Monday, 16 December 2013

Grateful Dead "In The Dark" (Album Review)



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The Grateful Dead "In The Dark" (1987)

Touch Of Grey/Hell In A Bucket/When Push Comes To Shove/West L.A. Fadeaway// /Tons Of Steel/Throwing Stones/Black Muddy River/ (My Brother Esau)


'In The Dark' is a bit of a surprise in the Grateful Dead's chronology. After two decades of selling albums to a slowly dwindling number of the faithful, the Grateful Dead ended 1987 as one of the biggest grossing acts of the age and with their first top ten album and single...ever. 'In The Dark' was even jokingly referred to in some quarters as the band's 'breakthrough' album after 14 previous albums and 20 years of trying. Most groups would kill for that sort of exposure but typically the Dead were worried when their crowds swelled and quadrupled in size and longterm fans dismissively took to calling newbie kids 'Darkers' (after this album) or 'Greyers' (after the hit single). What on earth had they started doing right after all these years that they'd been getting wrong? Would Dead concerts still seem like private shows put on for a (rather large) intimate family? Would the Dead have to - gulp - start acting professionally? Well, sadly as it turns out, the Dead have only one more album and just eight more years to run after this so the question sadly became rather null and void, but for many fans 'In The Dark' is the band's most triumphant moment, proof that if you keep playing the same thing for long enough it will become fashionable sometimes.

I must admit I'm a little 'in the dark' about why this LP more than all the others should have caught the public mood in such a way. Admittedly it's not a bad album (few Dead records are) and hit single 'Touch Of Grey' (which, typically, the Dead barely performed on stage once it had become a hit) is a delightfully catchy but gloriously appropriate statement of unbending, unbowing will that only a group who've been together for 20 years would write. The fact that the public had been 'starved' of product ever since 1980's lacklustre 'Go To Heaven' LP probably helped too, with people intrigued what the band had been up to after a then-unprecedentedly long wait for a band still very much going (the Dead played a ridiculous amount of concerts in the 1980s, at a time when most other bands from the 1960s were slowing down). But considering that it took so long to make - with so many abandoned sessions along the way down the years - and how prolific the Dead had been in the past (when Garcia and Hunter came up with songs at an alarming rate in the early 70s) 'In The Dark' seems somewhat insubstantial. At only seven tracks (eight if you count the cassette version, which adds 'My Brother Esau' otherwise relegated to B-side status - we'll be following suit in our review) 'In The Dark' is hardly overflowing with ideas. Worst still, the Dead have continued their late 70s trend of trying to make their albums sound as contemporary as they can, with the result that much of their timeless (outside time, in fact) music seems shoe-horned into a sterile 80s setting that's the antithesis of everything the Dead stand for (ironically, with so many vocals treated with unsuitable technological 'quirks', they've never sounded more dead than they do here.

Perhaps the album did so well, however, because fans had convinced themselves there might never be another Dead album. Jerry Garcia's drug habit was slowly becoming a problem (you can hear his imagination gradually fading away across the second half of the 1970s, both live and on record), he was becoming overweight and short of breath, unable to let loose for the glorious extended improvised solos of the past and on July 10th 1986, almost exactly a year before this album's release, came as close to death as anyone can without actually dying, spending four days in a coma from an onset of diabetes he didn't even know he had. Suffering something like that is sure to change your way of thinking and almost certainly encouraged the band to record as soon as possible rather than delaying their planned album yet further, although in many ways it's too soon: Garcia had to learn how to play the guitar all over again and his solos on this album are patchy: you can almost hear him thinking what to play and where to soar but his fingers won't quite get there just yet. Still, his recovery in the space of just one year is extraordinary (he's pretty much back to his 1980 standard of playing by the next and final album 'Built To Last') and a testament to just how naturally musical Garcia was, able to coax music out of anything even if it meant starting all over again from the beginning. The surprise is that this new passion for life doesn't really show itself on the album: all the songs here had been played in concert in some form before Garcia's coma. Many newer fans wrongly think that Garcia and writing partner Bob Hunter must have written his ode to growing old 'Touch Of Gray' with its adamant chorus 'I will survive' as a direct result of Garcia's illness, but no: the song had been the band's most popular 'new' song ever since it's introduction in 1982 (although it's appearance as the set opener in the first gig Garcia ever played after his comeback cemented it as his 'return' song in the eyes and ears of many - and a highly moving version it is too).

Another reason the Dead might have been particularly popular in 1987 is that the Western world was at the peak of the intense commercialisation and dog-eat-dog methodology of the 1980s. Reagan in America and Thatcher in Britain between them outlawed dissent and protest as much as possible (Cameron's doing exactly the same, but more secretly, today). Americans and Brits alike were being urged that everyone had equal opportunities and they shouldn't look over their shoulder at anyone who was suffering because they had the same chance of success as you. Some people bought that ideology, naturally (some still buy it, worryingly) and some bands starting adapting to that sort of ideas in their music, further distancing themselves from their audience. But the Dead were never going to bow to what politicians told everyone to think and following them and embracing the notions of family and support that goes with being a Deadhead was the most rebellious act many Americans (and kids from other countries) could do, short of running away with the circuses that didn't really exist anymore. 'In The Dark' manages to be both the Dead slightly more up-to-date (the production, which agonisingly distances the drummers, spaces the players out individually and treats the vocals with a muddy soup) and doing what they've always done: singing songs that could have been from any era, with no trace of that 'rat race' mentality so many other bands of the period had (as a hint other AAA albums out that year include Lindisfarne's 'cash-in' cheapo set of rock and roll covers 'C'mon Everybody', The Monkees get tempted back to record 'Pool It' seemingly only for the reunion money and Pink Floyd's anti-sceptic 'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason', which is about as uncaring an AAA album as they come). 'In The Dark' sounds very much like every other album out that year, but it's heart is beating stronger than probably any other record out that year (1987 also sees the rise of Marillion, a 1980s band who out-prog even the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd, suggesting that a 'romantic' alternative to the crassness of the 1980s was doing well in this period).

While the Dead have never really been political animals in the same way that the likes of CSN and Roger Waters have always been, 'In The Dark' is also the closest they come to a political album. Bob Weir, especially, has a real bee in his bonnet on this album, turning the tables on those who take money and bribes and live off the suffering of others only to look down on the Dead and fans because they enjoy music and soft drugs ('Hell In A Bucket'), writing the Vietnam polemic 'My Brother Esau' (which is about 20 years too late to have any impact on that war but is under-rated nonetheless, with allegories to long forgotten biblical wars that changed nothing showing how futile war is) and the marvellous 'Throwing Stones', a wry shrug of the shoulders at the ineffectualness of war the world over. I'd go so far as to rate this as Bob's best collection of contributions to a Dead album since 'Wake Of The Flood' in 1973, speaking up on behalf of the many and saying what so few others were brave enough to say (Waters, having abandoned the Floyd, doesn't have anything like the audience for his rants he used to have by 1987, CSN are a man down, David Crosby then serving a three year stretch for drug and gun possession and Jefferson Airplane have mutated into the poppy Starship by 1987, turning from a rottweiler with sharp teeth into a poodle simply there for show). Given how few other albums there were like 'In The Dark' out there in 1987, perhaps I am starting to see why this album was as popular as it was.

