The Infinite Jukebox: Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’


In my enforced detachment from pop music of nearly all kinds, my only contact with the charts was the weekly Top 10 printed in small type in the Daily Express, taken by my grandparents in Droylsden and read en masse by me once a week, mostly for the strips. I didn’t go searching for it, and didn’t miss it on weeks where it was either left out or I failed to spot it.
One week, in early 1969, I happened to notice one particular entry, either at or somewhere very close to Number 1. It was called ‘Albatross’, and was by some band called Fleetwood Mac. The title intrigued me. I actually wanted to hear it, and find out what a song called ‘Albatross’ could be about.
However, without it being requested on Ed Stewart’s Junior Choice one weekend, I didn’t know how to do that. Maybe it was requested: I do know that at some point I heard it, it was pre-announced, and I listened with eager ears for the words.
They seemed to be a long time in coming, which was because I was listening not to a song but an instrumental, though I didn’t seem able to grasp the concept of that, even though I was reasonably familiar with things like ‘Stranger on the Shore’ and ‘Telstar’.
The question became moot because I didn’t hear it played again, the band never turned up to play it on Crackerjack (Crackerjack!), and I forgot about it.
Just a little over four years later, ‘Albatross’ was re-released. Radio 1 took it up, it re-entered the Top Thirty. If I hadn’t already been familiar with the track by then, I soon got to grips with it. It was cool, it was smooth, it was relaxing. It was a walking blues, though I couldn’t have defined it as such then. I loved hearing it. It climbed the charts in the slow, regular fashion of Seventies hits. It neared Number 1 again. I was wishing it on but, in the end, it didn’t quite get there, it peaked at Number 2, behind 10cc’s ‘Rubber Bullets’ (so at least not a travesty).
Apart from being a walking blues, a reference I take to be to its slow, smooth, unhurried pace, what is ‘Albatross’? Tony Blackburn hated it, thought it boring, which was definitely a plus point in 1969, and again in 1973. Given his preference in music, about which he is greatly knowledgeable, it’s no surprise that Blackburn should not take to this track. I disagree profoundly, though I don’t hold it against him.
Even for 1969, ‘Albatross’ was an unusual number 1, an instrumental but also a blues instrumental, played by three guitarists, each offering different slow melodies as the track weaves its way unhurriedly from beginning to end.
Peter Green leads the way, rolling out slow, deep notes as the rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood providing a slow, even, basic pulse, creating the effect of ocean waves, ceaseless and unheeding of all that is life, over which Green’s imagined Albatross flies, riding air currents on great, wide wings, silent and unconcerned. Jeremy Bentham and Danny Kirwan add airier grace notes to complement Green’s sweet tones, stilling the world until all that exists is this calm sound, a bird in flight. It’s the sound of soaring, of being so far above and beyond, existing in lines of melody of differing weights, and a rhythm that keeps it from evaporating into mere sound.
For those not in tune, yes, it could be called boring. For those who, like myself, respond to the peace inherent in this sound, ‘Albatross’ could have been extended to an hour or more, drifting in contentment, alone with what passes for thoughts.
Fleetwood Mac went on to be massively successful and a long way from their roots in the blues. For a time I was one of the acolytes of the early Buckingham-Nicks era, a proud possessor of Rumours. But time and maturity directed me to the earthier, bluesier sounds with which they began, to that extraordinary run of singles between 1968 and 1971, of which ‘Albatross’ was the unexpected, and pure highlight. ‘Man of the World’, ‘Oh Well’, ‘The Green Manalishi’, even the unsuccessful post-Green track, ‘Dragonfly’ followed in its serene wake, but nothing ever captured that same sense of remoteness and unconcern.
Nor can any words, except Albatross.

Man of the World


One by one they wink out, those fabulous monuments to the  beauty and wonder we’ve had in our lives, lives that grow thinner and drier and darker each time.

If there is a Heaven then the perfect blues band’s line-up has gained a new lead guitarist and singer. Peter Green, co-founder and central light of the only Fleetwood Mac I’m prepared to acknowledge, has passed away aged 73, peacefully in his sleep, and the world is full of tears again.

What to play to remember him? I would choose not a Fleetwood’s track, not even any of the big hits of 1969-70, but a solo song from the other end of that decade. Spare seven and three quarter minutes to say goodbye to a genius. He deserves no less.

