Too Much Too Young: Ten Songs About Pregnancy and Childbirth. Victoria Gillick, A mother of 10, Fails to Prevent Doctors Prescribing Contraception to under-16s Without Parental Consent. This Day in History, 26/07/1983.

1.  Squeeze ‘Up the Junction’

(from the album Cool for Cats, 1979).

2.  Morrissey ‘Pregnant for the Last Time’

(single A-side, 1991).

3.  The Specials ‘Too Much Too Young’

(from the album The Specials, 1979).

4.  PJ Harvey ‘C’mon Billy’

(from the album To Bring You My Love, 1995).

5.  Manic Street Preachers ‘Life Becoming A Landslide’

(from the album Gold Against the Soul, 1993).

6.  The Smiths ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’

(from the album Hatful of Hollow, 1984).

7.  Sex Pistols ‘Bodies’

(from the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, 1977).

8.  Madonna ‘Papa Don’t Preach’

(from the album True Blue, 1986).

9.  Pulp ‘Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)’

(single A-side, 1985).

10. REM ‘Me In Honey’

(from the album Out of Time, 1991).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Four). “I’ve Got My Spine, I’ve Got My Orange Crush”.

Orange Crush, the first single taken from REM’s sixth album Green (1988), takes its inspiration from the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, manufactured by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical for the US department of defense.  It was used in the Vietnam War (1st November 1955 – 30th April 1975) as part of the USA military’s herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, between 1961 and 1971.

Orange Crush is one of REM’s most political songs.  Singer Michael Stipe explained in an appearance on the TV show Last Call with Carson Daly that the song is about a young man from America who played football but left to serve in Vietnam.  During the Green Tour to accompany the album, Stipe often started the song by singing “Be all you can be … in the army”, a reference to the US Army’s recruitment slogan from 1980 to 2001.

REM were already no strangers to producing overtly political songs.  Take for example, the song Exhuming McCarthy from their previous album, Document (1987), which makes an explicit parallel between the red-baiting of Joe McCarthy’s time and the strengthening of the sense of American exceptionalism throughout the Reagan era, particularly in the Iran-Contra affair.

The Iran-Contra affair was a political scandal which occurred during the second term of the Reagan administration (1983 – 1988), in which senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sales of arms to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo.  It was hoped that the sales of arms would secure the release of several US hostages and the money would fund the Contras in Nicaragua.  Contra militants based in Honduras were waging a guerrilla war to topple the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) revolutionary government of Nicaragua.  Under the Boland Amendment, the name given to the US legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984 aimed at limiting the US government assistance to the Contra’s militants, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress.  Another motivation on the part of some officials was to press for renewed ties with the Islamic Republic. The argument for developing ties with Iran was based on the traditional Cold War concern that isolating the Khomeini regime could open the way for Moscow to assert it’s influence in a strategically vital part of the world.

In 1950, McCarthy had become the most visible face of a period of intense anti-communist suspicion inspired by the tensions of the Cold War.  McCarthy made claims that there were large numbers of Communist and Soviet spies and sympathisers inside the federal government and elsewhere.  The term ‘McCarthyism’ was coined in 1950 in order to refer to McCarthy’s practices and was soon applied to other anti-communist pursuits.  The song includes a sample from Joseph Welch’s rebuke of McCarthy from the Army-McCarthy Hearings on the 9th June 1954:  “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator … You’ve done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?  Have you no sense of decency?”

The Vietnam War was highly significant in the Cold War.  Neither the United States of America nor the Soviet Union could risk all-out war against each other, with the nuclear military of each nation being too great.  However, when it suited both, the United States of America and the Soviet Union had client states which would carry on the fighting on their behalf.  In Vietnam, America actually fought, meaning that in the Cold War ‘game’, the Soviet Union could not.  However, to support the Communist cause, the Soviet Union armed China, a fellow Communist state.  In turn, China would equip the North Vietnamese who fought the Americans.

