PC 283 Lyrical

If you are a regular reader of these electronic postcards you may understand that I sponge up news stories like an industrial vacuum cleaner and these often include the daily obituaries. Some have a passing interest, sorry, no pun intended here: others are full of nuggets of wonderful examples of living life, sometimes well, sometimes not so well! Recently I read of Sergio Costa, who founded the Costa coffee chain and, not anticipating the explosion of the British love for coffee shops, sold it to Whitbread for £23m in 1995. Whitbread sold the brand to Coca-Cola for some £3.9 billion in 2019. Sir Ken Robinson was another (See PC 195 Snippets September 2020) and then there was Doreen Lofthouse , who virtually single-handedly grew the strong menthol lozenge ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ into a global brand. Another who caught my eye was Marilyn Bergman who died in January aged 93.

I hadn’t heard of her and maybe you haven’t either? You will however remember, if you’re old enough, the 1973 film ‘The Way We Were’ with Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford. The title song ‘The Way We Were’ was sung by Streisand and has been recorded by many others, but its lyrics were written by Marilyn Bergman who, with her husband Alan, became one of the most successful song-writing teams in musical history. (Note 1) Marilyn also wrote, inter alia, the lyrics for ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’, sung as Steve McQueen, playing the part of Thomas Crown in the film of the same name, flew round and around the sky in his glider (Note 2). I just need to close my eyes for a second to visualise this sequence; in my ear I recall lines like ‘Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel.’ Just gorgeous!

From The Thomas Crown Affair

Prompted by Marilyn’s obituary I began thinking how lyrics constantly invade one’s conscious and subconscious; bear in mind when you read my thoughts, lyrics are very generational!! How often do I silently sing ‘Monday Monday, so good to me’ (Note 3) at the start of the working week or does it get drowned out by ‘just another manic Monday’? (Note 4). In PCs 109 and 110 (November 2017) I scribbled about my own classical and ‘pop’ music journeys and what follows are just incoherent thoughts in the same vein!

In 1967 The Moody Blues sang a song entitled ‘Nights in White Satin’. I don’t think I ever saw the words written down and always imagined knights, as in medieval gentlemen, wearing white satin tights, which must have been all the rage in 1415 when we fought the Battle of Crecy. Personally I hate silky, satin sheets, white or any other colour, preferring a 200 thread count cotton sheet and therefore the satin-tight wearing knight is a better image!!

In the same year, the year that Celina was born so a good year (!), Procol Harum sang ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ whose lyrics started ‘We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor.’ What’s intriguing is this phrase ‘a whiter shade of pale’. There is no RAL number for ‘pale’; ‘signal white’ is RAL 9003 and Pure White 9010 (Note 5)

Some years ago there was a documentary called “Searching for Sugar Man”; it was intriguing. It recalled a three decade search for Sixto Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter whose 1970 debut album had no success in the USA. However it had found its way to South Africa where it found favour in the dawn of the anti-Apartheid movement.  Rodriguez was found living right at home in Detroit, unaware of his fame in the southern tip of the African continent; the subsequent three-venue concert tour of South Africa was a sell-out!  His lyrics have been described as Dylanesque and anti-establishment and there is much to like on the album ‘Searching for Sugar Man’. The song ‘Cause’ has some lovely completely bizarre lines that make no sense but, sung to his music, fit so well. Please, if you have never heard it, look on line; it starts: “ Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas, And I talked to Jesus at the sewer, And the Pope said it was none of his God-damned business, While the rain drank champagne.” Later he sings ‘So I set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the door sill’; somehow I imagine that!

Water features in one of Adele’s songs: ‘Set Fire to the Rain’. One of the interpretations I read was that, as water and fire both erode and destroy, the process of setting fire to the rain uncovers the truth behind the lies.  

Rod Stewart’s another whose lyrics resonate with me. Years ago on an Air Defence reconnaissance in Gibraltar, his ‘I don’t Want to Talk About It’ went around and around: ‘…. And the stars in the sky don’t mean nothing to you, they’re a mirror’. His 2013 album ‘Time’ contained a song ‘Brighton Beach’ with some great lines sang in his gravelly voice: ‘I remember when you were only 17, you were the finest girl my eyes had ever seen. I guess you found it hard to simply just ignore, this scruffy, beat-up, working-class, teenage, troubadour. …… under the stars on Brighton Beach.’  

I have little interest in football but keep a weather eye on the fortunes of the local team, Brighton & Hove Albion, sitting in the middle of the Premier League at the moment. The current manager has had a fantastic season. But it was in 1990 that the coverage the World Cup matches was accompanied by Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. Did I care, did anyone care, what the lyrics meant? The aria (‘Let no one sleep’) is from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot and by the end of the tournament I guarantee the fans in pubs watching the match could sing the lyrics without knowing what they meant!

And it doesn’t matter! More to come later in Part 2.

Richard 20th May 2022


Note 1 She also wrote the hit song ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’.

Note 2 The original Thomas Crown Affair film was made in 1968 with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. A remake in 1999 starred Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.

Note 3. The Mamas & The Papas 1966

Note 4 Manic Monday by The Bangles 1986

Note 5 RAL is a colour matching system used in Europe created and administered by the Gewrman RAL gGmbH.

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