Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day Four). “Well It’s Alright, We’re Going to the End of the Line”.

The Traveling Wilburys were an English-American supergroup made up of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty.  The band recorded two albums, Traveling Wilburys (Vol. 1) (1988) and the mischievously and misleadingly titled Traveling Wilburys (Vol. 3) (1990).  Orbison died in December 1988, two months after the release of the first album.

Harrison had first mentioned the Traveling Wilburys during a radio interview with Bob Coburn on the Rockline Radio station in February 1988.  In answer to Coburn asking Harrison what he planned to do as a follow up to his 1987 album, Cloud Nine, Harrison replied:  “What I’d really like to do next is … to do an album with me and some of my mates ,,, a few tunes, you know.  Maybe The Traveling Wilburys … it’s this new group I got:  it’s called the Traveling Wilburys, I’d like to do an album with them and later we can do our own albums again”.

The band’s name derived from a slang term first used by Harrison during the recording of Cloud Nine with Lynne as producer.  ‘Wilbury’ referred to any small mistake in the performance, with Harrison saying to Lynne, “We’ll bury ‘em in the mix”.  Harrison originally suggested the name Trembling Wilburys for the band but Lynne suggested Traveling Wilburys, to which all members agreed.

The band name uses the American-English spelling, ‘Traveling’ in order to compliment the American / English membership of the band.  The ‘Wilbury’ joke was extended to the pseudonyms used by the band.  Taking on the guise of the Wilbury brothers, Harrison became Nelson Wilbury; Lynne became Otis Wilbury; Orbison became Lefty Wilbury and Petty became Charlie T. Jr. Wilbury.  Harrison had already used a number of pseudonyms in the past.  Take for example on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).

Additionally, as a session musician, he had gone under names such as L’Angelo Misterioso, George O’Hara and Hari Georgeson.  The five men stated that they were half-brothers and sons of the fictional Charles Truscott Wilbury Sr.  The real names of the band members never appear anywhere on any Traveling Wilburys release.

The band began with a meal between Harrison, Lynne and Orbison.  Shortly afterwards, they convened at Dylan’s home in Malibu, California to record a B-side for Harrison’s single, This Is Love (Cloud Nine, 1987).  Petty’s involvement came by chance due to Harrison leaving his guitar at Petty’s house.  When Harrison went to collect it, he took Petty back with him.  The resulting song was Handle with Care.  Those involved in the recording and Harrison’s record label felt that the song was too good to be thrown away on a single flipside and the five friends set out to record an entire album.  Recording took place in the home and garden of Eurythmics member, Dave Stewart.  Handle with Care is the opening cut on the resulting album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1.

The theme of travelling in the music of the Traveling Wilburys is most prevalent on the band’s second single and closing track of Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, End of the Line.  The single was released in January 1989.  The riding-on-the-rails rhythm of the song compliments the travel by train themed lyrics and the on-the-move nature of the band.  The whole band take on main vocal duties on the song, with the exception of Dylan.  Harrison, Lynne and Orbison take turns in singing the chorus whilst Petty sings the verses.  By the end of the song, the riding-on-the-rails rhythm has expanded into a freight train style rhythm.  Due to the video for the single being shot after the death of Orbison, the band opted to pay tribute to him with a single shot of a guitar sitting in a rocking chair next to a photo of their late friend.  The video shows the band members in a carriage of a steam train playing the song.

The song’s title refers to the train’s last stop whilst the lyrics contain the folk style wisdom derived from the band members’ past experiences.  As the song starts, Harrison takes the lead vocal with backing vocals from the other Wilburys.  The opening chorus sets the scene for the song, portraying the band members as free spirits:  “Well it’s all right, riding around in the breeze, Well it’s all right, if you live the life you please, Well it’s all right, doing the best you can, Well it’s all right, as long as you lend a hand”.

In the first verse, with lead vocals by Petty, the band tell of how they are unconstrained by every day things:  “You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring, Waiting for someone to tell you everything, Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring, Maybe a diamond ring”.

Following this, the second chorus, with lead vocals by Lynne finds the band telling the listener not to take any notice of what anybody else says:  “Well it’s all right, even if they say you’re wrong, Well it’s all right, as long as you got somewhere to lay, Well it’s all right, everyday is Judgement Day”.

