Tuesday, 19 March 2013
(#252: 26 September 1981, 2 weeks)
Track listing: Abacab/No Reply At All/Me And Sarah Jane/Keep It Dark/Dodo-Lurker/Who Dunnit?/Man On The Corner/Like It Or Not/Another Record
It could have been called Another Record, with its closing pleas for an old rock and roller to be taken in, and maybe it would have revealed its true intent that way. Or it could have been called Our Elusive Dreams, since at least three of its songs deal with a mysterious “it” and/or “he” and the record as a whole seems to be concerned about concealment, hidden visions, covered identities, deceptive pictures.
But it was called Abacab, and it probably owes its place here to astute marketing; the album was released in four different sleeves, with the same basic cover design shuffled around and a different predominant colour on each – and I am certain that many fans saved up to buy all four. What isn’t clear from its furiously mixed grooves – this is amongst the most forward of production jobs on any 1981 album (credited to the band themselves, although the input of nominal engineer Hugh Padgham is clearly audible) – is what Genesis might still mean in 1981. This had already proved to be a problem eighteen months before with Duke, and it was a problem the band appeared determined to tackle. They were apparently very ruthless about junking any songs that sounded like “old” Genesis, although both of the big setpieces “Me And Sarah Jane” and the “Dodo/Lurker” medley seem umbilically tied to 1975, not to mention the continuing problem of Tony Banks’ archaic-sounding keyboards.
It is a difficult album to appreciate, let alone love, because it seems so deadset on not telling us things. Just under half of the album – the four songs released in various parts of the world as singles – is extremely listenable, while the rest can hardly be listened to. But if the title track makes no particular lyrical sense, other than a sense of increasing, numbing paranoia, then its prog-funk strut, with complex crosshands stuff over a basic 4/4 rhythm and one-note bassline, sounded entirely logical and attractive as a single in the skyscraper context of “Tainted Love,” “Prince Charming” and “Souvenir.” Like “Turn It On Again,” its unapologetic determination sets it apart, and it remains listenable – and danceable – even when the band break off from the song for a long jamming fade, with Banks doing a passable Joe Zawinul impression (as 1982’s Three Sides Live would prove, the song, and the album as a whole, seem to be a template for development in a live setting).
“Abacab” – which really isn’t the song’s structure, as Mike Rutherford cheerily owned up – sounds modern. So does “No Reply At All,” although with its Earth, Wind and Fire horns crisscrossing Phil Collins’ high-pitched angst, it could easily be mistaken for a Face Value outtake until one hears Banks playing what sounds like the riff to “Marquee Moon.” But it is not quite – at least, not until the “Listen to me, you never listen to me” climax – a song about Collins’ marital problems. He is sitting somewhere, staring, looking at someone, and getting no response. It could be that the other person is so spooked out by this weird guy staring at her and saying nothing that she is thinking of calling the authorities, but he becomes increasingly frustrated, to the point where you wonder whether he is not sitting and looking at the listener (“The buck stop here. It’s not the one you’re looking for.” It?), daring them to respond to what he is thinking (“Do you think I’m to blame?” he has already asked, several times, on the title track). Musically it’s supple and brisk with a nice midsong vocal/piano interlude before gradual rebuild, but it doesn’t put any listener at ease, or rest.
“Me And Sarah Jane” is a Tony Banks song, and almost impossible for me to penetrate. Did this “Sarah Jane” ever exist (“I invent a name”)? More memories of sun and happiness, more (“same old”) crowded rooms, the decline of modern society (“And now the city lights are dimming one by one/It costs too much money to keep them all on”) – with apparently some sort of cathartic resolution (“We weren’t afraid”), but the music is a sloppy blend of outdated prog and 10cc’s idea of reggae. It’s the same story with “Dodo/Lurker” – is this their sideways tribute to Bob Marley, or (as is more likely) their attempt to be like that Police off the telly like? The lyrics speak of extinction and regeneration, and perhaps it’s a projection of how they felt they stood in the eighties – a rusty old prog tub, ready for the seabed scrapheap – but lyrics like “Too big to fly/Dodo ugly so dodo must die” and, worse, Banks’ Chad Valley synthesiser doing what sounds like impersonating a dodo, erode any residual sympathy and really remind the listener of why Dr Feelgood had to happen.
“Keep It Dark,” in contrast, is a terrific and somewhat menacing song with its 12/8 thud and bright prog synths alternating with brutal breakbeats, and I think yet another exercise in self-perception; the protagonist comes home, having disappeared for a few weeks – he was kidnapped by aliens and saw a bright, shining new world, but who will believe him? So he invents a yarn about being kidnapped and held hostage for money. An ebullient “No need to hide” fights a muttered “Keep it dark.”
But the song’s subtext is more significant. It appears, in structure and intent, to be a reproach to dark post-punk modernism, suggesting that the band’s time, and by extension the music that went with it, was…better, brighter, more hopeful, had more to say. But in 1981, you don’t want to hear about cities of light or hearts full of joy, “you” just want bash bash crunk crunk “realism” because it’s more “modern.” Make of that what you may.
“Who Dunnit?,” however, their attempt to take New Wave head-on, is a bit of a mess, with Collins yapping the largely nonsensical crossword puzzle lyric in a bizarre Cockney accent – but Phil, you’re from Chiswick! – over various semi-random bits of Devo/Eno/XTC business. “Shut Up” by Madness, a new entry at #22 in the singles chart the week Abacab went to number one, said the same thing so much better. “Man On The Corner,” powered by what the legendary music writer Patrick Bateman called a “riveting drum machine,” is better because it doesn’t try so hard. This is Collins’ song alone and clearly an early tryout for “Another Day In Paradise” – but could the man shouting on the corner be the subject of “No Reply At All” or even Collins himself, alone and confused?
In Rutherford’s “Like It Or Not,” Collins gives his most aggrieved and aggressive vocal performance on the record; again, he is someone who doesn’t know (doesn’t know what?) and even puts someone “out on the street” (to talk with the man on the corner?). Lyrically the closest that the album comes to the pain expressed in some parts of Face Value – all the more remarkable, as Collins did not write it – he curses, rebuffs and finally mourns for himself. “It’s been a long, long, long, long time/Since I held anybody/Since I loved anyone,” Collins wails, and one has to ask: are you particularly surprised? Note the “You’re just another face/I used to know” line and how it simultaneously looks back to Mod (“I’m The Face”) and forward to Gotye. He’s come home and she’s not there, so he tries to dismiss her roughly from his mind, but it’s no use; he’s alone, left with his murmurs, his vulnerability and maybe his stupidity.
The closing “Another Record” features an ominous keyboard introduction which sounds like Portishead ought to sample it, but this abruptly switches to a more conventional midtempo setting. Here Collins sings of another man out on the street, abandoned, but he’s an old rock ‘n’ roller, and won’t somebody help him (out), and take him in, and play that old record that “we” like, over and over? The sentiments are not helped by the arrangement, which with its chirpy synthesised harmonica sounds like a forecast of Howard Jones and Thompson Twins nightmares to come. And Banks’ incongruous pub piano. More self-referentialism (don’t leave us old prog ‘uns out in the cold, you young New Semantics you!)? If it is, then it is not convincing, and leaves one with the feeling of a version of the Police with three Stewart Copelands. The “newness” seems largely cosmetic, and even the shorter songs tend to be a little too long. They don’t really know what they want to be, this 1981 Genesis, and by the time they return, Abacab will, against all expectations, sound like Revolver compared with the follow-up. Not that this deterred students eager to spend their grant money on this conveniently available record, but it still isn’t quite what a lot of 1981 was searching for.
Next: There must be another way.
Posted by Marcello Carlin at 17:05
Sunday, 17 March 2013
(#251: 12 September 1981, 2 weeks)
Track listing: Peel Out/I’m Gonna Love Her For Both Of Us/More Than You Deserve/I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back/Read ‘Em And Weep/Nocturnal Pleasure/Dead Ringer For Love/Everything Is Permitted
The songs were still written by Jim Steinman, but it was not a sequel. Steinman had begun to write a sequel to Bat Out Of Hell but halfway through recording it, the singer’s voice disappeared. No one knows whether the loss was psychosomatic but he had fallen offstage in Ottawa and broken his leg, developed a taste for cocaine, entertained suicidal ideations and was generally exhausted and close to broken, not to say broke. Steinman therefore had no alternative but to sing and record the songs himself, and the resulting album, Bad For Good, came out in the early summer of 1981, and did reasonable business, although many critics pointed at vocal inadequacy, and many of the record’s songs would subsequently reappear on Bat Out Of Hell II.
While making Bad For Good, however, Meat Loaf’s voice returned, as mysteriously as it had vanished, and so a slightly annoyed Steinman had little alternative but to write a completely new album for him to sing. One of its songs, “More Than You Deserve,” had been the title song for a 1974 stage musical in which Meat Loaf had played a small part (although in the original show the song was sung by Fred Gwynne) and there may be some evidence of leftover songs being reheated and reworked. In any case, apart from writing the songs and producing (with Jimmy Iovine) the backing tracks for all but two of them, Steinman had very little to do with Dead Ringer; the “Songs By Jim Steinman” co-credit from Bat Out Of Hell was demoted to the rear cover, and Meat Loaf himself, with Stephen Galfas, oversaw the production.
What all this meant is that the follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell has remained under something of a cloud; it is not easy to find on CD – at the time of writing, anything by Meat Loaf that isn’t Bat Out Of Hell-related or a compilation is hard to come by – and its appearance here is perhaps more indicative of fans’ immediate clamouring for something, anything, to come after Bat Out Of Hell, than genuine popularity. Actually it did comparatively well in Britain, staying on our charts for almost a year – largely because of the video-aided popularity of its chief hit single “Dead Ringer For Love” – but elsewhere it generally flopped. People were disappointed, and Meat Loaf himself was probably amongst the disappointed, hence the rather grumpy and truculent singer whom Morley met for the NME in December 1981; the interview took place a day after he had changed his entire management team.
Moreover, Dead Ringer is a markedly gloomier and more downbeat affair than its predecessor. The effect may have been all smoke and mirrors, but it should be noted that shortly before its release – in the chart week ending 22 August 1981 - Bat Out Of Hell rose to number nine in the UK, its only week in the top ten out of the nine or so years that it cumulatively spent on our charts between 1978 and 2003 (474 according to Guinness and Wikipedia, 469 according to Chart Stats; at the time of writing this did not include the more recent redux reissue, which peaked at...#9).
It is a remarkable and probably unique achievement, to prove so popular a record over such a sustained period of time – whilst at the same time going fourteen times platinum in the States – while almost wholly remaining in the chart’s midriff, a consistent but never spectacular seller. In fact Bat Out Of Hell was very likely the most successful word-of-mouth album there has ever been, a record whose seven songs – only seven, but all are very long – were hardly ever played on the radio or mentioned in the press (none of its three UK singles broached the top ten, and only the title track went as far as the Top 20, at least until 1993) by an artist who, if mentioned at all by critics, was usually mentioned with ridicule, yet whose reputation steadily grew in a systematically increasing V-sign to critics and trendsetters. People heard of this record, maybe from friends, or perhaps they watched the video of the title track broadcast more than once on The Old Grey Whistle Test, and they wanted more; they felt something in its grooves which couldn’t readily be met by, or on, other records.
Why was this? One projection is inescapable. Bat Out Of Hell appeared, with no fanfare, in November 1977, featuring on its Richard Corden cover a mysterious figure on a motorcycle, roaring out of a cemetery and blasting through his gravestone. The picture of a soaked, shocked and artificially blue-eyed Meat Loaf on the rear of Dead Ringer heightens the intrigue, and the timing of Bat’s release must have underlined this – we are looking at the resurrection, or at least the posthumous revenge, of Elvis. Look at the picture on the rear of Bat with the singer, motionless and expressionless in shades, covering up the cavorting couple next to him with his scarlet cummerbund, or the other picture of him, seemingly lying in rest in his casket, but with open, aware eyes; he looks like the 1977 Presley, coming back to life.
