Life in Tokyo: Ten Songs About Japan. Sada Abe is Arrested After Wandering the Streets of Tokyo for Days with Her Dead Lover’s Severed Genitals in her Handbag. Her Story Soon Becomes One of Japan’s Most Notorious Scandals. This Day in History, 21/05/1936.

1.  Japan ‘Life in Tokyo’

(from the album Quiet Life, 1979).

2.  The Cure ‘Kyoto Song’

(from the album The Head on the Door, 1985).

3.  The Vapours ‘Turning Japanese’

(from the album New Clear Days, 1980).

4.  Clean Bandit ‘Rather Be’

(from the album New Eyes, 2014).

5.  Elvis Costello ‘Tokyo Storm Warning’

(from the album Blood and Chocolate, 1986).

6.  Tom Waits ‘Big in Japan’

(from the album Mule Variations, 1999).

7.  Manic Street Preachers ‘(I Miss the) Tokyo Skyline’

(from the album Rewind the Film, 2013).

8.  Eurythmics ‘I’ve Got A Lover (Back in Japan)’

(from the album Savage, 1987).

9.  Heaven 17 ‘Geisha Boys and Temple Girls’

(from the album Penthouse and Pavement, 1981).

10. Blur ‘Yuko and Hiro’

(from the album The Great Escape, 1995).

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Seven). “It’s All Too Beautiful”.

Released as a single in 1967, Itchycoo Park by The Small Faces is a tale of skipping school and taking drugs in the park.  But is that all Itchycoo Park is about?  Sure, The Small Faces made other references to drugs in their music.  Take for example, the band’s previous single, Here Come the Nice (1967), with its overt references to taking speed with “the nice” being the drug dealer: “He makes me feel like no-one else could, He knows what I want, He’s got what I need, He’s always there, if I need some speed”.   Speed was a popular drug in the 1960’s, particularly with the Mods.  Like most bands in the late 1960’s, the Small Faces had effortlessly fallen into the drug culture of the time, regularly using speed and the new creative drug of choice, LSD, which is often said to have informed the content of Itchycoo Park.  Under the influence of infamously over-controlling manager Don Arden, it is doubtful that the Here Come the Nice single would have ever seen the light of day but new manager Andrew Loog Oldham, he of Rolling Stones fame, had no qualms releasing the single on his Immediate record label.  Here Come the Nice reached number 12 in the UK singles chart in June 1967 whilst Britain was fully in the grips of the flower power culture.

“The life we was living, if you didn’t have a few dubes, you couldn’t do it, you know.  We were up and down the motorways eight days a week.  Our drug of choice was hash actually, we used to smoke all the time … Steve particularly wanted to turn everybody on, but it was a secret, you know”.

– Ian McLagan, Jukebox Heroes, BBC, 2001.

For the follow up single to Here Come the Nice, the band took the name Itchycoo Park from the nickname of Little Ilford Park on Church Road in the London suburb of Manor Park, where singer, guitarist and co-songwriter Steve Marriott grew up.  Little Ilford Park was where members of the band used to go whilst playing truant from school, hence the lines: “You can miss out school, won’t that be cool?  Why go to learn to the words of fools”.  The park is referred to as Itchycoo Park because of the stinging nettles which grew there. The appeal of the song in no small part comes from the fact that everybody knows an ‘Itchycoo Park’, so much so that there is some dispute within the band as to which park the song refers to.  Drummer Kenney Jones told NME in 2014:

“Itchycoo Park was the bomb ruins, in the East End, where I used to play and we all had short trousers as kids and then there was these great big stinging nettles, you know, really horrible, the big ones, you know, and when they stung you, God, it was terrible so it was itchy, so itchycoo.  In fact, all of us had an Itchycoo Park around us.  Steve Marriott had one in Ilford, which was called Itchycoo Park and there’s another one in the city that I found as well.  So there’s a few around.  But my one was the bomb ruins”.

