Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How Great I Art: Tony Martin: "Walk Hand In Hand"

It is rare, dear readers, that my opinion of a song is a negative one. I will always try to find some redeeming factor in the mess, some future salvation, even. But this song makes that task a hard one.

Why? Is it because of the horns, the large choir of "awe," the general sense that Martin took this song as no one else wanted it? Hmm, in part, but only in part. There is a reason the BBC banned this, and it has nada to do with standard 50s boilerplate singing or production. It is the lyrics.

"Walk hand in hand with me/Through all eternity/Have faith, believe in me, give me your hand."

"Love is a symphony/Of perfect harmony/When lovers such as we/Walk hand in hand."

"Be not afraid for I am with you all the while/So lift your head up high and look towards the sky."

"Walk hand in hand with me/God is our destiny/No greater love could be/Walk hand in hand, walk with me."

Unless you are a nun (in which case, hey! Welcome to MSBWT, and no offense to you, ma'am) this is an icky song, to say the least. There are certain topics - religion being one of them - that are best avoided in what could be called 'mixed' company; at large family gatherings, work, the bus stop, etc. Music most likely (as I understand it) came out of religious rites and languages, and the lyrics from before the Greeks up to the 50s usually were that of men and women singing in praise/fear/hope of their creator. (If I am wrong about this, I'd be very happy to hear about it.) No one but no one presumed to know what the creator would sing to them, let alone how to suggest his/her/its majesty and power.

But the 50s was a time when all kinds of lyrical boundaries were being stretched if not broken altogether, and the lyricist here thought he had a fine idea in somehow comparing a couple in love walking hand in hand to the creator's general attitude towards us mortal creatures. WRONG. Like I said, only a nun (who "marries" Jesus, in effect) could hear this and get all gooey-eyed. Does God really want to take us on a date? (Does God have a crush on me? as the teen girl magazine might ask, with a handy quiz to figure out the answer.) "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" says one song, and yet here this unfathomably large hand is holding yours - a rather awkward situation, at best. I'm sorry, but to paraphrase a play: Your Voice Too Short To Sing Like You're God.

(Alert readers may notice this was a number two single just before "Hound Dog"; I will soon be catching up with the story of the number twos in proper order, while at the same time introducing a profound and unpredictable man. Sorry for the delay in posting this but I am nearly settled in London!)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Whaddaya Got?: Elvis Presley: "Hound Dog"

At the heart of rock 'n' roll there's...well, there's a lot of things, of course, but rebellion is one of the main elements. (This rebelliousness has continued on, in various forms, including the act of staying awake - i.e. U2's "Bad" or the neat Arcade Fire summation - "Rebellion (Lies).") The first act of rebellion is to rebel, the second is harder - either to find someplace/person/thing more to your liking, or to somehow create it (if it can be created) yourself. Being a rebel is glamorous and hard, and comes either through personality or circumstance. Artists of all kinds are natural rebels, though just about anyone can be one, though some are more...convincing than others. (Simply misbehaving in school or getting into 'wacky hijinks' is never enough, unless the school is indeed corrupt or said hijinks are done with some forethought and have some kind of point. Even in rebellion, logic prevails.)

The fall of '56 was a time of disruption and disillusionment. The Suez crisis was a prime example of the UK in the post-war period, presuming to have the answer and then blowing it. The Soviet invasion of Hungary is also worth mentioning, as well as the re-election of Eisenhower in November.

Against this comes Elvis, his voice starting the song with an angry contempt towards "you." Is this "you" a man, a company, a country, a way of thinking? The exhilarating thing is, to all of those things and more, YES. DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore attack and damn while Presley spits out "high-classed" as if it is the least harmful thing he could say.

During the instrumental breaks, the Jordanaires - brought in by Colonel Parker and seemingly pointless here - hold on to their notes for dear life, as if they were tied together by ropes in the back of Elvis' truck and forced to sing at gunpoint. They are lame, dull, the very representation of the animal in question, their "aahs" as flat, unconvincing and frustrating as they ought to be. They're never going to catch a rabbit and they sure don't sound high-classed. The Jordanaires would remain on Elvis' records on & off for the rest of his life, barking or yelping or crying, sometimes helpful, sometimes not. (Then Play Long has already chronicled some of these battles, as most of you likely know, and will be doing so again soon.)

