Monday, 22 July 2013
Evolution Of A Band: Comparing 1st lyric with last lyric (NVM 203)
For this week’s top whatever-number-this-is we’ve decided to compare the first and last (at the time of writing) lyrics by each and every AAA band/star. Did they learn anything in the interim years? Did they come full circle? Or are we simply barking up the wrong tree? Answers on a postcard to the usual address! The results given are in strict alphabetical and chronological order and we’ve plumped for the first release that most collectors would count as a debut single/opening track on a debut album by the way (so The Beatles’ first release is ‘Love Me Do’ for instance, not ‘My Bonnie’ and the last is, fittingly, ‘The End’ from ‘Abbey Road’ not the cobbled-together-from-Lennon-leftovers singles ‘Free As A Bird’ and ‘Real Love’; we’re also treating Jefferson Airplane and Starship as separate bands and ignoring the three ‘solo/duo/trio’ LPs given as the conclusion and start, respectively, of both bands). Also, ‘bonus tracks’ not initially included as part of an album, live sets, ‘reunion’ albums always intended to be separate from a band’s canon, early recordings not released till after a band has made it, Christmas Albums and odd tracks specially recorded for compilation albums don’t count. Oh and 10cc really does mean 10cc in this case, not their almost-10cc album released as ‘Hotlegs’. So there. We’ve had to miss out a small handful of AAA groups because, well, it’s quite hard pinning down just exactly what their last song is – and shockingly I still don’t own the last records by the likes of Nils Lofgren and Lulu just yet and the internet’s not helping (well, that’s what happens when the likes of Neil Young insists on releasing three CDs a year!) Still we have covered 30 ‘first’ and ‘last’ lyrics so that should be enough for now!:
THE BEACH BOYS
First lyric: “Surfin’ Safari” (first single, 1961) “Let’s go on safari now, everybody’s learning how, come on a safari with me!” Latest lyric: “Summer’s Gone” (‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’ 2012) “We laugh, we cry, we live then we die, and dream about our yesterdays”
What a sea-journey the Beach Boys took us on in 51 years! The opening lyrics to their debut single set out the stall of their early years as good as any pre-1966 Beach Boys song; this is a band of teenagers out for a good time and fun, sun and surf (although presumably many Californian listeners who lived inland a bit and weren’t ‘hip’ on surfing terminology probably thought they were an environmentalist band what with the references to ‘safaris’). By 2012 that innocence is long gone, the deaths of two founding members, various inter-band and family rows and rifts, Brain Wilson’s nervous breakdown and a spiteful hate campaign from the music press that lasted some twenty years taking their toll. The latest Beach Boys album, for the most part, tries to pretend that the intervening 50 years never happened and largely fails - generally older musicians never sound as old as when they’re trying to pretend they’re young. The album’s saving grace, though, is thisd last track which is actually 20 years old but was always saved by Brian in case the band ever got back together – the perfect ‘farewell’ to a band who provided the soundtrack to so many sun and fun-filled carefree yesterdays.
First lyric: “Love Me Do” (first single 1962) “Love, love me do, you know I need you, I’ll always be true, so ple-e-e-e-e-e-e-ase love me do!” Last lyric: “The End” (‘Abbey Road’ 1969) “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make”
It’s hard to imagine now but ‘Love Me Do’ really was the best thing Lennon and McCartney thought they had to offer in their songwriting catalogue in 1962. After all, at the time this simple pop blues sounding very far advanced of anything else around, with its wavy harmonica lick and stop-start tempo, so anything more complex wasn’t likely to have been accepted by George Martin or EMI anyway. Seven long years later, however, The Beatles have changed the face of music as they saw it and end their career with a long complex medley which finally turns full circle with a coda that’s one of the simplest and shortest things the band had done since ‘Love Me Do’. The message of both songs is the same too, talking about the connection between people and the need to be loved, even if the complexity of both sets of lyrics couldn’t be more different, McCartney putting together all the philosophy he’s learnt and observations he’d made over the past few years into one pithy sentence designed to end the group’s series of messages on a moral and intellectual high. Interestingly McCartney is the chief writer for both these ‘first’ and ‘last’ songs despite coming from two records dominated by Lennon.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
First lyric: “The State I Am In” (‘Tigermilk’ opening track 1995) “I was surprised, I was happy for a day in 1975, I was puzzled by a dream, stayed with me all day in 1995” Latest lyric: “Sunday’s Pretty Icons” (‘Write About Love’ 2010) “Every girl you ever admired, every girl you ever desired, every love you ever forgot, every person that you despised is forgiven”
Stuart Murdoch’s writing style has arguably changed little over the years – always writing with one eye over his shoulder to times past and regrets about how things went, there are impressively little differences between the theme of his first and last published songs despite being some 15 years apart. The one new element in his songwriting on last album ‘Wrte About Love’ is his new-found faith in God, however, which encourages him to give up his lifelong obsession with guilt over mistakes past and to absolve others for their mistakes to him. By contrast first song ‘The State I Am In’ finds the character ‘giving myself to God’ only to rebuffed by a ‘pregnant pause’ and a life of misunderstandings every bit as complex and lost as before.