Garcia, though, is as ever, living in his own bubble and demonstrates very little knowledge of what's happening in the outside world. Many of his songs for the album (all written in collaboration with Hunter, as ever) seem to be about his complicated love life in the 1980s: Garcia had been with Carolyn Adams (known as 'Mountain Girl' to the Dead family) since the mid-1960s, although the two only married in 1981. However Garcia had also met old flame Deborah Koons in 1975 (while the Dead were making 'Blues For Allah') and slowly across the next ten years fell head over heels for her (finally marrying her a year before his death in 1994). There's also a third figure, Barbara Meir, who Garcia met sometime shortly before this album and who he's also deeply in love with even if the pair never actually marry. All three relationships are going on at once in 1987, with Garcia being Garcia still unsure about committing to any of them (his friendship with David Crosby and his talk of 'free love' is clearly having an effect). Depending on what books you read, the three of them didn't even know about each other at this point (although Koons and Adams are going to have a humdinger of a row when Garcia dies and they have to decide which of them is the 'widow'). That's clearly the inspiration behind 'When Push Comes To Shove', a brave stab at a comedy song that still can't put off the serious I-can't-decide motif at the heart of the song. Otherwise Garcia's clearly thinking about his mortality on this album, positively embracing life and 'borrowed time' with 'A Touch Of Grey', exploring the darker side of life that temporarily floored him on 'West L.A. Fadeaway' (a sea of bland hotel rooms causing the room to spin, although it might well have been about the death of Garcia's friend John Belushi rather than his own near-death experience) and 'Black Muddy River', the last in a glorious run of Garcia-Hunter songs about what happens when we got o meet our maker.

With Phil Lesh still sidelined songwriting wise (he hasn't written a song since 'Terrapin Station' in 1977, although he had two planned for the unfinished album the Dead were planning in 1995 before Garcia died) that leaves only keyboardist Brent Mydland. Still stinging from the poor reception his pair of songs on 'Go To Heaven' received, Brent is a rather shadowy figure on this album with just one song ('1000 Tonnes') that seems like lots of old Dead songs strung together to please old fans (especially 'Casey Jones'). That's a shame because the songs he comes up with for 'Built To Last' (many of which he already had for this album but didn't use) are better than Garcia's or Weir's for the most part and add a new strain of unrequited love songs to the Dead's overflowing canon of ideas and styles. Even his keyboards seem mixed low-down on this album - instead 'In The Dark' is dominated like never before by the two drummers, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, which is a plus on songs like 'Touch Of Grey' and 'Throwing Stones' that really benefit from having the two chasing each other's tails around the drunmkit, but falls apart on simpler songs like '1000 Tonnes' and 'West L.A. Fadeaway' where the emptiness of the backing track simply reveals how poorly these digital drums have been recorded compared to the days of old.

However, at least the band played together in the studio for this album (before adding overdubs in most cases), getting at least the 'feel' of the band still being the 'five fingers of one hand' they aimed for in the 1960s. It certainly helps that almost all the material on this album had been played by the band live for four or five years by this time, the longest the Dead had ever 'road tested' their material before recording it. Legend has it that the band treated the studio at 'Marin Vets' like a 'stage' (it was, in fact, a converted theatre), turning the lights out so that they would 'feel' that an audience might have been in front of them (which probably lead to the 'In The Dark' title). 'Built To Last' is an album that has better songs but worst performances, the tracks being built up layer by layer so that the whole thing doesn't really 'connect'. By contrast everything sits together nicely on 'In The Dark' - it's just a shame that some of the songs aren't that bit more substantial. By contrast the only time the Dead saw each other on 'Built To Last' it seemed to be when they were shooting the cover.

Talking of which, the clever cover for 'In The Dark' is both striking and fitting. Throughout the album the Dead sound 'in the dark' as to whether they still fit in 1987's pop charts after so long away and in a period so alien to their sensibilities and many of the narrators are puzzled by what life has been throwing at them, Garcia and Mydland in a personal and Weir in a universal sense. Shooting the band 'in the dark' is a masterstroke, the spotlights shone up into the band's eyes revealing the band as we've never seen them before. The mysterious 13th eye to the right of shot, by the way, is Billy Graham - the manager of the Fillmore East and West venues which had been the Dead's second home for much of the 1960s and 70s - who happened to call down to the Dead's office to talk business that day before finding the band were downstairs having their photo taken. As far as I can make out the other 'eyes' include (top row) Brent Mydland and Phil Lesh (middle row) Bill Kreutzmann and Jerry Garcia (bottom row) Mickey Hart and Bob Weir. Interestingly the LP and the current CD re-issue features these eyes the 'right way up', but the first CD pressings had the eyes 'upside down' for extra special weirdness effect. At least the cover we got isn't quite as spooky as it might have been: the creepy collage collection of eyes used on the back cover (neatly mimicking the many faced monster seen on 'Anthem Of The Sun') was originally intended for the front but in the latest of many run-ins with record company Warner Brothers they thought the cover was too frightening for people to buy! (For once, they were probably right!) This was, actually, a 'gift' given to Mickey Hart by a deadhead - quite what they were trying to tell him is unclear! (Maybe they thought he really was 'dead'?!) Even creepier (and rejected early on) was the band's original idea: shots of them with their eyes masked out and black! (The Dead had clearly been watching too many films starring the undead!)

Overall, then, 'In The Dark' is a curious LP. It's certainly an improvement on 'Go To Heaven' with the band firmly committed and well drilled this time and the decision for the band to record all-together as if they were playing live is the best decision the band could have made. Some of the songs, too, are every bit as good as this album's reputation suggests: 'Touch Of Grey' is a terrifically witty, wry song that manages to juggle Garcia's return to health (even before he knew he was poorly), the band's return to the studio, the band (and audience) entering middle age and being a gloriously catchy singalong even to people who'd never heard of the Dead before. 'Throwing Stones', too, is one of the best Dead songs from the second half of their career, with a particularly thrilling climax that finally asks the band to do something more direct and taut than their usual loose jamming style. 'Hell In A Bucket' is a fine, spirited rocker that proves the band still have bite. And 'Black Muddy River' is a fine ballad that proves the band still have heart. It's strange, though, how unlikeable much of the rest of the album is and why, even after a seven year gap between albums, there are only seven songs on the album 'proper'. Considering that there were so many other songs available (many of them released on follow-up 'Built To Last') and the fact that this album was meant to celebrate the new vigour in the band after Garcia's return to health, it's surprising that this album often feels so...insubstantial. Certainly I wouldn't have pointed at this album out of all the many classics in the Dead back catalogue and said 'this is the one that's going to sell millions' - it's not actually quite as good as 'Built To Last' as a whole, even if the performances and tie-in single are certainly superior. But there's no doubting the affection that fans have for this record or the fact that it is still the most commonly seen Dead album around, a strong seller that outsold records with much bigger advertising budgets and with much more airplay than this one. At times I can see why ('Touch Of Grey' has hit written all over it). But at other times, when suffering this album's lesser moments, I'm still 'in the dark' as to why...

