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Let’s get lyrical

February 6, 2011

‘Let’s get lyrical’ is a Glasgow/Edinburgh joint celebration of song lyrics during the month of February 2011. Budrszeyeview is blogging on it and was kind enough to include my thoughts below in her blog this weekend

Billy Connolly claims my generation never heard the lyrics on early pop singles, we just copied the noises we heard from our tinny transistor radios, having no idea of the words. As the first lyric I remember hearing was the chorus of skiffle hit ‘Last Train to San Fernando’ (‘Eeny beeny bom bowm to San Fernando’) you’ll understand how I’m still working out words in songs I’ve been listening to, and singing, for a lifetime.

Two songs project a complete film in my mind: Paul Simon’s ‘America’ (And the moon rose over an open field) and the excellent ‘Up the Junction’, by Squeeze (And then it kicks inside her). Mostly, though, we’re talking about snatches of lines, phrases, or verses, that roll around our minds like flashbacks from important events – which, in effect, they are.

Simon’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ still moves me to tears (And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls And tenement halls“). James Taylor looms large, especially ‘Sweet Baby James’ (Now the first of December was covered with snow And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.)

Kirsty MacColl had a rare way with words, but the standout line for me is from ‘Caroline’ (Well my head said go, but my heart, my heart said stay) Embarrassingly, my teenage summer dancehall days in the west of Ireland have firmly fixed a line from Herman’s Hermits ‘My Sentimental Friend’ (And there all alone in the corner, is the girl I once knew, who broke me in two) For constantly engaging me, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ‘This Shirt’ is the winner (This shirt was lost for three whole days In a town near Buffalo ‘Till I found the locker key In a downtown Trailways bus depot)

The Beatles have to be there, of course, and from many possibilities, I’ll choose I’ll be back (You know, if you break my heart I’ll go, but I’ll be back again). Caroline by the Fortunes, theme tune to Radio Caroline North, echoes out over the sea for me (She’s on my mind forever it seems), as does that station’s favourite David McWilliams’ song – ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ (You walked too far along the street Where only rats can run)

‘Groovin’ by the Young Rascals will forever be a Sunday afternoon studying for Geography O Grade (Life would be ecstasy, You and me endlessly, Groovin). Much loved holiday memories also give me, from Billy Joel’s ‘The Downeaster Alexa’ (We took on diesel back in Montauk yesterday And left this morning from the bell in Gardiner’s Bay) and I always loved Carly Simon’s phrase: Clouds in my coffee from You’re so vain.

There are millions of possibilities, and I could probably write a totally different list next time I try, but that’s part of the joy. Folk is something else, but I include Christy Moore’s emigrant ballad ‘Missing you’ (Oh I’m missing you, I’d give all for the price of the flight) and Runrig’s ‘Going Home’ (In the distance day was dawning Comes to me the early morning Something tells me that I’m going home.)

Finally, and right off the wall, some words from a Roger McGough poem, Buttons of your Mind, set to backing music, on the B side of Scaffold’s Thank u very much.

”But the buttons of your mind were difficult to find – and my fingers far too clumsy.”
Says it all really!

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