The Infinite Jukebox: The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer in the City’


Back in the summer of 1966, we went to the Lakes as a nuclear family for the first time, Mam and Dad, my little sister and me, but not my Uncle, Dad’s elder brother. My sister was a sturdy little four year old in her first pair of walking boots, her brother a podgy, bespectacled ten year old, also in his first pair of walking boots. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, she was eager and enthusiastic and he wasn’t, not then.
One day in the middle of the week, we set off on a walk from the Coniston road, the road from Broughton and Low Bleansley Farm where we always stayed. There were public footpath signs off the road, and we took one and followed it upwards.
It was a bit of a disaster. The path didn’t go anywhere. It petered out in empty country from which we could see no route in any direction, not even the one back. Eventually, we found our way to a path that we would later learn was the Coniston end of the Walna Scar Road. We followed it back to a gate onto a tarmaced road, which we were able to take down into the Village, emerging past the climbers shop my parents had already discovered, opposite the turning down to the boat landings on the Lake.
It was sunny and hot, we were tired, dry and thirsty, and the car was a good mile or more away on the road to Broughton. Dad, nobly, set off to walk there and bring it back, leaving the three of us to dawdle around that corner, slowly baking a little more by the minute, with nothing to do but wait.
What has this to do with The Infinite Jukebox? This has to do with a vivid memory of a gang of lads, maybe as many as a half dozen, walking up from the Lake on the other side of the junction, and singing together, joyfully. I remember the song as if this were yesterday, and recognised it despite the complete absence of pop music from our household. What a day for a daydream, they chorused. What a day for a day-dreamin’ boy.
‘Daydream’ was the first, and the more successful, of the two UK hits The Lovin’ Spoonful enjoyed in that summer of 1966. I don’t know where it was in the charts that day because there’s no way I can find the week we were away, but eventually, or already, it had reached no. 2.
But it’s follow-up, ‘Summer in the City’, a much less successful single, peaking at no 10 but the band’s only US no. 1, is the one that caught my attention and which is my favourite Lovin’ Spoonful track, since then and till now. And given the heat of that day, if not the rural setting, it would have been far more appropriate to those lads, singing for the fun of it. Hot town, summer in the city, back of my neck feeling dirty an’ gritty.
There are summer songs and there are summer songs. What we usually think of is the beach song, the lightweight, party song, surf crashing somewhere in the background even if it’s not the Beach Boys. But you don’t get much surf in the city, and the Lovin’ Spoonful are looking at the reality of that summer swelter.
Not for nothing does the song begin with horns like motor cars stuck in jams, before the drums crash in and an eager, storming beat leads to John Sebastian, setting for us the scene. Hot town, summer in the city, bending down, isn’t it a pity, there isn’t a shadow in the city. All around, people looking half-dead, walkin’ on the sidewalks, hotter than a matchhead. You can hear it in the music, you can feel it in the words, a New York City summer, unbearable and exhausting.
But at night it’s a different world…
At night, you go out and find a girl, you dance all night, just like the heat it’ll be alright. And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity that the days can’t be like the night, in the summer, in the city.
And the band cool out for an instrumental break overlaid with sound effects, streets sounds, car engines growling, horns beeping, a pneumatic drill crashing into the tarmac, before the plunge back into the rhythm, with the lyrics whirling us through this brazen summer, but this is the evening, the cool town. Cool cat is looking for a kitty, gonna look in every corner of the city, but the heat overpowers even the softest of nights, till the cat is wheezing like a bus stop, running up the stairs, gonna meet you on the rooftop.
Oh yes, it’s a hot city, a hot summer, and you swelter through the days hoping to still be alive enough to function at night. It’s a New York summer like every year, an alien world to those of us in sleepy Britain. I can’t recall whether the summer of 1966 was an exceptionally hot one: when you’re that young, every summer is hot no matter whether it is or not. It was hot that day in Coniston when those lads were singing about a Daydream. I’d have loved to have heard them singing about Summer in the City, but it was the wrong moment.
