Monday, 24 January 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 88: Home Towns In Song

Lindisfarne’s song about their home town ‘doon the Tyne’ set me thinking – how many other AAA bands have written about their home town – or adopted home town – in song? Now, this is a pretty big subject and takes in all corners of the globe (though no prizes for guessing that the UK and USA dominate the list as we have it here) so I’ll bet I’ve missed some AAA songs out along the way – let me know on the forum if you can think of any. For now, though, here, in order, of popularity is this week’s top five of the most mentioned home towns in AAA music (and I’ll be dead impressed if you guess which city/town/region/state comes first – I didn’t see that coming!):

5) London (four mentions): Homeland of The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, although surprisingly perhaps only the former have mentioned it in song. ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is the track that everybody knows, an eerie atmospheric ballad about two lovers that – as Ray admitted on the Imagine documentary over Christmas – was a private song he nearly didn’t release because he didn’t think anybody else would relate to it (the actual inspiration comes from a childhood illness that saw Ray in hospital, with a large window looking out onto the bridge his only companion for several days). There are two other Kinks-related song dedicated to London – ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ a countryish account of the district where the Davies brothers grew up (the band even appear in their local Muswell Hill pub on the cover) and ‘London Song’, Ray’s eccentric rock song about what it means to be a Londoner, born in the ‘cold, dark, mysterious place’ ‘between the four bells’ which can be heard in two very different arrangements on his live album ‘The Storyteller’. Paul McCartney and Wings, meanwhile, dedicate both a song and an album to ‘London Town’ (where ‘silver rain was falling down’) – something that must have come as a bit of a shock to his record company, as the album was recorded for the most part on two boats in the Bahamas!

4) California (four mentions): Homeland of The Beach Boys, who have of course mentioned it several times in song. ‘California Girls’ is the most famous, a song full of tribute to how the local girls are the prettiest anywhere in the world and a cover of close friends The Mamas and The Papas’ ‘California Dreamin’ is just as well known if not in this version (look out for the Beach Boys comp ‘Summer Dreams’ if you don’t already own it). However, a mention too for the band’s last great paen to their homeland – the three-part ‘California Saga’ from the album named, erm, ‘Holland’ of all things, which is dedicated to the multi-century history of the American state and how it was formed ‘from the beaks of eagles’ (or something like that – Mike Love’s monologue in the middle section usually puts me to sleep!) Finally, Brian Wilson has returned at last to the ‘California’ theme for his last album of original material ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ with a moving ‘Southern California’ ending his most autobiographical album to date with an emotional tale of getting back to your roots.

3) New York (four mentions): The adopted homeland of Simon and Garfunkel, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, among others. The latter pair even made an album called ‘Sometime In New York City’, but for the purposes of this review we’re sticking to just the songs. ‘Midsummer New York’ is a little-heard Yoko rocker about the town she moved to in her late teens, long before she met Lennon, and is filled with a raw edgyness and angst that works well with the retro backing. Simon and Garfunkel, meanwhile, made two songs about their nearest home town as well as two famous concerts in Central Park, announced as a ‘neighbourhood concert’ by the singers on stage. ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ is Paul Simon alone, tying up the loose ends on the final S+G album ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and wondering where his partner has gone (he’s actually filming for the movie ‘Catch 22’), bemoaning the fact he has no one to relate to and is now ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ (before you ask, Art is ‘Tom’ in the song – the pseudonym Garfunkel used in the pair’s earliest days as ‘Tom and Jerry’). Art solo, meanwhile, covered the Gallagher and Lyle song ‘A Heart In New York’ (on the album ‘Scissors Cut’ , 1981), a song of awe about the narrator’s surroundings on his first visit to the city. For a different view of New York, see 10cc’s pairing Godley and Creme lampooning what they see as the falseness and artificiality of the place on ‘An Englishman In New York’, where a tourist is badly out of his depth in a world of kitsch and people trying to pinch his money. I’m still waiting for a reply to this song spoofing 10cc’s home town: ‘An American in Stockport’! And remember, those ‘I Love NY’ t-shirts you keep saying are really worn by AAA fans declaring their love for Neil Young!