First lyric: “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” (first single, 1966): “Whose that stomping all over my face? Whose that silhouette I’m trying to trace? Whose putten sponge in the bells I once rung? And taken my gypsy before she’s begun to sing?” Last lyric: “Kind Woman” (last track on final album ‘Last Time Around’) “Kind woman, won’t you love me tonight? Won’t you say it’s alright?”
Buffalo Springfield only lasted for three years and a trilogy of albums so in theory there should be the least change of all out groups. Going by just their first and last songs, however, they seem to have gone backwards, beginning with a debut single that’s a complex Dylanesque lyrical protest song and ending with a laidback country-blues that’s one of the simplest and shortest songs the band ever did. This was, after all, one of the most eclectic of all AAA bands and with three writers who all switched from the simple to the complex, which might explain why the two lyrics above (about depression and kindness respectively) couldn’t be more different.
First lyric: “Mr Tambourine Man” (First single 1965) “Hey Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me, I’m not sleepy and there ain’t no place I’m going to” Last lyric: None (‘The Bristol Steamboat Convention Blues’ from ‘Farther Along’ is an instrumental; the next last is from ‘Lazy Waters’: ‘Oh to be wise again, get back to your lazy waters, never needed anyone but you”
The Byrds started their career in 1965 as fresh-faced youngsters singing Dylan cover songs to a Beatles-loving market and the height of cool; they ended it seven years later as troubled bearded old-men-before-their-time, switching from folk rock to country rock via psychedelia and prog rock. Roger McGuinn ios the only Byrd from the ‘Tambourine Man’ days still around at the end, although it’s a Skip Battins ongs that’s the group’s goodbye (instrumentals aside), a fittingly nostalgic song about a childhood place that used to be wise and which you can never find again in adulthood. Like many of the Byrds’ last recordings, it couldn’t be less like the gently optimistic freedom-embracing Dylan song that’s amongst the most uplifting Bob ever wrote.
CROSBY,STILLS AND NASH (AND YOUNG)
First lyric: “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (opening track on ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’ 1969) “It’s getting to the point where I am no fun anymore, I am sorry” Last lyric: “Sanibel” (last track on ‘Looking Forward’ 1999) “On an island I will dwell, starlit nights in paradise on the isle of Sanibel, spend my life in paradise on the isle of Sanibel”
CSN kick-started their first album with a mammoth seven minute Stephen Stills epic in several movements that was a ‘letter’ addressed to main muse Judy Collins that Stills could never quite bring himself to post. Beginning with an apology before gradually switching through recriminations, anger, optimism and a sudden burst of pop nonsense in Cuban, it was deliberately placed first to ‘blow’ the three men’s image of pop star wannabes out the window. By 1999, however, and the last csn/y album (we’re not counting live, duo or solo albums – simply to make life a bit easier) things have changed and CSNY end their last album to date with a humble, anonymous cover song about a mythical mystical tropical island where everyone is nice to each other. I could make a gag here about how CSNY’s horizons seem to have narrowed over the years, but actually ‘Looking Forward’ is quite a progressive record (in the hands of Crosby and Stills anyway, if not Nash or Young this time around!) and fully in keeping with the elongated mania of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’.
First lyric: “Down To The Waterline” (opening track on ‘Dire Straits’ 1978) “Sweet surrender on the quayside, you remember we used to run and hide?” Last lyric: “How Long?” (Last track from ‘On Every Street’ 1993) “How long until I’m gonna make you mine? How long before you wake up and find your good man gone? How long?”
