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 Three). “It’s No Use, He Sees Her, He Starts to Shake and Cough, Just Like the Old Man In That Book by Nabokov”.

The Police released their third studio album Zenyatta Mondatta in 1980, preceded by the single, Don’t Stand So Close to Me.  The single gave the band their third number one single, following Message in A Bottle and Walking on the Moon from their previous album Regatta de Blanc in 1979.  Additionally, the song won the band the 1982 Grammy Award for the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.  It was the biggest selling single in the UK in 1980.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me concerns a schoolgirl’s crush on her young teacher which leads to an affair, which is then discovered.  Sting, who worked as a teacher before the band became successful, has denied that the song is autobiographical.  He qualified as a teacher in 1974, after attending Northern Counties College of Education for three years, before working as a teacher at St. Paul’s First School in Cramlington for two years.  Of Don’t Stand So Close to Me, Sting said in the 1981 biography L’Historia Bandido:

“I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom.  I’d done teaching practice at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them!  How I kept my hands off them I don’t know … Then there was my love for Lolita which I think is a brilliant novel.  But I was looking for the key for eighteen months and suddenly there it was.  That opened the gates and out it came: the teacher, the open page, the virgin, the rape in the car, getting the sack, Nabakov, all that”.

The lyrics and music of Don’t Stand So Close to Me were both written by Sting.  Lyrically, the song deals with the lust, fear and guilt that a female student and a teacher have for one another.  The female student’s feelings towards the teacher are found in lines such as “Young teacher, the subject, Of school girl fantasy, She wants him so badly, Knows what she wants to be”.  Later in the song, we find the teacher’s feelings towards the student in lines such as “It’s no use, he sees her, He starts to shake and cough, Just like the old man in, That book by Nabokov”.  The last line of the verse likens the affair between the song’s characters with the predicament of the characters in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita.  In the novel, the male character, Humbert Humbert is obsessed with the 12 year old Delores Haze, whom he nicknames “Lolita” and becomes sexually involved with after becoming her stepfather.  In Lolita, Humbert is described as “not quite an old man”.

Sting has often been criticised for rhyming “cough” with “Nabokov”.  In an interview on, the singer said of the rhyme:

“I’ve used that terrible, terrible rhyme technique a few times.  Technically, it’s called a feminine rhyme – where it’s so appalling, it’s almost humorous.  You don’t normally get those types of rhymes in pop music and I’m glad”.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me features a guitar synthesiser in the middle of the song, played by Andy Summers.  In an interview with, Summers said of the inclusion of the guitar synthesiser:  “After Sting had put the vocals on Don’t Stand So Close to Me, we looked for something to lift the middle of the song.  I came up with a guitar synthesiser.  It was the first time we’d used it.  I felt it worked really well”.  The verses and choruses do not feature this effect.  Don’t stand So Close to Me utilises a common effect in Police songs, that of the verses being quieter and more subdued whilst the chorus is bolder and bigger in sound.

A few years later, Sting was asked to perform on the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing (Brothers in Arms, 1985) due to being in Montserrat at the same time as the band were recording the song.   Sting performs the “I want my MTV” line, which reuses the melody from Don’t Stand So Close to Me.  After the likeness was mentioned to reporters during the promotions for Brothers in Arms, lawyers for Sting became involved and whilst early pressings of Brothers in Arms only credit Mark Knopfler with having written the song, later copies credit both Knopfler and Sting. It is one of only two shared songwriting credits on a Dire Straits album, the other being Tunnel of Love, from the 1980 album Making Movies, which includes an extract from The Carousel Waltz by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

In 1986, Don’t Stand So Close to Me was re-recorded with a new, more brooding sounding arrangement, a different chorus and more opulent production.  The new version, titled Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86, appeared on the album Every Breath You Take:  The Singles and was released as a single, reaching number 24 on the British singles chart.  The song’s tempo was decreased for the new version and features a slight lyric change in order to compensate for it, with the line “Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov” becoming “Just like the old man in that famous book by Nabokov.  The Police had already split by the time the single was released and aside from the then-unreleased De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da ’86, it is the most recent studio recording released by the band.  A new music video was produced for the reworked song by Godley and Creme.  The video is notable for its early use of computer graphics.

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Four). “Hats Off, Hats Off to Mars, Let’s Align Our Footsteps with the Stars”.

