The Infinite Jukebox: The Rembrandts’ ‘The Other Side of Night’

When people mention The Rembrandts, inevitably it’s in connection with the theme from Friends, ‘I’ll Be There For You’, twice a top five hit in the UK in the heyday of the sitcom. Me being me, and liking the song’s R.E.M.-esque vigour and melody, dug deeper, to the extent of buying the band’s most recent CD, which they’d called, amusingly, LP , a follow-up to Untitled. Some people are born smartarses.
It wasn’t a bad album by any means, but it wasn’t as distinctive as I hoped. The overall sound, and songwriting, was much more reminiscent of Crowded House, and the release was not all that long after Woodface, but in the end there weren’t enough compelling tracks to justify keeping it, and I recorded the ones I wanted to keep and sold the album on. One of those songs was “The Other Side of Night”.
If all you listen to is the music, then this is a pleasant, low-tempo song, set to a gentle, shuffling beat, with an appealing but not overly-demonstrative melody, sung in a restrained and sometimes gently yearning voice. But that yearning note is not there for just fun, and when you tune your ear to the song, what this is about is loss, loss of a love, a might-have-been love. And it doesn’t take much to understand for what the Other Side of Night is a metaphor.
Sadness is encoded into the song, whose gentility becomes fragile in its playing out. Whoever she was is unknown, whatever she was is plain to see, and what has happened to her has been a sorrow that can never be relieved, and also a guilt. No farewell words will ever be heard from the other side of night.
This song is a companion to The Pierces’ glorious ‘Glorious’. It hasn’t a tenth of the fire of that song, and nothing of the Pierces’ determination not to take life as being over, but to live as loud and as hard as they can. The Rembrandts are a long way from recovering from their loss. They are calm and placid about it, accepting in part of what cannot be undone, but still they look back, seeing the absence, rather than forward, to the life best lived in honour of the loved one gone ahead.
It’s easy to say, no doubt in response to that early and devastating loss, that my thoughts turn too often to a mournful tone, that sadness and loss will always affect me more than joy and happiness. And the other side of night is right in my wheelhouse when it comes to words that describe.
Because Danny Wilde and Phil Solem are singing about a girl who took her own life. A girl who was not a love but who might have been, had there been another year, another season. A girl who’s become a question, not an answer. The sun shines where she is but The Rembrandts see only night, under a moon that throws a beautiful light but not one that eases, because no beauty can answer the unending questions.
Because nobody loses someone to suicide without questions as to their own part, the invisible responsibility, the unanswerable guilt at what might have been different had I been different. Those dead are always close at hand, around a corner, just out of the line of sight. Thank whatever passes in your world to a God, I have never experienced such a loss, but survivor’s guilt is one of the most powerful guilts that can be borne because it can never be lifted except by your own head.
For The Rembrandts, all that might have been were possibilities. Would I have fallen in love with her if there had been a longer time? The unspoken fear: was it for my failure to love that she chose to go beyond?
But she is where she chose to be, now and forever. Would she have inspired so beautiful a song without the mourning that exists in every note? That no-one can ever know.

The Infinite Jukebox: Pete Atkin’s ‘The Faded Mansion on the Hill’

