The Songwriters – The 60s English mob

 

We stray now into territory that is not cool, except to those who simply like the songs and don’t acknowledge the difference between natural sugar and artificial sweeteners.

The pop charts of the 60s – in the UK, at least – required liberal supplies of songs that are sometimes referred to as “disposable”. The writers were never going to be given much credit by the cognoscenti, but they would sell millions of singles and make sums of money that “serious” artistes could only dream of as they drove their Ford Transits up and down the country in search of a place in history.

I’m talking here about people like Roger Cook & Roger Greenaway, Tony Macaulay, Geoff Stephens, Les Reed & Barry Mason –people with a big house in the country but who, when you deliver a pizza to them and they tell you they made their pile as songwriters, are hurt but not surprised when you say you’ve never heard of them.

Take Cook and Greenaway: You’ve Got Your Troubles by The Fortunes, I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman by Whistling Jack Smith, Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Gene Pitney), Melting Pot (Blue Mink) and I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (New Seekers) are just five of dozens of songs that blared through transistor radios and put singers’ faces on bedroom walls while everyone was officially  worshiping The Beatles and The Stones.

Macaulay gave us Baby Make It Soon (Marmalade), Build Me Up Buttercup (The Foundations), Don’t Give Up On Us and Silver Lady (David Soul), Lights Of Cincinatti (co-written with Stephens, sung by Scott Walker) and Sorry Suzanne (The Hollies).

Geoff Stephens created  The Crying Game (Dave Berry, Boy George and a film), Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast (Elvis Presley), There’s A Kind Of Hush (Herman’s Hermits, The Carpenters), Winchester Cathedral (The New Vaudeville Band) and You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me (with Macaulay, sung by The New Seekers)

Reed and Mason came up with Delilah (Tom Jones, Alex Harvey Band), Here It Comes Again (The Fortunes), Les Bicyclettes De Belsize (Engelbert Humperdinck), Supergirl (Graham Bonney) and Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes (Edison Lighthouse).

Masterpieces? Compared with Yesterday or Ruby Tuesday, perhaps not. But Winchester Cathedral demonstrated considerable imagination and the courage to attempt a chart hit from a very different direction, while Melting Pot was pretty cool, with a bit of social commentary (and Cook was a member of Blue Mink). Delilah is a great one for any clown with a guitar to bash out at a party (I’ve done it myself, hungover one Boxing Day in Venezuela – they all knew it and loved it).  I’d Like to Teach The World To Sing was enormously successful in the advertising world in its guise as I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke.

It doesn’t require too much of a stretch of the imagination to see any of these as footnotes in the Paul McCartney songbook.

Some of these guys have a further claim to fame: Cook had a lot of success as a writer and singer on the US country scene and Macaulay made his mark in American musical theatre, for instance.

I thought long and hard before lumping them all into one post and a slightly different category from those more commonly regarded as greats, but no disrespect: I wouldn’t mind having their track record  – and a fraction of their royalties.

Advertisements

The wisdom of pop songs – Sex

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
tina
Rock you, Tina? I hope you mean what I think you mean

Sex. The very essence of rock, pop, soul and r’n’b music. Along with its more reserved sister, Love, it accounts for approximately 99.9% of all song lyrics.

The only problem facing people who want to write and sing about the oldest preoccupation is that to be explicit is to invite trouble, criticism, being banned and so on, which may or may not have an adverse effect on sales.

This, along with the usual need to rhyme, and the equally restrictive need to keep it simple, has resulted in certain innocent words being misused and eventually misconstrued.

Exhibit A: charms. The evidence against this is due entirely to its so often keeping company with the word arms, itself a harmless enough item except for its involvement in romantic clinches leading to intimacy.

Thus in the 1960s tale of a straying husband, 24 Hours from Tulsa, Gene Pitney tell us
All of a sudden I lost control as I held her charms
And I caressed her, kissed her
Told her I’d die before I would let her out of my arms

You held her ‘charms’ did you, Mr Pitney? And where were these ‘charms’ located? On her chest? Or at the top of her legs at the back?

The very term rock’n’roll is itself a reference to the sorts of motions made by those engaged in making love.

And talking of making love, is love really what people are talking about when they say that? It’s a euphemism that has made its way into the spoken word.

When Bad Company sang Feel Like Making Love, they weren’t suggesting merely saying a few romantic words in their lover’s ear, and nor was Roberta Flack in her very different song with the same title.

etta
Put them away, Etta. We get the idea

In the UK, Frankie Goes To Hollywood had their hit single Relax banned when people listened closely to the lyrics, as did Max Romeo with his ska smash Wet Dream.

At the beginning of her career Donna Summer made a fortune as much out of moaning and groaning suggestively as actually singing, while a few years later Olivia Newton John attempted to lose her nice-girl image by recording Let’s Get Physical, although many listeners were not convinced. She persevered by asking ‘will a little more love make you stop defending?’ when what she was really asking was if she would find her way into his heart by letting him have his wicked way with her again.

Notice how the ones sung by girls seem more brazen than the guys’ Neanderthal posturing. 1980s mini-star Charlene gave us I’ve Never Been to Me, in which she confides

I’ve been undressed by kings
And I’ve seen some things
That a woman’s not supposed to see

Oo err, girl, steady on.

Grace Jones, too fearsome a character for most men to make a pass at, took matters into her own hands with Pull Up to the Bumper, which had little to do with squeezing into a parking space. ‘In your long black limousine’, indeed.

grace
Where I come from you have a cigarette afterwards, not during

While so many songs of the past few years, particularly in the hiphop genre, are astonishingly sexist, with the bad muthas singing about ho’s and what they’re going to do to them, the world champion of the dirty lyric has to be the female rapper Khia, who came to prominence/notoriety in 2002 with My Neck My Back. The hit was with a cleaned-up version, but even on the raunchy original, she attempts to throw us off the track by mouthing different words on the video. While one person’s sexual interests are entirely their own business and the practices advocated in this song should not be condemned, you will have to look it up yourself, alone, preferably using headphones to protect the innocent. Or don’t.

So impressed was Miley Cyrus, Newton-John-like in her determination to redefine herself, that the former Hanna Montana recorded her own version of the song.

olivia
Give it a rest, Olivia – you’re just embarrassing yourself

It wasn’t an entirely original thought – is there anything that hasn’t been sung about before? In 1995 a UK indie duo called Scarlet had a hit with Independent Love Song, although its censor-evading urging to ‘go down, go down’ seems positively mild compared to what Khia and Miley are suggesting.

One can’t help wondering if, 20 years later, the Scarlet girls are living quietly in suburban obscurity, taking their own daughters to school and glossing over their brief brush with fame. After all, every generation of teenagers think they have exclusive rights to sex and it’s okay if they do it, but their parents?

God, Mum. You keep quiet about that or I’ll die.