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I've heard a lot of Dead concerts in my time (not quite the full 2,300 shows but I'm getting closer) and never is there a more moving spectacle than hearing Jerry Garcia, effectively back from the dead (and thus back playing with the Dead), kicking off the band's first show with 'Touch Of Grey'. The song might have been five years old but its chorus of 'I will get by, I will survive' sends an audible shiver through the audience of Deadheads as they realise how close they came to losing their hero. The best Grateful Dead song that doesn't sound anything like the Grateful Dead, 'Grey' somehow manages to be both chirpy and catchy and completely heartfelt, fully in keeping with anything else the band have done before. This track is a popular song even among old timers like me who feel the band lost it a bit during their last decade together and it's extremely popular among fans who only discovered the band through this song, ironically the first real influx of 'new' fans who wouldn't 'get' the references to middle-age and touches of grey. A song that manages to unite both oldies and newbies is a rare song indeed, but 'Touch Of Grey' is a rare song, managing to balance moaning verses about the difficulties in life with a life-affirming chorus that still sounds heartfelt. Garcia's bouncy melody gives the band their first novelty song since 'China Cat Sunflower' and the guitarist's clear joy in the song and with life as he launches into the solo is magnificent (especially considering the problems Garcia had trying to learn the guitar all over again during the past year). Hunter, though, is clearly aiming for something deeper with his words, managing to make us laugh both at what life is like now and what we expected it to be when we were younger (the 'kid who can't read at seventeen, with the words he knows all obscene!', an unfortunate by-product of carefree Dead parenting).

However, there's a deeper message in the song for those who want to hear it: Garcia even sings that growing older if not necessarily wiser is 'a lesson for me' and that while he might not be better off for being older something about it is better, before Hunter sums the song's philosophy with the carefree final reflection 'Oh, well a touch of grey kind of suits you anyway - and that was all I had to say'. The performance, too, is the Dead at their best, with all six musicians playing parts that on paper really shouldn't go together before coalescing magically and often unexpectedly on the odd co-ordinated line. In other words, this sounds like something a 'proper' band would have released in 1987 - but because the Dead approach music like nobody else it also sounded fascinatingly different and new to ears who hadn't heard this sort of thing before. There's a reason this song became the Dead's only charting single (yes, even 'Truckin' flopped in the 'outside' world!) - and it's not just the delightful promo video (featuring the band as skeleton puppets). 'Touch Of Grey' is the epitome of our website mantra of 'catchy but deep', instantly identifiable but instantly hummable too. The shock isn't that 'Touch Of Grey' became a hit but that it took the band five full years to record the song after writing what was an obvious hit! Fittingly the band started their last ever concert, on July 9th 1995, with this song, despite the fact that in true Dead style they barely played the song live back in the year when it was the song 'new' fans most wanted to hear!

'Hell In A Bucket' is a strong second track too, proof that the Dead had lost none of their bite in their 20th anniversary year. In fact, it's their rockiest song since 'From The Mars Hotel', more straightforward musically than most Dead songs and with a twin attack of snarling Garcia and Weir guitars that show they could play as 'dirty' as any heavy metal band, miles away from their usual 'clear' tones. I's just as well Weir's music is straightforward, though, because John Barlow's lyrics are difficult enough to navigate. Picing up on the colloquial term 'going to hell in a handbasket', Weir's longterm collaborator decides to 'Deadify' the phrase, turning the elegant, ethereal process into a mad, dangerous journey in an earthly bucket. Picking up on the age-old theme of people showing hate and violence towards peace-loving hippies, this song asks which section of life is more likely to end up in 'hell'. The narrator, though, is no saint but a human who 'stumbles and falls', with a lyric far more sexualised than most Dead songs (the 'babe' in the song has a 'chain, black whip and pets', the sound effects mean my guess is that the 'pet' is a 'bear'!) Weirdly, the girl has just been described as a 're-incarnation of Catherine the Great', ruler of Russia in the 18th century, when this happens- the two share a love of power but that's about it. The line about the narrator passively 'sipping champagne from her boot', by the way, is a late addition to the song (many of the early live performances from 1982 don't have this section), added by longterm Deadhead and presenter of the 'Dead radio hour' David Gans (who changed the line from 'kissing the toe of your boot'). This isn't love, though, but lust and this un-named mistress soon gets the better of the narrator, who wearily sets out his revenge: 'There may come a day I will dance across your grave - unable to dance I'll crawl'', holding the song up as Weir barks the last line over and over. The song then sums up that 'I might be going to hell in a bucket - but at least I'm enjoying the ride', although Weir's demented vocal by the final refrain suggests that he might not be enjoying the ride as much as he thinks. Another great band performance and some of the best uses of sound effects on any AAA song (complete with roaring lions, motorbikes and a description-defying grunt that sounds straight from a Hammer Horror film). 'Hell In A Bucket' isn't a song to everyone's taste (although Weir apparently cut out even more X-rated verses from his original songwriting session) and was a surprise choice for the album's second single, but it's successful in proving that the band could still bite after the 'fluffiness' of 'Touch Of Grey' and Garcia, especially, has great fun acting out of character on the guitar.

'When Push Comes To Shove' is the album's second Garcia-Hunter song, clearly about Garcia's increasingly complicated personal life and clearly written as a sequel to 'Touch Of Grey', with a bunch of 'comedy' lines hiding what's actually a pretty deep subject about being scared about commitment. Unfortunately, the mixture of the two isn't quite as sophisticated as it was on 'Grey' - the song sounds light and jolly, the lost cousin of the bar-room drawl of 'Dupree's Diamond Blues' from 1969 in fat, so hearing Hunter's lines about 'stainless steel bats' and 'rattlesnakes here to punch you in the eye' just doesn't fit. It's unusual for Garcia and Hunter to come to the song with such different ideas (usually they're the most sympathetic of collaborators), which does make me wonder whether words or music came first. Hunter's tale of the narrator literally afraid to smell the roses (because in his twisted vision they're ready to 'punch him in the nose') is a rare case of him tackling the subject of 'love' in a song ('If I Had The World To Give' is about the only other one and that's far more successful, if derivative) seems to alternate affectionately mocking and angrily chastising Garcia for his situation whereby he was in love with three women at once (everyone seems to have known about these relationships except the women involved). 'What's the worst that can happen?' the song seems to be saying, although the joke is on the narrator who genuinely believes in all these things out to get him - sadly the song ends with the situation still unresolved, the narrator clearly in love but too afraid to admit it (most Hunter characters find 'redemption' somewhere in the song). The comparatively 'newest' song on the album, this song only appeared in the Dead's setlists with Garcia's comeback show in the summer of 1986, although whether it was written when he was convalescing or was written earlier but the Dead never got round to it is unknown (the slightly awkward rhythm and simplicity of the chords, however hint that this was an early song Garcia used to help him learn how to play the guitar again). 'Push' isn't a bad song - iron-fist-inside-velvet-glove comedy is one of the Dead's specialities - but somehow 'Push' manages to be neither funny nor moving. It's never been all that popular with fans, either, being quietly dropped from the band's setlists in 1989 after far less performances than the other Garcia-Hunter songs from this album.

