Monday, 22 October 2012

AAA Songs About Children Being Born (News, Views and Music Issue 167 Top Ten)

Having a family does funny things to some musicians, as we’ve already seen in this week’s review (surely the only AAA album actually written around the birth of a child). It can bring out the best, most nurturing instincts – or the worst. What’s interesting is how many of the songs on this list are written by supposedly tough guy types later in life (John Lennon, Liam Gallagher), showing a soft and sensitive side of their songwriting not often hitherto unknown. Others (like Paul McCartney and Graham Nash) are so well regarded for their songs about family and sometimes schmaltzy reputations as songwriters that its surprising they had to wait such a long time to make this list (Graham was 37 when his first child was born; Macca was much younger at 29 but still waited till he was 48 before releasing the results). Some are songs written specifically for a much loved child, others are about lulling their children off to sleep and keeping them safe, some are spoofs of the ridiculous past-times of parenthood and yet others are more about the parent than child. Out of interest, note how all the examples on this list are dads not mums – we’ve already covered Grace Slick on the album above but she’s the only AAA example to write about her children to date. There’s actually quite a few other entries we could have added to this list (the Moodies in particular seem to have a thing about writing for their children), so we’ve restricted entries to one per artist and listed them in chronological order:

“Lullaby For Tim” (The Hollies, ‘Evolution’ 1967)

For years I assumed this tender ballad with psychedelic effects was a Graham Nash song given that its Nash whose singing, but no – Graham won’t have any children for a further 12 years from now. Instead its lead singer Allan Clarke who penned this lovely ballad for his newborn son Timothy and I should have guessed because it features many of the symbols Clarkey used often on his solo albums (childhood heroes and mythical landscapes – see the ‘Legendary Heroes’ album in particular). Encouraging his child to use his imagination more, along the way the narrator nudges his boy into believing he can achieve anything in any character. A lovely tune and some intriguing lyrics are sadly undone by the rather gimmicky psychedelia used to frame the song, though, which instead of being warm and tender make Graham Nash sound as if he’s singing through an alien coffee blender.

“Emily’s Song” (The Moody Blues, ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ 1969)

Emily Lodge was a year old when her bassist father wrote her this lovely lullaby, which appeared on the band’s sixth album in 1971. Unable to speak to her directly or have a two-way conversation with his daughter, the narrator imagines that they understand one another anyway. Admitting to her that recently he felt ‘alone’ but that she ‘opened my eyes’ and all but pleads to belong in her childish world where life is amazing and nothing is taken for granted. The song ends with the very Moodies thought that her book of fairy tales ‘open up the book of pages in my mind’, reminding him of the view of life he used to hold before boring adult stuff got in the way. Sung as a lullaby, the song has a lovely tune but perhaps a little too much of a cloying arrangement, complete with soppy strings and what sounds like a toy music box.
“St Judy’s Comet” (Paul Simon, ‘There Goes Rhymin’ Simon’ 1972)
Harper Simon was still a babe in arms when this thoughtful ballad was penned by his father in a desperate attempt to get him to go to sleep. Possibly the best song on this list, you can feel Paul’s affection for his first born flooding out with this song’s beautiful melody and words which find the narrator trying to lull his baby off to sleep by showing him a comet outside the window (named after a drummer Paul admired named Robert St Judy). There’s even a lovely line about how ‘if I can’t sing my boy to sleep it makes your famous daddy look so dumb!’ (as Paul recounted later, babies fall to sleep when they feel like it and not when you’re singing songs to them!) Harper, now 40, is well known to S+G fans as both a singer-songwriter in his own right (his self-titled debut album came out in 1979) and for references in his father’s other works, the film ‘One Trick Pony’ (in which an eight year old Harper plays the son of Paul’s alter ego Jonah) and ‘Graceland’ (in which Harper is ‘the child of my first marriage’).

“For The Bairns” (Alan Hull, ‘Pipedream’ 1974)

After three albums with Lindisfarne Alan Hull was determined to make his first solo effort ‘Pipedream’ as personal to him as possible. As well as printing pictures of all three of his children on the sleeve, he penned this moving song about all the things he wants to tell his children while they are still young, but can’t quite bring himself to inflict the horrors of the adult world on them just yet. Questioning the solid belief his daughter has in what ‘her teacher tells her’, the narrator sighs and adds to us, the listeners, that ‘we know it doesn’t happen that way. Then comes one of the best choruses Hully ever wrote, that ‘pretty soon I’ll tell her all the wickedness and strife is only part of living – not life’. For all its hidden darkness, to come, however, this is still a lovely sweet song complete with a la-la-la ending, a comedy mock-fall from drummer Ray Laidlaw and an oompah-ing melody line.

“Rock and Roll Lullaby” (10cc, ‘How Dare You!’ 1976)

Not much is known about the personal lives of the four members of 10cc but I’m willing to bet at least the writers of this song, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldmann, had children by the time this song came out in 1976. The song is a pastiche lullaby sung by drummer Kevin Godley in his best ‘smiley’ voice, even though some of the sentiments are rather adult and seem to want to wreak revenge on the needy infant rather than look after it (‘It’s day break in the land of nod, so go to sleep you little sod!’) A middle eight from Eric then asks the infant to wake his mother in the middle of the night ‘because your daddy’s been a-working all day’. Musing on whether his child will become ‘an angel or a devil’ by getting out of ‘the wrong side of the cot’ he seems to freeze in horror before realising that, whatever he or she becomes in life (the gender of the toddler is never given) ‘we’ll love you anyway you are’. A typical 10cc song in that it pulls the rug out from under your feet in the second verse and then miraculously puts it back again by the end, this is a hilarious song whose sentiments are surely shared by parents everywhere.