Glam rock was the era in which music openly acknowledged its superficiality.  Originating in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s and characterised by artists wearing outrageous clothes, makeup and hairstyles.  Platform-soled boots and glitter were commonplace and the flamboyant costumes and visual styles of glam performers were often camp or androgynous.  Artists such as Marc Bolan and T-Rex, David Bowie, Sweet, Roxy Music and Gary Glitter enjoyed extraordinary success.  However, for every one of these artists there were scores of glam divas waiting in the wings.

Take for example, Jobriath, the first openly gay rock star, who released two wonderfully camp and epic albums in the early 1970s, Jobriath (1973) and Creatures of the Street (1974) before the few members of the public who had been turned onto him turned against him.  He lived out the rest of his days in the Chelsea Hotel, where he became one of the first rock casualties of the AIDs virus in 1983.

Whilst Jobriath briefly managed to release his music, the subject of today’s Song of the Day was dealt a more cruel fate.  That subject is Brett Smiley, who to all intents and purposes had the makings of a successful glam rock superstar.  Young, blonde, beautiful and androgynous, Smiley began his career as a child actor, playing Oliver on Broadway before being discovered by Rolling Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham at the age of 16 in 1972.  Two years later, he was given a $200,000 recording deal and recorded the album Breathlessly Brett.  The album was produced by Oldham and featured Steve Marriott on guitar.  The first single from the album was the glam-stomping rock thrash out, Va Va Va Voom.

Va Va Va Voom was filled with all the elements that should have made it a glam classic, including wonderfully noisy guitars and a masterful sax line as worthy as those found in Bowie songs such as Suffragette City (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972).

The Bowie influence is also prevalent on Va Va Va Voom’s B-side, Space Ace.

Space was a regular theme in glam rock music, think T-Rex songs such as Spaceball Ricochet …

… and Ballrooms of Mars (both from The Slider, 1972) …

… and of course, probably the main source of inspiration here, Bowie’s most famous character creation, Ziggy Stardust.

The sound on Space Ace is suitably cinematic, fitting for the era in which it was born, whilst the lyrics, sung in Smiley’s distinctive and breathy voice, spiral like a freefall through outer space.

Around the time of the single’s release, Smiley appeared on the Russell Harty Plus TV programme, where he was interviewed alongside Andrew Loog Oldham and gave a startlingly over the top performance of Space Ace.

Unfortunately for a single that by all rights should have become a classic, it bombed and the album was shelved.  Smiley all but disappeared, save for a blink and you’ll miss it cameo in Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo (1980), as well as starring roles in a few ill-advised pornographic movies, and wasn’t heard from again until 2003 when RPM Records acquired the master tapes for the Breathlessly Brett album.  In the intervening 29 years, Smiley had been wallowing in a gargantuan drug addiction somewhere on skid row.  In 2005, Smiley was the subject of Nina Antonia’s book The Prettiest Star:  Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley.  Now free of his drug addiction, Smiley is back recording and performing, mainly around New York City.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Seven). “If Joan of Arc Had a Heart ….”

On the 8th November 1981, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released their third album, Architecture & Morality.   It became a commercial and critical success, selling over 4 million copies by early 2007 and becoming hailed as the band’s seminal work.  Architecture & Morality is widely regarded as one of the greatest electronic albums of the 1980s, with some publications calling it one of the best records ever made.  The singles from the album began with Souvenir on the 4th August 1981 …

… before being followed by Joan of Arc on the 9th October 1981 and Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc), a re-titled Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) to save confusion with the previous single, on the 15th January 1982.

The latter two singles released from the album tell the story of Joan of Arc and are placed together on the second side of Architecture & Morality with Joan of Arc as side two, track one and Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)  as side two, track two.  Having already penned possibly their most famous song, Enola Gay, named after and about the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, for their previous album Organisation (1980), …

… the two songs written about Joan of Arc were yet more examples of the band’s penchant for writing songs about unusual subject matter.  When band members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were asked why their song lyrics were about such unusual subjects in a 2008 interview for Beatmag, the pair replied:

Paul Humphreys:  “We really didn’t want to do this traditional love lyrics.  We always hated those kind of ‘I love you’ and ‘You love me’ kinds of songs.  Kraftwerk always sung about really unusual things as well.  Also, another influence on us was Brian Eno and he always sung about some very unusual topics.  So, we kind of followed that line”.

