “And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger, No one doubted that he pulled the trigger”.  Here, Dylan, a white man, single-handedly invented a rhyme (“trigger” and “nigger”) which today is one of the most popular rhymes in hip-hop.  For example, see Nas’s N.Y. State of Mind, from the album Illmatic (1994).

One wonders whether Hurricane’s closing lines, “Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been, The champion of the world” may have influenced Carter receiving an honorary World Champion title in 1993, five years after his release from prison.  Additionally, following his release and before his death in 2014, Carter headed the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted for twelve years and founded Innocence International in 2004.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Four). The Go-Betweens on Patti Smith on Kurt Cobain and Others. “When She Sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I Thought What A Shame It Wasn’t About Tom Verlaine”.

Patti Smith, along with her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, began work on her sixth studio album, Gone Again (1996) in 1994.  Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, previously of the seminal garage band MC5, was a highly influential force on what would become Patti Smith’s first album since Dream of Life in 1988, teaching her to play acoustic guitar so she could write songs by herself and providing her with titles and concepts to develop.

The first of these songs was Summer Cannibals, the eventual single from the album, which discussed the darker side of being a rock musician.  The couple drew from Fred’s Indian ancestry in order to compose a song told from the point of view of a tribe’s shaman.  The song tells of an old woman coming down from the hills in order to tell her people of their history, informing them of, in times of strife, the cycle of life and the changing seasons. And thus began the potent theme of death on Gone Again, a theme inspired by the deaths of several people close to Smith.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had died March 9th 1989, aged 42, from an AIDs-related illness …

… and Patti Smith Group pianist Richard Sohl had died on June 3rd 1990, aged 37, from heart failure.

During the writing of Gone Again, Patti Smith was devastated yet further when on November 4th 1994, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith died suddenly from heart failure, aged just 45.   The loss of her husband informs a vast majority of Gone Again but specifically the final song, Farewell Reel.  Played on the acoustic guitar which her husband taught her how to play, Farewell Reel opens with the spoken message, “This little song’s for Fred; it’s G, C, D and D minor”.

Shortly after the death of her husband, her brother, Todd, also died, aged 45.  Gone Again is also notable for featuring the last studio performance by Jeff Buckley, who added his voice to Beneath The Southern Cross.

Smith was also moved by the death of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, with whom she had sympathised.  Cobain committed suicide, aged 27, on 5th April 1994.  Smith didn’t know Cobain personally but told Seattle Weekly News in 2010:

“My reaction to Kurt Cobain was much more emotional.  I was heartbroken when he committed suicide.  I loved Nirvana.  And I knew that Kurt Cobain was very fond of my husband and the MC5.  We felt so badly.  We just wished that we would have known him, and been able to talk to him, and had some sort of positive effect on him.  Seeing Robert [Mapplethorpe] doing everything to live, and then seeing this very gifted boy kill himself was painful to factor”.

Smith’s reaction to Cobain’s death can be heard on the song About A Boy, a suitably etheral and sometimes funereal lament, the title of which is a play on Nirvana’s About A Girl, from their 1989 album Bleach.

Lyrically, About A Boy, much like many other songs on Gone Again, is spiritual and almost hymnal with lines such as “Toward another, He has gone, To breathe an air, Beyond his own, Toward a wisdom, Beyond the shelf, Toward a dream, That dreams itself”.

The verse “From the forest, from the foam, from the field, That he had, Known, Toward a river, Twice as blessed, Toward the inn of happiness” tells of Cobain’s ascendance to heaven but also refers to his hometown of Aberdeen in the US State of Washington.  The forest mentioned in the verse is most likely to be Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington, whilst the river mentioned is the Wishkah River, a tributary of the Chehalis River which flows south through Washington and empties into the Chehalis at Aberdeen.  Linking in with the Indian theme on Gone Again, the name “Wishkah” is an adaptation of the Chehalis Indian word ‘hwish-kahl’, meaning “stinking water”.  More importantly, however, the Wishkah River has a great deal of significance in the legend of Kurt Cobain, as he lived under a bridge on the river during a period of homelessness after dropping out of high school and being thrown out of his mother’s home.  The song Something In The Way from Nevermind details this time in Cobain’s life.  After his death, one third of his ashes were scattered in the river.  Additionally, the river gave its name to the Nirvana live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released in 1996 and featuring live performance recorded between 1989 and 1994.

A band who had been listening to Smith’s tender tribute to Cobain was Australian band, The Go-Betweens.  For their 2000 album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Robert Forster wrote When She Sang About Angels, in part an answer song to About A Boy.

When She Sang About Angels includes the slightly sarcastic sounding riposte to Smith choosing to pay tribute to Cobain, “When she sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I thought what a shame, it wasn’t about, Tom Verlaine”.  Tom Verlaine is best known as the front man of seminal New York rock band Television, most notable for their critically acclaimed and highly influential debut album Marquee Moon (1977).  Verlaine was a stalwart of famous New York punk clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and dated Patti Smith whilst they were both up and coming artists.  Verlaine has collaborated with Smith many times over the years, most notably adding guitar to Smith’s albums Horses (1975); Easter (1978); Gone Again (1996) and later, Gung Ho (2000) and Twelve (2007).