Furthermore, the traditions of Bat Out Of Hell reach back to the earliest days of this tale, the times of Carousel and West Side Story. This is hardly surprising, given Meat Loaf’s background (and continuing parallel career) as an actor; three songs from the album began life as numbers in an off-Broadway stage show by Steinman about Peter Pan called Neverland. The setting was updated to futuristic science fiction; the title song is a sort of rock ‘n’ roll projection of Peter flying so fast and serenely that he fails to notice the bars on the closed window, and crashes straight into them (the other two were “Heaven Can Wait” and a song called “Formation Of The Pack” which eventually became “All Revved Up With No Place To Go”).
The setting and sound of the album, when released, were inevitably reminiscent of the Born To Run Springsteen – indeed the record’s producer and effective co-conspirator Todd Rundgren says that the main reason he took the job on was because he thought Bat was an extended Springsteen send-up – a comparison strengthened by the involvement of two E-Street Band members (keyboardist and co-arranger Roy Bittan, and drummer Max Weinberg). Springsteen himself was out of action at the time of the record’s release, for legal reasons, and by the time he came back the following year, with Darkness On The Edge Of Town, people felt confused and alienated by the darker world Springsteen now seemed to be portraying. So they went for the brighter and “easier” option of Meat Loaf.
Yet although Alan Partridge would doubtless say, as he did about Wings and the Beatles, that Meat Loaf was all Bruce Springsteen could have been, careful side-by-side listening to Bat and Darkness - records both, lest we forget, released under the overall aegis of CBS – suggests that the two worlds were really not that different. They share the common urgent need to escape, to find some kind of absolute and ideal love, with or without inverted commas, and the underlying knowledge that it may all be for nothing. If anything, Meat Loaf and Steinman’s is the darker world; yes, Springsteen appears to be saying across Darkness, we’re all getting older, and is everything that we promised to ourselves on Born To Run still going to matter to us, when set against the general closing down of the world we see all around us – what if “we” were born to run into a brick wall?
The difference is the shared romance of the notion of rock ‘n’ roll as deliverance, or even escape; Meat Loaf is immersed in that romantic notion, so deeply and blindly that perhaps he cannot see how the world around him has changed until it is too late for him to do so. Whereas Springsteen can’t let go of that romance, the rock that rolled him fifteen or twenty years earlier, before he “grew up” and had to accept “responsibility.” Even in the encroaching bleakness of “Racing In The Streets,” where ghosts of old pop songs rustle around his muddy feet like tumbleweed, or sidewinders, he can still glimpse that hope, the promise, and convince his lover to view the dream with him. He knows it is all half truth, half bullshit, but he still loves the lies enough to want to turn them into the truth.
Meat Loaf, in contrast, finds it hard even get past the idea of “love.” In “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth,” he is “just about to say ‘I love you’” when he gets distracted by sexuality; in “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” he is goaded by Ellen Foley and other angels over several minutes, and almost beyond endurance to say that he loves her, and at the moment he does, he immediately sees their ultimate ruination (“So now I’m praying for the end of time”). In the song where he owns up, “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad,” he admits that there was once a girl – in these songs, nothing ever goes beyond “boy” and “girl” level, not even when they are clearly grown up (though still, essentially, acting like children) – who left him because she couldn’t say that she loved him, and that lack has carried on to his own subsequent first-hand rejections. He doesn’t say whether she was a white goddess but I think we can take the inference. And, for a song cycle, “For Crying Out Loud” – a song which, significantly, he has not, until now, performed on stage – is a conclusion which initially seems bleak enough to stand next to Marvin Gaye’s “Just To Keep You Satisfied” yet ultimately also a redemptive one; the man from Dallas “sinking deeper and deeper in the chilly California sand,” who almost wills himself to another planet, finally turns, thanks his lover for everything she’s done for him – and the final words of the record are “You know I love you.”
Those last words are notably absent from Dead Ringer. The cover, drawn by Swamp Thing co-creator Berni Wrightson, finds him as a frozen Neptune, with an equally frozen party, sailing through a storm on a grotesque ship-cum-sea monster. He is soaked on the rear cover, but has clearly made it back to land, although his mouth is agape with shock.
On Dead Ringer there appears to be no easy way out. Opener “Peel Out” is very Springsteen-esque in its frustrated, expectant desire to escape a dead end – Weinberg’s drumming is particularly animated – and the song is a more impatient “Born To Run” variant (“We’re sick and tired of waiting in line!,” “Nobody’s taking our time!”). But, as the song progresses, or runs on the spot, it becomes clear that it does not really sound particularly like Springsteen; its rushing tempo is actually more predicative of “Holding Out For A Hero”; it’s as if Meat Loaf isn’t prepared even to hang around for the “1-2-3-4” count.
And, if and when he does break free, what is he escaping into? “I’m Gonna Love Her For Both Of Us,” over seven gruelling minutes, details how he’s noticing that her lover is treating her like shit, and that he is sure that he can give her what she wants, and so, rather than a casual “You’re Going To Lose That Girl”-type warning, he tries to make the man – who, he makes clear, is like a brother to him – see his reasoning. He’ll try and make them both happy by making her happy, even though he gives no guarantee that this will last beyond one night. He’s doing them a favour, making it easy on themselves. Like the rest of his work with Steinman, Meat Loaf benefits from having a relatively limited vocal range – ranging between hysterical and stentorian – and a markedly theatrical vocal range at that; he comes at these songs as an actor first and singer second. He wants to make you believe in what he is singing, that he is this person, this protagonist (which is why, for instance, as Ken Bruce correctly pointed out on Radio 2 last week, “MacArthur Park” works so well as a pop record; Richard Harris would have been the first to admit that he was not exactly the world’s greatest singer, but his actorly approach to Webb’s songs – and he believed in them enough to record two albums of them – worked because technical mastery would have shifted attention away from the song and towards the singer. But here, the song – and perhaps even the record – is dominant, and works as both song and record for precisely that reason. That also explains why I can also believe the Richard Harris who in 1974 sings “My Boy” more readily than the 1974 Elvis who also sings the song, even though its subject matter was probably truer to Presley’s life*).
(*and isn’t this secret late sixties history of avant-MoR the unacknowledged road that leads, in one part, to Meat Loaf and Steinman? If you’re nagged by the thought of who the hell does Meat Loaf’s voice remind you of, then think…Barry Ryan? He who, with his twin brother, made every song nothing less than an epic of emotion drawn out and magnified to gloriously absurd extremes? Try “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing” from 1969’s Barry Ryan Sings Paul Ryan for starters).
But where does this selfish selflessness get him? In “More Than You Deserve” he finds that the girl he loves is doing it “to my best friend,” and by the song’s end he ups the ante quite dramatically (“to TWO of my best friends,” and finally “To a GROUP of my best friends/So I looked them right in their eyes and I said/Listen here, GROUP…” With exasperated resignation, he tells them to get on with it, enjoy themselves (“Won’t you take some more, boy? It’s more than you deserve”); the tables have been turned. Actually the original musical, More Than You Deserve, was set in a US army base in Vietnam, and Gwynne’s commanding officer takes in a visiting reporter, only to discover her making whoopee with the rest of the troops (in the show they do reconcile). Placed in this context, however, it plays as a suggestion that the singer just doesn’t know what love is; I am reminded of one of the extended one-sided monologues Altman gives Beatty to say in McCabe & Mrs Miller; outwitted by Julie Christie’s authentically South London madam and procurer, who embodies all that he only pretends to be, he says this:
“Just freezing my soul, that’s what you’re doing. Freezing my soul. Well, shit, enjoy yourself, girl, just go ahead and have a time with it. It’s just my luck, going with the one woman who’s ever been something to me ain’t nothing but a whore. But what the hell – I never was a percentage man. I suppose a whore’s the only kind of woman I’d know.”
(Quoted by David Thomson in his remarkable biography/sci-fi mashup Warren Beatty and Desert Eyes: A Life and a Story. New York: Random House, Inc., 1987)
Something of that preternaturally doomed self-awareness also crops up in the long, meditative and very striking passage that comes in the midst of the agonised “I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back.” He rescued this “girl” and what has she brought him but pain and grief? So he’s had enough – “Go on and take your stuff – don’t even bother to pack,” but he makes it clear that this is a test and he wants her to come back.
Then he damns himself by looking out towards the rest of the world, and all the other girls he might have met, or known, or even loved, or loved him, everywhere he looks in America, and wonders why he settled for so much less (“But damn me and curse me for still needing you”). It’s a chilling choke of self-hatred, and maybe not really what the record buyers of 1981 were, in general, looking for.
“Read ‘Em And Weep” is one of only two songs on the record that I can truly say has stuck with me, as a song rather than an extended recitative. Clearly the record’s big ballad, its “Two Out Of Three” – so strong a song that Barry Manilow recorded it, with only minor lyric changes, two years later – the song again offers a list of alternative futures for the singer and his now estranged lover that won’t ever come true. It is as coruscating as anything in late Abba (“But now the rooms are all empty and the candles are dark”) and builds up to a collapsing crescendo – there is something in him that he doesn’t like (“It’s running silent and angry and deep”) but deep down he knows that there is something missing that he just doesn’t have – some mysterious or not-so-mysterious quality or attribute – and that will preclude him from the reality of “love” forever. He sounds beaten, bruised, baffled and enraged (“Now the present is nothing but a hollowed out dream”); all he wants is for you to look in his eyes and…understand.
Following an enigmatic spoken interlude which lasts barely more than half a minute but which seems to picture a post-apocalyptic society tearing itself apart (“And they’ve blown up the YWCA like a giant balloon/And sent it out to sea full of screaming, lovely, lonely girls”), the record immediately launches into “Dead Ringer For Love,” which, both in terms of the record and its video, seems, like “Atomic” to take place after the apocalypse; he is in this dead-end bar, or truck stop, or wherever; he is Desperate For It, knowing just enough to know that what he knows isn’t enough (he sings “Rock ‘n’ roll and brew” as though it were “Rock ‘n’ roll is through”), and whom should he be infatuated with and run into but Cher, making her very belated Then Play Long debut with an amused and very cynical but also highly vulnerable performance. She is a lot more realistic and dismissive towards him – “I don’t have to listen to your whimpering talk!” – but in the end, more out of loneliness than anything else, she agrees to go with him, even though they both know it’s not what they are looking for (Cher sings, “I’m looking for anonymous and fleeting satisfaction” and apparently has a “daddy” – Sonny Bono? Gregg Allman? – to whom she wants to teach some kind of lesson). It’s a “dead ringer for love” – in other words, it’s the look of love - but not the thing itself. Even so, it might be the nearest thing to love that he may ever understand. The music itself is terrific and purposeful; if it sounds a little like “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” then that’s Davey Johnstone himself on guitar (earlier, “More Than You Deserve” benefits from excellent work by those very 1974 support players, Mick Ronson and Nicky Hopkins; Ronson’s solo, echoing and articulating the singer’s despondency, stands up to, and may well surpass, anything on The Next Day).
But then the coldest of closers, a simple twist of Situationist fate. The singer finds himself in the middle of a static nowhere. Like Cliff Richard, he has come to the conclusion that escape merely means a subtler imprisonment. The idea of “love” being fundamentally incompatible with the reality of love, he is alone, without even the partner vital to “For Crying Out Loud,” and realises that without something to contain and hold all of this spilling angst, there is nowhere to direct it. He sings, as though singing from the end of the world:
“And all the clocks are showing zero
And all our parents must have fled
And we just never had no heroes
And all our enemies will soon be stone cold dead.”