Other REM songs to deal with the subjects of communism, war and politics include The Flowers of Guatemala from the band’s 1986 album Life’s Rich Pageant.  In the song, the flowers cover the graves of the people killed by the US-backed military regime in Guatemala.  In 1954, the US government backed the Guatemalan coup d’etat which overthrew the democratically elected government.  This government was then replaced by a fascist dictatorship.  The coup d’etat laid the foundations for the Guatemalan Civil War, which ran from 1960 to 1996.  The Civil War was fought between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups supported chiefly by ethic Mayan indigenous people and Landino peasants, who together made up the rural poor.  The government forces of Guatemala have been condemned for committing genocide against the Mayan population of Guatemala during the Civil War and for widespread human rights violations against civilians.  The Flowers of Guatemala is about the violent right-wing government in Guatemala and the devastating effect it had on the Guatemalan people.  In The Flowers of Guatemala, “Amanita” refers to the genus of several exceptionally deadly mushrooms, including one commonly known as the ‘Destroying Angel’, serving as a metaphor for the US as a destructive force, a ‘destroying angel’.

For the Green album, the band explored political matters and their condemnation of the US government still further.  The album’s opening song, Pop Song ’89 sets the scene for the political subject matter incorporated into the album with the lines, “Should we talk about the weather?  Should we talk about the government?”

The song World Leader Pretend uses war imagery as a metaphor for the war of self-doubt that the singer wages on himself:  “I sit at my table and wage war on myself, It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing, I know the barricades, And I know the mortar in the wall breaks, I recognise the weapons, I’ve used them all”.

On Orange Crush, the theme of war on the Green album takes a literal turn and further explores the subject of Communism first addressed on Exhuming McCarthy.  The US government viewed its involvement in the Vietnam War as a way of preventing a Communist takeover of South Vietnam.  This was part of a wider containment policy, with the stated aim of stopping the spread of communism.  The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were fighting to reunify Vietnam under communist rule.  They viewed the conflict as a colonial war, fought initially against forces from France and then America, and later against South Vietnam.

Of Orange Crush’s lyrical content, the song opens with its chorus and the reoccurring motif “Follow me, don’t follow me”, referring to the frequent situations in the Vietnam War where one soldier was sent ahead of his troop in order to check for danger or ambush.  “Follow me”, therefore, is a cue for the troops behind the leading soldier to advance on his position.  Alternatively, the command “don’t follow me” means to cease movement and observe.

The lyric “I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush” refers to the assurance that soldiers fighting in Vietnam were given that Agent Orange would have no effect on them.  However, on returning home, the soldiers experienced an array of illnesses ranging from several forms of cancer to their wives suffering miscarriages.  Another effect of Agent Orange was Spina Bifida in the children of soldiers exposed to the chemical.  Therefore, in this line, the soldier says “I’ve got my spine”, believing that he is unaffected by the chemical and that his children won’t be affected either.  With the lyric “I’ve got my orange crush”, the soldier may also be referring to the ability to call upon air attack measures in the event that whilst being sent ahead of his troop, he runs into trouble.

The following line, “Collar me, don’t collar me” is a further reference to Spina Bifida.  The deformation of their spine caused by their fathers’ exposure to Agent Orange meant that they were often required to wear a special brace, or “collar”.  This line refers to the uncertainty of deformation and the fact that the father of the deformed child was unsure about the negative effects of the chemical.

“We are agents of the free” is a play on the word ‘agent’ in Agent Orange but also alludes to the American ideology of spreading democracy throughout the world.  The Vietnam Conflict was a war against Communism and this line finds the soldier taking the stance of somebody freeing the Vietnamese from the evils of Communism.

In the line “I’ve had my fun and now it’s time to serve your conscience overseas”, we find the soldier telling of how after having his fun playing football whilst living in Suburbia and living the American Dream, he now feels it is his duty to serve his country in the war.

Following this, “Over me, not over me” finds the soldier on the battlefield intoning that he hopes the pilot of the aircraft above him to drop the Agent Orange further ahead of him as opposed to on top of him.  The next line, “Coming in fast, over me” refers to the aircraft about to deploy the chemical flying quickly above him.

