The wisdom of pop songs – The nature of love

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

It’s all very well the world’s songwriters basing their work on being in love, but there is a rather basic matter to be sorted out beforehand. To quote Howard Jones, “What is lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ove anyway?” We can disregard the next bit, “Does anybody love anybody anyway?” because it’s a nice line and he had a song to finish.

But the first part is a question that has been asked many times, from Foreigner’s whingeing “I want to know what love is” to Haddaway’s Trinidadian-German inquiry that comes just before “Baby don’t hurt me”.

So we know that whatever love is, it’s potentially hazardous.

Michael Jackson pointed out the difference between falling in love and being in love on his 1979 album Off The Wall. He can’t take any credit for such an incisive thought, though, because It’s The Falling In Love was written by Carol Bayer Sayer and David Foster.  Bayer Sager was well qualified to express an opinion, having been married to a record producer, had a relationship with the composer Marvin Hamlisch and spent most of the 1980s married to Burt Bacharach before ending up with a former chairman of Warner Brothers. She’s a pretty nifty lyricist – or knows people who are – as we can see by her quirky solo hit You’re Moving Out Today, co-written by Bette Midler and Bruce Roberts. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t it infuriating when you can’t tell who did what?

Meanwhile, back at the concept, what is love? Is it that intense longing that comes at the start or is that just a form of lust and therefore doesn’t count? It’s certainly a confusing element, as the Partridge Family’s David Cassidy  demonstrated via I Think I Love You. You think? You only think? Come back when you’re sure. In fact the singer is not trying to make progress into a girl’s clothing by this  cautious expression of emotion: he’s afraid of suffering “a love there is no cure for”. Or rather the songwriter Tony Romeo was. That was his big moment, although he wrote other hits including Lou Christie’s I’m Gonna Make You Mine.

The Detroit Spinners didn’t seem to be afraid in their 1973 hit Could It Be I’m Falling In Love, written by Melvin and Mervin Steals (unless someone is winding me up about those names). They were just The Spinners in their native America, but in the UK we had a famous folk group of that name, so they were obliged to amend theirs.

Falling in love is the easy bit, as anyone who has been around that particular block knows. Falling in love only takes a minute, to quote Tavares before the disgraced English pop jack-of-all-trades Jonathan King grabbed himself a local hit with his own version.

In 1967 Diana Ross and the Supremes had given voice to Holland-Dozier-Holland’s (keep falling) In and Out of Love, a sort of sung expression of the old saying that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.

It’s sustaining it that’s the hard part, staying in love while life goes on around you, and the young can’t write about that because they haven’t experienced it yet. Therefore it falls to a slightly older crowd to bring it to us. Country music is a good source of such ageing wisdom, as evidenced by Shania Twain’s 1997 crossover hit You’re Still The One, co-written by her husband and producer Mutt Lange. Sadly, he is probably not still the one in real life, because he screwed the whole thing up by having an affair with Twain’s best friend and they divorced in 2010.

Billie Jo Spears spoke for a generation of still-in-love and still lusty women with 1975’s Blanket on the Ground, in which she proposes sacrificing a some of her precious  bedding to have a nostalgic romp in the dirt with her husband. Didn’t they have sleeping bags in her one-horse town?

A very different take on the subject comes from Jamaican singer-producer Sean Paul, who is breathtakingly frank when he tells his lover:

Blessings loving from the start but you know we had to part
That’s the way I give my love
I’m still in love with you
But a man gotta do what a man gotta do

And he’s not talking about having to go off to war or some other mitigating circumstance. It’s a track from his second album Dutty Rock, dutty being the Caribbean form of dirty.

But we can’t leave the subject on that note, so let’s turn to Al Green, with his typically chirpy Still in Love With You and Thin Lizzy with a very different song of the same name.

This love business is a marathon, not a sprint.





Michael Jackson, Buzz Aldrin and purple cauliflowers

Centuries ago the world was not ‘crazy’ and ‘exciting’ like it is now.