2) Liverpool (four mentions): Home town to the Beatles, obviously, as well as The Searchers, with mentions in song by three separate Beatles plus a song by our old friends Lindisfarne about the town they christened their ‘second favourite’ after Newcastle! The obvious Beatles song is, of course, ‘Penny Lane’, a typical McCartney song that might have a story in there somewhere but probably doesn’t, all held together with a wonderfully nostalgic tune that keeps walking it’s owner straight back to the starting point. John Lennon, meanwhile added Liverpool to his song for Yoko ‘You Are Here’ from the ‘Mind Games’ album, with the lovely line about how far the pair have come ‘From Liverpool to Tokyo – what a way to go!’ Ringo, meanwhile, is downright grumpy on his song ‘The Other Side Of Liverpool’ from 2010’s ‘Y Not?’, putting the backs of the people of his home town up yet again with the line ‘Liverpool is cold and damp – the only way out of there, drums, guitar and amp’ (I live near Liverpool and the animosity towards Ringo’s last two albums in the shops for his comments – where I was actually growled at by one shop assistant for daring to buy this album – is huge and fierce still). Lindisfarne’s mournful ‘100 Miles To Liverpool’ from their otherwise disastrous ‘Dance Your Life Away’ album, meanwhile, finds a tired and bored band embarking on a bus for their latest gig – only to meet with two Scouse long-term fans along the way and feeling inspired all over again. Aah.

1) Los Angeles (five mentions): Surprisingly Los Angeles (or L.A. as its most commonly referred to in song) wins by a nose – even though none of the AAA bands actually come from there! First up is The Beach Boys’ ‘LA Light Album’ (where light refers to ‘the awareness and presence of God, here in this world, as an ongoing, loving reality’ according to the sleeve-notes in case you were wondering!) Next is Art Garfunkel’s second song of Americana balladry ’99 Miles From L.A.’ (from our AAA classic album ‘Breakaway’ 1975), with the narrator desperate to get home. The Grateful Dead, meanwhile – the closest to an AAA band from LA although in truth they’re scattered from all over the place – went for the eerie ‘West L.A. Fadeaway’ on their 1987 ‘comeback’ ‘In The Dark’, with Jerry Garcia’s narrator looking for his hotel room and realising they all look the same. 10cc have plumped for hilarity again, sending up a town, on ‘L.A. Inflatable’ (from the album ‘Look, Hear’) where nothing is as it seems and everything is false. Finally, ending this list is Neil Young’s song from ‘Time Fades Away’, simply titled ‘L.A.’, which has veers from being eerie to being the sweetest song on a troubled album – ‘don’t you wish that you could be here too?’ indeed.

Towns and cities just bubbling under include: Paris (The Grateful Dead visit it, Stephen Stills spends midnight there and 10cc the whole of ‘eun nuit’) Mexico (Jefferson Airplane enjoy the ‘smoke’ during a drugs raid and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson names a breezy instrumental after the country), Cambridge (various Pink Floyd songs about Grantchester Meadows and Fat Old Suns), Kansas (as in Beatles cover ‘Kansas City’ and Cat Stevens’ Kanasas City Nightmare’), Amsterdam/ Holland (The Beach Boys name an album after the former and Jack The Lad a song after the latter), Tokyo (10cc sing it’s praises and Denny Laine the bad luck there when colleague Paul McCartney suffers a drugs bust there), there’s three visits to Hollywood with The Byrds (when Mae Jean goes to visit, whoever she may be), The Monkees (who simply name a song ‘Hollywood’ for no good reason) and 10cc (who are there ‘somewhere’!) and finally, how we could go without mentioning Cleveland just once? (The sheer hatred of the place from various Jefferson Starship songs – and as the possible inspiration for The Kinks’ ‘Welcome To Sleazy Town’ – makes me determined never to set foot there!)

Well, that’s it for another issue – wherever you live, wherever you’re reading this, we’ll see you next time!

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