The only other time thus far that I have featured a Pete Atkin track was from his relaunched career, that began, in effect, in 1998. Since the Monyash Folk Festival that established the existence of a still loyal audience, eager to hear more music from Pete, and more words from Clive James, there have been four new collections, of music written but never released in the Seventies, and music newly written in that so welcome revival.
Before that, we had to rely upon six albums recorded between 1970 and 1975, which really ought to be numbered as five, since the last of these was the classic Contractual Obligation Album, a collection of all those comic songs that relieved the intensity at gigs but didn’t necessarily hang together as a group to be experienced all at once.
There are many tracks spread over those first five albums, not all of them of the standard of the most impressive tracks, but every one is one fan’s favourite or another, and the least you can say is that there is nothing that is not at minimum interesting.
There’s at least a half dozen tracks I could have chosen as a first subject, but ‘The Faded Mansion on the Hill’, from Atkin’s third album, A King at Nightfall, has always been a particularly evocative track, despite the limitations of the recording process: not the equipment or the session musicians, who were always drawn from the finest of the period, but the minimalist budget afforded to Atkin’s albums.
It’s unfair to call this a sprawling song, but both musically and lyrically it goes through changes. And the words have a dark aspect to them, ameliorated by the musical setting chosen by Atkin, a deliberate tempo, electric piano-based melody to begin with, contrasting to the determined oblique angle of the words. When you see what can’t be helped, Atkin opens, go by with bloody murder in its eye. The couplet evokes an unspecified horror, which is amplified by a matching pair of lines, a man on a rack, a voice about to crack.
From here, James broadens the scene, surveying… well, it has to be seen as people in general, a mass leading ordinary, unfulfilled (litter of) lives, with stupid children and bitter wives, bereft of self-esteem, and and the urge of every observer to climb away from these dispiriting scenes of decay.
The temptation is to think this just a trick played by fate, these sick, hate days that might, if we think it so, just be a phase, but the mind is ground down by a thick weight.
And then we see the culmination of this miasma of lines, the faded mansion of the song’s title, out of whose gateways comes an aged car, carrying a single passenger, an old man, old because time has not yet found the time to kill.
The music shifts, a percussion track matches it stride for stride, Atkin shifts into a different, smoother melody, singing of the yachts in Sydney Harbour, the yachts of James’ childhood and youth, fleeing for the open sea, the freedom of the Pacific, their sails white and blinding, like driven snow, through the metaphor is unexpected. Outward they go, escaping from what we’ve already seen, with the ease of dolphins and seabirds, on the edges of their separate domains. They are alive, and living their days, as if the cemetery of home can be wished away, be left for dead.
Another turn. The hope is vain. Atkin sings with anger and desperation, an anger that desperation is all there is or can be. Where they are is still the graveyard of tall ships, just as surely as the grass that yearly breaks up more of the driveway in the mansion left so far away. Nor do they have more than this illusion, James once again producing a matching couplet, the beach the poor men never reach, the shore the rich men never leave, a contrast that is plain and inescapable and forever.
In an echo of their departure, returning to what holds even them in place, the homing yachts return between the headlands, lowering their sails, calling to one another, intent no doubt upon the bar where beers and wines and spirits will be drunk and spirits maintained unrealistically high. But all the while behind them, the avenue leads back up the hill, into the hill, back to the crumpled old man.
And in a line that turns back upon itself and evokes the weariness of inevitability, writer and singer come together upon the understanding that time, tonight, might find the time to kill.
Lyrically, melodically, this is an epic of regret. At each turn, Atkin finds the music, the melody, the tempo to match each phase of this story. None of this can be helped, it is how things are for the majority of men (and women), and even the yachts can only escape for a time. Time will, in time, find the time, and we are none of us immune. All that is left are a few chords of piano, falling into silence.
And the remembrance of where we have been.

The Infinite Jukebox: Lake Street Dive’s ‘What I’m Doing Here’

Among the many things I gained from a decades-long enthusiasm for the works of Clive James was an introduction to the works of Lake Street Drive, a jazz-rock band who’ve been around since the beginning of the 2010s. I am not normally a fan of any kind of jazz, and especially not anything that falls into the bracket of trad, but based on his panegyric to the voice of singer Rachael Price, I went on YouTube. And now I have all their CDs to date and the ambition to see them live.
Lake Street Dive are a compact four piece consisting of Mike ‘McDuck’ Olsen on guitars and trumpet, Mike Calabrese on drums and Bridget Kearney on stand-up bass, plus the aforementioned Ms Price on vocals, with all three of the other members on backing vocals. Their music is tight and complex, utilising a mainly rock-oriented sound but jazz inflections and constructions. And in Rachael Price they have a woman with a stunningly rich voice.
Her voice is warm, throaty, flexible and she’s in complete control of her range, owing nothing to studio trickery whatsoever. That she’s also stone cold gorgeous is a bonus.
That first song I was exposed to on YouTube was ‘What I’m Doing Here’. To my chagrin, it is not available on CD, but only as the lead side of a 7″ single, and me with no record player any more. It’s a slow ballad, built upon a primarily piano track, with Price ranging throughout her entire vocal repertoire over its length, trying to decide for herself whether or not the boyfriend she has is worth keeping.
Nobody knows what I’m doing here, she sings, and admits that she herself hasn’t got a clue. What she is doing is messing around with these other fools, when she’s not with him. But what seems obvious to everyone else, that he is the one she should be with, is far less obvious to Rachael. She knows she’s wasting her time with these other losers, but questions whether the boyfriend she’s avoiding is so good a bet for her. Their relationship is turbulent: yes, they’re in love, or he’s in love and she has feelings for him, but there are times when things are turbulent and that love is not enough.
And while they wonder, they who are unnamed but are her friends, and are here represented by the backing vocals of the band, what she’s doing with these fools and losers, Rachael herself wonders, knowing that they are not enough for her, they are beneath her, and why she is here and not elsewhere is as much a mystery to her as it is to her friends.
But not necessarily the same mystery. If they are that much below the boyfriend she, on one level loves, why does she spend her time with them and not him? What is she seeing that she can’t see that she’s seeing? Her voice dips and soars, asking herself a question she cannot answer, hoping to find in the music the explanation, and the key to what she should do in order to move forward.
That she can’t find it yet is no fault of the honesty with which she interrogates herself. If the answer is in her voice, it will come. In the meantime, being caught between choices like Hamlet has never sounded so musically compelling.
And she sings it in one single take in the video attached below. Incredible.

