The Infinite Jukebox: Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’

When I say I’m not into Jazz, I’m aware that that’s a hopeless over-simplification. Jazz is not merely Jazz, it is an ever-widening delta of different sounds, techniques and approaches, very few of which I have any aural experience, and subtleties beyond the ability of my ears to distinguish. Or comprehend, for that matter.
When I think of Jazz, as one must inevitably do from time to time, the Jazz that I instinctively associate with the term is traditional jazz, the kind that involves trumpets and trombones and the banjo chugging away in the background. That I do not like with a passion. Should I ever again be subjected to ‘When the Saints go Marching In’ in that style, I will not be responsible for my actions.
There are the usual odds’n’sods that I like: The Dave Brubeck Quartet, with particular reference to ‘Take Five’, ‘Stranger on the Shore’. And some exponents of Jazz-rock who don’t lean too heavily on the Jazz end of that combination, such as Steely Dan over the first three albums.
But sometimes, when all around you is cracking up and so are you, when you want a warm and reassuring sound, that is big and naive but amazingly comforting, you take it from anywhere you can find it, and if that means Jazz, you suck it up baby and you luxuriate in the sound.
And I can’t think of anything more all-embracing than Louis Armstrong and his 1968 British UK no. 1, the great and sentimental ‘What a Wonderful World’.
The song originally came out in America in 1967, and I remember being thrown by its anachronistic use on the soundtrack to Good Morning Vietnam, when my then girlfriend and I went to see that. It was a flop in the USA thanks to the adverse response of Satchmo’s manager but Britain took it, whole-heartedly, making Armstrong, aged 67, the oldest man then to top the British charts.
Armstrong was a true Jazz legend, a phenomenal trumpeter and a well-rounded man whose music was full of life. He also possessed a rich, growling singing voice that, whatever he did with it, was singing through the grin he always seemed to wear. And Armstrong’s grin was full of warmth, encompassing everybody within range.
And I wonder about that grin, that inhabited everything Armstrong did and was, how did he really feel? Armstrong’s public persona was not too far removed from the minstrel acts, the black performers turning themselves into clowns, loveable and harmless, subservient to the whites who, for the most part of Louis Armstrong’s life, were his masters who he’d better not get to uppitty with, no matter what the real truth of talent, wisdom, wit and humanity between them.
Armstrong played the black man of no threat, the clown America wanted to think of. He made brilliant music doing that because he was so good a musician, so inventive and active. He made Jazz that even I could like.
And four years from the end of his life, he made ‘What a Wonderful Life’. The song was made for him, there wasn’t another musician who could have been so simple and honest to sing lyrics that were naive and hopeful, lyrics that wore their rose-tinted glasses on the inside. Armstrong sung, with a deliberately naive awe, about trees of green, red roses, coming into bloom for me and an unnamed you, a you who is not an individual but all of us rolled into Armstrong’s gaze without discrimination or distinction, included in his almost-child-like acclaiming of what a What a Wonderful World.
Of course it wasn’t, not in 1968, nor since, no matter how much Armstrong reinforced it with that deep, reminiscing burr of a voice. Satchmo is looking through a very narrow eye, seeing only what he wants to see, that all is for the best in the best of all worlds, but his gift is not just to make you want to see it through his eyes, see only the good and the blessed, but to draw you into the curve of his vision so that for three minutes or so, you believe and you see, and you think to yourself, What a Wonderful World.
Oh yeah.

The Infinite Jukebox: Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man (I think it’s gonna be a long time)’