Side one ends with 'West L.A. Fadeaway', another Garcia-Hunter song that - while no classic - does at least have a more memorable tune and lyrics that suit the surroundings. I've always seen this paranoid song as a sort-of update to 'New Speedway Boogie', Garcia-Hunter's song of alarm after the events of Altamont and a feeling in the air that something nasty is about to change life forever. That suddenly violent song sounded so out of place on 'Workingman's Dead', part of a series of songs celebrating long life and slow death - and this one does too, set amongst songs celebrating life and middle age, with it's confused, lost narrator's physical entrapment in a series of grey hotel rooms a metaphor for his directionless life. This is another of the Dead's occasional 'loser' characters, ones like August West ('Wharf Rat') and 'Loser' himself that we know will never pick themselves up again and find happiness, but that doesn't stop them dreaming about it. This song feels more personal that those two classic compositions however and could, again, be Hunter channelling his friend's confused life at the time, meeting an 'old mistake' on the streets (who could be Deborah Koons or Barbara Meir, who'd both known Garcia as a young man before bumping into him later in life; although neither are 'girls from West L.A.', the former being from Carolina and the latter from California) and always renting cheap hotel rooms (possibly for an illicit affair, although the lyrics are vague), rootless and restless without a 'proper' home to call his own. The lines about the narrator 'working for the mob' belatedly try to make the narrator sound like another of the Dead's outlaw gangster characters, but that line sounds 'planted' to me, merely a chance for Hunter to use one of his big beloved big words 'copasetic' (to rhyme with 'pathetic' - apparently it comes from a French word meaning 'able to cope with everything and nothing' or criminal slang for 'copper on the settee'; no I'm not buying that last explanation either!) Garcia certainly seems to be channelling something in one of his all-time classic solos, guttural and angry and trying to force it's way past a 'trap', but never quite managing it, fizzing out for yet another verse of confusion and hopelessness and his vocal, too, is filled with more conviction than normal, suggesting this song is 'real' to him. One alternative interpretation by Deadheads down the years is that this song is about comedian John Belushi, who died of a drugs overdose at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont shortly before this song started appearing in the Dead's concerts in 1982 after one mistake too many. However, there's nothing to link him directly to the song. An earlier, lighter version of the song appears on the most recent CD issue as a bonus track, taped during aborted album sessions in 1984; admittedly the band are only playing a 'guide' version of the song, but it's clear that the song hasn't picked up its spooky vibe yet and don't know it as well, suggesting that playing so much of 'In The Dark' live for five years first was a good idea. Ultimately, then, 'West L.A' is a lock without a key, the narrator after rooms 'just for a minute or two' (so either for a quick illicit affair or some shady operation passing something over), unfathomable to anyone outside the song's authors.

'Tone Of Steel' is Mydland's one and only song on the album. A rollicking train number in the vein of 'Casey Jones' (both the Dead's version and the folk original), it also returns to his favourite theme of love being a trap and romances going out of control. Mydland does well to keep the metaphor going for the whole song, the pair 'jumping the tracks' where the 'brakes don't work' and 'the engine's sure to blow', although comparing his former loved one to '100,000 tonnes of steel' might have been a comparison too far (even if it does convey the sense of a juggernaut that can't be moved and that the romance was always heading for a crash somewhere down the line). Interestingly this is only the second and last time that Mydland will feature his own lyrics in a Dead song - he certainly doesn't have future collaborator Barlow's ear for a good line for conveying depth or emotion and this song bears no comparison to the pair's later, better work on 'Built To Last'. However, I've also had a softer spot for Mydland's work than most Deadheads seem to have and this song is already a huge improvement on 'Easy To Love You', the rather MOR song Mydland contributed to 'Go To Heaven'. He's clearly been doing his homework since the last album (when he'd only been a member of the Dead for a few months) and seven years of playing on classic Dead songs has clearly given him a much better knowledge for what will work with this band. The song is especially good at opening up for the solo section and offering just the right walking-pace tempo that are always the best at letting the band fly into the unknown (like many a Dead song, this one works much better live, with the possibility of flying off in several directions, than it does here on record). Mydland's vocal is great, too, gritty and assertive without the treacle of 'Love You' or the late-period gruffness so many years of hard living had done to his voice by the time of his death in 1990. Mydland might have always felt the reputation as the band's new boy and 'Tons Of Steel' might be far from the best work he gave the band, but considering he was about 12 years behind the rest of the group he's fitted in nicely I think, especially the harmonised vocals where his voice and Bob's go together really well.

'Throwing Stones' is the album's second classic, the best Bob Weir song in many a year, he and lyricist Barlow scratching their head over this 'badly designed amusement arcade' we call Earth. On the surface mankind has everything: a beautiful blue ball 'spinning spinning free, dizzy with possibilities', no greater predator we have to overcome and no rivals for our food and shelter. And yet the planet is only 'peaceful' when seen from space: 'a closer look reveals the human race' and all the fighting, injustices, divisions and jingoism that sets so many of men on our brothers. Seeing Earth from space as a 'unified place' as all the space explorations see it and beam back to the planet should have brought us closer together - but instead modern technology and 'petty wars' are breaking us apart further than we'd ever been in the early 1980s (this is another song performed by the band as early as 1982). Using the chorus of 'London Bridge' ('Ashes Ashes all fall down') as a measure of how long man has been at war with himself and how fruitless this has been, Weir builds up to a real froth of indignation in this song, especially the extended finale which finds the song sticking to a relentless, unmoving groove until suddenly breaking loose. Attacking broken dog-eat-dog societies (which means 'darkness never falls from some men's eyes' even when things get better with the 'sunrise', 'pin-striped bosses' deciding people's fete with the throw of a dice, politicians 'throwing stones' instead of speaking up for those they represent, 'heartless powers telling us what to think', segregated immigration ('Back goes South and white goes North), class ('The rich man in his summer home' clueless as to why the poor around him are angry at having nothing) and 'current fashions' brainwashing everyone in the middle into spending their money, this brilliant ending is one of the single most exciting moments of any Dead song. Indeed, 'Stones' is more like a CSN or Jefferson Airplane song in its acerbic commentary and attempt to give those who don't have one a 'voice', most unusual for the Dead whose most political act before 1967 was playing the odd protest gig for 'criminals' locked up on trumped up drugs charges. Weir is at his best here and you can really hear the frustration in his voice, although it's Garcia's again usually brutal, brittle guitar solo that steals the show. Full marks also go to the two drummers, Billy and Mickey, who really make the most of their twin drum attack here, calling-and-answering each other across some of the widest stereo separation channels in the band's career. Yes Mydland's tinny keyboards sound out of place here (although they're very much in keeping with everything else recorded in 1987) and the production is still very 1980s, unmoving and sterile, but this is still an impressively strong song played with real conviction by a band entering new territory and measuring their performance just right. The longest song on quite a long album, at 7:21 ('In The Dark' would have been 19th had we turned our top 15 list of 'albums containing songs with the longest average running time' in News, Views and Music 219, at a lengthy 5:40 per song), 'Throwing Stones' makes full use of every second of its extended length.

