Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Five). “Oh What Fun We Had, But Did It Really Turn Out Bad?”

Today’s Song of the Day is a staple part of every school reunion and other school themed event in the UK.  Madness’ Baggy Trousers, from their 1980 album, Absolutely, is also the antithesis to yesterday’s Song of the Day, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, from the album The Wall (1979).

In an interview with Uncut magazine in 2008, Suggs said:

“Baggy Trousers was sort of an answer to Pink Floyd, even at that age I thought the line “teacher leave the kids, alone” was a bit strange, sinister – though I think Floyd are a great band.  It sounded self-indulgent to be going on how terrible school days had been; there was an inverted snobbery about it too. ‘You went to a posh school?  You wanna try going to my school’”.

Baggy Trousers was written by lead singer Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson and guitarist Chris Foreman, and finds the band remembering their school days with a joy and abandon which has made the song such an enduring classic.  In an interview with The Daily Mirror on the 18th September 2009, Suggs said of the song’s title:

“The title refers to the high-waisted Oxford bags we used to wear with Kevin Keegan perms – the worst fashion known to humankind.  It became so popular with primary school kids that it resulted in us doing a matinee tour”.

Coming across like Grange Hill put to music, lyrical reminisces include “Naughty boys in nasty schools, Headmaster’s breaking all the rules, Having fun and playing fools, Smashing up the woodwork tools”.  The band began playing the song live in April 1980 and it was released as a single on the 5th September 1980, spending eleven weeks in the UK chart and reaching number three.  It became the eleventh best-selling single of the year in the UK.

On the BBC documentary Young Guns Go for It in 2000, Suggs said of the song writing process of Baggy Trousers:

“I was very specifically trying to write a song in the style of Ian Dury, especially the songs he was writing then, which [were] often catalogues of phrases in a constant stream”.

The promotional video for Baggy Trousers was shot at a school and a park in Kentish Town.  The video was Baggy Trousers was met with great critical response from the public and was popular with television shows such as Top of the Pops.  In the whacky style which the band had by this point become renowned for, saxophonist, Lee Thompson decided that he wanted to fly through the air for his solo, which was achieved with wires hanging from a crane.  Guitarist Chris Foreman spoke about Thompson’s flying moment in a 2008 Uncut interview:

“One night Lee and I had bunked into see Genesis at Drury Lane – at a point in the set there was an explosion and Peter Gabriel went flying through the air.  That’s why Lee went flying in the Baggy Trousers video – he always vowed that when he got the chance he’d do the same thing”.

The resulting shot is one of the most popular and well remembered of any Madness videos, so much so that the moment was recreated at the band’s 1992 reunion concert, Madstock!  It was also recreated during the band’s 2007 Christmas tour, at Glastonbury Festival in 2009 and on a 2011 television advert for Kronenbourg 1664, which features a slow version of Baggy Trousers.

The slow version was later released on the 3CD box set, A Guided Tour of Madness under the title Le Grand Pantalon.

In an interview with The Telegraph on the 1st June 2014, when asked “So is Baggy Trousers your pension plan?”, Suggs replied:

“Well in some strange way, yes.  That’s the great thing about a song.  You write a song on your own and come up with some funny old lyric, somebody puts music to it, and then it’s out there, doing its own thing.  It may keep resurfacing and it may not, it may keep you going, it may just wither and die.  But when they keep going, ironically, you have more chance of coming back because then they keep relating to different generations”.

Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Four). “Hey Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone”

The Wall is a 1979 rock opera by Pink Floyd exploring abandonment and isolation, symbolised by a metaphorical wall.  The songs which make up The Wall form an approximate storyline of events in the life of protagonist, Pink.  The character of Pink is based upon former Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd multi-instrumentalist Roger Waters, whose father was killed during the Second World War.  Pink is oppressed by his overprotective mother and tormented at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers.  These traumas become metaphorical “bricks in the wall”.  He eventually becomes a rock star and due to these past traumas, his relationships are impaired by infidelity, drug use and outbursts of violence.  His marriage begins to crumble and he finishes building his wall, thus completely cutting himself off from human contact.  Here, hidden behind his wall, Pink’s crisis escalates, culminating in an hallucinatory on-stage performance where he believes he is a fascist dictator performing at concerts similar to Neo-Nazi rallies, at which he sets brownshirts-like men on fans whom he considers to be unworthy.  He is tormented by guilt and places himself on trial with his inner judge ordering him to “tear down the wall”, thus opening himself up to the outside world.