I used to love this song, but then I used to love ‘Candle in the Wind’ as well. The truth was that it was not the ‘Goodbye English Rose’ version re-written for Princess Diana’s funeral (which after all this time I have still never heard, having successfully blotted out the sound on those very few occasions I have been somewhere where it was being played) that dried the song up on me, for I had simply grown tired of hearing it, grown tired of it being recorded and re-recorded, until it’s juices bled out.
‘Rocket Man (I think it’s gonna be a long long time)’ hasn’t gone down quite the same path for me. I can still hear the melody that attracted me, the flowing out chorus. The elements that made me love it in 1972 haven’t yet been squeezed out of the song, perhaps because, since it’s time in the Top 30 sun, it hasn’t received the same amount of overplaying as the one about Marilyn Monroe. It hasn’t lost its vitality, not yet.
But Lord, when you listen to it, you don’t half get the feeling that Bernie Taupin was on a very off-day when he wrote the lyrics to this one. They are a mess. They are a shambolic nonsense in their best moments and a ridiculous collection of lines in their worst. Even stream of consciousness lyrics are more sensible than this childish nonsense, which do the melody no favours.
Ultimately though, what has taken ‘Rocket Man’ from the heights I once heard in it to the depths of dullness is too much. Too much Elton John. Too many bloated MOR tunes. Too much self-love and fussiness. The man has replaced the songwriter and the song and the songs, those early ones when I was always keen on hearing the new Elton John single, have suffered in consequence.
There’s just been too many songs, too many identikit melodies, too much Elton John Ho Hum. The dross surrounds, envelops and overwhelms the high spots, which can no longer stretch above the tidemark of the amorphous mass of music, can no longer be seen and, if seen, can no longer impress as once they did.
Especially when the lyrics are as clunky and naff as they are on this one, which I used, in a guilty part of my mind, to think was always the case, even back in 1972. Goodbye Reginald Dwight.

The Infinite Jukebox: Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me In Your Heart’

All things come to an end, and one day so will I.
My intention is for my body to be cremated, and the ashes sprinkled on Plot C at Dukinfield Crematorium, where I will follow all the older members of my family. I do not want a religious service.
For years, it was my plan to have Oasis’ ‘Live Forever’ (the other Noel Gallagher song that will still be around in a hundred years) played at the end of the ceremony. It was my idea of an ironic gesture, and one of defiance.
In 2003, Warren Zevon released his final album, The Wind. It had been made in the shadow of his inoperable cancer, and he lasted long enough to complete it, if not to see it released.
‘Keep me in your Heart’ is the last song on the album and, whenever it was written, the last song of his life, the one he chose to go out on. It asks the only thing you can reasonably ask of those who remain behind, that you keep me in your heart for a while.
That will be my last gesture to my friends and my family, the only thing I will ask of them. And I hope they will take note of one particular line in the song: if I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any else.
When that might be, I have no idea. There are times when I have decided that, given my health issues, I’m unlikely to last to see 70, and days when I am sure it can go on for a lot longer than that. Either way, I am determined to cling to every last day on which I can write something. But whenever and in what circumstances that it is going to be, Uncle Warren has already been there and he said it better than I ever could.
Keep me in your Heart, for a while.

The Infinite Jukebox: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’

