A regular Tuesday night feature on James O’Loghlin’s 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. I’ve had the opportunity to play the role of the music nerd a couple of times, I’m happy to say, I’ve picked a few interesting themes. I’ll try and list them from memory, but the examples are in no way exhaustive.
- Songs of Youthful Innocence
- ‘Happy Jack’ – The Who
- ‘Games Without Frontiers’ – Peter Gabriel
- ‘Effervescing Elephant’ – Syd Barrett
- ‘Itchycoo Park’ – The Small Faces
- ‘There Is A Happy Land’ – David Bowie
- Songs about Cars and Driving
- ‘Helen Wheels’ – Paul McCartney and Wings
- ‘I’m In Love With My Car’ – Queen
- ‘Roadrunner’ – Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
- ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ – John Lennon’s Rock ’n’ 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
- ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ – Nancy Sinatra
- ‘My Mother Is A Space Cadet’ – Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa
- probably ‘Hallelujah’ – 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 listeners’ feedback, you only need about six songs. But can you even name two off the top of your head?
Here are a few examples: ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; ‘Monkey To Man’ – Elvis Costello and ‘The Monkey’, by Dave Bartholomew, who inspired the Costello song; ‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man’ – The Travelling Wilburys; ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey’ – The Beatles, ‘Funky Gibbon’ – The Goodies; ‘Ape Man’ by The Kinks. And to be honest, I didn’t 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: there’s almost always going to be a Beatles song, a Bowie song and an Elvis Costello song. That’s because they are among my favourite artists, and so their work comes to mind rather easily.
I’ve been asked to provide a segment for Tuesday 26th, and I’m thinking of trying a theme I’ve tried once before, that’s been knocked back on grounds of taste. I’d 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:
- ‘Brain Damage/Eclipse’
- 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 – if you turn the volume all the way up to catch it – with these depressing words: “there is no dark side o’ the moon, really; matter of fact, it’s all dark”.
- I forget who sings the original, although I’m sure I own – or at least listened to a lot with a view to owning, when I was working in a High Fidelity-type record shop – a seven-inch single of the original, repressed on Glenn A Baker’s Raven Records label. I also have the Beasts of Bourbon’s version on their debut album Axeman’s Jazz as well as Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ 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 ‘Southern Gothic’ – 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 Frankenstein’s 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 Bowie’s half-brother Terry, who exerted a lot of influence – as big brothers do — on the developing talents of young David Robert Jones, died a tragic death connected to the mental anquish he suffered. At least, that’s how I understand it, never having spoken about it first hand with Bowie. Yet madness features throughout the Dame’s oeuvre. It’s a hard choice, but I’d easily overlook the textbook ‘All the Madmen’, or ‘Aladdin Sane’ (despite the latter’s gorgeous grand piano, couresy of Mike Garson) – and ‘Jump They Say’ probably doesn’t even come close – for ‘Kooks’, 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 – you can imagine that Bowie wrote it specifically to welcome the birth of son Zowie.
- ‘Beware of Darkness’
- Whenever I listen to this thoughtful number from All Things Must Pass, George Harrison’s 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 ‘Beware of ABKCO’, the company headed by Allen Klein (‘Allen 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. “Watch out now, take care, beware of thoughts that linger…” (except that brilliant Liverpudlian accent renders ‘take care’ and ‘beware’ as ‘take kerr’ and ‘bewerr’…)
- And one of my personal favourites: ‘Uncorrected Personality Traits’
- This is another eccentric little ditty by Robyn Hitchcock, the last of the great British eccentrics. I can’t remember what album it’s from, but it’s certainly a solo effort – 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: “Uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child may prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult.”
Any other suggestions? Feel free to comment.