In the canon of education inspired songs, Another Brick in the Wall is probably the best known.   Another Brick in the Wall is split into three parts on the album, with each section taking on a different part of the story.  With its catchy refrain of “Hey teacher, leave those kids alone” sung by the  Islington Green School Fourth Form Music Class, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) is the most widely recognised.  When released as a single, the song became a number one single in fifteen countries, including the band’s native United Kingdom.

On The Wall album, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) segues from previous song, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, with Roger Waters’ signature scream.

In the song, Waters speaks out against the cruel teachers from his childhood whom he blames for contributing to the bricks in the wall of his mental detachment.  Waters attended The Perse School in Cambridge.  Though he was a keen sportsman and highly regarded member of the high school’s cricket and rugby teams, he disliked his educational experience immensely.  In the 2008 book Comfortably Numb:  The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake, Waters recalls his school days, saying:

“I hated every second of it, apart from games.  The regime at school was a very oppressive one … the same kids who are susceptible to bullying by the other kids are also susceptible to bullying by the teachers”.

Lyrically, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 begins with the rallying call of “We don’t need no education”.  Firstly, this statement is a double negative, with “don’t” and “no” cancelling” each other out, producing an affirmative, as in ‘We do need education’, perhaps suggesting that education can be a good thing in developing well-rounded individuals and also suggesting that education is needed to stop the bullying of pupils by teachers.  Additionally, the double negative acts as rhetorical litotes in this context, used especially to emphasise the point being made, therefore Waters is saying “We don’t need this type of education”.  Taken in this context, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 is an anthem about reclaiming one’s individuality rather than being one of complete revolution.  Another Brick in the Wall is a criticism of teachers and systems that, as in Pink’s case, ridicule an imaginative child for writing poetry.

The second line of the song, “We don’t need no thought control” further bashes the oppressiveness of the teachers being criticised.  On the 21st June 2006, Waters spray-painted this line on the Israeli apartheid wall whilst visiting the West Bank City of Bethlehem, the day before he performed in the Arab / Israeli Peace Village.  The concert was originally scheduled for Hayarkon Park outside Tel Aviv.  However, it was moved after discussions with Palestinian artist and Israeli refuseniks about the Palestinian call for an international cultural boycott against Israel’s inhumane and illegal policies.  Two years prior to this incident, Waters had helped launch a campaign against the wall run by the social justice organisation War or Want.  The following line, “No dark sarcasm in the classroom”, refers to the ways in which bad teachers find to ridicule the weaknesses of their students in order to crush their souls and dreams.

Following this, we find the chorus of “Teachers leave them kids alone, Hey teachers leave them kids alone, All in all it’s just another brick in the wall, All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”.  On The Wall album, walls are a metaphor for the narrator, Pink’s isolation from the outside world and from other people.  The lines also refer to the fact that the bullying incurred in the school has contributed to Pink building up a metaphorical wall around himself.  The ‘bricks’ also refer to the other students.

In the final section of the song, “Wrong!  Do it Again!  If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding, How can have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?  You!  Yes!  You behind the bike sheds!  Stand still laddie!”, we find the teachers’ ritual humiliation of the students in full effect.  The teacher was portrayed by David Gilmour.