Verse two, with lead vocals from Petty, finds the narrator thinking of somebody he has left behind:  “Maybe somewhere down the road aways, You’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days, Maybe somewhere down the road where somebody plays, Purple Haze”.  “Purple Haze” refers to the Jimi Hendrix song, Purple Haze.  Purple Haze was released as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second single in 1967 and was the opening song on the North American edition of his debut album, Are You Experienced?, also released in 1967.  Here, Petty is expecting his muse to associate the song with him whilst she is thinking of him.

The third chorus, with lead vocals by Orbison, continues the joyous celebration of being unfettered by worrying about the troubles of life:  “Well it’s all right, even when push comes to shove, Well it’s all right, if you got someone to love, Well it’s all right, everything’ll work out fine, Well it’s all right, everything’ll work out fine, Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line”.  This verse is poignant due to “the end of the line” being an analogy for death as well as the end of the railway line.

The third verse, with lead vocals by Petty, tells of how the narrator cares little about material possessions and states that he doesn’t even mind if anybody is “by his side”, perhaps meaning a loved one or those who criticise him in general:  “Don’t have to be ashamed of the car I drive, I’m glad to be here, happy to be alive, It don’t matter if you’re by my side, I’m satisfied”.

The fourth chorus, sung by Harrison, begins with the lines, “Well it’s all right, even if you’re old and grey, Well it’s all right, you still got something to say”.  When the band formed, Harrison was 45 years old Dylan and Orbison were even older.  Whilst traditional societies have often emphasised the wisdom of older people, modern rock music usually considers even the relative middle age of 45 as being too old to be relevant.  This verse is notable for being adapted as the theme tune for the BBC series New Tricks (2003 – present) and sung by cast member Dennis Waterman.

As the fourth chorus continues, we find the line “Well it’s all right, remember to live and let live”.  “Live and let live” was the name given to the strategy used by soldiers of both sides in World War One to avoid killing each other if it could be helped, often via the negotiation of truces between low-ranking soldiers.  The war was essentially a pointless one, with the common man not having much to gain or a cause to fight for.  As a result, these truces were quite common.  The most famous truce occurred on Christmas Day, 1914 when the opposing sides took part in a football match.  Unfortunately, such truces were easily broken with high ranking officers organising raids to encourage the violence to start again or disciplining soldiers for cowardice if they objected to killing.  The punishment for cowardice was death.  In the context of this song, however, “live and let live” means something akin to “let sleeping dogs lie”; i.e. live your life without harming others if necessary.  The final line of the fourth chorus, “Well it’s all right, the best you can do is forgive” suggests that we should forgive those who have wronged you in order to be free of bitterness and therefore, happy.

The song comes full circle with the final chorus, with lead vocals by Harrison, which starts with the same two lines found in the first chorus.  The verse continues with the line, “Well it’s all right, even if the sun don’t shine”.  The sun and clouds were reoccurring metaphors in Harrison’s songs, representing peacefulness and clarity.  For the best examples of this, see All Things Must Pass (All Things Must Pass, 1970); …

… Blow Away (George Harrison, 1979) …

… and Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles, 1968).

The song and the journey are neatly brought to a close with the line, “Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line”.

In 2000, End of the Line was used at the close of the last episode of BBC television comedy One Foot in the Grave, Things Aren’t That Simple Anymore.  The song was played over a montage of clips from the lifetime of the show, following the death of its main character, Victor Meldrew.  Interestingly, Eric Idle, who provided provided the liner notes for Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 under the pseudonym Prof. Tiny’ Hampton, wrote and sang the theme tune for One Foot in the Grave.

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: War in Music (Day One). “Hold My Breath As I Wish For Death, Oh God, Please, Wake Me”.

