The wisdom of pop songs – Flying

Songs about air travel

If  iTunes or YouTube survive the destruction of mankind, however and whenever that may be, the extraterrestrial historians of the future will be able to use pop songs to study our interests, preoccupations, habits, likes and dislikes. And one of the things they will discover, in addition to the fact that we are obsessed with love, is that human beings could fly. Having studied skeletons, they will conclude that it wasn’t self-powered flight, which must mean a machine was involved.

Going through the list of songs available to them alphabetically, they may stumble across Airport, a mid-70s single by English pub-rockers-turned-new-wavers The Motors.  And they will find that love has got mixed up in it as usual, with the airport being blamed in this instance for taking someone’s loved one away.

“Irrational,” they might conclude, Spock-like, “but then they destroyed their own planet, so what can you expect?”

Labouring through their research – and think how distracting it would be, having a zillion songs to listen to – they might then find Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight (covered, strangely enough, by the raucous rock band Nazareth), in which she is regretting getting on the thing, which a Steve Miller song will tell them was called a Jet Airliner. In this, Miller is talking to the plane, urging it rather pointlessly not to take him too far from home.

To back up the theory that all this travel was not necessarily a good thing would be Leaving On A Jet Plane, most famously by Peter Paul and Mary but written by John Denver. He doesn’t want to be on that plane either. So did these humans have no control over air travel? Did it choose them, rather than the other way around?

The Beatles seemed happy enough on Back in the USSR, though, with screaming jet engines taking them to the former Soviet Union although other research indicated that they came from Liverpool, England.

Should these historians come across the legendary live recording of Woodstock, they might hear Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee introducing a song as I’m Going Home “by helicopter”, and painstaking detective work would reveal that the musicians playing at the 1969 concert got into the traffic-choked farm where it was taking place by air, and that Neil Young was thrilled to be sharing a chopper with the late, lamented Jimi Hendrix.

Travel in all its many forms will be revealed to the researchers by Oleta Adams’s 1991 tearjerker Get Here, soon adopted by worried lovers and spouses of American servicemen and women in the Gulf War, as every mode of transport is evoked as a possible means to bring them safely home. This was written by prolific songwriter Brenda Russell, of Piano in the Dark fame.

Perhaps the only recorded musical artifact that conjures up the dreamy, surreal quality of a long plane journey is 12 Hours of Sunset, in which the maverick English troubadour Roy Harper follows the rays around the world from Los Angeles to London. I will leave it to those of a scientific bent to work out if such a thing is plausible. Suffice it to say that it does capture those long hours when, despite the endless drinks and snacks, your destination never seems to get any closer and all you can do is surrender to the in-flight movies and your iPod.

The only other truly happy plane song is Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon, which, being a pre-space travel number, fails to grasp the fact that a pair of wings and a full tank isn’t going to get you to another planet. Of course, further study shows that the song wasn’t about air travel at all, but merely an elaborate way for a man to make the perennial suggestion to a woman. Or maybe he just loves her.

Step forward Peter Gabriel, whose late-80s hit Sledgehammer offers his girl “an aeroplane flying, if you bring your blue sky back”. As we have seen so many times before, we don’t have to try to make exact, logical sense out of this kind of thing. We get the idea.

Frustration and impatience of the practical variety is the usual atmosphere of these things, as corroborated by Gunga Din, The Byrds’s late 60s tale of returning to L.A. after a disastrous gig in New York.

Sitting backwards on this airplane
Is bound to make me sick
Spend your life on a DC8
And never get to pick

That’s not something you come across often these days, but you still get it on trains.

Moving into the 21st century, B.o.B. featuring Hayley Williams with a bit of help from Eminem brought us Airplane, in which an aspiring rap star is reflecting on the episodic nature of life and how when one mutha doesn’t give him a recording contract he will simply adjust the swivel of his baseball cap and try again. And the plane bit? Oh, he or she (they keep swapping lines) wants to pretend that airplanes were like shooting stars. Why? So they could wish on them, of course. Do try to keep up.

The wisdom of pop songs – Kitchen songs

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

 

Yes, songs about kitchens. You will be surprised.

kitchen 2

I started thinking about this theme while listening to the Lemonheads song, Stove. You know when you get a new album, you might not study it, but just play it a few times to let it grow on you? That’s what happened with this one. The album is called Lovey, and it’s a bit patchy – not in the same league as It’s A Shame About Ray, but features some great songs.

Gradually I found myself singing an emotional line that started “I know I shouldn’t think about it anymore” and it sounded like the usual post-breakup business. But when I looked up the lyrics (because they’re not very clear when you listen), I found this:

The gas man came and took out our electric stove
I helped him carry it

Looking more closely, we learn that the gas man was once a boxer and had a son at UVM (University of Vermont). And they put a new stove in and the old one sits in the corridor, but every time the singer (the peerless Evan Dando) sees it, he gets upset.

All of this is dressed in a scorching fast rhythm that would get me going if it was about, well, a stove.

So, here it is. No video to look at, just a great, quirky rock-pop song.

Kitchen songs in general – and there are a few – are not usually so off-the-wall. There’s the blues classic by Robert Johnson, Come On In My Kitchen, which is a not particularly subtle invitation to join him not in his kitchen, but somewhere else warm and comfortable where he can stir the lady’s passions and probably serve up some special sauce in the end, but it’s all mixed up with somebody else having done him wrong, stolen his girl and he steals her back again. There is a brilliant live version by Steve Miller, revving up a 12-string guitar like you have never heard.

kitchen 4

It’s s similar tale in the Doors’ Soul Kitchen:

Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen
Warm my mind near your gentle stove
Turn me out and I’ll wander baby
Stumblin’ in the neon groves

A typical Jim Morrison stew of imagery, you might say; thought-provoking but nonsensical and with one thing on his mind.

About 10 years ago when Corinne Bailey Rae was the new rising Brit-soul songwriter, before Amy Winehouse crashed the party, she gave us Till It Happens To You, a dreamy song of lost love remembering how : “we used to stay up all night in the kitchen when our love was new”.

Returning briefly to the Lemonheads, their song, Kitchen, tells of how “It all started in the kitchen” without getting at all specific.

kitchen 1

Jona Lewie, post-punk oddity of Stiff Records fame, who has a recurring source of UK income from his Christmas song Stop the Cavalry, also sang  about how you would always find him in the kitchen at parties, which fellow introverts recognise as being a safe zone, away from the expectant hurly burly of the front room with its music and frantic socialising.

Early 90s pop beanpole Martika had a hit with Martika’s Kitchen, another thinly veiled invitation to sample spices and condiments of the human variety. This was written and produced by Prince, in his instantly recognisable 1999-type style.

The strange link between cooking and sex is demonstrated once again by Joni Mitchell in Raised on Robbery, her 1974 hit from the Court and Spark album. This is the story of an unfortunate woman whose husband drank away all their money, leaving her to resort to selling her body.

I’m a pretty good cook
Sitting on my groceries
Come up to my kitchen
And I’ll show you my best recipes

Tongue sandwich, anyone? Insert your own food-based smutty remark here.