The Infinite Jukebox: R.E.M.’s ‘Let Me In’

It surprised me to realise that, after one hundred posts under this title, I have yet to feature a track by R.E.M., my favourite band for nearly half my life. And it’s equally strange that the song that’s inspired me to write about should be off one of my least favourite R.E.M. albums of all time.
Monster was released in 1994, and a mate of mine and I went to see the band touring it at what was then the MacAlpine Stadium, the newly-built (still only three-sided) home of Huddersfield Town.
It was a blazing hot July afternoon and, in order not to fry/dehydrate completely, we took seats in the shade of the stand at the Town End, whilst the stage was set up at the open end, down the length of the ground.
To be honest, of the seven R.E.M. gigs I saw down the years, this was the least entertaining, in part from the distance we were from the band, but more for the songs they were showcasing. Monster was a deliberate reaction to the mainly acoustic music the band had made over the past two albums, and so the sound was deliberately loud, dirty, heavy, aggressive and, overall, a bit one-note. I won’t say it made the album monotonous, but unvaried would be an apt word.
So what makes ‘Let Me In’ stand out above, not only its fellow songs on this album but all the others they recorded? And why has it come to mind now? 2019 saw the 25th Anniversary of Monster and a special edition CD was issued, in two disc and five disc formats. The latter includes a complete remix of the album, which clarifies its deliberately thick and semi-distorted sound in a way that gives the album a more interesting sound overall to me.
But ‘Let Me In’ has undergone more changes than a mere remix. This was always the song that stood out for me. It was the famous song about the recently deceased Kurt Cobain, and Michael Stipe’s efforts to contact him, to offer help. It wasn’t the only slow-paced song on the album, but it was the only one of the three to be dominated by Peter Buck’s guitar, a swirl of sound, thick and woozy, feedback-drenched, in which individual notes and chords are indistinguishable, with Stipe’s vocals buried in the middle of the mix yet escaping plaintively, to plead ‘let me in’.
What he sings struggles to be heard, in its semi-abstract, abstruse form. The only clarity is that plea, a forlorn cry for help from Stipe even as it’s a cry to help, the urge to bridge the gap to Cobain as he entered the final phase of drowning in his own life.
And there in the middle of the song an organ begins to echo the melody in Stipe’s voice, a simple, one-finger two-finger, underlying the words. Until Stipe’s oak-smoked voice rises into the falsetto and the organ begins to spin out of the drench of sound, until the voice that has failed to deliver the help it so desperately wanted to deliver and which can only now mourn is supplanted by it, swirling the melody, soaring yet despairing, taking the lead until the song finally fades into silence. If I were not already drawn deeply into ‘Let Me In’, this coda completes the spell. Like Stipe but without the articulation it is the summation of the regret for what could not be done, a threnody using the minimal melody of the song to draw us into the ultimate sorrow.
The remix does many things. It separates the instruments, it releases Stipe’s voice from its half-hidden place, it brings it out into the open freeing the words for clear perception, it reduces the blur and thickness of the sound, and these are all things that, musically, I have always preferred, and which in that sense does enhance ‘Let Me In’. Yet it also removes the organ, removes the tambourine, distances the guitar, making the performance a thing of guitars only, arranged as a supplement to Stipe’s voice rather than its prison. And that diminishes the song even as it’s turned into a better vessel for Stipe’s singing.
It takes out the pain, and this is a song about pain.
And though it’s not in my nature to prefer such a sound, this once it is the thick sound, the blur and the entanglement, the inability to distinguish what Buck is playing, that is the true sound of what R.E.M. meant in recording this.
You’d expect the organ to be the work of Mike Mills but on the tribute video it is played, painstakingly, by Peter Buck. But who cares really? Let ‘Let Me In’ be the enigma it was meant to be, concealing its answers. Let it reach directly into the heart. Let It In.