I must confess that I'd never really taken to 'Black Muddy River', the final Garcia-Hunter song on the album, which has long been a fan favourite but for me all too clumsily handles the idea of death that's already been superbly played out by the pair on such songs as 'High Time' and 'Lay Me Down' (a lesser known Garcia solo song that's one of the pair's very best). However, thanks to the excellent website VibeVault and its comprehensive stash of free Dead tapes I've now heard Garcia's last ever performance of this song, sung in a creaking, cracking voice during his last Dead concert and the penultimate song the Dead ever played (the final was weirdly another song about death, Phil Lesh's 'Box Of Rain') and like many a fan hearing it since Garcia's death I cried buckets on finding it. There's simply a weight, resonance and voodoo that this earlier version simply doesn't have (Garcia clearly knew he was dying, though the Dead were due to have gone back to work only about a month after he died in the middle of a two-month vacation). Death has long been a favourite theme of the Dead and one that's dominated their albums since the band's youth, so it's no wonder that the song about death written closest to Garcia's own has been given a sort of retrospective respect it doesn't always deserve. Other than the metaphor in the title, there are no lines in this song Hunter hadn't already written better in 'To Lay Me Down', the weary narrator finding that his life is naturally coming to a close and that he's accepting the fact he has to die, no matter how many 'counting of the years' there might physically be to go. On album, Hunter's simple lyric doesn't seem up to his usual standards of depth and open-ness and the simple metaphor of the veil between this world and the next as a 'black muddy river' seems a little too simple compared to his other creations. The best part is a crowd-cheering reference to past Dead classic 'Ripple', as the ripples through the ages in that song are keenly felt by the narrator at death's door. The music, too, isn't one of Garcia's best offerings, trying desperately hard to clutch at the sleepy solemnity of songs like 'High Time' and 'Black Peter' but sounding bored and tired rather than inspired as he was in his youth. Performance-wise, too, the band sound the closest they get to auto-pilot for this album, with what sounds like a warm-up vocal for Garcia wandering around the notes and the many many repetitions of this song taxing the band's patience and inventiveness by the end. And yet - what Deadhead could possibly play this song eight years or more later and not feel a rush of sadness at the thought that, even though Garcia's death from a heart attack in his sleep came suddenly, he's already given us his last will and testament with this song? Who, too, hearing this for the first time at Garcia's 'comeback' show in 1986 wouldn't have been struck by it's subject matter of mortality, just as one of the two creators had just escaped meeting his maker in person. As a composition it's below par, as a performance on the 'In The Dark' record it's poor (shockingly the 'alternate take' featured as a bonus track on the CD of this album is even worse), but the history and emotional investment Deadheads have in this song mean it will always be a classic, a final goodbye from our favourite musical teacher no matter how many classic encores are still to come on the band's final LP.

That just leaves 'Mr Brother Esau', which does indeed stick out like an E-sore thumb on this album, presumably the reason why both vinyl and CD copies of 'In The Dark' missed it out altogether. Weir's analysis of the Vietnam War (and by association what was happening in 1987, the early mutterings that became the Gulf War in 1990) is far too good to remain unloved on a B-side, however, even one as popular and best-selling as 'Touch Of Grey', so I've always counted it as a 'proper' track despite never owning the cassette copy of the album (where it was added to balance the gulf between the two sides' running times). Fearing for the new 'warlike' mentality in the youth of the day (which both the early Gulf War and Falklands War had temporarily resurrected), Weir and Barlow try and remind us of what war was really like. The Vietnam War was already very much a 'past historical event' in 1987, despite only coming to a chaotic conclusion in 1975, forgotten as a military disaster to the younger generation, so the writers try and re-tell it as currently as they can with all its open wounds and violence. However, they also have fun turning it into a biblical parallel (the title alone sounds like a Bible entry) with the poor farmer's boy thrust into becoming a warlike machine and then abandoned when America pulls out of the war a clear parallel for Esau - twin of Jacob - in the bible (who, too, was a farmer before turning into a 'hunter' despite his shy, bookish nature). Nice, ordinary people being transformed by war into something uncontrollable by war is not a new theme for music, but it is quite a new strand of song for the Dead and the lyrics are among Barlow's best for the group, from the why-are-we-fighting? polemic when Esau finally meets his feared enemy face-to-face ('The more my brother looks like me, the less I understand') and the idea of mankind in general 'shadow-boxing the apocalypse', all sides caught in a stalemate whatever war is being fought, is a strong one. Interestingly, the song is quite short by this album's standards (running 4:20), with a whole verse (originally the second) cut from the song following early live appearances (one of the few times this happens with the Dead as opposed to, say, Paul Simon whose always changing his lyrics): this should have read 'My Brother Esau tried to build a world, a marvellous disguise, where everything is easy and there's nothing to deny, although he gave me all his cards I could not play his hand, so I made a choice that soon became a stand'. Weir's music is mainly there to keep the lyrics rolling onwards but it does stand out for its complexity on an album chock-full of lighter, simpler songs. Less immediate than any other song on 'In The Dark', you can see why it's a bit of an un-loved orphan, the first release since the heavily trimmed studio single version of 'Dark Star' in 1969 not to appear on a proper Dead album. Like the character at the heart of the song, though, 'My Brother Esau' deserves a much better break in life.

Overall, then, 'In The Dark' is an impressive album from a band celebrating their 20th year together and a fine return after a rather patchy run of records and a seven-year-gap. 'In The Dark' deserved to do well and tie-in single 'Touch Of Grey' was rightfully hailed as a classic almost from the minute it hit the stage, a perfect song released at the perfect time. I'm puzzled, though, as to why - by Dead standards - 'In The Dark' didn't just do a little bit better than normal but completely blew away the normal sales figures by which Dead albums are judged. It's certainly one of the Dead's more commercial, accessible LPs, which no doubt helped, if nowhere close to being light and fluffy and radio-friendly the way those kind of sentences usually run on this site. However, by the standards of 1987 'In The Dark' sounds like nothing else released at the time, when music largely agreed with the harsh economic policies and money-making bravado of the times and heroes tended to be strong, assertive and dynamic - a million miles away from the bumbling, kind, supportive, warm-hearted feeling of being part of the Grateful Dead 'family' (and the Dead do have a 'family' quite unlike any other, certainly in rock music, and that's continued despite the fact that it's now 18 years since their last gig). Perhaps, ultimately, that's the reason why 'In The Dark' proved such a success: for people not the right shape for the square-pegs society tried to put them through in the mid-1980s what better rebellion can there be than by joining the ranks of a band and followers who lived for failure almost as much as success, where big society meant a particularly large turn-out at Dead concerts and where you were measured by the size of your heart rather than your wallet. The Grateful Dead represented everything that was 'right' about a culture that had been brushed aside by 1987, shoved into 'the dark' for far too long by people who didn't 'get' the band 20 years after love-in concerts and all-night benefit concerts where the band played for free for hours because the crowd were digging it. They get most of it right on this LP, too, which might not ultimately be as good as many of their 1960s and 1970s masterpieces but still had more things right about it than almost every other release that year. Overall rating - 6/10.



