Monday, 14 April 2014

AAA Songs About Horses (Top Ten, News Views and Music 240)

Dear all, it's horses for courses this week as we follow up Stephen Stills' pony pursuits with his horse Major (the only horse to make an AAA album cover) and ask why so many AAA members ride those crazy horses. Yes that's right - get on the saddle because this week we're taking you for a ride on our little AAA ponies! Or are we just horsing around?! (Neigh! Err I Mean nay - no we're not!) What's the deal with sitting on a poor defenceless animal anyway - why not sit on a cow, they're much more my speed. Humans are weird. Still, there's no denying people's fondness for their pet horses, including these ten (black?) beauties. Interestingly the kings of racing, who must surely have all been brought up on farms and lots of empty desolate countryside turn out to be... Mancunians The Hollies with three entries (two of them made our list - there's also 'Ride Your Pony', a cover from last year's BBC Sessions CD we left out simply because most of you won't know it). Anyway you know the score by now: 10 AAA songs about horses in strict chronological order, it's as simple as that. Hi ho Silver, awayyyyyy....

1) Stewball (The Hollies, 'The Hollies' 1965)

Peter, Paul and Mary's song about their dreams of a perfect pet horse is, in truth, a bit of a dirge. More of a canter than a gallop, it's almost painfully slow but is rescued by some sterling Hollies harmonies. Stewball is kind of the 'David Watts' or horses - far too good to be true - with a mane of silver and a bridle of gold and a million stories that can 'never be told' apparently. However is there a darker side in all this because Stewball sounds a bit of an alcoholic too: 'he never drank water and only drank wine'. I'd keep that nag in the stables if I were you

2) Pegasus (The Hollies, 'Butterfly' 1967)

The Hollies' second magical horse really is magical with wings that allow him to fly. Tony Hick's first solo composition is a lovely song about all the mythical and mystical places Pegasus can fly to and makes this Greek legend sound totally in keeping with the psychedelic era. The song is a kind of mid-paced trot with a lovely flowing trumpet riff that sounds just like Pegasus whinnying!

3) Dig A Pony (The Beatles, 'Let It Be' 1970)

John Lennon was, by his own admission, writing about nonsense here, taking a title phrase that's meaningless out of context and writing a sub-I Am The Walrus song about how words only have meanings because of some pact across humanity but by themselves mean nothing at all. Ponies, though, have quite a history within the Beatles: most of the group learnt to ride in childhood and even poor Ringo - who'd never had a go - somehow learnt to stay upright for the 'Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields' promo where the fab four ride horses around London. Paul McCartney even owned a handsome collection of horses himself after he and Linda spent their early days togetherhorse-riding. Lennon's last great Beatles riff sounds like quite a (night) mare to ride and tries hard to throw the Beatles off-course throughout the song (no wonder they all went to so many takes!) 

4) Chestnut Mare (The Byrds, 'Untitled' 1970)

Roger McGuinn had a great idea in 1969 to re-write folk tale 'Peer Gynt' in a modern America setting, the outlaw finding he has to become a politician and make changes democratically to create the 'great future' he believes in. 'Gene Tryp', as the character became in anagram form, had to be given a more modern form of companion than the deers in the Norwegian original though - and what better choice than a horse, the animal that had helped define America more than any other? 'Chestnut Mare', the most famous song from the unfinished work, has Gene taming a wild horse to be his companion and some unfortunate comparisons between the horse and his wife. Still, the flowing middle eight where the chestnut mare suddenly leaps off a cliff and time stands still may well be the single most beautiful bit of music McGuinn ever wrote and 'Chestnut Mare' deservedly became by far the most successful 'horsey' song on this list and the Byrds' last top ten hit.

5) Wild Horses (Rolling Stones, 'Sticky Fingers' 1971)

Keith Richards had just become a father in 1971. Just think about that for a minute: Keith Richards. As your dad. 'Don't do that? Oh what the hell - if it's against the system do it anyway!' The birth of son Marlon clearly brought out his sentimental side and some of his greatest ballads. The title actually comes from the line when asked if he was going to the hospital to see the birth despite having to leave a Stones tour in the middle: 'Wild horses wouldn't drag me away'. Apart from the melody and title, however, much of the song is Mick Jagger's and may well be about his then-girlfriend Marianne Faithful (legend has it the song was inspired by her attempted suicide and his struggle to get her side in a hurry - the first time, at least). A lovely stately melody with a gleam in its eye, many consider this the finest horse in the Stones' paddock. 

