The Infinite Jukebox: Martha and The Muffins’ Echo Beach

It’s just a pop song. A pop song by a Canadian band that turned out to be their only UK hit and their most memorable song, coming halfway between the British New Wave and the American version. But as we already know, pop songs aren’t necessarily only pop songs, and neither is this.
Martha and The Muffins actually had two Martha’s, Johnston who sang and Ladley, who played keyboards. ‘Echo Beach’ has all the makings of a commercial single, a neat introductory guitar riff, a solid, uptempo beat, a yearning chorus and a soaring sax break, leading into one of those repeating outros that, if you’re in tune with the song, can go on for several sections of eternity without you being tired of it.
A solid, smack in the middle of its times, pop song.
But obviously it’s more than just that, or it wouldn’t be on The Infinite Jukebox. Because, though at times I feel like I’m in the minority on this, songs are about words as well as tunes.
It starts with Martha Johnson confessing that she has a habit, after work, of sneaking down to Echo Beach. She sounds a bit defensive about it, it’s uncool, but she can’t help it. But she heads out there to watch the sun go down, because there she’s on her own.
The job’s dull, she’s an office clerk, she works nine to five and the only thing that keeps her going is that every day, at five, she is down there.
Echo Beach may be a place, but it’s more than that, it’s a state of mind. It’s completely alone, completely peaceful, and at the same time completely lonely. But the loneliness is what she craves. Her life is empty, the job offers her nothing by way of fulfilment, and each day, when it’s over, she goes to Echo Beach where she can truly empty her head, of everything but the winds and the water, the sunset and the silence.
On Echo Beach, there’s not a soul around. On Echo Beach, waves make the only sound.
Each day, she draws the emptiness into her, but it’s the emptiness she chooses for herself, the place she goes to find herself, where no-one else can find her.
And the rising tempo of the song crashes into the sax solo, screeching and straining, roaring and soaring, saying what can’t be said. Echo Beach is not a place, it’s a state of mind, and under the cover of a catchy beat and a chorus that invites our voices to join in, we’re finding for ourselves a place of solitude and beauty, where we can open our minds to something way beyond the human, the limitedness of how we are forced to live our lives.
And the beat returns, the music clears, and Martha and Martha come together to repeat, over and over, ‘Echo Beach, far away in time’, until we realise that this quasi-mystical place of peace and release is no more, that whatever and wherever Martha is doing, she no longer has Echo Beach, except in her mind, and we all of us yearn with her for that place when we can simply be, in the moment, and not let anything else in the world affect us.
We yearn so often in vain.
Echo Beach, far away in time, Echo Beach, far away in time…

Officially Dead: The UK Singles Chart. RIP 10 March 2017

I know that after a virtually silent week, this is just a whelter of posts, but I’ve just carried out my weekly check of the UK Singles Chart, just as I’ve done every week since May 1970, even though I haven’t had any serious interest in it for twenty plus years.

Every track from Ed Sheeran’s latest album has charted in streaming. He occupies all the Top 6 places, he occupies nine places in the Top 10, and sixteen in the top 19. This sets all manner of records, and simultaneously makes those records, and the Singles Chart, completely meaningless.

Rest in Peace.

Saturday without SOTS

Old habits break hard, especially when they’re habits you would rather have kept. Excluding those days when I worked Saturday shifts (in which case I would use the i-Player of an evening), I’ve had Sounds of the Sixties on Saturday mornings. Even despite it’s new, kill-the-show slot of 6.00am, I could have set the i-Player running pretty much at the usual time.

Instead, I put on a Sixties CD, The Zombies, Singles A’s and B’s, and listened to that instead. Ironically, according to the track listing for Tony Blackburn’s first outing, I could still have heard ‘She’s not there’.

But all the features are gone: no Loose Connections, Three in a Row and not even the traditional instrumental up to the end of the first hour. Even ‘Foot-tapper’ has been taken out. It’s just two bland hours with nothing but hits, standard Sixties stuff, one track a side excepted. Apart from the neat little twist of Blackburn’s first show kicking off with, naturally, ‘Flowers in the Rain’, it’s all I needed to know that it’s not merely my prejudice talking.