Andy McCluskey:  “Again it was us wanting to do something new and not be clichéd and repeat things.  I tortured myself.  On the third album, the song Joan of Arc has the word ‘love’ in it and I kept thinking, can I use this word?  But love here is kind of third party – it’s not you or me, it’s she.  She fell in love, so I can get away with that.  It’s not a first or second love”.

Paul Humphreys:  “Because we thought love was such a cliché.  There were so many love songs, particularly at that time.  We just thought they became meaningless, really”.

Of the subject matter for Joan of Arc and Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), Joan of Arc, a peasant girl living in France, believed that God had chosen her to lead France to victory in its long-running feud with England.  Without any military training, Joan convinced the embattled crown prince Charles of Valois to allow her to lead a French army to the besieged city of Orleans, where it achieved a momentous victory over the English and their French allies, the Burgundians.  After seeing the Prince crowned King, Charles VII, Joan was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces, tried for witchcraft and heresy and burned at the stake in 1431, at the age of just 19.  By the time she was officially canonised in 1920, the Maid of Orleans, as she was known and hence the title of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s second piece about Joan of Arc, had long been considered as one of history’s greatest saints and an enduring symbol of French unity and nationalism.

Joan of Arc was thought to have been born around 1412 as Jeanne d’Arc, with Joan of Arc being an Anglicisation of her name.  Joan of Arc was the daughter of a tenant farmer, Jacques d’Arc, from the village of Domremy, in North-eastern  France.  She was never taught to read or write but her pious mother taught her to love to love the Catholic Church and its teachings.  During this time, France had been torn apart by a bitter conflict with England, later known as the Hundred Years’ War, in which England was winning.  A peace treaty in 1420 disinherited the French crown prince, Charles of Valois, amid accusations of his illegitimacy, and King Henry V was made ruler of both England and France.  His son, Henry VI succeeded him in 1422.  Along with its French allies, led by Philip the Good, duke of Burgandy, England occupied much of Northern France, and many in Joan of Arc’s village, Domremy, were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion.

At the age of 13, Joan began to hear voices, which she interpreted as having been sent by God to give her a mission of overwhelming importance: to save France by expelling its enemies and to install Charles as its rightful king.  This divine mission also led Joan to take a vow of chastity.  At the age of 16, following her father’s attempts to arrange a marriage for her, she successfully convinced the local court that she should that she should not be forced to accept the match.

In May 1428, Joan made her way to Vancouleurs, a nearby stronghold of those loyal to Charles.  Here, local magistrate Robert de Baudricourt initially rejected her claims to be the virgin who, according to popular prophecy, was destined to save France but after she had attracted a small band of followers, the magistrate relented.  Joan cropped her hair and dressed in men’s clothes to make the eleven day journey across enemy territory to Chinon, the site of the crown prince’s palace.

Joan promised Charles she would see him crowned king at Reims, the traditional site of French royal investiture, and asked him to give her an army to lead to Orleans, which was at that point under siege from the English.  Much against the advice of most of his counsellors and generals, Charles granted her request and Joan set off for Orleans in March of 1429.  She dressed in white armour and rode a white horse.  After sending a defiant letter to the enemy, Joan led several French assaults against the, driving the Anglo-Burgundians from their bastion and forcing them to retreat across the Loire River.

Following the victory, Joan’s reputation spread far and wide among French forces.  Joan and her followers escorted Charles across enemy territory to Reims taking towns that resisted by force and enabling his coronation as King Charles VII in July 1429.  Joan argued that the French should press on and attempt to claim back Paris, but Charles wavered, as even his favourite court, Georges de La Tremoille, warned him that Joan was becoming too powerful.  The Anglo-Burgandians were unable to fortify their positions in Paris and turned back an attack led by Joan in September.

In the spring of 1430, Joan was ordered by the king to confront a Burgandian assault on Compiegne.  During her effort to defend the town and its inhabitants, Joan was thrown from her horse and was left outside the town’s gates as they closed.  Joan was taken captive by the Burgandians and took her to the castle of Bouvreuil, occupied by the English commander at Rouen.

In the following trial, Joan was ordered to answer to upwards of 70 charges brought against her, including witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man.  The Anglo-Burgandians aimed to remove Joan from power as well as discredit Charles, who owed his coronation to her.  In an attempt to distance himself from an accused heretic and witch, Charles made no attempt to negotiate Joan’s release.

