The Infinite Jukebox: Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ ‘Dance Stance’


Just as was the case with The Flamin’ Groovies and ‘Shake Some Action’, once again we have the spectacle of a band not understanding what makes their own record great.
‘Dance Stance’ was the debut single by Dexys Midnight Runners, the first I and most people heard of them. It received relatively little airplay from Radio 1, who were more concerned with promoting The Q-Tips, whose lead singer was Paul Young, the big difference being that whilst both bands were soul revivalists, returning to the sounds of the Sixties, Kevin Rowland and Dexys were intent on using the sound in a new way, for their own ends, whilst The Q-Tips were just duplicating old songs. It was ever thus with Radio 1.
Nevertheless, ‘Dance Stance’ did reach the British charts, even if it was for only one week at no. 40, and more importantly it thrilled me every time I heard it, it went down brilliantly on tapes I made to dance to at parties, and it’s still as fresh as paint to this date.
Kevin Rowland hated it. He hated the production, by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes, and sacked him and everyone else involved with it, bringing in Pete ‘Eighteen with a Bullet’ Wingfield as producer for the follow-up single, ‘Geno’, which got the band their first Number 1, and their debut album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels. For the opening track, ‘Dance Stance’ was re-recorded, and reverted to its original title, ‘Burn It Down’. Kevin may have approved much more, but to me the second version hits the ground with a dull thud, just like the Dave Edmunds-produced ‘official’ version of ‘Shake some Action’.
What’s the difference? There’s not that much difference in instrumentation and arrangement. ‘Dance Stance’ kicks off with a storming riff, blasted out on two saxaphones and a trombone, that sets the single alight, and the fire of the horns keeps returning, to break down and restart the rhythm and set your heart beating.
Rowland comes in, his voice abrasive, his words abrasive and dismissive of someone he claims doesn’t understand. This person being described is a loser, a know-nothing, ignorant, not fully understanding the meaning. For once, the lyrics don’t really matter, the sneer overlooked in the passion of the music, an active bass, a cutting guitar playing underpinning chords, and then the song hits its chorus, its chant, its real moment of fun, because the chorus is the band, mixed to a distance that makes them sound like a crowd chanting, and what this guy who’s the target doesn’t understand turns out to be… classic Irish writers.
Oscar Wilde and Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neill, Edna O’Brien and Lawrence Stern, a litany of names reeled off by the band in rhythmic delight whilst Rowland delineates different kinds of ignorance or unconcern prefixing each name.
It’s a colossal shock. Since when did pop or rock or soul concern itself with literary ignorance? But the sound’s so fresh, the beat so immersive, the chant so infectious that who gives a damn? Just dance and sing and groove on those horns until the thing fades out over a thankfully near incomprehensible rant by Kevin. Then cue up the needle and let’s go again, baby!
What you get when the song is re-recorded as ‘Burn it Down’ is, to begin with, a diffusive intro consisting of over thirty seconds of someone tuning an old-fashioned radio dial across different radio stations, talk and music, a few seconds of each, until there’s a shout from the background and a response by Rowlands, in disgusted tones, of ‘Just burn it down’, and then, finally, we get the horn riff and whilst it’s still proud and affecting, there’s something missing, or rather something’s been added, and that something is polish.
Yes, ‘Dance Stance’ is fresh, because it’s raw and the sound has an edge to it that Wingfield’s production robs completely. And Rowland’s singing is more affected, as if he’s deliberately trying to sing the lines with different tones and inflections only to be different, when he’d got it right first time. His voice is mixed further forward, to be more dominant, especially on the chorus, where the band chant close to him, sounding like two or three people, not a bunch.
Because ‘Dance Stance’s supposedly shonky production is crisp and clean. There’s a distance, a separation between the instruments. Rowland’s vocals are mixed a bit further back, and given a touch of echo, emphasising the separation from the band, both when they play and when they sing. ‘Burn it Down’ makes all the aspects of the sound into a composite, and its polish diminishes the song. The band are used to playing it by now. It doesn’t excite them the same way to be riffing on this.
Or, to put it another way, ‘Dance Stance’ has the energy of playing live baked right into it and ‘Burn it Down’ wouldn’t know what the hell to do outside a studio.
Which is why Kevin Rowland was talking through his woolly hat when he slated this song.

The Infinite Jukebox: Kathy Mattea’s ‘Asking us to Dance’