The song’s title and lyrics “When she sang about angels, She looked at the sky …” refers to both Smith’s songs about people who have died on Gone Again and to Smith’s song Ask The Angels, the opening track on, and third single taken from, her 1976 album Radio Ethiopia.

Additionally, When She Sang About Angels includes lines such as “When she sang about the fields, She raised up her arm, As if she was pushing back the cotton on some Midwestern farm”, a reference to Smith’s powerful stage mannerisms and the imagery of fields which inhabits some of her songs.  Take for example, in About A Boy where she sings, “From the field that he had known”; Ask the Angels, in which she sings “Across the country through the fields” and Birdland (Horses, 1975) in which she sings, “Him and his daddy used to sit inside, And circle the blue fields and grease the night”.

Despite the hint of sarcasm which pervades Forster’s critique of Smith, there is also a lot of tenderness expressed towards Smith in When She Sang About Angels.  Take for example the refrain, “Anybody else, anybody else, but I let it go by”, absolving Smith of her various lyrical and performance tendencies and the reminiscence of the lines “Then she threw some names, Like she always did, She threw some names, she dropped some names, Like she used to when I was a kid”.  Smith is known for writing songs about other people and in particular other artists.  Take for example, her song Frederick (Wave, 1979), written about Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith before their marriage in 1980.

Smith would pay further tribute to Kurt Cobain on her 2007 album of cover versions, Twelve, when she covered Nirvana’s 1991 mega-hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the album Nevermind.

Smith’s version of Smells Like Teen Spirit strips away the thundering bombast of the original, the sound which inspired a thousand other bands and almost single-handedly invented ‘Grunge’, and delivers it with a sparse country-tinged arrangement featuring a bass guitar, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and her voice, which much like Kurt Cobain’s, has influenced whole generations.

Song of the Day: Visual Artists in Music. Day Two: “Pablo Picasso Never Got Called An Asshole”.

The Modern Lovers released their debut album The Modern Lovers in 1976.  The album is notable for the fact that the recording process began a full four years prior to its eventual release with many of it’s songs dating back to at least 1970, mainly due to band line up changes, changes of producer (both John Cale and Kim Fowley were involved in the production at different times) and their record company, Warner Brothers, eventually withdrawing their support of the album.  The recording sessions for the album was also said to deeply affected by the death of Jonathan Richman’s friend Gram Parsons.  On the day before Gram Parson’s death, he and Richman had been playing miniature golf.  The Modern Lovers was eventually released to rave reviews and the influence of what has come to be known as one of the greatest art rock albums of all time, could immediately be seen in aspiring punk bands on both sides of the Atlantic.  Notably, the Sex Pistols covered The Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, which can be heard on The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980).  The Modern Lovers’ original recording of the song became a UK hit in 1977.

One of the most notorious tracks on the album is Pablo Picasso, a song about the charismatic 20th century artist and his ability, despite his diminutive stature, to attract women.  The song Pablo Picasso finds the artist re-imagined as a Cadillac Eldorado driving kerb crawler, who “never got called an asshole”, picking up women on the streets of New York.  In an interview with Boston Groupie News in 1980, Richman explained that the song was inspired by his own adolescent self-consciousness with women:

“I read about him when I was 18.  I moved to New York and was intimidated by these girls who thought were attractive.  I was afraid to approach them.  I didn’t have too high a self-image.  I was self-conscious and I thought, “Well, Pablo Picasso, he’s only 5’3” but he didn’t let things like that bother him”.  So I made up this song right after I saw those girls.  You can picture it; I had this sad little look on my face and I was thinking, “Why am I so afraid to approach these girls?”  That was a song of courage for me”.

Such was the arduous nature of the album’s recording process that the first version of Pablo Picasso to actually be released, a full year before The Modern Lovers’ version was eventually released, was an intense rendering by album’s producer John Cale on his 1975 album, Helen of Troy, resplendent with slide guitar and a gutsier sound than the original.  Cale also plays the hammering piano part on the original Modern Lovers’ version.

Following his departure from The Modern Lovers, keyboardist Jerry Harrison played Pablo Picasso live in the early days of his next band Talking Heads, in which he played keyboards and guitar from 1976.

More recently, Pablo Picasso was given a rebirth after it was covered by David Bowie on his 2003 album Reality.  Bowie had originally planned to record Pablo Picasso on his never realised Pin Ups 2 project way back in the 70’s.  On the Reality version, Pablo Picasso was given a complete Bowie makeover with additional refrains and a newly imagined musical backdrop with neat Spanish guitar intro and outro and a big reverb laden sound.  With this, The Modern Lovers and Pablo Picasso had entered the arena of stadium rock.