It’s dead.

The Last SOTS

Last week’s suspicion proved to be sadly warranted. Anneka Rice gave it away in the closing moments of her early Saturday show: that our old mate Brian Matthews was back on Sounds of the Sixties but for his final programme. As I write, I’m listening to The Beatles’ ‘If I needed someone’, representing that long and glorious A to Z of The Beatles.

But it’s a kind of Greatest Hits show, as a farewell. Matthews’ voice is still recognisable, but it’s recognisably weak, and it’s clear that this is the end of the line.

It’s been a pleasure, these last fifteen or sixteen years, however long it’s been since that early Saturday morning drive to Barrow for a football match, the rain and the rainbow, the two of us finding the programme by accident on the drive, and making it the way to wake-up on Saturday mornings for all the years after.

But the time has come to say goodbye, and thanks for all the memories.

Nothing’s been said as to whether the show will survive if it is to lose Brian Matthews finally, and if it isn’t there next Saturday morning, then I for one will not campaign for it to be restored. If it is to continue, the choice of a new presenter is crucial (and a change of Producer and track-selector might very well help smooth over that transition, hint, hint).

But all these years have shown me how to make my own Sixties, and I have a plethora of home-made CDs doing that for me.

There is a half hour remaining. You’ll permit me, if I slip off to listen.

Music can still surprise you

I’ve just finished watching this week’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which was book-ended by an extract from a song. I’d never heard it before, and I liked the sound of it. It wasn’t credited, so after striking out at (that site has gone so far downhill) I googled until I discovered what it was.

The track is by The Moody Blues and is, apparently, “Have You Heard? (Part 2)”.

Now I used to be a big Moody Blues fan, long ago in my youth in the west that is lost (sorry, there’s just something about the Moodies that does things like that to you). It began with the re-issue of “Nights in White Satin” in 1972, when it reached the top 10 at last, and it led me, over the following year, to collect all seven of their albums (excluding the very first album, The Magnificent Moodies, as being by the pre-Justin Hayward/John Lodge line-up, and being a completely different band all together).

They were also my first ever rock concert, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, one midweek night at the beginning of September 1973. Not a good gig, frankly, though I loved it at the time, having nothing with which to compare it. Ironically enough, it was the last ever gig by the classic Hayward/Lodge/Thomas/Pinder/Edge line-up, so it had historical significance. After that, they split-up for five years, all recorded solo albums and, when they re-convened in 1978, Mike Pinder, he of the mellotron, had relocated to California, and had to be replaced by Patrick Moraz (and there’s another name more recognised in that decade of keyboard-manglers than it is now).

By then, after years of having the Moodies as my favourites (they overtook Lindisfarne when the latter split in two, but were surpassed by 10cc), after years of playing those rich, lush, aurally enveloping albums, often done when lying on the bed, unmoving, removing every other stimulus but the music, so that I could, really, you know, listen, I went off them.

This was all the fault of Justin Hayward and John Lodge. They were first out of the blocks as far as solo albums go, with a collaboration entitled “Blue Jays”. It was good, traditional Moodies, an ornate, gatefold sleeve with the lyrics printed on the inside, and I bought it from the first Virgin Records shop in Manchester, a little, scruffy, hole-in-the-wall far removed from the later Megastores. I crossed the road to the bus stop for the 95/96, climbed up to the top deck, sat at the front and started to study the lyrics.

That’s where it all went wrong. As I read the lyrics, I got a distinct impression of what each of its ten songs would sound like. And when I got home and put the record on the deck, damme but if I wasn’t exactly right! That wasn’t good. Music that was that predictable wasn’t good. I ended up looking hard at all the Moodies albums with a more sceptical eye (so to speak). I still vividly remember a quote in relation to Seventh Sojourn, some long-gone late-night DJ on BBC Radio Manchester describing the band as ‘long-winded but never boring’, and starting to question the second half of that statement. I became uncomfortably aware of how many six minutes songs were actually a three minute song played twice.

And I didn’t buy any of the others solo albums after that.