Whilst this meaning of the song is more widely known, the actual starting point for the song came from bassist and co-songwriter Ronnie Lane reading a magazine article on the virtues of Oxford, which mentioned its “dreaming spires”.  Whilst the song tapped firmly into the drug culture of the time with lines such as “What did you do there?  I got high”, Itchycoo Park is actually more about education and privilege.  Whilst the line “Under dreaming spires” refers to Oxford, the opening line of the song, “Over Bridge of Sighs” refers to Cambridge.

“Itchycoo Park basically came to me.  I lifted it from a hymn, God Be in My Head, and I also got the theme to the words in a hotel in Bath or Bristol.  There was a magazine in the room with a rambling account of some place in the country and it was about ‘dreaming spires’ and a ‘bridge of sighs’ – there was a write-up on this town – and I just thought they were nice lines”.

– Ronnie Lane, Record Hunter magazine, 1991.

The message of Itchycoo Park is that the band didn’t need privilege or education when they could find beauty in the local park.  The band made many protestations that the song was not in any way about drugs; much like John Lennon continually said that The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967) wasn’t about drugs.  In an interview with Creem magazine in 1975, Steve Marriott said of the song:

“The thing about Itchycoo Park was that the era was wrong, and the word ‘high’ freaked everybody out.  All the radio stations.  But that song was real.  Ronnie Lane and I used to go to a park called Itchycoo Park.  I swear to God.  We used to bunk off school and groove there.  We got high, but we didn’t smoke.  We just got high from not going to school”.

Talking about the song to Uncut magazine in an interview alongside drummer Kenney Jones in 2014, keyboardist Ian McLagan said:

“I never liked Itchycoo Park because me and Ronnie had to sing, “It’s all too beautiful” and you sing that a few times, and you think … It’s not”.

Upon the single’s release, it was immediately banned by the BBC because of what they deemed to be overt drug references in lines such as “What did you do there?  I got high” and “I feel inclined to blow my mind, get hung up, feed the ducks with a bun, They all come out to groove about, Be nice and have fun in the sun”.  In order to get this ban lifted, Andrew Loog Oldham’s business partner, Tony Calder explained to the BBC that the song had a perfectly innocent meaning.  In Paolo Hewitt and John Hellier’s biography of Steve Marriott, All Too Beautiful (2009), Calder says:

“We told the BBC Itchycoo Park was a waste ground in the East End which the band played on as kids.  We put the story out at ten and by lunchtime we were told the ban was off”.

The fears of the BBC and questions over its perceived advocation of drug use only went to strengthen the song’s performance in the UK charts, reaching number 3 in August 1967.  Despite the success of Itchycoo Park, the band themselves weren’t happy with the song being released as the follow up to Here Come the Nice.  Kenney Jones told NME in 2014:

“Itchycoo Park was a song that we did that we didn’t particularly want to release.  It was whilst we were away in Germany, Andrew Oldham, who made hit records, went in the studio and sort of dug through the stuff we were doing and we were away at the time.  And then, it got released, we didn’t realise it was being released, so that’s how that came about, you know.  We’d only done the song for a laugh really … it was a lovely song but not the ones that we wanted to be known for, because it was a bit commercial and stuff.  A great song, don’t get me wrong.  We didn’t get a say in what we released so that’s wrong for a start, along with Lazy Sunday.  All we were trying to do was shake this teeny bop pop image that we had and we just couldn’t shake it for the life of us and so that was kind of another nail in our coffin the fact that that was put out, when we really wanted to put out songs we were doing like Here Come the Nice and Tin Soldier”.

The biggest achievement of Itchycoo Park is that whilst it is steeped in childhood recollection of bunking off school and one of the band’s favourite hang outs as children, it is also very much a song of its time.  Even if you weren’t there during the empowerment of youth and counterculture revolution of the 1960’s, the Small Faces somehow manage to take you there in the space of a 3 minute pop song.  This is in no small part helped by the song’s apathy towards educational establishments and disdain for authority. Over the years, the band may have been coy with regards to the allusions to drug use in Itchycoo Park, but this, other than it just being a great song, is one of the many things that has helped the song’s longevity.