Grateful Dead:


‘Live/Dead’ (1969) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/grateful-dead-livedead-1969.html

'Workingman's Dead' (1970)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/news-views-and-music-issue-138-grateful.html

'American Beauty' (1970)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-40-grateful-dead-american-beauty.html
'Blues For Allah' (1975) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/grateful-dead-blues-for-allah-1975.html

'Terrapin Station' (1977)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/news-views-and-music-issue-72-grateful.html
'Shakedown Street' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/grateful-dead-shakedown-street-1978.html
'Go To Heaven' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/grateful-dead-go-to-heaven-1980-album.html
'In The Dark' (1987) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/12/grateful-dead-in-dark-album-review.html

'Built To Last' (1989)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/news-views-and-music-issue-7-grateful.html
Surviving TV Clips 1966-1994 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/grateful-dead-surviving-tv-clips-1967.html
The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1993 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/grateful-dead-best-unreleased.html
The Last Unfinished Album 1990-1995 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/grateful-dead-last-unfinished-album.html
Live/Solo/Compilations Part One 1966-1976 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/grateful-dead-official.html
Live/Solo/Compilations Part Two 1978-2011 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/grateful-dead-official_29.html
A Guide To The CD Bonus Tracks http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/grateful-dead-guide-to-cd-bonus-tracks.html
Dick's Picks/Dave's Picks http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/grateful-dead-dicks-picksdaves-picks.html
Road Trips/Download Series/Miscellaneous Archive Releases
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/grateful-dead-road-tripsdownload.html

Essay: Why The ‘Dead’ Made Fans Feel So ‘Alive’ https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/grateful-dead-essay-why-dead-makes-fans.html
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/grateful-dead-five-landmark-concerts.html

Top Ten Sureallist AAA Song Lyrics (News, Views and Music 223)





Somebody asked me the other day why I only print some of the lyrics to each of my album reviews at the top of the page, rather than including the whole lot. There are a few reasons for this: one is that I don't to step on any of the toes of the fine lyric sites that are already out there (take a bow A-Z lyrics, Metro Lyrics and Sing 365 Lyrics, who have been invaluable on the few occasions an AAA album wasn't released with a lyric sheet - and if none of those three sites cover my song then I know I'm in trouble!) Another is copyright issues: as a reviewer I'm allowed to reprint around 20% of a lyric for the purposes of making a review. A third is space: yes, you did read that right, despite the fact that a lot of these articles seem to go on forever I don't want to push my luck by delaying you lot from reading the main review any more than I have to. So why quote from the lyrics at all then? Well, I like to give the 'first word' in any review to the people who wrote the album and by taking what I feel are 'key quotes' to ruminate over during the review readers might get a better sense what the heck I'm on about half the time. To quote from them verbatim would be boring, but to not quote from them at all would result in me trying to impose my opinions on an album without letting readers come to their own opinions first (even if you don't own any of the albums I review, hopefully you'll still get a 'flavour' from the lyrics I choose to quote from). Now, I don't think for one moment that all of you read every single quote religiously - most of you will know them well enough from the albums anyway - but it's there for anyone who wants it. Occasionally, though, there are some lyrics that are so downright weird, wacky and wonderful they deserve to be printed in full, so for this week I've chosen ten of my favourite did-they-really-just-say-that? lyrics and our potshot at what they might be on about. There are no real rules this week, only that I've stuck with just the one entry per artist (otherwise this list would just be full of 10cc and Syd Barratt songs!) By all means feel free to leave your own suggestions for strangest AAA song lyrics in our comments page, but remember 'I Am The Walrus' makes perfect sense in the interpretation we gave it in our review so I won't be accepting that one! ('Dig A Pony', however, is fair game). Oh and incidentally my favourite AAA opening lyric of all is still Cat Stevens' "100 I Dream": "They brang us up with horns and Hollywooden songs..." (what does that line mean?!)

1) Pink Floyd "Bike" (Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, 1967)

"I've got a bike. You can ride it if you like.
It's got a basket, a bell that rings and
Things to make it look good.
I'd give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.
You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world.
I'll give you anything, everything if you want things.
I've got a cloak. It's a bit of a joke.
There's a tear up the front. It's red and black.
I've had it for months.
If you think it could look good, then I guess it should.
You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world.
I'll give you anything, everything if you want things.
I know a mouse, and he hasn't got a house.
I don't know why. I call him Gerald.
He's getting rather old, but he's a good mouse.
You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world.
I'll give you anything, everything if you want things.
I've got a clan of gingerbread men.
Here a man, there a man, lots of gingerbread men.
Take a couple if you wish. They're on the dish.
You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world.
I'll give you anything, everything if you want things.
I know a room of musical tunes.
Some rhyme, some ching. Most of them are clockwork.
Let's go into the other room and make them work"


I have seen some hilarious discussions of this song down the years - including my own no doubt! For some Syd Barratt is writing about his childhood here, to others his bicycle means 'freedom', an escape from problems at home, a few see 'Bike' as a dismissive sneer against the material world that only buys people 'things' and for others it's a sign of how mentally unstable he was even in his annalus mirabilus of 1967. As far as I'm concerned, this is Syd having fun, wanting to write something so totally outrageous and yet charming it even dispenses with a rhyming scheme and a rhythm ('Don't know why I call him Gerald!' is a line that comes completely out the blue when you first hear this song!) The ending - which loses a little something on the page but sounds tremendous on record - really is a room full of clockwork toys all chiming at once!

2) Jefferson Airplane "The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil" (After Bathing At Baxters, 1967)

"If you were a bird and you lived very high,
You'd lean on the wind when the breeze came by,
You'd say to the wind as it took you away,
That's where I wanted to go today"
And I do know that I need to have you around
Love like a mountain springtime,
flashing through the rivers of my mind;
it's what I feel for you.
Amardil-il-il-o-o-o
Armadillo

You and me go walking south
And we see all the world around us,
The colours blind my eyes and my mind to all but you,
And I do know that I need to have you around,
And I do, I do know that I need to have you around.
I have a house where I can go
When there's too many people around me;
I can sit and watch all the people
Down below goin' by me;

Halfway down the stair is a stair
Where I sit and think around you and me;
But I wonder will the sun still see all the people goin' by.
Will the moon still hang in the sky when I die,
When I die, when I'm high, when I die?
If you were a cloud and you sailed up there,
You'd sail on water as blue as air,
You'd see me here in the fields and say,
"Doesn't the sky look green today?"


For my money the most psychedelic album I've ever heard is the Jefferson's third LP 'After Bathing At Baxters', even if it only just made the year of 1967 by a few weeks. Opening track 'Pooneil' sets out it's stall from the first, opening with a full minute of pounding, pulsating feedback before Paul Kantner's lyrics turn the whole world on it's head. Suddenly the skies are green, minds turn into rivers and the world is full of armadillos, with the strange title derived from one of Kantner's favourites AA Milne ('Pooneil' is a mixture of Winnie the Pooh and folk singer Freddy Neil: add in Lewis Carroll and a bucketload of LSD and you'll get a fair idea where this album is coming from with those influences). Taking in the illusions of the world, death, drug highs and loneliness, this is a tour de force that more than deserves to be read in full.

3) Simon and Garfunkel "Bookends" (1968)

"Wish I was a Kellogg's Cornflake
Floatin' in my bowl takin' movies,
Relaxin' awhile, livin' in style,
Talkin' to a raisin who 'casion'ly plays L.A.,
Casually glancing at his toupee.

Wish I was an English muffin
'Bout to make the most out of a toaster.
I'd ease myself down,
Comin' up brown.
I prefer boysenberry
More than any ordinary jam.
I'm a "Citizens for Boysenberry Jam" fan.

Ah, South California.

If I become a first lieutenant
Would you put my photo on your piano?
To Mary Jane--
Best wishes, Martin.
Old Roger draft-dodger
Leavin' by the basement door,
Everybody knows when he's
Tippy-toeing down that floor"

Paul Simon's slab of whimsy was deliberately written to lighten the load of fourth Simon and Garfunkel LP 'Bookends', a record about the aging process and death. 'Punky's Dilemma' is the single silliest thing Paul ever wrote, clearly fulfilling the role of 'Feelin' Groovy' from the previous album, and was inspired by the tune of a Kellogg's Cornflakes commercial (which the band used to 'accidentally' end up in during live performances). No one seems to have any idea who the real 'Punky' was (including his author), but keep an eye out for the last verse where Paul can't resist getting in a dig at the Vietnam war and draft dodgers...