After two choruses, the first line of the verse, “High on the booze, In a tent” tells of how the soldier and his comrades pass the time in their tent drinking, whilst the following line, “Paved with blood” adds a dark twist, with the tent most probably being covered in blood from the fighting.  In this verse, the soldiers repress the atrocities that they have seen on the battlefield by finding enjoyment in alcohol.  The “Nine inch howl” that the soldier refers to is the sound of artillery firing, with “nine inch” being the artillery barrels.  In the following line, “Brave the night”, the soldier is hoping to make it through the night as the Viet Cong were known for setting traps and ambushes, whilst “Chopper comin’ in, you hope” refers to the soldier hoping for a helicopter (“chopper”) to come in and take him home, away from the battle.

The songs middle section is spoken by Stipe through a megaphone, an element of the song which worked to great effect when played live.  The singer has said that this part of the song is merely a series of random thoughts sewn together.  Despite Stipe’s assertion that these lines are nonsense, they do have significant connections to war, and specifically Vietnam.

Trying to make some sort of sense of the middle section, these lines appear to tell the story of the soldier arriving in Vietnam and being lost in a strange land (“We would circle and we’d circle and we’d circle”); fixing the army vehicles ready or warfare (“Stacked up all the trucks and jacked up and our wheels”); enjoying the beauty of Vietnam whilst not fighting (“It’s just like heaven here”) and finally heading home in the helicopter (“Then this whirlybird that I headed for, I had my goggles pulled off”), realising that after so long in Vietnam, he now knew the place like the back of his hand (“I knew every back road and every truck stop”).  Alternatively, If we were simply to see these lines as nonsense as Stipe suggests, they could be seen to denote the soldier suffering from shellshock, which is likely to cause him to have random flashbacks and mutter random occurrences.

The megaphone used in Orange Crush could be seen as significant to the subject matter of war in the song, perhaps being an allusion to the amplification of commands given over the noise of the battlefield or, more likely, to the way in which if negotiations between countries or parties are held through press releases and announcements, they are termed ‘megaphone diplomacy’.  The aim of ‘megaphone diplomacy’ is to force the other party into adopting a desired position.

Therefore, the use of the megaphone may refer to the war announcements made by the US and Vietnam through the media and the pivotal role that the media played in the Vietnam War.  At the beginning of the Second World War, television had gradually become familiar to the public but by the end of the war, it began to be manufactured on a large scale.  In the 1950s, only 9% of American homes owned a television, a figure which rose dramatically to 93% by the mid-sixties at the height of the Vietnam War.  A survey conducted in 1964 suggested that 58% of respondents received their news from television, making the medium the most important source of news for the American people during the Vietnam Conflict.

Additionally, the idea of the use of a megaphone is also addressed on the song Hairshirt, a song of self-repentance which compliments both Orange Crush and World Leader Pretend.  A hairshirt was a scratchy woolen undergarment worn by religiously repentant people between the 13th and 15th century, who believed that suffering brought you closer to God.  In Hairshirt, the lyric “I can swing my megaphone, And long arm the rest, It’s easier and better, To just beat it from the chest, Of desire” finds the singer pondering over the importance of the messages that he delivers in his lyrics and his significance as a songwriter.

Linking Hairshirt to Orange Crush, the use of music in war and other political matters has been highly significant over the years.  During the Vietnam War, music and particularly the protest song, was highly important, with artists such as The Doors (take for example, The Unknown Soldier from Waiting for the Sun, 1968) …

… and John Lennon (take for example, Give Peace A Chance, 1969) using their music to express their disdain for the conflict.

Orange Crush was obviously written long after the Vietnam War ended but deals with the after-effects of the conflict and the continuing damage caused to those who fought and their families.  Thus, Orange Crush proudly takes its place in the pantheon of songs addressing the conflict and of anti-war songs in general.

The Green album was both commercially and artistically a turning point for the band.  In a 1988 interview with Elianna Halbersberg for East Coast Rocker in November 1988, Peter Buck described Green as an album which didn’t feature any typical REM songs.  He described the band’s previous output as “Minor key, mid-tempo, enigmatic, semi-folk balladish things” and said for Green, the band “wrote major key rock songs and switched instruments”.   In conversation with the band’s biographer, David Buckley for the book Fiction:  An Alternative Biography (2003), Michael Stipe stated that he told his band mates to “not write any more REM-type songs”.  This was an experiment that REM would later repeat on the 1994 album Monster, a move away from the sound of the albums Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), which following the embryonic commercialism of Green, gained the band even further commercial success.