Has there ever been such a compulsive, self-mythologising rush as this? Has there ever been another song that tries to cram a world both real and exaggerated into 4 minutes and 31 seconds of the most massive sound Phil Spector never recorded? Has there ever been a more astonishing piece of rock music as ‘Born to Run’?
I was there in 1974 when this happened, when critic Jon Landau proclaimed that he had seen the future of rock’n’roll and it was called Bruce Springsteen. I was there but, as I don’t think I’d heard a single note from Springsteen’s first two albums before then, nor knew his supposed reputation as the new Bob Dylan, I had no preconceptions to be busted.
And this sound appeared, everything and everybody scrambling over themselves to be out there, out front, hammering into your ears, battering you into submission before even a word is sung.
The opening couplet lays out for us where we are and what worlds this is to take place in. In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream, at night we ride through mansions of glory in a suicide machine. Night and day. Reality and fantasy. The one is the world of the working stiffs in their checked shirts, jeans and working boots, working dead end jobs as modern slaves, the other is the night when they have the freedom to not take orders, the Jersey boys and girls, cruising endlessly, dressed up as who they want themselves to be.
Only a year later, George Lucas was to dress up those dreams for teenagers in American Grafitti, but these are the boys and girls a generation later, a lifetime older and there is still no greater outlet.
Springsteen has a girl. It’s what these songs are always about, the only real escape is into the private world formed by two as one. Her name is Wendy, he wants her love, he wants her to let him in. He isn’t an invader, a threat. He wants to be to her what she wants and he will guard her dreams and visions and we hear the pre-echo of Shane McGowan telling Kirsty MacColl that he kept her dreams with him, along with his own.
Together they can break this trap, he proclaims, they’ll run till they drop and never look back. She’s just got to have the courage to go into the wild, to cross the circus wire with its gulfs all below, relieve him of the fear of being a scared and lonely rider. Nobody does this alone. All the power to hide the weakness and the need. Springsteen has never been in love before, not even to the point of knowing if love is real?
To answer that, Clarence Clemons blows one of rocks most fundamental saxophone solos, from which we emerge into the song’s only moment of respite. It’s a moment of contemplation, marked by the music’s slight slowing tempo, its smooth transition into a lowering intensity. Springsteen sees the fantasy of the night around him, elevates the moments and the movements into the mythology he’s creating to deal with emotions.
Cars and bikes scream down the boulevard, the Jersey people preen. Girls comb their hair in rear-view mirrors and the boys try to look so hard, everything around him is fruit to his vision and he spills out the heart of his desire, to die tonight on the streets, with his Wendy, in an ever-lasting kiss.
Again the vision is interrupted by a solo, this time a guitar, hard, powerful, rapid, thundering out notes as Springsteen tries to master himself. There’s a still point, a moment in the middle of things, the E-Street Band, the gang, drawing back, a final chance to gather our breath, as Springsteen hollers ‘1-2-3-4!’ at the top of his lungs and we’re suddenly in the endgame, and if you thought Bruce was intense before now, you haven’t heard anything baby because this is where it gets serious, where reality demands its pay-cheque and not anything that can be imagined can stand against that.
This is the zenith, baby. Or the nadir, depending on where you stand.
The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power-drive. Everybody’s out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide. There’s nothing left but that most dangerous thing of all, hope. The whole point of the song is that no matter how fast they move or how hard they dream, the Jersey boys and girls have no way of moving up to even the next rung of the ladder. The only thing Bruce can offer Wendy is ‘Someday’, the never-day when they get to go to that place where they really wanna go, that place they have not yet and maybe never will define even to themselves, except that once there they will walk in the sun.
But until then, as they always were and ever will be, they are tramps and they were born to run just to stay alive.
And the repetitions do nothing but reinforce it.
The song doesn’t fade out, it runs to a frantic stop on the back of Springsteen’s whooping and hollering ‘Oh-woah-woah-woah’, articulacy died, emotions too much for words, roared back at him in concerts by 50,000 throats en masse, the collective heart breaking through that separation to run with the man who put all this into word and sound, brilliantly.
If there is a criticism to be made it’s that this song has a degree of artificiality to it. Degree? Bruce is going all out for the big one here, mythologising like mad, but it’s a calculated attempt to create something massive, something mind-blowing, to blow off not just our socks but, Charlie Brown on the mound-like, everything down to our underwear. And the criticism is unimportant because the song succeeds wildly, because we go along with it because we want something like that in our lives, we want things to be like this, mysterious and strange, an encoded version of a life we never quite get to live. We want the strangeness and the exaggeration, we want the girl with whom we’d die on the streets in an ever-lasting kiss. We are not so much seduced by Springsteen’s vision as throwing ourselves into its arms, naked and wanting. Could life really be this excessive? And above all else the song triumphs over any reservations about its artificial aspect because the band believe, by god they believe, and they throw themselves into playing the damn heart out of this, until at the end there is no resistance, and we are Bruce, looking into the heart of the sun, those glorious yet resigned whoa-oa-oas leading us to the song’s only point of stillness, it’s end, are beyond irresistible.
This isn’t a song, it’s a lifetime, and we wanna live there.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Cowsill’s ‘The Rain, The Park and Other Things’