Again it was the early Nineties, and a combination of things conspires to have me listening to country music for a few years. This, in itself, is almost miraculous, because I don’t like country music, I really don’t. The occasional examples of it that hit the UK chart all hurt my ears: Lynn Anderson, Faron Young, Tammy Wynette, oh God, Kenny Rogers. I am not enamoured of the sound of the pedal steel guitar. I cannot stand the voice of the male country singer. In short, even more so than Heavy Metal, this music is an anathema to me.
Then I start exchanging cassettes with a never-really girlfriend. One brings together k.d. lang and Shawn Colvin, which was how I started a musical love affair that’s lasted thirty years so far. I stay a weekend with a couple of friends in Shropshire, the Country Music Awards are on on Saturday night, we watch, take the piss, but are truly impressed by some songs, one of them Alison Krauss’s version of ‘When you say nothing at all’.
I hear of and listen to some Nanci Griffiths. In the HMV Shop’s basement, in the country section, I see a CD of Suzy Bogguss with a cover photo which makes her look like a dead ringer for my lovely friend Fliss, and there are some good, upfront songs on it. I find that I do not loathe the female country voice. In Doonesbury, Gary Trudeau has his longterm protest singer/songwriter Jimmy Thudpucker go country, defending himself by claiming that that’s where song and melody has gone now that it’s been forced out by rap and hiphop, and I find myself nodding in agreement.
The phase doesn’t last long, but whilst it does I seek out new voices to explore. Of course Emmylou Harris becomes one of them, though it’s not until the Daniel Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball that I am really captured. But my range is not unlimited. My interest has gone as far as Country, but not & Western. Anything that’s deep country, whether in sound or lyrical atmosphere, is too much for me. I fancy Reba McIntyre – she’s a redhead, isn’t she? – but I can’t listen to her.
No, where I find I enjoy Country music are the (usually) younger female artistes, singers of songs that aren’t overburdened with Country sounds, no pedal steel or bluegrass fiddles, that in the Seventies would just have been classed alongside singer-songwriters.
Kathy Mattea was one of those who were close to the edge of what I could enjoy, though the edge this time was not so much Deep Country as MOR. Nice voice, but with not enough of that edge to her music that I still found fundamental to anything I liked to hear. One CD, borrowed from Withington Library, played, enjoyed but not enough. Three tracks taped and retained.
All three are semi-melodramatic ballads. Mattea has a good, powerful, yearning voice and ballads suit her, especially with lyrics that have a bit of a melodramatic theme. I’ve still got those tracks, now burned to a private CD compilation.
As far as I’m concerned, ‘Asking Us To Dance’ is the stand-out, still, after thirty years. It’s a love song, but it’s a love song from a standpoint that’s very rarely represented in modern music, and certainly not pop music as we have known it since the Fifties.
It’s about Love, oh yes, and it’s sung to a loved one, but this is no boyfriend, actual or desired. Mattea, as perhaps her status in Country music, music of the people with its conventional and Christian roots in family, is singing to her husband. A long-married husband. A husband still loved, but a love that, through no fault of either but just through the way love gets put aside in the face of living, that has started to risk growing stale through disuse.
And Mattea has recognised that danger, the danger of loss that not just yet, but maybe soon if not faced head-on, might dry up and blow away. Because that love has been the foundation stone of everything they have built. And it should be and must be fought for, by recognition, by a re-watering of it at its roots.
She conjures up a night with a full moon, casting its light down on a scene that’s become familiar to them in a way that it shouldn’t: the tangled silver dangling from the cypress trees, the moonlight river flowing into the lake and, above all, both literally and figuratively, a sky full of a million stars, big, wide and open, and every one of those stars waiting for them to wish upon. Some will snort at the cliche of the scene, but Mattea sings with a heartfelt passion that makes the moment as real for us as it is in this moment for her, because it’s a moment of recognition, and one of longing.
And she makes her appeal to him, the silent, nameless partner who is as important to her as breathing, and with whom she is afraid their connection might be lost. Darling, she sings, tonight I am reminded how much these two hearts need romance. You know, it isn’t very often we get this kind of chance. She’s asking him to join her in this sudden, almost mad moment, why don’t we get caught in this moment? Be victims of sweet circumstance. It possesses her so deeply that she transcends the ordinariness of their mundane, settled lives: tonight I feel like all creation is asking us to dance.
And in token of what she is saying in this chorus, there is a harmonising voice, in time and tune with her but buried deeper in the mix. I don’t know who is the singer, but his is the male voice, the echo and complement to Mattea, the symbol of the love she wants to enfold herself within.
There is another verse, that recounts the flatness of the lives they lead and its eternal existence, still there tomorrow, for them to return to, but it is this very ordinariness that leads her to plead for him to feel what has overcome her now, this special moment, when heaven and earth meet where they are and are waiting, ready to be open fully, as once they were, and her adamant belief that all the things on earth worth having are the things they’ve already got.
Though if he hasn’t already responded to that beautifully sung chorus, and her soul deep feelings, no other words will sway him.
But we know he’ll respond. No matter how long we’ve been together, been in love, no matter how dulled that first overwhelming passion has become by familiarity and repetition, those two are still within us, and just as flowers need to be fed, watered, nurtured, that original love needs nurturing if it is not to die.
Kathy Mattea sings as a plea, but the depth that remains in her heart must call back the man she still loves. A song with this solidity could only have come from Country music, so lacking in doubt but nevertheless still well-versed in fragility.
Darling, tonight I am reminded…

The Infinite Jukebox: Tom Waits’ ‘Downtown Train’