It is an unutterable hopelessness; there are not even streets to go racing in, let alone a shoreline, Jersey or otherwise, to go and stare at in hope of something better. He is still in a bedroom in Kensington; perhaps it’s the one in the Palace. The record will hardly be heard anywhere apart from in Britain. But there is, nonetheless, the continuing feeling that all of this is building up to something. Even with Dark Side Of The Moon, there is enough spectacle and inverted flash to retain an audience’s extended interest; but, as Springsteen already knows, the public will always go for the lies over the truth if their colours are louder and brighter. Or, as in Meat Loaf’s case, paradoxically darker.
Next: the art of hiding behind song structures.
Posted by Marcello Carlin at 15:41
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
(#250: 29 August 1981, 2 weeks)
Track listing: Prologue/Twilight/Yours Truly, 2095/Ticket To The Moon/The Way Life’s Meant To Be/Another Heart Breaks/Rain Is Falling/From The End Of The World/The Lights Go Down/Here Is The News/21st Century Man/Hold On Tight/Epilogue
“I wish I was back in 1981.”
Consider the strange parallel case of ELO and Duran Duran in the summer of 1981. Two Birmingham art-rock bands at opposite ends of their careers; one is just getting started while the other is on stoppage time. And sometimes it’s not about the records that you make, the way people remember you. They remember stars for who they are, how well they project the aura of stardom – it helps people deal with their own lives better, knowing that they can never really meet the star but not knowing fully whether or not the star is watching or listening to them.
So how you present yourself has more to do with how you’ll be remembered. In 1981 Duran Duran were young, hip, some say sexy – three adjectives which couldn’t readily be applied to 1981 ELO. They looked like a refreshing arm-table sweep of needless history, yet for many impressionable listeners who were the right age, they also provided a portal into history, a way to get to all these people they would habitually namecheck in interviews; the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, the Velvets, Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Chic.
The first, eponymous Duran Duran album, which came out in June 1981, presented itself as cool and occasionally sounded cool. It was a record to have. To appreciate things more readily, however, it may be worth reminding you how terminally unhip a record Time was in 1981, with its 1973 cover and band picture. But then you may point out that I am writing about Time, and not the first Duran Duran album, and what does that prove? Not a lot, except that the album charts have always been de facto slower-thinking, slower-acting and more conservative than the singles chart. Things take time to filter through to album-buying audiences; the concept of brand loyalty is more adhesive and less easy to shake off than in the singles world. And 1981 was, as would also be the case with 1982, the year of the single; it was the arena where new ideas and concepts, even new methods of presentation, were being tried out, where every week seemed to bring a further handful of unanticipated invention.
In such a context it was easy to mock Time, and ELO, for being windy, grandiloquent and somewhat archaic. This doesn’t account for all the students in my first year at university who, according to what they told me at the time, cried themselves to sleep at night with “Ticket To The Moon” on their modest cassette players, lost in an unfamiliar environment and homesick.
Nor does it account for the possibility that a record, even a concept album about time called Time, can sometimes appear out of its natural time, or ahead of it. In a world filled with Soft Cell, the Associates, Was (Not Was) and Depeche Mode, it seemed a ludicrous throwback. But in a world teeming with Royksopp, Phoenix, Daft Punk and the Flaming Lips, it now sounds startlingly contemporary.
The Jeff Lynne of 1981 was not the premature old fart some people might picture him as being. It is a matter of record that by 1981 he was bored with ELO, itching to get out and write and produce for people like…Roy Orbison, or George Harrison, and highly irritated by the fact that he was still contractually obliged to deliver three more ELO albums.
So Lynne scouted around for ideas, things for the group to do. By now they were down to a four-piece with strings (when not synthesised) being used only when absolutely required (and these were conducted and in part arranged by Rainer Pietsch, Louis Clark being busy working on “Hooked On Classics” – although Clark participated in the subsequent tour). Most of the outrage generated around Time on release was to do with the relative absence of strings. Why, this could be any mega-rock band.
It is true that Duran Duran went on to become stars, sometimes without seeming to do very much, while Lynne and ELO, though extremely popular, never quite did so. They were respected rather than idolised. But, as with Cliff Richard, look at various fan forums and read how fans put Time on the same aesthetic level as Sgt Pepper or SMiLE. Many consider it Lynne’s masterpiece, even including Out Of The Blue.
Actually the parallel with SMiLE is workable if you go with the concept, which isn’t always evident on the finished record; someone displaced from their own time trying to trace their route back to the present. But where Brian Wilson begins with history and the Mayflower, Lynne’s protagonist goes into what he calls a “time transporter” – voluntarily or under compulsion, it doesn’t clearly spell out – and ends up in 2095, far away from everybody, everything and everywhere that he knew. A place which is oddly recognisable but where robots serve as substitute lovers and prove to be no substitute for Lynne’s actual lover, where tickets to the moon can only be bought for a one-way trip. He does his best to understand and fit into this new society, but it’s no good; he has to get back…back home, that old, undying sixties ideal.
That is, if he does go to 2095, and I am not sure that he does. The record begins with a portentous, Vocoderised “Prologue” (“Just on the border of your waking mind”) as debris of pop history float backwards past our ears. A time “where darkness and light are one,” and where the protagonist is glad to “tread the halls of sanity”?
And yet “Twilight,” the record’s first proper song, herded in by Bev Bevan’s furious, phased drumming, says “It’s either real or it’s a dream/There’s nothing that is in between.” It’s a terrific song with lots of delicious 1968 pop chord changes (the great whole-tone passage from verse to bridge, and Lynne’s very characteristic sneaking of minor chords into major progressions) and a chilling hook: “Twilight – I only meant to stay a while.” It takes a while to realise that Lynne is singing to his time machine, and there is a lot of dark foreboding for the autumn to come (including a quick quotation, near the end, from the first ELO hit, “10538 Overture,” nearly a decade before).
“Yours Truly, 2095,” however, swings us quite brutally into the present tense, and by present I mean the last decade (Royksopp’s “The Girl And The Robot,” for instance). Indeed I suspect Lynne had the notion to wrongfoot staunch ELO fans with this record – part of him may be stuck in pre-Beatles Birmingham, but another part of him is listening to the radio, hearing Gary Numan and Orchestral Manoeuvres, and quietly knowing what time it is, and that the prog tropes of Eldorado - this album’s spiritual prequel – will not work in 1981.
Hence there is a robot, who looks and sounds like his lover, but he can never touch or get close to “her” (“But when I try to touch, she makes it all too clear”). Lynne’s vocal sounds midway between Buggles-era Trevor Horn and Morten Harket while the furious beats, mixed with lugubrious synthesised declarations of “love,” suggest an oncoming nightmare. The chorus contains the key questions of the album, as Lynne asks us: “Is that you want? Is it what you really want?” Computers, robots, no people, no love – are “you” really going to be happy with that kind of a world? It sounds as prematurely poignant as Daft Punk, or even the Pet Shop Boys, can sometimes sound; it sounds nothing like “1981.”
Once more, in “Ticket To The Moon,” Lynne tries a little fourth-walling – “Remember the good old 1980s, when things were so uncomplicated?” – before crooning a lonesome, spacebound sequel to “Sealed With A Kiss,” or “Solitaire,” in a voice somewhere between the ruined nobility of Freddie Mercury and, startlingly, the milkshake vulnerability of Thom Yorke (with a touch of the Leo Sayers when he gets passionate). But wait – a one-way ticket to the moon; even in 2095, can anybody balance, or breathe, up there? It sounds like the final lament of someone who is tired of life (and sees life floating past him in the process of his ending it; cut-ups of departure lounge announcements, news bulletins and opera singers permeate the album’s fibres like forgotten holiday snaps).
One is reminded that Time was a major influence on Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump, a record that is nearly but not quite pop, and, although one of the great albums of the nineties, finally takes the one-way journey to nothingness; the girl IBM voice of “Yours Truly, 2095” reappears on two songs as Jed the Humanoid, while the closing sequence of “Miner At The Dial-A-View” and “So You’ll Aim Towards The Sky” is clearly indebted to ELO and unbearably beautiful, in the sense that I haven’t been able to bear to listen to it in the last dozen or so years. Or maybe it is simply another allegory about the slow and stately decline of the American West.
But “The Way Life’s Meant To Be,” set as a Spector-ish tango with a decidedly Orbison-esque lead vocal for Lynne – he’s basically getting ready for Mystery Girl - raises the question of what the allegory is here. He looks around what he still recognises as, presumably, Birmingham (“this place that was home”), “With its ivory towers and plastic flowers,” and as he works himself into a palpable rage (his “Where people never speak aloud” is barely controlled fury), it becomes clear that the “I wish I was back in 1981” line is a decoy, and in fact he is decrying the Birmingham of 1981 – the same Birmingham of UB40’s “One In Ten” with its streets that have no trees – “this wreck of a town” which planners and developers have ruined. This is no journey into the next century – the line “You’re not a 21st century man” later on in the album confirms this – but an angry man standing in the eighties, wishing to God it was the sixties, and how is he going to find his way back? No answers in the instrumental which closes side one, which features Lynne on an Oberheim synthesiser trying to sound like George Harrison’s guitar, and slow, patient breakbeats and minor chords which predicate the Air of twenty years later (10,000Hz Legend in particular signifies one direction which a surviving ELO could have taken).
With “Rain Is Falling,” which may take its lead from Roy Wood’s 1975 “The Rain Came Down On Everything” as it uses the same tag from “It Might As Well Rain Until September” (Wood’s song ends with it, Lynne’s song begins with it), Lynne sings a Beatle-ish ballad about rainfall and suppressed apocalypse, as if he’s arrived just in time to witness the end of civilisation (it also sounds not a million miles removed from Ultravox’s “Vienna”). Various Beatles-type effects dot the song’s fabric discreetly as if to remind us of what we might already have lost.
“From The End Of The World,” however, is unlike any other ELO song I can think of; its bipartisan soundtrack refers back to Del Shannon and Joe Meek (those analogue synthesisers again) yet forward to – Muse (Lynne sounds here, if anything, like Matt Bellamy’s panicky uncle). It also has some richly inventive chord changes and a startling middle section which briefly raises the memory of a rocking 1964 Beatles before being quickly obliterated by further curtains of synth. Lynne ends on an unearthly falsetto and the song disintegrates. “The Lights Go Down,” if anything, comes as light relief; the music derives from “Love Is Strange,” a hit when Lynne was ten, and the protagonist becomes more determined to get away from the apocalypse and get back to now, and his lover.
“Here Is The News” is downbeat, discursive electropop – possibly with the Human League’s “W.X.J.L. Tonight” in mind – which recasts media gossip as psychedelic disintegration, with the very 1967 line “Someone left their life behind in a plastic bag.” Eventually, the protagonist makes to escape (“Somebody has broken out of Satellite 2/Here is the news – look very carefully, it may be you”), and Lynne sings the song in the morose manner of a 1966 George Harrison.
If the album has given more than several hints of Beatles this, Beatles that – references to “Dear Prudence,” “Strawberry Fields” etc. - then “21st Century Man” is where it all converges. Lynne sings some of the song like Paul, other of it like George, but the song structure and sardonic metaphor inversion (“A penny in your pocket, suitcase in your hand/They won’t get you very far”) are immediately recognisable. “You still wander the (Strawberry?) fields of your sorrow,” he sings, and then we return to the record’s original either/or scenario: “One day you’re a hero, next day you’re a clown/There’s nothing that is in between.” “They’ll kiss the ground you walk upon” – as people indeed did, outside the Dakota Hotel.