 

The Infinite Jukebox: Shotgun Express’s ‘I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round’


Until you get to the back end of the Sixties, and that vogue for lushly orchestrated pop that was ushered in by The Love Affair’s ‘Everlasting Love’, there wasn’t much need for strings on pop. They were usually too sweet, too soft. Dusty Springfield’s orchestrations stood out, as they had to do with a voice like hers to contend with, The Walker Brothers used them sagaciously, but you have to get to the middle Sixties before you start to see the use of strings as an instrument of power: strong, severe, demanding.
The obvious one is always Chris Farlowe’s classic blues shout over the strings that saw away from the start of ‘Out of Time’, or Motown’s use of them on ‘Reach out, I’ll Be There’, The Four Tops’ biggest hit over here. Both songs were number 1s and overwhelmingly deserving. This one wasn’t, but when you listen to it below, you’re going to wonder why the hell not? With an intro like that, with a returning theme, with a chorus that soars like that, any fair-minded person is going to boggle that this didn’t take off, isn’t every bit a Sixties landmark as Farlowe or the Tops.
And before you ask, yes, that is the voice of a young Rod Stewart in there, sharing some boisterous yet yearning vocals with that overlooked Scouse songstress, Beryl Marsden.
Shotgun Express were a blues band, with people like Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood in their ranks, so in that sense ‘I can feel the whole world turn round’ is an anomaly, with the string riffs adding a pop sensibility that would normally have been outside the band’s self-set remit. But listen carefully, and in between those bursts of that yearning, all-encompassing sweet severity, the verses showcase the band to its roots, a hustling rhythm, the organ bursting with energy, and then the strings sweep back in as the melody sweeps back, just one single breath of sound.
The strings underpin the lead-in to that chorus and the grand melody of it, high, sweet but steel-like in their majesty, a distant background as firm as the beat, underscoring the gorgeous ache of the words.
And I can feel the whole world turn round underneath me, exactly mirroring the aching, arching melody. I can feel the whole world turn round when you’re near me. Stewart and Marsden’s voices mesh as they rise through this and I can forgive Stewart a very large part of his career post-the bass line in ‘D’Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ just because I can listen to this.
Who do I complain to that I have only known this song for a few years and had to learn about it from Sounds of The Sixties and much-missed Brian Matthew? Who do I complain to that this was not the massive success it should have been, and influenced the people who should have heard it? Who do I complain to that this didn’t change the course of Rod Stewart’s career and maybe saved us from everything since 1980?
And can I listen to this again, please, because it captures that feeling of rapture that only comes from being with the one person. And the whole world does indeed turn around underneath you.

Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 2


Lost 70s Volume 2 consisted of 21 tracks, mostly out of the mid-70s, with only the final track from as late as 1977. Volume 2 has as many as three hits on it, two of them reaching top 10. The run of tracks from 2 – 9 represent a suite of tracks that I associate with Piccadilly Radio, bound together by the common characteristic that they were records by American bands that were being played regularly between 1974 and 1976 which were being ignored by Radio 1. It was a time when there seemed to be an unending stream of new American bands producing great one-off singles that never sold, but which were highlights of evening and late night listening.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with tracks that had not been available when the original compilation was created.

Processions: Family

This track from Family’s Family Entertainment album did not come to my attention via the radio, and I didn’t hear it until 1976. The boyfriend of a friend from Law College had had his flat burgled and was petrified of a return visit that would snaffle up his extensive album collection. I volunteered to shelter these in return for rights to play them (the guy had a Brunswick label copy of The Who’s My Generation which was deleted and unavailable in those days). I can’t remember the extent of his choices, but I’d had an occasional soft spot for Family since ‘The Weaver’s Answer’ was an entirely improbable top 20 hit in late 1970. ‘Processions’ is a lovely, rolling, rippling fantasia seen through the eyes of a small boy building a sandcastle on the beach which leads him to dream of glory and processions in honour of his achievements. The dream is ended by the tide washing the castle away, but whilst it lasts, Roger Chapman sings with great compassion and wonder. Lyrically, it’s a similar theme to ‘Weaver’s Answer’ but more uplifting and delightful. There’s a line in here that it took me half a dozen years to hear properly, the words sliding into sense one drive home from work, where the boy dreams of being captain of a great sailing ship, ‘something majestic, sailing on wide seas’. A lovely opening track. Of course, the album was recorded and released in 1969, but the song is forever a Seventies experience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaS9ZyxcPIE