By the time I got to hear about Tom Waits, he was through the first part of his career, singing jazzy, bluesy, boozy songs in a voice pickled by far more whiskey than was good for any one human being. I knew one song by him, the crazy, incredible ‘The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)’, which you can write off as a novelty song, like I did then, but you do so at your peril.
No, when he first started pulling at my ears, it was that second phase, the Swordfishtrombones/Rain Dogs/Frank’s Wild Years era of the early-Eighties, when Waits moved on from the jazz-influence of his first half dozen albums, reinventing himself under the influence of Captain Beefheart and Harry Partch. Waits eschewed things like pianos and saxaphones, not to mention conventional song structures, turning to broken and fractured melodies, frequently with strong percussive elements, in which no two songs sounded remotely similar.
Despite my interest in bands like Pere Ubu, this was going quite a way out into leftfield for me, and I was far from sure of what I was listening to, though I knew that this was something that demanded attention. And Waits’ voice was hard to take, with its gravelly depths interfering with the range a song could encompass, whilst you could practically smell the booze-fumes in every syllable. And there was a rawness to every track that came from its concentration on the New York of the ordinary folks, the working stiffs, the bluecollars and their bars and alleys, the feel of the stink of trashcans.
It isn’t an album I play all that often, though it’s also one I’ll never let go, because it stretches all the things that I understand as music until they’re almost out of shape, whilst staying within my grasp, just about, which is more than you can say about his next and even more angular period.
So you may imagine my relief when, on listening to Rain Dogs for the first time, I came, late in the album, to ‘Downtown Train’, and found myself listening to an actual song, with a verse and chorus structure, and a pining guitar track. The video has Waits singing in the street on a hot Brooklyn night, when people cannot sleep, and the thin, angular figure of Waits moves erratically, but cautiously, like a drunk trying not to drop an ice cream cone, singing himself into the middle of a night that’s as down to earth as you can get yet at the same time an almost mystic fantasy, a love story to no-one in particular but someone very specific that you feel Waits has yet to meet.
He draws a picture of a night with a yellow moon, punching a hole through the night time mist, a moon that draws him out of his house, through the window and down to the street. The downtown trains are full of Brooklyn girls, flocking back after night adventures uptown, looking for and failing to find the way out, because there’s no escape for them. He dismisses them, as having nothing to capture your heart, thorns without the rose, to be wary of in the dark, and he aches for the one who will choose him to be her only one.
That’s to whom he’s singing, out on that street corner, beneath the windows, asking if he’ll see her tonight on that downtown train, every night, things unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable.
And he knows her window, her stairs and doorway. And he knows its late, too late, for she is behind those panes of glass, as he walks down her street, past her gate, unable to reach her, and there is only the night to which the Brooklyn girls return, tired and disappointed and he’s part of the bones of that world, but still he asks if he will see her tonight…
It’s low-key, and wistful, and I feel the things in his heart, despite that somehow-sozzled voice that nevertheless gives up all its secrets and despairs in the full moon of longing.
So I give my heart to the only ‘song’ on the album, as opposed to the gallimaufrey of musics that clash and collide with a vigour that ‘Downtown Train’ is too tired to muster.
Some years later, at the very end of the Eighties, Rod Stewart covered the song, having a hit with it around the world, including the British Top 10. His version was absolute crap, not least because he doesn’t have a rough-throated enough voice to do the song justice. He slows the song down, fills it full of instruments, melodramatises the words and completely misses the point of the song, or its impact. He doesn’t understand what it’s about.
And his is the one most people know. Life’s a pisser sometimes.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Human League’s ‘Seconds’


It couldn’t be the follow-up because it was already the b-side, and their audience was not the one that slavishly bought ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ because they’d never had the imagination to flip ‘Rivers of Babylon’ and even read the name of the track they found there.
The thing about ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ was that from the first time you heard it, you knew the song would, inexorably, reach no. 1. And that was even before you saw that incredible, multi-layered video. It was The Human League’s biggest moment and simultaneously the beginning of the end. Like Thunderclap Newman, with ‘Something in the Air’, the last thing they were prepared for was a smash success, and by the time they recovered their footing, the moment had passed, and so much of the atmosphere had leaked out that it was impossible to make the balloon inflate sufficiently again.
The thing was, The Human League had the perfect follow-up ready and waiting, only they couldn’t use it because, in a twist of shambolic fate, they’d already used it.
‘Seconds’ was another track from the successful album Dare that was also their peak. It’s big in sound and sensation, a cold, in many ways frightening song, sung with strength and passion by Phil Oakey yet with a detachment that’s almost dispassion, and with a minimum of lyrics.
It starts with drums, beating out a rhythm that doesn’t falter throughout the song. It’s synthesizers play a minimal melody in broad swathes of sound, creating a tension, a fear of something about to happen.
When Oakey comes in it is with short, simple, descriptive lyrics, setting up a hot day, a parade for someone who is called ‘the golden one’. But Oakey’s singing to and about a person removed, from the sun, from this day, from everything about this day. And there is a second verse, all leading up to the sense of apprehension. The people, all happy, joined to the day that is about celebration, celebration of the golden one.
And the shot booms, rough and ragged and blurred, not a gunshot but an explosion created in the synthesizer. And Oakey sings that fateful line that, even from the first moment we have begin to hear this, for the first time, we have somehow been expecting: Your knuckles white as your fingers curl, the shot that was heard around the world.
For many, even of my generation, who were children when it happened, the first thought would be of Kennedy, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The brief word image Oakey has established fits the moment. For me though, the shot that was heard around the world pulls my instincts to another, older, more ruinous shot, the one at Sarajevo in 1914, that triggered the Great War. But it might be any such thing. It might be King or Sadat, or even Lennon. Who the assassin is, what their aim, is never explored, nor required. Only the act intrudes upon us and marks the division between one world and another.
And the act is all. The song is not yet a third done but the words reduce to the enormity of what has happened, the ease, or so it seems, with which death can be delivered. It took seconds of your time to take his life. It took seconds.
The beat never ceases. The synthesizers fill the ear and the air, unreal and unliving, the indifference of the machine to the destruction that has taken place. Oakey intones. The musicians stand rigid. The girls dance, the representation of life, the inconsequence of movement.
Putting this song on the b-side of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ elevated the release into that rare category of absolutely perfect, two-sided singles, like The Flaming Groovies’ ‘Shake Some Action’ and ‘Teenage Confidential’. Better though had they foreseen the future and thrown away something less consequential in that slot, and had this to follow, hard, on the heels of their big success. Because, despite my near lifelong inability to understand the tastes of the Great British Record Buying Public, I remain convinced that they would have bought ‘Seconds’ as a single in vast quantities, and made it too a Number One, as well as maintaining the unanticipated momentum, and giving the band breathing space and consideration space that might have secured them the stronger career that, on the basis of Dare, they and we deserved.
But, to slightly misquote Clive James: the perfect bitch, it didn’t work that way.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Fifth Dimension’s ‘Carpet Man’