One, from Metallica’s fourth album … And Justice for All (1988) is an anti-war song, written by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, depicting the plight of a World War I soldier as he tries to come to terms with the horrific injuries he has suffered on the battlefield.  The soldier has lost all of his limbs, cannot hear, speak or see.  The inspiration for the song and its music video comes from the 1971 movie Johnny Got His Gun, which was in turn adapted from the 1939 novel of the same name by Dalton Trumbo.  The specific message of the film and novel that inspired One is:  “How could a man lose as much of himself as I have and still live?  When a man buys a lottery ticket, you never expect him to win because it’s a million to one shot.  But if he does win, you’ll believe it because one in a million still leaves one.  If I’d read about a guy like me in the paper, I wouldn’t believe it, cos it’s a million to one.  But a million to ONE always leaves one.  I’d never expect it to happen to me because the odds of it happening are a million to one.  But a million to one always leaves one.  One”.  A startling choice for the third and final single from the album, it marked the band’s breakthrough into the US Billboard Hot 100, reaching number 35, and reached number 13 in the UK singles chart in 1989.  The song went on to earn Metallica the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1990.

The first 17 seconds of the song feature a series of sound effects, an artillery barrage and a helicopter, placing the listener right in the middle of the battlefield on which the soldier in the song suffered his horrific injuries.  Following the song’s cinematic introduction, the lyrics tell of the full horror of the soldier’s situation, with him pleading to be put out of his misery.   The first verse introduces us to the soldier, lying in his hospital bed, who “Can’t tell if this is true or dream”.  “Now that the war is through with me, I’m waking up, I cannot see, That there is not much left of me, Nothing is real but pain now” continues singer James Hetfield, showing us the full horror of the soldier, though blind, realising that his injuries are probably as bad as they could possibly be.  The first chorus of “Hold my breath as I wait for death, Oh please, God, please wake me” finds the soldier feeling that he would be better off dead than in his predicament.  The lyrics of the chorus were directly inspired by a scene in Johnny Got His Gun where the soldier attempts to take his own life by refusing to breathe.

As the song continues, the lyrics grow increasingly darker, with the soldier contemplating what existence he will have following his life-altering injuries.  “Back to the womb that’s much too real”, sings Hetfield at the beginning of the second verse.  This disturbing image depicts the soldier’s current state of being like a foetus in the womb.  As the verse continues, we are presented with images of the soldier being kept alive by hospital machinery in the line, “In pumps life that I must feel”.  The only sensation that he now knows is pain and his life support machine only causes him to feel more of it.  The lines “Can’t look forward to reveal, Look to the time when I’ll live” state how bleak the soldier’s future will be.  It seems that he will never ‘live’ again in terms of interacting with the world around him.  More disturbing images follow with the lyrics “Fed through the tube that sticks in me, Just like a wartime novelty” telling of how disgusted the soldier is with the feeding tube that keeps him alive and forces him to live with more pain.  He regards the tube as a vile souvenir from his time in the Army.  The final lines of the second verse, “Tied to machines that make me be, Cut this life off from me” refer to the fact that now the soldier can only exist by power of the machinery that surrounds him, he wants to be rid of it.

In verse three, the heavier section of the song, we find the soldier terrified upon realising that he has lost most of his senses, including his sight:  “Darkness imprisoning me, All that I see, Absolute horror”.   “I cannot live, I cannot die, Trapped in myself, body my holding cell”, the song continues.  The soldier can never truly live again but is prevented from dying.  His useless body is now merely a prison for his consciousness.

In the final verse of the song, “Landmine has taken my sight, Taken my speech, Taken my hearing, Taken my arms, Taken my legs, Taken my soul, Left me with life in hell”, we are given a final summary of the catastrophic damage inflicted on the soldier.  The trauma of unrelenting pain has deprived him of any joy or positive feelings, “taking his soul”, leaving him to spend the rest of his days in endless misery and torment.

When coupled with the video for the song, the message of One is made even more powerful.  One was the first Metallica song to have a music video.  Directed by Bill Pope and Michael Salomon, the video is almost all in black and white and features dialogue and several scenes from the movie of Johnny Got His Gun.  The video stars Timothy Bottoms as Joe Bonham, the main character in the novel.  The quote at the start of the video, “For democracy, any man would give his begotten son” poses the question of what the price of war can do for the cause of preserving the freedoms held in America.  Much of the … And Justice for All album is highly critical of these freedoms, see also Eye of the Beholder.

