Monday, November 11, 2019
But what is the song about? No one, even O'Day and Reddy, who you would think would know, don't. This is actually rather refreshing, as how many songs actually seem to be flattened or reduced by having their meaning/origin explained? It almost even takes away some of the power - the listener's power - in understanding and interpreting a song. So my version of this song may not be yours, but here goes...
A girl loves music, loves it so much and thus it takes over her life. Is she touched, a little crazy in the head? For some reason she doesn't go to school but gets to stay at home, in her room** listening to her radio all day. She whirls around with one song, one fantastic partner, after another. She is, as Sister Sledge will later attest, Lost In Music. Whether she knows this or not isn't stated, but Reddy's voice is always present to hint, to insinuate, to make the case for Angie that she is a "special lady" and not one to be messed with.
A girl's attachment to music is a strong thing. The power of music matches her own power, which can be so great and yet so ephemeral, but always is there, and the radio becomes a means of possessing this power in a way, of having means to escape even if you are shut-in at home, it seems in the song for Angie's own good.
But there's a boy, a ne'er-do-well, who wants Angie and looks in on her and sees only her body, of course. He doesn't know about her "really nice place to go" but perhaps knows she's a bit "touched." This boy wants and gets into her room, only to find himself, his very soul, spun around and somehow disappearing into the radio, never to be seen again. The radio keeps him - he's not dead, exactly, but he can never escape. She has a lover; she has her radio; she has her land of make-believe...or is it?
Even here I can say that the radio, that music itself, somehow defends and protects Angie, that she who is so utterly devoted has her just reward, and that the confusing, fuzzy and emotionally and psychologically profound reactions a girl has to music are all here. The way a guitar and drums and voice can hit your nerves, all your nerves, so that you become altered, even liberated, by what happens to you when you hear them. The effect is instantaneous and all those radio stations who didn't need any encouragement to play this song (radio stations love songs which mention radios, after all) maybe didn't get the whole subversive sexual undertow here, or maybe they very much did.
A girl and her radio; a radio romance.
Next up: it's the Valentine's Day massacre.
*Hardly anything more 70s than doing this, though how much popular culture - through books, music, movies - was about young women who were deemed "odd" or "weird" or flat-out "crazy" in this decade has no doubt been written about, but also sort of written off. The male/masculine version of the 70s has become the default understanding of the decade, with only a few women accepted as part of that male world, and this goes for all media, really. I know this is a super-obvious point, but it always bears making.
** How much would I have loved to stay in my room say circa November 1981 and listen to the radio all day? A lot....
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
*Tom Moulton is the first person to use a 12" single to do the pressing of a song, giving the song more space to breathe, sound better and of course have more time to let the song be itself. That he found this out by accident is charming.
**We are not done with Motown yet and in a few entries the topic of jazz will appear, with Motown popping up unexpectedly.
Friday, September 6, 2019
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Monday, August 5, 2019
Thursday, April 6, 2017
You may well be wondering what a Motown song from 1966 is doing in the 1974 chart, but as it stands, British radio has had its struggles with Motown for some time.
In 1966, "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted" got to #10, at the point late in the year where the tide for new, interesting music was turning from the UK and back to the US; just months before the pirate stations were to close, and Radio One was to begin. In the late 60s a reissue series of Motown singles that were never big hits when they were first issued began via Dave Godin*, who worked for the distribution arm for Motown in the UK; and Tony Blackburn and Alan Freeman were only too happy to play these alongside the fresh Motown songs, in a belief that these songs deserved more airplay, sales and general respect.**
This song was rereleased (possibly by Godin; I am not sure of this) and got to #2 on the Luxembourg chart, #4 on the UK chart. Which is only right for such a (and I don't use this word loosely) majestic song.
And yet it has, as I keep thinking, something a bit rough about it too. Ruffin grew up poor, singing in the church alongside his brother David, and went into the army for a time, then worked in a factory, and after an injury took up work at Motown, singing for sessions, doing singles that were on the Motown subsidiary Miracle, while his brother joined The Temptations (a job he had turned down). He heard this song, written by William Witherspoon, Paul Riser and James Dean, and heard The Spinners were to record it - the song resonated with him, and he managed to convince them that he should record it instead.
Though not on the single version, there is a spoken introduction:
The misery in this song is absolute - he is "cold and alone" and while he sees love growing everywhere for others, it does not exist for him. There are The Andantes and The Originals testifying to this, and there they are encouraging him to keep going, to keep searching in the darkness for light; the song's title, which is something of a question, is that the brokenhearted either give up to the bleakness or they have the faith (have to have it) to find a way out, to find someone who will care. He is a seer; he has visions; and at first these are troubling, but he also walks towards something positive, even if he can't see it, he knows it's there.
Was this a hit in the UK of 1974 as people wanted to feel acknowledged in their hapless sense of "always moving but going nowhere"? Well, we are in the time of The Fog and the bewilderment many must have felt is echoed in this song. But the narrator is not going to "make do and mend" or "keep calm and carry on" or anything like that; he is restless, he is in pain, and passive suffering is of no use to him. Though he may be anguished, he is active; as active as the opposite Motown song of the time, "Reach Out I'll Be There."
That this song would be covered by Dave Stewart and Colin Blunstone*** in 1981 as an anti-Thatcher protest and be a hit (I like to think Ruffin appreciated this; it was his favorite cover version) is one thing to note; that Ruffin did a version of it in Italian called "Se Decidi Cosi"**** is another. It was made a hit all over again for Paul Young in 1991, and memorably performed in the 2002 Motown doc Standing In The Shadows Of Motown by Joan Osborne.
But what of Motown on British radio now? (By this I mean 60s Motown, of course.) Tony Blackburn does a "soul and Motown" show on digital radio and it is mixed up with random 80s soul and he no doubt plays some on his other shows (he has so many now and Motown is always a part of them). But where else does it get played? Is it doomed simply to be comfort food radio for those who remember being young at the time? (Always with the idea, looming in the background, that everything has gotten worse since, including the music?)
As the 60s disappear from the radio*****, Motown persists, but it is only as a sound, not as a meaning or as anything other than "the hits." Northern Soul still gets played, I suppose, but what of Deep Soul, that of which Dave Godin was most proud? That is perhaps too much for UK radio, and as so much US music tends to be, left to specialist broadcasters, while regular radio clings for dear life to the chart, as if to keep utter chaos from breaking out. So much fine music being missed out, yet again; and what will become of it?
As for Jimmy Ruffin, he sang on miner's strike benefit single "Soul Deep" by the Council Collective as he knew about the struggles of the working man; and he would have had another hit with Stock, Aitken & Waterman's "Roadblock" but his vocal was left off to make it more mysterious. But this is the song that has persisted; and whatever the cause, I am glad it got a second chance in the UK, much as Ruffin did.
Next up: back to Canada.
*Dave Godin also coined the terms Northern Soul and Deep Soul, more on which anon.
**"Dancing In The Street" originally got to #28 in the UK in 1964 (when "Little Red Rooster" by The Rolling Stones was #1 - Dave Godin didn't think much of that, I bet); but with the push of Godin et. al., it got to #4 in 1969, for example.
***It was originally supposed to be Robert Wyatt, but he was busy working with Scritti Politti at the time.
****"So If You Decide"
*****Radio Two's Sounds of the 60s now comes on at 6am on Saturday and is determinedly upbeat cheery stuff, as presented by Tony Blackburn. The previous host, Brian Matthew, was dismissed only a few weeks ago and recently was taken to hospital, and mistakenly reported as dead by the BBC. As of this writing he is still alive.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017