Back when the Sixties were transitioning into the Seventies, and I was just beginning to listen to Radio 1 with increasing enthusiasm, The 5th Dimension were enjoying their only brief period of chart success in Britain. First there was their cover of two songs from the massively popular musical, Hair, as a medley, then their cover of a Laura Nyro song, the one in 1969, the other in 1970. These were the group’s only singles to reach the British chart at all, both progressing no further than the Top Twenty, whilst curiously enough they were their only Number 1s in America.
Whatever the circumstances, it didn’t take much of my musical naivete to swiftly reject them as not just not my thing but much more my parents’ thing. I wasn’t wrong about that. The 5th Dimension were a vocal group consisting of three men and two women. Officially, their repertoire blended pop, jazz, soul, show tunes and Broadway, a combination described as ‘champagne soul’ but all that meant to me was that they were a cabaret group, and even that early I knew I didn’t do cabaret.
If any of the singles that succeeded ‘Wedding Bell Blues’ got played on Radio 1, I have forgotten ever hearing them. The 5th Dimension were firmly locked away as unwelcome: I don’t say that I actually avoided them, for it was much more that they never crossed my consciousness again except for plays as Golden Oldies, or else the occasional song here or there. Sometimes you don’t have to put any effort into not listening to something.
We leap a decade or four forward, to Brian Matthew (of course) and Saturday mornings listening to Sounds of the Sixties, in which half the programme’s runtime is dedicated to stuff you’ve probably barely heard of before. So much music I discovered in that dawn in which it was such bliss to be alive from 8.00 – 10.00 am once a week.
Which is how I came to hear this song.
Whether Our Old Mate pre-announced or back-announced it as being by The 5th Dimension I obviously can’t remember. Either way, this was clearly something else, and something that sounded completely different from my limited exposure to the group. It was, in short, a pop song, an out-and-out pop song, sung in a call-and-response manner, with the women alternating lines with the men before coming together for a bright and buoyant chorus. It’s brisk and uptempo, based on a hard-strummed acoustic guitar boldly hammering out the riff, with the orchestral backing tuned right down. It was great, whoever it was by.
‘Carpet Man’ pre-dated both the group’s British hit singles, being released in early 1968 when it just scraped into the Billboard Top Thirty. And the lyrics present a picture free of overt comment about love: obsessive, unrequited love, causing the carpet man to become just that, a carpet upon which his lady love, and her lover, can trample upon to their heart’s content.
It’s one of those songs where the words are their own condemnation, which suits it to the boys and girls of the Dimension, who sing smooth and emotion free, recording what they see and enabling us to see for ourselves by how much this poor, deluded lover will abase himself to serve a woman who only sees him as fit to wipe her shoes on.
When you see some puddles on the ground, Florence LaRue and Marilyn McCoo sing, you lay down so she won’t have to walk around, Billy Davis Jr, Lamonte McLamore and Ron ‘Sweets’ Townson add. You think that will protect her from the rain, the ladies prompt, but you’ll never ever stop the pain, the gents respond. And if you were to have the least doubt as to whose the pain is, the chorus makes it explicit: she walks all over you, she knows she can, you’re the carpet man.
A second verse re-iterates the theme, and expands upon it slightly, suggesting that this un-named but undeserving She sees the world as being so far below her that she uses her Carpet Man to shield her from encounters with it.
Then the song goes into a more typical 5th Dimension state, slow, more syrupy, the voices blended sweetly to sympathise, momentarily, with this hapless sap, about how every now and then he might, if he were more real, get tired of this treatment. After all, carpets do get thin. But this poor sod is too far gone, lacks any kind of spine, and there’s close to a contempt in the end to the song, as the guitar reasserts itself, the handclaps invite the beat, and the voices pick up on that moment of almost sympathy, singing that thin carpets have to be thrown away, and she will surely do so and, unkindest cut of all, she’ll say, ‘Come to the Wedding’ and this poor bastard will, and the groom and her will have a dance on you…
Yet this story is told by the medium of a rock-solid pop song, all smooth surfaces, confident voices and a killer chorus, and it’s a world away from the 5th Dimension of 1969/70, the ‘champagne soul’, for there is nothing sham about this pain, no matter how sweetly it’s laid bare to us.
There have been times when I might have fit that bill, though never quite. Perhaps it’s a very good thing I didn’t hear this song until I need only view it from the outside.