It all becomes very clear indeed; “21st Century Man” is a song for John Lennon, and the “You’re not a 21st century man” payoff is pregnant with poignancy, since Lennon will obviously not live to see it; the “Epilogue” reprises the song, with Bevan’s drums becoming increasingly more pronounced – he takes over from the echoed footsteps heard here and there throughout the album – and the harmonised word, “Goodbye” palpable in its grief, before all the elements of rock implode and the record falls into an abrupt black hole.
But this omits the album’s big hit, “Hold On Tight” – and how good to hear this song away from oldies radio, and back within its original context. The premise is that our time traveller has made it back home, and so it’s a flag-waving happy ending, and the record’s most explicit tribute to the fifties as well as the eighties. Lynne tells us to keep going no matter what, first in Jerry Lee style (vocal and piano) before segueing almost impalpably into 1981 technology ELO with double-tracked harmonies – and, in the background, that same weeping synthesiser heard on “Yours Truly, 2095.” The French verse is not strictly needed, unless as a concealed reference to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” (as it is also quoted in Lynne’s Duane Eddy tribute guitar solo on “The Way Life’s Meant To Be”) but is fun (and indeed Time is a markedly French record). The song ends on a jubilant Lennon/McCartney major sixth, and the message is – don’t give up, even when all seems lost. I don’t know how much, if anything, Lynne knew about Ian Curtis, but I can’t imagine this song without at least that precedent.
There will be further ELO albums, as such, with decreasing returns, except that 1983’s Secret Messages was not a double, since otherwise it would have included ELO’s finest single piece of work, the nearly eight-minute long bittersweet tribute to Birmingham that is “Hello My Old Friend.” Already diverting into producing other acts before ELO business was finished, Lynne then took off for the States, and working with his idols, and doing this and that; things he had been itching to do for nearly a decade. In time, when Duran Duran get to Lynne’s 1981 age, they will be doing The Wedding Album and trying to get back into shape for the nineties. Some of them may even slightly resemble the ELO of 1981. But, listening to it now, it is clear that Time is the better and more prophetic record – the subtle final play by someone who was hipper than he usually let on.
Next: flames like the inside of a mad jukebox.
Posted by Marcello Carlin at 13:59
Sunday, 10 March 2013
(#249: 15 August 1981, 2 weeks)
Track listing: Fanfare (“Royale”), Bridal Procession (Trumpet Voluntary [The Prince Of Denmark]) and Hymn (Christ is made the sure Foundation)/The Marriage Service/Anthem (Let the people praise Thee, O God) by W. Mathias, Lesson (I Corinthians XIII) and Address/Anthem “I Was Glad” by Sir H. Parry/Lesser Litany (Versicles and Responses) and Prayers/Hymn (I vow to thee my country), Blessing (Amen), The National Anthem/Music during the Signing of the Registrar (March from The Overture to the Occasional Oratorio, “Let the bright Seraphim,” “Let their celestial concerts all unite”)/The Procession of the Bride and Bridegroom (“Rejoicing,” Pomp and Circumstance No 4)
“She wanted a fairytale wedding and to have the most beautiful dress. We all went through previous Royal wedding pictures, and felt we had to out-do those – we’d discover which had the longest train, and say ‘OK, it’s got to be longer.’ The process of designing her dress and the bridesmaids’ outfits was very relaxed and informal; once the bridesmaids turned up on rollerskates – they were whizzing around with their dresses on.”
(Elizabeth Emanuel, quoted in Vogue, October 1997 issue)
“Hey, little sister, what have you done?”
(Billy Idol, “White Wedding”)
A fine late summer morning, with those subtly cooler intimations of an imminent autumn. She awoke she knew not when – it didn’t really matter, since she had gone to bed at the time when most people normally get out of it – but was relieved to find that the day was bright and not yet crisp. She looked out of her bedroom window; Kensington Gardens looked as lush and childish as ever, people going about their way, jogging or dawdling, or simply using the park as a convenient shortcut from High Street Ken to Notting Hill, or vice versa.
Going to the kitchen quarters, she found, selected and extracted a tub of yoghurt from the refrigerator – there were plenty to choose from – then sliced a bagel in two, put the Philadelphia Light tub next to it, and placed the bagel into the toaster. She poured a drink – Sainsbury’s apple and cranberry juice – into a glass tumbler, waited for the toaster to click readiness and switched on the kitchen radio. “Men In Black” by Will Smith; an infectious toetapper about aliens and instant memory erosion.
It was a simple but very effective breakfast and she always enjoyed these hugely. As she munched through the cinnamon and raisin, she wondered what to do with the day; there were no engagements in her diary. Go down the health club, perhaps. Or put the baseball cap and shades on and tie her hair in a bun to avoid recognition – so that she could be any one of a thousand women in Kensington of an early September lunchtime – and have a browse in the Rough Trade shop; it was, after all, only fifteen minutes’ walk from her home.
Then she noticed the flowers. And the people. Beds of flowers, so huge and oppressive that she would be lucky to be able to venture out of the house. Piles and piles of them. People bringing them over, more and more, many of them weeping and praying. She was naturally quite startled. What’s this all about? Something happen to Margaret?
Now she became concerned. Deciding on the cap and shades, she looked for the side door exit, just to check that she could actually get out of the building. She hoped that she would and that nothing had indeed happening; if another death, though, she would surely already have been called upon to stir herself to service?
And where was Dodi? She noted, still slightly blearily, that she had awakened alone, in a double bed.
It all seemed very mysterious, and she determined to solve the puzzle by at least stepping outside.
When she stepped outside, she discovered that she was not in Kensington Gardens.
She was outside a block of penthouse flats, and she was looking at the sea.
She stared back at the large white building from which she had emerged. Without any bidding, the front door automatically clicked open.
Before going back in, however, she looked around her. She found that she was in a busy seaport; there were boats and yachts of all descriptions, tied to the quay or already seabound. There were crowds of people, but none stopped to recognise or pay tribute to her. Many were faces she dimly recognised. Behind the white apartment block were rows of skyscrapers and other prosperous and new-looking buildings. Traffic was already snarling up the roads. The horizon was dotted with lurid advertisements, including one for VERSACE’S BOUTIQUE: AUTUMN COLLECTION NOW IN STOCK, in Albertus typescript.
Nearer the harbour she noticed a hilly collection of pastel-coloured Italianate buildings, of indeterminate origin and design, converging upon a central palazzo with a water fountain and a brass band who were at that point enthusiastically puffing their way through the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song “Takin’ Care Of Business.”
She thought of those funny videos Charles used to collect and watch, and had the distinct feeling that she had seen this place before, though had no recollection that a whole city had risen around it.
Definitely disorientated and confused, she turned again towards the still open and beckoning door of her apartment block, and went back inside.
As soon as she re-entered her home, there it was again; the Peter Pan statue, the weeping masses, the already decaying flowers. Kensington Gardens, clearly visible through the windows. But she now noticed a slight delay in movement, as though the scene were being transmitted via a gigantic television system for her benefit.
The television screen in the corner of the living room blinked into action, and a rich, warm voice emanated from it:
“Good morning, your Highness!”
She turned with a start.
The gentleman, grey and distinguished-looking, approaching his mid-seventies, was seated in a spherical chair. He smiled at her.
“I expect you’re wondering what you’re doing here.”
She stuttered it out:
“Oh, there’s no need to worry. You were out of action for over a week. Look at the kitchen calendar.”
She rushed to look and sure enough it said: MONDAY 8 SEPTEMBER 1997.
And hadn’t it been dark, and hadn’t she been in Paris?
“You were in Paris,” the man said, reading her mind. “You got into a car. Some photographers were trying to outrace you.”
“I…was!” she remembered. “Dodi…and Henri, and…what happened?”
She blinked again towards the windows.
“Where are the boys?” she exclaimed, almost violently.
“They’re safe and being looked after by your brother.”
“Oh yes – he made quite an impression at your, um, shall we say…”
Her voice turned cold. “What exactly has happened to me?”
He looked keenly at her. “It’s best I tell you face to face. Did you enjoy your breakfast? Room enough still for some brunch, I hope. The Green Dome. Across the street, you can’t miss it. Be seeing you.”
The face vanished from the screen, as though it had been switched off, to be replaced by This Morning with Richard and Judy.
She switched the TV off, got dressed, packed her handbag and went outside.
* * * * * *
The Green Dome was, as the man had said, just across on the other side of the palazzo. She walked there. The early afternoon was bright and warm. Passers-by murmured their greetings to her without necessarily knowing who she was. Reaching the Dome, she rang the front door bell and the door immediately opened to let her in.
The huge purple planetarium of an office she had definitely seen before. The man rose from his spherical chair and rushed over to greet her.
“My dear,” he said, “this is most unfortunate and I really must apologise. You’re probably confused enough as you are. Do sit down. My name is Ross, by the way. Brigadier Ross.”
“I’ve been here about a year. Chelsea Barracks before that.”
She thought she’d seen him before.
“Now, please do sit down. Tea, coffee, croissants, jam – all here should you wish it.”
She noticed the plates and the food and was still hungry enough to take Brigadier Ross up on his offer. She poured herself some camomile.
“But of course,” Ross smiled. “Even here, one must watch the figure.”
Ross’ face moulded itself into seriousness, and concern.
“Your Highness,” he said solemnly, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but…”
“There was a dreadful car accident in Paris. In the tunnel, you know. Your chauffeur, Monsieur Paul, he got a little…over-exuberant. Thought he could outdrive the paparazzi. One thing you don’t do in that tunnel, as you know, is try go-kart racing.”
“Both killed in the accident, I’m afraid.”
A horrible terror rose slowly within her, succeeded by a scarcely less horrible sadness.
“Your bodyguard in the car, he survived. He’s in a very bad way – they’re still putting him back together in hospital - but he’ll live.”
Without a word, he handed her a copy of a week-old newspaper.
She read what it said, and shock gripped, but did not quite paralyse, her.
“Thirty-six,” she murmured, distantly. “Thirty bloody six. Is that all I got? And what about the boys? They’ll have to grow up without their mother?”
“We can hardly sacrifice them.”
A brief silence. Ross asked:
“Have you not yet worked out where you are?”
“I feel as if…I’ve…well, not been here before, but seen it before.”
“It’s a sort of halfway house. Between one way of living and the next. Of course, if you settle down, you could theoretically stay here forever. Look at what we have to offer.”
He pushed some buttons, and the sea rose up on one of the screens.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “and you are of course free to leave this place and roam as you wish. There is no…er…security system to keep you here. This is not a prison. This is what people who have been here before never worked out. The weather balloons were a projection of their own timidity. It’s just that their old lives…ended. Their old world was gone; they could never go back to it.
“That having been said, you could sail out to sea, and go and find other communities like this one. They’re all out here, they all exist. But we think you’d be happiest in this particular community.”
“Oh, he’s here.”
She breathed a sigh of relief.
“He was as shellshocked as you to begin with, but he came round very quickly. He’s out there now, sailing his yacht. Camera 23?” he called.
Camera 23 stirred into action, and there indeed he was, on his yacht, lazing the day away.
“Let him enjoy himself, you know what he’s like. He knows you’re here – he’s been leaving flowers for you every day; go and look in your bedroom – and he’ll come ashore and be with you soon. Henri, too; we didn’t quite trust him in our taxi service, but he’s got a wine shop on 6th Street which I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Took to it straightaway. You will not be required to work, of course – your money is safe and secure, your continued income guaranteed; the bank on 3rd Street will confirm this for you, since we took the liberty of transferring your account up here. But I’m sure you’ll find plenty to do here – there’s a superb health club, plenty of hills for you to go walking up and down – and, of course, I expect there’ll be many people you know.”
She considered all of this.
“So, if I get you right, I have been killed in a car crash, in Paris, and brought up here – a week and a bit later? What happened in between?”