Dance with me: Orleans

This gem of a song is one of those late night, Piccadilly Radio highlights, a mixture of soft acoustic guitars and lovely harmonies and a wonderful innocence in seeing the beginning of a romance as the beginning of an evening’s dancing. It’s smooth and sweet and in forty years hasn’t tired yet. Orleans were the one band from this bunch to have a second single played on Piccadilly in those days, 1976’s ‘Still the One’, but ‘Dance with me’ is still the one my ears go back to.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlGscIePKdk

Moonlight feels right: Starbuck

In contrast, there’s an undertone of jazz to this smooth, shuffling number. Starbuck are more open about it being about sex, without ever toppling into distastefulness or being over-explicit. If you need to know what’s in mind, you need only listen to the chuckle before the chorus and you’re instantly clear what moonlight feels right for. But the track is saved from sleaziness by the air of complicity that hoots through it, the recognition that both parties are playing the same game, and the beautifully buoyant vibraphone solo is the perfect touch of atmosphere to remind us that it’s all about fun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOirZ-rg6Q

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You: Sugarloaf, ft Jerry Corbetta

I sometimes wonder if any of these bands did anything like as distinctive, but that surely can’t be the case with Sugarloaf, Jerry Corbetta or not. This is a funky little tune, with solid riffs and chops, shot through with a cheerful cynicism about making it in the rock business. Jerry and the boys are hustling to get an audition with an agent who doesn’t want to know, until the band make it big anyway, by when it’s their turn to tell him ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. The song’s jerky rhythm knots together the cute moments and keeps them fresh as paint all this time later. There’s an exquisite moment when the agent says we’ve heard it all before and, hesitantly adds that ‘it sounds like, uh, John, Paul and George…’ to which the band responds by cutting into the riff from ‘I feel fine’ but the best line comes after the first chorus of the title line: ‘You got my number?’ ‘Yeah, I got it when you walked through the door’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4njPe2_rho

It Doesn’t Matter: Firefall

A late entry to this list, late 1976, a very Eaglish song of acoustic guitars, fine harmonies and sweet electric lines composed into a mid-tempo love song that’s as insubstantial as a breath of air, yet still drawing you in. It was the times, and it was typical of the times, but for all its familiarity, it was still a lovely moment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vttX9gKSZ4M

More than a Feeling: Boston

Later yet. It was early 1977. I was in to Fleetwood Mac for that brief year, even saw them live at the Appollo, recently renamed. Music was about to change, and my attitude to it for the rest of the decade. Boston were one band too many along this theme, a kind of identikit American rock/country band, immaculately produced, immaculately becoiffeured, their music comprised of all the familiar elements. ‘More than a Feeling’, with its mixture of acoustic and electric, it’s stop-go riffs, its overproduction, was designed to blare out at stadium gigs. It was the end of the line, a pointer to the fact that music and me needed something with a bit more energy, roughness, crudity to it, not fretboard virtuosity. But it was still a bloody good song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSR6ZzjDZ94

Hello, This is Your Heart: Dennis Linde

Had this been available for the first version of this CD, I would have placed it earlier in this sequence. But by the time I found the track, the running order was a given in my head. Linde was another one-off, represented in my life by a single track, this jaunty, bouncy, bass-propelled slice of country rock, sung in a strained voice by a guy voicing his heart’s need for a break from all the stuff he’s been putting it through. It’s a viewpoint I haven’t heard elsewhere, set to a rousing rhythm and a tub-thumping beat and it really ought to be better known. As it is, Linde’s best known song is ‘Burning Love’, the one that took Elvis Presley back to his rockabilly roots. But it’s not as good as this one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgAVV8Ekp8w

Stranger in the Blue Suede Shoes:    Kevin Ayers

It took me a long time to like this weird song, more spoken than sung, with its absence of a defined melody. For a long time, the only bit of it I truly like was the immense, rolling, rise-up-the-scale piano riff that separates the song into its two halves. But quality, or oddity, will out. The song has nothing to do with Elvis Presley: it’s about Kevin walking into a bar one day in blue suede shoes, being refused service by a rude barman, hiding behind the rules, though he does sell some cheap food. Kevin offers the man a cigarette, the piano does its thing and suddenly we’re in the barman’s head as it begins to expand and he cuts himself free from the restrictions of his crappy life: the cigarette clearly wasn’t nicotine. Ayers, an eccentric to say the least, speaks/intones the words in a deliberately gravelly voice, which is fed through an effects machine when it’s the barman’s turn. It’s all rather peculiar, really.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rft0zCbZPS8