And so, Elvis has arrived - "Blue Suede Shoes," "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Hound Dog" being the effective hook, line and sinker for the whole world, or at least the UK, to a state of Elvis fandom which I will faithfully describe as best I can in this blog.

(I should also note that the song which kept "Hound Dog" from number one - Frankie Laine's "A Woman in Love" - is lovably demented in its own right, but clearly feels like another era's music hanging on in the face of Elvis vs. The Man.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Green Fields Remembered: All-Star Hit Parade: Dickie Valentine, Joan Regan, Winifred Atwell, Dave King, Lita Roza and David Whitfield

First, let me explain my absence from this blog - I have, since writing the latest entry, moved from Toronto to London and have now acclimated myself, as best I can, to the city and the slightly different keyboards & ways of thinking I have encountered. I hope I can write with even more perceptiveness, if I have any, in the future.

To the single!

While out & about I have seen some boxes of Green & Black's chocolate - about six miniature bars all in a row, different but complete versions of chocolate. And that is what this unique - a word I am very deliberate about - single is like. A charity single on a 78 rpm disc, so as to fit six different songs. Yes, it's a charity single, the funds going to help create and preserve green spaces so that children have somewhere to play and run and have fun. A place where the sun shines and you can lay on your back to watch clouds...meanwhile, in a nearby apartment house, six people hear six different songs...

First up is the hitherto unknown to MSBWT Dickie Valentine with "Out of Town"; a song full of longing for the countryside, where the sun is a "yellow duster" and the trees are wearing "blossoms in their hair" - Mother Nature is shiny, yellow and something of a hippie, `though the music itself is jaunty and open as you'd expect it to be - I'll admit I wasn't sure about Mr. Valentine, but this is a warming and welcoming song... is "My September Love" by Joan Regan. Is it soppy? Yes. Does it reek of wistful women in tea shops having epiphanies or at least 'moments' when they look out the window and see someone who looks like 'him'? But of course. Months have passed, maybe years, but HE is forever hers for that month and now it is December, and she walks the streets full of shoppers in her own special world, or maybe just stays at home, gazing into the fire, perpetually remembering. This is a solid song and one that isn't too downbeat...maybe she will meet this man again?... door, a younger woman gets ready to party - looking sharp and fine, as gaily loud as...Winifred Atwell's "Theme From The Threepenny Opera." If you know Winifred you know just how Andrew W.K. she is about playing and pounding out this classic, though everyone, including me, has forgotten her number two from 1953, "Let's Have A Party" (well, I will soon rectify this, as soon as I can actually get hold of it, physically or digitally.) No medley of songs could be complete without Winifred, could it? No! And so side one ends...

...and side two begins with Dave King singing (to Joan Regan, perhaps?) "No Other Love." This is a song of surprising depth and sensuality (again) with the longing being not for green pastures but the Other, the One - will she return is avowals of loyalty? At night he paces his penthouse needing her...yet a few floors down...

...Is Lita Roza, yet another newcomer to the MSBWT world. "A Tear Fell" here isn't so much Pop Art as poor Lita almost sounds as if she is singing this song to herself, while in full ballgown and Aquanet glory, not quite reaching the melodramatic heights of Teresa Brewer. (In apartment terms, if I may, it's a 'model suite' version as opposed to Brewer's fully-furnished disdain and pain)...and now for the big finish, our old friend...

...Dave Whitfield! The king of enunciation is back! Well, who else could it be? It almost doesn't matter 'what' he is singing ("It's Almost Tomorrow" - yes David, if only you knew) as it sounds as if he needs no microphone, like he's all but in Dickie Valentine's green valley already, calling out to his love, passionately serenading her as she herds sheep or picks flowers....

As you can see, this is a group of performers who came together for a common cause and had the good sense to perform a medley instead of finding a song they could all contribute to ~ in their own way, not shoehorned in and cramped as the Hampstead tube elevator at rush hour. And it's fun - six moments of joy, anticipation, longing, regret and hope in just about as many minutes.

One more look at the receding past, before a certain other kind of longing and rude health begins to take over.

Big thanks to Mike Atkinson for finding this for me.