Following a year in captivity and under threat of death, Joan relented in May 1431, signed a confession denying that she had ever received divine guidance.  After several days, however, she defied orders once again by wearing men’s clothes and the authorities pronounced her death sentence.  On the morning of May 30th, at the age of 19, Joan was taken to the old market place of Rouen and burned at the stake.  Joan of Arc’s death only served to increase her fame and at a trial ordered by Charles VII twenty years after her death, her name was cleared.  Long before Pope Benedict XV canonised her in 1920, Joan of Arc had attained mythic stature, inspiring numerous works of art and literature over the centuries and becoming the patron saint of France.

The first of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s two pieces about Joan of Arc is titled Joan of Arc.  Upon its release, the single reached number five on the UK singles chart, number 13 on the Irish singles chart and number 4 on the Canadian singles chart.

The second of the two pieces, Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), or Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc) for its single release, was described by McCluskey in an interview with The Guardian in 2011 as the band’s “Mull of Kintyre”.  When released as a single, the song topped the performance of Joan of Arc in the UK and Ireland by reaching number 4 and number 5, respectively, whilst it reached number 32 on the Canadian singles chart.  In Germany, the song became the biggest selling single of 1982.

Both songs take the form of love songs to the French heroine, and as a suite roughly tells the tale of Joan of Arc’s life through the slightly cryptic lyrics.  Joan of Arc begins with the lines, “Little Catholic girl is falling in love, A face on a page, gift from above”, telling of Joan of Arc falling in love with the Catholic Church and it’s teachings, with the “face on a page” possibly being an apparition of God and the “gift from above” being God instructing Joan of Arc to lead France to victory against England.  Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc), written on the 30th May 1981, the 550th anniversary of Joan of Arc’s death, is a slightly more straightforward sixteen line love poem to Joan of Arc, including the lines, “If Joan of Arc, Had a heart, She would give it as a gift, To such as me”.  The song also describes the heroine’s death in its closing lines, “She offered up, Her body, To the grave”.

Rest My Chemistry: Ten Songs About Cocaine. Comedian Richard Pryor Sets Himself on Fire Whilst Free Basing Cocaine. This Day in History, 09/06/1980.

1.  David Bowie ‘Station to Station’

(from the album Station to Station, 1976).

2.  Queens of the Stone Age ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’

(from the album Rated R, 2000).

3.  Interpol ‘Rest My Chemistry’

(from the album Our Love to Admire, 2007).

4.  Fleetwood Mac ‘Gold Dust Woman’

(from the album Rumours, 1977).

5.  Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’

(from the album Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five, 1984).

6.  Echobelly ‘Insomniac’

(from the album Everyone’s Got One, 1994).

7.  Oasis ‘Morning Glory’

(from the album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, 1995).

8.  Sia ‘The Girl You Lost to Cocaine’

(from the album Some People Have Real Problems, 2008).

9.  JJ Cale ‘Cocaine’

(from the album Troubadour, 1976).

10. Rolling Stones ‘Moonlight Mile’

(from the album Sticky Fingers, 1971).

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day Seven). “‘Cause I’m the Taxman, Yeah, I’m the Taxman”.

Taxman by The Beatles, from their 1966 album Revolver, is undeniably one of the greatest album openers in music history.  A quick, sharp song informed by a pounding bassline which has inspired generations of future musicians, a unique and beautifully executed lead guitar line and topical lyrics which slated Harold Wilson’s government and in particular, their taxation policies, have made Taxman one of The Beatles’ many finest moments.

Written by George Harrison, and becoming one of his best known works for The Beatles, it is the only Harrison-penned track to take premier position on a Beatles album, testament to how strong the main songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney knew it was.  In fact, this was a time when Harrison’s song writing for the band was at its zenith, acknowledged by three of his songs, the most on any Beatles album apart from The Beatles (1968), being featured on Revolver:  Taxman, the Indian-tinged Love You To and the beautiful I Want to Tell You.  Taxman was actually one of the first songs that Harrison had written but became the sixth song to be featured on a Beatles record.

Musically, Taxman was inspired by the theme tune to the 1960’s TV series Batman (1966 – 1968), of which Harrison was a big fan.  Take for instance, the way in which the word “Taxman” is sung in a similar manner to “Batman” in the TV theme.

