Dear reader, how many of you have laid awake late into the night mulling over the questions of the universe, such as ‘will there ever be another classic AAA album?’ ‘Will David Cameron bring Europe to its knees in as everyone who isn’t a millionaire works as a salve for eternity’ and ‘what AAA tracks would be listed first if the entire lot was placed in alphabetical order?’ (What, just me? Really?!) I can’t answer the first two impenetrable questions (although chances the answer is yes to both - the new Stephen Stills set sounds rather good and Cameron is pushing his luck even for him these days) but I can answer the third so here it is, the first ten AAA songs if you list them in strict alphabetical order (discounting numbers, asterisks, ampersands and brackets otherwise John Lennon’s ‘#9 Dream’ would be the winner on two counts). Suitably this little list covers almost as much ground as the site itself, with politics, breakdowns, utopias, peace and revenge just some of the subjects on offer. Who says we never bring you anything important, eh? Expect a similar list about the last ten AAA songs listed alphabetically next week!
“A Bad Night” (Cat Stevens, ‘New Masters’ 1968)
Poor Cat. There he was, settling down to write a love song about his latest girlfriend whose ‘cool’ even though ‘she’s never been to scho-e-ool’ and celebrating the fact that he’s a talented and rich teenager with the world at his feet. Like many of the songs on second album ‘New Masters’, however, all is not what it seems: the girl telephones him to say she won’t see him anymore and his world falls apart, the usual jovial Stevens backing of a brass fanfare and snappy rhythms turned on their head to sound anguished and anxious. The song then collapses before rebuilding in double time, an anxious Cat walking up and down his bedroom, unable to sleep, a million thoughts rushing through his head so fast he’s struggling to set them to music. Thus ends the ‘first’ stage of Cat’s career, with the laidback youth turning to a wizened, troubled man almost before our ears. More on this theme is to come in 18 months time, but not before a change of look, a change of sound and a nasty bout of TB change Cat’s sound for good.
“A Better Place” (The Hollies ‘Out On The Road’ 1973)
A sadly forgotten song from a rather forgotten album, recorded at a time when Allan Clarke had left the group to be replaced by under-rated Swedish singer Mickael Rickfors. The band’s first album with their new singer ‘Romany’ was a great record but sold badly, with EMI relegating this follow-up LP to release only in Germany (where the Hollies are, deservedly, ranked alongside the Beatles and Stones as the cornerstone of 1960s perfection and acclaimed much more than they ever were in the UK or US). One of the last collaborations between guitarist Tony Hicks and his next door neighbour singer/comedian Kenny Lynch, it’s an intriguing song with Hicks, Sylvester and Rickfors all playing grungy guitar riffs and a delightful vocal somewhere between Scott Walker and Lynch himself. The narrator wants to fill the world with peace and love, making it a ‘better world for everyone to live in’ but hits the generational divide head on, with his family and friends urging him that drinking and fighting are the manly things to do. Some great Hollies harmonies help make this song a neglected classic, from an album that deserves to be much better known.
“A Century Of Fakers” (Belle and Sebastian, ‘3...6...9 Seconds Of Light’ EP 1996)
The Belle and Sebastian EP collection ‘Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds’ features two goes at this same song. One, ‘A Century Of Elvis’ is a jokey song about the King of rock and roll being re-incarnated as a dog; this second song (which uses exactly the same backing track) is much more serious, discussing the haves and have-nots of the world and asking deep questions about how unfair the world is. Seemingly written as an attack some Governmental figure (the song was released during John Major’s last year in power which might be a clue) this track asks us all to open our eyes before history makes us, recording the 20th century as a ‘century of fakers’ and people ‘making blinkers fashionable’, scared to disclose the truth. The ‘author’ of a book named ‘A Century Of Fakers’ from the future looks back on us all with scorn even though ultimately his book, too, will go unread: ‘He was an anarchist, he tried his best – but it was never good enough’ is Stuart Murdoch’s response.
“A Child Is Coming” (Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship ‘Blows Against The Empire’ 1971)
This is the part of the concept album when the group of hippies looking for peace away from their totalitarian Earth regime are dreaming of a happier future – in the rest of the story (on side two) they’ll steal a spaceship deigned to colonise other planets in the name of colonialism and spread peace and love throughout the galaxy. Here, though, the families are celebrating the birth of a new child and dreaming of a better future where when ‘Uncle Samuel comes around asking for the young one’s name and the print of his hand for the files in their numbers game’ they’ll hide the child and let him/her roam free forever. The song is sung by expectant parents to be Paul Kantner and Grace Slick with friend David Crosby and their improvised three-part harmonies on the second half of this song are superb, worry and fear clouding over their joy at a child due to be born. This is my third favourite album of all time for a reason – few records speak with such joy, hope and danger as this one and ‘A Child Is Coming’ is one of ‘Blows’ key songs.
“A Child’s Claim To Fame” (Buffalo Springfield ‘Again’ 1967)
Neil Young’s only gone and quit Buffalo Springfield again! It’s for the second time this time, Neil putting the group in danger on the eve of the prestigious Monterey Pop Festival performance which would have brought the band much kudos and sales (the band play anyway, with David Crosby – then with The Byrds - filling in for the missing guitarist, but the band are under-rehearsed and don’t do all that well). Other Springfield guitarist Stephen Stills is nonchalant (Neil had only just joined up again after quitting on the eve of an important TV show) but lead singer Richie Furay is furious, attacking Neil outright in this, one of his earliest compositions. ‘There goes another day and I wonder why you and I keep telling lies’ runs the opening of the song and it gets meaner after that, Richie telling Neil that even his beautiful ‘lullabies’ on re-joining the group will make up for what could have been. ‘Truth is a shame – too much pain’ ends the song sadly. Ironically Neil was back in the group for a third time when the Springfield got to recording it for their superb second album adding some great guitar licks that simply re-inforce why Furay was so bitter at his defection. Neil will reply with his own ‘I Am A Child’ on the next album (‘Last Time Around’), acknowledging ‘I am a child, I’ll last a while, you can’t conceive of the pleasure in my smile...’ And so the Springfield soap opera rolled on to an awkward end...
“A Day In The Life” (The Beatles, ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ 1967)
It’s probably easier to define what this song isn’t about than what it is, seeing as its generally acknowledged as the deepest and most complex song the fab four ever made. So here you are: love, kittens and Spice Girl zig-a-zig-ahs. Everything else is in this track somewhere, from the opening muted sigh of Lennon’s ‘I read the news today, oh boy’ representing the unhappy present, a tale of a film about a pointless unwinnable war the present (probably Lennon’s own ‘How I Won The War) and the possible glorious future built on comprehension, understanding and drugs, brought on by Lennon’s coy ‘I’d love to turn you on’, a phrase so hip in June 1967 that even the BBC doesn’t recognise the words as a drug reference. Along the way we get McCartney’s ‘contrast’, a jovial little piece about catching the bus to school originally destined for the Beatles’ ‘Liverpool childhood’ album (which was abandoned when ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny lane’ were used as a single instead) which sounds like the mundane ordinary life we all have to go through as our minds are widened by the true mystical goings on in the world around us. The whole song is wrapped up with two uses of one of the most thrilling crescendos in rock music, conductor McCartney asking his orchestra to improvise their way from the lowest note on their instruments to the highest by the end of a 40 bar gap, before the second time round the sound is swiped by a resounding crash of five pianos all playing the same memorable chord. This isn’t a day set to music, it’s a whole life with all of its ups and downs, frustrations and pleasures, restrictions and freedoms rolled into one.
“A Doorway?” (Human League, ‘Romantic?’ 1989)
One of the best tracks from my favourite Human League album, this song’s tale of doomed romance and lost hopes comes crashing through the fadeout of optimistic opener ‘Kiss The Future’ as if it can’t wait to tell the ‘truth’ behind the pop songs. The female singers in the band declare that they respect Phil Oakey’s singer’s ‘territory’ and won’t pry, but does he really need to be that distant? A ‘doorway’ between their two souls is all they ask – not a rummage through his feelings or for him to declare himself bare, simply a connection. The song ends as unresolved as it started, its awkward angles sounding all the more awkward for being caught between two of the band’s catchiest pop songs and we never find out who wins the battle of minds – hence the fact that a question mark is added to the title.
“A Dream That Can Last” (Neil Young, ‘Sleeps With Angels’ 1993)
The slow, reflective ballad at the end of a hazy, crazy album, this song is unique in Neil’s canon. The narrator ‘feels’ like he’s died and gone to heaven (like many of the troubled characters on the album, Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain among them) but its not how he imagined it: the streets are paved with gold but ‘the cupboards are bare’ and no one knows why they are there. The ‘angels’ aren’t welcoming the narrator with open arms, they huddle around street corners whispering whether he can stay and far from a blaring white light of redemption and clarity in this afterlife ‘the lights are turned down low’. The unsettling feel of the song is completed by a tack piano – an instrument never used by Neil again outside this album – which sounds ghostly, there-but-not-there, with aural shadows turning in the light as we try to make sense of this peculiar world. Is death better than life? Will the dreams of our Earthly realities continue into the next world? Nobody seems to know.
“A Face In The Crowd” (The Kinks, ‘A Soap Opera’ 1974)
This song is the highlight of a Kinks rock opera whereby the ‘starmaker’ tried to live the life of ‘Norman’ (a ‘normal’ person) and yet his story gradually unravels across the record until the point where the starmaker reveals to us that he was really ‘Norman’ all along, turning to illusion and imagination because of the horrors of his mundane life. This song is the turning point, a heartbreaking ballad where the Starmaker/Norman admits that, in essence, he’s ‘like everybody else’ and simply a part of the crowd. ‘I know I’ll get used to it’ he sighs, ‘I’ve got to start facing up to what I really am’, taking a final bow as he joins the crowd. The most poignant performance of this song comes in the ‘Soap Opera’ TV special (broadcast on ITV in 1974) where Ray (as The Starmaker) literally walks off stage and takes his place in the crowd, cheering on his brother as Dave Davies roars into the finale ‘You Can’t Stop The Music’
“A Great Day For Freedom” (Pink Floyd, ‘The Division Bell’ 1994)
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 inspired quite a few AAA songs, with the metaphor about ‘walls’ between us an obvious link to defrosting relationships at the end of the cold war. The first verse is hopeful, the second pessimistic, as old tensions gradually creep back in again and a more metaphorical wall is built between them all. There’s a particularly memorable line where the red blood of both sides is cleaned in the river that runs between the two lands, turning to a muddy grey ‘of history’, with neither side winners or losers. For Pink Floyd, of course, walls held special importance and throughout the song you could read the lyrics as an ‘update’ of what happened to ‘Pink’ after the events of rock opera ‘The Wall’. Indeed, by the last verse David Gilmour may well be singing about his estranged partner Roger Waters, hearing ‘music play’ outside his own ‘wall’ and looking wistfully across. However the thaw between the two Floyds was still quite strong at this stage and the song ends on something of a mixed message, as ‘everything but the bitter residue slips away’.
And that’s that for this issue. Thankyou for taking the time to join us in our trails through this week’s news, views and music – we hope to see you for some more of the same next week!