The Infinite Jukebox: Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘A Heart Needs A Home (Alternative Version)’


I can’t believe I haven’t written about this song already. The fact I haven’t suggests I haven’t played it in years but that’s not possible. It’s on a home-burned CD as one of the extras to my version of the first Richard and Linda Thompson album, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, and I recreated that not that long ago when unreleased tracks from its sessions became available. And I heard it then and it didn’t leap out at me as a song to be relished, savoured like the magical thing it is: there must have been something wrong with my ears that day.
This track is saddled with the sub-title of ‘Alternate Version’: not for me it is. It was originally recorded in acoustic form for the Thompson’s second album, Hokey Pokey, where, according to Wikipedia, it’s position as track 9, after eight songs dealing with the shallowness and emptiness of ordinary life, made it a statement of faith in defiance of the vision of its predecessors. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard the album in full so I can’t comment.
But that’s not the version I discovered. After their third album, the Thompsons – both converts to a Sufi strain of the Muslim faith – retired from music. To cover the gap, Island released a career retrospective double album of Richard, under the clever title (guitar, vocals), which is long-deleted.
It was not until the middle Eighties that I fell in with another bunch of friends, one of whom was very generous in lending me albums he’d collected (it was from John M that I first got access to the then-complete Pete Atkin archive). Sometimes he’d recommend, and he must have recommended (guitar, vocals), because that’s where I was first exposed to ‘A Heart Needs a Home’. It was some time before I heard the original version and, after this recording, I was most disappointed.
It’s like The Flamin’ Groovies and ‘Shake Some Action‘, and the difference between the version that was on the single that’s now tagged as the Demo Version and the Dave Edmunds-produced album version that kills the song stone dead. I simply cannot believe that Richard Thompson thought that the original version was superior. I can, without listening to Hokey Pokey, conceive that the original may be better suited to the ambience of the album but that’s about all.
The principal difference between the two tracks is that the Alternate Version is electric, but that’s only to scratch the surface. Richard’s guitar leads us inexorably through the song, a yearning, soothing, melancholic line, slow, sustained notes like an extended solo, over a minimal backing track that’s mainly a melodic bass guitar providing a counterpoint to Richard’s lead, with slow, measured, stately percussion that’s little more than a single beat at intervals.
But even that has to bow before Linda Thompson’s singing. What she’s singing is a simple, yet deep paean to love, to the commitment you make to someone, the shared life you forge in the midst of the emptiness and shallowness of life, and those eight preceding tracks. Linda makes it plain from the opening line. I know the way, she sings, pure, slow and strong, that I feel about you. I’m never gonna run away, a defiant line that she repeats before emphasising the meaning of her love, singing that she never knew the way when she lived without him: no, she’s never gonna run away.
And then she pours out her heart, making a confession of need, of all the things he’s saved her from. I came to you when no-one could hear me, I’m sick and weary of being alone, empty streets and hungry faces, the world’s no place when you’re on your own. And then that simple declaration: a heart needs a home.
She doesn’t say it but that’s the whole meaning of the song: she’s found that home. Everybody needs that, and those who do not are not immune to that moment when that other walks across their path and life transforms.
But is Linda protesting too much? Is this home a true home, safe and secure, or is it any port in a storm, a haven chosen out of desperation as much as if not more than perfection? Cannily, Richard has already taken that into account. The second verse has Linda singing her defiance of her friends, her family perhaps, who are trying to dissuade her. ‘Some people’ say that I should forget you, a better life, they say, if I’d never met you, but to both lines she is emphatic. I’m never gonna be a fool, she responds, and the second chorus goes on to categorise them as all kinds of the naysayers they are: Indian givers, hearts of stone.
The world’s no place when you’re on your own: A Heart needs a Home.
It’s a song about love, about commitment, about not listening to others especially when they’re trying to tear your decisions down. It’s about faith in yourself, and commitment to your own choices, about having the confidence in yourself to follow your own path.
It’s also a faithful, determined, bloody beautiful love song.
And the biggest difference between the two versions, for all Richard’s arrangement isolates the song, makes it a dreaming thing of beauty, is Linda’s singing. There’s a world lacking in the original, which she sings with relative unemotion, like someone who had read the lyrics, and has known a person who has been through this, and the oceanic depths to her voice in the Alternate Version, that comes from knowing for yourself, from living the words and not just singing them.
I loved this song from the moment I heard it. Years later, I too lived it. A heart does need a home.