In the early Seventies, I watched a lot of TV programmes that I now can’t understand the reason why. Perhaps it was just down to being a family reduced by one, a feeling of solidarity with each other, or perhaps that it was just that I didn’t want to spend so much time on my own in my bedroom, cut off, just yet.
So I watched The Partridge Family week-in, week-out (maybe I just fancied the 15 year old Susan Dey, which is ok to admit since I was 15-16 at the time). It wasn’t the worst thing I sat in on. But it must have been close.
What very few of us in Britain knew at that time, and among the girls who flocked to the mere sight of David Cassidy, even fewer would have cared was that The Partridge Family were a complete rip-off, a rip-off of a real band, consisting of a real family, a mother and six of her children. These were the Cowsills, she was Barbara and the kids ranged from 19 down to eight-year old Susan (who happened to have a hell of a good voice). What’s more, unlike the actors who were gathered together as the Partridge Family, The Cowsills could all sing, and they played their own instruments.
Thus far, the response might be, so what? The fact that the family all had musical ability didn’t alter the most salient point, which was that the Cowsills were a commercial pop group, constructed to sell records and make money, and in that sense The Partridges were an exact copy.
The younger members of the family had always been into music and harmony singing, starting as a quartet and then adding siblings as they got old enough, but it was not until mother Barbara joined the group in 1967, just in time for their signing with MGM Records, that the band as it was to be successful was formed.
And they came out of the traps at a rush, with a number 2 single, the oddly titled ‘The Rain, the Park and Other Things’. The song, and it’s recording, and the times in which it was released, make it one of the most perfect pop harmony songs ever to be recorded: pure pop, clean-cut as a family band, and yet with the atmosphere of psychedelia, and an underlying hint towards the enhanced reality of LSD, supported by some wonderfully chosen special effects.
I saw her sitting in the rain, it began, raindrops falling on her. She didn’t seem to care, she sat there and smiled at me. Right from the start it has the aura of a vision.
And I knew, Bob Cowsill sings, with the naive confidence of someone not altogether of this reality, that she could make me happy (happy, happy, happy, his siblings echo). Flowers in her hair, 1967, flower power, Flowers everywhere.
I wanted to hear the song as soon as I heard of it: what could a song with a title like that be about? How could it sound? But these were days long before YouTube, when whistling up a long-gone single, that for all I knew maybe hadn’t even been released in Britain, just to see what it was like, wasn’t easy. In the end, an import copy turned up at Shudehill Record Stalls where, for 10p, you could chance your arm.
And I loved it immediately. It was that brilliant kind of clean-cut, clear American pop that I already loved so much, as weightless as a loaf of Nimble bread. It was a stop-start song, each section dissolving into a mist of rain and rippling harp, a call-and-response song throughout its verses, as Bob sang of this vision, this flower girl, appearing out of nowhere in the rain in the park, smiling up at him, taking his hand, going for a walk that may not take place on Earth.
And his siblings and his mother are the Greek Chorus who reflect his emotions back to him, in rounded harmonies mixed at a lower level, to mark them as being his imagination on Earth.
I love the Flower Girl, he sings, his voice soaring towards the falsetto, his girl out of nowhere, his girl with no name, his girl who represents the flowers that were power in 1967 of the hopes and dreams and blown minds. Oh I don’t know just why, she simply caught my eye, she seemed so sweet and kind, she crept into my mind.
Was she reality, or just a dream to me? Ah, there’s the rub, there’s the question, the answer to which no-one, least of all elevated Bob, knows, and which doesn’t matter. But things cannot last. The rain ends, the sun breaks through, he turns around and she’s gone, like the chimera she always was. Everyone should encounter a flower girl, so sweet and kind, once in their lives. And all I had left was one little flower in my hair, the token, the thing carried back to forever cast doubt on the unreality of the experience.
Look at them, so clean-cut and harmless, the matching faces, the perfect teeth, the ideal manners, the all-American kids. And listen to the song which has the melody of commercialism and the hippy blur of the words. This is yet more proof that Commerce and Art are not always opposite poles and that in the urge to create money, it is possible to create beauty. This record is timeless, Time has not touched it. It is as it always was, a moment between, facing in two directions and presenting the same face to both. We hear the rain, we see the park and we think of other things, forever.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Searchers’ ‘Everything but a Heartbeat’

