Saturday, 12 May 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 143 (Top Five): AAA Telephone Songs For When You're On Hold




I recently sat in a doctor’s waiting room going quietly mad to the strains of one of my pet hates after the other: lousy modern classical singer with no voice – check; Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ – naturally; a bit of Bach to drive me up the wall; some inane 1930s musical number about being happy when you don’t feel like it that I’ve spent 20 years trying to forget and Judy Garland. If I hadn’t felt ill before I went in (and I did) then I certainly felt ill by the time I got out. It’s a similar problem holding the line when you’re on the phone to a big company – the music they play the other is always loud and always awful and yet there’s not a thing you can do about it (I’ve tried callback – it once called me back three days later and once never called back at all); you’re stuck there, a captive audience listening to ‘Greensleeves’ or flipping ‘The 4 Seasons’ again. Probably played at the wrong speed because no one from respective company has ever actually sat down to listen to the moronic music they play. You’re all busy boss people I’m sure, making sure your business turns over a tasty profit while you split your time between your tax haven in the South of France, your yacht in the Bermuda Islands and your ski-ing holiday in the Swiss Alps, so I’ve done the job for you. Here are five pertinent songs about phone-calls from the annals of the AAA that do the job much better than The Four Seasons ever could. Although admittedly your customers might complain about their pleasant waiting time being interrupted by someone actually bothering to answer the phone. And the Neil Young live version of ‘Greensleeves’ is a shoe-in for the list just for completists’ sake if he ever gets around to officially releasing it!

5) Allan Clarke ‘Why Don’t You Call?’ (B-side 1975)

‘Oh [insert company here] do you know how I feel? Can’t you see the changes you’re making in me? Oh [ditto] do you know how I feel? I need you to answer me – why don’t you call?’ Yep, with only a little bit of editing this fine B-side by the lead singer of The Hollies nails the stuck-on-the-phone-and-my-hand’s-going-dead frustration pretty darn well. In the song, of course, the narrator is waiting for some two-timing twisted egocentric prima donna to think about someone else for five minutes and do the decent thing and get in touch. A similar thing happened to me the last time I tried to phone the jobcentre.

4) The Kinks ‘Party Line’ (‘Face To Face’ 1966)

‘Hello, who is that speaking, please?’ How much better would the waiting get if you had to listen not to some godawful cat-gut violins being sawn across a plank of wood (that’s a violin to you) but this happy-go-lucky and very-60s song about picking up the telephone and dialling random numbers in the hope of getting a date for the night. This classic romp is all about the mystery involved (‘Is she big? Is she small? Is she a she at all?’) which perfectly mirrors the way you’ll probably be fobbed off and passed to another department in record time anyway. Listen out for Dave Davies ending the song with a comment that, after all that fun and games, he’s annoyed when someone does the same to him and calls him up – saying that he won’t be ‘voting in the next election’ until someone sorts it out. Hmm, it’s probably the Government on the other end tapping your phone these days anyway... Still, it would liven up the wait a bit more than ‘Greensleeves’ would, eh?

3) Grateful Dead ‘Operator’ (‘American Beauty’ 1970)

‘Operator, can you help me, help if you please? Give me the right area code and the number that I need!’ How polite, how genteel, how completely unlike anything any big company you’re attempting to contact is likely to say to you. How unlike anything you’re expecting the Grateful Dead to say too, but then this Dead song is quite unlike anything else in their canon. A rare song by Pigpen, this is a simple song about the narrator needing a girl’s number he’s gone and lost, unusually with the blues turned down low. The part that’ll start ringing bells is that, despite speaking for a good four minutes, he seems to be getting nowhere with the unhelpful operator (despite playing a great harmonica break to help the narrator get his point across) and if you’re American the lines ‘Utah don’t have it, central plain forgot it’ will probably ring a few bells. Telephone bells, anyway.

2) 10cc “Don’t Hang Up’ (‘How Dare You!’ 1976)

‘Hello there, how have you been? I’ve called a million times and to me you’re never in!’ How spot-on is that phrase? Clearly 10cc had had to do an awful lot of holding the line during this period (note too the song ‘a telephone line’s like a lifeline’ from this album’s follow-up ‘Bloody Tourists’, a song far too polite for this list!) ow true is that phraqse – 10cc had clearly needed to One long great six-minute pun on a telephone call as a metaphor for a marriage, this is 10cc at the peak of their powers and sad as it is sure to bring a smile to the lips of more than one customer getting hot under the collar at having to wait on the phone so long. After all, what other song out there contains the line ‘and when the viol-au-vans exploded...’ Of course, at the end, just when the narrator seems to be getting somewhere and his life is going to turn around he accidentally gets cut off just as he’s singing the title line – an all too familiar result of being on the end of a phone line I’m sure you’ll agree. Ooh, they’ve all got a lot to learn. And they’re a shoe-in for winning the no-nobel prize. I know I never had the style or dash of Errol Flynn, but that’s no reason not to answer the flipping phone, people!

1) Rolling Stones ‘I Am Waiting’ (‘Aftermath’ 1966)

‘I am waiting, I am waiting, oh yeah, oh yeah, for someone to come out of somewhere, you can’t hold out, you can’t hold out, oh yeah oh yeah, for someone to come out of somewhere...’ and answer the blooming phone. Now the song I really do sing when I’m on the phone and want to get Greensleeves out of my head. This is sweet little song, one of the first Jagger and Richards ever wrote together and for my money one of the best things to come off their over-rated ‘Aftermath’ album. It’s actually about a lover waiting for his girlfriend, but as you can see from the lyrics could easily be about waiting at the end of a very slow-moving telephone queue. It’s also very clever the way the song goes from section to the other seamlessly and actually would make quite a good loop given that the fade and the into sound very similar. In other words, it’s perfect for companies that loop songs several times other that just won’t go – honestly, the worst thing about waiting on the phone is the God-awful edits. Sure I want to murder the guy playing ‘The 4 Seasons’ very badly, but even I’d wait until the end of the movement to strangle him! This song would save on those problems and be a darn sight more enjoyable to boot.

So there! Companies of the world, Alan’s Album Archives has spoken! Being on the phone is tiring enough as it is – let’s not make it any worse! But even if no one listens to me, at least we know better don’t we, dear reader, and you’ll be able to think about this lost the next you’re kept on hold and laugh. Just make sure you’re not still laughing when they finally do answer or they’ll end up putting the phone down. See you next week for more music-related life-aggravated fun and games.


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