Dire Straits are unusual in this list if only because sole writer Mark Knopfler knew for definite that ‘Down To The Waterline’ would be his first published song (Dire Straits made many demos before they finally got a record deal and this is always the first song) and ‘How Long?’ the last (‘Brothers In Arms’ was a hard album to follow up and Knopfler knew he would only ever make one stab at it; it was his choice to end the album with the biggest pointer towards his folky acoustic solo career). Like ma ny songs from first album ‘Dire Straits’ ‘Waterline’ is a ‘goodbye’ song, a kiss-off to Knopfler’s first marriage full of lots of imageries of the narrator being ‘lost’ around places the couple used to walk so confidently just a few weeks before – and fittingly, despite barely writing in this style again, ‘How Long?’ reprises the idea for the first time in 14 years, a weary narrator asking his new love to stop keeping him waiting or it’ll be another 14 years before they get together properly. Interestingly Knopfler puts his sentiments across much rawer and less image-based the second time around.
First lyric: “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion!) (First track on ‘Grateful Dead’ 1967) “See that girl barefootin’ along? Whistlin’ and singing’, she’s a carryin’ on!” Last lyric: “I Will Take You Home” (last track on ‘Built To Last’ 1989) “Ain’t no fog that’s thick enough to hide you, your daddy’s gonna be right here beside you, if your fears should start to get inside you, I will take you home”
The Grateful Dead start their career as teenagers, looking forward to a ‘golden road of unlimited devotion’ and then ending it as concerned responsible parents promising to protect their offspring – at least if the band’s first and last songs are anything to by. This sea change takes place across 22 years, of course, and is bookended by two very different writers so its probably not that simple, but its certainly clear that Brent Mydland’s last song (recorded less than a year before his sad premature death) is from quite a different perspective than the Haight Ashbury-embracing fun loving lyrics of the first one |(written by the rest of the band before Mydland joined).
First lyric: “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me?” (first single 1963) “Mary had a little lamb, her fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go, well ain’t that just like me? Following you around?” Last lyric: “The Woman I Love” (last single 1993 – sorry but I refuse to count the two ‘Peter Howarth’ albums as ‘proper’ Hollies!) “The woman I love has eyes of blue, a face like heaven and money like you, the woman I love is standing right next to me and me and...”
Those of you who’ve read any of my many Hollies reviews on this site will know that I consider this band to be one of the deepest, greatest, most intellectual and unfairly maligned bands on the whole site, capable of wit and wisdom and subtlety like few other. The two examples here though are not their greatest hours by any means – the first is a silly novelty single that mentions lots of nursery rhymes and the second is a silly novelty single with an annoying tune that sounds like it’s come from some deranged nursery rhyme. On this evidence the Hollies didn’t progress at all in their 30 years – but we know better, don’t we, dear readers? By the way I’ve taken the ‘last’ Hollies release as the last with lead singer Allan Clarke – I’m not one of those fans who refuses to listen to anything else with The Hollies (the two Mickael Rickfors albums are wonderful) but the two 21st century Peter Howarth albums are pretty awful and have little to do with The Hollies (despite featuring two founding members).
THE HUMAN LEAGUE
First lyric: “Almost Medieval” (from ‘Reproduction’ 1979) “There’s something in your soul that makes me feel so old, In fact I think I’ve died 600 times!” Last lyric: “When The Stars Start To Shine” (‘Credo’ 2011) “It’s been a lovely day, don’t throw the night away, that’s when the stars start to shine”
The two main Human League line-ups are very different – the first released a load of a deliberately obtuse ‘experiments’ using synthesisers whilst looking glum and the second introduced two female singers and a lot of catchy pop hooks, but the latest, poorly-received (but we liked it) League album found them coming full circle to some extent, making an almost ‘dance’ like album (It’s what the first two League albums would have sounded like with access to modern technology and a couple of waitresses). As a result there’s not all that much difference between the styles of the two extracts outlined above- both sound like the work of older, mature years (although most of the League were in their early 20s when they came up with the first song) and the latter means something quite different in context, as the gap between League albums grows into decades and it might well be the last album the band ever make...
First lyric: “Blues From An Airplane” (first track on ‘Takes Off!’ 1966) “Do you know how sad it is to be a man alone? I feel so, a solitary being in my home” Last lyric: “Eat Starch Mom!” (‘Long John Silver’ 1972): “Man-made mechanical mover, it will move faster than you can, vegetable lover!”