Musically, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2’s disco beat was an idea that came from producer Bob Ezrin.  Gilmour explained this in an interview with Guitar World in 2009:

“It wasn’t my idea to do disco music.  It was Bob’s.  He said to me, “Go to a couple of clubs and listen to what’s happening with disco music”, so I forced myself out and listened to loud, four-to-the bar bass drums and stuff and I thought, Gawd, awful!  Then we went back and tried to turn one of the [song’s] parts into one of those so it would be catchy”.

Ezrin immediately recognised the hit potential of Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.  It was Ezrin’s idea to use the school choir for the song, as he explained to Guitar World in 2009:

“The most important thing I did for the song was to insist that it be more than just one verse and one chorus long, which it was when Roger wrote it.  When we played it with a disco drumbeat I said:  “Man, this is a hit!  But it’s one minute 20.  We need two verses and two choruses”.  And they said, “Well, you’re not bloody getting them.  We don’t do singles, so fuck you”.  So I said, “Okay, fine”, and they left.  And because of our two [tape recorder] set up, while they weren’t around we were able to copy the first verse and chorus, take one of the drum fills, put them in between and extend the chorus.

Then the question is what do you do with the second verse, which is the same?  And having been the guy who made Alice Cooper’s School’s Out [album, 1972], I’ve got this thing about kids on record, and it is about kids after all.  So while we were in America, we sent [recording engineer] Nick Griffiths to a school near the Floyd Studios [in Islington, North London].  I said, “Give me 24 tracks of kids singing this thing.  I want cockney, I want posh, fill ‘em up”, and I put them on the song.  I called Roger into the room, and when the kids came in on the second verse, there was a total softening of his face, and you just knew that he knew it was going to be an important record”.

Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day One). “And the Lesson Today is How to Die”.

Starting off this week’s theme of education is a song that could have also been placed in ‘Crime in Music’ a few weeks back.  That song is I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats, from the album The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979).  The song became the band’s second number one after previous single, Rat Trap (from the album A Tonic for the Troops, 1978).

According to singer and songwriter Bob Geldof, he wrote I Don’t Like Mondays after reading a telex report at Georgia State University’s campus radio station, WRAS, on the shooting spree of 16 year old Brenda Ann Spencer, who fired at children in a school playground at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California, USA on the 29th January 1979.  Spencer killed two adults and injured eight children and one police officer.  Spencer showed no remorse for her crime and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays.  This livens up the day”.  Within the next month, Geldof had written the song and it had been performed live for the first time.  In an interview with Smash Hits in 1979, Geldof explained how he had come to write the song:

“I was doing a radio interview in Atlanta with [Johnnie] Fingers and there was a telex machine beside me.  I read it as it came out.  Not liking Mondays as a reason for doing somebody in is a bit strange.  I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said, ‘Silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload’.  I wrote that down.  And the journalists interviewing her said, “Tell me why?”  It was such a senseless act.  It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it.  So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it.  It wasn’t an attempt to exploit tragedy”.

The telex machine is mentioned in the second verse with the lines, “The telex machine is kept so clean, And it types to a waking world”.  Elsewhere in the song, the chorus takes the form of a police investigation, with the backing vocals singing, “Tell me why” and Geldof singing “I don’t like Mondays … I wanna shoot the whole day down”.  Meanwhile, the verses of the song find the school and Spencer’s parents trying to find a reason for the tragedy before Geldof concludes that “… that there are no reasons” both speaking of various peoples’ shock over the senselessness of the killings and echoing Spencer’s lack of remorse.

The song was originally intended to be a B-side but Geldof changed his mind following the song’s success with audience on the Boomtown Rats’ US tour.  Spencer’s family tried unsuccessfully to prevent the song from being released in the US.  Despite it being a number one single in the United Kingdom, the song only reached number 73 on the US Billboard Hot 100.  The song was played regularly by US radio stations in the 1980s.  However, radio stations in San Diego did not play the track for years after the crime in respect to local sensitivities about the shooting and to the families of the victims.  In the UK, the song won in the Best Pop Song and Outstanding British Lyric categories at the Ivor Novello Awards.