But the Lovin’ Spoonful conjured up the sweat and swelter and smell of the city in less than three minutes and took us into it for ever, and the crash of the band rumbling into action like a bus rolling down that street of noise that might be a version of hell in real life is still the introduction to a world in which life cannot ever be overcome.

Advertisement

The Infinite Jukebox: The Shangri-Las’ ‘Past, Present and Future’


In the beginning there was ‘Leader of the Pack’ and in the end there was ‘Leader of the Pack’. The Shangri-Las had also had a UK Top Twenty hit with ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ in the Sixties, but as far as Radio 1 was concerned, it might never have existed when it came to playing Golden Oldies.
And that was before ‘Leader of the Pack’ was re-released to go top 10 again, not just in 1972 but again in 1975.
So hearing other songs by The Shangri-Las was a long way far from easy, and discovering if they had anything more to them than that one damned melodramatic street opera of a death disc pretty hopeless unless you were willing to take a flier on an actual album, and I don’t remember seeing any Shangri-Las’ albums until CDs had been invented.
Which makes ‘Past, Present and Future’ even more than the curiosity that it is.
The song isn’t even a song, in the sense that there is no singing, that all the lyrics are spoken, in a hushed, subdued, almost trance-like state by Mary Weiss, with the twins, Margie and Mary Ann Ganser doing no more than speak, in ‘chorus’, the words of the title as they break the song into three parts.
The first time I heard ‘Past, Present and Future’, I was struck by how strange it was, how cold and austere. Part of this was that the music is simply a playing of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, a piano melody of calmness and composure that I may or may not have heard by then but which registered instantly as a thing apart from pop music. The rest of it was the speaking voice, and more than that the words that Shadow Morton came up with.
There’s a distance that’s all but a gulf between Mary Weiss and those who listen in on what are almost thoughts, spontaneously recalled.
First, there’s the Past, a Past that we understand is gone, as if it had been a million years ago. The distance between Mary as she reminisces in the most minimal detail – silent joys, broken toys, laughing girls, teasing boys – is something on the edge of memory for her. Was she in love, she asks herself, and qualifies her answer to herself by saying she called it love, she thought it was love, but she can only drift away from the specific. There were moments when… but that memory is something she cannot go to now, and all she can do is to repeat herself, well, there were moments when. She will never speak of it in more detail.
Present, the Gansers announce. Mary has a boy asking her out on a date, repeating his questions with her answers. Go out with you? Why not. Do I like to dance? Of course. Take a walk along the beach tonight? I’d love to. But there is a warning for this hopeful suitor that makes the song change in an instant, that drags him and us and her into the Twilight Zone, leaving us wondering just what we are dealing with.
Don’t try to touch me, Mary Weiss says, and in her voice we can hear the sheets of glass between her and this boy. Don’t try to touch me. Because that will never happen again, and by the end of that sentence each word is being spoken separately. And to complete this strange transition, she then speaks, in an ordinary voice, as if what she has said was said by someone other than her, shall we dance? and for ten seconds an orchestra sweeps and flourishes into a waltz that is beyond any expectation.
Whatever has happened, we are not in any kind of world we recognise now. But there is still the future to come. Tomorrow? That’s a long way off. Maybe someday she’ll have somebody’s hand, maybe someone, and the additional word somewhere is our indication that to her this is an impossibility. For a moment, she goes back into the past, into childhood, nursery rhymes when everything was safe. A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket. Packed up and on her way and gonna fall in love.
But that was then and it’s not then any more. At the moment, it doesn’t look good. At the moment, it will never happen again. And then, in the softest but most icily chilling voice ever to be heard on a single, Mary Weiss says, simply, I don’t think it will ever happen again, the last words of that sentence spoken separately.
