Lockdown playlist no. 10: All Things Must Pass

It’s a blessing and a curse: everything ends some time. On the good side, bad things end. On the bad side, good things end. As a parent, you worry about phases your kids are going through, until you finally realise they are just phases and phases eventually finish. And the longest phase of all is our life itself, which will end one day. Covid-19 may never be completely wiped out,  but the pandemic will be history soon enough.

George Harrison wrote this profound-sounding song in the late 60s or perhaps early 1970 and it was the title track of the triple album which marked his emergence as a solo artist. It was a cathartic release of all the ideas he had bottled up because the genius of Lennon and McCartney meant there wasn’t much room for his songs on Beatles albums. Was it really worth a triple, though? Probably not, but there was some good stuff on it.

The message of this song is that he doesn’t love the girl anymore, but she should cheer up because life goes on. Forgetting that somewhat insensitive element, the song is dressed up with orchestration and does sound quite comforting if you don’t study the lyrics too closely.

Lockdown playlist no. 9: Keeping it to Myself

Stay home. Don’t infect anyone. Don’t get close to anyone. What is a poor boy to do but listen to music?

Has there ever been a less likely funk band than this group of pasty white guys from Scotland? They erupted onto a 1970s music scene that was struggling for direction: pop was uncool, rock seemed to have peaked and for a would-be hippy who liked it heavy, nothing was happening. Then Pick Up the Pieces happened, an irresistible instrumental that took the sweetness of the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites and gave it oomph and credibility. And surprise surprise, this wasn’t a one-off. There were other tracks on the album that were not just great to dance to (not my forte) but to listen to. And this is one of them

Lockdown playlist no. 8: Dangerous Game

This is a song  written and recorded by Barry Gray (probably in his German bunker studio in Guernsey, where I come from) and featured in a episode of Thunderbirds called The Cham Cham. It is set in the exclusive ski resort of Paradise Peaks where the resident band is the Cass Carnaby Five. And there is something fishy going on that is related to the tune. It’s on the radio all the time, the Thunderbirds cast really dig it, and it certainly is a nice melody, even when sung in a sort of Marlene Dietrich style by Lady Penelope. In reality this was Sylvia Anderson, the series’ co-creator with husband Gerry. What a great way to make a living.

Lockdown playlist no. 7: Don’t fear the reaper

Never before has the entire population of the planet been confronted with the fear of death. There have been world wars, but not all countries were under direct threat. There have been pandemics, such as Spanish flu in 1918-20, which is said to have infected as many as 500 million people and may have killed up to 50 million. But in that relatively unsophisticated age, millions will have been blissfully unaware of it. In 2020 there can’t be many communities that don’t have access to radio, TV and the internet, so even if you’re cooped up in the middle of a forest, cut off from civilization, you’re probably going to get the news from somewhere.

All of which means that suddenly human beings don’t seem so clever or self-supporting after all. You may not think you need God, or you may not believe in God or gods, or you may not believe but still have to blame someone or something and someone else’s god is a handy scapegoat.

But are you afraid of death? And what does that actually mean, anyway? I suspect many people are not against ceasing to exist as such, because for good reasons or bad they’ve had enough. It’s been fun, but it had to end some time, and as long as your disappearance won’t have dire consequences for people who depend on you, why not shuffle off this mortal coil through no fault of your own?

It’s the manner of our death that is more frightening: being run over by a bus and knowing nothing about it is one thing, but being terrified and struggling for breath with your organs shutting down as you face the inevitable is another.

It’s not a subject to be glib about, but this is just something to think about, and the song is a suitable rallying cry: one of the great guitar riffs, ethereal vocals and a danceability unusual in heavy rock makes for a powerful combination.

Blue Oyster Cult had been around since the late ’60s without making it big until they stumbled upon this riff and built it into a rock classic that was simple enough to have local bands, including my own, pumping it out all over the place.

So don’t be stupid, don’t be reckless, don’t be irresponsible, but don’t fear the reaper.

Lockdown playlist no. 6: Heed the Warning

Not a lockdown day goes by without some public figure being caught doing something they shouldn’t. Even the Minister of Health in New Zealand drove his family to the beach before realising he shouldn’t have, and he has only hung onto his job because there’s a health crisis going on, which after all is his department. More predictably, we’ve had a numbskull English footballer hosting a party with a couple of hookers, while that same profession (prostitutes) is  trying to popularise online sex because this social distancing lark is making life very hard for them.

However, we’ve all just got to grit our teeth and sit tight. And so to the song. Heed the warning is from Chaka Khan’s 1981 album Whatcha Donna Do For Me, on which the boundaries of rock and funk are well and truly blurred. There’s some great stuff on there, from the rollicking title track to the jaunty Any Old Sunday. Yvette Stevens, to use her original name, burned brightly for a few years without quite making it to the heights she perhaps deserves, but this album is a belting, life-affirming delight.

Lockdown playlist no. 4: Crisis by Bob Marley and the Wailers

I first heard this as an instrumental on the B-side of I don’t remember what and although there are versions with lyrics, it’s the instrumental I’m putting here. As you would expect from Marley, it’s pretty laidback – not the atmosphere of a crisis but great for making yourself relax and let the storm blow over, assisted by a large spliff or 10 and a bottle of white rum.