Eight months after the shooting, Spencer pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon.  She was sentenced to 25 years to life.  She has been denied parole four times since 1993 and will not be considered again until 2019.

The Boomtown Rats performed the song for Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985.  This performance became the band’s last final major appearance.  After singing the line, “And the lesson today is how to die”, Geldof paused for a moment.  The crowd applauded on the significance to those starving in Africa which the event had been organised to help.

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Three). “Giant Steps Are What You Take …”

Walking on the Moon was released as the second single from The Police’s second studio album, Reggatta de Blanc (1979) on the 4th November 1979.  The song became the band’s second number one single following Message in A Bottle, released two months previously on the 21st September 1979 and also taken from Regatta de Blanc.

The song was written by the band’s lead vocalist and bassist Sting when he was drunk following a concert in Munich.  Of writing Walking on the Moon, Sting said in the biography L’Historia Bandido in 1981:

“I was drunk in a hotel room in Munich, slumped on the bed with the whirling pit when this riff came into my head.  I got up and started walking around the room, singing ‘Walking round the room, ya, ya, walking round the room’.  That was all.  In the cool light of morning, I remembered what had happened and I wrote the riff down.  But ‘Walking Round the Room’ as a stupid title so I thought of something even more stupid which was ‘Walking on the Moon’.

In his 2003 autobiography, Broken Music:  A Memoir, Sting alludes that the song was partially inspired by an early girlfriend, saying:

“Deborah Anderson was my first real girlfriend … walking back from Deborah’s house in those early days would eventually become a song, for being in love is to be relieved of gravity”.

In an interview with The Telegraph in 2013, he added:

“Walking on the Moon seemed a useful metaphor for being in love, that feeling of lightness, of being able to walk on air.  It’s an old idea”.

Walking on the Moon started out life in a rockier format but was reworked.  Sting described the songs eventual sound in Q Magazine in 1993, saying:

“Very sparse.  As a three piece what was intelligent about us was, instead of trying to pretend we were a bigger band, we used that limitation to our advantage:  Less is more.  There were some big black holes in Walking on the Moon and you get those on the radio and people are immediately sucked in.  Same with Roxanne [Outlandos d’Amour, 1978] …

… That guitar chord Andy came up with for Walking on the Moon [following the bass notes] was just mind-blowing.  And that weird jazzy bassline”.

In the 2007 book Lyrics by Sting, the songwriter says:

“I came up with a melody that felt light and airy – in fact, lighter than air … Nine years before, Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon and said the famous words that everyone misquotes.  Giant Steps [Giant Steps, 1960] is also one of my favourite John Coltrane tunes …

… Songs are built by whimsy, faulty memory, and free association”.

Appropriately for a song called Walking on the Moon, the music video for the single’s release was shot at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the 23rd October 1979.  It features the band members miming to the track amidst spacecraft displays, interspersed with NASA footage.  Both Sting and Andy Summers strum guitars in the video, as opposed to Summers playing guitar and Sting playing bass, whilst drummer Stewart Copeland strikes his drumsticks on a Saturn V moon rocket.

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day Two). “And So It’s My Assumption, I’m Really Up the Junction”.

Up the Junction is the eighth track on, and third single from, Squeeze’s second album, Cool for Cats (1979).   The song became one of Squeeze’s most successful singles, reaching number two on the UK chart and has become one of their most enduring and recognisable compositions. The tale of working class life set in the band’s native South London is notable for not having a chorus, instead using key changes to its base progression in order to mirror the dramatic arc of its storyline.  ”.  Structurally, the song is similar to Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street (1965), which songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have cited as an influence.  In a piece written for The Guardian on the 5th May 2015, Tilbrook stated “There’s no chorus because I thought a repeated section would spoil the flow of Chris’s story”.

Lyrically, the song is well-known for its use of half rhymes.  For example, “ready” and “telly”; “kitchen” and “missing”.  The title of the song is not sung until the final line.  Difford has been known to cite Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain (1972), which similarly only has the song’s title in the last line, as the inspiration for this.