The Infinite Jukebox: Second Season

Second series are often better planned than first efforts. After achieving 100 posts and collecting everything as a book, I wanted to take a posting break on The Infinite Jukebox. That didn’t mean that I was taking a writing break, indeed I have been compiling entries, sometimes at a semi-furious rate, since posting about Roger Whittaker. I currently have almost twenty posts lined up in order of composition, enough that instead of the previous haphazard and occasional posting schedule, I’m putting Series 2 on a weekly schedule, starting on Monday. Look out for a new song every Monday morning, hopefully until I’ve racked up another hundred and published another Volume to be ignored by an uncaring world.

The Infinite Jukebox: Roger Whittaker’s ‘Durham Town (The Leavin’)’

The posts appearing here under the heading of The Infinite Jukebox have obeyed no order, scheme or structure. After the first three songs, all-time favourites, they’ve been written in fits and starts, sometimes a handful at a time, as memory, inspiration and the discovery of something to say about them has been made. They have been posted in order of writing, nothing else.
Roger Whittaker’s ‘Durham Town (The Leavin’)’ is the 100th post in this series. If there were any order, it would have been the first. Because it was. First, that is.
Everybody has a first single that they bought or, as in my case, their mother bought for them because they didn’t have any money of their own. 6s 8d at Sykes’s Records, Lane End Road, Burnage.
I haven’t always been prepared to admit to that. In fact, most of my life I’ve kept schtum: no self-respecting music-lover wants to make that kind of thing widely known and usually I’ve either kept a decent silence or else pretended my second single, eight months later and much more respectable, being a Northern Soul Club track, was the first one. I didn’t buy it because it was a Northern Soul track, mind you, as you may remember from this.
Roger Whittaker was a South African light entertainer, noted mostly for his whistling before he had a hit with this (the b-side, ‘Storm’, is one of his whistle-jobs). He was an immaculately turned-out, buttoned jacket prematurely middle-aged man with a perfectly groomed beard and a rich, deep voice with clear enunciation: not your average pop star of the months before the Underground started climbing overground, yet not a Tom Jones or an Engelbert. Whittaker lacked passion in his singing. He was almost didactically precise but the words could have been pages from a dictionary for all the feeling he put into them.
‘Durham Town’ entered the Top Thirty at no 28 on 22 November 1969 and peaked at no. 12 a couple of weeks into January 1970. It was a bloodless song, light enough for a kid in a family who hated pop, who was only slowly progressing from the kiddies’ songs on Junior Choice though I’m not making excuses for myself. Sometimes I can’t understand what on earth made it appeal to me, and at others I hear clearly the things the song wants to express, in the chorus, the words and tune that Whittaker can’t entirely flatten.
Because Whittaker has lived his whole life in Durham Town, watching people and things go, leaving him behind, and now it’s his turn. He has to leave, shedding everything he’s known, that he’s buried himself within. He’s not leaving a town, he’s leaving his cocoon, going away from home and comfort into the unknown and unknowable.
And if that isn’t a description of growing up, what is?
Besides, in a world where songs were about San Francisco and Tulsa, there was a lot to be said for a song about somewhere in England, somewhere I might conceivably go (which I did, but not until 22 years later).
Amusingly, I still have vivid memories of the song featuring in Junior Points of View, a five minutes BBC letters page of the air, in which an indignant Durham youngster took ‘Durham Town’ to task for its many geographical errors, like the fact Durham was a City, not a Town, and how Whittaker couldn’t possibly have sat on the banks of the River Tyne when the river running through Durham is the Wear. Such things matter up there.
But ‘Durham Town (The Leavin’)’ has a place in this list for what it was: the first. And if the first is last, last in this first century of songs and to now be compiled in book form, it still has that place. They can’t all be supercool, but they can never denied the place in your memory.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Beatles’ ‘In My Life’