The Batman theme was originally written by conductor and trumpeter Neal Hefti and covered by surf rock group The Marketts, who released the song as a single in January 1966, reaching number 17 in the US singles chart.  It could be said that Harrison humorously draws comparisons between the ‘civil servant superhero’ in the song and Batman himself.

Over the years, there has been some confusion as to which of The Beatles’ played the lead guitar part on the song.  According to various interviews, McCartney played the distinctive lead guitar part.  In addition McCartney also played the song’s much imitated bassline, which itself is said to imitate the work of bassist James Jamerson, famous for his work on many 1960s soul records, including Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour (from the album In the Midnight Hour, 1965).

In a 1984 interview with Playboy, McCartney stated, “George wrote that and I played guitar on it”.  In a 1977 interview with Crawdaddy, Harrison said:  “I helped out such a lot in all the arrangements.  There were a lot of tracks though where I played bass.  Paul played lead guitar on Taxman and he played guitar – a good part – on Drive My Car [Rubber Soul, 1965]”.

Seth Swirsky, who worked as a staff songwriter before producing the Beatles documentary, Beatles Stories, said in a 2010 interview with Songfacts:  “I think Paul McCartney was one of the greatest guitar players of the ‘60s.  Nobody really recognised him as an electric guitar player, or an acoustic guitar player, but his leads on Taxman and on different songs that you think George played, they ripped.  I think George is great, but when Paul played lead on some songs, they tore.  They were just very unique.  There’s no one like Paul McCartney in the history of the world”.

In his book, Here, There and Everywhere:  My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles (2006), Geoff Emerick said of the recording session for Taxman:  “There was a bit of tension on that session, though, because George had a great deal of trouble playing the solo – in fact, he couldn’t do a proper job of it when we slowed the tape down to half speed.  After a couple of hours of watching him struggle, both Paul and George Martin started becoming frustrated.  This was a Harrison song and therefore not something anyone was prepared to spend a whole lot of time on.  So George Martin went into the studio and, as diplomatically as possible, announced that he wanted Paul to have a go at the solo instead.  I could see from the look on Harrison’s face that he didn’t like the idea one bit, but he reluctantly agreed and then proceeded to disappear for a couple of hours.  He sometimes did that – had a bit of a sulk on his own, then eventually came back”.  Emerick then dubbed McCartney’s eventual guitar solo onto another piece of tape and cut it into the end of the song; therefore, the guitar solo in the middle of the song is exactly the same guitar solo which features in the song’s fade out.  In a 1987 interview with Guitar magazine, Harrison said, “I was pleased to have Paul play that bit on Taxman.  If you notice, he does a little Indian bit on it for me”.

Additionally, Lennon remembers Harrison asking for assistance in the song’s lyrics.  In a 1980 interview with Playboy, he said:  “I remember the day he [Harrison] called to ask for help on Taxman, one of his first songs.  I threw in a few one-liners to help the song along, because that’s what he asked for.  He came to me because Paul wouldn’t have helped him at that period.  I didn’t want to do it … I just sort of bit my tongue and said OK.  It had been John and Paul for so long, he’d been left out because he hadn’t been a songwriter up until then”.

Lyrically, Taxman attacks the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson.  Of the song’s lyrics, Harrison said, in his 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine:  “Taxman was when I first realised that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes.  It was and still is topical”.  As their earnings placed then in the top tax bracket in the United Kingdom, the Beatles were liable to 95% supertax, something that had been introduced by Wilson’s labour government.  The 95% supertax is mentioned in the song’s lyrics, for example, “Let me tell you how it will be, There’s one for you, nineteen for me, ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman”.  “One for you, nineteen for me” refers to the fact that for every twenty pounds the band and other ‘super-rich’ people earned, nineteen was taken by the taxman.  This high rate of taxation, which added a full 15% on top of the tax for less wealthy people, eventually led to The Beatles starting Apple Corp.  By channelling their income through Apple, they could pay the much lower rate of corporation tax.  The supertax was also the subject of The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon, from the album Face to Face, released in the same year as Revolver.

The second verse continues the slating of the supertax and referring to the five per cent left over after the taxman had had his cut, “Should five per cent appear too small, Be thankful I don’t take it all, ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman”.  The line “Be thankful I don’t take it all” could be seen to echo the famous remark made by former Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, in 1957, that “most of our people have never had it so good”.  Whilst the British economy of the time was strong, many people had considered this statement to be dismissive and condescending.