Difford has acknowledged that the song takes its title from the 1965 television play Up the Junction, aired as part of The Wednesday Play series, directed by Ken Loach, and the subsequent film version, released in 1968.

The play is, in turn, based on Neil Dunn’s collection of short stories of the same name, first published in 1963. The film version of Up the Junction featured a song named also named Up the Junction by Manfred Mann, which is unrelated to Squeeze’s song.

Although Squeeze’s Up the Junction is not a retelling of the play, it does include several parallels.  Firstly, both the play and Squeeze’s song are a portrayal of daily life in the Clapham area of London, the song beginning with the lines “I never thought it would happen, With me and a girl from Clapham”.  The “Junction” in both the song and the play refers to Clapham Junction railway station.  Clapham is seven miles southwest of Deptford, where the band is from.  The term ‘up the junction’ is English slang meaning without hope, or taken at its crudest level with another English colloquialism, ‘screwed’.   In turn, ‘screwed’ is also a colloquialism for someone who has just had sexual intercourse, thus linking in with the theme of pregnancy in both the play and particularly in the song, in which it is a main theme.  The use of colloquial working class language is prominent in both the song and the play.

As the song continues, the “windy common” mentioned as the place where ‘it happened’ between the song’s protagonist and his love interest is a 200 acre park in Clapham which has sports fields, freshwater ponds, a bandstand and its own tube station.  Further into the song, following a verse of flirting between the couple, we find the lines “We moved into a basement, With thoughts of our engagement, We stayed in by the telly, Although the room was smelly”.  Here, the protagonist and love interest are living together and thinking about marriage.  They are living very modestly but happily, staying at home and enjoying each other’s company and watching the television.  Further to this, in the following lines, “We spent our time just kissing, The Railway Arms we’re missing, But love has got us hooked up, And all our time it took up” sees the couple loved up and starting a new way of life away from the local pub, “The Railway Arms”.

In the following verse, the protagonist tells of how he “got a job with Stanley, He said I’d come in handy, And started me on Monday, So I had a bath on Sunday”.  The first day of a new job being a special enough occasion to have a bath is a reflection of the economic situation of the characters in the song.  Additionally, the idea of having a bath as and when needed is an example of the humorous self-defacing attitude towards British working class life prominent in the song.  For further examples of this, see the line “She dealt out all the rations, With some or other passions” in the first verse.  This line not only depicts the love interest playing hard to get but is also a comment on rationing in post-World War Two Britain, which didn’t end until 1954.  If we were to take the song to be set in the same era as the play, with the book on which it was based having been published in 1963, then although rationing was finished, it would have still been very fresh in the memories of the characters involved.  Also, the couple live in a “basement”, which has connotations of them being at the bottom of the property ladder.

In the next verse, “I worked eleven hours, And bought the girl some flowers, She said she’d seen a doctor, And nothing now could stop her”, we see the change in circumstances which informs the rest of the song.  Interestingly, after the love interest finds out she is pregnant, the song’s tempo speeds up, perhaps referring to the passage of time taking on a new speed and evoking the chaos which the couple are thrown into.

For the next verse, “I worked all through the winter, The weather brass and bitter, I put away a tenner, Each week to make her better, And when the time was ready, We had to sell the telly, Late evenings by the fire, With little kicks inside her”, the song shifts from a major to minor key in order to simulate the passing of time and circumstance and the change of season.  The “brass” is another British colloquialism from the phrase “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.  It is derived from small monkeys cast from alloy brass which were very common tourist souvenirs from China and Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries.  They often, although not always, came in a set of three representing the Three Wise Monkeys carved in wood above the Shrine of Toshogu in Nikko, Japan.  Some sets added a fourth monkey with its hand covering its genitals.  Similarly, “tenner” is another British colloquialism, meaning ten pounds.  The fact that the couple have “to sell the telly [another colloquialism, meaning television]” shows how tight money is, particularly with their new arrival imminent.  The couple also live in cramped conditions; note how their living quarters is referred to as a “room” earlier in the song.  This means they would be thinking there would now be very little room for a “telly” once the baby arrived.  The fact that the couple are sitting in front of the fire in the penultimate line of the verse is telling of the coldness of the couple’s flat during the winter.

