Is that what it’s really about? Steve & Eydie’s I Want to Stay Here


This is an occasional series in which, inspired by their being played on Sounds of the Sixties, I pick apart the lyrics of a big Sixties hit record for the real meaning concealed behind the seemingly innocent lyrics.

Today’s offering is one of those where the meaning of the song is again fairly clear to us, fifty cynical years ago, but which in 1963 would have not necessarily been interpreted so bluntly, especially not when you considered the source. By which I do not mean the writers, this being yet another production from the pens of husband and wife professional songwriting team, Gerry Goffin and Carol King.

No, I am here talking about the singers, Steve and Eydie, another husband and wife team, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, who had separate singing careers under their full names, but when duetting used only their first names. Lawrence was an already successful actor and talk show host, as well as a singer, whilst Gorme has already featured in this series with ‘Yes, My Darling Daughter’. Ten years older than her husband, she’d started as a Big Band singer.

So we’re basically looking at family entertainment, bland and safe, middle of the road singers, singing very middle of the road music. A married couple, of whom, in rock’n’roll terms, there can be nothing more boring and staid, right? So let’s listen to the words.

It all begins with one of those ‘Whoa-oh-oh’ starts, voice as music, cheerful and innocent, the opening exchange is slightly startling for what we’re already assuming is a love song. I don’t want to go to the party with you, announces Gorme, to which Lawrence responds with I don’t want to go to the dance. Gorme’s even more emphatic when she tells him she doesn’t want to go anywhere with him, but the air of bafflement is rapidly dispelled wen both chorus, happily, that they just want to stay here and love you.

Aww, isn’t that nice? Another verse, a bit later on, will extend the list of things that Steve and Eydie don’t want to do to include going for a walk, and even talking to each other, no, they just want to stay here and love each other.

It’s not until we start considering the intervening verses that things start to line-up a bit less abstractedly. Now that I can be alone with you, Gorme offers, I won’t throw away the chance. There’s no place like home with you, Gorme sings, using one of the most glutinous and trite lines ever to stick in a song’s craw, and then they’re harmonising on that line about just want(ing) to stay here and love you. So they don’t want to go out anywhere, do anything, they’re taking advantage of being alone together… oh my god, the dirty sods! They’re singing about sex, aren’t they? At their age? I mean, ok, I know they’re married, so that makes it legal, but that just makes it worse.

And they’re singing this filth on the wireless in 1963, such a decent couple. It shouldn’t be allowed.

Yet on the surface, this is just one more innocent love song, one more good and decent MOR staple that gives off the impression of being sung by a pair of virgins who don’t actually know what to do next after kissing on the lips with their mouths pressed firmly shut, and maybe yes, that’s all the song’s meant to mean. Goffin and King were masters at songs that rang through with innocent, unfocused passion that as yet knew nothing more of love.

And, if challenged, they could have said this was all it was about. After all, good girls didn’t, not until they got the ring. But it isn’t about that at all, because pop has always been about that subversive moment, the song that means more than it’s words are allowed to say, that speaks in a code that parents aren’t supposed to decipher because, after all, your parents don’t do stuff like that.

Do  they?

 

 

Is that what it’s really about? The Who’s I’m a Boy


This is an occasional series in which, inspired by their being played on Sounds of the Sixties, I pick apart the lyrics of a big Sixties hit record for the real meaning concealed behind the seemingly innocent lyrics.

Well, would you credit it? Just last week, Brian Mathews gave me an excuse to talk about the Who’s less-than-subtle ‘Pictures of Lily’, leading to a comment about the fact that I’d have another piece to write when they got round to playing the band’s ‘I’m a Boy’, a number 2 in Britain earlier the same year, and it’s only the penultimate track on today’s programme.

Like ‘Pictures of Lily’ and to an even greater extent, this song is even less of a double meaning. It only goes and sets things up in its first verse in a way that only the deliberately naive could mistake. There are these four little girls, you see, called respectively Jane Marie, Felicity, Sally Joy and Bill.

And this little girl is not the tomboy kind who runs around in dungarees, Wilhemina who’ll only answer to Bill. No, this is the real thing. The other (little girl) is me – and I’m a boy.

And a very confused little girl, sorry, boy, is Bill (I’m a headcase) as his mother practices making up on his face (just how little a girl is he supposed to be?), dressing him up in skirts and filling his hair with hairpins. But Bill’s insistent that he’s a boy, and it’s just because his mother refuses to accept that she has given birth to a child made of snips and snails and puppy dogs tails, and insists on him living the life of the one that’s made of sugar and spice and everything nice (yeah, right, has anyone here ever had a younger sister?)

At least Bill has a clear image of his natural, as opposed to his enforced gender and wants to spend his time doing manly – sorry, boyly – things: cricket on the green, riding bikes across the stream, cutting himself and seeing his blood, getting muddy. But instead, whilst the other little girls are putting on frocks, plait their hair, painting their face, he’s being forced to wear a wig.

It’s all very cheerful and upfront and in that sense jokey, so that people don’t really stop to recognise that Townsend is writing about enforced transvesticism, the abusive enforcement of an unnatural gender identity upon a child, with the inevitable long-terms psychological effects, and that’s not necessarily a laughing matter, or even a sing along with the chorus one, come to that.

But the ultimate joke might be that Townsend is burying a genuine issue beneath this seemingly absurd setting. For we only have Bill’s word for the fact that he’s a boy and not a girl all the time, a girl perhaps suffering from body dismorphia and desperately seeking to escape from her own physical form into a fantasy of being a boy, or potentially being transgender.