Hayward and Lodge had a hit single in 1975, with a non-album track, ‘Blue Guitar’, which I did love. Ironically, I now discover that Lodge did not appear on the track, it was a Hayward solo. With 10cc!

In 1976, I began selling off my Moodies albums. There was one further track, ‘Driftwood’, a gorgeous 1978 single that got airplay but not sales, but that was it. The Moody Blues have been but an era, a past enthusiasm that holds nothing but nostalgic appeal for me now, and not much of that.

So here they were again, sounding half-decent out of the blue. When had they recorded “Have you heard? (Part 2)” Which later album had it come off? None of them. It was recorded in 1968, it was the closing track on On the Threshold of a Dream and I had played it dozens and dozens of times and it wasn’t in the least bit familiar to me at at all.

Music can still surprise you.

The YouTube clip below is actually a medley. Technically, nearly every Moodies album was a medley because of their annoying affectation of running all their songs into one another, which was bleeding annoying on vinyl, when you’re trying to play one specific track. It comprises the last four tracks on side two of Threshold, starting with ‘The Dream’, written and spoken by Graeme Edge, the drummer, and followed by Pinder’s trilogy, ‘Have you heard? (Part 1)/The Voyage/Have you heard? (Part 2)’. It’s perhaps a little more understandable once you listen to it, that a song I listened to so many time should not ring the faintest of bells.

Enjoy it though, if you can.

The Infinite Jukebox: Pulp’s ‘Common People’

Traditionally, the biggest crime in UK Chart History has always supposed to be Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ being denied a no. 1 by Joe Dolce Music Theatre’s ‘Shaddap Your Face’. Now, whilst I side with all right-thinking people in regarding ‘Shaddap Your Face’ as a musical abomination, it is a plain fact that have hated ‘Vienna’ and it’s air of super-serious self-importance ever since I first heard it, and thus I regard its frustration as less a case of High Crimes and Misdemeanours and more a splendidly ironic one of Poetic Justice.
But if such things are to be regarded as crimes, then to me there is a far more deserving example: ‘Common People’ by Pulp. A single – an absolute classic single – that crashed into the UK Chart at no 2, and which went no further,strangled out, in this case, by Robson and bloody Jerome and their awful of ‘Unchained Melody’. Come back, Joe Dolce!
Is it really twenty-two years ago? It is, and it isn’t. Great records, truly great records may be the product of a particular time, but they carry with them their own space and time, a pocket universe in which they are eternally new, eternally fresh, eternally as vivid and vital and alive as when you first heard them.
‘Common People’ may well be the Last Great Pop Single, I don’t know. I have gradually tuned my ears away from chart music over the years, and may have missed things of equal impact to this slice of fury and contempt, this picture of a knife none of us wants but far too many of us have to endure. But I doubt it.
Looking at it critically, ‘Common People’ doesn’t really have a tune, but that wasn’t Pulp’s style. What it has is a rhythm, a beat, a pulse that gathers momentum to match Jarvis Cocker’s growing disgust at the rich girl who wants to go slumming, who wants a taste of the experience, a bit of rough., an exciting glimpse of what it’s like to be poor, but who will never for a moment comprehend, because she can only mimic, not live, because she has a trap door, a back exit, out of which she can slip at any second. She’s not committed, and on behalf of everyone who lives this way because they’re condemned to it, for whom it isn’t an ‘experience’, Cocker lambastes the unaware girl, and by implication everyone else.
“Everybody hates a tourist,” he intones, and older ears flash back to a screeching sneer of “cheap holidays in other people’s misery”. And as the music is possessed, hurtling itself forward in a race towards light speed, we can sense that he’s not just excoriating an insensitive woman but, by implication, everyone who has made the Common People’s life what it is, who have squeezed and compressed and strangled and crushed it, who have left people with nothing else, literally nothing else, but to dance and drink and screw. It’s a condemnation of extraordinary power. The girl isn’t a tourist: we all are.
They don’t write songs like that any more, or if they do they play them in places I don’t hear them. They don’t write songs about things like this any more, or if they do they don’t hear them in places where Common People go. They don’t go in for having scales ripped from their eyes much these days.