The first folky Jefferson album is quite different to the ones that came after it – the band is largely a dictatorship led by lead singer Marty Balin rather than a democracy and Grace Slick has not yet joined the band. However the lyrics didn’t really change that much in the band’s six years together – the band’s opening song is a tension-filled paranoid rant against loneliness (that’s a style all of its own despite being called a ‘blues’) and their last song is a tension-filled paranoid rant against, erm, sex toys. I think. The lyrics of most songs on ‘Long John Silver’ are hard to decipher – Grace’s ‘Eat Starch Mom’ most of all. Perhaps that’s the biggest change in the Airplane’s songwriting then, going from a song that’s comparatively straightforward (if quite unlike anything else around at the time) to one of the most obtuse songs in the AAA canon!
First lyric: “Ride The Tiger” (first track on ‘Dragonfly’ 1974) “I’m going to ride, ride the tiger! Gonna be black and white in the dead of the night, whole world’s gonna come alive, when you ride, ride the tiger!” Last lyric: “Champion” (last track on ‘Nuclear Furniture’ 1984) “I’ll be the one, I’ll be the only one, in the aftermath of atomic fire, I was the champion!”
Starship, on the other hand, changed incredibly, starting out as one of the most prog-rock of all bands and evnding somewhere between punk rock and new wave. At least musically – the ‘first’ song ‘Ride That Tiger’ could almost be a punk song from the short snappy lyrics here (before moving on to debate the chemical compounds in crying tears in the middle eight anyway!), whilst the ‘last’ song ‘Champion’ was the one last great return to the prog rock sound of a decade before, imagining humanity crawling its way to a utopian future after a nuclear war.
First lyric: “Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye” (First track on first album ‘Big Brother And The Holding Company”) “Bye bye baby bye bye, I gotta be seeing you around, when I change my living standards and move uptown!” Last lyric: “Get It While You Can” (last track on last album ‘Pearl’ 1970) “Hold on to that man’s heart, get it want it hold it need it, get it while you can!”
Janis used several songwriters during her short career, all of whom had their own agendas and came from different eras and backgrounds. As a result, perhaps, her ‘opening’ (pre-fame) and ‘closing’ (posthumous) statements couldn’t have been more different: the first song is a rare example of Janis taunting a loved one and dumping him for not being up to her high standards; the last is a lot more believable, Janis telling all of her female listeners that love is a rare and precious thing that can break all too easily. Whilst not my choice for the final track on a posthumous album (‘Me and Bobby McGee’ would have worked better), this song does at least sum up most of Janis’ work quite well and is a far more fitting conclusion to her career than ‘Bye Bye Baby’ was a beginning!
First lyric: “Long Tall Sally” (First single 1964) “Well I told aunt Mary about Uncle John, they said they got the message but they had a lot of fun, oh baby, yeah baby, having some fun tonight!” Last lyric: “Scattered” (last track on ‘Phobia’ 1993) “To the Earth you are scattered, but you’re going home so what does it matter?
To an atomic mind, scattered here while you travel time?”
Talking of unfitting ‘hellos’, somebody at Pye needs their head examining for passing over Ray Davies’ strongest early material (include ‘You Really Got Me’, already going down a storm at gigs) in favour of this rather limp Little Richard cover the band had only just added to their set. The Kinks were told to record it because the Beatles had just scored a hit with their EP of the same name (yeah, right, because everyone whose a fan of the Beatles’ version will love to have an inferior cover by an audibly nervous and ramshackle new band won’t they?) and so ‘Long Tall Sally’ ended up as probably the least suitable debut single of all time. Much more fitting is the ‘first’ of three attempts at a ‘farewell’ song ‘Scattered’, about the death of the Davies brothers’ aunty and how each of us is just passing through a tiny moment in the grand scheme of life, ‘scattered’ across one particular century in the same way our ashes are when we die. Even better is the single ‘Did Ya?’, which references many a Kinks track before mocking the utopian memories many people have of the 1960s (although technically it’s a ‘bonus’ track on last album ‘Phobia’ so we’re not talking about it here) and ‘To The Bone’ in which a track from the narrator’s past kick-starts a range of memories as the record player needle ‘cuts me to the bone’ (which, as a studio track added to a live LP, doesn’t count either but is well worth digging out).