‘Past, Present and Future’ is a frightening song. It’s about death, but whereas ‘Leader of the Pack’ was about the death of the body, ‘Past, Present and Future’ is about the death of the soul, and about being alive afterwards to cease to feel it.
It’s been suggested that the song is about the aftermath of a rape, though Mary Weiss denied it, fervently, saying only that it’s about teenage intensity. I see no reason to challenge her statement, but the song fits that other interpretation as closely as a spandex leotard, and whether Mary Weiss’s distance is due to an assault as fatal to her as actual death or else a dispirited reaction to a failed relationship is immaterial. ‘Past, Present and Future’ is one of the coldest things I have ever heard, the coldest and most hopeless. When she says it will never happen again, there is nothing in Mary Weiss’ voice to leave you with the illusion that love will ever again come into her life.
Everything is over before it has begun.
And that’s sad.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Tymes and The Mighty Avengers’ ‘So Much in Love’


‘So Much In Love’ is not a case of two different arrangements by two different groups of the same song, but rather two different songs in two different contexts, by two different singers, coming out within twelve months of each other.
The song by The Tymes, which I heard long after the one by The Mighty Avengers, was their debut single in 1963, the title track of their first album, and an American no. 1 single that reached no 21. in the UK charts.
The Tymes were one of that almost unending supply of American vocal groups, the same group that had a UK no. 1 in early 1975 with ‘Ms Grace’. Their ‘So Much In Love’ was an unequivocal, idyllic love song, too light for gospel and soul but not quite categorising as pop.
I say ‘idyllic’: to use the term Wilfried Mellers adopted for the early and simple Beatles’ tracks, it’s an eden-song, it’s words as lightweight and inconsequential as anything McCartney the sentimentalist produced, anchored by no more than the paper on which they’re written. As we stroll along together, holding hands, walking all alone. Love as state of being, detached from everything else but the presence of the loved one, walking beside you. Not even walking, but strolling, inconsequential.
To emphasise this, the group take on practically all the musical duties. It’s their voices, their harmonies, their call and response we hear, to little more than what we’d now call a click-track at first and then, after the first chorus, a bass and percussion buried deep below the voices.
And yes, it’s about love. The lovers stroll along the beach, they stroll down the aisle to their wedding. So in love are (these) two, no-one else but me and you, reality doesn’t intrude on this and the group sing smoothly and happily out of a world of pure fluff. But a fluff we would all love to wrap around us when we are in love and nothing else matters, or exists, come to that.
So much for ‘So Much In Love’: what of ‘So Much In Love’?
I’ve known the other song for a lot longer than the one by The Tymes, having discovered it in the late Seventies on Annie Nightingale’s Sunday afternoon request show, in her Daisy Chain feature. Each week, she’d play an obscure song, without announcing its title or the artist. The challenge was for listeners to write in to, first, identify it correctly and secondly, nominate a similar obscurity for that week’s Daisy Chain. This went on for years, and rarely did I identify her selections.
‘So Much In Love’ was a plain and simple song, distinguished only by a bit of a plinky-plonky piano, the guitar, bass and drums being limited to the point of negligibility. The melody in the song was sustained by the vocals, a straightforward verse-chorus structure without a middle-eight to break it up, and a ‘guitar solo’ that consisted of duplicating the melody of the verse in single notes.
To be honest, it’s pretty amateurish all told. But from somewhere, I found I liked it, and made a point of being there the following Sunday to find out what it is. The Mighty Avengers, who’d clearly ripped off their name from Marvel’s superhero team, were from Coventry. This song was the first of a few singles the band recorded, no albums, not even enough tracks to justify a retrospective LP, and it was their only ‘hit’, reaching no 44.
Judging by the other singles, none of which I heard until the 2000s, the band’s limited musical abilities never developed.
So what makes this ‘So Much In Love’ different from the other one? If I tell you that it’s written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, could you guess?
