Monday, 20 May 2013
AAA Years In Song (News, Views and Music Top Five Issue 194)
By one of those amazing coincidences that so often seem to happen with this site, I’ve just realised that three of the past seven AAA reviews are (more or less) unique in containing song titles made up of dates of the year. By my reckoning there are only five AAA songs in total that even vaguely do this - and the last of these is a bit of a push, to be honest. Staggering coincidence I’m sure you’ll agree! Anyway, here they are in strict chronological order:
“1882” (Paul McCartney and Wings, unreleased,1972)
An unusually dark and sombre song about Victorian poverty and suffering, a live version of this song should have appeared on the Wings album ‘Red Rose Speedway’ back when it was still intended to be a double album. I’m not quite sure why Macca chose this year for the song: there isn’t even a rhyme for ‘two’, although like the Beatles song ‘Eight Days A Week’ (and the Byrds’ response ‘Eight Miles High’) he might well have chosen the ‘eight’ for the ‘heavy’ sound of the word as much as the meaning. There’s no other song quite like this in Wings canon, with descriptions of a starving working class child dreaming of stealing bread from the rich stately home where he works and ending up on the gallows, even though his employers never actually noticed the bread go missing. This is also only the second McCartney song to include the catchy chorus ‘na na na na na’, but unlike ‘Hey Jude’ this isn’t some catchy singalong but a frightening, ferocious nightmare of the soul. Sadly this song still hasn’t been officially released yet (it’s one of the few truly great outtakes in the McCartney canon that haven’t come out yet) – hopefully that will change soon as ‘Speedway’ is on the list of ‘McCartney Deluxe Editions’ due out in the next few years.
“1921” (The Who, ‘Tommy’, 1969)
We move forward some 39 years now for the childhood of young Tommy, the soon-to-be deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball. This sequence is the turning point in the story, when Tommy’s mum and step-dad are talking about how wonderful life is going to be this year ‘as long as you and me see it in together’. However the pair are interrupted by Tommy’s dad, declared dead in the First World War, who violently attacks the step-dad in a rage. The plot is unclear which one dies, but one of them does – and young Tommy witnesses the event, the shock of which (and the fact that his family tells him not to say anything: ‘you didn’t hear it, you didn’;t see it, you’ll never tell a soul what you know is the truth!’) turns his deaf, mute and blind. It’s hard to pin down just when Tommy was born (the film have him at five years old sequence3 but they’ve updated events to the Second World War and made it ‘1941’ instead, apparently on the whim of director Ken Russell).
“1983” (Lindisfarne, ‘The News’, 1979)
Lindisfarne’s vision of cold war madness, we’ve only just covered this song on our site. When this was written Jimmy Carter was on his way out of the White House and gung-ho (or should that be gun-ho?) Ronald Reagan was already the most likeliest candidate for the job and, as almost a lone voice in the wilderness, this is Alan Hull telling us to ‘watch out’ for a cold war boiling point. In the end, thankfully, this nuclear holocaust experienced by a group of soldiers never came to pass – well, not in that war anyway – but Hully was arguably pretty darn close to the timing of the Falklands War (a cold war event if ever there was one, which sadly for Argentina simply had them getting in the way of a bigger game of chess) and spot on for the timing of ‘Able Archer 83’ (a NATO simulation of what would happen if America blew up Russia and was in response to a civilian Korean aeroplane allegedly shot down by Russian forces). Certainly the timing at just four years in the future from the time when the song was released – and the fact that 1983 was merely one year out from the apocalyptic totalitarian regime fictionalised by George Orwell in ‘1984’ – must have been a major talking point at the time I’d have thought.
“1985” (Paul McCartney and Wings, ‘Band On The Run’, 1974)
Talking of ‘1984’, that book – and its timing just a decade or so away during the making of ‘Band On The Run’ – must surely have influenced McCartney to write ‘1985’. Like many a McCartney song, it’s too polite and too upbeat lyrically to truly depict chaos and dissent, choosing instead to see the year ‘after’ 1984 as some kind of rebirth, but the sheer tension in the music (featuring a full booming orchestra who simply trample all over the song in the last verse) makes it clear that this is not a cute and pretty world. The actual dating for the song is clearly ‘before’ the date of the title too, with the fact that ‘no one ever left alive in 1985 will ever do’ compared to the narrator’s present lover. The final swirl of the album’s musical motif (‘band on the run!’) then brings us full circle to the feeling of being trapped and something about to break.
“2000 Man” (Rolling Stones, ‘At Their Satanic Majesties Request’, 1967)
The turn of the millennium resulted in dozens of songs – most of them unplayable novelties once the date had been and gone. The only true AAA song about the new millennium and possible apocalypses to come, however, was one of the first, a joke-song from the summer of love where the Rolling Stones try to imagine their generation’s ‘hip young things’ as angry old men and sigh that today ‘the kids just don’t understand you at all’. There are some great lines that try to tell the future from a 1960s standpoint (‘I am having an affair with a random computer!’), while the younger Mick Jagger comforts his elder self with the thought that ‘your brain’s still flashing like it did when you were young – but you come down crashing thinking about the things you done’. Little did the band know that they would still be a rock and roll band in the year 2000 in their late 50s and beyond (most rock stars of the day retired or died by the age of 25!), but in retrospect its sad to hear Brian Jones’ wonderful swirling organ part (one of the very last things he recorded with the band he founded) and think that he had no chance of growing old. The Stones had the number ‘2000’ on the mind in this period, with another track from the same album finding the narrator lost in space, ‘2000 light years from home’.
And that’s all for now. Join us for more news, views and music next week!