People went about their business with few of our modern concerns. They didn’t have electricity bills to pay because there was no electricity. The sky was black at night because that was how God designed it, and man hadn’t invented street lighting to alter it.

The earth was flat and the only problem with that was that if you lived close to the edge and your son kicked his football over the garden wall, he was never going to get it back.

You grew your own vegetables and you knew where you were in that respect. Peas were green, corn was yellow and cauliflowers were a sort of cream colour.

Come on, now, eat your greens, errr, purples

Yet recently, in the distinctly uncosmopolitan environs of a suburban supermarket, they were selling purple ones. Not a cauliflower with a slight purple tinge but a gaudy, where-did-I-put-my-sunglasses hue more often seen in cheap sugary drinks.

What, you have to ask yourself, is happening? Is it April Fools Day already, because the government has moved it to another date just for a laugh?

But no, it’s these wacky times we live in.

Apparently these caulis are not injected with dye. They’re just bred that way, the producers insist, and you can also get them in orange and green.

All is clearly not what it seems.

Research reveals – and those distant ancestors on the flat earth might not be surprised to hear this – that until the 17th century most carrots were white, yellow or purple. The orange pigment was added by Dutch plant breeders looking for a way to celebrate Holland’s royal family, whose traditional colour it is.

It’s like deciding that, although the earth is perfectly okay as a globe, we’re going to flatten it anyway. Why? Because we can.

But it’s the sort of thing that can upset delicate souls. We need consistency, reliability, facts that cannot be changed. Otherwise, what is a fact?

If a cauliflower doesn’t look like a cauliflower in a no-nonsense, down-to-earth town, how are we ever going to believe anything again?

As it is, things have crept into our lives that we laymen can’t explain, but just have to take as read.

Electricity, for instance. You can’t see it, smell it, taste it or hear it. It doesn’t dribble out of the sockets when there is nothing plugged in. By such simple criteria, it can’t exist.

Almost 50 years after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, there are still people who say he didn’t – that it was all a set-up, an elaborate hoax. That theory gained credibility when an unmanned Chinese vessel landed and found no trace of an American presence. No Coke cans, no KFC buckets, no ripped condom sachets, nothing.

Hey Buzz: somebody’s nicked your cauliflower

But hang on a minute. Isn’t it expecting a bit much for the stub of Armstrong’s cigar to last half a century? Even if he’d written ‘N.A. woz here’ in the dust, that would have blown away by the time he was back in his seat and the cabin crew had brought round the tea and biscuits.

There is a school of thought that the Chinese mission was equally bogus anyway. They weren’t really up there at all. They filmed it in that suspiciously big car park round the back of the Lotus Garden takeaway.

We all supposedly benefit from innovations developed by NASA scientists. Teflon, for instance. What were they doing? Trying to save room by not having to take a bowl, a scouring pad and some washing up liquid into space? And non-stick pans don’t really work, anyway.

And then there are pens that write upside down or underwater. Thanks a lot, guys, but a cure for cancer would be nice. Most of your gimmicks end up on American TV shopping channels and in catalogues of stuff nobody really wants.

So who is to say the purple cauliflower wasn’t deliberately created so scientists could monitor the progress of your meals through your digestive system? ‘Err, Houston, we have a problem, Colonel Aldrin’s dinner is coming back up.’

The flow of brilliant ideas seems to have slowed since the US found different ways of wasting billions of dollars. Possibly the most recent application,– and this has never been officially confirmed – was the technology that enabled Michael Jackson to change from black to white. After all, if it was such a good idea, why aren’t there repigmenting salons in every high street?

Yes, I know I look unhealthy. I’m a trendsetter.

‘Morning, Shanice. I’ve got a Chinese New Year party this weekend, so I’m going to go for the rather pasty, slightly spotty chef look. I’ve already got the jeans that don’t fit and I’m doing the terrible haircut myself. So turn the colour machine down to minus 5 and let’s get authentic.’