4) The Small Faces "The Hungry Intruder" (Ogden's Nut Gone Flake" 1968)

"Here am I
Tiny Fly
May I share your Shepherd's Pie?
What is this strange voice I hear?

Here I am
Look This Way
In the landscape on your tray

There's no need to ask a silly question
If I were you I hope you'd do the same
There's no doubt I'd help a hungry fly
To see you in a fix it's really such a shame

I'm so hungry
I could die
And now I'll a living fly

My name is Stan
I'm on a quest
Take your fill,
Take nothing less

I am that
That am I
And now I'll be a living fly"


If you don't know the album then I bet this one's got you puzzled! The second side of 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' is a spoof concept album about 'Happiness Stan' on a 'quest' to find out why the moon has disappeared (Note the references to the moon disappearing in 'You and Me and Pooneil' above - was this an influence?!) Naturally Stan's friend in this quest is a humble fly who asks him to share his food in this song, resulting in a set of lyrics that out of context much surely make for one of the strangest songs ever written!

5) The Beatles "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" ('The White Album', 1968)

"She's not a girl who misses much
Do-do-do-do-do, oh yeah

She's well acquainted
With the touch of a velvet hand
Like a lizard on a window pane

Man in the crowd
With the multicoloured mirrors
On his hobnail boots

Lying with his eyes
While his hands are busy
Working overtime

The soap impression of his wife
Which he ate and donated
to the National Trust

I need a fix cause I'm going down
Down to the bits that I've left up town
I need a fix cause I'm going down

Mother Superior jumped the gun
Mother Superior jumped the gun
Mother Superior jumped the gun

Happiness is a warm gun
( bang bang shoot shoot )
Happiness is a warm gun, yes it is
(bang bang shoot shoot)

When I hold you in my arms (oh yes)
When I feel my finger on your trigger (oh yes)
I know nobody can do me no harm
Because
happiness is a warm gun, momma
Happiness is a warm gun
-Yes it is.
Happiness is a warm, yes it is...
Gun!
Well don't ya know that happiness is a warm, yes it is, gun!"


Lennon spent the second half of the Beatles' career being influenced by Yoko Ono's take on life - that anything can be art and that art doesn't necessarily have to make sense. Starting with 'I Am The Walrus' and ending up via 'Hey Bulldog' through 'Dig A Pony', many of Lennon's more successful songs are about how life is a nonsense and admitting it can set you free. 'Happiness' is arguably the weirdest. A free association game of wordplay, it's the closest Lennon ever came to getting his 'In His Own Write' punning wordplay and wit into a song lyric. The likeliest interpretation is that this is a love song to Yoko (who was nicknamed 'Mother' and occasionally 'Mother Superior' by Lennon, who really saw her as a replacement for his own mother Julia), written using her own love of wordplay. 'She's not a girl who misses much' may well be Lennon's single best tribute to his main muse, while Brian Epstein's assistant Alistair Taylor remembers word associating with Lennon for the last verse, taking pictures out of magazines at random. The man with 'multi-coloured mirrors' was real. for instance, and was fined for using them to look up girls' skirts as they passed by. The title phrase, however - that may refer to drugs or sex or both as well as violence - was inspired by a gun magazine that George Martin casually brought into a Beatles session one day, to the horror of Lennon (who like the other Beatles had just been lectured in India about the sacredness of life); legend has it the session was 'All You Need Is Love' which would make the event stick doubly in his mind. For an interpretation of the 'soap impression of his wife' lyric, though, you're on your own!

6) Grateful Dead "China Cat Sunflower" (Aoxomoxoa, 1969)

"Look for a while at the china cat sunflower,
Proud walking jingle in the midnight sun.
Copperdome bodhi drip a silver kimono,
Like a crazy quilt stargown through a dream night wind.

Crazy cat peekin through a lace bandanna,
Like a one-eyed cheshire, like a diamond-eye jack.
A leaf of all colours plays a golden-string fiddle,
To a double-e waterfall over my back.

Comic book colours on a violin river crying leonardo,
Words from out a silk trombone.
I rang a silent bell, beneath a shower of pearls,
In the eagle-winged palace of the queen chinee"


Oh the look on people's faces when they try to tackle this 12/8 time song on the game RockBand and end up falling prey to Jerry Garcia's horrifically complex time signature and Bob Hunter's wildest set of lyrics (and boy he wrote a few of these - I nearly included 'What's Become Of The Baby' from the same album, but that's too disturbing even for me!) 'China Cat Sunflower' is a real cat who has many colourful adventures (my guess is he's from the same litter as Pink Floyd's 'Lucifer Sam') before settling back to his quiet existence on earth. Absolutely bonkers. Beautiful poetry too of course (Hunter never wrote a bad lyric in his life), but still bonkers.

7) 10cc "I Wanna Rule The World!!!" (How Dare You!, 1976)

"I wanna be a boss
I wanna be a big boss
I wanna boss the world around
I wanna be the biggest boss
that ever bossed the world around

I wanna do it right
I wanna do it right away
I wanna do it right now
I wanna do it right away
I wanna do it now

Don't wanna be a dancer in the Bolshoi Ballet
Don't want to work for Daddy
In Daddy's shop, 0.K.

I get confused, so confused
I get a pain, I get a pain up here
In the Shirley Temples

What you gonna do
How you gonna do it
What you gonna do
How you gonna do it

Little by little, ooh ooh
Little by little, bit by bit

Sssh! Not too loud, don't tell everybody
Don't give away the game
Oooh, oooh,
I aint quite ready to reveal my campaign

This is not the time
My hero's are alive and well in a cave
I'm keeping them on ice in suspended animation
Till the very right occasion comes along

To our rally come along
Come along to our rally
Come along to our rally come along

To our rally come along
Come along to our rally
Come along to our rally come along

A Brave new world will rise from the ashes
And there upon a rock titanic, I'll cast a giant
Shadow on the face of the deep
And never again will they dare to call me
A freckled, spotty, specky, four eyed
Weedy little creep!

No more tremblin' and quakin' in the gym
No more come on fellas, let's get him

What you gonna do
How you gonna do it
What you gonna do
How you gonna do it

Little by little, ooh, ooh
Little by little, bit by bit
Little by little, ooh, ooh
Little by little, bit by bit
bit by bit
bit by bit

Everyone's going to be free
But they'll have to agree to be free
They'll have to agree to be less free than me
'Cos I rule the world you see

So wait for the army of kiddy-winkies
And terrible tiny tots
In armoured school buses
Firing poison pea-shooters
And sinking their milk teeth into your thighs
Delapsus resurgam! when I fall I shall rise!

Wanna be a boss
I wanna be a big boss
I wanna boss the world around
I wanna be the biggest boss
that ever bossed the world around"


10cc revel in a glorious absurdist anarchic sense of humour. It happens to be one I share, as anyone whose seen any of our AAA Youtube videos will surely agree to! As a result there are several strange 10cc lyrics doing the rounds, from prostitutes exercising in Paris, to a drowning air passenger saved by a flight attendant to a dance based on having a bad sacro-iliac. However, I've plumped for this one, from the band's last album with the Godley and Creme line-up, which pushes the song as far as it will go. A nerdy weak nobody plots to overthrow the world and rule over it, which mixes Latin, nursery rhymes, James Bond and Regency Theatre to great effect. Believe me, it's even weirder when you hear it!