The Infinite Jukebox: Yachts’ ‘In a Second’


It’s a niche, but aren’t they all? Some niches are just wider than others. Whilst others stay narrow, too narrow to admit more than a cult audience.
Some bands are clever, and some are clever-clever. Some bands are clever enough to be able to hide that they’re clever-clever, which here means someone of superior intelligence and sense who is just that bit too aware of being of superior intelligence and tending to let it be known that he’s taking the piss, to one degree or another, out of the people he’s entertaining. Yachts, a band who were not punk, nor necessarily New Wave, but who couldn’t have existed without the eruption of both, were a five-piece band from Liverpool who were around from 1977 to 1980. They wrote brash, energetic slices of three minute masterpieces, with a twisted sensibility that appealed to me as much as did their guitar/organ dominated sound. Wikipedia describes them as ‘power pop’ but I was around in 1978/79 and power pop was a term created by desperate record companies and music business journalists who wanted to access the simplicity and energy of punk without the social underpinnings that gave rise to it, and I won’t call a band I like by such a despised term.
Though I may have heard them before – the band had a John Peel Session in 1978 that I must have listened to at least once – I didn’t really latch on to Yachts until their summer 1979 single, ‘Love You, Love You’. It’s blazing energy, its immediate rush from the searing intro grabbed my attention instantly, but the killer was the chorus.
It’s a love song, of a kind, but it’s a funny one in both senses of the word. The opening line sets the tone: Can’t you see I’ve changed, I’m feeling strange, I’m not the same. The band developed the theme, concluding that ‘I don’t know why, why I came here at all, I don’t know why I came’, but this leads onto the hook, and what a hook it is. Yachts declare that they wouldn’t climb any mountains for you, ford any streams that’s a daft thing to do, yes I’m cynical cynical cynical through and through.
It was 1979: how could I not love that? Such a catchy song, and such open, indeed celebrated cynicism, though as the verses progressed, the words were ameliorated by the band’s tentative request for the girl we assume he’s addressing to help change their negative point of view, maybe find she likes them, and ultimately falling for her and repeating over and over, rapidly, that they love you love you love you love you etc. and ongoing.
Of course, hearing it – until I managed to tape it off the radio with half the intro missing – hearing it was a bit difficult. Like other magnificent singles such as ‘Time Goes By So Slow’ and ‘Hearts in Her Eyes’, Radio 1 decided not to play it. The same went for the rather easier-to-hear (literally) Radio Trent. The Police only got their first look-in because their 1978 singles had subsequently become hits in America, which apparently gave the BBC licence to stop ignoring them. As for Yachts’ follow up, the equally cynical ‘Box 202’ – guy loses girlfriend in aircrash, takes out classified ad for replacements to come forward – was ignored with even greater determination: I only got to hear it once.
I had to wait until the Nineties, and the appearance of a cheap copy of their debut album in my favourite second hand shop, the famous Sifters, to properly get to grip with Yachts, to finally get a reliable – and complete – vinyl copy of both ‘Love You Love You’ and ‘Box 202’. And the chance to learn that the whole album was pretty much up to that standard.
By then, I was much older, removed from the summer of 1979, from life in Nottingham, from the attitudes and sensations of Punk/New Wave that’s now really only nostalgia for me, and the wish it had lasted longer. It’s easier to see that the deliberate, and glorious cynicism of ‘Love You Love You’ only masked the cynicism of the band, who were having happy fun pissing about with words on tight, pure pop songs, played with a joyous energy, yet were sneering at the people who liked the songs they were upturning.
Yet I love the album for its melodies, which were not exactly at a premium in punk, but which are unashamedly displayed in a modernised Sixties style.
And why is this piece about a song I haven’t mentioned so far? Basically, it’s because it’s my favourite song on the album, musically, from the instant of its slashing guitar intro, a descending scale, into its overstuffed lyrics, long lines of multi-syllabled words belted through just to fit the space the music leaves. The powerful, hammering drumming, the constant lift of the chorus to the repetition of the word Heart-broken, the difficulty in parsing the, that-word-again, cynical lyrics, that appear to be about manipulating a girl you love into letting you go: just who is heart-broken, him or her?
I think the song is about cruelty, about planning to hurt someone who loves you, but I’m not sure. I hope it’s the other way, that the plan is real and a bastard’s trick and she is cured of her notions about him and he now realises what he’s lost. Either way, that guitar slashs out and my ears transport to the surface, to the sound, the energy, the melody, the bit where the clever-clever comes apart on the face of playing your heart out for the overwhelming fun of it. At least I’m sure of that.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Purple Gang’s ‘Granny Takes A Trip’