“Oh, a lot of controversy. The whole thing nearly toppled over. They were in Balmoral, and…well, you know; different families find different ways of coping. But they came back down to London eventually – they could hardly not come back - and you had a funeral with full honours at Westminster Abbey. Everything you would have expected and wanted.”
“So I am no longer in Kensington.”
“You are back home, in Althorp, in the middle of an island surrounded by a lake. But of course you yourself are no longer there, as such – you have come up here. Been brought up here, let us say.”
“Why the façade?”
“Well, we thought you’d appreciate being reminded of home. Ongoing live television transmission of images, everything as you would remember it. The flowers and mourners will disperse eventually. I do hope you don’t mind – we thought it was the least we could do for you.”
“Oh yes, Number 1 insisted upon it.”
“He loves every one of us, you know.” He gave her a beatific smile which instilled in her a strange sense of resigned contentment.
* * * * * *
She wandered the streets of her new city. She had checked in at the bank, and sure enough they knew exactly who she was, and had bowed and curtsied as she came in. She had visited the Versace shop and was surprised and delighted to find Gianni himself at the counter. They embraced joyously and Gianni told her with a chuckle how John Lennon had laughed at his taking such a stupid chance, especially given what had happened to him. “I told John, yes, I shouldn’t just go out on my own, but it’s…pride, you know? Anyway, it’s the guy who shot me who’s going to have to live with his own nothingness for the rest of his life – I think I got the better deal.”
She was searching, however, for a library; she was sure that a place this large – she was reminded of Hong Kong – would have one, and there on 9th Street it was, an unprepossessing but large redbrick building which identified itself as the World Library. Again the receptionist there stood to attention and welcomed her warmly: “Don’t worry, we already have your membership processed – here is your ticket.” The receptionist presumed correctly she’d want to go to the Archives section, and so she was directed to the third floor.
Upon entering the third floor of the library she found that the room was of infinite size. In its space appeared to be detailed, alphabetised archives for every human being who had ever lived. She recognised some of her fellow browsers. She went immediately to the “D” section – rather than “S” or “W” – and there, after some while searching, she found her archive.
Each archive had its own sub-room to itself, with all necessary reading and listening facilities, and so she contemplated the archive of her life, which was sizeable but ranked and stocked in absolute fidelity to her life’s passage. She found the file marked “FUNERAL” but didn’t feel ready to look at that yet, and so concentrated on the one marked “WEDDING.”
She still felt it necessary to get back to the source of the pain, even if it were only the reverse of her joy.
In the “WEDDING” file was enough material to furnish a small study. Among the contents was a long-playing record. She stopped to consider. She remembered the event well enough, though never watched herself on video afterwards, but was curious to find out how it sounded. A record of the wedding? My goodness, she thought, who would have bought that? Tourists, wanting a souvenir? A country needing reassurance in the midst of things she only vaguely heard about, like hunger strikes and riots. She knew something of the former – in her own way – and certainly did not feel as though she had ever ridden out to cause the latter.
She carefully examined the fairly lavish cover, so lavish it was easy to miss the gold leaf printing on the front. She recognised the picture, however; taken by Tony in the Palace against one of these unsexy old tapestries which seemed to spring out of her flowing, ruffled green-on-turquoise dress. She was seated – on the throne, so to speak – and Charles stood with a protective hand at the back of her right shoulder. He never quite got it, did he, Charles; looking vaguely bemused, giving off that strange air of being Alfred E Neuman, with his stare slightly perplexed, as though he had never seen a camera before in his life and was quite delighted by what it could do.
She herself, however, was nothing like that. She glances sidelong at the camera, her eyes and mouth not really smiling, her arms folded strategically to highlight her engagement ring. She looks already aware that any future she may have will be as an image. Images are powerful things; people who become famous through their image – and that, in the final reckoning, is how most famous people become famous – think of themselves as inviolable, maybe even immortal; there is a quality, an attribute, to their image that they can transmit to their viewers and admirers, to say, by these images will you know me, so I might strive one day to be a god. In your world, I may already be one. The admirer has to know implicitly that they can never be as she is, yet by this frustration can they contrive to imprison the star within her image – she must live up to what we see her as being.
The picture on the back cover is actively distressing, and she remembers it being taken, again by Tony; now they are together in happy embrace and it is clear that she loves him, if not the other way around. Once again, she places her left arm in a position prominent enough for us to see her engagement ring very clearly. But her face is a little too large for her body, as though it had been pasted in, and how come Charles is so much taller than her? She was five feet ten, and yet she could see that she is bending down slightly in order to allow Royalty to be bigger than her. He looks conspiratorially at the camera, as if to say: haven’t I bagged a nice one, lads? But she is leaning against his left shoulder so forcefully that it is all she can do not to collapse on the floor. She looks as the note that monies raised from the sale of the record will go towards the Royal Wedding Souvenir Fund “which is being devoted to the handicapped as part of the International Year of Disabled People.”
She is not interested in what she knows her many obituarists have to say about her; it is, she knows, difficult for others to understand her without going into the same old clichés about her life, and the world, even in 1997, is not in need of yet more amateur psychologists. Instead she opens up the record sleeve and glances inside. Yes, the Order of Service, set out like a restaurant menu, and two sides filled with portraits.
She looks at Charles’ side and remembers what she saw in his image, if not his actuality, in the first place; still looking surprisingly young – or was it simply that by 1981 standards he looked so old? – he poses formally, and is surrounded by other images of him at work and play; grinning on the ski slopes, hustling a polo pony, rigging up a windsurfer, on duty in the officers’ mess with a mullet subtly poking out of his lieutenant’s cap. Everything she wanted when she was nine years old and had posters of him up on her bedroom wall; everything her own parents could not give her at the time. The danger of the observer being entranced and attracted by the image of another; hence there is a definite kinship with Lennon and Chapman, and like the latter, there could probably only always have been one survivor. Degree absolute.
On her own side there she is in the centre, wearing a frilly blouse, thinner than she ought to be, looking, as elsewhere, like a stray Nolan sister. This is surrounded by images of her…not really working as such, but in various poses, ranging from contemplative to mildly threatening, in her slender array of Laura Ashley standards and bobbly knitwear. At top left there is a picture of her and Charles, some distance away from each other, entering a marquee of some kind; neither looks especially happy, and she is wearing the black silk Emanuel ballgown that will prove to be the wrong size for her; later that evening she will fall out of it. Perhaps they are both apprehensive, but he looks more accustomed to the occasion than she does.
She notices that on Charles’ side there are no pictures of him with her.
With some trepidation, she takes the record out of its sleeve and places it on the turntable that has been provided for her.
Ah yes, the crowd noises; she remembers straightaway. The long journey through a somewhat overcast central London to get to St Paul’s, the worry that her father wouldn’t be able to get in her coach because there was so much wedding dress, the hold-ups caused by that strange Spike Milligan fellow constantly getting out of his car to shake the hands of spectators – sometimes Charles’ Goon tapes and impressions could drive her to extremely dark thoughts, but boys had to have their fun as well, she supposed.
The dress which went on for miles and everybody cheered as she went inside – they went for the Cathedral rather than the Abbey because they weren’t sure they’d be able to get all the guests into the Abbey – and, yes, she felt nervous, but, she thought, on balance, pretty good.
As she proceeded very slowly into the Cathedral, the military fanfares and ceremonials made her, for a moment, regret that she hadn’t gone ahead with the idea of having her bridesmaids rollerskate into the church, wearing Walkmen, perhaps to that tune “Planet Earth” with its line “Look round, look all around – there’s no sign of life.” She loved Duran Duran; their first album had been out for about a month, and of course she had arranged for a copy to be bought for her. They felt new to her, unstuffy, both alienating yet simultaneously welcoming. Charles was a bit grumpy about them, said they were the Moody Blues with sequencers and mascara, but that made perfect sense to her since she also had Long Distance Voyager. That and her tapes of Supertramp, Cat Stevens and ELO; exactly the sort of music one would imagine a sensitive twenty-year-old girl to be listening to and enjoying.
Perhaps there were misgivings as she walked up the aisle to Jeremiah Clarke and felt C standing at the side, giving her the skunk eye. Oh, she knew about C all right, all about the history…but no, this was going to be different. She had absolutely no doubt in her mind, even sixteen years later, that she loved that man. Somewhere within her she still did. She thought she could change him for the better. She had no idea she was going to play a stooge to anyone’s Rebecca.
But she felt C’s stare, boring into her left side, and the sidelong look of despairing pity she had given to Charles, already there at the altar. No, she insisted to herself; I want to become the Queen, I entertain no thoughts of bringing this family or institution down, I just want to make it…better? More modern?
She, who was always anxious that she be considered modern rather than fashionable.
The hymn was Purcell. Always played at Royal occasions, whatever the occasion. This pleased her because she liked Purcell. In particular she liked the way he could feed into his music the possibility that not everything was happy; enjoying the newly-found freedom from Gregorian unisons, he would always sneak in minor key modulations of doubt, even into the most joyous and noble of hymns. The harmonies and the organ; Purcell reminded her of the Beach Boys. She doesn’t know how she would have got through that summer of 1976 without 20 Golden Greats.
And the voices singing; the whole congregation, from everywhere in the world that wanted to reach there. Margaret and Denis Thatcher were there, as was Nancy Reagan (and even Tricia Nixon); among the royalty was Princess Grace of Monaco, who once had sung songs like “True Love” and who, unbeknown to her, had just over a year to live. The twenty-one-year old who had to attend her funeral quietly scoffed at the thought that she herself could be caught out by such an end – a car accident, of all things.
The Dean of St Paul’s stepped up to read from the Book of Common Prayer; the regulations for matrimony which served to reinforce the notion, at this most High Anglican of ceremonies, that the Church was “here” before any “Royal Family” and that any marriage undertaken under its aegis must be entered into in the manner in which Christ “married” the Church. His routine peroration includes the part stating that children “should be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord,” in that very meaningful order. Fear first, nurture second (or man, followed by woman?), with interpolations from elsewhere in the Book, including the need for marriage not to be “taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly” (but not the codicil “to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding”).
And then came the clincher: “if anyone can show any good reason why they may not be lawfully joined together, let him now speak or for ever remain silent.” She thought to herself, wrong gender, and nobody dared say anything. Her eyes bore possible witness that she would be as polite and charming as she could be, while all the time thinking if anyone lay a finger on her dress without her permission she could kill them (as Kubrick instructed James Mason to act as Humbert Humbert).
Then Archbishop Runcie set about getting them married. She was amazed at how thin, nervous and distant both of their voices sounded (at one point Runcie audibly whispers to Charles “Well done”). She almost married her father-in-law by mistake; Charles promised to share his “goods” rather than his “worldly goods,” the word “obey” was left out at her request. But they were joined together (to multiple camera clicks and external cheers).
They were now married, and there was an Anthem, by somebody called William Mathias, who was a professor of music at the University of Bangor. Listening to it in 1997, she was struck by how unashamedly modern it sounded – there was no dissonance, as such, in the song, but the angles in which the music was arranged were new and unexpected, with great, brooding cranes of choir; it starts out as a standard all-joy-be-unto-thee hymn but quickly gets detoured, such that…well, somebody once told her that it was like a cross between “Cabinessence” and Koyannisqatsi. Whatever that meant. Harmonies hoisting themselves into the air, like hoverbirds.
There was the Lesson, given by the then Speaker of the House of Commons – another Welshman for the Prince and Princess of Wales – and it was the usual passage that got rolled out at Royal ceremonies, the one about sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, putting childish things away and through a glass darkly.