When Metallica appeared on The Howard Stern Show in September 2013, James Hetfield said that rather than being just an anti-war song, One is an observation:  “War is a part of man”, he said, “We’re just writing about it.  It’s not good or bad, it’s just a thing”.  Hetfield went on to explain that the character in the song reminded him of himself due to the singer’s troubled childhood.  He said that he often felt like a “prisoner in [his] own body”, with no means of escape.  Hetfield’s father walked out on the family when he was 13 and his mother died a few years later.

One quickly became a favourite amongst fans and has been a staple of Metallica’s concerts since it was written.  The song showed its versatility when it became possibly the greatest of the many highlights of the S&M project with The San Francisco Orchestra, conducted by Michael Kamen in 1999.

Song of the Day: Crime in Music (Day Four). “ … And the Filth Get Promoted but They’re still Doing Time for Being Irish in the Wrong Place and At the Wrong Time”.

The Birmingham Six were six men (Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker) who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the Birmingham pub bombings.  Their convictions were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and quashed by the Court of Appeal on 14th March 1991.  The six men were later awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.

The story of the Birmingham Six began on the 21st November 1974, when two bombs exploded in two separate Birmingham pubs; the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda at 8.25pm and the Tavern in the Town, a basement pub in New Street, at 8.27pm.  21 people were killed (ten at the Mulberry Bush and eleven at the Tavern in the Town) and 182 people were injured, making the attacks collectively the most injurious and serious attacks in Great Britain since World War II.  A third device was placed outside a bank in Hagley Road but failed to detonate.

Six men were arrested, five of whom were Belfast-born Roman Catholics, whilst John Walker was born in Derry.  All six had lived in Birmingham since the 1960s.  Five of the men (Hill, Hunter, McIlkenny, Power and Walker) had left the city early on the evening of the 21st November from New Street Station, shortly before the explosions.  They were travelling to Belfast to attend the funeral of James McDade, an IRA member who had accidentally killed himself whilst planting a bomb in Coventry.  Hill also intended to see an aunt in Belfast who was ill and not expected to live.  Callaghan saw them off at the station.

Upon reaching Heysham, they and others were subject to a Special Branch stop and Search.  The men did not tell the police of the true purpose of their visit to Belfast, something which was later held against them.  Whilst the search was in progress, the police were informed of the Birmingham bombings.  The men agreed to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.

On the morning of the 22nd November, after the forensic tests had taken place and the men had been questioned at the hands of the Morecambe Police, the men were transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit.  William Power alleged that he was assaulted by members of Birmingham Criminal Investigation Department.  Also on the 22nd November, Callaghan was brought into custody.

Whilst the men were in the custody of the West midlands Police, they were deprived of food and sleep and were sometimes interrogated for up to 12 hours without a break.  Threats were also made against the men and they endured beatings ranging from punches, dogs being let within a foot of them and being made the subjects of a mock execution.  Billy Power confessed whilst in Morecambe and Hugh Callaghan, John Walker and Richard McIlkenny confessed at Queens Road in Aston with Paddy Hill and Gerry Hunter not signing any documents.

On the 12th May 1975, the six men were charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions.  Three other men, James Kelly, Michael Murray and Michael Sheehan, were charged with conspiracy and Kelly and Sheehan also faced charges of unlawful possession of explosives.

The trial of the Birmingham Six started on the 9th June 1975 at Lancaster Crown Court before Justice Bridge and a jury.  After legal arguments, the statements made in November, the unreliability of which was subsequently established, were deemed admissible as evidence.   Thomas Watt provided circumstantial evidence about John Walker’s association with Provisional IRA members.

Forensic scientist Dr Frank Skuse used positive Greiss test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives, whilst Callaghan, Hunter, McIlkenny and Walker all tested negative.  GCMS tests at a later date were negative for Power and contradicted the initial results for Hill.  Skuse’s claim that he was 99% certain that Power and Hill had explosives traces on their hands was opposed by defence expert Dr Hugh Kenneth Black of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, the former HM Chief Inspector of Explosives, Home Office.  Skuse’s evidence was clearly preferred by Bridge.  The jury found the six men guilty of murder.  On the 15th August 1975, the Birmingham Six were sentenced to 21 life sentences each.