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 Four). “Oh Manchester, So Much to Answer for …”

Suffer Little Children, the final song on The Smith’s self-titled debut album (1984), is a chilling and sombre account of The Moors Murders, carried out by Myra Hindley and Ian Brady between July 1963 and October 1965.  It would be a further year before Hindley and Brady confessed to the murders and the full extent of the crimes that inspired Suffer Little Children would come to light.  At the time of the song’s writing and release, Hindley and Brady had both maintained their innocence and had not told the police about two of the murders, hence Suffer Little Children only including the names of three of the victims.

“Over the moor, take me to the moor, Dig a shallow grave, And I’ll lay me down”

The first victim of the killer couple was the 16 year old Pauline Reade, Hindley’s neighbour.  Reade had disappeared on her way to a dance at the British Railways Club in Gorton, Manchester, on the 12th July 1963.  On the same evening, Brady had told Hindley that he wanted to “commit his perfect murder”.  He told Hindley to drive her van around the local area whilst he followed on his motorcycle.  Upon spotting the victim for “his perfect murder”, he would flash his headlights and Hindley was to stop to offer that person a lift.

Driving down Gorton Lane, Brady saw a young girl walking towards them and signalled Hindley to stop, which she did not do until she had passed the girl.  Brady stopped his motorbike alongside Hindley’s van and demanded to know why she had not offered the girl a lift, to which Hindley replied that she recognised the girl as Marie Ruck, a neighbour of her mother’s.

Shortly after this failed attempt, at around 8pm, the couple were driving down Froxmer Street when Brady noticed a girl wearing a pale blue coat and white high-heeled shoes walking away from them.  Brady once again signalled for Hindley to stop.  Upon stopping, Hindley recognised the girl as Pauline Reade, a friend of her younger sister, Maureen.  Reade accepted a lift from Hindley.  Hindley told Reade that she had lost an expensive glove on Saddleworth Moor and asked if she would mind helping her to find it.  Reade said she was in no hurry and agreed to helping Hindley.

Reade was 16 years old, a few years older than their intended first victim, Maria Ruck.  Hindley realised that there would be slightly less commotion over the death of a teenager than there would be over a child of seven or eight.  Upon reaching the moor, Hindley stopped her van and Brady arrived shortly afterwards on his motorcycle.  She introduced him to Reade as her boyfriend and said he had also come to find the missing glove.  When questioned, Hindley told the police that Brady had taken Reade onto the moor whilst Hindley waited in the van.  After about 30 minutes, Brady returned alone and took Hindley to the place where Reade lay dying.  Her throat had been cut twice with a large knife, with the larger of these wounds being across her voice box.  The collar of Reade’s coat had been pushed into the wound in a deliberate fashion.

Whilst Brady had gone to find the spade which he had hidden nearby to bury the body, Hindley told of how she had noticed that Reade’s coat was undone and her clothes were untidy, leading Hindley to guess that Brady had sexually assaulted her.  However, Brady’s account of the murder differs greatly.  Brady claimed that Hindley was present at the crime scene and that she even took part in the sexual assault.  After burying Reade’s body, Brady put his motorcycle in the back of Hindley’s van.   Whilst returning home, Hindley and Brady passed Reade’s mother, Joan, who was accompanied by her son, Paul.  Hindley and Brady stopped to help Joan search the streets for her daughter.

Oh John, you’ll never be a man, And you’ll never see your home again”.

The second victim of The Moors Murders was 12 year old John Kilbride.  Hindley and Brady approached Kilbride at a market in Ashton-Under-Lyne in the early evening of the 23rd of November 1963.  The couple offered Kilbride a lift home, telling him that his parents would be worried about him being out so late.  They bribed Kilbride with a bottle of sherry and he got into the Ford Anglia car that Hindley had recently hired.  Once in the car, Brady told Kilbride that the sherry was at the couple’s home and that they would have to make a detour to collect it before dropping him home.  Once they were on their way, Brady suggested another detour to search for a glove which he said Hindley had lost on the moor.  Upon reaching the moor, Brady took to the child with him to supposedly search for Hindley’s glove whilst Hindley waited in the car.  Brady sexually assaulted Kilbride and attempted to slit his throat with a 6-inch serrated blade before eventually strangling him with a piece of string, possibly a shoelace.

“A woman said: “I know my son is dead, I’ll never rest my hands on his sacred head.””