The final two verses of the song move into the territory of exaggeration; such was Harrison’s frustration with the supertax.  Firstly, there is the verse, “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat, If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat, If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet”.

Following this, the songwriter questions where the where the money the band paid was going, with the taxman feeling that he does not have to give an explanation:  “Don’t ask me what I want it for, If you don’t want to pay some more, ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman”.

The lyrics in the final verse of the song, “Now my advice for those who die, Declare the pennies on your eyes …” refers to the way in which, in Greek history, pennies would be put over the eyes of a dead person as payment to the ferryman carrying the body to the underworld.  In this verse, Harrison is suggesting that the taxman is so ruthless that he would even go as far as taxing those pennies; which in effect, would cause your body to drift into some sort of purgatory.

The backing vocals in the fourth verse of Taxman, “Haha, Mr Wilson” and “Haha, Mr Heath” were suggested by Lennon upon Harrison asking him for help writing the song, with “Mr Wilson” referring to Harold Wilson, prime Minister and leader of the Labour party and “Mr Heath” referring to Edward Heath, the leader of the Conservative Party.  Wilson had nominated all four Beatles as Members of the Order of the British Empire a year before the release of Revolver.  As heard on Take 11 of Taxman, featured on Anthology 2, released in 1996, the spaces in the song which came to feature the chanted names were originally filled by the lyrics, “Anybody got a bit of money?”

As with a vast majority of Beatles songs, Taxman has had a lasting legacy on British music, with bands often just stealing parts of song’s innovative composition for their own.   For example, on their 1980 album, Sound Affects, The Jam included Start!, which pays homage to McCartney’s bassline and guitar part.  Start! reached number one in UK singles chart in August 1980.

The Jam also used the bassline from Taxman on their previous single, Dreams of Children, a double A-side with Going Underground (1980), which also reached number one in the UK singles chart.  This time, the bassline was played as the lead guitar riff.

Interestingly, the Batman theme which had partly inspired Taxman, was covered by The Jam on their debut album, In the City, in 1977.

Meanwhile, Harrison would later allude to Taxman on his 1988 single, When We Was Fab, from the album Cloud Nine (1987), in the line “Back when income tax was all we had”.

Riders on the Storm: Ten Songs About Storms. Seven Tornadoes Hit Grand Island, Nebraska, Taking Five Lives, 357 Single Family Homes, 33 Mobile Homes, 85 Apartments, 49 Businesses and Causing $300 Million in Damages. This Day in History, 03/06/1980.

1.  Nick Cave ‘Tupelo’

(from the album The Firstborn Is Dead, 1985).

2.  Kate Bush ‘Cloudbusting’

(from the album Hounds of Love, 1985).

3.  Neil Young ‘Like A Hurricane’

(from the album American Stars ‘n Bars, 1977).

4.  REM ‘So. Central Rain’

(from the album Reckoning, 1984).

5.  Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’

(from the album Let It Bleed, 1969).

6.  Jarvis Cocker ‘Heavy Weather’

(from the album The Jarvis Cocker Record, 2006).

7.  Bob Dylan ‘Shelter From the Storm’

(from the album Blood on the Tracks, 1975).

8.  Etta James ‘Stormy Weather’

(from the album At Last!, 1961).

9.  Jonsi ‘Tornado’

(from the album Go, 2010).

10.  The Doors ‘Riders on the Storm’

(from the album LA Woman, 1971).

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day One). “Jeux Sans Frontieres …”

Always one to push musical boundaries, when Peter Gabriel presented his 1980 album Peter Gabriel to Atlantic Records, who handled the US distribution for his previous two albums and his final two albums with Genesis, it was flatly rejected.  Upon hearing mixes of the album’s session tapes in early 1980, Atlantic A&R executive John Kalodner deemed the album not commercial enough and recommended that Atlantic drop Gabriel from their artist roster.  As a result, Peter Gabriel, also referred to as ‘Melt’ due to its sleeve picture and to distinguish it from his three other self-titled albums, became Gabriel’s only release for Mercury Records.