There are a whole lot of reasons why songs end up on the Infinite Jukebox. Maybe they’re a song of great beauty, or of meaningful lyrics, sometimes they’re songs of phenomenal power, or of incredible significance, or they represent eras or personal memories.
Sometimes though, a song makes it into the Jukebox for no better reason that it’s a cracking good song, played and sung perfectly. That’s the reason for ‘Everything but a Heartbeat’.
I’ve written already about the brief career resurgence of The Searchers between 1979 and 1981, in the context of their classic overlooked single, ‘Hearts in her Eyes‘. Creative resurgence, that was, not commercial. The band signed to Sire Records and cut a self-titled album mixing covers of contemporary songs in a manner that echoed their classic Sixties 12-string guitar sound and their much-practiced harmony singing, but built this into a fuller sound with impeccable timing.
It was a great album, and ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ a cracker of a song but, having set The Searchers up for a re-emergence as a modern group, with ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ catching some attention, the band were starved of promotion and what promotion they were given was for compilations of their classic period.
Nevertheless, a second album appeared in 1981, this one entitled Play for Today (and re-titled Love’s Melodies after a track on the album in all other territories). Play for Today covered similar territory, the same full sound, the same contemporary music and brilliant harmonies. If it didn’t mark any real kind of progression, and if the choice of songs wasn’t quite as good as on The Searchers, it didn’t matter to me. It was more of the same and of a same I didn’t hear happening anywhere else and it hadn’t gone on so long as to start getting repetitive. Indeed, I could have stood a lot more of this sort of thing.
‘Everything but a Heartbeat’ was the stand-out track for me, even though it was mysteriously buried as track 4 on side 2. Like ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ it was written by Will Birch and John Wicks of The Records, but unlike that song it was exclusive to The Searchers and has never been recorded by anyone else.
And how right and proper that it. Why try to mess with perfection (though many misguided souls do)?
‘Everything but a Heartbeat’ is a simple and straightforward pop song, built on a cast iron rhythm and melody, with a fantastic, grab you by the ears chorus. The band attack it with relish and enjoyment, and the song’s sound is adorned by quasi rock’n’roll piano fills, inserted into the guitar sound like punctuation points.
The song’s about a girl, a beautiful girl it goes without saying, a wonderful girl and someone you’d love to have hanging on your arm, making everyone envious. But from it’s very first line (‘She may possess the best dress…’) it’s a song with a warning. There’s a reservation in every line about this gorgeous woman, this woman of taste, with the money to indulge it. I know you’re thinking that she’s quite a catch, the band ominously sound.
And she’s a doll. She has the smile of sunshine on a cloudy day. And they know what you’re thinking when she looks your way. She pays for everything she owns, but underneath it all…
Yes, underneath it all we have the pure line of a chorus, the instant catchiness that warns you that this girl isn’t real, doesn’t love, is a trophy yes, but nothing more than a trophy. ‘Cos she’s got everything but a heartbeat (heartbeat), she’s as cool as snow (do do de-do do). Everything but a heartbeat, and a heartbeat matters so, the note extended in keening fashion.
In a true and properly adjusted world, this song would have been released as a single, would have been given proper exposure on TV and radio and been a smash success. Surely the Great British Record Buying Public couldn’t have ignored this?
To my regret and disgust, I now understand that the band were set to record a third album for Sire when they were informed their contract had been cancelled. They joined up with PRT (an offshoot of Pye, where they’d first started), but only two tracks were recorded, and released as a single, as PRT withdrew from the deal.
By the time The Searchers recorded again, Mike Pender had left. I fell on the CD with delight when I saw it, only to find that although the song quality was good (except for re-recordings of two of their old smashes), the sound was not. Everything was dominated by a synthesizer, whereas a version recorded in their classic style would have been dynamite. I only played it once.
But I still have the two albums and if not everything is quite a ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ or an ‘Everything but a Heartbeat’, and if this was no more than a blip instead of being the career reviving moment it should have been, I still have two brilliant albums of ringing guitars and fantastic harmonies that I love.
It still should have been more.

The Infinite Jukebox: Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’