The third victim was Keith Bennett, who vanished from his grandmother’s house in Longsight, Manchester, during the early evening of 16th June, 1964, four days after his twelfth birthday.  Hindley asked Bennett for his help in loading some boxes into her Mini pick-up truck and told him that she would drive him home afterwards.  Once she had lured him into the pick-up truck, she drove to a lay-by on Saddleworth Moor, where Brady was waiting.  Once again, Bennett was told that Hindley had lost a glove and she had asked for his help in finding it.  Brady went with Bennett to find the fictitious glove.  Hindley kept watch until 30 minutes later when Brady reappeared, alone and carrying a spade which had been hidden there earlier.  When Hindley asked Brady how he had killed Bennett, he said he had sexually assaulted him and strangled him with a piece of string.

“Lesley Ann, with your pretty white beads”.

On the 26th December 1964, Hindley and Brady went to a local fairground in search of another victim.  They noticed Lesley Ann Downey standing beside one of the rides.  After realising Downey was on her own, they approached the 10 year old girl and deliberately dropped some of the shopping they were carrying close to her.  They asked for Downey’s help in carrying the shopping to the couple’s car and then to their home.  Downey agreed and once back at Hndley and Brady’s home, she was undressed, gagged and forced to pose for photographs before being raped and killed.  It is suspected that like the previous two victims, Downey was strangled with a piece of string.

When questioned about the murder, Hindley maintained that she had gone to fill a bath for the child and on returning found the girl dead, killed by Brady.  However, Brady stated that it was Hindley who killed Downey.  The morning after the murder, Hindley and Brady drove Downey’s body to Saddleworth Moor and buried her, naked with her clothes at her feet, in a shallow grave.

“Edward, see those alluring lights?  Tonight will be your very last night”.

The final victim of the couple was 17 year old engineer Edward Evans.  On the 6th October 1965, Brady had met Evans at Manchester Central Railway Station.  Hindley had driven Brady to Manchester Central Station and waited outside whilst Brady selected their victim.  After a few minutes, Brady reappeared with Evans, introducing Hindley as his sister.  Brady invited Evan’s back to the couple’s home at 16 Wardle Brook Avenue in Hattersley, Manchester for a drink, where Brady beat him to death with an axe.

This murder was to prove to be the couple’s undoing, as now becoming cocky and complacent, Brady had attempted to recruit Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith into their murderous plans.  When the couple had arrived home with Evans, Brady had sent Hindley to fetch Smith.  On returning with Smith, Hindley told Smith to wait outside for her signal, a flashing light.  After the signal, Smith knocked on the door and was met by Brady who asked him if he come for “the miniature bottles of wine”.  Brady led Smith into the kitchen and left him there, saying that he was going to collect the wine.  A few minutes later, Smith heard a scream followed by Hindley shouting loudly for him to come and help.  Smith rushed into the living room to the sight of Brady repeatedly striking Evans over the head with the flat of an axe.  He watched in shock as Brady then throttled his victim with a length of electrical cord.  During the process of killing Evans, Brady had sprained his ankle and the body was too heavy for Smith to take to the car on his own.  They therefore wrapped the body in plastic sheeting and put it in the spare bedroom.  Smith agreed to help Brady to dispose of Evans’s body the following evening.  He went home and, horrified at what he had witnessed, told his wife, Maureen, what he had seen.  The couple called the police from a public phone box at 6.07am the morning after the murder, the police searched the house and found the body of Edward Evans and Hindley and Brady were arrested.

When interrogated about the events, Hindley said “Whatever Ian has done, I have done”, alluded to in Suffer Little Children with the line “Wherever he has gone, I have gone”.  Upon sentencing the couple to life imprisonment, the judge, Mr Justice Atkinson described Brady and Hindley as “two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity”.

“Oh, find me … find me, nothing more, We are on a sullen misty moor …” 

Initially, the police were only aware of three killings, those of Edward Evans, Lesley Ann Downey and John Kilbride.  The investigation was reopened in 1985 after Brady was reported in the press as having confessed to the murders of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett.  Hindley and Brady were taken separately to Saddleworth Moor to assist the police in their search for the bodies of Reade and Bennett, by then having both confessed to their murders.