By the time Peter Gabriel was eventually released several months after being rejected, Kalodner, now working for Geffen Records, realised his mistake and arranged for Gabriel to be signed to the label.  Peter Gabriel was subsequently reissued on Geffen Records in 1983.  The first single to be taken from Peter Gabriel, Games Without Frontiers, was released three months prior to the album and set the precedent for further explorations into the eclectic mix of sounds and intelligent lyricism that pervades Gabriel’s body of work.

Games Without Frontiers, as is the case with many of Gabriel’s compositions, is a song which takes one idea and builds it into a piece with a variety of meanings.  The starting point of Games Without Frontiers came from the long running European television show, Jeux Sans Frontieres, which translates as ‘Games Without Frontiers’.  The song starts with the refrain “Jeux sans frontieres”, often misheard as “She’s so popular”, sung by collaborator Kate Bush.

The idea for Jeux Sans Frontieres, which ran from 1965 to 1999, is credited to French President Charles de Gaulle, who thought it would be a good idea for French and German youths to meet in a series of funny games in order to reinforce the friendship between France and Germany in the post-World War Two era.  This idea was then put to other European countries and as a result, countries from all around Europe took part.  In the show, teams representing towns and cities from the various European countries would compete in games of skill, usually dressed in bizarre costumes, hence the line in the song, “Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games”.  Whilst some games were simple races, other games allowed one team to obstruct the other.  As to be expected, there was a strong element of nationalism in the games.  The British version of Jeux Sans Frontieres was titled It’s A Knockout, which is referenced by Gabriel in the lyrics in the final verse of Games Without Frontiers:  “It’s a knockout, If looks could kill, they probably will”.

And then we find the sublime brilliance of Gabriel’s writing because the use of references to Jeux Sans Frontieres is an allegory for the childish antics of adults.  Gabriel noted the attitudes of countries towards each other in the sporting events and the seriousness with which they competed against each other despite them supposedly being fun, hence the likening of such competitions to war.

The character of Andre in the lyric “Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s is blue” refers to Andre Malraux (1901 – 1976), a French statesman and author of the book Man’s Fate (1933), about Shanghai’s communist regime in the 1920s.  The “red flag” that he has refers to Malraux’s leftist politics.  Chiang in the following lyric, “Chiang Ching’s is blue” refers to Chiang Kai-shek (1887 – 1975), the Chinese leader of the Kuomintang who opposed the Communists, hence the right-wing blue flag.  In 1949, after being defeated in the Civil War, Kai-shek’s forces fled to Taiwan, where they set up a government in exile.  Lin Tai-Yu in the line “They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai-Yu” refers to Nguyen Van Thieu (1923 – 2001), the South Vietnamese president at the height of the Vietnam War.  Following the Communist victory of 1975, Thieu fled to Taiwan, followed by England, and later to the US where he died in exile.  The lyric refers to the way in which whilst leftist politicians such as Andre Malraux had a secure position in France and rightist leaders such as Chiang Kai-shek had a secure country in Taiwan, those in the middle such as Nguyen Van Thieu had no secure country and were just pawns in the Cold War game.

Additionally, Lin Tai-Yu is a character in the classic Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber (1868) by Cao Xueqin, which charts the rise and fall of the Qing Dynasty.   In the novel, Lin Tai-Yu is emotionally fragile and prone to fits of jealousy.   She is also described as a lonely, proud and ultimately tragic figure.  Therefore, her name could be used in order to represent a country which is in a weak position during a war and is jealous of the positions of other countries.

Despite the song actually having been written prior to the incident, Games Without Frontiers took on further meaning when it was released as a single shortly after the 1980 US boycott of the Olympic Games, which is referred to in the single’s accompanying video with scenes from Olympic events juxtaposed with clips from 1950 public information film Duck and Cover, which used a cartoon turtle to instruct school children on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.

Gabriel also covers the Olympic Games in the first verse of Games Without Frontiers.  The lyric “Adolf builds a bonfire …” refers to the way in which the 1936 Olympic Games, held in Berlin, Germany, was used by Hitler as an attempt to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race.  Hitler had high hopes that Germany would dominate the games with victories and was horrified when Jesse Owens, an African-American, won four gold medals in sprints and the long jump.  On the first day of the games, Hitler had only shaken hands with the German victors and left the stadium.  On the day when Owens was due to be decorated with the first of the four gold medals, the Olympic committee gave Hitler the ultimatum that he either shook Owens’ hand or didn’t shake any hands at all.  He chose the latter option.  The decision was largely seen as a snub towards Owens.  To add insult to injury, Owens later discovered that Franklin D. Roosevelt had not invited him to the White House to honour his victories in the games.  The line continues, “… Enrico plays with it”.  The Enrico mentioned is Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901 – 1954), who is most notable for his work on Chicago Pile-1, the first nuclear reactor.  In 1938, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on induced radioactivity by neutron bombardment and the discovery of transuranic elements.