First lyric: “Lady Eleanor” (opening track on ‘Nicely Out Of Tune’ 1970) “Banshee playing musician sitting lotus on the floor, belly dancing beauty with a power driven saw, had my share of nightmares didn’t think there could be much more, then in walked Roderick Usher with the Lady Eleanor” Last lyric: “Driftin’ Through” (‘Here Comes The Neighbourhood’ 1998): “We’re all just driftin’ through, making the best of what we can do”
Lindisfarne went through several changes across 28 years – including a five year break and the loss of almost all their founding members – but they ended up almost at the same place they started, as a folk band quietly urging their listeners to move on from their bad times because something good might be around the corner. The main difference is that first song ‘Lady Eleanor’ is set very much in the past, at a Tudor court full of intrigue and exoticism, whereas the last ‘Driftin’ Through’ is set very much in the present.
First lyric: “Last Train To Clarksville” (debut single 1966) “Take the last train to Clarksville and I’ll meet you at the station, you can be there at 4:30 ‘cause I’ve paid your reservation, don’t be slow, no no no no nooooo!” Last lyric: “I Never Thought It Peculiar” (‘Changes’ 1970) “I never thought it peculiar that you helped me pass the time, and I don’t think it’s terribly peculiar that now little girl you are mine!”
‘Last Train TO Clarksville’ was written before there even was a ‘Monkees’ but along with the ‘theme tune’ for the series it helped set the tone from day one: breathless energy, excitement and effortless enthusiasm. ‘I Never Thought It Peculiar’ does much the same, rounding off the band’s original career with a comedy song about the nervous narrator dating his wife-to-be. In between, of course, The Monkees grew up, wrote their own wonderful songs (both these tracks were written by Boyce and Hart who went on their own up-and-down journey with the band), committed commercial suicide by drowning in a post-modern film called ‘Head’ and a TV special that laughed at their manufactured origins via Darwinian jokes about primates – but the Monkees began and ended in much the same place.
THE MOODY BLUES
First lyric: “I’ll Go Crazy” (first track on debut album ‘The Magnificent Moodies’ 1965) “Oh you know I feel alright! I feel alright children! ‘Cause you’re hanging me up baby! I’ll go crazy!” Last lyric: “Nothing Changes” (‘Strange Times’ 1999) “Nothing changes, and nothing stays the same, and life is still a simple game!”
The Denny Laine-era Moodies are quite different to the Justin Hayward era to come (substitute ‘Love and Beauty’ if it’s the second line-up you’re after), a rough and ready R and B cover combo with an emphasis on piano chords. Therefore jumping straight to their last song is quite a strange experience – a spoken word piece that has fan references a plenty, not much of a tune and is accompanied by an orchestra. True Moodies fans know, though, that most of these changes were put into place in 1967 and in truth there’s not that much change between ‘Days Of Future Passed’ and ‘Strange Times’ – it’s the change between ‘The Magnificent Moodies’ and ‘Future Passed’ that’s not just a gulf, it’s a chasm.
First lyric: “Supersonic” (debut single 1994) “I need to be myself, I can’t be no one else, I’m feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic!” Last lyric: “Soldier On” (last track on final album ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ 2009) “Whose to say that you were right and I was wrong? Come the day, come the night, I’ll be gone, soldier on”
One day someone will write a fascinating book on how Oasis went from reflecting the hopes and dreams of a generation determined they were going to change the world to being one of the most cynical, despairing, drained bands of them all. Perhaps it’ll be me! The band’s music doesn’t change all that much – the guitar assault heard on ‘Supersonic’ is much the same as the one on ‘Soldier On’ some 15 years later – but the whole style and poise has been altered. The band start and end with nothing, but whereas ‘Supersonic’ is the manic laugh of a youth who knows he has the ‘answer’ to escape his backward world any time he chooses, ‘Soldier On’ is the sound of a band that had it all and watched it all go wrong, See if you can spot where the switch happens – some say its on ‘Be Here Now’ (the difficult third album released the day before the death of Princess Diana sent a country into mourning), others thats its on fourth album ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’ (released at the time Tony Blair went from hero to zero and the band lost two of its original members). Either way, the differences between the band’s first single and their last album track is huge and fascinating.