Fly like an Eagle: The Steve Miller Band

Before this was ‘The Joker’, which Johnnie Walker loved to bits, but which he couldn’t persuade the British record buying public to adopt until twenty years later. And after this, the Miller Band broke the British top 20 with the enjoyably commercial, but workmanlike ‘Rock’n’Me’. In between was this album title track, a slow, bluesy, smoky song, relaxed and lazy. It’s an untypical sound, with an ethereal aspect to it. But ultimately, the word workmanlike is the one most appropriate to the band, and it can’t be denied that whilst the lyrics to ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ have their heart in the right place, Miller’s means of expression is pretty much pedestrian. ‘Feed the babies’, he asks, ‘who don’t have enough to eat, shoe the children with shoes on their feet’. The working man’s guide to social concern. The music is nice though, proper relaxing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1f7eZ8cHpM

It’s a Game: String Driven Thing

A perfect, commercial song, with a compelling tune, that got nowhere. Why was this? Radio 1 playlists in the Seventies, which would so often ignore singles with great tunes in favour of crap by someone established. As it ever was. String Driven Thing were a Scottish four-piece with male-female lead singers, the latter of whom played a quite aggressive electric violin. Their thing was that the band didn’t have a drummer, at least not until later in their career, but the absence of percussion doesn’t do anything to hinder the verve and pace of this soaring song. It’s commercial appeal was justified in 1969, when the Bay City Rollers covered it as their last top 30 hit. The Rollers’ version was weak and lifeless in comparison, surprise surprise, but the song was strong enough to still sound pretty good by them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XemiS0jvkgw

I’m a Gambler: Red Herring

Red Herring was Pete Dello, he of Honeybus and ‘I can’t Let Maggie Go’ fame. The song was recorded and released initially under the name of Lace in 1969, but subsequently it came out as by Red Herring. I lost count of how many times this was reissued, with the record company swearing to keep putting it out until it was a hit, but in the end they gave up first. It’s a bouncy, yet yearning song, with a clip-clop rhythm and a poignant, sweet violin sound to sustain it and it really should have been a success. Listen to it, just listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJKBkPInuac

I will return: Springwater

A hit, a palpable hit. There are a few, here and there, in the Lost 70s series, usually songs that have faded from mind and memory, such as this 1971 Top 5 instrumental. Nowadays, it’s no surprise to hear of people making it big with tracks recorded in their bedroom, but he’s the daddy of them all, Phil Cordell, Sheffield-born and based multi-instrumentalist who cracked it big with a track that reputedly cost £35 to make, recorded in his bedsit with a harmonium, a two-piece drumkit and a guitar with a bent neck, straightened out using a half a crown (ask your Grandad). I preferred the follow-up, to be honest, but as Volume 1 proved, I have a soft spot for the learning music of 1971, and few others remember ‘I will return’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBGtZ-HMJmI

Conquistador: Procol Harum with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Two hits in succession, though this was by far the less successful in chart terms. By this point, I would have known of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ but probably nothing else by Procol Harum: I certainly didn’t get to hear the tedious and shallow rock original of this until years later when I went on a brief Procol thing. The late Sixties/early Seventies, with the progressive pretensions, had a thing about marrying rock and orchestra, and this is one of the few examples of something that genuinely worked. It’s recorded live and the recording captures a vast spaciousness, bringing the band and the Orchestra into a proper proportion. A smart, fairly straight orchestration substitutes for most of the non-solo musicianship and the song, which is pompous to a fault, breaths freely. It just clipped the top 30, but it’s stood the test of time: a hybrid that worked.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FW2KN7Tz89s

Sebastian: Cockney Rebel

No wonder Radio 1 barely played this: they just couldn’t understand it. Steve Harley announced himself with this over-produced, over-recorded, unbelievably pretentious song ,sung in a haze of something sweet-smelling and definitely not sold over the counter. It’s effete, languid, heavily aesthetic and it carries about it the atmosphere of something ever so faintly rotten: think Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray. Cockney Rebel are barely present as a band, the orchestration is so lush. Harley sings in his most affected voice, and would sack everyone else in the line-up within a year of this overblown, incomprehensible and utterly magnetic effort to cram together things that could not possibly fir into a four minute song, no matter how epic. It never stood a chance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOqhyZ3QUYs