Come out of Stockport south on the A6, turn right at the fork at the Rising Sun (nothing to do with The Animals) and, some five miles further on pass through the little village of Poynton. Why am I making such a point? Because Poynton is the home of The Purple Gang, a local folk-cum-jugband group who performed in local folk clubs, providing good-time music. And who were banned by the BBC in 1967 for their most famous song, ‘Granny Takes A Trip’.
Ironically, I first heard the song on, of course, Radio 1, something like a decade after its brief infamy. It might have been the ‘Daisy Chain’ record on Annie Nightingale’s Sunday Afternoon Request Show, broadcast in increasingly fuzzy medium wave, especially towards the end of its slot in winter, when the clocks had gone back. This was a neat little feature where, each week, Nightingale would play an unannounced obscurity and invite the listeners to write in and identify the song and artist and, which is where the Daisy Chain aspect comes in, nominate a similarly unknown song for next week.
If this was a Daisy Chain record, then I would have had to wait a week to discover its identity, which confirms its instant appeal to me. Or maybe I guessed it as soon as I heard the chorus, having seen mention of the single and its banning in the New Musical Express at some point.
Either way, I was bowled over by its energy and enthusiasm, which is not only infectious but astonishing for a band that aren’t using drums or a bass guitar or even any rhythm other than washboard and enthusiasm. The record buckets along on a hammered-out piano, breaking into a single note melody in between verse and chorus.
So what was it about this homegrown single that aroused the ire of the BBC and had them forbid it’s playing? That should be obvious: 1967, psychedelia, LSD, Granny Takes A Trip. ‘S’easy, innit? Especially with a fashionable boutique using the same name to sell fab gear to the impressionable youth of yesteryear.
It’s about… drugs.
Except that it’s not. In the slightest. It’s about something else completely. You only have to listen to the words of the first verse to know that this little old granny raver is no raver but instead a woman with an ambition.
You see, she lives all alone in a house by a school, and she wears fur coats and hats and old-fashioned jewels. You’re getting the picture, right? But Granny is not content with her staid life as it is, because her one aim in life is to be on the screen. Top-billing with Vally (Rudolph Valentino) is her favourite dream.
And that’s where the tease is in because, once a year Granny takes a trip, always first class and she’s well-equipped, for the movie auditions in Hollywood Town. She always turns up but she’s always turned down. Shame on you, and your evil mind.
Now, though I know nothing of the band or the times except what I’ve come to understand historically, it’s plain that the title is a joke against the times, and maybe even a deliberate come-on inviting misunderstanding and attention and, hopefully, sales. If it was the latter, it didn’t work, not like Frankie Goes to Hollywood – a perfect comparison! – and ‘Relax’.
But on the other hand, a fifty-five-year-old flop is still being enjoyed in the Twenty-First Century where dozens and hundreds of its equally unsuccessful contemporaries are forgotten, except by fanatics and the ultra-curious.
The difference lies, as always, in the quality of the record. ‘Granny Takes a Trip’ is a mad rush of enthusiasm. Just listening to it, you can easily imagine the atmosphere in a local club, especially if they were performing this in Poynton Folk Club, with everyone swept up by its pace, lustily bellowing out that chorus and wanting it to keep going for ages.
With or without LSD (the audience, I mean, not Granny).

The Infinite Jukebox: Tucky Buzzard’s ‘Gold Medallions’


Some songs hold their place in the Infinite Jukebox solely on the basis that I heard them and loved them. They don’t need to be significant, in any way, except the sole factor that I listened to them over and over, and nearly fifty years later I’m still prepared to listen to them with the same enthusiasm that I had in 1973.
That factor does gain an additional depth when, as with this single, the record is something everyone else ignored. The only people I have ever met who know of this record are those few mates who, fifty years ago, had to put up with me playing it at them. None of them liked it, and certainly not with any of the fervour I felt for it: say rather that they put up with it and probably privately determined never to listen to anything else by Tucky Buzzard.
That’s alright: with the exception of a token play of the b-side, and a couple of spins of the album version, which I didn’t like anything as much, neither did I.
Tucky Buzzard are classed as a hard rock band in Wikipedia. To some extent they were proteges of Bill Wyman, who produced all five of their albums, and lead guitarist Terry Taylor, co-writer of most of the band’s output with lead singer Jimmy Henderson, still plays as part of Wyman’s live band. Still, not on the surface the kind of band I’d go for, rather a workmanlike outfit.
Except for the singles version of ‘Gold Medallions’. It’s sound is dominated by an acoustic guitar, well to the forefront, strumming a brash, midtempo rhythm that runs unchanged throughout the song, and through which the rest of the band filter, almost subliminally. Taylor also lays down a beautifully fluid electric guitar line, an electric piano holds much of the melody and the drums provide a jerky alternative to the acoustic guitar’s pace-setting patterns.
Henderson’s voice isn’t all that expressive, but it fits the air of melancholy expressed in the lyrics. It gives off the air of being about a relationship that’s dying, another love lost song that I was so obsessed with long before I had any experience of loss and heartbreak, as if I was laying up expectations before the reality ever drew near. Many nights lay thinking here about you, he begins, verses that were used to draw me near, though I know I’ve got to be without you, the thought of losing you I just can’t bear.
Isn’t that clear enough? Doesn’t that spell out that things are coming to an end? And is it not further reinforced by another four lines: Talked about all our past romances, the memory of it all don’t seem too clear. Don’t think much to all of my last chances, but with you around there’s nothing left to fear…
And Henderson holds on that last word, and it is the last word for there are no more verses after this, as he waits for his bandmates to provide an aural backing to the long chorus that will hereafter dominate the song, will be the song.
Don’t think much about games, or mystery rides on out-of-town trains, going places I ain’t been, don’t seem much to me to be, applauded when I’m around, champagne toasts when I’m out on the town, gold medallions hanging down, my empty bedroom wall.
Taylor then delivers another, searing guitar solo, before Henderson returns to lead a repeat, and then a repeat of that chorus, a melody that, measured against that acoustic guitar, is one that I could sing over and over with them, and indeed did, listening in my bedroom when no-one else was in the house.
But what does that chorus actually say? It seems to represent two completely different mental situations, the first half that of the lover who has lost their love and for whom all of life becomes futile and pointless, the second half a shameless rejection of that state and a fantasy of being the centre of everybody’s attention, the most popular guy in town.
Of course, that’s not entirely incompatible, is it? They hadn’t defined the Five Stages of Grief back then, but this chorus could be read as stages four and five, depression followed by acceptance – except that those gold medallions, a few years before Disco, Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta and The Bee Gees, suddenly explode those few lines as a fantasy, as they are not hanging round Henderson’s neck, attracting the chicks, they’re hanging down his empty bedroom wall, the one he’s staring at because he don’t think much about games…
And that’s what draws me in. Though not many will perhaps agree, that chorus not only captures a time and a place, and a mental dismay that has still not left me now, but the music hypnotises me and wishing to hear it over and again. My mates suffered from it in 1973 and after. You may suffer from it now, especially as none of the YouTube recordings are of a good standard. Listen hard, though, and you may hear what I hear.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Tourists’ ‘I Only Want To Be With You’