So what does lie beneath the superficial surface of this song? And what more serious issues might lie beneath the superficial surface below the surface? Some songs are never as simple as they sound.

Is that what it’s really about? Cliff Richard’s In the Country


This is an occasional series in which, inspired by their being played on Sounds of the Sixties, I pick apart the lyrics of a big Sixties hit record for the real meaning concealed behind the seemingly innocent lyrics.
Incredibly, it was a double-header on today’s programme. I’ve been waiting for this particular bit of faux-innocence to come up as I spotted it’s darker sub-content a long time ago…
I have a confession to make: I don’t like Cliff Richard. Not his music, not his Christianity, not his films. And, after their Seventies revival, I’m not all that fond of the Shadows either: Hank Marvin’s guitar sound may be superb, but the rest of the band are pretty naff.
Yet despite our homegrown Elvis’s impeccably clean-cut surface, there are times when the mask slips, and the former Mr Harry Webb unveils a darker underbelly than the one we are used to seeing. One such instance is his 1966 hit single, In the Country.
On the surface, this is one of Cliff’s more palatable songs, a bright, uptempo, happy song, extolling the wonders of a day in the country, ‘where the air is good/and the day is fine’, ‘where the silver stream is a poor man’s wine’. Sound’s good, doesn’t it?
But our Cliff has a darker side, a decidedly unChristian one if you start listening to this song properly.
In the Country addresses a person in pain, in psychic torment, lost in a world of despair, confusion and depersonalisation. “When the world in which you live in/Gets a bit too much to bear/
And you need someone to lean on/When you look, there’s no one there.”
Ah, we’ve been there, mate. And “When you’re walking in the city/And you’re feeling rather small/ And the people on the pavement/Seem to form a solid wall.”
Yeah, isolation can be a killer, forcing you ever deeper into depression. It’s that time when, more than anything else, you need a friend, a hand reaching out, a kindly word, the recognition of what you are going through. So, what does the Christian Cliff have to say to you?
“You’re gonna find me out in the country.”
Come again, Cliff?
“Yeah, you’re gonna find me way out in the country.”
Hang about man, show some sympathy here, don’t rub the poor sod’s nose in it that you’ve got it going better for you then him.
“Where the air is good, and the day is fine/And the pretty girl has a hand in mine/And the silver stream is a poor man’s wine.”
Ah,you bastard! Here’s this guy suffering and you, all you can do is go on about how you’re living it up in the countryside, no bloody petrol fumes there, you’re romping with this bird (it’s not Olivia, is it?), and you’ve got natural water, not the horrible stuff that comes out of taps. You absolute shit, can’t you think of someone else I bet he’d give everything to get out and see some clouds and fields, even without a dolly bird to shag in the long grass.
I’m all right, is it Cliff? And they all think you’re so nice.

Is that what it’s really about? – The Ivy League’s Tossing and Turning


This is an occasional series in which, inspired by their being played on Sounds of the Sixties, I pick apart the lyrics of a big Sixties hit record for the real meaning concealed behind the seemingly innocent lyrics.

This is really wierd, but I had been thinking of the Ivy League’s third, most successful and final hit, ‘Tossing and Turning’, as a potential subject for this series mot more than three days ago, and as if by some measure of ESP, SOTS producer and compiler Phil Swern selected the very track to open this morning’s programme. The Ivy League were primarily vocalists, session singers John Carter, Ken Lewis and Perry Ford, producing close harmonies based on a high-pitched lead voice.

Initially, they were forced on the Who for their debut single, ‘I Can’t Explain’, before the trio scored two well-remembered top 5 singles, seperated by a minor, top 30 hit.

To be honest, I’m not really sure I should be counting this as a song with a hidden meaning, since the hidden meaning is about as well-concealed as Rihanna’s bum. Try the opening verse: “I can’t sleep at night/Tossing and turning/I turn on the light/Then while it’s burning/I think of all the things that we do/And all the reasons why I love you.”

Basically, the guy can’t sleep ‘cos he’s got his girlfriend on his mind, so what does he do in those lonely, silent hours, awake without any relief? He ‘tosses and turns’. All night. I think we can all see very clearly, in our mind’s eyes, what he’s doing, whether we want an image like that in our heads or not (and I for one would definitely prefer not).

“Was I really holding you tight? Did I really kiss you goodnight?” our guy ponders, filling his mind with the immediacy of close bodily contact of a kind that impresses, firmly, where a woman is not shaped like a man, not to mention snogging on the doorstep, and as we might expect, he’s off tossing and turning again.

Of course, this is the Sixties, so the sweet little maid, doubtless unaware of the filthy practices to which she has driven her frustrated beau, is fast asleep, blissfully not polluting her carnality, not even with him. He knows: “Whatcha gonna do at night?/Nobody to hold you tight/Are you lonely?/Don’t you know that I get lonely, too?/And I’m blaming you!”  We are witness to sexist thinking here: of course, good girls neverdid that sort of thing: Heck, even bad girls didn’t!

Naturally, there’s a solution: “We’ll be lovers just like before/I guess I’ll never sleep anymore.” Oh, but there he goes again, ‘tossing and turning’ even more at the very thought. It frankly makes you doubt that, even after she’s let him have his way with her innocence, he’s not still going to be pulling his plonker every night.

I bet it wakes her up something chronic.

If you watch this video, you will see that I am not the only one to have penetrated (hee hee) the real meaning of this song…