First lyric: “Remember Love” (B-side of ‘Give Peace A Chance’ 1969) “Remember love, love is what it takes to sing, remember love, love is what it takes to meet” Latest lyric: “Early In The Morning” (last track on latest album ‘YOKOKIMTHURSTON’ 2012) XXX “Early In The Morning, early in the morning, early in the morning...”
The key to understanding Yoko’s art is to embrace its simplicity: which is just as well because that’s all you get on her first album ‘Yoko/Plastic Ono Band’, a companion piece to Lennon’s ‘primal therapy’ album that reduces all that’s wrong with the world into one long squawk. Her first released work, however, is this simple earnest ballad on the back of ‘Give Peace A Chance’ which some say inspired Lennon’s similar ‘Love’ from his ‘Lennon Plastic Ono Band’ LP. Zoom forward some 43 years and simplicity is again the key factor, Yoko repeating the same words over and over on a single that was a collaboration with Kim Thurston. Don’t be fooled, though: in her ‘middle years’ of 1973-81 Yoko made albums as complex and multi-layered as anyone, especially her one true masterpiece ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’ which tackles more taboo themes than a whole series of the Jeremy Kyle show.
First lyric: “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” (first track on debut album ‘The Pentangle’ 1968) “Come all you fair and gentle girls that flourish in your prime, beware beware, keep your gardens fair, let no man steal your thyme” Last track: “Lady Of Carlisle” (last track on final album ‘Solomon’s Seal’ 1972’) “...And when she saw her true lover coming, seeing no harm had been done to him, she threw herself against his bosom, saying ‘here is the prize that you have won’”
Pentangle never changed their themes that much, starting their career with a traditional English folk song from the 12th century (ish) and ending it with one from the 9th (ish, again). What’s notable is the feminist slant that seems to have snuck in by the last song: whilst Jacqui McShee is the innocent victim in the first, doing all she can to keep her virginity, she’s actively the mastermind in the band’s final song, setting epic tasks for her would-be suitors to perform to prove they are worthy of her love. This trend continues on the band’s reunion albums (which, for a time, only feature Jacqui from the original band) despite the fact that the band doesn’t often feature modern songs in their act (and when they do they generally sound like the most traditional on the album!)
First lyric: “Arnold Layne” (debut single 1967) “Arnold Layne had a strange hobby, collecting clothes, moon shine washing line, they suit him fine!” Last lyric: “High Hopes” (last track on final album ‘The Division Bell’ 1994’) “The grass was greener, the night was brighter, the taste was sweeter, the nights of wonder, with friends surrounded, the dawn mist glowing, the water flowing, the endless river”
In a nutshell, 1967 was the golden year of innocence Pink Floyd sing about in their final song ‘High Hopes’ 27 years later, although actually the band’s debut is far from innocent. ‘Arnold Layne’, a novel novelty song about a man who steals women’s clothing from washing lines was close enough to the borderlines of taste in the 1960s to secure a radio ban from the BBC! No such problem for the band’s final album (to date) ‘The Division Bell’ which is altogether more nostalgic and sweeter (as you can tell from the lyrics above). That said, the two songwriters are entirely different, Syd Barratt writing the former (before his breakdown in 1968) and David Gilmour the latter.
First lyric: “These Arms Of Mine” (first single, 1964) “These arms of mine are lonely, lonely and feeling blue, these arms of mine are yearning, yearning from wanting you” Last lyric: “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay” (final single 1968) “I’m just sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the clouds roll away, sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time”
No doubt Otis would have given us a huge sea-change had he lived longer than his 26 years too, although even if he’d lived to the age of 100 we’d still be talking about his final, posthumous single ‘Dock Of The Bay’ as the start of this change. Most Otis songs are sad (that’s why they call him ‘Mr Pitiful’ after all), but the soul-based heartbreak of first hit ‘These Arms Of Mine’ is utterly more conventional and love-lorn than the one in ‘Dock Of The Boy’, a folkier quieter song where nothing is working out for the narrator so he’s simply ‘wasting time’ and whistling sadly to himself. The record company hated it, the band weren’t sure what to make of it and his own family was scared by it – but ‘Dock Of The Bay’ must surely (surely!) have been a hit even without Otis’ death to break it into the charts. A change is gonna come and it would have started here.