The next verse, “This morning at four fifty, I took her rather nifty, Down to an incubator, Where thirty minutes later, She gave birth to a daughter, Within a year a walker, She looked just like her mother, If there could be another”, switches back to the major key, conveying the joy of childbirth.  This joy is short-lived, as the next verse explains:  “And now she’s two years older, Her mother’s with a soldier, She left me when my drinking, Became a proper stinging, The devil came and took me, From bar to street to bookie, no more nights by the telly, no more nappies smelling”.  In this verse, the stress of fatherhood has taken its toll on the protagonist, his partner and his daughter are no longer in his life and he has succumbed to the twin vices of drinking and gambling.

The following verse, “Alone here in the kitchen, I feel there’s something missing, I’d beg for some forgiveness, But begging’s not my business, And she won’t write a letter, Although I always tell her, And so it’s really my assumption, I’m really up the junction” finds the protagonist missing his partner and daughter and his old life but admitting that it is his own fault that he is on his own.  The fact that he wants his ex-spouse to write a letter shows that the protagonist wants to make amends for his wrongdoings and have his family back in his life.  The brilliance of the song’s composition is seen in the way in which the final line, featuring the phrase “up the junction”, referring to both the hopelessness of the situation and Clapham Junction, brings the song full circle with the opening scene, “I never thought it would happen, With me and a girl from Clapham”.

And what became of the “girl from Clapham”?  She reappears in the later Squeeze song A Moving Story, from their 1998 album Domino.

The music video for Up the Junction features the band playing in a flat.  The flat is actually John Lennon’s old house, the same house where the promotional film for Imagine was filmed.  Additionally, the song is also notable for its accompanying Top of the Pops performance, for which the band, miming to the song, swapped instruments.  For example, singer Glenn Tilbrook is on drums and pianist Jools Holland is on guitar.

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.

The Day That Thatcher Dies: Ten Songs About Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher Becomes The First Female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This Day in History, 04/05/1979.

1.  Hefner ‘The Day That Thatcher Dies’

(from the album We Love The City, 2000).

2.  The Specials ‘Ghost Town’

(single A-side, 1981).

3.  Billy Bragg ‘Between The Wars’

(from the Between the Wars EP, 1985).

4.  Elvis Costello ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’

(from the album Spike, 1989).

5.  The Notsensibles ‘I’m in Love With Margaret Thatcher’

(single A-side, 1979).

6. Morrissey ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’

(from the album Viva Hate, 1988).

7.  Spitting Image ‘Go Now’

(from the TV series Spitting Image, 1989).

8. The The ‘Heartland’

(from the album Infected, 1986).

9.  The Beat ‘Stand Down, Margaret’

(from the album I just Can’t Stop It, 1980).

10. Pete Wylie ‘The Day That Margaret Thatcher Dies’

(single A-side, 2013).

Song of the Day: Hollywood in Music (Day One). “That’s Montgomery Clift, Honey!”

It was the evening of May 12th, 1956.  Montgomery Clift, the 35 year old Hollywood heartthrob and major influence on actors such as James Dean and Marlon Brando, was in the prime of his career and well into filming the American Civil War melodrama, Raintree County.  He was already a three time Academy Award nominee and had changed the face of Hollywood forever.  Before Clift, Hollywood’s leading men were testosterone driven macho men such as Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and John Wayne.  Clift had brought an emotional depth and sensitivity to his roles, the likes of which had never been seen before.  This coupled with natural good looks which captured the hearts of women worldwide had made Clift an overnight success.  Earlier on in the evening in question, Clift had attended a dinner party hosted by his Raintree County co-star and close friend Elizabeth Taylor and her second husband, Michael Wilding.  Now, the star of such box office smashes as Red River (1948), A Place in the Sun (1951) and From Here to Eternity (1953) was laid in a crumpled heap of metal after his car had veered off the road into a telephone pole.