Hindley was characterised by the press worldwide as “the most evil woman in Britain”.  She made several attempts to have her life sentence overturned, claiming that she was reformed and no longer a danger to society, but was never released.  Hindley died in 2002, aged 60 years old.  Brady was declared criminally insane in 1985 and has since been confined to the high security Ashworth Hospital.  He has made it clear that he never wants to be released and has repeatedly asked that he be allowed to die.

At the time of the murders, Morrissey was a child himself, being 4 years old in 1963, making the youngest victims not too much older than him.  The reaction in Manchester was one of horror and disbelief that such acts could happen and also that one of the perpetrators was a woman, perhaps why the song focuses more on Hindley than Brady.  In Suffer Little Children, Morrissey may allude to the shock felt that one of the perpetrators was a woman in the phrase “Hindley wakes …” Hindle Wakes is 1910 play by Stanley Houghton (which has since seen various film versions).  The play criticises the patriarchal society’s view that women, unlike men, are not governed by the laws of nature, primarily those related to sexual desires.  Therefore, by referring to the title of the play with the phrase “Hindley wakes”, Morrissey may be extending this criticism to include many peoples’ beliefs, particularly at the time of Hindley’s arrest, that a woman is not naturally capable of horrors such as the Moors Murders or that she could not have been a conscious participant, instead being manipulated by the man.

Morrissey wrote Suffer Little Children after reading Emlyn Williams’s book Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and its Detection (1967).  It was one of the first songs that lyricist Morrissey wrote with guitarist Johnny Marr.  The title of the song is taken from the Gospel of Matthew 19:14 in which Jesus rebukes his disciples for turning away a group of children by saying, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven”.

Suffer Little Children caused much controversy at the time of its release, particularly when placed in context of an album on which the opening song, Reel Around The Fountain, was said by many, including the press, to allude to a homosexual and potentially paedophilic relationship (“It’s time the tale were told, Of how you took a child, And you made him old”).

Similarly controversial at the time was track 5, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which the press also suggested was about paedophilia.  These claims have been strongly denied by the band.

Suffer Little Children cause more controversy when it was featured on the B-side of the single Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984).  The single featured an image of 1960’s pools winner Viv Nicholson who bore more than a passing resemblance to Myra Hindley, something that many newspapers picked up on.  As a result, the single and album were both withdrawn from sale by some retailers, including Woolworths and Boots.  Despite this, Morrissey later struck up a close friendship with Ann West, the mother of victim Lesley Ann Downey, after she accepted that the band’s intentions had been entirely honourable.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Two): “New York is the Place Where …”

Right from the early days of The Velvet Underground, Brooklyn born Lou Reed had taken the location, people and elements of New York, usually the darker elements, and put them to a unique musical backdrop in order to tell a story.  Take for example, I’m Waiting for the Man from Velvet Underground and Nico (1967), a song about purchasing $26 worth of heroin in a Harlem brownstone near the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street, written from the perspective of the purchaser.

In the late 1960s, Reed (along with other members of The Velvet Underground:  John Cale, Stirling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, together with Nico) was a regular at Andy Warhol’s Factory.  In 1966, Warhol set his sights on the world of rock music, sponsoring The Velvet Underground.  From The Factory, Reed drew inspiration for many of the Velvet Underground’s songs, setting the ‘low life’ characters that were an integral part of the scene and the goings on inside The Factory to music.  Take for example, Heroin (from Velvet Underground and Nico) and later, Candy Says (from The Velvet Underground, 1968).

Candy Says is a precursor to the themes expressed on one of Reed’s best known songs, Walk on the Wild Side, from his 1972 David Bowie produced classic, Transformer.  Candy Says tells the story of Candy Darling, a transgender Warhol Superstar who starred in Warhol’s films Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971).  Four years after Candy Says, Darling would also become one of Reed’s muses for Walk on the Wild Side.

Jayne County said of Reed’s transfixation with characters such as Candy Darling:

“Lou Reed was fascinated with trannies, transsexuals particularly.  He loved transvestites, he’s fascinated with transvestites.  But Lou, at one time actually had a girlfriend called Rachel and she was a transsexual.  It’s only natural that Lou would write a song where three of the characters are drag queens”.