First lyric: “C’mon” (debut single 1963) “Everything is wrong since me and my baby parted, all day long I’m walking because I couldn’t get my car started, laid off from my job and can’t afford to check it, I wish somebody would come along, run into it and wreck it!” Last lyric: “Infamy” (last track from latest album ‘A Bigger Bang’ 2005) “Yes you’ve got it in for me, I should have seen it right from the start, I should have seen it coming, fine fine heart, you got in for me!”
None of the Stones look back on their first single, a scatterbrained Chuck Berry single, with much fondness (true Stones fans reckon the band only really got going with ‘It’s All Over Now’ as late as 1964). Certainly it’s very very different from even the band’s second single (a super-charged version of The Beatles’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’) and most of the songs to follow because the narrator is a victim. It’s hard to think of another Stones song (until ‘Ain’t No Use In Crying’ in 1981) where the narrator isn’t the one causing the problems or instigating the break-up; instead this hapless lover dumped by his girl and an ex motorist whose car doesn’t work is having a truly terrible time and his weak, garbled ‘cmon’s sound more desperate than revolutionary. Fast forward 42 years and Keith Richards’ closing song isn’t that different however: the narrator is cleverer this time but his partner is cleverer still, outwitting and outfoxing him at either turn. Are we about to see the Stones embrace a new position as naive romantics? Erm, probably not – this is a one-off even for this later, vaguely mature LP!
SIMON AND GARFUNKEL
First lyric: “Go Tell It To The Mountain” (first track on debut album ‘Wednesday Morning 5 AM’) “Go tell it to the mountain, over the land and across the seas!” Last lyric: “Song For The Asking” (last track on final album ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water” 1969) “Thinking it over I’d be sad, thinking it over I’d be more than glad to change my ways, this is my tune for the asking, ask me and I will play so sweetly I’ll make you smile”
The first Simon and Garfunkel album is split between innocent enthusiasm and mature statements about war victims and the ‘spaces’ that prevent us from truly connecting with other human beings. By the end of their brief career S+G have made the latter genre their own and closing tune ‘Song For The Asking’ is a good example – a debate on the power of music to heal wounds – but that said final LP ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ as a whole is probably the most innocent naive album of the five.
First lyric: “Mother and Child Reunion” (first track on debut LP ‘Paul Simon and first single 1972) “I would not give you false hope on this strange and mournful day, but a mother and child reunion is only a motion away!” Latest lyric: “So Beautiful Or So What?’ (last track on the album of the same name 2012) “Ain’t it strange the way we’re ignorant? How we seek out bad advice? How we jigger it and figure it , mistaking value for the price, and play a game of time and love like a pair of rolling dice, so beautiful – or so what?”
Paul Simon kick-started his solo career with a song about a chicken and egg dish he spotted in a restaurant and turned into a philosophical muse about human beings being in charge of their destiny and their ability to heal over time. Zoom forward 40 years and the same thoughts are still on Paul Simon’s mind, only this time he’s aware that time might be running out and that as a rule humans don’t prioritise the right parts of their life.
THE SMALL FACES
First lyric: “What’cha Gonna Do Bout It?’ (debut single 1965) “I want you to know that I love you baby, Want you to know that I care, I’m so happy when you’re round me but I’m sad when you’re not there!” Last lyric: “Autumn Stone” (‘Autumn Stone’ 1968) “So now I’ve found a living sound, that lives, that breathes, and then makes love to me”
The Small Faces lasted just three years and three-and-a-half albums (‘Autumn Stone’ was never finished), but still went on quite a journey in that time. The first single is all breathless R and B swagger, a three minute chat-up line to a pretty girl, whereas their last (or near last – given the jumble of contents on the finished record its quite hard to work out which is which) is a complex song about how music gave direction to the narrator’s life, effectively a love song written for a melody line. The gap is huge despite the short time difference.
First lyric: “I Love My Dog” (debut single 1966) “I love my dog as much as I love you, though your love may fade my dog will always stay true” Latest lyric: “Dream On” (last track with lyrics from latest album as ‘Yusuf’ ‘Roadsinger’ 2009) “Dream on, dream on, dream on through the darkness!”