Moments after the horrific accident, friend and fellow actor Kevin McCarthy, who had been driving in front of Clift on that fateful night, on realising that Clift was no longer following him, drove back to check on his friend to find the Hollywood star slumped in the twisted wreckage of his car.  “His face was torn away – a bloody pulp.  I thought he was dead”, McCarthy later said.  McCarthy ran back to Elizabeth Taylor’s home to fetch her, Wilding, Rock Hudson and Hudson’s wife, Phyllis Gates who all raced to the scene of the accident.

The events that followed have been subject to myth and mystery ever since.  One report suggests that Rock Hudson pulled Clift from the car and Taylor cradled him in her arms, Clift choking and motioning to his throat.  Two of Clift’s teeth had become loose and lodged themselves there during the accident.  Taylor opened his mouth, forced her hand down his throat and pulled out the teeth.  Whether this report is true or not, the longevity of this story is testament to the believed bond between Clift and Taylor, it being long rumoured by the Hollywood gossip machine that he and Taylor were an item.  Clift also suffered a broken jaw and nose, a fractured sinus and several facial lacerations which would require plastic surgery.  According to the report of what happened in the aftermath of the accident, when the photographers arrived, Taylor knew each and every one of them personally.  This would seem to be true as not one photo of Clift’s broken face following the accident exists.

After a recovery period of just two months, he returned to the set of Raintree County to finish the film.  Clift correctly predicted that the film would do well, despite the movie studio’s fears over profits, stating that movie-goers would flock to see the film just to see the difference in his facial appearance, particularly the right side of his face.  Considering the horrific nature of Clift’s injuries, the work carried out on his face was miraculous for the time but the accident had left his face partially immobilised and his right profile considerably altered to the point where he was unrecognisable, a mess of angles which could not possibly have been restored to their former glory.  Clift was already a heavy drinker.  It has been suggested that this was because of a long held secret that he was gay, something which at that time, particularly as a Hollywood star, would have been scandalous.  Following the accident, he became reliant on alcohol and pills for pain relief.  He had previously heavily relied on alcohol and pills for relief from a bout of dysentery which had left him with chronic intestinal problems, setting the wheels in motion for the destructive behaviour which has since vastly overshadowed his reputation as one of the greatest screen icons of all time.  Following the car accident that had nearly ended his life, Cliff’s health and physical appearance deteriorated beyond all recognition, bringing with it a change in behaviour which was at best highly erratic, until his death at just 45 years old on June 22nd, 1966.

On their classic 1979 album London Calling, The Clash paid tribute to Montgomery Clift on the song The Right Profile.  During the recording of London Calling, producer Guy Stevens lent Joe Strummer a copy of a 1978 biography of Montgomery Clift by Patricia Bosworth, suggesting that Strummer might write a song about him.  It has been suggested by some that Strummer saw a link between the alcohol and drug problems endured by Clift and the alcohol and drug problems that their producer was suffering at the time.

The title of the song refers both to the change in Clift’s looks following the accident, his ‘right profile’ being the side of his face most disfigured in the accident, and also to the way in which in films following the accident, Clift’s face had to be shot in ‘the right profile’ to avoid showing his facial disfigurements.

The song’s lyrics centre on his unrecognisable appearance and decline in the years following the crash.  “Say, where did I see this guy?” asks Joe Strummer in the song’s opening verse, “In Red River?  Or A Place in the Sun?  Maybe The MisfitsFrom Here to Eternity?”  The song goes on to tell a sad story of a sighting of the once revered Hollywood actor on 42nd Street in New York, “He ain’t got no shoes and his clothes are torn”, with people asking “Is he alright? … He sure look funny”, after catching a glimpse in his alcohol and painkiller induced disorientated and slurred state with his damaged ‘right profile’.  On realising that the person in question is Montgomery Clift, Strummer tells the person either showing concern over or ridiculing the actor’s appearance (depending on which way you look at it):  “That’s Montgomery Clift, honey!”  During the filming of the post-crash film The Misfits (1961), Marilyn Monroe described Montgomery Clift as “The only person I know who is in worse shape than I am”.