Shoeshine Boy: The Humblebums

From the ridiculously sublime to the down home streets of Glasgow. The Humblebums were a Scottish folk due comprising Gerry (Baker Street) Rafferty and Billy Connolly, though I have never been able to hear anything of the Big Yin in this chunky, broad little folk-rocker. I remember it from several plays on Kenny Everett’s Saturday morning Radio 1 show, before he got canned. It’s a sweet little toe-tapper about an unambitious lad who wants nothing more than to make a menial living and live it up on Saturday nights, dancing with his lady till the break of day. With a song this good, he deserves every Saturday night he can move it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ym1H3WKcUc

Wintertime: Kayak

Elsewhere in this series, there’s the odd, very early Seventies single from one or other European bands, heard through the fuzz that was Radio Luxembourg, Fabulous 208. Kayak, a Dutch progressive band who weren’t Focus, got this onto Piccadilly Radio’s playlist late in 1974 and it caught my ear and entertained me. It’s just a bubbly, simple song, with slightly dodgy accents, and the kind of frills that a more pop-oriented band would have ironed out but which were still compulsory in 1974, just to show you were serious about not being totally commercial.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVekseenb7w

Dream Weaver: Gary Wright

I included this as a counterpart to ‘Water Sign’ on Volume 1, though I hated this song at the time for reasons I can no longer understand. The two tracks are cut from the same soulful, yearning cloth, and the only difference is that this one was a big hit in America, and the one on Volume 1 wasn’t.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZKuzwPOefs

Sunny Side of Heaven: Fleetwood Mac

Between the end of the Peter Green era and the start of the Buckingham/Nicks years, Fleetwood Mac kept touring and recording with largely forgotten line-ups. ‘Sunny Side of Heaven’ is a lovely, rippling, quasi-bluesy instrumental, a Danny Kirwan-penned track that uses electric guitars throughout, hewing to a brighter, more trebly sound on the ‘chorus’ riffs and a richer, rounder guitar sound in the ‘verses’. No, it’s not a stand-out like ‘Albatross’, but it’s beautiful and its melody haunts the ear and it should be far better known than it is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EbyRKMzirg

A Horse with No Name: America

Another hit single, in fact a big hit single, a no 3 at Xmas1971 for a three piece band of Army brats, strumming acoustic guitars and doing a fair job of ripping off Neil Young’s style. It’s a winter song, dry and slightly drab in sound, and lacking in colours, for all that it takes place in a desert of blazing sun. Even the harmonies are downbeat. And it’s here in this series because of the time it played on the car stereo radio, as we drove along the marina in Palma, Mallorca, between the bright yellow of the sun above and the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean away to our left, seen between the white masts of the yachts, and the incongruity was overwhelming and I can never hear ‘A Horse with No Name’, without being transported to Mallorca and those summers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQzW6wz2JQk

A Fool No More: Peter Green

We’ve had Fleetwood Mac, and now it’s time for Peter Green. This is Green at his bluesiest, a track recorded in 1978, with Buckingham/Nicks already establishing themselves as the musical drivers of his former band. And this is Green at his most timeless, Green singing a low blues, lit by the flickering fire of his guitar, whilst bass and drum keep a stately, measured time, unrushed, unruffled. Green aches and bleeds in word and music and it lasts something like seven minutes and you would neither notice nor care if it were doubled, because the music toys with you. I’ve been your fool for so long, I won’t play that fool no more. And no-one believes a word you say.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oWmfG0uFBc

Beware of the Flowers, ’cause I’m sure they’re gonna get you, yeah: John Otway

Thinking it over, this song doesn’t really belong here. The explosion of punk and all its associated creeds changed the musical landscape for me between 1977-78, and what followed in the rest of the decade was, with very few exceptions, radically different to what had come before. Suddenly, instead of craning to hear those few, rarely played decent songs that cut across the pretty dull, pretty average grain, there was energy and excitement and new stuff all the time. ‘Beware of the Flowers’ was slightly on the early side for that. It was the b-side to Otway and Barrett’s very minor hit, ‘Really Free’ and I don’t suppose I took any real notice of it until Otway’s fans fixed the big public vote by the BBC for the greatest lyrics of the Twentieth Century, lifting this piece of gleeful nonsense to the giddy heights of number 7. Honestly, can you believe it? It’s not the sort of song this compilation was meant for, but it’s there and I won’t take it off. It’s still a 70s song, after all. It’s what I ‘grew up’ to like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIymBH7VvGg

Is that what it’s really about? Fleetwood Mac’s Man of the World


This is usually 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 being a Thursday, this is obviously not so.