Cat Stevens is a mastermind at reinventing himself: he started as a teenage heartthrob sans beard with a penchant for ruffles and novelty songs played with an epic orchestra, switched at the age of 20 via a life-threatening illness to a bearded acoustic balladeer where each and every song had a deep message to convey and came out of retirement again after a 28 year gap as a Muslim teacher trying to offer his followers some ‘peace’. ‘I Love My Dog’ was released when Cat was all of 17 and naturally its quite different to the latest song released (when Cat/Yusuf was 62), although both songs share a simple optimism. ‘I Love MY Dog’ declares that, whatever happens in life, the narrator’s dog will always love him – the latest song ‘Dream On’ believes in a future happiness once present obstacles have passed; more or less the same message even if one is innocent and the other has come after many years of learning.
First lyric (as 10cc): “Oh, Donna!” (debut single 1972) “Oh Donna, you make me stand up, you make me sit down Donna, sit down Donna, stand up you make me break down!” Latest lyric: “Now You’re Gone” (discounting a remix of ‘I’m Not In Love’) (from latest album ‘Mirror Mirror’ 1995) “Now I’m sitting in the dark place, I got murder on my mind, say goodbye to the rat race, no more setting sun ‘cause soon I’ll be gone!”
10cc soon got pegged as a ‘comedy’ act, even though their first big attempt at a hit single wasn’t the 50s doo-wop pastiche ‘Donna’ at all, but the far more earnest and worried B-side ‘Waterfall’ (manager Jonathon King switching sides at the last minute). Really, most 10cc songs from this point on combined the two halves together for songs that made you think as well as laugh – and the band were still doing that 23 yes later on their second and final reunion album, when ‘Now You’re Gone’ is the sad tale of a murderer sobbing from loneliness because he’s just killed his true love (so do you feel sorry for him? Or not?)
First lyric (as The Who): “I Can’t Explain” (debut single 1965) “Got a feeling inside (Can’t explain!) A certain kind (can’t explain!) I feel hot and cold (Can’t explain) Right down in my soul, yeah (Can’t explain!)” Latest lyric: “Tea and Theatre” (‘Endless Wire’ 2005) “Won’t you have some tea in the theatre with me? One of us gone, one of us mad, one of us me – all of us sad”
‘My Generation’ might not have been around till single number three, but it’s punkish youthful energy and aggression is already here in single number one. As we’ve said before on this website, almost all Pete Townshend songs are deeper variations on this first song anyway, an actually quite articulate kid giving vent to the feelings of inadequacy, injustice and frustration he feels in everyday life (‘Quadrophenia’, for instance, is an 82 minute expansion of this 150 second song). However, final song (at the time of writing) ‘Tea and Theatre’ seems deliberately constructed as a farewell song, an updating of the years to reflect the fact that the Moon and the Ox are no more and that the other half of the band who once promised to ‘die before they grew old’ have ended up doing exactly that.
First lyric: “The Loner” (‘Neil Young’ 1969) “See him on the subway he’ll be down at the end of the car, watching you move until he knows you know who you are, no one can see him, nothing can free him, step aside, open wide, it’s the loner!” Latest lyric: “Walk Like A Giant” (‘Psychedelic Pill’ 2012) “I used to walk like a giant on the land, now I feel like a leaf floating on the stream, I want to walk like a giant”
Neil has worked in so many genres and worn so many personas down the years that it’s difficult to keep track. As it turns out his first, orchestral album was as much of a one-off aberration as any of the many to come (rockabilly, electronic, pure country, you name it!) but ‘The Loner’ was the song that came closest to summing up the inner Neil, even if it was track no 2 (the first, a lazy country blues named ‘The Emperor Of Wyoming’, doesn’t actually have any lyrics!): a paranoid frenzy of a socially awkward soul you don’t know whether to pity or avoid. His last song (at the time of writing – no doubt there’ll be another one very soon!) is a nostalgic wander down through the long and winding memory road, remembering how big neil and his pals once used to be and wishing that he could be that big and influential again and that people listened to what he had to say. Pointed squarely at old comrades CSN in the second verse, it’s actually CSN who helped Neil out the ‘rut’ of his first album by inviting him to join them in 1970, expanding his fanbase and giving him the opportunity to do something ‘different’ (Neil being Neil, he changed again in a matter of weeks by recording the first Crazy Horse album too).
Well, that’s it for another week. Whether we’re covering the beginning, the middle or an end of any of these band’s careers or not next week we’re not sure – but you’ll be able to read what we have to say in the normal place at the normal time. See you next issue!