No use crying now, The Mighty Avengers’ lead singer sings, trying to bland the spite out of the words and make this into a chirpy singalong. You’ll get by somehow. Yes, this is a break-up song, but the sting is swift in coming. You thought that you had me right where I oughtta be, you thought I was so much in love with you, do what you wanna do, but now you know, I’ve changed my mind.
Yes, we are here where we expect to be with the Glimmer Twins, at the heart of misogyny central. ‘So Much In Love’ is not so powerful a song, nor so deep a melody as ‘Out of Time’, but it’s telling the same story.
We don’t know the story. She’s wanted a time out, a break, for reasons we are not told because they don’t matter. Whatever it was for, however genuine they may have been, is irrelevant. It’s never been the same since you played your game is the verdict, and there is only one in this relationship who is allowed to play games and it’s not her. Anything that is less than complete and constant devotion is read as an attempt to take control, and only one person is in control and that’s Michael Philip Jagger.
No matter how The Mighty Avengers try to soften the blow, this is a poison pill of a song, and it’s jauntiness conceals a heart of vitriol that is the complete opposite of the other ‘So Much In Love’. Being in love is a weakness so far as Jagger and Richard are concerned. And they are not and will not be weak.
You thought I was so much in love with you, well, think again.
Two songs. The same name. Twelve months. Two worlds. I like them both. Explain that.

The Infinite Jukebox: Pete Atkin’s ‘The Flowers and the Wine’


I’ve form for this particular Pete Atkin/Clive James song.
My rediscovery of the pair thanks to missing the Monyash Folk Festival by a week quickly led me to the Smash Flops web-site and the Midnight Voices mailing list, initially receiving a week’s messages as a digest and then later, when I first had the internet at home, as individual messages. Once the mailing list converted to a message board, the fun of it went out and I dropped away.
One of the most popular topics on the mailing list was analysis of Clive James’ lyrics, picking up the myriad references and subtleties. We were lucky to have one particularly erudite lady whose expositions fascinated everyone, me included. I wanted to do something like that, but I lacked the breadth of references. If I were going to try, it would have to be a simple song, and Clive James didn’t write simple songs. Oh, but maybe once he did.
‘The Flowers and the Wine’ is a simple, straightforward two minute long song, played out to an acoustic guitar that supports a melody held mainly in Atkin’s single-track vocal. It’s famous in the Atkin/James catalogue for being their most commercially successful song: Val Doonican recorded a cover in which he had his writers re-write the lyrics for the second half of the middle eight, and Atkin and James received more royalties from that single recording than for their entire six album Seventies output.
I’ve called the song simple, and it is, but not plain. It’s fifteen lines, arranged in five verses of three, the third and fourth of which comprise the middle eight, and with no choruses. James sketches the set-up with concision. Another night I’ve been to visit you and him (beat) comes to an end/switch on the hallway light, farewell a friend.
The words seem clear and open, a meal with friends, but already even in this brevity we’ve learned so many things. The singer’s visiting good friends, a couple, and he’s alone: this is not a dinner party, rather something intimate, but the singer doesn’t see this as a visit to a couple. He’s already said so: the visit is not to you (two) but to you (infinitesimal pause) and him. She’s the one he’s there for. But we arrive at the end, and, just as he arrived, the singer is departing, as a friend.
Another verse, in the same pattern. Another night I bring the flowers and the wine (beat) has slipped away/there were only three to dine, and two to stay.
He’s making the situation more explicit. One guest, one couple, one comes and goes, two are there before and after. It is a couple he’s visiting, as the gifts he brings with him make plain. Flowers for her, wine for all. Of course it’s all very conventional, the mores of fifty years ago, but these are not just the flowers of convention but the only gift he can give to her, openly. They stand for more than just flowers, they’re the only way he has of saying he loves her, in front of him. In front of her, for that matter.
Musically, Atkin introduces the middle eight. James asks a rhetorical question: when you set the dates for tete-a-tetes like these/what tells you that I count the days between/except my nothing caring air of ease?