“I Wanna Pick You Up” (Beach Boys, ‘Love You’ 1977)

Brian Wilson wasn’t really on the same planet by the time his two daughters, Carnie and Wendy, were born in 1967 and 1969. He continued to be on a different planet for much of their childhood, although he’s more than made up for it in their adult lives given the sheer amount of work the three have done together across the 90s and 00s. Brian clearly wasn’t on the right planet in 1977 when he wrote this song either, which treats his child as a baby even though, at youngest, they’d have been eight years old at the time this song was written (like all but one track on ‘Love You’, it’s all new material). Even weirder, the song starts off as a typical dating song for the first few lines (from the title on down) and its only after a couple of verses have gone by that the penny drops and the listener realises that the narrator is tickling his baby’s feet, not his new lover’s. A swirling close of rather edgy harmonies from the Beach Boys end the song on surely the strangest fade of any song anywhere (‘Pat pat pat her on her butt, she’s going to sleep!’)

“Magical Child” (Graham Nash, ‘Earth and Sky’ 1979)

Despite being known as something of a playboy – and being in two bands where all the members seemed to have dozens of children across the 60s and 70s – Graham Nash’s first child wasn’t born till 1978 when he was in his late 30s. Nash’s fascination for the ‘magic’ of conception and birth creating life spoils over into this song that ‘makes me wonder why I waited for so long to bring another life to this place’. Realising that watching his child grow is ‘like watching myself grow up’ Nash turns in one of the better songs on a patchy album that’s as much a love song for wife Susan as it is for son Jackson Nash (named after singer-songwriter Jackson Browne). That’s the young lad himself you can hear on the fade-out to the song, breathing through his daddy’s mouthorgan.

“Beautiful Boy” (John Lennon, ‘Double Fantasy’ 1980)

The most famous example on this list comes from the most famous house-husband of them all. Sean was born on Lennon’s 35th birthday and after feeling guilt over the birth of first Julian (at a time when the Beatles were constantly on tour and John hardly saw his first born grow up) Lennon senior was determined to do things properly the second time, leaving the record business to bring up his son as his first commitment. It stayed that way till Sean was five, by which time John this song was already a year old, a sensitive outpouring of love and protection. The most famous line of the song is ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’ but there are plenty of other gems defeating monsters, advice for enjoying life and most movingly given how the story’s about to end just two months after this album’s release ‘I can hardly wait to see you come of age – but I guess we’ll both just have to be patient’. Sean too became a singer-songwriter and has released two albums to date (and a third backing mother Yoko), although for me Julian is the more talented of the two Lennon children musicwise. Paul McCartney was very impressed with the song and chose it as his only Beatle-related entry in his ‘Desert Island Discs’ appearance in 1982, after several years of urging his songwriting partner to spend more time with Julian.

“Mama’s Little Girl” (Paul McCartney, B-side of single ‘Put It There’ released 1990 recorded c.1972)

Macca has never been a good judge of his own work and some of his greatest work of the 1970s only saw the light of day on future CD re-releases and B-sides. ‘Mama’s Little Girl’ is one of the best of the early Wings period, a soft ballad for first daughter Mary, comparing her spirit and smile to her mother (Paul had already written a song, ‘Heather’, for Linda’s daughter but that won’t appear until the Beatles Anthology albums in 1996). Macca is often accused of being sentimental, which might be why he kept this song hidden for so many years, but it’s actually really moving to hear him admit ‘Got to give it some time for this heart of mine just can’t take it all in’. Add in some fine harmonies from the first line-up of Wings (with Denny Laine especially doing his usual sterling job) and a lovely falsetto lead from the song’s composer and you have one of the best recordings Wings ever made, even if hardly anyone except ultra fans know about it.

“Little James” (Oasis, ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’ 2000)

Many fans were shocked when Liam’s long awaited first song on an Oasis album came out and found out it was about his newborn son, but I wasn’t. Beneath the sneer and the attitude so beloved of music journalists there beats a sensitive and caring soul and in fact on balance there’s been more honesty and emotion in Liam’s work than his brother Noel’s, as the next three Oasis albums and the first Beady Eye set attest. Most fans hate it, but the unfortunate lumpy word ‘plasticine’ aside, I think this is a lovely song that’s as much about Liam and what having a child and stability has done for him than his son. ‘We weren’t meant to be grown ups’ runs the chorus, before adding that despite the changes he’s been forced to make the narrator wouldn’t have it any other way (‘Thankyou for your smile, you made it all worthwhile to us’). Like many of Liam’s songs there’s a pre-occupation with death even at the brilliant moment of birth (‘It won’t be long before everyone is gone’)that stops the whole song sounding twee and tacky, while some glorious mellotron playing makes the whole song sound simultaneously childlike and terribly adult all at the same time.
And that’s that. Join us for some more (presumably less infant orientated) news, views and music next week!

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