Runcie then gave his Address, focusing on fairytales, unconsciously paraphrasing Wilde in noting that “But fairy tales usually end at this point with the simple phrase ‘They lived happily ever after,’” before going on to explain that this was likely “because fairy stories regard marriage as an anti-climax…This is not the Christian view. Our faith sees the wedding day not as the point of arrival but the place where the adventure really begins.” His speech is loaded with portents, with its warning talk of cynicism and burdens, as if he is trying to convince himself that this marriage would work – as she knows she was convinced, and believed, at the time, that he was too. At one point he quotes Edwin Muir on marriage, and at the end, she now sees ominously, he is already talking about their marriage in the past tense (“However long they live”). They are doing this in front of millions, he concedes, and in the knowledge (“kings and queens of love”) that they can never be as other married couples, or other humans.
Then came Parry’s “I Am Glad,” also heard at the Queen’s Coronation, and another unusually advanced-sounding hymn for its age, again with strata of minor key doubt edging through the densely-constructed harmonies of the anthem (it is the distant cousin of Parry’s setting of “Jerusalem”). This was all very impressive, but she wasn’t yet sure what any of it ever had to do with her. Couldn’t they have got Jean-Michel Jarre?
She turned the record over at this point, and there was a sombre choral recital striving to be celebratory (too much guilt and embarrassment built into the British psyche for this ever to work, she thought that she thought) followed by a set of prayers. She smiled at the entreaty that their home might be “a place of love, security and truth.” Call and response, like they did with much less shame elsewhere in the world. Then the swelling of the Holst song, included at her specific request (and “Jupiter” came later; he reused and reworked the melody), and implying that they were not merely marrying each other, this couple with an age difference of almost a dozen years, but the country (how is this going to look to people overseas, was the constant thought that she recalled).
“O Thou The Central Orb.” She at least remembered where Orlando Gibbons’ “Amen” came from, and for her it was a moment maybe more spellbinding than the wedding itself. Listening to it now, it didn’t feel as if it fit in with anything else in the ceremony – although the Handel stuff was still to come – and somebody else said to her, well, you know “Our Prayer” by the Beach Boys? Beautiful, abstract and barely a minute long? She didn’t, of course, but listened as she was told that this is where that had, in part, come from. The beginning of SMiLE, a story told by descendents of Anglicans about a people building a country which represented a clean break from the old country, which did not require any royal title or obligation.
There is a blessing, and a brass-heavy orchestral reimagining of “God Save The Queen,” and then they went to sign the Register while the music of Handel played. Kiri Te Kanawa gave a virtuoso solo on “Let the Bright Seraphim,” or, more accurately, a virtuoso call-and-response routine with John Wallace’s trumpet, to be succeeded by a full, insanely contrapuntal choir on “Let their celestial concerts all unite.” Upbeat, perky music for the most part – but the two songs form the coda of the oratorio Samson, based closely on Milton’s “Samson Agonistes” model, come after the death of the hero and the destruction of the Philistines, asking that Samson’s spirit be elevated to the next world. The register of marriage is being signed to the soundtrack of songs about death. She thought that was quite odd at the time – never mind how Handel, too, managed to smuggle doomy menace and mourning into his bright tapestries; in both songs there is a temporary breaking-off point where sorrow and grief are all too tangible.
But their work is done, and so the couple moves out of the Cathedral, to, first, another fanfare, and then to Elgar’s fourth jaunty march. Written in 1907, it is perhaps too early to attribute the inspiration for the uptempo first theme, in terms of both rhythm and orchestration, to contemporary dance bands, but there comes a purposeful, and more famous, second theme, all the while balancing the ironies of using the terms “pomp” and “circumstance” in relation to armies going off to war, as Shakespeare did in Othello - i.e. the gulf between the glamorous spectacle and gruesome reality (it is a musical trope that will extend to Westbrook’s Marching Song, so she read somewhere, but jazz wasn’t her thing; she remembers going to a Prince’s Trust concert with Humphrey Dankworth, or was it Cleo Tracey, and doing her best not to fall asleep. Too much fiddling, not enough directness; she was always a doer rather than a thinker. Better to tilt your head and make believe you contain the secret of life than to turn your head away and prove the sceptics right).
And the Pomp and Circumstance March fades into the background, as they return to the open air, to be met with tumultuous cheers, and the record itself ends with gloriously, ecstatically pealing bells.
But was it love, or just the look of love?
She was no nearer an answer.
“We turned water into wine, but that didn’t last.”
(Cliff Richard, “When Two Worlds Drift Apart” – those love songs, it must not be forgotten, are sung by somebody who harbours a deep religious conviction)
She carefully placed the “WEDDING” file and all the other files back into her archive, went back downstairs, smiled graciously at the receptionist and made her way out of the library.
And she was back in Kensington Gardens, outside the Palace, and she realised what she had entered into, an institution that didn’t know how to express emotion because they were never taught, or it had been knocked out of them before any damage could be done to the country. So she came in aged twenty, and spent the rest of her time acting and looking like somebody aged fifty, and when she finally worked herself free of them she realised that she was “herself” again – thirtysomething, and maybe something of a Sloane, but aware that she still possessed enough power to do things, perhaps even modestly change things.
The flowers were already being scooped up and disposed of; she moved through their fair with the bouncy, inquisitive eagerness that had always been a part of her. She knows that in 1997 she has been the biggest pop star in the world for at least a decade and a half, and it won’t stop, not even now she has gone.
She goes back into her bedroom, arranges her handbag and puts on a baseball cap and shades so that she won’t be recognised, not stopping to think that nobody recognised her outside just now. On the radio she hears songs – “You Have Been Loved,” “The Drugs Don’t Work,” even the thing Elton kindly rewrote for her to say that her country would be lost without her. But she is everybody now, just as everybody is her. She ventures anonymously into the city to buy the CD of her funeral, marvels at how closely its structure shadows that of her wedding, and carefully files it away at home, in between Seven And The Ragged Tiger and Flying Colours, and maybe you still see her at the corner of Sloane Street, anxiously waiting for the Anya Hindmarch shop to open up, and she is a shadow in a world of ceaseless transition. Looking at a distance, you realise that it might be a nice day to start again.
Next: time for entry #250.
Posted by Marcello Carlin at 19:06
Wednesday, 6 March 2013
(#248: 11 July 1981, 5 weeks)
Track listing: Miss You Nights/Constantly/Up In The World/Carrie/A Voice In The Wilderness/The Twelfth Of Never/I Could Easily Fall (In Love With You)/The Day I Met Marie/Can’t Take This Hurt Anymore/A Little In Love/The Minute You’re Gone/Visions/When Two Worlds Drift Apart/The Next Time/It’s All In The Game/Don’t Talk To Him/When The Girl In Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart/Theme For A Dream/Fall In Love With You/We Don’t Talk Anymore
“Libra is the zodiac’s Renaissance man. For him life is art, and he approaches existence as would a painter faced with a blank canvas, feeling empowered to create a world based solely on his idealized visions while striving to encapture sweeping abstract realities that he perceives as having remained heretofore out of humanity’s reach. He is naturally attuned to the ordered, nonchaotic energies of the universe and is thus both highly principled and philosophical. Libra is a perfectionist, if not a platonist, forever focusing on conditions that might bring betterment, both for himself and for others; and yet wearing rose-colored glasses can also set him up for great disappointment.”
(Stella Starsky and Quinn Cox, Sexology: The Astrology of Sex and the Sexes, New York: HarperCollins, 2004)
“The word is not the thing.”
(Paul Child, after Alfred Korzybski, quoted by Julia Child in My Life in France, New York: Random House, 2006)
In July 1981, I didn’t really care what was number one. I remembered “Ghost Town” being top of the singles, but the number one album? It could have been anybody; it wouldn’t have registered with me. On the fifteenth day of that month, my father died, eleven days past his fiftieth birthday. He’d had a heart attack the morning before; I happened to be at home, got our GP in, who called the ambulance, and spent the rest of the day zigzagging between Airdrie, Uddingston, Glasgow and Bothwell with my mother (although Airdrie was just the other side of the M8 motorway from us, there was no direct rail or bus link, and getting there necessitated going right into Glasgow by train and coming right out again). On the Tuesday afternoon my father was awake, alert, sitting up in bed and talking. It looked like a warning, and nothing more; life would have to change.
But on the Wednesday morning, around 7:40 am, the ward sister at Monklands Hospital called and asked for my mother and myself to go straight back to the hospital; my father had taken a turn for the worse, and there might not be much time left. By the time we got there it was too late; he had had a second, far more serious heart attack and not recovered. He was the first dead person I had seen in my life – so far I have only seen two – and, as a person I thought I’d known all of my life, I looked at him, cold and resting, and wondered whether I’d ever known him at all. Who was this? Wherever my dad was now, he wasn’t there.
People were sympathetic but not surprised; it had long been on the cards, he had been given warning after warning, none of the wonderful drugs now available to treat and control these things yet existed. Some said, for him it must have been a curious relief, to get out of a world with which he had struggled for far too long.
Cliff Richard, whose father died about twenty years earlier, when he himself was not yet twenty-one.
These early semi-orphaned boys who abruptly find they are compelled to turn into men.
Because losing a parent at such an early age changes you, and probably in the longer term the course of your life. Things that once were vital are found no longer to matter. Goals you had set yourself – or, in my case, had been set for me – seemed spurious, outdated. What do you do, you who have been left behind? You degenerate into destructive decades of moping. Or the safety valve in your mind clicks “ON” and you do your best to keep going and make everyone else bereaved around you at least reasonably happy. Or you guiltily see it as something of a liberation; the darkness is gone, and you can finally burst out of your imposed chrysalis and…begin to live?
I was set for university, and my mother was insistent that I go. By doing so, I would leave her alone at a time when she least needed or wanted to be left alone. But no, leave home; it’s what my father had wanted for me, go to another city, study, make something of yourself. It was “expected.” About a year before he died, however, my father mentioned to me that he had spoken to some people in the Outram press works (Evening Times, Glasgow Herald) about getting me an apprenticeship in journalism. What did I think? I look back now and part of me thinks: yes, I should have gone for that, I’d have been set up to go into a proper profession, as a trained professional, and probably learned a lot more about the world by doing so. University could wait.
Except it couldn’t. A child prodigy who had appeared on the front of sixties newspapers couldn’t be “expected” to settle for being “only” a journalist. And in any case, I would have stayed in Glasgow at a time when I felt I had seen all I wanted to see in the city, and was consumed by a craving to leave home and go elsewhere. There were reasons for my opting for university, and the other part of me knows that if I hadn’t gone, things that did happen to me would never have come to pass.
But leaving meant leaving everything, and everybody, behind; I was unsentimental about that in 1981 and am probably a lot more sentimental about it now.
“Thinking of my going,
How to cut the thread and leave it all behind.”
(Cliff Richard, “Miss You Nights”)
I think Cliff Richard was far more affected by his father’s death than he tends to let on. Certainly it was the major catalyst in his move towards Christianity, but there are other relevant factors too. In 1961 he was seeing an Australian dancer, Delia Wicks, who was one of the Television Toppers in the Black And White Minstrel Show. They were involved seriously enough for marriage to be considered. But shortly after his father’s death, Cliff wrote to her calling the relationship off. “"Being a pop singer I have to give up one priceless thing,” he said, “…the right to any lasting relationship with any special girl."
Maybe he saw what happened with Marty Wilde’s career, which ended almost the instant he became a husband and then a father, necessitating a move into songwriting. But in the letter, he continued: "I couldn't give up my career, besides the fact that my mother and sisters, since my father's death, rely on me completely.”
One is frequently reminded that Cliff is Anglo-Indian, and, like Italian families, the family unit is paramount; everything else is considered secondary. The need to earn a living and support what remains of your family.
But then he says: “I have showbiz in my blood now and I would be lost without it."