Oh yes, these meals matter so much, these snatched moments of her company, the only intimate contact there ever will be, and the only way he can convey to her just how much this means to him is to pretend an absolute indifference. That line about the nothing caring air of ease has been burnt into my heart for a very long time, it is, for its simplicity, one of the five most compact lines of Clive James I have ever read.
Back then, I struggled with the other half of the middle eight, but really it is easy to understand. When clouds black out the moon that moves the tides/what tells you there’s a river in the dark/except the streets lights on the other side. It’s a recasting of the previous triplet into symbolic terms, an abstract restatement, But the terms are more than that: the firmament, the river, the moon that creates tides, and in the midst of light a darkness, an absence that can’t be seen but which nevertheless is every bit real.
And finally, another night (another damnable night, unable to be avoided without exposing the secret he’s kept hidden) I book a taxi door-to-door (beat) has been and gone/I have never loved you more, see you anon. There, it had to be said, and there is that wonderful double-meaning, the anon that means this arrangement cannot end, that there is and always will be another night, and the anon that the singer must forever be, anonymous These simple lines, as they appear to me, are nevertheless a level of Hell.
Does she know? We spent days arguing this backwards and forwards. Of course she knows was the attitude of some, which led into a secondary debate about the morality of knowing and letting the poor bastard dangle against the decision to allow him his delusion. Everyone agreed that this guy will never break the code that demands he does not become a pest to her.
Fifteen lines, supported in a very low-key manner. In the hands of a master, songs are not songs but universes.

The Infinite Jukebox: Mary Hopkin’s ‘Temma Harbour’


Looking back, it seemed clear that the biggest mistake Mary Hopkin made with her short commercial career was to agree to be the UK’s representative in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest. Though she brought a sweet and honest voice to the chosen song, ‘Knock Knock Who’s There?’, and came second only to Ireland’s Dana with the equally sweet and innocent (and superior) ‘All Kinds of Everything’, it was a last hurrah for the young Welsh woman discovered through Opportunity Knocks and mentored by Paul McCartney.
Hopkin was never totally comfortable being positioned as a pop chanteuse, neither with McCartney nor his successor, the commercial producer Mickie Most, trying to direct her music. She came from a folk-singing background and family and, after her Eurovision song, and a final, low-charting top 20 hit, she simply disappeared from the business, and has chosen her own musical path and projects ever since.
I heard ‘Those were the Days’ when it was a hit, and often, but then it was so ubiquitous, there were creatures beyond the orbit of Saturn’s outermost moons who could have hummed it note perfect, but I don’t know if I ever heard the similarly-McCartney-penned follow-up, ‘Goodbye’. For my first sustained exposure to Hopkin’s singing, I came to ‘Temma Harbour’.
It’s the forgotten one, the single between the McCartney songs and Eurovision, forever overlooked. To me, it’s first and foremost a part of that period of the first, undirected enthusiasm, my baptism in music, and of more significance than any of her other singles could be, but it’s also more than that. There’s a freshness, a spirit to the song, a sense of the place about which Hopkin sings.
The song was written by drummer and singer Robert Wilson, who took the name of Phil Kinorra as part of Brian Auger and The Trinity, the line-up that recorded ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ with Julie Driscoll, and was recorded by him under the name Philamore Lincoln. Hopkin’s version isn’t a million miles different but Hopkin’s voice is far better suited to the faraway mood of the song, and she can really sing, which Lincoln, with respect, couldn’t match, half-growling his original.
Most’s arrangement is lighter and fresher, opening up the song with well-judged strings, first creating a swirl that introduces the melody after Hopkin’s delicate but almost negligible acoustic guitar intro, creating the space for Hopkin’s voice to celebrate a kind of restrained ecstacy out of the world.