6) Dark Horse (George Harrison, 'Dark Horse' 1974)

George Harrison loved the phrase 'dark horse'. Many reviewers of Beatle albums had called the 'quiet Beatle' just that and the phrase stuck after George came from nowhere to become the ex-Beatle with the biggest solo career in the early 1970s. George even named his own record company after the phrase, although sadly most records on it seemed to be cancelled or delayed so that 'Dark Horses' became a very rare breed indeed. The best use, though, comes when George finally turns the phrase into a song for his third solo album and is by far the album's best track. A sprightly runner, with a cute tune, 'Dark Horse' is a beast that will go his own way oblivious of what people assume about him, a 'dark horse running on a dark race course' that always wins against the odds long after everyone has forgotten about him. Sadly most fans know this record as 'Dark Hoarse': George wore his voice out on his tie-in tour and didn't regain it in time to record the album!

7) One-Trick Pony (Paul Simon, 'One-Trick Pony' 1980)

Paul Simon's One-Trick Pony is nothing of the sort: he whoops, he glides, he somersaults and goes through more changes of speed than most professional jockeys do in a career. The title track of not just Paul's fourth solo album but a film as well, it's actually 'sung' by Paul's alter ego Jonah: a failed singer-songwriter with one brief hit to his name who doesn't know when to give up a career that gave him up long ago. Poor Jonah needs to prove that he is much more than a one-trick pony and can live in an age of modern music he doesn't understand (the B-52s make their first ever appearance in a cameo in this film, making Jonah's retro 50s music seem even more hopelessly dated). The 'other' dark horse of the AAA pack, this is an animal you underestimate at your peril, by turns running with the wind and away with the fairies. 

8) All You Horse-Riders (Paul McCartney, 'McCartney II' Deluxe Edition, recorded 1980 released 2011)

Part of Macca's original and superior double-album version of his most out-there record McCartney II, this song was one of the few that probably should have been dropped when the album was shrunk to a single set: in truth this nag is a bit lame. Still, though, 'Horse-Riders' had to make this list as the only AAA song to actually re-create a true horse race - complete with spoof commentary from a deranged sounding Paul - and the 1980s synths do a marvellous job of sounding like tiny horses hooves trying to jump over a set of elaborate sounding jumps. The song falls apart at the end and segues into the much better 'Blue Sway' after this: are we to assume that the horse fell at the final water jump?

9) Don't Spook The Horse (Neil Young and Crazy Horse, B-Side 1990)

Neil's always liked using 'horse metaphors' for his longterm sideband in song but no others are as blatant as this song, recorded during the 'Ragged Glory' sessions but abandoned on a B-side and record for being too similar to other album songs (Neil cheekily sent this song out to some reviewers instead of the record, telling them it contained all they needed to know about the album). Why does Neil play such simple, sometimes plodding songs? In case it 'spooks' his backing band, who turn in one of their trademark three-note jams across the entire seven minute song. Listen out for some of Neil's silliest lyrics, with a last verse that repeats the entire song about a 'horse' from the point of view of a wife , no matter how daft the comparisons ('Make sure she ain't rolled in shit!' in this song's unique closing line). A bit of a clown, this horse - I'd keep him away from the others in case he upsets them... 

10) Judy and the Dream of Horses (Belle and Sebastian, 'If You're Feeling Sinister' 1996)

Many early Belle and Sebastian songs are based around 'Judy', Stuart Murdoch's female alter ego who feels hopelessly out of place in modern life. Trapped on all sides Murdoch's gentle narrator longs for her to feel free and encourages her to 'be' the person she can only be at night: free from everything and at one with another being, even if that being is a horse. Clearly inspired by Murdoch's years struggling with chronic fatigue and confined to his bed,  this song is actually more about the powers of dreams when you don't have any than the horse itself. There's no denying, though, that 'Dream of Horses' is a pretty creature and one that, although timid, would be sure to win any horse beauty pageants (perhaps even 'horse most like it's owner?!)

And that's enough horse-puns for another week! Trot along by next issue to read more news, views and music. Whinny!

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