With the change of direction on Green, it is no surprise that REM’s war anthem Orange Crush was given the full rock treatment.  Orange Crush is an upbeat pop song full of jangling guitars which sound like the artillery fire talked about in the lyrics, complete with that middle section which places the listener in the centre of the battlefield and further compliments the images of helicopters deploying Agent Orange in the song and the intensity of battle.  Orange Crush, and the rest of the Green album, finds REM exploring sonic directions in order to paint pictures to accompany Stipe’s increasingly cinematic lyrics.  Bassist Mike Mills, in conversation with David Buckley, said of the Green album in conversation that it was an experimental record, resulting in an album which was “haphazard, a little scattershot”.  This haphazard and scattershot approach though is exactly what makes Orange Crush so wonderful and one of the many highlights of an often underrated and overlooked album in REM’s canon, with the, at first nonsensical sounding lyrical content conjuring up images of the confusion and mayhem on the battlefields of the Vietnam War.

When it came to producing a video for Orange Crush, REM turned to director Matt Muhurin, who is also responsible for videos for singles by U2, Queensryche, Metallica, Tracy Chapman, Tom Waits and Alice in Chains.  The video for Orange Crush won REM their first VMA award for Best Post-Modern Video.  Orange Crush was the first song to win in the category.

Orange Crush was later covered by Editors and used as the B-side of their Blood single in 2005.  The Editors cover version is fairly faithful to REM’s original in terms of its musical content but starts with a stripped down piano led interpretation of the line “I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush” and adds the band’s own lyrics “High on the roof, Thin the blood, Another one on the waves tonight, Comin’ in, you’re home”.  The latter change to the song not only links the cover version with A-side of the Editors single with the use of the word “blood” but also adds an extra-dimension and shows the malleability, longevity and brilliance of the song’s composition.

Song of the Day: Crime in Music (Day Seven). “Hey Little Girl, Do You need A Ride?”

Diane is a song recorded by St. Paul, Minnesota band Husker Du for their 1983 Metal Circus EP.  Written by drummer Grant Hart, the song concerns the abduction, rape and murder of West St. Paul waitress Diane Edwards, whom Hart vaguely knew, by Joseph Donald Ture in 1980.  Ture (pronounced Toor-ee) was convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder in 1981 and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Whilst serving his sentence, Ture was also found guilty of the 1979 murder of eighteen year old Marlys Wohlenhaus in rural Alton, Minnesota and sentenced to a second life, consecutive life term.  Ture was later also found guilty of the murder of thirty-six year old Alice Hurling and three of her four children at their home in St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1978.  At the time of these convictions, Ture was also serving consecutive sentences of three Minnesota rapes.  Ture has always protested his innocence in relation to the homicide charges.

Diane is a graphically dark song telling how the abduction, rape and murder of Diane Edwards took place, told from the perspective of the murderer.  “Hey little girl, do you need a ride?  Well, I’ve room in my wagon, why don’t you hop inside, We could cruise down Robert Street all night long, But I think I’ll just rape you, and kill you instead” sings sings Hart in the opening verse of Diane, detailing what happened to Edwards and giving the listener a glimpse into the thoughts, desires and psyche of the killer.

In the second verse, the killer is seen attempting to convince his prey that his intentions are honourable by attempting to get her to go to a party with him:  “I heard there’s a party down at Lake Cove, It would be so much easier if I drove, We could check it out, we could go and see, Oh won’t you come and take a ride with me”.

As the song continues, verse three offers more insight into the killer’s depraved and twisted mind and we see the scene of the murder, with the lines, “We could lay down in the weeds for a little while, I’ll put your clothes in a nice, neat little pile, You’re the cutest girl I’ve ever seen in my life, It’s all over now, and with my knife”.