On the 28th November 1974, the men appeared in court for a second time after they had been remanded into custody at HM Prison, Birmingham.  Each of the men showed bruising and other signs of ill-treatment.  Fourteen prison officers were charged with assult in June 1975, but all were acquitted at a trial presided over by Mr Justice Swanwick.  In 1977, the six men brought a civil claim for damages against the West Midlands Police.  This claim was struck out on the 17th January by the Court of Appeal, constituted by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, Goff LJ and Sir George Baker, under the principle of estoppel.

During proceedings, prison officers and police were blamed for the beatings.  A prisoner released from prison two weeks after the Birmingham Six started their sentence testified to the beatings the six men had received.

In March 1976, their first application for leave to appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, presided over by Lord Widgery CJ.  In 1985, Granada TV broadcast the first of several World in Action programmes casting doubt on the men’s convictions.  In 1986, Journalist Chris Mullin, who investigated the case for World in Action, also published the book Error of Judgement: The Truth About the Birmingham Pub Bombings, which set out a detailed case supporting the men’s claims that they were innocent.  In the book, Mullin claimed to have met some of those who were actually responsible for the bombings.

The Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd MP, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.  In January 1988, following a six week hearing (at that point in time the longest appeal hearing ever held), the convictions were ruled to be safe and satisfactory.  The Court of Appeal, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane dismissed the appeals.  Over the next three years, newspaper articles, television documentaries and books all presented new evidence questioning the safety of the convictions, whilst campaign groups were formed in Britain, Ireland, Europe and the US calling for the men’s release.

In 1991, their second full appeal took place.  Hunter was represented by Lord Gifford QC, whilst others were represented by human rights solicitor Gareth Peirce.  New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence was presented.  Additionally, the condemnation with regards to the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence caused the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals.  The Court of Appeal, constituted by Lord Justices Lloyd, Mustill and Farquharson , stated of the forensic evidence that “Dr Skuse’s conclusion was wrong, and demonstrably wrong, judged even by the state of forensic science in 1974.

The success of the appeals, as well as other miscarriages of justice, caused the Home Secretary to set up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991.  The commission reported in 1993 and led to the Criminal Act 1995 which established the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997.  Superintendent George Reade and two other police officers were charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but were never prosecuted.  Richard McIlkenny died of cancer in Dublin on the 21st May 2006.

Shane MacGowan and Terry Woods, songwriters with the Irish folk / punk band The Pogues,  wrote the song Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six based on the plight of the Birmingham Six and included it on the band’s 1988 album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.  The song is split into two parts, the first of which, Streets of Sorrow, written and sung by Woods, describes the emotions felt on the streets of Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles.  The song is told from the perspective of somebody leaving Northern Ireland because of the increasing levels of violence and conflict.  The narrator states that he will never return “to feel more sorrow, nor to see more young men slain”.

The second part of the song, Birmingham Six, written and sung by MacGowan, is a demonstration of support to the Birmingham Six (as well as to the Guildford Four, who were similarly victims of a miscarriage of justice, having been accused of the Guildford Pub Bombings).  The song tells of how the confessions of the six men had been extracted by torture at the hands of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, claiming “There were six men in Birmingham, In Guildford there’s four, That were picked up and tortured, And framed by the law, And the filth got promotion, But they’re still doing time, For being Irish in the wrong place, And at the wrong time”.  Whilst this was later proven to be the case, at the time that the song was written, the people mentioned in the song were still convicted and still in prison.

Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six was highly controversial.  When the band performed the song on Channel 4’s Friday Night Live on the 15th April 1988, the programme cut to a commercial break before the end of the song.  The song was quickly banned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) under the same laws which were responsible for a ban on the broadcasting of direct interviews with members of Sinn Fein and other groups, as they worried that it might have invited support for a terrorist organisation such as the IRA.  After the Birmingham Six had their convictions overturned in 1991, the ban on the song was lifted.

Interviews with the Birmingham Six can be seen on this ITV documentary, World in Action Special: The Birmingham Six – Their Own Story, transmitted on the 18th March 1991: