Monday, 10 December 2012

AAA Songs About Islands (News, Views and Music Issue 174 Top 5)

We all need to escape. Bosses, jobcentres, families, friends, pets – the world we live in means we get more and more squashed together with people who, in the nicest possible way, drive us crazy. There simply isn’t the release there used to be when we worked on fields and lived in caves (not that we ever did, except in times of past nuclear holocaust, but that’s another point for another week’s top ten...) Sometimes we just need to escape to somewhere where we’ll never be found. AAA musicians have been escaping with the best of them, particularly when it comes to writing songs about desert islands in the middle of nowhere. Here, then, is a chronological look at five of those songs...
The Kinks “I’m On An Island” (‘The Kink Kontroversy’ 1965)
An intriguing bit of calypso, this was perhaps the first evidence that there was more to The Kinks than Beatlesish pop and Stones ish riffing. There are so many songs about escaping in Ray Davies back catalogue that we could write a top 100, but this is one of his earliest and clearly rings true, even with its hummable chorus. The singer is on a symbolic island of his own making, cut off from the girl he loves, before adding that hard as it is struggling to survive ‘there’s nowhere else on Earth I’d rather be’ than if his loved one was back there with him. Ray veers between heartfelt sincerity and knowing mocking throughout the song, singing in a curious clipped vocal way (his impression of idol Harry Belafonte, perhaps? Harry’s ‘The Banana Boat Song’ has been sung at more Kinks concerts than almost all his own songs!) Kinks Kontroversy sleeve writer Michael Aldred is so confused by the new style that, in his list of vocalists across the album, he adds awkwardly ‘I think its Ray?’
Jefferson Airplane “Rock and Roll Island” (‘Bark’ 1971)
Before the Airplane took off on a Starship and spread a new human species of ‘free love, free dope, free music’ across the galaxy they escaped to an island. Paul Kantner’s song implores the listener to escape to a ‘rock and roll island in the middle of the time seas’, far away from the Western capitalist society. In this land ‘you are the laws’ and here even the laws of physics are different with the classic singalong line ‘sonar laser quasar pulsar bombarded with argon’. Written a couple of years after Kantner wrote ‘Wooden Ships’ with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, this song sounds like a sequel, the happy pay-off after the atomic war leaves all the hippies sailing away in their boats and starting a new life. ‘We’ve only begun to grow you know, we are the seedlings of the sun...’ Curiously structured, with one line running into the next like an essay rather than a song, and curiously mixed so you can barely hear anything, this song divides fans like no other, either gloriously free or tremendously naive depending on your point of view. Me? I’ve already booked my seat...
The Moody Blues “Island” (unreleased song later released on deluxe edition of ‘Seventh Sojourn’ 1973)
No man is an island – unless he’s in a Moody Blues song. Reflecting on how this band of brothers had stopped being as close as they were inspired this lovely Justin Hayward ballad, the only song properly recorded for the band’s projected 8th LP. Like many a Moodies outtake, it’s as strong as anything they released, with a beautiful but threadbare arrangement that’s powerful indeed. Lyrically, the narrator is stuck on an island with no way off ‘as the tide rolls into view’. Waiting to be drowned or cut off from civilisation he imagines himself growing wings that will let him soar away before realising that ‘freedom is all in your head’ and he doesn’t physically need to escape. Mike Pinder’s mellotron playing – almost his last performance with the band seeing as he only half-heartedly took part in reunion album ‘Octave’ – is a masterpiece of timing, surging ahead with sterile emptiness and hurt. The band really should have released it, even if it was only as a farewell single.
The Hollies “My Island” (‘Write On’ 1976)
A bit of harmony pop from The Hollies that flies into this list like a warm breeze. This really is about an island as a form of escapism, Allan Clarke’s song about how ‘my life will be mine once again’ now that he’s returned to sanity and escaped from the hustle and bustle of everyday life is one of his best and was a welcome addition to the Hollies’ live setlist. However, there’s a slight problem in the second verse, as the narrator was so desperate to escape he left without warning, and ‘couldn’t say goodbye to my loved ones’, promising that ‘once I get home I’ll tell you’. Another song with a slight Hawaiian, calypso feel, it’s highlighted by the pristine Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks harmonies that cover the song in warmed-up bliss.
Graham Nash “Out On The Island” (‘Earth and Sky’ 1979)
The sky was full of diamonds on this song from Graham’s third solo album on an edgy, eerie track that really sticks out like a sore thumb on an album otherwise full of ecological statements and love songs to Nash’s new wife Susan. This island is one from our ancestral past, possibly the one island where all human life originated from. In this vision ‘no one’s saying nothing – and I pretend that I can’t hear’, but the damage is done and the narrator’s presence is sensed, shocking him back into the present. Throughout the song the vision of the island stays clear, hypnotically calling the narrator (and the listener) back with an alluring, mysterious melody that keeps announcing ‘there’s only one place to be...’ A fascinating song with which to end our list.
That’s that for another week – whether you’re on a desert island, on a farm or in a busy block of flats join us for more news, views, music and mayhem next week!

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