As with many of Husker Du’s songs, the lyrical content is brief, with Diane having three verses.  However, this briefness is the key to Diane’s effectiveness because it doesn’t say any more than it needs to.  What it does say though makes for some very dark and disturbing listening.  The wonderful verses are complimented by one of the most deceptively simple choruses in music history.  The chorus is simply Diane sung three times but with the backing vocals putting an inflection on the pronunciation of the name to emphasise the first syllable, making it:  “Die Anne”.

Whilst Husker Du’s original version of Diane is stirring and frightening enough, Northern Irish band Therapy? covered the song in 1995 for their album Infernal Love and released it as the third single from the record.  This version, as opposed to the fuzzy guitar that adorns the Husker Du original features just a haunting cello and singer Andy Cairns’ mighty voice on the main vocal and backing vocal.  The ingenuity of the backing vocal is made even more apparent on the Therapy? version, perhaps because of the starkness of the song’s cello only backing track.  When released as a single, Diane was coupled with a video every bit as graphic and powerful as the song itself, directed by W.I.Z, which breathed even more new life into the wonderful song.

Speaking of the song in an interview with Thumped in 2012, Grant Hart, when asked “How much of yourself do you put into what you do?  What I mean is, are you inseparable from the music you make or the art that you create?  Or is it a different you that we hear on record or see on stage?”, replied:

“Perhaps the best answer I can give to that question is … if an artist is honest and is not trying to come off as something they are not, then they are putting as much of their self into the songs they write as they can.  I stopped playing Diane because I could no longer stand putting on the mask of a monster.  A book came out about one of Diane Edwards’ murderer’s other victims [Justice for Marlys by John Munday (2004)] and it made me physically sick.  There was not as much info about the Edwards murder as the other girls.  The cruelty that this psychopath confessed to made me bloody-minded myself”.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Six). “Within Weeks they’ll be Re-opening the Shipyards …”

There are few songs which capture the mood of the time and place so poignantly as Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding.  Written by Costello with Clive Langer, who composed the song’s hauntingly beautiful piano line, the song was first given to Robert Wyatt and released as a single two months after Britain had won the Falklands War.

The Falklands War was a ten week war fought between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two British overseas territories in the South Atlantic:  the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.  The war had begun on Friday 2nd April 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands (followed by their invasion and occupation of South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands the following day) in an attempt to establish the sovereignty it had long claimed over them.  In response, the British Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, dispatched a Naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands.  The conflict lasted or 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on the 14th June 1982, when the islands were returned to British control.  In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Island residents died during the war.

In a time of great British patriotism, Shipbuilding bucked the trend by being an anti-war song.  The very fact that when the Robert Wyatt’s version of the song was released as single, it only managed to reach number 35 in the UK Top 40 said much about the public attitude of the time.  However, it was the first single released by record company Rough Trade to reach the UK Top 40 and 33 years after its release, the song is probably much more remembered than many of the 34 songs that beat it on that week.  What Shipbuilding accomplished was to remind the United Kingdom, which was in the midst of its post-war celebrations, that things weren’t as rose-tinted for the communities of the young men who had done most of the fighting and for the locations in which the warships were built, which would now, once again, be subjected to closure.

The song’s opening line, “Is it worth it?” (very) temporarily lures the listener into thinking that what will follow will be a standard anti-war protest telling of the pointless loss of life.  However, what Costello accomplishes with aplomb is a song which weighs up the benefits of temporary job availability in the dying industry of the shipyards and a better way of life (“A new winter coat and shoes for the wife”; “And a bicycle on the boy’s birthday”) during the conflict against the cost of human life which all that labour has, in part, influenced.  A majority of the 255 British troops killed were killed at sea in warships which had been built in shipyards around the United Kingdom.  The Falklands War had been an unexpected boost for the ailing shipbuilding industry.

Shipbuilding was written at a time when unemployment in the United Kingdom had risen above three million for the first time in history.  Traditional industries such as shipbuilding were in turmoil and two years after this song was released, Britain was in the midst of the Miner’s Strike.  In the song, Costello speaks of the plight of a British working class which had now become sacrificial lambs on the battlefield and off it.  The lines “Somebody said that someone got filled in, For saying that people get killed in” tells of the result of one person’s objection to shipbuilding for the war effort.

Shipbuilding is a song which takes the idea of the protest song and puts a new spin on it.  Take for instance the line “The boy said, ‘Dad, they’re going to take me to task but I’ll be back by Christmas’”.  Here, we see Costello playing on the term ‘task force’ with the hoary old adage that in all wars, the sailors and soldiers will be “back by Christmas”.  And then, in a verse (fitted between two stunning brass solos performed by Chet Baker on the Costello version), we find the line which is the crux of the song, “Within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyard, And notifying the next of kin”:  Reopening the shipyard will result in the deaths of troops “Diving for dear life” when they “could be diving for pearls”, who will then have their next of kin notified.

The contradiction of Shipbuilding is that beneath the surface of its beautiful exterior lays the heart of angry socialism.  Costello was known for his hatred of the Thatcher government and he made it known in his songs.  Take for example, Pills and Soap, from the album Punch the Clock (1983) and credited to Costello’s alter-ego The Imposter, which is a scathing attack on the changes to British society and economy brought about by Margaret Thatcher’s reign in Number 10.  Costello chose to release Pills and Soap as a single shortly before the 1983 UK General Election.

Shipbuilding takes a slightly more subtle approach in its disdain of the British government but, quite wonderfully, becomes more powerful for doing so.  Costello’s recorded version of arguably his most beautiful song was released a full year after Robert Wyatt’s version on the album Punch the Clock.

In 2013, Elvis Costello, in collaboration with The Roots, released an answer song to Shipbuilding, written from the perspective of the other side in the conflict.  The song, Cinco Minutos con Vous (which translates as Five Minutes with You) is a duet partly sung in Argentinean Spanish by La Marisoul.  Cinco Minutos con Vous can be found on the album Wise Up Ghost.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Three). “I Can’t Believe the News Today …”

Derry is a small town in Northern Ireland, the home to approximately 100,000 people.  Derry has a dark past.  In 1970, the British Army had entered Northern Ireland to keep the peace at the height of The Troubles.  On the 9th August, 1971, Internment had been introduced by The British Government and the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland.  In the small hours of the morning, those suspected of being IRA members were subjected to their houses being raided and being put in prison with no trial, completely bypassing the judicial system.  On the 30th January 1972, British soldiers shot twenty six unarmed civilians during a protest march against internment organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and The Northern Resistance Movement.   Fourteen people were killed.  Thirteen were killed outright whilst another man died four and a half months later due to the injuries he sustained.  Many of the victims were shot whilst fleeing from the soldiers, whilst others were shot trying to help the wounded.  Two protestors were also injured when they were run down by army vehicles.  This bleak event in the history of Northern Ireland became known as Bloody Sunday.

Move forward eleven years and Northern Ireland was still in the grips of The Troubles.  A young band from Dublin begins to play a song.  Starting with a militaristic drum beat which evokes image of soldiers and guns and almost makes the listener feel as though they were there on Bloody Sunday even before the vocals begin, this song is Sunday Bloody Sunday and the band is U2.

Sunday Bloody Sunday, from U2’s third album War (1983), grew from a guitar riff written by guitarist the Edge in 1982.  Whilst singer Bono and new wife Ali Hewson were on their honeymoon in Jamaica, the Edge was in Ireland working on the music for what would become the War album.  Following an argument with his girlfriend and a period of self doubt over his abilities as a songwriter, the Edge channelled his frustration into what would become Sunday Bloody Sunday, writing the first draft of the song’s lyrics.  Bono rewrote the Edge’s lyrics, which started with the line “Don’t talk to me about the rights of the IRA, UDA”, fearing that the original lyrics would be misinterpreted to be sectarian thus placing them in danger.  Instead of the original potentially volatile opening line, Sunday Bloody Sunday starts with the line, “I can’t believe the news today”, evocative of the prevailing response to the violence in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.  Thus, with this still powerful opening line, Sunday Bloody Sunday became U2’s equivalent of The Beatles’ A Day in the Life (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967), which starts with the line, “I read the news today, oh boy”.

