A regular Tuesday night feature on James OâLoghlinâs evening show on ABC 702 is the presence of a music critic who plays a bunch of songs around a specific theme. Listeners phone in with more suggestions along those lines, and generally chat about music. Iâve had the opportunity to play the role of the music nerd a couple of times, Iâm happy to say, Iâve picked a few interesting themes. Iâll try and list them from memory, but the examples are in no way exhaustive.
- Songs of Youthful Innocence
- âHappy Jackâ â The Who
- âGames Without Frontiersâ â Peter Gabriel
- âEffervescing Elephantâ â Syd Barrett
- âItchycoo Parkâ â The Small Faces
- âThere Is A Happy Landâ â David Bowie
- Songs about Cars and Driving
- âHelen Wheelsâ â Paul McCartney and Wings
- âIâm In Love With My Carâ â Queen
- âRoadrunnerâ âÂ Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
- âYou Canât Catch Meâ â John Lennonâs Rock ânâ Roll cover of Chuck Berry, so I could tell the story of Morris Levy, and how that Jewish mafioso on The Sopranos, Hesh Rabkin, is based on Levy
- Songs by Singers Begat by Other Singers
- âThese Boots Were Made For Walkingâ â Nancy Sinatra
- âMy Mother Is A Space Cadetâ â Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa
- probably âHallelujahâ â Jeff Buckley
You get the idea.
The most interesting one was a bunch of songs about monkeys. Do you think you can fill an hour with songs about monkeys? To be fair, with the news that tops and tails the hour plus chatting and listenersâ feedback, you only need about six songs. But can you even name two off the top of your head?
Here are a few examples: âMickeyâs Monkeyâ â Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; âMonkey To Manâ â Elvis Costello and âThe Monkeyâ, by Dave Bartholomew, who inspired the Costello song; âTweeter and the Monkey Manâ â The Travelling Wilburys; âEverybodyâs Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkeyâ â The Beatles, âFunky Gibbonâ â The Goodies; âApe Manâ by The Kinks. And to be honest, I didnât actually play the last two, so there are actually more than you imagine.
From this brief overview, I admit that there is a broad pattern forming: thereâs almost always going to be a Beatles song, a Bowie song and an Elvis Costello song. Thatâs because they are among my favourite artists, and so their work comes to mind rather easily.
Iâve been asked to provide a segment for Tuesday 26th, and Iâm thinking of trying a theme Iâve tried once before, thatâs been knocked back on grounds of taste. Iâd like to play songs inspired by madness. I think it can be done tastefully, and I think that it is particularly significant at this time, when newspaper headlines are telling us that police are arresting and locking up the mentally ill because sufferers are not being adequately taken care of by the healthcare system. Maybe charity helplines should be advertised between tracks.
I know this is going to be a hard sell, but I think the arts have always been an outlet by creative people exploring the workings of their minds, for better or worse, tastefully or otherwise.
Here are some samples I have come up with:
- âBrain Damage/Eclipseâ
- Apparently Pink Floyd were drawing inspiration from their departed founding member and former lead guitarist Syd Barrett, for whom the mind-altering chemicals became too much. The song is the last on the masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon, a concept album that ends â if you turn the volume all the way up to catch it â with these depressing words: âthere is no dark side oâ the moon, really; matter of fact, itâs all darkâ.
- I forget who sings the original, although Iâm sure I own â or at least listened to a lot with a view to owning, when I was working in a High Fidelity-type record shop â a seven-inch single of the original, repressed on Glenn A Bakerâs Raven Records label. I also have the Beasts of Bourbonâs version on their debut album Axemanâs Jazz as well as Elvis Costello and the Attractionsâ live version from either of the expanded, re-issue versions of Almost Blue. I love the song because it is dark, foreboding and a prime example of a genre known as âSouthern Gothicâ â kind of all that dark Eastern European superstition, taken from the sheer mountaintops of countries tormented by mad barons who turn into vampires or build Frankensteinâs monsters, and relocated to the deep south of the United States.
- David Bowie
- I name the artist rather than the song because this particular artist has so many examples to choose from. It turns out that Bowieâs half-brother Terry, who exerted a lot of influence â as big brothers do â on the developing talents of young David Robert Jones, died a tragic death connected to the mental anquish he suffered. At least, thatâs how I understand it, never having spoken about it first hand with Bowie. Yet madness features throughout the Dameâs oeuvre. Itâs a hard choice, but Iâd easily overlook the textbook âAll the Madmenâ, or âAladdin Saneâ (despite the latterâs gorgeous grand piano, couresy of Mike Garson) â and âJump They Sayâ probably doesnât even come close â for âKooksâ, a delightful little ballad that appears on breakthrough album Hunky Dory. I like it because it is an eccentric ditty welcoming a new child to the eccentric family â you can imagine that Bowie wrote it specifically to welcome the birth of son Zowie.
- âBeware of Darknessâ
- Whenever I listen to this thoughtful number from All Things Must Pass, George Harrisonâs first solo album proper recorded as the Beatles fell apart, I picture him lying awake after one hippie joint too many has sent his mind wandering in circles, not just helplessly, but unhelpfully. Apparently the early draft was called âBeware of ABKCOâ, the company headed by Allen Klein (âAllen and Betty Klein and Co, in fact) who was representing Harrison, Lennon and Starr while Paul McCartney sued for the disolution of the partnership that had been Beatles Ltd. âWatch out now, take care, beware of thoughts that lingerâ¦â (except that brilliant Liverpudlian accent renders âtake careâ and âbewareâ as âtake kerrâ and âbewerrââ¦)
- And one of my personal favourites: âUncorrected Personality Traitsâ
- This is another eccentric little ditty by Robyn Hitchcock, the last of the great British eccentrics. I canât remember what album itâs from, but itâs certainly a solo effort â something that came between the passing of his punk band The Soft Boys and his later band The Egyptians. It deals with more Freudian concepts of unwellness: âUncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child may prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult.â
Any other suggestions? Feel free to comment.