The Songwriters – Graham Lyle

Graham Lyle (left) with Benny Gallagher

No, I’m no forgetting Benny Gallagher, his long-time partner from the early days, but Graham Lyle’s career extended beyond the Gallagher and Lyle brand and into heady chart territory in the US.

But first, the first bit. He’s Scottish, Graham Lyle. Part of a general group of musicians and singers who, it seemed almost reluctantly, insinuated themselves into the British music scene in the 60s and 70s – Gerry Rafferty, Billy Connolly et al. Gallagher and Lyle had gone the usual route of local bands before getting down to London in the mid-late Sixties, being spotted by The Beatles’ Apple Corps and doing some writing for Mary Hopkin.

Then they found themselves part of McGuinness Flint, named after bass player Tom McGuinness (Manfred Mann) and drummer Hughie Flint (John Mayall). The Scots songsmiths provided the hit singles When I’m Dead and Gone and Malt And Barley Blues.

In the mid Seventies Gallagher and Lyle went duo and sold plenty of copies of I Wanna Stay With You and Heart On My Sleeve. They were mining a seam on the very border where rock and folk met middle of the road, so leftover neo-hippies (such as myself) found their stuff acceptably cool while Radio Two and your Mum thought they were quite pleasant too.

The album that contained those hits was Breakaway, the title track of which became a hit for Art Garfunkel, while Bryan Ferry enjoyed success with Heart On My Sleeve.

Just as the world seemed to be opening up for the duo as writers, while Lyle embraced the US music scene, Gallagher faded from the scene and was missing in action during the 80s, before reemerging with The Manfreds in the 90s. When his tenure with them came to an end he became a fixture on the Scottish  folk club circuit as a singer-songwriter, and there he has remained, also playing at festivals, teaching songwriting and being instrumental in a charitable organization aimed at helping songwriters to gain their due share of royalties.

Lyle, though, took a very different path. Often writing with fellow Brit Terry Britten, he became one of the most sought-after writers in the US. What’s Love Got To Do With It was a major factor in Tina Turner’s 80s rebirth, and he also co-wrote I Don’t Wanna Lose You and We Don’t Need Another Hero for her. He had a song on a Michael Jackson album and has been recorded by Ray Charles (Rock’n’roll Shoes), Diana Ross (Change of Heart), Etta James (Hold Me Just A Little Longer Tonight), Patti Labelle, Anita Baker and Joe Cocker. It’s not all hit singles and famous songs, but ask a vintage musician in L.A. who Graham Lyle is and chances are they will know.

And that is success. Hits are the icing on the cake.

Country music number ones also appear on his CV, with Don Williams, The Judds and Crystal Gayle among the beneficiaries, and in the UK he found late success with Conner Reeves (My Father’s Son and Earthbound, both 1997).

In recent years Lyle has teamed up again with Gallagher, revisiting the material that shaped both of their lives.

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The Songwriters – Rod Temperton

Songwriters could be  considered among the back-room boys of the hit single. They don’t have to have an image, they don’t have to be cool, they just need to have the gift of plucking words and tunes out of the air, or putting on paper and recording musical ideas that come into their brain from who knows where. Which is a long-winded way of saying Rod Temperton was an unlikely-looking figure in the glamorous world of pop music.

Temperton’s songs, though, were as cool and funky as a summer’s day in a sharp suit.

The first fruits of Temperton’s talent came with Heatwave, the UK-based multinational funk band that spread quality pop over the 70s and early 80s, and they announced themselves with a solid gold Temperton composition, Boogie Nights, which should be put in one of those time capsules for future generations or aliens to discover. From the second it bursts out of the swirly introduction it sums up the world of disco with an irresistible dance groove and the vocals singing the title in imitation of the guitarist’s riff. It’s not just hip, it’s happy, and it set the mood for much of the writer’s work, which brims with the enjoyment of life.

Although Temperton didn’t write  all of Heatwave’s material, he did contribute two more of their best, in the tear-inducing love song Always and Forever and a sort of Boogie Nights mark II: The Groove Line.

The sheer quality caught the attention of producer Quincy Jones, and soon enough Temperton was writing songs for Michael Jackson. And not just album tracks, but some of the wayward entertainer’s biggest hits, like Rock With You, Off The Wall and Thriller. Again, the sheer exuberance of the songs provides the energy, with singer and producer just needing to do their bit.

The Jackson connection brought the name of Rod Temperton well and truly into the limelight, and commissions rolled in: Stomp for The Brothers Johnson, Give Me The Night and Love x Love for George Benson, Baby Come To Me for Patti Austin and James Ingram and Love Is In Control for Donna Summer.

James Ingram and Michael McDonald had a big hit with Yah Mo Be There, in which Temperton had a hand along with Ingram, McDonald and Quincy Jones.

Songwriting royalty, then: that’s Rod Temperton, who died in 2016 after what seems like a whirlwind 40 years as a conduit of beautiful, life-affirming songs.

 

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.

cauli
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.

aldrin
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?

jackson
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.’