Despite the way in which Sunday Bloody Sunday is often perceived as a protest song, something heavily disputed by the band, the song actually takes the viewpoint of somebody outside of the violence who is horrified at the cycle of violence in the province and the effect it has on people.  Sunday Bloody Sunday links together the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 and Bloody Sunday in Dublin, 1920, where British troops fired into the crowd at a football match in retaliation for the killing of British undercover agents.  The band has said that the song is not specifically about either event.  Sunday Bloody Sunday is more a condemnation of the glorification of violence, common with those involved in it and those supporting it in Ireland and elsewhere around the world.  In an interview with Lucy White in 1983, Larry Mullen Jr said of the song:

“We’re into the politics of people, we’re not into politics.  Like you talk about Northern Ireland, Sunday Bloody Sunday, people sort of think, ‘Oh, that time when thirteen Catholics were shot by British soldiers’; that’s not what the song is about.  That’s the incident, the most famous incident in Northern Ireland and it’s the strongest way of saying, ‘How long?  How long do we have to put up with this?’  I don’t care who’s who – Catholics, Protestants, whatever.  You know people are dying every single day through bitterness and hate, and we’re saying why?  What’s the point?  And you can move that into place like El Salvador and other similar situations – people dying.  Let’s forget the politics, let’s stop shooting each other and sit around the table and talk about it … There are a lot of bands taking sides saying politics is crap, etc.  Well, so what!  The real battle is people dying, that’s the real battle”.

At a concert filmed the night of the IRA Enniskillen bombing on the 8th November, Bono backed up this viewpoint, saying:

“I’ve had enough of Irish-Americans who haven’t been back to their country in twenty or thirty years coming up to talk to me about the resistance, the resistance back home.  And the glory days of the revolution.  FUCK THE REVOLUTION!  They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution.  What’s the glory in taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and children?  Where’s the glory in that?  Where’s the glory in bombing a remembrance Day parade of old age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day?  Where’s the glory in that?  To leave them dying or crippled for life or dead.  Under the rubble of a revolution.  That, the majority of people in my country don’t want.  No  more!”

The song also links the events of both Bloody Sundays to Easter Sunday, paraphrasing religious text from Matthew 10:35 in the line “Mothers children; brothers, sisters torn apart” and twisting 1 Corinthians 15:32 to fit around the theme of Bloody Sunday in the line “We eat and drink while tomorrow they die”.  The chorus of Sunday Bloody Sunday, the opening track on War, is echoed in the album’s closing track 40, which is a heavily based on Psalm 40.

The chorus of “How long, how long must we sing this song …” rhetorically pleads with those involved in the killing of innocent people and the glorification of such atrocities over the course of The Troubles.  What became known as The Troubles lasted between 1960 and the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998 but in reality, Ireland has seen bloody clashes since the 1600s and continues to see sporadic violence, such as the Massereene Barracks Shooting in 2009.

Throughout Sunday Bloody Sunday, disturbing images of violence abound.  In verse two of the song, “Broken bottles under children’s feet” refers to the combatants’ use of Molotov Cocktails during The Troubles and “Bodies strewn across the dead end street”.  These lines are followed by Bono’s insistence that he affiliates with no side in the conflict and that he and the band are simply against violence:  “But I won’t heed the battle call, It puts my back up, Puts my back up against the wall”.  Later in the song, we see the lines “And the battle’s just begun, There’s many lost but tell me who has won”.   Between 1969 and 2001, 3,526 people were killed as a result of The Troubles.  “The trench is dug within our hearts, And mothers, children, brothers, sisters Torn apart” Bono continues, telling of the devastating effects of death, political and religious difference and imprisonment.  The lines, “Cause tonight, we can be as one, Tonight, Tonight” end this section of the song with a powerful cry for unity and an end to the bloodshed and misery.