In 1989, Bonnie Raitt was nothing but a name to me. She was a blues artist, a singer and a guitarist with a long history stretching back to the early Seventies, whose name I had seen from time to time in the New Musical Express and whose music I had never consciously heard. Nothing that I knew suggested I would like her music.
But in 1989, Bonnie Raitt released her tenth album, Nick of Time and my then girlfriend and I saw her perform the title track late one night on a late night programme that might have been Later… with Jools Holland if that programme had started three years earlier than it did.
I loved the song, enough to tempt me into buying the album, which I kept for a number of years before selling it on, and keeping only the title track, and a more typical guitar-oriented song called ‘Thing Called Love’. ‘Nick of Time’ was soft and smooth, with a slow, easy rhythm, based on a piano melody, about finding love in the nick of time.
It wasn’t Raitt’s commercial breakthrough, but it was a change in direction, a cool, composed album, made with the confidence of being her first clean and sober: Raitt had suffered extensive drug and alcohol issues for many years. And it led to Raitt enjoying the success due to a major artist, though in consequence the pure, raw, bluesy roots music of her first two decades was left behind to a large extent.
I’m not familiar with much of this later period, but from my experience there can be no greater example of this than the 1991 single featuring Bruce Hornsby on piano that brushed the UK chart at no 50, ‘I can’t Make You Love Me’.
This is a plain, unadorned piano ballad, sung in an aching voice by Raitt, about an unrequited love, heartfelt on her side but met with, ultimately, nothing more than indifference. We’ve heard thousands of songs on this subject from the point of the impossible love, denied because of the other person already having a lover, a girlfriend, a wife to whom they are committed.
But this is love as once was, a relationship that has ended, with the singer left as the one who still cares, imprisoned by their feelings as the once-loved-one walks away.
Though she didn’t write the song, it’s impossible not to sense that Bonnie Raitt feels what she is singing, either by experience or by an ability to project herself into the words. It begins with a night that is almost certain to be the last night, a final night to be spent together. But making love isn’t on the menu, or if it is it’s only bodies that will merge.
Turn down the lights, turn down the bed, turn down these voices in my head. Lay down with me, tell me no lies, just hold me close, don’t patronise. It’s over, she knows it as much as he does. This is a valediction, a request for the truth, and a request to be held over those long hours of being unable to sleep, clinging on to the body that once loved but does so no longer. No, these two won’t be making love tonight.
Because I can’t make you love me if you don’t, Raitt sings, understatedly, with acceptance of what crushes her that she cannot prevent. You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t, she accepts.
There’s no fancy talk, no extravagances, just the plainest of words, matched to the gentle almost funereally paced music. But the words may well be simple but they’re true, as Lesley Duncan once sung. Here in the dark, when she is awake and he may well not be, Raitt sings with a resignation that is all the more meaningful for being so accepting: ‘I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power, but you won’t.’ That’s all there is to it.
All that she has left is the last thing he will give her, this night to hold, as he holds her, but she will hold on to it eternally, because she is using this night, these final hours, in order to give herself the strength to stop fighting a battle that she has lost long before now. She will give up the fight.
One last time, Raitt sings that she can’t make him love her if he doesn’t. Her heart is broken and ours breaks with her, most surely those among us who have felt love that wasn’t returned. A tiny little world, a private world shared by two, has been destroyed. To quote Clive James: to know that you will survive, that a broken heart counts for nothing in a world of broken bodies, doesn’t mean that you can bear it.
And we ache for and with her.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Moody Blues’ ‘The Story in your Eyes’

Not many people remember when Top of the Pops introduced its short-lived album slot. It came at the start of that year for weird music, 1971, in response to the Underground music that permeated 1970 and led to the creation of Radio 1’s 6.00pm strand, Sound of the Seventies.
It didn’t last. Audiences for a singles oriented pop programme did not react enthusiastically to a slot that, initially, gave serious rock bands three tracks to perform. The first change was to cut the album slot down to one song and then, unloved and unmourned, it vanished as if it had never been there.
Though I watched the show every week, I can only remember two bands who appeared in this slot, The Groundhogs, with something fast, bluesy and completely lacking in anything I recognised as a tune, and The Moody Blues, playing a track from the new or immediately forthcoming album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.
It passed me by then, as did anything of the Moodies’ except ‘Go Now’ and ‘Nights in White Satin’. I heard that a fair amount, enough to be surprised, once I got Simon Frith’s Chart Files, to discover it had barely scraped into the Top 20, reaching only no 19.
That was the back end of 1967/the early weeks of 1968. For some reason, the single was re-released in 1972, one among many Sixties tracks that kept coming out again and again in that era. I started hearing it several times a day on the radio, and in the charts as it outdid its previous success, going to no 9.
So I started wanting to hear more of the Moody Blues. To begin with, I bought their most current album, which was still Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, instead of the album that actually had ‘Nights in White Satin’ on it (given how stiff and stilted Days of Future Passed turned out to be, I may have saved myself much subsequent musical shame if I’d gone for that one).
No single was released from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in the UK, though the one they’d played that time on TOTP, ‘The Story in Your Eyes’, was released as a 45 in America and was a modest Top 30 hit.
Based on the sound and the feel of the album as a whole, ‘The Story in Your Eyes’ was the stand-out track on the album in many ways: excluding the pretentious opener it was the shortest track, it was an out-and-out uptempo rock song in a way the other seven tracks decidedly weren’t, and when I last, curiously, tried to listen to the album again, it was the only one I didn’t want to sling out the window with my boot up its jacksie.
So what makes this track something to celebrate instead of bury so deep in memory that twenty-five years of counselling should be needed to extract it?
Firstly, it’s a Justin Hayward composition, as was ‘Nights in White Satin’. If you are strapped to a chair and threatened with having a Moody Blues album track played at you, insist on it being one of Hayward’s. Hayward has a more pop-oriented tone when he wants to employ it, and an ability to construct songs that are meant to be played fast. He also has a remarkably lush but burning guitar tone at his command, and both of these attributes are on show in ‘The Story in your Eyes’.
And, even this late in the run of the Moodies’ ‘Classic Seven’ albums, he is capable of brevity: a lot of songs at this time and in the solo album period are extended by having the band ‘finish’ the song and repeat the whole thing from start to finish again.
And that’s what ‘The Story of your Eyes’ is: a surprisingly tight, blisteringly fast and, for the Moodies at least, raw in sound as Hayward works his guitar solidly in service to a real, effective tune. It might sound like faint praise but after allowing the Moodies to dominate my musical thinking for the first half of the Seventies, before the spell was exploded in an instant, that there are songs that can light me up with the old enthusiasm is a remarkable thing.
The Moody Blues are the only ones of my past favourites I now want to disown. If they’d been a bit less cosmic and fey, and a lot more inclined to tracks of this power, I may well not feel that way about them.