For Temma Harbour is both a place (that always struck me as being some remote Australian cove, because it is, it’s in Tasmania) and a state of mind. There’s a strand of an earthy paradise, a place beyond the world, free from its demands. In a giant lemon tree, she sings, alone my friend and me, we both climb down and cross the sands until we reach the sea.
And the waves grow higher, higher as we sway and dance, and the mood elevates and creates a headiness more than wine, for the way Mary feels makes her want to take a chance. What chance that may be is locked in our individual hearts, in whatever worldliness we want to bring to this place, but as we contemplate our thoughts we are taken to the heart of things, Mary celebrating Temma Harbour, climbing coconut trees, catching fish, lighting fires, drinking wine, and gently, tentatively testing out the companion who shares this place with her. If you say you like me, and I like you…
For this may be a real, real place but Mary is testing whether the friend who is beside her can be the other half of that idyll, if the fantasy of Temma Harbour, of treehouses and blue sea spray can be extended into a real life in which two are on a wavelength. That’s the chance she’s singing of taking, not the one you were thinking about, not the, shall we be polite and say ‘hedonistic’ option you were imagining.
It’s the combination of Hopkin’s voice and Most’s airy arrangement, keeping the musicians distant from her voice, like the distant guitars that on the wind begin to play. Hopkin carries the melody in her lovely, pure voice – by God that girl could sing! – and Most sets a gentle rhythm upon which he builds a counter-rhythm of melodic bongoes, a flute solo over the last chorus and coda, and those hovering strings, swirling like the breeze that brings the guitars from afar.
All goes to bringing Temma Harbour to us for the course of the song, just as Martha and The Muffins took us to lonely, wind-swept, isolated, sunset Echo Beach. Can Mary really bring another into this dream vision she carries within her? With a voice like hers, you want her to be happy as much as she does, just so she may sound like this.

The Infinite Jukebox: Pere Ubu’s ‘Final Solution’


I’ve said before that sometimes you can come to a piece of music, or a band, at the wrong time, when you are not ready for what they have to offer, and it’s only years later, if you’re lucky enough to get the chance, to hear them again and this time understand what they’re doing. This was very much the case with Pere Ubu, Cleveland’s finest export, and the world’s foremost and possibly only proponents of the avant-garage.
I started listening to John Peel’s evening show in January 1978, the best part of a year after I could have discovered it when I was growing enthused by the rawness and directness of punk and new wave.
Peely, of course, was the first one to spot Pere Ubu, who’d been making waves in 1977 with their 12″ five-track EP, Datapanik in the Year Zero (lots of American bands then and later, R.E.M. included, started their career with a 12″ five-track EP, all for the same reason: they couldn’t afford the studio time for a full album). I heard tracks from it and thought it incomprehensible. The same went for the first album, later that year, The Modern Dance. As for its follow-up, Dub-Housing, that didn’t even sound like anything I’d heard from them before and after that I shut my ears.
Jump forward to 1985. I work in Manchester City Centre, with easy access to things like the Virgin Megastore at lunch. One midweek morning, I decide that I fancy buying an album. But which one? After some thought, I come down to an either/or between The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut album, or Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance. I haven’t gone on for much longer before realising that, at the age of not-quite thirty, I was making a life-changing decision.
The real choice wasn’t between two records, but between the past and the future. Ever since I started listening to pop and ever since, my natural attraction was to the new: what’s next? Always what’s next. The JAMC was what’s next. Pere Ubu was what I’d jumped past. They were an unexperienced corner, a gap in the story. If I chose The Modern Dance, I was really signalling that I was not prepared any longer to go in search of what was next, that I was set to now fill in the story, paint out the holes.
What did I buy? Well, it turned out to be The Cocteau Twins. The JAMC album wasn’t released until the next week, the Ubu was long since deleted. But I had decided, and it would have been Pere Ubu.
Why, you may be meaning to ask, was I even thinking of Pere Ubu in 1985? The band didn’t even exist any longer, having split after five albums and multiple line-up changes. They were of no relevance to 1985 whatsoever.