Reed struggled with his own sexuality throughout most of his life.  When he was 16, his parents consented to Reed being given electroconvulsive therapy in an attempt to cure his homosexual feelings.  Reed appeared to blame his father for what he had been put through and wrote about the incident in his 1974 song Kill Your Sons, from the album Sally Can’t Dance.

In an interview with Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain for the book Please Kill Me:  An Uncensored Oral History of Punk (1996), Reed said of the electroconvulsive therapy:

“They put this thing down your throat so you don’t swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head.  That’s what was recommended in Rockland State Hospital to discourage homosexual feelings.  The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable.  You can’t read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again”.

For Walk on the Wild Side, Reed remembered the transsexuals and transvestites of Warhol’s Factory scene and painted a tale of how they had come to be in New York.  In the first verse of the song, we are introduced to Holly:  “Holly came from Miami, FLA”.  Holly refers to Holly Woodlawn, a transvestite born Haraldo Santiago Franeschi Rodriguez Danhakl, born in Puerto Rico, 1946 who “Hitched hiked her way across the USA, Plucked her eyebrows on the way, Shaved her legs and then he was a she”.  Holly is best remembered for starring in Warhol’s film Trash (1970) alongside Joe Dallesandro, whom I shall mention later.

In the second verse, we see Candy Darling return into Reed’s songwriting:  “Candy came from out on the Island”.  Transsexual Candy Darling was born James Lawrence Slattery on Long Island, New York in 1944.  Candy Darling died of cancer in 1974.

In the third verse, “Little Joe” who “never once gave it away” refers to Joe Dallesandro, born in Pensacols, Florida in 1948.  Dallesandro was the ‘straight’ butch Brooklyn street kid who had turned to gay hustling before his discovery by Warhol and director Paul Morrissey, hence the lines, “A hustle here and a hustle there, New York City is the place where …”  Warhol and Morrissey used Dallesandro’s universal sex appeal to their advantage in several full-length cinema projects, most notably Lonesome Cowboys (1968); Trash (1970) and Heat (1972).  Later Dallesandro crossed over into mainstream films, playing the part of Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano in The Cotton Club (1984) alongside Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins.  He is now considered to be an icon of underground cinema and of gay subculture.

“Sugar Plum Fairy” in verse four, refers to actor Joe Campbell and not to a drug dealer, as often mistakenly thought by listeners.  Campbell, who’s nickname was the “Sugar Plum Fairy” appeared in a few of Warhol’s films, including My Hustler (1965) and Nude Restaurant (1967).  Campbell was also known for being in a relationship with openly gay politician Harvey Milk.  Campbell passed away in 2005 following a lengthy battle with AIDS.

“Jackie is just speeding away, Thought she was James Dean for a day …” refers to drag queen Jackie Curtis.  Curtis was born John Holder Jr. In 1947 and performed both in and out of drag in films, most notably Warhol’s Flesh and Women in Revolt, as well as onstage.  He was also a prolific writer.  Curtis has also been credited for, in some part, inspiring the glam rock movement of the 1970’s due to his use of lipstick, glitter, bright red hair and ripped dresses and stockings during drag performances.  Warhol once described Curtus as follows:  “Jackie Curtis is not a drag queen.  Jackie is an artist.  A pioneer without a frontier”.  Curtis was also a heavy drug user, hence the aforementioned lines alluding to speed and its effects and the following lines, “Then I guess she had to crash, Valium would have helped that bash”.  Curtis succumbed to his addiction to heroin and various other drugs and died following an overdose in 1985.

Amazingly, for a song that concerns itself with such subject matter and contains phrases such as “giving head”, Walk on the Wild Side was never banned by the BBC or by most US radio stations because they simply did not understand the references.  Walk on the Wild Side did however see some edited versions at the time, but instead of taking out the reference to oral sex, various edits replace the line “And the coloured girls say” with “And the girls all say”.  This could simply just be because many radio stations in 1972 were limited to a time frame of 3 to 3 and a half minutes per song, which the full version of Walk on the Wild Side lasts 4 minutes and 12 seconds.  Speaking about Walk on the Wide Side in Victor Bokris’s biography Transformer:  The Lou Reed Story (1994), Reed said:  “I always thought it would be kind of fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet”.