I’ve lived in the Caribbean for almost 10 years now and you still hear his music everywhere: it’s like reggae never found a new hero. Imagine if pop/rock ended with The Beatles and there was never an Elton John, a Prince or a Led Zeppelin You can walk into a pub or club in England and pretty well guarantee not to hear Paperback Writer or Revolution, but step off a boat in the West Indies and I guarantee within half an hour you will hear Three Little Birds.

You probably won’t hear this, though.

Lockdown playlist no. 5: Spinning the Wheel

Suddenly every film recommended on Netflix is something to do with an epidemic, which personally I could do without when I’m trying to have a nice evening without wondering about the end of the world.

This song is from the golden era George Michael enjoyed in the mid 90s and it too is about an epidemic: AIDS. Interestingly, for someone who came out to the world by getting arrested for exposing himself in a public toilet, the singer is claiming the moral high ground here as he complains about his partner being out all night, presumably having sex with other men.

Quite how this makes for a good pop song is a mystery, but it does. Nice languid rhythm, mellow production and mature vocal performance.

I hated Wham! with a vengeance (particularly the early tosh when he was pretending to be tough), but I suppose it is hard growing up in public, and by this stage he was coming up with some quality stuff.

Lockdown playlist no. 2: Long Time Gone

Feel free to add your own ideas for coronavirus songs in the comments at the bottom. It’s mainly the title that matters, not what the song is really about. When I’ve done 10 posts I will compile a list of the best suggestions.

Long Time Gone fits the Lockdown theme mainly for it first words (It’s been a long time coming) and its general tone. It’s a song by David Crosby from the first Crosby Stills and Nash album. Crosby has always been politically minded and this one is about something that the government or some wider hierarchy is keeping from us. He probably has a similar view about Covid-19. There is a particular breed of conspiracy theorists who will invariably blame their own people, and just saying this virus was produced in a laboratory isn’t enough for them. Nor will they say it was a Chinese or North Korean laboratory. No, they’ll tell you it was American. Among their other bugbears will be religion, but if pressed they will side with Muslims against Christians, purely because their parents were Christians and therefore that must be bad.

Anyway, the song. David Crosby and Stephen Stills came from The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield respectively, both American 1960s bands regarded as cooler than the “British invasion” crew, so it was a surprise when they teamed up with Graham Nash from pop harmony group The Hollies.

At their first get-together, when Nash put his trademark high harmony on what they were singing, Stills says, “Crosby and I just looked at each other.” It was Nash who elevated the band from excellent to incredible, and he and Crosby would be lifelong collaborators.

That first album, which includes 49 Byebyes, Wooden Ships and Marrakesh Express still stands (in my humble opinion) as one of the landmarks of that era, late 60s-early 70s

Lockdown playlist no. 3: I started a joke

Well, somebody somewhere started all this. Whether the virus came from a bat or some other delicacy in a screeching, heaving market in China or as a result of a good scientific education channeled into evil, or if it was all a terrible mistake in a way we can’t yet imagine, somebody started it.

The song is a 1968 release by the Bee Gees and, on the basis that the writer sings the lead, the author was Robin Gibb. As ever with pop music, it doesn’t pay to take the lyrics too seriously; he may or may not have had some apocalyptic event in mind, but more likely  he just came up with the title and made what he could of it.

Lockdown playlist no. 1 Every Day is Like Sunday

This blog has been idle for a couple of years or more – which is a good thing, because it means I’ve had better things to do with my time, such as paid work, rather than just amusing myself here.

But now things have changed and with not a lot to occupy myself, it’s time to revive it, if I can remember how to do it.

So here we go with a suggestion for an appropriate commentary on the times: Morrissey’s Every Day Is Like Sunday.

Quite honestly, I haven’t heard any new Morrissey stuff for 25 years, but there was a time when I played his albums a lot. His solo work was never quite as good as The Smiths because he didn’t have Johnny Marr to bring magic to his words, but he still had that peerless turn of phrase and a mischievous way of misleading you with a title.

I’m thinking about stuff like Our Frank, which is not about a member of his family, but the start of the first line, “Our frank and open deep conversations, they get me nowhere, they just bring me down…”

And then there’s “Driving your girlfriend home”, which suggests nothing out of the ordinary, but the first word turns it on it’s head: “I’m driving your girlfriend home”. That’s a different kettle of fish altogether, although of course given his apparent proclivities, you would have nothing to worry about if it was your girlfriend, apart from the way he handled his Ford Anglia.

And there were fabulous bursts of slice-of life songwriting like Hairdresser on Fire, taking the mickey out of an ultra-camp hairdresser who takes his job very seriously as the custodian of his clients’ appearance and reputation.

Or how about King Leer, which begins:

Your boyfriend he went down on one knee
Well could it be he’s only got one knee?

And talking of titles, who else would write You’re The One For Me, Fatty?

For someone who created his own image as a never-happy person not interested in romantic relationships or sex and refuses to confirm or deny he is gay, He Knows I’d Love To See Him is a pretty good clue that he does, in fact, have feelings just like the rest of us.

I lost sight of him after 1995’s Southpaw Grammar but I’m sure there is a huge volume of gems I have missed.