Incidentally, the “42nd Street” mentioned in The Right Profile is an area of New York, near Times Square, which was home to activities considered unsavory, including peep shows and the like.  A comedian, who’s name has long since been forgotten, once said of 42nd Street, “They call it 42nd Street because you’re not safe if you spend more than forty seconds on it”.

“I see a car smashed at night, Cut the applause and dim the light, Monty’s face is broken on a wheel, Is he alive?  Can he still feel?” sings Strummer before detailing the dual addictions which would eventually kill the former film legend:  “Nembutol numbs it all, But I prefer alcohol”.  The song paints a sorry picture of Montgomery Clift, a former star tortured by his misfortune, obsessing over his dramatically changed appearance and looking back on his glory days:  “He said, go out and get me my old movie stills, Go out and get me another roll of pills”.

In his films, Montgomery Clift had beautifully depicted characters that were desperate, drunk or deceived but his life was more tragic than any of his screen portrayals.  Nowadays, we see Montgomery Clift as the archetypal embodiment of human suffering:  The unfortunate Hollywood actor who had it all, changed everything and lost everything.  The Right Profile is The Clash’s summary of the slowest suicide in Hollywood history.

In addition to The Clash’s The Right Profile, REM also wrote a song about Montgomery Clift, Monty Got A Raw Deal, featured on their 1992 album Automatic For the People.  Monty Got A Raw Deal also centres around Clift’s crash and decline but is also thought to be about the way in which his homosexuality was repressed for the sake of his career.  This seems fitting as Michael Stipe came out as gay in 2001 after years of speculation.  Incidentally, the title of the song is also a reference to an American game show called Let’s Make A Deal hosted by Monty Hall from 1963 to 1976.  The song draws parallels between Let’s Make A Deal audience members making arbitrary decisions about picking random doors or containers which may have contained either valuable or worthless prizes depending on the participant’s luck and Montgomery Clift’s luck (his “Raw Deal”) in the last years of his life, addicted to alcohol and painkillers and in agony because of injuries sustained in his crash, as well as being haunted by his inability to live an openly gay life.

Further to this, Morrissey, a long time fan of classic Hollywood, is thought to make a more subtle reference to Montgomery Clift on his song Let Me Kiss You, from You Are The Quarry (2004).  The opening lyric, “There’s a place in the sun for anyone who has the will to chase one …” could be considered to be a nod to one of Clift’s most famous films, A Place in the Sun, using Clift’s disfigurement five years after A Place in the Sun, to tie in with the idea of physical repulsion in the chorus, “Close your eyes and think of someone you physically admire”.  If we were to see the aforementioned lines in Let Me Kiss You as a reference to Montgomery Clift, they could also be suggestive of a gay relationship.  Similarly to Stipe, there has also been much speculation surrounding Morrissey’s sexuality.  It has been reported that Morrissey has admitted to being gay on a few occasions, although this is sometimes later rebuked by the singer.  For example, in 2013, following the release of his autobiography which details a fondness for photographer Jake Owen Walters (although it never explicitly says they were lovers), he released a statement through his semi-official website True To You reading, “Unfortunately, I am not homosexual. In technical fact, I am humasexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course … not many”.

Montgomery Clift’s career consisted of eight years of outstanding cinematic work followed by a full decade of terminal decline but the songs that he has inspired are testament to his ongoing appeal.  This appeal may often lay in the fact that he represents the tragic hero; unfulfilled desires; the repression of one’s true self; battles with demons; undeniably brilliant ability struck down at it’s zenith by misfortune and unforeseen events; the worst case scenario of what happens when things go horribly wrong and the thought of what could have been:  All more than worthy subject matter for inspiring great music.