Until now, there have been no posts on The Infinite Jukebox about any Beatles songs. This is not because of any lack of quality or interest on my part, far from. The opposite is more nearly true, there are just so many that I love, that still sound as fresh as when they were first cut to vinyl. Age does not wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety. Besides, when you think of how many people have had their say on every song, what can I hope to add that isn’t a mere echo?
And anyway, The Infinite Jukebox deals in singles, or tracks on singles, and whilst these were amongst some of the greatest songs of the decade, there are lots of great tracks on albums which, in some ways, are even more worthy of comment. And not just the obvious ones like ‘I am the Walrus’, or ‘A Day in the Life’, or ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
But I do have a very special place in my heart for John Lennon’s ‘In My Life’, the fourth track on side 2 of Rubber Soul. The words are by Lennon, McCartney claims to have written much of the melody (entirely believable) and George Martin contributed the baroque solo by playing a slow piano melody and speeding this up to twice the original tempo to create the quasi-harpsichord effect (on a long ago, pre Brian Matthews Sounds of the Sixties Martin brought in and played several tape rareties, including the original, natural speed solo).
I’m quoting all these things because my own lack of musical knowledge means I can’t offer judgements much more sophisticated than ‘I like this’ or ‘I hate that’. Certainly the song, which owes a little to Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tracks of my Tears’, is quiet and understated, with only the piano solo standing out musically.
But ‘In my Life’ owes everything to its words, to the air of nostalgic regret that hangs around its shoulders, apparently representing John’s regrets for the days before stardom when they were all free, and all part of the worlds in which they had grown up. But I hear it as a love song. For me, it is one of Lennon’s most powerful statements about love, and it writes itself upon my heart every time I hear it.
There are places I remember, John begins confidently asserting their hold on him as a past that, despite the changes time has made, good and bad, is integral to who and what he is. They have a meaning for him, they are who and what he comes from, and he is formed by them. They cannot be forgotten.
Yet the past, powerful as it is, vital as it is, pales into reflection against the woman he loves. He’ll never let go of them, forget them or forsake them, but what she is rises above all of this: In my life, I love you more. That love, stated so simply but indelibly, that commitment to the loved one above everything else that has ever held meaning, demonstrates to me that Lennon was the true romantic of the Beatles, not McCartney with his facile sentimentality, but Lennon, the hard man, whose real love songs came from a deeper part of him.
If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I lost my father at the age of 14. I have a younger sister, who also lost her Dad, at little more than half my age. We are not alike. As time has gone on, it has become clear that the only thing we really share are the same parents, and for a long time we have gone our own ways.
Forty years ago, when I was living in Nottingham, and exchanging letters with our mother, she told me that she had just learned that my sister had been collecting condolence card verses. In response, I wrote out the lyrics to ‘In my Life’ for our mother to show my sister. What she thought of them, I don’t know. By the time I was next home, I’d forgotten about it, and she never mentioned it. I don’t remember our ever discussing the loss that joined us, the one thing that only both of us can understand. I wish we had.
What message I was trying to send, I no longer understand. Though Lennon intended the song to be a lament for people and things that went before, and that my sister had a hole in her life at least as large as the one in mine, and that it affected her in ways we were never to talk about made it appropriate among the words she was collecting.
That I saw it otherwise, as a statement that what we have been through has the greatest effect upon us but that the love of who we are meant to be with (she has been married for nearly thirty-three years now) is more important, I doubt. I responded to love and commitment, and hoped she would understand and be moved by it.
Which is why I decided to write about a Beatles song for the first time and why I decided to write about this Beatles song. Sometimes, and for the oddest of reasons, too much of yourself gets caught in a song. In my life, the past is the only thing that remains.