Something recently put Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 no 2 hit, ‘Man of the World’ into my head. The band are better known for the Buckingham-Nicks era that made them into world-wide superstars, but which provided a lot of questionable music to follow the early Californiated rush. For a short time I was into them, but for a much longer time I’ve greatly preferred the earlier, Peter Green-led blues band period.

After a couple of singles that fringed the top 30, the Mac had their big year in 1969, with the slow, walking-blues instrumental, ‘Albatross’ and the heavy acoustic/electric work-out of ‘Oh Well (Part 1)’ both hitting number 1. In between came ‘Man of the World’.

These days, I have a vivid visual association with the song, following an early 2000s appearance in Chris Tarrant on TV. For those who don’t remember the programme, Tarrant had taken over the format established by Clive James, which was to present clips from television and adverts from other countries. It was mostly aimed at sparking a laugh, and usually very successful at it. Occasionally, it turned very serious, as in the case of an (I think) Australian drink-driving commercial.

The ad started off in the middle of a game of rugby, progressing in brief cuts to the showers, the bar, one man drinking and laughing, and them driving home in his not-overly flashy car. Intercut with these scenes were similarly brief shots of a boy aged about six playing at the bottom of a garden, his dad stood near the back door.

The music to the commercial was ‘Man of the World’. One verse plays as the car speeds up, the song timed exactly to have one specific line tie up with what happens. It’s an image that I can’t get out of my head, that I never will be able to unsee, being as I was then a stepfather with a stepson not much older than the boy playing in the garden, oblivious of the speeding car hitting the curb, the driver losing control, the car somersaulting in the air, the boy kneeling, looking up in one last instant at the spinning car flipping over the hedge and dropping down on him…

Then the scenes of the aftermath: the running father, already screaming in fear and desperation, crying out his eyes, his own life as he cradles the limp little body, and I can’t even type that here, so far away in time and circumstance without my own tears starting again, and the driver, shaken, dazed, struggling from the car, seeing what he’s done, what he’s responsible for, what could have been avoided so easily but which now can never be undone.

It was unbelievably powerful and it’s very hard to listen to the song without that association. Sometimes I can manage it, most often not.

But the verse that was used to underline that commercial is why I’m writing today. The chorus, though it was not a chorus in any conventional self, is Green addressing his listener. Let me tell you about my life, he offers, they say I’m a man of the world. The music is low-key, built around a wandering guitar, until the middle eight, where suddenly the band’s full force is unleashed, and Green sings:

And I need a good woman

To make me feel like a good man should

I don’t say that I’m a good man (and a car somersaults…)

It’s that next line where I pause to consider. Because as Green sings it, there are two words at the beginning of the line of which I have never been certain, two words whose two possible alternatives create a gulf in the meaning of poor, desperate Green’s confusion about himself and his hopelessness. It’s why this song becomes an Is that what it’s really about? Not because there’s a meaning other than that which appears on the surface, but because there are two meanings and I don’t know which one is true.

Of course I could look up the official lyrics, settle the question, but I would rather in this case remain in ignorance and doubt, seeing into both words  as possibilities.

Because the line, in it’s simplest form is: Oh but I would be if I could.

Or is it, as it might so easily be given how Green sings: Or that I would be if I could.

One is regret, one is an infinite well. The commercial made it clear that it understands the meaning to be Oh but I would be if I could, with no possible way to any longer be that good man as opposed to merely being the man of the world.

But from the first time of hearing this song, as a Golden Oldie on Radio 1, some time back in the Seventies, I heard those words as the alternate or that. I don’t say that I’m a good man, or that I would be if I could…

Perhaps it says something about me that I can hear those words and not the simpler, more reassuring line. This is something I’ve never discussed with others, never debated who hears which, and why. How many of us hear which line?

So for once I have no hidden, far from innocent meaning to expose. There is a hidden, far from innocent meaning to this song all along, but it may well be on the surface. I could know which, but I will no more look to learn than I will ever forget that image of the moment between two halves of a life, as the world closes in on one who will never have the chance to become a man of any world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJWOtL-PZiE