In other words, he is married, can only be married, to The Game (“It’s All In The Game,” as he would put it). As a Libran – and in common with those other sorely ambitious Librans who meticulously build careers for themselves and then hide behind pseudonyms (Sting, Flea, Marc Bolan, Meat Loaf) – he is entrapped by the realisation that the career, the showbiz, is the thing he has chiefly wanted, the prize he values most. And everything else, including people, must if necessary be sacrificed on the altar of entertainment probity.
Perhaps that is a tad too extreme. But when faced with the twenty songs on Love Songs, which span twenty-one years, the listener is confronted with the realisation that in not one of these songs is Cliff securely and happily with someone. Make no mistake about the ambition; on his twenty-first birthday, you will recall, he flew to Australia to begin a tour, and the album 21 Today may betray a trace of defiance in these candles he is attempting to blow out.
However, you have to wonder exactly what is happening in Love Songs, since these are not comforting fireside homilies to company and affection. Eleven of its songs reappear from 40 Golden Greats - a number one album less than four years before this one – but it is clear that these have been very carefully selected and re-sequenced. This record is trying to tell us a story, and perhaps it’s about time we listened.
I make no secret of the fact that so far on Then Play Long I have been more often irritated than pleased by Cliff, vexed at the options he didn’t take, aghast at the seeming compromises for which he settled. But he, maybe above everybody else in this tale, needs to be followed closely and continuously; he is, after all, only the third act, after the Shadows and the Rolling Stones, to score number one albums in three different decades.
And perhaps I was a little too presumptive about 40 Golden Greats, too impatient for the Sex Pistols to begin happening. I groaned at what I heard as complacent candyfloss and waited for the seventies and for him to get serious, and better. But these songs, when re-placed on Love Songs, take on a new meaning and architectural design.
So what he is trying to tell us?
Look at him on that cover…leaning against a lamppost on a promenade in a seaside town which looks like Brighton but could be somewhere else. The sun is setting behind him, so an alternate title for the record might have been Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. He is dressed smart casual, jacket draped over his left shoulder, knitted waistcoat and full-sleeved (beige?) shirt, his right hand in half a pocket of his jeans – and he is cleverly trying to hide the option that, in 1981, these jeans are flared – and carefully scuffed sneakers. He is looking slightly to the left of camera – though the pose could still be construed as looking at us. He is forty years old. His hair is that of the trainee suburban town planner (eleven years previously, Cliff and Hank Marvin had issued a diatribe against town planning in their single “The Joy Of Living”). He looks a little proud, and more…resigned. Not resigned in the Number 6 sense, but a sense of having resigned himself to his lot in life; he is famous, he is loved, he is perhaps even respected, but he is alone.
On the rear cover he stands in profile shadow, on the beach (the song “On The Beach” does not reappear here), his body slightly jutting out like a harbour quay, staring at the sea, a wall of waves apparently set to engulf him; but he does not move, cannot move, would not want to move. An alternate title for this record might have been English Channel Blue.
But the image is what he wants us to see, in common with most pop performers. There is a sense of invulnerability which I think the cover picture is attempting to convey, the notion that, well, this is me at forty, and if I do the right things, I can look like this forever…maybe I can even live forever. Photography bestows its own code of unreality and immortality upon the viewers transfixed by what it offers. Cliff at forty…if only we could all stay forty…or remember when we were forty…forty, an age which to me, in 1981, seemed unreal, at an unfathomably far distance, and which now cannily recalls itself as a memoir of a time in one’s life when everything was…still to be done, or achieved.
That this is not Cosy Cliff - indeed, in the record’s key song he makes the words “cosy cove” sound like a death sentence – is immediately apparent by the fact that the record begins with “Miss You Nights,” a song in which he, like his cover image, appears hurt but resigned to his loneness. When I wrote about it in my piece on 40 Golden Greats I said some lazy stuff about it being perhaps his “greatest performance,” even his “key to the kingdom.” I’m not dissenting from the record’s greatness…but it’s not even the best performance on this record. However, it does set a tone more in keeping, in Sinatra terms, with Where Are You? than Songs For Young Lovers…and, as a highly elevated bar, its placement suggests a challenge; can he better this?
In these songs, he’s either abandoned love, or been abandoned by it, or else he doesn’t have the nerve to make love happen (in “Theme For A Dream” he can’t even summon up the courage to speak to her – and talking, as we will see, is an important point in this record), or else love, or lovers, exist only in a dream, or as an idealisation, Carrie probably no more real than Marie or the girl in his heart.
He performs these songs, by and large, as though he were more concerned by the image, or the look of love, than the reality.
“Constantly” is one of several songs where his lover is so far away from him it makes no difference (in “A Voice In The Wilderness” she may not even be on this planet). The placing of “Carrie” next to “Wilderness” is particularly loaded with subtext; in neither song is there any concrete evidence of the girl herself, but one could easily be the sequel to the other. “Wilderness,” with its explicit Biblical reference, is a curiously desolate performance (Marvin’s guitar lines as distant and intangible as those on “Surf’s Up”) whose lofty yet blankly sung words suggest that Cliff’s lover has moved to another world – the “We had a quarrel/I was unkind” middle-eight is a red herring, but in the same section he sings “Love made me blind” in a descending manner which suggests the last three words being casually tossed into a wastebin (and yet “Love made me blind” will resurface elsewhere on the record). He sings “My heart was so heavy” as though audibly sagging from the effort of bearing its weight. “Be true to her memory, she’ll come back someday”; this is verging on Joe Meek territory. And God is talking to him.
Maybe God is also the bored guy on reception in the apartment block where Carrie once lived. Where has she gone? Was she ever anywhere? The song doesn’t provide any explicit answers, but Cliff’s performance fills in all the blanks; his heart wells up on the extended “time” in the line “And time is not your own.” His pained exclamation of “CARRIE!,” going straight into the sax solo, betrays hitherto untold reservoirs of contained grief. And yet there is also a grown-up impatience at large – “The young wear their freedom by cheap perfume” – and by the time of his exasperated “You’re just another message on a payphone wall!,” and given the song’s melodic and rhythmic resemblance to “Devil Woman,” it’s probably safe to assume that Carrie – if she ever existed – is one of those kinds of fleeing spirit. She left him for the wilderness, and he has now given up the search, a generation later.
The old songs from the sixties, which on first glance seem to suggest a near-schizophrenic determination to view everything as part of the same insoluble puzzle, cast new perspectives on what comes after them. Although this is by my count the 968th version of “Twelfth Of Never” to turn up on Then Play Long, and although I feel that my life would not be seriously impaired if I never heard the song again, I do have to admit that Cliff’s reading is maybe the most convincing, not to mention that this performance is the string that ties the rest of the record together. He sings of his devotion to “love” or the ideal of love, but it’s unclear whether he is singing it to anybody in particular or simply praying. In his way, it is Cliff’s “When I Fall In Love” – this is what I believe love should be about – his declaration of principles, and he enunciates the song beautifully, getting in every clear consonant of the word “twelfth,” as well as singing, rather than simply reciting, it, as witness his six-syllable “I” in “I need you” or the way his voice swoops up like a gannet on the second syllable of “poets.”
The rest of his sixties, as represented here, is fantasy; the faster songs do not imply hastening of commitment – “I Could Easily Fall,” the really rather sinister “Don’t Talk To Him” (in which latter he seems to be willing a relationship to end, so intoxicated and toxic is his paranoia – and there’s that “talk” or “don’t talk” again) – while the ballads, or slower songs anyway, sing of things that are less than real (“The Day I Met Marie,” “Visions,” that brooding inversion of “Silent Night”) or muse about solitude (“The Minute You’re Gone,” “The Next Time” with the latter’s denial that the singer is “losing sleep”; throughout side two in particular, the listener is made sorely aware that the record is steadily working up towards something).
Or else tinker with the notion of romance for fear of causing it to happen. Consider the seemingly innocuous “Fall In Love With You,” the album’s oldest song. On YouTube there is a lovely little performance of it, from a black-and-white 1960 ATV show, perhaps Sunday Night At The London Palladium, where a thin, silver-suited Cliff faces a screaming (but invisible) female audience, says almost apologetically that he and the Shadows are going to play their “new record.” The Shadows are instantly vapourised into darkness, leaving Cliff, alone in the spotlight, singing the song to his unseen fans. And it really is a strange song, the more you delve into it; if this is his “first romance,” then why is he “falling in love again”? Why does he ask “Why must you lead your heart and keep we two apart?” – another line that will come back on this record to haunt him? “Why couldn’t I,” he asks, “why shouldn’t I,” he insists, “fall in love with you?” All the while, the camera is steadily closing in on Cliff’s face, and I think: where I have I seen those eyes, that bone structure before (and both are subtly different from the minutely altered bone structure and eyes we see on the cover of Love Songs, since they have yet to have twenty years of things happening to them)? Then, right at the close of the song, when the screaming resumes, Cliff offers a seemingly sheepish but actually quite knowing grin, and it becomes clear – Christ, this is Marc Bolan! With a touch of Adam Ant! A scary performance, if you’re not prepared for it.
And yet the song fits in perfectly with the album’s newest song, “A Little In Love.” Here he is trying the same sort of chat-up, but life has taught him to be a touch more confident, a lot less offputtingly nervous – the canine whimper of “Don’t tell me, I know” would never occur to this guy – and perhaps it’s the same woman (“It’s been so long, you say you’ve had fun”) who’s been hurt by life and love, and is now coming back for a second chance. He’s learned to tease (“Please Don’t Tease” also long gone) with his smiling “You’re just a LITTLE in love,” but gives himself away with the highly meaningful “Whooo, oooh…I need you so.” Alan Tarney’s songwriting and production rise to meet the new need – there’s a lovely Gerry Rafferty chord sequence bridging the choruses and verses – and forty-year-old Cliff sings as though he still has some kind of future, based on a succession of some kind of futures.
And then it was into the later seventies, and are we anywhere near the realer Cliff yet? There are four songs still to be talked about in this piece. Of these, only three were singles; one is an album track, one only charted at the very bottom of the Top 50, one did not chart at all, and the fourth was the biggest single of his career. So we are at that point where perhaps “hits” do not matter so much to Cliff; despite the big comeback with “Devil Woman” and the procession of British rock notables sporting I’m Nearly Famous badges, nothing between that song and “We Don’t Talk Anymore” – a period of some three years - went top ten.
It is also noticeable that when Cliff puts out a song he really loves, that he truly believes in, whether it’s “The Day I Met Marie” or “Miss You Nights,” it doesn’t do as well commercially as some of his more routine stuff. But go to any Cliff fan forum of your choice and you will quickly see that his late seventies work is the music that is most avidly loved and cherished by his hardcore fans, who swear by Every Face Tells A Story or Green Light (with good reason). The songs that Radio 2 and Magic FM will never play.
Let’s start with “Can’t Take The Hurt Anymore,” a song from Green Light which flopped as a single in 1978. “Now that the past has ended,” declaims a Cliff suddenly aware of his own history, “My life’s an open door.” He dwells slowly and destructively on what he’s lived through, and the sorrowful conclusion is; no, he can’t carry on with this, he’s been here before and more effort COULD be made but the pain is too much. He crouches down to his audience and very methodically picks through the bones of conflicting emotions which the song has presented. As an actor, this is a performance he couldn’t have given in 1962, or 1968. Bruce Welch’s production – this whole album could pass as a Citizen Kane with Norrie Paramor and Bruce Welch’s versions of Cliff – is subtle and inventive; after Cliff asks, agonisingly, “Can’t we find the light bright enough to guide us?,” Welch obligingly puts in some abstract synthesised whooshes over a crunchy acoustic guitar. As Cliff’s agony becomes more pronounced, so does his voice get higher; his climactic “’Cause I would if I could and I TRY” has the “TRY” segue seamlessly into the electric guitar solo; at song’s end, the guitar hovers on its highest note, hanging on in the wretched expectation of hope.