In any competition for the most pointless cover version of all time, The Tourists’ version of ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ has gone to be somewhere in the top one percentile. Ridiculous, cynical, flat and rubbish are just the first four adjectives I pluck at random from the whole encyclopedia of criticality. And whilst I’m far from being the world’s most fervent fan of Annie Lennox, I know she can sing from songs that suit her voice but whoever told her she could apply herself to this song was a bigger bullshitter than Boris Johnson.
In short, I hated it then, in 1979, and I hate it now.
But why, exactly, is it so bad?
For one thing, it’s so utterly pointless. Who in their right minds wants a pseudo-punk version of ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ that adds nothing but the veneer of punk whilst slavishly following the arrangement of the original? There is no reason for this record to exist than to get Radio 1 to play something by The Tourists, who they otherwise wouldn’t give house space to, and to set themselves up for an unjustified hit single that betrays both the Dusty Springfield original, and the punk/new wave sound that the band were at least nominally coming from.
And that’s before you consider the unanswerable question: if you have Dusty Springfield’s version, what the hell do you need with anybody else’s version? Do you seriously think you can come anywhere within sight of it, let alone equal it?
I suppose that part of my vast disgust that this version even exists is a naïve idealism that I had in those days, and which is still my instinctive response to the music of that era. It was very much an Us v Them time, with Punk and New Wave, the despised, bastard children of the music business, the nonconformists, snarling their defiance of a system that seemed purpose built to exclude them, as Us, at least as far as I was concerned.
To look at me, you’d have never connected me to punk: glasses, round face, round belly, a beard, an Articled Clerk working to become a Solicitor: I had nothing in common with punks except a hungry love of the music, its simplicity, its crudity, its independence and above all its energy. Then there was everything else, the slick Hip MOR of Rod Stewart or The Eagles, the self-importance of the aftermath of Progressive Rock like ELP and Yes, the nodding contempt of titanic bands who sat on their fat, drug-addled arses for years on end before descending from their self-appointed heavens to drop an album on fans they expected would lap it up irrespective of how long it was they’d been thrown a bone from the table: Led Zeppelin at Knebworth.
Christ, I hated that. Punk and New Wave was, to me, honest: open, direct and above all immersive. It was about encouraging people to do it for themselves, about being direct and obvious enough be capable of being done by you, yes, you, instead of being something long-winded and conspicuously clever that you were supposed to prostrate yourself before, grubby little nothing you, down on your knees worshipping the Rock Gods.
That’s what it felt like, then, when only the New Musical Express seemed to see things the same way I did. Certainly, there were very few people I knew who liked any of the same songs as me. One mate told me, guaranteed me, that The Buzzcocks would be completely forgotten in ten years time. I was out on my own. To me, punk was integrity before anything else.
Yeah, like I said massively naïve and idealistic.
So something like The Tourists covering ‘I only want to be with you’, and especially covering it in such a soft-focus, superficially New Wave style, without tearing it up in any way, without even doing something like play it slightly faster, like The Dickies’ raucous and disrespectful cover of ‘Nights in White Satin’, was so unacceptable to my ears. What was the point? I mean, just what the FUCK was the point!?
I’m worlds away from the fervent 23 year old who heard The Tourists’ version and despised it. I no longer have those ideals, not about the world that’s forty four years after. But set me down in 1978 musically and I’m unchanged. It was the most exciting time I ever had with music, and every New Wave band that cracked the Top Thirty, or got on Top of the Pops was another blow struck, another see, I told you, I was right and you were wrong, and that was an immense part of the sheer fun of the whole of it.
And The Tourists were and still are nothing but a bad smell in my nostrils.