8) Neil Young "Will To Love" (American Stars 'n' Bars, 1977)

"It has often been my dream
To live with one
who wasn't there
Like an ocean fish
who swam upstream
Through nets,
by hooks, and hungry bears.

When the water grew less deep
My fins were aching
from the strain
I'm swimming in my sleep
I know I can't go back again.

Got the will to love,
the will to love.
I'll never lose it,
never lose the will to love,
Never lose the will.
It's like
something from up above.

I can be like
a fire in the night
Always warm
and giving off light
But there comes a time
when I shine too bright
Oh, I'm just a fire in the night.

And now my fins are in the air
And my belly's
scraping on the rocks
I still think
someone really cares
And I'll keep swimming
till I stop.

Got the will to love,
the will to love.
I'll never lose it,
never lose the will to love,
Never lose the will.
It's like
something from up above.

I'm like a singer on the stage
With the golden lights
and liquid rage
Down from the mountains
to the sea
Cool running love
keeps cleansing me.

It keeps my gills
from getting dry
But it distorts things
in my eyes
Sometimes I see
what really isn't there
Like my true lover, and I care.

Got the will to love,
the will to love.
I'll never lose it,
never lose the will to love,
Never lose the will.
It's like
something from up above.

Sometimes I ramble on and on
And I repeat myself
till all my friends are gone
And get lost in snow
and drown in rain
And never feel the same again.

I remember the ocean
from where I came
Just one of millions all the same
But somewhere
someone calls my name
I'm a harpoon dodger,
and I can't, won't be tamed.

Got the will to love,
the will to love.
I'll never lose it,
never lose the will to love,
Never lose the will.
It's like
something from up above.

Baby, if I see boredom
in your eyes
I'll know my river has run dry
But I won't turn back
with that lonely tide
I bought that ticket
and I'll take that ride.

If we meet along the way
Please sway beside me,
let us sway together
Our tails together
and our fins and mind
We'll leave this water
and let our scales shine
In the sun above
and the sky below
So all the water
and earth will know

It has often been my dream
To live with one
who wasn't there"


Equally Neil Young's been known for some weird (or, if you're kind, 'Dylanesque') lyrics down the years. Check out 'The Old Homestead' and 'Lost In Space' for other, even weirder lyrics, while I was almost tempted to go for the minimalist lyric 'Got mashed Potato, ain't got no T-Bone!' (literally, that's all the lyric there is, for a full eight minutes). However, I've gone for 'Will TO Love', which sounds on first listen as if it's quite a straightforward song - until you realise that Neil is inhabiting the soul of a fish. Using a fish's hazardous journey as a metaphor for love enables Neil to really get into the feeling of a 'salmon fishing upstream', but far from being simply a wacky lyric there's a real heart to this one, taking in very real human feelings of loneliness, anguish and heartbreak along the way.

9) The Beach Boys "Johnny Carson" (Beach Boys Love You, 1977)

"He sits behind his microphone
John-ny Car-son
He speaks in such a manly tone
John-ny Car-son

Ed McMahon comes on and says "Here's Johhny"
Every night at eleven thirty he's so funny
It's (nice) to (have) you (on) the (show) tonight
I've seen (your) act (in) Vegas out of sight

When guests are boring he fills up the slack
John-ny Car-son
The network makes him break his back
John-ny Car-son

Ed McMahon comes on and says "Here's Johnny"
Every night at eleven thirty he's so funny
Don't (you) think (he's) such (a) natural guy
The (way) he's (kept) it (up) could make you cry

Who's a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who's a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who's a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who's the man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire"


I guess compared to the other entries on this list 'Johnny Carson' is a fairly normal song lyric. There are no references to armadillos, green skies, lizards on windowpanes, china cat sunflowers, taking over the world or Kellogg's cornflakes for a start and we do at least know that Johnny Carson is a real person. However, why anyone should want to write a whole song about a minor TV chat-show host is another matter. Brian Wilson's always had the ability to write about what's happening in his everyday life (even if he's 'busy doin' nothin' as on one memorable song), but sad to say the biggest thing in life circa 1977 was his daily ritual of sitting down to watch the Johnny Carson show. Incidentally, 'The Beach Boys Love You' might well win the award for 'whole AAA album with weirdest lyrics' what with its other songs about airplanes, rollerskating children, solar systems bringing us wisdom, honking down the gosh darn highway and a song that repeats 'Ding, Dang' over and over!

10) Paul McCartney "Party" (Run Devil Run, 1999)

"Some people like to rock, some people like to roll,
but moving and a grooving gonna satisfy my soul.
Let's have party, let's have party, send it to the store,
let's buy some more, let's have party tonight.

I've never kissed a bear, I've never kissed a goon,
but I can shake a chicken in the middle of the room.
Let's have party, let's have party, send it to the store,
let's buy some more, let's have party tonight.

Now, honky-tonky Joe is knocking at the door,
bring him in and fill him up and set him on the floor.
Let's have party, yeah, let's have party, send it to the store,
let's buy some more, let's have party tonight.
Party, party, well, I feel it in my leg, feel it in my shoe,
tell me, pretty baby if you think you feel it too.
Let's have party, let's have party,
oh, I'm gonna send it to the store, let's buy some more,
let's have party tonight.

Some people like to rock, some people like to roll,
but moving and a grooving gonna satisfy my soul.
Let's have party, let's have party, send it to the store,
let's buy some more, let's have party tonight.
We're gonna send it to the store, let's buy some more, have party tonight.

Oh yeah, we're gonna have ourselves a little party, yeah, yeah, tonight.
I'm not giving in, man, I'm gonna have a party, yeah.
Party, party, yeah, I'm not going home yet,
send it to the store, let's buy some more, we're gonna have a party tonight.

Some people like to rock, people like to roll,
but moving and a grooving gonna satisfy my soul, let's have a party
I'm not giving up....
I'm going to keep it going!....
Some people like to rock, some people like to roll,
but moving and a grooving gonna satisfy my soul....
Till the year 1999
Till the year 2000
Till the year 3000...."


OK, I'll be honest, most of this cover song (it was written by Jessie Mae Robinson and covered by Elvis for the film 'Loving You') makes sense in a rock and roll wop-bop-a-loo-bop type way. The narrator's excited that he's having a party, after all, and there's not too much that's weird about that. However, check out the second verse which contains my favourite ever lyric 'I've never kissed a bear, I've never kissed a Goon, but I can shake a chicken in the middle of the room!' Rumour has it that when Macca came to record this album for his rock and roll covers album 'Run Devil Run' the whole band spent their ear to the record trying to decipher the lyric, inspiring a memory that Paul had of doing exactly the same aged 15 with his ear to his dad's turntable. Even the internet didn't help so they got in touch with the publishers who said that, as far as they officially knew, that was the genuine lyric - and the 'Goon' was indeed inspired by the Beatles' radio favourites 'The Goon Show' (so much so I'm surprised Lennon - an even bigger fan than McCartney - didn't cover this song himself for his 'Rock 'n' Roll' album!)
And that's that for now. Silly or sensible, creative or incomprehensible, we'll be back next week with more news, views and music!