To sum up the point that Gabriel is making in Games Without Frontiers, “War without frontiers” refers to a competition between nations, whilst “war without tears” refers to countries competing for supremacy without using any military force.  Therefore, Games Without Frontiers is a song about nations using athletes to fight wars.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Three): “He Smoked German Cigarettes on Christmas Day”.

Indie rock music has had a longstanding fascination with the war, and particularly the World Wars.  This trend that is no small part due to the influence of Joy Division, the achingly cool and much lauded band who took their name from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp mentioned in the 1955 novel House of Dolls by Ka-tzetnik 135633.  The influence of war and the grim House of Dolls on the band can be seen on songs such as No Love Lost, from their An Ideal For Living EP (1978), which takes its spoken word section directly from the novel.

Move forward almost thirty years and a band who had obviously studied History at GCSE was GoodBooks, who penned the song Passchendaele for their 2007 debut album, Control.  Maybe it is mere coincidence that the name of GoodBooks’ album shares its name with Anton Corbijn’s film about the life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, released in the same year.  GoodBooks continue the World War referencing trend started by Joy Division in the late 1970’s but this time, whilst with the title Passchendaele, you may expect the song to be set in the First World War, the song actually spans both World Wars and every war that Britain has fought “the cause” in since.  Despite the links that could be forged with Joy Division, Passchendaele is perhaps more akin to Jona Lewie’s anti-war behemoth Stop the Cavalry (1980), complete with lines such as “He smoked German cigarettes on Christmas day”.  GoodBooks’ Passchendaele is perhaps the Noughties indie rock equivalent of Lewie’s pop classic.

The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, was a campaign of the First World War fought by the Allies against the German Empire.  The battle took place on the Western Front between July and November 1917 for the control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders, as part of a strategy decided by the allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917.  Passchendaele lay on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 miles from the railway junction at Roulers, which was vital to the supply system of the German 4th Army.  The battle is known for its horrific bloodshed, with 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties, and is one of the most talked about battles of the First World War.

In GoodBooks’ Passchendaele, the band tell the story of a First World War soldier named Jack who was “born towards the end of the 19th century”.  The song continues to tell how Jack, “married his sweetheart at the age of 23” but “Shortly before the birth of their first child, He answered the call of duty”.  And most importantly, how “he never made it past 25, he died at Passchendaele”.

The strength of Passchendaele, much like Stop the Cavalry is the plainness in which the tale is told.  Singer Max Cooke delivers the song in an almost monotone and very English manner which is also akin to the way in which Jona Lewie delivered his war story, complimented by lines such as “He carried English bayonets in an English way”.  Cooke gently tells of how the young soldier, with his wife (his “Mary Bradley” if you will) and child waiting for him at home, fights “In the war to end all wars” and loses his life in the process.

The song goes on to tell of the war’s influence on the dead soldier’s family, moving forward to the Second World War where “His son fell from a Spitfire in 1944” after following in his father’s footsteps.  In the same verse, we begin to see the anti-war element of Passchendaele, with lines such as “Well, Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?  And what did we learn the second time around?  Never again …”

Passchendaele is a song about the futility of war and effects of its seemingly endless cycle:  The First World War was supposed to be, as stated in the song’s chorus, “the war to end all wars”, yet two decades later, Britain would be involved in yet another World War and “still we keep on fighting”.

GoodBooks’ Passchendaele may have had less of a chart impact than Stop the Cavalry, and it will almost definitely never be seen to be as ‘cool’ as Joy Division’s No Love Lost, but what Goodbooks do achieve on Passchendaele is to place such an horrific scene of bloodshed to an upbeat pop backing which will keep you humming all day long.  One can only dream of how different the career of Goodbooks, who split in 2009, would have been if their war song’s success had matched that of Stop the Cavalry’s or if they had gained the same ‘cool’ status as Joy Division.  And it would have been deserved too because Passchendaele is arguably GoodBooks’ finest moment.