Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Six). ” … Until You Admit, You’re A Fuck Up Like the Rest of Us”.

Sometimes even the greatest, most talented artists fall by the wayside and are lost in the abyss of obscurity forever more.  And sometimes these artists are thankfully brought back into public consciousness by a song written about them.  One such artist is Bob Lind.  For Pulp’s 2001 album, We Love Life, Jarvis Cocker penned Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down).

The song, as with the rest of album was produced by Scott Walker, in his only production work carried out for a band or artist outside of his own work.  Walker, just like Lind, had also been subjected to years of obscurity following the commercial failure of his now critically acclaimed album Scott 4 (1969).  Walker spoke of his wilderness years in the 2006 documentary, Scott Walker:  30 Century Man:

“The record company called me in [following the commercial failure of Scott 4] and carpeted me and said you’ve got to make a commercial record for us … I was acting in bad faith for many years during that time … I was trying to hang on.  I should have just stopped.  I should have said, ‘OK, forget it’ and walked away.  But I thought if I keep hanging on and making these bloody awful records … this is going to turn round if I just hang in long enough, and it didn’t.  It went from bad to worse …”

Cocker even included a reference to a Walker record in the song Bad Cover Version from the album, slating the second side of 1970’s ‘Til the Band Comes In, which is often and rightfully described as being inferior to the first side:  “The second side of ‘Til the Band Comes In”.

Cocker has since stated that Bad Cover Version was written way before Walker became involved in the project.

So, there is a certain amount of irony about Walker producing a song about another artist who faced years of obscurity.  Bob Lind, born November 25th, 1942 in Baltimore, Maryland, United States is an American folk music singer-songwriter who helped to define the 1960’s folk rock movement in America and England.  Lind is best known for his transatlantic hit, Elusive Butterfly (Don’t Be Concerned, 1966), which reached number 5 in both the UK and US in 1966.  Despite the fact that many musicians have covered Lind’s songs and he still continues to write, record and perform, he still remains relatively unknown.

The Bob Lind story starts in 1965 when he signed a contract with Liberty Records’ subsidiary, World Pacific Records.  It was on this label that he recorded Elusive Butterfly.  The single might have done better on the UK Singles Chart had there not been competition from established Irish recording artist, Val Doonican, who released a cover version of the song at the same time.  In the end, both versions of Elusive Butterfly made number 5 in the UK in 1966.

The B-side of Elusive Butterfly featured Cheryl’s Goin’ Home, a song which was covered by Adam Faith, the Blues Project, Sonny & Cher, John Otway, the Cascades and others.  Other Lind songs were eventually covered by more than 200 artists including Cher, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Nancy Sinatra, The Four Tops, Richie Havens, Hoyt Axton, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Mathis and Petula Clark.

Despite recognition for his song writing ability and the success of Elusive Butterfly, Lind’s star was to shine very briefly.  Plagued by drug and alcohol problems, Lind gained a reputation in the music industry for being difficult to work with.  In 1969, he severed all ties with his record company.  Three years after leaving World Pacific, Capitol Records released the album Since there Were Circles, an album well-received by critics but not commercially successful.  Lind then dropped out of the record industry altogether for a number of years.  Other recognition came from writer friend Charles Bukowski, who based the character Dinky Summers in his 1978 novel, Women and Other Writings on Lind.

In 1988, Lind moved to Florida where he write five novels, an award winning play and a screenplay, Refuge, which won the Florida Screenwriters’ Competition in 1991.  He also became a staff writer for supermarket tabloids Weekly World News and Sun.  He returned to music in 2004, three years after Pulp’s Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down), when, at the request of his friend, Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, he performed live at the Guthrie Center in Becket, Massachusetts.  Lind began touring again and has toured ever since.

In 2006, Lind established his official website.  In the same year, RPM Records re-issued the album Since There Were Circles and Lind self-released the Live at Luna Star album featuring performances of new material.  In 2007, Elusive Butterfly: The Complete 1966 Nitzsche Sessions was released in the UK by Ace Records whilst in 2009, filmmaker Paul Surratt made the concert / documentary film about Lind entitled Bob Lind:  Perspective.  Most recently, 2012 saw the release of Lind’s first album of new material in 41 years, Finding You Again, produced by guitarist of the band The Spongetones, Jamie Hoover.  The album was once again released in Ace Records.  Additionally, as well as naming the song Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down) after Lind, Cocker and bandmate Steve Mackey included the Lind recording Cool Summer (The Elusive Bob Lind, 1966) on their 2006 compilation album The Trip:  Curated by Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey.

In 2013, Lind was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, along with Judy Collins, the Serendipity Singers and Chris Daniels.