Reed continued to use the backdrop of New York and its people, often those caught on the outside of society, in his songs throughout his career.  The Transformer album notably features several songs written about the New York scene that he loved, including Andy’s Chest, a song with a Dadaist lyrical structure written for Andy Warhol following his failed assassination attempt by Valerie Solanas in 1968.

The album also notably includes New York Telephone Conversation, a rather sarcastic song about the spreading of tittle-tattle by telephone in “the city of shows”.

Later in his career, Reed would use the imagery of New York, still using inhabitants regarded as ‘low life’, to great effect on his 1989 album New York.  Whilst the New York album is highly regarded for the strength and force of its lyrics, it drew much criticism at the time for its apparent pedestrian “truck driver” musicianship.  However, the music of the New York album is purposely simplistic in order to not distract from the frankness of the lyrical content.  Throughout the fourteen songs featured on the album, the lyrics are profuse and carefully woven into a concept album.  In the liner notes for the album, Reed directs the listener to hear the album in one sitting “as though it were a book or a movie”.

On New York, an older Reed seemed more much more bitter towards his once beloved city.  Take for example, the lyrics in one of the album’s tales of life in a New York Slum, Dirty Blvd.  “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ‘em, That’s what the statue of bigotry says, Your poor huddled masses, Let’s club ‘em to death, And get it over with and just dump them on the boulevard”, says Reed with more than a hint of sarcastic anger.  These lines are a play on the 1883 poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, which in 1903 was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the second verse of which reads:

“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!””

Elsewhere on the New York album, we find the song Romeo Had Juliette, a song about New York’s hopeless, hopeful, innocent, violent and greedy.  Romeo Had Juliette is a dark and bitter modern day take on Romeo and Juliet but also a poem to the beautiful but dirty and wrecked city that Reed adored, complete with the awe-inspiring opening lines, “Caught between the twisted stars, The plotted lines, the faulty map, That brought Columbus to New York”.  Elsewhere, Reed tells of how “Manhattan’s sinking like a rock, Into the filthy Hudson, what a shock, They wrote a book about it, They said it was like ancient Rome”, expressing Reed’s concerns that like Ancient Rome, New York had become too big for its own good.

Also on the album is the song Halloween Parade, about the annual gay celebration in Greenwich Village and to all intents and purposes, a dark sequel to Walk on the Wild Side.  Halloween Parade is a post-AIDS crisis tribute to those who had fallen.  “There ain’t no Harry, no Virgin Mary, You Won’t hear those voices again, And Johnny Rio and Rotten Rita, You’ll never see those faces again” says Reed solemnly.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day One). “Just Got Into Town About An Hour Ago …”

Welcome to L.A., as seen through the eyes of Jim Morrison.  L.A. Woman from The Doors’ 1971 album of the same name is a film noir style ride barrelling down the highway surveying L.A. at night.  Think of L.A. Woman and you are immediately put in mind of 1940’s writers such as Raymond Chandler and Nathaniel West, for the L.A in this song is the city that lurks beneath the shiny veneer, the dark and seedy underside, one filled with crime and injustice, sex and passion and complimented beautifully by an intense delivery that may well be the band’s finest.

“Just got into town about an hour ago” sings Jim Morrison on the song’s opening line, setting the scene for his romp through the black underbelly of the city.  “Take a look around, see which way the wind blows”, he continues, like a stranger that the Santa Ana wind blew in.  Incidentally, and linking to the Jim Morrison legend of him witnessing a car accident in the desert in which a family of Native American’s were injured and possibly killed, Joan Didion said of the Santa Ana winds in her 1965 essay Santa Ana Winds:

“I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew.  I could see why.  The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf.  The heat was surreal.  The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called “earthquake weather””.

Raymond Chandler also wrote of the Santa Ana winds in Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories in 1946:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night.  It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.  On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight.  Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.  Anything can happen.  You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge”.