The answer was the song we’re listening to here. Someone, and it might not necessarily have been Peely, it may have been our then-Stockport based pirate radio station, KFM, had played “Final Solution”. In fact, I’m sure it was KFM because the reception wasn’t all that wonderful. I had got to the radio cassette recorder before half the long intro had run, and I wanted to know more. Like the Age of Chance’s ‘Kiss’, my ears were being blown apart and remade in a new form. Pere Ubu were post-punk before there was even punk to be post.
This song dates from 1976. Let me say that again. 1976. Can you seriously believe that? It begins with a bass guitar, playing a solid, unvarying note in a tempo that the entire song will use. It’s joined by the drums and a lead guitar, played by Peter Laughner, who would die within a year of recording this, playing a complex, growling filigree, and by Allen Ravenstine’s synthesizer, not playing music of a kind that differed only in sound and texture from an organ or an electric piano but rather sound, pure abstract sound shimmering, hammering: industrial.
The solo ends. Bass and drums lockstep and move forward implacably. David Thomas, Ubu’s lead singer and the only member to be there from start to finish, enters. His voice is raucous, growly, squeaky. He is like no-one you’ve heard before. He sings/intones/chants lines of apocalyptic teenage angst, deliberately OTT. The girls won’t touch me, he protests, but Thomas’s enunciation is so intentionally vague that you can’t be certain if it’s because he’s got a misdirection or a missed erection. Either way, he also complains that living at night isn’t helping his complexion. Social infection and insurrection are the other rhymes in this first verse.
And the bass and the drums drive onwards. Thomas’s Mom has thrown him out until he gets some pants that fit, and she just don’t approve of his strange kind of wit. Just who is this we’re locked in here with? Do we really want to be here with him? Guitar and synthesizer surround everything, enclosing Thomas in a cage as his voice rises to a howl, they’ll make him take a cure, but he don’t need a cure, and the band come in like a gang backing up one of their own who’s threatened, don’t need a cure, don’t need a cure, don’t need a cure I need a Final Solution.
Here we’re wavering on the edge of something extreme. Final Solution has a connotation, maybe it has only a single meaning and it’s one you toy with referring to at your peril, but this sound is an unforgiving advance and the kid’s in a world of his own where perspective is all to hell, and in his own head it’s all so extreme.
And it’s that bass and the drums, and Laughner showers a stunning, chiming solo before Thomas expands his universe of solipsistic anguish, with guitars that sound like a nuclear destruction (at which the sound stops, for an unheard beat, before we escalate yet more), the kid crying that he’s a victim of natural selection (it’s not my fault) and talking obliquely of suicide, Thomas drawing all the energy into his personal maelstrom and the gang shout you down again don’t need a cure don’t need a cure…
Then the bass takes over as a lead instrument, heavy-handed and threatening, until Thomas starts to repeat just the word Solution, in growing desperation, against a background of sweet, harmonious ‘ooohs’ from the gang, until Laughner starts one last, extended, astonishing solo, the guitar creeping up the scale, the sound growing almost edgier until you’re almost screaming for the tension to come to an end, and Laughner chops things down and Thomas screams ‘Solution!’ into the heart of the song and you wonder how anything’s going to end a thing that’s gained so much momentum, until the drums abruptly quit and bass and guitar wind down to a stop in a few shirt but satisfying notes. Oh my God.
This is a song that unmakes and remakes its listeners. The world you leave to hear this song is not the world to which you return when its five minutes(only five minutes?) ends. It is both destroyer and creator, yet it can be returned to again and again, and listened to mesmerically, as Laughner’s guitar works through those three solos, as Ravenstine’s synths create an unwordly yet concrete world, as Thomas’s voice grows in both power and anguish…
Eventually, I got The Modern Dance when it first became available on CD, in a limited issue edition. I never did buy The Jesus and Mary Chain. As far as I’m concerned, I came out ahead.

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: 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.