The Infinite Jukebox: Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ Out’

I remember when Joe Jackson was the first ‘new Elvis’ – Costello, that is. He and his three piece band, with whom he played piano, came along in 1978, and I’m pretty sure he got a John Peel session at the time because otherwise I wouldn’t have heard him. I remember a couple of unconvincing singles (one of which I later learned to love immensely) before ‘Is she really going out with him?’ (which was actually being reissued) came along and I was gratified to see that my liking of it coincided with a Top 20 hit, Top of the Pops, etc.
The same went for its next but one follow-up, ‘It’s Different for Girls’, which I also liked, and bought on a gimmicky 10″ single, and which was an even bigger hit, going to no. 5
Apart from the latter containing no piano, the two songs were out of the same mould, cool, dry bass-laden records with pointed, clever lyrics, hence the Costello comparison.
But this was not where Jackson wanted to go, where his heart was ultimately set. The big band sound, jumping jazz, still was what he wanted to do and what I didn’t want to go anywhere near.
It’s a familiar story by now. Never rule anything out. There is no genre of music so closed that something won’t slip out and get you going, and in Joe Jackson’s case, it was his only other hit, ‘Steppin’ Out’.
There’s a brio and a swing to the song from the moment it starts, a bright, pulsing bass-line supported by Jackson’s piano, introducing dramatic chords before he slides into the lyrics. The melody line is smooth but excited, a rush of fun and anticipation as Jackson sets out the story of a couple, a married pair probably, lost in the mundanity of their days and nights, coming close to splitting, certainly fighting, as much out of claustrophobia as anything else.
The mist across the window hides the lines, he begins, but there’s an immediate salvation at hand. Nothing hides the colours of the lights that shine, lights not yet defined but already we see the city and its neons, lights powered by electricity, an electricity that needs to be injected into their relationship. Look and dry your eyes. And the beat and the pulse pump on.
They’re tired, tired of all the darkness in their lives, run out of angry words to say to each other, but they can come alive, so simply and quickly: get into a car and drive, to the other side.
Me, you, steppin’ out, into the night, and paradoxically into the light.
It’s simple to the point of shallowness, but it’s the solution they need. Go towards the lights, the lights of night, recharge themselves at the electricity, go glam for the night, and remind themselves of the rush of love and romance. It’s a deliberate bid to recapture the youth they’re shedding too soon, a flight from the TV and the radio, the passive entertainments they use, go out and surprise themselves with what they’ll find.
She’s not quite convinced though, and Jackson seeks to draw her into his vision with colours, she who could dress in pink and blue, just like a child, and in a yellow taxi turn to him and smile. It’s not that far away in space or time, they’ll be there in just a while. If she follows his lead…
The video of the single, which is in itself a minor masterpiece of colour, possibility and role-confusion, has nothing to do with the lyrics. It’s story is of a young couple, in tuxedo and ball-gown, out for the night, Jackson the piano-player with his jazzman’s flat hat in one room, the maid tidying the room the woman occupies, falling in love with her elegant gown and dreaming of wearing it, awaking to her real life just in the last seconds before the woman returns alone, as the man returns to the room with the piano, where he sits down and starts to make notes towards the song he’s going to write, and Jackson returns to the street outside, picking up the flower the woman has discarded…
It’s a colourful look at the night life of the elegant people we’re not, the aspirational generation, the yuppies who would invade the world. Like I said, it’s shallow as hell, but Jackson and the song’s underlying pulse, it’s air of life-energy, makes it something that, for a few minutes, people like me can look at and not despise.
That’s the beauty of ‘Steppin’ Out’, to make the world look good for a time, to make it look exciting and full of the possibilities we don’t normally get to see, without the sharp edges that ‘real’ life contains. And to do it over and over again, every time you play it.
The Jackson boy done good.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Association’s ‘Everything That Touches You’