In the final verse of the song, Bono tells of the effect of media manipulation on conflicts with the lines “And it’s true we are immune, When fact is fiction and TV reality”.  The band itself grew up in Dublin, Republic of Ireland where the violence of Northern Ireland didn’t impact them in terms of seeing it firsthand but more through media coverage, relating back to the song’s opening lyric, “I can’t believe the news today”.  Therefore, much like most other people listening to the song, he is taking the viewpoint of simply seeing second hand accounts of the violence.  Bono has said of the day of Bloody Sunday in an article for The New York Times in 2010:

“It was a day when my father stopped taking our family across the border to Ulster because, as he said, the “Nordies have lost their marbles”.  And we were a Catholic-Protestant household”.

The band end the last verse of song on a religious note, neatly linking the events in Northern Ireland to Easter Sunday and calling for an end to the violence with the lines, “The real battle just begun, To claim the victory Jesus won on …” before returning to the chorus for the full effect of the “How long …” refrain.  This refrain has been used to great effect in concert during The Troubles and other conflicts around the world, often being played as the final song of the set, with the audience continuing to sing it long after the band have left the stage.  Also greatly effective in live performances was Bono waving a white flag whilst performing the song, both as a call for peace and to ward off unwanted politically-motivated attention for the song.

U2 have returned to the subject of The Troubles several times throughout their career, most notably on the song Please, from 1997’s Pop album. The song is about the ongoing Northern Ireland Peace Process and in particular, the lack of resolution from the talks.  When Please was released as the fourth single from the album, the sleeve featured pictures of four Northern Irish politicians – Gerry Adams, David Trimble, Ian Paisley and John Hume.  In the song’s fourth verse, we find the lines “Your holy war” referring to The Troubles and “Your northern star” referring to Northern Ireland.  These lines are followed by an allusion to car bombs in the lines “Your sermon on the mount, From the boot of your car”.

In the final verse of Please, Bono sings: “September … streets capsizing … Spilling over, down the drain … Shards of glass splinters like rain, But you can only feel your own pain … October … talking getting nowhere … November … December … remember, Are we just starting again?”  These lines juxtapose the difficulties in coming to a peace agreement with images of violence in The Troubles, which were still continuing.

Please could be seen as the sequel to Sunday Bloody Sunday, perhaps approached with more maturity but also more cynicism.  Bono has now gone past the point of screaming for peace and sounds positively exhausted, at his wit’s end pleading with those involved in The Troubles to find a resolution.

Around the same time as Bono penned the lyrics for Please, he and the Edge collaborated with Christy Moore on the equally mournful and pleading North and South of the River, also influenced by The Troubles.  The song was recorded during the Pop sessions and released on the B-side of the album’s second single, Staring at the Sun in 1997.  The band played the song live for the 1998 television benefit for the victims of the Omagh bombing.  To date, this is the only time the song has been played live.

For their All That You Can’t Leave Behind album, released in 2000, the band were inspired by The Troubles once again.  Peace on Earth was directly influenced by the Omagh bombing on the 15th August 1998.  The car bombing was carried out by the Real IRA, an IRA splinter group who opposed the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement.  The bomb killed 29 people and injured about 220 others, making it the highest death toll from a single incident during The Troubles.  Telephoned warnings had been received approximately 40 minutes before the incident but the details conveyed by those responsible were inaccurate and as a result, the police had inadvertently moved people towards the bomb.

During the song, Bono pays tribute to the victims of the bombing, reading out several of the names of people killed in the highly moving verse:  “They’re reading names out over the radio, All the folks the rest of us won’t get to know, Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann and Breda, Their lives are bigger, than any big idea”.  Similarly, the song makes reference to the funeral of victim James Barker in the lines “She never got to say goodbye, To see the colour in his eye, Now he’s in the dirt”.  The Irish Times had quoted James Barker’s mother as saying, “I never realised how green his eyes were”.  Peace on Earth gained further meaning in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks when the band performed the song as an encore, usually coupled with Walk On from the same album, during their Elevation Tour.

After the anger and frustration of Sunday Bloody Sunday and the emotional appeal of Please, Peace on Earth, although also political, finds Bono at crisis point.  In Peace on Earth, Bono expresses that ‘Peace on Earth’ is simply a saying that is thrown around with no actual meaning.  As much as the singer despises war, he finds the concept of people saying that there will be peace on Earth difficult.  Peace on Earth is Bono attempting to come to terms with the seemingly impossible nature of peace.