In a 2001 interview with NME to accompany the release of We Love Life, Cocker said of Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down):

“There was this bloke in the late ‘60s called Bob Lind.  One of his most famous songs is Elusive Butterfly, which was one of my favourites when I was younger.  Something about the sound of this song made me think of him.  It’s about someone who is a fuck-up.  And sometimes there’s something good about admitting that.  Most people who are famous and wealthy tend to be more fucked up than everybody else.  Bob Lind, he writes quite, kind of, sweet songs but then they’ve often got quite negative words.  For instance, there’s a song of his called Remember the Rain [Photographs of Feeling, 1966] …

… which is basically saying:  “Remember the rain, when you walk in the sunshine”, it’s saying, “Oh right, you might be having a good time now, but listen, you will be having a shit time soon” – which is a pretty negative thing to write about and yet it’s quite a nice, jangly little tune.  So that song reminded me of him a bit.  So Bob Lind was just a working title, but then as sometimes happens, I couldn’t think of a better one.  So I just left it.  And he did get in touch the other day and said, “I’m gonna sue”.  No, he didn’t – he got in touch, and he seemed to be quite flattered that somebody had remembered him”.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day One). “Anybody Seen A Knight Pass This Way? I Saw Him Playing Chess with Death Yesterday”.

Following his tenure in The Walker Brothers, Scott Walker’s four self-titled albums of the late 1960s cemented his critical reputation but also alienated most of his previous audience.  For many fans of Walker’s previous work in The Walker Brothers, Scott 4 (1969) was the final straw, so far removed was it from what his audience had come to expect of the artist in the earlier part of the decade.  Scott 4 was originally released under Walker’s real name, Noel Scott Engel, with the name ‘Walker’ not appearing on the album until it was re-released some years later, a conscious effort it would seem to further remove himself from whatever his audience might expect, thus allowing the artist to move into new creative territories.  The album was also the first Walker solo album to be completely comprised of his own material, with the previous three Scott albums all featuring covers of songs by Jacques Brel.  Scott 4 was so unpopular at the time of its release that it completely failed to chart and was deleted soon afterwards, triggering an emotional and artistic crisis from which it would take the artist years to recover.  Scott 4 is now rightly seen as a classic and one of Walker’s strongest works, with musicians including David Bowie and Radiohead even citing it as a major influence.

The opening track of Scott 4, The Seventh Seal, is a straight yet highly poetic retelling of the 1958 Ingmar Bergman film of the same name.  Bergman’s The Seventh Seal tells of life in a 14th century Swedish village experiencing the cataclysmic effects of the Black Death. The Seventh Seal highlights the very worst shortcomings of religion, questioning its insufficient explanations of human suffering, the lack of proof regarding the existence of God, the witch hunts undertaken by the church, the immorality of the clergy and the way in which religious leaders manipulate believers into undertaking immoral tasks.

In The Seventh Seal, disillusioned knight Antonius Block and his squire Jons return home after ten years fighting in The Crusades to discover that Sweden is being torn apart by the plague (“Anybody hear of plague in this town, The town I’ve left behind was burned to the ground”).  In the film, Block meets Death and challenges him to a chess match believing that he can prevent his fate (“Anybody seen a knight pass this way?, I saw him playing chess with Death yesterday”).

In the space of a five minute song, The Seventh Seal uses the full storyline of the film.  The song gives four of its nine verses to the scene in which Block goes to the confessional.  Death, dressed as a priest, takes position on the other side of the grille.  Block tells the figure on the other side of the grille that his life has been futile and without meaning and that he wants to perform one meaningful deed (“My life’s a vain pursuit of meaningless smiles”).  Upon revealing the chess strategy that will save his life, Block discovers that the person who he thought was a priest is Death, who promises to remember the tactics (“He knelt to confess, The face within the booth was Mr. Death …”).

Additionally, we find references to the scene in which Block speaks to a young woman who has been condemned to be burnt alive for fraternising with the devil (“A young girl on a stake her face framed in flames cried, I’m not a witch God knows my name”).  Later in the song, there are lyrics based upon the final move in the chess game which seals Block’s fate (“The knight hung his head, And said you’ve won I’ve nothing left to play”) before a lyrical depiction of the final scene of the film in which Block and his followers are led away over the hills in a solemn dance of death after Block loses the game of chess to Death (“Their hands held as one, Solemnly danced toward the dawn …”).

Walker’s The Seventh Seal takes the subject matter of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and plays it out in a song complete with some of the most effective tambourine playing you will ever hear on a record, swooping strings, mariachi style trumpet that wouldn’t sound out of place on a western soundtrack, church bells and a male voice choir, all pulled together by the operatic baritone of Walker’s unique and much celebrated voice.  Like much of the material on the Scott albums, The Seventh Seal is a work of cinematic scope and vision rarely matched by any other artist.