“Where the little girls in their bungalows” could be considered to be about the murder of Sharon Tate in 1969.  Tate’s home and scene of her brutal murder at the hands of Charles Manson was 10050 Cielo Drive, a bungalow-style property in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles.  Later in the song, Jim Morrison sings, “Motel, money, murder, madness, Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness”.  Is one of the dark forces at work in L.A. Woman and perhaps the person blown in by the Santa Ana winds, Charles Manson?  Alternatively, or perhaps simultaneously, the line “Where the little girls in their bungalow” could also refer to Jim Morrison’s libido.  At the time of the singer’s death, there were apparently 20 paternity cases directed towards Morrison in L.A.

“Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light?” continues Jim Morrison, “Or just another lost angel, City of Night”.  Firstly, there is the juxtaposition of “Light” and “Night”, with “Light” referring to the public face of L.A. and “Night” referring to its dark underside.  “City of Night” is a reference to John Rechy’s novel City of Night (1963), a tale of a young man’s homosexual experiences in L.A.  “Lost angel” is a near homonym of “Los Angeles”.  In the documentary Mr Mojo Risin – The Story of L.A. Woman (2012), drummer John Densmore said of the song:

“The metaphor of the city as a woman is brilliant.  “Cops in cars”, “Never saw a woman so alone”, I mean, this is just great stuff.  It’s metaphoric, he’s looking at the physicality of the town and thinking of her and we need to take care of her.  It’s my home town, so let’s nurture the L.A. Woman”.

In the line “L.A. Woman, Sunday Afternoon”, Morrison paints an image of a driver moving through the city in a languorous state, influenced by Charles Aznavour’s Je Hais Les Dimanches (translated as ‘I Hate Sundays’ ).  This would appear to be Jim Morrison telling of his next move, which was of course, to Paris.  Paris, incidentally, is known as “The City of Light”.

The lines “I see your hair is burnin’, Hills are filled with fire” refer to the wildfires which sometimes threaten the Santa Monica mountain region of L.A.  The Santa Ana winds alluded to earlier in the song are a key contributor to these wildfires.  In a song packed with double meanings, these lines could simultaneously be referring to the Watts race riots of 1965.  The use of the words “burnin'” and “fire” also evoke images of a sexual passion for the city.  The following lines “If they say I never loved you, You know they are a liar”, not only tell of Jim Morrison’s love for L.A. but also echo the lines “You know that it would be untrue, You know that I would be a liar” from The Doors’ breakthrough hit Light My Fire, from their debut album The Doors in 1967.  These lines, therefore, could be seen as Jim Morrison tying up loose ends before leaving the city which had been so important to The Doors throughout their career and his own life and moving to Paris.

The bridge of L.A. Woman is arguably the most famous part of the song.  “Mr Mojo Risin” is an anagram of Jim Morrison’s name.  The term ‘Mojo’ was often used by early blues musicians, for example by Muddy Waters on his song I Got My Mojo Workin’ (1957).  Whilst ‘Mojo’ has come to refer to sexual energy, hence Morrison sounding like he is simulating an orgasm in the bridge of L.A. Woman, the term actually derives from an African-American folk belief called hoodoo, in which it is an amulet consisting of a flannel bag containing magical items.  A ‘Mojo’ is a ‘prayer in a bag’, a spell which can be carried with or on the host’s body.   In L.A. Woman, the term ‘Mojo’ is not only used to allude to sexual gratification in the city and sexual attraction to L.A in its metaphorical form of a woman, but also as a homage to the blues sound which influenced the whole of the L.A. Woman album.  It could perhaps also be said to tell of the spell which the city has cast on Morrison.  So strong was The Doors’ dedication to their blues sound on the L.A. Woman album that it prompted a split from long time producer Paul A. Rothschild, who felt that their direction sounded like “cabaret music”.

Three months after the album’s release, on the morning of July 3rd, 1971, Jim Morrison was found dead.  L.A Woman and its parent album are a fitting epitaph to Morrison’s life and career.  The title track is Morrison’s final fond farewell to his beloved L.A., a wonderfully complex song of myriad meanings and interpretations and possibly the greatest song to have ever been written about the city.