The whole album is, of course, building up to “We Don’t Talk Anymore” but for reasons which will become clear I’m going to talk about it here, with some scene-setting:
In the late summer of 1979 I returned from a most enjoyable month’s holiday in Italy – the best holiday I ever had, really – to find, amongst other things, a stiffly-backed buff envelope containing my SCE O Grade results (all good, and some notably better than good), the Specials performing "Gangsters" and Steve Beresford with the Flying Lizards performing "Money" on TOTP and again turning my world around on its axis, the Police suddenly and unexpectedly megastars…and, among all this pleasing avant-garde turmoil, Cliff Richard at number one for the first time in over a decade with one of the most effortlessly great of all pop records. Who would have thought it (as it turned out, Richard Williams did, in his Melody Maker column)?
"We Don’t Talk Anymore" was a Tarney song, but a Welch production, and the Shadow makes an expert job of acclimatising Cliff’s personality in a fairly fearless futuristic setting. The song is synth-dominant, but in the Abba sense, including the same artful dramatic use of lead guitar. Cliff rides the song’s escalating waves sublimely as he describes a love suddenly withdrawn from him, the apparent cheerfulness of his delivery slowly melting as we realise his true hurt; this is the result of all the pain and resentment that have steadily been building up throughout the two sides of Love Songs.
The genius of the song and arrangement lies in how everything keeps cumulatively rising and rising throughout – the key, the modulations, the emotion. Everything strives to reach a peak until it all appears ready to boil over with Cliff’s frantic double-bluff of "But I ain’t losing sleep/And I ain’t counting sheep" (you don’t believe him for a second) and the harmonies cresting at an impossible falsetto before Cliff’s near-screamed "ANYMORE" sends the whole thing crashing to earth – a gesture defined by the record’s essential punctum of the abruptly diving synthesiser chord, as though the machine has been momentarily switched off.
But it swiftly begins again, and once more Cliff attempts to climb that peak, and like an ant brushed off near the summit by a mischievous human finger, he falls back to the ground again and again, but is never bruised, although his emoting becomes more and more tortured with each chorus – and this mirrors the precise tenor of the song, which is about his lover suddenly and unexpectedly turning away from him – such that multitracked Cliffs of backing vocals (and, according to Wikipedia, also Bryan Ferry – another Libra man) are reduced to chanting "she-ee-ee-ee-eep," or perhaps they’re taunting the hapless lead Cliff and his nature. But as a pop record it works with meticulous brilliance and could virtually serve as a master template on how to make pop.
Then again, it might be the easiest thing in the world to make pop – if all you want is to make pop.
Or has Harry Webb actually got a lot more to do with Gary Webb, who succeeded him at number one in 1979, than you might think?
“No one part of [the Libra man] is phony in the least. It’s just that artifice – the word stems from art - is indigenous to the one male born under this inanimate star sign. But isn’t art artifice? Doesn’t it imitate life? Or vice versa? Libra man is a living, breathing exploration of these essential questions. He represents life lived as a sort of performance art, begging the question, can not the same be true for any of us? Admittedly, organizing and coordinating the chorus of selves that make up his naturally faceted personality does require a great deal of orchestration – in the strictest sense of the word.”
(Starsky and Cox, op. cit.)
Nobody can hope to close in on Cliff Richard, to find out what makes him do what he does. He is as genially elusive as a British Bizarro world version of Warren Beatty could hope to be. There are two songs to go on this record, and they are the two “most important” songs, whatever that might mean, apart from their not being in sequence. But if we are to attempt to understand the forty-year-old man on the cover, these songs, which appeared on the same 1977 album (the aforementioned Every Face Tells A Story), get us closer to him, or further away from him, than most.
“Up In The World” was written, and originally recorded, by Clifford T Ward. As with Cliff’s reading, the other Cliff is accompanied largely by an elaborate string orchestration. Ward’s gradual transition from disappointment to resentment is brilliantly handled; in the crucial final verse, Ward works up to an anguished, sustained high register that makes the song almost a British equivalent of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs A Maid.” The hurt awe of the first verse and the poorly concealed rage of the third – they are symmetrical in construction; there is no chorus as such – are bridged by a second verse that ranges from regret (“And it’s such a shame” – that shame will return) to condemnation (“With your weak excuses and your condescending ways/And all too frequent nights alone”).
The song seems spiteful, and before this year is ended there will come another song in which a man expresses resentment at how his former lover has risen from nobody to celebrity and is now shutting him out, like Prince Hal did Falstaff. That song will prevent Cliff Richard from having the Christmas number one, and unlike “Up In The World,” gives the woman a chance to express her side of the story.
I’m not sure that Cliff nails it. There is a terrible anger, an ire even, buried within the song’s courtliness, but Cliff doesn’t quite bring it out, or bring it off. The meditations on what the past might have meant to them (“All those halcyon days of love”) are spot on but Cliff sounds wounded where perhaps he needs to sound a little arrogant, since the song carries its own poison.
“Warmth returns to cold and poison into pain…”
It is a song that was hardly noticed, in the summer of 1977. Too many other, louder things drowned it out and it was fortunate to get to #46 as a single.
Yet it is truly Cliff Richard’s greatest performance, and maybe one of the half-dozen greatest performances by any artist on Then Play Long to date. It is the reason, or one of the reasons, why I am now close to having written five thousand words on a TV-advertised compilation album (EMTV 27).
All of the Every Face Tells A Story album is worth listening to; if you want nearly unbearable poignancy about the past, and Cliff’s past in particular, find the 2002 CD issue and the bonus track “No One Waits.” But, even in this context, the song stands out.
The song is not by a “name” songwriter. Neither was “Miss You Nights”; Cliff just listened to whatever songs came his way and picked the ones he liked, regardless of author. Peter Sills – who also composed the title track of the parent album – was, and probably still is, as far as I understand it, a music teacher based in the Billericay/Basildon area of Essex (I wonder if he taught the young Depeche Mode; Martin Gore’s trapdoor-like chord sequences seem to indicate that something was passed on) and sometime aspiring songwriter.
As I say, nobody noticed “When Two Worlds Drift Apart” at the time, apart from Noel Edmonds, who made it record of the week on his Radio 1 breakfast show, Cliff himself, and presumably his closest-knit fans. But, like “Being Boring” in another time, people gradually came to realise that this was one of the artist’s big ones; a song which in a lot of ways is still an open secret, loved and admired by Cliff’s fans but unknown to virtually everyone else.
For a song that speaks of “worlds” it is unique on this record because it draws out its parameters to encompass, not just Cliff and his imagined or abandoned love, but the wider world. It has the sort of chord sequence so divine that you wonder how nobody else managed or bothered to think of it; I am reminded at different times during the song of “In The Court Of The Crimson King,” the yet-to-be-written “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” and the Blue Nile’s “From A Late Night Train” (this is a VERY Blue Nile song, and if Cliff wants an eleventh-hour comeback he should work with Paul Buchanan on the next record) and…
…well, not that Cliff would have known about it, because it only came out as a bonus track on the deluxe 2008 reissue, but structurally the song is very similar to the instrumental “Mexico” on Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue, to which Love Songs provides a surprising British counterpart. There are no musings on dirty water or the environment, as such, but a deeper congruent feeling of a spent, or wasted, Aquarian age; what, indeed have we done?
If the subject matter and construction of “Up In The World” really require a Scott Walker to do it justice (think “Windows Of The World”), then “When Two Worlds” is a song that Walker could have imagined – the “We live on different floors”/”But now we talk an octave higher in droning tones” sections could have come straight off “Always Coming Back To You” – but perhaps only somebody with the authority and history of Cliff could have sung.
“We were the victims of our age,” he sings near the beginning of the song, and it’s not difficult to place these thoughts within a wider remit – his time has passed, and he knows it, but can’t really understand why. “We changed our world/Waiting for it all to end”; he acknowledges that he helped build his present, without being remotely moved to demolish it. His four “It’s such a shame”s are strategically placed; the second and third are met by a high, keening string drone, and with each recapitulation, their delivery descends from philosophical to tearful. The word “claim” is also used for rhetorical impact, first in terms of “the world outside,” and secondly, in terms of what “a poet claimed” about loving making one blind.
“It’s such a shame…but who’s to blame?”
Mention should be made of Tony Rivers and the Castaways, who offer crucial harmonic support throughout “Miss You Nights” and reappear, like dimly lit harbour lights, at key points throughout “When Two Worlds.” Twice Cliff trades desperate “Remember”s with them – as if he can no longer remember why, or how, he has ended up here, leaning against a lamppost on a promenade.
I have seen the video for the song; Cliff is standing, or leaning against a post, on a harbour quay in what looks like somewhere in Cornwall. Around him, life goes on; cars and people pass by, but his gaze is steadily fixed on the sky. He hardly moves (he is wearing a summer T-shirt and a pair of loon pants, as anyone in 1977 Blackpool would have done).
He is thinking about that harbour. The one where they took the boat out when they were seventeen. They try to penetrate the outside world – but give up on it pretty quickly (“But we preferred the greenery to the scenery of the sea”). While they are “tied up” in their “cosy cove,” harbour lights appear, as does the high string drone. An infinity – not that far from American Music Club’s “Last Harbor” – is intimated, one that they are too frightened to cross.
So they stay where they are, and steadily diminish, but that’s not the whole reason why things decline; Cliff sings “But love is really crystal clear/It’s only when you need someone the clouds will soon appear.” In other words, he has no problems with the idea of love, but when the reality happens, the picture becomes muddy and confused.
And so the song ends, Cliff remembering, remembering, that he is trapped in a fantasy of love, as he has been throughout the whole of Love Songs, too trapped to form any meaningful relationship. The whole scenario, when not told in melancholy flashbacks, seems to amount to little more than one date at a time, one meaningful engagement…but nothing further, nothing in the form of commitment.
One has to wonder whether this is where playing pop, straight, ultimately gets you. The singer – or should that be the protagonist? – is slow to realise that the word “love” is not the thing called “love.” He obsesses over love but repeatedly misses or blows chances, and so he is left with his self, on a cold, dark seafront, awaiting engulfment by the waves.
But “When Two Worlds” has precisely the same subject matter as “We Don’t Talk Anymore” – the latter always a more disturbing 1979 number one than “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” though the two are umbilically related, and the third by extension – and was ignored while “We Don’t Talk” was hailed. What does he have to do, this Cliff? Every time he goes into a studio or onto a stage, he must feel like I sometimes feel, as a writer; you don’t go in there, or on there, with an ambition to be average – you are, somehow, somewhere in your mind, determined that you are going to be brilliant. Somewhere, not overexposed. Because if I decided that I was going to write the best piece about Cliff Richard that anybody had ever written, you would have had to wait another ten years before I had written anything. You listen to a record, try to make connections and make the best you can out of the evidence that you have.
All I know is that, just as there is something of 1982 in what you might call Cliff’s lexicon of love, there is still a huge, unexpected slice of 1980 in this record; a pain that maybe the artist only wants you to see from afar, rather than feel. There are more Cliff number one albums to come. There will be another album before the year is over that will be so relentlessly, unremittingly terminal it will make this one feel like a party. I leave home, my mother lonelier than ever but desperate for me not to stay there. Two months after this record, a seemingly refreshed Cliff will return, rollerskating and wearing a Walkman. The singer may wonder that he has not quite been able to equate pleasure with commitment, love with need.
But if “When Two Worlds Drift Apart” strikes such an ominous chord, even in 1981, it is because its concerns, about forgetting to feed the fire, dovetail very naturally, and ominously, into the next entry. With all the going of separate ways and talking behind closed doors, it could almost be their story.
Next: the only album released by the biggest pop star of the eighties.
Posted by Marcello Carlin at 17:22