By now, you can probably tell I’m a bit of a fan of The Association. This wasn’t always so. Thanks to Radio 1’s Golden Oldies policy, and despite the fact that they had made practically zero headway in the UK, I was very familiar with, and very comfortable with the songs I’ve already discussed: ‘Cherish’, ‘Never My Love’ and very much ‘Windy’. And, to a lesser extent, their only UK Top 30 hit, ‘Along Comes Mary’.
It’s like that, frequently, with a lot of bands. You know, and like, a handful of songs, like one-hit wonders but a little more prolific, but you never think of digging deeper, trying to find out if the songs you like are matched by the stuff you don’t know.
I still miss Sounds of the Sixties and its wonderful host, Brian Matthew. Saturday mornings were about listening to the show in bed, knowing that the auto tape-function on the hi-fi downstairs was recording the programme on a C120 cassette downstairs, and that any hitherto undiscovered gems it unearthed could then be transferred to a more permanent tape.
One morning, Brian announced an Association song I’d never previously heard, which was, of course, ‘Everything That Touches You’. Now I know that it was the band’s fourth and final American Top 10 single, only reaching no. 10.
It’s another beautiful love song, displaying the band’s harmonies at their finest and most complex. It opens with a soft, sweet melody pinned to a bubbly bass-line from Brian Cole before Terry Kirkman and Jim Yester duet on the lead vocals.
The song is one of those wondering songs, the singer can’t quite believe that the girl with him is with him, because he never expected that a girl like her would want to be with him. It’s there in the opening line, ‘In my most secure moments…’ Oh yes, even at his most egotistical, he still can’t believe she’s spending those moments with him. No matter how concrete the scene, the air he’s breathing, the ground on which he’s walking, he still can’t quite take for granted that she’s sharing these things with him. It’s a thing we’ve all experienced, the girl we’ve dreamed of, and that incredulity that the dream can come real.
And all six voices come together in harmony and strength as the band choruses you love for real, you show the feel, of everything that touches you.
A second verse marvels even further, extends the experience to the Association’s entire career, all the love songs that have come before. In the songs I’ve been singing, Kirkman and Yester state, quite often a phrase comes close to the feeling of you. It’s reality as somehow better than ideation. I never suspected that one of these days the wish of the song would come true.
Another chorus and then something clicks in the song. Suddenly, a brief middle eight becomes forceful. Minds are made up, reality has been accepted, this is all true after all, and the band respond with the energy it unleashes. You are of gracefulness, they sing, you are of happiness, you are what I would guess to be most like what I’ve been singing of.
And they mark time, musically and vocally, the word love, sung three times, until the song turns back on itself, to the beginning, but now the band are in full-throat and going at it with a will and a confidence that was lacking in the beginning, the vocal arrangements begin to expand and the whole song becomes a glorious tribute to this amazing girl, and they pour their hearts out on that final chorus: you are for real, you show the feel, of everything that touches you, before going into an extended vocal coda.
It’s a fantastic song, given an arrangement that showcases the band’s range of voices and its harmonies to perfection. Yes, of course the lyrics are stilted in places, an artificiality, a stiffness that nevertheless fits the subject, the singer trying to express his astonishment in a way that he hopes will still conceal it, but with utter conviction.
I transferred it to a permanent tape later that weekend. Then I hunted out the half dozen Association tracks I had and built them into a six-song suite. And then I decided that if there were as many tracks as this that were as good as this, I really should start exploring The Association’s catalogue.
So, as well as ‘Everything That Touches You’s considerable merits as a song and a performance, it was also the tipping point, the one that made me want to hear more. For which I’m very grateful to that particular Saturday morning in the life of Sounds of the Sixties.