The Singer & The Song (Stylus Music, 1989)

Singer And The Song

Singer And The Song r.jpg

Review
I remember seeing adverts for Stylus Music’s The Singer & The Song towards the end of August 1989. Its aim seemed to be primarily geared towards tapping into baby boomer nostalgia for their lost youth and became a particular favourite for some older neighbours of mine. Indeed, if it had come 12 months earlier, it could have been my first foray into the singer songwriter boom of the late 1960s / early 1970s. As it stands, I’d already made acquaintance with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen by then but the compilation serves as a timely reminder of the more thoughtful side of the swinging era – plus a trio of more contemporary songs blending in amongst their older counterparts with mixed success.

The CD booklet doesn’t do justice to the fine illustrative work by Fiona Hawthorne but the lyrics for each track are reproduced and just about readable. The following caveat applies: “The lyrics on this sleeve appear in their original format. However some of the artistes have used variations in their performances on the album.” On that specific theme, one of Marshall Cavendish’s most popular and enduring part-work projects, The Great Artists series first appeared in 1984 with a relaunch the following January. The full series is in 96 parts, spanning major artists from early Renaissance to Post-modernism. Part 1 came with the usual part 2 free and that’s as far as I got. Van Gogh is on my #2, the cover displaying sunflowers prominently. The opening song is Don McLean’s thoughtful, soothing Vincent which makes use of accordion, marimba and strings. Described by William Ruhlmann as “sympathising with Van Gogh’s suicide as a sane comment on an insane world.”

James Taylor’s Fire And Rain also explores a similar theme; outlining his reaction to the self-inflicted death of his childhood friend Suzanne Schnerr. This news was kept from him for six months as friends feared it might distract him from recording his debut LP. Other themes in the song include depression, drug addiction and fame. Enter Donovan, a year before he would be immortalised by the Happy Mondays on Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches. Catch The Wind was his first release and was re-recorded the What’s Bin Did And What’s Bin Hid album, without the vocal echo and strings and with a harmonica solo added. That’s the version here; if you want the original 45 you need the Try For The Sun box set. Next comes the very current Cathedral Song, a ghostly and beautiful triumph from Tanita Tikaram’s wonderful Ancient Heart. “‘Cause all the others want to take my life.”

“I know my obituary has already been written. It starts out, ‘Doot, di-doot, di-doot…'” Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side with its interlocking basslines and controversial lyrics was a thrilling discovery for me in the mid-1980s. Its inclusion on Dave Fanning’s Fab 50 (think 1986 or 1987) was the gateway. During ’89, New York was earning serious critical plaudits and became one of my favourite records of the year. Following: Leonard Cohen’s beautifully haunting Suzanne, a paean to a platonic relationship and the opening track on his debut album. What an introduction to the world. And then Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To (My Lovely), a memory of a colourful, lovely time and being a tourist in your own youth. We get the album version which is longer than the radio edit, having extra stanzas beginning “You go to the embassy parties…” and “You’re in between 20 and 30…”

Marcus Anderson on Where Do You Go To (My Lovely):
“This song was originally thought to be about actress Sophia Loren who came from an impoverished childhood. But Peter later explained it was about a girl he fell in love with but who later died in a hotel fire. With this information you can put together the hidden and incredible beauty of this song. The story actually begins in the refrain when he asks his childhood girlfriend to tell him her secret desires. Peter then describes to us her dreams, starting from the first verse. Toward the end he hints at the reality, that they are just two lowly born children sharing her dream of being the fictitious Marie Claire, the personification of her private fantasy based on the fashion magazine of that name, and which she shares only with him. Finally, Peter posthumously proclaims to her (us), in a powerful hidden confession, his deep love lost so tragically. Having now told him her secret heartfelt desires that they both share, he now knows where she goes in her dreams, and he can truly see inside her. Peters master stroke of genius is that he dedicates to her memory a projection of her dream of living the life of Marie Claire in this incredible song of love. It is perhaps one of the greatest love songs of all time, hidden in poetic license, waiting for the worthy listener to discover.”

“The hero would be me. . . heroes often fail.” Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind remains one of the greatest ’70s ballads. Moving, touching, haunting and inspired by divorce. Equally downbeat is Aztec Camera’s gut-wrenching How Men Are, mysteriously credited to Roddy Frame in the booklet – although it and the next two songs don’t quite gel. There’s a live version of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain that I am trying to date – the Martha’s Vineyard live performance is from 1987 but I don’t think is it. And then Enya’s Orinoco Flow – they might as well have included The Wombles. Normal service is resumed on Elton John’s romantic Your Song, a glowing tune that took on new meaning when played at my cousin’s wedding in 2006. And then the rambling man himself, Tom Paxton and his simple yet effective Last Thing On My Mind, which dates back to 1964.

Three different studio recordings of Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London have been released as singles in varying territories and reissued on various occasions. The first version was from the 1970 Transatlantic compilation Revisited and got its first single release in France and West Germany that year. The next was from the US pressing of the 1971 LP You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here and got got a Dutch 45 release during the spring of 1972. The third version was first released in 1974 as a Reprise single, topped the UK charts and was included in the 1975 album Streets. That’s the recording here, wonderfully affecting and still topical. The location was Surrey Street Market. Meanwhile Chelsea Morning, while only appearing on her second LP, Clouds, was written by Joni Mitchell in 1967 but was recorded by three other artists before her – Fairport Convention, Judy Collins, Jennifer Warnes. Brilliantly played and composed, Chelsea Clinton was named after the song. Bill and Hilary having heard Collins’ version playing during a stroll through Chelsea, London.

Not to be confused with Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe, Kris Kristofferson’s Me And Bobby McGee is a quintessential tale of two drifters on their brief journey through the American south. They reach California and then go their separate ways. Which brings us to Albert Hammond’s It Never Rains In Southern California, a prime pick for a “super hit” of the 1970s that got all the airplay but very little chart success. The subject is a struggling actor who doesn’t make it. Alienation, creativity, travelling and a longing to be connected – all themes of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, the first of three late ’70s tunes that close this album. Next come The Pretenders with the emotional and vulnerable Kid, complete with new wave hooks that maintain a 1960s spirit. We close with Chris Rea’s Fool (If You Think It’s Over); his debut single whose inspiration was the experience Rea’s younger sister Paula had had some years previously of being devastated at losing her first boyfriend. Sadly it’s not the original 7″ (you need Hard To Find 45s On CD Volume 8) but the 1988 remake from New Light Through Old Windows. File under Middlesbrough soul stew.

Favourite tracks
Joni Mitchell – Chelsea Morning

Peter Sarstedt – Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)

Leonard Cohen – Suzanne

Lest we forget
Albert Hammond – It Never Rains In Southern California

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